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Anchor Bay Blu-ray Wrap Up

And Soon the Darkness


Another day, another horror movie remake. Conveniently enough, the original And Soon the Darkness is available on the Netflix Instant Queue, so I decided to take the time to run a proper comparison. The original film is a bit hokey and dated (being made by Brits in 1969 will do that to a production), but it’s actually an overlooked slasher prototype, predating even textbook proto-slashers like Last House on the Left (which also features two girls cutting out on their own and running into trouble) and Texas Chainsaw Massacre (which also features hostile rural types), and was released around the same time as Bird with the Crystal Plumage. This new version relocates the action from France to Argentina, slows the plot, over weights the characters, and adds a bit of Eli Roth-style grit. Even if it wasn’t a remake it would likely draw unfortunate comparisons to stuff like Hostel, or more specifically Hostel II, which features a similar American girls in a strange land premise. The virgin versus the whore slasher cliché permeates, characters separate at the worst times (which, to be fair, happens in the original), and there’s no attempt to subvert any the overused narrative elements. The acting isn’t too bad, but no one is able to step above the dialogue (which is largely devoted to exposition) or thin characterizations. Odette Yustman, who looks like she’s lost about 30 pounds since she starred in The Unborn, really struggles through the thankless role of the bad girl, and Karl Urban doesn’t even appear to be trying. Amber Heard is likable enough to escape relatively unscathed. As a travelog of Argentina’s most beautiful landscapes you could do a lot worse, but as a thriller And Soon the Darkness falls pretty much flat.

And Soon the Darkness is a rough, grainy looking flick, but features a lot of rich colour, and fine details. It’s not a good movie, but it is a good looking one, especially the gorgeous nature shots. Colours are the primary plus, though the sharp edges on contrasting elements are quite impressive as well. The deep-set details are nicely separated, and as the film slowly desaturates (the last act plays out in near black and whiteness) the colour elements start to really pop out of the expansive backgrounds. I did notice some minor pixilation during sweeping, quick camera moves, and there is the matter of grain (which is far from consistent throughout), but the overall image is crisp enough. The Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is pretty mellow, but features quite a bit of surround enhancement, usually of the ambient variety, but there are some neat, sweeping directional effects that stand out above the basic sound. There are a few issues with captured dialogue versus ADR in the middle of a scene, but overall the center channel stuff sounds solid. The extras begin with a commentary track featuring director Marcos Efron, editor Todd E, Miller, and DP Gabriel Beristain. This is an enjoyable enough track, with the commentators managing to be informative (including some comparisons to the original film), and playful (‘From this point on all the brown people will be bad’ – Beristain) without losing tempo over the 91 minute period. The other extras include ‘Director’s Video Diary’ (11:10, SD), deleted scenes (including a shot taken directly from the original film), and a trailer.

Anchor Bay Blu-ray Wrap Up

The Disappearance of Alice Creed


The Disappearance of Alice Creed is yet another one of these Anchor Bay releases that I assume can’t be great since I hadn’t heard anything about it before it appeared in my mailbox. Occasionally I’m happy to have my assumptions proven wrong. Alice Creed isn’t exactly a minor masterpiece, but it’s a very solid thriller, with smartly drawn characters, realistic performances, and an incredibly sharp look. The film opens with ten minutes of practically wordless montage of kidnapping activities. Director J Blakeson rightfully assumes his audience will be able to absorb this sharply edited series of images based on decades of movies and television shows about kidnapping. This efficient and intelligent brand of filmmaking defines the rest of the film, which is positively comparable to David Slade’s vastly underrated Hard Candy. This plotline isn’t as original or unpredictable as the one used for Slade’s film, but Blakenson still manages to wrench a whole lot of suspense from the situation with enough style that the faltering likes of Dario Argento should be quite jealous. And like Hard Candy, and Sidney Lumet’s Deathtrap (which shares a particularly effective plot twist with this film), Alice Creed boils down to a small cast in (mostly) a single, and a small location, much like a play, which also sets it apart from the low-budget thriller pack. It’s not quite a must see, but Alice Creed certainly something worth seeking out.

