Sunday, 18 November 2007

The Jungle Book (1967)

The Jungle Book: Film 8 out of 10, DVD 8 out of 10, On Sale 5th November 2007 at a typical online price of £14.89. Imdb rating at time of writing is 7.5 with a Rotten Tomatoes 'fresh' rating of 90%

I'm not big on cartoons, even of the Disney variety - possibly because my own artistic abilities are such that in my one and only Art exam (a 'mock' O level) I got a pitiful 8%. However, I do have a soft spot for The Jungle Book, which I saw just the once before the release of this DVD set - on its original theatrical release as a ten year old kid - and I really enjoyed this just-released '40th Anniversary Edition', which boasts the usual Disney warning 'Available for a limited time only' (usually meaning a better version will be along in a few years time!)

There isn't much missing from this two disc 'platinum' edition, other than the top and bottom of the picture as the idiots have apparently decided to present the film to fill up your widescreen TV rather than present it in its original aspect ratio. You can read background information on this change in aspect ratio, along with other fascinating stuff, on my friend Brian Sibley's blog, and Brian is featured on the excellent extra's featurettes that are packaged on the second disc of this two disc set.

Orphan Mowgli and guardian Bagheera have a confrontational moment

There isn't a lot of story to Jungle Book, and what little there is doesn't have much to do with Rudyard Kipling's source novel on which it's supposed to be based, but that's not a weakness here.

Mowgli a young abandoned human orphan is brought up with a pack of wolves, under the watchful eye of Bagheera the panther, until Bagheera decides that the 'man cub' has to be returned to his own kind to escape the wrath of Shere Khan, the tiger with a silky-smooth voice but deadly claws. The film tells the story of Mowgli's journey and the various creatures he meets along the way: a squad of soldier elephants lead by crusty retired Colonel Hathi, Kaa the slippery, seductive, but fortunately incompetent hypnotic snake (sounding eerily like Winnie the Poo!), the amusing but psychopathic, self-proclaimed Kind of the Apes Louie, a barbershop quarter of Liverpudlian vultures who sound suspiciously like Paul, George and Ringo, and best of all, best buddy Baloo the Bear.

40 years on, the film has lost none of the charm I remember from that first viewing, and it's not hard to see why as a kid I developed a sudden appetite for a breakfast cereal I'd never been interested before (Sugar Puffs) because of its free colour Letrasets of the main figures. This animated film presses all the right buttons, thanks mainly to great, strong, instantly-memorable characters and stand-out songs that will now be familiar to all. It's quite an achievement when one realises that the emotion and empathy the film instills in its audience is just the result of some lines and inks drawn on paper.

The hypnotic snake Kaa sees a tasty snack in Mowgli

Casting is perfect, as one has come to expect from Disney, with the characters even being drawn to reflect the appearance of their vocal counterparts, with Phil Harris as slacker Balloo the Bear, being the sort of buddy everyone would like to hang out with.

Comedic value is featured throughout with incredible performances from not just Harris but the entire vocal cast. George Sanders is well known to film fans for his 'British cad' performances, perhaps best exemplified by his role as the narrator and gossip columnist in All About Eve, but was he ever in finer form than he is here as the deadly Shere Khan? His performance here is beyond exquisite, it's perfection!

Mowgli falls into line when he meets an ageing elephant colonel and his army

The transfer is as impeccable, barbaric cropping issues aside, as one has come to expect from Disney's 'Platinum' series, and the songs are beautifully presented in a strong surround sound mix. The DVD itself is presented in the usual Amray case, encased in a luxurious slip-case, which goes some way to justifying the high price tag. In the afore-mentioned blog post from Brian he mentions an included booklet - not in my British retail copy (or anybody elses, I suspect) there isn't! Just endless leaflets for offers such as a Parrot smoothie, or the chance to win a trip to DisneyLand Paris, or a home entertainment system if I buy laundry products.

Yet again we Brits seem to have been screwed when what we get for our inflated prices are compared with what the American market gets for less money. This proves to be yet another release where you're better off buying a Region 1 player and importing the DVD from the States.

Fortunately, the extra's disc help takes some of the pain away, with a series of thoughtful and well researched featurettes on the film and its animators, instead of the usual mindless kiddie-oriented 'games' fare we often get with these 'family-oriented' DVDs. The kids will probably be bored by all the interviews with old men reminiscing about what working for the Disney studio in the 60's was like, but I was fascinated throughout.

Baloo the ear teaches Mowgli about 'The Bear Necessities' of life

Extra's aside, if you've got kids then The Jungle Book should be considered an essential purchase. Forty years on the film stands the test of time, and is infinitely preferable to more technically accomplished 3D fare (I made the mistake of watching the recently issued The Robinsons on Blu-Ray before this standard DVD and there really is no comparison - The Jungle Book comes out way ahead, even to this jaded, adult viewer).

Even if you don't have kids you should treat yourself to this DVD set as I did (although given the missing booklet from the UK release, importing from the States looks like the best option). If you're not tapping your feet throughout and then pressing the 'Eject' button at the end with a big stupid kid's smile on your face at the end then you probably need to check that you've still got a pulse. Highly recommended!

Mad King Louie of the apes wants to be human like Mowgli

Saturday, 17 November 2007

The Golden Door (2006)

Golden Door: Film 8 out of 10, DVD 7 out of 10, On Sale 29th October 2007 at a typical online price of £11.89. Imdb rating at time of writing is 7.1 with a Rotten Tomatoes 'fresh' rating of 72%

When you watch as many films as I do it's hard to find something that feels genuinely different or non-formulaic. I guess you could argue that The Golden Door follows a certain formula - a simple tale about a turn-of-the-century Sicilian family leaving everything behind to take their chances in 'the new world' of America - but I think few would argue that it's a different kind of film from the norm.

Ordinarily words like 'poetic' or 'tedious and bland' (that last quote from Empire, proving yet again how they've completely lost the plot with their reviews) would have me running a mile, but The Golden Door is a wonderful, elegiac film with imagery that I'm continually harking back to, a week or so after first viewing.

And I don't think it's ALL down to the fact that Vincenzo Amato is very pleasing on the eye!

With The Golden Door director Emanuele Crialese has created a cinematic masterpiece which, admittedly, may be too slow for more mainstream audiences, but is undoubtedly a work of great craftsmanship and beauty nonetheless.

