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DVD/Blu Ray New Release Round Up Monday 5th November 2012

03/11/2012

You can tell it’s getting closer to Christmas as the quantity of new releases starts to reduce as the quality (or at least profile) of releases starts to increase. The least recognisable title out this week is the latest movie from the Cine Asia stable, DEMON HUNTER. For some reason, this has been retitled for Western audiences from PAINTED SKIN: THE RESURRECTION and is the follow up to the Donnie Yen kung fu fantasy PAINTED SKIN. It labours a little under a ramshackle narrative but this fantasy tale based heavily on Chinese folklore sees  humans and demons locked in mortal combat (both physically and mentally) as an ancient and cunning Fox spirit attempts to become human, old lovers are reunited and war threatens to break out between kingdoms. There’s probably a bit too much going on from a story perspective but the action is halfway decent (if a little over reliant on wires and special effects) and the mythical vibes will resonate with fans of the late seventies, Japanese TV series MONKEY. It’s not quite as good as its predecessor and there’s no Donnie Yen this time round, but it was an enjoyable fantasy adventure nonetheless with enough kung fu chops to make it enjoyable.

At the opposite end of the recognition scale is MEN IN BLACK 3, the latest instalment in the big budget sci-fi franchise that pretty much delivers everything it promises, i.e. more of the same. This time around Will Smith’s Agent J has to head back in time to prevent a time travelling alien psychopath (an outstanding – and barely recognisable – performance from FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS Jemaine Clement) from assassinating his mentor and partner, Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). Fans of the franchise will not be disappointed by its array of FX heavy set pieces, Will Smith humour and the usual battery of background in jokes about who are really aliens and so on but what I enjoyed the most was Josh Brolin’s pitch perfect performance as the 1969 Agent K. He captures the essence of Tommy Lee Jones’ version of the character beautifully, and is a definite highlight of an entertaining, if somewhat unsurprising, blockbuster. 

In SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD the emphasis is less on saving the world from destruction than it is on how we might conduct ourselves when faced with its inevitable destruction. Steve Carrell stars as Dodge, a middle aged man who finds himself alone when his wife leaves him in a panic at the news of the world’s end. A chance encounter with his young neighbour Penny (Keira Knightley) the pair embark on a road trip in search of something or someone to give them comfort in the world’s final moments. It’s an odd pitch (although it has been done before, and in my opinion infinitely better, with Lars Von Trier’s vexing MELANCHOLIA) that blends sentimentality with flashes of comedy as the mismatched duo struggle to deal with the mundanity of the end of the world. The weak spot here is almost definitely the writing, the script relying rather too much on convenient coincidence and lazy stereotypes before drifting off into unconvincing, semi-conceived monologues about the wonders of vinyl (among other things) that are trying too hard and not saying enough. There are some decent moments in there though, including cameos from William Petersen and Martin Sheen that lift the tone slightly, but even a cute, scruffy puppy isn’t enough to distract you from the flimsiness of this effort.

KILLER JOE, on the other hand, is far from flimsy. Matthew McConaughey stars as the titular assassin who is enlisted by the Smith family to kill off mama in order to get their hands on a life insurance payout that will save young Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch) from being whacked by gangsters he is in debt to. What promises to be a simple plan plays out, surprise surprise, as something far more complicated, the initial simple murder spiralling out of control in the process. There’s a lot going on in a small space here, with director William Friedkin helming a script that writer Tracy Letts adapted from his own stage play with a sense of vaguely surreal theatricality that only serves to emphasise the darker elements of the story. McConaughey is superb as Joe, a thoroughly fleshed out, charismatic sociopath who clearly loves his chosen profession and is a million light years from the kinds of character he normally plays and is supported by a solid cast that includes Gina Gershon, Thomas Haden Church and Juno Temple, all playing the dysfunctional, trailer trash Smith family with aplomb. The sense of the decaying American dream and the deep, internal corruption of family life has shades of Lynch (see BLUE VELVET and LOST HIGHWAY in particular) and there’s even a hint of Oliver Stone’s NATURAL BORN KILLERS about the film as Joe increasingly reveals his true nature. The fact that Friedkin and Letts seem to have got the tone bang on, with the perfect balance of dark comedy and outright brutality, makes KILLER JOE my PICK OF THE WEEK.

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