Armadillo

Restrepo was the war documentary that everyone was buzzing about in 2010, but in the same year another film was released: Armadillo. Restrepo (read review here followed a group of American soldiers in the Korengal Valley (Afghanistan), the film also has a book counterpart by Director Sebastian Junger called War. Restrepo received a lot of attention and acclaim, it won Grand Jury Prize and best documentary at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Armadillo played at Cannes and won the The International Critics’ Week (La Semaine Internationale de la Critique) but is better known for a controversy the film generated.

Armadillo was initially meant to be a six part documentary series for Danish public television called “Our War”. The intent of the series was to “bring the war home” to the people of Denmark. The Danish public were largely unaware of the role their troops played in the war and I am sure this documentary more than achieved what it set out to do.

Armadillo follows 170 British and Danish International Security Assistance Force soldiers based at the Armadillo military base in Helmand province, Afghanistan over a six month period. In the first scenes of the film we see troops getting ready to leave and saying their goodbyes to their families before they have a blow out night of drinking and partying with strippers. Once in Afghanistan they go on patrols, encounter locals, engage the enemy and various other combat scenarios.

The aforementioned controversy occurred during a firefight when some soldiers pretty much liquidated three or four Taliban. The bodies were shredded to bits (shown graphically) and the soldiers boasted about their kill. A concerned soldier phoned home and told his mother what happened and this soldier (culprit is unknown) was later branded a snitch by command. It is not clear if they broke the rules of engagement and to this day I assume it is still unknown.

The majority of Danes in this film are not portrayed in a heroic or likeable light. They watch porn, play violent video games and are very macho. American’s have a reputation for being psycho/wacko/killing machines but Restrepo didn’t portray that stereotype whereas the soldiers in Armadillo are the stereotype we’ve all come to know of the “psycho American soldier”. Restrepo got into the souls of the soldiers and is a really visceral film, Armadillo didn’t quite have the same effect on me. Although It is unfair to compare them as they are two different films, compared to Restrepo, Armadillo is very polished and slick, almost clinical, it’s as if they are at war on a stage and it is rarely is gut-wrenching. There’s one scene where a soldier slays a bunch of Taliban and the Taliban are so close you can hear them scream Allah Akbhar. There’s some intriguing moments of the Danes dealing with the locals who want compensation for damage to crops and livestock, perhaps the funniest scene is when a Danish-Asian soldier is ridiculed by little boys for having “slant eyes”.

Still, Armadillo is well worth viewing. For me it seemed a bit too glossy and we rarely see the frustration, anguish and boredom that is prevalent during wartime. A must see for those who enjoy war documentaries. A great release from Madman that is packed with extras and well worth the purchase price.

Extras:

Prior to Departure: 13 minutes of interviews and training clips, First Days in Afghanistan: 5 minutes – clips of troops talking about mine threats and IEDS, Afghan National Army: 6 minutes – footage of Afghan National Army and a troop member who stood on a mine, Civilian Afghans: 7 minutes – footage of villagers receiving compensation and discussing damages and concerns about IEDS,The Death of a Little Girl: 7 minute clip – a fight results in a girl dying and one soldier can’t handle the threat of IEDS and goes home, At the End of the Road: 5 minute clip where some of the troops discuss going home and what they miss, Director Comments: a 6 minute clip with the director and finally a selection of Madman trailers.

Armadillo is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Madman Entertainment.

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey

I was obsessed with Sesame Street as a kid. Oscar and Grover were my favourites and I must have watched the film Sesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird after school everyday cos the VHS tape got munted really fast. I never gave much thought to the people who operated the Muppets as a child (in fact I probably thought that they were real) so when I discovered that Elmo’s Muppet-master was an African American man from Baltimore I was kinda stunned.

Kevin Clash grew up in an area outside of Baltimore referred to as “The Chocolate Factory” (a highly populated African American area). Addicted to TV as a kid, he developed an obsession with Muppets and knew that being a puppeteer was his raison d’etre. He made his first puppet out of the inner lining of his father’s trench-coat, thankfully his father didn’t mind. He started out doing puppet shows for his family, neighbourhood kids and sick children before he was spotted and ended up performing on the local TV station.

