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Blow Out (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

It had been a while since I watched this one. There was a time, mostly in the '80s, when Brian De Palma was da man.

After Carrie and The Fury, De Palma hit his stride with this, the story of Jack Terry (John Travolta), a movie soundman out taping nature one pleasant evening. He watches a car go off a bridge; the driver, a political candidate, drowns. Jack saves a female escort named Sally (Nancy Allen) from the backseat, and she becomes the focus of a psychotic killer (John Lithgow) who is looking to tie up loose ends.

With this film, De Palma started to go wild with the Steadicam and long tracking shots, including a wonderful opening that is a funny riff on John Carpenter's Halloween. The movie represents the director at his very best.

Travolta, coming off mega-hits Grease and Saturday Night Fever, delivers one of his greatest, most-grounded performances. (Legend has it that he suffered from insomnia during the shoot, which contributed to his sullen and cranky tone.) Allen is a heartbreaker as Sally, a simple yet sweet porcelain doll who should've never gotten into that car.

Lithgow is an all-time-great psycho here. Nobody really knew who he was before this film; his career would take off the following year with The World According to Garp.

Blow Out is a forgotten cinematic gem; it's technically dazzling, wonderfully acted and uncompromisingly dark in the end.

SPECIAL FEATURES: This package contains three terrific interviews. Brian De Palma sits down for a talk conducted by Noah Baumbach and discusses some of the joys and difficulties of making the movie, including the theft of many boxes of film that caused costly re-shoots. Nancy Allen talks about the funny voice she used for Sally, and the chance to work with Travolta again (after they co-starred in Carrie). Finally, the inventor of the Steadicam discusses how the film includes many shots that wouldn't have existed without his technology. Criterion didn't go overboard this time, but what they did provide is awesome.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

Just last year, Universal released a Blu-ray version of Terry Gilliam's Hunter S. Thompson film. Now Criterion is following that package up with a Blu-ray reissue of the fantastic DVD package they put out in 2003.

Skip the other Blu-ray ... this is the one you need if you are a Gilliam fan.

I gave this film a negative review when I first saw it, and I changed my mind later on. I now kind of get a kick out of it, and understand what Gilliam was trying to do. (You must watch the film with "drug goggles"—something that is a little hard to do when you don't do drugs.) Johnny Depp is terrific as Thompson's alter ego Raoul Duke, while Benicio Del Toro is equally fine as Dr. Gonzo.

I haven't liked Gilliam's output much since this film was released some 13 years ago. In fact, I think it represents the start of a downward trend for him. Still, Fear and Loathing does have its pleasures, even if it contains a little too much vomiting. People throw up a lot in this movie.

SPECIAL FEATURES: While the first Blu-ray release skimped on special features, this one is loaded. You get three commentaries, and fans will want to check them all out. Gilliam sits down for one of them; he is always one of the best when it comes to film commentary. Then you get Depp and Del Toro discussing the experience on another channel. Finally, there's the late Thompson himself turning in the third commentary. This Blu-ray might take the prize for Best Commentary Collection Ever. You also get deleted scenes, a look at the problems the film had with screenwriting credits, a booklet containing some words from Thompson, and much more.

Somewhere (Blu-ray)





(OUT OF 10)

Stephen Dorff is a fine actor, and he gets one of his higher profile roles in this intermittently enjoyable, quiet and dreamy film from Sofia Coppola.

Dorff plays Hollywood actor Johnny Marco, who needs to shift his crazy life down a few gears when his young daughter (Elle Fanning) comes to stay with him for an extended visit. The movie evokes a little bit of Coppola's Lost in Translation (Hollywood actor at a crossroads) and, as usual for Coppola, boasts beautiful cinematography and a great soundtrack.

Dorff's work here is understated, and it is supposed to be. He and Fanning make a fun pair; Dakota's younger sister has some pretty decent acting chops, for sure.

This film isn't among Coppola's best; in fact, it is probably her weakest film to date. But it's still good, and it's nice to see Dorff get the spotlight for a change.

SPECIAL FEATURES: An interesting making-of documentary, and that's it.

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