Backdraft Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

Starring:  Kurt Russell, Robert De Niro, William Baldwin, Scott Glenn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Donald Sutherland
Directed by: Ron Howard
Film length: 2hr 17min
Theatrical Release: 1991
Blu-ray release: 2011

I was in my early teens the last time I watched Backdraft prior to this Blu-ray viewing.  I remember my mother switching it off during the scene when William Baldwin and Jennifer Jason Leigh started making out on top of a fire truck.  It wasn’t to protect my innocence; she was very liberal about sex in movies and I had already watched Mischief with both of my parents years earlier.  (There will always be a special place in my memories for you, 80’s Kelly Preston.)  Mom did make a declaration before shutting it off though: that the movie was stupid… or crap… I may be paraphrasing.  Point is, she thought it sucked. I was floored since the hype for this film and rave reviews it got were everywhere at the time.  I think my sister and I finished watching it the next morning before the VHS tape we rented had to be returned, but I couldn’t recall if I enjoyed it.  Well, considering this disc was cheap as chips and loaded with extras, I decided it was time for a re-watch to see if Mom was right.

The film (2/5)

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“You go. We go.”
Backdraft takes place in Chicago and mostly follows two firefighter brothers who don’t get along.  Lt. Stephen “Bull” McCaffrey (Kurt Russell) is the experienced veteran whose reckless methods are frowned upon by some, but who has a knack for getting the job done.  Younger brother Brian (William Baldwin) had resisted joining the department after a traumatic childhood event made him a witness to their firefighter father’s death while on the job.  After a few failed attempts at a career outside of firefighting, Brian finally answers the call and joins the department.

While Bull is putting Brian through the paces to see if he REALLY wants to be a firefighter, a rash of oxygen induced fires called “backdrafts”  have broken out in the city.  Fire investigator, Captain Donald “Shadow” Rimgale (De Niro) is convinced they are the work of an arsonist, but he is finding it difficult to prove.  The backdrafts are contained with the focus on a single victim and the usual MO of arsonists is to inflict as much damage as they possibly can.

In an attempt to gain perspective, Rimgale solicits the help of imprisoned arsonist Ronald Bartel (Sutherland) who years prior set similar fires.  The case seems to be headed nowhere as the fires continue to ramp up, and even claim one of the department’s own as a victim.  A breakthrough is reached when Bartel points out the materials used to create the backdrafts are easily accessible to anyone in the fire department.  This narrows down the field of suspects, but it now means there is a strong possibility that someone in the department is the arsonist!

Let’s just get this out of the way right now.  Mom, you were right: Backdraft’s story sucks.  The love/hate relationship built on tension between the brothers, the love story between Baldwin and Leigh, De Niro’s “investigator with a hunch he can’t prove” scenario, and the political real estate deal thingy that is supposed to tie it all together….  blah.  They all hit familiar notes you’ve heard too many times, and the result is a series of easily predictable movie clichés glued together.

Baldwin’s character is the closest thing to a lead and he is the one we’re supposed to experience the story through.  Problem is he’s a generic slice of tasteless white bread that is too willing to go wherever and do whatever is convenient for the plot.  A large part of the film’s beginning centers around him trying to prove himself as a firefighter, but at no point does he display any desire to be one.  The opening scene of the film is him aiming to be assigned to a firehouse with the least amount of action so he won’t have to do much firefighting.  So why do I care if he makes it or not?

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Later, he gets it on with Jennifer Jason Leigh on top of a fire truck.  At no point prior in the film does it seem like either is interested in each other, but they must screw because what is a movie without sex?  The idea being it would make for a good scene (or a funny gag) where the good-looking couple is in mid-bang when the fire truck they have chosen to pinch hit for a mattress eventually gets sent out on a call.  The scene cuts between shots of love-making and Kurt Russell on the job elsewhere banging on doors with an axe and rubbing at walls while describing the fire as “hot and smokey”. Gee wiz, Mom, why did you stop the movie there?

Eventually we need to move the arsonist part of the story along, so guess who no longer wishes to be a firefighter and is conveniently placed in the forensics department to work under De Niro?  Laaaame.

I don’t wish to pick on Baldwin (the dude was just there to do the job that was asked from him), but I don’t understand why they felt they needed him to carry the entire film. The De Niro and Sutherland scene would be fine without him.  The problem really lies with the script that was only designed to thread together some state of the art special effects, and at the very least I guess it does do that. I just wish they used a sewing kit instead of duct tape to keep it all together.

What stood out to me/Memorable moments

These firefighters be dumb
They are reckless!  Forget Russell’s clichéd “I don’t wear an oxygen mask” character, the rest are running into blazes they have no business being in.  Firefighters would never put lives at risk for the sake of a building.  Yeah, sometimes there are people trapped in buildings and they need to go into them, but that isn’t always the case in this film.  At one point they are on the roof of a completely engulfed building on the verge of collapse, yet no one is trapped inside. What the frack are they doing up there?  It makes no sense.

