• 8MM (Shout! Factory) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: January 8th, 2018.
    Director: Joel Schumacher
    Cast: Nicolas Cage, Joaquin Phoenix, James Gandolfini, Peter Stormare, Anthony Heald, Catherine Keener

    Year: 1999
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    8MM – Movie Review:

    From Andrew Kevin Walker, the writer of Se7en, and Joel Schumacher, hot off of directing… Batman And Robin… comes 1999’s 8MM, a remarkably dark thriller by the standards of mainstream Hollywood productions.

    Tom Welles (Nicolas Cage) is a private investigator married to wife Amy (Catherine Keener), the proud father of a new baby. He’s a well-educated man with a knack for surveillance work. He does the family man thing well enough too, caring for his wife and child as best he can. His life changes when he’s hired by a woman named Mrs. Christian (Myra Carter) to investigate what she believes to be a snuff film portraying the murder of a young girl. She has a personal interest in this as the film was retrieved from the safe of her recently departed husband – she wants assurances that what is shown in that 8mm film isn’t real. Welles tells her that snuff films aren’t real, they’re just the stuff of urban legend, but he winds up taking the case.

    Welles proves to be quite proficient at this type of work, quickly identifying the girl in the film and tracking down her mother. Once he’s on the trail, he eventually meets a man named Max California (Joaquin Phoenix) whose ties to the underbelly of the adult film industry in both New York and Los Angeles helps bring Welles closer to the truth. Through Max he meets Eddie Poole (James Gandolfini), a man whose job it is to procure women for various seedy endeavors, and a porno movie mogul named Dino Velvet (Peter Stormare) who may or may not have ties to the origins of the film that Mrs. Christian was unfortunate enough to come across.

    You can’t help but think of Paul Schrader’s 1979 thriller Hardcore when you watch 8MM, both films follow a similar arc and share a similar premise. Schumacher makes this his own animal, however, taking things in a different direction than the earlier film – if the influence might be there, it stops at influence, never delving into theft. He paces the picture well, never afraid to take the film into some surprisingly dark and seedy territory, earning its R-rating with ease. The film’s morals are interesting, seemingly conflicted in spots – we see Welles pulled into this horrible world and we see how it affects him, knowing full well that it’s going to put him in the position where he will have to take a life. How he deals with this is interesting. The danger that Welles’ job inevitably puts him in doesn’t translate into typical action scenes the way that you might expect to, but it does result in some legitimately gripping tension. If the movie, like most mainstream projects that deal with ‘snuff’ tend to do, conveniently confuses snuff films with underground porn, we’re able to look past that rather obvious discrepancy due to the fact that the picture is pretty damned entertaining.

    Good production values help here. The score from Mychael Danna, is odd but effective and the cinematography from Robert Elswit, of Boogie Nights and There Will Be Blood as dark and shadowy as you would expect given the storyline. Mark Stevens’ work in the editing booth is also noteworthy, it keeps the action and drama coming in equal doses and provides the film with plenty of forward momentum and a nice flow.

    The performances are strong. Cage, despite having a tendency and a reputation for chewing the shit out of the scenery, does a very good job here. It’s easy in a post-Mandy world to want him to ‘go full Cage’ and use his admittedly impressive ability to go nuts on screen but the movie would be worse off if he did. He’s admirably restrained here, able to effectively communicate through solid acting and use of body language all that his character goes through. He looks good in the part and he fits the material well. Catherine Keener is likeable – but Catherine Keener (of Get Out and Living In Oblivion) is always likeable, so that’s no surprise. She’s very solid here. Phoenix does a more than decent job as Welles’ guide to L.A.’s sleazy underbelly, infusing in his character enough quirky traits to make him memorable, while Gandolfini (he of True Romance and, obviously, The Sopranos) is eerily convincing and pretty damn near perfect as the guy who can get you anything for a price. Peter Stormare (of Fargo and American Gods) overdoes it a bit as the director, but not so much as to ruin anything.

    8MM – Blu-ray Review:

    8MM comes to Blu-ray from Shout! Factory in a 2.35.1 widescreen transfer in AVC encoded 1080p high definition on a 50GB disc in a very solid presentation. This is, visually, a very dark looking film with much of it taking place in dimly lit interiors almost devoid of color. Going into this one expecting it to ‘pop’ the way a different movie could would be unrealistic. So, keeping the intended look of the film in mind, the transfer shapes up nicely. There’s a bit of minor print damage early in the film but nothing to complain about after that. Detail definitely surpasses what DVD provided and skin tones look fine. Black levels are good and in the lighter, brighter exterior scenes color reproduction is very nice. The transfer is free of noticeable compression problems, edge enhancement or noise reduction issues, retaining a natural amount of noticeable film grain.

    The films is given DTS-HD tracks on 2.0 Stereo and 5.1 Surround Sound with optional subtitles offered in English only. The 5.1 mix is a bit wonky in that while the score sounds genuinely great, some of the dialogue is balanced a bit off, with the levels noticeably higher than in the stereo track – except not all the time, it’s an intermittent issue with some scenes sounding fine and others like certain passages of dialogue are yelled rather than just spoken. It’s a strange phenomenon, making the stereo track the better option. Balance here sounds fine. Neither track has any noticeable hiss or distortion and there’s reasonable depth throughout.

    The only new extra on Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray is 8MM In 35MM, which is an interesting interview with Schumacher that runs twenty-one-minutes in length. Here the director talks about where he was at personally and professionally at the time that the movie was made, how he originally wanted Russell Crowe for the lead, dealing with Sony and various censorship problems, and more. It’s an interesting piece and worth checking out.

    Carried over from the old DVD release is the commentary track with Schumacher that is, for those who haven’t heard it, a good listen. He covers how he came to direct the film, MPAA issues, research that went into the film, his thoughts on the script, working with the cast and crew and plenty more. Also carried over is a vintage behind the scenes featurette which is pretty quick at five-minutes in length but which does at least contain some nice archival footage.

    Rounding out the extras is a still gallery, some TV spots, a theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection. It would have been great to get some input from input from Walker on this as he was quite outspoken about how the movie turned out and what was done to his script, but that didn’t happen.

    8MM – The Final Word:

    8MM is a tense thriller and a film that stands as one of Cage’s best works as an actor and Schumacher’s best directorial efforts. It’s dark but effective, well-made and engrossing. Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray isn’t stacked to the rafters with extras the way some of their discs are but it does include a welcome new interview with the director as well as all of the extras from the old DVD. Add that to a solid presentation and this one comes recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized 8MM Blu-ray screen caps!