Oblivion (2013) Blu-ray review

Image

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.

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.

Chained (2012) Blu-ray review

 

What You’ll Like:

  • Intriguing villain
  • Intelligent and artistic directorial style
  • Great performances by two main characters

What You May Not:

  • More extreme and sadistic villainous acts will turn some off
  • Film slows down during second half
  • A couple of character logic inconsistencies
  • Tacked on and unnecessary final plot twist

What You’ll Remember:

  • How far a psychotic mad man is able to go

Director Jennifer Lynch’s credits to film are not all directorial ones, as she has produced, written, and even acted in a fair number of indie films over the past two decades that have primarily stayed true to their lower budget and limited audience cred. The most significant being the psychological thriller Boxing Helena way back in 1993, and the crime drama Surveillance from 2008. One thing was for sure though, her audiences are certainly no strangers to more extreme content within these films, and with last year’s indie horror thriller Chained, Lynch has not lost her taste for the psychologically twisted. With some great attention to meticulous details, intelligent writing, artistic vision, gripping characters, and scenes that build upon their subtly disturbing imagery, Chained may arguably be Lynch’s best work, and does great to take the viewer into the mind of a mad man, despite a couple of script choices that may have worked better if presented a different way.

Vincent D’Onofrio stars as simply Bob, a 40-something man who makes his living driving a cab in the smaller towns of the rural American mid-west. Little to their knowledge, many who decide to take his cab unexpectedly end up being kidnapped into his socially isolated home which stands completely away from the world in an unnamed and hopelessly rural area where nobody ever seems to care to drive through. Once there Bob decides to have whatever way with his he desires with his victims, who all happen to be young teenage females; whether his initial abuse is sexual or physical, his victims always end up dead and buried underneath the house. Throughout all the years that Bob has been committing these horrific acts, authorities have yet to obtain any real leads that would them to Bob. While it may seem be a bit far-fetched that Bob’s taxi cab has never been able to be tracked down, such a small detail really doesn’t end up mattering considering the character study Lynch intends with the film’s main premise and greatly performed main character relationship.

At the start of Chained we meet a 9-year old boy who takes a trip to the movie theater with his mother, and whose father insists on them taking a cab home instead of a public bus due to perhaps a paranoid distrust of the public. Before being able to call a cab company, Bob’s cab is seen nearby and is hailed by the mother. In a very thrilling and well directed kidnapping scene Bob takes them both back to his home and murders the mother off screen, then proceeds to take in the boy but does not kill him, as Bob has different plans for him for reasons we actually never told. Bob commands the boy to various tasks around his home, telling him what his new life will be like as Bob’s slave, doing things like cleaning up, and helping Bob collect newspaper clippings of all his heinous acts, as well as Bob granting the boy the simple name of ‘Rabbit.’ If Rabbit does not comply with these new rules he would be subjected to beatings by Bob. When the boy decides to attempt escape he is not only caught but also chained to the house by his leg, a restraint that he must now learn to live with. In terms of survival, Rabbit can only speak and eat when such a privilege is allowed by Bob. Therefore for the first half of Chained, we have the small boy accomplishing all his tasks, and becoming accustomed to the everyday witnessing of Bob bringing home new crying victims, as well as the sadistic acts he commits prior to murdering them, some acts that will no doubt have many unsuspecting viewers hitting the stop button before ever caring to make it to the end. Yet it is Lynch’s main vision that they’d miss out on; a vision that presents such relentlessly violent scenes as a means to exploring the mind of a mad man, as well as the intriguing and mature directorial style it is brought forth with. The constant dark cinematography throughout the film within Bob’s house presents to us constant isolation, despite the beautifully clear skies right outside the house; how this clean and tidy atmospheric presentation is able to mask such horrific acts makes the viewer eventually relate to exactly how Rabbit feels, as we see him grow physically, yet not have the freedom to mature intellectually during the film’s slower but more studious and serious second half.

