Thursday 9 July 2009

DVD Reviews

Review by Brad Harmer

Is it possible for a film to be long-overdue, and yet also premature at the same time? Biggie Smalls may have been a good rapper, and even a successful one for the short period of time that anyone was aware of him, but does he really deserve the biopic treatment? He never achieved the iconic-dead-hero status that his friend (and later rival) Tupac Shakur enjoyed, and was hardly viewed as the saviour of hip-hop during his own lifetime. He was a blip on the history of rap. You’ve heard of him, but you don’t really know why.

Beginning with the moment of Biggie’s murder, and then rewinding to the his youth in the early 80s, Notorious tries to be the Goodfellas of hip-hop movies, when it really should have been trying to be the Walk The Line of hip-hop movies. As a child, Biggie writes some rap songs, and starts selling crack on the street. In 1990, after winning an important rap battle and meeting Lil' Kim for the first time, Biggie's mother throws him out of the house after discovering his involvement with drug-dealing.

After spending two years in prison, he reconciles with his girlfriend, their new daughter, and his mother. Trying to get back on his feet, he records his demo Microphone Murderer. Shortly thereafter, Biggie meets Sean Combs. Combs promises Biggie that he will sign him to a record deal. Combs, however, will only accept Biggie if he gives up drug dealing. Biggie agrees but nearly ruins his chances, however, a few days later. Biggie, along with his friend, D-Roc, have a run-in with the police which results in Biggie throwing his illegal gun into the bushes. They are caught by the police after a chase. D-Roc eventually decides to "take the fall" for the both of them because he believes that Biggie can succeed as a rapper. The stage is thus set, for the rise and fall of Biggie Smalls. And that’s just what it is. Another rise and fall rock star biopic.

Notorious is a strangely paced film. Large sections of time skim by without mention, yet also too many scenes themselves are overlong. The musical numbers in particular – at times it feels as though they’ve stuck the entire song in there just to pad things out. With a running time of just over two hours, this was hardly necessary.

Also, you do need to have at least passing awareness of 90s hip-hop, as very few of the characters are introduced. It was about an hour and a half into the film before I realised that one of the characters was Lil’ Kim, and someone tells me that Dr Dre was in there somewhere, but I’d be buggered if I could tell you where.

For all these flaws, the film was able to hold my interest, but I found Biggie Smalls to morally ambiguous a character to truly root for. For every time where he was being a positive force in the movie, there were a couple of instances where he was dealing drugs or cheating on his wife. Fans of Smalls or of the 90s hip-hop scene will doubtless find much entertainment here, but it is unlikely to appeal to most.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Several shootings, but very little gore, all things considered. Some urban violence.
Sex/Nudity: Lots. Give this movie an extra point!
Swearing: See above!
Summary: An okay movie that is let down by its questionable pacing and its rather select appeal. - 6/10

Red Dwarf: Back to Earth DVD review
Review by Rob Wade

Red Dwarf: Back to Earth sees the crew of the deep-space mining vessel in a state of precariousness with regards to vital living supplies. When the crew investigate one of the water tanks, they encounter a squid hiding inside. After a scuffle with the ship’s diving bell, the squid releases the crew. A ship hologram appears, informing Rimmer that he has been remiss in his duties as senior officer aboard the ship. Using some technological trickery, the crew end up on present-day Earth, in the form of their on-screen characters.

Discovering that they are due to be killed off at the end of the special, the crew seek to find the creator of the show in the hopes that they can persuade him both to extend their lives and to find their way back to their reality.

When it was announced that there would be a three-part Red Dwarf special appearing on TV, fans wet their collective pants at the news. Well, most fans did. For a few select fans, the news was met with cynicism, particularly at the news that the series would be broadcast on Dave, and would not be filmed in front of a live audience as with previous episodes. As a result, the series is broadcast with no laughs whatsoever.

However, I’m not 100% convinced that it wasn’t shot in front of a live studio audience, even though the feature is devoid of laughs. There seems to be a reason.

The thing is I wanted to love this. I really did. Red Dwarf was such a tremendous part of my childhood that when I watched the end of series 8, I was still of the opinion that more would be a good thing. This should tell you how much I love Red Dwarf: I continued watching after series 7 when they took Rimmer out and introduced Kochanski.

Yeah, my thoughts exactly. This special is all wrong from the very beginning. I had high hopes for the possibility of an upset, especially when I saw the familiar ship cross the screen for the first time in what felt like forever. I was even willing to forego the fact that the opening scene wasn’t particularly funny, even more so when Sophie Winkleman (of Peep Show fame) is cast as the ship’s replacement hologram to give Rimmer his marching orders. The sad thing is that it just continues in this unfunny vein all the way through.

