Saturday, 29 May 2010

DVD Reviews

Daybreakers
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill
Director: The Spierig Brothers
Lions Gate Home Entertainment

Available from 31st May - £19.99 (DVD) & £24.99 (Blu-ray)
Review by Brad Harmer

The year is 2019. A mysterious plague has swept over Earth, transforming the majority of the world’s population into vampires. Humans are now an endangered, second-class species – forced into hiding by the civilised vampires, they are hunted and farmed for consumption almost to the brink of extinction.

It’s all up to Edward Dalton, a vampire researcher who refuses to feed on human blood, to perfect a blood substitute that might sustain vampires and spare the few remaining humans. But time and hope are running out – until Ed meets Audrey, a human survivor who leads him to a startling medical breakthrough. Armed with knowledge that both humans and vampires will kill for, Ed must battle his own kind in a deadly struggle that will decide that fate of the human race.

A pretty unique take on the vampire legend, no? It’s always nice when people take something as established as the vampire myth and then try and make it their own. Hey, I even admire Twilight for that (good or bad, it was different). Loaded with solid characters, a strong twisty-turny plot and some of the best action sequences I’ve seen in a long time, Daybreakers is an absolute winner.

It’s surprisingly intelligent, and with very deep ethical theorising for a mainstream movie, but on top of all that it also manages to be highly entertaining. It’s pretty to look at. The action sequences (and there are a fair amount of them) are excellently choreographed, brilliantly shot and you can really feel the impact from them. Three of the world’s most underrated actors – Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill – also add oodles of credibility.

There are a couple of minor points that stop it from scoring a perfect ten. The CG is very dodgy most of the time. You know..the sort that makes you actually wince whilst you watch it. Secondly, the anit-capitalist subtext stops being a subtext and starts doing a full blown drum solo at the three-quarters mark. Maybe the makers thought we’d be so blown away by how awesome everything else was we’d miss what they were trying to say. No chance there, chaps. You really needn’t have worried.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Immolation, evisceration, impaling, bladed combat, decapitation, gunplay, biting and torture.
Sex/Nudity: Some partial nudity (you don’t see anything).
Swearing: Some uses of “fuck”, but surprisingly few.
Summary: An excellent horror/sci-fi movie that entertains and proves that horror can still be culturally relevant, when it’s not in the hands of doe-eyed school girls. A Great step forward, and a must-see. 9/10

The Sky Crawlers
Director: Mamoru Oshii
Manga Entertainment

Available from 31st May - £19.99 (DVD) & £24.99 (Blu-ray)
Review by Brad Harmer

From Mamoru Oshii, the visionary director of Ghost In The Shell and Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence, comes The Sky Crawlers, based on the first of acclaimed author Mori Hiroshi’s five-part series of bestselling novels set in an alternative historical period and chronicling the lives of a group of young aerial fighter pilots involved in a seemingly never-ending war.

A group of eternally young clone-like fighter pilots (known as Kildren) experience the sudden loss of innocence as they are forced to battle it out against their nation’s enemies in astonishing dogfights above the clouds. With his only childhood memory consisting of intense flight training, the fearless teenage pilot, Yuichi Kannami, struggles to discover the secret of his missing past.

When his beautiful, equally young female commander, Suito Kusanagi, is reluctant to discuss the fate of the pilot that Yuichi was brought in to replace - or to acknowledge the strangely perfect condition of that pilot's former aircraft - Yuichi's curiosity becomes ever more heightened and he soon finds himself questioning not only his purpose in life but also his very own existence.

Yeah, as you all know, I have a well documented vendetta against anime here – sometimes to the point of
declaring war on Japan. This is because for the most part, anime as a genre is uninspiring, derivative, frequently pervy and often poorly produced.

The Sky Crawlers is none of those things.

Simple, beautiful and understated – as well as being fucking gorgeous to look at – The Sky Crawlers is a wonderful take on a war movie, mixed in with some rather odd sci-fi elements that work together. The fusion of CG and cel animation looks great – especially in the dogfight sequences. The characters are all, if not likable, then at least interesting, and the plot actually intelligent and interesting.

You win this one, Japan.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Explosions, shooting, scuffles and dogfights. Not with actual dogs. With planes. Planefighting, I guess.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: Some mild uses.
Summary: A brilliantly animated, well paced war story with some very solid storytelling. Well worth checking out. 9/10

Dragon Storm
Starring: Maxwell Caulfield, Woon Young Park, John Rhys-Davies
Director: Stephen Furst
Revolver Entertainment

Available Now - £14.99 (DVD)
Review by Brad Harmer

In a fantasy, medieval realm, two kings are feuding. King Fastrad is continually plotting to invade the neighbouring kingdom of his nemesis, the noble King Wednesbury. It is not until King Farstrad’s castle is attacked by dragons that he must swallow his pride and beg King Wednesbury to come to his aid.

Together, they must work to protect their kingdoms from being ravaged by the deadly dragons, so a team of skilled warriors is assembled to kill the beasts.

I always want to like sword and sorcery movies. After all, The Lord of the Rings proved that it can be done well. Everytime I pop the disc in my player I hope and pray that I’ve found the next Outlander. Everytime, I am disappointed. Dragon Storm is another steaming pile of petrol station bargain bin fodder.

The CG and special effects are probably the best part of it. And it’d be generous to say that they’re okay. Considering the budgetary constraints.