Alice Creed is, as stated, an incredibly good looking movie, and this 1080p transfer really does it justice. The high contrast filming style dictates that the well lit, white areas bloom out a bit, but otherwise I’d say this is one of Anchor Bay’s best and most eclectic looking transfers. Blakeson and cinematographer Philipp Blaubach juxtapose these wide shots with overwhelming extreme close-ups, which feature every manner of minute detail, making it possible to count pours and threads. The main room features bright red walls, which cut wonderfully against the black and grey clothed characters. The sharp contrast features no noticeable edge enhancement, and though vibrant, the walls fine details and textures can often still be discerned (depending on the focus). The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack suffers a bit from the film’s minimalist approach, but is effectively clean and clear overall. Most of the film plays out in the center channel in the form of dialogue. There are very few sound effects that aren’t absolutely necessary, and unless there’s a particularly obvious point of origin, these don’t feature much in the stereo or surround channels (one exception being the perpetual door knocking). The musical score, which roams from melancholy ambience to suspense driven strings, features mostly in the stereo channels, and has a nice LFE presence. Extras include a solid commentary from writer/director J Blakeson, ‘Phones’ deleted scene with optional director’s commentary (1:40, SD), ‘Alice Gets the Gun’ extended scene with optional director’s commentary (7:40, SD), and outtake reel (4:20, SD), a storyboard comparison (5:30, SD) and a trailer.

Anchor Bay Blu-ray Wrap Up

Stone


By now you all know my creed – ‘If a movie features star talent, and you never heard of it until it hit video, there’s probably a reason for that’ – but I think a film staring Robert De Niro and Edward Norton that I never heard of before it hit home video sends up extra bright warning flares. It’s not that De Niro or Norton’s names on a marquee guarantee quality, or even an audience, but usually their exploits get a decent release and advertising budget (for the record there was a theatrical release, but it was a pretty sad one). Well, the warning is somewhat corroborated in this case, but Stone isn’t by any means a terrible film, and it has enough going for it that fans of the two leads might even find themselves happy with the final product. A better question is why these titans would be interested in this project in the first place. The story isn’t particularly exciting or original (it plays like a shelved Thomas Harris manuscript meant to take place in the Hannibal universe), and the characters are serviceable, but don’t have huge room for growth. Norton’s performance is a conundrum. He certainly disappears into the character, but Stone is a semi-goofy caricature, and hard to take with anything less than a grain of salt (superficially speaking the cornrows really detract from the experience). De Niro kind of sleepwalks and appears somewhat confused by the other actors, as he has for years, but he doesn’t notably suck at any point. The third billed star, Milla Jovovich, stands out, and is surprisingly natural (which is something I haven’t seen out of her in some time), but her character comes across as novel or outrageous as I’m guessing writer Angus Maclachlan intended. Director John Curran does craft the film effectively, and occasionally even brushes with greatness (the centerpiece shanking scene, for instance), but he falters into Oliver Stone on drugs territory a little too often, and stretches the plot exponentially with his navel-gazing over-use of slow motion.

This transfer is another big victory for Anchor Bay, who I haven’t come to trust as implicitly as bigger studios just yet. The 1080p, 2.40:1 image is bright, sharp, and is swimming with details. The film itself is shot pretty stoically, and doesn’t indulge in a lot of vibrant colours, but the colours we get are rich and lifelike. Contrast levels are sharp, even when the white levels are softened by focus. Digital noise is not an issue, grain is nice and fine, but I am surprised by the number of film artefacts. These white flecks are tiny, but there sure are a lot of them for a year old motion picture. The TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is pretty impressive in terms of layered and subtle sound on such a low-key film, though most of the non-musical design is still relatively centered. There’s a cool effect during the opening credits where the sounds of talking in other rooms blends with an abstract echo of characters talking to De Niro, and floats into the rear channels. Nothing this cool really happens again, but the ambient score zips around quite a bit, and subtly throbs the LFE channel quite a bit. The minor extras include ‘The Making-of Stone’ EPK (6:20, HD), a trailer, and trailers for other Anchor Bay releases.


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