 

The special effects, of course are amazing
The only reason to watch and own this film are the special effects.  This film was made in the day when effects were practical and they are truly a feat you need to see.  Something like this will never be made this way again as long as computers are a part of film making.

 

Firefighters will mess up your car if you park in front of a fire hydrant 
Don’t do it.

Video (4/5)

The back cover boasts this as a “picture perfect” edition.  I have no idea if that is the case, but this is one good-looking film for sure.  The amount of film grain keeps it just a step below Demolition Man, but still it is way better than a film this old should look.

Audio (5/5)

An excellent sounding Blu-ray too.  Dialogue was nice and clear even during the heavy action scenes.  There was a hard rumble when things went boom and the sound of the backdraft swirled around my head.  I’m starting to really dig these DTS HD lossless tracks.  Oh, and the Hans Zimmer score delivers big time.  I just wish it was attached to a better film.

Special Features (1/5)

Everything here is regurgitated from the 2006 special edition DVD.  That means it is all in SD, folks!  The 15 minute featurette on the special effects is a must watch though.  I found how the fire scenes were planned out and how close the stunt men got to the flames fascinating.  This is film-making that will never be done this way again.   The other material is about the cast and script, and I could live without it.  Give me a full on 1 – 2 hr HD feature about the special effects and I would eat it up.

Final Verdict

Ron Howard has always been hit or miss with me.  Backdraft directly followed two of my personal favorites of his, Willow and Parenthood.  Unfortunately the care put into the stories for those films didn’t carry over into this one.  Special effects should be there as an enhancement to the story only, and Backdraft instead is a show piece for them.  It’s okay when a script takes liberties for the sake of show, but dip into that well too many times and you risk insulting the viewer’s intelligence.

Cast Away Blu-ray Review

Starring:  Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt, Nick Searcy
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Film length: 2hr 17mins
Theatrical Release: 2000
Blu-ray release: 2007

After I first watched Cast Away (I must have rented it when it first came out on DVD),  I remember telling my friends that this film deserves every Oscar the Academy could throw at it.  I got a lot of eye rolling from those who hadn’t seen it yet since Tom Hanks had just come off an amazing run in the 90’s (Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, Apollo 13,  Saving Private Ryan, and The Green Mile) where his films either won or were nominated for various prestigious Oscar categories.

I suppose everyone had “Tom Hanks fatigue” by then and it is too bad if anyone might have skipped it for that reason, because out of all of those films Cast Away might be the best in that line up.

The film (5/5)

“I’ll be right back!”
Cast Away begins in 1995 and centers around Chuck Noland (Hanks), a busy Fed Ex Systems Engineer.  He is the type to get his hands dirty, and motivate employees to better their delivery times.  He is meticulous and dedicated to his job.

So, when his work pager (remember those?) goes off during Christmas dinner, he heads off to Malaysia leaving behind his (almost) fiancée, Kelly Frears (Helen Hunt), with the promise of returning home to Memphis, Tennessee before New Years Day.  When his plane crashes into the Pacific Ocean during a storm, it leaves him stranded alone on a small, isolated island.  Since his plane was far off course when it went down, his chance of being found is a remote one.

Cast Away is much more than “Will this guy get off of the island?” story.  Tom Hanks came up with the idea for the movie while filming Apollo 13, and wanted to ask the question of how someone would feel while isolated on a small island.  The result is a film that explores not only survival, but loneliness and how isolation affects him.

Chuck goes through a dramatic physical transformation before our eyes (Hanks lost 55 lbs and let his hair and beard grow wild for a year before they shot the second half of the film). But, it is not the typical “movie story” about the self-centered arse who goes through a traumatic event, and becomes a better person by the end.  Without getting too spoiler-ish, we eventually discover that Chuck cannot go back to who he was at the beginning of the film, and we mourn that loss.  From that moment on, his personal growth is subtle and savored until in the film’s final moments.  It is a wonderful payoff.

What stood out to me/Memorable moments

The camera stays on Hanks
We only see and know what Chuck does.   The opening scenes of the film shows a Fed Ex package being delivered to him in Russia.  Once it is in his hands, the camera rarely shows us a shot without Chuck in it.

When the plane is going down we only see what is happening to Chuck.  Pilots are talking jargon that we don’t understand because Chuck doesn’t.  We hear the side door being ripped open, but we only see how it affects Chuck.  At one point we hear a thumping noise off-screen while Chuck is trying to sleep on the beach.  We don’t discover the cause of the noise until Chuck does.

When he uses the blade of an ice skate as an impromptu mirror to look at his abscessed tooth.  We don’t see a camera shot of what is happening inside of his mouth.  We only get to see the same reflection in the blade that Chuck does.  When Chuck’s friend is telling a co-worker about his wife’s cancer treatment, the camera is on Chuck’s uncomfortable face.

