Thursday, 3 August 2017

Resident Evil: Vendetta

Voice cast: Kevin Dorman, Matthew Mercer, and Erin Cahill

Director: Takanori Tsujimoto

97 minutes (15) 2017
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Sony blu-ray region free  

Rating: 8/10
Review by Steven Hampton  

“Tomorrow, the world will be a different place.” The cross-genre appeal of Resident Evil is especially impressive in three varied particulars, as it cleverly evokes the burning cities of apocalyptic sci-fi, the sweaty anxiety of haunted house fantasy, and the grisly splatter of dismemberment horror. In this third CG animated feature, the heroes tackle a villain who intends to destroy New York with a new strain of the deadly virus. There’s floppy-haired maverick agent Leon (Matthew Mercer), hard-boiled but sympathetic soldier Chris (Kevin Dorman), and the newcomer is adorably cute professor Rebecca (Erin Cahill), who is not afraid to tell off the boys, and knock sense into their stubborn or selfish attitudes. With a support crew in tow, this trio face the monstrous machinations of Arias, the businessman creating zombies as commercial products - to feed his quest for diabolical vengeance and to fund an apparent vanity for tailored suits, just like a typical James Bond nemesis.


Here, standard displays of action movie hardware (“Dibs on the bike”), and urban scenes are often indistinguishable from live-action counterparts, while the leading players are all depicted via the aid of with state-of-the-art motion capture techniques. Digital characters in this movie are enhanced so that every shrug, twitch, blink, smirk, and small gesture is rendered by digital artists with exquisite care and textured magic. If some minor bouts of stillness and the general lack of micro-expressions might sometimes make the main stars appear wooden in terms of performance values, let us not forget how stoicism and wholly professional calm are also traits of characters in these genre scenarios that are worthy of emulation.



Resident Evil: Vendetta boasts a storytelling verve and chaptering that is well achieved by grimly tragic twists or absurdly comic turns. Shoot ‘em up episodes are de rigueur for this milieu, as are some advanced weapons as tools of the mayhem trade, monsters as a merchandise traffic, and the overtly sexualised, ultra-violent blonde villainess. Solidarity among the survivors is what makes the premise most interesting as it provides a credible humanity in this amoral world of inhumanity to people alongside a worship of wealth and power, clearly reflecting the concerns of 21st century reality. With a plot-line that all but laughs at the anti-vaccine propaganda that seems to be closely related to stupid fears of science and technology, this movie also astutely references The Bride Of Frankenstein as wittily as Frankenhooker did. Where this franchise best helps to redefine the comic-book conventions of protagonist versus antagonist is in its presentation of ultimate showdowns featuring an evil mastermind and superhuman henchman combined into a single menace.      



Disc extras:
  • Filmmaker audio commentary
  • Stills gallery
  • CGI To Reality: The Creature featurette (exclusive to Blu-ray)
  • CGI To Reality: Designing Vendetta featurette (exclusive to Blu-ray)
  • Motion Capture Set Tour with Dante Carver (exclusive to Blu-ray)

Bonus disc exclusive to Blu-ray:
  • B.S.A.A. Mission Briefing: Combat Arias
  • Designing The World Of Vendetta featurette
  • 2016 Tokyo Game Show footage

Monday, 31 July 2017

Dreamscape

Cast: Dennis Quaid, Max von Sydow, Christopher Plummer, Kate Capshaw, and David Patrick Kelly

Director: Joseph Ruben

99 minutes (15) 1984
Widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Second Sight blu-ray region B

Rating: 7/10
Review by Octavio Ramos Jr

Directed by Joseph Ruben (The Pom-Pom Girls and Money Train), Dreamscape stars Dennis Quaid as Alex Gardner, a young man who uses his psychic abilities to make money. Rather than help make a local hood rich, Alex agrees to work with his mentor Dr Paul Novotny (Max von Sydow) on a research project in which ESPers can ‘dream-link’ into the minds of troubled individuals. The goal is to determine the power of dreams and nightmares, and subsequently remedy deep psychological problems that manifest most clearly in the world of the subconscious.

While Novotny, Alex, and psychologist and love interest Jane (Kate Capshaw), address problems such as a husband’s impotence in a comedy relief sequence, and a child’s ‘Snakeman’ nightmare in a horror sequence, the US President (Eddie Albert) is plagued by nightmares that he will someday destroy the world through the use of nuclear weapons. To help these dreams come true, bad guy Bob Blair (Christopher Plummer) recruits Tommy Ray Glatman (David Patrick Kelly), also a talented ESPer but one with homicidal tendencies.


