Thursday 7 January 2010

DVD Reviews

District 9
Neill Blomkamp
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Available Now - £19.99 (DVD) and £24.99 (Blu-ray)
Review by Blake Harmer

In 1982, a huge spacecraft bearing a starving alien population, nicknamed "The Prawns," appeared over Johannesburg, South Africa. Twenty-eight years later, after looking after The Prawns, the human population has become sick of the aliens and the refugee camp where they were located has deteriorated into a militarised ghetto called District 9. Here the Prawns are confined and exploited in squalor. In 2010, the munitions corporation, Multi-National United, is contracted to forcibly evict the population with operative Wikus van der Merwe in charge. In this operation, Wikus is exposed to a strange alien chemical that is slowly turning him into a prawn, and now he must rely on the help of his only two new 'Prawn' friends.

This film is great for several reasons: the effects are excellent for the most part, you have a plot that thrills (whilst offering something very different when compared to other Sci-fi films), and the action and explosions caused by the alien weaponry creates some of the most over the top deaths in Hollywood. You haven’t seen death until you’ve seen a man have a pig launched at him using an alien gravity gun.

The drawbacks to District 9 is that about half way through the film it forgets that it is shooting the film like a documentary, with lots of interviews and handicam footage, and instead reverts to being like an ordinary movie for the sake of storytelling. Whilst it is true, a lot of the film is meant to be about Wikus hiding in District 9 and agreeing to help The Prawns with their plans and so none of this would have been filmed, I still felt that they should have stuck to one method of filming rather than just mish-mashing it when it became necessary. That and a couple of the CG effects seemed a bit sub-par in certain areas of the film. However, these are just minor gripes for what is essentially a superb film.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Lots of death and explosions. The alien weaponry normally makes humans explode in large bloody chunks. This film also has one of the best deaths in film history when a pig is fired at someone using a gravity gun.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: Lots of uses of the F word, I even thought that Wikus could only say that at one point in the film.
Summary: A hugely enjoyable sci-fi romp filled with action and explosions, whilst giving the genre something different to the usual aliens taking over the world plot that has been done a hundred times before. Well worth a look at if you love your science fiction. 8/10

The Taking of Pelham 123
Tony Scott
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Available from 11th January - £19.99 (DVD) and £24.99 (Blu-ray)
Review by Brad Harmer

Walter Garber (Denzel Washington – St. Elsewhere) is a New York City subway dispatcher whose ordinary day is thrown into chaos by an audacious crime: the hijacking of a subway train. Ryder (John Travolta – Look Who’s Talking Too, Battlefield Earth: A Saga of the Year 3000), the criminal mastermind behind the hijacking and leader of a highly-armed gang of four, threatens to execute the train’s passengers unless ten million dollars is paid within one hour. As the tension mounts beneath his feet, Garber employs his vast knowledge of the subway system in a battle to outwit Ryder and save the hostages. But there’s one riddle Garber can't solve: even if the thieves get the money, how can they possibly escape?

The first thing that struck me about The Taking of Pelham 123 was that there’s no long build up to the hijacking – it hits the ground running. Within the first five minutes, the hostages are in place, and the crux of the story (the relationship between Garber and Ryder) is the main focus. I thought this was great. Most hostage/heist movies don’t see the actual event until almost the half-way mark, and whilst this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it was great to see it handled differently.

The pacing is great and the tension never lets up. Whilst I figured I had the movie predicted fairly early on, I was way off. Characters are killed off unexpectedly, and there’s a genuine sense of danger and uncertainty – something that you just don’t get in most Hollywood remakes. But the overall scheme is one we’ve seen before: it’s just dressed differently.

Also, some of the character decisions are just plain dumb, and break the suspension of disbelief as you scream at the screen “What? What? Why are you doing that?”. It’s a real shame as the actors, from the stars to supporting roles from John Turturro and James Gadolfini, are outstanding, and it’s the actual characters who are dumb.

