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Sony Blu-ray Wrap Up

Red Hill

The memories of Sam Peckinpah, John Carpenter and Sergio Leone are alive and well in the Australian thriller Red Hill. Writer/director Patrick Hughes doesn’t fulfill any master’s legacy, or pay homage as cleverly as someone like Tarantino, but his affection shines brightly, and is plenty infectious. Those looking for some kind of worthy follow up to No Country for Old Men will be just as disappointed as people expecting some kind of tongue in cheek Robert Rodriguez flick, but anyone ready for something in between have a fun time in store. I was expecting something a little more serious based on the opening act, but once I realized I was in store for a sort of slasher western (not quite as violent as it sounds), complete with Michael Myers villain logic and Man with No Name physics, I had no real problem just going with it. The third act brings about some minor surprises, some amusing odd touches (panther!), and reveals the fact that the film is actually a standard Spaghetti Western revenge movie, just told from a different character’s point of view.

Red Hill is an impressive looking film all around, stirring up a traditional, widescreen western, and more modern horror looks. The daylight scenes feature gorgeous colours, deep set fine detail, and sharp contrast. The nighttime scenes feature perfect deep blacks, abstract colour highlights, and more close-up detail and texture. The darker scenes are occasionally a bit on the aggressively grainy side, but there aren’t any major artefacts to speak of. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is especially impressive, even though the filmmakers utilize a lot of silence to build mood. The sound mix is one of the film’s more stylized and ‘cartoony’ elements. The surround and stereo work is quite aggressive, featuring a myriad of directional effects. The sound mix on the gunshots is especially impressive, as the designers rarely repeat themselves (though they all have a punchy LFE presence in common). The film’s musical score, by Dmitri Golovko, does a smash up job of adapting the Ennio Morricone style into a more modern sound, and mixes it up with a bit of John Carpenter. Extras include trailers.

Sony Blu-ray Wrap Up

SWAT: Firefight

I’d like to quickly point out a mind boggling irony. One of the three production companies behind SWAT: Firefight is named ‘Original Film’. This isn’t just ironic because SWAT: Firefight is a sequel to a rather un-unique action flick, it’s extra ironic because it’s a sequel to a movie based on a television series. Beyond this hilarious side note, I struggle to find anything interesting to say about this film. Having never seen the original film I’m unable to compare directly. The plot, as it were, follows your basic mix of tough guys feeling each other out ( out, not up), training montages, tragic first act failures, boring technical jargon, villains that love yakking on the phone, and painfully slow midsections. Director Benny Boom (yes, Benny Boom) likes his toys, especially his gun-mounted camera, and cuts the entire 89 minute feature like a rapid fire music video. This hyperactive behavior works in three to five minute increments, but over a feature length runtime it’s almost as exhausting as Boom’s overuse of rocking cameras that can’t quite find focus. Decent performances threaten to make the whole thing palatable, but the compulsively predictable narrative, and impossibly stupid dialogue (‘Rose died for your sins, now it’s time to die for yours’) keeps SWAT: Firefight on the straight and narrow to boring city.

As mentioned above, SWAT: Firefight is shot like a music video, which includes a lot of high contrast, mixed under and over saturated images. This 1080p transfer features a lot of harsh blacks, strong edges, blown-out whites, poppy warm elements (yellows are pretty spectacular), and incredibly lush greens. The wiggling cameras and iffy focus keep background details from being much of an issue, and the general lack of extreme close-ups doesn’t lead to a whole lot of fine textures. Not that any shot holds long enough to appreciate small details anyway. DTS-HD Master Audio tracks continue to be the great equalizer between big budget and STV action flicks, and this particular track is comparable to similar major release discs. The bombastic battle scenes feature plenty of zippy, whippy bullets, and growling truck engines, but I’m actually more impressed with the directional ambience during the non-action sequences, such as an unseen plane that flies overhead. The driving musical score keeps the whole track throbbing, and gives the LFE a decent workout. Extras include a making of EPK entitled ‘Sharp Shooting: On the Set’ (8:40, HD) and trailers.

Sony Blu-ray Wrap Up

Welcome to the Rileys

This is exactly what I think of when someone tells me some independent drama was a Sundance hit – a modest picture all about angst bubbling just beneath the surface, with solid performances, pretty, understated photography, and a less than captivating plot. Welcome to the Rileys is the kind of film I can easily respect, but it’s not one I found particularly moving or entertaining. James Gandolfini is cast mostly against tough guy type, and is genuinely venerable as Doug, a depressed business man looking for someone to interact with following the deaths of his daughter and his mistress. Gandolfini’s accent falters a lot, but he keeps himself nice and bottled up without underplaying it so much he’s easy to ignore. Kristen Stewart continues to struggle against her Twilight character, and despite being relatively believable as a self-destructive, underage New Orleans stripper, this roll is really close to the one she already aced when she made Adventureland. Melissa Leo surprises as the comedic relief, but her character’s neurosis are really close to Mary Steenburgen’s in Peter Medak’s Pontiac Moon, right down to her automotive related misadventures. The good performances aren’t enough to overcome the familiarity of the story, or the detached manner in which the story is told, but fans of the cast should get something out of the experience. Director Jake Scott (son of Ridley) clearly knows what he’s doing, and is brave to keep his camera still through most of the movie, but Ken Hixon’s script is too on-the-nose, and doesn’t really go anywhere beyond the compelling set-up. Definitely a sweet movie, but not a particularly memorable one.

Welcome to the Rileys is a relatively dark film. Many shots are taken at night, or in underlit interiors, and even the daylight sequences are dulled and cooled. Occasionally it’s a little difficult to tell what’s going on, especially in those underlit interiors, but for the most part details are sharp enough to ensure most of the action comes across, and this semi-confusion actually serves the film pretty well. Most of the look is predictably cool, but occasionally things get nice and lurid, especially in the strip clubs and bars of New Orleans, which are often bathed in a single dominant hue, like blood red, or jaundice yellow. Black levels are deep, and highlight contrast is sharp. Detail levels are never particular high, and there is some noticeable grain, but blocking and smudgy looking edges aren’t a problem. There isn’t a whole lot of aggression behind this DTS-HD Master Audio track, but the ambience works well, and the dialogue is clear, consistent, and plenty loud. There are a few decent musical moments, and Leo’s pratfall car crashes feature some solid LFE impact. Extras include a behind the scenes featurette called ‘Creating the Rileys’ (11:10, HD) and a series of Sony trailers.