Saturday 8 May 2010

DVD Reviews

Starring: Dida Diafat, Francis Renaud
Director: David Morley
Momentum Pictures

Available from 10th May - £12.99
Review by Brad Harmer

In a world devastated by a pandemic virus that turns human beings into primitive and bloodthirsty creatures, the last hope for survivors is the military station 'Noah' where scientists are researching the cure.

Marco and Sonia set off to find the secret base to escape from the 'mutants'. When they are attacked Marco becomes contaminated and little by little begins to undergo the same changes as the other creatures. Sonia, pregnant with her first child, must somehow fight off the hordes and force herself to fight the man she once loved.

Far too many zombie movies are either a) extremely derivative pieces of crap, or b) “hilarious” exercises in self-parody. It is with great pleasure that I report that Mutants is neither of these things. It is, simply, a bollocking awesome psychological horror movie. With zombies in.

Excellently produced, despite its relatively limited budget, the movie manages to create a wonderful sense of isolation through its minimal cast, and huge sets. The acting is great, the music and atmospheric, and the gore work is gut-churningly realistic. It is so good to see a zombie movie that gets what zombie movies should be about, and then wraps it up in a nice little package, complete with pulse-pounding action sequences, and a genuinely moving conclusion.

My only gripe is with the unnecessarily shaky camera work during every single action scene, but this is a trend that doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon, no matter how crappy it has always looked.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Strong violent scenes, with some excellent gore work and cannibalism.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: Some “fucks”.
Summary: A great psychological-horror movie, which shows that there is more to zombie movies than self-parody. Don’t miss this. 9/10

Apocalypse of the Dead
Starring: Ken Foree, Kristina Klebe, Emilio Roso
Director: Milan Konjevic
Metrodome Video

Available Now - £12.99 (DVD)
Review by Brad Harmer

Transporting a valuable human cargo of state prisoners across a hazardous war zone, a group of Interpol mercenaries headed by Agents Reyes and Milius are forced to make an unscheduled detour when they encounter the remnants of a catastrophic ecological disaster.

Trapped is a hazardous wasteland, miles from help and civilization, they find themselves besieged by a vast army of rampaging, blood-thirsty mutants, ravenous creatures who will stop at nothing to devour every morsel of human flesh in sight.

As Reyes and Milius fight for their lives and to protect their precious cargo, they realize their only chance for escape is in joining forces with the treacherous criminals in their care. But these men have a past as deadly and terrifying as the monsters out for their blood.

You would think that zombie movies would be an absolute piece of piss to make. I mean, how much challenge can there be, right? Come up with some realistic and rounded characters and the barricade them in somewhere whilst pelting them with an army of the undead. Simple, right? So please explain to me why so many zombie movies manage to completely balls it up.

Apocalypse of the Dead is a complete shambles. The acting is so stilted and wooden that I've seen more convincing delivery in porn. It's shot straight onto digital, and looks terrible. The plot developments are convoluted and forced.

When Apocalypse of the Dead isn't being simply mind-burningly awful, it simply turns into derivative pap. Every cliche is trolled out, and you fall asleep.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Pretty much what you've come to expect from the genre. The gore is pretty unimpressive to boot.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: Normal and cliched for the genre.
Summary: Zombie survival-horror by numbers. Badly cobbled together and highly derivative. One to avoid. - 2/10

Starring: Matthias Hues, Deidre Imershein, Don "The Dragon" Wilson
Director: Rick Jacobson & Charles Philip Moore

Available Now - £5.99 (DVD)
Review by Brad Harmer

Beautiful rock star Shanna seeks protection from a psychotic killer with a mother fixation and a penchant for brutality, as well as from her own corrupt, mobster of a business manager. Reluctantly, she hires ex-cop and karate instructor Jack Dillon, who finds himself stuck in the middle of a deadly, two-pronged assault from Shanna’s tormentors.

If you take the spiritual essence of eighties action movies, add some feeble, post-Enter-The-Dragon Kung-Fu, and then suck all the money out, then the dessicated remains would be Blackbelt. This is the most eighties thing outside of Rick Astley/Cyndi Lauper slash-fiction. Blackbelt knows just what sort of film it actually ends up being pretty fun.

It's not often you manage to find some non-Meyer dialogue so heavy that you could break your nose on it, but that's certainly the case here.

The chop-socky action is a little rough around the edges, but as with a lot of Corman produced stuff, it doesn't really matter - there's DIY Ethic feel that it's hard not to acknowledge and respect. It's definitely on the "Seagal" end of the spectrum, however. That's when it's not so OTT as to border on parody, of course.

