DVD/Blu Ray New Release Round Up Monday 6th August 2012
Thanks to the imminent release of THE EXPENDABLES 2 in cinemas we kick off the week with a double bill of early Chuck Norris reissues. A FORCE OF ONE sees the drug squad recruit Matt Logan (Chuck) to train their detectives in karate in order to protect themselves from a deadly Karate assassin who, in the employ of a local drug trafficker, is bumping off cops left, right and centre. Logan finds himself pulled deeper into the situation though when his adopted son stumbles across the bad guys and comes a cropper, leaving Logan to seek revenge. This is really Norris at the beginning of his career, a few years after he appeared with Bruce Lee in WAY OF THE DRAGON but a few years before you would really hit the big time with the likes of THE DELTA FORCE and MISSING IN ACTION. It’s actually pretty good in a cheesy, largely awful sort of way, the kind of film that is frequently parodied in the likes of BLACK DYNAMITE and to be honest it’s lack of polish makes it more entertaining not less. The acting’s pretty poor, the dialogue’s not much better but the story is actually not bad (if a little absurd) and it has a nice, ethical vibe.
In THE OCTAGON things really get out of hand when Scott James (Chuck) finds himself at the centre of a plot involving a mysterious Ninja gang who seem to be training up terrorists in their ancient ways. Of course it just so happens that the head Ninja is Scott’s adopted brother (what is it with all these adopted siblings in early Norris movies?) which makes for some emotional as wall as physical conflict when Scott penetrates the mysterious, titular terrorist camp. Again, it’s very watchable in a cheesy, ludicrous sort of way but if anything the acting and dialogue have taken a step backwards in quality over A FORCE OF ONE. It’s always cool seeing Ninjas in the movies though, even when they are as clunkily executed as these. One notable exception is a supporting role from none other than Lee Van Cleef who brings a touch of class to proceedings despite the rather unfortunate script. For some reason the filmmakers thought that it would add a sense of esoteric mystery if they put bags of echo on Chuck’s voiceover parts for Scott’s internal dialogue. They obviously never listened back to their work or else they might have realised it’s bordering on completely indeciferable at times although honestly, that’s a minor quibble.
There are more assassins doing the rounds this week. In MORE DEAD MEN Jack Barrett (Colin Friels) is an enforcer for the top dogs of the Sydney underworld. The problem is, he’s sick of his work and wants to retire, a situation that has left his former employers less than pleased. When he’s offered one last job as a means of terminating his contract he is less than pleased and soon discovers his bosses aren’t going to let their star player quit until they are ready. The TV movie appearance of this film belies something a bit more sophisticated and spirited. Sure it’s a bit reminiscent of Australian crime drama series UNDERBELLY and has plenty of the dark humour I’ve come to associate with Australian crime movies thanks to the likes of THE MAGICIAN and CHOPPER but MORE DEAD MEN is more than just some gritty shootings with a few blackly comic gags thrown in. The idea of the reformed hitman trying to go straight is hardly anything new but it always makes for a decent yarn and Friels is excellent as the burned out Barrett paying penance for a lifetime of murder for hire. It’s a few years old now but this little thriller is definitely worth your time.
Staying in the Antipodes THE TUNNEL is that dreaded of things – a “found footage” horror movie. Instantly burdening yourself with BLAIR WITCH baggage may seem like a double edged sword but really, these days, I always feel that it puts you at a disadvantage venturing into a genre where innovation is hard to come by. I can only assume so many attempts are made because they are cheap to produce but the great examples of this style of filmmaking, whilst they do exist (see REC and CHRONICLE for how to do it right), are exceedingly rare. THE TUNNEL’s mockumentary approach is certainly polished, capturing the look and feel of modern documentary making that is a far cry from the hi-8 camcorder antics of the BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and their choice of location – a network of seemingly abandoned tunnels beneath the streets of Sydney – provides plenty of opportunity for atmospherics. It builds slowly, what seems like a slow start being necessary for the tension to be ladled on later. Its main hurdle is that it’s nothing that hasn’t really been done before which in turn makes it a bit predictable. That said, if wobbly cameras, night vision and things that lurk in the shadows is your thing this is a better than average example of the genre.
There are more spooky goings on in THE VICTIM this time in Thailand. Ting, an aspiring actress, lands regular work with the police portraying the victims in murder reconstructions. When she takes on the role of Min, a woman who has gone missing, presumed dead, she finds herself connected with the dead woman’s spirit who seems to be guiding her on the path to find her murderer, but Min’s spirit is not the only ghost eager to attract Ting’s attention. The first thing that struck me about THE VICTIM is the matter of factness with which the characters seem to accept the existence and attentions of ghosts. Thai folklore seems to be big on the idea of otherworldy spirits (see UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES for further examples of this) and to Western eyes this affinity with the spirit world might seem a little bit peculiar albeit essential to the story. The really peculiar stuff comes in the form of some metafictional twists and turns in the plot that don’t always gel comfortably and serve to muddy the waters a bit. The net result is a film that’s a bit creepy rather than particularly scary although it does have its moments.
