Sunday, 25 September 2011

Blu-Ray Review: Manhunter (1986)

Directed By: Michael Mann

Starring: William Petersen, Denis Farina, Tom Noonan, Kim Greist, Joan Allen, Brian Cox 

Will Graham, a former FBI agent and profiler is lured out of self-imposed retirement by his former boss Jack Crawford to help the FBI catch a serial killer, who has come to be known as the 'Tooth Fairy'. This killer is a house invader who chooses to kill families in their houses during nights when the moon is full. In an attempt to think how the killer thinks, graham returns to the most dangerous and intelligent killer that the US has experienced so far; Dr Hannibal Lecter. The trouble is Lecter not only very nearly killed Graham but he also sent him into rehab for a breakdown. Teetering on the edge of sanity, Graham hunts down his latest target, getting closer to the action that he would have liked and very nearly becoming the killer’s latest victim. 

In this review, I won’t dwell too much on the plot as so much as been written about this excellent movie, which is a favourite of mine. Instead, I will give some views and information on the film and briefly focus on the Blu-Ray disc itself. 
Manhunter (the title changed from the book “Red Dragon” that it was adapted from, because the studio thought it’d get confused with the movie “Year of the Dragon”) was the first film adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel out of the gate. It was an impressive feat to get the complex novel on the screen in a manageable two hour screen time. Naturally, it sacrifices a level of detail from the book that some Red Dragon fans must have found frustrating, including much of Dr Chiltern’s involvement. 

You won’t be surprised to read that I have a view on the Hopkins ’ Lecter vs the Cox Lecktor (as it is misspelt). Hopkins did a superb job of making Hannibal Lecter his own and producing a performance that made the character a legendary bad guy in the history of cinema. Was it an accurate and scary portrayal of the Thomas Harris character? I say “no”. Brian Cox portrays Lecter as he is in the book; calculating but affable. Cox is believable. There’s none of that chewing the lips style of performance in the all too brief scenes that he is in. Yet, there’s something very scary about Brian Cox’s character. I think it’s the believability that does it, in his attempts to unnerve Graham. Simple statements take on a whole new depth when delivered by Lecktor. His opening statement isn’t a question. He already knows the answer and immediately attempts to socialise with Graham to put him of guard; 

“That’s the same atrocious aftershave that you wore in court three years ago” 

He acts as if Graham is the patient, and he knows that Graham has been a patient in getting over his ordeal following Lecktor’s arrest and trial. He follows with;

“Did you get my card?” 

We assume that this was sent to Graham in hospital and furthers the relationship between the cat and the mouse, but which one is the cat?

Lecktor asks after an “Officer Stuart” who it transpires had emotional problems after seeing Lecktor’s basement. The line sums up what we need to know; how prolific Lecktor was when he was killing.
Graham appeals to Lecktor’s vanity by talking about a paper that he had written. Lecktor is amused that Graham refers to himself as a “layman” and finds that almost insulting because it was Graham that caught him and he assumes, therefore, that Graham could consider himself more intelligent because of that fact. The point of going over this is that Cox plays the role straight. You really wouldn’t think that this unassuming guy, that looks a little like a bank clerk, could be capable of extreme murders, that is until he has seen the file that Graham has brought for him, and Lecktor gives his views on the unsub (a term popularised by the TV show Criminal Minds). He talks about involving his lawyer as a mediator for sharing information, then just blurts out; 

“Would you like to give me your home phone number?” 

It’s the delivery of this that unnerves. It’s a fairly innocuous line to look at, but when watching Cox deliver it you suddenly realise that this guy really isn’t right. His eyes are as sharp as a shark’s and belies the patience behind them. There’s a quiet anger that never materialises but you feel it all the same. The nearest that Lecktor gets to anger is when he accuses Graham of attempting to re-gain the mind set of killers. Graham is accused of being too close to one himself. Again, this is Lecktor playing mind games, knowing that if you dip your toe into the ocean, you’re going to get wet. Graham’s reaction is to have an episode and get out of the confines of the hospital.  

Given the amount of police procedure in the screenplay, Mann made the film interesting with its blend of style and substance. Modern viewers might have forgotten, or wouldn’t know, that films or television series about police forensics, and in particular “profiling” were rare back in 1986. Now, we have CSIs in three major cities, NCIS, Criminal Minds and a plethora of cop shows that deal with these subjects across the world on a weekly basis; they’re also very popular. William Petersen’s Will Graham is a world away from his role in CSI Las Vegas. Grissom was a far more placid character, Graham is more intense.

Many have focused on the influence that Mann’s initial time with Miami Vice has on the film but I argue that Manhunter was, in fact, a clear cinematic progression from his previous motion picture: Thief. In Thief, there was more of a reliance on Tangerine Dream as score artists. In Manhunter, Mann began his trademark habit of using various composers, artists and pieces of random music to effect an emotional response in certain scenes. This was practiced to a fine art in Miami Vice; hence the focus, I guess. As with the first season of Miami Vice, Mann doesn’t flawlessly use this technique. One edit in Manhunter that still irritates me to this day, is the edit at the epilogue; we see Graham and Crawford in a dialogue free, brief moment before a transition to Graham’s beach front property. The track “Heartbeat” by Red 7 cuts in too early in my view. It’s a minor niggle in an otherwise masterful movie of style and suspense. This may have been an edit in post-production that was never fixed.