The movie’s climax takes place within the President’s dream world, with Tommy Ray using martial arts - which Alex manages to defeat with a single blow (very unlikely!), and assuming the Snakeman’s form in an attempt to kill the president in his dream. Alex responds with a psychological secret of his own and, in the end, manages to kill Tommy Ray in his sleep, rescue the President, and save the world. Dreamscape was the prototype film of its kind, setting the trend for films such as A Nightmare On Elm Street and The Cell. For its time the special effects are solid if not a bit cheesy, and the performances are either over-the-top (Quaid) or wooden (Capshaw). The story itself is compelling and the screenplay adequate, and although some of the sequences are exciting, when combined the pieces feel disjointed and weak.



Restored with 2K scan for this hi-def release.
Bonus material:
  • The Actor's Journey interview with Dennis Quaid
  • Dreamscapes And Dreammakers - retrospective including interviews with Ruben,co-writer David Loughery, actor David Patrick Kelly, and members of the special effects dept.
  • Nightmares And Dreamsnakes - looks back at the Snakeman with Craig Reardon, David Patrick Kelly, and others
  • In-depth conversation between producer Bruce Cohn Curtis and co-writer/ producer Chuck Russell
  • Commentary track with Bruce Cohn Curtis, David Loughery, and Craig Reardon
  • Snakeman test footage
  • Stills gallery



Thursday, 27 July 2017

Power Rangers

Cast: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, R.J. Cyler, Ludi Lin, and Becky G.

Director: Dean Israelite

124 minutes (12) 2017
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Lions Gate blu-ray region B
[Released 31st July]

Rating: 6/10
Review by Donald Morefield

In the wake of the revamped Ninja Turtles movies, Saban’s Power Rangers starts on a Cenozoic era Earth where conflict between injured hero Zordon (Bryan Cranston) versus evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), who chews up any scenery with gusto, is interrupted by a meteor strike that devastates the planet. This is a surprisingly dramatic prologue that’s intended to evoke a legendary tone for what follows, although much of it is quite broadly humorous.       

About 66 million years later, college prankster and aimless quarterback Jason (Dacre Montgomery), the survivor of a car crash, finds himself punished by detention along with other naughty kids, ex-cheerleader Kimberley (Naomi Scott), techie Billy (R.J. Cryler), who is “on the spectrum,” plus lonesome diver Trini (Becky G.), and crazy guy Zack (Ludi Lin). 


Together, they escape from The Breakfast Club (1985) conventions, to embark on a far grander adventure, unearthing power coins, and finding a long-buried alien spaceship crewed by a kind of Mr Explainer droid. Slowly but surely the gang develops, throughout a training schedule, from delinquent friends to a team of demi-gods.


Man Of Steel meets Green Lantern is a measure of this movie’s obvious genre influences, while its super-team origin story is an engagingly worthwhile mythology building exercise - not unlike Transformers and Pacific Rim. For the first 90 minutes, drama is limited to character set-ups, establishing rather than re-building cartoonish icons for a 21st century audience already familiar with Marvel and DC mainstays in live-action extravaganzas. 


Then we get just 20 minutes of visual effects and fighting against an army of zords that combine into a gigantic golden enemy, with young heroes in their colour-coded space rangers' armoured suits (red, pink, blue, black, and yellow), driving ‘dinosaur’ cars that contribute to, if they do not directly cause, massive small-town property damage.


Saturday, 22 July 2017

Elite Force: Operation Mekong

Cast: Joyce Wenjuan Feng, Baoguo Chen, Xudong Wu, Ganesh Acharya, and Carl Ng

Director: Dante Lam

124 minutes (15) 2016
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Cine Asia DVD Region 2

Rating: 8/10
Review by Rob Marshall

Based upon a true story about a massacre of Chinese fishermen by river pirates, action blockbuster adventure Elite Force: Operation Mekong (aka: Operation Mekong), from director Dante Lam, combines dizzyingly-fast chases, hectic bouts of martial arts, some mind-boggling stunts, and well orchestrated explosive shoot-outs galore. Focusing on the ‘Golden Triangle’ drug trade along the Mekong river, depicted here as a gateway from hell with the bitter irony that such beautifully verdant landscapes are a major source of global miseries, like addiction and violent crime, and Naw Khar is a kingpin who’s Tony Montana-style crazy enough to join in a gun-battle with his gold-plated Kalashnikov.