Salvatore and his two sons receive a sign that they should head for 'the new world' of America

Vincento Amato plays Salvator Mancuso, a long-widowed Sicilian peasant struggling to earn enough to support his two sons - one a seemingly adopted deaf mute - and ageing mother. Salvator wants the best for his family, and thinks that following his twin brother, who left for 'the new world' of America some years previously, is probably the best way to achieve that. It's a decision presumably arrived at by the numerous, repeated stories that in America 'money grows on trees' and 'rivers flow with milk'.

Still undecided, he climbs a mountain to ask God for some sign as to what he should do - go or stay? - and appears to get it when almost immediately his mute son brings him a misappropriated photo of some American founding fathers pictured alongside a ridiculously large vegetable.

The film for the most part plots the family's voyage to the new world, the golden doors of the title, with an emphasis on the repercussions of the family meeting an English Rose character Lucy Reed, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, at their port of departure. Lucy seems to be in trouble and attaches herself to the family, eventually asking Salvator to marry her so that she can legally take up residency in the United States.

Widowed Salvatore is intrigued by his English fellow traveller

The cast are uniformly excellent, with Amato and Gainsbourg having particularly difficult roles to play in that most communication has to be non-verbal. Amato has to convince us that on the one hand he's a strong father figure - a good, proud, honest, hard-working man - whilst also being vulnerable and somewhat naive about what the emigration attempt means for his family who are the most important thing in his life. Salvatore is an eternal optimist and his portrayal throughout helps keep what is actually quite dark and depressing material, light and magical. His sudden love for the extremely 'alien' Lucy Reed (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is never in doubt, thanks to a wonderfully subtle performance that relies for the most part on subtle facial movements and mannerisms that rely, if anything, on 'under-acting' the role.

Gainsbourg has an equally difficult role as the enigmatic English Rose who clearly has a troubled history, as evidenced by the gossip about her from fellow travellers and her own stubborn and strong - but isolated - demeanour throughout. She impresses in every scene, subtly seducing all those who might help her, whilst being firm with those who cannot or will not, and it's hard to think of any living actress who could have given us such a clear vision of this role.

Charlotte Gainsbourg plays English woman Lucy Reed, in need of a husband for a new life in America

But the real stars of the film aren't the leads, excellent though they are. The real star is director and writer Emanuale Crialese who avoids falling into the trap of over-sentimentalising the story, or sticking to a single, strong narrative, instead choosing to tell his heart-breaking story anecdotally through little vignettes, or surreal dream sequences, with a fluidity that is mesmerising and beautiful to look at.

In some ways the film asks more questions than it answers. We never find out the whole back-story for the central character of Lucy Reed, or truly understand what her motives are. The film essentially ends with Salvatore being asked a question that we never really get the answer to, such that the viewer has to make his/her own mind up as to what actually happens to the family, although a surreal 'dream sequence' coda showing the family and other travellers swimming through rivers of milk give some clues as to what the film has been about, and what the possible outcome might be.

A tidy ending is really not the point of the film, which has been designed to highlight the experiences of those early Italian pioneers who followed their dreams over a hundred years ago, and in the process give us some understanding as to the trials and tribulations they faced. As such, it succeeds beautifully and helps put some perspective on the aspirational journeys of our ancestors when compared with the 'but it's my dream' nonsense of today's X-Factor celebrity-obsessed wanna-be's.

With a shaved off 'tache and fog to obscure his new look Salvatore proposes to English woman Lucy Reed

The DVD contains a good transfer of what looks like difficult material. There are no scratches or print damage, but with so much of the film being shot in dark surroundings there are above-average signs of significant grain/noise and murkiness that at times give the impression one is watching a VHS tape rather than a DVD. I'd love to see a version of this film on one of the high definition formats, cleaned up to remove much of that murkiness.

Extra's wise there's an excellent 'Making of', but unfortunately presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, together with an American trailer that is at least presented in the correct anamorphic format. This is perfectly adequate for a foreign language film like this, but I've docked the DVD a mark over the film because there appears to be a problem with the pressing. Both copies of the DVD (I'm on my second copy now) lock up two of my DVD players around the half-way mark with the XBox 360 HD-DVD drive frequently stuttering and locking up with an annoying 'Attempting to read media' error. Having to switch to a laptop to watch the middle 10 minutes of the film is extremely annoying to say the least, and given the number of discs my players are perfectly happy with, this has to be a fault with the disc pressing.

Disc pressing issues aside, this is a recommended purchase as opposed to a rental. The beauty of some of the scenes is such that I'd be surprised if this wasn't one of those films most would want to return to and rewatch at some point. Excellent stuff, despite what Empire says!

The Italians look out optimistically to 'The New World', little knowing what trials and traumas US immigration has in store for them

Friday, 16 November 2007

The Flying Scotsman (2006)

The Flying Scotsman: Film 6 out of 10, DVD 5 out of 10, On Sale 5th November 2007 at a typical online price of £12.89. Imdb rating at time of writing is 7.0 with a Rotten Tomatoes 'fresh' rating of 51%

Sometimes I despair for the joke that we call 'the British Film Industry'. Although there are a few notable exceptions, for the most part we seem to be stuck in a rut of producing safe, predictable, old-fashioned 'family viewing' fare that is just a wearisome retread of far better films that were produced years before. How many versions of Chariots of Fire do we need for goodness sake?!

Unfortunately, The Flying Scotsman is yet another 'safe and oh-so-predictable' sports biopic. This time around it's focussed on Scottish world champion cyclist, Graeme Obree.

Obree's main claim to fame is holding two world records (albeit for a relatively short period of time) whilst struggling to cope with depression. His back-story is the key to why this film just doesn't compare well with other films of the same genre - there just isn't enough story here to give the film any real depth, a problem compounded by the fact that a lone cyclist running endless loops around an indoor track doesn't exactly make for gripping viewing as an adrenaline-pumping sport.

The young Graeme Obree, played by Sean Brown, was bullied at school and his first bike gave him the means to escape them

The film starts well, and atmospherically, with a 'flash forward' from the main events of the film: a hooded figure, who we will later learn is cyclist Graeme Obree (Jonny Lee Miller), enters a wood carrying his bike and a long, thick rope. The hooded figure ties the rope over a tree and around his neck before jumping off the branch he has climbed up to.

We then cut to a very young Obree being bullied at school, returning home to receive a Christmas present of a new bike. The bike, or more importantly the speed with which he can ride it to escape the school bullies, becomes the young boy's passion.

