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DVD/Blu Ray New Release Round Up Monday 20th August 2012

19/08/2012

No more Olympics means some major studio releases this week as well as a clutch of decent independent flicks to see us through. As far as big budget blockbusters go they don’t get much bigger than BATTLESHIP. Now you might think it complete folly to base a movie on the classic Hasbro board game, the concept of guessing grid references not proving fertile ground for an all guns blazing action extravaganza, and on the strength of this you’d be at least half right but given the unusual inspiration they haven’t made too bad a job of things. Counting Liam Neeson, pop songstress Rihanna and TRUE BLOOD/GENERATION KILL star Alexander Skarsgard among the cast it’s a mega-bucks, ultra-CGI affair that is largely predictable but a surprising amount of fun, at least until it jumps the shark in the last act. Admittedly my expectations were sub-basement level going into it, but if pixel clashing mayhem is your thing (i.e. TRANSFORMERS, INDEPENDENCE DAY) this alien invasion explosion fest shouldn’t fail to entertain. If you’re not a fan of digital pudding fare though. this probably isn’t the film for you.

At the opposite end of the budgetary scale, MONSTER BRAWL is a labour of love, cobbled together by a dedicated group of independent filmmakers determined to see their vision become a reality. In this case the vision is a feature length CELEBRITY DEATHMATCH style mish mash of monster based wrestling action which, despite being an impressive example of enthusiasm overcoming resources, has been hobbled by its obscene lack of any kind of story whatsoever. A few bouts between classic monsters does not a movie make, especially when the selection of “classic” monsters is as disparate as this one. The Mummy? Ok. Frankenstein (pedantic creator/monster arguments notwithstanding). Fair enough. but Witch Bitch? Swamp Gut? Cyclops? Come on. This is a prime example of an underdeveloped idea given form which is a tragedy because otherwise the technical achievements of the tiny, underfunded crew are actually rather impressive. I’d be interested to see what the crew could do with a proper script but sadly this feels like little more than an accomplished showreel of technical skills rather than a coherent and engaging movie.

DEAD IN FRANCE  on the other hand is a film that plays up to its low budget, independent credentials bringing the worlds of French art cinema and American gangster movies together in a comdey style that more or less works despite the slightly dodgy acting and rickety production values. We Brits tend to do low budget, independent film making quite well or at least with an endearing enthusiasm and what DEAD IN FRANCE lacks in technical chops it makes up for with attitude and ambition. This darkly humourous tale of an English hitman plying his trade in the south of France, looking to do that one last job that will allow him to turn his back on his life of crime for good is far from original but it has enough of a twinkle in its eye, its tongue far enough in its cheek and enough moments of surprising accomplishment (often in the form of eye watering violence) to get away with it.

Guy Pearce finds himself having to deal with a very different kind of criminal in LOCKOUT a slick, big budget, futuristic actioner brought to you by uber-producer Luc Besson that channels such classics as DIE HARD and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. CIA Agent Snow (Pearce) finds himself framed for a crime he didn’t commit and as such coerced to intervene when the President’s daughter is taken hostage by rioting prisoners on an orbiting stasis prison drifting in space. Cue a one man rescue mission by wisecracking Snow, kicking ass and cracking wise like a late Eighties/eraly Nineties era Bruce Willis (although I’d say more Joe Hallenbeck than John McClane). Pearce is totally convincing as an action star, a sharp contrast to his more credible roles of the past and he’s supported here by an array of recognisable faces including Peter Stormare and Lenny James, but special mentions have to go to Vincent Regan (300, CLASH OF THE TITANS) and especially THIS IS ENGLAND’s Joseph Gilgun as the Scottish psychopaths who take command of the rioting inmates. Just why I should feel proud that the most dangerous criminals on planet Earth are Scotsmen I’m not sure, but I am and Gilgun’s performance is particularly compelling, even if his accent isn’t. It’s great fun and worth ninety minutes of anyone’s time.

From Scottish characters to Scottish filmmakers, MARLEY is the first of three Celtic efforts released this week. Veteran documentary maker Kevin Macdonald presents this exploration of the life and work of the Reggae legend, pieced together with unprecedented access to the Marley family’s private archives (not to mention the family themselves). It’s a fantastic insight into Robert Nesta Marley’s life and achievements, charting his rise from the ghetto to international stardom and for a non-fan like me who knew very little about the man is a complete revelation when it comes to his global influence, an influence that extends beyond the mere proliferation of a musical genre and has directly influenced the lives and politics of people across the world. It feels pretty comprehensive and there’s plenty on offer for hardcore fans here too with previously unseen archive material in abundance. Fascinating and uplifting in equal measure, this is a fantastic piece of cinematic non-fiction and essential viewing for music fans of all denominations.

Unfortunately for ECSTASY any cinematic adaptation of an Irvine Welsh book is going to labour under the inevitable (and probably unfair) comparison to his most famous creation TRAINSPOTTING, an inevitability that will always make it feel like an anti-climax no matter how good a film it is. All the Welsh hallmarks are here: the clubs, the drugs, the seedy underbelly of Edinburgh all injected with a healthy dose of black humour. I suppose the problem is it lacks the polish, the visual flair, of Danny Boyle’s film. The comparison is completely unfair, but there’s no escaping it which is a shame because this story of Lloyd, a recreational drug user who finds himself in increasing debt to the local narcotics kingpin is actually pretty good. As you might expect, the benefits of the recreational drug scene are counterbalanced by the pitfalls – in this case a series of increasingly poor, drug fuelled decisions that endanger not just Lloyd but everyone else around him. Following in the tradition of the likes of HUMAN TRAFFIC and the aforementioned TRAINSPOTTING it’s a solid wee bit of independent Scottish filmmaking that carries Welsh’s seal of approval to boot. One word of warning though – some of the “Edinburgh” accents leave a lot to be desired…

My PICK OF THE WEEK this week is the low key drama DONKEYS, a film that was made a couple of years ago but has only just received a DVD release, probably thanks to the recent boost to the profile of one of its stars Martin Compston with the success of his recent TV work in LINE OF DUTY. The cast features some more, readily recognisable Scots in the shape of James Cosmo (who’s been in many things, not least of which HBO’s tremendous GAME OF THRONES), Kate Dickie (also GAME OF THRONES and PROMETHEUS) and STILL GAME’s Brian Pettifer who all offer up tremendous performances, telling the story of Alfred (Cosmo), an old man desperately trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter Jackie (Dickie). There’s no mistaking it’s a downbeat story but it’s a touching one that balances poignancy with the sort of bleak, gallows humour the Scots are renowned for. Cosmo is fantastic, as is Pettifer, in a role pretty far removed from the overt comedy he’s better known for. A potent, poignant examination of the importance of family and the fragility of family ties.

All reviewed movies provided courtesy of the Inverness branch of hmv.

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