An enduring piece of cinematic terror: Steven Spielberg's JAWS.
True Detective. 2014. 8 episodes directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga; written & created by Nic Pizzolatto. Starring Woody Harrelson, Matthew McConaughey, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Potts, and Tory Kittles. HBO Home Entertainment. Rated 18A. 458 minutes. Bonus Material Not Rated. Crime/Drama/Mystery/Thriller
★★★★★ (Season 1)
★★★★1/2 (Blu ray)
The story of True Detective looks, on the surface, as similar to other television shows about police officers, serial killer cases, troubled partners with their own separate and troubled lives; you know the type. There are a lot of things, though, to separate this one from many of the others.
Nic Pizzolatto’s show begins its first season in the year 2012 – Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey), former partners, are being interviewed about an old case involving a young girl named Dora Lange who was found dead in 1995, bound with a set of antlers placed on her head. Two detectives seem to be looking back into Lange’s death in relation to a new murder, which could be connected. The storyline spreads from ’95 to 2012, as well as hovering around 2002 when things went sour between Hart and Cohle. While the two men battle their own private lives and mistakes, they’re confronted with a possible conspiracy stretching across the state of Louisiana. Everyone believes the Lange murder to be some type of “occult murder“, but Cohle particularly deeply suspects a vast cover-up involving everyone from church officials to governors to the police force itself. Hart reluctantly follows Cohle until it becomes painfully clear he is most likely right.
While the description I’ve given of the plot might even sound like a riff on Serpico or Prince of the City, it really is a fresh detective show. While many have accused Pizzolatto of stealing material from Thomas Ligotti (I won’t go into it here – look it up), I don’t necessarily agree. There is a lot of really good material. It isn’t all about McConaughey’s performance (which is amazing), nor Harrelson’s either (also amazing). It’s not even about Cohle and his whimsical conversation with the present day detectives sussing out from him what they can, or his great banter with Hart in their driving scenes, particularly the very first episode of the show. There’s simply a really great mystery to this show. Even when Pizzolatto really gives us a few great clues, ones not too hard to follow through, there’s still a lot of excellent tension. For instance, even in the final episode when we clearly know who the killer is there still exists a really tense and dreadful atmosphere. Right until the finale of the episode, it’s hard to predict what might happen in the end. At least in my mind. I thought to myself, several times, in that last episode I knew where things were headed – and constantly, Fukunaga and Pizzolatto really played with my expectations. That atmosphere carried through the entire first season of True Detective.
Another excellent thing about this first season is the presence of all the red herring material Pizzolatto doles out in many episodes. I’ve seen a lot of really thoughtful interpretations, pre-season finale, of who the killer might turn out to be, who is involved in the massive conspiracy. I’ve also come across a fair share of really mental interpretations too far out into the psychosphere (dig it) for me to give any modicum of credence. But that’s what makes some shows really engaging and interesting. When fans of the show, even certain people who rag on the show with what they deem to be formulaic interpretations, can’t stop discussing possible theories it really goes to illustrate how well the show has reached an audience. I’m not saying it isn’t divisive – it certainly has been. I just think Pizzolatto really did some great, twisty writing.
There was a point in time I really believed Marty’s father-in-law had some sort of involvement in the grand conspiracy, and maybe there is a chance that’s still the case (I don’t believe so – doesn’t make it so), but this is the great part – Pizzolatto leaves little trails of bread crumbs that don’t go anywhere, that play part in the coincidence of the real world, the unforeseeable events in life, and lead us off on paths of pure imagination. I mean, there are several little red herrings such as Audrey’s situation. For instance, Cohle calls his daughters down to dinner and as they leave their room he notices Audrey has placed 5 male dolls around a single female doll in a very inappropriate and suggestive manner. There’s also a small drawing in Hart’s house representing the spiral image drawn on Dora Lange’s back in the first episode; one of his daughters drew it. These little clues are really red herrings. Pizzolatto does not want the answers to come easily here, as he shouldn’t, and these extra bits really help to send a lot of people off on imaginary tangents, thinking of who the Yellow King really could be, et cetera. Genius writing.
There are a few similarities between True Detective and the British trilogy Red Riding. Both take on stories about corruption and murder in rural areas; the original murders sparking both plots are similar, as the Red Riding story starts with a girl found dead, wings put on her back (as opposed to the antlers on the head here). One scene in the first Red Riding film with Andrew Garfield playing a reporter named Eddie Dunford is reminiscent of a scene in True Detective where Cohle visits a woman in a mental institution and drives her into hysterics; one difference mainly has to do with the difference in their occupations, as Dunford’s visit is followed by a severe beating at the hands of the police for bothering the woman, while Cohle is disciplined by his superiors. Finally, each of these shows has a young male prostitute who provides links to the murdered girl, albeit in different ways. Not to mention, in Red Riding the prostitute plays a much bigger part. Whereas Cohle only meets the young male prostitute present in True Detective during a single scene, which is basically thrown in as an extra link to something fishy going on in the main case. There are no doubt some similarities between Red Riding and True Detective, but mostly I would say they are coincidental. Certainly, most of these similarities are either connected to the similar themes (corruption in police force & authority figures), and the majority, if not all, are only really connected to the first Red Riding film; the other two in the trilogy really don’t connect up much, aside from the aforementioned police corruption angle. I think maybe Pizzolatto might have been influenced more by the novel Red Riding is based on instead of the films, and either way the influence is no more than a bit of the surface. Each of these works are quite different and aim to accomplish much different things.
There are a few specific points I’d really like to address in regards to some of the deeper meaning behind True Detective overall.
First, I want to mention the reoccurring number five. I believe the first time this really comes into play is when Hart and Cohle interview Dora Lange’s mother, Mrs. Kelly (played by the fabulous Tess Harper) – while Cohle looks around and Hart asks the lady questions, he notices a picture of a young girl (most likely Dora) surrounded by five men on horses, each of them dressed in what we later learn are costumes for what’s called Courir de Mardi Gras. In the second episode, as I mentioned earlier, Hart finds his daughter Audrey’s dolls placed in a very promiscuous situation: five male dolls surround one female doll, one of the men is hauling down his pants to have sex with the girl.
Furthermore, in the present day scenes during the latter half of the season, Cohle drinks beer while being investigated and cuts them up: he places them in a circle of five, indicating the undiscovered members of the grand conspiracy (harkens back to those five horsemen in the picture at Mrs. Kelly’s home).
Most people might look at this as another instance of red herrings, or some such idea. However, in literature specifically, the persistence of numbers, especially in earlier literature such as from the Middle Ages, usually has a kind of significance. I happen to believe the number five here happens to refer to the pentagram, or a pentangle as it’s referred to in an index of the Middled English Anthology edited by Ann S. Haskell.
This ties into the plot of True Detective directly, as we clearly see in a scene with villain Reggie Ledoux – when Hart and Cohle arrest him, his back is visible and has a massive tattoo of a pentagram, more specifically the Sigil of Baphomet. These instances of the number five all tie in to the evil angle – the five horsemen are dressed just like those men in the video Cohle finds and shows to Hart in Episode 7, the beer can figures point to the five horsemen, as do the dolls in Audrey’s room. They might not be the only repetitions of the number five. They’re just the ones I’ve noticed. I think these little details are the sorts of moments which really elevate True Detective above a lot of the detective procedurals on television, and on film for that matter. Provides more to dive into aside from the main case the show focuses on with the story, and offers endless hours of re-watchable scenes.
