DVD/Blu Ray New Release Round Up Monday 30th July 2012
ZOMBIE 108 is the first of two bargain basement zombie movies released this week. This particular specimen comes all the way from Taiwan, adding a slightly extreme Asian horror angle to the usual undead cliches – a risk that sadly hasn’t paid off at all. You can just about get away with flimsy plotting and weak characters in a zombie movie as long as you get the most important thing – the actual zombies – right and here, like some misshapen christmas cracker novelty toy, they look a bit like zombies but they don’t really feel like the genuine article. It doesn’t really help matters all that much when it segues into a torture-porn middle section that is a bit too rapey for my tastes and feels completely out of place shoring up the thin “cops team up with gangsters to survive” main plot.
Thank goodness then for REMAINS, the other low budget zombie film gracing the shelves this week. There are no attempts to innovate here, just to approach the subject with affection and a sense of humour and it pays dividends as we join a handful of survivors trapped inside a Reno casino in the immediate aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. Channelling Romero by way of DAWN OF THE DEAD, a shoestring budget has been spent well, the focus on the zombies and the gore effects but even the cheap rate actors aren’t actually that bad and they manage to make the characters likeable enough that you care about how they are going to survive in this brave new world. I particularly enjoyed the zombies in this one, many of which have been injected with a little bit of personality, a sense of the person that they used to be before they became the living dead. It’s an approach that pays off and while REMAINS is far from original it’s good fun and punches well above its weight.
Budget is clearly not an issue for director Tarsem Singh with MIRROR MIRROR. As you might expect from the direct of THE CELL and THE FALL it’s a visually striking retelling of the Snow White fairy tale starring Julia Roberts as the evil queen/stepmother, the lovely Lily Collins as Snow White and Armie Hammer as the handsome prince. Singh has combined his love of elaborate, fantastical set and costume design with a tone more in keeping with the original Grimm Brother’s story (he’s not the first to do this as anyone who has seen 1997’s SNOW WHITE: A TALE OF TERROR will be able to testify to) to create a somewhat baroque, lovingly rendered tale that blends family friendly comedy with genuine drama and some entertaining action. Roberts is excellent as the evil queen, Collins’ Snow is a strong, spirited young woman intent on restoring her kingdom from the decay caused by her stepmother but it’s in the tangential way Singh has realised some of the familiar details of the story (I particularly like his treatment of the queen’s magic mirror and the roguish dwarves) that really picks this out as different from the pack. It plays a bit with fairy tale convention (not as much as the tremendous THE PRINCESS BRIDE mind you) which is great and most importantly of all doesn’t patronise the kiddies, Singh being unafraid of giving the darker elements as much prominence as the comedy and pageantry. Very satisfying all round.
Moving on from fairy tales to modern folklore, DEVIL RIDERS enters the realm of that oh so modern monster, the murderous redneck and is definitely not for kids. Allen and Bob are a pair of born again bikers looking to recapture some of the excitement of their reckless youth now that they have become the stereotypical straightlaced lawyers with wives and a dull suburban love. In a bid to get a good deal on new bikes they fall in with psychopathic biker Ray and his demented sidekick Billy who, despite initial overtures of friendship, prove themselves to be Bob and Allen (and their in-tow wives’) worst nightmare. Contrived it may be (not to mention lacking a little in the originality and production values department) but it at least manages to maintain a degree of horror in its depraved violence whilst (thankfully) holding back from the gratuitousness that often characterises the genre. In all honesty it’s not brilliant, but as far as cheap and cheerful horror-y things go it’s a decent turn although it does raise the question of whether it’s possible to have hillbillies in a film who aren’t sadistic serial killers. (Answer: yes, the highly entertaining TUCKER & DALE Vs EVIL springs immediately and enthusiastically to mind.)
More gory horror arrives this week in the form of THE RAVEN, John Cusack and Brendan Gleeson starring whodunnit that features Edgar Allen Poe (Cusack) being enlisted to track down a serial killer who’s bumping people off using methods from his stories. However you feel about the notion of Poe as a ficitonal character (not keen myself) there’s no escaping that this is pretty flawed. The literary modus operandi of the killer is hardly a new idea (see the tremendous THEATRE OF BLOOD starring Vincent Price for an example of this being done properly) which isn’t to say it’s a bad one, but it needs to be approached with a little bit of imagination and ingenuity for it to be interesting. In THE RAVEN, the crimes are such literal representations of the incidents from the stories that it negates a lot of the anticipation of what is coming next. Coming across a bit like Guy Ritchie’s SHERLOCK HOLMES movies (sans the jokes) it feels like a bit of a cash in on the success of those movies and of course Poe’s horror tales, the gothic majesty of which has failed to find its way into the film. Personally I’d rather watch the Roger Corman/Vincent Price Poe adaptations from the sixties like THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER or THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH than this slickly produced, soulless exploitation of Poe’s rich legacy.
Those of you who don’t feel there’s been enough plundering of classic literature this week can rest easy in the knowledge that Moby Dick with dragons adaptation AGE OF THE DRAGONS is re-released in a Director’s Cut. Starring Danny Glover and eh… Vinnie Jones, it transposes the whaling action of Herman Melville’s classic work of literature to a dragon infested kingdom where Glover’s Ahab commands a swarthy crew of harpooners on his um… land ship? Again the problem here seems to be the literal realisation of the story in a fantasy setting as the cast (with the possible exception of Glover) reciting lines mechanically with no apparent understanding of the actual dialogue while occasionally poking at a CGI dragon with a pointy stick. Dragons, the daddies of all mythical creatures, ought to be exciting but this is pretty dull stuff. I’m not certain if it’s a result of the treatment, the overwhelming greyness of the production design or the excrutiating performances (it’s probably all three) but it failed to hold my attention, the possible exception being the hilarity inducing attempts at serious acting from footballer turned movie star Vinnie Jones.
Jone’s puts in another appearance this week in HIJACKED, starring EXPENDABLE (and former WWE superstar) Randy Couture as maverick CIA agent Paul Ross who puts everything on the line to stop terrorists who have hijacked billionaire business man Bruce Lieb’s (London’s Burning star Craig Fairbrass – honestly) private jet in order to get a tasty ransom. PRISON BREAK’s Dominic Purcell puts in an appearance with what has to be a contender for the funniest movie moustache of 2012 in this DIE HARD/UNDER SIEGE rip off that is delving into so bad it’s good territory. In what is becoming a habit for Vinnie Jones, high billing on the cover belies an almost insignificant role in proceedings (I’d say his part in Kazakhstani thriller THE LIQUIDATOR is probably bigger) but given his performance in AGE OF THE DRAGONS this is probably a good thing. Budget constraints have left it feeling more like a TV show pilot than an action blockbuster, something not helped by the acting prowess of the cast. If you are a fan of bad, cheesy action films it might float your boat but otherwise I’d suggest you stay clear.
My PICK OF THE WEEK this week is the excellent THE PLAYERS (aka LES INFIDELES in its native France) which stars Jean Dujardin of THE ARTIST fame and Gilles Lellouche (POINT BLANK, TELL NO ONE) as a brace of womanising married men who spend their nights serially cheating on their wives with whichever women will sleep with them. Broadly a comedy (it touches on the more serious side of infidelity at some points) it’s a peculiarly structured film, more of an anthology piece than a continuous narrative, that explores (and confronts) the established stereotype that infidelity is the national sport of France. Dujardin and Lellouche are both tremendous (and backed up by a great supporting cast) and the script is excellent, full of wit and charm but being unafraid of confronting the damaging aspects of infidelity. Highly recommended.