5/28/2010

DVD Review: The Louis L'Amour Western Collection -- The Sacketts (1979); Conagher (1991); Catlow (1971)



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The Sacketts (1979)



Based upon a duo of novels centering on Louis L’Amour’s beloved Sackett family tree, this nicely preserved, solid miniseries introduces us to the three very different Tennessee brothers who set out upon their fiercely independent paths to make their fortunes, only to find themselves by one another’s side whether it’s during a gunfight or a long night driving cattle.

After the brutal Higgins clan fatally shoots the new bride of Orrin Sackett (Tom Selleck) on his wedding day before Orrin’s quick-draw brother Tyrel (Jeff Osterhage) saves his neck, the two decide to head west in the footsteps of their gold prospecting miner brother Tell (Sam Elliott).

Herding cattle on the way, soon the three cross paths as eventually they settle in 1860s Santa Fe, New Mexico, making waves among the locals when Tyrel falls for a beautiful Mexican woman and the Sacketts take the side of the locals against the prejudiced masses, which makes the work even timelier today in light of the immigration debate and new border law.

Filled with rich western scenery and subplots runneth over, the two part miniseries is easily the standout in this author themed collection from Warner Brothers and it’s an easily compelling and compulsively watchable adaptation, even though there are enough time and logic gaps that threaten to intellectually pull you out of the viewing experience. Still, in culling from the richness of L’Amour’s literary landscape, The Sacketts is a tough work to beat.

Conagher (1991)



Enviously capable of balancing out his rugged side with a sensitive note here or there, nobody calls themselves a “sodbuster,” “cowpuncher” or “saddle bum” quite like actor Sam Elliott.

In Conagher, the newest of the three titles that was originally made for TNT in 1991 and co-written by stars Elliott and Katharine Ross, Elliott plays “a right peace-loving man,” named Conn Conagher who falls in love with Ross’s widowed rancher Mrs. Teale.

After venturing from Missouri to go into the cattle business, Ross suffers an unbelievable hardship when her husband disappears and dies on the journey to create a livelihood for his wife and two children from his first marriage.

Left in the middle of nowhere with a stepson and daughter who miss their mother, Ross does the best she can serving food to patrons on the local stagecoach until the official station is built and taking up arms against the Apache when fired upon in a horrific blaze of gunfire.

Vowing to only marry again if it is for love, Mrs. Teale finds herself drawn to the loyal Conagher who takes her stepson under his wing in giving them advice and soon begins going out of his way to visit the Teales until he realizes – later than one would assume – just how much he cares for the matriarch.

A harsher western than the brightly colored Sacketts but one that’s sure to appeal to an older audience given the age of the characters and maturity in handling the romantic relationship which always takes a backseat to “sodbusting,” Conagher makes a fine companion piece to the miniseries in a film that’s far superior to the wacky western adaptation of Catlow.




Orig. Published June 1, 2009


I'm not sure if Yul Brynner had a deal going with the American Dental Association or he was hoping to become the new face for a toothpaste campaign but throughout Sam Wanamaker's jokey western Catlow, the actor-- perhaps most famous for playing the king to Deborah Kerr's "I" in The King and I-- smiles enough to make even Pollyanna suspicious.

Based on a best-selling Louis L'Amour novel, this comedic tale set in the wide open spaces of America's west finds Brynner's Catlow pursued by basically everyone with whom he crosses paths. The crowded list includes angry cattle owners whose wandering livestock he and his posse branded and took for their own, Mexican Federales, a beautiful but ultimately obnoxious girlfriend (Daliah Law), an Indian war party, hired gun Leonard Nimoy (yep, minus the ears and "Live Long and Prosper"), and Marshall Ben Cowan (Richard Crenna).

While he always manages to maneuver out of every situation in a way reminiscent of the big screen Mel Gibson, James Garner, and Jodie Foster version of Maverick, Catlow's biggest challenge is from the tough but fair-minded marshal who is not only the local lawman but also Catlow's best friend with whom he'd served in the war.