Fast forward a few years and the now-married Obree is running a run-down bicycle shop that's closing down because it's losing money. Douglas Baxter (Brian Cox) takes an old bike to Obree's shop for repair in preference to the shiny, modern competitor store opposite and begins a friendship that results in him helping his friend build his own bike to compete in World events - a design that will subsequently cause much bitterness and rankle with the Olympic committee who are more interested in standard designs that can enable the traditional manufacturers to make money than in any genuine innovation that leads to improved world records.

Jonny Lee Miller plays troubled world cycling champion Graeme Obree, pictured here with his manager 'Malky' as played by Billy Boyd

With the closure of his shop and a young child to support, Obree is forced to take up a menial job as a cycle courier to suplement his wife's meagre income as a nurse. On one delivery run he bumps into another courier 'Malky' (Billy Boyd) who encourages Obree to train for the world championships and agrees to become his personal manager. We then follow Obree's progress as he deals with the politics of the sport and his own personal demons and mental illness - illness which he refuses to accept professional help on, even after the suicide attempt we've witnessed at the start of the film, at least until there's a sense of closure at the very end of the film.

By all accounts Obree himself is a difficult character, and this is beautifully portrayed by Jonny Lee Miller who captures the charm of a man who captivated his best friend and manager, as well as his wife and young son, and local priest, whilst also showing his stubborn, arrogant self-destructive nature. The film is worth seeing for Miller's performance alone. Unfortunately the rest of the cast can't live up to the high water mark he sets.

This seems to have been recognised by the director and/or writers in that the supporting characters suffer with a lack of characterisation or even basic screen time as Miller is the main focus throughout. The problem is that when you have a film that is almost entirely about a rather uncommunicative, insular man then the end-result becomes equally insular and rather dull to watch.

Brian Cox plays sympathetic friend and priest, Douglas Baxter

Laura Fraser, as Obree's wife, does her best with a part that gives no insight into Obree's family life, and no indication as to why she stuck by her husband despite his increasingly erratic behaviour. When Miller destroys the struggling-to-make-ends-meet family's washing machine to build a faster mechanism for his bike we get a single shot of shouted anger when she returns home but from thereonin it's back to playing the 'dutiful, supportive wife in the background' for the remainder. There's no attempt to show her life in struggling with Obree's obsession and mental illness.

Billy Boyd fares slightly better, with more screen time that adds the comedic value so sorely needed, as Obree's friend and manager 'Malky'. But one feels throughout that one is watching Billy Boyd the 'lovable hobbit' rather than any real-life character, and there is zero chemistry between him and his supposed love interest Katie, Ann Obree's best friend that Malky supposedly has a huge crush on. The very thin B-storyline of Malky's pursuit of Katie is so unconvincing that half way through the film even the director/writer appear to have decided to abandon it: we suddenly jump from Katie telling Malky he has no chance of taking her out to the two suddenly moving in together.

Brian Cox as the priest friend who tries to help Obree pull his life together, acts the same character we've seen him play a million times before, in a role so generic and under-written there's no real belief in his back-story - a back story that is so clumsily delivered it would have been more subtle to have written it up on a big placard that the actor holds as he first enters the frame.

Laura Fraser, playing Obree's wife Anne, does not take the news that her husband has dismantled her washing machine to help build a faster bike at all well!

In an attempt to cover the lack of any real story, the film invents a cartoon-character villain, in the form of an Olympic Committee member determined to do Obree down. Whilst it may be true that the Olympic Committee had vested interests that conflicted with Obree's 'Do it yourself' approach, the main representative character is introduced with such ridiculous put-down lines and attitude that one wonders why the film-makers didn't go the whole hog and have him constantly stroking a twirly moustache, with loud duhn-du-duhn music sound effects every time he entered the frame.

The sport itself is another problem. It's hard to make one man on a bike in an almost completely empty indoor gymnasium, cycling around in loops exciting or adrenalin-pounding in the way that most sports biopics which have been written to the same formula as this can do. Admittedly the director makes some brave attempts with bike 'point of view' shots and rapid inter-cutting, but it's clearly an uphill struggle.

If you like your entertainment safe, predictable and British and can find nothing else worth watching on TV, then The Flying Scotsman is probably worth a rental. But supplied in a completely vanilla form, with not so much as a trailer for an extra, this is most definitely not a purchase, despite an arresting performance from Miller. The producers can't be bothered to provide so much as a commentary track or interview with the real life Obree or cast and crew, despite the abundance of talk shows around the time of the film's release that took place. If they can't be bothered to put out any kind of extra's for the DVD, why should you be bothered to shell out a premium price for such a lacklustre disc?

Graeme Obree suffered from depression for most of his cycling career, depicted throughout the film as weird whispering voices in his head

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

The Good German (2007)

The Good German: Film 5 out of 10, DVD 4 out of 10, On Sale 5th November 2007 at a typical online price of £10.89. Imdb rating at time of writing is 6.2 with a Rotten Tomatoes 'fresh' rating of just 32%

With three of Hollywood's hottest acting properties, a reputable 'name' director in the form of Steven Soderbergh, and an affectionate parodying of the 'Golden age of movies' you're probably wondering, as I was, why The Good German has received such a bashing from the critics. You won't be wondering any more after you've seen the film.

Technically proficient it may be, but with an almost incomprehensible, and ridiculously complex plot, serious miscasting and weak performances from its main leads, together with a totally confusing directorial style, it's hard to come away thinking of the film as anything other than the worst kind of vanity project for those who decided to make it.

Presented in 4:3 format black and white, complete with sliding dissolves, obvious back projection work and a somewhat stilted style, you might think that Soderbergh was seriously attempting to recreate the techniques of the 1940's. While the approach has a certain charm, the gimmick soon palls, not least because the attention to 1940's detail hasn't extended to the dialogue which is full of four letter words. Not big. Not clever. And not at all necessary - so why was it done?

Tobey Maguire is horribly miscast as 'good soldier gone bad' and current boyfriend of Lena Brandt, Patrick Tully

But the artificially styled homage is just the start of the problems. As a fan of 1940's film noir myself I'd argue that the scripts of the day were more sophisticated and well written than the average 'hand your brain in at the door' movie we get from Hollywood these days. Unfortunately Soderbergh seems to have interpreted this sophistication as an excuse to put everything except the kitchen sink into a plot that is all-but-impossible to follow, it takes so many twists and turns.

