Every week I will bring you reviews of my home video picks of the week, as well as a round-up of pretty much everything else that is released at the same time. Dont be shy if you are from the U.S. as the column is still interesting for you as a quick snippets of what I think of these movies and hopefully they will help you decide whether to Netflix, or make a purchase on a movie you might have missed in the cinemas.
This week, we have James Purefoy in Solomon Kane, Mark Wahlberg and Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones and Robert De Niro in Everybody's Fine, as well as first time Blu-Ray releases for seemingly every Schwarzenegger film beginning with the letter R- Red Heat, Raw Deal and Red Sonja. Not much in terms of TV releases, but we have the treat of Steve Guttenberg'sCan't Stop The Music for the first time on DVD. Sorry, did I just say "treat"?!
Read on after the jump to find out what we thought...Solomon Kane new on DVD and Blu-Ray
Everybody's Fine new on DVD
Surely, this shouldnt have worked. On paper it's the cinematic realisation of Conan creator Robert E Howard's dark sword and sorcery original, starring James Purefoy and founded on a script which wouldnt usually be fit to wipe clean Arnie's boots after a hard day's Being Large and European in an Action Film. But there is definitly something in Solomon Kane that makes it an utterly guilty pleasure, but one that is actually pretty good at the same time. Purefoy's performance is sometimes stunted by the script, but when he is allowed free-reign to act he is a captivating sight, and framed by the beautiful, murky visuals, he casts an impressive figure on the perfectly rendered backdrops. Excellent bloody battles definitely prick the interest up further, as does a villainous turn by Jason Flemying.
The Lovely Bones new on DVD and Blu-Ray
Anyone remember when Robert De Niro made a serious attempt to continue offering us sterling acting performances? For me, it ended round about the time of 15 Minutes, almost ten harrowing years of "comedy" ago. Since then, only The Good Shepherd has been anywhere near his best work (and that's an almighty stretch), and almost everything else has looked like an atttempt by De Niro to reinvent himself- though there are some more promising things coming on the horizon. Everybody's Fine meanwhile, seems like a filmic hangover from De Niro's comic hiatus, as if he isn't yet quite able to discern a worthy project yet thanks to too much time spent with Ben Stiller. The film is so obviousness manipulative that every time there is an attempt to pull at the heart-strings it would be better met with a snear and a sigh than the required tears. It's all a bit afternoon TV movie, and without the star names, once again, you have to think that's where it would have ended. For all of its faults, De Niro isn't particularly bad, and he is able to draw the film's heart out for the audience, particularly towards the end, but it is a case of do we actually care enough that everyone is fine?
My Name Is Khan new on DVD
Peter Jackson's adaptation of Alice Sebold's best-selling novel is an unfortunate case of filmic split personality disorder. While the scenes featuring lead character Susie Salmon from The In-Between (basically a personal limbo) are visually beautiful, they are a little too alien to balance what is an excellent amateur detective story playing out in the land of the living. Mark Wahlberg is particularly impressive as the broken, grieving father of Susie, who sets out to expose her killer, played brilliantly and chillingly by the wonderful Stanely Tucci. Had the film just been that intriguing man-hunt, with the same sense of tension and atosphere, I would have lapped it up, but I just wasnt ready for the drastic changes of pace and tone (and even aesthetic) that came with the In-Between passages. The problem lies with the inability of the script to offer enough balance to the mix, and it feels just too segmented to come off perfectly. Great karmic come-uppance scene at the end though.
The Lovely Bones is one of the best Blu-Ray transfers I have seen since the dawn of the high-def revolution: it is about as flawless as is imaginably possible and the visual aesthetic is stunningly translated. It is perhaps down to the method of filming- the technique of using different cameras for Susie's In-Between and the living world- that the transfer is so noticably good, with both worlds offering a very different visual stamp and each painstakingly created, even to the detriment of the film's substance occasionally.
Lennon Naked new on DVD
The film billed- largely by distributors Fox admittedly- as the Bollywood epic with genuine cross-over appeal isn't exactly what the Western tag-lines offered. The appeal for Western audiences is perhaps hinged on the fact that the film' subject offers supposedly more appeal to the market's tastes- as if traditional Bollywood films don't deserve consideration automatically because they don't deal with important social messages. That sentiment is of course dirisible and outrageously narrow-minded (and the financial strength of the industry is evidence enough), and misses the point entirely that My Name Is Khan is an excellent example of what Bollywood has to offer. While the film does admittedly offer more in terms of motivated message than its Indian fellows, but at its heart it is a moving love story hinged on human issues like tolerance, compassion, endurance, hope, and honesty and an impressive performance by Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan. If it works as a door for Western viewers into Bollywood, then even better.
