Category Archives: Reviews

The Legend of Billie Jean, ‘Fair is fair’ edition [Blu-ray review]

Not only has the phrase “Fair is fair” become synonymous with the cult classic teen drama The Legend of Billie Jean, it also is the edition name of the newly remastered Blu-ray from Mill Creek Entertainment.  If you aren’t familiar with this movie, you need to see it.  From executive producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber (Batman [1989], Rain Man, The Color Purple), The Legend of Billie Jean has become one of cinema’s best teen movies.  I don’t mean in the John Hughes sense of teen drama, but a film dealing with real and difficult issues.  At the same time, it also adds a sense of the surreal.  Let me explain.

©2014 Mill Creek Entertainment
© 2014 Mill Creek Entertainment

You see, in 1984, while making The Legend of Billie Jean, Helen Slater’s first film, Supergirl, had just opened across the country.  Remember, this was at a time when women were not portrayed as strong, heroic characters.  Now working on her second feature, Helen Slater was to play Billie Jean Davy, a small town girl who won’t let anyone, or anything, stand in her way to seek justice.  The plot seems simple enough at first.  An altercation at the local drive-in between Billie Jean’s brother Binx (Christian Slater in his first feature role) and local bully Hubie Pyatt (Barry Tubb) sets off a chain of events that drives the teens to breaking point.  After Binx’s Honda Elite scooter is stolen and trashed by Hubie, big sister Billie Jean goes to Hubie’s father to make him pay $608 for the cost of the repairs.  Mr. Pyatt (Richard Bradford), being a snake in the grass, tries to take advantage of Billie Jean.  As Billie Jean tries to leave his store, Binx shows up and finds a gun in the cash register.  When Mr. Pyatt confronts him, Binx fires accidentally, striking Mr. Pyatt.  This sets into motion the hunt for the outlaw teens, as they try to set the record straight.

Toss into the mix the comic relief of Billie Jean’s friends Putter (Yeardley Smith – the voice of Lisa on The Simpsons) and Ophelia (Martha Gehman), a determined cop (Peter Coyote) who doesn’t believe Mr. Pyatt’s accusations, a rich kid with too much time on his hands (Keith Gordon), and a cameo by Dean Stockwell, and you have a surreal crime/thriller/teen/comedy/drama that could only have been pulled off in the ‘80s.

The film’s moral issues come to a climax when Billie Jean catches a scene from Saint Joan (1957) on a television.  The image of the steadfast Joan of Arc burning into her memory (and later in a more cinematic way).  Suddenly, Billie Jean is no longer a teenager on the run, but a young woman who will not be stopped.  She crops her golden locks and the teens then devise a plan to expose Mr. Pyatt, get the money they are owed, and be vindicated.  Fair is fair.

Christian Slater and Helen Slater in The Legend of Billie Jean ©2014 Mill Creek Entertainment
Christian Slater and Helen Slater in “The Legend of Billie Jean” © 2014 Mill Creek Entertainment

The plot seems a bit far fetched, but as with many ‘80s films, it works.  Upon seeing Billie Jean’s plea for justice, teens across the region cut off their hair in a show of support.  Billie Jean finally confronts Mr. Pyatt in a fiery [literally] showdown.  The film closes with another staple of ‘80s films – a rock anthem.  This time it’s the powerful sound of Pat Benatar’s triumphant theme song Invincible.

The film itself looks great on Blu-ray, with only minimal grain visible in some shots.  My only complaint is that there is only one extra on the disc.  It’s a commentary track featuring Helen Slater and Yeardley Smith.  By the way, Helen Slater and Christian Slater are not related, as most people thought when the film premiered.  As I said before, The Legend of Billie Jean is more a cult film than a mainstream film.  It certainly won’t please everyone, but if you were a teenager in the 1980s, it will take you back in time, and I hope younger audiences will give this movie a shot.  The message of teen empowerment remains the same today, even if styles have changed.

© 1985, 95 minutes, Rated PG-13

 

‘Last Action Hero’ Still Kickin’ Ass [Blu-ray Review]

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©Columbia Pictures ©Mill Creek Ent.

There’s a difference between an opinion, a bias and a fact. An opinion is a value judgment based upon personal experience. A bias is an emotional position based on someone else’s experiences and thus is open for often-flawed positions of evaluation. A fact is a result, conclusion or observation of a state of a thing that is measurable and demonstrable regardless of approach used.

Last Action Hero is an awesome film. This is a fact. It was also a huge box office flop because of bias. To understand that, let’s go back and look at what was going on in the entertainment world when it was released.

1991 was a time when the studios had been heartened by such previous box office smashes as the Die Hard and Lethal Weapon series, Total Recall, Predator, the Rambo series and especially, Terminator 2. Hollywood had been steadily ramping up their investment in blockbusters since the early 1980s, crowing with pride at every E.T. and ignoring every Heaven’s Gate. As the 80s rolled on, the dollars spent—and the body counts of failure—continued to increase. But hey, this was the Reagan 80s when thrift was ignored and corpulent extravagance was the norm, so as the 80s rolled into the 90s and the state of the film industry became more corporatized and less about the “should we be making this film because it’s worthwhile” and more about “can we repeat the formula of X and profit with Y and Z”, the industry’s playing field became a landscape of dizzying mountains (Terminator 2, Aliens) and darkened abysses (Hudson Hawk, Bonfire of the Vanities). For every hit there was an Ishtar or Cotton Club being kicked out of a club somewhere.

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©Columbia Pictures

Originally written by Zak Penn and Adam Leff, two unknown screenwriters trying to break into the biz, the script (then titled Extremely Violent) was sold to Columbia. Hoping to turn it into a family-friendlier property, the script eventually was worked over by no less than eight writers, including William Goldman and Shane Black (original writers Penn and Leff received a “Story By” credit in the final film). Arnold Schwarzenegger was cast as the lead and a bevy of acknowledged and bankable talent was used to fill in the background gaps in what was intended to be a monster satire of the action film genre.

Now none of this is particularly unusual for a film in development (and compared to the tortuous development many films go through Last Action Hero’s development is actually quite tame). So what went wrong? By my count two things killed this film before it was really given a chance. First, a backlash at empty cash-fuelled “blockbusters” was starting to turn off some movie goers and many of the press. Second, Mark Canton, then-head of Columbia Pictures and who had made Last Action Hero his pet project, was so eager to show off how the film was shaping up, that he had Columbia hold a very premature test screening in Lakewood, California on May 1, 1993.

