Hammer Films had their horror movie hayday in 1950-1970s. Cannot be denied they produced their best output in the late 1950s to 1960s with those films centred round the iconic horror figures of Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy and the like.
Fast forward to 1980, the horror movies had dried up but the HAMMER name was still popular in people’s minds. The movie to TV went with the times, and a modern day anthology series came about.
Modern setting = reduced productions costs for a series taking new characters to the screen each week.
The standard of story is fair, but it is just as fair to say that the series is quite dated and an obvious product of the times. Often touching on the horror trope of a descent into madness.
Peter Cushing makes an appearance in just one episode THE SILENT SCREAM, and that is a welcome addition to the series.
Despite quite a cast of greats including the aforementioned Peter Cushing, Diana Dors, Denholm Elliott, Brian Cox and Sian Phillips the biggest draw to this series is the nostalgia element. The series is nearly 40 years old and without an ongoing arc or characters it is actually good thing that the series didn’t persist into a second series.
It bears the name HAMMER so is a must have for the completest, and any Hammer fan that hasn’t seen this series before should check it out, but not expect too much.
This Blu Ray is the first time the complete series is available in High Definition restoration from the original film elements. The Blu Ray keeps the fullscreen (4:3) aspect ratio from the original transmission, though I suspect there was a temptation to release these as wide screen. As it is just the one episode, Guardian of the Abyss, is presented in widescreen.
I love a good horror movie, so when I heard of RYDE being a slasher taking on the role of a Ryde driver (an UBER type taxi service) I was interested to say the least.
Nights out have never been so dangerous once Paul (David Wachs) takes the identity of a ‘Ryde’ driver, the newest taxi service app in town, as unbeknownst to his customers he has a deadly secret that he is ready to unleash… Prowling the busy streets and looking for his next kill, one by one revellers use the latest app to get Paul to pick them up, setting themselves up to become his latest victim whilst not knowing that this ride might be the last of their life. Never has access to a psychopath been so easy – he is just one click away…
But after starting to watch the film my expectations were severely cut short. Now this may be my fault, as I just didn’t get into this film. I would go so far to say I didn’t ‘get’ it at all.
Yes there are a number of films that follow a killer or other antihero, but they usually have some kind of quality that you can relate to. There is not really a background given to ‘Paul’. There is not really much of a plot, rather than stuff that happens, and the ending was predictable when the intent was obviously to shock.
So there it is. It was essentially not my bag, you may have a different experience of this. If you do please let me know what I am missing.
RYDE is available to watch on Digital Download From 21st August
In a word, pap, compelling, addictive and mind rotting pap.
The annual event of Sharknado films is not so much about the film itself but the social media ‘nado after (and during discussing how pap these films are). But yes, I still watched it and I will probably watch the 6th one.
Now I liked the first Sharnknado film. It knew what it was, a bit of fun. The Asylum are great and I urge you to look up their previous ‘MockBusters’ usually low budget takes on cinema films with very similar titles. Like “Operation Dunkirk, Alien Convergence, Sinister Squad, Atlantic Rim etc. In addition to their Sharkspoitation movies including the Mega Shark and Sharknado movies.
The idea behind all the Sharknado movies is the same. Get a load of cameo appearances by 1980s or Z List celebs and have them munched by the sharks raining down on a city location, whilst trying to ‘homage’ as many other movies as possible, from the odd one liner to a full on rip off. Yes there is more to it than that, but lets face it not much.
I was going to plot through the Sharknado 5 plot, and I suppose it is suitable to state there might be spoilers here as the plot is so thin that it is hard to discuss the movie without revealing the fact that Finn is a prat and causes the ‘world ending’ Sharknado epidemic by removing an artifact from under Stonehenge, for no good reason. Then has his son snatched by the storm which he chases for the rest of the movie and finds he is able to teleport to other locations through the sharknado. Leading to lots of locations, lots of ‘celebrity’ deaths, lots of stating “I am sure I should know who that is” due to the fact they have a tonne of plastic surgery, cannot act and have a small speaking part in the film.
The films climax is a bit baffling and ends up doing a timey wimey ending setting up for Sharknado 6.
Now I am sure that with the given budget etc that a little more plotting could be involved without losing the kitch appeal that the film franchise has amassed. I really wanted to like this sequel but I found it painful in places.
Yes I will watch 6 and no I won’t expect any better, but I really HOPE to see better.
House I, II, III, IV Limited Edition Dual Format Blu-ray & DVD
Arrow Video is proud to present the complete House saga, brought together on Blu-ray for the first time!