One of the biggest things, for me personally, I ended up realizing was how Cohle sort of ended up predicting the future when he talks about being able to “smell the psychosphere“, and that it tastes like “aluminum and ash“. Maybe others noticed this quickly, but I think it’s something a lot of viewers never once thought about for a second. In the present day while Rust is being interviewed by the two new detectives looking through the old Dora Lange case, he is continuously smoking (ash) and drinking out of (aluminum) beer cans. He’s literally unable to escape the psychosphere he first found himself in. This was one thing I really enjoyed. Coupled with the end of the episode where Hart and Cohle meet up once again in 2012, Cohle’s broken taillight (not fixed since their decade old fight from 2002), this really goes to show how all of this case, everything in it, the fact it has not truly been solved and it was his case, really stuck to Cohle. There is nothing to do except solve the case because if not there is truly no escaping it. Having this “aluminum and ash” come back as a part of the story, in a very slight sense, was a really clever way of tying things from the past back into the present, showing how the entire atmosphere of the case would never really wash of Cohle. Another instance of the great writing inside True Detective.
Undoubtedly, one of the greatest parts about the entire first season is the excellent character development.
There’s Hart, who is basically a by-product of the misogyny inherent in the place he lives. While he is not one of those elite predators who uses his authority to help cover-up the murder and abuse of young women, Hart is nonetheless affected by the overall state of misogyny and the atmosphere of where he lives. This can be seen through his treatment of women throughout the season – his daughter, his wife, his mistress. There’s even the thread where he reconnects with a young hooker from earlier in the season; Hart interviewed her in connection to Dora Lange in ’95, and later he begins to sleep with the girl when she’s older. This really goes to show, when he’s trying to reconnect with his wife, how much his heart is truly in a normal relationship. In ’95, Hart gives the girl some money and tells her to “do something else” – Cohle then ribs him by asking if it was a down payment. Of course, later we find out it really was an early payment for services to be rendered. Maybe Hart didn’t know it then, but his ideas of women would never change. Though she was older, the fact Hart could engage in a sexual relationship with the girl after seeing where she came from, the life she grew up in, and our look at his hypocrisy after having taken offense with the older lady who’d been pimping her out in ’95, it’s obvious this man is only good as a detective – he is a true detective, and nothing else. He can’t be a good father or husband, truly. Only good at enforcing the law.
Cohle is not perfect, however, he’s much more about control, as opposed to Hart who represents a real loss of control. McConaughey did a great job of playing Cohle, with all the philosophical thoughts and out-there theories. I don’t know if anyone else could have done such a great job with the material given. Cohle has a lot of different things going on. I really like how his story came to a close by the end of the season, and part of the pessimistic attitude he’d been displaying for most of the episodes tied off, or at least loosened a little. While coming face to face with death, he finally discovers there may possibly be something beyond the brink, or maybe not – regardless, he finds out the thought of something more than life, pas death, isn’t as terrifying and ignorant as he once thought it to be. On the one hand, I also think Cohle provides a really great opposite for Hart in the sense he is a man who lost his wife and child (the former because of the latter’s death) – Hart has those things but does not appreciate them, and yet he really wants to have those things in his life. On the other hand, Cohle lost it all, and whether or not he would have it again if that chance was available, he seems to really not have wanted it to be with – maybe this is due to the death of his child, maybe he has been this way all his life. I just think having Cohle be the way he was, Pizzolatto provided a really great antithesis to Hart; having them as partners really juxtaposed their separate world views and created more tension between them than what naturally existed in their dialogue. Not to mention, having Harrelson and McConaughey, two real life friends, play these characters worked better than could have ever been expected.
I have to mention the 6-minute tracking shot in Episode 4 “Who Goes There”. This is a monumental scene in television. Probably the best scene of any television show I’ve seen in the last 5 years or more. Honestly. Even shows I love like The Sopranos and The Wires also from HBO never had such incredible camerawork as this; while there were a lot of great scenes in both those shows, nothing like this. Just the sheer size of this tracking shot is really amazing. I can’t get enough of it. Right from the moment Cohel grabs hold of a hostage, the camera never breaks, following him through this whole scene. Fukunaga mentions on the Blu ray release how there was a need to give this scene some sort of tension – we know Cohle makes it out all right because we’ve already seen the 2012 narrative partially, so we’re aware he has survived – so the tracking shot itself serves as a way to really keep us in suspense, as we literally ride along with Cohle. I thought it was the most thrilling scene of the entire season. Tied only with the big finale with Hart and Cohle facing the murderer in his self-made world of Carcosa. If nothing else, you’ve got to give it to True Detective for really knocking this particular episode out of the park.
The Blu ray release from HBO is absolutely on point. While I expected maybe just a smidgen more, there are still some great features. To start, the picture and sound on this release are beyond perfect. While I watched True Detective several times over already, the Blu ray actually ended up revealing more to me than I’d ever noticed. Just little small bits. Everything is so clear and gorgeous here from the music, the sound design, to the spectacular sweeping shots of landscape and rugged terrain of Louisiana. Then there is the audio commentary, including bits from Pizzolatto, which really help the shed light on the overall production. One featurette on the release called “Inside the Episode” gives us bits from each episode with thoughts from both Fukunaga and Pizzolatto, covering everything from story, to writing, to directing, editing; all of it. There are really valuable pieces of insight from the writer and director. Definitely worth watching at least once. Also, there’s a Making Of featurette; this encompasses everything including some interviews with the actors, et cetera. Finally, there are some deleted scenes, as well as exclusive interviews with Harrelson and McConaughey concerning the filming of the series’ first season. All in all, a bunch of great stuff making this Blu ray a must-purchase for any real fans of the show. As in most cases, the picture and sound alone are worth it. I can’t get enough. I’ve watched the episodes through a couple times now since getting the Blu rays. Wonderful release.
Anyone who has seen True Detective knows it is either loved or hated – I don’t think there is much middle ground. My opinion is that this must be one of the best shows ever on television. Lots of people reference shows like Twin Peaks, and others, but I really think aside from influence and maybe a bit of homage, this series stands on its own. No matter if the second season turns out to be a bust, this first season is a classic bit of television. All of it was shot on film, giving things a really beautiful look, and the fact both Fukunaga and Pizzolatto were on board for the entire season really helped with its overall vision. I know there are those who don’t exactly dig the show, but I really find True Detective to be in a league of its own. I hope the show continues to prosper, I’m really looking forward to what Pizzolatto has in-store for the second season. Pick up this Blu ray if you loved this as much as I did, and you will not be disappointed in the slightest.
Whatever you do: DON'T FEED THEM AFTER MIDNIGHT! Always listen to Chinese vendors.
V/H/S 2. 2013. Directors: Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Eduardo Sánchez, Gregg Hale, Timo Tjahjanto, Gareth Huw Evans, and Jason Eisener. Magnet Releasing.
Rated 18A. 96 minutes.
★★ (Blu ray release)
The wraparound story for the first V/H/S held things together well enough. While it was at best a decently played out section of the film, what really sold me on it overall were the individual segments (minus one), which I thought were really creepy and the first was fairly innovative in terms of their use of found footage. This time around in V/H/S/2, the wraparound segment called “Tape 49” (directed by usual writer Simon Barrett) is much better than that in the first installment of the series, and by the same token I didn’t really like as many of the shorts this time around. While I still love this series, I do think V/H/S/2 is essentially the weak link of what is so far a trilogy; I’m a big fan of third regardless of what others think – I think it’s the most unique and definitely the most far reaching in terms of concepts, particularly the segments by Gregg Bishop and Nacho Vigalondo. That is for another review.
I’m a big fan of Adam Wingard, and I honestly love almost every single bit of his work, however, I really can’t get hugely into his segment here, “Phase I Clinical Trials”.
Quick synopsis: Wingard plays a man who has a bionic eye implanted by a company that will monitor his every move and record whatever he does – it isn’t long until he discovers the eye helps him see just a little too well, and a little too much.