As Jack Slater would say, big mistake. Simply put, the film just wasn’t ready to be seen. Director John McTiernan was aware that the mix of satire and drama needed to make the film work was a delicate one that needed much refining and massaging during editing. The 138 minute cut that was shown to the 1000 audience members was very rough, prompting Schwarzenegger himself to later note “I would say the movie was shown in the roughest form I’ve ever seen a movie screened.” The screening went so badly that Canton had Columbia gather all the audience test cards and shred them allowing no one—not even the director and the star—to see them. When the media called to get the results, Columbia hemmed and hawed and stated that the film had generated no test results.

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©Columbia Pictures

The press wasn’t buying it. And with 1000 witnesses to the debacle, the word eventually got out that the film was a huge disaster. To keep an interesting and convoluted story short, the negative press spiraled out of control and the film became the trendy movie to hate by the press. Add into the mix that it opened a week after Jurassic Park and you can hear the iceberg striking the prow on any hope Last Action Hero might have had for success.

And all the bad press and bias’ are flat out wrong. Last Action Hero is a wonderful film that nicely strikes a balance between lapsing into an exercise of Airplane-esque self-satire on one side and completely grounded real world comedy on the other. The action scenes play nicely and are funny (I especially love the shot at the conclusion of one of the film’s chases when a minivan tries to follow Schwarzenegger’s car out of the L.A. river basin and fails spectacularly in the background) and the film’s thumb-nosing at the clichéd action movie tropes are fast and furious. Mixing elements reminiscent of Purple Rose of Cairo, Play It Again Sam and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, all the elements of the “reality character meets fantasy character” buddy film are there and are played out from both sides: first, when the character of Danny Madigan enters Jack Slater’s film world and then in reverse when Slater enters the real world. If anything, the film was just too damn subtle for many viewers and critics to appreciate and suffered the same viewer confusion that killed another brilliant satire, Falling Down, also released in 1993. When I saw Falling Down I understood right away that it was a comedy, a razor-sharp and tightly executed satire. I was working at a movie theatre that summer and over the course of Falling Down’s run, most of the audience left the film feeling terribly confused…they just had no reference point with which to classify what they had just experienced.

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©Columbia Pictures

Let’s face it, most filmgoers expect to be spoon-fed a product that exists within very narrow, pre-defined parameters. They don’t really want to think, they don’t really want to process cause and effect and newly defined visual symbology. They want to know that black is black, up is up and there’s a clear beginning, middle and end (the Robin Williams film Toys, another favorite of mine, suffered the same audience confusion the previous year). To these filmgoers, films like Last Action Hero, Falling Down and Toys are pitcher plants, celluloid bait-and-switches that advertise a no-brainer two hours then hit them with a demand that they play more flexibly with the film than they expected or prepared to, doing so surreptitiously, never really revealing what’s expected of the audience but only giving clues for the audience to grasp on their own. Sadly, that’s a feat the average filmgoer will never accomplish.

The only criticism I have for the film is that Canton played it poorly by forcing the project to be ready for its June 18th release date. A film with as many complex elements as this one really needed more time to fine tune and nowhere is this more evident in the film’s optical effects. Color values in these shots are badly balanced with off-color values and soft, highly contrasting details. Matte lines are often too sharp around the various elements and make the composition look almost like a bad Terry Gilliam cut-and-paste animation. While these flaws were evident on the DVD release, they’re even more so on the Blu-Ray.

Which brings us to the disc itself. While the source material has flaws, the presentation on disc does not. Image detail and color in the MPEG-4 AVC picture (2.40:1) are superb with sharp lines and a pleasing film grain. The look of the real world is appropriately balanced and neutral and contrasts well with the colors in Jack Slater’s world that pop nicely but never hit oversaturation. The blacks are deep and the highlights never blow out. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless audio track rumbles, booms and explodes exactly as it should, filling the room and keeping pace with the onscreen visuals.

There are no extras on the disc to speak of which is another example of how little respect this film continues to receive. It’s eleven years later and the film continues to outperform new titles that are given lavish (and typically unnecessary) disc releases and it’s about damn time that a proper special edition of this film gets released. Before Jack Slater gets pissed enough to come out here to our world and do it his damn self.

And that’s a fact.

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©Columbia Pictures

‘Pieces of Talent’, A Grisly Display of Love Fueling Insanity [DVD Review]

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Horror films are starting to get a bit cliche these days, but Pieces of Talent is pleasantly different. Joe Stauffer directs this creepy tale of a man in love with a woman. The film however, is not your normal romantic love story. When the guy in love is a psychotic madman with sinister methods things tend to get a little bloody. Aside from the story, the cinematography alone will have your eyes unable to look away. Every shot is captivating and blends beauty with the horror being shot refreshingly. Pieces of Talent is an independently financed and distributed film that is sure to deliver everything you need out of a good horror film.

Pieces-Of-Talent-DVD-SingleEvil comes in the form of David Long (played by himself). He is as menacing and weird as they come. David is making a film that he describes as capturing beautiful moments. The story centers around Charlotte (Kristi Ray) trying to get an acting career off the ground. Her character is a little dry at first, but the more and more you get to know her you see the side of her that is just struggling to survive. Charlotte and David’s paths eventually cross outside of the club where she works. He is getting beaten up and robbed of his camera. This is the beginning of a very strange romance. David is a very scary individual and he doesn’t hide it, but Charlotte for some reason doesn’t see that and thinks of him as a sweet guy. This is the only thing in the film that doesn’t seem plausible because no one should ever trust a guy that has “killer” written all over them. As things progress David’s life at home becomes very busy with multiple captives. The gruesome nature of David’s “beautiful moments” is rotten to the core.

Gore is a huge factor in this film and is done wonderfully. All of the death scenes are unique but still hold the realism needed to send chills to the audience. Pieces-Of-Talent-DVDBetween the actors and the special effects make-up everything looks and feels as if it is really happening. Even the torture mechanisms were perfect. They looked as if they were truly crafted by some freaky guy on a farm. The thought process alone going into creating a machine like that is scary. One of my favorite moments of the film is the shotgun death. This shot is so well done that it will have you wondering if it just happened for real. Blood splattering on the camera lens could not be pulled off with more precision than in this moment. I don’t want to reveal too much because you have to just see it for yourself.

With all of the horrific things that happen in this film they still come across with a sense of beauty. Stauffer is an artist of his craft. He captures the raw nature of each moment as it passes. The first person shots are chilling and put you right in the middle of the chaos as it is unfolding. A lot of horror films try to pull this effect off, but none deliver like this. It is clear that Stauffer put his heart into this film because each shot is given so much care and attention. True imagination is reflected onto the screen.

