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BLU-RAY ROUND-UP

MARCH 2015

HOME ENTERTAINMENT REVIEW
LATEST REVIEWS
By Daniel Lammin
4th April 2015
We’ve been running at a furious pace the last month keeping up with all the terrific Blu-ray and DVD releases coming out, but as always happens a few have slipped through the cracks. Here’s a look at some of the amazing titles we didn’t get to, including three of the films heavily featured in our ‘Best of 2014’ lists.
GONE GIRL
There are two things you can guarantee when a new David Fincher film comes out: firstly, that it will be an event, and secondly, that it’ll challenge its audience in ways not many other films are capable of. ‘Gone Girl’, based on Gillian Flynn’s runaway bestseller, might be the ultimate example of both. The book was a phenomenon, making the film an instant event, but rather than simply being an enjoyable yet disposable thriller, ‘Gone Girl’ turned out to be far more complex, challenging and reprehensible than anyone was expecting… and in the best possible way.

We’ve seen stories like this before: husband Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) reports his beautiful wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) missing, and quickly becomes the prime suspect, with national media gunning for a witch-hunt. That’s where expectations stop though, and we begin to spiral into the blackest of moral black holes. Of course the film is as technical a marvel you would expect from Fincher, so restrained it’s unnerving, and Flynn’s screenplay cracks with wit, cynicism and anger, but where the film really shines is in its refusal to ever explain itself or its intentions. While most mysteries fall apart on re-watching, ‘Gone Girl’ only gets more complex the more times you watch it, a dizzying puzzle box that dangerously flirts with uncomfortable questions about sexual violence and feminism without giving any clear answers. This caused a lot of criticism being thrown at the film, but whether it is justified or a misreading, the film never makes it clear, and that (in my opinion at least) makes the film far more interesting. Just when you think you’ve cracked it, there’s another detail that throws a spanner in the works.

Nick and Amy are the most untrustworthy of narrators, and the film revels in this. For two and a half hours, we watch the most reprehensible people, both men and women, manipulate and torture and lie and terrorise each other in the most creative and uncomfortable ways, so much so that by the time we hit the final image, you don’t know what to feel. It sounds like a gruelling watch, but it couldn’t be further from it, revelling in black comedy and social satire, filled to the brim with Fincher’s own brand of spectacle, and featuring an absolutely stellar cast. Affleck has never been this good, but Rosamund Pike is off the chart as Amy, and she’s backed up by a kick-ass female supporting cast including Oscar-worthy performances from Kim Dickens and Carrie Coon.

Make no mistake, ‘Gone Girl’ is the foulest film Fincher has ever made, and I mean that as a massive compliment. When the final image disappears from the screen, you’ll have no idea what to think or how to feel, except maybe in awe of the mind-spin you’ve just experienced. Fincher is still the best, and ‘Gone Girl’ is further proof of that. This was my No. 1 film of 2014, and even after catching up on all the other great films of the last year, it’s still sitting on top with that dangerous, bloody smile on its face.

PICTURE & SOUND
You simply cannot fault Fox for their technical presentation of ‘Gone Girl’ on Blu-ray. The 1080p 2.40:1 transfer is literally flawless, cold and sharp as a knife, with perfect colour balance and detail. The film was shot in 6K, and Fincher is a perfectionist, so it’s no surprise that the film looks spectacular in high definition. We also get the gift of a DTS-HD MA 7.1 track, which might seem initially excessive for a marital thriller, but the sound design and score for the film are as complex as the visuals. It might be a subtle track, but it’s a beautifully balanced one that kicks into gear when required. Your television and sound system are going to love this one.

SPECIAL FEATURES
Bad news first: unlike the feature-filled releases of Fincher’s previous films, ‘Gone Girl’ only has a director’s commentary. The good news is, it’s a cracker of a commentary. Fincher takes us through an anecdotal tour of the making of the film, but with a cheeky irreverence that makes it both one of the most engaging and one of the funniest commentaries in a long time. It almost makes up for the lack of anything else on the disc. I suspect there will be another edition in the future (maybe Fox were holding off for all those Oscars it never got nominated for). It also makes things a bit easier that the packaging is absolutely beautiful, a stunning digipak that sits nicely next to the Sony releases of ‘The Social Network’ and ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’.

Click here to read out theatrical review of ‘Gone Girl’.

WHIPLASH
The film begins with a black screen, sitting for a moment in silence, when suddenly we hear the faintest striking of sticks on a drum, building in speed and volume. If that doesn’t make you lean in with anticipation, your eyes fixed to the screen as its enigmatic single-word fades up, I don’t know what will. Ladies and gentlemen, this is ‘Whiplash’, one of the most rattling and awe-inspiring pieces of cinema of the decade.

