TV on DVD Review: When Calls the Heart - Lost and Found (2014)

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When Calls the Heart (2013)

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Since it will take a whole week for the stagecoach to return and pick up the young woman who’d been assigned to the hard-hit mining town of Coal Valley for her very first teaching assignment, one week’s trial is how long the widows of Coal Valley will give Elizabeth Thatcher (Erin Krakow) to make a good impression.

Having lost forty-seven of their brave husbands and sons in the mine three months ago, the widows eye the young East-coast educated and bred Thatcher suspiciously, wondering if she has what it takes to make it in such unglamorous surroundings.

Eager to prove her worthiness, Thatcher promptly tries to exert her independence and proceeds to burn down her new home and every one of her belongings, save for the clothes on her back. And perhaps because this is based on a Janette Oke book (which had already been adapted into a successful TV movie) but assuredly because this is the pilot of a brand new made-for-Hallmark Channel original cable series, the Coal Valley widows led by Lori Laughlin’s extraordinarily kind Abigail Stanton take pity on Elizabeth.

While most would’ve sent her packing, Abigail invites her to stay in her home (seemingly without any worry as to whether her cottage will likewise go up in flames).

And despite a rocky start, Elizabeth soon finds her footing in her new post, thanks party due to her wealthy shipping tycoon father’s generous donations of school supplies for his daughter’s new school, which (as one of the only positions not owned by the mining company but the widows who pay her wages instead) is currently stationed inside the town saloon.

Although admittedly it takes a good forty-five minutes or so for this new series release to really grab your attention due to the changes in casting and the tone of the series which turns the movie’s previously headstrong, brainy girl into a bit of a klutz, the series is so likable that you’re more than willing to remain patient.

Revising the narrative history established in the previous film so that the Mountie she’d traveled with in the prequel is now a totally new character (played by Daniel Lissing), we discover with the young man’s arrival that her father has pulled some strings in order to get the man assigned to Coal Valley to keep her safe.

Resenting the change of post to babysit what he assumes will be a spoiled rich girl, although their relationship gets off on a the wrong foot right away, predictably flirtatious sparks start begin flying by the second half of this Michael Landon Jr. directed offering, which presents the first two episodes together as one feature-length DVD.

And just like the potential for romance, the overall series gets much better as the disc continues into its second episode, wholeheartedly earning its many comparisons to Little House on the Prairie, Christy and Sarah, Plain and Tall with added dramatic tension.

As the mining company prepares to bring new workers to town to replace the men they’ve lost, the women are threatened with the possibility of losing their homes. Faced with the prospect of having to work in the very mines that killed their loved ones, Elizabeth and the children work together to search through every book they can get their hands on in the hope of finding a legal loophole before realizing that they had no idea what kind of man with whom they were dealing.

Although it’s old-fashioned nostalgic costume drama escapist fun like an evening of Downtown Abbey, it’s also surprisingly topical given its emphasis on girl power and its threats of energy companies closing in favor of cheaper foreign labor.

Just starting to get addictive by the end of the disc, it’s safe to say that the character development and plotlines are sure to improve after the end of Thatcher’s trial period as depicted on the DVD.

And with this brand new original series, which offers great roles for a large ensemble female cast (including a terrific return to commercial TV for the talented Lori Laughlin), it’s nice to see that Hallmark is eager to give the fans that cherish their high quality made-for-TV movies more of what they want.

Text ©2014, 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 may have 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 Review: Swerve (2011)

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A cleverly conceived if ultimately convoluted crime film hybrid of conman capers and classic Film Noir, Swerve serves up a little bit of Hitchcock on the side for good measure to establish the innocence of our Wrong Man/Everyman lead Colin (played by David Lyons).

Following a beautiful blonde and a briefcase of money – both of which just survived a car wreck – instead of his brain, Colin wanders into a viper’s nest of two-faced, half-truth spouting toughs in a small southern town in the middle of the Australian outback.

