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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Stormy Monday (Blu-ray)
Stormy Monday (Blu-ray)
Arrow Video // Unrated // July 18, 2017 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted August 8, 2017 | E-mail the Author
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Mike Figgis' Stormy Monday is a peculiar little film. Figgis, who would go on to score two Academy Award nominations for Leaving Las Vegas, made his debut with this low-key British gangster thriller that moves to its own unique rhythm. At times, the film may be too subdued for its own good, yet the film is covered in all sorts of promise and intriguing choices that keep the viewer watching even when the film's dramatic grip slides. In some ways, short of an unexpected knockout like Blood Simple or Bound, Stormy Monday is an prototypical debut picture, one which exhibits various limitations but occasionally crackles with inspiration.

The film stars Sean Bean (looking so young as to almost be unrecognizable) as Brendan, a young man who responds to a newspaper ad for a cleaning person at a local bar called the Key Club. The owner, Finney (Sting), was looking for a woman, but is convinced to hire Brendan when he shows a little knowledge about jazz music. Through a series of random chance encounters, Brendan also finds himself armed with the knowledge of a plot by American gangster Cosmo (Tommy Lee Jones) to strong-arm Finney into giving up the Key Club so that the area can be paved to make way for a shady development deal. On top of that, Brendan has also made a date with a beautiful redhead named Kate (Melanie Griffith), after three chance encounters on the same day. What Brendan doesn't know is that tipping off Finney will put him in Cosmo's crosshairs -- not to mention dating Kate, who is Cosmo's on-and-off girlfriend.

For the first hour or so, one of the things that's most impresssive about Stormy Monday is Figgis' quiet efficiency. All things considered, bringing each of these elements together naturally -- Brendan, Finney, Cosmo, Kate, and the two thugs that Cosmo has hired that Brendan happens to overhear -- is a complicated task, but you'd never know it watching the film, which finds deft but simple ways to bring characters together (for instance, Brendan dropping one of Finney's bands off at a hotel where Kate is meeting Cosmo, or the two thugs eating at the same restaurant where Kate works part-time). Even something as seemingly inconsequential as a traffic jam that the thugs have to sit through is establishing multiple details that will become relevant later in the film. Figgis' economy extends to geography -- Brendan can walk from the Key Club to Finney's other club around the block, and there's a bar across the street where Brendan and Kate have a nice date and a dance while Brendan waits to tip Finney off about the thugs.

Within this tight structure, Figgis also subverts expectations wherever possible. Whether it's something as silly as Finney's Polish jazz band being unexpectedly hired to fill in at Cosmo's big "America Week" ball, or the outcome of Brendan tipping Finney off about his would-be assailants, Stormy Monday feels more grounded than one generally expects from a film thriller. Although the movie does slowly build to some wild twists and turns, Figgis makes left turns at tension, away from shootouts and ultimatums. Late in the movie, Cosmo and Finney finally meet face-to-face, and the resulting conversation may prompt the viewer to reconsider their overall view of Finney, only for Figgis to twist it again at another climactic moment. Figgis also takes his time developing the relationship between Brendan and Kate, allowing it to progress more naturally. There is even a scene, as unpleasant as it is, where both Brendan and Kate are assaulted by Cosmo's thugs. It's weird thinking of the bruises on Kate's face for the rest of the film as a positive, but it is representative of Figgis' more realistic approach.

Where Stormy Monday falters is mostly in terms of pacing. Although one section in the middle where Brendan and Kate follow the Polish jazz band to a Polish festival will ultimately play a role in the film's climax, it's the one scene where there isn't another obvious ball in the air (Brendan and Kate's previous date has Brendan waiting to inform Finney about what he's overheard). The film builds to a climax that will likely be considered somewhat unsatisfying by many, even though it's in keeping with the subversion Figgis has already established. Taken as a whole, Stormy Monday's flaw is that it's more memorable for what it isn't than what it is, although perhaps modern fans discovering it now on Arrow's Blu-ray as a retrospective curiosity will find that more satisfying, in and of itself, than it may have been when it was new.

The Blu-ray
Stormy Monday gets the standard Arrow Video treatment, packaging wise, with a two-disc combo pack in a clear double-wide Vortex Blu-ray case. The cover is reversible, featuring an original poster on the reverse (underwhelming, in my opinion, although that's no fault of Arrow), and new painted artwork on the front. Upon first glance, I was sure this was Paul Shipper, but the case says it's another artist called Jacey -- nice to know there are multiple respectable heirs to the Drew Struzan crown. Inside the case, there is a flap tray to accomodate the Blu-ray and DVD copy, and there is a booklet featuring liner notes by Mark Cunliffe.

The Video and Audio
Arrow offers Stormy Monday in a respectable 1.85:1 1080p AVC / LPCM 2.0 presentation that shows a certain amount of age but still manages to impress. The packaging doesn't indicate that this is a new transfer, and the chunkiness of the grain in some of the scenes speaks to the slightly dated nature of the transfer. However, even if this was pulled out of mothballs, it was done right when it was created and still looks pleasing, with decent fine textural detail on faces and clothes, and colors that pack more than enough punch in a film filled with neon, and Melanie Griffiths' red hair. Depth isn't always great, especially in darker scenes, and viewers may be briefly concerned by the significant wobble during the opening credits, but this is still a clear win overall. Sound-wise, ambient effects occasionally have a tinny quality to it, but that seems to speak more to the film's low budget rather than any issue with the disc. Dialogue, on the other hand, is clean and clear, and the jazz music that makes up so much of the film sounds rich and vibrant. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.

The Extras
Two major extras are included. The first is an audio commentary by writer/director/composer Mike Figgis, moderated by Damon Wise. This is a decent chat, with Figgis primarily focusing on the challenges of making his first film, especially in relation to the budget (both the bad and the unexpectedly good). He also talks about his work on the jazz music in the film, as well as working with the cast, and cinematographer Roger Deakins. The second is "Just the Same? Stormy Monday 30 Years On... (33:15), a video essay/location tour by critic Neil Young, which talks about the historical impact of Stormy Monday, contextualizes it in the history of films shot in the area, and revisits the places where the movie was shot.

An original theatrical trailer is also included.

Conclusion
Fans of Stormy Monday and those interested in the beginning of Mike Figgis' career will find plenty to appreciate in Arrow's pleasing Blu-ray combo pack, which features a strong presentation and two nice little bonus features. It's not a great film, but it has a freeform quality that echoes the jazz music -- especially the odd Polish jazz -- that plays throughout. Recommended.


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