Saturday 11 June 2011

DVD Reviews

Starring: Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Seth Rogen
Director: Greg Mottolla
Universal Pictures UK

Available from Monday 13th June
Review by Brad Harmer

For the past sixty years, an alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) has been hanging out at a top-secret military base. For reasons unknown, the space-traveling smart ass decides to escape the compound and hop on the first vehicle out of town-a rented RV containing Earthlings Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost). Chased by federal agents and the fanatical father of a young woman that they accidentally kidnap, Graeme and Clive hatch a fumbling escape plan to return Paul to his mother ship. And as two nerds struggle to help, one little green man might just take his fellow outcasts from misfits to intergalactic heroes...

I was worried about Paul at the start. The first thirty minutes drag painfully slowly, with maybe two good chuckles in them, but after a while, things really start to get moving, and the gags start coming thick and fast. As usual, there are as many references to sci-fi movies as possible, some knob gags, so gay jokes...actually that sounds like every lunchtime at E14 Towers, to be honest.

Even when the gags are struggling (and it’s certainly not as consistent as Pegg and Frost’s previous two outings, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz), there’s plenty of action and some endearingly heart-warming (or heart-warmingly endearing) bromantic moments, too.

The effects are...all right. Sometimes they look great, and sometimes Paul himself looks a little flat against the backdrop, but Seth Rogen’s voice work is so good that you’re happy to overlook little moments like this.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Gunfire, punching, explosions, being smashed in the face with a barometer.
Sex/Nudity: Some snogging, some partial nudity, frequent references.
Swearing: Frequent.
Summary: The first half an hour drags, and Edgar Wright’s absence is felt, but all in all, this is a fun, sci-fi comedy with plenty of bromantic moments along the way. 8/10

Direct Contact
Starring: Dolph Lundgren, Gina May, Michael Paré
Director: Danny Lerner
Lions Gate Home Entertainment

Available from Monday 13th June
Review by Blake Harmer

When Mike Riggins (Dolph Lundgren - Rocky IV, Masters of the Universe, and other 80's action movies where they couldn’t afford Schwarzenegger), an ex-US Special forces operative who is imprisoned in Eastern Europe for gun running, is offered his freedom and money by Clive Connelly, a Government operative, to rescue an American woman, Ana Gale, who has been kidnapped by a ruthless warlord. However, Mike soon discovers that the kidnap story was just a ruse to bring Ana out into the open and he finds himself on the run with Ana from the underworld, a ruthless government and the warlord's private army who happen to be on the payroll of the Clive.

The film is truly appalling, with low points such as car chases that are shot in double time, and atrocious editing where it is difficult to make out what is happening. There are also other problems - such as a plot that doesn't really need Dolph Lundgren’s character in it at all if you think too hard about it (Surely the warlord's general could have just kidnapped Ana and handed her over to the government?). Chuck in shoddy acting and some continuity errors and this film just screams “ATROCIOUS!”

Even though any one of the above flaws is more than enough reason to avoid Direct Contact, you can’t say that it doesn’t give you what it says on the tin, which is an action movie starring Dolph Lundgren. Throughout the movie’s 87 minute running time, probably about 80 minutes of it is action, from fist-fighting through chases to explosions, Direct Contact is filled to the brim with action set pieces. Should this film have been released back in the 80’s, it could have been more forgivable, as it recreates the 80’s action movie way better than The Expendables ever did. However, this is 2011, and this is just plain unacceptable.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Plenty of violence and explosions, but a lot of it is pretty badly edited so you won’t be able to notice who’s getting killed quite a lot of the time.
Sex/Nudity: You do get boobs pretty early on but that’s about it.
Swearing: A fair amount.
Summary: A terrible action movie filled to the brim with flaws. Sure there are plenty of set pieces and explosions, but that definitely doesn’t make this a good movie. 4/10

Apocalypse Now: Special Edition
Starring: Marlon Brando, Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Optimum Releasing/Zoetrope
Available from Monday 13th June
Review by Rob Wade

It is the height of the war in Vietnam, and U.S. Army Captain Willard is sent to carry out a mission that, officially, does not exist. The mission: To seek out a mysterious Green Beret Colonel, Walter Kurtz, whose army has crossed the border into Cambodia and is conducting hit-and-run missions against the Viet Cong and NVA. The army believes Kurtz has gone completely insane and Willard's job is to eliminate him. Willard, sent up the Nung River on a U.S. Navy patrol boat, discovers that his target is one of the most decorated officers in the U.S. Army.