With his heart set on New York and working for Jim Henson Kevin managed to make that transition from small town kid (who was bullied for “playing with dolls”) to creating the most popular (and in my opinion, annoying) Muppet ever. His career sees him jetting around the world to visit sick children, hanging out with celebrities on TV shows and traveling to Paris to train the puppeteers who work on the French version of Sesame Street.

The film is not a depressing story of a child overcoming a difficult childhoor or even a story of from rags to riches. Clash came from a modest home and a well adjusted family so there’s not really any conflict in the documentary. The film is pretty wholesome and sweet the whole way through, taking a sombre tone only once during the subject of Henson’s death at the age of 52.

Being Elmo is a documentary that shows that with the love of a craft and a determination to succeed anything is possible. It’s also touching to see that an adult can still embrace the magic of childhood without being all Michael Jackson about it. The film is probably not going to be of any interest to young Elmo fans but for budding puppeteers and Sesame Street fanatics it’s worth checking out.

As for special features there’s: Selections From Q&A Following Sundance Film Festival Premierwhich runs for approx 9 mins and is a Q&A with Clash and the directors; John Tartaglia Tony Award Nominee “Avenue Q” a 6 minute interview; Some Thoughts From the Filmmakers (13 mins) mostly interviews although there’s some deleted scenes and extended interviews; Tau Bennett Performs in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (4 mins) a clip of Clash’s protégé performing; and finally a theatrical trailer to round out the set.

Extras:

  • Selections From Q&A Following Sundance Film Festival Premier
  • John Tartaglia Tony Award Nominee “Avenue Q”
  • Some Thoughts From the Filmmakers
  • Tau Bennett Performs in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
  • Theatrical Trailer

Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.

The Raid

The-Raid-DVD

Traditionally, a movie needs certain elements to be considered great. Terrific acting. Strong characters. Superb dialogue. Original plotting. The Raid has none of these. Yet, it is most definitely great. Absolutely great. This is an action film in its purest sense, where it delivers raw thrills and none of the frills.

The scenario is as lean and mean as it gets. A team of 20 heavily-armed police have been sent in to take out a crime lord who is operating from the top level of a dilapidated apartment building populated by criminals and thugs. They assault begins smoothly, with a professional entry and the first four floors are taken with ease. But then the team run into a small boy…

Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans made his feature film debut with 2009’s Merantau, a fairly traditional martial arts film with an Ong Bak-esque plot of a young martial arts expert from a village coming to the decadent big city. The Raid follows up in that it, too, is a showcase for the Indonesian martial art silat, but also in that it brings back the bulk of the cast and crew including leading man Iko Uwais.

The team as a whole has clearly progressed and learnt a lot and The Raid is an adrenaline charge that surges from one hectic fight sequence to the next. The fights are aggressive, brutal and rapid. Guns blaze, machetes swing and feet and fists pummel all and sundry. Bodies are hurled against walls, thrown out of windows and impaled on broken doors. All with dazzling speed and precision.

The Raid is shot hand-held in HD, but unlike so many Hollywood ‘shaky cam’ blockbusters, the geography of every fight remains clear and easy to follow. This is due to some excellent camera choices, such as shooting wide and with a liberal sprinkling of overhead shots to keep the placement of the various protagonists plain at all times. This is not to say the camerawork is boring – far from it. When an invading police officer jumps through a hole in the floor to a thug-infested flat below, the camera follows right along after him in a clever shot involving a harness and two camera operators.

It may happily invoke just about every action cliche there is in its story (even the pregnant girlfriend waiting at home gets a nod), but the fighting is fresh and fantastic. The odd battle may go on a bit long, but that is a miniscule criticism when leveled against the phenomenal excitement and athleticism packed into The Raid. Don’t miss it.