You can’t see the special effects
Cast Away is loaded with special effects that you probably won’t notice unless you dive into some behind-the-scenes content.  A huge effort went into finding the right island for this film, but still it wasn’t perfect.  In reality, other islands can be seen on the horizon and the beach is flanked by hills on both sides.  The special effects department took great lengths to remove these islands and a second hill to give you a better feeling of isolation.

There is one scene where Chuck is looking down at the island.  The two real things in the shot is Tom Hanks and a rock he is standing on in a studio parking lot.  The rest is CG. It is incredible how they were able to pull this off in 2000 and still have it look good in 2017.

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I just need to mention the film’s stand out co-star.  You know what I’m talking about if you have watched Cast Away already.

Video (3/5)

There are many bright outdoor scenes that expose a lot of film grain, and the result is a movie that looks older than it should.  You can see the odd piece of dirt flick by at times too.  It’s not bad overall, but not great.  Bring on a remaster.

Audio (5/5)

The audio is top-notch and how a Blu-ray should sound.   This is the most impressed I have been by a DTS-HD lossless 5.1 track as it gave my set up a nice workout.  My sub-woofer rumbled along with the crashing ocean waves during the storm, and the scream of the jet plane crash was loud.  The surround sound was in constant use during the quieter times on the island as the sound of the crashing surf was always in the distance.  Very impressed.

Special Features (2/5)

What is here is regurgitated from the film’s DVD release and half of it is missing from the special 2 disc edition.  The commentary track is solid.  It features director Robert Zemeckis, the director of photography, a special effects dude, and one of the sound engineers.  You can tell it is spliced together from several different conversations but I did catch them talking to each other once.  Regardless, it is crammed with plenty of behind the curtain info and back story.  Worth listening to if you are a fan and haven’t yet.

The rest is a couple of HD trailers and a Fox “trivia track”.  Nothing to write home about.  A remaster with all the content from the original DVD 2 disc set and some updated “looking back” content would be worth picking up.

Final Verdict

Cast Away is the result of one person’s desire to take a standard story beyond what has already been done.  Hanks brought some of Hollywood’s best talent together to help him pull it off and the result is a great movie.  It may not be the single film I’d choose to have with me if I was… stranded on a deserted island… but it is close.

Cop Land Blu-ray Review

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Michael Rapaport
Directed by: James Mangold
Film length: 1hr 44mins
Theatrical Release: 1997
Blu-ray release: 2009

I picked up Cop Land on Blu-ray years ago and was surprised to see it was still wrapped in cellophane when my wife, Sarah, chose it for Sunday movie night.  So, I can’t say for sure, but the last time I watched it might have been in the theater in 1997.

Like most movies I haven’t watched in a really long time, I could not tell you much about it.  I remember really liking it but I couldn’t tell you why.  Well, the advantage of having memory like a slice of Swiss cheese is, I can experience it again for the first time!

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The Film (5/5)

“That cupcake makes a mess and we got a case again.”
Cop Land takes place in the fictional town of Garrison, New Jersey, whose residents are mostly members of the New York City Police Department.  These cops live a little higher on the hog than they should be able to on a single income salary, if you know what I mean.  Garrison is led by Lt. Ray Donlan (Keitel) who doesn’t hold any official position, but he runs the show as one of the town’s founders.

After an incident on the George Washington Bridge (which leads into Garrison from New York) leaves two black teens shot dead in their car by the young officer Murray “Super Boy” Babitch (Rapaport), and Officer Jack Rucker (Patrick) is caught planting a gun at the scene, Donlan devises a quick cover up on the spot and convinces Babitch to fake his own death.

The incident makes big news as New York politicians are given heat by black community leaders to seek justice, while the internal affairs division, led by Moe Tilden (DeNiro), becomes involved.  Donlan realizes that the case will never go cold as long as no body is found, and he plots to kill Babitch himself.  Babitch is tipped off and shows up at the door of Garrison’s local Sheriff, Freddie Heflin (Stallone), for help.

Heflin, who has spent his entire career (and life) accustomed to letting the New York cops walk all over him professionally and personally, now must decide to either do the right thing or look away again.

I was enthralled with Cop Land from beginning to end.  After our Sunday viewing, I read some reviews that knocked the film for having too many characters and too many side stories happening.  Wow.  I didn’t feel that way at all.  I enjoyed how the side stories gave depth to the characters and added suspense.

Figgsy (Liotta), for instance, has a side story about his greasy scheme to collect some insurance money so he can leave Garrison.  Figgsy currently has no love for Donlan, but he also has a long history of friendship with the man.  When Figgsy decides to help out Heflin we don’t know which one of his multiple motives is the cause of his actions.  Is it to keep internal affairs off of his trail?  Is it because Heflin uncovered his plan to defraud an insurance company?  Is it because he really dislikes Donlan?  Since we never know, we don’t know if we can fully trust him.  We don’t know what will happen next!  Hence, suspense.

