Thursday, 30 July 2009

DVD Reviews

Ben 10: Volume 4 - Grudge Match
Warner Home Video
Review by Brad Harmer

If you haven’t seen Ben 10 before, here’s the gist of it – It’s the best Saturday Morning Cartoon since Thundercats. Ben Tennyson is on summer vacation with his Grandpa Max and cousin Gwen, and he acquire The Omnitrix, which allows him to shape-shift into any of ten different aliens.

This latest compilation is a really good one. For a start, there’s the return of Kevin E. Levin, Ben’s nemesis, who is great in every episode he’s in, as well as the show’s sequel series Ben 10: Alien Force. So, not only does this set focus on the friction between Ben and Kevin, but it also focuses on the history between Ben’s Grandpa, Max, and the series main villain, Vilgax.

Ben 10 isn’t just your typical Villain-of-the-Week style of Saturday Morning Cartoon. In this compilation there are human bad guys, alien religious zealots, and convict gladiators forced to fight for the amusement of others. This is a kids series that doesn’t pander down to kids, and this is the reason for both its popularity, and its awesomeness.

In the episodes on this disc, several major things happen to push greater story of the series along. Firstly, as mentioned earlier, Kevin E. Levin returns, but with altered powers and a new monstrous appearance; and the traitorous Omnitrix alien-form Ghostfreak is replaced by the new mainstay, Cannonbolt.

My real criticism of this set was the bizarre non-canon episode, that rewound time and revealed what would have happened if Gwen had been the one who had become attached to the Omnitrix instead of Ben. Whilst an interesting premise, it was little more than filler material in practice. Unfortunately, aside from this episode, Gwen didn’t really serve to add anything, especially now that Grandpa Max is getting his hands dirty more often. Also, all too often the episodes all too often fizzle out too quickly, and there’s not the epic impact of the earlier episodes.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Compared to most cartoons of its ilk, Ben 10 features a fair amount of personal fighting and explosions.
Sex/Nudity: None. Although I’m fairly sure that someone reading this only found us because they were looking for Kevin/Gwen slash fiction. Get out.
Swearing: None
Overall: This is not just one of the best kids shows on TV right now, but this is also one of the best sci-fi shows on TV right now. As a compilation, this isn’t a good introduction, but essential for fans. – 8/10

Choose Death: Necro Butcher
Big Vision Entertainment
Review by Brad Harmer

The disc opens up with a rather formulaic, if interesting interview with Necro Butcher. Whilst he’s lucid and often engaging interviewee, at just over an hour, it’s way too long to just look at a talking head. Especially when he’s often not looking at the camera anyway. By the end, it feels like the interviewer and Necro Butcher are now just shooting the shit together, and not actually trying to engage with an audience, which is not very interesting. Several attempts are made by both Necro Butcher and the interviewer to actually make garbage/hard-core wrestling come across as more intelligent than it really is...and guys, this demeans both of us. We like it because it’s insane and basic, not a discourse on Jungian philosophy!

When the interview has finally finished over-staying its welcome, the DVD fades to a very badly attended and pretty damn terrible match. Virtually every move is botched, and Necro Butcher starts to do what he does best – really underselling all the barbed wire, glass, and fire; and really overselling slaps, hip-tosses and punches. I lost track of the number of times he’d be bonked on the head with a fluorescent light tube without any ill effect, and then sell his opponents punch, with a ridiculously over-the-top slack-jawed “Oooooh” noise. He’s Hardcore Hogan!!!

The main trouble with the matches is that they’re all so bloody samey. Everything's a light-tube intensive Jackass-style stunt-fest, with the exception of one cage match from CZW – the only match (also, interestingly, the only one from a promotion of any note). Every other show on this compilation appears to be a in a run-down gym somewhere, and the audience in attendance ranges between ten and forty. I know popular and good rarely mean the same thing, but do you really want your first “Best of” compilation to show how woefully unpopular you are?

So here it hour of a static camera shot shoot interview, followed by two hours of the same bloke having fluorescent light tubes being broken over his head. A much better solution would have been to show excerpts of the interview inbetween the matches. This would have broken up the otherwise long-segments on both sides a little more, and probably made the whole thing much more bearable. I can’t lie though, that would still be an attempt to polish a turd. This is a compilation of a wrestler who is, at best, average, and at worst a sloppy stuntman.

The only reason for this disc’s existence would appear to be his role (little more than a glorified cameo) in the movie The Wrestler. Fans of Necro Butcher know that he’s had better matches than this, and fans of hardcore wrestling know that there are better wrestlers than Necro Butcher.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Shitloads. Shitloads. Shitloads. It’s a Necro Butcher death-match compilation!
Sex/Nudity: None. At all. That'd be a hell of a gimmick match, wouldn't it?
Swearing: A few fucks.
Overall: A shoddy compilation of a below average wrestler who owes more to jerk-offs like Jackass and Dirty Sanchez than Atsushi Onita and John Zandig. To be fair to the guy, I’ve seen some good matches with him in, and he’s much better than the outdated stuff on this DVD shows. – 2/10

Hellraiser (Blu-Ray)
Clive Barker
Anchor Bay Entertainment UK
Review by Blake Harmer

As far as horror franchises, the Hellraiser series has always been a weird one for me. A lot of great horror franchises were born in the 70s and 80s such as Halloween, Friday the 13th and the Nightmare on Elm Street films. However, Hellraiser is the only one of these films where the main monsters (the Cenobites in this case) were not seen as the main bad guys, but as more of a third party surrounding the key elements of the story.

