Tuesday 22 September 2009

DVD Reviews

Angels & Demons
Ron Howard
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Review by Brad Harmer

Based on the bestselling novel by Dan Brown, Angels & Demons follows Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks – Mazes and Monsters, Joe Versus the Volcano) as he uncovers the perilous secrets of the Illuminati. Caught in a conflict between science and religion that threatens the Vatican City, Robert races to find the clues to lead him to the hidden weapon he seeks.

A new Pope needs to be chosen, and there are four candidates. The Illuminati, however, want to make the decision themselves. As the prospective candidates are killed off one by one, the killer lets it be known that he is from the Illuminati, but what do they want?

Angels and Demons is well produced and packaged, but for all that, it’s rather hollow. There’s never any real substance or “bite” to the whole thing, which is a real shame, as it’s pretty and well presented nothingness. The main problem lies with its storyline, which sits in a literary no-man’s land: too fantastical to be realistic, and too realistic to be fantastical.

The author uses real subjects, possibly because they happened to be buzz words at the time – Illuminati, antimatter, Large Hadron Collider – but shows no knowledge at all of who they are, what it is, or what they or it do. If you’re going to make stuff up about an underground cult, why not just make an entirely fictional cult, so that you don’t end up looking stupid? Oh, because that wouldn’t be as sensationalist and sell as many books/cinema tickets? Good. Glad we’ve got that cleaned up.

Besides the rather overlong (by at least thirty minutes) story, there is a ridiculously stupid ending. A truly great twist ending, like Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, should leave the audience kicking themselves, because in retrospect the answer is so obvious. A truly bad twist ending, like Angels & Demons, leaves the audience wanting to kick Ron Howard and Dan Brown, because it’s so ridiculous and convoluted it’s obviously a twist ending for the sake of a twist ending.

To say that Angels & Demons is a bad film would be wrong (especially relatively speaking, considering some of the crap we have to watch), but it is astonishingly average. Whilst it’s well shot, well-produced, and very pretty to look at; it lacks any truly engaging elements in the story. Langdon runs around like a very dull Indiana Jones/James Bond hybrid, but never really makes us identify with him as a character.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Several torture scenes, some gunfights, usually with all the participants hurting themselves in a stupidly clumsy manner.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: Almost none.
Summary: Angels and Demons would be a great way to pass a couple of hours on a lazy Sunday afternoon, but there’s not much to see here. Stick with Indiana Jones for your excitement. 5/10

LA Ink: Series 2
Revelation Films
Review by Brad Harmer

LA Ink is a documentary series that follows the staff and customers of High Voltage Tattoo in Los Angeles, focusing mainly on the store owner and lead artist, Kat Von D. A spin off of the original series, Miami Ink, it’s a fairly shallow imitation, but that doesn’t mean that the show is completely without merit. For starters, the artists and artwork is of just as high a quality, and this is what the show is all about. At least it should be, right? It would suck if it constantly diverted into MTV style pseudo reality TV all the time, right?

When LA Ink focuses on being a documentary, it’s very good. Not only is the artwork on display absolutely top-notch, but often the stories behind why the shop’s clients are getting tattoos are genuinely interesting – be they humorous, or heart breaking. There’s an insight into laser removal of tattoos - something that people don’t talk about all that often, so that was definitely interesting to see.

Kat Von D’s attempt to get into the Guinness Book of World Records by tattooing four hundred people in twenty-four hours was also highly entertaining, and certainly the highlight of the series. Whilst the show was typically devoid of any real dramatic tension, the question of whether or not Kat will actually break the record was in suspense from the start of the episode.

However, the show all too often falls into staged melodrama. The artists at the shop, talented though they may be in other areas, aren’t actors; and they fumble their way through re-shoots and set pieces in a manner that is both intrusive and rather pathetic. What’s more, some of the pacing seems a little off. Kat Von D decides to quit drinking in an early episode, but asides from one vague mention in the following episode, the angle is all but dropped. Similarly, Von D’s cancer scare is handled badly. A genuinely scary time for both her and the cast of the show, it’s unfortunate that the editing and production of the episode sucks any dramatic tension there may have been.

The show suffers from a rather poor sense of pacing across thirteen episodes. There’s often a good chunk of an episode given over to nothing happening, only to be followed by a sudden flurry of activity in the last ten minutes.

