The Double Blu-ray review

Starring: Richard Gere, Topher Grace, Martin Sheen, Stephen Moyer, Odette Yustman
Director: Michael Brandt
Language: English
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Release Date: January 31, 2012
Run Time: 92 minutes

            The Double closely resembles a few other thrillers, but it is in ways which I cannot divulge without ruining some of the surprises the film has to offer. These are surprises which may be easily spotted by those who have seen these other films, but I will leave it up to the memory and film instinct of each individual viewer. Personally, I have seen far too many films for The Double to stick as anything entirely memorable, though I do remember being entertained as I watched the film. It may not leave a lasting impression, which is probably why few have heard of this film prior to home video release, but it still has an entertainment purpose.

            Part spy film and part serial killer thriller, The Double follows the investigation of a series of murders which begin with the assassination of a United States Senator. Each murder is a slit throat, which is thought to be the work of a political Soviet assassin known only Cassius. Many thought Cassius to be dead, including the ex-CIA agent who was once responsible for the investigation on his murders. Paul Shepherdson (Richard Gere) is called into the new investigation after the murder of the Senator, paired up with a young FBI agent named Ben Geary (Topher Grace), whose thesis was on Cassius.

            These two experts disagree on whether the new murders are Cassius or a copycat, but they must find a way to trust each other in order to put an end to the killing. There are many layers of the plot, with grander Russian schemes than the simple murders of Cassius. It is all rather complex and well thought out, however improbable a story like this may seem.

            The Blu-ray release includes an audio commentary with co-filmmakers Michael Brandt and Derek Haas. Brandt directs and Haas produces, but both co-wrote the screenplay together as they have previously done with the successful 3:10 to Yuma and Wanted. Also included in the extras is a making of featurette and the trailer, which is below.

Texas Killing Fields Blu-ray review

Starring: Sam Worthington, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jessica Chastain, Chloe Grace Moretz
Director: Ami Canaan Mann
Language: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rated: R (Restricted)
Release Date: January 31, 2012
Run Time: 105 minutes

            Texas Killing Fields does not come with many twists and turns. There are no secret bad guys who appear innocent or corrupt cops doing the killing. The people who appear bad are likely to actually be bad, and this allows for a straightforward crime film which stands on story and characters alone. And it stands rather tall in a genre which can often feel tiresomely familiar. Even with no surprises or revelations, Texas Killing Fields is an impressive film because of good filmmaking alone.

            Inspired by true events, this crime thriller follows the investigating done by homicide Detective Heigh (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his close friend and partner Detective Souder (Sam Worthington) after a serial killer begins dumping bodies just out of their jurisdiction. The corpses of the women and girls being slaughtered and dismembered are dumped in a marsh called “The Killing Fields” by locals.

            Despite warnings by his partner, Detective Heigh insists on pursuing the investigation which they aren’t responsible for. This ends up attracting the attention of the serial killer, who begins playing his own games with the detectives. This includes targeting a young local girl (ChloĆ« Crace Moretz), who has always been able to rely on our protagonists when her home life was too difficult. In a race against time, they set out to save the girl and catch the killer.

            The Blu-ray includes an audio commentary with director Ami Canaan Mann and writer Donald F. Ferrarone. The actual high definition presentation of the film is not exception, but this is mostly because of the lower budget and grittier feel to the photography. It just doesn’t make as much of a difference, though there are a few shootouts and chase sequences which are certainly enhanced by the 7.1 TrueHD surround sound.

Drive Blu-ray review

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman,  Bryan Cranston
Director: Nicolas Winding Refn
Rated: R
Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
DVD Release Date: January 31, 2012
Run Time: 100 minutes

            On average, I watch about 600 movies a year. Sometimes it’s more and sometimes it is less, but I will only watch a small percentage of them more than once. The truth is, very few of the 600 are altogether memorable. Some are praiseworthy but I feel no emotional connection to them, while others are indulgent but less than adequate upon later examination. Then there are the perfect films. The ones which not only have the ability to keep you thinking for days, but also grab you in a way which almost feels personal. In 2011, for me, this film was Drive. A culmination of a director I have long respected, an actor I very much admire, and a promising premise taken from a book by James Sallis resulted in the best film of the year. 1 in 600.

            Ryan Gosling stars as a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver for criminals at night. This job pays much better but it also comes with added risks. These risks are avoided by careful planning and precise maneuvering, as we see in the opening sequence. This is one of the most intelligent car chases I have ever seen on film. These risks are fine until the driver becomes somewhat involved with a beautiful young mother (Carey Mulligan) living next door. Suddenly he finds himself pulled in on a job which goes wrong, involving a pair of wicked criminals (Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman), and he is forced to take action in order to protect his innocent neighbor.