When Rabbit goes from an innocent and simple 9-year old to someone in his late teens, the older Rabbit is performed with complete precision by actor Eamon Farren. How would an 18-year old young adult with the mind, experience, and maturity of a 9-year old who has never seen the outside world act? Well, most likely exactly how Farren portrays him – with ideas of desiring escape but with the extremely quiet, subdued and helpless ignorance of a lost puppy. We, like older Rabbit, become so accustomed to Bob’s brutality and almost “father figure”relationship with him, that we don’t necessary come to loathe Bob when he expresses to Rabbit reasoning for wanting to kill so many young women; while we don’t agree with his murderous acts, Lynch causes us to feel an almost sad pity for him. By this point, the relationship between Rabbit and Bob becomes more complicated, as Rabbit is now able to express more ideas without the same fear of beatings he once had. Since Rabbit has reached an age where he is able to challenge Bob for further explanations, in Bob’s expressing of them he is almost forced to come to realization with them himself, causing an inner conflict within Bob that he never had to deal with before. Bob then matures and begins to understand why he must now treat Rabbit with an element of respect that was never really required from anyone before. It is also during this second half that we are showcased flashbacks of what exactly caused Bob to become so emotionless and psychotic. While some may argue that Bob’s persona can be somewhat inconsistent with this second half, they are not entirely wrong, but it is perhaps considering that since Rabbit is by that point almost a son to Bob, Bob has been forced to change his own viewpoints in the way he has. Evidence of this is seen when Bob finally begins to try and educate Rabbit on human anatomy, perhaps hoping that Rabbit will continue the same murderous acts once Bob can’t anymore. While initially it seemed Rabbit would be doing these house slave tasks the rest of his life, Bob’s reasoning for now wanting to intellectually educate Rabbit is so that he won’t have to live the rest of his life in that house, ironically really, as if Bob had no sort of discipline of control over his own control over Rabbit. To make things even more complicated is with the intentions of Bob in wanting to give Rabbit the experience of sex with a young woman of his choice. That being Bob’s letting Rabbit choose from a high school yearbook, whereas Bob would kidnap the girl to bring to Rabbit. Yet throughout all these years of torment, Rabbit still has enough good sense to disagree and not want to take part. This tension that builds between the two characters due to this disagreement becomes the main conflict of Chained. While at this point of the film things become much less horror and more intricate character study, Lynch is still able to keep the sadistically subtle mood steady throughout. The visual aesthetic of Lynch’s directing is definitely what helps most in maintaining the film’s mature and serious tone, and much credit must certainly be given to Eamon Farren himself, as even his own physical characteristics and inability to ever smile seem to wholly encompass the entirety of the film’s theme.

Chained begins with scaring its audience as Bob seems like your everyday man, and puts people in such helpless situations where they can never seem to find any aid whatsoever. When we initially meet Bob we wonder what could possibly be going through his mind and why he does what he does. Given Vincent D’Onofrio’s chilling performance as such a sick individual it is made all the more real. Him and Farren as Rabbit have some great chemistry on screen, though by the second half they play almost like two zombies who communicate so poorly due to each of their complete inexperience of the world from being so socially withdrawn; a tricky relationship to present on screen and make real, yet the two actors achieve it fantastically. While by the end we do have a mostly pointless final twist involving Rabbit’s father, it doesn’t necessary take away from the film’s theme and intentions but does come across as very forced and tacked on. We are left for the most part satisfied with the character conclusions that Lynch grants us for everyone. Chained at its meaty core is an artistic and deep film of a very dysfunctional character relationship, but wrapped in the fur of a horror thriller.

Extras:

Extremely thin. We get one alternate scene of when Bob brings home a stripper who he kills in front of Rabbit. The scene is basically just a different production take, and not even anything that was written differently. It lasts a little bit over a minute. Apart from that, we have the film’s theatrical trailer, which is pretty decent itself. Why we couldn’t get any sort of behind-the-scenes featurette is a complete wonder.

Graphics and Sound:

Chained does impress with its blu-ray transfer, offering some very vivid daytime scenes which only work to enhance Lynch’s vision of a constantly sterile psychosis. The darker scenes inside the house give a great low light image with some pleasingly deep blacks and smooth darker shades. Flashback scenes have a dirty spotty style to them which come off very sharp and smooth. There are definitely no complaints on the visual front as Chained is overall a very nice movie to look at visually already, the clean HD image only helps. Sound-wise the film is also very clean. Things never become loud as there are no guns or firearms in the movie at all, and though things stay relatively quiet throughout, all effects come off clear and dialogue is never a problem audibly. Things are well balanced and never become too annoying on the rarer occasions when things become louder.

Overall:

Chained is a very well made psychological horror thriller, which eventually becomes an intriguing character study between its two main cohorts. Both actors do a splendid job portraying such complex and psychologically damaged people. Lynch certainly has created a great visual theme throughout the film which keeps things mature and demands to be taken seriously. No, this is no gore porn or gross outs for the sake of it, but instead all the extreme violent acts and sadistic tones work to further explore the mind of Bob and what may cause such similar serial killers to rationalize why what they’re doing is right or justified. It also does a great job at showing us how strength can still be achieved through the protagonist (that is, Rabbit) who even though being subjected to such a nightmarish existence for so many years can still care about people and believe what is right. While Chained does slow down in term of thrills during its second half, perhaps disappointing many viewers who aren’t ready for it, as well as tack on a pointless final twist, it is still a very intelligently crafted horror film that does stand out in the sea of the modern cookie cutter horror genre. Keep the kids far away and if you can take the more extreme content, will find a sleeper gem if keeping an open mind. I’d say a strong and fully recommended 3 death cabbies out of 4.