This is a slickly polished production with high shooting ratio and its brisk pacing, for an international and multi-lingual action thriller, that’s colourful and vivid with high impact visuals, compares favourably with Hollywood’s best. The movie’s police heroes include undercover agents who must appeal to gangsters’ vanity and glossy over-ambition to insinuate themselves and their spying efforts into an criminal world ruled by egotistical paranoia. The feature excels when it comes to a smooth integration of hi-tech gadgets into a traditional narrative of dogged cops and sinister crooks in the business-as-usual facade of creating and maintaining a monopoly.



Somewhat amusingly, even in the busiest moments of all this blistering mayhem, there's a directorial / auteurial concern expressed for the relative safety of babies (endangered in a shopping centre) and dogs (pathfinder across a minefield) put in jeopardy, but its characters are generally closer to eastern stoicism than the more familiar blubbering sentimentality that bedevils many Asian pictures. And yet, for every small victory over chaos and inhumanity, there’s a heavy price to be paid in blood, such as lethal terrorist bombings as reprisals for arrests. The final raid on a jungle camp delivers on a promise of fantastic action with selfless sacrifice and practical heroics in a high-stakes display of helicopters, pyrotechnics and gun-play.


Monday, 17 July 2017

Logan

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, and Richard E. Grant

Director: James Mangold

137 minutes (15) 2017
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
20th Century Fox DVD Region 2

Rating: 8/10
Review by J.C. Hartley

What we are told is to be Hugh Jackman’s final appearance as Wolverine is easily the best of the stand-alone films featuring the grizzled, conflicted, mutant, and one only wishes that the earlier outings had been stronger, in order to provide a more satisfying narrative arc to the trilogy. The desire to tinker with simple ideas, resulting in over-complication, bedevils every other superhero film you see, in the same way that it currently plagues the source material. Logan is a simple story, simply told, with strong central performances and that’s the difference.

I hail from a more innocent era where comic-book storylines evolved from who-will-save-the-girl/city/world/cosmos, and it was enough to establish the threat and then depict the hero coming back from an initial defeat to ultimately triumph. Those storylines passed muster for a few decades so it was inevitable that something had to be done to refresh the mix, but reading about parallel earths, life model decoys, Skrull impostors, death and resurrection, implanted false memories, and the remorseless juggernaut-like onslaught of retrofitting and rebooting that goes on in the Marvel Universe, hardly inspires one to pick up a new comic-book. There doesn’t appear to have been any need to infect the movie versions of comic-book superherodom with this rash of over-complication but it’s happened anyway.


It’s hard to say why some superhero films work and others don’t, and any assessment has to be purely subjective. The films produced under the auspices of the MCU have a coherent vision but that hasn’t meant they are an unqualified success, and the films produced by other studios are a bit of a mixed bag. The first two X-Men movies, and X-Men: First Class, the first Iron Man, Captain America, the original Spider-Man, and Thor all worked for me, sequels, and other entrants, less so. Simple stories and strong characters work, overlong battles with CGI villains don’t.

The first two Wolverine movies weren’t all bad but they seemed hampered by a desire to cram too much stuff in. The only bit I truly enjoyed in the first film was the final battle with Deadpool, perhaps because of its comic-book silliness, The Wolverine would have been better if it had adhered more closely to the simple outline of its source material.  The Old Man Logan comic is the inspiration for Logan but happily the film strips away the excessive trappings of that particular corner of the Marvel universe, and presents a simple road movie with a pursuing threat.

In a future where mutants have largely been eradicated and no more are being born, James ‘Logan’ Howlett (Hugh Jackman), tends an increasingly infirm Charles Xavier, Professor ‘X’ (Patrick Stewart), with the help of Caliban, the former mutant ‘Hound’ (Stephen Merchant). Xavier is prone to devastating psychic seizures, and there is a suggestion that just such a seizure has resulted in the deaths of mutants at the Professor’s former Westchester Academy. Logan’s health is failing too, his mutant healing factor no longer functions efficiently and the adamantium lacing his bones is poisoning him. Logan works as a limousine driver in El Paso to buy the drugs that control Xavier’s condition and to raise the money that will buy them a boat to get away from the mainland. In a nice touch, Xavier is housed in a downed water tower which, with its riddled interior letting in specks of light, resembles Cerebro, the Professor’s mutant-detecting machine. Xavier insists, against Logan’s arguments, that he can sense a new mutant presence.