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The DVD for Pieces of Talent is packed full of extra features. It is cleverly set up and includes hidden features. Included is a hilarious music video for “The David Long Song” that is featured at the end of the film. The video is very comedic but stays true to David Long’s character. Also featured on the disc are outtakes, a kickstarter video, a commentary with some of the filmmakers, and other eerie videos featuring David Long during his normal routines. The short film that the film is based on is also something available to watch. It is intriguing to see how the simple short film grew into Pieces of Talent. When done with watching all of the extra features if you look hard you can find hidden videos that are not part of the normal list on the menu.

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“Beautiful Moments” was a recurring theme in the film and that is what Pieces of Talent conveyed. Compelling cinematography, twisted deaths, and the wonderfully different David Long all came together to create a horrific piece of art. It is not every day you see blood come across as beauty. It is definitely worth picking a copy of this film up. Between the amazing independent film produced and the loads of extra features it is a great buy. Since it is being independently released you can only get a copy on piecesoftalent.com. Don’t miss out on this unusual love story that drags you into the darkness of David Long’s mind.

‘The Raid 2,’ A Bloody, Violent Adrenaline Rush [Blu-ray Review]

©Sony Pictures Classics
Hammer Girl ©Sony Pictures Classics

Forget every action movie you ever seen. Forget all of the explosions, damsels in distress, and fighting with aliens. A few years ago an Indonesian film graced screens by the name of The Raid: Redemption. After seeing that film it is hard to imagine how it can be pushed further. Director Gareth Evans has gone far beyond a push further in what may be the greatest and most unique action movie ever made, The Raid 2 (The original title is The Raid 2: Berandal). The plot of the film may not be the most unique, but there are no other action scenes that can even come close to the ones in this film. Others merely stand in the shadow.

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©Sony Pictures Classics

The first film follows Rama (Iko Uwais)and his team of fellow police officers trying to get to the top floor of a building to arrest a drug lord. Through countless gun and machete fights it is clear that Iko Uwais is here to stay for many films to come. The brutality of his fighting style is expressed more and more as the scenes unfold. Gareth Evans captures this in a way that only him and his team can. With every step you feel as if you are right there in the middle of the blood soaked fight. With the first film having a lower budget Evans was constrained cinematically and also to one location in the film. That didn’t stop him from giving birth to a whole new category of action movies though. After the success of The Raid: Redemption, having a bigger budget for the sequel was a certainty. The Raid 2 picks up right where the first one left off. This film is a lot more complex having a much larger number of characters as well as a plot that branches out into all parts of the city. Rama is thrown out of his comfort zone right away as he agrees to go undercover to weed out all of the corrupt cops in the force and at the same time take down all of the organized crime in the city. He is pretty much a one man army. Unlike the first film he is on the other side of the law this time around.

Rama is thrown into prison to make his background look legit for the people he works for when he gets out. While he is in prison he meets Uco (Arifin Putra) who is the son of Bangun, a local crime lord. To gain Uco’s trust, Rama protects him in an extravagant prison riot. He sees his way in to working for Bangun and does every thing he possibly can to get to that point. This riot is so chaotic and will have your eyes submerged in the thick mud it is unfolding on. I thought the mud was an interesting choice to throw into the mix. It shows how Rama can adapt to every environment he is placed in. With prisoners stabbing whoever is near them and SWAT teams taking out prisoners, Rama still finds a way to fight his way all the way across the yard to protect his mission. There are a lot of shots in this scene that are so long and continuous that it feels as if there are no cuts at all. The time and effort placed into a scene like this is inspiring. Every detail and ever angle is considered so that the perfect fight can be produced. I have enormous amounts of respect for the men and women who have worked on this film and its predecessor. They aren’t trying to make it good, they are trying to make it the best that they absolutely can. That is what makes this movie so special. Not only is it phenomenal, but you can clearly tell how much care was given into the making of this film.

©Sony Pictures Classics
©Sony Pictures Classics

Once Rama is out of prison he begins working for Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo). This is where the story becomes much more extensive than the first film. It is basically Rama against the whole city. You have the crime group that is controlled by Bangun which covers most of the city. The other large crime group is the Japanese. The two groups have a peaceful relationship and stay out of each other’s way. However, there are always smaller fish trying to control the action. The police are just as corrupt and the leader Reza is always trying to strike deals with the crime lords in his city. With all of the power and land these leaders rule over there is one that wants to take it all for himself by starting a war between them. This devious individual goes by the name of Bejo (Alex Abbad). He manipulates everyone around him into getting what he wants. Abbad plays the character perfectly. He is always calm and collected, but there is a small feeling given by his mannerisms that he could snap at any given moment. When he is shown on the screen the character manifests a form of fear and evil that simmers below his calm demeanor. It is almost if it is not there at all, but you can’t deny what is truly there. With all of these groups bound to clash it only means one thing is coming, pure violence.

In the first Raid film, Rama is pretty much unmatched. His skills in combat come across as far superior to the people he is fighting. In The Raid 2, that is not the case at all. Many unique and astounding characters are introduced to make Rama fight for his life like never before. One of the cool parts of this sequel is that it focuses on these many characters as well as Rama. Before they all get to go toe to toe with Rama, they all get their own fight scenes to show just how brutal and vicious they are. My two favorite new additions are Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man. No two siblings have ever been more scary than these two. Hammer Girl’s introduction takes place on a subway train and puts her up against a dozen men with knives. Her weapon of choice, given away by the name, is a hammer in each hand. The fight is breathtaking and doesn’t let up for a second. Her savage nature of the way she fights makes her seem as if she is enjoying it just a little too much. Her brother is just as bloodthirsty as she is. A baseball bat may seem like a normal, boring weapon. When put in the hands of Baseball Bat Man, it becomes a death sentence. He doesn’t just beat people with it, he destroys them. The way he handles it is barbaric and with no mercy. When he strikes a person with his bat he ends up hitting them another few times before they even hit the ground. It is so fast and well choreographed that it feels like a dance fueled by aggression.

Cool fights and interesting characters make this a great action film. However, it is the cinematography and locations combined with those aspects that make it the best action film. The way they film all of the action is unlike anything anybody else can pull off. A large portion of the film is all handheld. They use what is called a Fig rig. It is essentially a steering wheel that you mount a camera on in the center to give the user very fluid mobility. This is how the feeling of being in the fight is created. In most of the action sequences the camera is in the middle of the fight. They choreograph every step so that it can be smooth and become one single fight. The camera is constantly moving in and out from between people that are beating each other to death.

©Sony Pictures Classics
©Sony Pictures Classics

One of my favorite aspects of the way they film these sequences is the way they pass the camera between operators. In some of the fights the actors are flying all over the room and going places where a normal camera movement could not. They use the Fig rig to incorporate a way to keep the handheld feel of the action intact. What they do is simply place another camera operator where the camera needs to go and then they hand the rig to the other operator, but keep a smooth transition between the two because of the “steering wheel” like aspect of the rig. During an epic car scene in the film look for the camera moving from car to car. This is an example of what they can achieve with that technique. They literally pass it from the back seat of one car and into another which has another operator attached on the side that then passes it through that car and to the other side where a third operator waits. The shot is fascinating the way it plays out as well as the way it was created.

