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DVD/Blu Ray New Release Round Up Monday 15th October 2012

15/10/2012

Sam Worthington opens proceedings this week in the big budget WRATH OF THE TITANS, the follow up to the CGI heavy remake of CLASH OF THE TITANS that promises pretty much more of the same. As the power of the Gods wanes, Hades and Ares conspire against Zeus to release the Titan Kronos from his prison in the underworld, something that will have cataclysmic consequences for us humans. Cue lots of shouting, running, jumping and clashing of pixels as Perseus (Worthington) has to give up his peaceful life as a fisherman in order to rescue his old dad from the clutches of Kronos and keep the world safe from total destruction. Call me old fashioned, but I’ve always preferred Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion realisation of ancient Greece and find the CGI visual trickery something of a turn off, and despite the occasional clever touch (the lava streams dripping from the magma limbs of Kronos for example) WRATH OF THE TITANS is no exception. There’s just something uninspiring about watching a movie that amounts to little more than a series of computer game cut scenes strung together over a flimsily contrived plot. It does have the odd good point though, the best being Bill Nighy’s cameo that steals the show, upstaging the likes of Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes in the process. The bottom line is, if you liked the CLASH OF THE TITANS remake, you’ll most likely enjoy this.

For mechanical effects to be proud of, check out CUBE, getting a re-release for a somewhat unbelievable 15th anniversary. I remember seeing this when it first came out and was surprised to realise that it was so old. It’s a strong testimony to the quality of the film that I could remember so many details after so long and this tale of a disparate bunch of strangers, abducted and imprisoned in a mysterious, booby trapped prison, feels as fresh today as it did then. The relatively unknown cast do an excellent job portraying the hapless inhabitants of the titular structure, grappling with paranoia and despair on one side and the fiendishness of the cube on the other. It’s a taught, claustrophobic, sci fi thriller that plays its cards close to its chest and that works really well, even if the concept is a  little bit bizarre. Director Vincenzo Natali makes the most of a tiny budget, creating a convincing world with a minimalistic set and focusing resources on memorable set pieces that set the tone of the whole piece. If you missed this the first time round, I highly recommend checking it out now.

APARTMENT 143 represents the opposite end of the low budget movie scale, being yet another “found footage” “mockumentary” style horror movie, this time involving a team of paranormal investigators being called in to assess the haunting of an apartment where a single dad is struggling to raise his kids after the death of their mother, a task complicated by a possibly malevolent presence in their home. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – having no budget is no excuse for resorting to this overdone, tedious format and if you are going to use it you’d better damn well bring something new to the party. APARTMENT 143 resolutely fails to do so, playing out as a tedious and predictable cliche with possibly the worst ending I’ve seen in a long time. It’s clear that the new benchmark for this sort of thing is PARANORMAL ACTIVITY rather than the (debatable) progenitor of found footage horror, THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, with the makers of 143 taking their cues from the more recent film with their CCTV approach. I blame MOST HAUNTED myself, spreading the wicked lie that a bunch of people running around in the dark scaring themselves is frightening.

Staying firmly in horror territory we have vampiric sequel THE THOMPSONS, the follow up to 2006’s THE HAMILTONS. After drawing too much attention to themselves in their native USA, the Hamiltons decamp for England in search of their family roots and a better understanding of the disease that has cursed their family. The original cast return in a slightly higher budget progression from the ’06 original that takes the family’s story a step further, shedding more light on the bloodsucking family and the nature of their sinister disorder. It’s a decent little horror film and a pleasing take on the increasingly crowded vampire genre that jettisons much of the over-elaborate mythology in favour of the basics of blood eating. It’s good fun, with a sprinkling of decent gore effects but you will benefit from seeing THE HAMILTONS first, even if there is a handy recap at the start for those new to the story.

WE ARE THE NIGHT offers another take on the vampire myth, this time centring the action on a group of Berlin ladies whose vampiric antics span centuries of German society as they enjoy the finest luxuries in life and the occasional pint of human blood. The equilibrium is threatened however when they recruit a Berlin street urchin into the fold who isn’t as quick to embrace the darker aspects of vampirehood in order to enjoy the privileges it offers. It’s a slickly produced film, executed with plenty of style and again, offers a slightly different perspective on vampires, presenting the freedom and glamour of vampirism as a sort of feminist awakening. It’s well thought out and deftly constructed  with action set pieces that put me in mind of the likes of NEAR DARK. It’s got a cracking soundtrack to boot which combines beautifully with the Berlin backdrop to round out a stylish and largely superior entry in the vampire genre.