Determined to avoid capture (or just at least anyway) until he can make his way down to Mexico to score millions worth of gold-- the film's good-natured, easy-going banter between Catlow and Cowan helps speed the unchallenging, fun, and if ultimately unforgettable movie along.

Featuring one of the creepiest displays of "going commando" since Dennis Franz took it all off in NYPD Blue, Leonard Nimoy's Dr. Spock--er, I mean his Catlow character Miller-- dares to bare all by bursting out of the bath in his birthday suit for a pre-Borat session of man-on-man full contact fighting as he and Brynner slug it out.

While I think most viewers could've done without the naked Nimoy sequence which will never make you think of him as just Jim Kirk's pointy-eared, logical Star Trek sidekick anymore, and the film doesn't offer anything new in its standard and straightforward take on the western sub-genre of the western comedy-- L'Amour fans, western enthusiasts, and those intrigued by the actors should get a kick out of it.

To ensure its tone as simply lighthearted, the screenwriters and director repeat jokes a la Butch Cassidy as Crenna routinely manages to arrest his friend (including from the opener which finds him passing out wounded while in the process of doing just that) only for Catlow to conveniently sneak out of custody, grinning like an overgrown child every time.

And while it's nowhere near the same level of quality as Brynner's best western (um, no motel endorsement implied) effort The Magnificent Seven, it's a pleasant enough out-of-the-blue discovery making its debut on DVD from Warner Brothers thirty-eight years after it premiered on the big screen.


Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

FTC Disclosure:
Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

5/27/2010

DVD Review: Dear John (2010)

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Nicholas Sparks Limited Edition DVD Collection (7 Films!)

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As Dear John begins, at first the casting seems a bit too on-the-nose given the fact that G.I. Joe and Stop-Loss actor Channing Tatum certainly knows how to salute with the best of the Army and Amanda Seyfried just keeps sending mail (Mamma Mia!, Letters to Juliet).

However, once you get into the movie, you realize that by-George... er, rather Nicholas Sparks, director Lasse Hallstrom has managed to hook you once again in this gorgeously photographed nostalgic love story that feels like a throwback to light melodrama of the 1950s.


And while that would normally be a criticism for anyone else other than Hallstrom, since he excels at finding a balance in sentimentality, Dear John pulls it off extraordinarily well in what I found to be a surprisingly good heart-tugging romance that wasn't bogged down heavily by the blatant who's-going-to-die-now attitude of some of author Sparks' previous movie adaptations.


Perhaps the most successful adaptation of his work since the underrated, heart-wrenching Message in a Bottle, Dear John works better than some of the rest since like Bottle, it's filled chock full of interesting subplots that strengthen the romantic main plot.

And in one case, a subplot about father and son threatens to grab our attention even more than the primary love story as soldier on leave, John Tyree (Channing Tatum) returns to his southern home where he unexpectedly falls in love with a sunny idealistic college student named Savannah (Amanda Seyfried).


With a strained relationship with his reclusive coin-collecting father (a superb Richard Jenkins) reminding John of what he's left behind or has been running away from, he finds himself increasingly running towards Savannah for two weeks of Spring Break wherein the young couple fall in love and forge a deep connection that continues after they separate and decide to correspond by numbered letters since there's no guarantee what order in which they'll arrive when you're sending overseas.


However, their relationship is tested after news of 9/11 breaks and, torn between the end of his tour in the military and life with Savannah verses fighting in Afghanistan, Tatum's John realizes he can't abandon his unit no matter how much he longs to return home.


And although – with the benefit of hindsight – that sequence is handled a little too briskly both emotionally and logically as somehow he's able to return home to the U.S. and she can meet him at the airport as if nothing has changed, the lovely thing about Dear John is that it doesn't immediately go in the directions which you assumed it'd be heading as life intervenes and they struggle in their commitment to one another so many thousands of miles apart.


Featuring great subtle turns by both Jenkins and a nice, long overdue quality part for actor Henry Thomas (Legends of the Fall), although it suffers a few bumps near the end both in the included finale and the DVD's alternate ending which I liked a bit better despite its over-sentimentality, Hallstrom's beautifully realized romance proved to be far more successful than most Sparks adaptations thanks to the intelligent handling of the script by both the filmmaker and its writer Jamie Linden.


Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC;
All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

DVD Review: The Road (2009)



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How do you maintain humanity once it has all but vanished? The answer is as simple as it is complex; you do so by staying alive... even in a post-apocalyptic world gone mad. Although he carries a revolver loaded with two bullets to end the life of himself and his son if they ever run out of food, shelter from cannibals and gangs, or the unforgiving landscape of a frozen America while they journey south down the coast, Viggo Mortensen's unnamed father refuses to give in and pull the trigger.



With his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) in tow and an old cart to push, the two fight to stay alive for the sake of survival in John Hillcoat's bleak follow-up to his brutal yet far more powerful western The Proposition, via Joe Penhall's adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Cormac McCarthy.



It's hard to imagine an audience showing much interest for yet another Armageddon themed picture, especially one that stems from a novel that's become an international contemporary classic and sure enough the film was released blink-and-you-missed-it quick at the box office.



I wish I could say that the audience was wrong to stay away but the truth is, despite Javier Aguirresarobe's unexpectedly brilliant, at times near monochromatic cinematography and another uniformly excellent turn by Eastern Promises star Mortensen, there's not much to recommend in this stark film that meanders along its dull, dreary road of doom with little in the way of plot.



Devoid of No Country for Old Men author Cormac McCarthy's precise prose to add another layer to the unfolding drama, all we're left with is the most basic building blocks of the novel. Thus, despite its bold use of extreme realism, The Road fails to translate well onscreen, making you want to pick up the book a little after the half an hour mark once you've gotten the film's post-apocalyptic images swirling around in your head to best compliment the work as a companion piece rather than a film in its own right.


Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC;
All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com
Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Movie Review: Sex and the City 2 (2010)



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I have to hand it to the first Sex and the City movie; I didn't much care for it but at least it felt connected to the series. In Michael Patrick King's dreadful sequel that's all about the Benjamins a woman can spend at Bergdorf Goodman's, there's nothing even the slightest bit reminiscent to the award-winning, critically acclaimed six seasons of the series that has touched the lives of so many women and men around the globe.



As King reveals in the WB production notes for the film, since women made the previous film an “event movie,” he decided to make the sequel an even bigger event that he likens to a party and it is very much a party on Ecstasy, for lack of a better cliché.



Equal parts Studio 54 – complete with a cameo by Liza Minnelli who proves she can still shake her moneymaker to Beyonce no less – and Lawrence of Arabia, as the women accompany Samantha on her PR destination to a top-of-the-line vacation resort with comped $22,000 a night rooms, the movie plays like it's the love-gone-strange child of David Lean and Liberace.



To put it another way, female sexual empowerment equals Abu Dhabi like Carrie Bradshaw equals Costco so it's tres bizarre (not tres chic) to see the quartet of New Yorkers travel 6,500 miles from the Big Apple to a land where the women are veiled, regardless of how much couture they're hiding underneath their traditional garments.



And while it foolishly attempts to be PC about the “New Middle East,” once Samantha proves that she's incapable of being anything but the same seductress with an insatiable appetite for sex and runs afoul of the law, the film quickly devolves into a rather ugly portrayal of the Muslim culture as no middle finger is spared until she can go back to getting down in public in the land of the free... where nobody seems to point out, it's still illegal to shag in the open.



Riddled with cliches about married life, the women all face their own challenges in the sequel but aside from the troubles Charlotte endures while juggling a child suffering from a very terrible case of the terrible twos and insecurity about her braless Irish nanny (Alice Eve), everything is superficial and as half-baked as the boxes of takeout that Carrie is tired of eating at home with Big (gasp) two nights a week!



While the women were always driven by the almighty search for the right accessory, seen in the light of the recession, everything experienced seems like an unrelatable fantasy so over-the-top ridiculous that instead of making the film feel like a fond revisit to a series we cherished, instead this parade of gluttony will not only cause involuntary eye-rolls but also make you feel a bit bad for having stuck with Carrie and her ahem “girls” this long.



