Thursday 25 February 2010

DVD Reviews

Starring: Peter Lorre, Ellen Widmann and Inge Landgut
Director: Fritz Lang

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

Of all Fritz Lang's creations, none have been more innovative or influential than M, the film that launched German cinema into the sound era with stunning sophistication and mesmerising artistry. A spate of child killings has stricken a terrified Berlin. Peter Lorre gives a legendary performance as the murderer Hans Beckert, who soon finds himself chased by all levels of society.

From cinema's first serial killer hunt, Lang pulls back to encompass social tapestry, police procedural, and underworld conspiracies in an astonishingly multi-faceted and level-headed look at a deeply incendiary topic.

The thing that always struck me about M was its excellent use of silence. Every now and again, a scene would be shot in total silence – for a medium that was just beginning to popularise sound, it’s doubly brave, almost seeming to scream “Sound? We don’t need no steenkin’ sound!”.

M is paced almost like a novel, slow burning, but relentless at the same time. From the moment you start watching, you’re’re in it to the end.

The new DVD and BR release is an absolutely brilliant package, bursting with extras, and a very informative wodge of liner notes. For film historians and students, this should be an essential purchase – but M is unlikely to win over any newcomers. It doesn’t hold the more mainstream appeal that other German Expressionist pieces such as Metropolis, The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari or Nosferatu have. It’s just sometimes a little too dark and political in its subtext to be casual entertainment these days.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Some scuffling, some off-camera child-murders.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None.
Summary: A milestone in cinema, which has been given a fantastic presentation by Eureka, but will still not appeal to everyone. 9/10

The Day of the Triffids
Starring: Dougray Scott, Joely Richardson and Eddie Izzard
Director: Nick Copus
Showbox Home Entertainment

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

With traditional global fuel sources dwindling, mankind’s search for an alternative has led to the cultivation and harvesting of the Triffid, a relatively newly discovered plant rich in oil extracts. Capable of seemingly intelligent behaviour and able to move around on their leg-like roots, these dangerously carnivorous plants possess a poisonous sting enabling them to kill and feed on their victims.

When a highly anticipated, worldwide solar storm results in the billions of spectators who witness it being rendered totally blind, civilised society begins to collapse leaving those few sighted survivors to watch helplessly as disorder unfolds. Amidst the chaos, the once-captive Triffids find freedom and, with a voracious appetite for human flesh, begin roaming the planet, evolving and breeding rapidly as they descened upon towns and cities in search of food. With mankind facing imminent annihilation, it is left to a select few people to take a stand against the Triffids’ reign of terror and fight an epic battle to save the future of the human race.

This is what can happen when the BBC focuses on doing a proper sci-fi show, rather than Dr Who. The setting is quickly established, and the cast, special effects and production is absolutely top notch. Eddie Izzard, in particular, makes a fantastic bad-guy – you’d have to see it to believe it, but he’s really rather good. The cast in fact, are so strong, that you’ll often realise that you’ve been watching nothing but dialogue exchanges in a room for five minutes, and it’s still exciting.

The only real disappointment in the series is that the first episode is so strong, that the second feels rather weak – albeit only by comparison. The pace flags a little around half-way through the second episode, but it does pull it back by the end. The tension is great, the action is great, this is damn good TV.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Several vehicular collisions, shootings, explosions, and some Triffid related death.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None.
Summary: An entertaining sci-fi mini-series, although the second episodes is a disappointment after the first. Recommended to show what UK television can achieve when it’s not farting around with that other sci-fi show. 9/10

Doctor Who: Peladon Tales
Starring: Jon Pertwee, Katy Manning, Elisabeth Sladen
Directed by Lennie Mayne

Available now - RRP £29.99
Review by Rob Wade

Two classic Doctor Who adventures set on the planet of Peladon, starring Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor.

In the four-parter The Curse of Peladon, the Doctor finally seems to have escaped his exile to Earth when he manages to transport Jo in the Tardis to the planet Peladon. The pair are mistaken for Earth delegates at a conference to decide whether Peladon should join the Galactic Federation, and discover that someone is attempting to use the legendary royal beast of Aggador to trigger off a war.