One of the differences between this film and the first is that it is not confined to one location. The first film was pretty much Rama’s skills caged in one cinematic setting. The world opens up much wider in this one. The different locations showcased in this film give both the director and actors more room for creativity with plot and the way the fights play out. The locations are truly magnificent for the fights that take place in them. One in particular is the scene where an assassin named Prakoso is swarmed by an arm of thugs inside a club. Prakoso is played by Yayan Ruhian, who interestingly played a different character called Mad Dog in the first Raid film. The club is very vibrant with different colored laser lights shining everywhere. The structure of the club is what makes it so special. There are large circular booths that surround the club and each one is higher than the other. Prakoso is sitting in one of these booths when the fighting starts. Since each is higher than the other he is constantly jumping through bars and levels as he plows his way through the onslaught that is trying to defeat him. Some cool movements with the camera on the Fig Rig are used here. In this scene the camera is passed between bars from the ground level up into the different booths numerous times. The fight eventually ends up breaking out into the back alleyway behind the club. The scene takes place during the winter time so there is snow on the ground giving a nice backdrop for all the blood being splattered everywhere. The fight ends with a beautiful death that you will have to see for yourself. One other scene to look for is the kitchen fight scene. I don’t want to give much away about this one other than it takes place in an all white kitchen, lots of blood is spilled, and it is perhaps one of the best hand-to-hand fight scenes ever accomplished.

When picking up your copy of The Raid 2 be sure to get the Blu-ray because it includes tons of special features that are not to be missed. There is a five minute deleted scene titled “Gang War” that didn’t make it to the final cut. It is definitely worth checking out and provides a little more action that focuses on the lower level characters. There is plenty more content as well including three featurettes titled, “The Next Chapter: Shooting a Sequel”, “Ready for a Fight: On Location”, and ” Violent Ballet: Behind the Choreography”. Each one of these is compelling in it’s own way. Part of the magic of this film is not only the film itself, but how the film was made. It is not your typical film set. Everything has been rehearsed a million times before anybody even sets foot on set. Every shot and movement is planned months ahead of time. Seeing what goes on behind the scenes really proves that these are all professionals who care about performing their job to the absolute best of their abilities.

With so many action films flooding cinemas each year it is very refreshing to see a foreign film such as The Raid 2 surpass every single one of them. Originality seems to be fading out these days, but Gareth Evans showed the whole world how untrue that is. Violence and merciless action has never been so divine. Every aspect of the first Raid film is brought to a whole other level in this sequel. Each fan of the original film will receive everything they could ever wish for. Evans and Uwais have earned their places among the top of their respective craft. Even if you don’t enjoy foreign films that much, this is one that is worth sitting through. There were times I forgot it was even in Indonesian because of the way it flows so well from scene to scene. If there is one action movie that ever needs to be watched it is this film. The Raid 2 burns with a fire that will transcend the viewer into the new age of action films.

‘Judex,’ The Roots of Revenge [DVD review]

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Start with a classic tale of revenge, spin in some mysticism and a pinch of science fiction, mix well with some classic early 60’s expressionistic filmmaking and you end up with Judex, a wonderful film that nicely illustrates how everything old is new again.

Shot in 1963, it stars Channing Pollock as Judex, a shadowy avenger who sends powerful banker Favraux a note threatening to kill him if he doesn’t repay all the money he swindled from his victims over the years. When Favraux drops dead at a dinner party at exactly the time foretold by Judex, the tale begins to branch out into some interesting and complicated subplots of conspiracy and straight-up payback.

710_DF_box_348x490_originalBased on Louis Feuillade’s twelve part silent film series from 1916 (which was incredibly popular in France), director Georges Franju’s 1963 film distills the key elements of the story and weaves through them enough expressionist imagery to keep the film just one or two degrees away from reality; it’s akin to that hypnopompic state where we stumble partway out of sleep and out of dreams and are not quite certain which world we still occupy. Should we take the film seriously or are we to treat it as a high camp tribute? Franju maintains such a tight control over how the elements connect that he never tips his hand, never hints at a bluff and ultimately leaves us to decide the right emotional tone for viewing.

And it plays out perfectly. Since the original serial ran over 5 hours, Franju takes a few shortcuts and doesn’t delve too deeply into the details and that’s the only area where the remake could use some shoring up. What comes across as convenience or coincidence in the 1963 version is better explained as having purpose in the 1916 episodes. At the same time, Franju occasionally does the opposite; one major character who is a victim of banker Favraux is dealt with in a “why the hell did they do THAT?” headscratcher in the 1916 serial but in the remake the character presents a specific threat to Favraux, making his actions (which are identical to what the character did in the original) understandable. Still, that’s Franju’s style; he didn’t feel the need to ground his version too closely to our reality. In fact, it’s obvious that Judex isn’t really the character he’s most interested in; rather he spends more screen time exploring the actions of character Diana Monti (played by Francine Bergé) than Judex himself (in an interview with Francine Bergé included in the extras, she laughs at how the extent of her direction from Franju was “be evil”). Franju is more interested in manifestation than intent, in effect than cause but ironically uses the excuse of cause (revenge on Favraux for the evil he did) to explore effect only. Well played, Mr. Franju. Well played.

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All that having been said, if you can spare the time, watch the 1916 serial first and then watch the 1963 remake. That way the gaps in Franju’s version won’t really distract and it makes it easier to settle in and let the visuals wash over you.

What’s also fascinating about the story is how similar so many of our twentieth century archetypes are to Judex…while watching Judex (the character’s portrayal in both the 1916 serial and the 1963 remake is the same with the exception that Franju gives Judex the gift of sleight of hand) we can see the seminal beginnings of such characters as the Shadow, Batman, the Green Hornet, etc. and I wonder how many of those character were inspired by Feuillade’s original serial. We have a mysterious, cloak-shrouded hero who lives underground in a distant ruin along with his sidekick (Judex’s brother) using technology and science to avenge a wrong that ruined his parents and for the suffering of which he vowed revenge. He uses his secret identity to move in and out of society while trying to also protect the woman he’s fallen in love with. Where have we heard THAT story before?

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If the characters mentioned above did have any inspiration in Judex, they also embraced the fantastic elements more wholeheartedly, placing them firmly in the pulp genre. Both Feuillade and Franju, on the other hand, merely use those facets to assist Judex whereas the others couldn’t exist without those props. Judex could easily complete his mission without his tools; they assist him, they don’t define him.