The storyline is rather simple, and the filmmaking simplifies it even further. We are not given lengthy scenes of dialogue to fill us in on back-story, and occasionally we even leave the scene before the dialogue has even begun. In one amazing sequence the driver is walking through a grocery store when he notices his neighbor, Irene (Mulligan). At this point it is clear from his facial expression when he sees her that he wants nothing to do with her. Perhaps he wants no attachments or maybe he has another reason, but instead of approaching the woman and her son, he retreats down another aisle. As fate would have it, he walks out of the store just as Irene discovers that her car won’t start. As well as being a stunt driver and a getaway driver, our antihero protagonist also works with a mechanic (Bryan Cranston), and again we see the look on his face, hesitating before approaching to help. The film then cuts to a shot of them in their apartment elevator. We don’t need the unnecessary dialogue. We know everything we need to know from the images, and with the help of a pop-electronic soundtrack. 
            This has been a good year for Gosling, whose range has always been excellent. This year he had success with a romantic comedy in Crazy Stupid Love, a political thriller in George Clooney’s The Ides of March, and with Drive he has made another masterpiece at heights as great as Half Nelson. Shoot, this is even as good as The Notebook. Gosling’s performance comes as no surprise, however, as he has never been short of excellent. What truly surprised me was to see how much director Nicholas Wining Refn has come into his own. He was born and bred amidst the Dogma ’95 movement of Danish cinema, but while he debut feature was certainly shot in natural surroundings with mostly non-actors with natural light, Refn’s Pusher was also a stylistic and graphic gangster film resembling the type of films Quentin Tarantino was making in the 1990s. Followed by two sequels which were each better than the last, Refn showed promise from the very beginning. His films have otherwise always proven to be worth watching, though some are more impressive than others. Each attempts to intellectually approach the art of filmmaking while telling otherwise straightforward stories. He is one of many filmmakers, including Tarantino, who have elevated the genre film into an incredible art form. Drive is Refn’s masterpiece.

            The Blu-ray release of the year’s best film includes four featurettes and an interview documentary with Refn. The featurettes are precise and thoughtful, though there are layers even deeper within the film that aren’t really delved into. Sometimes it feels as though featurettes are made not to spoil the film, rather than directed at the audience who has already watched it. These are better than most, though the interview is far more revealing. High definition is certainly the way to see this film, which has one of the best soundtracks of the year in between the few major car chase sequences, and all of this is captured excellently on the 5.1 DTS-HD audio. There is also an instantly streamable Ultraviolet copy for home computers and mobile devices.

Real Steel Blu-ray review

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Evangeline Lilly, Dakota Goyo 
Director: Shawn Levy
Rated: PG-13 
Studio: Touchstone / Disney
DVD Release Date: January 24, 2012

            Many critics used Rocky as a comparison for Real Steel, only with robots, but it seems to me that the plot is much closer to resembling another Sylvester Stallone vehicle instead. Over the Top is about a distant father given a cross-country trip to get to know his son better, and Real Steel has a similar scenario between irresponsible father and financially stable son. Only set in the future instead of the 1980s, and with robots instead of the Italian Stallion.

             Hugh Jackman stars as Charlie Kenton, a washed up fighter who has turned into a promoter for the robot fights which have replaced humans in the boxing ring. His haphazard and reckless treatment of the robots, along with a strong penchant for making bets he can’t afford, Charlie finds himself deep in financial debt when the added trouble of a custody hearing also comes up. With the death of the boy’s mother, Charlie is the rightful guardian, though he has no relationship with the boy and other wealthy family members are eager to earn custody. Seeing a way to benefit financially from the relationship, Charlie agrees to take his son along with him on a cross-country trip.

            After discovering a beat-up training robot perched on a muddy slope over the ravine beside a dump yard, Charlie and his son build a relationship as they build a fighter. Standing at 8-feet, their robot is one of the smallest competitors in the business, relying on the boy’s video game experience and Charlie’s boxing skills and knowledge to win. Against all of the odds, this unlikely trio find themselves on a winning streak that eventually pits them against the world champion robot.

            Although we are never asked to believe that their robot named Atom has emotions or is human in anyway, it is certainly clear that he is different from the rest of the robots. There is more expression and humanity within his movements and his face, making him feel like a combination of Wall-E, the robot from The Iron Giant and every great underdog boxer in the history of cinema.

