Category Archives: film

“The Light Between Oceans” Harbors a near fatal Technical Flaw

Through its Touchstone outlet, Disney has released a film by director Derek Cianfrance that misses the total mark but has great enough great performances that it’s well worth seeing – once.  Set on an remote island off the coast of Australia (the real island is off the coast of New Zealand), it tells the story Tom Sherbourne, a World War I veteran (Michael Fassbender) who takes and assignment as a light house keeper. The island can only be reached by boat and Sherbourne spends months between food and supply deliveries. But this is just fine with him as he has post war PTS issues to work out. He marries a local woman, Isabel (the radiant Alicia Vikander) and they try twice to have a child, both resulting in miscarriages. Shortly after the second tragedy, a small open boat drifts to the island containing a dead man and a baby.

Isabel convinces Tom to bury the body and keep the child. Things go well for several years but they eventually run into the real mother on the mainland and Tom’s guilt forces him to confess, with predictably intense and dire circumstances. The whole thing is overcooked and manipulative but Fassbender’s performance is a marvel of subtlety and a sea of the obvious. He proves again that he is one of our most reliable and convincing actors. You might forget the rest, but you’ll remember Tom.

The video from the Blu-ray disc is impeccable and the wind swept vistas are thrilling in their scope and detail. The audio is another thing. There’s so much wind and so many waves on the soundtrack that the dialog gets lost in the mix. There are hard-of-hearing subtitles, and I confess to turning them on so I wouldn’t miss an important word here or there. Among the extras is an interesting piece on the actually lighthouse used in the movie. Overall, The Light Between Oceans is a good date night rental (it’s rated PG-13 so no kiddies) but it’s doubtful you’ll want to see it twice.

 

Disney’s Updated, Cuddly Dragon

Disney has had great success of late producing new versions of familiar classics. First it was The Jungle Book, and now Pete’s Dragon. Both the original and this update mix live action with an animated dragon but in very different ways. In the original, the dragon (Elliott) was intentionally made to look like a cartoon character. The studio wanted to extend its success with Mary Poppins, which had mixed live action with animated sequences so successfully. In the current version, Elliott is , through the magic of CGA, made to look real. He’s a dragon with fur, instead of scales, and with his broken tooth and goofy grin, he’s like a big plush teddy bear.

petes-dragon

The current movie is interesting in that it mixes in some L’Enfant Sauvage to the story. When Pete’s parents are killed while the family is on an outing in the remote woods, Elliott raises him for 6 yeas before he’s discovered by mankind. He was 5 when he went missing so apparently doesn’t have all that much trouble fitting back into society. The movie is a great little family film and says a lot of family and loyalty. It’s also a two-hankie film, but they’ll persevere, they’ll be tears of joy in the long run. That’s the magic of a movie like this, which carries on the Disney tradition of wholesome entertainment, something we certainly need as an  antidote to this age of lies and corruption. The Blu-ray, seen on a 4K display, is breathtaking at times; there’s also a DVD in the package in case you haven’t upgraded formats lately, and an HD copy you can take with you.  Highly recommended.

 

Two Terrific Action Films

I love movies that make me think or that deal with some social condition or the human spirit, but let’s face it – once in a while I just want to see an action adventure movie that thrills and entertains in doing so. This past week I was lucky to see two really good ones. Spectre at my local Regal theater and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation in the comfort of my home on the 65″ screen. Spectre might be the best James Bond movie yet, and I’ll talk about it when it’s available to view at home. Mission…is available on a dandy Blu-ray disc that gets four stars easy.

Mission Impossible Rogue Nationa

Once again Tom Cruise stars as Ethan Hunt, the indefatigable agent who always gets the job done, no matter the obstacle. Simon Pegg is back on board as his often humorous sidekick, Benji Dunn, as is Jeremy Renner as the head of Hunt’s elite squad. This time, that elite squad has been squelched by the CIA (led by a snarky Alan Baldwin), and the guys are on their own in trying to discover if The Syndicate, a collection of rogue agents, really exists, and if so, to annihilate it. Matters are complicated by Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) a gorgeous and athletic agent who may or may not be playing them.  There are car chases, motorcycle chases, shoot outs, and a tense underwater sequence. The pacing is breathless but there are enough resting places that one can catch his breath before the action starts again. In short, the pacing is perfect, the acting is perfect, the plot is engaging, and the mystery never lets up until the final twist. The Blu-ray disc has a drop-dead-gorgeous image and the sound is full bodied and has lots of presence. For once the balance between dialogue and lease breaking sound is perfect. Too many movies these days drop the dialogue way down and the effects way up so you’re faced with the dilemma of having to be blown out of your house by the effects just to hear the script. Not so with Mission..it serves as a model of how it should be done. There are lots of extras, by the way, that explain how some of the stunts were done and enhance the viewing experience. Four stars and maybe a half more – don’t miss it.

“Moonrise Kingdom” Revisited by Criterion

When I reviewed the original Universal Blu-ray release of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom for Sound Stage! Network I wrote this – “All of his films offer subtle humor through warm, often wacky characters we can root for. In a way, the movies are like contemporary fairytales. Throughout his various projects (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Fantastic Mr. Fox among them), Anderson has emerged as a director with a refreshing vision.” Since I wrote that, Anderson has made The Grand Budapest Hotel, which serves to strengthen my observations. Moonrise Kingdom is set on the fictional New England island of New Penzance and tells the story of two young kids who run off together and the issues they cause for the sparsely populated island and for the Khaki Scouts, a thinly disguised version of the Boy Scouts.

Moonrise Kingdom Blu

In that same review, which you can read in its entirety by clicking the link above, I noted a lack of extras. Now Criterion has come along with an Blu-ray edition that looks and sounds every bit as good as the Universal (maybe even a little better) and does have a large selection of extras. These include a quirky commentary track with Anderson, Roman Coppola, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, and others. There are also cast and crew interviews and selected-scene storyboard animations as well as a few documentaries on the film and a set of home movie clips by Norton. There’s a booklet with an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien, as well as written commentary by young writers. Icing on the cake” a foldout map of New Penzance. Spend a weekend with this film and prepare to be delighted.

 

A Dozen Gems from Disney

Walt Disney’s studio was started with the production of short animated films, the sort that used to play before feature films. Having made the daring leap to full length animation with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the studio went into overdrive with full length productions, yet did not forget the 5-7 minute short. Lots of them were produced, right up to the present, when Pixar joined in with their own. But the new Short Films Collection Blu-ray deals only with Disney shorts and ones made during the last 20 years.

It’s a delightful collection, that will appeal to whole families. The cast of Tangled is featured in a side-splitting Tangled Ever After while the cast of Frozen appears in a just as funny Frozen Fever.  Mickey, Minnie, and the gang escape the black and white frame to enter a modern world of color and surround sound in Get a Horse!  Goofy stars in a new chapter in his hilarious “how to” series with How To Hook Up Your Home Theater, and John Henry appears in a colorful, revisionist telling of his story. Prep and Landing – Operation: Secret Santa adds a most amusing title to holiday fare, and the little dog from the Academy Award winning Feast goes from meatballs through greens back to meat balls as his human’s life changes. First-rate video and audio reign on all 12 titles, and a DVD and digital copy are provided. A must for your animated film library.