Building his plot from the favored ingredients of hardboiled pulp fiction tales of yesteryear, while writer/director Craig Lahiff knows this genre inside and out, one of Swerve’s biggest obstacles is that the film never manages to transcend or break free from the trappings of so many superior Noirs that came before it.

Filmed over the course of seven weeks in 2010, while it’s strengthened by its stellar cast including the scene-stealing Great Gatsby star Jason Clarke as blonde Jina’s dominant police officer husband, the film suffers from a surprisingly shoddy Blu-ray transfer that muddies up the image with so much grain that throughout the film, I’d wondered if cinematographer David Forman’s camera was defective or if he was using a screen door as a filter to film through.

While adjusting the color temperature on the TV’s image does help a little if you opt for a darker visual calibration (like “Calibrated Dark” or “Night Movie”) to make the lines and grain onscreen less noticeable, it was surprisingly poor given that its disc manufacturer Cohen Media Group is usually top notch when it comes to lush high definition transfers as evidenced in recent releases.

Regardless of the aesthetic drawback, Lahiff’s Swerve certainly does entertain and it’s sure to appeal to Noir-devoted viewers who would enjoy piecing together the film’s obvious sources of inspiration. While it’s nowhere near the same level as Noir and Neo-Noir genre masterpieces Blood Simple, Red Rock West and The Postman Always Rings Twice or even flawed if fascinating modern hits with which it bears much in common from A Simple Plan to Transsiberian, it’s an impressive Saturday night worthy B-movie noir.

Despite suffering from one too many twists and offscreen double crosses as Lahiff makes the fatal third act flaw of “telling” rather than “showing” far too much, it’s still worth checking out. While if you think about it too much, you’re sure to find multiple holes in the plot, Swerve works best if you just switch your brain off and enjoy the rickety rollercoaster ride.

Losing some of the action-driven momentum from the wildly impressive slam-bang opening sequence with an overly complicated web of characters who continually cross one another before coming clean again and again, fortunately Swerve picks up speed as it careens into a crazy finale.

A briskly paced, fast moving whirl from down under that offers plenty of twists and thrills – Swerve is proof that even if you can see the turns coming, it doesn’t make the experience any less fun, regardless of how many times you’ve been along for the ride.

Text ©2014, 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 may have 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 Review: Out of the Furnace (2013)

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“Let me make this right,” is more than just a line uttered by one of the main characters near the end of writer/director Scott Cooper’s feature filmmaking follow-up to Crazy Heart. When it comes to the core ensemble of individuals that populate the unforgiving terrain of a blue collar coal town in Pennsylvania, the desire to make things right is more than just something to say – in Out of the Furnace it’s a way of life.

Filled with men who long to right wrongs, regardless of the cost – what the characters onscreen realize far too late is that even if they have the best of intentions, sometimes scores simply cannot be settled since every single person has a slightly different definition of right and wrong in this gritty, existentially driven revenge picture.

Bogged down by wrongs right from the start following the film’s horrific introduction to Furnace’s embodiment of pure evil as played by Woody Harrelson as the unmercifully twisted, sadistic Harlan DeGroat, we encounter a pair of brothers whose lives will be forever changed once they cross his path.

With the deck stacked against them right from the start, it isn't too long before we realize that although they're related, we've been introduced to two very different brothers with two very different ways of coping with the hands they’ve been dealt.

The older of the two, Russell Baze (Christian Bale) keeps his head down and shovels coal in the very same factory that put their father on his death bed. Willing to risk the same fate (before he realizes, the plant is inevitably closed in favor of cheaper foreign labor) in order to put food on the table and pay his bills, Russell has unofficially taken over his father’s role as the family patriarch as the dutiful, good son.

Unwilling to do the same, his restless younger brother Rodney (scene-stealer Casey Affleck) took the first opportunity he could to get out of the dead-end town. Enlisting in the military and stop-lossed into a total of four tours before he finally returns home to stay, Rodney has tried everything to sublimate the pain and reproduce the primal adrenaline rush of battle.

But when gambling only leads to debt (which in the past Russell worked double shifts to keep at bay without informing his prideful, troubled brother), before long Rodney begins taking part in underground fights as an agreement with his money man John Petty (Willem Dafoe).