George Clooney plays 'good guy' Captain Jacob 'Jake' Geismer, an American military journalist sent to post-War Berlin to cover a conference, only to find himself drawn into a murder investigation involving his driver Patrick Tully and his former mistress Lena Brandt, who is now his driver's girlfriend.

As a plot involving good American soldiers gone bad, Russian contraband, and evil German nuclear scientists expands, the usual clichés of the genre play out, with Clooney's character seemingly caught in the middle of a series of murders nobody else seems much interested in.

George Clooney may have 1940's matinee idol looks but wastes most of the film's running time just coasting along on auto-pilot

Arguably the biggest problem with the film is the casting. Toby Maguire is horribly miscast as the cripple-kicking, spiv boyfriend of Blanchett's character. He's far too young and far too likeable and recognisable from his previous work to be taken seriously in the role. George Clooney has shown he's capable of turning in an excellent performance when required, witness Syria and Good Night, and Good Luck for recent examples, but here he coasts along playing himself as if on auto-pilot. And even the seriously impressive Cate Blanchett can't rescue the whole mess with what little she's given to work with here. 'Enigmatic' may sound great on paper, but on film it plays out as just plain dull.

Ravil Isyanov plays Russian General Sikorsky - do you think he could be one of the bad guys?!

Direction is adequate, and there's a certain amount of fun to be had in comparing the shooting style used throughout with that which was prevalent in the 40's. But it soon grows tired, and while one can admire scenes such as the last one, closely mirroring the airport scene from Casablanca, for their technique, after 90 minutes one finds oneself wondering just what was the point?!

The DVD is a perfect transfer of material deliberately designed to look like it was shot over 40 years ago. There's little to complain about but, being black and white and of 4:3 ratio, little to get excited about either. Sound is similarly 'of the era' which means this is not a disc which is going to set your home cinema system alight, as presumably recognised by its asking price, which is low for a film that only received its first theatrical outing earlier this year.

Cate Blanchett is the enigmatic Lena Brandt, a role that is so charicatured it requires little of the actress's inate talent to play

Given the 'passion' of those involved in this flawed project, it is inexcusable that the disc is bereft of any extra's at all. There's not so much as a trailer, let alone the usual 'Making of' featurette or director's commentary. Maybe all those involved were just too embarrassed to talk about the project? Whatever the reason, it means there's absolutely no good reason to buy the disc, and only those who are fans of one of the main leads should consider this even as a rental.

We're getting to that time of year where it's usual to draw up lists of awards for the year. If there were an award for 'Most disappointing film of the year' this one would surely win it. Avoid!

The obligatory 'airport at night farewell' scene at the end of the movie

Friday, 2 November 2007

Poltergay (2006)

Poltergay: Film 7 out of 10, DVD 7 out of 10, On Sale 22nd October 2007 at a typical online price of £13.89. Imdb rating at time of writing is 6.0. with too few reviews at Rotten Tomatoes to give any kind of 'fresh' rating

Released (if not reviewed) in time for Halloween - that time of year when we all try and put the willies up each other (ah yes, the old jokes are the best), Poltergay is a French horror comedy that tells the tale of a young couple, Marc and Emma, moving into an old ruin they intend to renovate, only to find it is haunted.

An over-familiar theme perhaps, but one with a new slant this time around - the ghosts are five gay men, all killed 30 years previously when the nightclub that previously occupied the spot went up in flames after a freak electrical accident.

The ghosts soon have their eye on young Marc and chaos ensues as the sounds of Boney M's Ra-Ra-Rasputin' disturb his sleep, and the ghosts, which seemingly only he can see, turn his life into a living hell.

Marc and Emma move into their new home, aware that it will need a lot of renovation. Unfortunately the gay ghosts that inhabit the place have a different idea of what renovation actually entails.

It's not long before Marc has lost his wife, his job and seemingly his sanity, as those around him fail to understand what is going on. It's left to the ghosts to save the day and make up for their reprehensible behaviour, reuniting our hero with the long-suffering wife he's always loved in time for the final credits.

The Americans could learn a lot about making FUNNY comedy from Poltergay, particularly when it involves gay subject matter. Recent films such as I Pronounce You Chuck and Larry have been universally derided as 'offensive', but Poltergay manages to walk that very thin line between poking fun at and being offensive to gays, with an end result that all audiences, no matter what their sexual preference, should enjoy.

That it does so is partly down to the script - more clever than most reviewers have given it credit for, not least because it manages to tell a story of tolerance without ever coming across as preachy or being too full of propaganda. But even a good script can get wasted if the talent needed to deliver it isn't available, and the success of the film is mostly down to an excellent performance from lead actor Clovis Cornillac.

The five ghosts have spent the last 30 years dancing to Boney M records, and are happy to have some new eye candy around, but only if he's prepared to join in

Cornillac is certainly easy on the eye - always essential if you want to pull in both 'the gays' AND the ladies that are needed for a 'date movie. It's hard, based on the evidence visible here, to believe the actor is in his 40's when he looks and plays the part of someone in their mid-20's so convincingly.

But it's Cornillac's comedic timing and good humour, rather than his looks, that raise this low budget farce above the norm - the man is clearly a leading actor of some talent, even when given somewhat difficult material to deliver. He carries the film through what in other hands would be some decidedly sticky patches (not that kind!), particularly with regard to plausability, as his character is forced to go through the gamut of emotions. Fear, anger, humour, dejection and pity are all realistically portrayed when he is abandoned by friends and family, who decide that the five 'flamboyantly dressed' imaginary men he keeps seeing are just a symptom of his repressed homosexual desire.

Cornillac is ably supported by an excellent cast, which include not just his poor put-upon wife Emma (Julie Depardieu), but also the couple's best friends - a married couple who clearly have problems of their own, not the least of which is the fact that the wife is a slut whose husband is totally oblivious to her antics, even when performed right under his nose. Worse, she's a slut that's determined to bed her husband's best friend - whether he wants to be bedded or not.

All the ingredients for a good farce are here, and as the film develops it quickly moves from its seemingly 'straight' horror opening, as the couple first move into their new home, into the more traditional realms of farce, with an increasing number of weird and wacky characters being introduced as the film progresses.

Under duress from his wife and friends Marc consults a psychiatrist who convinces Marc that he's imagining the ghosts because he's secretly gay.

