Slant Blu-ray Reviews (Aug-Sept)

The Killing (1956)

Secret Sunshine (2007)

If…. (1968)

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Suffocating Narrative Bursts in The Dark Knight

Watching Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight again (on Blu ray no less) has made it clear why this is no masterpiece, or even one of my favorites from an otherwise drab 2008. My main problem lies with but not exclusively to the first half of the film where Nolan frantically attempts to build the foundation of a changing Gotham City with an endless array of short scenes that overlap onto each other. No individual scene is given time to develop or breath. Martin Scorsese creates a similar narrative pattern in The Departed, but bases his breakneck speed on character, while Nolan’s version is entirely based on moving the plot forward, with exception of The Joker’s anarchic monologues. During these moments, The Dark Knight lacks depth and life, instead setting in with a pattern that nearly suffocates the film under loads of exposition.

If it weren’t for Heath Ledger’s dynamic presence, The Dark Knight would have certainly crumbled under it’s own girth. Nolan finally jumps into gear with the Bat Pod scene nearly 75 minutes into the film’s 2 1/2 hour running time, however, by that time the film has meandered into the realm of self-importance more often than not. The Dark Knight becomes more focused as it progresses and an incredibly fulfilling experience by the end, the standout moment being the hospital scene with Ledger and Aaron Eckhart.  But the suffocating narrative bursts remain, tedious and problematic reminders of a film hellbent on impressing everyone and indicative of a filmmaker with too much plot to unload and not enough interest in the underlining character interactions being addressed.

The Shining (Kubrick, 1980)

Kubrick’s vision of isolation and madness remains remarkably potent, a horrific gaze at brooding guilt and hatred amidst a snow storm of ideas, memories, and nightmares. Because of this push pull between stirring creativity and relentless doubt, The Shining is an unquestioned masterpiece, a horror film consumed by harsh angles, deep spaces, and disintegrating minds. It unravels methodically, like all of Kubrick’s films, but there’s also a painful intimacy hiding underneath the quotable lines and grandiose stylistics, an ax of putrified resentment that potentially infects us all in some way or another.

Jack Torrance’s psychology grows more ambiguous as his actions become more violent, creating a monster both familiar and foreign, someone whose simmering outbursts resemble a collective deja-vu of rage too disturbing to acknowledge fully.

Blu-ray DVD: Terminator 2: Judgement Day

“Cameron isn’t evil, he’s not an asshole like Spielberg. He wants to be the new De Mille. Unfortunately, he can’t direct his way out of a paper bag. On top of which the actress is awful, unwatchable, the most slovenly girl to appear on the screen in a long, long time. That’s why it’s been such a success with young girls, especially inhibited, slightly plump American girls who see the film over and over as if they were on a pilgrimage: they recognize themselves in her, and dream of falling into the arms of the gorgeous Leonardo.”

– Jacques Rivette on Titanic, during an interview found at Senses of Cinema

Quotes like these always get me riled up, not because I think Rivette is wrong (everyone is entitled to an opinion), but because the statement itself seems to resonate with purposeful and abrasive hyperbole uttered simply to make the interviewee feel superior. I definitely get the De Mille reference (Cameron can be a visual blowhard), but the “can’t direct himself out of a paper bag” line doesn’t add up in my book. Cameron is one of the few directors who can wonderfully balance epic action sequences and meaningful character development (see Terminator, Aliens, and T2), something few Hollywood directors are able to achieve. I even went back and watched T2 tonight just to make sure I wasn’t crazy (the film holds up as one of the best action films of all time). Even Titanic has its great moments as a doomed love story and brutal disaster film. Is Rivette only speaking about Titanic with these remarks, or Cameron’s filmography as a whole? And just for the record, why is Spielberg an asshole? Anyone out there able/willing to clarify, because this interview in particular reads as something akin to instinctual blabbering. And Jacques, Kate Winslet wants an apology.

Blu-ray DVD: The Rock

The Rock will always hold a special place in my 15 year old heart. Glorious, silly violence, memorable one-liners, and countless moments of action bliss make this thrill ride continuously fun to revisit, and maybe even more impressive considering the timid dreck Hollywood calls action nowadays. It’s by far Michael Bay’s best film and another shining example of the wondrous Blu-ray transfer (although the Criterion disc from many moons ago matches it punch for punch). 

Blu-ray DVD: Black Hawk Down

My recent thoughts on Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down can be found here, and I still stand by them. But I want to expand the discussion by addressing the impact HD quality has on the film’s strengths. First, this is the perfect film for highlighting the advantages of Blu-ray, namely the incredible picture and audio quality.

Watching this intense and densely layered war film on Blu-ray opens up the action scenes for more analysis, turning what was once obscured and jumbled on Standard Def into harrowing and precise explorations of modern day warfare. Sure, Scott can’t help but button up certain emotion-driven scenes, but for the most part his direction is more restrained than usual (that’s a compliment). Scott’s patriotism still feels a bit on the nose, but the engaging experience speaks for itself, integrating the viewer into a crumbling war-torn mise-en-scene with vibrant explosions and wrenching gore, something you won’t soon forget.

Blu-ray DVD: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

 

I wanted to enter the world of High Definition DVD with a true visual feast, a film bursting with rich compositions and vivid colors that would display this new format’s worthiness. Andrew Dominik’s masterful Western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford definitely qualifies, and aside from viewing this magnificent piece in HD, I also wanted to see if the film would live up to repeated viewings. First, I’ll say the Blu-ray transfer does look incredible. In a film like Jesse James, the subtle and somber mood is so dependent on the visuals, and here Deakins’ color scheme pops with glaring clarity while the fluidity of his camera movement remains epic even on the small screen. Second, Dominik’s vision does stand up and I’d venture to say becomes even more interesting as the historical threads of its subject matter are obscured.  The film moves along at such a strange pace, jumping effortlessly from Robert Ford to Jesse James to Dick Liddel back to Bob and then to Jesse all while bringing it together as if the story is on a leisurely walk down historiography lane. Maybe the reason I responded to this film so strongly is because it has such a distinct vision, such a rambling outlook on heroism and betrayal and unflinching style complimenting the characters. I’ll definitely be treading through the murky waters of Jesse James again, and it will be on nothing less than Blu-ray. Unless I get the privilege of seeing it again on the big screen. Now that would be a true visual feast. My original review of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford can be found here.