After that, it’s that old familiar journey again. Terrible, lazy, “just sit back and let the bad wig do the work” acting. An irritating band of protagonists with terrible wigs. Plot developments you can see a mile off. Even the DVD mastering is a joke. Whenever some written English appears on screen, it’s accompanied by a French subtitle. This could be understandable as a mere error if there was a French audio track. But there isn’t. Which means it’s intentional. Which is terrifying.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Some sword swinging, immolation and some bolt throwing. No, it really has a Bolt Thrower in it. That always warms my heart, just a little bit.
Sex/Nudity: You think she’s gonna get them out and then...Oh...No. Her hair lands perfectly in place. What are the odds?
Swearing: None.
Summary: A fantasy story that we’ve seen a hundred times before with dodgy acting and strange DVD mastering. The CG is okay, but if you want sword and sorcery, you’re still better off buying a book. 2/10

John Morrison: Rock Star
Clear Vision
Available Now - £17.99 (DVD)
Review by Omer Ibrahim

WWE’s latest “biographic” DVD focuses on “The Shaman of Sexy“ John Morrison. His flashy ring style and rock star persona have made him quite the success with wrestling fans of late, and, ever the opportunists, the WWE have slapped a few non-pay-per-view matches on a disc along with some “backstage” moments.

Any DVD that starts with the presenter strolling on a beach, then suddenly turning to camera and smoothly saying “Hello, WWE Universe” is not headed into the classic section. The “Guru of Greatness” stays within his over-the-top persona throughout the whole presentation, linking the matches together as if they were real contests.

The attempts at revealing Morrison’s training regime and hobbies seem tacked on and very repetitive. The Q&A Section is a great idea, but with questions as probing as “Is there chocolate in the Palace of Wisdom?”, it’s a wasted opportunity.

On the plus side, there’s a nice segment showcasing some of the “Dirt Sheet” skits that he did with The Miz, including the brilliant “Captain Highpants” sequence they filmed about the fact that Shawn Michaels is constantly adjusting his trousers. (Seriously, next HBK match you see, check how high up that waistband is! A couple more inches and he’d be a judge on The X-Factor.)

The DVD’s strengths, however, lie in the matches included. As they are all from Raw and ECW, it’s likely that WWE are saving his PPV matches for a future release. This works out well actually, because this DVD stands as a nice collection of very good matches that probably wont get put together again. Only the tag match with DX lets it down, and his scraps with Evan Bourne, Edge, Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho and two matches with CM Punk are fantastic. I think that this collection of bouts genuinely makes up for “Hello, WWE Universe”.

I really hadn’t seen too much of his work before, and thanks to these great contests, I suddenly get all of the fuss that fans and commentators make of him. His blend of high-flying athleticism and technical ability are a breath of fresh air in the often stale WWE environment.

Oh yeah, he has a springboard roundhouse kick called the Flying Chuck. Yes, it is named after Mr. Norris.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Backflips don’t really count as violence.
Sex/Nudity: Morrison gyrates a lot. It’s hypnotic…
Swearing: No swearing, but “Hello, WWE Universe” offends me more than any curses you could come up with.
Summary: More good stuff included here than bad. Fans of his will want to grab this straight away, casual fans should wait for a price drop. Made me want to see more of the star, which is what it should do. 8/10

TNA Wrestling - Best of 2009
TNA Wrestling
Available Now - £19.99 (DVD)
Review by Omer Ibrahim

2009 wasn’t Total Nonstop Action’s best year, but it was the last one before the Hulk Hogan/Eric Bischoff takeover/fuck up. To commemorate this, TNA stuck some matches on a disc and got Scary TNA Voiceover Man to shout really loudly all over it (Seriously, he scares me more than Awesome Kong).

A Knockouts match first between Sarita and Alissa Flash. They have an athletic contest that the crowd enjoy. Very good, could have benefited from a few more minutes.

A J Styles and Kurt Angle enter a fantastic Tables Match...without trying.

Empty Arena Matches are a strange affair. Without fans to react to moves, the noise is left up to the workers. Sting and Kurt Angle, seem to have never watched an Empty Arena match. Pyro goes off, nobody cheers. Sting points at the crowd. It’s a bit weird, and was set up to enhance a storyline, at the cost of quality wrestling.

Angle time again with Jeff Jarrett. Try as he might, even Kurt can’t bring Double J above mid-carder. It’s a good match, but it’s all Angle.

“Hey Russo?”
“Yeah?”
“This Best of 2009 DVD? Should we put those little guys on here?”
“Who?”
“You remember, the guys that helped build TNA and actually made us different to everyone?”
“Oh, those guys. X-Men or something? I guess so. But we have heavyweights to push!”
“How about a match that features all of them at once?”

I can just imagine it when they stuck this Ultimate X match on the disc. It’s a thrilling contest, but Amazing Red, Homicide, Daniels, The Motor City Machine Guns and Suicide deserve so much more. Maybe not Suicide. He injures Sabin and damn near kills Daniels through his bad timing.

Headline match of the Bound for Glory PPV up next as AJ Styles defends his newly won TNA Championship against “The Icon” Sting. This match has definite big match feel to it, but it doesn’t really flow until the end. There’s a respect storyline here, but similarly to the Empty Arena match, it gets in the way of the wrestling.

Nothing gets in the way of the wrestling next. Kurt Angle and Desmond Wolfe enter a stunning display of technical skill as the former Nigel McGuiness pits his British style against Kurt’s machine-like submissions. This. Is. Wrestling.

The “Best Match of 2009” has a lot of hype behind it. In 2006 three men entered into a contest for the X-Division Championship that set a benchmark. Now one of these men is World Champion and the other two want it. AJ Styles, Daniels and Samoa Joe had a lot to live up to with this match. Did they pull it off?

Yes.

The match competes with the original, and they’ve all matured as performers.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
No more than normal.
Sex/Nudity: ’Fraid not!
Swearing: Angle says “Son of a bitch”.
Summary: A very entertaining way to get into TNA , or if you just want the crème. 8/10

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