Oblivion (2013) Blu-ray review

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What You May Like:

  • Marvelous audio/visual presentation
  • Initially intriguing story and plot twists
  • Fantastic production values
  • Very attractive cast

What You May Not:

  • Story takes too long to build itself
  • Later story details do not feel satisfactorily explained
  • Overall characterization is fairly low
  • No clear villain

What You’ll Remember:

  • How beautifully “clean” the future can be

In 2010, American director Joseph Kosinski was given his chance for a breakthrough film with his debut directorial feat in Tron: Legacy. While the film was a marvel of visual splendor, offering up some grand ideas to modern CGI effects, it failed to truly wow critics with a story that could have been leagues beyond itself, and characters who though looked great, put forth mostly basic performances; great expectations despite its early 80s predecessor being mostly a flop. So while there were no other works to measure Kosinski’s abilities on the director’s chair, the popularity Tron received commercially through word of mouth, merchandising, home video, and of course beholding the Disney name, all gave Kosinski a worthy enough name in film direction. Now in 2013 we receive Oblivion, a completely original sci-fi film that is surprisingly (for our time) not based off a book, play, TV show, or any former piece of media or idea whatsoever; a film not only containing Kosinski’s name again as director, but also a couple of A-list Hollywood giants in the forms of Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman to hopefully outdo his last work. Now although the film does achieve some good intentions through its technical prowess, it does so mostly in the form Tron:Legacy did, only this time unfortunately without the Disney name, thus meaning less revenue in merchandising and overall fanaticism.

Oblivion stars Tom Cruise as Jack Harper, a man living and working in a post-apocalypse Earth, which fell into a grand interstellar war against beings called “scavengers” from a distant planet looking to garner more resources elsewhere. Though the human race of Earth won this war, it came at the cost of an actual inhabitable planet, which became completely ravaged and water torn, forcing humans to begin preparations to move to a livable moon of Saturn, yet in the meantime all taking residence on an elaborately built space station nearby until the Saturn moon becomes ready. Jack Harper and female companion Vika, played by beautiful English actress Andrea Riseborough, are both assigned to a station in the middle of an Earth desert in order to both clear out any remaining drones on land in addition to create energy from the remaining water left using another intricate system. In this setup it is Harper who goes out to do the dirty work whereas Vika aids him with coordinates and satellite feeds from the station. Soon they both notice some unidentified vessels crashing on Earth nearby and discover that there are a few sleep chambered survivors in one of them, one of which happens to be a mysterious beautiful woman who we later learn to be named Julia, played by Ukrainian model and actress Olga Kurylenko, who has inexplicably been flashing in and out of Harper’s dreams for a significant while. Once she is released Harper begins to see his past revealed in ways he never before expected or even foresaw, and must come to question his own past, existence, and ultimate purpose from then on.

In addition to Harper’s story, we have a hideout group who the team of Harper and Vika original thinks of as scavengers, yet discover are actually a small army looking to end the war once and for all with these scavengers (or whichever ones are strangely enough still on Earth, even though their part in the war has been lost for a long time). The team is led by Beech, played by Morgan Freeman in a mostly passable and forgettable performance, as well as accompanied by plenty of civilians and head trooper Sykes, played with basic generic functionality by Game of Thrones star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Yes, also forgettable. Harper’s story soon extends him towards this team and Oblivion becomes a film about the last remnants of war between the humans and… well, some random machines that have either gone haywire or have been hacked by the actual scavengers themselves. Unfortunately, the lack of a real villain and similar sort of story plainness is ultimately where Oblivion‘s biggest issues lie, despite it being an epic futuristic vision in a similar vain to Kosinksi’s Tron.

Viewers will notice that the biggest show stoppers in Oblivion who do just enough to be called show stoppers are with star actors Cruise and Riseborough, whose relationship in the film, both platonic and non, becomes the most seductive, despite Cruise’s additional relationship with Kurylenko’s character. Upon opening we get a background synopsis of the current circumstances by Cruise, yet one may get the feeling that it doesn’t truly feel so much like Cruise is playing any sort of future sci-fi lone soldier, but really, just playing Tom Cruise. While he functions well as an actor here, there is nothing to really write home about in the end to establish Jack Harper as even a likeable hero. It’s forgivable, if a tad disappointing. Therefore it is a great save that director Kosinski has such an incredible eye for artistic visions, cinematography, and slick style filmmaking, as Oblivion is undoubtedly one of the most beautifully gorgeous examples of sci-fi cinematography in recent years or even the last decade entirely. While none of the actors really do enough to capture your heart, the stellar audio and visual presentation of Oblivion surely will, and that is indeed the film’s obvious highlight and cash cow. Vast and clear landscapes, ultra-clean indoor modern solid-colored furniture, incredibly slick machinery, and Kosinski’s very meticulous care and clever eye in establishing some very precise and well-placed props and actors within a set piece shot or camera pan, it all works to bring Oblivion’s lonely but immaculately epic atmosphere as a character all in itself. This is not even to mention the audio and technical sound effects; aside from the great HD transfer of it all, the film is constantly tossing the most pleasing and boastful futuristic sounds you’ll hear all year, and it is obvious the filmmaker’s had a specific love for all things sci-fi considering the ambitious audio presentation here. Everything a sci-fi nerd’s ear dreams about – robotic bleeps, zooms, machinery scans, phaser rifles, intercom distortions and other emissions – it’s almost overwhelming at certain spots, but always welcome and helps boost Oblivion to greater and more intriguing life. That being said, yes, on a technical level Kosinski once again impresses just as he did before.

Now while things all look and sound fantastic, the story front is where Oblivion falls short of capturing lots of its audience, despite the introduction bringing plenty of involving elements that are for the most part saved by intelligent direction which involves some very dreamscape-like use of camera pans and a low and subtle but seductive soundtrack. Yet though Kosinski has some sly tricks, the main crux of the plot simply takes far too long to get going, and granted that Morgan Freeman doesn’t appear on screen until an hour into the film being disappointing enough, this is where we finally get to the meat of our feature, and by this time the script only has so much to hold onto. It is at this point that the audience will begin to notice that Oblivion is not all it is cracked up to be… but that is until a very strange yet very interesting plot twist comes very and pleasingly unexpectedly our way; and though the film won’t lose you entirely up until that point, Oblivion gets a much needed boost that really should not have taken that long to get to. Some editing could have helped during the first hour, even if that would have cut the running time below two hours (as scary as it is to do that these days). Additionally, some logical questions with said plot twist are left suspended for a bit, my guess would be to aid with the film’s overall suspense, yet when we do finally get our answers they actually feel like a dose of spammy ham the writers clutched in at the last minute, almost as if they couldn’t think of an intriguing enough scenario themselves, thus making the actual plot twist feel more like a shoehorned act of desperation to keep audiences from tuning out altogether. This is of course bad news, not even coming to count in the fact that our small rebel army led by Freeman and Waldau feel too much like cardboard stills who really should have either been given a much greater character arc (or any really) or at least a more dominant presence. Many of the extras, if not all of them, are there for one reason and one reason only – to die. On our mainstay protagonists, we also are not granted either an interesting enough relationship or significant character growth to involve us enough towards them as people, despite being held over by some luscious special effects during the fast-paced firefights.

To add a little more insult to injury, said firefights are typically with flying drones sent over by what seem like those pesky scavengers whom the war is being fought against (you know, that war that supposedly ended decades ago?). The audience will eventually question what the real threat actually is considering not once in the entire film do we ever see the actual scavengers go up against any of our protagonists at all, but the only fights we do get are with our small army and self-aware flying droids; meanwhile, the scavengers do only appear in fewer scenes that can be counted on one hand, just spying on our good guys through binoculars but nothing else. An idea perhaps would have been to make them an actual presence if even to sacrifice some of the elongated establishing of the film’s first hour. This lack of an antagonist threat would in fact only leave the saving grace of Oblivion to be that plot twist mentioned earlier, and while it does play out to a somewhat satisfactory degree, there are still far too many questions by the film’s conclusion that simply were not explained thoroughly enough to feel as if it was something written with substantial talented intricacy, and may lead one to watch the film once again. To yours grinch truly’s own surprise, that idea would not be even all that bad, because despite these plot and script shortcomings, Oblivion has much going for it in the likes of its wonderful audio and visual persona as well as some moments of genuinely immersive character dialogue and a generally fantastically hypnotic atmosphere. Kosinksi does give us more old fashioned style over substance, but it is style that is so well envisioned that it does enough to make Oblivion a worthwhile endeavor, if never to come close to a classic piece of science fiction.

Extras:

A fairly fulfilling small bunch. Besides your expected commentary track there are a handful of deleted scenes that only last about thirty seconds to minute each. Next there is a five-part set of behind-the-scenes making-of featurettes which are impressively well produced, giving us different views on Oblivion, such as its locales, machinery, special effects, original storyboard ideas and conception, and stunt work. Each featurette gives us plenty of interviews with the crew, as well as Cruise, Riseborough and Kurylenko as cast; Freeman must have been busy, or realized his part was too underdeveloped to warrant an interview (I don’t blame him). There is also an option to play the film with or without a score. While the bunch is decent, it would have been a treat to either make the featurettes longer as they only last between five and eleven minutes each, or perhaps give us some trailers.

Graphics and Sound:

Oblivion is already an incredible film to see and hear already as a production, and the blu-ray transfer is incredibly close to matching it perfectly. On the visual front, the film looks just as good as it, well, looks. For the most part, the film is crystal clear and one of the more pristine transfers you will see on the market today; edges are beautifully sharp, colors are never blurry or soft with just the right touch of vividness, and close-ups are full of detail. Unfortunately, that ugly little monster called noise distortion does rear its annoying head every now and then; while these scenes are very few, they are noticeable when they pop up, and for such an amazingly clean transfer it really should not be the case. Forgivable but unnecessary. Now what would balance this small visual glitch out would be the seamless and perfected audio transfer. Kosinski does prove himself in the film as a true talent of sights and sounds, and on the sound front, the blu-ray is nothing short of spot-on perfection. Dialogue is clear and without fault, but what makes it even better is how well balanced it is with the other effects. All those sci-fi effects are made to sweep your ears off your head already, and are so rich and wondrous that they can almost be counted as music, and never do any of these become too overwhelming or disruptive throughout the film; therefore if the track would be shot out through even a basic sound system, it would still do much to take the film to some epic audio levels.

