Saturday 16 July 2011

DVD Reviews

Witchfinder General
Starring: Nicky Henson, Ian Ogilvy, Vincent Price
Director: Michael Reeves
Odeon Entertainment

Available Now
Review by Brad Harmer

England is in civil war as the Royalists battle Oliver Cromwell's Roundheads for control. This conflict distracts people from rational thought and allows unscrupulous men to gain power by exploiting village superstitions. One of these men is Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price), who tours the land offering his services as a persecutor of witches. Aided by his sadistic accomplice John Stearne (Robert Russell), he travels from town to town and wrenches confessions from "witches" in order to line his pockets.

Does a film that’s forty-three years old really need a Blu-ray release? Is there anything that a 1080p presentation can possibly add to the experience that couldn’t be just as easily achieved with a DVD version through an upscaler? Well, if a decent job is done with the remastering, then yes, absolutely. I’ve seen Blu-rays of classic movies such as Forbidden Planet and Flash Gordon that have done a great job. Even the archive footage in the recently remastered The World at War looks stunning when scrubbed up properly. Witchfinder General is here, it’s on Blu-ray and it’s...okay.

Some things have cleaned up really well, others, not so much. The sound is great, clear and strong. The colours are vibrant and the contrast looks great. It’s a shame, then, that nothing has really been done about the overall video quality, as it’s rife with pops and scratches from start to finish.

The movie itself is still a classic, with the horrific moments still genuinely harrowing, over forty years later, with the violence and torture shown starkly and realistically. Price is an excellent villain, and it’s nice to see him playing someone genuinely nasty, rather than the more cartoonish baddies he’s known for playing.

There are some pacing issues, unfortunately. The storyline takes its time to establish the setting, and there’s a lull in the pace at just past the half-way point, but when it’s on form, it’s riveting. A flawed masterpiece, in more ways than one.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Frequent and strong depictions of torture, frequent shooting, fighting and scuffling. All very graphic and very realistic.
Sex/Nudity: Some partial nudity, some sexualised violence.
Swearing: None.
Summary: At its best Witchfinder General is still stark, still powerful and still pretty good; although it suffers from pacing problems. The Blu-ray adds nothing, so stick with your DVD, rather than upgrading. 7/10

Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus
Starring: Gary Stretch, Jaleel White
Director: Christopher Ray
Metrodome Group
Available from 18/07/11
Review by Rob Wade

It sort of goes without saying that after last time, I had my reservations about the spiritual sequel to Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus, one of the biggest editing clusterfucks I have yet experienced in all my years. In actual fact, I was surprised almost immediately to find that this *is* the same shark from the original movie, settling that old debate about who would win between the two in a fight, I guess. So, most importantly, is this film an improvement over the first movie?

Yes, ultimately. Hold your horses though, there's more.

It was pleasantly surprised to see that the video quality was much improved in this one over the first movie, which suffered from looking like it had been shot on a Handycam during less-than-optimum conditions. It’s probably not surprising, however, given the cult success of the previous movie. Perhaps they found less of a problem with funding this time around based on the popularity of the previous movie. It’s hard to say. The only thing that is really definite is that there *is* a noticeable improvement in video quality.

The music is pretty cool, having said that. The only issue I have with the movie is that it uses music pretty much non-stop, so it’s rare to see a scene without any sort of music in the background. Don’t get me wrong, they get the levels right, so the music doesn’t go over any of the dialogue or anything like that. They just put music absolutely everywhere.

The problem, ultimately, is that they haven’t improved the calibre of the more prevalent characters in the movie. There are some recognisable faces, but they’re in the bit-part roles, and it’s a shame because they’re the ones who can actually act. One character in particular, who I won’t name for the sake of their feelings, is one of the most atrociously-acted parts in the history of E14. They’re not good, and they’re not *so* hammy that they end up being funny. It’s all just a little bit...pitiable.

The editing, too, is an absolute clusterfuck. It jumps way too often, and so quickly that it makes it difficult to follow the film. During a couple of scenes, I honestly couldn’t tell you what the resolution was. It’s a symptom, perhaps, of the film being ultimately a budget release, but it might not surprise you to learn that Mega Shark Vs Crocosaurus is a rental at best. Now, where do they go from here? I’m personally looking forward to Mega Shark Vs Aqua-Badger!

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence: Unsurprisingly, the Mega Shark and the Crocosaurus fuck a lot of shit up.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: Nothing shocking, which is unusual considering the rating.
Summary: This is actually not a bad film overall, but there are a lot of issues. Worth a rental for a bad movie night, but otherwise avoid. 5/10

Naruto Shippuden: Collection 6 (Episodes 66-78)
Starring: Kate Higgins, Maile Flanagan, Yuri Lowenthal
Director: Hayato Date
Manga Entertainment
Available now (DVD)
Review by Rob Wade

The Hidden Leaf Village is in crisis. An unknown enemy has imprisoned them inside their village, and is unleashing the forces of the undead against them. That is just a diversion, however, as the main threat comes from four re-animated corpses of the four most powerful Shinobi in history, who have the power to destroy the Leaf once and for all. It’s up to Naruto and the residents of the Hidden Leaf Village to fight the threat and save the Village from complete and total destruction.

The series has gone from strength to strength over the volumes since its debut, and Naruto continues to get stronger and stronger as he continues his quest to become the most powerful Ninja in the land, and stop Sasuke from turning to evil fully. The series isn’t afraid to be dark, and this is one of its greatest assets as the series develops. I legitimately saw a guy crushed to death inside a tree, including his head being crushed inside the branches and popping. I shit you not.

The character development is also really strong in this series, with the Leaf Village ninjas using their wits as well as their powers and Naruto’s quest to become the very best is entirely engaging as the series progresses, particularly after the above crisis has resolved itself (though for spoilers’ sake I won’t say how), where he shows his determination and strength. These training elements are handled really well, and given the appropriate amount of time. The series hits all the right markers for pacing during the first few episodes, as the ferocity of the attack on the village is handled about right, and the series dials down perfectly afterwards, and becomes suitably serene until the next threat (because, let’s be fair, there’s always a threat in these shows).

That’s not to say that the series is by any means perfect, with this volume in particular suffering from a bit of a weak ending. It’s not such a massive deal, as the series is not late in its lifecycle if these episodes are anything to go by, and frankly I’m all for it! As a personal request to the episode makers though, I’d personally like to see shorter explanations of stuff that, frankly, could be developed in smaller instalments. That’s a relatively minor gripe, but aside from the usual “This collection isn’t a good place to jump in”, there’s little else that can be said of it negatively.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence: Plenty of ninja fights, and a few people die in those fights. One guy gets crushed inside a tree, and you see the blood pop onto the branches. It’s actually a little harrowing.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: “Bastard” used a fair bit, subtitles use the word “prick” even though the audio doesn’t.
Summary: An otherwise excellent volume, full of twists and turns, let down by a damp squib of an ending. 8/10

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