Tired of the minimal paydays, Rodney forces John to arrange a higher stakes match in order to resolve the outstanding debt once and for all that he not only owes John but John in turn owes to Harlan, which leads to a fateful meet that has a domino effect on every member of the ensemble cast in unimaginable ways. And it’s this key decision that winds up forcing Russell out of his daily grind, leaving him no choice but to put down the shovel and pick up a rifle to fight the war that has been waged in his own backyard.

Incredibly downbeat and emotionally exhausting, although Cooper’s take of brotherly vengeance was initially planned as a vehicle for actor Leonardo DiCaprio and his Body of Lies director Ridley Scott (both of whom still serve as producers), it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Bale in the role, given the way he once again manages to disappear completely into the role.

Filled with character actors as opposed to A-listers that stand out too conspicuously as DiCaprio may have done (through no fault of his own given the way it’s hard to forget who you’re watching in a number of his films), Out of the Furnace is therefore helped by the lack of obvious megawatt star quality. Likewise, since the work owes a great deal to its ambient surroundings which help convey mood and atmosphere, the Pennsylvania town becomes a character in its own right.

While the main theme of the film as well as the arc for our lead character is incredibly straightforward, Furnace makes one fatal mistake along the way by working one too many dubious contrivances into the film’s plotline that call attention to themselves amid the simplicity.

From a cell phone call that transforms into a digital recording at the exact right moment in order to capture audio of a murder and a few too many cruel twists of fate that intersect at the exact same time for Russell with regard to his brother, his girl etc. (that seem better suited to a bad country song), when Furnace tries to get too complex, it loses its way completely.

And with so much affecting Russell, you begin realizing that plot might have been strengthened considerably by sharing some of the wealth of the storyline among the rest of the cast to build up the back-stories and characters played by Zoe Saldana and Forest Whitaker in particular in order to adequately pay off on a narrative revelation that is revealed in the film’s second half.

These shortcomings aside, overall Cooper proves to have an even greater cinematic handle on filmmaking his second time around and uses the various resources at his disposal to rich effect. By calling on multiple senses at once, this technique particularly stands out via a symbolic hunting sequence that is echoed in the movie’s penultimate sequence.

From the effective use of Pearl Jam tunes and Dickon Hinchliffe’s understated score to help punctuate the mood of vital moments to a terrific visualization of the darkness of the color palette (which is virtually free of bright colors) to transport you to the setting, Cooper does an admirable job of externalizing the internal struggle of the characters through the cinematic medium. It’s these smart, subtle touches that stand out even more in Fox’s flawless Blu-ray transfer.

A deceptively simple tale of vengeance, in Out of the Furnace, Cooper weaves a multi-layered tapestry that reinforces at every turn his characters’ desire to try to make things right, even if they risk getting burned in the process.   

Text ©2014, 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 may have 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: Against the Wild (2014)

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Above average family adventure film blends Gary Paulsen’s beloved young adult novel Hatchet with Disney’s The Parent Trap for this impressively made, if at times admittedly contrived feature.

An intelligently structured work, Against the Wild chronicles two siblings who must put their thinking caps on and petty squabbles aside if they’re going to survive when the small plane carrying them to their dad’s place crash lands in the middle of the forest.

With their pilot Charlie knocked out and in need of medical care following sudden midair engine trouble, the two formerly feuding children start thinking on their feet. Unloading their heavy suitcases, Hannah (Erin Pitt) and Zach Wade (CJ Adams) reconfigure and repack their gear with the bare necessities – taking a majority of what’s available in the emergency kit and leaving the rest along with a note for the brave flier whose grace under pressure saved their lives.

Taking their Alaskan malamute dog Chinook with them for protection, the two head in the direction they landed, determined to reach the shoreline in order to get Charlie the help he needs. But without any adult supervision and only their own limited knowledge gleaned from cable nature TV shows and Cub Scouts along with common sense to guide them, the Wades are put to the test.