First of all there's the ghosts - a mixed bunch that include a 'closet heterosexual' who actually seems most interested in Marc's wife, despite the continual admonishments from his very effeminate partner, the graffiti artist who is obsessed with drawing pictures of an erect phallus at every available opportunity, and the sad lonely character who misses his partner 'Huggy' who survived the nightclub fire that has placed him in limbo.

But the camp 70's stereotypical ghosts aren't the sole source of the humour. Recurring characters are two policeman, called in when Marc finds the first crude sketching of a penis drawn on his walls and a Polaroid of his bare arse taken when he took a shower. They subsequently manage to catch our hero in more and more compromising-looking situations that the character has no control over. There's the psychiatrist who is convinced that Marc is just a closeted gay, persuading him to take a disastrous visit to a gay bar to discover his true sexuality; the father-in-law who's always disapproved and now has the evidence of the mental instability he'd always suspected; the psychic ghost hunter Marc calls in who seems more obsessed with MacDonald's than getting rid of ghosts, and a whole bunch of other minor characters that add to the humour as the film gains momentum and heads towards a nice, tidy feel-good ending.

Clearly, this is not a film for the 'torture porn' crowd. What's surprising is that although there is clearly a strong gay sub-text throughout, this is very much aimed at straight audiences. There are no gross-out gags, as there would be if this had been an American production, although there are one or two (and only one or two) four letter words, along with all those sketches of erect phalluses that one of the ghosts keeps drawing.

One of the ghosts seems obsessed with a particular shape, even when it comes to making a cake for his new-found straight friend.

Picture quality of this anamorphic 16:9 widescreen presentation is extremely variable, although one suspects this is down to the low budget source material, rather than the transfer itself. With so much of the film taking place at night this was never going to be showcase picture quality, but noise is overly intrusive and the picture ridiculously murky at times.

Extra's are limited to a Making of, which is less a making of than an edited 'home video' recording of parts of the main shoot. The lack of subtitles (which may have been available through some menu option I missed) were a barrier to getting any kind of enjoyment out of this, other than recognising that the crew seemed to have fun making the film.

In a world of 'me too', unfunny, gross-out comedy movies, Poltergay is a good, if somewhat old-fashioned, gem. It's the ideal 'switch off the brain and have a few laughs' movie to watch after a hard day at the office. Recommended, even if it is in French!

The ghosts instruct Marc on how to best win back his estranged wife in crucial phone conversation.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Cellular (2004)

Flood: Film 7 out of 10, DVD 7 out of 10, On Sale 7th February 2005 at a typical online price of £14.99. Imdb rating at time of writing is 6.5. with Rotten Tomatoes giving the film a 53% 'fresh' rating

Writer Larry Cohen seems to have an obsession with telephones! His last film Phone Booth featured Colin Farrell spending most of the running time of the film stuck in a phone booth talking to a terrorist who was threatening to kill him if he left the booth. What sounds like a disaster on paper (a man talking to a phone for 90 minutes??!!) turned out to be one of my favourite films of 2003, so I was looking forward to this 'variation on a theme' follow-up from the same writer, which has been available in stores for a couple of years now, but which I only discovered last weekend.

The scenario, this time around, is that kidnapped housewife Jessica Martin (Kim Basinger) finds herself with a damaged phone that is only able to make a call to a random stranger (Chris Evans). Evans' character, who's just been ditched by his girlfriend (played on and off-screen by his real-life girlfriend Jessica Biel) because of his immaturity and inability to commit, is the unlucky recipient of that call. As a result he spends most of the film running around Los Angeles as various events unfold around what the kidnappers are after and what they've done in the past.

There is apparently no truth to the rumour that Chris Evans, pictured here with off-screen and on-screen girlfriend Jessica Biel, always has a clause in his film contracts state that he must be seen half-naked at least once during the film.

The first thing that needs to be said, particularly if your interest in this film is largely down to the afore-mentioned Phone Booth is that although Cohen is credited as writer, the screenplay is credited to Chris Morgan, and it's fairly obvious from the extra's that this involved some pretty major surgery on Cohen's original script, to the point where one wonders if it's just the title and very basic kidnapping premise that's been kept. The end result of these rewrites is that the film lacks the weight or seriousness of Phone Booth, often coming across more as a Crank-style send-up.

Whether you think this less naturalistic style is an improvement over the more serious traditional style will ultimately boil down to whether you like your thrillers to be 'real world' or full of laughs and slightly out-of-whack, as this one undoubtedly is.

I err towards the latter when the end-result is as well-executed as this one is. Undoubtedly the film is a lesser work than Phone Booth, but it's a fun 90 minutes and very enjoyable for all that.

Kim Basinger impresses as the kidnapped, weepy Jessica Martin who calls Evans character randomly on his cellphone for help.

Male lead Chris Evans (best known as Johnny Storm in the Fantastic Four movies, and most recently seen in Danny Boyle's fundamentally flawed Sunshine) is pretty enough to play the lead in a film like this, although for me the jury's still out as to whether he has the depth and ability to become what one female producer rather laughingly calls 'the new Tom Cruise'. OK, the guy has nice pecs and all, but let's not get carried away based on a single, relatively 'easy to play' role. The young actor is certainly easy on the eye, but one can't help thinking that his agent's seeming insistence that he be shown half-naked in every film he's made since this one is going to saddle him with a 'himbo' reputation that can only detract from any real acting talent he may (or may not) have.

The stand-out for me, acting wise, is Kim Basinger in a role that's a real revelation. I hadn't understood why the actress was given an oscar for a pretty average performance in the above-average L.A. Confidential, but here she pulls out all the stops in a difficult 'weepy' role that must have been torture to film.

William H Macy is as effortlessly brilliant as ever, having the film's best comedic lines which, if the included 'Making of' documentary is to be believed, he wrote himself. As a retired cop who encounters Evans character early in the film, he becomes the moral core of the film, desperate to find out if a wrong has been committed before retirement from a job that's had no excitement or thrills for over 25 years.

Given the similarities between this and Crank, it seems odd to have chosen Jason Statham as the lead baddie (again! playing himself again!), but as this film predates Crank it may well be that Cellular is what inspired that film, rather than vice-versa.

Jason Statham turns up again, playing ... erm..  pretty much himself yet again.