While Criterion has released the film on both DVD and Blu-Ray, the DVD was the version sent for evaluation. The 1.66:1 transfer is clean and sharp with deep blacks and clear highlights that nicely display cinematographer Marcel Fradetal’s outstanding imagery consistently throughout the entire film. Film grain is clear without distracting. According to the booklet that accompanies the release:

“This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the 35mm original camera negative at Eclair Laboratories in Epinay-sur-Seine, France. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI’s DRS, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for flicker, jitter, grain management, and small dirt. The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35mm soundtrack negative. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.”

And the clean-up is outstanding with no digital artifacting to mar or distract from the visuals (duh, it’s Criterion after all). The audio track is clean, well-defined, and nicely balanced.

The extras include:

•Interview from 2007 with the film’s cowriter Jacques Champreux, the grandson of Louis Feuillade, cocreator of the silent serial Judex

• Interview from 2012 with actor Francine Bergé

Franju le visionnaire, a fifty-minute program from 1998 on the director’s career and imagination

• New English subtitle translation

•Two short films by Franju: Hôtel des Invalides (1951), about the Paris military complex, and Le grand Méliès (1952), about director Georges Méliès

Two additional extras, The Secret Heart of Judex, an essay by Geoffrey O’Brien and Meet Channing Pollock, a video by Glenn Kenny, are also available free of charge on the Criterion website.

‘Visitors’ Literally Stares Into Your Soul [DVD Review]

©Cinedigm
©Cinedigm

Godfrey Reggio’s Visitors has a lot to say, yet says nothing at all. Much like his past “Qatsi” trilogy, this collage-of-a-film (literally) stares into the souls of the viewers. There is no story, there are no characters, and no color, yet it’s still somewhat brilliant in its own way.

 ©Cinedigm
©Cinedigm

Especially the music. Some will recognize the beautiful compositions of Philip Glass from Reggio’s past work, but those unfamiliar with such avant-garde films may still recognize the heavy, dramatic tones from the movie Watchmen, which borrowed a couple songs from Koyaanisqatsi for its soundtrack. At its peak, the music draws you in and adds drama to simple images. The only downside is it’s easy to get lost in the music’s hypnosis and drown out the images altogether. Which is a pretty big downside when Reggio really wants the audience to pay attention.

As for the film itself, there are only 74 shots in its 87-minute runtime. Most of it consists of heads seemingly floating in a dark abyss, juxtaposed with desolate locations with an effective time-lapse. The juxtaposition of images is left to the audience’s interpretation. Perhaps it is about the phasing out of human life and what they will leave behind? There are even a couple shots, towards the beginning and end, of a sad-eyed gorilla—almost judgmental. Could it be a giant ad for the new Dawn of the Planet of the Apes film?

One of the biggest things going for this film is that it’s darn beautiful. Use of 4K to bring the scenes to life couldn’t have been a better choice. Even just watching the DVD, it’s easy to see all the details in the faces as they slowly zoom in, and the hands as they dance around like ballerinas. Just imagine how striking the images would look on an 80 inch UHD screen.

The DVD comes with a few special features including interviews with director Godfrey Reggio, composer Philip Glass, and producers, Jon Kane and Steven Soderbergh. There’s also “The Making of Visitors-The Creators Project” and “Behind The Scenes Of Visitors,” which works as both supplemental features for fans, and a sort-of preparation for viewers not sure of exactly what they’re getting into.

In the special features, Reggio explains that his purpose with this film is to achieve a “visceral form of cinema” that is “aimed at your solar plexus.” Steven Soderbergh claims that “if monks can sit at a bench and make a movie, this is what it would look like.” Really, there’s not much difference between the “The Making of Visitors” and “Behind the Scenes,” but learning the process of how the film was made and why exactly they chose 4K adds dimensions to the film that the viewers might not have realized were there.

Visitors isn’t for everyone and it’s certainly not aimed at the average movie-goer. If you’re looking for adventure, horror, romance, or comedy, you won’t find it here. Or maybe you will. There’s a different kind of adventure, a hidden horror, a unique intimacy between audience and screen, and maybe even a little irony if you’re perceptive enough to find it on your own.

‘Duck Dynasty: Duck Days of Summer,’ Ducks out of Water [DVD Review]

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Phil in paradise. ©AEN/Lionsgate Home Entertainment

The duck clan is back in a special three episode set that takes the gang out of their comfort zone immensely. A trip to Hawaii, an RV adventure, and a redneck water park all come together to bring forth the heat in Duck Dynasty: Duck Days of Summer. These episodes are taken from the popular television show on A&E called Duck Dynasty. It is a show ultimately about family. The Robertson family are all very close and run the family business together. Duck calls are their business which provides a new kind of show to be produced.

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DUCK DYNASTY: DUCK DAYS OF SUMMER on DVD. ©AEN/Lionsgate Home Entertainment

When you see these characters you would not think they were wealthy or as famous as they are. It all started with Phil Robertson making duck calls for hunters. His son Willie went to business school and then took the family to new heights. They all have huge, bushy beards and play to the redneck stereotype almost too much, but when you see where they live your judgment will change. The show takes place in Louisiana and centers around the family’s everyday life. It is depicted as a reality show, but it seems scripted almost seventy-five percent of the time. The laughs sound forced and the redneck stereotype is brought up so blatantly that it is obviously just for the show. The humor that is present comes from the ridiculousness of the situations they find themselves in. Si, the uncle, is hilarious. He stands out and constantly has something to say, even if you can’t understand him half the time.

Three episodes focusing on the theme of summer are included in this set. “Sweatin’ Bullets”, “Redneck Roadtrip”, and “Aloha, Robertson’s!” are all featured with the last one being an extended episode. In “Sweatin’ Bullets” the air conditioning breaks at the office when it is extremely hot outside. Everyone is drenched in sweat so Willie calls in a guy named Mountain Man to fix it. He is probably the least qualified person to fix it. He is very lazy and hard to communicate with. While this is going on the family ditches Willie there to go build a “redneck water park” down by a lake. The water park seems really fun with a slip and slide along with a tire swing hanging from a construction vehicle. Even though it appears fun, it is also very dangerous looking. They are grown men which is fine, but when the children started using it I was waiting for a hospital visit to be shown.

A RV trip commences in the second episode “Redneck Vacation”. Willie gets an RV for the business that has their Duck Dynasty logo on the side above all of their faces. His brother Jase thinks it would be a good idea for him to “borrow” the keys to it and go pick up some other vehicles to tow back. Jase believes that if his face is on the side he should be allowed to drive it whenever. When on the trip their is a hilarious police encounter that is not to be missed. The gang stinks up the bus in unpleasant ways and forces Si to ride in one of the vehicles being towed. When the police pull them over for him riding back there, he has to explain to them why he has left the bus. This part provides some laughs, but the rest of the episode is pretty mediocre.

