So we reach the final batch of awards season DVDs, arriving just in time for your summer viewing. These final few were on the outskirts of the awards, sneaking well-deserved nominations, or suffering unfortunate snubs, yet were arguably better than some of the winners themselves.
‘Whiplash’ is an electrifying, exceptional wonder of a film. It tells the story of an aspiring drummer, Andrew Neiman, in one of America’s most prestigious music academies. He makes his way into the best band in the college, where he comes under the torment of the brutal, perfection-seeking conductor. The film creates an exhilarating energy combined with an extreme intensity that has your heart pounding, tenses your muscles and will have you leaning forward in your seat. The lead performances by Miles Teller (as Neiman) and J.K Simmons (as the conductor, Terrence Fletcher) are absolutely brilliant (the latter of whom, definitely deserves all the awards he is collecting) and really draw you into the drama, making you forget you are watching actors. Teller portrays the drive and determination in Neiman to such effect, those feelings are passed on to the audience. Simmons creates such a terrifying character that he instills fear in the audience, balancing Teller to create an on screen conflict so intense and so real, that every moment seems critical in this on-screen battle of the wills. The screenplay is electric, gripping you so tightly that you are never bored, or, for even a moment, remember you are sat in a cinema. Damien Chazelle’s directing is phenomenal, engrossing you in the film and injecting you with the adrenaline it’s characters feel. He keeps you on edge throughout every performance, willing Neiman not to make a single mistake, and fearing the consequences if he does. The intermittent shots of sweat droplets hitting the cymbals and blood seeping onto the drumsticks create such an overwhelming sense of urgency, each beat feels of immense importance. The cinematography heightens the tension, even sending shivers down your spine. The whole film is incredible and so immersive that you emerge from it both exhausted and exhilarated. Right down to its breathtaking finale, the film never misses a beat.
Is it worth a Blu-ray? Seeing the blood, sweat and tears in high-definition could only serve to heighten
the intensity. Then again, the sharpness of Fletcher’s tongue will make up for any lack of sharpness in the
Clint Eastwood’s latest film ‘American Sniper’ is the powerful, touching true story of America’s deadliest sniper, Chris Kyle. The story is about the man, not just the war, focusing on Kyle’s mentality when enlisting and the shattering effect the war has on it when he returns home. Bradley Cooper brings such a depth to Kyle, giving a genuine and authentic portrayal of an American patriot with an exceptionally strong sense of duty, and reveals Kyle’s conscience behind his focused gaze. He shows the change in Kyle from the tough Texan cowboy, to the man that returns from his tours, broken and struggling to bring himself back into normal reality. He is supported very strongly by Sienna Miller, playing Kyle’s wife Taya, who shows the impacts war has on those whose loved ones leave to fight. She is the voice calling Kyle home, and calling him back into the reality of their family. Clint Eastwood directs with such strength, yet manages to keep the intimate moments close, pulling you into the mind of this man. He juxtaposes between sights of horrific war crimes, and the reunion of soldiers and their families, giving the slightest of insights into the struggles soldiers face in returning to normality. Clint Eastwood’s regular cinematographer, Tom Stern, captures the harsh realities of war in beautiful frames that immerse you in the story and capture the contrast of the two worlds Kyle lives in. The film is enthralling from the opening shot, right through to the shocking and extremely affecting final moments. The overall result is a story so extraordinarily powerful, it will stay with you long after the credits roll.
Is it worth a Blu-ray? The action sequences are mostly a slow-build and take place in sandy desert settings so HD will not exactly enhance the scenes vastly. The main focus of the film is more the emotional
story as opposed to the impressive action, so a high-definition viewing is not necessarily needed.
Kingsman: The Secret Service
Matthew Vaughn is known for taking genres and flipping them on their heads, and this film is no exception. Here he, and regular screenwriting partner Jane Goldman, take the spy genre, now so often associated with the gritty James Bond, and shake it up. Taron Egerton plays Eggsy, a young man living a life with the risk of falling into jail, whose father was once a member of Kingsman. It is when he gets arrested that he uses a ‘favour’ afforded to him by the organisation that he escapes imprisonment and meets Colin Firth’s character Harry Hart. Hart sees potential in Eggsy and puts him forward as his candidate in the Kingsman selection process. The film follows Eggsy through this process, whilst also focusing on the actions of Samuel L. Jackson’s villain Richmond Valentine, whose scheme becomes the mission later on in the film. Vaughn injects each scene with energy in his trademark dynamic visual style adding a unique vigour and excitement to each action sequence. The humour comes thick and fast, with only a few jokes missing. There are numerous references to Bond and other spies, both through subtle swells in the film’s score, and the direct naming of characters. The cast bring to life the diverse range of characters and interact well to create effective comedic moments. Some of the jokes may be a little too crude (namely the infamous final joke), and some may miss the mark altogether, but overall Vaughn has created an entertaining spy film that is exciting, humorous and a lot of fun.
Is it worth a Blu-ray? The hyperactive style of the action sequences could be more fully realised in high definition, but the film overall is just as enjoyable without it.
‘Selma’ tells the true story of the Martin Luther King, Jnr. lead march in the town of Selma, protesting against the racist voting system. The film is a harrowing portrayal of the raging racism of the 1960s, and includes many powerful, anger-inducing depictions of the horrendous violence that was taken upon the marchers. Ava Duvernay captures the struggles of the times through a lense that exposes a greater extent of the hatred than is usually shown. It is this that keeps moments of ‘Selma’ in the memory after the film’s ending. David Oyelowo fully embodies Martin Luther King, Jnr., both physically and emotionally, in an entirely transformative performance that outshines many of 2015’s Academy Award nominees. His character is not the focus of the film, that is the wider picture of events, yet his presence is always felt in every frame, his message embedded into every shot. Oyelowo is supported by a strong cast, creating individual characters, no matter how big or small, and ensuring that they do not become stereotypes of themselves. However, the film is not perfect, the camera work in certain scenes, for example, seems to add no value or enhance the events unfolding on screen. Despite this, the emotional core of the film overpowers the flaws to make for an interesting education on one part of America’s history.
Is it worth a Blu-ray? Despite the action occurring in some of the scenes, the film’s focus is more
on the political struggle, on conversations that do not require a high definition viewing.