The transfer on this Blu-Ray looks stunning after the initial scene. I’ve read complaints of Digital Noise Reduction (DNR) tampering, that has been applied, and that has taken away the natural grain of the movie and some of the detail that you'd expect from a Blu-Ray release. I didn’t notice this with a 37” Panasonic Viera television and a mid-range Panasonic Blu-Ray player; chances are you won’t either. It's the best looking release that we've had, of the movie, in the UK . Hardcore fans may find themselves importing the Region free US release as it has none of the DNR tampering that is so evident here, but as I said: Is it really an issue?  

This release of Manhunter is almost a reference quality disc of how an older catalogue title should be presented. The "Director's Cut" has been included as an extra. This is just as well as the picture quality is appalling. It's still a very watchable disc if you don't already own it and don't mind DNR.

 Score: 9/10 

Manhunter is available from all good stockists, from 26th September 2011

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Movie Preview: Reuniting the Rubins


Directed by: Yoav Factor

Starring: Timothy Spall (Harry Potter Series, Sweeney Todd, King’s Speech), Blake Harrison (The Inbetweeners), Rhona Mitra (Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, The Number 23), James Callis (Bridget Jones’s Diary,  Battlestar Gallactica) and Honor Blackman (Goldfinger).

Lenny Rubins, (Timothy Spall) an up-tight lawyer, has to put his dream retirement on hold when his ailing mother (Honor Blackman) emotionally blackmails him into reuniting his estranged children for a Jewish holiday.
They may be peas from the same pod, but in Lenny’s eyes his grown up children are certainly not from the same planet: a survival-of-the-fittest hard-nosed capitalist (James Callis), an outspoken eco-warrior committed to the cause (Rhona Mitra); an outer worldly Buddhist Monk; and to cap it all a bible bashing born-again Rabbi!
They might not see eye to eye, quarrel, fight, but they are still family and it is going to take a whole lot of soul searching and sacrifice for all involved to come together in this heart warming, family comedy that will have you thinking of your own family with a smile.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

13 Assassins Competition: win a Blu-Ray and Letter Opener!

13 Assassins sees director Takashi Miike, the man behind such uncompromising and unforgettable movies as “Audition” and “Ichi The Killer”, indelibly stamping his trademark style on the Samurai genre with an ultra-violent, all-action, blood-spattered epic that is now out on DVD and Blu-ray.
Explore a world of clips, images, review links and much more at the official fanhub:
What you won't get there though is the chance to win our money-can't-buy prize of a 13 Assassins sword (ok it's a letter opener sword but it comes in a natty box!) and a copy of the film on Blu-ray.

Email me before 25th September 2011, at to be in with a chance of winning this rare item! The winner will be drawn at random.  Good luck!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Movie Review:

 "It looks and feels uniquely British and is the old idea of a cat and mouse hunt but put from a unique perspective. Enjoyably action-packed and highly recommended."

A Lonely Place To Die has just opened at selected cinemas in the UK. My review:

Competition Winners

Congratulations to Paul Lambert, Edinburgh; Chris Kelly, County Armagh; and Frances Morgan for winning the Hobo with a Shotgun T-shirt!

Congratulations to Gareth Earls, Cornwall for winning the Hatchet 2 signed poster and Blu-Ray!

Competition: Win an Exclusive Insidious T-Shirt and a Blu-Ray

Are you ready to get scared all over again - but this time in your home? The smash-hit horror movie Insidious is coming out on DVD and Blu-ray on 12th September. You can get into the spirit by swapping spooky stories on the Insidious UK Facebook page: where you'll also be able to report sightings of the black Insidious Routemaster bus as it terrorises London streets for the week of release!
We've also got something very special for you - a money-can't-buy ‘haunted’ Insidious t-shirt! How can it be haunted? Turn it over to find out… but to do that you have to enter and win our competition where you'll also be in line to get a Blu-ray copy of the movie.

Email to be in with a chance of winning. A winner will be chosen at random. Competition closes on 19th September, so get emailing us :O)