The Last Stand (2013) Blu-ray review

What You’ll Like:

  • Very likeable and upbeat cast of characters
  • All around fun and entertaining action with skillful direction
  • Film is cutely aware of itself
  • Arny is back!

What You May Not:

  • Substandard villains with shallow intentions and motivations
  • Scope is not nearly as big as past Arny flicks
  • Jumps the shark at times with some elements that break the laws of physics
  • Arny’s acting is as average as ever

What You’ll Remember:

  • The nicely modified 1,000 horsepower ZR1 Corvette topping at over 200mph

Well he said he’d be back. After taking over as governor of California in 2003, the general public had perceived that action hero legend Arnold Schwarzenegger had perhaps given up on life as an action star, yet to no worries proving them (and even himself) wrong with his return in a smaller role for the recent Expendables films. Incoming The Last Stand, Arny finally gets his own starring role as a sheriff of a very small and rural American mid-western town, a role more fitting to his now older age. Viewing many action shots it is clear that although Schwarzenegger does genuinely try, we may unfortunately never see him pull off stunts to the same caliber as those in his 80s and 90s prime. Fortunately for us action sci-fi/horror Korean director Kim Jee-Woon, making his American film directing debut, ultimately impresses with some intelligent and skilled directorial chops, granting us a set of performances and action sequences mostly worthy of the Arnold stamp, even if most perhaps being pulled straight from the Action 101 Hollywood textbook.

The Last Stand tells the story of a small town sheriff named Ray Owens, played with the usual dimwitted but respectable passion by Arnold Schwarzenegger, and an escaped drug lord criminal named Gabriel Cortez’s plans to cross the border into Mexico but having to first pass through the rural town in order to get there. Owens is the lawman who will stand in Cortez’s way before seeing his hometown invaded by criminals, despite being some pretty high-stake ones compared to the lowly local police. Cortez is played by Spanish actor Eduardo Noriega, and is introduced as a federal prisoner who is being transferred by FBI units led by agent John Bannister played by Forest Whitaker, who is thankfully still agile enough for this fairly intense role. Cortez and a small gang of his henchmen execute a meticulous plan of escape, leaving the FBI baffled as to their location. During this entire escapade we are also introduced to various characters in the small town of Sommerton, where sheriff Ray Owens is enjoying his relaxing day off, meanwhile his small band of deputies are up to some mild hijinks with local gun nut and man-boy Lewis, played with average comedic deliverance by Johney Knoxville. In addition are three co-stars as deputies supporting Owens’ role – bumbling gentleman Mike, played by Luis Guzman; local small time thief and former deputy Sam, played by Mathew Greer; and Sam’s love interest ex-girlfriend Sarah, played by Jaimie Alexander. Now, despite the basically average performances by mostly the entire cast, Stand does have some pretty entertaining scenes to get us a bit more acquainted with said characters, including some comedic moments with Schwarzenegger and Knoxville help round things off. What helps here is the calm and sweet setting of an innocent and mostly helpless little town, working to get us to feel a certain sympathetic attachment to everyone, not also neglecting the extras in the town diner who do their share of comic relief. Perhaps such feelings could be due to recent true life tragic events in small towns that would maybe give anyone a certain soft spot for quaint places like Stand’s town of Sommerton. These extra small efforts in establishing cute character moments does pay off towards the meat of the film, being that of the intense mid-town fire fight towards the final act once the henchmen make their way to the town’s main streets. While some elements of the fight do jump the shark at times, they are still directed with as much finesse as necessary to keep your attention, at times more fervently; and this form of sheer entertaining action really acts as Stand’s killer app. That is to say, the central factor that gives this the honor of earning your precious viewing time.

Displaying light elements of sarcasm and cutesy humor, Stand does make it a point to show its audience that it is in fact aware of itself. No, there will be no sort of awards heading Stand’s way, nor is there anything really all that original on show here, as the script seems to prefer a safer passage by not taking any real risks with plot twists, morals, philosophies, or complex relationships. Mostly it feels perfectly happy tossing some cheap fluffy lines your way along with a few typical plot conveniences for the sake of something comedic – a granny shooting a henchman, gun jams at just the right moment to give a protagonist an opportunity for a funny kill, and vehicles defying the laws of physics, etc. Yet what is important here is if the comedy makes you laugh, and for that Stand mostly succeeds; could we expect anything else from Arnold? Stand’s sole existing purpose seems to give its audience a good time, and judging from the performances from every character, good actor or not, it makes it evident that they were all having an absolute blast filming it. Actors enjoying themselves in turn makes Stand a plain ol’ fun joy ride of gun-blasting entertaining hokum. It’s just a bit of a shame that more depth wasn’t given to the film’s villains to make them just as passably charming, or perhaps a bit more, than the film’s very likable protagonist cast.