It all starts innocently enough – Andrew (Miles Teller) is an aspiring drummer studying at Shaffer Conservatory of Music. One day, he’s plucked from obscurity to be a member of the school’s acclaimed studio band under the teaching of Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). And then the film takes an unexpected, violent and horrifying turn, subjecting us and Andrew to the most insane verbal and psychological abuse by one of the most terrifying figures in screen history. You could argue that ‘Whiplash’ is something of a horror film, Fletcher terrorising his students in order to push them to become the best of the best. It’s the ultimate expression of the cost of art, the lengths to which artists will force themselves – and allow themselves to be forced - to reach a perfection that cannot be defined. We know that what Fletcher is putting Andrew through is wrong in every way, but the real horror is the degree to which Andrew accepts and even invites it. There’s something profane and dangerous about this film, watching one human being essentially torture another.

What also makes ‘Whiplash’ such an extraordinary experience is its staggering execution. This is writer/director Damien Chazelle’s second film, but he demonstrates such astounding bravery and skill that his work on this film blows most other major directors out of the water. The cinematography is intense, the editing is brutal, and when the film hits its stride in many a memorable sequence, it doesn’t stop to catch breath. Chazelle has created a visual and aural assault on the senses and the soul, so that by the time the film reaches its thunderous climax, you realise you haven’t breathed in a long time. ‘Whiplash’ is a brave and unforgiving technical feat.

The heart of the film rests in the hands of Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons, and it couldn’t be in better hands. Teller has done well in a string of teen films for a while, but his performance as Andrew is revelatory for the young actor. It’s hard to believe many others would push themselves as far as he does here, matching easily the primal force of his co-star. And that’s no mean feat, J.K. Simmons delivering a legendary performance, full of sound and fury and violence. His Best Supporting Actor Oscar was earned in spades here.

‘Whiplash’ isn’t a perfect film, but by god does it come close! This is elemental cinema, visceral and bloody and unrelenting. By the end, you want to jump to your feet and applaud it for its audacity. What Damien Chazelle has delivered is an instant classic, a truly great work of cinema. Strap yourself in and hold on tight – this is one hell of a ride!

PICTURE & SOUND
‘Whiplash’s' is given a striking 1080p 2.40:1 transfer, as clean and sharp as a razor. Much of the film rests on the extraordinary close-ups on the actors, and the detail in the transfer allows you to see every sweating pour and every drop of blood. It’s also quite a dark film, but the detail and colour keep everything in balance. Most importantly though, ‘Whiplash’ comes with a thunderous DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that perfectly recreates the Oscar-winning sound design. Music plays such an integral part in the narrative and fabric of the film, and it comes through the speakers with beautiful fidelity and clarity without overwhelming the dialogue.

SPECIAL FEATURES
There are a few great features on offer, most exciting of which is the original short film that Chazelle made as a proof of concept (17:56). It features Simmons as Fletcher and Johnny Simmons as Andrew. Even with its limited resources, everything is there to suggest the film it would eventually be, and it’s a great piece of filmmaking in its own right, accompanied by a commentary from Chazelle and his team. Chazelle and Simmons also provide an excellent commentary to the main feature. There’s also an entertaining documentary ‘Timekeepers’ (42:56) where professional drummers discuss their personal experiences, and a short exercpt from the Q&A after the Toronto screening featuring Chazelle, Teller and Simmons (7:50). Finally we have a short deleted scene that gives more insight into Fletcher, and the theatrical trailer.

Click here to read out theatrical review of ‘Whiplash’.

BIG HERO 6
Imagine how terrified directors Don Hall and Chris Williams must have been when ‘Frozen’ was released. After years of underperforming and uninspiring films, Disney Animation ended up with its biggest hit ever, a commercial and critical juggernaut that entered pop culture in a lightning flash. Imagine having to be the film that follows next. At the time, it wasn’t clear whether ‘Frozen’ was a fluke or a sign of things changing at the once great animation studio. Thankfully for Disney and the team behind ‘Big Hero 6’, it was the latter… and then some!

Adapted from the Marvel comic of the same name, the film follows Hiro (Ryan Potter), a young inventor living with his aunt Cass (Maya Rudolph) in San Fransokyo. After losing his older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) in a terrible accident, Hiro forms an unbreakable bond with his brother’s last invention - a giant inflatable nursing robot called Baymax (Scott Adsit). Retrofitting Baymax into a more impressive robot totally unlike Baymax’s personality, Hiro sets out to uncover the secret of what happened to his brother.