Extras

The main extra on board is a six-part behind-the-scenes doco that covers everything from the exhaustive planning and rehearsal process through production and post. It is rapid-fire, but covers a lot of bases. We see how the sets were built, how the actors were sent to boot camp, the extensive fight choreography and even how the production was unable to afford a real riot van, so they had to customise an old truck…which frequently had to be push started.

Also present is the Q&A session from the film’s premiere at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival and a variety of trailers, both for The Raid and other recent martial arts films.

The Raid is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Madman Entertainment.

Tyrannosaur

When I heard that Paddy Considine was working on his directorial debut, I immediately hoped it’d be in the tradition of those other fine British actor-turned-writer/directors, Gary Oldman and Tim Roth. Both took one brief spin in the director’s chair, with Nil by Mouth and The War Zone respectively, and managed to turn out two of the hardest hitting slices of kitchen sink realism I’ve had the (dis)pleasure to encounter. Needless to say my expectations were high going into this one.

Set on a rundown Northern council estate, Tyrannosaur tells the story of Joseph, an aging violence-prone alchoholic who is attempting to pull out of a lifelong downward spiral. In the midst of a final booze-fueled rampage he crosses paths with Hannah, a devout Christian woman who runs the local charity shop. They soon strike up an awkward sort of friendship and as Joseph finds himself pulled deeper into Hannah’s world, he discovers that the grass is not necessarily always greener on the other side.

First off, I’m glad to confirm that my high hopes were not in vain. Mr. Considine’s first feature easily earns its rank among the aforementioned actor/directors offerings. Tyrannosaur seethes with violence and human essence. The first ten minutes alone are so soaked with rage you almost need a breather. Considine executes an unflinching examination of the everyday often hidden realities of society: an existence plagued by poverty, spousal abuse, alcoholism and hopelessness.

The cast is made up of many familiar faces. The role of Joseph is played by another actor/director, Peter Mullan (Boy AThe Red Riding TrilogyMy Name Is Joe) and he is no less than stunning, bringing an air of authenticity to the part that could only have been matched by Ray Winstone himself. Olivia Colman (Green WingPeep Show) as Hannah is quite a surprise and far removed from her Britcom origins. Initially I was curious as to how she’d take on such a role but her transition from comedic actress to battered housewife / conflicted Christian is seamless. The other recognisable mug is Eddie Marsan (Happy-Go-LuckyVera Drake, Red Riding) who all too realistically portrays Hannah’s reprobate husband.

Perhaps one could say do we really need another depressing foray into the lives of the battered and broken? Isn’t there enough hardship in the world without wanting to make/watch films about it? But that’s precisely the point: holding up a mirror and showing the human animal as it truly is. Personally I find ten times more worth in films of this ilk than any such Hollywood fantasy and I hope Considine goes on to create many more bleak masterpieces.

EXTRAS:

Extras include commentary with Paddy and the producer, the short film (Dog Altogether) the feature evolved from and the theatrical trailer.

Tyrannosaur is available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment

Gantz: Perfect Answer

Gantz-Perfect-Answer

At the conclusion of Gantz (2010), college student Kei Kurono (Kazunari Ninomiya) found himself at a crossroads. After being swept up in some kind of strange contest with other people recruited apparently at the point of death, Kurono fought in the service of a large black ball called Gantz, battling aliens for ‘points’. But the battle proved costly, with his childhood friend Kato (Kenichi Matsuyama) being amongst the casualties.

But all is not lost. If Kurono can obtain 100 points, he has a choice of leaving the game…or resurrecting someone killed in action. He promptly takes over guardianship of Kato’s little brother and sets about going after bringing Kato back. Even as he focusses on his mission, other forces begin to move. A detective investigates the sightings of apparently missing people, a pop singer gains possession of a miniature version of the Gantz orb and a mysterious group of black-suited people begin their own hunt…

Gantz: Perfect Answer looks to up the ante on its predecessor. It takes the premise and expands it. The result is a sequel in the purest sense; you simply must have seen Gantz to make any sense of this. There is a token ‘previously’ intro, but a first-time viewer would surely be lost.

