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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » 88 (Blu-ray)
88 (Blu-ray)
Millennium Entertainment // Unrated // January 6, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted January 19, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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Since the mid-'90s explosion of independent filmmaking, there seems to have been an emphasis on the writer / director. The auteur theory has been around since the late 1950s, but that mostly concerns artistic vision. In many ways, it feels as if modern filmmakers almost believe they're not doing the job efficiently enough if they're not performing both roles. It's not so much about protecting their projects as it is keeping pace with those around them, presenting themselves as the entire filmmaking package for prospective employers. The big loser in these cases is the thought that a different perspective might be valuable; there are far too many films by first-timers that would've greatly benefitted from another set of eyes on the project for revisions and corrections. In other cases, such as with 88, a low-budget revenge thriller, there's the sense that writing and directing, although performed by the same person, were still viewed as two separate jobs, one completed before the other, and with so much focus on the directorial execution, the story ends up pushed to the side.

Gwen (Katharine Isabelle) is sitting in a diner. She has no idea how she got there. She recognizes the song playing on the radio, but not the food that's just been set in front of her, or anyone around her. Disoriented and dazed, she gets up to leave, spilling her backpack onto the floor. Among other things, it contains a large number of gumballs, and a machine gun. She is terrified by the sight of it, and so is the waitress who stops to help her pick things up. The waitress screams, Gwen pulls the trigger reflexively, and shoots the waitress, then flees the scene in a hail of gunfire. Over the next 24 hours, she slowly pieces together more of the story: she's been hunting a man named Cyrus (Christopher Lloyd), who murdered her boyfriend Aster (Kyle Schmid), and received some sort of assistance in this mission from Ty (Tim Doiron), who has a fairly chipper attitude when it comes to murder.

88 was directed by April Mullen, from a screenplay she co-wrote with Doiron. The screenplay is ambitiously structured to jump back and forth in time in a way that will allow it to circle back on itself (kind of like a figure 8, ho ho), concurrently backtracking through the events that led up to Gwen's arrival in the diner while also progressing forward from the diner. There are definitely some pleasing aspects about the script, namely that it handily avoids the kind of Tarantinoisms I've come to expect from flashy revenge pictures, but there are more bits worthy of criticism. The film opens with a screen of text explaining a fugue state, which is essentially a fancy word for a personality change and subsequent amnesia. Not only is amnesia in and of itself an affliction infinitely more popular with screenwriters than it is with actual people, anything a film has to explain in text is something it's failing to explain through the characters (and, really, the explanation is not particularly crucial for understanding the movie).

The character of Gwen is two-sided, which is one side less than three-dimensional. In the wake of Aster's death, in said fugue state, she takes on the name Flamingo and turns into a badass, which in Mullen's world means she smokes a lot and acts like an angry sexpot. Isabelle is more than game for this and gives Flamingwen a certain entertaining physicality (she even makes the act of climbing through a window unique), but in general, the kind of femme fatale Mullen wants isn't very interesting, and the film's back-and-forth narrative actually prevents the viewer from getting a stronger, fuller sense of her sudden transformation. Admittedly, it's hard to imagine 88 with a linear narrative, but by constantly separating the two versions of Gwen as she drifts in and out of her memories, it often feels as if the viewer is viewing two entirely different characters (for awhile, actually, I was suspicious of a twist ending involving twin sisters).

Still, the film might've worked okay jumping back and forth if Mullen didn't insist on accompanying each jump with aggressive, obnoxious sound effects and snippets of what's to come next, which quickly makes the film feel repetitive. Each jump is increasingly frustrating, with too much playing around with the style of these edits at the expense of the audience's connection with the story or character, insofar as the script would allow. After awhile, all I wanted was for the film to stay in one place for longer, not just because I was getting editorial whiplash, but because the experience of changing tracks was so irritating. It's the kind of mistake a writer / director may be more prone to make than two separate people: since Mullen has faith that the story is there in the screenplay, it'd be easier for her to be more focused on the new set of tools in front of her as a director than in keeping an eye on how clearly that story is being told. The writer needs to convey to the director what elements are narratively important, and the director needs to protect the writer's story. At least Mullen has a third option: her cameo appearance as a gun dealer is one of the film's more enjoyably goofy moments.

The Blu-ray
As with the rest of the film, there's a sense (but not an overt one) that maybe a Kill Bill kinda vibe was in mind when creating the cover art. Katharine Isabelle, in the striking red dress, in front of a bold background (in this case, lime green), with a splash of blood over it for good measure. The one-disc release comes in a standard non-eco Viva Elite Blu-ray case, and the entire thing is housed inside a foil embossed slipcover with identical artwork.

The Video and Audio
Armed with a 2.39:1 1080p AVC transfer and a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack, 88 is at the very least, a force to be reckoned with presentation-wise. This is a film dripping with shadows, all of which are handled with surprising effectiveness on this Blu-ray disc. There is a degree to which the shadows crush, but it appears to be intentional, and aside from the fade in at the very beginning of the film, no banding drops in to spoil the party. Colors are rich and vivid, especially that red dress, and fine detail is excellent from start to finish. The time jumps in the narrative are accompanied by disorienting bursts of sound, not to mention the film is peppered with gunfights, both of which are handled with impressive precision. The film also pulls out the old "ringing ears" standby once or twice to accentuate Gwen's "fugue state," and there's a number of music cues played with a certain hypnotic ambience. A top-notch presentation, which I must point out is once again from the little distributors. Why some of the majors can't get it right, I don't know. A lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 track, English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, and Spanish subtitles are also provided.

The Extras
The main extra, the one promoted on the cover, is "88: Behind-the-Scenes" (37:29, HD), a fly-on-the-wall, non-promotional making-of documentary that touches on all aspects of this low-budget production. I see a lot of making-of documentaries reviewing movies, and they have a tendency to blend together after awhile, touching on the same kind of beats in the same kind of way, so when one of them is clearly infused with an authentic enthusiasm and excitement, that's always refreshing, and this is one of those instances. I'm almost sad that I didn't like the film more because Mullen and Doiron are so enthusiastic about making it. This is packed with great B-roll from the film's production, and well worth a look if you enjoyed the film more than I did (or maybe even if you didn't). For some reason, this is supplemented with exactly the kind of soundbyte-friendly featurette I've become accustomed to, a much shorter making-of (3:14, HD), which is very skippable in face of the longer doc.

Trailers for Reach Me, Automata, By the Gun, and Good People play before the main menu. No trailer for 88 is included.

Conclusion
88 isn't bad, it's more overly ambitious, trying to do so much it ends up overwhelmed by technique rather than story and characters. There are interesting aspects to the movie (one not touched on above: the unique perspective of a boyfriend as a victim), but the film makes it hard to remain attentive, insistently running back and forth until one becomes slightly numbed to the experience. Rent it, maybe.


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