If ‘Frozen’ set a new bar for Disney Animation, ‘Big Hero 6’ blows the bar sky-high. This is a treasure of a film, both a visual delight and as heartfelt as the best work from Studio Ghibli. The artists behind the film have pushed their game even further with San Fransokyo, a hybrid city combing architecture and textures of both San Francisco and Tokyo, but with the colourful pop and wiz of a comic book. If ‘Frozen’ was a look back to a classical style, this is a rocket-blast forward, Disney finally stepping up next to the visual skill of Pixar. But what really makes ‘Big Hero 6’ such a remarkable film are its story and characters. The relationship between, first Hiro and Tadashi and then Hiro and Baymax is so beautifully executed, gentle and honest without a whiff of earnestness. It also isn’t afraid to tackle serious themes like mortality, grief and loss, but in a manner more mature than we’ve come to expect from Disney. Our heroes are also supplemented by a terrific supporting cast of characters, Tadashi’s classmates who band around Hiro to protect and encourage him. None feel extraneous and each is memorable in its own right. In essence, what ‘Big Hero 6’ boils down to is a perfect package of a film, one that sets its goals high and matches them in every sense. The rousing and beautiful climax is as memorable as anything from the classic days of the studio.

In probably the strongest year for animated films in a long time, ‘Big Hero 6’ took out the Oscar for Best Animated Film, and even though its competition was probably just as deserving, it’s great to see that title given to such an exemplary film. ‘Big Hero 6’ has everything in its right place, from its enormous heart to its sweeping visuals to its snappy, wiz-bang sense of humour. Its creators need not have worried. Not only has it matched ‘Frozen’, it’s easily surpassed it. It seems a new age of Disney classics has finally begun.

PICTURE & SOUND
Disney has given ‘Big Hero 6’ an absolutely flawless Blu-ray presentation. The 1080p 2.39:1 transfer startles with its clarity and level of detail, which is to be expected from a computer-animated film. Even more impressive are the remarkable colours, especially in its beautiful finale. Audio is well taken care of with a DTS-HD MA 7.1 track that somehow manages to be enormous without overwhelming. There’s so much going on in the sound design for this film, but effects, music and dialogue are in perfect balance to make it a satisfyingly complete experience.

SPECIAL FEATURES
Their films might be on the improve, and their technical presentation might be fantastic, but Disney are still massively dropping the ball with the extra content on their releases. ‘Big Hero 6’ is such an exciting film that you crave the chance to delve into it. Instead, we get the bare minimum. The two highlights have nothing to do with the film, the gorgeous short ‘Feast’ which played with the film at cinemas, and ‘Tokyo Go’, a cute little skit that finds Mickey Mouse battling public transport in Tokyo. Film-specific content includes two featurettes, ‘The Origin of Big Hero 6: Hiro’s Journey’ (15:10), a great but achingly short look at the development of the film and its visuals, and ‘Big Animator 6’ (6:39), a roundtable with the animators. There’s also around 15 minutes of deleted scenes, and the original teaser trailer. All the material is good, but it makes you wish there was more of it.

Click here to read out theatrical review of ‘Big Hero 6'.

THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY
There’s something strangely satisfying about movies centred on cooking. You can’t taste or smell the food, probably the most important senses necessary to enjoy it, but lush cinematography can often make up for that. Lasse Hallström already made one of the great food films with ‘Chocolat’(2000), and has now done the same for Indian cuisine with ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’, a charming little fable about two clashing cultures coming together.

Young Indian cook Hassan (Manish Dayal), his father (Om Puri) and his brothers and sisters emigrate to a small French village and decide to open an Indian restaurant there. The problem is, they’ve opened up opposite one of the most exclusive French restaurants in the country, and its formidable owner Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren) sees them as a threat and an enemy. War has been declared, and poor Hassan is stuck in the middle, wanting to learn about French cuisine but trying to protect his family and heritage.

Compared to most films, ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’ is a slight film, but seen within the little genre it belongs, it’s a surprisingly lovely few hours, elegantly directed by Hallström and shot beautifully by Linus Sandgren. It’s a story that hits all the expected narrative beats, and as much comic and emotional potential as possible is squeezed out of the premise. It’s great fun watching these two cultures combat one another and the lengths they’re willing to go, but the film also finds the time to provide some commentary of racism and intolerance. The heart of the film is Hassan, who bridges the hundred feet between the two restaurants with his honest dream of becoming the best chef he can. And then of course there’s the food, which will have you hungry for Indian food very quickly. What really makes the film sing is its passion, not just for the food, but the colours, textures and sounds of Indian culture, which works as a terrific contrast to the immaculate presentation of Madame Mallory and her restaurant. It also has some charming performances, not only from Mirren as you would expect, but from Om Puri as well, and the two have delectable chemistry together.

