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F/X | F/X 2 Double Feature
Man oh man, if there was a pair of films that are at the peak of the wave before techbology came crashing down and rendered most of the work obsolete, I can't remember them. This is no indictment of the F/X movies, but radio transmitted bullet hits, plaster cast molds of people and other tricks of the practically shot visual effects trade, just that it's amazing to see things like this not used so much anymore, to say nothing of ample use of pay phones, audio cassette recorders for phone calls and other things. But the thing about these films (yes there are two so yes, there was a sequel) is that they don't think about those things, they look at special effects at that point with wide-eyed enthusiasm that still resonates decades later.
The stories for both films are similar, where special effects man Rollie (Bryan Brown, Cocktail) is asked by a government entity to do an F/X job that blurs his own lines of what is real or not, and he has to use his bag of tricks to find out the real reasons for it and to exact some revenge. The first film involves a mobster (Jerry Orbach, Dirty Dancing) seeking Witness Protection, the second involves a cop and a sting operation. Leo (Brian Dennehy, Driveways) is also a common thread in both films, investigating the job in the first film and helping Rollie in the second.
The first film is firmly entrenched in New York and the ensemble has that feel not only in backdrop but the ensemble would seem to reflect those values also, with Cliff De Young (Glory) and Mason Adams (Lou Grant) serving as the antagonists, and guys like Joe Grifasi and Tom Noonan in supporting roles too. But getting past that, the first film (directed by Robert Mandel) works so well because it puts the viewer firmly in Rollie's position about findng out the truth, but also doesn't show all of his secrets in terms of the tricks of his trade, which encompass a lot of makeup and disguise to go with the larger scale work. And given the mid-80s nature of things, it would seem like he could pull one off over some federal agents? The secondary arc in the film with Leo looking at the mobster Orbach in an investigation you sense is all-encompassing in his professional and personal time, and Dennehy making it feel real, especially as it drifts into the primary arc. Brown's work is earnest and the story pushes along with commitment that other films should use as a touchstone and it's well worth the breezy hundred or so minutes you go through.
The second film picks up where it left off, and the characters' shorthand does the same, showing you a friendship they picked up and built in the time they were away (and you could sense from their work). The job is generally the same, and works with some effects tweaks, and the casting works with tweaks as well; Philip Bosco (Working Girl) and Joanna Gleason (The Wedding Planner) are the main antagonists here, as Rollie and Leo attempt to get to the truth of their latest job gone wrong.
The creative staff was slightly different in the sequel, with Richard Franklin (Cloak & Dagger) directing a script by…Bill Condon? Bill Condon! (Chicago), and includes most of the same notes as the first, with the added signature part being a Pennywise-type clown that is controlled via an animatronic suit, presumably to be a lynchpin for people to see, but it's a shiny set of keys that distracts from the ride that people enjoyed a lot over both films, the latter film being potentially neglected a little in that regard. The cast are fun, Brown and Dennehy's fun in it and with each other is palpable, and carries F/X 2 through.The Blu-rays:
There is no note that these are new transfers, and it would appear that the previous 2015 releases of both films would use those same transfers, on separate discs and packaged together in your standard slimline case. I haven't seen either film on Blu-ray before but the presentations are fine, with film grain a little more prevalent on the first film, colors reproduced accurately and the Empire ciry's grainy look coming through. The sequel is a little more brighter or at least takes advantage of a wider palette, image detail looks good through both films.The Sound:
Dolby Digital two channel audio for both films, and given the relatively modest ambitions for the film at the time the soundtrack isn't much of a surprise. Film score sounds nice, dialogue through the front of the soundstage comes through and the added gunplay and explosions sounds as you would expect it to.The Extras:
The extras are ported from those 2015 releases, so the first disc has a conversation with Mandel (14:02) where he reviews the films, shares his thoughts on directing the first film and working with the actors, and occasional scene recall. A making of for the first film (14:10) is your standard electronic press kit where the cast and crew talk about making of the film and include the requisite cast and crew interviews. The trailer for the first film (2:35) and second (1:51) are included on this disc and the disc of the second film, along with a making of for that film on that disc (6:31).Final Thoughts:
By no means is the F/X pair of movies anything that will revolutionize cinema (nor did it back in the day), but both films are enjoyable dips into the realm of practical effects, with two ensembles full of recognizable faces, and those facets last longer than most technology platforms out there. Technically both discs are fine, as is the bonus material which is a bit scant. If you haven't seen either film, go check them out.