Donlan is a solid antagonist for the film too. He isn’t a villain with a master plan, but he continuously adapts to the hand he is given.  As long as there is little chance of him getting caught, he will take advantage of any opportunity to get rid of anyone who might be a threat.  He might use his political influence or straight up get his hands dirty.  You see him do both in this film, and you get to know how dangerous he can be. You never know what he will do or what will happen next!  Suspense!

Cop Land is loaded with good actors, and the complexity of the situation and characters who are in it drive the film.  Clocking in at 1hr 45mins, cutting something like the Figgsy side story might have trimmed it up a bit, but I’m glad it wasn’t done at the cost of suspense.  Besides, the film is already paced well as it is.

What stood out to me/Memorable moments

Sopranos Everywhere
Cop Land was filmed in New Jersey and a lot of local actors that later became staples on The Sopranos are here.  Edie Falco, Frank Vincent and Paul Herman all play small roles; and Arthur J. Nascarella and Annabella Sciorra have considerably larger parts.  Paulie Walnuts makes an appearance too, but only in some photos… not sure if that counts.  And yes, Robert Patrick was in The Sopranos as well, but I still see him as the T-2000 more than anything else.  There is a “Spot The Sopranos Star” drinking game here somewhere.

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The scenes with DeNiro and Stallone together are some of the best
There is this desire in Hollywood to get DeNiro and Al Pacino on-screen at the same time together in a decent film.  They were both in The Godfather 2, but never together.  Their scene together in Heat was a big let down, and holy hell did Righteous Kill ever suck.  I see they’re trying again with an upcoming Netflix film, but forget those two!  Let’s get DeNiro back on-screen with Stallone!

If, like they say, acting is reacting, then Stallone kills every scene he is in with DeNiro.   In their first long scene together, DeNiro is calling him out for not doing his job.  Stallone is fidgeting around, giving minimal answers, and looking away like a kid sent to the principal’s office.  He plays it well.  Their second moment together is kind of spoilery, so I’ll just say, “see it for yourself!”

The shoot out
A young Heflin was left deaf in one ear after saving someone from drowning.  This incident and outcome are known in the community and at one point in the film, someone fires a gun close to his good ear to put him out of commission.  What follows is several intense minutes of pure action bliss.  The audio is from Heflin’s perspective, with muffled gun shots and dialogue.  It is like Heflin is hearing things underwater with a steady blast of Tinnitus.

I know critics at the time really knocked this scene for being too “cartoony”.  It’s understandable considering the rest of the film is firmly  grounded in reality, but damn: this IS a movie after all.  A more realistic sequence may have been more appropriate but I’m sure it would have been boring, too.  I, for one, am glad the filmmakers decided to make it entertaining instead.

Video (2/5)
Cop Land was filmed in the late 90’s, so there is no surprise that it isn’t terribly grainy, but this print hasn’t held up very well.  Dirt and film scratches (One hung out on Liotta’s face for an entire scene) are prevalent.  I’m already on the hunt for the Collector’s Edition which I understand has been cleaned up a bit.

Audio (4/5)
Another competent DTS-HD audio track.  Gun shots have a nice pop to them, and dialogue is clear even while some actors are speaking low.  The shoot-out scene that I mention previously is a delight in 5.1 as the “Tinnitus effect” swirls around the speakers.

Special Features (0.0/5)
There are none.  Zero. Zip. Zilch.  There is not even an option to select chapters. Got to find that Collector’s Edition.

Final Verdict

When I eventually get off of this Stallone kick I’m on right now, I’ll be shocked if Cop Land is no longer my favorite “Sly flick”.  I love First Blood, and consider both it and Cop Land to be perfect movies but for different reasons.  Cop Land gets to sit a little higher since crime drama is right in my wheelhouse.  Crooked cops, mafia connections, conflicted characters, racial tension, political cover ups…  The only thing missing is a ’40s or ’70s setting instead of the ’90s.  I have no problem with keeping Cop Land on the same shelf as L.A. Confidential, The Godfather, and Goodfellas.  I highly recommend this film.

Thanks for reading.

Point Break (1991) Blu-ray Review

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, Gary Busey, Lori Petty
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Film length: 2hrs, 3min
Theatrical Release: July 12, 1991
Blu-ray release: 2011

Like Demolition Man, Point Break is another film that has been around forever and had managed to pass me by.  I would get mixed signals from people who had watched the film before I did.  Some really love it and could rap off quotes at the mere mention of its title.  Others had completely written it off as trash and would tell me not to bother with it.  The general consensus I got from the most, however, was it is a cheesy but fun film.  Overall, I got the vibe that this is a cult classic that I would have to see and judge for myself.

