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DVD/Blu Ray New Release Round Up Monday 27th August 2012

26/08/2012

We’re back to a week of no major releases this week with the fort being held by a number of lower key movies including, as always seems to be the case these days, a couple of contenders for “Most Mis-Marketed Movie Of The Year”. The first of these is an intriguing little film from 2009 originally called LITTLE FISH, STRANGE POND but which, for its home video release has been mysteriously re-titled FRENEMY (which I’m sure is in no way an attempt to cash in on this years FRENEMIES movie marketing) and has been presented to all intents and purposes like THE HANGOVER and DUE DATE, what with Zack Galifianakis prominently beaming at you on the cover. The problem here is not that the film isn’t any good, I rather enjoyed it, but that it bears no resemblance to the wacky comedy you think you’re about to watch and is instead a peculiar little film about the balance of good and evil in human nature. Galifianakis is in the film but only briefly, the main focus being on Mr Jack (Matthew Modine) and Sweet Stephen (Callum Blue) a pair of mismatched friends who we spend a day with as they get into adventures in L.A. that are both darkly comedic and wantonly violent by turns. It’s philosphy may well outreach the limit of the writing but it’s an interesting curio that deserves a watch, just banish any illusions that it’s going to be another HANGOVER before you start.

THE GREAT REVIVAL is a similar fiasco of marketing, appearing (at least as far as the cover is concerned) to be a feudal Chinese epic, pitching Hong Kong superstar Chow Yun Fat as the star and promising Andy Lau in the mix too. What you actually get is an interesting if somewhat superficial (and it has to be noted, politically biased) summary of the Chinese Cultural Revolution that saw the country’s old Imperial ways collapse under pressure from the masses to be replaced with the Communist government we know today. It almost survives the disappointment you feel at the minor, almost insignificant, roles Chow Yun Fat and Andy Lau have in the film but in trying to fit so much detail in fails to do more than bullet point the revolutionary process, introducing so many people and places that it has to literally label everyone as they appear so you can keep track of what’s going on, and when what’s going on is essentially propoganda for the Chinese government you really have to question whether it was worth it.

A film that wears its heart on its sleeve, doing exactly what it says on the proverbial tin, is RED LINE, a bargain basement THE FAST & THE FURIOUS knock off that follows the fortunes of some high-stakes, high-performance car racers as they compete to win their billionaire sponsors even more cash. There’s an implausible kidnap plot in there somewhere, along with a “young band trying to make it in the music biz” side plot that is as cheesy as it is superfluous although I suppose it serves to break up the drab racing action (how many times can you watch a split screen display of the car’s speedometer before it becomes boring? Answer: once). This is a bit of a masterclass in how not to do it. Awful writing and Pepsi Max ad aesthetics make poor bedfellows, especially when combined with a camera locked off at skirt height, the parade of ladies behinds only being interrupted by the occasional cleavage shot as they lean over whatever shiny car happens to be on screen at the time. Essentially, unless you are unreservedly obsessed with cars or a thirteen year old boy (or both) there isn’t much to redeem REDLINE, although lovers of bad movies might want to check it out just for the terrible love song that is constructed purely of awful car metaphors.

Things start to look up with ONE IN THE CHAMBER, a hitman thriller that (somewhat unusually) matches up Cuba Gooding Jr. with EXPENDABLE Dolph Lundgren as they play rival hitmen brought in by the Prague mob to settle some personal scores. Gooding Jr.’s stoic professional is nicely contrasted with Lundgren’s more flamboyant character who find themselves at odds when the violence escalates and while you might argue Cuba Gooding Jr. is the better actor, there’s no doubt that it’s Lundgren who steals the show here. The action sequences are decent, particularly the hand to hand fighting which has the impact and realistic feel of the BOURNE movies and while the story conforms to type (even down to a plausibility stretching sub plot about a girl from one of the hitmen’s past) it does so with a respect for the genre that makes for a solid, if a little predictable, experience that ought to please action fans.

It’s not all boys with their toys this week.  THE LUCKY ONE is a love story from THE NOTEBOOK author Nicholas Sparks that sees Zac Efron play Iraq war veteran Logan seek out a woman from a photo that became his good luck charm in the warzone and then (as you might expect) proceed to fall in love with her. Blythe Danner plays the struggling single mum he falls for (and actually quite well) but Efron fails to convince as a Marine Corp veteran (or indeed as an actor – he might have the looks but a single facial expression and those caterpillar eyebrows do not a performance make). Hard bitten cynics like me will scoff at the predictability of the plot but then this is a film that is blatantly not aimed at me that ticks all the romantic boxes, down to a precocious and “lovable” kid and the jealous ex. They even manage to squeeze a couple of action scenes in there for a bit of dramatic tension.