Logan is approached by a former nurse Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) who recognises him as the Wolverine. She is prepared to pay him to transport her and a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) to a safe haven in North Dakota known as ‘Eden’. Despite initial misgivings, Logan agrees, but the nurse is murdered by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), a cybernetically enhanced employee of the Transigen biotech corporation who is tracking Laura aided by his private army of Reavers. Laura stows away with Logan and when Pierce and the Reavers come for her she is revealed to be a deadly mutant weapon with claws like Logan’s. Xavier claims that Laura is the mutant that he has detected. 

Gabriela’s cell-phone diary reveals that Laura is part of a programme run by Dr Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), to create mutant children from existing DNA samples, Laura has been bred from Logan’s DNA. Superseded by the creation of X-24, a violent adult mutant, the children were to be terminated, but Gabriela and other members of the nursing staff released as many as they could. Xavier insists that he and Logan take Laura to Eden, but Logan discovers that the notion of the safe haven is from an old X-Men comic-book and, as he says, only a third of the things in the comics ever happened and they didn’t happen like that. Pursued by the Reavers and the murderous X-24, Logan and Laura gradually bond on the road until the violent climax.

With a relatively small cast, and a simple story, Logan can concentrate on character and performances, Jackman and Stewart’s tetchy sparring and trading of f-bombs is a particular highlight, as is Stephen Merchant’s west-country Caliban. The film is very violent, perhaps unnecessarily so, one recalls a correspondent complaining to the X-Men comic’s letter page about the juvenile appeal of the Wolverine character, ‘he drinks, he smokes, he slices and dices’. There is some humour, Logan overseeing Xavier’s toilet visits, and later launching a Basil Fawlty style attack on his recalcitrant vehicle. Dafne Keen is impressive in a largely mute role, and just about makes you believe a genetically enhanced feral 11-year-old with claws could carve up burly thugs twice her size.



There are extras as usual, with a director’s commentary and deleted scenes.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Trespass Against Us

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson, Sean Harris, Lyndsey Marshal, and Rory Kinnear

Director: Adam Smith  

99 minutes (15) 2016
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Lions Gate blu-ray region B

Rating: 6/10
Review by J.C. Hartley

Referred to, in some parts of the quality press, as a new British gangster movie, Trespass Against Us is hardly that. Set in rural Gloucestershire with accents to match, and dealing with family conflict, it’s hardly a travellers (pejorative redacted by reviewer) Godfather. The Cutler family, with their wagons in a circle in an English meadow, go hare-coursing by estate car, and spend their evenings around big bonfires, when they are not out thieving. Dominated by the figure of Colby (Brendan Gleeson) a flat-earth creationist who justifies their itinerant existence by reference to Jesus’ instruction to his disciples, basically ‘jog-on’, they are not an attractive bunch, nor is any attempt made to present them as such. Colby’s illiterate son Chad (Michael Fassbender) yearns for a different life, where his kids can go to school, get the education he lacks, and exploit the interweb for everything it’s worth. 



Early in the film Colby organises a protest to draw attention to the imprisonment of Chad’s brother Brian. The protest does not take the form of a petition to be handed to a local MP, or a sit-in outside the town assizes, rather Chad is instructed to paint a stolen hatchback bright yellow, daub it with slogans such as ‘Free Brian’, and ‘Fuck You Gavvers’, and drive it at breakneck speed around local shopping-malls and housing-estates. Chad comes up against a local bobby, the quaintly-named PC Lovage, a cheery soul who vows to get him.



Things go badly wrong when Colby organises a literal smash-and-grab raid on a local stately home, which turns out to be the residence of the Lord Lieutenant. Quite why he does this is never clear because, as Lovage points out, the raid makes the national news, and mobilises the constabulary to come out in, well, force, with helicopters and armed units. Does Colby want to head off what he sees as Chad’s rebellion by initiating a spell inside? Nothing is ever clear.

Despite the extreme unattractiveness of the Cutler entourage to nice, sheltered, middle-class reviewers like me, the film is nicely-paced and the performances are excellent, as may be expected from such a top-notch cast. Fassbender is as mesmeric as always, Lyndsey Marshal is brilliant and believable as Chad’s wife Kelly, wanting a life away from her father-in-law’s pernicious hold on her husband and her grandson Tyson. Georgie Smith as Tyson, and Kacie Anderson as his sister Mini, are excellent as the youngest Cutlers. Brendan Gleeson is horribly convincing as the paterfamilias using the Bible, his old Dad’s ‘wisdom’, and a sense of injustice and persecution to justify a life outside of the law. 