There’s horror with a more British flavour to be had too this week in the shape of low budget, Brit-flick THE REVEREND (based on the graphic novel of the same name). A young Reverend has just taken over a village parish and becomes the subject of a test between God and the Devil (a very, very brief cameo by Rutger Hauer despite his lead billing on the cover) like poor old Job from the Bible. Old Lucifer has a particularly savage test of faith for the Rev though, sending one of his envoys to turn him into a vampire. For a film that was obviously cobbled together with virtually no budget whatsoever they do alright with THE REVEREND. It wears its failings on its sleeve – the acting is not brilliant, although a couple of the supporting players aren’t bad at all (especially an unrecognisable Shane Richie as demented pimp Prince) and the writing, especially the dialogue, is frequently dreadful. But to be honest these failings add to its charm and are compensated for by some beautiful gore effects, an interesting take on the vampire genre and a minor role for the lovely Emily Booth all of which are pretty much enough to make you forget its shortcomings.
A couple of gory effects are pretty much all low budet horror comedy BLOOD STORM has to offer. I blame surprise hit IRON SKY for the existence of a film like this (although obvious inspiration has been drawn from the superb Norwegian horror DEAD SNOW), in this instance a tale of a Nazi enclave that had established itself beneath the ice of the Antarctic in a Jules Verne-esque forgotten kingdom. Grand ideas buckle under the weight of poor execution and while the aforementioned IRON SKY may have been absurd from a story point of view it more than made up for it in terms of style and technical achievement. BLOOD STORM’s preposterous and confused plot is a handicap it never really manages to overcome which leaves the truly awful effects to serve as the final nail in its coffin. Whether or not the Mengele-centric storyline could work in more capable hands is an interesting question, but on the strength of this one that is going to remain largely unanswered.
On a far more realistic note is the French terrorist thriller THE ASSAULT, an account of the real life 1994 Air France plane on an Algerian runway by Islamic terrorists, an incident that would result in the French anti-terrorist unit GIGN being called in to effect a rescue and neutralise the terrorists. It’s a great film, taught and punchy, which resists the urge to paint the good guys in Tom Clancy shades of heroism but rather as human beings and the decision to focus on one of the team as the main viewpoint on the story is a sensible one that pays real dividends in terms of drama. It’s not just a thrilling story of a hostage rescue, it has interesting perspectives on the political side of an incident like this at what was a turning point in the approach of terrorist organisations to airline hijackings. The thought of Islamist fanatics getting within a hundred yards of an aeroplane with an AK47 these days seems ludicrous but for the passengers of that Christmas Eve flight to Paris, it became a horrifying reality. Good stuff, all the more effective for its basis in real events.
SUBMARINE’s Craig Roberts finds himself wishing for the intervention of an elite hostage rescue team in COMES A BRIGHT DAY when he is taken hostage as part of a bungled jewel heist in an upmarket London jewellers. TRAINSPOTTING’s Kevin McKidd and GAME OF THRONES Josef Altin star as the stick up men without a backup plan and Imogen Poots (28 WEEKS LATER) and British institution Timothy Spall complete the roll call of key players in a film that has shades of another independent Brit-flick-thriller THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED. Confined in the main to a single location it’s part heist thriller, part romance as feelings run high in the face of imminent death. The parallels with ALICE CREED don’t stop at style – there are plenty of plot elements that parallel (if not directly align) with that film which is unfortunate as it reveals it to be less original and clever as it would like to think it is. McKidd manages bloodthirsty psycho rather well (his various stints in the various CALL OF DUTY games have probably helped) and Spall is as good as you’d expect as the defiant jeweller more disgusted by the robbers’ lack of class than the fact they’re robbing him but I will admit to finding Roberts irritating in the extreme and with an even less convincing London accent than Martin (SWEET 16, PIGGY) Compston. Still, you can safely consider this a decent indie thriller.
My PICK OF THE WEEK this week is the charming LE HAVRE, a genteel and thematically complex French film in which a penniless, middle aged shoe-shiner Marcel has to contend with the critical illness of the love of his life Arletty whilst befriending and sheltering from the authorities a young illegal immigrant who has missed his intended destination of London and ended up in the coastal town of Le Havre instead. It’s not just the fact that it’s dripping with wit and charm that makes this film so marvellous, it’s beautiful to look at too but all of these things are overshadowed by the richness of the characters and the depth of the story. It serves as a damning indictment against the popular view that we are all suspicious, spiteful human beings and contends that in fact, by and large, people are all right and will help each other out when necessary. The way the community rallies around Marcel and his young charge in times of strife is tremendous and seems to fly in the face of the view espoused by the media and by the authorities. Writer/Director Aki Kaurismaki strikes a wonderful balance between the occasionally surreal story and the humanity at its core, the focus very much on the things that are really important in life – not money and ambition, but friends, family and caring for your fellow humans. Sweet without being sickly, it’s difficult not to be moved at least a little by it’s charms.