As stated earlier, Gabriel Cortez (Noriega) is the villain attempting to cross the border into Mexico, because well, once he’s in there he’s a free man, despite all the FBI’s efforts (place cliche flag here). Efforts that aren’t the most realistic as they do not seem to think to utilize much of today’s technology that would make their jobs a lot easier (maybe satellite tracking would help?). Cortez’s gang of henchmen are led by the slick guy with the Spanish accent, Burrell, played by Peter Stormare, who just like everyone else, does a good enough job. Cortez makes his way towards the border in the only non-human star of the film, a highly modified Corvette ZR1 which can top over 200 miles per hour, and granted its amount of screen time as well as the very average performance by Noriega, the car ends up being significantly more memorable than the character. Being merely the start of what could have been written better, the villains not only have no actual purpose than just to cross the border, we also are never given any sort of real visual background on Cortez or ever see what made him top the FBI’s most wanted list, but instead characters do nothing else but gasp at the sound of his name. Yea, we kinda need a little bit more than that. Sure, so his henchmen engage is a firefight with Schwarzenegger and his charming little deputy gang, but since these baddies are just more of a textbook necessity than a real threat, it’s a saving grace that Jee-Woon is so good at filming action sequences. Good editing, bombastically intense gunshots, close-up camera angles, fast pacing, and gripping car chase scenes, Jee-Woon makes quite a showing for his American debut, it’s just too bad that the script he had to work with offers nothing original. On the plus side, what does happen to make Stand’s villains even somewhat intensifying is not even to be given to their credit but instead to the credit of the protagonists. When the small band of deputies are gearing up for the villains to arrive, the film takes the opportunity to display some cute antics to build characterization. This is effect gives the audience a comparison to the more slick and professionally criminal minds of the villains, as well as their more high-tech automatic weaponry, contrasting well to the simplistic western shotguns and handguns of local law enforcement, as well as a set of characters who have never dealt with such a threat. It works to not only makes the deputies more relatable, but also builds audience compassion.

Even with such a standard action film, Stand is proof that even such a script can still be worth your hard earned dollars. Sure, Stand doesn’t have anywhere near the scope of some of Arnold’s previous Hollywood blockbusters. There are no international conspiracies, highly organized crime syndicates, outer planets filled with aliens, monstrous creatures, or anything sci-fi related whatsoever. Not a problem though, as The Last Stand holds its own as a hokey, yet very entertaining and fun action film. It garners enough curse words and bloodshed to warrant its R rating, not to also mention a couple of pretty intense deaths to take Arnold fanatics back to his gorier heyday. So yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger has aged, and this role as a local aged sheriff is perhaps the most optimal idea for someone of his now lesser physical ability. Even in one fist fight scene it is pretty apparent to the investigative eye that many of his shots are filmed using a stunt double. To require such an aid for a fist fight goes to show that even though Arnold perhaps can no longer really compete with the Stathams and Dwayne Johnsons of today, he still deserves good credit for being able to pull of what he can.

Extras:

A fulfilling bunch. Here we have four behind the scenes featurettes, including one major one taking us to some good detail to the filming process, including cast and directorial interviews, running at 28 minutes. There is a shorter 11-minute feature discussing the film’s most creative car chase scene, a third 11-minute feature going into great detail about the film’s weaponry (a must for gun fanatics), and a shorter feature in a more raw documentary style using a basic handheld camera filmed by Johney Knoxville himself. Aside from this we get a good handful of not only deleted but also extended scenes. All in all there is a worthy and satisfying bunch here that many current blu-ray films seem to be severely lacking.

Graphics and Sound:

Mostly good news. The Last Stand has a very clear and smooth HD picture, without any noticeable noise distortion whatsoever, even in all TV display modes. Night scenes look the best as the blacks are pleasingly deep and street light glares are beautifully crisp and clean. Sure, there are some better visual transfers out there, but Stand has no significant flaws at all, and is even detailed enough to highlight all of Schwarzenegger’s 60+ year wrinkles. Since most of the film takes place during the bright daylight, the contrast never becomes too distracting despite the overly zealous sun and clear weather. On the audible side of things, Stand is another example of passably good volume during quieter scenes, which quickly become forcefully loud during action scenes, even to a hint of perhaps being even a tad obnoxious, yet is something that will please traditionalists. I could see things become a bit piercing with the right surround system, but it just a bit unbalanced with the volume level. Despite volume, all dialogue and sound effects are as clear as one would expect from a new blu-ray, so no significant issues anywhere despite that some may want to keep the volume button handy during viewing.

