Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Blu-ray Review: 'Kon-Tiki'

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: 'Kon-Tiki' on Blogcritics.

This year, two films were nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars in two different categories, but are almost the exact same film. In Best Motion Picture of the Year there was Life of Pi about a man on a raft at sea; while in Best Foreign Language Film we had the Norwegian Kon-Tiki, about a man on a raft at sea. Life of Pi featured a supporting cast of CGI-rendered characters whereas Kon-Tiki is given live-action characters that really existed. Now, you can take the voyage at home in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack on August 27.

Kon-TikiCoverKon-Tiki is the tale of Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl (Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen), who sets off on a 4,300 mile trek across the Pacific on a balsawood raft in 1947, to prove that Polynesia was actually settled by Peru. While met with rejection from even the National Geographic Society, he meets engineer/fridge salesman, Herman Watzinger (Anders Baasmo Christiensen), who agrees to set off with Thor on his adventure.

They are joined by Erik Hesselberg (Odd-Magnus Williamson), Knut Haugland (Tobias Santelmann), Torstein Raaby (Jakob Oftebro), and ethnographer Bengt Danielsson (Gustaf Skarsgård). Together they set off on their journey to prove Thor’s theory. Meanwhile, back in Lillehammer, Thor’s wife Liv (Agnes Kittelsen) must deal with her husband’s obsession, even it means that their children might not have a father in the next 100 days.

Directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg deliver their own Life of Pi sized thrills in Kon-Tiki, even if The Weinstein Company decided to hack out 20 minutes of run time. While you may not notice it’s gone, those missing minutes certainly have an effect on the tone of the end of the film. Both the U.S. theatrical release and the original Oscar-nominated Norwegian version are available on the same disc. I suppose if you had to pick one for time, the shorter version will still get you to the same place in the end, however, you’ll be missing out on the emotional pull the film originally had in its Norwegian release.

Hagen doesn’t really bring as much depth to Thor as he could have, as he sort of comes off like Sharlto Copley’s Wikus character in District 9. This makes him one of the least interesting characters which defeats the film’s purpose since this is his story. The supporting cast is who really deliver the goods. After sitting through the film twice within days, I can say that the directors have made a rock solid film in that it races by even with one version still fresh in your mind.

Kon-TikiPic1And there’s a sad scene at the end involving a note Thor reads from his wife he was given by Bengt. The annoying thing about the American cut is that we see him give Thor the letter, but it’s never read. In this case, they should have cut the letter altogether. Now, watchers of the American release will want to know what’s in the letter and will have to watch the movie again to find out. I suggest watching the original Norwegian release to begin with because it’s far more emotionally satisfying.

Kon-Tiki splashes onto Blu-ray framed in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. This is an amazing transfer delivered by Starz/Anchor Bay. Considering how much water is in the film, I can’t believe there was no banding to speak of. Same goes for the skyline and horizon. It could have been quite a nightmare, but thankfully, none is found. There was also no noise to speak of, although it comes close in one early scene. But instead of the picture being noisy, it appears more grainy, probably due to the film having been filmed digitally, then printed in 35 mm. Detail is exquisite, being a crashing wave, the skin of a shark, or pores on the actors faces. There’s also no crush or aliasing either. And the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is completely engulfing in both the American and Norwegian tracks. You always feel like you’re right there on the raft with the crew and the LFE is unrelenting in a few sequences. English subtitles have also been included.

In the special feature “Kon-Tiki: The Incredible True Story,” hosted by Maria Menounos, Matt Lauer chimes in to show us what a fanboy he is of Thor’s true story, having been given Thor’s book by his father. The special feature also centers on the making of the film and explains how producer Jeremy Thomas had wanted to make the film since 1996, showing that the film was actually made on the open water. Also included is a 9-minute “Visual Effects Featurette,” set to the film’s score by Johan Söderqvist, which shows scenes going from their finished version being stripped down of effects.

Kon-TikiPic3Similarities between Kon-Tiki­ and Life of Pi are scattered throughout — flying fish, sharks, whales, glowing sea creatures — but thankfully the biggest thing they share is a sense of adventure and characters lost at sea with only the human spirit to guide them. If you want something a little less fantastical than Life of Pi — and not stuffed with religious symbolism — then Kon-Tiki is definitely worth a purchase or rental with the fantastic video and audio making it even more worthy.

Cover art and photos courtesy Stars/Anchor Bay

Friday, August 23, 2013

Movie Review: 'The World's End'

***** out of 5
109 minutes
Rated R for pervasive language including sexual references
Focus Features

Article first published as Movie Review: ‘The World’s End’ on Blogcritics.