Released for the first time on Blu-Ray, the Special Edition of Apocalypse Now contains a fuckton of special features totalling over 7 additional hours, as well as the original and Redux edition of the movie across 3 Blu-Ray discs. For those who’ve seen the movie, the following is a short decision on whether all the content is worth the money. Short answer: absolutely. There’s absolutely tons of content here, including the Hearts of Darkness documentary, which should certainly amuse the enthusiasts of this iconic movie. Also, the transfer to 1080p HD has been done incredibly well, and the film looks utterly amazing despite its age, with explosions and coloured flares looking especially good. The sound has also been remastered, the quality of which goes hand in hand with the visuals.

For those who haven’t seen the movie, the following is a little bit of a longer description of the movie itself. The Redux, which clocks in at 3hrs 16 minutes, might be a little daunting at first look, but is certainly the most comprehensive version with over 50 additional minutes over the original film. The movie is packed with a great cast, who all deliver an incredible performance. Of particular note is Dennis Hopper, an E14 favourite, and the brief appearance by Marlon Brando as Walter Kurtz. What’s great about the movie is that there are no over the top performances except by Hopper, who plays an over the top character anyway, and as a result the movie comes across very realistically.

This realism extends to the tone of the film as well, with the movie in general very realistic despite being an American-made war movie. There’s a tendency in war movies (particularly not very good ones) of glorifying war, and making it seem like the Americans are always doing great things and never in the wrong. With this movie, however, there are many scenes of them trying to help Vietnamese people, which could fall into this category if they hadn’t gunned down a boat full of civilians in error later on in the film.

True, there are bits from the Redux version which don’t always seem to make sense, and the scene with the French at first glance seems unnecessary, but all of it contributes to the overall tone of the movie as a very realistic war film. Generally, the movie is excellent, and you find yourself captivated by Kurtz’s history as you proceed through the film, and Kurtz becomes the White Whale of Moby Dick in that you don’t see him for almost all the movie, and yet you anticipate it so heavily that you don’t mind waiting for the inevitable moment where he appears for the first time. Apocalypse Now is one of the most effective films I’ve ever seen for these reasons and more, plus the appearance of a young Laurence Fishburne is a bonus. Go Morpheus!

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence: It’s a war movie, with plenty of gore, people being killed, even a water buffalo bites the dust. A man is beheaded off-screen, and you see the severed head.
Sex/Nudity: Plenty of tits and sex, although a large amount of hairy man-ass.
Swearing: (according to IMDB) 126 uses of the word “Fuck”, 36 uses of the word “Shit”, they throw in “cunt”, “goddamn”, “prick”, “cock” and so on and so forth.
Summary: Long though the Redux may be, this edition is an utterly essential purchase for fans of the movie, with pretty much every possible piece of footage that has been recorded. If you’re a fan of the movie, you have to own this. It’s now the law. 10/10

Cross of Iron
Starring: James Coburn, James Mason, Maximilian Schell
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Optimum Home Entertainment

Available from Monday 13th June
Review by Brad Harmer

Set in 1943, this explosive epic centers on Corporal Steiner (James Coburn), an accomplished but war-weary combat veteran leading a group of German soldiers on the Russian front. Steiner´s authority comes under attack when Captain Stransky (Maximilian Schell) takes over the command of his troops. A Prussian aristocrat, Stransky has one goal in mind: to win the coveted Iron Cross, Germany´s highest medal, at any cost. The two military aces soon face off in an intense and deadly battle of wills.

Cross of Iron is incredibly well paced, letting the breakneck speed action halt every now and again for some truly excellent dialogue, and – more rarely – some wonderfully artistic ruminative scenes. The moments spent on the injuries and casualties sustained in war are especially powerful as Peckinpah makes the whole film seemingly teeter on the brink of madness.

As Cross of Iron progresses, there are some genuinely nasty moments along the way, especially those dealing with torture and rape. The nastiness is handled with comic book style glory, mocking our own obsession with war movies and violence, and makes it much, much worse for it. See, E14 can do serious analysis every now and again.

Also, this has David Warner in it. He’s severely underrated, and it’s unusual to see him playing a good guy.