Final Verdict:

While The Last Stand may not be the epic return some may have been expecting from Schwarzenegger, such expectations are a bit unrealistic considering the actor’s age. But from the amount of work he puts into Stand, it is definitely an impressive affair. With a fun all around relatable and likeable cast, fast paced and well directed action sequences, and Arny himself, does make for not a completely brainless piece of entertainment, but does make for a pretty good time on a weekend night. Seeing as how the brand new retail price is surprisingly low at $14.99, the production studio may just feel the same way most critics have about it. The Last Stand makes for a fun rental that never bores, even if you may find yourself rolling your eyes a couple of times. I’d say 2.5 Jim Harpers out of 4. …and if you recognize that one reference, maybe 2.75 Jim Harpers.

Superman: Unbound (2013) Blu-ray review

What You’ll Like:

  • Slick and smooth, vibrant animation
  • Great use of characterization keeps you invested
  • Intimidating and threatening villain
  • Everything Supergirl

What You May Not:

  • Some moments of contrived plot conveniences
  • Weak soundtrack
  • Modernized, tougher character personalities may only appeal to comic fans

What You’ll Remember:

  • Besides Supergirl? The surprising and grin-inducing final line.

Being the 16th film in the DC animated original movie series, this action/adventure Superman epic is based on the 2008 Superman: Brainiac comic series story arc, with a good slew of modern touch-ups to also make it appealing to non-comic readers, while still thankfully staying mostly true to the characters and story of its source. While comic author Geoff Johns neither wrote or directed the small screen adaption, the job was given to James Tucker as director and Bob Goodman as script writer; both of which have worked previously on a good handful of DC television adaptations, such as Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Legion of Superheroes, and Justice League. All created and aired within the last ten years, Unbound has not been left in rookie hands, and granted its fantastic animation, direction, characterization, and entertaining action, it easily shows.

Unbound tells the story of Superman’s battle with the very powerful and threatening Brainiac, a foe who is not so much a living and breathing birthed being, but instead, as he puts it, a culmination of the strength and knowledge of 10,000 worlds. Essentially, Brainiac captures various cities and worlds all over the universe and has the ability to shrink and encase them in what look like fat glass jars, placing each one within his ship for enslavement and his ultimate dominion. While Brainiac is off at other world’s achieving his scheme’s, earth as well as the city of Metropolis is his soon to be next target, but is a scheme initially completely unknown to Superman.

The adventure begins entertainingly so with some henchmen who have kidnapped Lois Lane and are escaping via helicopter, when who else but Supergirl soars to her rescue, gorgeous animated looks and all; her real name being Kara (pronounced ‘care-uh’). When we first hear from now somewhat smarmy Lois Lane, she takes the opportunity to taunt the criminals while Superman jumps in to end the fight and spouts his own sarcastic remarks, and following suit the distress that Supergirl exhibits during some brief dialogue with Superman; overall in these opening few minutes the viewer gets an excellent and well-rounded introduction to what modernized type of people these vivacious set of characters now are. Gone is the wimpy and nerd-like humility that some may have become accustomed to with the trio as per their old Hollywood films, now replaced with tough-as-nails attitudes and sexiness that will mostly appeal to young men and women who desire a more slick superhero cast to look up to in 2013. In physicality alone, all starring males show off buffed chests and ripped muscular physiques, as well as solid sharp-angled faces; women here are now beautifully slender, donning low cut v-necks in casual business suits with short skirts and long legs. While some may hawk at these new takes on classic characters, it should generally be accepted as what will make these classic comic stars appealing in our current day. Even Supergirl herself is just a teenager, but plays a role that while brave and heroic, is also still struggling with insecurities that any teen girl would, yet in this case being her dealing with various internal scares from the harm Brainiac brought to family and people when she was just a young girl. She expresses frustrated emotions that in many parts of the film Superman must act as a crying shoulder and mentor, for which Unbound succeeds at due to its well executed chemistry. Needless to say, Kara’s also akin to a Victoria’s Secret model.

