Thursday 13 August 2009

DVD Reviews

Fight Night
Jonathan Dillon
E1 Entertainment UK
Review by Rob Wade

Mental note: When Brad says "who wants to review Fight Night?", remember to say "Is it the game?" before agreeing to it.

But I digress.

Anyone who enjoys any sort of sport or a decent movie will tell you that something that goes a long way towards deciding the quality of such things is the element of unpredictability. The idea of doing something different in the movie/ring/match is generally something that keeps fans guessing and makes it generally more enjoyable for the viewer. Imagine my disappointment, then, to learn that I would be reviewing another movie that could fall into the genre of "underground" fighting. I was expecting the usual hack blend of ropey acting, dodgy dialogue and overly short fight scenes that sacrificed length in order to advance the uninteresting storyline. Oh, and don't forget that the ending will be predictable as well. That's a fairly safe bet.

However, imagine my relief to find that finally there was a movie of this type that didn't conform to every single one of those stereotypes, and actually ended up being pretty entertaining.

Fight Night tells the story of Michael Dublin, a disgraced underground boxing promoter who is caught out when one of his fighters rats him out for asking him to throw the match for a big payoff. Dublin then moves into Fast and Furious style racing, but is about to get his arse handed to him for selling dodgy nitro fuel when the story begins properly. The ruckuss disturbs Catherine Parker, a local vagrant who uses the abandoned building nearby as a shelter. Unwilling to risk any police nearby, she quickly diffuses the commotion with a good old-fashioned arse kicking to one of the thugs threatening Dublin's life.

At this point, Dublin begins to represent Catherine Parker as she works her way across several states making a name for herself as a fighter. Along the way, a chance encounter in his old hometown makes him begin to question his previously shady dealings, and gives him a perspective on the consequences that his decisions sometimes create.

Let's get to the good stuff first. As I said, this movie is actually pretty entertaining. The plot is fairly interesting, if a little poorly paced, and delivers a decent amount of action at regular intervals to keep the viewer entertained. The dialogue isn't particularly bad, maybe a little hit and miss at times, but this is made up for in keeping the characters fairly quiet until the film picks up a bit.

Dublin's character comes across very much as "What would happen if Tom Cruise played a slimeball?" and is of a sufficient quality that I could actually picture Tom Cruise playing the part pretty admirably to be honest. The actor playing Dublin, Chad Ortis, does a convincing job playing the lead, and actually does draw some sympathy during the film's more poignant moments. Rebecca Neuenswander, similarly, does a pretty good job playing Catherine Parker, giving just enough insight into the character's past without being particularly boring.

However, that isn't to say the film is without flaws. The soundtrack is a quite bizarre part of this film. It ranges from Linkin park-esque rock to Miley Cyrus style pop, none of the music really fitting into the scenes being depicted on the screen.

In addition, the film does fall into some of the traps associated with the genre, relying heavily on the use of slow motion and quick cuts to accentuate the violence on screen. While it serves a purpose, it seems like this trick is quite prevalent in the genre, so doesn't really do anything new there. The figure built up to be the villain by the end of the movie really isn't very interesting until the last twenty minutes of the movie as well, let down by a particularly poor choice of when to do a big storyline reveal concerning him.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating :
Violence : A fair amount, unsurprising as it is after all a movie about boxing. Nothing excessive or over the top either really, all fairly plausible in the context of the movie.
Sex/Nudity : One girl flashes her breasts for about two seconds.
Swearing : Plenty of uses of the usual suspects (fuck, shit, bitch etc.). One guy says "cunt" but he has a stutter and is trying to say contender.
Summary: I ended up being pleasantly surprised by this movie. As a boxing movie, it's fairly enjoyable, the setting keeping the scenes of action fairly raw. As a movie in general, it's pretty solid as well, though it does suffer from many of the clich├ęs associated with the genre. 7/10

Driven To Kill
Jeff King
Optimum Home Entertainmet
Review by Rob Wade

Say what you like about Steven Seagal (and the Internet certainly does), the man clearly is very self-aware when it comes to his choice of roles in movies. As soon as I saw his Orange Wednesday advert, I thought to myself: "There's a man with a sense of humour about the movies he does". I also recall thinking that it was one of the best adverts I'd ever seen, hardly surprising as there were a bucketload of explosions, on a golf course of all places!