It is not badly done whatsoever – let me start by saying this – I have no problem with the visuals or aesthetics in general. What I’m not a fan of is the execution in terms of how it was written. I find usually Barrett, who wrote this segment along with the one he directed, subverts some of the norms I come to expect from horror. Here, in “Phase I”, Barrett really plays into some foolishness. Like when the girl just suddenly decides the best way to ignore all the weird, undead-like stuff going on around her and Wingard is to take off their clothes and start having sex. I mean – come on. I am a big fan of both Barrett and Wingard, and I usually never find myself saying these things about their work together, but here it is just unbearably bad. I really thought this was some tired writing. The direction worked well, as well as benefitting from Wingard acting in the short, in terms of the filming techniques used (he talks about this in one of the featurettes on the Blu ray – Wingard wanted to have an actual actor play the part but because of the fact he was shooting the segment in the first person perspective he felt it easier to take on the role himself). Other than the fact Wingard directs well, this segment isn’t really much fun – a few cool effects don’t make a decent short horror. I like its finale; there are some creepy ghosts and all that. The build up, on the other hand, doesn’t really do anything for me.
Eduardo Sánchez is another filmmaker whose work I really enjoy. He does really well in the found footage sub-genre, and thrives. His segment is a zombie-filled romp through some woods called “A Ride in the Park”, which sees a mountain biker zipping through forest recording on his GoPro – he comes across a wounded woman, gets bitten, and then slowly becomes a zombie. From there, we follow him and his GoPro as he wanders with a herd of zombies through the trees, terrorizing others, including a little girl’s birthday party.
Not only do I like the innovative use of found footage here with the GoPro camera on the biker, I really thought it was interesting to follow the perspective of a person who gets bitten by a zombie and becomes one himself. The GoPro really helps add to things by giving us a very up close and personal view of this perspective. Sánchez explores ideas about what happens to us after the zombie virus takes hold – do our feelings still linger? Can we retain any sort of control?
One really great, and heartbreaking, moment comes when the man-turned-zombie hears his phone making noise. After fumbling it from a pocket and realizing he accidentally dialed his girlfriend, a single pathetic-sounding groan comes from him, and it’s the stuff of good drama really. Thoroughly enjoyed this segment. It was good in all these senses while also being downright fun zombie madness – after the zombies infiltrate the birthday party it is just awesome.
Gareth Evans and Timo Tjahjanto teamed up to create a really horrifying and adrenaline injected segment named “Safe Haven”. This short takes a young documentary film crew inside the complex of a cult run by a man known as Father. They want to give an inside scoop into the cult with untampered footage, giving the leader a chance to present his group, unbiased, to the outside world. Father allows them unprecedented access into the complex. Soon after, the crew begins to realize something is amiss. I won’t say any more. Go in knowing only this, or less.
I love how the pacing really keeps up in this segment. Things kick in with crazy gore, horror, and downright terror. I enjoyed every second of this one. The effects are outrageous, in the best way possible, and even the performances, specifically that of Epy Kusnandar as the previously mentioned Father – he is maniacal, a little funny at times, and absolutely scary as hell. This is by far the best segment of the first two V/H/S films because it scares the life out of me, but it also remembers to stay fun, and doesn’t take itself seriously the whole time. The final moments of “Safe Haven” are brilliant, hilarious, and terrifying all wrapped into one.
I enjoy Jason Eisener, especially after I’d seen Hobo With A Shotgun, but his segment “Slumber Party Alien Abduction” isn’t his greatest work to date. Not that I didn’t enjoy it – it was a lot of fun. The story is basically about a bunch of kids, with the parents gone away, who are then laid siege upon by a UFO and some aliens. Pretty good little plot for a short.
I just thought there was a bit too much epilepsy-inducing light flashing. The effect worked in certain places. Others, it was highly annoying. It really did help several shots look more effective, particularly when one of the kids goes up into an attic, and there ends up being a number of alien-creatures already there, some coming up behind, and I thought it definitely enhanced things. On the whole, though, there was too much of it. I just wanted the segment to end after things kicked into high gear. The adrenaline was pumping, there is no doubt, however, I don’t think it pumped correctly because there was too much flashy nonsense.
Eisener should have focused more on the horror itself and the terror rather than trying to forcibly slip us into being terrified by flashing lights and noises; I, personally, was creeped out as it was with the aliens, I didn’t need some of the nauseating effects that came along with it to be scared. Really disappointed in this section ultimately, but I did love the initial setup, as well as some of the kids’ dialogue.
Part of the reason I really did enjoy V/H/S/2 is, as I mentioned earlier, the wraparound segment. Barrett’s “Tape 49” follows two private investigators who are looking for a missing student, and after they manage to get into his seemingly deserted house they come across a bunch of strange VHS tapes. Once they watch the tapes, their night gets even worse.
I thought this angle for the story that sort of encompasses the film, explaining the tapes themselves, worked very well, and it was also directed well by Barrett. I just thought it worked even better than the simple premise of the first film’s wraparound segment. It was more intriguing.
I think one of the things V/H/S/2 really does have going for it, adding something new to the second installment of this series, is that the whole film is really fun. It’s absolutely an exciting and entertaining ride. Though I didn’t really click with Eisener or Wingard’s shorts, they were still enjoyable even if I had some problems with them myself. “A Ride in the Park” and “Safe Haven” really hit the mark the best I could have possibly imagined (I expected good things from both Evans and Sanchez because I was huge fans of theirs previous to this movie), and they keep the energy of the entire film at a really high level.
If you enjoyed the first V/H/S then you will most likely enjoy V/H/S/2 because, for all its faults, the film tries its best at all times to be entertaining, innovative, and above all else scary, as well as disturbing. You can do worse than this movie – certainly, I wouldn’t own it on Blu ray if I didn’t think it was worth watching.
That being said, the Blu ray release is not really the greatest. While the picture and sound are incredible, there is little else to be excited about other than a 3-minute featurette on each of the segments; one includes a ridiculously pointless video of Sanchez and crew tipping over a dead and rotting tree, which ends in slight injury. I only enjoyed the featurette for, surprisingly enough a segment I wasn’t big on, “Phase I Clinical Trials” – I really like Wingard a lot, and just hearing him talk a little about the filming process, et cetera, it was nice. Though, it was still only 3 or 4 minutes. Neither of these features are longer than 5 minutes tops. Disappointing, especially considering this is a film highly based around the visuals. They could have done better.
Check out the Blu ray, but don’t expect a ton of great extras to keep you entertained. You’ll be getting the film and not much in the way of added toppings. The movie is pretty good. The Blu ray? You’re better off waiting for them to put out all the V/H/S movies as a set. Maybe then they’ll get some more, and better, footage to include for the fans. Until then, this a mediocre at best Blu ray release.
A classic zombie flick if there ever were one! All hail Fulci!
The Raid 2: Berandal. 2014. Directed & Written by Gareth Evans.
Starring Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Yayan Ruhian, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusodewo, Alex Abbad, Julie Estelle, Ryuhei Matsuda, Kenichi Endo, and Kazuki Kitamura. Entertainment One Films Canada.
Rated 18A. 150 minutes.
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)
Even the trailer just absolutely melts my face off. I couldn’t wait for this movie to come out. And boy, was I ever not disappointed in the least. In fact, this is one of those few sequels where it surpasses its predecessor joining the ranks of The Godfather Part II, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Stars Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back, and The Dark Knight. This addition to what will hopefully be a trilogy is an incredible action film, and most certainly one of the best I’ve ever seen.
The plot of The Raid 2: Berandal begins only a few hours after the previous events of the first film. Now, Rama is forced to go undercover in a ruthless prison to protect his family, as well as infiltrate the criminal organization which stretches even into the police. He must become a mob enforce in order to break through and gain the information needed. This is easier said than done. Once again, Rama has to fight through criminal after criminal to succeed in his objective.
So get ready for an all-out brawl with so much balls you’ll feel the kicks and punches in your gut with every bone smashing scene.
