Saturday 12 June 2010

DVD Reviews

St Trinian's 2: The Legend of Fritton's Gold
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Rupert Everett, David Tennant
Director: Oliver Parker and Barnaby Thompson
Entertainment in Video

Available Now - £19.99 (DVD) and £24.99 (Blu-ray)
Review by Brad Harmer

St. Trinian's 2: The Legend Of Fritton's Gold sees the schoolgirls start a new term amidst the usual chaos and excitement. Rupert Everett returns as unconventional headmistress Camilla Fritton alongside Colin Firth as her old flame Geoffrey Thwaites.

A rollercoaster-style treasure hunt for the legendary Fritton's Gold ensues as they face their most fearsome establishment rivals yet, but the feisty and ever-resourceful girls of St Trinians are undeterred in their mission to outwit the villainous Pomfrey and his sidekicks from the women-hating secret society known as AD1.

St Trinian’s 2: The Legend of Fritton’s Gold is one of those really daft movies that makes you laugh, then almost immediately makes you angry, because in your heart you know you shouldn’t be laughing at something so rubbish. St Trinian’s 2 is a light, fun, family movie. That’s all it is, that’s all it wants to be, and for the most part it’s a pretty good example of one. It’s certainly relatively faithful to the style of the previous movies, anyway.

Held together with fluff and cheesy kids TV style jokes, there’s no denying that St Trinians 2 is a pretty insubstantial movie. It’s so predictable and hackneyed that you could watch in on fast-forward without really missing out on any of the story. Combined with the dance numbers and needlessly long padded sketches/set-pieces, you can see why this isn’t great, right?

The cast is a mixed bag. Most of the girls are pretty good, (although can people please stop giving Gemma Arterton work?) as is Everett. Colin Firth is absolutely fantastic and a highly underrated comedy actor in general. David Tennant is, however, a real disappointment, playing a cartoon bad guy (and not in a good way) without depth or enthusiasm.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Some slapstick violence, sword-fighting and explosions.
Sex/Nudity: A cute dog has sex with Colin Firth’s leg.
Swearing: Some very mild comedy swearing.
Summary: Sure, it’s flimsy, insubstantial and predictable – but it’s still pretty endearing and fun. Worth catching on TV, but think twice before forking out full price for it. 6/10

Not the Messiah (He's A Very Naughty Boy)
Starring: Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin
Director: Aubrey Powell
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Available From 14th June - £15.99 (DVD) and £22.99 (Blu-ray)
Review by Brad Harmer

In 1979, Monty Python’s Life of Brian turned the Biblical epic on its head. Now, the makers of Spamalot turn classical music on its head. Not The Messiah... is a full, overblown opera version of the Python’s now classic comedy movie.

It’s a pretty nifty direction for Python to move in and the good news is that it works (as much as anything Monty Python do ever really “works”). The music sounds brilliant (a casual listen would leave you believe that this was a genuine opera), and contains lots of nice in-jokes and references for real Python fans.

In true Python style, several of the gags and set-pieces outstay their welcome a little, and the whole production could have easily been fifteen minutes shorter without suffering for it.

The Blu-ray release takes a significant amount of time to load, but the picture and sound is superb, and well worth the wait.

Hardcore Python fans will absolutely lap this up as – if nothing else – it really feels like a Monty Python production. There’s that slapdash “a lot of work has gone in but it could all go to shit” vibe. There’s the cartoonishness, toilet humour, surrealism and...of course...Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. All of the surviving members (bar Cleese, but I’m sure that will surprise no-one) make appearances in one capacity or another, and the show leaves you feeling like you truly have celebrated forty years of Monty Python. And that’s what it set out to do.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Some references.
Sex/Nudity: Some references.
Swearing: “Piss”. It did annoy me a little that all the "fuck"s from the movie dialogue had been changed to “piss” for this production. “How shall we piss off, oh Lord?” doesn’t work for me.
Summary: A well put together, highly entertaining show. It’s not the best thing they’ve ever done, but in my heart I can help but be happy that there’s a new release from the The Beatles of comedy. 8/10

The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue
Starring: Cristina Galbo, Arthur Kennedy, Ray Lovelock
Director: Jorge Grau
Optimum Classic

Available Now - £15.99
Review by Brad Harmer

Art dealer George becomes a reluctant travelling companion for Edna when she accidentally damages his motorcycle at a petrol stop. Various detours and tragedies keep them from parting ways in the green countryside of Northern England: Edna claims to have been attacked by a man the locals say is dead. When she gets to her destination she finds that her sister appears to have murdered her photographer husband but is blaming the killing on a similar zombie fiend.

Finding nude photos and George's vaguely pagan-appearing statuette, the bitter local Inspector labels Edna and George as a pair as longhair degenerate Satanists. More revivified corpses attack, giving the detective plenty of evidence to support his thinking. George has an alternative theory, but his protests are treated as the ravings of a madman. He must flee both the kill-crazy Inspector and a horde of zombies, as the entire resurrected contents of the Manchester Morgue closes in on him.

What’s nice about The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue is that it’s still a pretty original movie. What helps most with that is that the principal characters both start out as complete arsehats, and you’re not certain whether you want them to succeed, or be eaten. Unlike most spaghetti zombie movies, it’s also exceedingly well put together, and that's what the zombie genre needs. Taking its cue less from movies like Night of the Living Dead and more from movies like The Wicker Man, ...'Manchester Morgue takes the story in directions you just aren’t expecting. Can you remember the last time you saw a zombie movie in which the police suspect the heroes of being the killers?