Final Verdict:

Kosinski for the most part has repeated himself from his last debut directorial outing, and while it is not completely bad news, Oblivion will hold less appeal to the mass audience that Tron: Legacy had, due both to not being an appealing factor to young children and whole families, but also as being even less relevant on the part of its post-theatrical performance. It is obvious that this film required a PG-13 rating if it wanted to gain any significant business at all, and such a holding back can be seen in the lack of blood and hesitancy towards more adult-oriented language and potential sexual tension. One can easily tell these could have worked further but were unfortunately only hinted at shortly. The film does contain some very significant positives that will make it a better treat to more hardcore sci-fi fans than your average movie-goer, and in the end that will be the deciding factor for viewers – does a science fiction atmosphere do enough to interest you given characters and a plot that do not do enough to grip you or be significantly relatable? A technical marvel beyond any doubt, the film seems to work best as a grand sci-fi filmmaking template, something filmmaking students can learn from, and not so much an emotionally relatable production that will hold itself in the minds and hearts of its viewers for some time to come. Worth a purchase for this specific type of fanatic to the genre, and a good rental for everyone else. I’d say 2.5 tets out of 4.

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013) Blu-ray review

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What You May Like:

  • Unique and engaging storyline
  • Great action with unapologetic violence factor
  • Vivid, smooth and slick animation

What You May Not:

  • Not too significant of a villain present
  • Some substandard voice actors
  • A few story details are a bit convoluted

What You’ll Remember:

  • The darker and grittier version of Batman

From the fantastical minds that have brought us a vast library of ambitious feature length films featuring Marvel and DC Universe heroes comes the latest installment centered primarily on the Flash character and his Barry Allen alter ego. Staple DC film creator names such a Jay Oliva, Geoff Johns, and James Kreig carry the roles of director, story, and screenplay respectively, all of whom have a steady and respectable resume of comic and various children’s animated features, and with their new creation matters are taken down an unapologetic path of a more complex yet engaging storyline, darker characters, and more explicit bloodshed. The Flashpoint Paradox gives us a refreshingly original screenplay that absolutely earns its PG-13 rating, not simply for the violence factor, but also for direction to present a story with a good variety of interwoven character story arcs that give a great balance of history and the present character personalities fans have all come to recognize, but not necessarily told in a manner that non-adolescents will easily comprehend; a characteristic of Paradox that both helps and limits it just enough from a true breakthrough in animated action.

Paradox stars a hefty handful of DC Universe names with mostly good, if some sub-par voice performances that eventually become unimportant considering how gripping the story soon becomes. Names include Justin Chambers as the Flash, C. Thomas Howell playing nemesis Professor Zoom/ Eobard Thawne, Michael B. Jordan as Cyborg, and more famous ones with smaller roles such as Nathan Fillion as the Green Lantern, and Ron Pearlman as Deathstroke; yet the cast is pretty vast considering the amount of DC stars who make an appearance. Judging from the front cover, one thinks they’re in for a story involving the Flash, Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and Cyborg, but to our surprise other heroes give some cameos, as well as some fairly significant roles, such as Superman and the Green Lantern. Upon opening, we get the background behind Flash himself, and how his mother was murdered by a home intruder when he was just a boy. Immediately being taken into his adulthood visiting his deceased mother’s grave, Barry Allen woodenly expresses regrets as to how he should have done more to save his mother, however exaggerated a grown man could be about something he obviously had no control over at just 8 years old; soon the thankfully brief introduction to him is quickly forgotten when we meet Flash’s nemesis Eobard Thawne terrorizing a local city Flash museum along with his own posse of greedy but dimwitted thugs such as Boomerang and Captain Cold, otherwise known as the Rogues. Here is where Flash is aided by his own Justice League posse that we are also introduced to – your standard Green Lantern, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Cyborg – all working as a cohesive team to settle the matter. A good and solid opening, even if some characters appear a bit rushed in production.

The story takes a strange turn fairly quickly and may even go over a few viewers’ heads; suddenly we see Flash at his city news offices where word is spreading about the world’s apparent Armageddon, to which Flash suddenly and unexpectedly runs into his mother, who wonders why Barry is acting to strangely. His mother being alive is not the only strange difference, as we then see Barry’s love interest Iris as a wife and mother to another man, as well as are introduced to far more bitter, sinister, and unforgiving version of Batman, who apparently now forgoes any of the moral ethics of crime fighting we know him so well for. Lastly, and perhaps the biggest strange change to Barry’s seeming dreamworld is the fact that not only are Wonder Woman and Aquaman enemies, but their respective Amazon and Atlantis kingdoms have waged war against each other which is breaking down the world around them, nearing the end of it, all due to Wonder’s murder of Aqua’s wife after an extramarital affair between the two gone array. When Barry tries to make sense of matters he goes to visit the Batcave to get some answers, only to be beaten and questioned by this new darker version of the Dark Knight. Yet it is there that Barry discovers that his opposite “reverse-Flash” nemesis Professor Zoom, or Eobard Thawne is behind the strange set of circumstances in a way Barry cannot yet piece together. Then in an action-packed subplot, we meet Lex Luthor as he is trying to take control of a doomsday weapon aboard a military ship; a rather quick subplot that is there just to tie up the main villain of this new reality, that being Aquaman and yet another surprise that he will use as the weapon to defeat Wonder Woman’s Amazon kingdom, as well as the world around it. While everyone is downtroddenly helpless in accepting of the world’s fate, Cyborg seems the only one trying to take genuine steps to save it, unfortunately he gets orders from the president of the United States – an interesting animated impersonation of current president Obama – to stand down and be relieved of his duty. In a mild setback to the film itself, actor Michael B. Jordan (I guess not to mistake him with THE Michael Jordan), gives too stale of a voice-acting performance, yet due to the constantly growing story, this is similarly forgotten as Flash’s intro was. There is yet another plot twist involving the whereabouts of Superman, whose backstory no longer has him crash landing and meeting up with his rural country farm parents, but instead locked away by a government conspiracy experiment. Relatedly so, another subplot exists involving Lois Lane and her investigation of Wonder Woman’s Amazons, yet she soon meets up with a small band of resistance fighters who act as a third side to the war, desiring to stop the fighting that will inevitably destroy the planet.

What follows there on in is not only Flash’s mission to figure out his jogging memories of both realities clashing in on each other, but also his now smaller team’s task to figure out who and what will bring about doomsday, as well as what could be done to stop the war between the Amazon and Atlantis. The characters in Paradox are ever evolving, constantly changing in circumstances and also the motivations of each small or large band of armies, keeping the audience constantly engaged; and thanks to some greatly edited action sequences, completely enthralled as to the conclusion of each superhero, even those who have not necessarily turned evil, but whose priorities have gone astray due to old flames and hurts still held onto. The sheer amount of DC characters are so vast here in fact that the viewer is best recommended to get at least two full viewings to not only miss things lost during the first, but also appreciate how well balanced the story is told to us. A negative may be that some elements can come off as a bit convoluted, but the redeeming factor being that upon a second viewing there is lots to catch missed the first time around. Even minor characters such as Lois Lane’s resistance team, namely leader Grifter, are quick to impress, to whose credit should mostly go to not only the great use of voice-acting (the good talent does in fact outweigh the stale), but also each character’s presentation. The newer version of Batman himself is a thoughtful welcome treat, and though he is the best aspect of the film in terms of a character, it is all due to some greatly written dialogue. Sarcastic quips, strong personalities, and just enough slick animated acting to not let matters become too lighthearted, the way each character speaks is constantly focused on the story and matters at hand, never pandering the audience to cheap gags or childish jokes; moments of comic relief are perfectly placed. Director Jay Olivia displays absolute mindful skill, not only in his great pacing of the story, but also how well he is able to balance each story arc in such a limited 80-minute running length; such a task is much more difficult to achieve than perhaps thought. What should also be mentioned is the more ruthless violence factor present. While the film is nowhere near an R-rated level of blood, there are some fairly hardcore scenes that may surprise viewers, even those who have had experience with PG-13 animated features prior. Had being done with real actors in live action, the film would have easily gotten an R, yet it seems it is only the animation which keeps it suitable for teenagers. Yet for everyone, the shining star here is the story itself, which gives us one of the most unique and creative takes on time-travel plots to come along in a long while, even for an animated film. There is much in terms of originality, and not once does there feel any instant where we can argue logic problems, keeping an open mind of course.

So while the story does most to grant us one fantastic action feature, the focus on Flash himself brings a heap to the table. Since Flash experiences two different realities, his memories begin to widen out of nowhere and eventually clash in on themselves, only to come to a certain point of peace later on, but it is his character struggle alone during all the circumstances that keeps him growing as a man. Sure, while initially his voice work was a bit stale, it seems to actually improve as the film goes on, so such a complaint is definitely minor in the long run. Though not all characters go through a change or grow during the film, most of the main characters do, and again, to do it in such a limited running time only makes us wish the film could have run about 15 minutes longer. This also helps to keep the viewer engrossed in every detail of what is going on, even if the film presents some of the story points a bit too quickly, so as stated almost forces more than one viewing; not a setback given the worthy entertainment value. What some may dislike is that since there is so much focus on time travel and character growth, there is not too much of a villainous presence. Sure, while Aquaman and Wonder Woman are the main causes of what is bringing about the end of the world, their conflict is more one-to-one, not with the world so much, and as we learn later on, Flash’s arch nemesis Eobard Thawne has less of an involvement as we had initially hoped or could foresee. Therefore, the villain aspect of Paradox is not so much absent, but meets almost the minimal amount required to be appreciated. Yet due to the nature of the story itself, a more ruthless and present villain may have taken away from the grand intentions, especially at a shorter time length. Had this been a full two-hour feature, there could definitely have been some great possibilities to beef up the good we already have, as well as give Flash a more threatening situation than he is already in. Even if the end of the world does seem pretty drastic, there is not too much intensity here when thinking of Flash’s actual survival. In the end, it’s more of a superficial setback that as good as the film it, could not really help unless broadened to a longer running time.