When there is news of some trouble afoot in Metropolis via televised news at the Daily Planet offices, Superman captures one of the robot henchmen to take back to his Fortress of Solitude. Enter Supergirl who then explains of its origins of the one and only Brainiac, who a few decades prior took over Supergirl’s home city of Kandor, bottling it just like he has done to many other cities before. Superman must now track this robot’s origins to find out more information on Brainiac, and from here one of the most threatening of Superman’s battles ensues, all thanks to one of the greatest villains ever written into the Superman saga. Brainiac here makes this film that much more interesting, as he exploits Superman’s weaknesses to the nth degree, almost feeling at many times that Superman will soon meet his ultimate demise (a real demise, not like that cash cow publicity stunt by DC from his supposed death by Doomsday back in the early 90s). We as the audience are treated to many good things Unbound grants us, but does ultimately prove that animated action adventures can be engrossing and involving if they are done right. What lies at the base of what makes Unbound so pleasing to watch is that despite its short length of 75 minutes, it can still give us moments of interesting character dialogue, molding personalities to make the entire gang feel like real people with real insecurities, worries, and struggles. This in turn makes us actually care about their well-being amidst all the trouble going on with Brainiac. One example of this great use of characterization is when Lois Lane argues with Superman on a few occasions regarding his desire to help her yet always coming off as a control freak, as well as her stresses with wanting to have a real future with Kent. In that scene it is interestingly implied that they both are actually doing things modern couples tend to do, such as spend nights at each other’s apartments and perhaps, I dunno, have sex? The voice actors in Unbound also walk just the right tightrope of making the characters feel real, but not so real as to become too complex; this does after all have to still maintain the tone of a comic book, with lines delivered steadily yet remembering that small magical flair of exaggeration to let audiences know this is not to be taken too seriously. In a nutshell, it works impeccably well. Even Supergirl herself also gets just as many personal moments of her own, and is the one character in Unbound that displays the most growth as a person. While this is a Superman film, it could be argued that Supergirl is the biggest star of the show here, and does just as much to steal the show as Superman does. If anything, maybe a tad more. A smart move by DC would have been to market more greatly her particular role in the film, as doing so perhaps would have widened the demographic for as to who the aim of the film was for, and perhaps increase sales to an otherwise left out audience of young women?

Yet even within all the greatly edited entertaining action sequences and well-written dialogue, Unbound seems to downplay much of its tension, perhaps inadvertently, by getting Superman out of some harrowing situations by some eye-rollingly contrived conveniences that are so easily and readily available it makes Brainiac feel weaker than he really is; yet they do work quickly to keep the plot moving. While I will not explain what these are in detail, they almost make it feel at times that defeating Brainiac really won’t be as much of a problem as originally anticipated. Still, the film does not let up on entertaining and even being genuinely thrilling at some parts. It would help much more if the one film tool to build tension and atmosphere here would have gotten more attention than it did. That is, the musical score. In Unbound, the soundtrack tends to stay too far in the background as well as just not be that melodious. Once the film is over though, it is a pleasure that during the credits the music finally does get memorable, as that particular tune is pleasingly sweeping and epic on its own level. Would have been great if just as much creativity and ambition was put into the music during the film, but at the very least the good that Unbound has does achieve successfully, making this a more minor complaint.

So what makes Unbound a worthwhile action film is mostly what any animated film would require, and that here being its wonderfully eye-catching presentation. The action for one is very well directed, giving just the right camera angles to let the audience know exactly what is partaking on screen, with editing done with just as much care, never being too quick to take us out of the action, or too slow to break up the good pacing. Everything from fist-fights to explosions are genuinely fun to watch, and the film never relies on the usual action movie crutch of constant guns to keep things interesting, nor does it ever make any two action sequences look or behave in the same manner, maintaining its comic tone overall, and staying true to how readers view the still action on vibrant comic pages. By being able to mesh television cartoon fluid movement with slo-mo in and out panning during intense action scenes, it becomes subtly apparent that the creators of Unbound purposefully kept worthy respect to the art of graphic novels. It is also a major plus that the animation is simply gorgeous, incredibly clean and moves with water-like fluidity. Much work was put into Unbound despite its more script-based flaws, and has the potential to create a greater fan base that will look to future film releases as well as maybe picking up previous videos.

Extras:

A good amount. Besides commentary, there are two featurettes that include interviews with the film’s creators, informing us of the origin stories from the comic book series, which can give newcomers some background on how Unbound differs from its source. At both 16 and 24 minutes long, fans are definitely not going to be cheated. Aside from this there are 4 episodes from ‘Superman: The Animated Series,’ two of which feature Supergirl (yet are not in widescreen). Lastly there is a excerpt from the Superman: Brainiac graphic novel as well as a good handful of trailers, including one really nice one for the recent game ‘Injustice: Gods Among Us.’

Graphics and Sound:

As stated earlier, the animation for Unbound is fantastic, and what helps it look that way is the fact that the HD transfer is beautifully clean all the way through. There are never any distorted spots whatsoever during the film itself, although some blacks during the extras featurettes can show a bit. Colors are natural and solid, never being too vibrant but never at all dull or lacking contrast. The film is bright and satisfyingly pleasing to look at the entire way through. On the sound front are where things unfortunately are too underwhelming. For some odd reason, the background music has a constant muffled tone to it, almost like it were being presented with a pillow resting on top of the speaker, yet the dialogue and action sound effects themselves are perfectly clear. While the effects do much to bring the action to the forefront, it is a wonder why the music was kept at such a low volume. Raising the volume on your set will not bring it out further considering then the dialogue and action just becomes too loud. This is a minor complaint considering all other sounds are perfectly audible, but the music could have helped to make this a more epic affair than it was.