Bizarrely, a couple of kung-fu sequences are actually slowed down. Explain that, if you can.

There's more than a little padding for the (already thin) story, though. There's an awful lot of musical numbers throw in for no real reason other than bumping up the running time.

Blackbelt's real weakness lies in its lack of depth. Even for the genre, the bad guy's motivation is pretty feeble - and rather crass, too. Sensationalism aside, this is "80s Cop Movie by Numbers".

The most tragic thing? This most 80s of movies was actually made in 1992. That says more about how dated it is than any witty remark I could make.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Loaded with hyper-violent kung-fu, gunplay, and some murder scenes.
Sex/Nudity: Some bonking.
Swearing: Nothing noteworthy.
Summary: Hyper-cliched, with lazy and often botched kung-fu sequences. This is a movie you've seen a hundred times over, a hundred times better. It does have a strange charm, however. 4/10

D.Gray-Man: Series One
Director: Osamu Nabeshima

Available Now - Series One: Part One (£22.99) and Series One: Part Two (£22.99)
Review by Brad Harmer

Set in a fictional 19th century England, D.Gray-Man presents us with a secret order of Exorcists embroiled in an ongoing struggle to save the Earth from an ancient being and his army of demonic creatures set on destroying mankind.

Allen Walker is a 15-year-old boy and a born Exorcist who roams the Earth in search of Innocence, a mysterious substance used to create weapons and tools capable of obliterating demons known as Akuma. It is believed that in ancient times, 109 fragments of Innocence were washed to unknown parts of the world by The Great Flood.

Allen's primary anti-Akuma weapon is a cross that is embossed on his red, disfigured left hand, which contains Innocence. But not only does Allen have the ability to destroy Akuma, he also sees them hiding inside a person's soul. Together with a group of fellow exorcists fighting under the command of the Black Order, he joins the battle against the Millennium Earl, an ancient being who intends to 'cleanse' the world by destroying all life on it.

Allen's first perilous mission takes him to southern Italy, where an Innocence has been located. Along with fellow exorcist, Kanda, and Tom, a member of a support group for exorcists called 'finders', Allen must vanquish the Akuma that covets the Innocence.

D.Gray-Man starts off really well, with a Gaslight/fantasy/horror take on things that I really rather liked, and reminded me of Ravenloft. Unfortunately, it rapidly becomes apparent that any innovation is only skin deep.

The animation is passable, but nothing you haven’t seen before. The first two episodes are taken up with the usual “Exposition Concussion” that you (and, certainly, we) have come to expect from epic anime series. It also has the usual irritating humour that you expect.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
The usual swords, magic, explosions and monsters.
Sex/Nudity: Pfft.
Swearing: None.
Summary: A rather uninspired use of a pretty original setting. Disappointing. 4/10

A Scanner Darkly
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder
Director: Richard Linklater
Warner Home Video

Available from 10th May - £17.99 (Blu-ray)
Review by Brad Harmer

A Scanner Darkly is set in suburban Orange County, California in a future where America has lost the war on drugs. When one reluctant undercover cop is ordered to start spying on his friends, he is launched on a paranoid journey into the absurd, where identities and loyalties are impossible to decode.

It is a cautionary tale of drug use based on the novel by Philip K. Dick, and his own drug experiences. Like a graphic novel come to life, A Scanner Darkly uses live action photography overlaid with an advanced animation process (interpolated rotoscoping) to create a haunting, highly stylised vision of the future.

A Scanner Darkly looks great, and the transfer to Blu-ray is one of the cleanest I’ve seen. The audio is mixed relatively low, but it sounds pretty good.

The animation style takes a little getting used to, but once you do, you really appreciate it. I don’t normally much care for an attempt to make a movie look like a comic book (see Ang Lee’s Hulk – or, even better, don’t), but it really works here, making what is actually happening on screen seem larger than life somehow.

The acting is phenomenal across the board – yes, even from Keanu Reeves – especially from Downey Jr., whose portrayal of the apparently permanently highly-strung and slightly fucked up Jim Barris is brilliant. It’s a deep film, and one that may require more than one viewing for you to pick up on all its subtleties.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Some gunplay, but nothing explicitly violent
Sex/Nudity: Some boobies.
Swearing: Frequent, but generally realistic.
Summary: A pretty engrossing sci-fi/crime thriller that looks great and features some top-notch acting. 9/10

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