Saturday, 6 August 2011

DVD Reviews

Hobo with a Shotgun
Starring: Rutger Hauer, Pasha Ebrihami, Robb Wells
Director: Jason Eisener
Momentum Pictures
Available now on DVD & Blu-Ray
Review by Blake Harmer

When a hobo (Rutger Hauer, Split Second) comes into a new city looking for a fresh start, he is horrified to find the streets filled with crime from murderers and rapists to paedophiles and a corrupt police department. When he is beaten and cut up by the sons of the city’s crime lord Drake when trying to rescue a prostitute in distress, the Hobo is pushed to the limits and decides to enact vigilante justice with a shotgun. However, can all of life’s problems be solved with a shotgun?

There is a lot here to love about Hobo with a Shotgun, especially for you gore hounds or lovers of grindhouse and exploitation style cinema. There are plenty of gory deaths such as heads being removed, people being set on fire, large weights crushing people and throwing blood all over the place. Whilst some people may find this slightly disturbing, it is so over the top that it is done almost with a slight black humour to it all. I also like how it seems to have captured the exploitation style with this over the top feel. From the characters to the great action film one-liners to the paper thin plot to the large amounts of action, it is in this way it feels like it has captured the feel of grindhouse cinema in a far better way than the likes of Tarantino’s Death Proof ever did, and it does it in a very fun way.

The only real problem with Hobo with a Shotgun, is that whilst it is fun, it is mindless fun, put too much thought into what is going on, and the film will begin to lose its shine. Realisations such as “a shotgun wouldn’t do that much damage”, or “he would have died from his wounds in real life” detract from the fact that this isn’t trying to be realistic, it’s trying to be gory fun with some great one-liners, and on this level it succeeds in bucket loads.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
: Lots of over the top violence filled with gore, lost limbs and intestines.
Sex/Nudity: You see some boobs about halfway through but apart from that the main emphasis is on the gore.
Swearing: Lots of swearing including some great one-liners from Rutger Hauer.
Summary: Not the most serious film to ever grace your screen, but if you fancy an enjoyable action movie with lots of OTT violence and gore, then look no further, especially as there is plenty of Rutger Hauer in it. Those looking for a more cerebral affair may want to look elsewhere though as this definitely requires very little brain activity to enjoy. 8/10

Starring: Paddy Considine, Sally Hawkins, Noah Taylor
Director: Richard Ayoade
Optimum Home Entertainment

Available Now – DVD & Blu-ray
Review by Brad Harmer

Submarine is a coming of age story from director Richard Ayoade (Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, The IT Crowd). One boy must fight to save his mother from the advances of a Mystic and simultaneously lure his pyromaniac girlfriend into the bedroom, armed with only a wide vocabulary and near-total self belief. His name is Oliver Tate.

Yes, taken on its own, and viewed in isolation, Submarine is very good. When viewed as part of a larger sphere – a sphere we can confidently label “Indie/Emo Crap That We’re Pretty Much Sick Of By This Point”, then Submarine is just another movie. Another movie with a slappable protagonist, a mildly boring love interest, and detached but humorous parents. Yes, it’s Adrian Fucking Mole. Again.

There are a few good gags, and more than a few genuinely heart-rending moments, but it’s all muted and dull, like you’re being forced to watch it whilst wearing a wet cagoule; and for all it's sparks of brilliant, Submarine is still unsatisfying. It’s less than the sum of its parts, and there’s little to lift it above the crowd. Rent it if you’re curious, but don’t get your hopes up too high.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Some scuffling and some arson.
Sex/Nudity: Sex is a major theme and frequently discussed, though not much is explicitly shown.
Swearing: Frequent and strong.
Summary: Submarine is an entertaining enough ride, but by end it doesn’t feel as thought any of the characters have really changed, so it all feels a bit redundant by the end of it. Brilliantly shot, brilliantly acted...but devoid of purpose. 7/10

Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle: Series 2
Starring: Stewart Lee, Armando Iannucci
Available now on DVD
Review by Rob Wade

Stewart Lee returns for his second series. This time, in lieu of sketches, he discusses the show with legendary wit Armando Iannucci (famous for The Thick of It and In the Loop). Discussed in this series are such topics as charity, the current state of stand-up comedy and the current government, all discussed in Lee’s intelligent way.

It has to be said that for the most part, the more “alternative” comedians are fucking charlatans when it comes down to it. Take Charlie Brooker, for instance. He personified the disenfranchised comedy viewer at one point, with his short but sweet shows occupying the less popular channels. When he gets a sniff of celebrity, however, suddenly he’s everywhere. I can remember seeing him on a good two thirds of the comedy panel shows, and he’s married to Konnie Huq, former presenter of Blue Peter and The Xtra Factor, a show which required her to play up to a typical “Davina type” presenter in the same way that Brooker is now playing up to the “alternative” comedian who’s on every show going, with neither success nor apparent enthusiasm. It’s refreshing, therefore, to see Stewart Lee hold true to his artistic vision of not succeeding in the mainstream no matter what the cost (and, I can only imagine, financial temptation).

Lee has never been one for traditional means of expression when it comes to comedy, favouring instead a much more deliberate drawl which appeals to an older, more disenfranchised comedy viewer. The show follows this pattern, and indeed viewers of the first series will know what to expect in terms of delivery. It’s clear that Lee sees himself as “the alternative to comedy” rather than an “alternative comedian”, in that he shuns the stadium-filled Comedy Roadshows that have become commonplace (and believe me, he has plenty to say on that subject) in favour of smaller audiences. Still, however, he has people walking out during the TV tapings, but he seems to enjoy that rather than find it insulting, referring to it as “refining his audience”.