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Video (2/5)
The transfer from film to 1080p is not ideal on this print.  Any dark scenes, like where The Swaze and Keanu are dude/brahing it up with the football on the beach are washed out.  And bright scenes, like the skydiving one, are laden with film grain. Overall it’s not a terrible looking Blu-ray, but it is not good either.

Audio (4/5)
Another competent DTS-HD soundtrack.  The crashing waves and gun shots packed enough punch, and dialogue was clear through the center channel even while some characters wore masks.  There is not as much range between the high and low end as I’d like, but there are no problems here.

Extra Features (2/5)
The back of the box boasts how this disc includes four featurettes, but what is really here is one 30 minute documentary broken up into four parts.  It is quite entertaining however, and in HD.  Everyone (except Reeves… They use clips from 1991 for him…) returns to give an insight about their part in the film and share some memories.  They even manage to get The Swaze in before his untimely departure from our planet.  Despite this there really isn’t much else here.  Some deleted scenes that are not worth your time and a theatrical trailer which you can watch on YouTube.  Meh, overall.

The Film (2/5)
“Goosebumps.”
Before you get angry at the score here remember two things: 1) My opinion is not a reflection in any way about how you feel about this film.  We kind of need to remind ourselves of that from time to time.  And 2) A 2/5 film can still be OK in my books and Point Break does fall into that category.

Point Break takes place in a surf town on the Pacific coast in Southern California.  There have been a rash of armed robberies that target banks by a gang known as “The Ex-Presidents”. The gang receives their name from disguising themselves with masks of former presidents Reagan, Nixon, Carter, and LBJ.  Their rule is to never hit the vault and stick to only taking cash from bank teller registers.  This means a smaller score, but it allows them to strike quick and get out fast.  This strategy has earned them over 30 successful robberies and this run is becoming an embarrassment for the FBI .

Special Agent Johnny Utah (Reeves) is fresh out of training and lands the plum assignment of catching The Ex-Presidents.  He is partnered with veteran agent Pappas (Busey) who has a theory that the gang is made up of surfers based on when and where they hit banks.  Alas, Pappas is a bit of a flake so the department isn’t willing to support his theory, but feels free to make him eat shit every day that goes by without any arrests.

Pappas convinces Utah to go undercover as the new surfer in town and infiltrate the gang from within.  While undercover, Utah befriends surfer and adrenaline junkie Brodi (Swayze) who quickly accepts him as a peer and brings him into the world of brah surfer-hood.  It is here that Utah’s loyalties are put to the test as everything isn’t as innocent as it seems…brah.

Point Break has a decent premise for an action film and most of it is paced well enough, but it isn’t problem-free.  The story falls apart towards the end as the identity of the gang is revealed relatively early on for this type of film.  It is at this point they conveniently become a gang who makes dumb decisions instead of clever ones.  They are now violent which they always had been careful about avoiding before.  After an extended chase scene were Utah’s cover is blown, both sides continue to pretend like it never happened so the gang can continue to give him life lessons.  Why?  They barely know each other as they’ve spent only a few weeks together.  Perhaps they were a bit shaken up knowing that a FBI agent was so close to catching them, but the way they go about handling it defies logic.  Their quickness now to make rash decisions didn’t feel plausible to me and was a little too convenient.

Reeves acting in this film is a whole other level of ass-itude.  Every line of dialogue he delivers is with the same cadence.  Whether he is getting shot at, arguing with Busey, or feeling goosebumps on his girlfriend’s arm, he emotes a steady amount of lifelessness into the words.  It was as if the script was in front of him and he was reading it for the first time.  I suppose if you watched this film a few dozen times you might be more forgiving and find some charm to it.  I found it distracting as a first time viewer and it kept pulling me away from this film that I wanted to enjoy.

 

What stood out to me/Memorable moments

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There is not as much surfing as I thought there would be
It plays an important part at the beginning of the film but is quickly forgotten about somewhere in the middle.  The last surfing scene is wrapped up during the 46min mark and we still have 1hr 15 mins to go.  Believe me, I’m glad Point Break is not a build-up to a surfing contest between the two lead characters but I’m surprised the final lessons are given in the sky instead of on the water.

 


Anthony Kiedis shoots himself in the foot

Yep.  The lead dude from The Red Hot Chili Peppers has a bit part as one of the goons who literally shoots himself in the foot… literally.

 

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The car chase scene
I’m a sucker for a car chase with “regular” cars going all out.  The “Ex-Presidents” in their red 1984 Lincoln Town Car cheesing it from Busey in his 1984 Buick Century was a thing of beauty.  Watching these tanks with rear wheel drive that are designed to take Grandma to Church on Sunday, drift through intersections while the four barrels let out big roars had me thankful I wasn’t wearing loose pants.