One of the things I immediately loved about The Raid 2 is that it gives us another chance to engage the character of Rama. In the first film, Evans gave us a look at tough yet nervous rookie, who was navigating a world completely unfamiliar to him. Even more so this time around, Rama is in a dangerous and unpredictable environment. But this time, Rama is also more experienced.
Right off the bat we’re treated to amazing fight choreography just in the first 25 minutes or so. First, we get to see an enclosed space brawl where Rama fights off numerous prisoners, as they kick and punch their way to him. Then, later, Rama must fight for his very life, as a gigantic brawl begins in the prison yard. Arms and legs are broken. Heads are smashed in with fists, rocks, and whatever else these men can grasp their fingers around. Some inmates are kicked to death in the muddy yard by groups of other prisoners. It’s just an absolutely incredible scene. ‘m not sure how many actual edits are in there, but Evans makes it all look like one long, fierce take just following fight after fight, death after death. It’s one of those powerhouse sequences where it feels unbroken for a nice long time. You see a lot of these types of shots in other films, but action films it’s not exactly commonplace to see these extended takes because that takes a lot of work. Evans, however, pulls out several of these throughout the film.
A really amazing sequence, among many, is the crowded fight in the car. Watching how Evans actually accomplished that entire fight including some very unique and tricky camerawork, it’s just a breath of fresh air in the action world. Not only does Evans care about the fights themselves looking great and natural at the same time, he still pays close attention to the details of the actual camerawork for such fights. I know there are other stylized action films out there. Nevertheless, Evans and his two Raid films really takes the cake on visionary action-thriller filmmakers. Seeing the camera operators passing the camera around through the car, as well as discovering there’s one of them actually dressed as a seat (I never would have guessed that on my own – not in a million years), it is spectacular movie making. There aren’t enough minds like Evans, especially in the action genre.
Love the role of Uco played by Arifin Putra. He did a great job. It was good to see another strong role in The Raid series aside from the main role of Rama (Uwais). This guy did a nice job with a character who could be typical. In certain respects, he is, quite typical. Yet there’s a savage, brutish nature to the way Putra plays Uco I really enjoyed. I sort of felt bad for him in a way, even though he’s really just a spoiled little psychopath.
Regardless, Putra gave a good performance, which worked well opposite Iko Uwais, who was just as excellent (if not more) in this film as he was in the first. Uwais had more to work with here, as the treacherous waters Rama must wade through become deeper and darker, murkier than before. In particular, there’s a fight later in the film where Rama scalds a man’s face terribly (a man he discovers afterwards is a police officer like himself). Following the fight, Rama is absolutely devastated with what he has become in order to fight criminals – essentially, a criminal himself. Uwais does a terrific job with this role and I felt for his character, which we rightfully should. Then of course his fighting has only gotten better, it seems. Not long after the previous scenes, the aforementioned car fight goes down; it’s one of the more wildly choreographed and executed scenes in the entire movie.
Action films are always better served by good performances (stupid thing to say – any film is served well by a proper performance), so having both Putra and Uwais play their roles with skill only makes things better. When you get good action with fun, interesting characters it isn’t hard to enjoy. The Raid 2 really improved in a lot of ways from the first, as much as it could seeing as how that one was incredible. The main way in which this film is better comes down to the performances. Though there is plenty of action, even more than the first (or at least on a bigger scale than its predecessor), this sequel really gets into the performances more.
There are some really unique characters in here. One in particular sees Yayan Ruhian (who also apparently choreographed bits of this film – not sure exactly how much but that is excellent) back in action; here, he plays a different character than his insane Mad Dog character from The Raid: Redemption.The character he played was weird, which is awesome. Not only that, he fights a bunch of dudes in the street, while holding a machete, and yet doesn’t actually use it on any of them – not until the final person he fights. This also includes a great blood effect that I cannot get enough of! Evans does a shot of a body sliding down a wall after being ran through with the machete’s blade, except it’s from the rear, and so we get a nice view of the bloody hole from his gut to his back, as it slides down the wall leaving only Ruhian visible through the hole in the wall. Maybe that sounds like a mouthful, but believe me – it is an awesome little, almost throwaway, practical effect. It looks really gnarly, and I totally dug it to the fullest.
Two other honourable mentions must be noted when it comes to characters: Hammer Girl (seen above in mid-kick assery) & her equally demented sibling Baseball Bat Man. Great additions to the film. Not only was it sort of fun and a kind of homage to less serious/more silly martial arts flicks, it really kicked up the madness of the entire Raid series another notch. In the first movie, we get that real crazy vibe from the machete gang. I was really wondering what Evans would do in this film; if there would be that sort of vibe I got from them. This is where Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man came in. Their fight with Rama was just absolutely intense. One of those great sequences where you’re actually not sure for a few moments here and there if the hero would come out on top. I like that, when a filmmaker isn’t afraid to tease us a little with the true fear of a character’s death. But of course Rama is the man; I mean, do you really doubt that? This fight is one of the more balls-to-the-wall sequences out of either of the Raid movies, and I couldn’t rewind enough to watch it over and over.
Not to take away too much from the final fight Rama endures – it is a dam fine fight both in the camerawork used and the fight choreography of the actual scene. I just particularly wanted to mention those characters. The last fight, regardless of how much I enjoyed Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man, was near perfection. Incredible, the score really amped things up with a sort of John Carpenter feel to it, and it was just really beautiful and brutal all at once. Plus it comes to a bloody conclusion.
Also, it’s worth mentioning the locations Evans chose to shoot were really interesting to look out, so while there’s great fight choreography and bone crunching hits happening, there’s also a beautiful visual style to the whole film overall in the form of interesting locations, as opposed to a ton of set pieces (I’m not positive whether there were specifically built sets used in this film or not – to me most of the locations look natural). Always a plus for an action film.
As a film, The Raid 2: Berandal is easily a 5 star experience. It stands on its own as a really great crime thriller with extraordinary action sequences and fight choreography. In regards to its status as a sequel, this definitely improves on the first for me – there were no characters here I felt weren’t portrayed well. The acting really did it for me here, and took The Raid series to a higher level. The fight choreography stepped it up, too. The prison yard fight alone is enough to raise this up over the first movie. Put all those things together and you’ve got one hell of an action film. There isn’t the same music as the first, but I think the score here really works for the movie, and the fact it doesn’t sound the same is not a drawback. Yet there was a wonderful use of my favourite artist Nine Inch Nails both in the very last moments of the film and over the credits, as well. Really awesome music from Trent’s work on his Ghosts collection of albums. Excellent experience overall, from action to character to plot to sound. You won’t find too many films, particularly action-thrillers, better than this one.
The Blu ray release, again, is a god damn treasure. Getting a look behind the scenes of these Raid films is a treat for me. Like I said before, the fight in the car and watching it broken down kept me busy forever. Not to mention the entire featurette included called “A Violent Ballet”, which is focused solely on the choreography involved in the production of the film. Of course there’s also some director commentary (really worthwhile to listen – a lot of insight from a great filmmaker), and another featurette about shooting a sequel to the first film. These are all really wonderful extras. Highly suggest checking them out if you pick up this release.
Also thrown in is a four and a half minute deleted sequence entitled “Gang War” – this shows a group of thugs getting ready for what promises to be a massive battle, putting guns and grenades and ammo in bags, marching together down the street, and finally they meet another gang. This climaxes in a ridiculously wild and gory shootout between the gangs. I loved every last second of this. There are some great effects in the 4-minute span of this scene. Although, I can understand why Evans opted not to include this sequence in the finished film, it’s really fun to watch. An action packed deleted scene if there ever was one!
The Blu ray release is beyond worth the purchase. 5 out of 5 star ratings times five. I’ve spent hours watching the extras. The picture itself is worth seeing because it’s as close to seeing it in theatre as you can get. Really great experience. The fight sequences look incredible here. Evans’ work as a director shines when you can watch his film in such gorgeous definition. Recommended to the fullest – go pick this up and you will not be let down in the least by either the film or the Blu ray.