Release Date: 20th March 2017
Step inside, we’ve been expecting you! At long-last, Arrow Video is proud to present the complete House saga, brought together on Blu-ray for the first time!
In the original House, William Katt (Carrie) stars as Roger Cobb, a horror novelist struggling to pen his next bestseller. When he inherits his aunt’s creaky old mansion, Roger decides that he has found the ideal place in which to get some writing done. Unfortunately, the house’s monstrous supernatural residents have other ideas…
House II: The Second Story sees young Jesse (Arye Gross) moving into an old family mansion where his parents were mysteriously murdered years before. Plans for turning the place into a party pad are soon thwarted by the appearance of Jesse’s mummified great-great-grandfather, his mystical crystal skull and the zombie cowboy who’ll stop at nothing to lay his hands on it!
In House 3 (released domestically as The Horror Show) Lance Henriksen (Aliens) stars as a detective who sends a sadistic serial killer to the electric chair, only to find himself stalked by the maniac from beyond the grave.
Meanwhile, House IV: The Repossession has William Katt returning to the fold for one last terrifying tale that mixes seedy mobsters, Native American spirits and a singing pizza in perhaps the barmiest House entry of all!
From the team that brought you Friday the 13th, the House films are era-defining horror classics – now newly restored and loaded with brand new extras!
LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS:
•Brand new 2K restorations of all four films
•High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
•Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
•The House Companion – limited edition 60-page book featuring new writing on the entire House franchise by researcher Simon Barber, alongside a wealth of archive material
•Audio commentary with director Steve Miner, producer Sean S. Cunningham, actor William Katt and screenwriter Ethan Wiley
•Ding Dong, You’re Dead! The Making of House – brand new documentary featuring interviews with Steve Miner, Sean S. Cunningham, Ethan Wiley, story creator Fred Dekker, stars William Katt, Kay Lenz, and George Wendt, composer Harry Manfredini, special make-up and creature effects artists Barney Burman, Brian Wade, James Belohovek, Shannon Shea, Kirk Thatcher, and Bill Sturgeon, special paintings artists Richard Hescox and William Stout, and stunt coordinator Kane Hodder
HOUSE II: THE SECOND STORY:
•Audio commentary with writer-director Ethan Wiley and producer Sean S. Cunningham
•It’s Getting Weirder! The Making of House II: The Second Story – brand new documentary featuring interviews with Ethan Wiley, Sean S. Cunningham, stars Arye Gross, Jonathan Stark, Lar Park Lincoln, and Devin DeVasquez, composer Harry Manfredini, special make-up & creature effects artists Chris Walas, Mike Smithson, visual effects supervisor Hoyt Yeatman, and stunt coordinator Kane Hodder
HOUSE III: THE HORROR SHOW:
•Uncut Version, for the first time on Blu-ray!
•Audio commentary with producer Sean S. Cunningham
•The Show Must Go On – interview with actor/stuntman Kane Hodder
•House Mother – interview with actress Rita Taggart
•Slaughter Inc. – brand new featurette with special make-up effects creators Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger
HOUSE IV: THE REPOSSESSION:
•Audio commentary with director Lewis Abernathy
•Home Deadly Home: The Making of House IV – brand new documentary featuring interviews with director Lewis Abernathy, producer Sean S. Cunningham, stars Terri Treas and William Katt, actor/stunt coordinator Kane Hodder, and composer Harry Manfredini
(Follows – original post from 1st April 2016)
Eureka Entertainment is to release the Enemy Mine Blu Ray on the 20th June 2016. Enemy Mine’s director Wolfgang Petersen created a visually stunning futuristic sci-fi adventure starring Dennis Quaid and Louis Gosset Jr.,
This Enemy Mine Blu Ray premier sees Wolfgang Petersen’s tale of two enemies thrown together in a hostile world where to survive they must become allies.
A soldier from Earth crash-lands on an alien world. Eventually he encounters another survivor, but from the enemy species he was fighting; they band together to survive on this hostile world. In the end the human finds himself caring for his enemy in a completely unexpected way.