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Departing the resort. ©AEN/Lionsgate Home Entertainment

The last episode “Aloha, Robertson’s!” is slightly longer than the others, but is the best one of the three. Willie plans a present to his family and surprises them with a trip to Hawaii. This takes everybody for a loop since that isn’t the normal type of place for them to visit. It provides a very interesting fish out of water effect. While at the resort they are staying at, the family splits up into different parts. Willie wants everyone to follow his itinerary for the trip because he has activities planned. Phil and his wife Kay, stay in their room for most of the time watching the Jason Bourne trilogy. The women do not want to go either and stay by the pool while Willie is forced to only bring Jase, Si, and the children. The activities he has planned are not what they were intended to be when they try to go on a Jungle Adventure. They get their and are provided with Segways to navigate through what looks like a garden. It was meant to be funny, but I found it boring and not needed. One activity that they do that was interesting was learning how to surf. The children ditch the adults here to go look at girls leaving the three adults and Willie’s daughter. The daughter gets up on the board and looks like a natural surfer. Willie on the other hand was terrible at it. Seeing him try was a highlight of the episode because you wouldn’t normally see people that aren’t accustomed to this lifestyle put this much heart into it.

After watching the three episodes there is a bonus interview with Uncle Si that you can watch if you want to see more of this crazy kook. It is only him talking to the camera, but if you are a fan of Si, it is definitely worth checking out. I had never watched Duck Dynasty before this DVD and I probably won’t get hooked on the show in the future. However, I can easily see the appeal for the millions of people that watch the show. Seeing a family of duck call manufacturers and their life is not a very common experience. Although it has the impression of being heavily scripted, the dedication this family has to each other is inspiring and is worth a look.

‘Ride For Lance,’ a Personal Film Meant as Inspiration to All [DVD Review]

rideforlance-bikes
On the Lance Vaccaro Memorial Ride.

“The Legacy of My Teammates Steadies My Resolve.” Since the time of the Samurai and the Spartans, the warrior code of ethos has served to guide and strengthen the members of elite fighting teams. These words from the US Navy SEAL Code, honor those who have sacrificed all and inspire those yet to come.

© 2014 Anchor Bay Entertainment
© 2014 Anchor Bay Entertainment

June 28th marks the ninth anniversary of Operation Red Wings, where 19 US Navy SEALs lost their lives in Afghanistan while on a mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shah. Marcus Lutrell’s book Lone Survivor gives the details as only one of the SEAL team members can describe. The film by the same name was based closely on the book with Marcus Lutrell acting as advisor to the production. Even the actors had to undergo rigorous training to learn the tactics and skills of the SEALs they were to portray. You see, this is the story of the team, told so their sacrifice would always be remembered, and to steady the resolve of those still in the field.

Ride For Lance is the second biopic by Director Scott Mactavish, himself a US Navy veteran. His 2013 documentary, MURPH The Protector, focused on the life and sacrifice of Navy SEAL LT Michael P. Murphy. In the film, Murph’s family and friends recount their memories as we see his life come full circle, and his enduring legacy. The true heroism of Michael Murphy’s final days became even more vivid in the film Lone Survivor, where we feel we are fighting alongside Murph (portrayed by Taylor Kitsch) and his team in the remote Afghan mountains. Although the larger budget and known actors appeal to a larger audience, it is through the words of those who know these warriors best, that we also know them more intimately, and in turn see them as real people and real heroes.

Mactavish realizes that the story of someone’s life is best told by those they knew, with his documentary film style knitting us into their family. Following a tragic parachute accident that took the life of his fellow SEAL team member, Chief Petty Officer Lance Vaccaro, the director helped launch the Lance Vaccaro Memorial Ride. On June 17, 2010, four Navy SEAL motorcycle riders departed Virginia Beach, Virginia and headed toward Alaska. The 31-day journey covered 12,000 miles and connected with thousands of lives. Each tale of sacrifice, pain and pride carries us further along the journey. Ride For Lance is a personal film, and is meant as inspiration to all and a salute to the veterans and heroes who have paid the ultimate price for their dedication.

Murph: The Protector.
Lt. Michael P. Murphy (left). ©Mactavish Pictures

It would be impossible to tell the complete story of each and every veteran, although they deserve the recognition. If they could speak, though, I think each would disagree. Through the words of their family members and friends, we learn that these elite warriors care more for their teammates than themselves. Their strength is derived from their bond. Each a link in a chain that can’t exist without each other. We can not remember one without speaking of the rest. They are true heroes. They are unified. They are the tip of the spear.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the DVD go to the Navy SEAL Foundation, in perpetuity.

Release Date: August 26, 2014
Anchor Bay Entertainment
86 minutes
Not Rated

Wes Anderson’s Artistic Masterpiece, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ [Blu-ray Review]

©Fox Searchlight
©Fox Searchlight

Ever since that day in 1994 when Wes Anderson unveiled his short film Bottle Rocket it was clear that his vision and style was unlike anything seen before. Through charming storytelling and unique cinematography Wes Anderson has created many diverse worlds through the years. In The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou he explored the lives of people at sea and the turmoils and hardships that come with the isolation. In Moonrise Kingdom he entered the world of Khaki scouts and showed us that love can be found in the strangest of places. Anderson’s latest film The Grand Budapest Hotel, based on the writings of Stefan Zweig, gives birth to a whole new world for his characters to stir up trouble in. The film’s title is very fitting for it is “grand” in every way imaginable. I would even go as far as saying that this is not merely a film, but a piece of art. The way it is constructed and put together is similar to the way a painter strokes a brush along a canvas. Every stroke is distinctive and tells a story within itself, just like every frame of The Grand Budapest Hotel. Each scene, character, and event has a purpose that leads to a bigger vision which proves to be beautiful and heartwarming all around.

