Thursday 17 December 2009

DVD Reviews

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
David Yates
Warner Home Video

Available Now - £24.99 (DVD) and £28.99 (Blu-ray with DVD and Digital Copy)
Review by Brad Harmer

Everyone’s favourite adolescent wizard-in-training Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts for another year of schooling and learns more about Tom Riddle - the boy who grew up to become Lord Voldemort in this latest instalment of the franchise. There was a time when Hogwarts was thought of as a safe haven, but thanks to Voldemort's tightening grip on both the Muggle and wizarding worlds, that simply isn't the case anymore. Suspecting that the castle may even harbour an outright threat, Harry finds his investigation into the matter sidelined by Dumbledore's attempts to prepare him for the monumental battle looming ever closer on the horizon. In order to discover the key to Voldemort's defences, Dumbledore enlists the aid of resourceful yet unsuspecting bon vivant Professor Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent – Only Fools and Horses), who may have a clue as to their enemy's Achilles' heel.

Meanwhile, teenage hormones cause the students at Hogwarts to lose focus on their true mission. As Harry and Dean Thomas clash for the affections of the lovely Ginny, Romilda Vane attempts to woo Ron away from Lavender Brown with some particularly tasty chocolates. Even Hermione isn't immune from the love bug, though she tries her hardest to suppress her growing jealousy and keep her emotions bottled up. But there is one student who remains completely aloof from the romance blossoming all around, and he intends to leave a dark impression on his classmates. With tragedy looming ever closer, it begins to appear as if peace will prove elusive in Hogwarts for some time to come.

Whatever your opinions of the books, the movies are a somewhat mixed bag. The first two are good kids movies, the third one is outstanding, and the next two were...pretty damn awful – terrible attempts at editing massive books into two and a half-hour movies that resulted in some vital story elements being excised entirely. With Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, however, the series is back on form with this excellent movie.

Yes, this movie is much darker and meaner than its predecessors – but you know that already. What you may not know is that the action sequences are outstanding and the acting – yes, even from the now young-adult cast – is excellent across the board. Fans of the franchise will no doubt have seen it already, but those of you who passed for whatever reason are encouraged to give is a look – I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Some magical combat, one murder. Some blood.
Sex/Nudity: Teenage infatuation, and some “snogging”.
Swearing: None.
Summary: An excellent kids movie, with more than enough to entertain an adult audience too. Those who haven’t yet tried Harry Potter are encouraged to do so now. 9/10

The Armstrong and Miller Show: Complete Series Two
Matt Lipsey
2 Entertain

Available Now - £19.99 (DVD)
Review by Blake Harmer

Back for a second series, comedians Alexander Armstrong and Ben Miller are back with more sketches including favourites from the first series as well brand new characters in their attempt to make you laugh with their mix of surreal and cleverly observed comedy.

The second series of The Armstrong and Miller Show, if you enjoyed the first series, will not disappoint you as it delivers exactly what it says on the tin, more of the same with some new sketches to stop the show becoming stale and completely samey. I did find a lot of the sketches quite funny, my personal favourites being their mock takes of Flanders and Swann, the fake safety adverts (which did have slight Pythonesque humour to it), and Jilted Jim, a man who was left at the altar for the wedding DJ, but still went on his honeymoon.

However, as can be found with most sketch shows of the past decade or two, is that a lot of humour is repeated regularly throughout the series, with each character having their own catchphrase, which I personally find quite annoying by the third or fourth time you hear it. I also found that because of this, a couple of sketches that were not funny and were pretty non-sensical were repeated in a dire attempt to make it funny (see also: Fast Show, The).

All in all though there may be better sketch shows than this in terms of laughing harder, but Armstrong and Miller is more likely to make you chuckle more times than not in an average episode.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Some comic violence and murder but nothing gory to put you off your food.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: Quite a bit, but the swearing is used for comedic purposes rather than for the hell of it.
Summary: An enjoyable sketch show that’s guaranteed to make you laugh, especially if you enjoyed other sketch shows like Little Britain. Whilst there are better sketch shows than this, it is still well worth having a look at. 7/10

Starhyke: The Complete Season One
Lightworx Media
Available now: RRP £29.99
Review by Rob Wade

By the year 3034, the human race has suppressed all forms of emotion. So when the Reptids (the last remaining alien race in our galaxy) threaten to release a weapon to re-awaken them, it's up to Captain Blowhard and her increasingly inept crew to travel back in time and stop them from changing the past and altering our future forever. Now plagued by uncontrollable emotions, the crew of the Nemesis find not-so practical ways of coping, whilst Dr Striker looks for a cure in the most unusual places...