Driven To Kill puts Seagal in the role of Ruzlan Drachev, a Russian ex-gangster turned crime novelist (I swear I'm not making this up) who is invited to his daughter's wedding. His daughter, incidentally, is marrying the son of Drachev's old gangster nemesis, a son who seemingly wants nothing to do with his father's criminal past. However, once Drachev and Stephan (the son) leave the house, the daughter and her mother are attacked. Finding the mother dead and the daughter in critical condition, Drachev vows to find out who is responsible and make them pay.

For those after a brainless action-fest that doesn't require too much thought, you'll find plenty here to entertain you. Seagal's first act of violence is to smash a glass into someone's face and kick another guy into a glass cabinet. This is incidentally in a local bar. Now, you have to admit, that's a pretty bad-ass way to introduce the character. Seagal's character must be pretty well feared in the area, as I'd be hard pushed to think of anyone I know who could get away with that in their local Wetherspoon's.

However, for those requiring anything deeper, you'll probably end up disappointed. If the plot sounds contrived now, try watching the film. It's your standard revenge thriller, Seagal spending a large amount of time following little clues and leads with plenty of action-heavy set pieces and beatings along the way. Now, granted, you probably aren't watching a Seagal movie for the fantastic plot development and characterisation, but I still feel that they could have done better even by Seagal action movie standards.

Besides which, if you ARE after an action-fest, be forewarned: It's 27 minutes before a gun is discharged in this movie. 27 minutes without bullets in a Steven Seagal movie. A Steven Seagal movie that we've already established isn't blessed with a fantastic plot.

There are positives however to be drawn from this movie beyond the action. Stephan as a character is much deeper than a standard action movie sidekick, displaying a convincing conflict of a character who wants nothing to do with his father's legacy while at the same time being driven by revenge. The revelation of the villain of the film was also a little surprising to me, as was the fact that once that villain was established, the film makers didn't attempt that "twist on top of a twist" thing they try and do to fool you twice.

Having said all this, I can't decide whether the soundtrack for the fight scenes is awesome or ridiculous. Since when did traditional Russian folk music evoke a strong action vibe?

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating :
Violence : A fairly large amount, not really a tremendous shock as it's a Steven Seagal movie. Lots of gunfights and hand-to-hand combat scenes.
Sex/Nudity : A few shots of girls with their breasts out, there's a strip club scene you see. Apart from that, not really much.
Swearing : A fairly substantial amount, but nothing that seems particularly out of context given the style of film.
Summary: A watchable action movie. Steven Seagal, frankly, is getting a little old, but at the same time seems to be aware of this and has scaled down the over the top levels of action for something a little more believable. Only a little more, mind you, but nonetheless more. The plot is probably the weakest thing about this movie, but then let's be fair: as action movies go, can you name that many with a good plot? 6/10

The House By The Cemetery (Quella Villa Accanto Al Cimitero)
Lucio Fulci
Arrow Films
Review by Brad Harmer

A young woman in an old abandoned house is looking for her boyfriend, apparently having taken her there for a bit of rogering. She soon discovers her boyfriend's horribly mutilated corpse, shortly afterwards being stabbed through the back of her head with a sharp kitchen knife. The unseen killer drags the woman's body through a door, and down into the cellar.

A few months later, in New York, A young boy named Bob, and his parents Norman and Lucy are preparing to move to a house in New England. The house was previously occupied by Norman’s ex-colleague, Dr. Peterson, where he murdered his mistress before committing suicide. “A secluded house by a cemetery that’s the site of a recent murder? Good thing we’re not in a horror movie, hey, hun? Hun?”

The Boyles are due to spend six months at the house whilst Norman finishes his research into old houses of the area. As his mother packs, Bob studies a photograph of a sinister-looking old house. In it, he sees a young girl warning him to stay away.