The Raid: Redemption. 2011. Dir. Gareth Evans. Starring. Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim, Donny Alamsyah, Yayan Ruhian, Pierre Gruno, Tegar Satrya, and Ray Sahetapy. XYZ Films.
Rated 18A. 100 minutes.
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)
There are not a lot of action films I truly love, in the sense I don’t particularly favour the genre over others. Whereas I’m a bigger fan of horror and thriller films, action movies really need to be a big deal for me to get hooked in, and for me to walk away thinking it’s a great piece of film. That being said, there are a few I absolutely love. For instance, The Terminator to me is the best action-thriller ever conceived; it’s not only thrilling and full of great action sequences, a great plot to boot, it has the sci-fi element thrown in, which really helps it. However, there are action films that come along from time to time which really surprise me. Not only are they jam packed with some really impressive fighting and choreography, they’ve often got one or two solid performances alongside a decently entertaining plot and story.
The Raid is one such film. At the beginning I sort of expected something derivative of a typical ‘good cop gets in over his head’ scenario. I soon changed my mind. Quickly.
The story follows a rookie member of an elite special-forces quad named Rama (Uwais) who is allowed to go along as the team attempts to extract a savage crime boss called Tama (Sahetapy) who runs a dilapidated apartment complex.
But when a spotter blows the team’s cover, Tama offers up a great incentive for anyone on any floor of the building who brings him the heads of the intruding police. Rama ends up having to take charge when a big load hits the fan.
From there it’s basically a massively entertaining and brutal action film. Yet it isn’t just an action film. It really is thrilling. I really can’t get over a few of the fight sequences. The choreography is some of the best I’ve ever seen, in any action movie. While there’s a beautiful rhythmic way the camera follows these fights, it is all very real. The punches and kicks are hard and crushing. You can almost feel every bit of it. There are so many action movies where the fight scenes are either outrageous, or consist of people fake fighting. Instead, The Raid is like a giant sparring session.
One thing I really love is that this film doesn’t at all go for the ‘one man versus ten’, as they all go at the one man individually, single file, and he fights them off. In particular, one scene in the hallway where Rama is basically forced to fend off several men at one time by himself really does away with this tired trope. But what I love isn’t necessarily that it bucks the norm, it’s the fact that we get to see the fighters really showcase their talents. After this film, as well as its sequel The Raid 2: Berandal, I suspect Iko Uwais’ name will only get bigger and bigger.
Another little scene I love is when Rama and Officer Bowo (Satrya) are forced to hide in one of the building tenants apartments. They’re hiding behind a wall, as a gang of thugs lead by a machete wielding maniac (when in fact they’ve all got machetes) search the place for the two cops. The maniac puts his blade in through the wall, one place after another, until it slides in and slices open Rama’s face. At that instant, the owner of the apartment urges them to get out. The maniac leaves his machete in the wall and yells at the man. Evans really pulls out a great gem of a moment here – Rama holds the blade, and as the man hauls the machete back out, he wipes the blood off it, so nobody is the wiser. We’ve all watched those scenes where someone is hiding, just about to be caught, and yet something prevents it; this moment really subverted those typical scenes into something new. I dig that. Not usual many action films really screw with the tropes of the genre, and The Raid does a great job with this at times.
There’s really something to be said about action films being violent. I mean, isn’t that the point of certain action really? When I go to see action movies, I don’t particularly look for a great performance. What I do focus on while I’m watching them is what the fights look like, how they’re paced. I don’t want to go and watch an action film that’s got too much drama. Although I like some; there’s a mix that can be attained. There’s just enough here in The Raid to satisfy the drama quotient. Just a little. Sort of like adding flavour. What really sets this apart as a great action film is the fact it isn’t rated PG-13. Evans pulls out some perfect gory kills here. Even some vicious kills that weren’t gory, just really nasty. One I thought was unique happened when Rama just tosses this guy running at him over the ledge of one floor, and the guy lands on the opposite side, one floor down, right on his back; I actually said “ouch” aloud. Delightfully awful. Another is after a savage brawl with the machete gang when Rama jumps back through a doorway hauling one of his opponents’ heads down with him, putting a jagged piece of broken door through a guy’s neck and throat. I just didn’t see it coming, and it was one of those martial arts moments where you realize this guy Rama is so aware of his surroundings; he’s a god damn excellent candidate for law enforcement.
Iko Uwais is a really talented guy. Of course there wasn’t really a massive amount of drama here as I said, he still pulled off his character convincingly – in between kicking ass, dodging bullets, and generally saving the day. The beginning, as well as a few points in the latter half of the film, show him with his wife, and he did a nice job. Certainly things also get dramatically tense once we find out more about the plot, as the film goes on. He gets more chances to showcase his acting abilities over his fighting prowess, and gave a nice performance. I won’t give away exactly what happens or who he meets, just for those who’ve yet to see it, but one other moment I love is when Rama comes in contact with somebody he did not expect to see in the apartment complex. Both him and the other actor did great. I loved their scenes together. It adds more complexity to Rama’s character, as well as the entire film.
The rest of the cast was great. Although I honestly did not enjoy Ray Sahtapy as Tama, the crime boss. It never clicked with me. Also, I wasn’t really a huge fan of Pierre Gruno here. I didn’t like his portrayal of the character. I felt he was flat compared to everyone else.
But aside from those two, the rest of performances were good. The brief bits we get with Yayan Ruhian as Mad Dog were spectacular, and he was one of the real shining points in the supporting cast. Even in a smaller role he blew me away. Not only with his fight scenes, which were outrageously awesome, but his acting was surprisingly nice (I only say surprisingly because I’ve never seen him anywhere else but here – that I know of anyways). I hope to see more of him outside The Raid movies.
Another aspect of this film worth mentioning is the excellent music. The dubstep-style songs in certain parts really fit, as well as the rest of the suspenseful, intense scoring during other moments. Everything really piece together well. The music helped with the film’s tight pacing. One of my favourite moments concerning the music is when Rama is trying to bust a hole through the floor with an axe; there’s just something so gritty and kick ass about the music there, it really sets the tone. Action films need more music like this. When it wasn’t the dubstep-style music, we got some great, low-key electronic scoring, and at other times it sounded beautifully dark and intricate. Amazing.
I’m absolutely in love with this movie. One of the best action films I’ve ever seen. Certainly one of the best in the last 10-15 years, if not the best action film of those years period. I give this a 4.5 star rating. It’s almost a perfect film. I cannot recommend it enough. Especially if you’re having one of those movie nights where you can’t decide on something. If you’re looking for an action-thriller of the highest quality, look no further.
The Blu ray release is also pretty damn fantastic. First of all, Claycat’s version of The Raid was so funny and so awesome. Put it on and you will most definitely have a blast. I cracked up.
The featurettes on this release are beyond incredible. Listening to Gareth Evans break down scenes as he shot them is inspirational, honestly. Some of the takes here were insanity. They broke down the ‘Hole Drop’ scene, as Rama busts a hole in the floor for the team to escape through. While one of the actors jumped down through the hole, a camera operator was sort of lowered partly down into the hole, and another operator took the camera from him continuing on to shoot as he follows the actor. Watching it while Evans talks is so cool. I always love seeing these types of things on a Blu ray or DVD release because, as someone who eventually wants to make films (short films at the least) it’s interesting to watch certain scenes broken down because it gives me ideas, and also exposes people to the intricate process of filmmaking most movie watchers often don’t pay attention to, or are even aware of in a lot of cases.