And soon they realize they have to survive not only the drop in temperatures at nightfall and harsh elements but the various animals of the wild that might be following their every move including grizzly bears during mating season.

Yet while the children act with incredible maturity – so much so in fact that some of their wise-beyond-their-years dialogue as Hannah sizes up Charlie as a reasonably attractive man and wonders why he’s still single is dubious and awkward to say the least, the Wade parents are a different story altogether.

Saddled with wooden dialogue and far too much emotional posturing as a stereotypical separated couple wherein he’s the predictable workaholic and she and the children have been ignored for years, the usually talented adult leads (Natasha Henstridge and Ted Whittall) come off unnatural and amateurish by default.

Reuniting to worry, argue and speak in expository paragraphs while helicopters and search parties go out looking for the kids with zero optimism, Henstridge and Whittall are basically there as adult placeholders embodying the destination of “home” that the kids are trying to reach.

And while the contrived, blink-and-you-missed-it fast family reunion that arises just in the nick of time hits a major false note in what had otherwise up until then been a stellar adventure film about children realizing they’re stronger working together than apart, it’s easily forgiven due to the quality of the overall work and its vital message.

Newly released on DVD by Anchor Bay Entertainment, this Dove Family Approved feature makes a nice change of pace from traditional family fare. Moreover, it’s to the filmmaker’s credit that you can tell right from the start how much respect that he has for the intelligence and dignity of his young characters.

In the end, its flaws are forgotten as going against the grain of current Hollywood family fare that far too often treats children as a focus group or market they need to "sell" rather than young human beings to be empowered makes writer/editor/director Richard Boddington’s Against the Wild an even stronger survivor overall.

Text ©2014, 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 may have 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: Trinity - The Complete First Season (2009)

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Despite a frightfully clever concept that explores the dangerous science fiction style shenanigans going on in a secret society that exists at one of England’s most elite colleges, series creators Robin French and Kieron Quirke can’t seem to figure out exactly what tone they’re aiming for in the eight episodes of this British campy mess that (at least I’m told) has become an unexpected cult hit.

Part Buffy, Torchwood and Doctor Who part Greek and Gossip Girl with a hefty serving of Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde and Harold and Kumar, Trinity is all over the place right from the start.

The epitome of guilty pleasure trashy TV most would be too embarrassed to say they watched unless under courtroom questioning, although it begins with a compelling murder mystery, Trinity soon loses focus to devolve into an epic disaster as one character after another defies all logic, reason or sense by changing their personalities from one moment to the next.

A science fiction send-up of Animal House collegiate debauchery, Trinity boasts its raunchiness proudly in the pilot, which grows increasingly ridiculous from one scene to the next.

It’s too bad too, given the initially intriguing mystery centering on the sudden, suspicious death of a former student turned professor that inspires the deceased man’s Christian-minded daughter to attend the renowned “playground for the rich” in order to play Nancy Drew.

For by the end of the pilot, the formerly brainy girl loses any credibility she had by sleeping with the cad who nailed his cousin in one of the opening scenes... which again makes you question whether the series creators know the difference between sexy and smart or unsexy and just plain shocking.

Needless to say, when the show doesn’t even have that much respect for its main characters, it’s hard to ask the viewers to take up the torch. And even though there are some ingenious twists involving the power of the mysterious secret society known as the Dandelion Club that may hold the key to unlocking any number of Trinity College mysteries, the show is just so disappointingly, mind-numbingly stupid and maddening that viewers can’t be expected to tune in for long.

Awkwardly moving from thriller to high camp while spending way too much time with a stoner buddy duo that – like many other characters and plot points – have been ripped off of numerous pop culture offerings of the past thirty years, Trinity is like a sixth rate send-up of the work it’s trying to pass itself off as in the first season.

While needless to say it’s no wonder why the show wasn’t granted a second season order, Trinity is proof that not every television series on the air in the UK is worthy of a remake, let alone a rental. Despite a strong cast and a few good ideas that may have worked much better in a much more focused series that knew precisely what storyline and tone it was aiming for, Trinity is one college that’s not worth the price of tuition or the time-investment of a single episode’s visit.