Starring Dennis Quaid (The Right Stuff, The Day after Tomorrow) and Academy Award Winner Louis Gosset Jr. (An Officer and a Gentleman) this sci-fi adventure is a tale of an unexpected friendship and newly found respect. Eureka Classics present the film in high-definition for the first time in the UK in a special edition Blu-ray
Enemy Mine Blu Ray
Enemy Mine’s Special features
Gorgeous 1080p presentation of the film on Blu-ray
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
Release Date| 20 June 2016
Run Time| 108 minutes
OAR| 2.35:1 OAR
Genre| Sci-Fi / Action
Country| USA / Germany
Subtitles| ENGLISH SDH (Optional)
So we get to the end of the run for the superb Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series. Following Disney’s takeover of the Lucas Empire, it seemed unlikely that heads wouldn’t roll, and so it was for The Clone Wars. Did this decision make sense…not really. The Clone Wars has consistently been the brightest and best thing in the Star Wars Universe for some years, with ever-improving animation and a series of storylines that never shied away from the gritty and realistic side of the galaxy far far away. It was both for children and adults, and other than a few clunky arcs, it was consistently a joy to watch. Maybe then, with a slew of new movies and projects coming from the House of Mouse, it isn’t such a surprise that a brilliant, innovative and popular show be shelved…we don’t want competition for the new stuff, eh?
So, we come to season 5. I would love to talk about the brilliance of the Blu-ray release, but sadly there were only DVD copies to be had for preview. However, I am certain that by the high standards of the previous Blu-ray seasons, this one will look and sound as epic as always.
After the return of Darth Maul in Season 4, we start season 5 in somewhat slower mode, with the Jedi helping rebels on the Separatist-held world of Onderon learn how to fight back and reclaim their world. There is a nice undercurrent of dark-side growth over these opening four episodes, with both Ashoka and Anakin straining at the leash of Jedi non-partisanship. The writers are building up the hints that the Jedi, and the Council in particular, are missing the obvious encroachment of the dark side, whilst acting in more and more crass and self-serving ways. Unfortunately, the Onderon plot overstays its welcome. At four episode long it feels two episodes over-length and never manages to succeed in making you care that much about the secondary characters. A ‘shocking’ death is not really shocking, and it has very little impact on the rest of the season. However, we do get to enjoy the return of Florrum Crime Boss Hondo Ohnaka (still sounding like Ricardo Montalban) and watch as Ashoka begins her own journey away from her Jedi upbringing.
After this somewhat clunky and tiring opening, the season moves on to another 4-parter…this time focusing on a group of Jedi younglings under the care of Yoda and Ashoka. There is a lot of fun in these episodes, although the ‘learning to work together’ theme is a little obvious. Hondo makes another welcome return, albeit in a nastier mood than we usually see him. With Ashoka captured and the younglings breaking orders to try to rescue her, the series reintroduces General
Greivous and Obi-Wan, linking the two plots together cleverly. Whilst this 4 part storyline is much more interesting than the season opener, it still leaves the season feeling a little flat and lacking the spark and originality of seasons 3 and 4.
From Jedi younglings we move to yet another 4 part arc, definitely aimed at younger viewers, but with a lot to offer the dedicated Star Wars fan. This arc follows R2 as he joins a secret team of Republic droids and a diminutive Colonel on a mission to reclaim an encryption module from a Separatist ship. As any true SW fan knows, the films aren’t so much about Skywalker as the hero, but R2. Without him nothing would have happened the way it does, from his opening scene in The Phantom Menace through to the very end of Return of the Jedi. So it is great to see the wee scamp getting so much airtime, and alongside other astromech droids, and without C3P0 around to cramp his style. The adventures these droids have together are fun, and exciting, if a tad overshadowed by yet another ridiculous…one wonders if Lucas directed…comedic character. Colonel Meebur Gascon is a tiny data expert on his first mission in command. He has height issues, as well as command issues and politeness issues. He is fun for about 5 mins but then starts to grate. He’d be fine if it were just 1 episode, but across 4…the season is creaking and groaning under the weight of all these multi-episode arcs!
Finally, the season begins to pull its socks up and get to the meaty stuff. Possibly this was when the team knew the plug was being pulled, because a seriously well-thought through plotline emerges. Darth Maul working with Savage Opress form an alliance with the Mandalorian Death Watch plus several crime syndicates in order to become a dominant force. They lure Obi-Wan to Mandalore, but Darth Sidious decides it is time for him to step in. There is then a bombing at the Jedi Temple, for which Ashoka is asked to investigate, and then accused of killing the key suspect. She goes on the run and teams up with Ventress whilst Anakin and Obi-Wan lead her pursuit. The Jedi Council refuse to consider her innocence, and it is up to Padme to fight for her defence. This 7 episode finale is absolutely superb, pure Star Wars storytelling at its best. It shows just how low opinion of the Jedi has fallen, just how little they are aware of their own deficiencies, and just how much of an isolated group they have become. Anakin’s embracing of the dark side starts to make more sense, and while we may never know what happens to Ashoka after the final episode, it feels like a good way to close her storyline. You can now better understand why so many Clone Troopers obeyed Order 66 without question.