©Fox Searchlight
©Fox Searchlight

The film takes place in three different time periods, each with their own aspect ratio. Using different aspect ratios throughout a film is not common, but Wes Anderson executes it perfectly. When the screen switches it helps the mind maintain what time frame events are transpiring in. It opens up on a shot of a girl sitting down on a bench next to a statue with an abundance of keys hanging on it. The aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is used for this time frame. She pulls out a book and begins to read “The Grand Budapest Hotel”. On the back is a picture of the writer (Tom Wilkinson) and it instantly takes you to an introduction to the story by the writer himself. He recounts a trip he took to the hotel where he met an individual that inspired the book itself. Transitioning into the 1960’s the aspect ratio changes to 2.35:1 and the actor playing the writer changes to Jude Law. He comes across as a young and lesser experienced writer. The hotel is in it’s “off season” making it look desolate and run down. With such a small amount of guests staying at the hotel everyone pretty much knows everybody else. One day the writer notices someone new and seeks out information from the current concierge (Jason Schwartzman). The man turns out to be Zero Moustafa, the owner of the The Grand Budapest Hotel. After having a conversation in a room full of bathtubs Zero is touched by the writer’s genuine interest in his story. This scene is magnificently crafted using every detail to bring forth emotions. The set is designed using different shades of blue and symmetry between the sides of the room. When the camera is set low you can see how every tub matches up perfectly against the other in the frame. It is almost an illusion causing the room to seem much longer than it is. After they leave, they sit together for dinner where Zero begins to unveil his touching story about his journey at the Grand Budapest Hotel.

Time jumps back to the 1930’s when the hotel is in it’s prime. This time frame is presented in the aspect ratio 1.33:1, also known as the “Academy Ratio”. Wes Anderson had stated that he always wanted to film something in that ratio and with The Grand Budapest Hotel requiring three, an opportunity presented itself. The hotel in the past is divine in nature. Anderson chose to build a miniature model to showcase the establishing shots. He likes to use these models in many of his movies and in my opinion, the only one that can pull them off. On top of a mountain sits the hotel with a funicular railway leading up to it from the bottom. A funicular railway is one that does not go on a straight track, but an inclined one similar to going up to the top at the beginning of a roller coaster. I believe this small addition gives it character and sets it aside from other hotels. The building is painted in elegant shades of pinks that make the purple uniforms of the employees pop out.

©Fox Searchlight
©Fox Searchlight

The story opens up on Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Skyfall) as the concierge of the hotel Gustave H., his last name is a mystery. Fiennes brings this character to life in a comical way. Gustave is a very serious man. He is well organized and well admired, especially by older women. He has a thing for older women and takes most of them to bed. As sophisticated as he is, the eccentric side to him is just as strong. It is a clever mix that brings forth much humor throughout the film. The narrator Zero, is introduced next as a young lobby boy in training. Younger Zero (Tony Revolori) is a very enthusiastic individual eager to learn everything he can from the great M. Gustave. Zero sees The Grand Budapest as an “institution” which causes Gustave to see promise in the young boy. Every inch of the hotel interior that is shown is intricate in design. Beauty is all that is seen making up the different rooms of the hotel. Even the design of the elevator is special. Painted in a bright vibrant red, the inside will give you chills. The purple uniforms practically jump off the screen when shown inside the elevator. This makes every separate ride look like a new painting is being created on screen.

Everything changes in Gustave’s scheduled life when one of his older companions (Tilda Swinton) is murdered. He is called to the reading of her will curiously. There her estranged family gathers from all parts of the world. Among them are two shady individuals, Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and Jopling (Willem Dafoe), that have the auora of evil surrounding them. Willem Dafoe keeps a menacing stare that doesn’t change for the entire film. Greed fills the air as the will is read. At the end of the will she leaves Gustave a painting by the name of “Boy With Apple”. The painting is supposedly priceless. Chaos is all that ensues after Gustave’s next action. Knowing the family is furious, he steals the painting with Zero to take back home with him. Dmitri retaliates by framing Gustave for the murder.

©Fox Searchlight
©Fox Searchlight

Seeing Gustave in a prison is hilarious. He is completely out of his comfort zone and forced to adjust. At one point there is a planned prison escape that is smart and very true to Aderson’s style of filmmaking. The plan is elaborate and one of the longest escapes I’ve ever seen. The group of escapees go up and down enormous distances and pretty much go through every area of the prison. It is drawn out just enough to showcase how “ridiculous” this world is. These types of sequences throughout the film however, are what makes it so great. The ridiculous nature of Gustave’s world is what is so appealing. After Gustave escapes he makes a call for help to “The Society of Keys” that sparks another drawn out sequence. Although drawn out, it is intelligent and makes the world this film takes place in much, much bigger. Concierges from all over are forming in response to Gustave’s need for help. Bill Murray is even among these concierges and is the one that sends Gustave and Zero further on their adventure. The pair have to dodge much more trouble later on, but form a bond of friendship that gives the film the heart it needs to stand out above all others.

Within the chaos and disorder also lies a charming love story between Zero and a girl he meets named Agatha (Saoirse Ronan). Agatha works at a local business named Mendl’s creating delicious pastries. Zero is very protective over her when Gustave tries to constantly flirt with her. His eyes are full of genuine care whenever he gazes at her. I think the reason Anderson decided to put this side of the story in place was to teach the audience a specific lesson. Through all the war and turmoil in the film, there is always room for hope and love. Horrific things can happen to a person, but hope and love can always keep someone going and help them survive. The chemistry between the pair is enchanting and really brings out the soul of the film.

©Fox Searchlight
©Fox Searchlight

When picking up your copy of The Grand Budapest Hotel, I definitely recommend getting the Blu-ray edition. The Blu-ray has a long list of special features included that the DVD version does not. Bill Murray tours the town of Gorlitz where most of the film takes place. The small town has tons of character and the residents seem to be very happy. Also included is a section focusing on The Society of Crossed Keys. A look into the way hotels used to be run is provided. Apparently concierges back then were very well connected just like Gustave. Other special features included are Kunst Museum Zubrowka Lecture, The Making of The Grand Budapest Hotel, Mendl’s Secret Recipe, and much more. There are four featurettes that give the viewer a look into the mind of Wes Anderson and how it works. The way he makes his films is so intriguing and there is a reason why so many stars make up the cast. Anderson brings about a certain comradery between all those that work on his films. They have fun and that is what filmmaking is all about.

Wes Anderson has come a long way from his first film Bottle Rocket. His style which was defined so long ago has not lost it’s touch, but become stronger. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a treasure among films. Anderson is a true artist of his trade and continues to captivate the hearts of moviegoers everywhere. In the film Gustave speaks of glimpses of humanity still existing within all the destruction in the world. This idea seems to span over all of Anderson’s works, and he is by far the perfect person to bring it to the screen. Underneath all of the characters he creates there is good among all of them. Gustave took that glimpse of humanity and made it as real as it can get. Anderson’s set of films will always be on their own level of existence. There is meaning behind everything he creates and that is where the magic in his films comes from. If you enjoy his work I recommend picking up a copy of the book “The Wes Anderson Collection” by Matt Zoller Seitz. It is filled with essays, interviews, production photos, and much more information on all of his works leading up to this film. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a model of perfection and I feel privileged to have had the chance to enjoy it.

