COLOR OF NIGHT/ PLAYING GOD – Blu-ray review

In “Playing God”, Eugene Sands (David Duchovney) has lost his medical license due to losing a patient on the emergency room operating table while under the influence of narcotics.  With a lot of free time on his hands, he spends the bulk of it stoned in his untidy apartment.  He can’t seem to kick the habit which lures him to the L.A. drug scene that involves shady deals done under barroom tables.  One night while at a bar scoring some narcotics a man is shot in the open.  As the gunmen flee, Eugene instinctually tries to help the man.  Needing the help of a fellow bar patron Claire (Angelina Jolie), he saves the man’s life. Unbeknownst to Eugene, the man and Clair work for the mob headed by boss Raymond Blossom (a blonde Timothy Hutton).  Kindly abducted from his apartment by some chatty henchman, Eugene is introduced to Ray in hopes of becoming employed as his new mob doctor, someone who can be called upon when medical treatment is needed.  Wounded mobsters tend to talk in hospitals.  When tens of thousands of dollars are thrown at him along with the promise that doing this will enable him to practice medicine again, Eugene accepts.  At the same time, eccentric FBI agent Gage is pressing him to work for him as well in hopes to bring Raymond down.  Throw in Claire as a love interest and things begin to get really sticky.

Duchovney’s monotone acting awkwardly fits the film’s narration rather nicely.  Eugene is man in a whirlwind situation with a foggy mindset.  As a result, a humdrum unexpressive actor is an inspired choice.   David’s stock was rather high during his “X Files” days and this seems like a vehicle to get him into movies.  Alas, it did not pan out for him.  Hutton has some flair and a couple of good lines as the villain but it is not a memorable performance.  His frail demeanor directly works against him and he is not unhinged enough to be scary.  Jolie by far has the best performance in the film.  She is 22 years old and she uses a full range of emotions confidently.

“Playing God” owes much of its creation to the earlier “Pulp Fiction” and the subsequent crime movies that copied it like “2 Days in the Valley” and “Get Shorty”.  Movies filled with savvy violence and pumped up with nostalgia-evoking soundtracks.  The criminals were given more depth and a hipster vibe. They were more self aware of their unscrupulousness ways.   They talked in cool Kerouac-like phrases while citing various pop culture observations and yet they were ruthless killers when called upon.   Aesthetically, “Playing God” is reminiscent of Tony Scott’s films from the early 90’s with snappy editing, an occasional Dutch tilt and some Mexican standoffs.  Other tricks employed are flashy scene wipes and lots of tracking camerawork.

 

“Color of Night” is presented in its unrated directors cut which include 15 more “Steamy” minutes.   Bill Capa (Bruce Willis) is a therapist who witnesses a patient commit suicide by jumping out the window of his office.  After seeing the tremendous amount of blood in front of him and taking full blame for his failure of her, Capa becomes blind to the color red.  Feeling hopeless as a therapist and losing a grip on his happiness he decides it is best to leave town for a while so be travels to L.os Angeles to visit newly successful friend Bob (Scott Bakula).  He also has his own practice and is heading a group therapy session with five patients that meet on a weekly basis.  Bob is murdered soon after Capa arrives and it is believed one of the group members is the murderer.  Capa reluctantly takes over the group sessions in hopes to find out who the possible murderer is.  All the while, he becomes sexually involved with a young woman who seems to have a positive effect on his gloomy mood.  What happens after that is an erotic and twisty journey for the truth and healing.