Quick and thrilling edits during battles, vibrant animation (as expected), satisfying bloodshed, and a vividly in-your-face effects soundtrack that will have audio aficionados scrambling to turn up their speakers, Paradox can arguably be the named as the best Marvel/DC films to date. Jay Oliva has easily put a great achievement to his resume, especially for a main superhero who can sometimes be seen as a more uncared for underdog in the DC Universe as the Flash, but he definitely does get his just do in the action-packed, truly ambitious, and wholly satisfying Paradox.

Extras:

As usual from Marvel/DC original films, we get a good handful, but moreso lacking in the department of this actual film itself. There are two full featurettes; in the first, “A Flash in Time” is a 22-minute feature with some of the film’s creators interviewed about the process, possibilities, risks, and improbabilities of time travel itself, with some more historic information about famous philosophers and their take on it as well; some of the comic canon is mentioned to boot and keep discussion grounded. Next is “My Favorite Villain: The Flash Bad Guys,” with some interviews with the same film creators commenting on some of Flash’s most famous enemies in his own comic book history, including a few in the film itself; more to the liking of Flash fans, this may not entirely appeal to those just interested in the DC movies. Otherwise there is a DC vault that we usually get of 4 cartoon episodes, standard commentary track, a fairly long 8-minute sneak peak at the next DC Universe film iteration entitled War, and a preview sample of one of the Flashpoint comics in the new series. For a Target store exclusive feature there is one downloadable 34-page comic, being #1 of The New 52, of the new Flashpoint comic series. Unfortunately there are no features that talk about the making of this particular film itself.

Graphics and Sound:

Paradox displays a mostly stellar presentation of a blu-ray transfer. Being an animated feature, there is as usual not enough demand to detail as to live action films, but given that, the animation is still super clean and vibrant. While things can always be better, to nitpick would be to mention that colors could have been given a bit more vividness, as some more naturally loud colors such as Flash’s red or Green Lanterns greens are not super flashy as some may wish. To argue, giving them more of a popping effect may run the risk of overdoing the amount of color saturation; again, that would be to nitpick. There are virtually no instances of distortion and an unnoticable amount of pixelation during fast-moving scenes, therefore the frame rate is beautifully smooth and well kept. Yet as great as the picture is, the sound production is where Paradox put all its HD cards on the table. To mention how crystal clear the dialogue is would be just the start. The core of how grand or epic any action feature is sound-wise would be to measure how well sound effects come through, and to this Paradox does one of the most stellar jobs that yours grinch truly’s ears have ever had the pleasure of making out. The film effects are loud, robust, full, bombastic, detailed, and exciting. Every punch, explosion, gun shot, smack, and even footstep are placed to a perfect level of balance, and never do things become too loud or too low, much less ever obnoxious or irritating. The sound on its own brings a whole new level of engrossment to the film that any flaws within would have harmed the whole, and yet Paradox keeps things fantastically produced all the way through. This is truly animated sound gold.

Final Verdict:

The Flashpoint Paradox is chock full of great production values and other top-notch technical achievements, such as animation and sound design. It doesn’t end there, as the story elements are so vast and detailed that it only could leave room for further investigation if a sequel were ever considered, but not that it would be practical. If there is any setback to the story itself is that the film did not run long enough for a fuller story to be produced, one where some of the villains could have had a better role or taken a greater lead, such as Aquaman and Wonder Woman. Being that The Flash himself was the center of attention, as well as his own character development, the film could only do so much. Still, these complaints are mostly superficial and hypothetical “could be’s,” as Flashpoint can still maintain itself as one of the greatest DC Universe films, if not THE best DC film to date, of course disregarding any live action ones, many of which this can still easily trump. Though not intended for younger children, it’s a grandiose action-infested treat of a film for anyone else. While not being an animated action classic, there is still enough great here that shows true passion and determination to the characters stories as well as the fans by the filmmakers. It’s a welcome breathe of fresh air that though having released about 20 films so far, DC still holds just as much integrity and commitment to fans as ever, without ever resorting to cheap sellout tactics or quick cash-ins. Many newcomers will also easily appreciate how accessible the story is, granted if they know even the most basic backstories to the main characters (namely those of Flash, Superman and Batman). A definite recommendation for casual fans and an absolutely strong one to DC ones, a solid 3.5 Armageddons out of 4. Yours Grinch truly is absolutely looking forward to the next film Justice League: War set for this coming winter season.

Sinister (2012) Blu-ray review

What You May Like:

  • Ethan Hawke’s genuinely good performance
  • Cryptic atmosphere and tone keeps your attention
  • A good idea for a villain

What You May Not:

  • Riddled with modern horror cliches
  • Next to zero chemistry with primary characters
  • Typical jump scares lack originality

What You’ll Remember:

  • How even during daytime, everything can still remain pitch black

While horror films have certainly evolved within the last 30 years, taking into account the cheesy low budget slashers of the 70s and 80s, to those of a higher class within the 80s decade into the 90s, introducing more supernatural elements and psychological elements, horror is a genre that has certainly seen its fair share of change. Such changes seem to coincide with what a particular culture would perhaps prefer, yet this is no real surprise as all entertainment mediums must mature and grow in one way or another. While some work as blatant knock-offs, others borrow various elements from other films to present us with an entirely new, but altogether not entirely original story. Sinister, one of the more popular and critically acclaimed horror films of this current generation now comes to bring us what many others in the genre have seemed to become accustomed to for the 2000s era; yet whether some may like or dislike it, there is certainly a vibe within these types of films (this time harboring what seem strictly supernatural plot threads) that keep its returning customers happy, and Sinister certainly presents that vibe to the nth degree with enough oomph to keep our attention, even if it’s based on a palette we may have already experienced numerous times prior.

Sinister comes to us from director Scott Derrickson, the brains behind some fairly cheap but still somewhat relevant horror and thriller films such as The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Hellraiser: Inferno. Here, we have star Ethan Hawke playing Ellison Oswalt, a 30-something family man and professional author of various famous detective and crime thriller novels that he bases on real life events. Ellison decides to move his wife Tracy, played with a very basic and standard delivery by actress Juliet Rylance, and two young children to a new home in a small town in order to help Ellison gather enough research for his new novel, a work that is based on the true story of a murdered family that was killed right in the very home they are moving into. Upon arrival, Ellison is immediately given a very cold welcome by the local sheriff, who is straight in his proposal that the family leave as soon as possible so as to avoid any disrespectful reminders of those catastrophic events for the town. From here on in it comes to our knowledge that Ellison is really the only person who desires this new residence, while everyone else seems in constant disagreement; a good start considering we really only get to know Ellison throughout over anyone else. Whence unpacking, Ellison finds an old reel-to-reel machine with various homemade family reel films packaged neatly together, almost seemingly left on purpose. When things are a bit more settled with their move Ellison decides to watch the videos, only to find some truly horrific content on them, such as scenes and brutality and torture to not only the family that was killed in the home, but others as well. It is from here that Ellison soon discovers a more supernatural element at play, and must further investigate the circumstances not only for his novel, but for his own peace of mind as to who would film such content, as well as why the materials were left so conveniently in the attic. Thankfully the only ally Ellison finds is that of a local officer who, unlike his boss sheriff, is an actual fan of Ellison’s previous works. Due to Ellison’s past as a writer being more of a one-hit wonder story, he is all the more poised to find answers in the hopes of his next novel being his second breakthrough hit.

Derrickson is thankfully working with a decent enough script, albeit easily of higher quality than some of his previous straight-to-video works, and it shows. Sinister initially sucks the audience in for no other reason than its gloomy atmosphere and fatigued character moods, set to a decidedly dark and glum color palette; as is typical we see the same cliched surroundings and introductions you would expect from a modern horror showing  – continuous cloudy daylight, small house in a rural area, small town sheriffs, low lighting, slow-panning cameras, etc. Yet this style, although unoriginal, works, but perhaps only for reasoning of it being a horror film and such a familiar build-up for later scares never fails to entice audiences, even if they tend to be the more casual ones. However much the film faults won’t really be appreciated until it’s over. What is worth mentioning is the idea for the opening shot, being an extremely creepy one that stills itself for a good minute while we as the audience try to figure out what exactly we’re looking at. Small ideas like it give the film a unique feel, although they are way too few and far between. So once the script gets to the gritty and us knowing where the plot leads, does the film do what feels like a non-stop repetition of the same circumstance, almost on a loop. Ellison works on his novel at night whilst his family sleeps, therefore giving us a forgivable plot convenience as to why all the ensuing scares are happening to Ellison on his own, as well as for the sake or perhaps the writers not knowing exactly how to lead the rest of the family into the plot. What suffers here is the characterization relationships within the family. We soon come to see that even though the young son displays some night terrors as to which may or may not be related to the supernatural scares Ellison is experiencing, and his wife Tracy at time sprinkling in some obligatory tension, the family may as well not even exist considering how irrelevant they are to the entire story as actual growing people, instead of the cardboard obligatory stand-ins (since the former family was murdered, it would make sense a new family is threatened). Furthermore, not until you see Ellison and his wife Tracy share a bed do you actually come to realize she is his wife; only due to that Tracy plays better to the aunt or best friend type of role. Would it have been a huge bother to hire a more talented or bigger name actress? Obviously the film knows what story it wants to tell and prioritizes its characters accordingly, thus meaning that Hawke gets first bill for almost every portion of the film.