Speaking of kids, the diamond editions of Disney Classics keep coming with number 12, CINDERELLA, hitting the shelves this week. Whatever your feelings towards Disney’s marketing strategy of only having certain volumes of their classics range available at any given time, you can’t claim it doesn’t work in keeping the demand and love for their movies high. The fact that CINDERELLA is now over 60 years old (the film was made in 1950!) is possibly more apparent than you’d hope (despite the lovely remastering job that is characteristic of the Diamond Editions), the music feeling rather unfashionable in the face of contemporary efforts, but the young ‘uns (and probably a few of the grown ups too) are unlikely to mind such trifling details when it comes to this classic story of the put upon Cinders who escapes her life of drudgery thanks to her handsome prince. Included with the movie is a new short, TANGLED EVER AFTER, that serves to highlight the difference in approach that 60 years can make – instead of the passive Cinderella waiting and dreaming of rescue by a prince, TANGLED’s heroine is a much more contemporary princess type who is of far more independent character – but in spite of its dated music and approach, CINDERELLA is still going to be a big hit with the latest generation of fans who will get to see it.

For older kids (it’s “Young Adult” these days isn’t it?) THE DINOSAUR PROJECT offers some thrills and spills of the found footage kind (not to mention a teenage protagonist) as a cryptozoological expedition into the African bush stumbles upon some species of animals thought to be extinct for, ohhh, about 65 million years. Redolent of MONSTERS, with its CGI effects and intimate approach it’s actually not a bad effort. At this stage in the game it’s difficult to see what fresh ideas can be brought to the found footage approach and certainly here there’s nothing particularly original on show. That said the story has a couple of decent moments and while the idea of prehistoric lost worlds is hardly a cinematic first, it’s probably the first time anyone’s attempted it in a documentary style like this. Dino lovers will probably get a kick out of the creatures (although the CGI is more WALKING WITH DINOSAURS than JURASSIC PARK) and it’s nothing if not spirited. Personally, I found Matt Kane (who plays the main character Luke) a bit annoying, his befriending of a young dinosaur more so, but at least it’s a change from the usual horror found footage stuff.

The same can’t be said for THE ASYLUM TAPES which falls straight into the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT ripoff trap as we are subjected to the tapes of some young film makers who are determined to catch a ghost on film when they break into an abandoned lunatic asylum at night. It has night vision shots, it has people standing in the corner in a lift of the scary bit of BLAIR WITCH that’s so blatant and ineffective as to make you weep but the scariest thing is still to come. What’s that you may ask? How about a cameo by none other than Oliver Stone, the father of the director of the movie Sean Stone. You’d have thought that given his track record Oliver might have had the decency to steer his son clear of such a derivative piece but rather than that he seems to have encouraged him by participation. Now, if you happen to enjoy THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, et al then there’s every chance you’ll get some enjoyment from this but there’s no getting away from the fact that if you’ve seen one shaky-cam horror story you’ve seen them all.

Staying on a horror tip, my PICK OF THE WEEK this week is Nazi-zombie sequel OUTPOST 2. A solid British cast (including Richard Coyle, Clive Russell and Catherine Steadman) lead the fight against the undead Nazi hordes as a NATO task force are deployed to contend with the expanding threat. Foreknowledge of the first film isn’t necessary (I haven’t seen it, and enjoyed the sequel thoroughly) but it’s probably helpful to fill in the blanks of the plot and on the strength of this is definitely worth seeking out. There have been a lot of entries in the Nazi Zombie sub-genre of late, most of them pretty poor and certainly not a patch on what I consider to be the pinnacle of the genre, Norwegian horror comedy DEAD SNOW, but OUTPOST 2 is an example of how it should be done, with a good balance of humour and horror held together by a decent cast and convincing action. I have a few niggling issues with plot-logic but when you are starting from the position that the Nazi’s developed a way to turn their troops into zombie super soldiers you’ve already suspended quite a lot of your disbelief and so can let them slide. Fun, grisly stuff!

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