Unfortunately, the film ultimately fails to deliver a coherent narrative. There is a growing atmosphere of unease around the likelihood of conflict, but that conflict never comes.  Colby scuppers Chad’s chances to move onto a decent estate, all chalets and static caravans, and the pair have a brief scuffle. Colby seems to be making veiled threats against Kelly. The ‘cracked’ Gordon Bennett (Sean Harris) seems to be a danger, hurling fire extinguishers onto bonfires and trying to attach himself to Chad’s family, but in a scene of unnecessary cruelty Chad takes out his frustration and anger at Colby by covering Gordon in bright blue paint. 

Then, suddenly, just as the film appears to be reaching an inevitable flashpoint, when Chad is rebuffed in his attempts to buy a pedigree puppy for Tyson’s birthday, he ‘steals’ the puppy (he actually leaves the money) and gets arrested. Climbing an oak tree, he is joined by his son, exchanges declarations of love with his family, and in a Butch and Sundance moment with Tyson, leaps down into a safety net and into police custody. To quote Leiber and Stoller, ‘Is That All There Is?’ 


There are the usual extras: a ‘making of’ made up of interviews with cast and production team, and a film about director Adam Smith’s relationship with The Chemical Brothers.  Smith has collaborated with the band for some 20 years, on videos and stage presentations, and the soundtrack for Trespass Against Us was provided by Tom Rowlands. 

Monday, 10 July 2017

Stormy Monday

Cast: Melanie Griffith, Tommy Lee Jones, Sting, Sean Bean, and James Cosmo

Writer and director: Mike Figgis

93 minutes (15) 1988
widescreen ratio 16:9
Arrow DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by J.C. Hartley
         
Most reviews of this feature praise the performances at the expense of the story and carp at the pace, the understatement and treat it as if it were a poor relation of Get Carter. Apart from the Newcastle setting, evocatively photographed by Roger Deakins (Jarhead, The Village), and the gangster elements of the plot, there is little in common with the earlier movie except that this is another impressive addition to the stable of British noir.

Brendan (Sean Bean, Silent Hill, Flightplan) takes a job as a cleaner at The Key Club, a Jazz venue on Newcastle’s quayside run by Finney (Sting, Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels), during that town’s American week, and overhears a plan to intimidate the club owner into signing over his property. An American businessman Cosmo (Tommy Lee Jones, The Missing, Men In Black) is in town buying up property with the tacit approval of the local council in order to foster urban regeneration; we later discover the plan is part of a money-laundering scheme while Cosmo faces a Senate inquiry back in New York. Finney, piqued by the original heavy-handed approach from Cosmo’s aides, is refusing to sell up and the stage seems set for violence, with Brendan, the quiet loner, somehow coming to the rescue.


Having set-up the scenario, Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas), who wrote the screenplay, as well as directing and composing the incidental music, thwarts expectations; Finney is no effete club owner but a tough operator with connections, Brendan is no tough guy just a sensitive artistic soul steeped in American culture. The film is not a condemnation of American cultural imperialism; the local council are out to milk the newcomers, local businesses are showing record profits during American week.

Brendan meets and falls for Kate (Melanie Griffith, Tempo), who works at a local restaurant but is involved with Cosmo as an escort/ honey-trap in his wooing of local council officials. Kate’s attempts to escape Cosmo’s patronage, and Brendan’s involvement with Finney’s equally dangerous game, set the scene for violence and tragedy.


Albert Finney apparently turned down the part of Finney (directorial joke?) as he felt the screenplay was ‘too cutty,’ but the montage effects, which almost languidly bombard the viewer with images from the very out-set, wholly compliment the atmosphere of rising tension; streetlights are reflected in the polished hood of a cruising Jaguar car, a square in the town contains a huge inflatable Coke bottle like something imagined by Claus Oldenburg, The Krakow Jazz Ensemble perform a Hendrix-esque rendition of The Stars And Stripes at a civic reception, violent photographic newsreel images by Weegie, decorate the restaurant of the same name where Kate works, Brendan’s room is filled with images of Gable and books by Hemingway, his wardrobe consists of white shorts, crisp white shirts, chinos and a leather jacket; everything creates a sense not of colonisation but cultural displacement.



This is a tremendous, overlooked, low-key, haunting genre movie by a real English auteur and deserves at the very least a place on the syllabus at film school. There is a fascinating director's commentary as part of the extras.