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DVD/Blu Ray New Release Round Up Monday 17th September 2012

15/09/2012

It was bound to happen. Faced with the towering might of Marvel’s AVENGERS ASSEMBLE coming out this week pretty much all the studios have (admittedly sensibly) scattered for cover and avoided releasing anything major this Monday. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing else out, as once again the independents have stepped up with a mixed bag of genre pieces that are certainly trying to escape the long shadow cast by Whedon’s comic hero ensemble piece. More on the Avengers later, for now let’s focus on the dynamically titled KILL ZOMBIE!, a Dutch horror comedy about an extra terrestrial virus that sparks a zombie outbreak in the Amsterdam suburbs when it crashes to Earth on a downed satellite. In a plot that comes straight out of the Zombie Movie playbook, a disparate group of survivors have to fight their way to safety through waves of the undead but their fragile alliance is threatened by individual agendas, not least the attempts by one of the group, Aziz, to rescue his girlfriend who has been trapped near the source of the outbreak. The emphasis is very much on the comedy rather than the horror, although they have a great line in squishy zombie effects, especially once the carnage begins. It’s heavy on the SHAUN OF THE DEAD vibes, but this is no bad thing and the slightly madcap humour works very well. Is it original? Hell no, but it’s a well executed, well intentioned and most importantly funny entry into the genre.

If straight up horror is more your thing then you might want to check out the intriguing SILENT HOUSE, a remake of a Uruguayan film that sees a young woman, Sarah (a solid performance from lesser known sibling of Mary Kate and Ashley Olson, Elizabeth Olson), helping out her dad and uncle with renovations on the family holiday home only to be plunged into a terrifying ordeal as she discovers there is someone or something in the house with them. While the story may seem a little bit run of the mill when it comes to horror, the execution is where this stands out from the crowd a bit with the eighty odd minute film being shot in a single, unedited take. The net result is a pretty tense little stalker horror as Sarah is pursued around the shadowy old house, the tension heightened by the intimacy of the single, roving camera that follows her every move. This isn’t found-footage wobbly cam stuff either, there’s clearly been a ridiculous amount of thought and planning gone into the process with a well rehearsed choreography between the cast and the camera that feels incredibly smooth. The story stumbles a little bit at the final hurdle, the denoument being a little predictable, but it’s worth a watch for the technical achievements alone and does manage to be genuinely tense in the process.

Dennis Quaid gets his psycho face on in BENEATH THE DARKNESS as small town undertaker Ely, a man with a penchant for burying people alive when they cross him. When a group of high school kids break into his house in the hope of encountering ghosts they run into Ely instead, an encounter that doesn’t end well for anyone involved. With shades of PSYCHO and THE VANISHING, it has its moments, and Quaid does a decent job of portraying the psychopathic Ely, but it doesn’t really ever get going and the young cast (including Aimee Teegarden and Tony Oller) are so unremarkable as to be utterly interchangeable. It weaves around tonally, mostly between a not-quite-dark-enough humour and attempts at outright horror without really hitting either mark meaning that when the implausibilities surface (and there are plenty) there’s not much to distract from them. Add to that a peculiar, pub-blues-rock soundtrack which is at least 50% the work of Dennis Quaid’s own band and you’ve got a film that is a little bit intriguing but which falls just short of actually being good.

CROSSFIRE on the other hand manages to fall substantially short of being good. Starring Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and, incredibly, Robert De Niro and Forest Whitaker it’s one of those corrupt police action thrillers in the most generic sense. A confused (and unbelievable) plot about three rookie cops (saved from a life of crime by a DA who pulled strings to get them into the police academy) who fall in with a self proclaimed “elite” band of corrupt police led by De Niro (who actually isn’t too bad in the film, considering the material he has to work with) gives way to some sub-TRAINING DAY stuff as each of the three rookies has an equally cliched training officer take them along for the ride. A cameo from Vinnie Jones is the warning sign for a disastrous spiral into incoherent nonsense, all of which you could probably cope with if the story actually went anywhere, concluding as it does with somewhat of a non-ending. There’s a shed load of wasted resource on show here (you really have to question why De Niro and Whitaker would slum it in a film like this) but the greatest failing is resting a story on the shoulders of Curtis Jackson, a man who is demonstrably incapable of acting and massively out of his depth next to his Oscar winning co-stars.

Thank goodness AVENGERS ASSEMBLE is out to redress the balance. As far as multi-million dollar blockbusters go they don’t come much better than this, the culmination of the last few years of in-house Marvel movie magic. Pulling together the stars of the earlier Marvel movies (for those that don’t know the Avengers sees Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Incredible Hulk join forces with the enigmatic S.H.I.E.L.D. organisation) was a risky prospect, you just need to look to THE EXPENDABLES for a harsh lesson in the perils of having so many stars jostling for centre stage, but writer/director Joss Whedon (BUFFY, FIREFLY, SERENITY) has pulled it off with grace and style. A witty script, amazing performances and spectacular special effects (I usually hate excessive CGI, but it actually suits Marvel’s comic book aesthetic rather well) are masterfully combined into an entertaining and, dare I say it, exciting experience. It’s rare to have a movie like this that succeeds on so many levels and so when something like this comes along it really deserves to be seen by everyone. You don’t even need to be familiar with the comics to enjoy it, although it would probably pay to have seen the prior five Marvel movies that provide the set up for this one, if only to get a handle on the different characters. This is top class, cinematic entertainment in its purest form and that is why it’s my PICK OF THE WEEK!

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