Once they reach the town, Bob waits in his parents car while they pick up their house keys at the estate office. Once again he sees the girl from the photo, this time from across the street. Despite the distance between them, Bob and the girl, who introduces herself as Mae, can hear each other without opening the car windows. Mae again warns Bob to stay away...

I was wary of watching this film for review, as I loved it as a teenager. In my experience, watching movies that you used to love as a teenager is never a good idea. They always end up a hundred times worse than you remembered, and you come away with not just a bad movie, but all your memories of watching and enjoying it tarnished, and you realise just how much of an indiscriminate douche you used to be. That’s why I’m pleased to report that for the first time ever, a film is actually better than I remember it being.

The movie does everything that it’s supposed to correctly. It manages to be gothic and eerie when it needs to be, and also pulls out the gore and violence when it needs to. Fulci was often heavy handed with the gore, and he can’t help himself at times here, but he’s certainly at least trying to act with restraint. I still dislike the ending to this movie, but I dislike it less each time I see it.

As with the other Arrow re-releases, the presentation is absolutely top notch. In addition to the un-cut version of the movie, there’s a cleaned up picture and sound (not perfect, but they’ve tried), documentaries, liner notes, a poster and a reversible sleeve, providing a choice of cover-art (I had to flip this copy to the artwork on the old VHS sleeve I had).

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Lots of graphic violence, mutilated corpses, and gore.
Sex/Nudity: Nothing explicit, but several allusions.
Swearing: Not much.
Summary: A outstanding example of grindhouse cinema, and recommended to zombie and/or haunted house fans looking for something a little different. I was going to give this an 8/10, but the presentation bumps it up to a nine. If you own this film, it should be this edition. 9/10

Sleepless (Non Ho Sonno)
Dario Argento
Arrow Films
Review by Brad Harmer

Sleepless opens with Detective Ulisse Moretti (Max Von Sydow – Judge Dredd, Ghostbusters II) investigating a series of murders in Turin in 1983 known as The Dwarf Murders. The main suspect, a novelist named Vincenzo de Fabritiis, turns up dead and the case is considered closed. However, seventeen years later, a similar series of murders begin and draw Moretti back into the case.
All things considered, this is a pretty slickly executed noir detective story. It’s dark, engaging and quirky...everything that that genre should be, right? Well, no, there’s several things that it does wrong, too.

Firstly, there are lots of things that I loved about this film. The opening sequence, a twenty minute kill scene, may be one of the best examples of how to do a slasher killing that I’ve ever seen. Everything about it was perfect. Max Von Sydow is great in this movie, he really nails the aging detective role. The score by Goblin is fantastic, probably one of the best of theirs that I’ve heard. The gore work actually made me wince at a couple of points...but there’s just too many niggling problems to really rate this movie.

For starters, there seems to be this terrible confusion as to what sort of movie it actually wants to be. To have all this high tension and high drama film noir vibe running through it, and then to show all of the death scenes in their 1970s spaghetti overabundance seems rather, well, crappy to be honest. In one scene, someone is killed by having a fountain pen jabbed into their temple. There’s suspension of disbelief, and then there’s trying to break through someone’s skull with a piece of metal that’s designed to be flexible.

This combined with the distractingly bad foley work makes the film feel more like a parody than a serious horror film – and not a very funny one at that. The ending, too, is more than a little unsatisfying. This movie literally falls apart as it goes along – it starts out strong, is shoddy in the middle and then disappoints grievously at the end.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Yeah, there’s loads of that here. Gore spattering, murderising, viscera coating violence, by the gutload.
Sex/Nudity: Both.
Swearing: A realisitic amount, usually delivered by shoddy extra actors.
Summary: A great idea done badly. There’s enough here to recommend the movie to fans of both the genre and Dario Argento, but there’s just too many faults here to recommend it to more casual fans. – 6/10

1 comment:

  1. Did you ever notice how practically every movie made in the '80s had a scene in a strip club? I suppose it wasn't too out of place in 'Beverly Hills Cop' but I really feel they were slightly misguided when they put one in the 'Care Bears' movie... Shudder...