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Latest Blu-ray Reviews

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Public Enemies

Price: £24.99 Sound: DTS-HD Director: Michael Mann Starring: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard

There are few directors better at robbing banks than Michael Mann. The high-octane heist in Heat remains one of the action high points of the Nineties, so it was with some relish that moviegoers welcomed the Miami Vice helmer’s latest film, Public Enemies. It tells the mostly true story of a newly formed FBI’s efforts to stop John Dillinger, the infamous American bank robber of the Great Depression. Sadly, though, unlike the whizz-bang robberies the film’s protagonist made his trademark, Mann’s return to crime is a slow, directionless affair that has neither the character nor panache to compete with the director’s previous films.

To some degree the disappointment has a lot to do with expectations. This was marketed as an action drama in the vein of the aforementioned Heat or Collateral but in reality it has an altogether different ambition. In a bold but ultimately failed move, Mann chooses instead to focus on the relationships between the story’s central players, that of Dillinger and lawman Purvis, Dillinger and his crew, and most prominently, Dillinger and his love interest, Billie Frechette, as well as the political and legal context surrounding the robberies, most specifically the formation of the FBI. The problem, and it’s one that’s apparent after the first half-hour has dawdled by, is that Mann is nowhere near as comfortable with his target subject matter as he is with the rat-a-tat-tat of Tommy guns. The majority of the screentime is consumed by anaemic relationships and tiresome, unnecessary setup, compounded by dreary dialogue and actors who seem as though they could doze off at any moment. Indeed, its characters, for all the pretension of being more complicated and believable, are little more than walking coat racks. Of course, this isn’t to say that a film about these particular events and their surroundings couldn’t be made, just that this dull, undernourished affair isn’t it.

There are elements of the film, most notably the handheld digital cinematography, that imply what Mann is trying to convey, that this is the world of classic gangsters as you’ve never seen them before (at one point crime flick Manhattan Melodrama appears prominently and it seems that Mann is trying to make the point that his movie is a dimension away from the gangster films of old) but the differences are merely superficial. Mann’s movie offers no real added depth or insight to its well-worn story, just some flashy camera work and one or two decent but not spectacular action scenes, and frankly that’s not enough for a 140-minute sojourn into the all-too-familiar.

Rating: 2/5

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American Werewolf in London

Price: £19.99 Sound: DTS-HD Director: John Landis Starring: David Naughton, Stevie Kaye, Jenny Agutter

Ask anyone why this John Landis comedy werewolf horror is rated so highly and you’ll be met with a flurry of reasons, and probably some scorn for daring to query the quality too. “The effects are amazing!” they’ll cry. “It’s so funny!” they’ll shout. “It’s the best werewolf movie of all time!” they’ll claim. “So what?” we whisper.

The special effects are, of course, extremely good. Given the limitations of both the movie’s budget and the year the film was made (1981), the transformation scene that sits so firmly in the hearts and minds of genre fans still impresses. But it doesn’t convince. It’s a stellar technical achievement but that’s a different from an effect that doesn’t impede on the suspension of disbelief. Of course, you can’t criticise the creators for such marvellous work, but you can certainly disagree with those who maintain that this is still the most convincing werewolf transformation ever.

The humour, too, hasn’t aged brilliantly, but unlike the effects this aspect was never state-of-the-art anyway. The parodic, B-movie tone the tale of the transforming tourist strikes was never particularly smart or new. Indeed, it genuinely doesn’t offer much more than an episode of The Simpsons’ Treehouse Of Horror, and this isn’t helped by some rather stupid skits and limited performances.

As for it being the best werewolf movie of all time? Well, yes, it probably is. It’s certainly entertaining and commendably lean, but you don’t have to be great to be the best werewolf movie ever made.

Rating: 3/5

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Drag Me To Hell

Price: £24.99 Sound: DTS-HD Director: Sam Raimi Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Lorna Raver

Commercially it’s hard to make a case for Hollywood horror being in bad shape. The J-horror remakes and gornography that have dominated box office screams for the past decade still do the sort of numbers that the suited execs want them to, meaning there will most likely be another ten Saw movies (“Of course, we always envisaged it as a decaheptalogy”) before mainstream audiences begin to get bored. Creatively, however, it’s a different matter entirely. The horror industry has rarely been less inspired, with studios resorting to increasingly horrific images to fill seats, and the dead end this exploitative avenue has taken audiences is fast approaching. Thankfully, though, with the very enjoyable Drag Me To Hell, Sam Raimi has returned to the genre with which he made his name, wrestling the steering wheel away from the blinkered fat cats and performing the cinematic equivalent of a U-turn.

An unashamed throwback to the tongue-in-cheek scarefests of the Seventies and Eighties, Drag Me To Hell is very much a deliberate antidote to the grim, straight-faced muck of recent years. It has jumps, it has twists, it has shocks and, most importantly, it has real personality. The story of a young loan officer (played well by an energetic Alison Lohman) who is cursed by a rejected customer shifts along at a wicked pace and although there isn’t an ounce of it that isn’t in some way derivative, due to the current day state of horror it feels entirely refreshing.

At the forefront of the excitement is a very welcome knowing humour. Blood doesn’t trickle realistically down anyone’s chest or even spurt – it ejaculates into the air like ten manga nose bleeds, taking on a life of its own and hurling itself across the set. Raimi, too, mixes the terrifying and the downright funny splendidly – the scene where the old witch is gumming our heroine’s chin will live long in the memory as will the sight of someone throwing up a whole cat. To say that this is Raimi letting himself go after the creative minefield of the third Spider-Man movie is an understatement; this is a director having fun with a mainstream horror flick in a way audiences haven’t seen for far too long. Indeed, comparisons could be more easily drawn with Soderbergh and Clooney’s tap dance through the Ocean’s films than they could with the machinations of the Saw series.