All in all the writers have brought the plot to a very pleasing and balanced point in the existing narrative. That said…damn I wish there was another half season at least, or a movie, to wrap up Ashoka and Ventress, and properly connect the series with the movies.
The DVD look very good, with sharp, bright visuals and a very strong surround mix. There are ample extras to keep you informed and entertained throughout. As usual, it is a great package.
So, what’s the final verdict on the final season? Well, we have definitely been robbed of a wonderful piece of TV and the finale feels half-finished. We may yet get a conclusion, but if we don’t, this isn’t the worst way to go. The reliance on three 4 part arcs is disappointing, and while none of the stories are bad, they all overstay their welcome and you get the feeling that the writing team had been told to string these tales out. Too much Jedi? Absolutely. Not enough hardware, spaceships and troopers? Definitely. Another season of the best the SWU has to offer? Pretty much, yes. Disney has a lot to live up to following The Clone War…here’s hoping they’ve paid attention to just why so many fans loved this TV show.
Nosferatu is a movie with a past. It was almost entirely destroyed by Bram Stoker’s widow due to the blatant plagiarism from Dracula presented in the movie (in which, basically, the names were changed, and that was it). Various versions have been found over the years, leading to this latest, restored version.
And it’s a beauty for the most part.
If you haven’t seen Nosferatu before, it’s important to be prepared before you watch it. This is a film that is almost a century old, and should almost be approached as a historical artifact as much as a movie. After all, just about everyone involved in it is long dead. It’s a piece of the past to be savoured. The performances (especially from the main characters) are far away from natural, which can be very disconcerting to modern viewers. Also, there are special effects that have dated strangely. There are scenes where Orlok moves at high speed, which involves a mixture of sped-up film and stop motion. While this would have likely looked creepy and strange at the time of release, it’s now unfortunately reminiscent of Benny Hill.
However, if you put the extra work in with watching it, it’s rewarding. It’s a splendidly creepy, beautifully shot piece of classic horror that centres around an almost-supernatural performance by Max Shreck in the role of Count Orlok which is so good that an entire movie was based on it decades later (The Shadow of the Vampire).
It’s also the fully-tinted version, which is far less often seen than the straight black-and-white version. The movie was projected using tinted film in order to give scenes the impression of daytime or night time. Blue is used for night, and degrees of yellow are used for daytime or internally-lit scenes (the best being a moment where a darkened room is entered by someone with a candle, and it switches from blue to yellow. This also makes sense of scenes that, previously, seemed to have Orlok wandering around in the daytime, making his weakness to sunlight seem rather daft.
The work that has been done on this new version is clear, and I found it a very different experience watching it in the cinema where my mind was far less able to wander. Previously, I’d thought of it as being a fairly straight retelling of Dracula, but this time, I found it more mythical, more operatic and more infused with a Germanic mythical quality that makes it feel more like a dark fairytale than anything else, and as a result, that bit more disturbing.
This doesn’t mean that it’s without problems. While the new title cards mostly fit in well, the addition of a logo making clear that they’re not the originals distracts quite a bit – if this can be removed in the DVD/blu-ray, great. If not, it’s a distracting ident. Also, it looks as if they’ve used a typeface based on the handwritten fonts of the original. While that’s not a major issue, it introduces a uniformity that isn’t there otherwise. It becomes a little like reading lettering that’s been entirely done by typewriter rather than by hand in a comic book. This, combined with the ident means that each time these come on-screen, I felt a little dragged out of the experience. It was difficult to ignore.
However, that’s pretty much the only major issue. It’s a very respectful version of a beautiful piece of film history, that’s well worth taking the effort to watch carefully. If you watch it at home, turn the lights off and immerse yourself in it. There’s a lot there to appreciate, and this latest version will allow you to appreciate it all the more. Over 90 years after it came out, Nosferatu still haunts.
This new version of The Wicker Man only makes slight changes. However, it’s the most complete version of the film that exists currently, and if you’ve only ever seen the original theatrical release (the one most regularly shown on TV), you’ll be astonished just how butchered it was. The fact that the theatrical release is still a superb film is testament to just how good a movie it is. As a result, a more complete version is something to celebrate.
If you’ve already got the Director’s Cut, then it’s debatable whether this adds enough to justify another purchase. The changes are minor, but they’re all improvements.