            The Blu-ray release of this special effects blockbuster features a spectacular high definition presentation, fully equipped with 7.1 DTS-HD audio for the metal crunching soundtrack. The 2-disc combo pack also includes a DVD version of the film, along with a few special features. There are bloopers, two making-of featurettes and an audio commentary with director Shawn Levy. The Blu-ray disc has these features as well as three exclusive features. There are deleted and extended scenes with an introduction by Levy, a featurette about Charlie’s story before the robots, and an exclusive second-screen feature compatible with iPad.

The Ides of March Blu-ray review

Starring: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei
Director: George Clooney
Studio: Sony Pictures Entertainment
Release Date: January 17, 2012
Run Time: 101 minutes

            The Ides of March is a unique and brilliant film about politics, bringing a view which was profoundly effective first in the play by Beau Willimon, who lent a hand in adapting the screenplay along with director and co-star George Clooney and his writing partner, Grant Heslov. What makes this film so profound is not the fact that it exposes corruption and all kinds of backdoor bargaining going on within a presidential campaign, but the manner in which the layers of individual mistakes can effectively coerce any given political decision. And it does all of this with spectacularly written dialogue and immaculate performances all around.

            The film follows in just a brief portion of the election campaign, during the Ohio primary which may determine the election’s final results down the line. These tense few days are given added pressure after a series of coincidental events force presidential candidate Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) to rethink his strategy. Although he always seems to be present, hanging on the wall nearby or on television in the background, this film is less about Mike Morris than it is Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), an ambitious campaign worker who has a lot to gain from the election of Morris. Working only under a close friend (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the Governor himself, Meyers is both idealistic and hard-working, though this does not necessarily make him incorruptible.

             Clooney started his directorial career with a lot of flash, and some critics called his debut over-directed. Then Clooney dove deep into films about politics. The Ides of March takes elements of all of these, though each more subtle than before. Clooney has come into his own as a solid filmmaker, as well as an actor. The Blu-ray release of The Ides of March includes a 1080p high definition experience, along with 5.1 DTS-HD audio. The special features include a commentary track with Clooney and Heslov. There is also a featurette with Clooney, and another about the entire cast of this film, which also includes Marissa Tomei, Paul Giamatti and Evan Rachel Wood. The remaining two featurettes are about the political aspects of the film. 

The Apartment Blu-ray review

Starring: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen
Director: Billy Wilder
Writers: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond 
Rated: NR (Not Rated)
Studio: MGM
DVD Release Date: February 5, 2008
Run Time: 125 minutes

The Apartment has always been my personal favorite Billy Wilder film, which is cemented with each additional time I re-watch this masterpiece in melancholy. Although the transfer of a classic such as this may not be a notable Blu-ray release, especially with minimal special features bragging about, but I welcome any reason to revisit this poignant and touching dramedy. Billy Wilder was inspired to make The Apartment after seeing the British film Brief Encounter, written by playwright Noel Coward based off of his scene written for the stage. It was directed by David Lean and is about two married people who have a brief affair when they meet at a train station one evening. The couple never sleeps together, but at one point they go to an apartment lent out by a friend, and apparently Billy Wilder saw this as the most fascinating aspect of the film.

Years later when censors had calmed significantly Wilder decided to make the film, using his powers at casting to bring a perfect orchestration of talent. The role of CC “Bud” Baxter was written for Jack Lemmon, who had achieved great success in Wilder’s Some Like It Hot, and was now given the chance to bring an enormously touching and humane character to life in The Apartment. Someone like Lemmon was essentially considering the film was about a man who lends out his apartment as a way to advance in his business achievements, and the actor had become well loved by audiences. Other great casting choices include Feed MacMurray as J.D. Sheldrake, Baxter’s boss and the man having an affair with Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), the elevator woman in the building that Baxter just happens to have a crush on. Without even realizing it he allows her to enter his apartment, and when the affair turns sour it is Baxter who is there is, despite the threats it has to his promotions.

With the new release of a Blu-ray there isn’t a great deal of new information that can be found, especially considering so many of the key figures are now dead. The way that the special features attempts to work around this problem is found in having the offspring speak for their parents instead. It works some of the time, although it is a lot of speculation. The “Inside the Apartment” thirty-minute documentary about the film there are a lot of stories given from people who know them more out of being passed along rather than having the information on their own. Therefore there is very little new in the documentary, although it is still mildly interesting and entertaining nonetheless. The other featurette is exclusively about the talented and touching Jack Lemmon, mostly given through interviews by his son about the path to acting that Lemmon took. Perhaps the most insightful of all of the features is a commentary track by film producer and historian Bruce Block.   