In the six-parter The Monster of Peladon, the Tardis arrives on the Planet of Peladon half a century after the Doctor's first visit. The planet has now become of great tactical importance because of its focal position between warring factions. The Doctor and Sarah have to act as peacekeepers between rival ambassadors and they must also find the truth behind 'the spirit'.

Now, I'll happily admit that I'm not the biggest fan of Doctor Who, but I retain some fond memories from my childhood of particular story arcs that I was fond of, particularly from the Jon Pertwee era, so when this one came our way, it seemed like I would be in for something enjoyable.

Sadly, this was not entirely the case.

If you like your shonky science-fiction, then there is plenty here to keep you entertained. Peladon Tales combines both mini-series using the same planet as a setting, and there is around four hours of total viewing time here. If you're a dedicated collector, definitely worth picking this up, as there is plenty of stuff here to keep you occupied.

The visuals are unchanged from the previous run in the 1970s, which I did find slightly disappointing, as no efforts seem to have been made to even touch up the visuals in the same way as many TV series and films are updated for their re-release. The sound is as terrifyingly bad as ever, with most ambient music sounding like 16-bit videogame classics. To the composer's credit, however, the music does an effective job of setting the atmosphere necessary.

However, this is the 1970s Doctor Who you've come to expect, with the same level of cheesiness and shonky effects. The only thing that I remotely enjoyed was when the monster of Peladon turned on someone (not saying who that is, for the purposes of keeping the review spoiler-free) and my inner wrestling fan screamed "Face turn!"

Ultimately, it wouldn't be so bad if the episodes were entertaining. From assassination plots to fights of honour between the Doctor and a local resident, all the scenes are just devoid of excitement, and really did nothing to keep me entertained.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence: Very little to speak of, mainly run-by furry creature maulings of little blood or gore. Hardly surprising really.
Sex/Nudity:Would you believe "none"?
Swearing: None.
Summary: For enthusiasts only, not a particularly exciting DVD collection otherwise. 6/10

XIII: The Conspiracy
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Caterina Murino, Greg Bryk and Val Kilmer
Director: Duane Clark
Lionsgate UK

Available Now - £15.99 (DVD)
Review by Brad Harmer

The first female US President Sally Sheridan is shot dead by a sniper during her Independence Day speech. Her assassin narrowly escapes the scene with his life, national security hot on his heels - or so it seems. Three months later, a wounded man is found. The young man (Stephen Dorff – bad guy from Blade) cannot remember the slightest thing about his own identity. The only clue is a tattoo on his neck, "XIII". Could his lightning reflexes and killer instincts betray him?

XIII: The Conspiracy is a pretty good action story. The feel is very much that of a generic 90s/00s action movie, although the story itself (based on a comic/video-game franchise) is pretty original. What is probably the most crippling factor against it is the production decision to make it a three hour TV mini-series rather than a two hour movie. It rather unfortunately results in padding like you would not believe.

The production is great, and manages to achieve a very “comic book” feel, without having to resort to that hideous split-screen stuff Ang Lee used in the abysmal Hulk, or the cartoon garishness of the director’s cut of The Warriors. The central story is fun (if, as mentioned, overlong) and the action sequences great.

Unfortunately, some of the set-dressing doesn’t pay off. The science-fiction elements often feel like tacked on techno-babble with no real grounding in science, and keeping track of who’s trying to kill who and be a nightmare if you’re not into these sort of things.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Lots of fights, explosions, murders and gunplay.
Sex/Nudity: Some topless male nudity.
Swearing: Nothing special:
Summary: Fairly generic sci-fi/action/thriller that is too long for its own good. A shame, as it’s not bad otherwise. 7/10

Reno 911!: Most Wanted
Starring: Cedric Yarbrough, Niecy Nash and Robert Ben Garant
Best Medicine

Available Now - £9.99 (DVD)
Review by Brad Harmer

Roll with Washoe County Sherrif Department’s finest deputies as they stumble through seven of their favourite mishaps and misadventures in this compilation of the “very best” of Reno 911!.

The Reno 911! crew of serious crime fighters are led by Lt. Jim Dangle, a straight down the line cop, whose indecent interest in his male colleagues and uniform of tight shorts suggest that he might not be that “straight” after all.