The basic story remains the same – uptight Sergeant Howie goes to a remote island to search for a missing girl, and uncovers a disturbing conspiracy. The main changes are that it makes more clear that the action takes place within a defined timeframe – just three days. This may not seem important, but it adds a sense of Sergeant Howie’s exhaustion, which gives an extra element to Edward Woodward’s performance. With these changes on top of the director’s cut that already exists, it just helps everything hang together that bit better.
Here’s an example of how it improves it – one of the most famous scenes in the movie is the one where Britt Ekland’s Willow dances naked in an attempt to seduce Howie. With each version of the movie that comes out, this scene makes more sense. The placing makes more sense (with the movement to the second night, and the insertion of an earlier scene which shows Willow being brought a boy to deflower), and even the layout of the rooms makes more sense (as external shots show the way the rooms are next to each other, which means that when she’s making noises against the wall, it’s clearly on the other side of the wall of Howie’s room – without it, there’s a disconnection, and it looks like they’re against different walls). It’s not something that everyone will notice, but it’s clear how much was sacrificed for the theatrical cut.
It has to be said that the drop in quality of the recovered footage is noticable, so if it’s the kind of thing that’s likely to bother you, you may want to skip it. But the extra texture that these scenes add to the story means that it isn’t as much of an issue as it could be (and it’s not the fault of the restorers – this is, realistically, as high quality as was possible, and it’s obviously been done with great care).
On top of the theatrical release, it’s also worth seeing for far more of Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle, which is his favourite of his own performances. And he’s right – it’s one of the most subtle, nuanced performances he’s ever given, and he’s both charming and sinister. It’s a bonus to get more of him in the film.
Along with the new release, The Wicker Man is being re-released across the UK in cinemas, and if you haven’t seen it on the big screen, it’s worth taking the time to do so. It’s a beautiful looking movie, and it’s a rewarding way to watch it.
To put it simply, The Wicker Man is one of the greatest films the UK has ever produced, and this was despite the fact the film-makers regularly described the most widely-seen version as a compromised one. The more you see of what was cut, the more you can understand why they feel like this. The more complete version adds more to the pacing, performances and texture of the movie. With a film this good, that’s worth taking the time to see. It’s the best version out there of a brilliant film.
There are some films which are considered cult classics. And then there are some cult classics that are considered all-time greats. And then there are some all-time greats which are considered the perfect example of their type. Evil Dead 2 (Dead by Dawn) sits comfortably in this final category, and with this fantastic new restored BD edition you can finally enjoy it in all its glory.
The first Evil Dead film was a fantastic piece of low-budget, early-entry film-making by Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, but everyone agrees that it was far from perfect. What it did was to spawn a whole new genre of horror cinema (the cabin in the woods) and show that gross-out horror and frat-house humour can sit side by side successfully.
When it came to the second film, the director and star choose to do a kind of re-boot…take what was great about the first film, but apply new film-making techniques and experience. They set out to upgrade, upscale and generally out-do their previous outing. And boy did they manage it?!
Starting with a brief review of the first film (re-filmed since they couldn’t get the rights to use their own movie!) we meet Ash and his girlfriend, enjoying some study-time hanky panky in a cabin in the deep dark woods. Unfortunately, Ash plays a recording of the previous owner (a professor) reading out the incantations from the dreaded Book of the Dead (the Necronomicon). This awakens a dark spirit that dwells in the woods, which possesses Ash’s girlfriend who he is forced to kill by beheading her. Here the new film begins, as Ash is forced to confront the various evil forces lurking within and without the cabin, a mixture of pure body horror and psychological attack. Meanwhile a new foursome are making their way to the cabin, the professor’s daughter and her boyfriend, plus two handy local hicks to show them the secret route through the forest. By the time they have arrived, poor Ash has been put through hell by the evil spirits, forced to cut his own hand off with a chainsaw and is pretty much a raving lunatic. With all five of them holed up in the cabin, it isn’t long before they are being picked off, one by one. There are attacks by forest demons (including the now infamous tree-rape scene), a cellar-dwelling granny deadite and by a possessed Ash. As each one dies (only to become a deadite themselves) Ash must learn from the Necronomicon how to send the spirits back where they came from.
This is a stunning piece of Blu-ray restoration and upscaling. The film has never looked so crisp and clean. Apart from the opening rehash of the first scene, which appears to be purposefully grainy, the rest of the movie is spotless. And in a film with this much spectacle, gross-out blood and gore, psychedelic imagery and OTT horrors, the restoration needed to be superb. The soundtrack has an equally stunning impact, with scenes such as the forest-demon attack and the Ash-goes-mad section having particular audio heft. It is a great session for your surround sound system. All in all, this is THE definitive way to watch Evil Dead II, and you won’t be left wanting.