A global box office smash thanks in no small part to unprecedented critical acclaim and overwhelmingly positive word-of-mouth from cinemagoers who delighted in being scared witless by its supernatural shocks, the year’s scariest movie, Insidious, comes to DVD and Blu-Ray on 12th September 2011, giving thrill-seeking horror fans the opportunity to take the terror home.
Directed by James Wan, written by Leigh Whannell (together, the co-creators of the “Saw” movies) and produced by Oren Peli, Steven Schneider, and Jason Blum (the team responsible for “Paranormal Activity”), Insidious stars Patrick Wilson (Watchmen) and Rose Byrne (X-Men: First Class; Bridesmaids) in a chilling ghost story that has been hailed as “utterly terrifying” (Zoo), “unnervingly creepy” (Sunday Express), “nerve-shredding” (The Sun) and, in a Five Star review as “so scary I was whimpering in sheer terror” (Robbie Collins, News Of The World).
Eschewing the gross-out, “how much can you endure?” torture porn principles of many recent horror hits in favour of a return to the traditional and much more subtle method of thrilling the audience by playing on people’s natural fears of the dark and the unknown, Insidious, like other horror classics such as “Poltergeist” and “The Exorcist”, is a welcome reminder of how much fun it can be to be absolutely terrified by a movie.
The story concerns Josh (Wilson) and Renai Lambert (Byrne), a happily married couple recently moved into a new suburban home with their three young children. When their eldest son, Dalton, inexplicably falls into a coma his condition coincides with the start of a series of disturbing events that defy any rational explanation. The ghostly goings on suggest a sinister supernatural presence is at work in the house, one that is intent on tearing the Lambert family apart. Forced to seek unconventional help to protect themselves and their children, Josh and Renai are awakened to the terrifying truth – it’s not the house that’s haunted.
Co-starring Barbara Hershey (Black Swan), Angus Sampson (Spirited), Lin Shaye (2001 Maniacs: Field Of Screams), Ty Simpkins (Revolutionary Road) and Andrew Astor (The Hangover), Insidious is “a classy and chilling horror tale” (Sunday Mirror) and “one of the scariest, most entertaining, enjoyable horror-watching experiences in years” (
Insidious (cert. 15) will be released on DVD (£15.99) and Blu-ray (£19.99) by Momentum Pictures on 12th September 2011. Special Features include: Horror 101: The Exclusive Seminar; On Set With Insidious; Insidious Entities.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

DVD Review: Julia's Eyes

Directed By: Guillem Morales

Starring: Belén Rueda, Lluís Homar, Pablo Derqui

Julia, (Belen Rueda) like her twin sister Sara suffers from a degenerative nerve disease which is slowly turning her blind. When her sister dies, seemingly having committed suicide, Julia senses something doesn’t quite add up. Evidence leads to her sister not being depressed, and had been looking forward to a possible cure following an operation. Discovering that Sara also had a mysterious boyfriend, Julie makes it her goal to investigate Sara’s death and discover the truth. But as she carries out the investigation her disease affects her eyesight more and more, and she keeps feeling that somebody is watching her every move. Is she cracking up? Or is something more sinister going on?

The “Guillermo Del Tor presents” tagline looks set to becoming a very reliable seal of quality on a horror or thriller. Julia’s Eyes can be described as a horror and a thriller for reasons that become obvious as you watch the movie. I’ll try and avoid spoilers, but from the start of this review, it’s going to be difficult to avoid them all. 
The movie begins leading us to believe that what we are watching is another supernatural thriller, after all The Orphanage (also presented by Del Toro) started as a supernatural movie and was for the most part of its running time, or so it seemed. As Julia’s Eye progresses, it explores a fine line between supernatural thriller and giallo until the last third which follows a more conventional route, which while slightly disappointing is rescued by the convincing performance given by Rueda.
The fairly simple premise is given substance by Julia’s journey; that of investigating the death of her sister. The lack of supernatural threat is given away within minutes of the film starting but I wasn’t disappointed by this as the movie was kept interesting enough as we follow Julia in her journey of discovery. Tension and atmosphere are adeptly created and maintained, despite the amount of clichés peppering the movies such as the constant disbelief in Julia’s theories and the initial speed in which Julia decides that her sister has been murdered.
One particularly effective scene is where Julia visits a home for blind women and wanders into their changing room. Julia overhears them talking about Sara and listens in, knowing that they can’t see her. In an eerie moment, one of them detects a new scent in the room and one by one the rest do too. The scene reminded me of Day of the Triffids, but typically goes off in a direction I wasn’t expecting.
Julia’s Eyes is refreshing in that it doesn’t rely on the jump style scares that we’re too used to from Hollywood movies. The movie twists and turns, but to a climax that is a little drawn out and reminded me slightly of The Silence of the Lambs, with a camera flash instead of a night scope.
 The direction and cinematography is part of what makes this movie special; we see some interesting POV shots from Julia as her eyesight deteriorates, for example. The expert use of lighting and close-up shots help to give the movie some gripping suspense. 
The only distraction, and I’m sure it was intentional, was the constant focus on Belén Rueda. She’s a striking looking woman but the director knows and uses this a little too often. Rueda wears a collection of clothes so blatantly figure hugging, I thought I was watching Julia’s Breasts not Julia’s Eyes. It doesn’t make for unpleasant viewing but took me out of the film a couple of times. Maybe, it’s just my male side working a little too much.

Both Belén Rueda, and Lluís Homar give memorable performances helping to draw us into the story but unfortunately at the sacrifice of depth of other characters. Whilst Julia’s Eyes deviates from the clichés of Hollywood thrillers it still relies on too much convention, especially towards the end. It’s still miles better than the current crop being churned out of the Hollywood recycling machine.

Score: 8/10