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Category:    Home > Reviews > Thriller > Mystery > Drama > Theft > Science Fiction > Fantasy > Terrorism > Don McKay (2009/Image Blu-ray) + Dreamscape (1983/Image Blu-ray) + Unthinkable (2009/Sony Blu-ray)

Don McKay (2009/Image Blu-ray) + Dreamscape (1983/Image Blu-ray) + Unthinkable (2009/Sony Blu-ray)


Picture: B-/C+/B-     Sound: C+/C+/B-     Extras: C/C+/C     Films: C/C+/C



When Hollywood tries to produce thrillers with a difference, the results can work sometimes, but too many times, you get odd results that offer a film with different ideas in it that do not add up.  Three new Blu-ray releases remind us of that, all with interesting actors, ideas and ambitions, but not necessarily working in the end.


Writer/Director Jake Goldberger’s Don McKay (2009) tells the odd story of a school custodian and title character (Thomas Hayden Church) called back to his old home town he has avoided for a quarter century after an ugly incident he would rather forget.  He gets pulled into returning by a piece of mail, a supposed gal from his past (Elisabeth Shue) and a scheme that seems rather convoluted.  On paper, this looks like it might have worked, as it is one part offbeat crime drama, one part dark comedy and one part absurd, bad, deadly situation.  However, despite a supporting cast that includes M. Emmet Walsh, Melissa Leo, Pruitt Taylor Vance, Keith David and James Rebhorn, the film becomes more interested in being impressed with itself and its cast than actually delivering a story with a payoff and that is why you have not heard of it.


You likely have heard of Joseph Ruben’s Dreamscape (1983), coming to Blu-ray around the same time as his original Stepfather (1987, reviewed elsewhere on this site) hits the format.  Along with True Believer (1989), Ruben hit his stride as a filmmaker after a drive-in movie start with The Pom Pom Girls, Sister-In-Law and Joyride.  Like Douglas Trumbull’s Brainstorm (the same year, also reviewed on this site), this film wanted to be another Ken Russell’s Altered States (1980) and has its followers, but all these films about entering the dream zone and subconscious of people never paid off and later imitators (Katherine Bigelow’s Strange Days in 1995, for instance) or the “virtual reality” cycle that followed at that time only produced films that were worse.


In this case, Dennis Quaid plays a man who has had some telekinetic abilities since he was young and now finds he can physically enter the dreams of others, but things get wild when he has to go into that of The President of the United States that he is trapped in.  The Science Fiction side has potential, but is undermined by fantasy elements, a childish attempt as a thriller (the government is here in its laughable “warm fuzzy 1980s” mode that never made sense) and we land up with what now plays like a pre-teen version of Tarsem’s superior The Cell.


The film was sold as if it were Raiders Of the Lost Ark and future Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom star (and future Mrs. Steven Spielberg) Kate Capshaw happens to be the female lead.  They also lucked out by having a solid cast that includes Max Von Sydow, Christopher Plummer, Eddie Albert, David Patrick Kelly, Chris Mulkey and Peter Jason, but this is a cult item at best and with a music score by no less than Maurice Jarre, a curio to boot.


That leaves Gregor Jordan’s Unthinkable (2009), yet another terrorism thriller that has become a formula as we get asked that tired question, if said deadly weapon(s) activated would kill who knows how many people, how much would you punch, beat-up, mutilate, torture, twist, stab and nearly kill your suspect?  Is it more justified if the person is definitely a killer terrorist?  Of course, this short-sightedness showed up in bad films before 9/11 (Edward Zwick’s The Siege a major example) is penned by actor Peter Woodward (son of no less than the great actor Edward Woodward of Callan and The Equalizer among others) so what did they try that was different?


Nothing much.  Samuel L. Jackson plays the interrogator role (repeating himself sadly), Michael Sheen (the British actor who is definitely not Arab) is the nuclear scientist gone nuts and Carrie-Anne Moss is the FBI investigator stuck in the middle as three bombs are about to go off.  This is borderline torture-porn, the kind inspired by that subgenre and by the hit TV series 24, which jumped the shark only a few seasons in.  The actors are good and Sheen can hold his own as usual, even against a match like Jackson, but we’ve seen this all before and lately, too much, so any edge it has dissipates quickly.  The uncut version is better than the R-version, but not by very much.  I was hoping for a surprise, but I never bought it for long and it sadly falls apart early.



The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on McKay, 1080i 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition on Dreamscape and 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image on Unthinkable have interesting qualities to them, but are all eventually underwhelming.  McKay is a little softer throughout than it should be despite being shot on film, but the 35mm Fuji lensed by Director of Photography Phil Parmet never looks great throughout, sometimes is too soft and disappoints, though not as badly as the noisier-than it should be Dreamscape transfer.  An older HD master, the interlacing and graininess is not as good as this film should look, instead looking disappointing not unlike the Short Circuit Blu-ray (reviewed on this site) we saw a while ago.  Director of Photography Brian Tufano (Quadrophenia, Trainspotting, Billy Elliot) did an interesting visual job here and this does not do justice to it.


That leaves Unthinkable, also filmed in 35mm and showing it more in some scenes than the other two Blu-rays.  Unfortunately, Director of Photography Oliver Stapleton (The Cider House Rules) allows too much digital work and reproductions of HDTV images to spoil his work and that hinders the narrative than otherwise.  As well, some shots are softer and we get some motion blur.


All three have DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless 5.1 mixes, but only Unthinkable has a good soundfield and McKay is a very quiet, dialogue-based film.  That leaves music by Jarre the highlight of Dreamscape, a Dolby analog A-type theatrical release whose audio here shows its age in compression, lack of clarity and some dialogue that seems too low for its own good.


Extras on all three title have feature length audio commentary tracks with their respective directors, McKay adds a Theatrical Trailer and Deleted Scenes that would not have helped much.  Dreamscape adds a Stills Gallery and Behind-The Scenes Special Effects Make-Up Tests.  Unthinkable adds BD Live and movieIQ interactive functions and an alternate ending with the extended version of the film, though neither ending work by the time it is all finishing up.


As you can see, they are all interesting, yet none of them deliver to their potential, but it was not from a lack of ambition.  Too bad because if the makers had concentrated more, any of these films could have been hits and/or classics.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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