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DVD/Blu Ray New Release Round Up Monday 29th October 2012

29/10/2012

Bearing down on us at twelve o’clock high, out of the sun is RED TAILS, the based-on-real-events story of the Tuskegee Airmen, an African American fighter group that made a name for itself in the Second World War in the face of prejudice and segregation on the part of  the American military establishment. The fact that this has echoes of the civil-war drama GLORY is probably more of a testament to the glacial pace of civil rights progress than any lack of originality on the part of the filmmakers. The fact that the arguments of the white establishment against the black pilots seeing front line action were the same as the the arguments the white establishment spouted against the black soldiers fighting in the civil war despite almost a hundred years of so called civilisation in between is somewhat depressing and something of an eye opener. Unfortunately, the big problem with the film lies in the other side of the coin. Let’s face it, the expectation with any film about fighter pilots is some quality dog fighting action and sadly, RED TAILS dog fights don’t quite cut the mustard. The cartoonish CGI doesn’t help matters, and while I accept there are certain difficulties in trying to film real aircraft in action, the special effects just aren’t special enough for me. It’s here that the hand of producer George Lucas can be most firmly felt. For a man who was inspired to create the outstanding fighter combat sequences in Star Wars from footage of Second World War dogfights, the results here seem pretty weak, a hollow caricature of Lucas’s glory days. For WWII enthusiasts there’s some interesting stuff to be had, including a rare screen outing for the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter (regrettably in a preposterous sequence, but that’s by the by).

There’s flying of a different sort in Tsui Hark’s FLYING SWORDS OF DRAGON GATE, a wire work heavy kung fu epic starring action veteran Jet Li. It’s a convoluted plot of corrupt governments, wild bandits and revolutionaries but, as you might expect, the plot is somewhat secondary to the action. Once again, the CGI peril rears its ugly head though and while it may have broken new ground in its use of 3D (I’ve only seen the 2D dvd version but it is also available in 3D blu ray format) it has flogged the CGI horse well and truly to death. I have no issue with wire work (when suitably employed) but when I watch a Jet Li film I want to see Jet Li fighting, not a cartoon representation of Jet Li fighting. The best kung fu movies balance the action choreography to get the best mix of aesthetics and power but the incessant flurries of pixels in FLYING SWORDS very quickly start to feel ever so samey and consequently rather boring, far too boring to sustain the two hour running time. There are some great ideas at play (the concept of the Dragon Inn, around which much of the action centres, is tremendous) but they are lost in the barrage of ostentatious “made-for-3D” set pieces and flickering pixels. It’s not that it’s a terrible film, just that the expectations I have of two massive names in the genre (if you doubt the pedigree of Tsui Hark and Jet Li just watch ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA for a crash course in what they can achieve) are far higher than this.

The action in BRAKE is far more contained, with Stephen Dorff’s secret service agent Jeremy Reins waking up in a perspex box in a pitch dark room with only a CB radio and his wits for company. “1/2 24 and 1/2 Buried” declares the marketing department and for once they aren’t far from the mark as Reins proceeds to have a day on a par with Jack Bauer’s life in terms of unfortunate situations, digital countdown clocks and threats against his loved ones are concerned. Time’s running out for Reins and he has to piece together what’s happening to him and escape before it’s too late. But will he succeed? These kind of self contained, one set movies are always a gamble and usually rely on the cast to deliver for them to really work. Dorff however manages to deliver a consistently average performance that always feels derivative of the genre’s masters. There’s a bit of Bruce Willis here, a helping of Kiefer Sutherland there and very little that you could describe as his own. Add to that some clumsy writing, a plot that is as convoluted as it is predictable and a handful of pointless affectation and you have yourself a post-24 terrorathon that fails to set the world on fire. It’s almost worth it for the nonsensical ending though.

Things are looking up a bit with Jason Segel and Emily Blunt vehicle THE FIVE YEAR ENGAGEMENT though, which although is far from gut bustingly hilarious has just enough material buried in it to make it watchable. Tom (Segel) and Violet (Blunt) get engaged after going out with each other for a year but their best intentions to get wed always seem to end up being back burnered as life gets in the way. It’s all fairly conventional comedy fodder, entirely predictable and certainly funnier than some recent so-called comedies (WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING I’m looking at you!) but when you weigh it against THE MUPPETS (which, like this film, Segel wrote and starred in) it feels like a bit of a let down. As is so often the case with this kind of comedy, the best moments involve the supporting cast rather than the stars (Chris Pratt, David Paymer and Rhys Ifans all get their chance to upstage the leads at various points) and a series of slapstick gags that more or less hit the mark provide just enough to be getting along with although, like Tom and Violet’s engagement, it does feel like it’s going on forever and would have benefited from some sharper editing.

If you don’t fancy the calculated schmaltz of Hollywood comedy then French cinema has come up with the perfect antidote. POLISSE is a fictionalised (but in true David Simon style, extracted from genuine case files) look at the work of the French Police Child Protection Unit, born of writer/director Maiwenn’s time spent following around genuine CPU officers as they went about their duties. The handheld, almost documentary style will be familiar to fans of NYPD BLUE and HOMICIDE (comparisons to Simon’s THE WIRE are a little off the mark, it’s more like his earlier foray into television) and gets us right in about the men and women who try to keep children safe, not just from paedophiles and molesters but neglect, abuse and exploitation of other kinds too. It’s a fabulously engaging piece that feels very realistic, examining a broad spectrum of cases from the worst sorts of sexual abuse to a homeless woman who desperately wants her child taken into care to promiscuous teenagers – all explored with a humanity that prevents it from descending into churlish voyeurism. It’s great stuff, if a little bit bleak at times, and offers a fascinating insight into a world most of us (thankfully) don’t get to see.

My PICK OF THE WEEK this week though is a film as peculiar as it is uplifting. THE BROOKLYN BROTHERS (or BROOKLYN BROTHERS BEAT THE BEST to give it its full title) is the tale of two misfit musicians, Alex and Jim, who set off on an ambitious tour of the States on a musical odyssey of self discovery. Cue plenty of struggling musician antics as the pair (in the company of music promoter Cassidy) blag their way across the country, determined to make it big. There will no doubt be people who find the quirkiness of this film more than a little affected (it’s a fair charge) but to be honest there is more than enough humour and charm to win out and while there is a sense that it’s oddity is designed for effect it never feels self conscious, at least not in a negative way. It succeeds because the characters of Jim and Alex, despite occasional bouts of self pity and whining, are actually quite likeable blokes, Jim in particular being a source of some of the best jokes and bittersweet moments in the film. The tunes are quite good too. I can see where comparisons to FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS might have come from but in truth, BROOKLYN BROTHERS is less overtly comedic than its New Zealand spawned predecessor, in particular the songs which are aiming more for wry than laugh out loud funny. It’s easily the most charming, witty film released this week though.

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