Blasts from the Past! Blu-ray Review: STORMY MONDAY (1988)

This release from Arrow Video will be available for purchase (www.arrowvideo.com – www.facebook.com/ArrowVideo/) on July 11th.

Stormy-Monday-blu-rayArrow Video are typically known for their extras-packed genre film releases. However, they do occasionally put out features that aren’t horror pictures. Such is the case with their latest arrival. Stormy Monday is a stylized and effective British production that spins the thriller genre in a few different ways. It’s also a noteworthy production for the behind-the-scenes talent involved. It is being released in a 2 disc Blu-ray and DVD combo package.

Brendan (Sean Bean) is a young man who has recently arrived in Newcastle and is searching for any kind of work. He eventually finds a cleaning job at a jazz club run by Finney (Sting). It’s a busy time in the city, with an American-themed festival taking place and US politicians like Cosmo (Tommy Lee Jones) arriving with the intention of snatching up local property and taking financial advantage. Brendan meets and falls for Kate (Melanie Griffith), a woman with mysterious ties to Cosmo. When the employee learns that Finney is being targeted by Cosmo’s people in order to make him sell his club, Brendan finds himself a part of some shady dealings.

M8DSTMO EC012While director Mike Figgis (who would later go on to helm Leaving Las Vegas) has made a simple and in some respects traditional thriller, there is plenty of unique and personal touches that differentiate it from others of its ilk. It’s a simmering, low-key movie where not too much happens, but the characters and atmosphere created keeps viewers glued. The characters aren’t drawn in black and white shades, lending an element of unpredictability to the proceedings. Brendan, the newcomer entering this strange world, is relatable enough to emphasize with as he attempts to navigate his way around various morally grey characters. The filmmaker also adds a Polish free-jazz group into the proceedings to add humor and an air of eccentricity to proceedings.

MSDSTMO EC008This movie is gorgeous, filled with neon-lit streets and water-covered, reflective backdrops. The most remarkable thing about the Blu-ray is how absolutely stunning it all looks. While this review has used old publicity stills as images, it doesn’t do the actual visuals justice. There was clearly an attempt to create a bright but moody, Edward Hopper-like feel and cinematographer Roger Deakins absolutely nails it. Not that anyone should be surprised that it looks as good as it does. This master of the camera has been shooting iconic movies his entire career, including 1984, The Shawshank Redemption, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, A Beautiful Mind, The Village, No Country for Old Men, Skyfall, Sicario and the upcoming Blade Runner 2049. I can’t believe that Deakins has yet to be awarded an Oscar… it seems like a major oversight.

The bonuses are also quite engaging as well. Director Figgis provides an excellent commentary track, going over the many troubles he had in putting together his first narrative feature. Most often, his difficulties came from budgetary restrictions (he reports the funding at about $1.5 million dollars). He mentions how many more extras he had wanted in the backgrounds of most scenes and says that they were cut out because he couldn’t afford them. He then admits that the lonely, emptier streets actually worked better and added to the mood. The director also goes into his musical training, explains that the onscreen performances are all live recordings and details how he composed the movie’s score.

MCDSTMO EC002Figgis also shares a story about how a rain-generating machine completely failed them while filming an important action scene. They didn’t have the money to re-shoot and he describes how the impressive sequence was pieced together from the two shots that they were able to obtain. He also has some great behind-the-scenes stories about the personalities involved. One comment suggests that Jones was grouchy at a couple of points about how his homeland was being portrayed and another anecdote relays a running joke that Sting would use on stern director or photography Deakins to try to get him to smile (it never worked).

M8DSTMO EC008It’s an entertaining, open and honest conversation well worth listening to. The disc also includes a thirty minute examination of the project with film critic Neil Young. He leads viewers around the shooting locations (a few of which are still exist), illustrates the history of the production in detail and also states the movie’s importance and significance in cinematic history. There’s also a trailer included from the movie’s original release. In all, the extras are fun and illuminating.

I greatly enjoyed viewing Stormy Monday and feel that the movie has likely never looked this good… perhaps ever. Those who enjoy the work of cinematographer Deakins and are curious about seeing some early performances from big stars or just want to enjoy a good, low-key thriller will certainly enjoy what they see.

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