Right away, this show hits the perfect note: a science fiction show that's ludicrously over the top in scope and scale, with humour that's just downright silly. Claudia Christian (Babylon 5) plays Captain Blowhard, the Nemesis' captain, and is clearly adept at sending up serious science fiction like the show she is most famous for.

Once the emotions of the crew begin to show through, the show goes very heavily in the slapstick direction, but fortunately the content is sufficiently stupid that it doesn't just come off as un-necessary. Particular highlights early on include a pair of crew members beaming down to present day Earth, only for one to beam down into a wheelie bin. They then move to a local cafe in search of a source of emotion inside, all the while trying to look inconspicuous, tricorders in hand scanning the area. It's stupid stuff like this that will make you chuckle in sheer disbelief, and before too long you'll find yourself wondering how this crew ever became feared for anything.

Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett from The Empire Strikes Back), also, is superb as Dr Striker, the ship's medical officer with an insatiable lust for his nurse. The show does a very good job of escalating the emotions of the crew gradually, as before long most of the crew are beginning to wonder if the doctor is capable of curing any of them of this affliction simply because he seems to have been crazy since before the Reptids' attack.

That isn't to say, however, that this show is perfect by any stretch. A reliance on toilet humour occasionally, coupled with innuendo so blatant that they might as well just have the cast fucking on camera, can sometimes be a cause for annoyance, but it's a minor blip on an otherwise solid show.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating :
Violence : Very little on-screen, a fair bit of implied stuff off-screen though.
Sex/Nudity : None whatsoever.
Swearing : None.
Summary: A tremendously self-aware science fiction comedy, which plays out somewhat like a cross between Garth Marenghi's Darkplace and Lexx. Recommended for science fiction enthusiasts and those in need of a good old fashioned cheesy time. 7/10

Ross Noble: Nobleism
Universal Pictures
Available Now - £19.99 (DVD)
Review by Brad Harmer

Ross Noble is a damn strange comedian. His style feels like a cocktail of the rambling surrealism of Eddie Izzard and the rambling rambling of Billy Connolly. Walking on the stage with absolutely nothing prepared takes a lot of guts and ability (believe me, I’ve only done it a few times – and only once on my own), and Noble is one of the few comedians capable of making you laugh so much it hurts. And I mean literally.

Here Noble pulls together a hilarious show, but tragically not one of his best. The very nature of his comedy makes things hit and miss, and whilst still very funny – he has released funnier. Nobleism, however is still worth checking out, as the interactions between himself and not only the live audience, but also the forty cinemas that the show was broadcast to live, nationwide – is excellent. Especially the mouthy chav whose claim to fame is that she once pissed in a bin.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Sex/Nudity: Some mild references.
Swearing: The occasional strong word, but all in all, it’s pretty clean.
Summary: An excellent show, and a must-have for fans of Noble. Newcomers may be better off picking up Unrealtime for a better showcase of abilities, however. – 8/10

Michael Mann
Warner Home Video

Available Now - £17.99 (Blu-ray)
Review by Blake Harmer

Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro - Mary Shelley's Frankenstein) is one of the best thieves in the world and has got by in life with the philosophy that he can only become attached to things he can't walk away from in 30 seconds if he spots the "Heat" around the corner. His crew of criminals is a high-tech outfit pulling off professional jobs that catch the eyes of Detective Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino - Dick Tracy), who becomes obsessed with bringing McCauley to justice, even at the expense of his private life.

Heat is a spectacular crime thriller filled to the brim with suspense and great gunfights and is highly entertaining all the way through to the films thrilling conclusion. If you haven’t seen the film before then I highly recommend it. For fans of the film, the film has made the transition to Blu-ray nicely, with the improved picture and sound quality improving the whole experience of the film greatly.

On the downsides to what is otherwise a brilliant film, I did feel that the plot rambles on a bit before reaching the exciting conclusion, and whilst this does add suspense to the proceedings, I did feel that it went on longer than was needed. Also, when compared to the DVD edition of Heat, I found that there wasn’t a lot of new content in terms of extras, which I thought to be pretty disappointing considering this is a Blu-ray re-release of a great crime film.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Lots of gritty realistic violence and death scenes, and plenty of shootouts with some blood, but the blood is shown realistically rather than being fully over the top.
Sex/Nudity: There is a sex scene, and a few more heavily implied, but you don’t really get to see anything.
Swearing: Loads, but hey, this is a gritty crime thriller.
Summary: Michael Mann’s epic crime thriller is still as enjoyable and tense as it’s always been, and whilst there aren’t as many extras as I would have liked to have seen on this Blu-ray edition, it is still a worthy addition to your collection. 8/10

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