Text ©2014, 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 may have 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 Review: In Fear (2013)

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What a difference a decade makes – the wondrous representation of the highways of America as a veritable metaphor for the journey of life traveled down by Jack Kerouac in On the Road suddenly took a much more sinister turn after the unrest of the mid 1960s as epitomized in Hammer film thrillers and Roger Corman exploitation pictures of antisocial teens run amok.

And following Steven Spielberg’s still chilling, auspicious made-for-television directorial debut Duel which chronicled the horrific plight of a mild-mannered family man who’s mercilessly tailgated, stalked and nearly driven off the road by a mysterious trucker for no apparent reason, filmmakers have taken up the challenge set by these early genre masters to seek terror in everyday experiences.

The days of a stereotypical maniacal madman are long-gone, given the unsettling premise of the popular Final Destination franchise that replaced a good old fashioned villain with random objects we encounter in our daily activities thanks to a stacked deck of fate.

Additionally, the post ‘80s rise in home invasion movies (as an extension of teen slasher pictures) helped reinforce the idea we aren’t even safe in our own homes. And when you couple that with the new wave of found footage thrillers that once again capture the final moments of otherwise unsuspecting victims, it’s safe to say that the horror genre has been having a field day coming up with new twists on otherwise benign ways to scare the living daylights out of audiences.

The emphasis on empathy and realism vs. over-the-top gore in these new titles has led to both a stronger visceral and intellectual experience for filmgoers, drawing in fans that may otherwise have stayed away from traditional genre fare thanks to the way that – now more than ever before – we can identify with the characters that populate the work.

And it’s precisely this type of thinking person’s approach that helps grab In Fear’s audiences right off the bat as TV director turned filmmaker Jeremy Lovering combined all of these elements into what has become a worldwide word-of-mouth film festival smash.

An exceptionally well-made, fast-paced British indie thriller, In Fear is relatable in any language or culture. Merging home invasion with the roadway thriller subgenre and likewise using a docudrama approach as opposed to the now, slightly over-used found-footage technique popularized in The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, In Fear follows a young couple on their journey by car to an outdoor music festival in the Irish countryside.

Hoping to kickstart what he assumes will be a romantic getaway with his new girlfriend, Tom (Iain De Caestecker) books a room at an out-of-the-way inn to celebrate the two-week anniversary of his relationship with Lucy (Alice Englert). Taking him up on his offer to take things to the next level, the two leave a pub where each had had a bizarre run-in with a local behind (including the discovery of an ominous karma-laden message waiting for Lucy in the bathroom) and venture off the main roads into the country.

After getting lost in a wooded area with confusing signs that contradict one another and far too many forks in the road, the two begin to bicker amid the dodgy cell reception, sketchy surroundings and endless circle with no destination upon which they seem to be traveling.

While they begin to be taunted by an unknown adversary soon enough as Lucy finds her things scattered by the side of the road and a man in a white mask pops up right beside her beau, one tiny flaw the film has is that it gives into its title a tad too quickly.

Although as viewers, we know that Tom and Alice are in a horror movie, they shouldn’t know that… at least not right away and the rather dubiously fast way they go from irritated to full blown paranoid seems a bit far-fetched. Nonetheless, their reaction is certainly justified soon enough as the couple encounters a third character (Allen Leech) that they’re initially uncertain about in deciding whether he’s a villain or victim.

A truly riveting debut feature from the director who conceived the story along with consultant Jon Croker, this official Sundance selection which has scared audiences and movie lovers at film festivals around the globe is sure to find you talking back to your TV as though you’ve been taken along for the ride.

While it does suffer a bit from its rather abrupt finale that raises a few too many unanswered questions and echoes Tarantino’s Death Proof in spirit (albeit in a somber way), it’s hell of an achievement nonetheless from the first time helmer.  Likewise it reinforces the cinematic truism that – and especially when it comes to horror – sometimes it’s better to seek inspiration from something we do on a daily basis (like drive a car) rather than unnecessarily try to reinvent and steer a brand new wheel.