Which leads us too The foot chase scene

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It takes us down narrow corridors, through people’s homes; dogs are tossed and kicked.  It is good times.

The total of both chase scenes in this film is an example of Kathryn Bigelow’s competent directing and the ability to add something sweet to a bit of a clunker script (She co-wrote it, I know).  Even though the scene’s climax was immortalized in a semi mocking way in Simon Pegg’s Hot Fuzz the journey to that moment is an excellent piece of action cinema.

 

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Busey is a slam dunk
It is not hard for an average actor to look good when standing beside Keanu Reeves who is delivering his lines like a piece a wood.  But that should NOT take anything away from how good Busey is in this film.  It is one of those “once in a lifetime roles” like Mickey Rourke’s lead in The Wrestler.  Busey’s real life wackiness fits the bizarre personality of the person who he is portraying.  It all works and Busey hits a home run.  “2 meatball sandwiches!  Hey… two!”

 

Final Verdict
I didn’t love Point Break but I didn’t hate it either.  I’m not sure if I would watch it from beginning to end again since catching some of my favorite clips on YouTube would probably be enough to scratch that itch.

I can see why some really like it though.  As unrealistic as the dialogue can be, it is fun and quotable.  Most of it is delivered by Busey, but John C. McGinley, (who plays the salty, reminiscent of his Scrubs character, FBI Director Ben Harp) knocks a few out of the park as well.

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Like when he tells Utah, “You’re a real blue flame special, aren’t you, son? Young, dumb and full of come, I know.”  It is not a realistic line of dialogue nor does it make a whole lot of sense.  But like Point Break itself, it has a certain flow to it and it is fun to believe it does.

What the hell is a “blue flame special” anyway?

Thanks for reading.

Demolition Man Blu-ray Review

Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock
Directed by: Marco Brambilla
Film length: 115 mins
Theatrical Release: 1993
Blu-ray release: 2011

For a good part of my life I had not watched a Sylvester Stallone film.  That might not sound like a big deal if you’re a youngin’ but I grew up in the 80’s when Rambo and Rocky were in their prime.  Stallone would regularly star in action films (12 in the 80’s alone) but they looked too cheesy to me.  Something that was enforced by the continuous parity of his characters at the time.  I’ll point to Weird Al’s portrayal of Rambo in UHF in particular.  I was a cynical teenager and, comedies aside, deemed any film that wasn’t “real” as a complete waste of time.  I didn’t know how to have fun.

I eventually did watch Stallone in a movie.  I was 19 or 20 when Cop Land  was released and it had a few connections to one of my personal favorite films of all time, Goodfellas.  That was enough to get me to see it.  Not only did I enjoy Cop Land but I thought “Sly” did a good job in his role too.  But since it wasn’t really a “Stallone” film, it wasn’t enough to have me check out his earlier work.  I think shortly after he came out with “Driven” and I couldn’t understand why he was going back to the cheesy action when he proved he could do the “real stuff” in Cop Land.

Anyway, my real gateway drug to becoming a fan of Stallone’s work was Rambo.  And when I say “Rambo”, I mean 2008’s Rambo.  I’ll go into that story when I eventually cover that film since this is the 3rd paragraph and I haven’t even got to Demolition Man yet.  Long story short, due to my bias toward Stallone for most of my life, there are many films in his catalog that I have yet to see.  Demolition Man was one of them until this past Friday.

Video (5/5)
This film looks sharp.  This is what I am looking for in terms of video quality from a Blu-ray.  A lot of depth to the colour and hardly a hint of film grain.  I am glad to be starting this series off with a standard to set other Blu-rays against.  You don’t even need to take the age of this film into consideration.  No need to upgrade this disc at all for video quality.

Audio (4/5)
The DTS-HD audio track was the only option for English and it is competent.   We did turn up the volume once after the first action sequence finished and the dialogue began. A standard adjustment for an old fogey like myself.  The dialogue flowing from the center channel was crisp and clear and sub woofer rumbled when appropriate.  I’m personally a better fan of Dolby True HD, but DTS-HD can be played back uncompressed if your home receiver supports it.  Mine does, so all is good here.

Extra Features (2/5)
The score here isn’t a reflection on the features themselves but only the lack of them.  There is only a theatrical trailer and a commentary starring the film’s director and producer.  Come on.. where is Sly?!?!  They couldn’t even get the Snipes in there.  Help him pay off an IRS bill or two?  I’m sure the commentary from the two industry insiders is interesting enough but it is disappointing how it is the only real feature on this disc.

The Film (3/5)

“Send a maniac to catch one”
Demolition Man opens up to an action sequence that takes place in a “future” L.A. of 1996.  Simon Phoenix (Snipes) is a psychopathic killer who kidnaps a number of hostages. John Spartan, aka The Demolition Man (Stallone) is sent into the abandoned building Phoenix is holding out in to make an arrest and save the hostages.   John is successful in capturing Phoenix but not before he sets off a bomb which kills all of the hostages.

