Tuesday 25 May 2010

DVD Reviews

Geisha Assassin
Starring: Minami Tsukui, Shigeru Kanai, Nao Nagasawa
Director: Gô Ohara
JollyRoger Inc.

Available Now - £15.99 (DVD)
Review by Rob Wade

Geisha Assassin’s plot reads much like a typical revenge story. A geisha has her sights set on a ninja, who brought about the death of her father. However, in order to get to him, she has to make her way through his band of highly-trained ninja cronies, engaging in fights that will test her to her absolute limits, while at the same time finding out stuff she didn’t know. Sounds pretty familiar without being able to pinpoint it to one film, right?

Anyway, the general plot of the film centres on the semi-hot female protagonist, Kotono, tracking the ninja responsible for her father’s death, and dispatching his goons in order to get ever-closer. Understandably, the film’s main focus is a series of sword fighting scenes between Kotono and a number of impressive-looking ninjas (including a female one who is an absolute corker). With a film such as this, much like the Kill Bill duology, the importance for the director is to make the fight scenes as good quality as possible, particularly as films of this time generally have some particularly ropey plot development and non-combat scenes.

Regrettably, Geisha Assassin is no exception when it comes to the cheesy dialogue and ropey scenes between the fighting. Having said that, there’s one scene where a character turns out to be less benevolent than they appear to be, which is done well, if a little contrived. Oh, and the reason for the character’s change of heart is never explained, which I thought was disappointing.

There are some downsides to this film, which I’ll get to first. The video quality is pretty ropey, looking like a home movie (or low-budget porn) at the best of times, and there seem to be some sound and visual consistency errors at times as well. With some more swiftly-moving sword fights, the sound seems to fall out of sync, possibly due to the number of sword blows being dealt by each party. Visually, the blood spatter falls out of line with traditional genre definition, such as the throat being a source of gushing blood. In this film, the blood from a cut throat (of which there are a fair few) seems to trickle, like a leaky tile.

The combat in this film, as I say, needs to be done well in order for the film to really stand out. The combat, then, you might be interested to know, is...well, decent. That’s all really. Apart from a couple of fights, the combat is merely decent. There’s one fight between the two aforementioned female ninjas of varying hotness with a decent level of ferocity (Think The Phantom Menace), but for every good-quality fight there’s a ropey one, including one involving hallucinations and demons which is just ri-goddamn-diculous. In terms of quality of combat, it’s fortunate that she’s armed with a sword, as her melée repertoire is on a par with John Cena (and I’m a fan, but you can’t deny he doesn’t have a massive list). Combat-wise, this film’s consistency pales in comparison to films like Ip Man and even Bangkok Adrenaline.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence: Understandably, a fair bit of swordy-swordy action, with the standout scene being between the hot-ish protagonist and another gorgeous female ninja. For the wrestling fans, this film also contains a German Suplex.
Sex/Nudity: You see a bit of pantie action when she jumps around occasionally, but that’s about it.
Swearing: A few uses of words like “bitch”, but they’re in Japanese, so it sounds lovely.
Summary: An enjoyable enough film, but unfortunately the combat is just too patchy to be a ninja movie of any standing, and the scenes in between are as ropey as you generally expect from this type of film. Worth a rental. 6/10
The Great Dictator
Starring: Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, Jack Oakie
Director: Charles Chaplin
Park Circus

Available Now - £15.99 (DVD) & £19.99 (Blu-ray)
Review by Brad Harmer

During the last days of the First World War, a clumsy soldier saves the life of devoted military pilot Schultz. Unfortunately, their flight from the advancing enemy ends in a severe crash with unnamed and clumsy soldier suffering a bout of amnesia.

After quite some years in the hospital, the soldier is released, and reopens his old barber shop in the Jewish ghetto. But times have changed in the country of Tomania: Dictator Adenoid Hynkel, who accidentally looks very similar to the barber, has laid his merciless grip on the country, and the Jewish people are discriminated against. One day, the barber gets in trouble and is brought before a commanding officer, who turns out to be his old comrade Schultz...

I love this. This is back from a time when comedy actually had something to say, when jokes were aimed to kill and the bad things in the world had to be laughed at to highlight how fucking stupid they were; rather than today, where “comedy” just means another paper thin rom-com.

History may have made this movie powerful, but even in isolation, this is one of Chaplin’s best (if not the best), full of his impeccably timed slapstick and those little beats of silence and reaction that he did so well. He is assisted in the second half of the movie by the amazing Jack Oakie as Benzino Napaloni; and the two work wonderfully together.

Fans of Chaplin and old-comedy in general must own this movie. Newcomers may find it hard to laugh, knowing what was actually happening in Germany at the time, but this is still the most powerful comedy movie ever made.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Some frying pans to the head, some shooting, some explosions.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None.
Summary: One of the most powerful comedy films ever made, and one that shows exactly what comedy can be capable of. 10/10
Starring: David Carradine, Claudia Jennings, Richard Lynch
Director: Roger Corman
Available Now - £5.99 (DVD)
Review by Rob Wade

Deathsport is the sequel to Death Race 2000, and sees Carradine play Kas Oshay, one of the mounted ‘Ranger Guides’ who are fighting the motorcycled ‘Statesmen’. The ‘Statesmen’ try to capture ‘Guides’ and force them to take part in sadistic gladiatorial contests, while both camps do their utmost to avoid mutant cannibals who thirst for human flesh. Yes, you read that right. Firstly, they made a sequel to Death Race 2000 without putting in any races, and more importantly David Carradine of Kill Bill fame is in it. The ‘Deathsport’ in this case is the gladiatorial contests pitted between the competitor captives. A bit like Gladiator, but nowhere near as awesome.