With that said, this is an excellent crime/thriller, and well worth checking out.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Several gun related murders, some physical violence.
Sex/Nudity: Some bird strips to her bra.
Swearing: Average for a Hollywood crime movie
Summary: An exceedingly well put together thriller, hampered only by its lack of originality and some minor plot holes. Work checking out. 8/10

HERE for your chance to win a copy of The Taking of Pelham 123!

A Dangerous Man
Keoni Waxman
Optimum Home Entertainment
Available Now - £15.99 (DVD)
Review by Brad Harmer

After serving six years for a violent murder he didn’t commit, Shane Daniels (Steven Seagal) is released from jail with an apology from the state of Arizona. Within hours of his freedom, he unluckily bears witness to the murder of a policeman searching the car of two Chinese criminals. With one of the murderers dead, and the other escaped, Seagal (I mean, Shane) is left with a “friend”...a Russian witness. They also find a terrified girl and bag of money in the boot of the car. In this action packed thrill ride, Seagal must find a way to save the girl’s kidnapped uncle with the help of his new Russian friend. With the Chinese gang on his tail, Seagal must rely on his wits against a barrage of high-powered weaponry, police corruption and deadly explosives.

What is the deal here? I mean, does Seagal write these things himself? Do they come from some magic production company where it’s always 1988? It’s clichéd all the way to Hackney, but the movie seems to know it. It’s a fun, old-fashioned action film, and it delivers the first Seagal-punch-to-the-back-of-the-neck manoeuvre before the 01’30” mark. That’s efficient.

At the five minute mark I made a prediction: This movie would end with a fist-fight on a construction site.

The story’s old and tired, but that doesn’t matter too much, because it’s fun. The trouble lies in the production and choreography of the fights scenes.

Firstly, what is meant to be some pretty impressive kung-fu style punching and blocking (think along the lines of when Neo starts blocking Smith with one arm in The Matrix), actually transposes onto the screen in the form of some bizarre bitchy slap-fest.

Also, something I could barely believe, is that every single one of the fight scenes in A Dangerous Man is played at double-speed. Every single one. And it looks bad. It looks like Benny Hill was involved in the post-production. I understand that Steven is getting older (he’s fifty-seven) , but there must better ways of presenting him that this.

It’s terrible, it’s clichéd, and it’s badly produced – but for all that, it’s kind of fun. If you watch this with a bunch of mates and give it a Mystery Science Theater treatment, you’ll have a blast.

Oh, and it didn’t end in a fist-fight on a construction site. It ended in a shoot-out on a loading/docking bay

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Frequent, bloody and hilariously fast.
Sex/Nudity: Some boobies, with Seagal regards, impassively.
Swearing: A fair amount.
Summary: A ridiculous, clichéd and questionably edited action/thriller that contains all you’d expect from Seagal. Pick it up for a good laugh with mates, but don’t take it seriously. 3/10

Hell House: The Book of Samiel
Jason D. Morris
Brain Damage Films

Available Now - £2.99 (DVD)
Review by Brad Harmer

Before the beginning of time, Demons ruled the darkness. After humans took possession of the Earth, several books came into existence – books of ancient knowledge with pages containing rituals and incantations, one for each of the God Demons. The pages were to be used to banish the dark things that lurked in the shadows. Throughout the centuries, these books were passed down amongst an elite sect of soothsayers and have been highly sought after by the demons. Now those demons have found a way to take back what has always been theirs. The awful truth is discovered lying dormant in an old house by a group of friends who must seek the aid of the last soothsayer if they are to stop the evil from returning to engulf the Earth.