Final Verdict:

Superman: Unbound is a greatly directed, well-edited, action-packed, engrossing, involving, and sometimes thrilling animated film. Filled with interesting characters and modernized dialogue, the movie will appeal to a much wider audience than just comic book fans, and may also be liked by many who are not even into animated action films nor care for comic superheroes at all. It’s brief 75 minute length keeps it on just long enough to not overstay its welcome, and works well as a nice short viewing, being able to tell all it needs to without having to get carried away with itself. This gets 3 Kandors out of 4.

Silver Linings Playbook (2012) Blu-ray review

Image

What You’ll Like:

  • Stellar performances
  • Intense dramatic family conflicts and relationships
  • Great comedic timing
  • Gripping dialogue
  • Cute soundtrack

What You May Not:

  • Somewhat cliche final act unbalances overall film
  • You’d wish character study would go deeper

What You’ll Remember:

  • Jennifer Lawrence, Jennifer Lawrence, Jennifer Lawrence

Silver Linings Playbook was a pleasantly surprising indie film which grew intense popularity initially through word of mouth after its premiere in Toronto mid-2012, and then later through its U.S. release the following November by major critical acclaim and grand audience acceptance and appraisal. Combining some interesting and unexpected casting choices to take on its script’s intense and complicated characters and a unique premise of a character study, Playbook blew away box office numbers by totaling an amount of $233 million worldwide, profiting eleven times its original budget. Rightfully deserving of its Guild awards, four Golden Globes, and eight Academy Award nominations, one of which won Jennifer Lawrence an oscar for best lead actress, Playbook has undoubtedly set a standard by which all relevant indie dramas should be compared.

Playbook tells the story of recovering OCD mental health patient and former public school teacher Pat Solitano, played impeccably spot-on by Bradley Cooper (The Hangover, Hit & Run, Failure to Launch), who gets released from a local mental facility and must move back into his parent’s home and deal with the trials of getting his life back together. Though he has an OCD condition, most of his behavioral outbursts are due to a sort of post traumatic stress that resulted from his near fatal beating of a former school colleague who he caught his separated wife Nikki cheating with. Though they are separated, Pat makes it his mission to win Nikki back despite all he’s been through, as well as her careful reserves. Helping Pat slowly set things in order are his loving and thoughtful parents, played by Robert Deniro as Pat Sr. and Australian actress Jacki Weaver (The Five Year Engagement) as Dolores. Pat begins to reconnect with older neighborhood friends when by chance one of their younger sisters gets introduced to him, Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games, Winter’s Bone) whose performance of such a toxic and anti-PC yet beautifully raw and fearlessly bold young woman is so intensely captivating that audiences quite honestly may as well have gotten D-list actors to support all around and still remember Tiffany for years to come.

Similar to Pat, Tiffany comes from a rough past, yet hers includes much more sexual deviance due to a depression brought on by the death of her husband; and although her emotional imbalances and social recklessness cause a jagged rift with nearly every person she is close with, Lawrence exudes her vulnerabilities and buried sorrow with such an invested focus and irrevocable talent that one wishes they could actually be friends with someone who on the surface comes off as such an immensely difficult social nihilist. One could even call her a sociological heroine after all her kicked up dust is settled. Lawrence is quite easily the star of the show here, gracefully robbing every single scene in which she takes part by if not her talent alone than just plain ol’ gorgeous looks. Yours Grinch truly must say, he absolutely loves Tiffany.

Beginning with the support of this dynamic duo, besides Deniro and Weaver, is Pat’s friend Danny, who was surprisingly casted to Chris Tucker (Dead Presidents, Rush Hour). Thankfully, even though Danny is a fellow former mental patient like Pat, Tucker has no inkling of that annoying presence he has garnered for himself in previous action films; on the contrary, his performance is quite good, if only trumped by Lawrence and Cooper alone. Pat’s friends Ronnie and Veronica (Tiffany’s older and more normal sister) have their own sub-plot of marriage issues to deal with, but does well to make Cooper’s character further well-rounded, as do his confident and outgoing therapist and successful older brother who comes for a visit and takes Pat out to a live football game. This is where the plot would take on a significant turn.