Evans talks further about the stunts, and how many scenes were actually stitched together to make them look how they did in the final film; particularly, the kill I mentioned with the broken back. Very cool. Most of the stunts, of course, were natural in the fighting process. There weren’t many shots here that needed any wire work. Not as far as I can tell, anyways. Regardless, watching the filmmaking in all its forms is amazing. The featurettes go through everything from soundtrack and themes to stunts to production. Mike Shinoda and Gareth Evans sit down and talk through a lot of it, which was definitely an interesting watch. The Blu ray is hands down a 5 out of 5 stars. Nothing wrong with this release. There is beautiful sound design, the picture is magnificent, and the special features really do the release justice.
If you haven’t seen The Raid: Redemption, go see it now. If you love it – get a copy of the Blu ray, and sit back to some amazing visuals, balls-out fights, plus a pack of extra features to keep you busy.
The Exorcist. 1973. Dir. William Friedkin. Written by William Peter Blatty, based on his novel.
Starring Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn, Jack MacGowran, Jason Miller, and Linda Blair.
Rated 18A. 132 minutes.
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)
By now, everyone has either seen The Exorcist or knows all about it. Simply put, it is the story of a young girl who is possessed by some type of demon; her non-believer mother eventually gives in and realises what she needs is not modern medicine, not psychology, but a Catholic exorcism. This is the plot of the film. From there, the wild bits begin.What I’d like to talk about instead of the plot itself are the effects because on the Blu ray release from Warner Brothers there are tons of amazing special features. The best, and my most favourite, is one called “Raising Hell: Filming The Exorcist.” This basically features tons of shots from behind-the-scenes, filmed originally without sound – explained to be because they wanted the extra filming to be inconspicuous to Friedkin who might’ve gotten annoyed had they been dragging more crew around the set than was needed – and over top we get interviews with everyone from Friedkin to Blatty to Blair, to people working on the crew. It’s amazing.
One of the moments I absolutely just died for was when they show two things. First, is a moment where Reagan (Blair) attacks a man. Friedkin wanted a shot following the man all the way down as he fell to the floor, shot tight looking right at his face, as if from Reagan’s POV. This is brilliance right here. Friedkin clearly has an innovative spirit. We watch as they show the contraption they’d built to do just that one shot— it’s the best thing ever. Second, they show a bunch of shots detailing the house set for the film. I should’ve known, from how some of the camerawork goes, the house was a set, open at the top and such, but just to see them doing actual shots going up the stairs with the rig they’d built to get the camera operators up and down in smooth ways. Beautiful, really, to see all the effort that went into making this film so god damn great.Another aspect worthy of note in regards to The Exorcist is the lighting. At one point on the “Raising Hell” documentary, they talk about the use of wires in the bedroom— for pulling people, as well as objects, around the room in certain shots. It looks perfect on film, but to hear Owen Roizman (D.P.) talk about how he had the wires painted in broken formations of black and white so it would make the wire less visible on camera, it’s an absolute treat! These tiny tricks of the trade are really cool to hear from the mouths of those involved in the production.
Later, we get to watch as Roizman talks about all the wire work, including how they dragged all the furniture around in Reagan’s room during those frenetic scenes. Wild. I knew it had to be practical the way they’d accomplished such shots, to actually see it and watch the process is something special. Roizman has a very nostalgic memory of the production, and a lot of his comments, especially concerning a young Linda Blair and her performance/attitude on set, which seems to be remarkable for such a young actress at the time, are great to hear. These features really help give The Exorcist even more appreciation amongst its fans, and genre fans in general.One of my favourite things about DVD and Blu ray is the fact we get commentary on a film while watching it. Probably one of the best things to come along with the advent of these new technologies. William Friedkin’s commentary on The Exorcist is fascinating and pretty damn informative. Even in the first few moments, Friedkin puts to bed any notions people have about the opening scenes not belonging in the film. He explains why it is there, what it means, and I love it, I understood anyways, though it helps to actually have a director of a film say “this is the reason,” and having it match up with what you thought. Just delightful to hear Friedkin talk about his experience filming the opening of the film in Iraq, how he was there without the protection of the U.S government, and telling us about how he enjoyed the Iraqi people and their hospitality. Hearing the director talk over beautifully framed and perfect looking images on a high quality picture of the film is sublime.
The story works on its own, but Friedkin really hammers it home. The acting from both Linda Blair and Ellen Burstyn is on point. Burstyn’s one of the greatest actresses ever to grace the screen. Here, she really excels, as a mother who doesn’t believe in religion or any of that stuff yet soon comes to understand the devil has taken hold of her daughter, seeking out the help of priests. Not many could pull of such a horror role. Burstyn’s so wonderfully natural here.
Blair did a fabulous job as a young girl. Incredible to think she was able to do such a role and give the performance she did. On the Blu ray documentary, she talks about how Friedkin would often shelter her from the reality of what she’d be doing onscreen by joking with her. Friedkin himself talks about it, and it seems they really had a cool relationship, a lot like an uncle and niece sort of thing where he coaxed her into some of the scenes by tickling and teasing. You can tell Friedkin works well with actors and actresses just by how Blair, at such a young age then, was able to work with him and give it her all in a tough role. Combined with the effects and the pure intensity of Blatty’s writing, the performances lift The Exorcist above a lot of trashy horror that was coming out in the 1970s and makes it an absolute masterpiece of filmmaking.The Blu ray release is far beyond the state of perfect. So many special features are available here, you’ll take days and days to get through it. “Raising Hell” is absolutely the best of them all, but there is more than just that. You get a real in-depth look behind the making of The Exorcist. I couldn’t believe how much bang for my buck I got when purchasing this, especially seeing as how HMV recently had it there for less than $10 (the ultimate steal of a lifetime if there ever was one!). It is really worth it if you enjoy the film. You get some great inside looks at the make-up effects Dick Smith pulled off; a master of the trade. Those alone are worth the price of the Blu ray, just to see him work at the craft.
Anyone who has yet to see this, go buy a copy now. If you’re a horror fan especially, don’t sleep on this. When I first saw The Exorcist I was about 15 years old. It didn’t really affect me at the time. However, I still enjoyed it a lot. Years later, I revisited the film, and I couldn’t get over it. For days, the story lingered on me like cigarette smoke. I couldn’t shake it. Burstyn and Von Sydow really pulled me in and rocked my world. The performances and the effects, it all got to me. It’s now one of my most treasured Blu rays, as well as one of the best horror films I’ve ever seen. Once again, this is a film that has no hype – the hype is very real, in fact.
And if you don’t get a chill running up your spinal fluid into your brain when you hear the repeated line from early in the film, “Father – could ya help an old altar boy?” then you know what? Check your pulse. Because the rest of us are absolutely terrified.
Psycho. 1960. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Written by Joseph Stefano; based on the novel by Robert Bloch.
Starring Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, and John McIntire. Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
Rated PG. 109 minutes.
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)
For those who don’t know, Psycho tells the tale of Marion Crane who decides to take off on a whim with $40,000 trusted to her by her boss. While tired on the road, Maron stops off at the Bates Motel to get a room for the night. There, she meets a young man named Norman Bates; he lives up on the hill in the big house next to the motel. Norman seems fine, albeit a bit quirky, so Marion even has a low key supper with him at the motel.
However, Norman isn’t quite fine. See, Norman lives with his mother, just the two of them, and their relationship is, well – a bit odd to say the least. Once Marion goes missing, her sister, lover, and the police start sniffing around, and Norman starts to see a little more traffic at the Bates Motel – much to his dismay.
This was my first introduction to Alfred Hitchcock. It’s funny – the movie is rated PG, directed by one of the most famous (arguably the most famous) filmmakers of all-time, contains definitely the most famous murder scene ever filmed if not the most famous scene period, and it’s classified as a horror.
In fact, a lot of people would say Psycho is the most influential horror film of all time, giving rise to the modern slasher in some respects (you can’t totally give this film all the credit because other films like Peeping Tom, and much later John Carpenter’s Halloween, really were a large part of that as well).
