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Lionsgate Blu-ray Wrap-up 2

The Spy Next Door


The rule of Hollywood thumb concerning action heroes, is that their careers are generally over the second they make a kid’s film.  I thought that perhaps Jackie Chan had overcome this curse, since Forbidden Kingdom was his best film in a decade, but I was so very wrong. The Spy Next Door is extra special bad, bereft of even the minor charms of crap like Jingle All the Way. We’re talking Baby Geniuses level bad here. The movie starts on the right foot, by taking footage from Chan’s best cop flicks, and sticking them into a quick, pre-credit montage. Of course, this is immediately revealed as less of a message of what to expect, and more of a sad reminder of what the name Jackie Chan used to mean. I can’t imagine Chan ever being more woefully miscast than he is here, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him so visually disinterested in a project. I can’t buy him as a spy or a romantic interest, and director Brian Levant clearly has no idea how to cut this detached, ESL performance into the film, where it sticks out over the obnoxious kid performances, as well as the flat adult performances. Though it’s not all Chan or Levant’s fault, the story is a predictable mess from the outset, the dialogue brutal, and the character behaviors are almost exclusively morally corrupt. The whole production is so amateur I’m honestly surprised it got a theatrical release.

The Blu-ray image, 1080p framed at 1.78:1, is pretty inconsistent. There’s more grain than should be excepted from such a recent release, especially one so bright and colourful. Especially one shot by Dean Cundey. Details are a bit muffled, edges blend into each other pretty often, and wide shots reveal plenty of white edge-enhancement. The DTS-HD Master Audio sound is thin, mostly concerned with David Newman’s derivative score, which sounds sharp throughout the stereo channels. The soundtrack comes alive a bit during between scene satellite montages, but sound effects are mostly soft and centered. The LFE perks up a bit during gunshots and brief engine revs, but has very little influence on the music. Extras include ‘Jackie Chan: Stunt Master and Mentor’ (10:20, HD) a basic EPK lovefest, ‘Adventures in Acting with the Kids of The Spy Next Door’ (11:00, HD) a roundtable discussion with the three child leads, a blooper reel (3:00, HD), and Lionsgate trailers.

Lionsgate Blu-ray Wrap-up 2

Lock Up


Surprisingly enough, I’ve never seen Lock Up. I mostly got exactly what I expected from late ‘80s, height of popularity Stallone in prison flick. Lock Up doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, and follows most of the well laid prison and prison escape movie rules (it’s almost the same plot as the Hong Kong gore-fu epic Ricky-Oh: The Story of Ricky).The in-prison reality is almost sweet in a post- Oz world (hell, even The Shawshank Redemption features more rape), but this is an entertainment first kind of enterprise, so it’s easy enough to excuse all the new car parts and free time the characters spend on screen. The only time the feel good stuff overwhelms, is when it comes to Frank (Stallone’s character) and his father/son relationship with ‘First Base’. These scenes are too obvious for anyone’s good. Yeah, there are some pretty brutal moments in terms of what’s implied, but these are all pretty ‘clean’ and theatrical, comparatively speaking. The movie only works as well as the actors, who are, for the most part, uniformly solid. The characters are extremely broad, but the actors, specifically Stallone and Tom Sizemore, fill out their roles with the appropriate degree of humanity. In the end the acting is probably the film’s strongest suit.

Lock Up matches most of Lionsgate’s Carolco releases. It’s relatively consistent, and overall certainly worth an upgrade for detail levels. The opening scenes look pretty soft, and feature some chucky print artefacts, but once the story enters the prison, things clear up nicely. Grain is still reasonably prevalent, but no more so than should be expected from film. Details are tight throughout, as tight as the relatively unstylized photography allows, and contrast levels are sharp. The muddy football game is especially impressive in terms of sheer sharpness and quantity of fine details on screen. There aren’t many primary colours in a prison atmosphere, and at times the palette approaches sepia tone, but there are still enough clean, poppy red props to make the HD upgrade worth the time. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is disappointing overall, but not enough of one to recommend against a purchase. The vast majority of the sound comes directly from the center channel, and there are some issues with clarity throughout. Dialogue has problems with high gain, and sounds to me like it’s been compressed. Volume levels overall are pretty low, but all the aural elements match. Bill Conti’s ridiculously smaltzy score does the most work in the stereo channels, but the LFE and surrounds are mostly a non-issue. The extras are mostly vintage promotional material, including a making-of EPK (6:50, SD), a Stallone profile piece (3:10, SD), a behind the scenes footage collection (10:10, SD), interviews with Stallone, Donald Sutherland, Sonny Landham, John Amos and Darlanne Fluegel, and a trailer.

Lionsgate Blu-ray Wrap-up 2

Johnny Handsome


Johnny Handsome isn’t a underappreciated classic, or a film that begs revisiting, but it does feature a bang-up cast in their youthful(ish) prime, including Mickey Rourke, Morgan Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Ellen Barkin, Elizabeth McGovern and Lance Henriksen, and is directed by Walter Hill. The way I see it, any Walter Hill flick is worth seeing at least once. Johnny Handsome sadly represents the beginning of a rather drastic downturn in Hill’s career as a director. He’d eventually change the world of television as the occasional director/producer of David Milch’s Deadwood, but following years of underappreciated Western and action mini-masterpieces, Hill began to generally default to semi-dull, easy money entries like Red Heat, Another 48 Hours and Trespass, followed by a few failed vanity projects like Geronimo and Wild Bill. Johnny Handsome sees the director experimenting with his visuals more than usual, and overcoming a rather ridiculous script through sheer force of style. The film’s opening heist is positively electric, and features the director working outside his comfort zone with crash zooms, extreme close-ups, and zero Sam Peckinpah patented slow motion. The scene, and rest of the film, must have been overwhelming on the big screen due to all the gigantic, fish-eyed faces, but the style demands attention. The pace never really lets up. Hill intercuts montage with exposition, covering as much ground as quickly as possible, and to a surprisingly graceful effect. Yes, the cast is the reason most folks will pick up this disc, and they’re all on their game (especially Rourke and Whitaker), but it’s the director that’s the real star this time around.