Although the high definition is certainly admirable, however unnecessary it may seem for enjoying the film, the real treat of this film on Blu-ray is simply the reminder. Each time a new edition or version of a film is released it gives us critics a chance to turn more unsuspecting audience members onto an unforgettable classic. If you haven’t yet seen this film, waste no time. While waiting to see who will win Best Picture at this year’s Academy Award ceremony, watch 1960’s winner; The Apartment.

Relativity and Hasbro Bring Stretch Armstrong to the Big Screen: Targeted for April 11, 2014 Release

Relativity Media has partnered with global branded play company Hasbro, Inc. to develop and produce a live-action tent-pole film based on Stretch Armstrong, the iconicaction hero figure launched in the 1970s, it was announced today by Relativity’s Co-President, Tucker Tooley and Hasbro’s President and CEO, Brian Goldner.

Relativity will be the domestic distributor and will release the film internationally through its network of foreign output partners. The film is targeted for an April 11, 2014 release date.

The film will be produced by Relativity’s CEO, Ryan Kavanaugh (The Fighter), Hasbro’s Goldner (Transformers) and Bennett Schneir, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, Motion Pictures (Battleship). Tooley (Immortals) will serve as executive producer.

 Since 2007, Hasbro's Transformers and G.I. Joe franchises have grossed nearly $3 billion at the worldwide box office. 2012 is shaping up to be another stellar year for Hasbro with its partners Universal Pictures releasing Battleship in April and Paramount Pictures releasing G.I. Joe: Retaliation in June. 

“We are absolutely thrilled to partner with Hasbro, a company whose global reach and ability to innovate has made them immensely successful in the arena of brand re-imagination-- as evidenced by their legacy of creating such franchises asTransformers and G.I. Joe,” said Tooley, “We look forward to bringing Stretch Armstrong to audiences worldwide.”

“Stretch Armstrong is a great example of Hasbro’s rich portfolio of intellectual properties that we are continuing to develop globally,” said Goldner, “We are excited to partner with Relativity on this movie as they are a growing and innovative studio.”

Stretch Armstrong is the classic action hero figure first launched by Hasbro in 1976 and re-launched in the 90’s, sold successfully throughout North America and in markets across the world. The original Stretch's unique design broke free of traditional action figures, as he could be stretched over and over and always returned back to his original size. The nostalgic toy is considered to be rare and collectible to this day.

Must See Video! Movie Promotional Stunt has People Flying Over New York City

Recently 20th Century Fox teamed up with Thinkmodo for an unusual viral promotion for the upcoming superhero flick CHRONICLE.  Using three custom RC planes shaped like people, they launched them over NYC to create the illusion of human flight.                                                      
Check out the video now: 

“Since the three main characters of the movie have the ability to fly, we came up with the idea of staging a few “flying people” sightings around NYC. We achieved that illusion by having 3 custom-made aircraft (which were shaped like human beings) fly above designated areas in NYC and NJ,” says Michael Krivicka from Thinkmodo. 

CHRONICLE flies in theaters everywhere Friday, February 3rd.

Punished DVD review

Starring: Anthony Wong, Richie Ren, Maggie Cheung
Director: Wing-Cheong Law
Language: Cantonese
Subtitles: English 
Rated: R (Restricted)
Studio: Vivendi Entertainment
DVD Release Date: January 24, 2012
Run Time: 94 minutes

            Revenge is a common theme in Chinese action films, and even just in the filmography of producer Johnnie To, who is best known for another film called Vengeance. This one is called Punished, though it is somewhat of an untraditional revenge film. There are more layers of plot and morality than the average revenge film, though it packs just as much excitement.

            Punished begins as a rather unpleasant family melodrama. It feels like a Chinese episode of “The Sopranos” when the drug habit of a powerful man (Anthony Wong) becomes more than just an embarrassment. Her behavior threatens business, which somehow feels slightly less than legitimate, but none of this is an issue when the daughter is suddenly kidnapped. The reasons for this kidnapping are unknown, and even after the ransom is paid she is killed just the same.

            This is when it becomes a revenge film, though there is a certain level of distance in this vengeance. Instead of dirtying his hands with the act of murdering the people responsible for his daughter’s death, the tycoon hires his ex-bodyguard (Richie Jen) to do it instead. Determined to make enough money to ensure his son’s financial stability in life, this bodyguard is willing to throw everything away in order to destroy the culprits. He videotapes the deaths and sends them back to his boss, who only becomes involved with the final death.

            The DVD release includes a featurette about the making of Punished, as well as one about the direction of the cast by Law Wing Cheong (Tactical Unit, Comrades in Arms). There is also a stills gallery from behind-the-scenes.