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DVD/Blu Ray New Release Round Up Monday 9th July 2012


You have to hand it to all those studios that churn out the “Mockbusters” (you know the type of thing I mean – Titanic 2, Aliens Versus Hunters and the endless stream of contemporary creature features involving mega-ultra-octo-super-sharks). We all know their output is, how should I put this, less than brilliant, but this doesn’t stop them releasing their wares like they’re going out of fashion and thanks to the micro-budgets that clearly lie behind the films presumably making enough money to keep justifying it in the process. The latest installment in this phenomenon is the gloriously titled JURASSIC SHARK and it looks like most of its miniscule budget was spent on a cracking recreation of the Jurassic Park logo on the cover rather than on the film itself. Made with scant regard for film fundamentals such as script, acting and cinematography this tale of a prehistoric shark released from icy hibernation by a dodgy oil company’s illegal drilling is difficult to recommend to anyone but if watching bad movies is your thing you might just get a kick out of it. Maybe while you’re at it you can explain to me how all these fifty foot ultra-sharks can attack people by surprise in two feet of water?

The JURASSIC SHARK lot could do with taking a leaf out of low budget horror THE DEVIL IN ME’s book. Sure, its demonic possession plot line hardly breaks any genre shattering ground but it’s a competent enough job that manages to squeeze decent value from its obviously tiny budget. There’s an over reliance on CGI effects for the majority of the demonic manifestations but in their defence it was probably the cheapest way to achieve them and it only really comes into play in small ways (a demon inflicted scratch here, a freakish monster tongue there) so it never feels too intrusive. Sadly it doesn’t really live up to its obvious inspirations in terms of the fear factor but it’s a reasonable first attempt from writer director Greg A. Sager who at least seems to understand the genre he’s working in, even if this is a little bit lightweight for my taste. As far as micro budget horror movies go, I’ve definitely seen a lot worse.

Marketing departments missing the point is becoming an increasing issue for me when it comes to the less well known releases. This week’s contender for “mis-marketed film of the year” comes in the form of the bizarrely retitled RETURN TO MURDER (or BUNOHAN to give it its original Malay title) which purports to be an action packed kick boxing fest but in reality is actually something vastly superior. This faintly mystical, slightly surreal film charts the conflict between three brothers, one of whom is trying to sell the family’s land to a development company and will stop at nothing, not even murder, to achieve his goal. Yes, there’s a bit of action in the mix, although the Muay Thai sequences mostly take place in the context of a boxing ring rather than all out combat. The rest of the fighting is savage and realistic but really forms a counterpoint to a thoughtful (and beautifully composed) film about family conflict, loyalty, declining traditions and the destructive power of greed. In this instance the surprise was a pleasant one, but I really wish these studios would sort their marketing out!

With 21 JUMP STREET there is little doubt at what you are getting. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star in the reboot of the eighties TV series (and Johnny Depp vehicle) of the same name that is sufficiently self aware as to come over as what it is – a bit of silly fun. I didn’t think that a madcap tale of mismatched cops going undercover in a high school to bust a drugs ring could be genuinely funny (I didn’t think Channing Tatum had this sort of performance in him) but it is, in a foul mouthed, ridiculous kind of way. It even manages to sidestep a lot of the conventional American high school cliches, in fact it takes deliberate pains to do so, that actually make it feel kind of fresh. The fact it acknowledges its own silliness helps a lot meaning they get away with the increasingly deranged plotting later on. It’s not particularly big or clever, but it’s definitely funny.

Staying on the police theme, this week sees the release of RAMPART which stars Woody Harrelson as an L.A.P.D. officer who has his own, unorthodox methods of policing in LA’s notorious Rampart Division, a real life rotten department that brought the L.A.P.D. almost to its knees with corruption and brutality and has formed the basis for many a movie/TV show including the phenomenal TRAINING DAY and THE SHIELD. In a departure from these movies, RAMPART is less action orientated and concerns itself with the impact (emotionally, professionally and in his family life) on Officer Dave Brown as he becomes increasingly tangled in his own web of corruption and police brutality. In terms of feel, its a lot like Aronofosky’s THE WRESTLER cut with a hint of BAD LIEUTENANT as Officer Brown becomes increasingly strained by his lifestyle and professional choices and finds himself a dinosaur in the world of modern policing. Harrelson’s performance is excellent, as indeed is the rest of the ensemble cast which includes Sigourney Weaver, Steve Buscemi, Ned Beatty and Ice Cube.

Woody Harrelson isn’t the only person struggling to make the world a better place through his own misguided actions. Comedian and actor Bobcat Goldthwaite has written and directed GOD BLESS AMERICA, a film about an average joe who has had his fill of the shallow, idiot driven society around him and so decides to take matters into his own hands and deal with the problem, one idiot at a time. This tar black comedy will not be to everyone’s taste, indeed if you are easily offended or of a nervous disposition you might want to give it a wide berth. Personally I found it simultaneously hilarious, disturbing and extremely resonant in equal measure. What feels initially like a brazen attempt to outrage American conservatives is actually a much more refined satire in the vein of Mike Judge’s IDIOCRACY and OFFICE SPACE and it clearly owes more than a small debt to the darkly funny super-hero-wannabe movie SUPER with it’s focus on a man frustrated by his perceived decline of society, accompanied by a young female sidekick as he goes about his work. Goldthwaite’s film is well put together and has, rather depressingly, perfectly captured the zeitgeist and as a result it is my pick of the week.

On a far more serious note we have the harrowing IN DARKNESS, a dramatic account of the true story of a group of Jews who survived for fourteen months in the sewers under Lvov to avoid death at the hands of the Nazis in occupied Poland. An opportunist Polish sewer worker Socha helps them hide out, at first for money but eventually out of loyalty and kindness, as the Jewish families make the dark, filthy sewers there home. It’s not only beautifully photographed, particular the dimly lit sewer scenes that hold their own oppressive beauty, but wonderfully acted too. Potent and poignant it’s the perfect juxtaposition of two extremes of human nature with its unflinching portrayal of the Nazi’s atrocities contrasted by the bold humanity and moral courage of those who risked everything to defy them. Veteran director Agnieszka Holland handles a difficult subject with dignity and grace, and the film packs an emotional wallop even in these jaded times that brought me to tears. I can’t begin to imagine how many similar stories have been lost to the fog of history, but this one at least has been preserved so that future generations don’t forget, as the film warns, that “we don’t need God to punish each other”.

All reviewed DVDs provided courtesy of the Inverness branch of hmv and are released in the UK on Monday 9th July. You can keep up to date with what hmv are up to on Twitter here and Facebook here.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 08/07/2012 00:53

    Nice work Andy

  2. 18/07/2014 14:36

    good descriptions of films

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