So this leaves us with Ellison, the author who seems to experience these cheesy scares in the following type of repetitive loop – work on some research material at night by watching another spooky unknown reel video, hear some strange noise, go to investigate, find out it’s really nothing, cheap jump scare, give the audience a hint as to the supernatural element living in the house, rinse and repeat. This formula repeats several times within the film, and after a few takes begins to feel like some kind of a joke by the filmmakers. But the question here being, are they actually scary? To the hardcore old-school horror fanatic, usually never, give for one or two creative scenes that do raise a few hairs on the creep factor are certainly present, yet it’s quite a shame that one of them was already ruined within the movie’s trailer. There are an overwhelming amount of scenes featured in darkness, even strangely enough during daylight hours, where our main man Ellison insists on checking every creepy sound; this really being the meat of the film, it is a thankful thing that Derrickson does well enough in his direction to not make things boring or unwatchable, but only mildly entertaining and tolerable; the darkness helps, but there feels nothing original in the style of cinematography, camera use and angles, or soundtrack. Therefore, it is not so much about the formulaic content of the film that keeps the audience interested, but instead some more technical aspects of the film itself; the first being that Ethan Hawke himself carries the movie all on his own, and if it had not been for his good performance and dedication to the role, Sinister would have felt like your standard straight-to-video feature just like many of Derrickson’s previous films, and probably would have been. Secondly, the invisible villain supernatural force here, specifically an old pagan deity, is a unique idea in a sea of cookie-cutter modern horror films featuring nameless demons of whatever sort taking over people’s bodies and/or minds, or simply found-footage films with forces that are never seen in any shape or form. Still, for one character’s performance and an idea for a villain being what makes a certain film work, just isn’t good enough. The biggest issue here though really is simply that Sinister is a film that may have some unique ideas but presents them in such a way that does very little to impress viewers who have at least two decade’s experience with the horror genre, but instead may mostly be seen as a work of genius by any who have never seen any horror film made before 8 or 10 years ago. To its credit, a worthy treat would be the instances of viewing the snuff reels themselves, and how various families were tortured and killed in each one. While not entirely creative situations on their own, they do add a decent edge of darkness to the film, but only just enough to warrant a light R-rating, otherwise it would be very easy to mistake this for having been rated PG-13 as the film is lacking severely in any blood content or even the least bit of harsh language, to which there are actually two significant ones, yet almost come out muted when uttered by Hawke. A second (although perhaps irrelevant) credit would have to go to the small nod to the culture of Norwegian black metal bands, where this main villain seems to come straight out of (at least for the first half of the film).

Eventually some tension comes in the form of Ellison taking this novel too far while his family comes into their usual danger, forcing him to move out of the house back to where they used to live. This eventually leading to the film’s conclusion which gives us a new plot element that may be seen as a twist but overall just ends to an shrug-worthy, cheap and unsatisfying conclusion which makes you wonder what the point of your last 100 minutes actually was for. Though we do get a fairly worthy attempt at a character study within Ellison himself, and the lengths he insists on in order to gain as much information as possible, writing the book, and the importance he puts into it above his family, as a whole there really is no sort of character growth here whatsoever; so though we like Ellison, we do not end up much caring for him. On the plus side, we do get an A-list Hollywood actor as the lead to carry a film that doesn’t do much in terms of originality to carry itself, still it would have been beneficial to either have written in the family to have some more involvement here, a better actress to play Ellison’s wife for better chemistry, or children who do more than just pander to the modern horror cliche of cheap looking make-up for some low brow attempts at scares. By the final 10 minutes, as always with modern horror films, the villain has already exposed itself so much that he may come off as more comedic than scary. And yes, those sudden loud keyboard notes to a big face suddenly showing up on screen is here and revels in all its cliched pride. At that point the audience will have too good a feeling as to how things will conclude. Making for some decently entertaining viewing, Sinister is just created with far too many cookie-cutter moments to be seen as original. Yet, perhaps sometimes it’s ok for a film to work with a formula, as long as it has just enough to carry it through, which is certainly the case here.

Extras:

Besides your basic commentary, we have a small collection of featurettes that though informative, have little to do with the actual movie. First we get a “True Crime Authors” feature running about 9 minutes long, and gives us several film scenes but only a discussion of several authors and their experiences writing crime novels similar to the genre Ellison in the film writes. Fairly uninteresting at worst and mildly entertaining at best. Next is a feature called “Living in a House of Death,” where a narrator takes us to an American home that has a history of hauntings due to a former family having died at the site; perhaps a bit more interesting but feels more like a cut episode from a reality TV haunting show; general fill to say the least. It would have been great to see some sort of behind-the-scenes features on the film itself, or hear from star Ethan Hawke, and perhaps at least some background on why the filmmakers chose the particular villain. Aside from these featurettes there is a trailer and a couple of deleted scenes. One scene in particular features an entirely new character that was cut from the film altogether – a rude and curt next door neighbor to the family who makes a deal with Ellison for information on the murdered family’s history. While it can be seen why the character was cut out of the final showing, it maybe could have opened new possibilities for the film if it had been left in tact.

Graphics and Sound:

On the visual front, Sinister is pleasing enough, and since black levels are so vital to a film that is about 80% dark, the transfer doesn’t fail in bringing us satisfying black levels. Daylight colors have a nice tint from the film cinematography itself, and although the transfer does come off a tad too sharp in this regard, it’s not anything that will detract from the viewing. At the very least we don’t get very many instances of distortion, but another layer of smoothing out could have given a near perfect and optimal HD look. Yet while visually the film is satisfactory, the sound is where there tends to be some minor issues, particularly with the dialogue track. When the characters initially speak, there is a strange in-studio production volume to their voices, almost as if the mics recording them were turned up too loud, giving a small hint of artificiality to their vocal tones. A better way to compare this would be a vocal sound as if one was speaking too closely into a microphone, giving off a mild but apparent scratchy sound. This comes off noticeable at first, but just like anything, you become adjusted and thankfully all other sound effects and music are at a full volume level, leaving nothing missing or muffled.

Final Verdict:

While Sinister does give us all the makings of your typical modern horror film and the overdone cliches to follow suit, it does so with a certain finesse and direction good enough to never bore us through it. What brings this film down feels at equal ground to what keeps it interesting, namely that of a decent enough atmosphere, worthwhile villain (ignoring the cheese factor towards the end of the film that makes him feel like a gag afterthought and not the truly evil presence he begins as), and a star actor as the lead who can make up for what the remainder of the cast lacks. Lastly, while the ending isn’t anything abhorrent, it is certainly disappointing, and one that really negates your entire time put into it. If you take the horror genre seriously, and are desperately looking for a breath of fresh air amongst the sea of junk films released within the past decade, it is a comfort to know that Sinister is one of the better films… but in the end, it is still just common enough to remain in that sea of modern horror. Perhaps a more experienced director could have brought a better sense of darkness and evil to the film, a mood that underneath its clean facade feels like it’s begging to break through, as well as without pandering so much to the PG-13 crowd despite its mostly erroneous R-rating. I’d say a loose recommendation of 2.5 night terrors out of 4.

New World (2013) Quickie Blu-ray review

What You’ll Like:

  • Some great performances
  • Slick presentation and directorial work
  • A welcome change to the action shoot-em-up Asian crime genre

What You May Not:

  • Significantly less action scenes may turn off many Asian action fanatics
  • Some story details feel lost in translation
  • Goes on a bit too long

What You’ll Remember:

  • How to knife fight in an enclosed elevator of about 6 people

From Korean film director Hoon-jung Park, director of thrillers such as I Saw the Devil and The UnJust, comes a film that sways a bit out of his accustomed pace, the crime gangster action drama New World; and just as always, the film comes to us undubbed in only a Korean spoken language track with English subtitles. A significant plus for the dedicated film purist. With a mostly satisfying, if not always genuinely thrilling, take on the world of the Asian crime syndicate, World provides us with a heap of a story, some slickly presented characters and direction, action on a technically serious-toned level, and a cast who do share a mutual passion for their work.

World tells the story of a high-profile crime syndicate named Goldmoon, and upon a freak car accident their leader is killed, leaving an entire congregation of henchmen and high-stakes criminals to nominate and inaugurate someone within the faction to take the reigns. While there is a somewhat established ladder of hierarchy, the top picks all expectedly have their eyes on the empty throne, one of which happens to be undercover detective Ja-seong, played by first-time actor Lee Jeong-jae, who puts on an impressive performance filled with complete unbridled passion, playing the role with a refreshingly serious dedication. Detective Ja-seong has been part of an intricate deep-cover operation, code-named New World, and after an 8-year dedicated placement, he is not only ready to call it quits, but also must see to his wife who is expecting their first child. Now Ja-seong’s position is torn between meeting his family expectations as well as appeasing his lead detective chief Kang, played by Min-sik Choi, to whom he tends to have bumped heads with more and more as the years have gone on. As a whole, this quick summation is as much story the average viewer really needs to know to appreciate the basics of the film’s intentions; although finer details regarding several Goldmoon higher-ups exist, as well as the relationship intricacies of a few protagonists, we unfortunately end up with some elements of the language translations feeling too fast or rushed, resulting in some minor twists not grasping audience attention as much as may have been intended to. Of course, any fluent Korean speakers may perhaps not have a problem at all, but to many of us State side, we’ll just have to deal with the non-English track. Despite this complaint, the two main leads, Ja-seong and his best friend Jeong (try not to confuse the names), played as the comic relief and unabashed part of the duo by actor Jeong-min Hwang, are the two in which World focuses most of its characterizing attention. At first, we come to learn that while Jeong and detective Ja-seong are friends, Jeong is a legit part of the cartel, whereas Ja-seong is obviously not, yet throughout the film there tends to be lack of chemistry between the two mostly because the tonality of things which doesn’t hold much leeway in terms of emotional expression, not actually until one emotional scene between the two towards the very end of the film.

