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DVD/Blu Ray New Release Round Up Monday 4th February 2013

03/02/2013

taken 2I think I’m just about the only person in the world who wasn’t particularly taken by the first TAKEN, the Luc Besson produced Liam Neeson vehicle that amounted to little more than a poor man’s MAN ON FIRE. It’s sold tons on DVD, has proved a massive hit with the viewing public and seems to have established Neeson as a bona fide action hero. TAKEN 2, therefore was something of an inevitability. This time around, the family of the Albanian people traffickers that former C.I.A. killer Bryan (Neeson) dispatched in the first film have come after him and his family for a spot of revenge. Cue lots of running about, calm cell phone conversations whilst under extreme duress and a bunch of violence as Bryan once again has to keep his family safe from evil non-Americans. This time the action seems to have been toned down somewhat (presumably to secure a more financially lucrative 15 certificate) which is a tragedy as the action sequences were one of the strengths of the first film. Here, they’ve been fast cut to within an inch of their lives, and returning helmsman Olivier Megaton disappoints by employing undercranked cameras to fake a sense of dynamism in the fight scenes. This would be less frustrating had they not proved themselves capable of more in the previous film. I have serious issues with the story too. As implausible as the original TAKEN was, this one makes less sense. The villains have been seriously under-written, especially the vengeful father of the people smugglers, in fact the whole film suffers from a general lack of a script. What little there is to pass as a story is just a flimsy framework upon which to hang the action set pieces. Had they been better, they might have pulled it off. Special mention must be made of Maggie Grace in her turn as Kim (Bryan’s daughter) who looks every one of her thirty years of age which wouldn’t be an issue if she wasn’t playing a nineteen year old. Never since Steve McQueen’s turn in THE BLOB has an actor been so creepily mis-cast as a teenager.

hotel transylvaniaSpeaking of older than they should be teens, HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA sees Dracula’s daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) desperate to explore the outside world on her one hundred and eighteenth birthday, much to her father’s horror. He built the titular guest house as a safe haven for all monsters where they could be protected from the rampaging mobs of humans determined to pitchfork and burning torch them into oblivion. Released hot on the heels of last week’s marvellous PARANORMAN, its timing couldn’t be worse as the film strains under the burden of comparisons to that vastly superior movie. The animation is pretty mediocre, the story dull and there are a couple of dreadful songs thrown in for good measure (the closing musical number is particularly cringeworthy) all of which drown out the occasional funny jokes. The realisation that this was directed by the normally excellent Genndy Tartakovsky (you may be familiar with his body of work which includes THE POWERPUFF GIRLS, SAMURAI JACK and STAR WARS: CLONE WARS) is an extra kick in the guts as his stuff is normally top notch. Even so, I think younger kids should get a kick out of it and there are a few jokes thrown into the mix for adults that are actually quite funny but it lacks a lot of the charm and grace (and sheer aesthetic beauty) that made PARANORMAN so enjoyable.

anna kareninaAesthetics and affectation triumph over story and character in Tom Stoppard’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s ANNA KARENINA. Set in 19th century Russia it’s a period drama centred around a scandalous affair between Anna (Kiera Knightley) and the dashing and affluent Count Vronksy (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). I don’t really go in for period dramas much, and films like this are pretty much the reason why. Oh, I’m sure it’s a fascinating essay into the hypocrisies and idiosyncrasies of the Russian aristocracy (and on this evidence it’s little wonder the rest of Russian society rose against them) but really, for me, it was just a slow grind to nowhere. Sure, it’s aesthetically rather charming and the theatrical production design might even at times seem a bit clever, but for a film about tragically fated love it doesn’t seem to have much in the way of heart. All the parts seem to be in place – decent cast, decent writer, even director Joe Wright has got form for this sort of thing, but they don’t really form a cohesive whole. No doubt it will be Oscar fodder, it all feels very worthy and artistic, but ultimately it feels very hollow.

UntouchableThe same (thankfully) cannot be said for this week’s PICK OF THE WEEK. In THE INTOUCHABLES (a.k.a. UNTOUCHABLE in the U.K. for reasons that don’t seem clear), wealthy tetraplegic Philippe (Francois Cluzet) engages the services of the straight talking if a little bit rough and ready Driss (Omar Sy) to be his live in assistant. It’s one of those films that manages to be heart warming without being saccharine or patronising, Philippe and Driss’s ODD COUPLE style behaviour and ribald banter proving to be both funny and touching. It’s part comedy, part love story, part drama and it manages, like so many French films seem to do, to pull it all off with real class and style. It’s nice to see stories about people who can see through the bullshit of existence and get to the actual hearts of people, in this case real people with the film being based firmly on real life. As if all that wasn’t enough, it also has a bad ass funk and blues soundtrack that complements the film wonderfully. Check it out.

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