A spoof of shows like COPS! and others of that ilk, Reno 911! is often well-observed, frequently surreal, but unfortunately very rarely funny. Whilst the camera style, and the acting is on the spot, and showcases some pretty good comedic ability from the cast, the script and the gags themselves are usually so telegraphed that you’ve already predicted the punch line and not laughed at it before it actually arrives.

Even the running gags aren’t that good. Rather that laughing the second time they arrested Big Mike (and featuring another oversold surreal scuffle), I actually found myself annoyed by it, as it wasn’t being sold like a running gag - it was like they were just trying to pass the same joke off twice.

There are much funnier shows on TV, and it hardly fills me with confidence that this gagless compilation is being sold as a “Best Of”.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Some scuffles and explosions.
Sex/Nudity: Some references, but nothing explicit.
Swearing: Some mild, TV friendly language.
Summary: Observational comedy without the comedy. 2/10

Zach Galifianakis: Live At The Purple Onion
Starring: Zach Galifianakis
Best Medicine

Available Now - £9.99 (DVD)
Review by Brad Harmer

Yes, he's the guy from The Hangover.

I’ve been doing stand-up long enough to know a really crappy stand-up comedian when I see one. And I see one here.

This DVD runs in at sixty minutes. Approximately half of that time is footage of Galifianakis performing stand-up, and the other is indulging itself in the current trend for stand-up comedians to cut sketches and skits into their CDs and DVDs. They probably think it’s quirky and original. It’s not. All it says is that you didn’t have a material to do a good sixty minute set, and you’re trying to hide that behind really, really unfunny sketches that centre around private jokes between you and your friends. It only worked for Chris Rock, and he’s the exception, not the rule.

Galifianakis appears to actually have about four or five jokes prepared for his set, and desperately tries to wing his way through the show Robin Williams style, forgetting two things: A) he’s not Robin Williams and B) never will be. If you want to watch an hour of a comedian desperately trying to think of surreal and/or offensive things to shout at a unimpressed audience whilst he dies on his arse, then this DVD is a valid your time and money.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Sex/Nudity: Some mild references.
Swearing: Frequent and strong.
Summary: A pitifully weak stand-up set, with a very weak editing job. Very few laughs. Avoid. 2/10
In the west the vampire myth is widelythought to have been based on the life of Vlad the Impaler, a 15th century Wallachian warrior-prince whose devotion to cruelty and killing made the lives of his subjects meserable, bloody and short.

However, bloodsuckers of all shapes and sizes feature in many cultures. The most famous of these is the chupacabra, or "goat killer", a creature that is rumoured to have attacked and mutilated as many as 2,000 animals in Puerto Rico and Latin America. The chupacabra is variously described as half alien, half tailess dinosaur with quills running down its back, a panther with a long serpent's tongue and a hopping animal that leaves and unbearable sulphurous stench in its wake. Whatever his form, one thing is for sure, the chupacabra shares little with his dark-cloaked, virgin-biting, garlic-hating, European cousin, apart from him lust for blood.

Charlotte Montague's Vampires - From Dracula to Twilight: The Complete Guide to Vampire Mythology explores these diverse myths and legends, their impact upon popular culture and the possible explanations behind such phenomena.

Thanks to our friends at Sphere, we've got five copies of Vampires - From Dracula to Twilight to give away! For your chance of winning one, send us an e-mail to with your name and postal address before midday on Thursday 4th March (UK time). The first five names drawn out of the electronic hat will win a free copy!


  1. Merely giving your 'COMPLETE guide to vampire mythology' the subtitle of 'From Dracula to Twilight' demonstrates a woeful ignorance of your subject matter that would put me off buying this book.
    Even if part of the point of the book is to point out that the vampire myth predates Dracula by a long, long time... well, it just makes the title even more idiotic, quite frankly.

  2. Seriously, it's like calling your book 'The Complete Guide To The Alphabet: From H to Y'.

    Why does this bother me so much? I think I may need professional help...

  3. I have actually read this one, and I have to say, it is fantastic. I have never read a more complete history of vampires.

    I suspect that the subtitle you object to was added by the publishers. Believe me, Ms Montague is VERY knowledgable, and it goes back centuries before Dracula.