This special feature just lacks…the soul of a Red Dwarf episode. For me, Red Dwarf has so many facets that make up its core. It’s the contempt and borderline hatred between Lister and Rimmer. It’s the unquestioning servitude shown by Kryten even with Lister at his most disgusting. It’s Lister at his most disgusting! None of this is present in this special. It’s as if someone reached into this show and pulled out everything that made Red Dwarf…well, Red Dwarf. But of course, they seem to realise, because of the number of call-backs they make to things in previous episodes. The problem is that rather than smelling faintly of nostalgia, it reeks of a cynical attempt to cash in on the show's following by going "Hey, remember when we actually cared about what we wrote?"

As if it wasn’t bad enough that the show is not particularly blessed in the way of comedic genius, it’s also a shameless merchandising and advertising snowstorm. By the end of the special, I had seen shameless plugs for SFX (The magazine), Dave (The TV channel that broadcasted the original special) and an absolute smegton of Red Dwarf merchandise that may well be in certain shops now! I mean, when they’re advertising the DVD version of the special in the smegging special, you know that cash flow seems to be an objective of the project.

Oh, by the way, did I mention that you can buy this DVD special in all good retailers now? I’m fairly sure I did.

If that wasn’t enough damning evidence against the purchase of this special, the plot seems to suffer from its own complexity at times, and falls down at the most basic levels when it comes to this. For example, the entire last set-piece is a rip-off of Blade Runner. Some may argue that it’s a parody, but I would argue in retort that a parody is generally done with the best of intentions or with some degree of success.

However, there are some fundamental issues with this, which I assume that the producers of this show didn’t take into account when devising the script. For example, the crew use the back of the DVD box set in order to work out their next step, and read the mention of doing something “in Blade Runner style” with bemusement. Fine, I can deal with that. Although Red Dwarf is set in the future, some things are allowed to be glossed over. However, one thing I will NOT accept is that shortly before that, they’re in a science-fiction and comics shop talking to a guy and recognise Star Trek references! Where’s the fairness?

Anyway, onto the ratings:

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence: There is some, but it’s all slapstick, apart from a scene sending up the chase in Blade Runner.
Sex/Nudity: None whatsoever. Viewers seeking any sort of visual stimulation involving ladies will have to make do with Sophie Winkleman in a snug-fitting outfit.
Swearing: As in traditional Red Dwarf style, they replace any swear words with use of the word smeg. You’ll notice that I have for the benefits of this article. At least that way, something in this article resembles Red Dwarf.
Other points in favour:Sophie Winkleman is pretty.

Summary: Seriously, if you’re a fan of Red Dwarf, don’t buy this. If you really HAVE to know, rent it. If you have enough friends who want to know, do some sort of shared purchase scheme so you don’t have to spend loads of money to own it. Then fight amongst yourselves about who has to keep it in their house. 3/10

Pain and Glory: Fightsport Spectacular
Review by Rob Wade

The DVD cover advertises this disc as containing the very best of Pain and Glory, the United Kingdom’s premier mixed martial arts showcase. Pain and Glory promotes the premier fighters in kickboxing, Muay Thai, MMA and K1. I should probably point out at this point that at the time that I had received the DVD for review, I had heard of two of the four disciplines, and had no interest in those two. I’ve always been a professional wrestling fan, both for the athleticism displayed and the colourful array of personalities available. Still, I felt I would be able to approach this with an open mind. After all, anything with violence in can’t be that bad, can it?

Turns out one of two things happened: Either I approached it with a closed mind and didn’t realise it, or it IS possible for something with violence in to be frankly…well, not very interesting. I was prepared to give this the benefit of the doubt and sat down to watch the first match, Ross Pointon vs. John Fleming. I had a bad feeling about it when the commentators sounded like Jason Statham and seemed to know nothing about either fighter (an ACTUAL quote: “Well, I don’t know anything about him, but he was announced as a champion, so he’s got to be a champion of something!”), and it was all downhill from there. Thankfully I didn’t have to endure that commentary for too long, as the match lasted FOURTY-FIVE SECONDS. Bearing in mind that this was the BEST of the showcase, I figure that anyone that paid a large sum of money for this DVD would feel somewhat cheated.

Each discipline’s showcase lasts 30-40 minutes. However, this is bumped up considerably by the fighters’ entrances and a bit of taunting both pre-match and post-match. Interestingly, the fighters seem to have shunned the pro wrestling mentality of “find some cool rock music to get the crowd going”. I swear I heard a guy come down the entrance way to a song by someone who sounded an awful lot like Enya. I mean, as much as I love some music, there are artists who do not suit the hard-man image that this sport seems to thrive upon. I mean, I love him, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a fighter who’d look terrifying against a musical backdrop by John Mayer.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Quite a fair bit, but it’s mostly kicky-punchy. Every discipline seems to be pretty similar to the casual observer as well.
Swearing: The odd word that us Brits would call mild swears (sodding, bloody, bugger etc.)
Summary: Ultimately, this DVD boils down to about two hours of grown men (and women, in one short match) doing their best to punch and kick each other. If they’re not doing that (and it’s unlikely that they won’t be) they’ll be trying to get people into some sort of hold in order to restrain them. If that sounds like your bag, then by all means fill your boots. If not, avoid.

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