Sure, ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’ isn’t the most amazing of films, but it fills you up with its heart, its humour and its good cheer. Food lovers will savour its culinary delights, and the sentimental among us will be totally behind Hassan as he pursues his love of cooking. Just make sure you have some Indian food ready for after – you’re going to need it.

PICTURE & SOUND
‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’ was shot on film rather than digitally, so its 1080p 2.39:1 has a lush, filmic quality about it. That said, it does come across as a tad darker than it did at the cinemas, which does affect some detail and especially the rich colour palette. It’s not distracting, but especially for anyone who saw it in cinemas, it isn’t as rich as you would expect. The lovely DTS-HD MA 5.1 track though has fewer disappointments, keeping a balance between the dialogue and sound design. It’s not the most aurally exciting film, but it deserves credit as a great track nonetheless.

SPECIAL FEATURES
There are few fascinating features on offer, mostly centred around the involvement of Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg in the making of the film. A conversation between the two (12:00) looks at their previous work together and how they discovered the book on which the film is based, while ‘The Recipe, The Ingredients, The Journey’ (16:00) looks at the development and making of the film, with interviews with all the major players. There are two further short featurettes on the food and Oprah visiting the set.

Click here to read out theatrical review of ‘The Hundred-Foot Journey’.

JOHN WICK
A good action film is really hard to find these days. In fact, with every dull generic one that pops up on our screens, it seems like the best days of the genre is behind it, which is a pity considering how much fun they can actually be. These days, we tend to get overly-long films either built around complicated plots, ideas that were better executed in the 80s or yet another sequel to a film that never needed one. So we can all be forgiven for assuming that ‘John Wick’, from director Chad Stahelski, would just be another one to sweep under the wrong. As it turns out though, there might be a little surprise in store.

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) has just lost his wife to a terminal illness. Knowing she will pass soon, she leaves him a gift, a small puppy she hopes will fill the void left behind. Then one night, a group of men led by Iosef Tarasov (Alfie Allen), the son of crime boss Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nvqvist) break into John’s house, steal is vintage car and kill the puppy in the process. What Iosef doesn’t know though is John Wick isn’t just any man – he happens to be one of the most dangerous assassins in the world, and he’s about to come out of retirement to seek ultimate revenge.

It’s an incredibly simple premise, and that’s one of the reasons ‘John Wick’ is a surprisingly satisfying and exciting action film. Its protagonist is driven by one simple desire, and Stahelski and screenwriter Derek Kolstad keep the film free of extraneous subplots so that John’s hunt is the main focus. As John re-enters the world he left behind, he steps into a fascinating underground society of men and women predisposed to violence but adhering to an internal moral code. The design of the film is clean, slick and classical, existing within art-deco architecture and tailored suits, a dignity within all the death and destruction. It’s a pretty great feat of the film to plop us right in the middle of a newly-invented never-explained mythology that you never feel lost of disconnected with.

Stahelski has fashioned an incredibly handsome film, and one that never takes its foot off the accelerator. It does seem a tad long and overstays its welcome just a bit, but there’s some genuine invention on show, from the dizzying action sequences to the playful use of subtitles. It also benefits from some great performances, especially from Nvqvist who makes for a delectable villain, walking the fascinating conundrum of trying to protect his idiot son from someone he knows he cannot protect him from. There’s also a tremendous supporting cast including Willem Dafoe, Ian McShane, Adrianne Palicki and Lance Reddick, all of whom deliver genuinely fantastic performances. This film belongs to Reeves though, and he hasn’t been this good in years. Barely uttering a word, he barrels his way for revenge in an impressively physical performance that reminds you why he was once such a big star. It’s tempting to say his work in ‘John Wick’ is possibly his best, showing off not just his skills as a physical performer but his excellent and dry comic timing. The film was fashioned around Reeves, and it is all the better for that.

So if you’ve found yourself bored of the same rubbish passing as action films these days, you need to see ‘John Wick’. It’s intelligent in its simplicity, thrilling in its audacity and a huge amount of fun, blowing away the cobwebs to remind you how great watching car chases, gun fights and blowing stuff up can be. Keanu Reeves serves his revenge ice-cold and without mercy, and takes back centre-stage without missing a beat. What a rare and unexpected surprise meeting John Wick turns out to be!