In Fear’s study of fear is an ideal fit for Blu-ray in this gorgeous transfer that brightens up the night scenes with razor sharp detail. Sure to gain even greater momentum now that it can be borrowed from one film fan to another and viewed together for an eerie double or triple feature with other tales of hell on wheels from Joyride all the way back in time to Duel, In Fear will definitely make you think twice about going On the Road at night.

Text ©2014, 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 may have 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.


Fox Cinema Archives DVD Review: Margin for Error (1943)

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AKA Clare Booth Luce’s Margin For Error 

Directed by Otto Preminger, who also starred as the villainous Nazi during the Broadway run of Clare Booth Luce’s flag-waving ode to democracy, when Twentieth Century Fox brought the play, they wanted Preminger to reprise his role for a different director altogether.

Purchased as a hot property for Ernst Lubitsch, Preminger stuck to his guns, bargaining hard with the studio he’d already helmed a screwball comedy for years earlier with Danger – Love at Work.

Offering to act for free if they didn’t like the dailies he presented after a week on the job, Fox gave him the opportunity to act and direct which Preminger vowed to make the most of by reworking the wooden, speech-filled script adapted by Lillie Hayward. To give it the right edge, Preminger employed a newcomer fresh from the army in the form of an uncredited Samuel Fuller who helped load every scene with the utmost potential for suspenseful double-cross.

As this film finds him working in the mystery thriller genre that would become his wheelhouse, Margin for Error is bogged down less by Preminger the director than by Preminger the over-actor.

Failing to adapt his stage performance adequately for the small screen, Preminger comes off far too broadly and boldly in the process, emoting to the cheap seats and shouting to the rafters forgetting that he only needed to play to the camera in what is ultimately a B-movie thriller.

Though of course the art form was still evolving and this was made a good ten years before more naturalistic performances became the norm with the popularity of Lee Strasberg’s Method and The Actors Studio, Preminger’s hammy, campy Nazi turn fit right in with what Fox was hoping to achieve in translating the stage show to the screen. In fact, the executives were so impressed that they signed him to a seven year deal as both an actor and a director for the studio.

While Luce’s original plotline about a Jewish policeman assigned to protect the life of a Nazi German Consulate member had its roots in history as a FDR inspired plan to make an Anti-Semitic speaker look even more ridiculous when given a Jewish police protection detail, unfortunately the usually comedic Milton Berle is well out of place in his film role as the NYPD’s “most promising cop.”

Although the infinitely clever ending recalls the set-up that helped construct the murder mystery in Robert Altman’s Gosford Park as we’re given a death that plays out multiple ways, overall it’s an uneven B-movie.

Despite this, it’s perhaps best appreciated by Preminger fans hoping to see one of the filmmaker’s earliest achievements of merit before he would go on to helm the definitive Film Noir just one year later with the divine Laura.

An interesting example of a filmmaker finally starting to grow confident about the right material and the right collaborator in terms of thrillers and Samuel Fuller, Error brings film buffs back in time with this Fox Cinema Archives release.

A lost look at a director we’ve come to know well, Margin shows us a Preminger who wasn’t afraid to work for free to show those studio heads what he could do, knowing he could leave no margin for error if he ever wanted to work behind the camera as well as in front of it to release the films that would become synonymous with his name.

Text ©2014, 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 may have 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: Blood Ties (2013)

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French filmmaker Guillaume Canet wastes little time setting the mood of his William Freidkin-like adaptation of the Cain and Abel storyline as transported to New York in the 1970s for this intriguing crime saga that centers on the complicated relationship between Billy Crudup’s good cop Frank and his charismatic bad boy older brother Chris (Clive Owen), who’s just been let out of prison after a lengthy sentence.

A dazzling exercise in cinematic style, Canet’s Blood Ties establishes the time, place and feel of the work within its bravura opener that blasts the song “Back in the New York Groove” from its nonchalant beginning all the way up through a police bust and gunfight until Crudup demands the record be shut off.