Bear new on DVD
Shown for a second time (following its earlier in the week slot) in a terrible graveyard slot on BBC Four at the same time as coverage of Stevie Wonder's final night set at this year's Glastonbury, as well as the usual Sunday night dross that the terrstrial channels offer, Lennon Naked can't have been watched by to many people outside of motivated audiences and fans. First time round cant have gathered many more either in all likelihood, thanks to the decision to screen it on the slightly pretentious, openly non-inclusive high-brow channel. Nonetheless, the Christopher Ecclestone lead biopic was great BBC fare, and is well worth evisiting on DVD.
Detailing Lennon's life from during the height of Beatlemania in 1964, through the split, to his solo career and immersion in a love affair with Yoko Ono, the film depends upon a jaw-dropping performance by Ecclestone (ignoring the age gap between actor and character and the occassionally wandering accent) and offers a more substantial look at Lennon than the usually sycophantic portraits offered by obvious fans. Crucially, the film also offers a stark, almost psychoanalytic look at how a traumatic event in which Lennon was seemingly abandoned by his parents as a young boy triggered events later in his life, including his own estranged relationship with son Julian. The constant retrospection, and intraspection centred on this moment makes Lennon Naked far more than just a biopic. It also goes a long way to explaining why the myth of Lennon lives on so strongly and why he remains such an important and beloved figure beyond his death.
Vengeance new on DVD and Blu-Ray
Sorry, I couldn't resist. I have a disgraceful attraction to B-Movie slop like this that have one word zoological titles (if they have an exclamation mark on the end even better!), thanks to my younger brother's obsession with films like Piranha, Anacondas, Crocodile and the like. While he grew out of that strange love affair years ago, I still find myself trawling the shelves or online stock of shops looking for new offerings in the crazy animal horror sub-genre (hence my unbridled excitement for Piranha 3D). It's not like I admire them technically, they are usually all despicably bad- and Bear is no different- it's just that I get so much joy out of seeing film-makers attempt to add a film to this genre that is entirely serious and then achieving beautiful unintentinal comedy. At least The Asylum don't take themselves seriously. Bear features some Z-List, first timers running around chased by a vengeful bear witha sore head, and the performances are so laughably bad you end up rooting for the bear to win. I'm not saying avoid it, but don't expect anything from it and you might just have a little fun.
Another of last year's Cannes highlights, Johnnie To's wonderfully brainless and ludicrous bullet ballet Vengeance takes the central idea of Memento and gives it its own irrational re-telling in the shape of French singer Johnny Hallyday's forgetful revenge-seeker. It may seem like a slightly contrived plot, but then this is Johnnie To we are dealing with, and fans will eat up his traditional sensual visual style. It isn't exactly To at his best, but there is enough of his sleek skill on show to entice even the most ardently traditionalist fans.
In every Hong Kong action movie (and a great deal of their French generic siblings like Leon), it is possible to see the same nucleus of influence that stems from Jean-Pierre Melville's legendary classic Le Samourai- To, however goes one step further, offering his own stylistic take on Melville's work in a direct homage to the classic. His reference is more blatant, with lead character Costello named after Jef Costello of Le Samourai and dressed in exactly the same style (though a different colour). So, if for no other reason it is interesting to see how To takes the genre full-circle.
Elsewhere, there are three Arnold Schwarzenegger films released to Blu-Ray, whose titles all coincidentally start with the letter R- that that fact was the first thing to come into my head when I heard the news didn't exactly bode well for the releases themselves. In truth none of Red Sonja, Raw Deal,Red Heat are particularly classic films- they are sort of middling efforts from Arnie's career, which wasn't exactly full of shining lights. Even despite Robert Rodriguez's decision to remake Red Sonja isnt indicative of that film's prowess (perhaps more indicative is the fact that it stars Brigitte Nielsen), and along with the other two, this high-definition release feels a lot like a necessity rather than an act of artistry. With the need to transfer all films across to Blu-Ray, there was always going to be a period where titles like this were released without much fuss- shelf-fillers for fans and collectors, without a huge amount to offer to anyone else.