The gore work and make-up is absolutely brilliant – realistic, rather than gaudily over-the-top. It’s not just the prosthetics that make the undead so great in this, though. It’s the way they’re used...hardly seen at all for the first half, and terrifying when they do arrive. They act like the undead from Herbert West: Reanimator (the original short story, not the dead-cat-in-fridge featuring parody), creepy and quiet, rather than moaning for brains.

The presentation is, however, a little lacking. Whilst the picture is brilliantly sharp, the soundtrack has been pretty much neglected. It’s pretty mid-heavy, and the dubbing is so out of synch it’s very distracting. True, this may be down to the original print, but surely they can do something about that, these days? Arrow Video have raised the bar for these sort of releases, and other publishers need to wise up.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Gore, choking, gunplay, cannibalism, stabbing, immolation, a woman has her tit ripped off (not a joke), an axe to the head.
Sex/Nudity: Some full frontal female nudity. A woman has her tit ripped off (not a joke).
Swearing: Not much, some mild English slang swearing (fag, shit, wanker, etc.)
Summary: One of the few genuinely great zombie movies gets a rather unfortunately average re-release. Great for newcomers, or those looking to finally update that knackered VHS copy, but the presentation could have been so much better. 9/10

Starring: Mark Hamill, Bob Holt, Jesse Welles
Director: Ralph Bakshi
Eureka Entertainment

Available Now - £15.99 (DVD) and £17.99 (Blu-ray)
Review by Brad Harmer

Wizards is a fantasy adventure from cult animator Ralph "The Botch Job of the Rings" Bakshi. Set on a post-apocalyptic Earth where technology has been outlawed following nuclear disaster, the film follows the story of Avatar, the kindly, eccentric sorcerer-ruler of Montagar, a rainbow paradise inhabited by elves and fairies. Avatar's evil brother Blackwolf dominates Scortch, a bleak land of goblins and wraiths.

When the power-hungry Blackwolf attacks Montagar, Avatar, accompanied only by a spirited young woman and a courageous elf, must enter the darkness of Scortch to save his world.

Wizards is a strange one. Tonally and visually, it’s a bizarre mish-mash of childish Saturday Morning Cartoons, and dark sword-and-sorcery. The intent here is obviously to give it depth, so that it can work on at least two levels; the reality, however, is that it becomes rather a mess, totally devoid of identity. This is the recurring motif of Wizards. You want to like it for what it’s trying to do, but the reality of the execution is near constant disappointment.

Frequently, there is a break in the animation, so that a narrator can fill us in on backstory or even an interlude which is accompanied by illustrations. I get that it’s supposed to make it feel more like a fairy story, but what it actually achieves is “We didn’t have the budget to show you this bit, but we drew you a picture instead. Is that okay?”. It’s insult to injury that the artwork is pretty crappy throughout...animated or otherwise.

The story is slowly paced. When the party doesn’t set out on their epic quest until the half-way mark, you know that it’s going to be a botch-job ending.

A great idea, executed badly by Ralph Bakshi. Guess lightning can strike twice in the same place.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Some gunplay, murderising and sword-and-sorcery violence.
Sex/Nudity: Some references to prostitution.
Swearing: Some mild uses.
Summary: A rather curious piece. Full of great ideas that it never quite manages to execute properly. Try before you buy. 5/10

Prince Valiant
Starring: Janet Leigh, James Mason, Robert Wagner
Director: Henry Hathaway
Eureka Entertainment

Available Now - £15.99 (DVD) and £17.99 (Blu-ray)
Review by Brad Harmer

Trained for the Round Table by Sir Gawain, Valiant takes time out to fall in love with the beautiful Princess Aleta. The villain of the piece is The Black Knight, aka Sir Brack, who intends to topple King Arthur from his throne, then conquer Valiant's people in Scandia. But Prince Valiant proves a fearsome opponent to the usurping Sir Brack.

Prince Valiant certainly ticks all the right E14 boxes. Swords, adventure, intrigue, more swords, and a dollop of swashbuckling adventure. It’s the sort of film they’d show during the day during the summer holidays – some light kid’s entertainment. A Bank Holiday adventure movie. Hell, I’d have loved this as a kid.

It has not aged well, however. The Vikings are hilariously awful, they’re horned helmets looking practically embarrassed to be there, and their berserker rage seems to translate as “barely able to fight at all”. Also, am I the only person who can’t see James Mason without thinking of early Eddie Izzard routines?

The best bit of all? Camelot. It’s only a model.

The end result is a pretty satisfactory, although obviously dated, adventure movie. Those who have fond memories will no doubt want to pick this up Рnostalgia seems to be the main reason for its release Рbut those who are seeing it for the first time as adults are unlikely to be won over. The action sequences are good, but too much of the acting feels telephoned in, and the second half degenerates into pure clich̩.

The publishers have re-mastered Prince Valiant as best they can, but it’s still not great. The picture is amazingly sharp – so sharp you might cut your eyes on it – but it’s still covered in faults and scratches, which is a shame.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Several scuffles and sword fights.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None
Summary: A fun, swashbuckling kids’ movie. There are no surprised, and the re-mastering is patchy, but it’s far from a bad movie. 6/10

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