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DVD/Blu Ray New Release Round Up Monday 22nd October 2012

21/10/2012

As Halloween creeps closer and closer there is, unsurprisingly, an abundance of scary tales hitting home video but few films I’ve seen recently are as horrific as WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING, the latest big budget “comedy” to be slated as the best comedy since the last one and based on, of all things, one of America’s best selling self help books. “How do you make a movie based on a self help book?” I hear you cry. Well that’s a question the writers and producers of this might have thought to ask themselves before they embarked upon this project which despite its promises is a bloated two hours of mirthless cliche and tragic predictability. Repugnant characters, a completely misjudged and inappropriate attempt at poignancy and paper thin writing that relies on the most tired of stereotypes round out the least amusing comedy I’ve seen in a long time.

Moving swiftly on to the first deliberate attempt at horror this week we have the star heavy RED LIGHTS which sees Sigourney Weaver and Cillian Murphy (with a little help from SILENT HOUSE star and lesser known Olsen sister Elizabeth Olson and SUBMARINE’s  Craig Roberts) debunk claimed psychic and paranormal phenomena in the name of science as they investigate fraudulent psychics. When they are pitched against the imposing and enigmatic Simon Silver (a phoned in performance from Robert De Niro) though they appear to have met their match and are faced with the possibility that psychic powers might actually exist and are, in fact, rather dangerous. BURIED director Rodrigo Cortes helms with a script he’s written himself and here lies the main problem with the film – rather than being a gripping thriller it feels like a sequence of glib, faintly smug debunkings which while I might agree with in real life don’t make for particularly thrilling story telling on the screen. This is a shame as there’s definitely the core of a decent story here, albeit one that’s a touch predictable, that would have benefited from tighter writing and a firmer directorial hand. The quality of the cast is completely squandered, De Niro being the greatest disappointment of all. I don’t know what it is about him, but this one time titan of cinema seems less and less interested in delivering the goods these days. All that said it’s not a terrible film by any means and worth a look whether you are a believer or sceptic.

The big budget disappointment of the week award is definitely earned by ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, Seth Grahame-Smith’s own adaptation of his alternate-history tale that retells the rise of one of America’s most celebrated historical figures as a bad ass, vampire slaying force of vengeance. Timur Bekmambetov (of NIGHT WATCH/DAY WATCH fame) directs this CGI heavy, roller coaster ride of post-post-MATRIX set pieces that set up slavery as a cunning Vampire scheme to secure a food supply and the American Civil War as a war on Vampires. It’s not a bad idea in itself (I don’t know enough about Lincoln’s life  to get a feel for how well the fantasy additions integrate with the truth) but the execution is lacklustre, any joy to be found in the handful of good ideas being swept away by a torrent of over the top CGI and very derivative imagery. Benjamin Walker stars as honest Abe (doing a young Liam Neeson impression) helped out by Dominic Cooper as his vamp-massacring mentor (doing an RDJ in SHERLOCK HOLMES impression with a tiny fraction of Downey Jr.’s charisma) taking on the might of Rufus Sewell’s ancient Vampire overlord and his legions of the undead. It’s yet another film that muddies the waters of Vampire mythology (silver bullets are for Werewolves, numbnuts) and sadly not for the better, leaving it yet another entry in the wasted opportunity column.

At the opposite end of the budgetary scale, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY creator Oren Peli writes and produces digital effects artist turned director Bradley Parker’s CHERNOBYL DIARIES in which a group of American tourists impulsively decide to go on an “extreme tourism” trip to Pripyat, a ghost town that sits in the shadow of the infamous Chernobyl power station that has been abandoned since the notorious reactor exploded in the eighties. It’s not long before they discover that Pripyat is not quite as abandoned as the first thought and the group fall prey, one by one, to the mysterious inhabitants of the town. Fear not – despite the title and an opening camcorder montage this is, thankfully, not yet another tedious, found footage snoozefest and while it may not be entirely original in premise it’s actually not bad. It’s not particularly scary, the main characters are too irritating and too stupid for you to have much empathy for their situation, but there’s a certain old school charm to its “mutant cannibal” vibes.  Unable to shoot in the real Pripyat (which is still a radioactive wasteland) a former Soviet base in Belgrade substitutes but it looks the part and the desolate locations prove suitably eerie and a convincing venue for the story. It’s a fair effort overall, even if it’s not that scary.

My PICK OF THE WEEK this week is not one but two films which should, I reckon, be watched as a double bill (at least if you want to be able to get to sleep afterwards). First up is the nerve shredding, haunted house horror LOVELY MOLLY from THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT director Eduardo Sanchez. Again, early indications that this might be a found footage horror can be ignored and while it occasionally resorts to P.O.V. camcorder footage these segments serve a purpose in the broader story. Molly (in an intense, harrowing performance from newcomer Gretchen Lodge), recently married, moves back into her old family home, a move which awakens bad memories of a troubled childhood with her sister. The story unfolds into an upsetting, often creepy, at times terrifying tale of a young woman’s descent into madness, driven by demons that may be real or imagined. It’s a rare thing for a horror film to freak me out, but LOVELY MOLLY managed the feat and at four o’clock in the afternoon! It’s greatest strength is it’s ambiguity, every image and scare designed to provoke the imagination, the only thing presented with any certainty being Molly’s gradual mental collapse. Lodge’s performance is superb, her transformation from a pretty, dark eyed newlywed to sallow, strung out victim is entirely convincing and the pivot upon which the whole film swings. It’s powerful, affecting stuff just make sure you avoid the undermining on-disc featurettes where Sanchez revisits the pseudo-documentary style he employed with THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT’s marketing stuff to explain the back story which basically ruins the effect of one of the most potent horror films I’ve seen in a long time.

The second part of my PICK OF THE WEEK double bill should hopefully prove enough of an antidote to the outright horror of LOVELY MOLLY to stave off the nightmares. The East End of London comes under undead assault in comedy horror COCKNEYS VS ZOMBIES and it’s up to brothers Andy and Terry to make sure their grandad Ray and his senior citizen pals are okay in their retirement home as the undead menace spreads. Ignore the lazy LOCK STOCK meets SHAUN OF THE DEAD comparisons – this is something far better than that combination suggests and boy oh boy is it good fun. A script that sparkles with wit is delivered by a tremendous cast that includes ubiquitous cockney hard man Alan Ford, Honor Blackman, Richard Briers and BIONIC WOMAN Michelle Ryan, as well as the lesser known but equally good Rasmus Hardiker and Harry Treadaway who are all clearly having far too much fun putting together this spirited zombie romp. It doesn’t hold back on the gore either, with some impressive mechanical effects as zombies are decapitated, blown up, machine gunned, hacked, slashed and otherwise dispatched by our heroes. Round it all out with a bespoke end credits theme from legendary cockney songsmiths Chas N Dave and you have a stone cold zom-com classic.

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