Filled with out-of-character decisions as sex and romance nonfiction author Carrie nearly has a nervous breakdown over a kiss with her ex and Miranda finally stands up to a chauvinistic boss (off camera!) and tacky excess, it's like they took all of the fashion shoots from the first movie and decided to just run with it for the length of two hours and twenty-six minutes.



While there's no stopping the box office power this baby will definitely have at least until the Cosmos wear off, it's time for Carrie Bradshaw to take down the disco ball, do the walk of shame home and call the whole thing off before the films begin damaging the legacy of the intelligent series that placed female strength over female karaoke.






Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC;
All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com
Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I attended a free press screening of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique (as you can see).

5/24/2010

Blu-ray Review: Edge of Darkness (2010)



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Yes, it really has been seven years since Mel Gibson was captured on celluloid in front of the camera. And while a world of filmgoers were tempted to write him off by failing to separate the actor from the man who made an offensive tirade after the arrest captured 'round the globe, once you see his cool, still gaze searing into the eyes of a man he assumes may have been involved in the death of his daughter, we realize just how much cinema has missed Gibson's onscreen presence. The man has an undeniable gift to blink on tears, get you right where it hurts and take you with him on the most tumultuous journeys which he does to brilliant effect in what I truly feel is one of the most underrated thrillers of 2010 thus far.



A sleeper that will hopefully fare better on disc, if viewers can get past their prejudices, Casino Royale director Martin Campbell takes up the helm once again of the same saga he told over two decades ago in BBC's smash hit miniseries for Edge of Darkness. Having recently reviewed the original work earlier this year, I worried I'd be unable to remain objective when it came to this truncated 117 minute version of the much longer and far more complex whole.

Luckily, I realized that unlike last year's State of Play which lost a lot in the translation from miniseries to film, Darkness has turned into a more determined study of a man on a singular mission to find out who was behind not just the trigger of the gun and bullet that killed his twenty-four year old daughter on his doortsep but the entire order to have her murdered in the first place.



Erroneously assuming that his daughter was mistakenly executed in lieu of him, the Boston Homicide Detective Thomas Craven realizes soon thereafter that nothing that happened the night that the widowed man's daughter Emma returned home for a visit was accidental as shortly after getting ill a few times in a short span, instead of the emergency room, she wound up in the morgue.

Going after her place of business – the private governmentally contracted research firm Northmoor – soon Gibson encounters the smiling but sleazy executive Jack Bennett (Danny Huston) who asks him how he felt after seeing his daughter gunned down before a man named Jedburgh (Ray Winstone) tells him they need to talk about who shot his daughter.



Nearly stealing the film away from Gibson in the most charismatic role, Winstone's Jedburgh makes an ironic change from the original version as Joe Don Baker's initial characterization was the only American written into the script whereas this time around, Winstone plays the only British individual in the city of Boston.



Co-written by The Departed's William Monahan who knows Boston's cops and robbers better than anyone working in Hollywood right now, the film manages to overcome its Charles Bronson set-up as Gibson's Craven vows to kill anyone responsible for the death of the only loved one he had left in the world as Edge of Darkness takes a rather intelligent turn bringing conspiracy theory and politics into the mix.

While anyone familiar with the original miniseries knows where the film is ultimately headed, it gets there with far more action ready precision this time around as the movie becomes a nearly Dennis Lehane imbued version of a western, with us wondering just who will be the last man standing in a parade of liars and crooks.



Brilliantly executed, while the safe route is to lump this film together with last year's Taken or even Gibson's old Ron Howard film Ransom, this vengeance fueled saga is more film noir than James Bond and frequent Bond director Campbell knows it all to well, understanding that Gibson needed a quietness about him we haven't seen before.

Anchored by yet another solid turn from Gibson whom we may have taken for granted in his bad publicity aftermath, Edge of Darkness is a thriller with heart and mind that's definitely worth capturing on crisp, impressive Blu-ray as we're led through a bevy of topical featurettes that give you a greater understanding and appreciation of the levels laced into this outstanding work.


Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC;
All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com
Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

TV on DVD Review: George Gently: Series 2 (2009)

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There’s nothing gentle about the murders that the eponymous Inspector George Gently (Martin Shaw) faces in this gripping BBC series but much like another gentleman detective series Foyle’s War, these period based mysteries are steeped in sociological, historical, and cultural richness that use their vintage time and place to take a humanistic “gray area” approach to the police procedural.

Filmed in 2009, the quartet of feature length cases that are contained in this slim-packaged four-disc set serve as the perfect companion to not only the latest installment of Foyle but also the second and greatly improved season of Murdoch Mysteries as well, considering not only the fact that the trio are set in the past but that all three use their setting to comment on issues concerning right and wrong that still affect us today.

Although police procedurals in the UK may be a dime a dozen, considering how often they're produced, George Gently easily rises to the hierarchy of series this past decade for the Agatha Christie level twists and turns that are contained within a storyline. Namely, the series requires as much psychological and philosophical attention as the eerie Ruth Rendell Mysteries or the ever-sophisticated Foyle’s War.

Set in 1964, the series centers on the former Scotland Yard detective George Gently who works alongside his clever but bold protégé Sergeant Bacchus (Lee Ingleby) solving crimes in the North Country of Britain in the ever changing decade.

Based on the long-running collection of Gently novels from author Alan Hunter – not a dud is contained throughout the roughly ninety minute cases include “Gently with the Innocents,” “Gently in the Night,” “Gently in the Blood,” and “Gently through the Mill,” since issues from child abuse to racism, gender equality, secret societies, religious fanatics, gangs, and embezzlers are seamlessly worked into the endlessly layered plots that take at least a half dozen genuinely surprising turns within any given episode.

And while intuition found me guessing the who in at least two of the cases, by the time it was wrapped up in the conclusion, the where, why, when and how always proved either to baffle me considerably or reveal itself in ways I could never have anticipated such as in the bravura opener, “Gently with the Innocents,” wherein a real estate developer finds the homeowner of the purchased property dead in the backyard.

Easily the strongest mystery of the lot and the one that will haunt you afterward the longest, “Gently with the Innocents,” is the ideal starting point to throw you off balance, as you realize that you’re dealing with something much more involved than a typical crime scene series wherein the victims aren’t always the corpses. We find we genuinely care about characters we meet within each standalone case before it’s onto the next one.

This is a superlative series that features two finely drawn characterizations from its lead actors who, fortunately seem like two very different yet respectful individuals as opposed to two halves of the same whole (another overused “sleuthing partner” TV cliché). Likewise, even though I realized you don’t have to have seen the first series of George Gently to be taken in by its follow-up season, I’ll be damned if you’re not aching to check it out as soon as you eject the fourth disc of this irresistibly intelligent collection.


Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC;
All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com
Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

TV on DVD: Care Bears: Share-a-Lot in Care-a-Lot



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Even though it turns out that the Care Bears have their own version of April Fool's Day with “Surprise Day,” apparently they don't have the equivalent of Netflix since Grizzle learns the hard way and without the assistance of Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey that sometimes machines can turn against man... or bear even when it isn't Surprise Day.



Kicked out of his evil hench-bear lair by a computerized robot that he's programmed to smash Care-a-Lot, Grizzle discovers that although he feels caring is a “big fat waste of time,” after a game of hide-and-seek with the Bears, it doesn't seem quite as bad as he assumed it would be.



Sure enough, Grizzle soon goes back to his old ways in the seven remaining episodes of this eight installment DVD. Share-a-Lot in Care-a-Lot follows Lionsgate's other stellar releases in the Care Bear family with a collection of episodes that are slightly stranger than the ones featured in other discs.

This time around, bears float, Bedtime oozes throughout the community, clouds speed up time and the self-involved human sidekick McKenna arrives in desperate need of a personality makeover. Yet while the storylines in this edition are a bit more fantastic and therefore somewhat repetitive by comparison, it's still a whole lot of colorful fun.