I just find it amazing how Hitchcock was able to put such a disturbing story on film, including the infamous shower scene (though the scene itself really isn’t graphic especially in terms of modern audiences and how desensitized we all are from not only film but the barrage of insane videos we now see on everything from CNN to YouTube), and yet still keep the rating PG. Of course, the ratings system has changed a little between now and then. It’s still rather amazing.
The story of Psycho itself is incredible. I continually find it exciting even though I’ve seen it dozens of times, I know how things will play out, and yet viewing after viewing it holds up. I still feel a rush of panic for Norman (even though I clearly shouldn’t – a testament to both Bloch’s novel and Hitchcock’s filmmaking) as he tries to clean up Marion Crane’s room after Mother has had her fun. Just the way Perkins rushes around and frantically tries to cover things up. Just thinking about the time it was written, the time it was set, I love to imagine what it must’ve been like for serial killers pre-media frenzy surrounding people like Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Green River Killer, et cetera. Poor Norman was ahead of his time. He didn’t know how these things were supposed to go. Watching him try to navigate the rough terrain of being a killer while still obviously being a fragile boy, almost a man-child, is really good stuff. It’s a disturbing tale, but Norman really does elicit both fear in us, as well as some form of pity; even on the most base of levels. And just the way in which Marion and Norman end up meeting, a real chance moment in time, is brilliant. The first time I saw the film, I was really surprised at how their two storylines converged, and suddenly it all became about Norman. Wonderful storytelling. No wonder Hitchcock was drawn to Bloch’s novel. Stefano really took the novel and turned into something his own, which Hitchcock in turn worked very well with; their picture of Norman Bates, as opposed to Bloch’s, turned the character into a much more sympathetic type person, and this really worked for the film’s plot quite well.
The entire film is one of those truly beautiful collaborative efforts. Everything here comes together to make a perfect movie. The cinematography, the sound, the script – I love it. Hitchcock weaved an intricate film here out of what could’ve been a simple effort from another lesser filmmaker.
For instance, on the Blu ray release from Universal there is a feature which looks at the infamous shower scene how it is presented in the finished film, and also a look at the scene without its music. Right there, it is so perfectly evident Psycho could not have been what it was if it hadn’t used all of its elements together to create the fear, shock, and tension. While the shower scene is still very disturbing without the score over top, there’s something extra that comes along with the score. In the quiet, you can hear Janet Leigh breathing, you hear the water falling from the shower head, all of it. With the score, you watch everything happen while the orchestral score behind the scene pounds out, creepy and loud, reinforcing all the stabs, the gasps, everything. Works so god damn well it’s fiendish.
As a film, Psycho is a perfect, flawless work of art. It isn’t hype. This is not a film you hear about all the time, being raved about and drooled over, just because it’s by Alfred Hitchcock, or just because it is considered classic. This is a magnificent piece of work, all around. There is no hype – what you see is what you get. Hitchcock was a master, no doubt. This film, while influential and all that, is just a cracking good piece of movie history. Full stop.
The Blu ray release from Universal Studios Home Entertainment is one of the better titles sitting on my shelf. It is packed to the brim with extras. Though I don’t care for the Truffaut interview (I think his films are wonderful but his opinions are often divisive in a negative way and, in my humble opinion, sort of bullshit at least when it comes to the original novel Psycho by Bloch), the rest of the features here are just so sweet.
There are the typical Making Of featurettes, however, the major one here goes through everything from the story, how it was adapted and found, et cetera, to pre-production, production, and post – the whole nine yards; it’s a 90-minutes documentary that is totally worth the time to watch. There’s a nice feature about the sound of the film, including how they restored everything for the Blu ray. My favourite, though, is the Shower Scene breakdown I mentioned before – you get to see the scene back-to-back in its finished form with the scene having the score taken out, as well as great little storyboards by Saul Bass. These are absolutely brilliant pieces of extras to include. Fascinating stuff. The commentary is done by Stephen Rebello, author of Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of ‘Psycho’.
All in all, this release deserves every single bit of 5 out of 5 stars. There’s no way it deserves any less; it needs more. There are enough features here to keep you long busy after purchasing Psycho. On top of that, the transfer is pristine, and you’ll marvel at how beautiful it looks in glorious black and white.
I recommend every fan of this movie, every Hitchcock fan, go get this Blu ray now, sit down, and love every last single solitary, picturesque moment of it. There is nothing like this film, even today, even when so many other great films are made. Psycho itself is a classic, and always will be. It deserves to be remembered until the end of human existence – it’s one of those films.
Read my review for the second sequel to the original, the underrated Psycho III.
The People Under the Stairs. 1991. Directed & Written by Wes Craven.
Starring Brandon Adams, Everett McGill, Wendy Robie, A.J Langer, and Ving Rhames. Universal Pictures. Rated R. 102 minutes.
★1/2 (Blu ray release)
I really have a thing for Wes Craven. Do you think he knows?
He’s written and directed some incredibly disturbing, unsettling, and wild horror films. Let’s count the great ones, shall we? The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, Swamp Thing, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes Part II (maybe I’ll draw some ire by planting that one in here, but I love it, and think it’s unfairly maligned by a lot of critics and horror fans), The Serpent and the Rainbow (directing credit only), Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, Scream (directing again only).
This is not to mention the bunch of other fun horror films he’s had a had in producing, such as Feast, Wishmaster, and the fantastic remake of his own The Hills Have Eyes. I mean, for A Nightmare on Elm Street alone Craven gets a spot on the top horror masters of all time. Brilliance. But there are a few of his films (such as the aforementioned sequel to his The Hills Have Eyes) which don’t get the credit they deserve.
Cue: The People Under the Stairs.
At first the film could appear to be a crime thriller about some robbers, but (aside from having Craven’s name on it) you can quickly tell it isn’t going to be the same old story. The film starts off with “Fool” Williams living in a ghetto in L.A. His family is soon to be evicted. Luckily, or realistically unfortunately, for Fool, he knows Leroy who is a lifetime criminal. They quickly decide to rob The Robesons, who lovingly call themselves Mommy & Daddy (played fabulously by former onscreen husband & wife in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Wendy Robie and Everett McGill), who live in a big, old house with only their daughter Alice. Once they get inside the house, hoping to find all the supposed riches the Robesons have hidden away, they discover, to their horrible surprise, it isn’t any treasure Mommy & Daddy have been hiding; the secrets in the house are far worse.
I really love the trailers for The People Under the Stairs because it has such a creepy, dreadful feeling. It starts with the ominous “in every neighbourhood… there is a house that even the adults talk about“, or something similar. Just superbly disturbing. Once you get into the film, past the bits of ham, there are some wild bits that really creeped me out. In particular, Everett McGill puts on a suit at one point that turned me away, by pure fright, from leather – long before I ever enjoyed the devilishly fun first season of American Horror Story, and the Rubber Man.
One thing I love is how hard Craven attacks the Reagan era. Particularly, you can see how he is really skewed in the Mommy and Daddy naming of the two crazy people who own the house. It’s known that Ronald often called his wife Nancy Reagan “Mommy”. While Nancy called the Commander-in-chief “Ronnie”, you can still see, along with the rest of the film skewing his era of presidency, how the names Mommy and Daddy were certainly meant to really poke at the political & social commentary of The People Under the Stairs. Even at one point when Fool is looking around the house, he comes across a television set, which is clearly blaring graphic news reports of armed forces conflict (most likely they’re videos from the Gulf War which ended the same year this film was released). I mean, Daddy even stalks Fool and Leroy around the house, eventually shooting Lero, using a high-powered pistol with a red dot sight on it. The artillery Daddy is packing in that house is beyond simple home protection. I think there’s a little message about guns, or at least the military, under Reagan floating around here.