As you’d expect, there are other characters here who are vying for the top spot, the main being who I BELIEVE is named Sin-woo, a very slick and overconfident smooth playboy type who isn’t an actual playboy. He is someone who has come into conflicting situations with the police chief on previous occasions. He, just like the actor portraying the main detective, are easily the show stoppers here, with Sin-woo coming out on top easy; the two actors have a clear passion for the film and are extremely likeable despite strangely enough not really coming off as the types you’d ever care to be friends with.

What may detract many hardcore Asian cinema viewers here is the extreme lack of action; being a grand story on the inner workings of each character’s intentions, plans, motivations, and fundamental care to now make waves wherever such conflicts are simply not necessary and mostly avoided, the true testosterone-injected moments do not come until the end of the film, where we have many henchmen facing off in a grand battle inside a parking garage, as well as Jeong getting into World‘s most unique fight – that of Jeong facing off against five or six henchmen inside that of a small cramped elevator, to which each is armed with a large combat knife. This would easily be the film’s all too brief highlight. Things end rather surprisingly, as the question becomes answered as to what ends up happening to that coveted Goldmoon leader’s throne, and thus implying a deep character study that may lead many to give the film another viewing.

Director Hoon-jung Park grants us a basic directorial style, interested primarily in the story he’s trying to tell and the way it is being conveyed may not actually be for every viewer, particularly those looking for a non-stop barrage of blood and guns. Yet even within the generalities of his style, there do come some very unique directorial moments in terms of establishing shots almost featuring the surroundings as a character all their own. Besides these, it is the story that keeps the viewer focused, showing us that character development, a steady pace, intricately detailed acting, and a no-frills tone can do much to make a good viewing just as much as any blasting firefight barrage can, even though the lack of excitement tends to unfortunately come from the lost details of dialect from the translation to subtitles. It will engulf those looking for a good change of pace, even if for everyone the duration may have done well to have been cut by at least 10 minutes. In the end, New World is a worthy film with unnerving and appreciated dedication in its artform, that may not fit every bill in the American household. I’d say a strong 2 out of 4, with the recommendation for drama fans over action fanatics. A Chow-Yun Fat film this is definitely not.

Extras:

Not much, we have a behind-the-scenes look lasting about 6 minutes, featuring a collection of documentary-style footage taken on a handheld camera showing us some backstage amusement by the cast, as well as a few of the scenes being shot, but no interviews of such sort. Afterwards there is a photo slide-show gallery set to some music from the film, lastly leading off to a trailer, which is a good effort in speaking of trailers. Due to an obvious constrained budget, a more detailed and entertaining set of extras perhaps were just not possible.

Graphics and Sound:

There’s no other way to put it, New World is an absolutely and astoundingly gorgeous and pleasing blu-ray transfer to look at. Despite coming off as cheap in its box art and foreign appeal, the HD detail in the film is easily one of the greatest looking blu-ray films yours grinch truly has ever had to pleasure of viewing. The colors are beautifully vivid, but never oversaturated, and for about 99% of the film, it remains constant, given one very short scene with Jeong in a car where some distortion pops us, yet surprisingly enough, after that short scene things go back to normal and stay that way for the remaining duration. Black are wonderfully deep, and there is virtually zero distortion anywhere otherwise, even at all TV picture settings, therefore it is definitely encouraged to put the TV settings on the most vivid picture possible. Now with the sound side of things, World is a relatively quiet film for the most part, but one where the dialogue, though in Korean, is at a perfect tone – good volume, and a balance of bass and treble, never coming off too scratchy or muffled in the least. Action scenes are well balanced and there never comes a moment where any important or even unimportant details are inaudible. As a whole, the sound and picture quality of New World is no less than pristine.

Evil Dead (2013) Blu-ray review

What You’ll Like:

  • Surprisingly impressive camera work and cinematography
  • Good amount of genuinely creepy looking scenes
  • Extremely scarce (if any) use of CGI keeps things shockingly real
  • A pleasingly creative reimagining of the original storyline

What You May Not:

  • Secondary actors are fairly thin and unmemorable
  • Some portions of acting do not correlate right with circumstances
  • Fundamental story palette is still a cliché one
  • Signature trailer “We’re gonna get you” line isn’t there! What the hell??

What You’ll Remember:

  • Oh man, the splatter, splatter, splatter…

“The most terrifying movie you will ever experience” was the main theatrical advertising tag for this 2013 reimagining of the 1981 original Sam Raimi B-movie style cult classic, and granted its over-abundant levels of demonic imagery, explicit gore, nauseatingly realistic dismemberment, and ambitiously creative cinematography and sleek camera work, young up and coming unknown Uruguayan director Fede Alvarez can rightfully state that his view of a film many original Evil Dead fans never wanted made may in fact sit rightfully justified amongst its forefather film. Renamed without the “The” in the title, Evil Dead does plenty to work off many of the staples that made the original such a memorably obnoxious and over-the-top exaggeration of horror films (or as original star Bruce Campbell puts it, “collection of bad ideas put in a blender”), it also contains its very own mind, wit, and series of epically dark and imaginative strengths which do much favor to set it apart as its own gut-wrenching entity, even if a long ways down the road people will still only think of the character of Ash and the former whenever the film known as Evil Dead comes up in conversation.

Evil Dead at its fundamental level basically shares the same palette as the original – bare and crumbling old cabin in the middle of some desolate woods, group of college-age young people unknowingly unleash a deadly demonic force via Book of the Dead, group becomes fair game for death by invisible demonic forces, open season to as many buckets of splatter as the film budget will allow. Whereas in the original we had four young people consisting of two couples on a leisure trip weekend at an old cabin, led by Bruce Campbell playing the lead as Ash, here we have five similarly aged victims who purposefully go to a desolate area not for pleasure but in the hopes of aiding their former drug addict friend Mia, played by Jane Levy (Suburgatory, Shameless), who decides to leave her addiction cold turkey. Since Mia has OD’d previously and may not make it through another alive, the group decides that no matter what the circumstances, they won’t leave the cabin, no matter how badly her cravings and tendencies for relapses become. Rounding off the cast is Mia’s older and near estranged brother and everyman guy David (Shiloh Hernandez), high school teacher and historics geek Eric (Lou Taylor Pucci), loving BFF and medically trained Olivia (Jessica Lucas), and David’s love interest and sweet sheltered blonde Natalie (Elizabeth Blackmore).

Upon opening, there is finally some backstory given to the origins of the mysterious Book of the Dead (or at least how it used to be used, not sure if we’ll ever know why it exists and who originally wrote it), as well as some very unorthodox horrifics that went on in the very basement of the old deserted cabin; backstory that display both why the book holds just as much power to do good as it does to conjure evil. Fast forward to the present day where our five unknowing and graciously unimpressive college kids take a brief residence in the old shack to embark on their mission to save who will soon become our partial “Ash” for this reimagining. The reasoning behind why this group is (thankfully) not immediately impressive is part of what sets this new film not only apart from its predecessor, but also why it can demand a mature and respective audience – because while the 81′ classic was fast-paced despite its cheese and comedic factor due to its lower budget and insane ideas relevant for its time, the new Dead lacks such a fervent and mischievous sense of self-aware humor; although to its credit, the original was only held such a tongue-in-cheek tone due to its lack of financial resources and time, given it came at a time when there wasn’t much to be self-aware about. Alvarez’s Dead’s tone is dark, serious, brooding, and as intelligent as such a fantastically evil screenplay subject matter can be. In fact, there is not even an uttered attempt at humor throughout its entire running time. Starring a cast of mostly average looking young people, in the hopes of keeping our attention on the content instead of fleshy body parts and pretty faces, its really only our main two who shine, while the three extras, Olivia, Natalie, and Eric, are somewhat akin to stand-in cutouts during their character introductions, it is not until their clashing with the forces of evil that their best material comes forth, even if some of it can lose its audience in the moment considering at times the character reactions are underacted for some otherwise very painful situations they find themselves experiencing. In other words, it wouldn’t have hurt us to see more uninhibited projections in some of their own reactions. I don’t know about you, but if yours grinch truly’s arm were being torn off from under a heavy car, I would probably scream a hell of a lot more. While such moments are few, they still come off as noticeable, but thankfully these scenes temporarily taking us out are scarce.