Additionally and par for the course, the series discs are also a great way to introduce your preschoolers to the pleasures of caring and sharing in understanding why it's always better to make someone else's day rather than exclude them by only thinking of one's self... and of course, to think twice before building a robot capable of artificial intelligence.



Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC;
All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com
Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Blu-ray Reviews: The Karate Kid (1984); The Karate Kid II (1986)

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After he meets the adorable cheerleader Ali (Elisabeth Shue), Mrs. Laruso is certainly correct when she tells her son Daniel (Ralph Macchio) that in California, it looks like “the whole world turned blonde,” but what she doesn’t realize is that when it comes to high school bullies, their home state of New Jersey was a whole lot safer. Of course, these were the days before Tony Soprano moved into town... but I digress.

In 1984, screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen and Rocky director John G. Avildsen returned to the always popular underdog formula for this 1980s contemporary teen classic. And much like its Sylvester Stallone predecessor less than a decade earlier, The Karate Kid would go on to become one of the defining movies for a generation with this story of a fish out of water who meets a fisherman from Okinawa in a life-changing and life-saving adventure that spawned a franchise.


Mercilessly menaced by a group of Cobra Kai Dojo students headed up by Ali’s particularly cruel ex-boyfriend Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) -- several black and blue marks and a broken bicycle later-- Daniel is taken under the wing by his apartment handyman Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) who intervenes in the ongoing feud by entering the boy in the local karate tournament in an arrangement with Lawrence’s sensei.

Knowing that he cannot possibly fight based on the knowledge he’s obtained back home at the YMCA and through a pictorial handbook, Miyagi employs unorthodox training techniques involving manual labor to train Daniel in the important basics of defense. And by the time they’ve reached offensive strategies, the two have become not only friends but a surrogate family both for each other as well as the audience who has cherished them for more than two decades.

While you may remember the movie with a fond memory or the inevitable “wax on, wax off,” line or two, you’ve never seen it look quite as beautiful as it does in this sharpened Blu-ray. In fact, the transfer is so impressive that it had me during the open credit sequence as the Laruso’s meander from one side of the United States to another set to Bill Conti’s inventive score that utilizes Eastern woodwind instruments in some rousing Western tracks so unique, they sparkle when rushing into your media room from all directions.

And while it grabs you throughout, perhaps the best evidence of Conti’s originality can be heard as Daniel first practices standing against the rush of waves on the ocean shore, while in the distance Miyagi practices the film’s all important Crane Technique on a log.

Moreover, in addition to being stunned by how much violence there was in the film in a recent viewing as I can’t remember a film before The Karate Kid that painted such a brutal and true picture of bullying at school, I was also struck by how many cinematic details get taken for granted during our youth.

Namely, we’re so wrapped up in the story that we fail to notice the rather exquisite production design of Miyagi’s East meets West home and the lost in World War II era feel of the old automobiles he restores as well as the way that – similar to Rocky – night and the use of black becomes a primary character that slowly vanishes as Daniel (just like Rocky) gains more confidence.

Balance or the yin and yang for which Miyagi and Daniel are both searching in their life is a central theme of the movie and from a visual perspective, crystallized in 1080 pixel high definition, it’s fascinating to see the way this is reaffirmed throughout on another level.

And it’s the balance of the two locations that becomes far more evident in 1986’s The Karate Kid II as Daniel postpones college to accompany Mr. Miyagi to his ancestral Okinawa home in order to visit his dying father whom he hasn’t seen since -- heartbroken over the arranged marriage of his girlfriend (Nobu McCarthy) to his best friend Sato (Danny Kamekona) – he emigrated to America.

However, once our American twosome arrive, they realize that old wounds haven’t healed with time as Sato challenges Miyagi in a fight to the death and shortly thereafter Daniel is threatened in the same fashion by Sato’s beastly nephew Chozen (Yuji Okumoto) who bullies the locals and pushes around the beautiful girl whom Daniel becomes attracted to in the sequel. Only this time around it won’t take a tournament to settle anything as the stakes are higher when scores have to be settled by fighting for blood.