Both Phoenix and Spartan are found guilty for their roles in the incident (murder and manslaughter, respectively) and are sentenced to “cool off” in a prison that cryogenically freezes their inmates for the duration of their incarceration.

Fast Forward to the year 2032 when John Spartan is thawed out to again capture the recently escaped Phoenix.  While John was on ice, the populous of LA has become overtaken by a fascist leader whose ideals are a mixture of ultra liberal and conservative ones.  All of which have lead to a soft/weak populous overtime, including the police who have become enforcers of ideals instead of justice.  John may be a dinosaur in this future but he is the only one with the expertise to stop Phoenix from slaughtering the sheep.

This film is enjoyable even if it does have some pacing issues.  There is a bit of a side story with John Spartan’s chaperone to the future, Huxley, played by Sandra Bullock.  She is fine as a sounding board for John Spartan’s inevitable “fish out of water” moments, but the forced romance between the two lead to some of the most awkward parts of the film.  I know I wouldn’t have missed those scenes if they were sacrificed to keep the film humming alone to a tidy 1hr 45mins instead of almost 2hrs.

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Stallone himself was as good as he can be.  You could tell he was having some trouble enunciated some dialogue but the moments were minor.  The dude can carry a film and he does it well here.

What stood out to me/Memorable moments

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Snipes acting.
Yeah, you read that right.  Like Stallone, I have only seen a handful of Snipes’ films and I thought he was great in this.  His Phoenix character was a pant load of fun (even if he is a bit cartoon villain-ish at times) and I definitely got some Joker vibes from him.  It makes me wonder why his performance here never placed him in contention for the roll in any of the Batman films… probably the black thing.  I look forward to watching more Snipes going forward.

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The Denis Leary’s speech
While liberals have the freedom to walk the land since they are easy pushovers for the fascists, the conservatives are forced into hiding in the underground.  They are lead by Edgar Friendly (Leary), who despite having adequate firepower, little food, and a huge chip on his shoulder, doesn’t start a rebellion against the fascists because he isn’t a… leader?  He just “does what he has to do.”  Yeeeah…  Anyway Leary’s Dan Aykroyd-esq ability to talk fast leads to a memorable speech about having the freedom to drink soda and smoke cigars.  He’d rather be free to live how he wants in a dirty basement than sing commercial jingles with the sissies on the main floor.  ‘merica.

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The rat burger
Yep. Stallone eats a rat burger.  Finishes it too after discovering it is a rat burger a few bites in.  Because freedom means the ability to eat what you want, when you want. Let freedom reign.

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The car
A 1970 Oldsmobile 442.  Holy shit, yes.  This classic American gas guzzler of yesteryear (probably still runs on leaded fuel) gets a chase scene and is able to keep up with the sissy liberal cars of the future.  I grew up in the 80’s on a steady dose of the The Dukes of Hazzard, Smokey & the Bandit, and Starsky & Hutch.  So naturally I have fondness for American muscle cars from the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s.   Props to Stallone for keeping the trend of featuring a cool car alive while we’re now well into the 90’s.

Final Verdict and Overall Rating
Demolition Man has a few glaring plot holes and pacing issues but is overall an enjoyable film.  Its underlining pro-right wing attitude can be a little much at times, but the film does eventually lay the blame for the rise of fascist ideology squarely on the inability for both sides to work together.  Stallone at one point tells the clean liberal Chief of Police to get a little dirty and work with the conservative Edgar Friendly, who needs to get a little clean.  An eerily appropriate message for today’s politicians.

Thanks for reading.

 

What is this Blog About?

Ah, yes.  Where every blog should start.  A little word about what this will be about.  Starting with all the hope in the world that this becomes a thing.  And I do hope I stick with it. No guarantees though.  Time is precious.

Recently I have re-discovered my enjoyment for collecting and watching movies.  I have been an avid collector in the past;  VHS movies when I was a teenager and DVDs in my 20s.

I fell out of favor with the hobby when “bit torrents” became a thing on the dark web.  “Free” bonded well with my nature to be sensible (frugal) when it comes to spending money. I was also annoyed while HD DVDs and Blu-ray duked it out on the free market to become the next format to follow DVDs.  I felt that it was too soon for DVDs to become obsolete after hardly a 10-year run.  It left a bitter taste in my mouth.  When Netflix eventually switched to mainly a streaming service,  suddenly a “legit” source of film became convenient and I was content with that for a while.

