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DVD/Blu Ray New Release Round Up Monday 7th January 2013


the wedding videoFirst out of the blocks this week (and indeed this year) is Brit comedy THE WEDDING VIDEO, a sort of found footage affair that sees Brother/Best Man to the groom Raif (Rufus Hound) decide the best present he can give his soon-to-be-married brother is a “warts and all” documentary film of the days leading up to his matrimonial union. Of course, Raif turns out to be less an impartial observer as the source of several unfortunate mishaps. Much hilarity ensues. Or at least is supposed to, but rather unfortunately the hilarity never really materialise despite a menagerie of British comedy talent including the usually brilliant Matt Berry, Kevin Eldon and Michelle Gomez. You get the impression they’re aiming for something like the satirical, mockumentary style of Christopher Guest but this has an insignificant fraction of the sparkle and wit that can be found in the likes of A MIGHTY WIND or BEST IN SHOW. The mockumentary format turns out to be something of a bind to the filmmakers, and I can’t help but feel this might have worked better with a more conventional narrative style. Perhaps this is due to the casting – Rufus Hound, Robert Webb and Lucy Punch don’t seem natural in the leads, their celebrity status at odds with the attempt at a documentary feel. Pretty pedestrian stuff.

when the lights went outStaying in the UK, WHEN THE LIGHTS WENT OUT is a “based in a true story” account of paranormal activity in a Yorkshire home in the early seventies that has gone down in history as the most violent poltergeist case in Europe. All very creepy if you believe in that sort of thing (I don’t) but it’s actually a decent effort at dramatising the events that befell a young family who move into a new house in Pontefract only to find themselves on the receiving end of a malevolent phantasm. Whatever your opinion of the source story, the film works quite hard to create an atmosphere of a family under siege in their own home, turning on each other as the presence in their house subjects them to events than range from mischievous to downright psychotic. The more successful moments are pretty much down to the sterling cast that includes Steve Waddington, Kate Ashfield. Martin Compston, Gary Lewis, Craig Parkinson and Tony Pitts all of whom bring a sense of realism to a pretty preposterous story. It started to lose me a little bit with the more explicit depictions of spirit manifestation (especially in the final sequences which threaten to derail everything that’s come before) but otherwise it’s a pretty satisfying haunted house story with an AMITYVILLE HORROR vibe.

back from hellA far less satisfying prospect is BACK FROM HELL, a film that brings the found-footage horror film to new, annoying heights. Six thoroughly unpleasant friends spend a holiday in a crumbling old monastery where they dabble with a home made Ouija board and release an ancient malevolence that does for them one by one, mostly in the dark and off camera while the remaining companions, with the help of the priest who seems to look after the place, try to stop it. This has all the usual found-footage cliches in spades – wobbly runs down dark corridors, people going missing, odd “possessed” type behaviour – but has the added annoyance of a group of people who you really wish would hurry up and die or at least be struck dumb with terror. Why half a dozen people who so clearly don’t like each other and lack any sort of chemistry would decide to go on holiday together, let alone to a crusty old possessed monastery, is a logic flaw that there can be no recovering from, all the more so because one of the six has decided to capture every excruciating second of it on camera, a camera that conveniently finds itself subject to mysterious interference whenever something of actual interest is happening. The sooner budget restrained, independent filmmakers swear off this tiresome format and take some lessons in script writing instead the sooner I can stop being subjected to nonsense like this.

the imposterTHE IMPOSTER is a horrifying story of a different kind, this time an actual documentary about a teenage boy who, after going missing in San Antonio, Texas when he was thirteen is found three years later in Spain. If that sounds too good to be true, the clue’s in the title, as the boy who surfaced in Spain wasn’t the family’s son at all, but an imposter who managed to fool the Spanish and American authorities, not to mention a whole family, that he was someone he wasn’t. It all feels rather unbelievable and I had to remind myself several times that I was watching a documentary about events that really happened. The series of events that lead French born Frederic Bourdin are as fascinating as they are, at times, chilling and offer an amazing insight into the fallacies of human decision making, with plenty of people making some spectacularly ropey judgements along the way. Using interviews and reconstructions, the makers have gone for a thriller vibe, giving the film a suspenseful tone as it gradually pieces together events. There’s a similarity in style (not to mention shock value) between this and that other great people-not-being-what-they-seem documentary CATFISH, another film that left me agape at how some people can behave and what lengths people will go to in order to feel accepted. Definitely worth a look.

jackpotMy PICK OF THE WEEK this week is JACKPOT, a film that along with HEADHUNTERS is probably enough to convince me to start reading some of Norwegian author Jo Nesbo’s books. Credited with the story, JACKPOT is a jet black comedy which sees Detective Solor trying to piece together the events that led to the hapless Oscar being found at the site of a strip club massacre, clutching a loaded shotgun. With a plot that feels like a blend between Elmore Leonard and the Coen Brothers it’s a very funny, clever little thriller that might even be superior to the far better known HEADHUNTERS. It certainly has a less recognisable cast (at least from an international standpoint) although they are all excellent and manage to pull off the film’s madcap antics with straight faces and utter conviction. The interplay between the jaded Solor and Oscar is the central pivot of the whole film and together they get all the best lines that are masterfully folded in between the layers of flashback as Oscar recounts the tale of how he ended up on that strip club floor. This level of wit and invention is a rare treat in movies, catch it while you can!

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