Dispensing with the backstory allows the story to immediately sweep in and introduce a wave of new characters and with them, a new set of rules. If the first movie was fairly faithful to the manga series that spawned it, the sequel sets about mining new ground from the outset. Among other things, we see the alien response from having all these black-clad humans hunting them.

Not only does the plot escalate, so does the action. It culminates in a terrific centrepiece mass battle through a subway train featuring martial arts, swords, guns and more. It is in this arena that Gantz: Perfect Answer finds its niche; as a glossy, sci-fi/superhero comic book movie as good as anything produced out of Hollywood.

Unfortunately, such highs are balanced with lows. Histrionic melodrama crops up repeatedly, as do some odd plot movements. For example, the hunt of Kurono’s girlfriend Tae Kojima from the manga is brought in, but not in a way that actually makes logical sense. It seems more like the filmmakers liked the opportunity for conflict within the Gantz team and did not care that it was a concept that did not fit the story.

The biggest sin, though, is sheer length. Almost every scene feels drawn out, every character moment and even fight extended until all enjoyment is almost wrung out of it. The story may come to a satisfactory end – no mean feat, given the source manga continues to wilder and wilder plotlines – but the telling of that story is undercut by its padding. One can only wonder how strong Gantz: Perfect Answer could have been with 45 minutes or more cut from it.

Overall, this is a stylish sequel that forms, with its predecessor, a unique tale. Visually expansive and wonderfully-shot, it is somewhat let down by its length and often illogical developments. If these can be forgiven, however, there is lots of enjoy here in a dazzling action/sci-fi adventure.

Extras:
  • Trailers
  • Making of Gantz: Perfect Answer
  • Fight Choreography

The main extra is a 32-minute ‘making of’ piece. This combines cast and crew interviews with behind-the-scenes footage of filming several key sequences such as the subway battle and the climactic face-off. It is more magazine-stye than informative, but it is still fun seeing moments like the wrap shots for each of the major cast members. They all seem genuinely touched by the production, which actually consisted of both Gantz and Gantz: Perfect Answer shot over several months and the outpouring of emotion each time shows what it meant to all involved.

Available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Madman.

Cinema Asia

Cine-AsiaCinema Asia is a five part documentary series about Asian film produced for the Discovery channel. Each episode looks into a movie industry of a different country discussing movies made and historical and cultural issues that affect their movie industries. Often a film professor or film critic is used to give their information or opinion.

In 1966 many Chinese movie theaters were shut down due to the Cultural Revolution and only a handful of films could be shown and they had to be revolutionary themed. Film-making didn’t begin again until 1973. Now China’s movie industry in making more movies than ever before and it is currently the third largest movie-making country in the world, however, the number of internationally successful movies is very slim. Most Chinese films never get to the cinema and are shown in movie cafes and this is often due to the Chinese government’s censorship restriction due to subjects like drug addiction and the plight of the working class. People largely stopped going to the cinema in 1993 due to the rise of new media. Piracy is a reason not many Chinese go to the movies these days, one director admits that he wouldn’t have seen half the films he has if there was no piracy. The censorship laws saw a movie called Beijing Bicycle banned because the government felt it portrayed Beijing in a bad light. The present Beijing Olympic generation of directors are now more able to pass the censors.

The best known Chinese director internationally is Zhang Yimou due to Hero and House of Flying Daggers. Earlier Zhang Yimou was experimental and invented cultural practices in his films that didn’t actually exist in China and one movie, The Road Home had the present in black and white and the past in colour. While Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was the first Chinese movie to become hugely successful outside of China; the director Ang Lee is Taiwanese so Zhang Yimou’s movie Hero is considered more of a Chinese film, although detractors criticize the liberties it takes with history. The movie caused a rush for Chinese action films to be made and Zhang Yimou brought in people from outside China for House of Flying Daggers. A new generation of Chinese filmmakers rose up after the Tienamen square incident and the filmmakers wanted to concentrate on present life within China. Feng Xiogeng’s A World Without Thieves outsold The Lord Of The Rings in China however it wasn’t successful at all outside of China.