Although structurally it’s fairly predictable and even borrows the same cinematic “catch up” device that made the Rocky sequels so successful by opening the film with a refresher of where we’d previously left off, the second Kid is actually a bit easier going for the viewer since the endless beatings from the Cobra Kai are replaced with gorgeous Japanese scenery.

However, this doesn’t naturally make the film superior since, in viewing them back-to-back again for this Blu-ray review, I realized that unlike my youthful preference for the sequel, now it’s the original that feels to me like an ideal ‘80s coming-of-age journey whereas this second one makes a charming companion piece.

And ideally, the manufacturers have delivered on this by filling the Blu-ray with brand new interviews, along with three featurettes, a Composer’s Notebook and commentary from the filmmakers along with Macchio and Morita.

Yet while owners of the movie may recognize a few of the extras, it’s well-worth the upgrade not only for the heightened clarity and first rate sound but also due to Sony’s unique “Karate Kid Blu-ray Pop Up" track that offers facts, interviews, footage, and picture-in-picture data that plays along with the movie.

Smartly removing the third, excruciating Karate Kid from the Sony re-release and high definition debut, thankfully I discovered that the two movies have actually managed to age fairly well considering the timelessness of its tale of finding friendship in the most unlikely of places. Likewise, I'm hoping that a new generation will soon latch onto these heartwarming, teen friendly movies before they contrast them with the 2010 high-gloss remake.


Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC;
All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

5/21/2010

DVD Review: Disgrace (2008)



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Disgrace is not a movie that ends when the final credits roll and it stays with you longer than the after-movie coffee and conversation. It's there when you get up the next day, when you're driving in your car, and when you're walking into your next meeting.



I once met a guy who said that he personally believed you could tell a good movie from a bad one simply based on how long afterward you spend thinking about it. For me, with Disgrace, it's been a few weeks which by my friend's rationale should make it one of the year's best films and it turns out he's right as Disgrace made it onto the Top 10 list and favorite films summaries of some of our nation's most important critics.



The deceptive thing about Disgrace is just how straightforward it is. It's not an approachable movie by a long shot; it takes you places you're not sure you want to go and makes you confront ideas and have thoughts you may not be up to processing.

Yet there's a beautiful simplicity in the bare, precise prose of screenwriter Anna-Maria Monticelli's adaptation of Nobel Prize Laurette author J.M. Coetzee's Booker award-winning novel. Monticelli doesn't offer pat resolutions or filler speeches to tell you why our character moves from one place to another emotionally or physically and why certain plot points and thematic overlaps are so important.



Intelligent, provocative, challenging and powerfully crafted by director Steve Jacobs and boasting one of John Malkovich's strongest roles in years, Disgrace is set in the still racially sensitive post-apartheid landscape of South Africa.

As the film begins, Malkovich's romantic poetry professor with a penchant for Byron – David Lurie – moves from his weekly hooker appointment where he moans that his students see right through him when he lectures to gaining the full attention of a beautiful college student he seduces, despite the fact that she still seems to stare off into space after their first meeting.



Being forced to resign his post in Cape Town, he goes to visit his recently single lesbian daughter Lucy at her farm in the country where the idyllic landscape of sun and sand reveals instead an unforgiving landscape and threat of horrific violence that strikes right at the heart of David and Lucy's lives.



A gripping film that thankfully handles the confrontational scene with tact in showing us events from David's point-of-view and not dwelling too much on exploitative violence for violence sake, Disgrace is that curious type of movie that begins as an ode to another tale of a white guy in mid-life crisis mode and then becomes an entirely different film altogether that uses him as a vehicle to explore the many facets of human behavior from prejudice to love.



Crisply transferred to disc complete with behind-the-scenes featurettes and cast interviews, the highly recommended Disgrace may strike at the most disgraceful aspects of our nature as a species in this most gripping and unexpected release but it also encourages the best in us as it makes us confront issues and consider what we have seen repeatedly after we hit eject.


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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.