David, David, David...what did happen to you in the 1970s eh? Was money particularly tight during the filming of this movie, or did you just decide that running around in your pants looking like one of the Bee Gees would be good for your career? The very least I would have suggested to him, if I had been one of his mates, would be to fire his agent, or at least take a deeper look at the scripts. I feel the greatest of pity for him if this is what flashed before his eyes as he shuffled off this mortal coil; it can’t be a good way to go.

What can I say about this film? The music and sound effects sound like they’ve been produced on a Commodore 64 or chosen incorrectly; I swear I heard both a jet engine and a motorboat for one of the bikes, and considering that they’re a main plot point, you’d think they’d make the effort. Worse still, some of the special effects, far from being MS Paint quality, look like they were done in Minesweeper. A particularly terrible one sees Carradine electrocuted, and to illustrate this on the screen the screen flickers between Carradine’s floored body and a blue filter. It’s a great shame as well, as some of the special effects actually aren’t bad at all. There’s definitely some inconsistency here, particularly when a fair amount of the torture scenes seem to consist of just flicking the lights on and off and throwing in some irritating sound effects. Worse still, the acting is absolutely shocking at times, on a par with Hawk the Slayer in terms of cheese and the wooden delivery of lines. I mean, really Corman, who put your script together? Ikea?

The costumes are good fun as well, with the mutant cannibals looking like bastardised Tusken Raiders with oversized novelty eyes, the ‘Ranger Guides’ dressed in white pants and/or white Luke Skywalker Episode IV suits wrapped in shawls, and the ‘Statesmen’ in Anakin Skywalker style black suits. Incidentally, the two factions seem to have degraded into oppressive Imperial-type scumbags versus some rebel hippy wasters. If I was to find out that the Deathsport writers had stolen designs from George Lucas’ notes, I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s fortunate, incidentally, that the ‘Statesmen’ have an element of the Imperials about them, because the door noise is the same as Darth Vader’s breathing.

One of the most bizarre subplots in this movie is to do with the President of the ‘Statesmen’ suffering from a progressive form of dementia, and that is woven into the plot with almost little or no impact. The logic of these ‘Statesmen’ is also questionable at times, as not only do they arm the ‘Guides’ for the Deathsport, they also arm them with the crystal swords that they’re familiar and trained with. Oh, and the objective of the film for the characters is not at any point to bring down this dictatorship, all they aim to do is rescue a solitary child from the mutant savages. A little underwhelming, it has to be said.

One final thought, in the form of a question. In terms of plot consistency, this gives you an idea of what I saw. Why would mutant cannibals be afraid of fire to the point of retreating, when their cave contains...a fire?

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence: A few people get disintegrated, and obviously there’s that whole ‘Deathsport’ thing going on for a large portion of the film.
Sex/Nudity: One instance of full nudity with a peripheral female character, but because of the crap lighting, you see very little. For the most part, they pretty much just find excuses to get the main female naked throughout the film, including one scene where she’s nude amongst a series of novelty light bulbs. I wish I was making this up.
Swearing: ‘Bastards’. Not the people who made the movie, I mean it’s used in the movie.
Summary: A shockingly poor cheese-fest of a movie, and not the kind of thing that you’d want to remember Carradine for (or indeed that Carradine would want to be remembered for). By all means rent it or buy it cheap if you collect crap films, but under no circumstances would I recommend buying this for anything less than a bargain basement price. Maybe even lower than that; maybe a bargain Fritzl-hidden-basement price. 2/10
An Audience with Ken Dodd
Ken Dodd

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

Critically acclaimed (at the time) as a comedy masterpiece, An Audience With Ken Dodd was first shown by LWT and allegedly confirmed Dodd’s status as “Britain's funniest comedian”.

An Audience With... was Ken Dodd’s first ever home video release. Now available on DVD (again - contrary to what they'd want you to believe) - and running 40 minutes longer than the original show – can it still entertain as much it did all those years ago?

In a word, no. No, it cannot. Ken Dodd is a comedy genius, and a performer that I look up to, but this is far from one of his shining moments. It’s safe, middle-of-the-road comedy...but it’s not even funny, safe, middle-of-the-road comedy.

The DVD issue from ITV DVD is pitifully lazy. There hasn’t even been so much as a gesture towards cleaning it up for modern DVD issue, and so the resultant mess appears to have been ripped straight from the original tape – flaws, hiss, trapped hairs and all. Hardly the level of production you’d expect from a high profile label, with a high profile release.

Dodd’s set here has aged rather badly, and it’s not a very good showcase of his abilities. The style has dated very badly, and his gags mocking much funnier alternative comedians seemed like nothing but the whitterings of a grumpy old man.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None.
Summary: A legendary comedian feebly punching below his weight, given a lazy DVD issue. Avoid. 3/10

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