Taiwan’s movie industry has been renowned international since the 1980s and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is the best known movie by a Taiwanese director. During the 1960s and 70s Taiwanese films were among the strongest in Asia, however competition from elsewhere in Asia and later Hollywoood, Taiwanese movies tended not to be popular in Taiwan and were better known overseas. Taiwanese cinema’s biggest competition now is Hollywood but earlier it was the Hong Kong martial arts films in the ’80s. Taiwan lost a lot of movie audience, as their movies were family melodramas that could be seen on TV. The first wave of Taiwan new wave cinema came in 1982 through director Edward Yang’s In Our Time which looked at modern lives in Taiwan which were realistic and sympathetic to social changes. The Taiwanese migrants struggle to survive was portrayed in a movie called The Sandwich Man which contrasted urban and rural values. The relaxation of martial law on Taiwan ended film censorship and subjects once taboo could be taken on and director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s A City Of Sadness covers the February 28 massacre. Hou-Hsiao–hsien moved away from history and explored a modern Taiwan unfamiliar to him in Goodbye South, Goodbye and Millennium Mambo. The director Edward Yang originally went to the United States to study science but eventually studied film and returned to Taiwan to make movies that were received well both locally and internationally.

Ang Lee led the next wave of Taiwanese filmmakers who were less concerned in history and concentrated on ordinary families in Taiwan and the changing values of Taiwanese society. Although Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had a Taiwanese director, it had very little influence on Taiwanese cinema. Tsai Ming-liang, one of the Taiwanese directors considered a contemporary of Ang Lee is Malaysian. The biggest challenge for Taiwanese movie-makers now is to find a cinema to show their movies in as Hollywood films have stitched up deals with most theaters. Ming-liang Tsai’s Goodbye, Dragon Inn depicts the decline of Taiwanese cinema. His most successful film, The Wayward Cloud, challenged conservative Taiwanese values of sexuality and confused audiences. Columbia Pictures backed the thriller movie Double Vision, which mirrors Hollywood productions although set in Taiwan. Chang Wen-Tang’sSomewhere in the Green Land shows the struggles of Taiwan’s aborigines. Young Taiwanese directors are hoping to make low budget commercial movies to woo local audiences back. The most surprising success was a gay romance called Formula 17 which was made by Three Dots Entertainment who concentrate on genre movies although the company were not able to make a financially successful follow-up. Three Dots Entertainment has co-produced movies with China in order to succeed outside of Taiwan.

India’s cinema is well known as they produce more movies than Hollywood. The Bollywood name and the dislike of the association with Hollywood by the mainstream Indian movie-makers are touched upon briefly. Though the industry is still referred to as Bollywood throughout the episode. Indian movie-makers are moving away from the stereotypical song and dance movies, Foreign (Non-Indian) films only scrape 5 percent of revenue in India. Famous superstars and romantic story-lines are the hallmark of Bollywood cinema. The actors often don’t sing their own songs and there is a separate industry called playback devoted to the soundtracks. There are movies that have song, dance, romance, fantasy and action which last three hours with intermission and the combination is known as masala. An Indian film critic suggests that nothing else matters in India other than cinema and cricket. The traditional women have undergone a makeover in the movies and the traditional wife with the bindi has disappeared with a much more independent minded women stepping forward. India’s film industry employs six million people but just like Hollywood there are still only a select few that make a successful road to stardom. Acting classes teach both dance and stunts are also taught as actors are expected to do their own stunts. Despite the strong presence of traditional Bollywood films there are modern Indian films that are making social comments.