Director David R. Ellis delivers visually on a thrill-ride popcorn movie that never lets up the pace. Several pretty outrageous laugh-out-loud moments help release the tension on this almost non-stop on-the-edge-of-your-seat basic chase movie, with some clever lines and scenarios that are clearly giving a knowing wink to those familiar with the general format of the chase genre or just the general nightmares of dealing with modern technology items like the mobile phone.

Weaker movies would set up ludicrous scenarios to enable the 'hero' to escape. Cellular takes more of an approach of 'let's make sure that everything that COULD go wrong DOES go wrong', with some clever plot points based around how mobile phones work (or don't, particularly when you REALLY need them to). It's fun stuff if you can get your head around the intentionally humorous skew and occasional breaking of rules in a film that for the most part had set you up thinking it would follow the usual formula for the genre.

Picture quality on this transfer is superb, and surround sound - when it does feature - helps put you in the middle of the action scenes, of which there are a surprising number, despite the small budget the movie had.

William H Macy is as effortlessly brilliant as ever, getting all the best comedy lines, most of which he apparently wrote himself.

Extra's are fairly generous. The traditional 25 minute 'Making of', Dialling Up Cellular, isn't just the marketing fluff piece it could have been, and is joined by two vaguely associated short documentaries: one on how cellular technology is changing society, the other on the real life 'dirty cop' case that inspired the film.

The director's commentary, mis-credited on the DVD, features the director his 'stunt co-ordinator' sister and 'producer' daughter talking through the film, with the novel approach of phoning up other luminaries (who include New Line CEO Bob Shaye and actor Chris Evans, as well as a whole host of technical crew members) on their cell phones to make comment. It's a lively commentary, albeit one that feels slightly intrusive, as those called up share minutiae of what they're doing at the moment or what they're currently working on with their director/friend, seemingly forgetful that everything is being recorded live for a DVD. One of the most interesting points that comes out is that the DVD commentary was recorded before the film had even been theatrically released.

Cellular is never going to win any academy awards. But for a Saturday night popcorn movie, assuming you can latch onto its self-effacing, and at times too-knowing humour, it's perfect.

Cellular is probably not a DVD you're going to need to own, but it's certainly worth a weekend rental. Recommended!

Chris Evans, considered by some - presumably those who hadn't realised he'd signed up to do the Fantastic Four movies - to be 'the new Tom Cruise'. He sure is pretty, but if he does have the acting chops to ensure longevity it's not necessarily on display here.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Flood (2007)

Flood: Film 6 out of 10, DVD 6 out of 10, On Sale 29th October 2007 at a typical online price of £12.89. Imdb rating at time of writing is 5.6

Confusion abounds over whether Flood is a genuine British film that was released theatrically, or simply a direct-to-DVD unaired TV show. What can be stated with some degree of certainty is that in New Zealand it aired as a two-part TV drama, and that if it did get a theatrical release in the UK, it's probably only because somebody got carried away with how well another TV drama (aka The Queen) had done at the oscars, and assumed this might have similar box office success.

Whether the release to just one or two cinema's was a deliberate choice (to avoid the dreaded 'Direct to DVD' tag) or enforced by a need to be sensitive in a year that saw unprecedented bad weather hit Britain earlier this year, is a bit of a moot point, because unfortunately the 'film' has 'TV drama' rather than 'epic disaster movie' written all over it.

Robert Carlyle plays marine engineer Rob Morrison

Perhaps the biggest giveaway of its TV origins is the cast. OK, so maybe Tom Courtenay and Robert Carlyle can be counted as movie stars, but they stand isolated from so many stalwarts of British TV series over the years that part of the problem with the film is the continual distraction of wanting to 'name the show this or that actor was last in'. I lost count after wasting too much time trying to remember 'Neil from the Young Ones', 'that girl who got raped in The Jewel in the Crown' or 'Inspector Poirot', as familiar faces appeared in quick succession in a never-ending series of cameos from the British TV acting establishment.

Jessalyn Gilsig, recognisable from bit parts in several popular U.S. TV shows, is brought in to help increase the chance of possible sales in the USA, and helps round out a strong cast that are in urgent need of a half-decent script.

Jessalyn Gilsig plays the part of 'Thames Barrier expert' and ex-wife who Morrison is still in love with. You can just guess how this is all going to end, can't you?!

It was standard fare in the Hollywood disaster movies of the 70's to have little in the way of 'character' or 'plot', because the emphasis was always on the big effects. But things have moved on, and without the big-budget effects available to Hollywood, the clichéd seen-it-all-100-times-before storyline just comes across as weak, uninspired and, by the time we've got an hour in and most of the CGI work has been shown, just plain dull.

The story, for what it is, centres primarily around three characters: Rob Morrison (Robert Carlyle with an accent that is sure it's British, but can't seem to make up its mind as to whether it's working class or middle class) is a marine engineer, still in love with the wife Sam (a Thames Barrier 'expert') who has been separated from him for several months. For added depth, the character also gets an estranged father who is resented for having spent too much time with silly ideas about the Thames Barrier not working, rather than at home nursing his dying, cancer-stricken, wife. It's exactly rocket science to work how these relationships are all going to pan out, given that 'unexpected' floods are suddenly hurling towards London, threatening to kill hundreds of thousands of people.

Even if the character set-up we're given had been less 'do it by numbers', it's doubtful the characters would be any more sympathetic given the way they're pushed aside whenever someone somewhere has decided the 'film' isn't moving fast enough. Edits are fast and flashy, mainly one suspects to cover up the fact that there's so little money available for what we've really come to see here - those CGI shots of London under water.

The shooting style doesn't help either, featuring what looks like a poor imitation of the big American shows like 24 and Battlestar Galactica: all hand-held, quick-zoom, 'adjust the focus whilst shooting' nonsense that the Americans are currently in love with. If one switched into this DVD half-way through one could be forgiven for thinking one had turned on a recent episode of Spooks, albeit an episode with a higher-than-average budget for water tanks, if a lower-than-average budget for the script!

The biggest sin though appears to have been the rush to fit everything into two 50-minute halves for TV sales (as evidenced by a silly cliff-hanger exactly mid-way into the running time of the 'movie') which has made a nonsense of any sense of continuity and pacing. The first half tacks on a silly 'Scotland flooded first' to lure the viewers in at the start, meaning that the rest of the first 50 minutes has to be rushed to get to the cliff-hanger in time, and the second half drags to the point of utter tedium once the flood has finished doing its stuff.