Far from just a neat trick of editing, this pulse-pounding start to what is a domestic drama more than anything else immediately elevates Ties from recent topically similar features and likewise helps Canet set the stage for dozens of impressive sequences of street opera to come, given the work’s clever marriage of visuals and sound (from ambient to musical).

Whether this approach stems from the fact that this is Canet’s first English language, American-made picture is unknown but far from just opting for trendy scenes of violence and bloodshed cut perfectly in sync with a hit ready rock and roll soundtrack, Blood Ties is filled with gorgeously composed sequences that transcend language to let you into the characters’ lives on an emotional level.

This is perhaps best executed in what feels like a Cassavetes inspired scene that may have been too painful to witness complete with all of the dialogue which finds Frank fighting with his old-flame (Zoe Saldana) before the camera pulls back to the street to give them privacy as we watch them wordlessly argue and make up across multiple locations.

Frank’s fiery passion is mirrored with a sweet moment of romance that plays out silently for his brother in a lovely scene where Mila Kunis uses “Crimson and Clover” to let Chris know that she’d like to be kissed as the audience comes to realizes that this weathered man has been inside for so long that he’s completely missed out on the sexual revolution.

Yet more than just romantically, this technique is also used to build unbelievable tension throughout Blood Ties. From employing The Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” over another multi-set sequence that leads to the unraveling of one character and relying on only silence and ambient sound in two key chase scenes that forever alter lives of the brothers from one shootout turned foot chase to a showdown at Grand Central Station, Blood Ties is a must for aspiring editors.

Of course, crime film buffs will immediately respond to the way that the Grand Central Station finale calls to mind Brian DePalma’s symbolic use of train stations in Untouchables and especially (given its fateful similarity) Carlito’s Way.

Filling a work with Hollywood movie homage while simultaneously making a film that is uniquely his own is no easy task and it’s to Canet’s credit that he pulled it off.

With as much attention to detail as there is onscreen, it comes as no surprise how important the little details are in making the movie work, which is evidenced with how much hinges on missed connections, crossed paths and unspoken words as in a key moment a phone call is made where a signal is given and characters speak a mouthful without uttering a word.

And while I still contend that they should have flipped the names of the brothers around as in no universe does Clive Owen seem more like a Chris than a Frank and vice versa for Billy Crudup, admittedly, it’s this emphasis on getting the mood and emotion right – right down to each and every little, wordless detail – that helps set Ties apart.

The importance of Canet’s artistry cannot be overstated as admittedly, the film’s plot is entirely too familiar as audiences have been inundated with blood ties vs. thin blue line movies over the past few years from We Own the Night to Pride and Glory (just to name two).

Therefore, it comes as no surprise to discover that (even though I haven’t seen the original), Blood Ties is actually an American remake of a 2008 French film in its own right or that Canet co-wrote the script with We Own the Night’s James Gray, whose frequent star Mark Wahlberg was set to play Crudup’s role.

While thankfully Wahlberg sensed the déjà vu in the roles and bowed out before production – leaving Crudup to help put a new face on what critics may otherwise have easily dubbed We Own the Night II, thankfully Canet worked that much harder to go back to the original source of ‘70s filmmakers from Friedkin to Lumet and more to challenge this new school of family cop movies.

An excellent crime tinged family saga – while not nearly as thrilling as the picture that put him on the map via his French adaptation of an American crime novel with Tell No OneBlood Ties is still utterly compelling from start to finish.

Although it’s augmented by its A-caliber cast that also includes James Caan, Lili Taylor, Noah Emmerich and Marion Cotillard, there’s not a lot regarding the film’s plotline that we haven’t seen before. Nonetheless, in the mesmerizing Blood Ties Guillaume Canet proves that a true filmmaker should never underestimate the number of tools that are at your disposal when telling a story cinematically.

Thus, given his command of the material and ambition to turn what could’ve been a simple formula picture to new poetic levels, Canet reveals just how long to rely on words before using everything else up his sleeve to get us back in the New York groove his characters populate to keep us transfixed all the way until Blood Ties reaches its final destination.


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