When it comes to film perfection these days, not many can pull it off like Edgar Wright. First he took on zombies in Shaun of the Dead, and then he took down all things Michael Bay and ’80s action films with Hot Fuzz. Now, Wright and company (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) are back in business and set their sights even higher in The World’s End. Whether or not the title suggests the world’s complete annihilation I’ll leave for you to find out. But the “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” is certainly going out with a bang. This is one of two films I was most excited for this summer—the other being Pacific Rim—and now for me, the summer season truly is over. But The World’s End is a pure slice of fried gold.

WorldsEndPicGary King (Pegg) has hit rock bottom, but comes across the brilliant idea of getting the boys back together. The boys are his best friends from high school who set out to complete the “Golden Mile” (an epic pup crawl) back in 1990. Seeing how that never happened, the boys have gone their separate ways over the past 23 years. Now, Gary hatches a plan to reunite Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine), Peter (Eddie Marsan), and Andy (Frost), to finish what they started so many years ago. They return to their hometown of Newton Haven and get right down to business, but slowly they realize that something isn’t quite right. And soon enough, the five are swept up into all kinds of chaos and now must survive the night and the pints.

To try and pick a favorite of the “trilogy” is probably easier than a parent trying to pick their favorite child. After having watched Shaun and Fuzz back-to-back over the weekend to prep for The World’s End, I definitely favored the Fuzz. If I was to watch all three in a row, I would have to say that they do indeed get progressively funnier, meaning The World’s End supplies the biggest laughs. Packed with so many jokes that multiple viewings are definitely in order (and shall be imbibed), The World’s End is the perfect way for the Cornetto series to end. Everything is pitch-perfect, and everyone is at the top of their game. This is the film to see this weekend.

Photo courtesy Focus Features

Movie Review: 'You're Next'

**** 1/2 out of 5
94 minutes
Rated R for strong bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity

Article first published on The Reel Place.

Last year, the hilariously fright-filled The Cabin in the Woods was unleashed upon an eagerly awaiting public. This year — while it may not be that hilarious — comes You’re Next, another horror movie with a wicked sense of humor all its own. Director Adam Wingard is probably best known for having directed segments of both V/H/S films, but You’re Next is assuredly the start of an exciting studio career. Having been reviewing every entry of the Kino Lorber “Mario Bava Collection” over the past few months, it was nice to see that Bava’s spirit is alive and well. And it won’t give anything away to say that You’re Next is as close to a remake of Bava’s A Bay of Blood as we’re likely to see.

Opening in Scream fashion with a seemingly random murder, we’re introduced to Paul (Rob Moran) and Aubrey (Barbara Crampton). They’re headed to a giant house full of windows out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by forests, for their 35th wedding anniversary. Ignoring that the front door is open, they head inside where Aubrey hears a loud thud upstairs while Paul was in the basement. Aubrey insists someone is in the house, and that’s when their son Crispian (AJ Bowen) arrives just in time to scare ol’ pops.

Crispian’s girlfriend Erin (Sharni Vinson) has come along for the festivities and the next day they are joined by his siblings Aimee (Amy Seimetz), Drake (Joe Swanberg), and Felix (Nicholas Tucci). Their significant others are also in tow: Tariq (Ti West), Kelly (Sarah Myers), and Zee (Wendy Glenn). The family has come together to celebrate the anniversary at the old house in the hills dear daddy bought to work on as a retirement project. Soon enough, a group of malicious killers arrive and the family must band together to make it through the night.

After watching the trailer for You’re Next and after having seen the film, the same rule certainly applies here as it did with The Cabin in the Woods. The first rule about You’re Next is you don’t talk about You’re Next. Only one of the film’s big surprises is given away, but with everything that happens in that tiny two minutes, you’ll never guess which one it is. Writer Simon Barrett (also part of the V/H/S crew) certainly knows the horror genre inside out. Things are also helped about fellow horror auteur Ti West (House of the Devil, The Innkeepers, V/H/S), and genre vet Crampton (Puppet Master, From Beyond, Chopping Mall, Re-Animator). Unfortunately for her, she’s horrible. Even though she’s surrounded by characters that are pretty unlikeable, there’s no need to overact so much. Thankfully, Aubrey is quickly dispatched.

Survival is the name of the game in You’re Next and Wingard has delivered a smorgasbord of victims for the killers to pick from. Barrett has also come up with some amazing ways to kill someone, one of which is one of the most hilarious deaths I’ve seen seen outside of the Final Destination franchise. The red stuff splatters spectacularly and there are some well-deserved jump moments. As for the film being super scary, I don’t think too many people will lose that much sleep over it. When it comes to home invasion films however, it definitely goes above and beyond the super dopey The Purge. Considering You’re Next was completed two years ago, it wouldn’t surprise me if the writer of The Purge took most of his queue after seeing this at a festival. Great horror films have been few and far between this year, but You’re Next fits right alongside Evil Dead and The Conjuring as one of the year’s best horror films.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Movie Review: 'The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones'

** 1/2 out of 5
130 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy violence and action, and some suggestive content
Screen Gems

Article first published as Movie Review: ‘The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones’ on Blogcritics.