Playbook is mostly a character study on the emotional turmoil of not only dealing with such attached anger and frustration of past mistakes, but also balancing those with all new difficult yet hopeful circumstances that arise once said characters are trying to put things in order in their own time. David Russell is absolutely brilliant as director at not only gracing us with such a fantastic story through an incredible screenplay, but also gives the perfect amount of screen time and film-making techniques to each actor in order to bring it all to such memorable life. At least it starts out this way, that is until things begin to take on a more “Hollywood” turn towards the somewhat disappointing final act of the film, after Tiffany invites Pat to an improv dance contest for which they must practice relentlessly for. Since Pat’s father placed a hefty bet on not only their good performance but also on a local Philadelphia Eagles game, it gives Tiffany and Pat incentive to win for the sake of the family; yet without spoiling any details, the film takes a less indie-style turn to more conventional Hollywood methods in the use of camera work and screenplay cliches, which do somewhat ruin some potential in more deeply exploring the characters we so yearn to keep hearing from. While many may regard this portion as worthwhile and effective, I could understand where this opinion comes from. Playbook, being simply viewed as a piece of well-paced entertainment has to evolve as any film cohering to a mainstream norm must, and for the sake of the finality of circumstances as well as nominally satisfying character closure, the ending does work on a functional level. Still, my only wish was that Playbook maintain the tone and direction of what it started out with, keeping us learning about these amazingly complex personalities and struggles, which the ending regrettably seems to delve away from for reasons that could easily be considered as the hope of creating something more accessible to a wider range of mainstream audiences. Those who agree after viewing the film may see this as either a mild or major setback; my opinion holds to somewhere in the middle, but still enough to notice and prefer differently.

Russell certainly knows his craft, and with the use of shaky cam, is able to create an atmosphere within the Solitano household that gives us a challenging and realistic depiction on the inner workings of this American suburban family of Eagles fanatics, who despite their various domestic issues, truly love each other and ache to be even closer, no matter the amount of trials it takes to do so. Deniro alone is able to display a true love for his son Pat, even though the odds seem so against it considering Pat’s emotional problems, not to mention when Pat Sr. must still lay down his disciplinary hand. Weaver is equally as wonderful as the struggling mother, who we as the audience genuinely feel for as she tries so desperately to help her son through sacrifices and tears, despite his moments of verbal abuse and physical intimidation. The strength within family conveyed here is so incredibly well captured that one should not feel surprised to leave the film wanting to hug their own mother out of sheer appreciation. As far as Russell’s comedic timing, it is nothing short of perfect, for lack of a better word. While this is definitely not a comedy, those few comedic moments when we are first being introduced to the relationship between Tiffany and Pat are some of the most charming movie moments you’ll experience all year and even beyond; the character chemistry is downright genius, and much of it is due to Russell using just the right angles and edits at exactly the right times.

Playbook is both able to not only treat us to such relevant and memorable character story arcs, but also put it forth in a refreshingly entertaining way for a film of its lower budget; doing it all with a fully realistic presentation, relating to many even if the emotional disorders displayed by the characters aren’t anything many people can side with. Playbook is outright gripping, with intense. unapologetic, and passionately written dialogue that will no doubt keep any audience invested in learning about the character’s personal thoughts and motivations, as well as hankering for what will come next. Without the talents in the terrific casting choices, much of the film may not have worked, because they bring it alive more than the actual story itself alone ever could.

Extras:

A good handful of deleted scenes are a treat here to those who desire a bit more background on the amazing characters. There is one film discussion with interviews from the cast and crew, but is not really so much of a behind-the-scenes as most of those details are left out in preference for film origins and the like. Furthermore, a Q&A session involving only the director and some writers may only serve those more hardcore fans. Lastly, there are two more or less throwaway shorts on the work done in the dancing sequences with none of the film’s stars; but considering those weren’t the best parts of the movie, it’s not entirely all that engaging.

Graphics and Sound:

There are no real complaints with how the film looks or sounds. Granted, this is not a special effects affair in the least, and judging from past dramas in HD, the film does not stand out but does not disappoint or fail anywhere here either. Picture is as sharp as anyone would expect, and considering the use of shaky cam, the more realistic color tones and contrast of the film don’t hold any vivid shape, yet are not supposed to, because doing so would detract from the realism the director is trying to present. All dialogue is clearly audible, never faltering even with Deniro’s deeper voice or any higher pitched ones. The music also never overtakes a scene and is well balanced against the dialogue in parts where both are audible. Volume is also at a good level, so no having to turn it up too high outside from how you normally hear regular television.

Final Verdict:

Playbook is fantastic, and various viewings will most likely be had simply due to examining the incredible performances further and further. And even though my own personal score of 3 silver linings out of 4 may seem low to some, all the great positives stated about it are within the 3. Unfortunately, the ending simply does too much to unbalance what the film could have been, distancing itself from the direction it was seeming to originally take, and I could easily hypothesize that if altered, this film could have perhaps taken home the Academy Award for Best PIcture against ‘Argo’ which won over it. Still, Silver Linings Playbook shall no doubt be considered among the modern indie classics and is 100% absolutely worth your time and money.