Getting back to the story, the two young males leading the group soon discover a hidden basement door exactly as that of the original film, only this time they take the opportunity to explore it, running into a very grisly scene beneath the cabin that has been spreading a rancid stench throughout of the last day; a smell so putrid that for whatever reason Mia has been the only one noticing, which as the person in remission, makes anything she says hard to believe. It is at this point downstairs where the our male protagonists discover the book from hell, and it is taken into the care of Eric, who as you guessed ignorantly unleashes the forces of hell upon the group by audibly speaking out three old Latin words from an ancient prayer. The pacing in this entire setup is rather quick, but even with the limited time for our character introductions, Alvarez quickly makes a name for himself for his very attentive care towards what seems like each and every scene; establishing shots, off-beat zooming angles, some beautiful balance of lighting and character positioning – it all works to subconsciously involve the viewer in not only presenting itself as a work of horror art of sorts, but also establishing this as a film to be viewed as not even a “remake,” but an entire reimagining, ensuring its audience they are in for an entirely new experience. From here on in the actors complement the movie well enough, but it is Jane’s portrayal of Mia that is the true show stopper. There is a committed passion in each and every one of her scenes, and given Alvarez’s great eye for proper character placement and lighting effects (which alone can make or break any horror film), do make for some of the creepiest scenes in all the world of a genre that can tend to depend too much on cheap jump scares and scary children. Sure, while many of the more experienced horror genre viewers may not be as immediately creeped out, there is no denying the talent behind the camera lens. These same fans of the original Dead will notice many shots and scenes both inspired and emulated from it, but even so still containing their own unique look and feel, so thankfully never at any point does the film feel like a cheap rip-off, but one that can stand out on its own, while in its midst perhaps even causing some to forget the original entirely. This is not to even mention the bread and butter of Dead, that being its vivacious and near fetishist obsession with creating a gory unapologetic bloodbath unlike anything else in the industry. The situations these poor young and well-meaning saps find themselves in are in themselves so over-the-top it’s almost chuckle-inducing, albeit negating the amount of viewers who will quickly turn their eyes away in shock and disgust. While the original film tried its best to create the most intense bloodbath of its time, it couldn’t help but come off as what is now see as unapologetically campy simply due to its budget; but now in 2013 the sky is the limit in realism and ease at whichever sadistic ideas the writers could come up with. Granted its much more generous budget, the new Dead death counts never come off as a joke, most especially and very very thankfully implemented idea of Alvarez’s to not have any CGI work whatsoever in order to maintain the level of churning realism. While a few scenes, both in deaths and story, had to be reimagined in their own way from the original, the writers seemed to still inject so much originality in them that they almost don’t feel as if they had to be inspired by anything that preceded it. Taking for example the character of Mia, who many reviewers regard as this film’s female version of “Ash,” is not only the main character but also falls victim to a few circumstances that Bruce Campbell’s Ash never did, and at about the halfway point we soon see that both her and her brother David share this starring role, both emulating the character of Ash in their own ways. Hence, there is no single main protagonist here, only adding to the clever ways Dead rewrites the original for the sake of keeping things fresh and interesting.

Yet throughout this non-stop intense rollercoaster and crimson splattery the viewer may be taking all the action in, there seems a feeling throughout that the film just is not jumping out as much as it seems it should be; it grabs your eyes and tickles your mind but never seems to really thrust for the heart. While the film never becomes boring or has any significantly lagging moments of drag, in the end Dead still holds the same story palette that’s just been done too many times before in the past 30 years since the original to come off as anything incredibly original, or as engrossing as many newer story ideas of modernized horror ventures. Past films such as Cabin Fever, A Cabin in the Woods, 28 Days Later, The Day, or really anything fairly recent featuring a desolate cabin of some sort, all have done this fundamental story environment to death, because with a group of people trapped in a small cabin in the middle of nowhere, there is only so much you can really do. The results here being that while this environmental setting features lots of eye-popping popcorn bloody mayhem, those features cannot escape the fact that the setting and story palette have just been outgrown. Now while this is no real fault of the film itself, as of course you cannot change the setting for a remake, it feels like more of a minor unnecessary evil that must be realized and purposefully looked past in order to get as much out of Dead as possible. Therefore it’s a good thing Alvarez had such an eye for detail to present us with something coming off much more like a remake and not a rehash. Despite its basic palette Dead still has enough to suck the viewer into its brooding sadistic mindset, and by its climax one really can’t help but begin cheering for Mia, especially when she gets her bloody hands on Ash’s former signature weapon of choice; though such throwbacks will definitely be better appreciated by hardcore fans than casual viewers.

Extras:

Besides your expected commentary tracks, we get a small handful of behind-the-scenes featurettes, all running between 7 and 9 minutes, featuring interviews with the cast and crew (including Bruce Campbell), as well as some script reading sessions. All serve for some mildly interesting insight, but the one that really stands out is the one entitled “Being Mia” and is a 9-minute doc-style shaky cam look into one day on the set following Jane Levy herself. Here we see her in the trailer during make-up, then filming portions of one particular scene, as well as her clean up afterwards. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on the Best Buy exclusive version with the extra bonus DVD disc, you get a total of 25 minutes of extra features, half being a one-on-one interview with Bruce Campbell, and the second half being what the regular Blu-ray should have had – a featurette on the special effects themselves, and how the filmmakers put together a few that would perhaps have had viewers scratching their heads given nothing was left to computer effects. A decent bunch overall but nothing that gives us the amount of insight fans would definitely have wanted.

Graphics and Sound:

Visually Dead is mostly an absolute pleasure. Since most viewer’s preferred picture option tends to be the ones with the most dynamic colors, the HD transfer, at least for about the first three quarters, does not have any of that irritating distortion many others do. The first act featuring more daytime outdoor shots are beautifully well detailed, with a gentle and impressive use of cinematography that complements such great picture quality. Once things begin to get more intense, the movie moves into darker territory, and thankfully for the most part the film these blacks are handled very well, with virtually zero distortion… that is until later in the film where this layered fuzz starts to appear. The issue isn’t anything that can’t be remedied by adjusting your screen settings though, and Dead‘s picture can still be enjoyed just as much with the settings altered a bit. On the sound side of things, the transfer is just as impressive. Volume may have to be turned up just a tad in order to get all you can out of the first act’s quieter scenes, but for the most part the soundtrack music and dialogue are perfectly clear. During the film’s more climactic scenes, intensifying music tracks, screams, gunshots, and other effects stay at a great balance while at the same time all being fully audible and impressive. No significant issues at all in the sound department.

Final Verdict:

Original Evil Dead fanatics will easily get more out of this reimagining than casual viewers will, as many of the remade scenes and adjustments to the plot are tweaked to not just make things more believable, but are simply better, aiding to further develop the characters, situations, as well as making the film more relevant to a modern audience that simply has outgrown a camp factor to the likes of what we used to enjoy back in the 80s. Alvarez’s eye for visual art and color palettes which help accentuate the film’s isolated and even at times, somber and depressive tonality, and even the dark and macabre chaos bring us one of the most epic displays of grantacular gorefests this movie generation has ever seen. While it’s basic and now overused setting can only do so much to suck audiences in, the cast still tries hard despite not being the most talented actors in the world; due to the demands of such a humorless and serious endeavor there must be a limited amount of lightheartedness, if any, that the creators can allow. Evil Dead does do a great amount to give its audience a good time, but though its plusses are greatly appreciated, a film with such an extreme nature may do lots to deter a modern audience who have become so accustomed to a more PG-13 style of psychological horror, thus why it is a great point to state that this is a film more to the liking of hardcore horror and Sam Raimi The Evil Dead fans. The reimagining does much but still a bit too little to give itself a personality outside of grossing out its audience as much as possible; it’s got lots of enhanced story, but a style so still over-the-top that it makes the story elements a secondary thought, where it really should be the other way around. I would say 2.5 severed arms out of 4 for casual movie fans, but an easy 3 out of 4 for more hardcore ones.

American Mary (2012) Blu-ray review

What You’ll Like:

  • Extremely likable main character at first
  • Dark and gothic-toned visual aesthetic
  • Interestingly disturbed characters throughout
  • Some unique and creative directorial moments

What You May Not:

  • Main character becomes less relatable as film goes on
  • Story and themes gradually become too uneven and disjointed
  • Gore fanatics may be disappointed with lack of extreme visual content

What You’ll Remember:

  • 6 reasons why you should never violate a gifted and psychotic cosmetic surgeon

American Mary is a Canadian horror film by writers and directors the Soska sisters, who many most likely will not recognize at first, as they are not significantly relevant in the film industry perhaps due to their preference for sticking with more underground film works of extreme violence and sexual deviance. Being that their most notable physical characteristics seems a taste for gothic culture, much of their work may be limited to small time distribution, and nothing that has garnered as much press in the States as this latest piece of gothic psychological dark horror and black comedy. American Mary stars Katharine Isabelle playing the title role of Mary, who has made a career out of smaller roles mostly in the horror genre. In Mary she plays the main “protagonist,” or maybe more appropriately also playing the antagonist just as equally, gives viewers a chance to take a small crash course in the world of underground gothic culture, and more specifically what can become the obsession in body modification and alterations. American Mary is a film that while can grant such access, has a tendency to ultimately forget that as a film it must be more than just a fun and even psychotic glimpse, having a habit of focusing a bit too much on its visual aesthetic and creepily intriguing character personalities which it tends to stretch in order to hold our attention.

Mary introduces us to medical student Mary Mason who is attending classes in the city of Berlin, or as the film only shows us just one actual class. Mason is initially in an educational and financial rut – falling back several months on her rent despite the helping-hand offers her Hungarian born mother, as well as having a bluntly potty-mouthed professor who is mostly hard on her case due to him seeing her as having real potential, so he refuses to see such potential wasted in any way. It is obvious she does hold a love for her future medical career, mostly shown to us as she practices medical sewing procedures on raw poultry during her free time. Accepting her current fate with a nervous ease, Mason decides a good idea for fast cash would be to apply at a local strip club, where she meets with sketchy jerk owner Billy, played by Antonio Cupo. At first, and rather quickly during her job “interview” (which basically means showing her figure off in sexy lingerie) Billy decides to take advantage of Mason’s medical experience by offering her five-thousand dollars in cash to do a quick job, for which he takes her down to the club’s basement and asks her to sew up a profusely bleeding tortured young man, the cause of which is unknown. Taking the offer, Mason readily finishes the procedure but not without being completely shocked at what had just occurred. Vowing to herself to never repeat such an act, Mason is contacted by a young woman named Beatress, whose introduction gives us our initial taste into this macabre yet darkly artistic vivid world of what for some can become an obsessed psychosis in body modification, most especially for those who have a flourish of financial means to make it happen.

