Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Naked Prey [dir. Cornel Wilde]

Today I saw The Naked Prey on Eureka's blu-ray.

I got interested in the film when I read the synopsis, which reminded of Mel Gibson's Apocalypto, a film I tremendously enjoyed. Sure enough, actor-director Cornel Wilde's survival drama looks to me a precursor to the later film, even if it is not as relentless and kinetically propulsive. Here Man (specifically White Man, played by an incredibly well-built Wilde), originally part of a hunting party whose arrogant and trigger-happy client refuses to pay tribute to a local tribe and avoid trouble, is given chase in the African wilds by a tribe of native warriors out for his blood.

Apart from a few lines in the beginning, the film is entirely lacking in English dialog and none of the lines spoken by the African characters are translated, putting this film squarely in the perspective of the white man. The cat and mouse games played between Wilde and the natives are pretty well depicted, apart from clumsy heavy-handed symbolism in the form of cuts to instances of animal fighting. These hamper the pace, are mostly taken from stock / second-unit footage and even have a different look depending on the source (sometimes 16mm). But the bulk of the movie remains engaging, and the visuals are supported by a throbbing percussion based score and native chanting/singing, which keeps you rooted in the setting.

The blu-ray gives a solid presentation of the film. Color range seems limited by the setting of the film (heavily skewed towards browns) and it doesn't look as robust as films with recent restorations, but quite good on the whole (except obviously when compromised stock footage is used). The LPCM mono track does a fine job of bringing the action, especially the aforementioned percussion score. The on-disc extra of note is a video essay by Sheldon Hall, who briefly discusses Cornel Wilde's career and dives into the specifics of the making of this film. For someone like me, who had not previously heard of the actor, there is a wealth of information and interesting anecdotes here, very worthwhile sitting through.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Jurassic World [dir. Colin Trevorrow]

Sometimes all you want is to see giant monsters bashing at each other or devouring human fodder. So after watching Gamera 2: Attack of Legion couple days ago I was filled with an urge to check out Jurassic World, the latest entry in the genetically created dinosaurs saga originally written by Michael Crichton.

The first Jurassic Park movie, made at the dawn of mainstream Hollywood's use of computer graphics, was a big thrill at the cinema (of course, it was, like the series has always been, a clever mix of animatronics and optical tricks mixed with CG). The only thing that bugged me was Spielberg-Attenborough's schmaltzy rendition of the Hammond character (unlike the salty bastard of Crichton's novel) and those really annoying kids, who I kept praying would get devoured. The sequel Lost World was mostly lost on me. It had large doses of an annoying Jeff Goldblum saddled with a crap family story, and the first thrill of watching giant reptiles move across the screen was diluted by then. Jurassic Park III may be regarded as a lower entry for not being made by Spielberg (but by his protege Joe Johnston, who later made Captain America - The First Avenger), but I enjoyed it more than its predecessor. I like Sam Neill more and it was an unabashed theme park ride, which brought to life several sequences from Crichton's original novel (the aviary scene, the dino in the lake) that could not for technical reasons be achieved at the time. Also loved that they incorporated in the raptor design the then recent discoveries about the connections between dinosaurs and birds.

Jurassic World, as people have previously noted is practically a reboot / rehash of the first JP film. Isla Nublar is once again open, there is more genetic tinkering to make new, fiercer dinosaurs that provide more excitement to the public (perhaps analogous to how wildlife programs often focus on predatory sequences), stupid kids inside fragile vehicles are attacked by predators, systems go down without any backup, a chaotic final showdown between multiple know the drill. Chris Pratt stands in for Sam Neill, although his character seems more rustler than anything else - he apparently has the ability to communicate with raptors and act as the alpha male of the pack, something I find more difficult to swallow than the much-played-up leading lady's tendency to run in heels (the new dino is given some Hannibal Lecter like abilities to out-think his prey, although some are used once, then forgotten). Using the excuse of the dinos being genetically modified to match with public perception, the raptor design has been returned to the original reptilian appearance from JP. So originality is not of the film's strengths but it shines in slick execution. People feared that director Colin Trevorrow's indie film roots may result in a loss of spectacle, but if anything he seems determined to show that he can stage mass scale action as well as the known big movie makers. And technology has come a long way since the days of the original JP. The texturing and movement of the dino-creatures is amazing and they're much better integrated into the environment.

I wish I had seen this in the theater because it's the sort of film I feel should have been seen once in the most immersive format. I doubt I'll ever want to re-watch it.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Shahid [dir. Hansal Mehta]

Rather late in the day, but last night I watched Shahid, director Hansal Mehta's film on activist lawyer Shahid Azmi, who defended several people accused of terrorist activities till his murder.

After the '93 riots in Mumbai, the young Shahid went off to join a Pakistani militant training camp, but returned soon after. The film implies that is after he is made to watch the ritual killing of a man - I find it hard to believe that the trainers would waste time teaching their recruits assault rifle combat before showing them cold blooded murder to weed out the timid. Anyhow, shortly after Shahid's return he is arrested by the Mumbai police under the TADA act and forced to confess his involvement in a terrorist plot, after which he spends time in Tihar jail. Here he meets black & white examples of extremist and moderate Muslims and aligns with the moderates, in the process studying for law. After he is released he practices law, and becomes the messiah for underprivileged people picked up for terrorism allegations and kept in prison while investigations stretch on for years. For this he faces threat calls and even public attacks from political / criminal outfits. Somewhere in the midst is an awkwardly played out romance story with a lady client for whom he fights a property case, then marries.

Shahid is a good film, although it suffers some in execution because of a perceived need to soften and simplify. Namby-pamby songs and musical cues unnecessarily try to direct your attention. While it is based on true events, the script appears to simplify people and events to the point of contrivance. On the other hand, it is definitely a work of passion. The performances are solid (Rajkummar Rao, then known simply as Raj Kumar, holds center-stage and makes it worth your while to gloss over the film's shortcomings, but the supporting cast is also strong), production design is intricate without being obtrusive and director Mehta helms the affair quite well. Worth watching at least once.

Reliance's DVD is terrific in terms of the presentation - image quality is as good as an SD presentation of a digitally shot film gets. The color grading is excellent, generating mood without going overboard. Sound is good too, with very good separation and incorporation of ambient noises (An early scene of the riots is a great showcase). The sole extra is an extended version of Shahid's trip to the militant camp.