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DVD/Blu Ray New Release Round Up Monday 24th September 2012


Not content with dominating last week’s new releases with the somewhat brilliant AVENGERS ASSEMBLE, Joss Whedon is connected to another big release this week having penned the script (in conjuction with the film’s director Drew Goddard) for THE CABIN IN THE WOODS, a stylish and somewhat unusual take on the “college kids in a remote cabin” horror film staple. I don’t want to say too much about it as the joys of the film are in the discoveries of its various twists and turns, suffice to say that rather than heaving under the burden of established horror cliches, it turns the tables on them in new and interesting ways. Throw in the excellent Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford  who do a great job with Whedon’s trademark glib dialogue and some nods to classics of the genre (I’m particularly fond of a Hellraiser tribute) and you’ve got a recipe for success that is hugely reminiscent of classic BUFFY. It’s strange then that it left me feeling so cold, although I suspect that this is largely down to the undercurrent of smugness that I get from Whedon’s writing. It was toned down for AVENGERS but is here in full flow. Still, that’s not enough to detract from the fact it’s an interesting film that takes some unexpected directions even if it doesn’t really fulfill the primary purpose of a horror film (i.e. to be scary), favouring a more comedic approach instead.

Michael Biehn’s (ALIENS, TERMINATOR) debut as writer/director, THE VICTIM suffers from the opposite problem. It’s a humour free zone for backwoods loner Kyle (Biehn) when a terrified woman, Annie (Jennifer Blanc) comes knocking on his door having just witnessed her friend’s murder at the hands of the local police. It’s not long before the dodgy cops show up and things go from bad to worse. The two major problems here are the script (which seems like little more than an excuse for Biehn to get an unconvincing sex scene with a large breasted leading lady) and the acting which is incredibly weak. Even Biehn, someone whose performances I usually enjoy (he was pretty entertaining in post apocalyptic thriller THE DIVIDE), seems to resort to shouting every line here to try and provide a sense of tension. It’s also home to one of the worst villain moustaches in cinema history which is almost worth the effort of watching alone. Otherwise, THE VICTIM is average at best.

If you prefer your action thrillers with marginally more humour, then HOW I SPENT MY SUMMER VACATION (which represents something of a return to PAYBACK type territory for star Mel Gibson) might be more your cup of tea. When his getaway from a heist goes wrong the enigmatic “Driver” (Gibson) finds himself on the south side of the US-Mexico border and in the custody of the Mexican police, ending up in the peculiar shanty town prison of El Pueblito. Teaming up with a ten year old kid who knows the ins and outs of life in the prison he has to survive threats from all directions in order to bust out (and try to recover his ill gotten gains in the process). Between his advancing years and real life troubles it’s becoming increasingly difficult to take Gibson seriously as an actor, particularly in action roles, but he doesn’t do a bad job here, the occasional flashes of his former glories (LETHAL WEAPON et al) showing through. The plot is preposterous but good fun with some entertaining set pieces throughout and although it falls short of Gibson’s glory days by quite a way it’s entertaining enough in its own right.

Concerning itself more with efforts to keep people out of jail rather than putting them there, THE ANGEL’S SHARE is the story of Robbie (first timer Paul Brannigan), a troubled young man from Glasgow who finds himself on community payback after an assault on local rivals. Determined to set himself straight he comes under the wing of probation worker Harry (John Henshaw) who discovers Robbie has a hidden talent for whisky tasting, a talent that leads to an opportunity to escape his povery stricken life of violence. Broadly a comedy, it’s a great opportunity for some earthy Scottish banter as Robbie and his pals gatecrash the (pretentiously) sophisticated world of whisky tasting but it also addresses (although not necessarily successfully) questions of crime and punishment, of how society can break the cycle of criminal violence and the power that our passions and obsessions can exert over our lives. Sprinkle in some beautiful Highland scenery and plenty of comedy swearing and you have a recipe for an entertaining, funny and yes, heartwarming story. A little bit contrived perhaps, but very enjoyable.

Enjoyable is not a word that could be applied to Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest effort THE DICTATOR. The law of diminishing returns certainly applies to Cohen’s back catalogue (think of the decline from BORAT to BRUNO and then imagine an exponential decrease of comedy) and his new film misses the satirical mark completely, landing instead in a mirthless realm of shambolic racism and clumsy “social commentary”. It’s an extended “not seen in cinemas” cut, a whole ninety five minutes of humour aimed at ten year olds and with a fifteen certificate that failed to make me laugh once. It might have survived the casual exploitation of racial stereotypes if it had actually been funny and sometimes you get a sense of what he was trying to achieve but every attempt to capture a Parker/Stone SOUTH PARK vibe falls flat. More shocking than anything is the appearance by Sir Ben Kingsley as the Dictator’s right hand man. Perhaps the satirical aspects had looked good on paper? When you compare this to the glory days of Ali G on the 11 O’Clock Show it’s sad to see how far Sacha Baron Cohen has fallen, although it’s probably significant that the thing he is best known for – taking the piss out of politicians and celebrities by masquerading as something he is not – is absent from THE DICTATOR, the scripted action proving to be predictable and boring.

My PICK OF THE WEEK this week is the incredible, hard hitting, martial arts thrillfest, THE RAID. While an Indonesian martial arts movie written and directed by a Welshman (Gareth Evans) might sound like an odd mixture, in practice it is cinematic gold. Indonesian up and comer Iko Uwais stars as a SWAT team cop who, with the rest of his team, find themselves trapped in a high-rise building ruled over by a sadistic drug lord and his legion of minions when their dawn raid on the place goes awry. Cue a hundred minutes of high octane action as Uwais and Co. have to fight for their lives against wave after wave of evil doers. It may sound all very run of the mill but the spectacularly brutal fight scenes go places that few martial arts movies dare to tread, and Evans has an eye for creativity amongst the violence. The Indonesian martial art Pencak Silat proves to be a highly cinematic one which lends the film a violent flow from set piece to set piece. Not content with mere fisticuffs and gunplay, the fight scenes incorporate the building itself with everything from fridges to door frames being utilised in the cops’ desperate battle for survival. This is a film that deserves to echo through the genre for years to come, a welcome shot in the arm that pushes the concept to its brutal, bloody limits. Not to be missed.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 24/09/2012 02:53

    Would you believe that I still haven’t seen The Raid yet (missed it during its oh so brief cinematic release here and still haven’t caught up with it on DVD). I have heard great reports of it. I am looking forward to seeing it.

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