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DVD/Blu Ray New Release Round Up Monday 26th November 2012

25/11/2012

As we get closer and closer to Christmas the studios start to break out the big guns to bolster their Q4 performances, and why not?  After all, the year’s blockbusters are undoubtedly on everybody’s Christmas lists. This week though, a quartet of glossy Hollywood behemoths are joined by a much smaller fish, the quietly understated SOUND OF MY VOICE. It’s the story of a couple who, in a bid to make a documentary about religious cults, join up with a particularly odd group who are in thrall to a young woman who claims to be from the future. Initially intending to document the experience and expose her as a fraud, they find themselves increasingly drawn in to the dynamics of the group and start to lose sight of their own scepticism. In many ways it’s a bit like RED LIGHTS, where similarly minded people set out to expose a legendary stage psychic as a fraud, although SOUND OF MY VOICE is far more subtle and doesn’t carry any of the baggage associated with the other film’s big name cast. It’s an interesting little film, the best thing about it being the way it incorporates the methods by which cults manipulate people whilst resisting the temptation of explicit exposition. Nobody needs to explain what’s happening as you can see it all unfold, safely, from the outside. As a film, it’s not going to change the world, but it’s certainly an interesting curio in a week of somewhat more straightforward material.

They don’t come much more straightforward than Sony’s latest Spiderman movie, THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN. Say what you like about the Sam Raimi Spidey’s, I happen to think the first two are actually pretty good and felt, to me, like pretty good renditions of the character. The tone and aesthetic of Raimi’s movies had a brash, bold comic book feel to them, something this latest instalment is sadly lacking. It’s biggest failing is the fact that they felt the need to retread, yet again, what is probably the best known superhero origin story in comics. Almost an hour of it’s two hour running time is devoted to the “bitten by a radioactive spider” and the death of Peter’s Uncle Ben part of the story, the worst of it being it’s not even half as good as the version of the tale laid down by Mr Raimi. This means you don’t get much opportunity to get to know the villain of the piece, Dr. Curt Connors a.k.a The Lizard (Rhys Ifans doing a good job with what little he gets to work with). By the time you throw in the misjudged “moodiness” (which equates to a dark visual palette and huffy twenty five year old teenagers) and the cartoonish CGI it all comes across a bit The Terribly Mundane Spiderman rather than particularly amazing. That said, there’s probably enough for the comic fans to be getting on with, including the return of Spidey’s web shooters (rather than Raimi’s silk glands) and a Stan Lee cameo that’s as ridiculous as it is entertaining. Maybe soon we’ll see the rights to the Spiderman movies fall back fully into the hands of Marvel and we might get a Spidey film on a par with the recent stable of Marvel pics. We can but hope.

When you see the CGI in Seth McFarlane’s TED it underlines the issues that THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN has with overuse of pixels. Mark Wahlberg’s foul mouthed teddy bear, brought to life by Christmas magic to become his best (and only) friend, is an example of the technology used sparingly and effectively as Ted smokes, drinks and swears his way through a series of FAMILY GUY-esque gags and idiotic encounters, jeopardising Jonh’s (Wahlberg) relationship with his long term girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) in the process. I’m not much of a fan of FAMILY GUY, I find MacFarlane’s one note humour tiresome in large doses, but it pretty much works here (even if you can’t escape the fact that Ted sounds like he’s been possessed by Peter Griffin), hitting the mark more than fifty percent of the time. Wahlberg is particularly good, an actor who I think is grossly underrated, especially in this sort of comedy role. Littered with eighties references (including a great segment focused around 1980’s FLASH GORDON), foul language, depraved teddy bear sex and an excellent fight scene between Ted and John, TED is like some perverse, anti-GARFIELD that somehow seems to work, somewhat against the odds. It’s certainly the best comedy I’ve seen in recent months, although the competition has hardly been stiff. If I was going to sum it up with two words, they would probably be: funny enough.

There’s a mixture of humour and drama to be found in Channing Tatum’s semi-autobiographical MAGIC MIKE, which enters the murky world of male strippers in a Florida club, drawing on Tatum’s early career of whipping off his kecks on stage in front of room fulls of hysterical women. And when you’re as ripped as Channing Tatum you can pretty much guarantee the women will be hysterical. Add Matthew McConaughey, Alex Pettyfer and a handful of other chiselled hunks into the mix and you have a film that on even the most superficial level will be a big hit with anyone that appreciates the male form. Thankfully, Steven Soderbergh has brought a bit more to the table than that and made an actually quite interesting film. You would be forgiven if at first glance you thought you were getting something pitched halfway between SHOWGIRLS and THE FULL MONTY but, and probably largely due to Tatum’s charisma and McConaughey’s over the top theatrics, this is so much better than either of those films. I’d written off Tatum as just more romance filler until I saw this year’s 21 JUMP STREET and MAGIC MIKE is more evidence of what could be an impressive career ahead given the right films. A word of warning to anyone intending on watching this with their partner – unless like me you have a distorted sense of your own body image to the point where you actually believe you look like Channing Tatum with your top off, feelings of inadequacy may ensue. And for those less interested in the story than the dance routines, there’s even a special feature allowing you to skip all those talky bits inbetween…

Pixar earn my PICK OF THE WEEK this week, but not without some reservations. BRAVE was massively hyped in the run up to its release earlier in the year and, what with patriotism being a national sport in Scotland, expectations were incredibly high when I first saw it in the cinema. Two things struck me about the experience with that initial viewing. Firstly, visually it is the single most stunning thing, visually speaking, that Pixar have ever created. Some of the landscape shots look almost like photographs and the detail and texture and atmosphere of every single frame is just exquisite. Naturally these are the fruits of some serious labour on the part of the Pixar team who made an immersive trip to the Highlands of Scotland to research exactly what they were trying to create. Secondly, from a story point of view, it’s not really their best work. For the first time, Pixar seem to have managed to make a movie that feels more Disney than Pixar, which isn’t to say it’s terrible (it really isn’t) just that it’s not in the same league as their best stuff (MONSTERS INC., UP, WALL-E) in terms of storytelling. That said, they have captured a lot of the things people love about Scotland beautifully and the main character, Merida, is a wonderfully strong, independently minded young woman, with majestically animated flowing red hair.   Kids will love it, and even when the story dips, adults should be mesmerised by the aesthetics. Anyone who can witness the slow mo sequence from the archery contest without being at least a little bit impressed is dead on the inside. The fact that one sequence with Merida practicing her archery in the woods had echoes of the fantastic Korean film WAR OF THE ARROWS also made me happy, even if it is coincidental. If you can, watch it on blu ray to get the most out of it.

Merida is a fantastic role model for young women (once she overcomes her thorny pride issues) and Brave oozes atmosphere. Both are enough to forgive it its shortcomings I think.

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