Evil Dead II Blu Ray Extras
Also on the BD release are some great extras. There is a 1.5hr long making of documentary which is one of the finest examples of BD extras I have ever watched. It is split into sections which you can jump through, and covers every aspect of the film from early days, through production, to post production and the film’s continuing impact. It stars all the main players, with Bruce Campbell leading the way. The only notable name missing is Sam Raimi, which is a shame. Possibly too busy making Oz, or just too far removed from his early films…he is eulogised extensively and features in old footage, but it would have been nice to have even just a few minutes of him from the present day. This is one seriously interesting feature and gives you real value for money. There is a far shorter second feature looking at the original locations of the film. Sounds a bit dull, but it is far from being so. The director locates the original cabin in the woods (it’s still there!) as well as the old school gym where they built the interiors. As a fan it is a very pleasing extra.
Evil Dead II gets a 5/5 from me as a perfect BD package. One of the all-time greatest genre-defining films, restored and upscaled to perfection with a stunning soundtrack and a wallet-pleasing set of extras. If you are a fan, go buy this now. But be warned, watch it late at night and you could end up being “Dead by dawnnnnnn!!!!”
Oh Dear. Complete Rubbish. Absolute ****. These are some of the two word reviews I almost settled on when writing this review. But I thought that a little unfair. Then I deliberated whether to write a review at all. Finally I settled on writing a short review as a public service letting people know that this is a complete waste of time for everyone involved, including the viewer.
I love good spoof movies. I am really looking forward to Scary Movie 5. This is NOT a good spoof movie. I am sure that when watching a movie like Paranormal Activity we have all had silly thoughts about what could have happened to make it funny. Take one of those silly thoughts and try to spin it into a movie and you get this. in 90 is minuted there are possibly 2 funny moments. The rest is an appauling boring mess. All the movie references are badly shoehorned in and the whole thing is painful to watch.
I need to move on and do something else before I dwell on the wasted part of my life that was when I watched this film.
Looper arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on 28th January 2013 (in the UK) covered in countless 5-star reviews and glowing superlative-heavy review quotes. Starring Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt, and directed by Rian Johnson, it is a time-travel action thriller mystery something-or-other that is both genuinely original in places, and stultifyingly dull in others. Let’s consider the plot:
“In the year 2044 time travel has not yet been invented. But in 30 years it will have been…” (there’s some Hitch-hiker’s Guide time-travel grammar for you to grapple with!). Joe (played by actor-of-the-moment Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper in 2044, a man whose job is to wait for people to be sent back in time by crime bosses, and to shoot them dead. Apparently in the future it is impossible to dispose of people/bodies hence the crime bosses using time travel to send the poor mooks back in time to be offed. This all goes swimmingly well until a Looper is sent his future self to kill, with an appropriate retirement bonus, of course. When Joe’s future self is sent back everything goes awry, with future Joe (a grizzled but still on-form Willis) doing a runner and on the hunt for a child who will grow up to be…well, let’s not ruin too much of the plot. Suffice to say Joe has to try to hunt down future Joe, while being hunted himself by his own crime boss for reasons which are never really made all that clear.
So that is the film in a few sentences. It is quite hard to review the film without spoiling it for others, not because any of the twists are all that unexpected or original, but just because there is an actual pleasure to watching the film and working it out as you go (usually about 20 minutes before the director reveals the twist). Looper is an eminently enjoyable film, a nice balance between traditional thriller and SF spectacle. The world-building is handled well, albeit without recourse to explanation. 2044 is a violent dystopia, a perfect backdrop to the Looper activity. We learn little about why it is how it is, and even less about what occurs in the 30 years that follow. But this works, lending some mystery to the world we watch, while allowing us to accept the random and very public violence on display.
The time-travel mechanic feels as though it makes sense, a clever idea (if a tad similar to Timecop) which is at the heart of the story but never used as a deus ex machine…there is time travel, accept it! Admittedly the return of future Joe to 2044 and his subsequent actions do set up any number of paradoxes which may or may not hold up to scrutiny, and by the end of the film enquiring minds will be screaming out for someone to explain just how one paradox can lead to a logical conclusion while all the others are seemingly overlooked. But then, this is a movie, not reality and so story comes before mathematics, probably!