Recently I have been focused on collecting video games (I still do plan on collecting and making videos about them) and any funds or time put towards movies seemed like I would be taking away from that. But, that was before I burnt out on collecting games about six months ago. I enjoy going to the trade shows and working on deals on games, but I have only been thrift shopping less than a handful of times in the past six months. Video games have become an expensive and competitive hobby over the past five years.  Last time I went to Value Village it was close to opening and there was one guy who ran into the store and went directly to the video games.

I don’t derive much pleasure from competing for items and that is why I need to step away from video games until the market cools off.  I’ll still buy the odd game and review what is in my collection, but damn, I want to thrift and find the good in what others want to throw away.  It is a cheap thrill for me and Blu-rays are where it is at right now.

Blu-rays, or movies in any physical format, really, have become passe and gosh darn it, I think that is a bit of a shame (especially since I can easily find them at a bargain!).  There is something to be said about the uncompressed format a Blu-ray can deliver.  I find that even the best quality download or stream does not quite look or sound as good as a solid Blu-ray.

This venture is also about taking command of my time and movie selection again.  I can’t tell you how disappointed I have been with Netflix’s movie selection lately.  As their new shows take off (and some of them are amazing, I will give them that),  the film part of Netflix seems to be taking a back seat.  I go and look for something specific and it is not there. I then spend 40 minutes sifting through crap to find something to watch because I’m in the mood for a movie and not starting a 13 part program.

So, the idea behind this blog is for it to be my way to catalogue what Blu-rays I have in my collection and those I have watched.  A bit of a long format way to go about it, but I have a terrible memory.  A lot of times I can only remember if I like a movie or not.  I can’t tell how I liked it or sometimes even what it is about. So this will be my way to go back and jog my memory of not only the film, but the quality of Blu-ray as well.

I do concern myself with having the definitive version available of a film as well, so this will help keep on top of it any remaster release, etc.

My Set Up

I think it is important to let you know how I am watching these films since hardware does play a role in the presentation.

The player

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Xbox One.  Plays Blu-rays fine via HDMI.  I see no reason to get a dedicated player.  I also have a PS3 and PS4 to play Blu-rays as well (Like I said, I am a gamer), but the media remote for the Xbone was about $25 cheaper than one for a PS4 and the PS3 is in another location for game capture.

The Television

LG 42″ 1080p TV. Scoff if you like.  I know LG is a bit of a cheaper brand in the USA, but LG Canada is aces in my book.  I got it for its refresh rate (60Htz was a must in 2010!) and its game picture setting to eliminate input lag (like I said, I am a gamer).  This setting removes all filters so that is how I will watch these films.  Also, its optimal viewing distance is just under 6 feet which is perfect for my set up.  The bulb is supposed to be good for up to 60,000 hrs so we still have a ways to go with this baby.

Audio

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Pioneer 5.1 surround sound receiver.  It does have the ability to output 7.1 but I find most films do not take advantage of it.  5.1 is fine for me and what most people who still bother with surround sound use anyway.  It can pass through uncompressed PCM audio as well as handle any THX, DTS, Dolby II, etc formats. I got nice speakers with a big sub woofer that can make the room shake.  So, I’m quite content with the audio part of my set up.

No plans for 4K anytime soon.  I may upgrade to the Scorpio (The new 4K Xbox console coming out this fall) depending on how it is received.  But really, 4K discs are pricey and I’d need to upgrade the TV as well…. kind of takes away from my wish to collect on the cheap.

The Review Format

So this is the format I will follow for reviewing Blu-rays.  It may change over time as I adjust and grow as a Blu-ray reviewer.  But as of right now, this is how I plan on tackling these discs of cinema goodness.

Intro
Something about my history with the film to give the rest of the review context.

Video
How the Blu-ray looks.  I’m no videophile but I find grainy films should be a thing of the past.  This will be good to go back and check to see what I thought of the video quality and will help me decide if I need to upgrade when a remaster is announced.

Audio
I’m definitely a bit of an audiophile and sound is another thing that can be updated in a remaster.  It will be good to keep track of what formats are available on the disc and what I thought of the audio quality.

Extra Features
Sometimes it is worth upgrading to a new remaster or anniversary edition just for these.  Or it might be worth hanging onto an old edition if a special feature is not included in the new one.  Documentaries, deleted scenes, and my wife Sarah’s favorite, the blooper reel are important when deciding “Should I keep it?”

The Film
This is where I’ll talk about the film itself.  Is it good, or bad?

Memorable moments
Sometimes they’ll be something good, sometimes bad.  It will be a fun section to read.

Final Verdict and Overall Rating
This will be the part you want to skip to if you just want a quick summary.

OK. Sounds exciting, no?  Well we will see how this goes.  I know better than to make promises of a weekly release or anything.  I might only get a few reviews in before becoming bored.  Or I might still be writing these 10 years from now.  Welp.  Only one way to find out.  Time to end this and start working on the first Blu-ray.  Thanks for reading.

Your friend,

Mars (Kevin)