PICTURE & SOUND
Roadshow’s presentation of ‘John Wick’ on Blu-ray is as slick as the film itself. The razor-sharp 1080p 2.40:1 transfer is a wonderfully moody affair, but that doesn’t sacrifice detail or clarity. There’s a definite digital quality to the image, colours corrected and graded to create an almost noir-like effect, so high definition suits it just fine. You also get a dynamic DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that manages to blast the speakers with bangs and explosions without overwhelming the dialogue at all. The car chase sequences in particular are aurally thrilling, and should give your system a good workout. It’s a pity though that we didn’t get a Dolby Atmos track like the U.S. release, which would have been fantastic to hear.

SPECIAL FEATURES
There’s a surprisingly healthy collection of extras on this disc, beginning with a commentary from Stahelski and producer/co-director David Leitch. It’s a lively commentary, but also features some interesting discussions on the visual look of the film. They’re complemented by a series of featurettes clocking in at just under an hour in total, covering Reeves’ preparation for the film, its design and casting, and the collaboration between Stahelski and Leitch. It’s a great collection, well made and full of interviews with everyone involved, all showing great dedication to the project. Unfortunately there’s no ‘Play All’ feature, which would have useful.

Click here to read out theatrical review of ‘John Wick’.

NIGHTCRAWLER
Writer-director Dan Gilroy delivers a searing, exhilarating piece of social commentary and balls-to-the-wall cinema with ‘Nightcrawler’, one of the best films of the past year. Lou Bloom, a charming yet terrifying entrepreneur played to perfection by Jake Gyllenhaal, drives through night-time LA with his video camera, recording violent accidents and crimes to sell to news outlets, driven by a merciless desire to be the best of the best. Much like ‘Gone Girl’, it walks that fine line between being morally reprehensible and vitally satirical, like a rollercoaster through the depths of hell.

Click here to read our full Blu-ray review of ‘Nightcrawler’.


WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS
Already well-known for their quality mocumentary style, New Zealand delivers its best yet with ‘What We Do In The Shadows’, a gloriously silly look at a group of vampires living in a share house together in Wellington. Taking the traditional tropes of vampirism and pitting them against banal suburbia, it’s situational comedy at its best, delivered with an affectionate irreverence that manages to make it warm and fuzzy amidst the blood and core. This is an instant comedy classic if ever I saw one.

Click here to read our full review of the Fang-bloody-tastic Collector's Edition of ‘What We Do In The Shadows’.

FORCE MAJEURE
As if Swedish cinema hadn’t kicked enough goals the last few years, here comes director Ruben Östlund’s original and unforgiving ‘Force Majeure’, the story of a magazine-quality family on a skiing holiday and how a brush with death drastically alters their dynamics with each other. For such a microscopic focus, it’s a visually enormous film, shot in the French Alps, but more surprisingly of all, a blackly funny film, high emotions played out against a grand landscape. This is a film that demands to be seen.

Click here to read our full DVD review of ‘Force Majeure’.


THE RIOT CLUB
Director Lone Scherfig takes aim at the British aristocracy in this disturbing satire based on screenwriter Laura Wade’s own play. A group of intelligent, handsome and well-off young men at Oxford come together for the annual dinner of The Riot Club, a dining society built around ideals of debauchery and excess. As the evening progresses though, the fun and games go from petulant to dangerous, as the upper class savagely battles the lower classes for survival. A talented and shockingly good-looking cast, along with Scherfig’s subtly sinister filmmaking, make ‘The Riot Club’ a difficult film to turn away from.

Click here to read our full Blu-ray review of ‘The Riot Club’.

EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS
Ridley Scott’s latest epic doesn’t come close to matching the power of ‘Gladiator’ or the director's cut of ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, but his retelling of the story of Moses still showcases his startling visual skill regardless of a patchy screenplay and awful performances. On Blu-ray though, there’s much more to celebrate, with an outstanding collection of extras that easily outweigh the short fallings of the film itself.

Click here to read our full Blu-ray review of ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’.

Click here to read our interview with ‘Exodus’ Blu-ray producer Charles de Lauzirika.

THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES
Peter Jackson brings his epic adaptation of ‘The Hobbit’ to a close, but with a whimper rather than the bang we were expecting. Easily the weakest of the Middle-Earth films, it still has a number of thrilling sequences, even if it doesn’t come together as a film. Let’s hope somehow the extended edition repairs some of the damage.

Click here to read our full Blu-ray review of ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’.




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