Here are some facts about this movie:
• You won’t get any of that backstory from the movie. I didn’t know what the fuck was going on until I read that. Still not sure, to be honest.
• This movie appears to have been shot direct to VHS.
• The serial killer kills people by “hitting” them on the collarbone with a four by two. It is painfully and hilariously obvious that no impact takes place.
• At one point, the characters stumble into this abandoned house for no reason. The sassy girl decides to take a bath – because that’s what you’d do, right?
• She proceeds to jerk off.
• I would say that the effects appear to have been done in MS Paint, but that would be too generous. The effects appear to have been done in Excel.
• Once, whilst studying for my degree in Film Studies, I had to watch 1940s, silent, gay, Russian, prison porn. Hell House – The Book of Sammiel is the worst film I have ever seen.
• The ending makes no sense, and is hilarious for it.
• It doesn’t matter what I say, at least one person will read this review and want to see it.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Sex/Nudity: Some bird frigs herself in a bath.
Swearing: Frequent and incoherent.
Summary: The worst film I have ever seen. And I don’t say that lightly. 1/10

Family Guy: Something, Something, Something, Dark Side
Dominic Polcino
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Available Now - £15.99 (DVD), £22.99 (Blu-ray) and £24.99 (DVD with T-Shirt and Collector Cards)
Review by Blake Harmer

Like Family Guy in general at the moment, I will admit I was worried about the show's second send up of Star Wars this time doing The Empire Strikes Back rather than Blue HarvestsA New Hope. I was worried because not only is Family Guy a lot more hit and miss recently but also because Blue Harvest made jokes that had either been done a hundred times before by Star Wars fans or weren’t that funny to people who don’t like or hadn’t seen Star Wars.

Luckily, SSSDS seems to have noticed the problems with the first Star Wars special and decides to either make some more original takes on the jokes or makes references to previous Family Guy episodes. For example, The Evil Monkey is a Mynock, and when an AT-AT falls over during the battle of Hoth, it grabs its knees and goes "Ahhhhhh!" like Peter does in the main series. That, and Han Solo’s famous ad-lib before he gets frozen in carbonite has been changed to create possibly one of the biggest surprise laughs in the show.

However, like my previous worries, Family Guy does continue to be more hit and miss - some jokes that don’t gel well or are too tired. The worst joke is a reworking of an American Juicy Fruit advert that is unnecessary and on the whole just not funny, especially to the UK audience who obviously have not seen the advert.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Comical violence in the typical Family Guy way with extra Star Wars explosions.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: Some uses of the F word amongst other swear words, but are used to add to the comedy rather than for the sake of it.
Summary: A significant improvement on the previous Blue Harvest. If you love Family Guy and Star Wars then you will not be disappointed. However, those looking for a better send up of the Star Wars universe should still go for the second Robot Chicken Star Wars special as it is way more funnier than anything this has to offer. 7/10

Terminator - The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Season Two
Warner Home Video
Available Now - £49.99 (DVD), £59.99 (Blu-ray) £59.99 (DVD Season One and Two Box Set), and £69.99 (Blu-ray Season One and Two Box Set)
Review by Charlotte Barnes

This second season sees Sarah and her teenage son, John, relentlessly battling to save themselves and the world time and time again. Fugitives from the law, they must evade pursuers from the future - and the present - in today's Los Angeles. The machines know John, now 16, is the future head of the resistance. They know he is growing in abilities. They must find and terminate him. But Sarah Connor is there, protecting and instructing her son as he becomes the man he's destined to be. The hunt is on in a season of powerful revelations, breathless pursuits and bravura effects. A mysterious 3-dot symbol, a girlfriend for John (is Cameron jealous?) and ZeiraCorp who try to master the renegade software called Turk.

Oh dear, how the mighty have fallen! The first series was absolutely brilliant! I found it captivating and left me dying to see the next episode. However, whilst watching the first episode of the second series I knew that this series was going to be a major flop. The first season just seem to slot into place and linked up nicely with the first two Terminator films and even referenced things to come from the horrid third film. Somewhere along the way the writers for the second series seemed to get lost and the writing became really stagnant and too many characters and plot threads were introduced without ever really giving the audience a full character background.

The special effects would have made James Cameron roll in his grave (if he were dead), he did not work so damn hard to create such an innovative and awe inspiring franchise to have some silly ginger woman famous for being in Garbage who can’t act play a T-1000 that looks like a silver ice cream melting in the sun.