South Korea’s cinema has beaten Hollywood within South Korea with the country producing up to 100 movies a year. The Olympics and the World Cup are considered reasons that South Koreans are now prouder of themselves. In the 1990s Korean cinema got 20 percent of all the local movie takings and a decade later it rose to 50 percent due to the Koreans making blockbuster style movies. Often the themes cover North Korea plotting against the South. The blockbuster Shiri was able to beat Titanic in box office sales. Many Korean movies cover events that could only happen within Korea and genre films are taken and given an Asian twist, which is the reason for the success of their movies locally and internationally. An action thriller, Silmido, was made due to despair of the lack of ideas in Hollywood movies and is based on real events in Korea’s political history. Up till the 1980s it was impossible for filmmakers to use themes questioning authority. Memories of Murder is a movie about a serial killer that focuses on the incompetence of the police rather than murderer. During the 1990s Korea introduced a cinema quota system and local movies had to be screened for at least 146 days a year. The roles of women in movies have started to change from those strictly behaving under the rules of a Confucian society to those with much more independence. Korea makes 50 to 100 films per year and the most successful internationally are violent action films Chan Woon-Pak’s movies put Korea’s film in the international film festival circuit but haven’t been so successful locally. The Pusan film festival went from being poorly attended due to lack of interest in local movies to being sold out due to interest in local movies in just a few years. Korean films now hold the spots that were once held elsewhere in Asia by Hong Kong films. The local quota system is caving due to pressure from America so it will be interesting to see what happens in the near future.

Iran’s movie industry has won the most awards internationally. Often ordinary members of the public win the awards as they often feature rather than professional industries. Due to the country’s prominent Islamic faith movies avoid sexuality and often feature on current issues that affect the country. Children are often the main actors in Iranian movies as the filmmakers are able to make contemporary social commentary that they wouldn’t be able to using adult actors because children can say things that adults cannot and presently fifty percent of the Iranian population are under twenty. Children Of Heaven uses Iran’s poverty as a theme and the main story is about a boy who wants to come third in a race because the prize is a pair of shoes. Kirastami’s movies are described by a film critic as non-genre films and similar to haiku’s because much is unsaid. His former assistant Jafar Panahi has become a director with a similar style with one movie, The Mirror, which has a surprising plot twist with the main young girl getting off a bus and refusing to be filmed anymore. Then the movie takes on the appearance of a documentary although the girl is no longer on the bus.

Iranian movies are compared to Persian carpets due to them being regarded as the highest form of art in Iran. Iran’s history of cinema is inter-weaved with Iran’s revolution with 180 cinemas being burned due to fear of westernization. Before the revolution up to 70 movies were made but after the revolution none were made. The industry was saved by a simple pre-revolution movie about a cow being aired on television. The Ayatollah saw the movie and decided that movies could still be made but they have to adhere to the Islamic code. The fundamentalism only allows women to be portrayed a certain way. Often it is a male actor under a chador and in scenes involving hand touching often two hands of the same sex are used. There is an actress/director who speaks out against the rules involving women in the movies always wearing a chador. Director, Tahmineh Malani took an outspoken feminist point of view in her movie and was arrested and sentenced to death but there were appeals for her release internationally and she still focuses on women’s rights. Also covering women’s issues is male documentary maker, Meldus Osguy who is making a documentary on the reasons Iranian women are having cosmetic surgery. A number of Iranian films are now looking at border issues and cover themes such as war that also involve Pakistan and Iraq. The Iranian film industry has not only survived since the revolution but now flourishes.

The documentaries are not only about the movie industry of each county but the inner workings of the industry and how the county’s history has affected it. Hopefully this fascinating series continues and more Asian countries receive coverage.

No extras.

Available on DVD from Madman Entertainment

Submarine [Blu-ray]

submarineRichard Ayoade is a British comic actor best known for his work in TV series such as Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and, most prominently, as supernerd “Moss” in The IT Crowd. However, he has also a strong sideline in directing music videos for the likes of Kasabian, Arctic Monkeys and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, a path that culminated in his directorial debut, Submarine.

The story of Submarine is that of narrator Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), a 15-year-old Welsh schoolboy with all the usual teenage problems. He does not have any close friends, has never had a girlfriend and to top it all off, his parents are having marital difficulties. His mother’s old flame, self-proclaimed New Age guru Graham T. Purvis (Paddy Considine, sporting a spectacular mullet) has moved in next door and sparks interest in his mother (Sally Hawkins) and little resistance from his passive father (a wonderfully laconic Noah Taylor).