Beatress comes off as a sweet Betty Boop cartoon for real life but longingly lonely considering how attached she becomes with wanting to become closer to Mason, at a more personal friend level. Beatress herself has had extensive cosmetic procedures throughout her life considering her face has been done so many times she looks less like a person and more like a sadistic plastic doll; Mason herself figures out Beatress’s goal to actually become a real life iteration of the Betty Boop character, an obsession also shared by Beatress’s friend Ruby, who was the point of both women contacting Mason. Ruby desires to look like a real life doll, where she can live the rest of her life lacking any semblance of female body parts to achieve her dream of being just as unsexualized as these dolls. This would mean asking Mason to perform a procedure to remove her nipples and closing up her vaginal area as much a possible, without word to her husband of course. It is at this point of the film where Mason peaks to her most likable, and to this meaning to a high degree; her charmingly sarcastic and semi-shy demeanor displays her as someone who doesn’t mean to cause any trouble, yet harbors enough confidence to not be intimidated by any unexpected situation, granted they are within tasteful boundaries and not sewing up hacked and tortured people. Actress Katharine Isabelle grabs control of this role and performs it with near smooth expert efficiency, which makes her all the more relatable – the only seemingly normal person within this depraved world of what could be seen as mentally disturbed circus freaks – Mason will easily have enough wit and charm to put a smile on your face. Mary‘s script presents her as this character despite the questionable decisions she’s making as she delves deeper into what lies ahead; considering despite how hesitant she is at first, Mason also seems to be obtaining a taste  and appreciation for the sheer artistry of body modification. Slowly but surely, Mason is unintentionally making a name for herself in this culture, and it is here that her work for a local hospital resident student is becoming more noticed by her higher ups, namely her supervising doctor who soon invites her to a late night party.

Where Mary is its strongest in terms of character development, pacing and plot intrigue is during this first portion of the film, yet once Mason discovers the truly perverse sexual deviance of these resident doctors at the mentioned house party, where women are brought solely to be drugged and sexually exploited or raped, Mason herself falls victim by the hands of the very same med school professor who had been giving her such a hard time in the beginning. Once Mason has had this traumatic experience the script then does an almost 180 degree turn on its conventions in plot organization; while it is understandable that from here on in Mason would turn to a degree of coldness in her demeanor and personality, the film simply does this too quickly, and it is from this point that the audience will begin to lose relatability to the character as she begins to delve so far into this underground culture that she quits med school and takes on body modification full time, unlicensed, but financially highly profitable. Gone are her days of not being able to make rent or worry about money in the least. In perhaps the only portion of the film that truly earns its status as a horror film, is her revenge on the professor who raped her, trapping him in a secret hideout where she proceeds to use her medical knowledge to amputate all of his limbs, split his tongue, and even unspoken acts to his genitals which are never made known in any detail. In a scene reminiscent of the Saw films, Mason hangs her victim through hooks in his back, limbless, and even with his mouth sewn shut, deciding to torture him for however long she sees fit. Now with a detective investigating the professor’s disappearance, Mason must now manage her life as an underground cosmetic surgeon as well as keep her grotesque secret.

Beginning with this revenge plot, the film turns to different directions, all of which work well enough on their own as subplots, but have a tendency to not lead to any real character development or satisfying conclusions. Yet though the Soska sisters do display some interesting direction, editorial work, creepily slick camera angles and shots, and good overall pacing which will never get the viewer bored, they seem too reliant on mild humor and the visuals of general body mod weirdo fanatics, never giving us any main characters we can actually come to relate to or care that much about. Sure, Mason may have been incredibly likeable at first, but too soon after does she become cold and distant, with an ego that blew up overnight due to her new found place of royalty as sought out underground surgeon, ultimately making her less likeable (and at times even unlikeable), where the story ends up not even having a workable protagonist, but a main antagonist as well considering one really cannot see Mason as the “good guy” considering everything she does, most notably her sadistic revenge on the rapist professor. Regarding this point, the film doesn’t even seem to have any real antagonist or villain, hence there is a lack of character conflict considering the police investigator doesn’t hold much of a presence. This may just walk the line of ‘man vs. himself,’ that ‘man’ being Mason, and how far she is able to go, albeit however far-fetched. I mean talk about overkill, even fellow rape victim Lisbeth from 2011’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo would perhaps want to talk Mason down. But more than the act, the fact that such a shy and overall sweet well-meaning young ambitious doctor would suddenly turn from getting sick from sewing up a tortured man, to indulging in psychotic revenge torture and even murder just doesn’t really make sense, despite however much gore fans will appreciate the visuals of this type of victimization. Visuals that show us the after-effect but not the actual process – we never really get to see any sort of graphic psycho torture the film implied to have in the way it was advertised, but instead see only results. The surgery scenes are pretty tame themselves as well; honestly your grinch truly saw more gore in older F/X episodes of the medical drama Nip/Tuck. It may seem as if the sibling directors could have used this opportunity to instead enhance Mary and her own character study, but besides scenes of her taking on new clientele, as well as her stripper club colleagues taking part in their own shenanigans, Mary just becomes too stone-faced to portray any sort of the confusion, insecurity, uncertainty, or even sarcasm that we fell in love with about her during the film’s first act. To put it another way, we end up paying more attention to Mason’s acts rather than Mason herself, following the continuing story for its visual cinematography more than the characters who make up its whole. Even smaller ideas such as Billy’s eventual crush on Mason gives us some more creative direction but ends up leading to nothing. In short, there are a lot of ways in which Mary‘s script could have been revised in order to take advantage of potentially good plot points it hints at but never explores or even concludes. While the actors do put on good performances, the personalities they’re given start to become less comedic and intriguing, and more cardboard and stiff, yet still keeping up their beautiful looks as the film seems to later prefer its style over its substance, falling in love with how much it looks without much regard as to how its audience is made to feel. Add to this an ending that has nowhere near the impact it maybe hoped to, and we end up with a fairly fun, but unfulfilling film that has enough ideas to make itself work, but no real consideration in expanding these ideas that would have given us the much more gripping and thrilling experience it seemed it so wanted to have on paper.

Extras:

There is a commentary track from the Soska sisters as well as one theatrical trailer. Besides this we get one 17-minute making-of feature that is not so much a produced featurette with any cast or crew interviews as we are accustomed, but instead a straight documentary-style as it was filmed with a low-res handheld camera. It offers no interviews even by the person shooting the footage, or any actors or directors even so much as saying anything into the camera. We see a few scenes being shot, and some of the make-up work done in the trailers, all while just overhearing the cast and crew conversation. So unfortunately fans will not get to know anyone who was in the film, but doing so could have been interesting, especially from the Soska sisters themselves and their intentions or thoughts.

Graphics and Sound:

On the visual front, Mary does look rather appealing, coming off with a very smooth picture with very minimal visual distortion. While the overall look seems to be a little too high in its sharpness, giving the film a mild “rough” look, colors are all perfectly balanced and vivid regardless of the TV picture settings. Putting this in a “movie” mode will do well to smooth out the mild rough spots, but the picture on other settings are virtually identical. Now in the sound department things become a bit uneven overall. Initially, the film’s volume comes off quite loud, even for a blu-ray movie. The voices themselves are brought so much to the forefront that one may turn down the volume a notch simply due to the clarity of the dialogue itself. What is strange then is the fact that at random times, the voice clarity just shoots down, making things sound a bit too muffled to easily understand, and it happens quite often. In terms of balance, the voices in comparison to the effects and music stand out a bit too much, but it is still a relief because typically voices on blu-rays always need to be more clear, yet here it is just not necessary. Despite this unevenness there really is no other issue with the sound quality of the disc.

Final Verdict:

American Mary is a horror film that has a tone working to strike for the psyche more than it does to indulge you in what seemed like it would with bloody splatterfest guts and gore, and for the most part accomplishes what it sets out to do in telling its story. What begins as a black comedy morphs slowly into a dark psychological thriller with minimal thrills, giving us a unique series of characters that work well to bring us into this glimpse of such a broodingly obsessed, but beautifully artistic underworld where such acts of body manipulation must be appreciated for their very acquired taste. Although the culture of the world itself is clearly separated from the revenge plots that utilize the tools of the culture in Mary, the culture has more to say about itself and ultimately leaves the viewer longing for further plot exploration. Pacing, visuals, gorgeous sexy women, and a slick soundtrack are enough to hold your attention, despite the lack of real hardcore violence potentially deterring gore fanatics, but unfortunately one cannot help but notice the uneven scripting which does lots to hurt how much we actually feel for these characters and care for them. In the end, you’ll end up feeling how much things could have improved if plot elements were fleshed out, explored, and actually concluded, giving us a film with more characterization and less stylized visuals. Without the magic that Katharine Isabelle brings to this film, however much less charming it became towards its end, American Mary would have been a lot worse, so she is definitely a saving grace and one actress you’ll hope to see more of. It still works for a fun Friday night distraction, but maybe only if paired up with a better film following it. I’d say 2.5 split tongues out of 4.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) Blu-ray review

What You’ll Like:

  • More mature and realistic tone and plot elements
  • Well paced and intriguing story
  • Great all around cast

What You May Not:

  • Mostly average villain
  • Significantly less cutesy than previous Spider Man films
  • Environmental scope and supporting cast is mostly obsolete
  • Ultimately not as charming as Toby Maguire’s performances

What You’ll Remember:

  • Emma Stone’s and Andrew Garfield’s relational chemistry

Just when you thought director Sam Raimi had completed a Marvel franchise for many generations to come, along came director Marc Webb and Sony pictures to retell the Spider story all over again with an all new trilogy, for a next generation “not alive in 2002” as said by one of the producers in the extra features (as much of a stretch as that is). For such a classic comic hero who has seen various retellings throughout his graphic medium beginning back in 1962, it really shouldn’t be such a departure that the story should take a second perspective so soon after Toby Maguire’s fun, if ever cute and hokey showcasing of the vigilante web-slinger ending back in 2007; a perspective that ultimately works in mostly technical function despite its subtraction of certain key elements of Maguire’s Spidey that made the former trilogy so charming.