It all lines up, with the plot itself of course, to be very clear Craven doesn’t only intend this as a sometimes campy other times disturbing little horror flick. There’s more than meets the eye.
The acting here is generally pretty good. Rhames is decent in his small part. Really it’s McGill and Robie who shine here. They’re perfect for the role. Of course, they were also perfect on Twin Peaks, so I didn’t doubt they’d do a great job here. Everyone else fills out the cast just fine for the most part.
The People Under the Stairs is mainly all about the plot and story. I liked where it all went. It was disturbing and creepy. Plus, there are some fun and camp-ish moments that really fit well with the overall film. I really do think this movie works as a social metaphor. I’ve seen a few good theories. One in particular talked about how there was, especially around that time in the late 80’s and going into the 90’s, a big divide between those being oppressed and those who were aware of the oppression. Maybe even not so much the times, it’s something that always happens. Generally, until a situation completely boils over (such as it would in 1991 after the Gulf War ended and then Rodney was beaten a month later, one of the many, continuing brutalities committed by police against black men), there are pockets of society unaware of how serious a particular group is being oppressed, and often times eradicated. Here, we see a couple black people break into a home only to discover there are white people literally trapped in the walls. The divide between these two groups being held down are Mommy and Daddy, perfectly representative of Ronald Reagan and his administration in the White House.
I don’t know – maybe it’s nonsense. But I happen to agree with the person who was giving out the theory. Others seem to agree. I don’t mean it’s a perfectly and amazingly profound film, it’s still a weird and wild horror, but there is definitely something else behind it. Craven intended The People Under the Stairs to speak both to horror fans, as well as those looking for a bit of social commentary in their movie-going experience.
As a film, I’d absolutely have no problem saying this is worth 4 out of 5 stars. I think Craven has taken a few missteps in his career, but this is not one of them. Some don’t particularly put this at the top of his filmography. Me, however, I believe it’s one of the better written horrors Craven has done simply because there is bit more meat to it; it isn’t all blood and guts and scares. There is a little dark comedy, some hammy acting, and disturbing moments, all wrapped into one package. I dig it.
The Blu ray is not great. Aside from the picture, there is nothing worth talking about. Literally nothing. You can put on subtitles, pause the film, or look through its chapters. Other than that? Don’t count on wiling away the hours on special features. There are none at all. Too bad. I wouldn’t have minded a bit of behind-the-scenes stuff, a featurette or two. Nothing here.
It’s still worth it to own this fun horror on Blu ray. The picture quality is fabulous. Makes a great 1990’s horror classic look pristine. If you haven’t yet experienced The People Under the Stairs do yourself a favour and watch it soon. Especially if you’re a fan of Craven; this one deserves more attention and less ridicule. I think it’s a solid horror, a little different from most. There are even some pretty gory bits just before the hour mark hits. This definitely stands out among a lot of shitty 1990’s horror.
Trollhunter. 2010. Directed & Written by André Øvredal.
Starring Otto Jespersen, Hans Morten Hansen, Tomas Alf Larsen, Johanna Mørck, Knut Naerum, Robert Stoltenberg, and Glenn Erland Tosterud. Momentum Pictures.
Rated PG-13. 103 minutes.
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)
When you hear the title Trollhunter it isn’t easy to imagine what the plot and story of the film might be. You guessed it.
Basically, a group of students are making a documentary about a slew of supposed bear killings, and a possible poacher. While visiting places where the poacher supposedly killed bears, illegally, the students talk to hunters, as well as a man from the Wildlife Board in Norway. Though there is some doubt, the consensus is this poacher, Hans (Jespersen), has been killing animals, regardless if they were bears or not.
Then the students start following Hans until one night they see wild lights in the forest while trailing him, and roars in the trees. Eventually they discover Hans does not hunt bears, he hunts trolls. Of course they don’t really believe him at first, but soon enough it is all too obvious Hans is telling the truth. And so the students continue on with Hans to uncover the truth about trulls that the Norwegian government hopes to keep covered up.
Most obviously to me when I first started watching the movie for the first time, Trollhunter is one of the more original films in any genre, from any country I’ve seen – in a long time. Not to say there aren’t original films. Yes, of course there are, I’m not crazy. But this film is one of the more unique of those originals probably in the past decade. This story is fresh. They take found footage, which can often be a tired genre nowadays with the flooded market of bad horror entries using its premise (side note: I love found footage – when it’s used well), and used it in a fantasy style. Though the effects are not always perfect, the trolls are absolutely incredible. When you first get a good look at one of them, it’s fascinating. They did a great job of taking a fantasy element and dropping it into a modern setting. I suppose the fact it’s a Norwegian film helps, as there’s a lot more folklore and such from their culture/geographical location to carry the subject along. I feel if the Americans wanted to remake this, which I’m sure they’ll do (apparently Chris Columbus’ company has the rights – not sure if this is the case any longer or what), they would have to pick some other type of monster instead of trolls; the trolls just fit so well with Norway, and perhaps might fit with other European locations. That’s what gives the story some better pull, in my opinion.
The actual physical locations used in filming Trollhunter are also part of what makes it great overall. There are some beautiful landscapes.
The entire film is played as a mockumentary, which also lends itself well to the story, as there are some real great silly bits. It helps that Otto Jespersen, as well as some other Norwegian comedians, were in the film. I didn’t know this until I watched the special features. But you can tell a few of the actors have great comedic timing. While there are bits that are definitely verging on horror, though not blood & guts style, the best parts of Trollhunter are the ones which are played firmly with their tongue jammed in cheek. This is absolutely a dark fantasy film, but the comedy really shines, and the mix of genre blends pretty well. Jerspersen especially as Hans really does a fabulous job at bringing out laughs, even at times when you’re not sure if you’re supposed to be laughing or not.
As I mentioned before, the special effects are not always spot on. That’s not to say they’re bad. Not in the least. The budget, in American dollars, was only $4-million.
Only you say?
Well, take a look at some of your favourite big budget pictures, and compare those with that of Trollhunter. They did a fabulous job with the amount of money they were working with, and it shows. Not every troll looks flawless, but so what? They still look like massive god damned trolls. They were at times funny, but always creepy, and always terrifying. The look of the trolls works, regardless of the effects. My favourite troll is the one with three heads; I don’t know why, just dig it. A lot.
As a film, Trollhunter is topnotch. However, I could have used some better acting. That’s my only problem. Jespersen was solid the whole way through, but some of the supporting actors weren’t exactly great. They weren’t poor, either. They could’ve just used some work. I can’t really knock them for the few parts where their special effects weren’t perfect because, as I mentioned, the budget wasn’t huge compared to most films. Especially for something indulging the fantasy genre the way Trollhunter does. Overall, I loved this film, and I can watch it often when I want a fix of both some fantasy, as well as a bit of comedy.
The Blu ray release for Trollhunter just don’t quit! Love it. There are some deleted scenes, plus they include some moments of improvisation while filming, and to add, a bunch of bloopers. All a good time. Then there are also some extended scenes thrown in. One of the best featurettes is the visual effects; they give us a nice little look at some of the work they did. You really get a better appreciation for the film watching a lot of the behind-the-scenes extras.
Any fan of foreign films, whether you enjoy drama, comedy, horror, or whatever, will certainly get a treat if they check out Trollhunter. Like I said, this is dark fantasy, all the way, but the comedy really sustains it. Not that you couldn’t make a deadly serious horror about trolls; you absolutely could. My belief is that Trollhunter treats things seriously at times while knowing exactly when to pull out the comedy bag of tricks. You won’t be disappointed. This is a great film. Also refreshing to get a look at something that isn’t typical; this is a movie with a bit of creative backbone. I hope others will check out the Blu ray, and really hope those who watch the movie enjoy it the way I did.
Molly has a lot of demons. They're soon going to come out.