Looper has been hailed “The Most Exciting Film of the Year” (Shortlist) and given 5 stars by Empire, Total Film, SFX and FHM…but is it? OK, it certainly doesn’t disappoint in the same way as Amazing Spiderman or The Dark Knight Rises, but it is far from the most exciting film of the year. I suggest these reviewers expand their horizons to the Far East where, in 2012 alone, there were numerous movies made that outstrip Looper in the excitement stakes. This isn’t to say that Looper isn’t exciting, far from it. For approximately half the film’s running time there is plenty of excitement, fights, chases, guns, night-clubs and prostitutes. It is all very thrilling in a sub-Bladerunner style. Everyone is very tightly-wound, yet the film doesn’t come across as overly dark or angst-ridden. But half way through it comes to a resounding halt as we are offered some time to reflect on the timey-whimeyness of the plot, the intense emotional impact of the character’s individual stories and experiences, and watch as the director and writer cleverly place their pieces in preparation for the third-reel action-fest! JUST GET ON WITH IT!
Away from the interminable dullness of the middle of the film the director does good things with his characters, all of whom feel hyper-real but grounded. There is some very good casting of secondary parts here. Which is good, because they couldn’t have got a more wooden leading man if they’d tried? I apologise to the rest of the world, all of whom seem to think Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the next coming of the acting messiah, but I find the guy dull, flat, lifeless and one-note. His face is almost, but not quite, as frozen in place as Kristen Stewart’s. Throughout Looper he plays a perpetual mannequin. I suppose he is ‘acting’ dispassionate, detached, high on the eye-drop drugs his character takes constantly. Fine, great, wonderful. But it gives us one of the least-likeable leading characters in recent history. I just didn’t care about him or his plight. When, later in the film he takes refuge on a farm run by Emily Blunt’s character, he has the opportunity to bring the role to life with empathy and warmth, but the fact is he remains as stolid and wooden as ever. It doesn’t help that he is out-acted by a 10 year old (the stand-out actor in the film in my opinion). Now, to be fair to Levitt, he is supposed to be a younger Bruce Willis, and Willis’ future Joe is, well, Bruce Willis in grizzled action-hero mode. Yes, it is the Willis we all know, the stoney-faced, slightly laconic, wry and world-weary veteran pulled back in for one more go on the merry-go-round. Great stuff, it is what we love about ol’ stoney face (oooh, Willis as Dredd…it could have worked, you know?!) But where Willis pulls off subtle facial expressions and his eyebrows out-act two-thirds of Hollywood’s leading men, Levitt just looks plastic, frozen, botoxed to within an inch of his life. But then I didn’t see why he was considered the standout talent in Inception either. Maybe my Joseph Gordon-Levitt filter has been pre-set too high?
Emily Blunt does an admirable job playing the “seen it a thousand times before” grizzled, world weary single mother farmer with weird young kid. You can see her arc a mile away, but she plays it well and offers a well-rounded performance. Looper also offers us another chance to enjoy Jeff Daniels playing slightly off-kilter, loopy dangerous bad guy. It is always a pleasure to see Daniels in these more off-beat roles. He is counter-culture in so many ways, so seeing him playing against type is great, and of course, he does it with style and subtlety…a truly frightening bad guy.
The stand-out performance in the film comes from 10 yr old Cid, played by Pierce Gagnon. I can’t say too much without spoiling the film for you, but focus on this kid whenever he is on screen because there are some serious acting chops on display. Guided well, this kid could become a very big thing in acting. I just hope he is given the opportunity to continue with this style of honest, interesting and powerful acting. Believe me, the Cid character could have been played with far less intensity and power by many other child actors, congratulations to Rian Johnson for choosing Pierce and allowing him to perform the role this way.
So, all that said, is Looper worth your time and money? It certainly isn’t the messiah of movies from 2012, and is definitely isn’t the most exciting film of the year by a long chalk. But it IS a good film, it does dabble in time travel mysteries in a new and occasionally original way. It offers interesting world-building and tantalising near-future SF. Bruce Willis is good value for money, and young Pierce Gagnon is a brilliant revelation. There are faults and paradoxes, the film falls flat on its face halfway through, and the ending is far less powerful a statement than the film-makers intended. But it is a great example of a director and writer aiming for the stars, and while not quite reaching them, making something entertaining and far-different in tone and style from the big-money Hollywood blockbusters. Looper is a worthy addition to your collection if you value subtle SF-driven thrillers that try to do something new, entertain you and make you think.