Everything about this show is excellent. Lee’s comic timing, as always, is impeccable. The format has been expertly chosen to cast Lee’s style in the light that best reflects it, and the banter between Lee and Iannucci is spot-on, with Iannucci representing the typical comedy viewer in his criticisms of the show not having enough “jokes”. In fact, one of the highlights of the show is Lee turning to the TV camera and addressing the in-home audience when a joke doesn’t go the way he expects with the live audience.

It’s not perfect, of course, and indeed some of the material is from older sets, particularly during the show on the subject of Identity (not the movie starring John Cusack, the metaphysical concept). That being said, however, it’s not often that I can watch a series of a show, only to then go on and watch it again in its entirety in the space of a week after the first viewing. Twice.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence: Gunshots, off-screen, as part of a sketch.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: “Fuck”, “cunt”, “shit” and so forth.
Summary: Utterly faultless. 10/10

The Lost Bladesman
Starring: Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Alex Fong
Director: Alan Mak, Felix Chong
Icon Home Entertainment
Available from 08/08/11 on DVD & Blu-Ray
Review by Rob Wade

During the warring period of the three kingdoms, ancient China is in turmoil. To unify the country, General Cao Cao enlists the aid of the greatest warrior in the land, Guan Yun Chang. However, Guan Yun Chang is a loyal friend of Cao Cao's enemy Liu Bei. To persuade the peerless warrior to fight, Cao Cao takes his beloved Qi Lan hostage.

Donnie Yen has long been one of my personal favourites, favouring the more realistic Kung-Fu style over the over the top stuff. In this movie, however, the majority of the action is using ranged weapons for the first half hour of the movie, which was a little bit disappointing. I was hopeful, however, that the movie would pick up and that the Kung-Fu action would be forthcoming. Thankfully, I was not disappointed.

The martial arts action in this movie is pretty strong, thanks to an effective (without going overboard) use of slow motion camera techniques, and some particularly good camera work in general. Yen’s moves look authentic, though the action can at times be over the top using (presumably) wires and so forth to carry bodies further than they should otherwise be able to travel. Fight scenes involving spears at around the forty-five minute mark are also awesome, though the use of sound effects has a slightly mixed result. Most pleasing of all, though, is that Guan takes out a good chunk of a private army by himself.

If I have one gripe with this movie, it’s that the pace is a little on the slow side, particularly for the first forty minutes or so of the movie. Indeed, this first period is largely explanation and establishment of character development and so on, which is fine, though it could be said that they devote a little too much time to it. Don’t get me wrong, the acting in it is really good, and it’s pleasing to see Donnie Yen doing more acting rather than just kicking the shit out of everyone he meets. I just wish they’d tweaked the exposition: arse kicking ratio, particularly as the movie feels quite long as a result.
The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence: The movie opens with a war, and it’s only escalated from there. Spears, swords, darts, arrows – all are used for the murdering.
Sex/Nudity: No. Why the fuck *is* that? There’s bits that lend themselves perfectly to it, but no.
Swearing: Nothing strong.
Summary: A really good Kung-Fu performance, and increasing proof of Donnie Yen’s strength as an actor in general. 7/10

Black Belt
Starring: Akihito Yagi, Tatsuya Naka & Yuji Suzuki
Director: Shunichi Nagasaki
Available from 08/08/2011 on DVD
Review by Blake Harmer

In 1932, in a Japanese occupied Manchuria, the corrupt military forces are taking over dojos for their own benefit. However, when the Sensei of one of these dojos passes away, he leaves the Black Belt to Choei, one of his pupils with the aim of passing it on to the next worthy successor of the dojo. Together with the other pupils Taikan and Giryu, they are taken in to the military as martial arts instructors. But as events spiral out of control, who will adhere to their master’s teachings and become the next owner of the Black Belt?

Unlike your usual martial arts movie that focuses on long choreographed set pieces with plenty of fancy moves, Black Belt focuses more on the sheer power of karate, so most fights are quite short and over in a few moves. This is really refreshing to watch as the fighting is crushing and wince worthy as people’s throats are punched in and arms are broken, and this looks good even though it isn’t done in an overly flashy way, and it is this that sets Black Belt apart from all the other Kung-Fu movies out there.

However, whilst the karate on show is excellent, the main problem with Black Belt is the film’s predictable storyline. From the opening to the inevitable conclusion, you could guess who was going to fight who, and who was going to win. Whilst this is not always a problem with most Kung-Fu movies, the fact this film tries to break up the action to focus on the plot makes the fact it is very “by the numbers” all the more apparent. There is also a few pacing issues where they spend too much time on Giryu’s morals and the ethos of Giryu, Taikan and Choei’s Sensei’s teachings, which is made obviously apparent at the beginning of the film yet they feel like touching on again and again throughout.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
: Lots of crushing moves that look like they hurt, there is a bit of blood at the beginning, but aside from that there is little gore.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: A few uses of “bastards” but that’s it.
Summary: An enjoyable, albeit predictable Kung-Fu movie with some nice action scenes that are short and to the point rather than long choreographed set pieces. Worth a watch if you are a fan of kung fu movies, but this not likely to challenge great films like Ong-Bak or Enter the Dragon any time soon. 7/10

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