You don't really see films like this anymore. David Lean's epic take on social/political prejudice in India is not what I would call popular film, but you can't deny the outstanding production value. The problem I had with the film is its runtime. This is a movie that could easily have been a bit short of two hours but runs for nearly three. The film takes its time developing the characters, but it isn't until nearly half way through that the real meat of the story begins. While I am always a fan of character development and strong storytelling I couldn't help but get bored with the pacing of this film. I love the photography and the scale of production, but without a strong and interesting storyline coupled with it, you find yourself looking at the remaining time left too often. The film revolves around a young English woman who ventures to India with the mother of a local magistrate who she is gearing up to marry. Shortly after arriving she finds herself questioning her relationship with him and longs to see more of native India. She meets up with a local doctor who takes them on a trip to a local landmark. Things don't go well and a social battle begins when the doctor is accused of sexually assaulting her, setting the stage for a local revolt. Again the tale is interesting enough; I just think it could have been edited down substantially.
Sony has been picking some interesting catalog titles lately. The Devil's Own is a solid action/drama, but a surprising pick this early in the format. I guess I'm use to tie-ins with upcoming summer movies around this time of year. This is an early film for Brad Pitt and pairs him with mega-star Harrison Ford. Pitt plays an IRA soldier who is sent to the US to procure some weapons for the cause. A New York judge that is helping the cause puts him up with an Irish cop (Ford) during his stay. Things go smooth until the deal starts to go sour with the arms dealer and Ford's family is put in harms way. The message of this film was stronger during the unfortunate conflict in Ireland but doesn’t have quite the pull today. It's still a solid thriller though.
Just in time for the second installments launch in theaters, Disney brings their big budget The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to Blu-ray as a 2-disc special edition. I have to admit I wasn't the biggest fan of this film when I saw it originally in theaters. I usually go for this kind of film but this one just didn't strike a chord with me at all. On this second viewing my feelings are pretty much the same. I just have trouble connecting with the characters and I don't like the toned down nature of the film. Obviously Disney wanted something that would be family friendly but I think this hurts the scope and emotional impact. Warner has managed to balance these issues with their popular Harry Potter series, but Disney missed that mark in my opinion. Nevertheless audiences seemed to love this one given its box office haul so I'm sure there are plenty of fans eager to see it on Blu-ray. One word of note though, this is the theatrical cut of the film. An extended edition was released on DVD sometime ago and I was honestly surprised it was not included for this release.
I'm always on the lookout for new animated fare, regardless of what country it is from. When I saw an import HD DVD was available for Asterix and the Vikings I went ahead and picked it up. The film was getting reasonably good word of mouth and the character looked vaguely familiar from my younger days. Unfortunately this one didn't play out real well. The animation style looked good and I was impressed with the mix of 3D and cell animation, but the story was geared too much to the younger crowd and my wife and I just couldn't get into it. The film does have its funny moments, but the story moves at a pretty slow pace and the forced inclusion of "hip" culture didn't work well for it overall.
Hollywood confuses me sometimes. When I was growing up names like Coppola, Forman, Lean, Spielberg, and Kubrick meant a lot to moviegoers. These days it doesn't seem to matter any more. I've seen picture after picture relocated to small venues and limited releases despite heavyweight directors and storytellers attached. Take a look at last year's Best Picture nominees for example. How many of those films were even opened wide upon initial release? But how many films that probably lower your IQ at an alarming rate are opened wide every week. I guess the mighty dollar is still king and art and great storytelling is something now reserved for straight to video fare. I remember when the opposite was true.
It is honestly a RARE treat when Hollywood delivers a solid, mature horror film. It could be one of the rarest things we see on film today. New Line has delivered just that with The Orphanage. This movie just seems to do everything right. Mood, tension, terror, production, acting, script; all of the elements are just dead on. They didn't rely on gore or gimmicks to create an underlying tension that keeps you locked on from start to finish and the eerie photography and stunning sound design will have you at an unease that I find a rare commodity in this genre today. Why can't all ghost stories be half as good as this?
When the first trailers hit for Ice Cube's new comedy, I somehow thought this might be a new addition to the Friday series. That is definitely not the case, though the films do have some slight resemblances. In the beginning I thought this one was actually borrowing a bit too much from the themes and setups of Friday but once the story really got rolling things settled out a bit. I'm not going to lie; this one stumbles a lot out of the gate. My wife and I weren't clicking with the rather forced comedy early on in the film, but if you give this one a chance it makes up for it in the second and third act and actually turns out to be a fun film with a good heart. The comedy can be a bit hit or miss at times since some of the jokes are a bit forced, but overall we had a good time with it.
New Line's epic gamble from last Christmas finds its way to Blu-ray in stunning 2-disc form. The Golden Compass is the first of three stories in the His Dark Materials trilogy, a rather popular set of young adult stories. The film was met with mixed enthusiasm and a subtle amount of controversy because of "religious overtones". Frankly, I don't see what all the fuss was about. The story has a very wide arc and excellent character work. As far as fantasy films go, this one was solid from start to finish. The production values were superb and I really hope we see a continuation of the trilogy since this one leaves off on a high note that almost demands a sequel.
Unbeknownst to most people Shall We Dance? is actually a remake of a Japanese movie. Thankfully it fares much better than the endless amount of Japanese horror remakes we see on this shore. Gere plays a husband who is in search of some spark in his life as he continues the daily grind day in and day out. A young dancer catches his eye on his way home so he decides to check out the school where she works. What he finds is a new passion and direction in his life that has him feeling young and motivated again. This film takes an interesting look at relationships and how people need to find their own niche in life. It's a great film for couples and fans of dance alike.