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Paramount Home Video presents
Black Rain HD-DVD (1989)

"This isn't New York. We have rules here."
- Masahiro Matsumoto (Ken Takakura)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: January 22, 2007

Stars: Michael Douglas, Andy Garcia, Ken Takakura
Other Stars: Kate Capshaw, Yusaku Matsuda, Tomisaburo Wakayama, Shigero Kouyama
Director: Ridley Scott

MPAA Rating: R for (violence, gore, language)
Run Time: 02h:05m:10s
Release Date: January 23, 2007
UPC: 097363222019
Genre: crime


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- BB+A A-

DVD Review

If you want to make a buddy cop movie interesting, there are a number of things you can do to perk it up. Try some gimmicks, use unusual casting, or push the envelope for violence. An old standby is to take the buddies and put them in a fish-out-of-water situation. One of the best of this latter tactic is this stylish action movie from Ridley Scott, produced by star Michael Douglas, which takes a pair of unruly New York cops and drops them down in the middle of a most unwelcoming Japan.

Douglas stars as officer Nick Conklin, in trouble with Internal Affairs, unhappy about his broken family, and just plain broke. His work keeps him kind of sane, as does his fondness for daredevil motorcycle riding (a trait shared with Douglas himself). His partner, Charlie Vincent (Andy Garcia) is a younger and more idealistic officer, which provides a good contrast. When they witness a Yakuza slaying in New York and capture the killer, Sato Koji (Yusaku Matsuda), they're not terribly surprised to learn that he's also wanted in Japan. But what does surprise them is that they're asked to escort Sato back to Osaka to stand trial for crimes there. Conklin is grudging, but admits it's a way to get Internal Affairs off his back. When they arrive, the pair seemingly hand over Sato to the local prefecture police, but instead turn him over to his own gang. With the help of distrusting assistant inspector Masahiro Matsumoto (Ken Takakura), they must try to recapture Sato and stop the coming gang war between him and older Yakuza godfather Sugai (Tomisaburo Wakayama).

Ridley Scott always bring a stylish view to genre films, and this is no exception. It has a noirish cast, especially once the scene shifts to Japan; Osaka is by and large shrouded in darkness, interrupted by garish neon on every side. The visuals are highly striking throughout, and the editing keeps the action crisp and nonstop. That's greatly assisted by Hans Zimmer's highly percussive score that combines Western motifs with Eastern instrumentations. It's an influential soundtrack that still holds up exceedingly well today.

What works best here, however, is the cultural clash. Although at the time the movie took some heat for its portrayal of Japan, it does a much better and more solemn job of it than more current depictions of that culture clash, such as the blatantly racist Lost in Translation. That's kind of interesting, since during the 1980s there was a undeniable fear of Japan as a conquering economic superpower, which would explain some of the xenophobia present. But Scott isn't just blaming one side; he appropriately enough sees xenophobia on both sides, and makes it clear that closer contact is probably the easiest way to resolve such issues.

At its heart, though, this is still a buddy cop movie. The relationships form a triangle of sorts, as Conklin is initially bonded with Charlie, then Charlie bonds with Masahiro, and finally Masahiro and Conklin come to terms, after a number of difficult run-ins. The contrast of Conklin's refusal to play by the rules is quite sharp against the more typical Japanese cultural devotion to the group and complying with norms. The contrast offers both tension and moderate humor in its unguarded moments, and even when it's harsh and angry, the movie still means well. At the same time, there are generational conflicts on display: Conklin's differences with Charlie are paralleled by the new order of Sato taking on the old school Yakuza of Sugai. I do wonder about the dialogue though; New York cops are calling each other 'baby' so often I suspect the script was written by a Hollywood agent. There are some shocking moments, but it plays quite well, with enough action to suit those looking for straight police drama and enough style to gratify those looking for something more.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The widescreen picture looks quite good overall; one area that HD DVD excels at is clarifying otherwise murky scenes of darkness. The neon is startlingly beautiful in its color and it pops right off the screen at you. A bit of edge enhancement is detectable on the opening credits and also the first New York sequence, but it's not overwhelming. The shootout at a foundry near the end of the picture is particularly gorgeous in its blacks and oranges.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
+
English, French, Spanishno
DTSEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The HD DVD offers both DD+ 5.1 EX and DTS 6.1 tracks for your listening enjoyment. The DTS track is slightly brighter and seems a bit more well defined from a directionality standpoint, but both are quite acceptable. All tracks have plenty of LFE throughout, both from gunshots and explosions, and from the percussive quality of Zimmer's score. Hiss and noise are practically nonexistent.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Ridley Scott
Packaging: Elite
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The extras of the special collector's edition released a few months ago are ported over, although only the theatrical trailer is presented in HD, and even then it's rather lacking in crispness. Scott offers a thorough-going commentary and is quite chatty and informative and manages to avoid duplication of the other extras to a large extent while still filling nearly the entire running time. He is a bit hazy on some details, though, so there are some gaps to be covered. These are handled by extras czar Laurent Bouzereau, adding up to well over an hour-long documentary in three parts. The first covers The Script, The Cast (20m:21s), while the second handles Making the Film (37m:46s, although it can be viewed in two parts if you so choose for some reason). Finally, the shortest chunk covers Post Production (12m:26s). All of them feature the principals, including Douglas, Garcia, Capshaw, Scott, and Zimmer, among others. If you haven't the patience for the full commentary these will provide an excellent overview of the movie, with little fluff and puffery, and a fair amount of behind-the-scenes material. Quite satisfactory indeed.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

One of the better action/crime dramas of the late 1980s, with a full array of extras and a nice HD transfer that makes the most of the darkness and neon glare of Scott's vision.

 


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