The search for the next great young adult book adaptation phenomenon seems to be never ending. After the unbelievable success of the idiotic Twilight Saga, every major studio seems hell-bent on finding the next big thing. While Lionsgate has managed to find an even bigger successor with The Hunger Games, even that film fizzled in my mind, and I loved the original book. Warner Bros. tried their hand earlier this year with the better-than-Hunger Games, Beautiful Creatures. But ultimately, it was another loss as it failed to find any kind of audience — probably because it was smarter than its target demographic. And so now here comes Screen Gems with their attempt to kickstart another YA series with Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. It will be referred to as TMI from here on out because the film’s Twitter hashtag is #TMIMOVIE — which is hilarious.

TMIPic1TMI introduces us to Clary (Lily Collins), who lives with her mother, Jocelyn (Lena Headey) in New York City. Clary doesn’t know it yet, but she’s about to have a really bad couple of days. After heading out with her bestie and unrequited love-slave Simon (Robert Sheehan), Clary spots a symbol she’s been drawing on a nightclub marquee. Clary talks Simon into going inside — full of goths and emos — where she sees someone in a hoodie murder a seemingly innocent bystander. But not even Simon can see what happened. The next day, Clary wakes up to a room full of drawings of said symbol and sure enough, the hooded murderer shows up and wants to know how she can see him. The hooded stranger turns out to be Jace Weyland (Jamie Campbell Bower), Shadowhunter (i.e. half angel, half human warrior) at large.

Now Jocelyn has gone missing and Jace takes Clary to “The Institute,” run by Hodge Starkweather (Jared Harris), who tells her that someone has blocked her memories, and only Bane (Godfrey Gao) can help her because he is who placed the spell on her for protection by her mother. In other news, vampires are after Clary as well and take Simon hostage, leading them to a big showdown, where they are saved by a pack of werewolves. Oh yes, earlier, we are enlightened by fellow Shadowhunter Isabelle (Jemima West) that vampires, werewolves, and warlocks all exist, but oddly, zombies do not. Finally, Clary, Jace, Isabelle, and her brother Alec (Kevin Zegers), must band together to find out who Clary really is, stop the evil Valentine (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) from finding the Mortal Cup which Jocelyn has hidden from him, and save the world as we know it.

TMIPic2Holy cow is there a lot of plot running through the cinematic veins of TMI. And for a good two-thirds of the runtime, there’s enough icky shenanigans to interest even the male viewers, undoubtedly dragged along by their other halves. Unfortunately, director Harald Zwart is directing the worst Empire Strikes Back ripoff imaginable. Let alone that the supposed love story feels completely thrown in at the last minute, as if it wasn’t even in the original cut but Screen Gems made an executive decision that the film wasn’t girly enough. Sure enough, a big scene featuring pretty surroundings, a pop song, and an even bigger kiss, rears its head. And it’s all downhill from there.

Up until that exact scene, I was thoroughly behind TMI. Collins was up to par for making Clary both kickass and fragile, Sheehan’s Simon was believably daft yet tongue-in-cheek, and Bower’s Jace made a nice change of pace with his snarky British attitude. What really brings the film to a screeching halt is Jessica Postigo’s ludicrous finale. Aping everything from Tim Burton’s Batman, to Ghostbusters, and the aforementioned Empire Strikes Back, when a big showdown occurs between two characters after yet another insipid plot twist, you’re dying for one of them to get their hand cut off because if you’re going to be so blatant in your ripping off something like Empire Strikes Back, you might as well go all the way. It’s the same issue as the ending of Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters. That film’s ending was a huge ripoff of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

TMIPic3Contrivance rears its head and there’s not one plot twist you can’t see coming a mile away. Unless, you’re the target audience, who undoubtedly have probably never even heard of the films Zwart and Co. are ripping off. Had the film continued down the path of icky shenanigans we were treated to in the first two-thirds, I would have drank TMI’s Kool-Aid and could tell you all that another Beautiful Creatures was on our hands. Even the special effects were a cut above anything out of the five Twilight movies. But alas, all The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones has going for it is the hopes of studio executives waiting to see if the Twi-hards will bite. And they might, considering TMI is far more up their ally if you get what I mean. Anyone else is urged to either stay away or walk out once that big kiss we all know is coming rolls around.

Photos courtesy Screen Gems