‘Joe,’ A Chilling Tale of Evil Pushed In The Right Direction [Blu-ray Review]

The Sheridan and Nicolas Cage in the movie JOE. © 2013 Joe Ransom, LLC. Artwork & Supplementary Materials © 2014 Lions Gate Entertainment Inc.
Tye Sheridan and Nicolas Cage in the movie JOE. ©2013 Joe Ransom, LLC. ©2014 Lions Gate Entertainment.

Everybody has evil that resides within themselves, but it is how we decide to use it that defines who we are. David Gordon Green’s latest film Joe captures how these decisions can shape where people’s lives are driven. The film is an adaptation of Larry Brown’s novel “Joe” that he wrote in 1991. Nicolas Cage (National Treasure, Con Air) stars as Joe, a man with a troubled past that will not stay buried. This is by far one of Nicolas Cage’s best performances in a long time. He brings the character to life wonderfully and truly “becomes” Joe. Between the compelling story and the emotions delivered, this film is definitely one to watch. Anyone can relate to fighting evil and temptation in their lives.

From the first five minutes the film will grab onto your heart and will not let go until the credits roll. It opens up on train tracks where Gary Jones (Tye Sheridan) is speaking to his Dad (Gary Poulter). His Dad is clearly a drunk and has done something terrible to the point that Gary does not care what the consequences will be for his actions. His Dad is wearing a jacket that has G-Daawg written on the back of it. This becomes what his character is known by throughout the film. This scene is powerful and shows what kind of relationship these two share. Gary is certainly the more grown up of the two. G-Daawg is so drunk that he can barely sit up on the train tracks. He sways back and forth as his son tells him how rotten he is. It takes a turn when G-Daawg has had enough and slaps Gary across the face. From this moment on the score is so gripping that you will be falling off the edge of your seat. G-Daawg walks up the hill and is met by a couple men that begin to beat him to the ground. Gary watches from afar and then walks away down the train tracks. He looks back once with a smirk on his face seeing the evil he is leaving behind. It is a brief moment, but is extremely powerful and sets the tone for the rest of the film nicely.

The setting is established very quickly as other characters are introduced. Placed somewhere in Texas, the locations are very southern. With lots of trees and plenty of run down convenience stores it seems very barren. The few people who do reside in the town have very thick southern accents and all seem to know each other which gives it that “small town” feel. Joe (Nicolas Cage) shows up to one of the convenience stores and picks up a crew of workers in his truck. They venture out into the woods and start hitting the trees with an ax that has liquid spewing out from a tube that is attached. What at first looks like chopping down trees is actually them killing the trees. The liquid that is coming out is poison. I had never heard of anything like this before. They can’t chop down the trees until they are dead so they are the team that comes in and kills them first. When Joe starts chopping it is different from the rest of the crew. All of his anger and problems are channeled from his eyes down into his ax. His eyes are full of what looks like controlled rage. Without knowing anything about him, it is obvious that he has a dark past.

The Sheridan and Gary Poulter in the movie JOE. ©Roadside Attractions ©Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Tye Sheridan and Gary Poulter in the movie JOE. ©2013 Joe Ransom, LLC. ©2014 Lions Gate Entertainment.

Joe is caught off guard when Gary drifts into town with G-Daawg and the rest of his family. Gary is just looking for work for him and his Dad and is given a chance to work on the “tree killing” crew. This proves to be a problem when G-Daawg shows he has no work ethic. Gary on the other hand is always working and eager to learn anything new. Joe fires G-Daawg, but allows Gary to continue working. This only causes more destruction in Gary’s life because his Dad steals all of his money that he earns. Tension rises and the true nature of Gary’s home life is revealed. G-Daawg’s ongoing abuse on his family comes to light. Seeing him beat his own son and stealing his hard earned money felt so real to me. The performances given were so dramatic that all I could think of was wanting to help this poor kid. Not one person in this world should have to go through anything like that. It made me sad watching it because I know that similar circumstances occur all the time. Tye Sheridan did a stupendous job of bringing every bit of emotion needed to fill this role of such a broken individual.

Things take a quick turn from drama to violence all of a sudden as the dangerous people in the town are brought out of the shadows. Joe returns home after a hard day of work to his Dog that is friendly to some, but vicious to others. Out of nowhere a shotgun is fired from afar ripping through his shoulder. A man by the name of Willie-Russell is sitting in his truck at the end of the driveway and speeds off. Later we find out that Joe had a confrontation with this man at a bar a few days back. This is what escalates from a bar fight in a small town. Joe is severely pissed. His past starts to come into light at this point as he struggles to contain everything that is dwelling in his soul. He is a very complicated person. On the outside he seems very nice, however he could snap in a split second. There are many instances where he lashes out, but he knows how dangerous he is and more importantly knows how to bring himself back to humanity. Through fights with various police officers as well as retaliating against the man who shot him we learn that he has been in prison before. He served twenty-nine months in a penitentiary for assault on a police officer. Joe is the type of guy that refuses to back down for anybody. He contains his true self by drinking and making frequent visits to the local brothel. This may seem like an unsavory thing to do, but considering what comes out of Joe when he is unleashed it becomes a better alternative.

The Sheridan in the movie JOE. ©Roadside Attractions ©Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Tye Sheridan in the movie JOE. ©2013 Joe Ransom, LLC. ©2014 Lions Gate Entertainment.

One of the most genuine aspects of this film proved to be G-Daawg, the evil itself. Gary Poulter brings everything he has into the character. There is a scene where G-Daawg, with no hesitation, beats a fellow homeless man to death. His motivation is a bottle of wine and nothing else. The alcohol triggers his madness and brings forth only death. Gary Poulter is not a very experienced actor, however does not show it in this role. The thing is, all he had to do is act himself. Gary was a local where Joe was being filmed. He happened to be homeless and had problems with alcohol similar to the role of G-Daawg. With him being an alcoholic, it was a risk hiring him for sure. He proved them wrong and delivered an impressive performance. Unfortunately a few months after production had wrapped, he was found dead and never got to see the film. His memory will forever be remembered through Joe.

Joe is a film that gives the chance for the viewer to connect on an emotional level. Through all the violence and all the hatred, there is always good. Joe went down a dark path when he let himself drift. Gary was brought to his town for a reason, he was the one to bring him back. The connection Gary and Joe have is a twisted father/son relationship that becomes an unlikely friendship. Joe sees that Gary could end up like him and makes the sacrifices needed to save him. Gary’s soul is still pure and Joe sees this. It is exceptionally heartwarming to see someone sacrifice everything they know to save one individual. Joe will captivate you and will leave you satisfied with how it concludes. You will not want to miss out on this inspiring film when Joe comes out on DVD and Blu-ray on June 17th, 2014.