If that’s not enough vampire action for you, Tim Burton’s DARK SHADOWS also hits DVD and blu ray this week. Burton’s movie is a feature film reboot of the sixties American TV show of the same name that sees a long imprisoned vampire, Barnabus Collins (long time Burton muse Johnny Depp) dug up in the seventies just in time to help save his descendants from financial ruin. Cue plenty of fish out of water shenanigans as Barnabus adjusts to late twentieth century living after being buried for two hundred years and tries to not only integrate with his new found family but win the affections of the family governess. Burton is a film maker who has been living off the reputation of his early works for most of this century (he hasn’t made a good film in my opinion since 1994’s ED WOOD although MARS ATTACKS and SLEEPY HOLLOW both have their merits) with a series of increasingly dull style-over-substance Depp vehicles built for a fanbase prepared to shell out for anything with Burton and Depp attached to it. My expectations for DARK SHADOWS then were not high and while it is far from a work of genius it was entertaining enough in its own way, harking back perhaps to the BEETLEJUICE and BATMAN days of Burton’s work. Doubtless the Burton faithful will lap this up, but for me it served more to interest me in the original series upon which it is based than proving a satisfying movie experience. It’s not a patch on DRACULA A.D. 1972 that’s for sure.

Moving away from the horror genre we have ELECTRICK CHILDREN, a poignant story of a young Mormon girl who finds herself mysteriously pregnant after listening to a forbidden tape of rock music. Convinced that the vocalist on the tape is responsible for her being with child and facing an arranged marriage to avoid the shame of being a single mother, Rachel (Julia Garner) absconds from her religious community and heads to Vegas to track him down where she falls in with Clyde (Rory Culkin), a slacker with his own family problems, who offers her an insight into the freedom beyond the confines of her religious life. It threatens to be one of those horribly pretentious independent films that is oh so worthy and oh so insightful but thankfully avoids that territory masterfully. Instead it is a solid story that deals with the importance of family and the power of religion to repress and control, hinting at abuse beyond the simple control of liberty. It’s helped considerably by the performances from the two leads. Garner and Culkin have an interesting chemistry that brings an authenticity to their awkward teenage relationship that overcomes the slightly peculiar premise.

Immaculate conception seems like quite a sensible premise in the face of SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE however. Christian Slater, Sean Bean, Ving Rhames, Dominic Monaghan and James Cromwell lead a cast of motley mercenaries in a mission to deliver an arms shipment to freedom fighters on a remote island. All sounds sensible enough right? Wrong. Slater plays Craig McCenzie (no, I don’t know where they got that spelling from either), a disgraced former soldier who has been hired (with a group of former special forces troops) to protect a group of wealthy businessmen who have paid for the privilege of going on a real life combat mission. Of course, the mission goes awry and the misfit millionaires find themselves going it more or less alone in the face of the enemy and having to put their differences to one side in order to save the day. It’s pretty preposterous stuff all told although it does more or less ease its way into so-bad-it’s-good territory.

My  PICK OF THE WEEK accolade has to go to the wickedly amusing SOME GUY WHO KILLS PEOPLE, the darkly amusing story of vengeance that sees Ken (Kevin Corrigan) trying to live a quiet life since his release from a mental hospital where he spent years recovering from a breakdown as a result of being tortured by high school bullies. Just as life is looking up for Ken thanks to a reconciliation with his estranged daughter and a burgeoning relationship with Stephanie (THE OFFICE’s Lucy Davis) things take a sinister turn as the very Jocks that ruined his life start turning up dead. SOME GUY WHO KILLS PEOPLE is one of those beautifully rounded films that is the result of an excellent script falling into the hands of filmmakers who know how to make it a reality and who eschew digital effects in favour of old school, in camera tricks and prosthetics to provide some of the most entertaining gory murders I’ve seen in a while. Add the excellent cast into the mix, including SPIN CITY’s Mayor Barry Bostwick as the dryly witty town Sheriff and veteran actress Karen Black as Ken’s mother, and you get a perfect example of an independent movie. Not bad when you consider director Jack Perez’s earlier works include MEGA SHARK VS GIANT OCTOPUS.

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