Spiderman stars mostly unknown young American (with British lineage and accent) actor Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker as well as the title role, who some may remember from his supporting role opposite Jessie Eisenberg in 2010’s ‘The Social Network.’ In Spider-man, we are introduced to Parker after being forcefully dropped off by his parents to live with his aunt and uncle after some mysterious circumstances as a little kid; and fast forward to several years later as we meet Parker once again who plays less like the Maguire’esque shy wimp nerd and more the near savant intelligent social outcast. Attending a New York city science school, Garfield immediately displays his unique take on the young student simply by how he interacts with a local and stereotypically Hollywood school bully; it is also here that we meet up with the acquaintance/potential love interest Gwen Stacy, played intriguingly as always by the gorgeous Emma Stone. For the unknowest, the producers decided against Mary Jane Watson for the female supporting lead as another plot element change from the original trilogy, to I guess keep things fresh. Initially, fans may find that Garfield’s portrayal has some missing elements that made Maguire so likable beforehand, a shy quirkiness that helped the former Parker seem all the more… relatable, and human really. While this is a presumption that does tend to stick throughout the film, it feels less and less like a negative as Spider-man goes on,  considering that eventually one comes to appreciate that this more serious and mostly realistic tone does in time feel less like a cartoon and something that can be viewed as more culturally relevant than the previous trilogy (yes, even though it’s only been 5 years). Garfield does eventually become likable in his own way.

Nearby in a science lab we meet Dr. Curt Connors, played by Rhys Ifans, an armless man who for years has been doing research on cures for various diseases, taking as a template the phenomena of how some cold-blooded creatures can regenerate limbs by will if they happen to be severed, and just like the general predictability of where that plot element goes, the film as a whole follows suit, not offering many surprises at all. Parker eventually meets up with the doctor after infiltrating the facility during a school field trip, led by Gwen Stacy as a tour guide (how a 17 year old girl can work at such a sophisticated and classified place of research is perhaps something you can explain to me). It is here that Parker begins to find the first pieces of the puzzle that may help him solve the mystery of his missing parents. Somewhat akin to the way Maguire’s Parker got accidentally bit by a genetically mutated spider, here Garfield’s Parker discovers that mutating spiders as a path to experimental research are actually being bred in the hundreds, and being bitten by one opens the film to its first of a few differences in what makes this iteration more down to earth, that is that the bite simply gives Parker superhuman strength, but no ability to genetically spew webbing. For that, he eventually crafts small mechanisms attached at his wrists. Sure it’s a small change, but one that fits the less far-fetched tonality of the film’s intentions. Afterwards, due to some differences of opinion of Dr. Connor and his superior in regards to the research’s plans, he decides to accelerate the schedule of testing on humans and uses the genetics-enhancing formula on himself, thus turning him into the film’s sole villain, simply known as the Lizard; a creature who with good if misguided foresight sees it fit to create a more enhanced human race, superior to the one that has failed him in his own life.

An unfortunate setback as to the Dr. Connor Lizard is not necessarily his character’s story arc or intentions, or even to how well Ifans plays him, but to how little the film actually utilizes him as a threat to a city he only really attacks one time; an attack that doesn’t seem too big a deal for Spidey to handle, where really only one city patron seems threatened. The scope of the city itself seems way too ignored as well. In the original Spider-man, New York City became its own character, and Maguire’s residence in it was a relationship all in itself aside from the one with Mary Jane Watson. We met patrons, workers, and saw it during daylight and night hours. We even got some pretty in-depth and comedic characters in Peter Parker’s place of work, whereas in this film the entire photography element is eliminated entirely. In short, the environment in those films had a determined and dominant presence, and it added lots of personality in appropriate accordance to the Spider-man comic lore; an allie of sorts; a Robin to Spidey’s Batman, if you will. Yet here, New York City works simply as a place the characters just happen to live in, because well, they have to live somewhere. The scope of the general public is also so small in fact that at times it really feels the film should perhaps have just been called “Parker and Stacy,” because the establishment of this relationship, although done well, is the prime focus here, yet it is a shame that it had to come at the price of a more relatable atmosphere. While the more serious tone of the film is an overall positive, it seems almost necessary that we do not get to feel one with New York City as we used to; but maybe some more script revisions could have alleviated that.

As the film goes on we meet only a few other cast members, including Dennis Leary as Gwen’s Police chief father, Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Parker’s legal guardians. All supporting cast members do put on decent performances, if never really standing out as anything too special. Even in more emotional scenes between Parker and his uncle Ben, Sheen seems to really encompass the role of a disciplinarian more than a father figure, only spritzing in bits of obligatory compassion, which tends to be the trend of decreased charm the whole of the cast. Despite Garfield’s Parker and Stone’s Gwen having good chemistry throughout the film, most especially during their more romantic forays (which are way too few), there exists still a certain distance from these characters the audience may feel; that even though Webb’s directing does good in offering fast pacing, well directed action and fight scenes, as well as a story that has all these characters on a good balance in their interactions, the entertainment factor in the film feels more functional than memorably fulfilling. Even soon after Parker is bitten the discovery of his new powers come off as somewhat awkward and silly, where the film tries to interject comedy without actually knowing how to do it that well, which is perhaps why the comedic element is mostly non-existant throughout the film. Garfield’s transition is a portion that exists more because it has to and not really because it wants to; Webb seems more accustomed to getting the job done rather than doing it memorably, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he does it badly. The script to its merit is a good take on the franchise, and though it doesn’t immediately feel as good as the previous original 2002 film, it’s most likely to the reasoning that though perceived flaws like those mentioned do exist, they may perhaps be due to how well we still recall Toby Maguire and Raimi, and what their film’s accomplished; a charming and incredibly fun trilogy that is even arguably superior to how well 1989’s Batman film detonated a new superhero to the silver screen to such sweeping, inspirational, memorable, and epic status (yes, I’m even counting the overkill exaggerations on the quality of 2007’s Spiderman 3). This one factor may be the biggest setback in creating a reboot so soon. Still, Webb’s Spiderman outing must be appreciated and respected from the perspective that it is being told at, but constant comparisons are still going to happen, and really for good reason.

Extras:

This review is based on the 3D package version of the film, and along with it is an entire separate blu-ray disc of special features that the non-3D package version may not have. Therefore, a separate blu-ray disc means a heck of a lot of special features, and it begins with a set of behind-the-scenes featurettes lasting 1 hour and 50 minutes total, taking the viewer to the various locales the film was shot in, from Los Angelas to Sony studios to New York City itself, packed with plenty of interviews with the cast and crew. While interesting and well produced, there really is nothing here entirely necessary or incredibly interesting in regards to the actors themselves; a by-the-books affair all around. What does stand out though is one featurette in the set that goes into some significant detail in comparing the older Sam Raimi films and the reasoning and plans with this new iteration, so it’s a comfort getting to know why a reboot was done so soon. Aside from this, there are pre-visualization reels, which are mini-movies of storyboard scene presentations set to some pretty good piano music; some of them being drawn and others computer animated, all lasting about a half hour. We then get a short of stunt rehearsals without commentary at about 15 minutes. To round things off, there are some galleries displaying conceptual art of the Spiderman, Lizard and environments, as well as a 3 minute feature on the making of the Amazing Spiderman video game. On the actual film disc itself there is your standard commentary track as well as Sony second screen app for download, to get more info on your tablet while watching the film. Overall a nice set of extras for the more hardcore fan, casuals though can do without it.

Graphics and Sound:

There are no real complaints with this Spidey flick. While the featurettes require some color adjusting to your HD set due to some scenes of distortion, the film itself runs clean all the way through, if nothing incredibly groundbreaking. Blacks are deep, colors are vibrant enough without suffering from any visible oversaturation, and not once did yours grinch truly have to touch the TV color and picture options to make things look clearer. There is a mostly mild layer of distortion that is near invisible during faster action sequences, but can still be seen in darker scenes. A very small setback but does keep the transfer from having that wow-factor some may expect. On the sound side of things, there are no big complaints either. Dialogue has its moments where lower voices cannot be made out as easily and do sound a bit distorted if the volume is up too high. Moreover, the film’s overall volume must be turned up a few notches from your standard cable volume for comfortable listening. Action scenes are well balanced as well as the soundtrack, so you’ll never be missing anything here; things also never become too loud with more intense scenes as compared to quiet ones. Therefore, the sound easily trumps the visual transfer here.

Final Verdict:

The Amazing Spider-man is a rebooted take on a series that already told a very fulfilling and grandly entertaining take on this classic comic hero. Unlike the old Batman films as compared to the newer Christopher Nolan versions, there was a dire need for the hero to be saved as his 90s run ended to such a dismal disappointing failure. There was also over a time span of almost 2 full decades between the two film series. With Spider-man, the necessity just wasn’t there, and though it doesn’t show in the film’s script, it does stick out like a sore thumb in its overall charm factor. The key here is just how culturally relevant both series were: Raimi’s vision came at a time when America seriously needed an inspirational fictional hero to lift spirits in being so soon after the catastrophic events of 9/11 that came just a year prior, and the first 2 films at least were able to walk the perfect balance of far-fetched almost cartoonish tongue-in-cheek fantasy and granting New York City a strengthening realistic and hopeful presence. Considering Webb’s Spider-man severely lacks the scope of the city that should accompany it really does very little to make this film’s interest level going beyond the Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy romance (which really needed more depth and screentime) and some good action scenes that naturally have greatly improved visual effects over the previous trilogy. So while Spider-man is at its core a very entertaining and at times gripping action/adventure superhero film, it does so mostly at a technical level of sheer functionality, but ultimately lacks enough magic and zazz that made Toby Maguire’s take so much more relatable. There is no question audiences will be entertained here, even if years down the line perhaps showing their children the Raimi films way before showing them this one. I’d give it a wink at 3 blonde Gwens out of 4.