Pick of the bunch is Red Heat (even despite the new Bargain Bucket style abysmal artwork), the 48 Hours-alike mismatched buddy-cop film which is as heavy on cliche as it is on predictability. The key to its relative success is that director Walter Hill attacks the cliches and the formulas with such gusto and a visible sense of self-awareness that its possible to enjoy it along with him. Arnie's bouffant is a wonder to behold- the perfect embodiment of his rigid straight-and-narrow approach to his job and life, and his chemistry with opposite number James Belushi (on atypically good form) is an often funny distraction when the film plods a little too slowly. This was also possibly the first time it became obvious that Arnie was capable of being funny, the success of his dead-pan, icey straight guy routine here proving to be the key to many a comic door in his later career. The transfer isnt the best in the world, though it does offer a finer image by far than the notoriously shoddy DVD- it unfortunately seems that in their quest to clean up the image, the transferers added gloss to the wrong places, robbing faces of texture (and rather ironically giving Arnie the botox glaze that he would later pay good money for) and forget simple staples like making sure the dark/light mix is spot-on throughout. All in all, it's not brilliant but it's definitely worth it for those who own the DVD (all of the oiginal extras remain intact incidentally, but there's still no commentary to speak of).Available for the First Time on DVDCan't Stop The Music (1980)
Sammy Going South (1963)
Can't Stop The Music is a curious creature- it is a comic disco musical featuring the acting talent of The Village People alongside 80s heavy-weight Steve Guttenberg, and yet it is actually entertaning, albeit for entirely the wrong reasons. This pseudo-autobiopic of the disco supergroup The Village People, Jack Morell (a thinly veiled characterisation of the group's founder Jacques Morali) is a struggling composer desperate for fame: he figures that all he needs for that success is a talented group of people to sing the songs he composes. Eventually, Jack forms a group of six "macho men" from his Greenwich Village neighborhood- a G.I, a construction worker, a biker/leatherman, a cowboy, an Indian and a police officer- and sets about moulding them into the famous disco group.
At the time of its original release, Can't Stop The Music found more ridicule than critical acclaim thanks to the 80s back-lash to disco that spelled the end of that musical revolution, and in no small part thanks to the fact that the film is utterly terrible. Despite the producer Alan Carr also being responsible for Grease and that projects slick look, Can't Stop The Music looks like it was filmed for a buck and half on someone's home video camera. It is also arguably the most high-camp creation to have ever graced cinema screens, but without the pleasure value of something like Hairspray or The Birdcage. The musical numbers, although entertaining in themself are shoe-horned into the film without any real set-up, but then there isn't really much of anything traditionally associated with successful cinema: what we have is just a vehicle for The Village People to show off their "acting" skills, which were probably left undiscovered if their mugging and general lack of finesse is anything to go by.
Released in the US in a mangled severely cut version as A Boy Ten Feet Tall two years after the original UK release, Sammy Going South deserves to be considered in the same breath as Oliver! as a disarmingly dark tale of innocence under threat on a quest to salvation. While it won't be remembered in America as fondly as it is in Britain, thanks to the ill-advised recut that horribly compromised the narrative and made it just about unrecognisable from the original, the film is definitely worth returning to. The plot centres around Sammy, an orphaned young boy who travels 5000 across Africa to find relatives after his parents are killed in North Africa, and is considerably darker material than director Sandy MacKendrick is famously remembered for thanks to Whiskey Galore! and The Ladykillers. Some of the themes are pretty difficult fare for a film that was given a U classification, including some infamously cut material that implied illicit desires towards the boys from another male adult character, of which there remain several troublesome references. What holds the film together brilliantly are the central performances of Fergus McLelland (as Sammy) and Edward G Robinson as the jewel thief he befriends on his journey, and the dynamic they create.
While the transfer isn't brilliant- only to be expected for a film this old hitting DVD for the first time now, the nostalgic experience of the film itself should make it appealing for Brits, and I'd urge Americans who saw it back in the sixties to give this better cut another look.
Elsewhere, the rest of the first time to DVD market is headed by a pair of incredibly titled films from the 70s. The first, A Town Called Hell (1971) starring world famous baldy Telly Savalas and Robert Shaw in a tale of malice set in small-town Mexico, in which a group of Mexican revolutionaries murder a town priest and a number of his parish. Ten years down the line a widow, played by Stella Stevens arrives in the town seeking vengeance for the death of her husband. It's just a shame the DVD makers didn't go with the film's alternative and frankly much better title A Town Called Bastard.
The second wonderfully named release is one of those fabulous exploitation films full of cheap gore and exposed breasts that I can't get enough of. The name? Love Goddess of the Cannibals (1978). How could you resist?! And when you hear the synopsis, the desire to watch it will surely be infinitely increased: a group of geologists attempt to remove a native cannibal population from an island to perform atomic research, but the cannibals' female leader disposes of them one by one by seduction. Okay, so it's pretty much just porn- it is from legendary sauce-pot director Joe D'Amato after all- but it's the kind of sexploitation flick that still has many a film afficonado frothing at the mouth in anticipation.TV Boxsets
Nothing really to report this week, aside from the The Addams Family Complete Season 1-3 and the first season of SyFy's slow-burner hit Warehouse 13, and neither of them really inspires me to write anything substantial in specific. With The Addams Family you already know what you're getting before you make the purchase. Warehouse 13, meanwhile is a sort of Men In Black/Fringe crossover, with as much zany sci-fi intrigue as you could possibly take without it becoming a little tiresome. It also features some pretty strong acting performances: it's just a shame it's hidden on the SyFy network in Britain, which will limit how many people see it.