“Color of Night” is a mixed bag of being genuinely entertaining and being a sloppy mess. Using the popularity of a previous sexual thriller “Basic Instinct” two years earlier “Night” infuses its story with film noir characteristics.  It has a saxophone leaden soundtrack, beautiful dames, murder, intrigue and it takes place in darker, less glitzy parts of Los Angeles.  The day s are bright and sunny while the nights are rainy and full of atmospheric weather.  The sex scenes definitely live up to their billing as they seem to gratuitously go on and on leaving nothing to the imagination.  Although it does feel like the creators said to themselves “Did you see what they did in Basic Instinct? We can take it even further!”
Aside from the wanton nudity, the other strength of the film is the group of five patients Capa takes on.  Each member has their own issues that make them different from the rest.  The standout performances are Brad Dourif as Clark and Lance Henrikson’s Buck.  There are some nice moments of psychology in the group therapy scenes.  The writing respects the relationships between each other and the groups as a whole toward Capa.  That helps ground the movie emotionally which most likely would not have happened otherwise.  Production-wise, it is a competently made film.  There are many dramatic camera movements and some sly cinematography involving many shots taken through glass structures and glass art.  The director seemed intent to imply that characters are constantly struggling to get a clear view of what is happening and wanted to convey that to the audience. As far as the finale goes, the twists have just enough *cough* plausibility *cough* to be satisfyingly entertaining.

“Color of NIght” and “Playing God” are currently not released separately on Blu-ray.

 

Video:

Mill Creek debuts “Color of Night” and “Playing God” on Blu-ray for the first time each coupled together.  There is limited information out there but evidence suggests these are housed on a 25 GB disc.

“Playing God” is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.  At best this blu-ray looks like a DVD upconvert from an old master.  It appears there was no effort to clean up the image as it is riddled with specks and some print damage.  Many scenes are flat with almost no depth. The daytime/outside scenes fare much better than night/interior ones but not by much.  When Eugene first meets Raymond on the beach, it is an extremely bright day and it had potential to be an incredibly detailed moment, it instead is visually mediocre.  There is a tremendous amount of improvement that could be had.

If possible, “Color of Night” is even worse. It is also is shown in 1.85:1 and it straight up looks like SD DVD quality.  Right out of the gate the transfer is littered with continuous specks, blemishes and print damages.  Being shot on 35mm there is supposed to be some inherent grain structure but the level of grain seen here just shows how dirty the actual print is.  Colors are flat which flies in the face of the point of the movie where a person cannot see the color red.  Whenever red is shown it is supposed to be vivid and signify importance but there is none of that here.  There are maybe two or three moments in the movie when it comes close to a respectable looking hi- def presentations. It’s a shame to because a nicer transfer would absolutely benefit this stylish looking film.

Audio:
There are two DTS HD MA 2.0 options for “Playing God”, an English and a Spanish track.  As with the video, the English 2.0 soundtrack is serviceable.  Dialogue is clear and there are some nice punchy moments of low end during scenes involving the club music used throughout the film. Directionality is serviceable but can only be noticed during the car scenes near the end. The end result is underwhelming, barely reaching HD quality.

The options for “Color of Night” are the same, a DTS HD MA 2.0 English track and a Spanish track.  The audio matches the video as it also feels like SD DVD quality. There is a tinny feel during the entire film.  Dialogue is clear but there are many scenes that were obviously rerecorded in the studio.   LFE lacks any needed punch during the scenes involving action such as the car chase scene and the climactic finale.  There are many scenes of melodramatic noir-ish music that fails to sweep through the soundstage.  This is  a disappointing audio presentation.

Extras :
The only extras are the theatrical trailers for each film presented in standard definition.  (On a side note, for those who like watching good previews, I remember seeing the original trailer for “Playing God on TV back in 1997 and it is one of the better previews out there.)

Bottom line:
Mill Creek Entertainment has started distributing films that do not already have HD releases as double features on a single Blu-ray disc and selling them at inexpensive price points.  Many of these films have been lost in a sea of mediocrity over time and may not see a Blu-ray release otherwise.  As nice as it is to have these films finally in an HD format, they unfortunately have not had a lot of care put into the releases.  It’s possible that with the way this disc was treated that there may not be much of a plan to improve upon it anytime soon.  You can get two movies for the price of a rental.  This double feature is faintly recommended for fans of either film that currently do not own the DVD version.

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