As just one example of this poor editing, consider a scene where we have Carlyle's character refusing point-blank to even meet his father, denouncing him as a crazy lunatic with a deluded obsession that the Thames Barrier won't cope with any floodwater, only to then cut to a scene where his father is reporting via video camera to the government, with the suddenly reconciled-for-no-apparent-reason son appearing alongside him and speaking up on his behalf! It's a rather confusing mess!

Inspector Poirot is called in to help, but finds it all too stressful. Plenty of dead bodies, but you can't arrest a flood!

All that being said, it's doubtful that disaster movie fans, who after all are the most likely purchasers given the way the DVD has been presented and marketed, will necessarily care about such things. The same vicarious thrills experienced on seeing The White House destroyed in Independence Day back in the 90's, can be experienced here again, with all the big London landmarks having their moments of CGI fame. And whilst the CGI work may not be up to Hollywood blockbuster standards, they're thankfully superior to those featured on the BBC's 'flag ship' (stop laughing at the back, there) Saturday night offering Dr Who.

The cast, as one would expect given the pretty heavyweight talent featured here, do a sterling job of trying to deliver the shoddy lines they've been given, and the various water tank scenes are very impressive, particularly if you make believe you're watching a British TV show rather than a 'real' film.

Tom Courtenay plays Morrison's estranged father. Seems he made a lousy Dad because he spent every waking hour warning people what would happen if there was a flood. But will he get the chance to say 'Nyaaa! Nyaaa!' before he drowns?!

Picture quality is up to TV broadcast standards, and the sound too is acceptable, particularly when it needs to be expansive, during the big flood scenes.

Given the money that's been spent here (how will they make any of it back?!) one might have expected something some pretty decent material being available on the extra's front. It's clear that, in the action scenes at least, a lot of work was put in, and given the quality of the special effecs, along with the propensity of Soho FX house staff to talk endlessly and enthusiastically about their work, one might have expected quite a lot. Alas, all we get are a few tired sound-bites from a few of the main cast members and the producers, artificially split up by 'white text on black background' captioned questions. Annoyingly, the badly edited replies all fade out the sound before the picture, leaving actors with mouths moving but no sound before the next dreary caption appears.

If you live in London, or just fancy a bit of TV drama instead of yet another reality TV show, the DVD is probably worth a rental, if only to see some of our best British thespians at work, or to snigger at familiar landmarks being laid waste by water damage. But it's hard to imagine anybody wanting to sit through a repeat viewing, when so much of what's featured here seems to have already been shown on our screens many, many times before. It's not a terrible DVD but, when all things are taken into account one is forced to the conclusion that the characters are all too wet and that Flood is nothing more than a damp squib.

Tower Bridge goes under as Monty Python point out 'It's only a model!'

Monday, 29 October 2007

Kiss of Death (1947)

Kiss of Death: Film 8 out of 10, DVD 8 out of 10, On Sale 15th October 2007 at a typical online price of £13.89. Imdb rating at time of writing is 7.6, Rotten Tomatoes is 92% fresh

If you're a fan of Film Noir, you'll love Kiss of Death, beautifully presented here in its original 4:3 black and white format, in a digital restoration from the British Film Institute (BFI).

The film is perhaps best known for featuring actor Richard Widmark's first appearance in front of the camera. It's an astonishing debut in the role of psychotic killer Tommy Udo, a performance which rightly won the actor an oscar nomination. Invested with a nervous giggle and twitchy manner that Widmark invented for the character, Tommy Udo becomes an iconic villain, and the actor burns up the screen with every second of his performance.

Arguably the film's most infamous scene is that featuring Udo's revenge when, frustrated at being unable to find his intended 'snitch', he almost casually pushes the intended victim's wheelchair-bound mother down a steep flight of stairs. Despite some fairly obvious stunt work (it's pretty obvious that the woman falling out the chair is just a bundle of clothes with nobody inside!) the scene still has the power to shock, with its unexpected intensity and display of casual violence.

Victor Mature plays petty crook turned 'stool pigeon' Nick Bianco

Victor Mature plays Nick Bianco, a petty crook who's fallen in with the wrong crowd, and become reduced to theft and petty violence in order to support his wife (who, we're told, has a drink problem) and two small daughters. The film opens with an exciting, tension-filled jewellery heist that ultimately goes wrong, leaving Bianco's accomplices injured or dead, with the man himself facing a long jail term unless he accepts a parole offer, made by kindly Assistant District Attorney Louis D'Angelo (Brian Donlevy).

Bianco initially refuses, proud of his chosen 'profession' - pride which vanishes some months after he starts his jail sentence, in part because he sees no sign of the parole initially promised by his gangster attorney. Disillusionment really sets in when his family's former child minder Nettie Cavallo (Colleen Gray), visits him in prison to tell him his children have been taken into care following the suicide of his wife.

There is obvious chemistry between Bianco and Cavallo - chemistry which causes him to decide to go straight when 'The Kiss of Death' of the film's title takes place between the two.

With early parole and future happiness with his new family on offer, Bianco 'squeals' on former colleague and psychopath Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark), only to find the case against Udo is thrown out by the jury, leaving the psychopath free to exact revenge on not just his former best friend, but his new-found family too.

Brian Donlevy is sympathetic Assistant District Attorney Louis D'Angelo

Critics of the time praised Victor Mature, who up to this point had been given leading man roles based on his smouldering looks rather than any innate acting talent. But it's the supporting cast, and Richard Widmark in particular, that make this a classic.

Mature is OK, but when supporting characters like Donlevy and Gray appear on screen their much more naturalistic performances out-class that of Mature at almost every turn. It's not that he's a terrible actor, just that you're continually aware that he is acting, too frequently with rather exaggerated effect. At times his performance is reminiscent of a hulking Sylvester Stallone, with a complete lack of the sort of subtlety or contrasts of light and shade that would have added real depth to the role. Too often his performance feels like a missed opportunity.

Fortunately, none of that really matters because of the combination of a beautifully-paced plot, more than acceptable direction from Henry Hathaway and a blistering screen debut from Richard Widmark as the psychotic villain of the piece. Widmark himself has since called his performance 'too over-the-top', but when 'over the top' is this good, who cares?! The actor is never less than mesmerising, despite his limited screen time, and it's not hard to see why this was an oscar-nominated performance.

Assistant D.A Louis D'Angelo's pleas for Nick to rat out his accomplices fall on deaf ears.