There are, however, niggles. Justin Long’s character, for instance, is fairly pointless and the performance fruitless. The final twist, too, is one that can be seen from the inside of a buried coffin. And let’s not forget that horror grew out of the Eighties through necessity. Fun though it may be, there are inherent limitations to the template, and more often than not it feels like little more than a particularly good episode of Twilight Zone. The third act is also more formulaic than it could have been, with big showy special effects squashing the film’s earlier ingenuity with its big arse of a budget.

That said, you won’t find a more enjoyable horror this year. It might be flawed but it’s a riot nonetheless, and, hopefully, a sign of things to come.

Rating: 3/5

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Smallville: Season 8

Price: £59.99 Sound: Dolby 5.1 Director: Various Starring: Tom Welling, Erica Durance, Allison Mack

It’s not available on Blu-ray, or indeed any audio-visual format, but if you find the time we recommend you read Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s Superman: For All Seasons. There are better graphic novels out there but perhaps none that present the fictional hometown of Clark Kent, Smallville, in such a warm and inviting light. Striking a fine balance between nostalgia and drama, For All Seasons is everything Smallville the TV show isn’t, which is to say it’s not ridiculous, it’s not disrespectful and it’s not hopelessly directionless.

Smallville Season 8 sees the young Clark Kent now working at the Daily Planet with Lois Lane (it would seem that now the only difference between this show and other continuity is a red cape), thereby removing all the innocence and curiosity that made the series bearable to begin with. There is no longer a purpose to the narrative – Clark has all but grown up – and the show now seems hellbent on relying exclusively on presenting Smallville versions of characters from main continuity for its thrills (even Doomsday shows up). Not an ounce of effort is made in terms of character development or dramatic invention, while the action is as predictable as it is flat. Couple this with the fact that you have some of the worst actors in the business pouting through the motions episode after episode and you have a show that should surely be avoided by everyone, casual fans and Superman loyalists alike.

Rating: 1/5

From Clipboard

Hot Fuzz

Price: £24.99 Sound: DTS-HD Director: Edgar Wright Starring: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine

Shaun Of The Dead was always going to be a hard act to follow, but surely no one expected its successor to be quite so weak. A confused riff on buddy-cop action flicks and slasher horrors, Hot Fuzz is in reality little more than a French & Saunders Christmas Special about a small town under threat from a mysterious serial killer. Pegg is woefully miscast as the hard man hero while the explosive ending is the only point the film comes anywhere close to achieving its ambitions.

Rating: 2/5

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Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Price: £49.99 Sound: DTS-HD Director: Various Starring: Matt Lanter, Greg Ellis, Matthew Wood

The animated movie that effectively served as the pilot for this TV series was the worst Star Wars film ever made (and, yes, we’re including Caravan Of Courage), so the show didn’t have to try too hard to improve the franchise’s CG fortunes. That said, this is still lacklustre from Lucas and co. There are good set pieces and the galaxy is explored well, but mostly this is just a toy advertisement wrapped up in fan service. There’s no story to tell, so there isn’t one to see.

Rating: 2/5

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The Dirty Harry Boxset

Price: £44.99 Sound: TrueHD Director: Various Starring: Clint Eastwood, Harry Guardino, John Vernon

Few cops have left quite so big an impression on Hollywood as Harry Callahan, his chunky sidearm, sharp tongue and fast fists helping set a template for many characters to follow (a lot of them, it must be said, played by Clint). But the films the foul-mouthed antihero stems from are by no means classics. Bar the odd funny line and iconic moment, the Dirty Harry films have little going for them and when there are far superior police dramas out there you have to ask: why bother?

Rating: 2/5

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Gavin & Stacey: Season 1

Price: £24.99 Sound: DTS-HD Director: Various Starring: Ruth Jones, James Corden, Matthew Horne

The acclaim this series has received is as much down to the near total dearth of quality comedy from the Beeb than anything else, but that’s not to say it isn’t any good. It follows two families that are brought together by a young couple’s romance, and a few chuckles, as opposed to hilarity, ensues. The quality comes from the talented supporting cast, but their effectiveness is dulled by what are quite probably the two most boring characters ever to have a show based around them. Make no mistake, the show’s success is in spite of them.

Rating: 3/5

Reviews by Aaron Asadi




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  • wayne kirkham

    I feel compelled to comment on ridiculous the reviewers review of the Dirty Harry Boxset. He is clearly not a fan of film if he does not like or at least respect a true classic like Dirty Harry which was daring and controversial at the time of its release and and has stood the test of time with regular screenings on all forms of television. Still popular today the film produced strong performances from Eastwood and the underated Andy Robinson who was superb as the lunatic scorpio. The next three sequals Magnum Force, The Enforcer and Sudden Impact were also extremelly watchable and all four look fantastic cleaned up and restored for Blu ray. The fifth Dirty Harry The dead Pool was a poor effort and not worthy of the Dirty Harry name but for a film critic to give this box set such a low score is a joke and I for one shall not be treating his reviews seriously anymore.

  • Sean

    Whys hasn’t the blu-ray reviews been updated for months?

  • The Deleted

    Because, judging by the scores, they clearly don’t enjoy films.