For those people who haven’t seen the film, the story centres on Frank, an adulterer who buys an antique puzzle box from an old wise man and uses it to open a pathway to another dimension where the Cenobites are. He is then trapped in the other dimension and slowly has his body pulled apart by lots of hooks. However, Frank’s brother Larry and his wife Julia (who is also Frank’s lover) somehow bring him back into the world when Larry accidentally spills his blood on the floor where Frank entered the gateway to Hell. Frank is made of bones and muscle and needs more blood to restore himself. So Julia goes about trying to restore her lover to his former self by killing people and letting Frank use their blood to restore himself, all without her husband Larry and his daughter Kirsty knowing about Frank’s return to the house.

This film is great for several reasons, firstly, it is incredibly gory; people’s heads are smacked in with hammers, people are impaled and then torn apart by hooks, you are very lucky if you go through 5 minutes of this film without someone or something being covered in blood. Also, the special effects still hold up pretty well considering the film’s age, and the Cenobites are still pretty scary looking providing you find S&M demons with over the top piercings to be horrifying. The film’s transition to High Definition may have damaged some of these effects, but even so, you're too busy engrossed in the story line to care about these too much.

This Blu-Ray package does have some drawbacks though. I would have liked to have seen some more special features on the disc, especially considering that the film is over 20 years old and a horror classic. Another drawback is that the visuals, whilst better in HD, still felt liked they needed to be cleaned up a bit more. Although this may have been a problem with the fact that it’s an older film. Also, I found Claire Higgins’ acting to be quite wooden, especially as she is playing the role of Julia, which is one of the most important roles in the film.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Buckets of gore throughout, with bits of flesh and bone littering the Cenobite’s lair and a bad guy who is pretty much covered in blood for most of the film.
Sex Nudity: A few sex scenes but both Frank and Julia have their clothes on, there is little or no nudity throughout the entire, unless you count the fact that Frank is so naked, he has no skin for most of the film.
Swearing: A few swear words, which is quite surprising for a horror film, but nothing to get truly excited about.
Summary: A classic horror film that pushes all the right buttons: good story, check, scary looking monsters, check, tons of gore, check. However, I cannot recommend it to fans of the film to rebuy it if they already have it on DVD. Sure, it's a sharper picture quality, but there isn’t enough extras or improvements to the DVD version to warrant buying it again. Horror fans who don’t own this though, are in for a treat. - 7/10

Bodyguard: A New Beginning
Review by Rob Wade

Bodyguard tells the story of Leung, a bodyguard for a top Triad crime boss who is sent mysteriously to England by his boss to protect a woman. His boss, Wong, does not tell him why he is to protect this woman, only that she is important to him. Leung must then protect this woman, unaware that his boss is being tested by rival gangs and betrayal from within his own ranks.

Let me take you now into the meeting room, where the producers of the film Bodyguard (not that one) are strategising about the film’s focus.

“So guys, we’ve got the chance to do a movie from scratch. Let’s make it a martial arts movie; we’ve got quite a few martial artists we can contact for that.”
“Ooh, what about making it an East-meets-West story? We’ve got a couple of English-speaking actors we can use, and we can make the main female a girl as well.”
“Ok, that’s good. Steve, have you found anything in the Big Book of Action Film Clichés?”
“Boy, have I…”

Seriously, this film adheres to every single lame-arse cliché you can think of. Is the protagonist a quiet character with deadly skills? Check, plus he’s looking for a way out of the bodyguard business as well, as if all that wasn’t enough. The female character appears sceptical at first, but soon warms to Leung even despite their massive cultural differences.

However, this film does have some redeeming qualities, at least for this jaded E14 reviewer. I actually saw (though not directly) an assassin snap the neck of a small child. I mean what the hell? This assassin actually goes into a house, kills all the guards around the house and kills a guy’s daughter WHILE she’s busy playing with her DS. Where’s the fairness?

Besides that, there are some really cheesy set-pieces, and some predictable storyline points to go along with them. Eagle-eyed viewers will recognise two of the actors as being from Underground, the movie I reviewed recently, namely “The Homeless” (who still needs congratulating from time to time, don’t forget) and “The Ex-Convict”. They play a pair of…I’m not quite sure what they are. Are they hit men? They don’t kill people. Are they bodyguards? They go on the attack. Nobody’s quite sure, least of all why two hired goons HAVE to wear the same outfit down to the red tie.

There’s also an awful lot of shouting at inanimate objects in this film. From a guy shouting at a drain cover to a man shouting at his gun while curled up in the foetal position (it all makes sense in context, I swear), shouting seems to be a theme.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence: Unsurprisingly, a substantial amount. However, none of it ever seems particularly painful. Say what you like about Underground (and I did), but at least some of the violence looked like it could hurt.

Sex/Nudity: None whatsoever.

Swearing: A fair amount of swearing actually, but nothing that seems out of place in a Triad gangster movie.

Summary: Ultimately, this film falls short in the sense that despite what could be a promising idea, it is not delivered with any flair. The movie’s pacing isn’t very good, and the story ultimately ends up a little convoluted as a result. 3/10

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