The picture quality on this 1947 movie is superb, and the monaural soundtrack is clear and surprisingly free of noise. Clearly a lot of work has been done on digitally restoring the print, as evidenced by comparing scenes from the film with the almost impenetrably murky footage of the same scenes shown in the trailer that's included on the disc. Aside from the trailer, which is more entertaining than is usually the case in that it features additional footage specially shot to promote the film, the only other extra is a 20-minute interview at London's National Film Theatre with the actor Richard Widmark, recorded in the late 1990's.

The interview with the now-elderly Widmark has some fascinating anecdotes about the shooting of the film, with the actor being very down-to-earth and unassuming in discussing his career over the years. It makes for fascinating viewing.

Richard Widmark impresses in his first film role, as Tommy Udo - a role which won him an oscar nomination, and rightly so.

The BFI are always very good at putting together a decent DVD package, and this one is no exception. A lavish 16-page booklet features original poster designs and set photo's, with the main feature being a short essay on the film by Lee Server.

If you like your movies to be of the 'film noir' variety, and relish a beautifully put-together black and white classic from the late 1940's, then this is definitely worth a rental, if not an outright purchase. Indeed I enjoyed it so much that I've already ordered a couple of other titles in the same series, including Night and the City (1950), which features a return performance from Richard Widmark. Highly recommended!

Coleen Gray plays love interest 'Nattie' - her kiss is enough to persuade Nick he can find happiness IF he's happy to snitch on his former colleagues to get parole.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Tell No One (2007)

Tell No One At a Glance: Film and DVD 7 out of 10, On Sale 15th October 2007 at a typical online price of £13.89. Imdb rating at time of writing is 7.4, Rotten Tomatoes is at 93% approval

Tell No One seems to have captured the imagination of the British film-going public, and certainly the critics, with universally enthusiastic reviews and a Top 10 placing in the UK Box Office Top 10. Such enthusiasm probably says as much about the current state of the Hollywood thriller as it does about the quality of this French-speaking, English-subtitled film.

Nevertheless, the film's success is no mean achievement, particularly given the general aversion of the great British public to pay good money to 'read a film, rather than watch it', and it's received a generous launch on dual shiny DVD discs from Revolver Entertainment, just a couple of months after its strong UK box office debut.

Alex and Margot, childhood sweethearts head off for a camping trip that will end disasterously for both of them

In truth, Tell No One is a well-written, well-acted, well-paced thriller as one would expect from the general raves.

I just wish I thought it was as clever or flawless as most of the critics have implied.

For me there were too many 'suspend disbelief' moments to mark the film out as a true masterpiece. A final, unnecessary 'one twist too many' plot-point at the end of the movie also smacked more of desperation than the careful thought-out planning that's in evidence for most of the film's running time. It's as if the film-makers had panicked when they didn't need to, and tacked on a final twist to try and give a heightened sense of climax that really wasn't needed or warranted.

Carving their names on each yearly visit. Don't do this at home kids, it's vandalism!

Francois Cluzet plays the 'every man' Dr Alex Beck, whose romantic weekend countryside tryst with his childhood sweetheart (Marie-Josée Croze) is wrecked when she is seemingly grabbed and murdered by a serial killer on the loose, witht he good doctor left unconscious to wonder what exactly happened after he saw his wife grabbed and heard her screams for help.

Ten minutes in and the film jumps forward eight years in time. The doctor, still seemingly coming to terms with his grief, receives an anonymous email with a link to a public webcam that appears to show his wife Margot's face in a crowd. This all happens as the bodies of two seemingly murdered men are unearthed at the scene of the original crime. Suddenly Alex is under investigation not just for his wife's murder, but for that of the two newly discovered men and finds himself in a race against time to find out if the face seen in the crowd really is that of the one woman who may hold some answers to him.

The ongoing plot revelations make for fun viewing, with a central showcase police chase sequence across a busy motorway being particularly impressive, not least for being on foot rather than following the car-chase clichés of the genre.

The film is undoubtedly at its best when following the usual edge-of-your-seat 'thriller' formula, albeit with gaps in plausibility that will have you groaning out loud in places, but unfortunately the director, former 'pretty boy'/'French heart throb' actor Guillaume Canet tries to also graft on a love story, which for me didn't work, mainly because of the lack of chemistry between his two leads.

Lack of romantic chemistry issues aside, Cluzet delivers a strong performance as the 'everyman' forced to go on the run and become someone different when his life is threatened, which is just as well since he appears in nearly every single scene. Kristin Scott Thomas pops up in one of several minor, but important, roles with Francois Berleand standing out in the role of the investigating office trying to get to the truth of what happened.

One of Beck's patients is the son of a crook in the seedy underworld of drugs and crime - kinda convenient when Beck finds himself on the run from the police

The picture transfer is flawless, such that at times I felt I was almost watching an HD-DVD transfer, the picture quality being almost 3D-like on some exterior shots. Sound is adequate - reinforcing the action when needed, without imposing itself too much. It serves the needs of the film but there's nothing here that's going to have you whipping the disc out to show off your new sound system to the neighbours.

The extra's are generous enough to warrant a second disc, but annoyingly are presented for the most part in non-anamorphic widescreen which means on my plasma screen they occupy a small percentage of the screen with black borders around all four sides. The hour-long 'Making of' is more an on-set diary, and gives good insight to the film-making process, and particularly in how the director Guillaume Canet works with his cast and crew.

Alex's father-in-law doesn't want to talk about the state of Margot's body when he found it - is he hiding something?!

The trailer, deleted scenes, out-takes, and bizarre pranks played on the actors when they've finished their last scenes (obscure enough to only be funny to those directly involved) round out this package, making this good value, with the director's short, and rather inconsequential, 15 minute short film I Can't Sleep also included as a bonus. The slipcase sleeve also boasts 'Hidden Extra's, but I'm afraid I've never understood the obsession with making it difficult for the DVD purchaser to find what they've paid for and didn't waste time trying to find them.

Overall this is an above-average thriller, if not quite the masterpiece some are claiming it to be. It's certainly well worth a rental, but I'd question the need to purchase it given that its charm lies mainly in the viewer's ability to fail at second-guessing what might happen next. Nevertheless it's a cut above the average and well worth a couple of hours of your time. Recommended.

The police suspect Alex may have murdered his wife eight years earlier and evidence starts to mount up against him as the film progresses