It’s a real shame that the presentation of the show is somewhat marred by these flaws, as the real subject of the show – the artists and their artwork – is stellar. If the producers turn down the MTV, and turn up the Discovery, then they could have a real winner on their hands.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
No direct conflict, but there’s a slagging match between the receptionist and one of the artists, which involves physical threats.
Sex/Nudity: Some skin is revealed for artwork, but nothing explicit. Corey Miller does some work on a porn-star (not like that), which involves a discussion of her work.
Swearing: Some, but mostly blipped out.
Summary: A great show, especially if you’re into tattooing or tattoo artwork, but casual viewers may find the overproduced veneer a little irritating. Recommended for fans of either LA Ink or Miami Ink. 7/10

The Dragon Chronicles - Fire and Ice
Metrodome Distribution

Review by Brad Harmer

Ruled by the mighty King Augustin, Carpia is a peaceful kingdom in a fantasy world inhabited by dragons, knights and magical forces. All is great and well until the land’s serenity is unexpectedly shattered by a Fire Dragon rising from a distant land. The evil beast’s rampage spreads almighty fear and death amongst the kingdom’s innocent people.

In order to save her subjects from terror, the daring Princess Luisa asks Gabriel, the son of a legendary dragon slayer, for help. Together, they must free the Ice Dragon, the only creature who can defeat the monster that brings destruction upon their kingdom. But soon their saviour will become their worst enemy.

Good fantasy movies are surprisingly hard to come by. That’s why I’m pleased to report that this is one of them. Sure, it’s low budget, but that doesn’t hold back an otherwise excellent film. First and foremost, all of the characters are solid, well defined and realistic – something that a lot of fantasy falls down one, happy to take a stroll in the realm of cliché with its characters.

One of the first things to strike me was the dragons. They don’t look like the typical mental image of a dragon (either Western or Eastern), but rather resemble a hybrid of a bat and stingray. It’s the little touches of inspired originality like this that lift what could have been a dodgy B-movie head and shoulders above the competition. The CG isn’t mind-blowing, but it’s adequate – at no point do you “see the strings” as such.

Of course, it’s not all perfect. The action frequently stops to provide some rather clunky exposition breaks – but most of the faults are tragically on a technical level. The editing seems off at times, which can have a jarring effect during action or fight sequences; and the dialogue often winds up a little low in the sound mix, buried behind sound effects and music. Niggling points, perhaps, but they do mar what could have been a much better film had they been addressed.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Several sequences of swordplay and/or fantasy combat. Two dragons tear chunks out of each other whilst pinwheeling across the sky.
Sex/Nudity: None – the romantic sub-plot is very understated.
Swearing: None.
Summary: An above average fantasy movie that’s great Sunday afternoon fun, especially for younger viewers. The limited budget doesn’t hamper its presentation, although some silly technical errors are noticeable. 7/10

Creature (Not final box art)
William Malone
Video International

Review by Brad Harmer

A crew of scientists arrives on a far, cold planet to examine archaic artefacts of unknown origin. They discover that the German enemies have already a ship there. When they seek their help after a failed landing, they only find the German's bodies, obviously slaughtered by one of the archaic creatures, awoken to new life. Now the alien is after them.

Well, that’s the plot that the DVD case claims. In actuality, this is a shameless knock off of the Ridley Scott movie Alien, in virtually every way. Except that instead of the budget of a Hollywood movie, it has the budget of an episode of Blake’s Seven.

Well, that is something of an understatement: it’s actually a shameless knock of everything. It’s like it was penned by a twelve year old, stealing everything he could from his favourite TV shows, books and movies (I’m looking at you, Christoper Paolini). This hits home doubly hard when the laser blast noise is sampled directly from Star Wars. You can picture the conversation in the editing booth.

“Aw, man, we need a laser sound.”
“No problem. Just rip it from something else.”
“Won’t that be kind of obvious?”
“Not if you use some sci-fi movie no-one’s ever seen.”
Star Wars?”
“Sounds good.”

Yes, Klaus Kinski is in this movie, but he’s basically playing a bad Rutger Hauer. When you consider they could have gotten Rutger Hauer for a fraction of the price, you realise how truly dumb that is.

Oh, and seriously, could the special effects director of this movie please write an official letter of apology to H.R. Giger? His foam rubber Xenomorph is both a) hilarious and b) an embarrassment.

There are some positive aspects of this movie, but they’re pretty grim pickings. The foam rubber alien aside, the gore and model work is really good (even if the gore is a little Friday The 13th over the top at times). That and Creature definitely falls under the heading of “So Bad It’s Good”. If you’re looking for a bad movie to get together with a few friends and take the piss out of, then I wholeheartedly endorse this movie. You’ll have a blast.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Several fight scenes, several extremely gory deaths.
Sex/Nudity: I can’t remember any, but I can’t deny that this movie was so bad that it did cause me to black out on a couple of occasions. There may have been some hardcore sex in those gaps, or there may not have been. I’m not watching it again to find out.
Swearing: A slightly more than realistic amount.
Summary: An awful knock-off that’s so bad, that as a fan of the Alien franchise, I was personally offended. Yup. It’s even worse that Alien Versus Predator: Requiem 1/10

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