The Blu-ray’s 1.85:1, 1080p transfer is inconsistent, but pretty sharp when it really counts. Hill’s structure utilizes a lot of flashback footage, and early in the film these are desaturated, leading to the transfer’s the most unattractive moments, which feature a whole lot of thick edge enhancement. From here things get sharper, details grow more impressive (Rourke’s disfiguration make-up holds up well), and colours more vibrant. The edge enhancement never really clears up, and there are other minor digital artefacts throughout, but the big problem most viewers will have pertains to the grain. Even I’m a bit put off by the amount of film grain and dirt, and I’m usually very patient with such things. Some will be disappointed that Lionsgate hasn’t remixed the film into a 5.1 structure, but this DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix is perfectly loud, features plenty of stereo effects, and is as clean as any fan would want. Even the surround channels feature a couple nice embellishments. Only the lack of a discrete LFE channel really hurts the mix in my opinion. Oh, right, I forgot the other reason to see Johnny Handsome – Ry Cooder did the score, and it’s right up there with his other Walter Hill scores ( The Long Riders, Southern Comfort). Extras include ‘Wordsmith’ (12:40, HD), a discussion with screenwriter Ken Friedman, ‘Eye of the Beholder’ (10:20, HD), a discussion with make-up effects artist Michael Westmore, ‘Action Man’ (11:10, HD), a discussion with stunt coordinator Allan Graf, a still gallery and a trailer.

Lionsgate Blu-ray Wrap-up 2

Highlander


Highlander is such a fine idea, and you remember it being a good movie, but then you watch it again, and realize it’s a collection of fun scenes padded with some of the goofiest dramatic melodrama in mainstream ‘80s cinema. The whole uneven thing holds a few advantages over genuinely bad films, like hiring Aussie music video and Razorback (a must see) director Russell Mulcahy. Mulcahy was an early music video director, one of the first to make it into mainstream Hollywood, before the term ‘music video director’ was deemed a bad word, and his abstract uses of Duran Duran lighting somehow works with the Neo-gothic, and definitively ‘80s film. Another advantage is the supporting cast. Christopher Lambert is an utter bore as the lead, but Sean Connery is a wellspring of scenery chewing, and Clancy Brown is an even bigger scene-stealer as the major villain. Queens' flamboyant music doesn’t hurt either. The cult following makes sense, it’s just one I’ve never jumped on.

Easily one of the commonly released films on home video, Highlander skipped around from Republic, to Anchor Bay, and finally to Lionsgate. This Blu-ray presentation is likely the best, but still features some pretty heavy grain in dark scenes, and light scenes tend to bleed out a little bit, but colours are nice and the details are sharper than 480 capabilities. The DTS-HD is lively enough, not overdone, except a few dynamic moves in the music, which are pretty obnoxious. Despite years of re-release the extras stand at a director’s commentary and a collection of deleted scenes.

Lionsgate Blu-ray Wrap-up 2

Highlander II


Highlander II is possibly the biggest WTF moment in movie sequel history. There had been unrelated reboot sequels before and since, but I don’t think any popular, mainstream film has ever produced such a random and wacky ‘sequel’. Fans of the original film were greeted with mess of retcons and nonsequential plot points, and from what I understand the film is all but entirely ignored by the cult following in favour of the TV series, and the incredibly boring third, fourth and fifth films. It’s hard to blame them. However, if you’re willing to pretend the film has nothing to do with the rest of the Highlander series, The Quickening is a great looking, large budget, art house sci-fi opus. Director Russell Mulcahy revels in huge camera moves over massive sets, decorated with real love. He apes Hitchcock, Mario Bava and Ridley Scott with real skill, and his affection for Deco and Gothic is admirable. It’s all a bit too close to Blade Runner, I suppose, but artsy streak does make the terrible scripting and nonsense editing easier to swallow. This is the ‘Ultimate Version’ of the film, which means it’s re-edited to be closer to the filmmaker’s original intent, and includes a scene that was part of the reshoots that were produced four years after the bond company took the film away from Mulcahy, and redone special effects.

Unfortunately for fans, if this movie still has fans, this is one of the ugliest Blu-rays I’ve ever seen, at least for the first 20 plus minutes. The whole thing is so consistently pixilated it looks like a crummy 360i bootleg. No hyperbole, someone made a huge mistake. Film grain is scrubbed flat and square, details are entirely lost, colours are dull, and only deep blacks offer any integrity. After a while things do start to clear up considerably, but who wants only two-thirds of an acceptable transfer, especially when the problem crops up again and again? The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 remix is hit and miss. Some of the directional effects are perfectly set, while other effects that should be simply centered are separated into the stereo channels, creating an echo effect. The extras are genuinely interesting, including ‘ Highlander 2: Seduced by Argentina’ (50:00, SD), ‘The Redemption of Highlander 2’ (13:50, SD), ‘The Music of Highlander 2’ (9:00, SD), ‘The Fabric of Highlander 2’ (10:00, SD), ‘Shadows and Darkness: The Cinematography of Highlander 2’ (5:50, SD), deleted scenes reel (5:48, HD), Cannes Film Festival Reel (9:30, HD), and trailers.


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