The very last episode of the TV series was a joke, John Connor gets catapulted into the future and no one even knows who he and what he represents. This totally dismisses the third film (not such a bad thing) but doesn’t even link up with the fourth, which rocked!

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
It would not be the Terminator franchise without some serious violence.
Sex/Nudity: Some sex and a bit of side boob action.
Swearing: Sure there is some, but nothing to make note of.
Summary: Well, it was mediocre and I can see why it was cancelled after the second season 5/10

Ben 10: The Complete Series
Warner Home Video
Available Now - £49.99 (DVD)
Review by Brad Harmer

Ben Tennyson is your everyday, average ten-year-old until he discovers a mysterious watch hidden in a meteorite that crashes to Earth. He soon learns that the extraterrestrial watch allows him to transform into ten different alien beings while keeping his kid personality. As he morphs into these various creatures, he discovers each alien's unique powers and incredible abilities.

Ben's amazing adventures take place over the course of a seemingly endless summer as he travels the country in an RV with his Grandpa Max and ten-year-old cousin Gwen. Gwen and Max know all about Ben's extraterrestrial watch, and they sometimes lend him a hand in his quest to fight wrongdoers and save the world from evil.

I say it a lot, but that’s because it’s true: this is the best Saturday Morning Cartoon since the Golden Age – by which I mean...oh...Thundercats? It’s the perfect blend of cartoony action, strong morality tales (admittedly most of which boil down to “With great power there must also come great responsibility”) – but by the time the second series arrive (disc four of this twelve disc set), thinks take a turn for the darker. It gradually shifts into a strong sci-fi series in its own right, setting the stage nicely for the sequel series Ben 10: Alien Force.

If you have never experienced Ben 10, you owe it to yourself to check this out. If you’re already a fan, then you have to pick up this set, which contains every single episode, and the series finale The Secret of the Omnitrix. You will not be disappointed!

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Frequent, but within the trappings of the Saturday Morning Cartoon genre.
Sex/Nudity: None
Swearing: None
Summary: The television show of the last few years gets the DVD treatment it deserves. Essential. 10/10

Merlin: Series 2 - Volume 1
2 Entertain
Available Now - £19.99 (DVD)
Review by Charlotte Barnes

Set in the mythical city of Camelot, in time before history began, this family drama follows young Merlin’s early adventures in the court of King Uther and his encounters with the young Prince Arthur.

In this second series, Merlin must continue in his destiny to protect Camelot and Prince Arthur with his special gift of magic. King Uther has banned the practice of sorcery, and Merlin must battle his foes in the utmost secrecy for fear of being discovered and sentenced to death. In this series, an ancient evil stirs beneath Camelot, Gwen grows closer to Artur, Lancelot reappears and Merlin suspects that Morgana the King’s ward may also have magical powers.

I was impressed with the second series of Merlin, it seems to have seriously improved and moved on from the first series which I gave up watching after two episodes. I found actually enjoying watching the series and was pleased by the quality of the acting and development of the characters. The script was interesting and gripping without being formulaic. This series seems to have set itself with a higher standard and a much better budget which allows the sets to become more alive. Having John Hurt in your cast can only be of benefit to the show.

However, Merlin is not without its flaws, it suffers from being a show for the family, which means that the action scenes are very toned down, as is the sexual tension between characters. I do not necessarily think that this is a bad thing - it just doesn’t allow the series to ever delve deep in the legend. Merlin is actually younger than Arthur in the series which is just plain wrong and suffers because of it; he is supposed to be wise and a guide for Arthur and is in fact completely opposite to what we learnt as children.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Action packed, but nothing that would scare the kiddies.
Sex/Nudity: Not even a nice flash of Prince Arthur’s bum.
Swearing: No, this is a family friendly series.
Summary: A good version of the Merlin/Arthur legend, just not as true to the story as I would like it to be. 7/10

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