The Blu-ray edition which I reviewed looked vibrant and detailed, with only occasional brightness issues. There was a slight issue with the audio mix, like so many recent BD releases, the dialogue in quiet scenes was exceptionally quiet, to be followed by explosively loud action scenes. Fiddling with your audio settings will help fix this (increase front centre and decrease rear speakers) but it is a slight shame the mix couldn’t be a little more balanced. Beyond that it is another great looking and sounding BD. Extras include commentary by the director and stars, featurettes on the making of and composing, deleted scenes, trailers, a science of time travel feature and some additional featurettes. Quite a decent package. Sadly, once again, the release price for the BD is a staggering £24.99 or £25.99 for the pointless steelbook edition. Even the DVD is RRPing at £19.99 – so keep your eyes out for good deals at the likes of Sainsbury’s or Tesco’s because these manufacturer RRPs are outrageously overpriced and not good value for money.
The second Hi-Def helping from Studio Canal and Ghibli in November is not a Ghibli film at all, it is an earlier work, directed by Miyazaki-san called “The Castle of Caglisotro”, aka Lupin III. Made in 1979, it is Miyazaki’s first full-length anime film, and features Wolf (or Lupin in French), a character created by the artist Kazuo Kazuhiko (also known as Monkey Punch). The Lupin/Wolf stories were massively popular in Japan and as such the film doesn’t bother to explain backstory or characters, it just dives straight in to the action.
The film follows the adventures of Lupin, a master thief wanted by Interpol, and his hat-wearing, chain-smoking sidekick Jigen. They’ve travelled to the fantasy European mountain kingdom of Cagliostro to pull off a heist…to steal the famed Cagliostro fortune. However, they are quickly drawn in to one of the world’s greatest car chases, attempting to save a mysterious bride-to-be from thugs and goons. After failing to save her, they head off to the infamous Castle of Cagliostro, an epic monument to fantasy castles, set in the middle of an enormous lake. Here, Lupin and Jigen infiltrate the castle in order to save the girl (who we now know is Princess Clarisse)…and grab some of the fortune, of course. In doing so they come up against their old Interpol adversary Zenigata, and a whole host of cunning castle traps and nasties. The bad guy is the Count, who wants to marry Clarisse and gain access to her family ring, which will help him discover the treasure for himself. Suffice to say, Lupin, with the aid of Jigen, master-of-disguise cat-burglar Fujiko, enigmatic Samurai Goemen, and even Zenigata himself, is able to foil the Count’s nefarious schemes and save the day…helping bring down a counterfeiting scheme in the process.
This is an old-fashioned crime-caper that is chock full of action and adventure, anti-heroes and good vs evil. It is old-school Hollywood, rat-pack fun and games. There is honour and friendship at the heart of the story, and while Lupin is technically a thief, he represents so much more and ends up as the real-deal hero of the piece. The film has an interesting mixed pace, from frantic action to contemplative, almost romantic moments. And while the plot is never truly original, it is always surprising and enjoyable. This is a film that is very easy to watch time and time again.
The movie has previously been released on a very good DVD set, which included some nice extras, including a great introduction by Japan-o-holic and all-round Far East expert Jonathan Clements (if you don’t own a copy of his superb Schoolgirl Milky Crisis book, go buy one now!) Sadly, here we lose those extras, and all we get is a storyboard comparison function. This is a real shame, considering the historical importance of the film, as well as the general lack of knowledge many Western fans will have of the Lupin phenomenon. A short but simple history of Lupin feature would have been good. And considering how much extra stuff Studio Canal have put on their other big release this month, My Neighbour Totoro, it does seem odd to have such a vanilla Blu-ray.
Another disappointment is the lack of improvement in the picture quality. While the colours are noticeably more vibrant than the old DVD release, and the sound is a marked improvement, the film looks its age, with a great deal of dirt and damage on full display…possibly made worse by the HD nature of the medium and displays? With so much effort and skill put in to up-scaling the Ghibli films, it is a real let-down that Cagliostro hasn’t been afforded the same treatment. Maybe this is because it isn’t a Ghibli film, and so the investment for restoration just isn’t there? Whatever the reason, this coupled with the lack of extras makes recommending buying the new Blu-ray edition hard for me. For completists (like me) it is a must-own. The film is, quite simply, superb, and I recommend that everyone watches it. But if you already own the DVD, I’m not sure the cost of the Blu-ray (plus DVD copy thrown in) is worth the investment. To be fair, this is the best looking copy of the film you can buy, and the improved sound is fantastic. It’s 6 of one and half a dozen of the other, flip a coin and see what the outcome is.
That all said, do make sure you see Cagliostro. As an anime film it is wonderful. As an early Miyazaki it is fantastic. But as a crime-caper it is unsurpassed. And that car chase at the start is, for me, the best car chase in cinema!