The Blu-ray remaster is...all right. The picture is sharp, and the colours look great, but you’d have to be a real fan to warrant upgrading if you already own the DVD.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Gunfire, artillery, explosions, realistic blood and gore, injuries, stabbing, slicing, and genital mutilation.
Sex/Nudity: Boobies, attempted rape and genital mutilation.
Swearing: Some, but not a lot.
Summary: The actual point of the movie is sometimes lost in amongst all the action and explosions, but this is still a very entertaining war movie. Unless you’re a massive fan, though, stick with the DVD, as the Blu-ray adds little. 8/10

Ice Cold in Alex
Starring: John Mills, Anthony Quayle, Sylvia Syms
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Optimum Home Entertainment

Available from Monday 13th June
Review by Blake Harmer

I can guess what you're probably thinking. Is it really worth bringing a 1958 Black & White, World War II film onto Blu-ray? Well, considering the amount of work they have done in bringing Ice Cold in Alex to Blu-ray, the answer is yes.

For those who are unaware of the plot, Ice Cold in Alex follows Captain Anson and his MSM Tom Pugh commandeering a battered old ambulance as they pull back to Alexandria across the deserts of North Africa with two nurses and Captain Van der Poel, a South African officer who persuades them to take him with them with the offer of some large bottles of gin. Along the way they have to face many dangers such as the Germans, minefields and quicksand.

As far as film making is concerned, Ice Cold in Alex has aged incredibly well, from good action set pieces and great story telling, the film will keep you entertained all the way through. As for the conversion, the film has been completely digitally restored which means the picture is incredibly crisp and the sound has been given a good strong boost too. Chuck in some commentaries to keep fans happy and you have a nice Blu-ray package.

There are only really a couple of gripes to be had with the film. I thought the pacing did falter a little bit in a couple of places, and despite a stellar clean up job, there were still some noticeable pops and scratches throughout the film. However, these are just slight niggles and are mostly down to the film’s age.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Lots of explosions and gunfire, this is set during World War II after all.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: A few, but not that noticeable.
Summary: With an excellent restoration to the picture and sound, Ice Cold in Alex looks great on Blu-ray. Sure, it’s not the best looking thing to be seen on the format, but if you are a fan, this is definitely worth upgrading for. 8/10

Doctor Who: Mara Tales
Starring: Peter Davison, Matthew Waterhouse, Sarah Sutton
Director: Peter Grimwade and Fiona Cumming
Available now
Review by Rob Wade

This boxset comprises two stories. In Kinda, The Doctor, Tegan, Adric and Nyssa land on paradisical Deva Loka, for rest and recuperation. However, the military expediton on the planet has lost several crew members, and the Doctor and Adric are taken hostage by the near hysterical Hindle. Meanwhile, Tegan's dreams have provided the gateway to an ancient evil, the snake-like Mara. The Doctor must prevent the Mara from taking over the Kinda and destroying the expedition, as the wheel of creation begins to turn. In Snakedance, a loose sequel to Kinda, Tegan must have made a mistake when she was setting the co-ordinates for the TARDIS, because the Doctor certainly hadn't intended landing on Manussa. When the Doctor learns that Manussa was once the home of the Sumaran Empire, he realises that an evil force has begun to take over Tegan's will. This force, the Mara, is planning to use Tegan as a vehicle to retake power on Manussa. Just as the celebrations to commemorate the destruction of the Sumaran Empire by the Federation are about to take place, the Legend of Mara is about to come true.

If you’re a fan of 1980s Doctor Who, there’s a good chance you’ve taken a few things for granted. Firstly, the special effects on any of the old series are going to look shonky as all hell by modern-day standards. Secondly, some characters’ acting is going to be woefully over the top. Thirdly, the Doctor will take on many different characters over the course of his tenure as Timelord, all of whom have different and distinct personalities while at the same time ultimately falling into a broad vein of slightly dopey but ultimately a genius.

This DVD set exhibits this in spades. The story is engaging, and the acting is generally ok, but in the case of certain characters such as Hindle, the acting is utterly ludicrous (which to an extent is arguably by design, but still). The Doctor in this one is a little on the dippy side, but doesn’t really do the whole “acting like a more powerful being” thing at all, which is all well and good except when people are…y’know….actually in danger. Moreover, he seems (in this volume at least) to act like a petulant dick, argumentative and dismissive. Although Peter Davison looks a bit like comedian Tim Vine, who is a favourite of mine, this isn’t quite enough to change my feelings on the series.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence: None.
Sex/Nudity : None.
Swearing : None.
Summary: Some enjoyable stories, but really only for the enthusiasts. 6/10

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