Oliver’s world is thrown into chaos when he falls hard for the cynical Jordana (Yasmin Paige) and must deal with a combination of disbelief from his parents and pressure from his classmates. Not to mention trying to make sense of his own feelings and how to handle the complexities of relationships.

Plotwise, there is not much new here. This is a bog standard coming-of-age tale in many ways, but it is the details that elevate it. The performances are excellent across the board, with newcomers Roberts and Paige displaying terrifically measured choices, communicating more in the silences than they do with words. The adult characters are all quirky to the point of near-cartoonish and lend a sense of whimsy to a film that skirts some dark territory like infidelity and cancer.

But the real star of the piece is the surprisingly assured visual style of Ayoade. In the commentary track he name-drops references like Le Samourai and Taxi Driver which may not be the expected influences, but the measured compositions and occasional rapid-fire montages show an accomplished style in that tradition.

Submarine is a deft, clever and enoyable film. While it may be neither affecting nor laugh-out-loud funny enough to touch true greatness, it is a thoroughly entertaining movie and an extremely promising debut for Ayoade.

The Blu-Ray has plenty of extras on board, including the full video of Graham T. Purvis’ “Through The Prism” self-help video, but the most entertaining is a pair of film festival Q & A sessions. Richard Ayoade proves himself hilariously deadpan and these sessions are funnier than the movie itself.

EXTRAS:

  • Trailers
  • Cast and Crew Q & A
  • Test Shoot
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Extended Scenes
  • Music Video
  • “Through the Prism” with Graham T. Purvis
  • Interviews
  • Commentary with director Richard Ayoade, author Joe Dunthorne and Director of Photography Erik Wilson

Submarine is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Madman Entertainment.

Grace

Grace-DVD

Arguably the 1970s was the finest period of American horror cinema. An era where everything fell into place – production, performance and thematically. The films of this period really reflected society’s paranoia and ditched the campness of the 60s and took a darker more unnerving approach, pioneering classics in every sense of the word. The modern horror film would be a very different beast indeed without the influence of The Exorcist, HalloweenDawn of the Dead and The Shining.

Grace is a throwback to this golden era and despite its flaws is an effectively dark film that plays on the audience’s paranoia.

Being a male I can’t really begin to understand what it would be like to be pregnant and give birth but if I was a woman I’m pretty sure Grace would make me think twice about bearing children.

Grace plays on the paranoia of medical malpractice, misdiagnoses and whether alternative forms of treatment are effective and in the child’s best interests. Quite reminiscent of Regan’s misdiagnoses and her unnecessary treatment that was explored in the extended cut of The Exorcist. We live in a time where people pay a lot more attention to what they put into their body and the side effects. Along with the issues related to pregnancy Grace plays on this aspect and there’s an underlying theme of vegan diet vs non-vegan diet and it’s consequences. I’m sure these elements will hit home for many viewers and is an effective backdrop for the story.

Grace is the story of Madeline (Jordan Ladd), who while 8 months pregnant is involved in a car accident which takes the life of her husband (Stephen Park). Adding to the tragedy Madeline’s child is pronounced dead. Madeline goes against all advice and decides to carry the pregnancy to term and mysteriously her baby Grace is delivered alive. Madeline soon comes to realise Grace isn’t quite normal and has a craving for human blood. She begins feeding Grace her own blood and slowly becomes more and more unhinged while trying to keep it a secret. Her family and midwife soon work out everything’s not quite right and Madeline does everything in her power to prevent her child being taken from her with ultimately tragic consequences. This film has some really great dark, brooding stuff… well until we reach the final scene.

To say I was disappointed in the ending of this film is an understatement. I couldn’t get over how this film just throws away everything it effectively built up with its tacked on trashy “let’s set this fucker up for a sequel” conclusion. Those who know me or have read some of my previous reviews know that I’m a total trash fiend who loves countless sequels and totally over the top premises but what they laid on the audience just didn’t sit right with me. Totally out of place and context the climax does nothing but sabotage what could’ve been a real gem for modern era US horror which really has been dragging the chain compared to their foreign counterparts.

I’d recommend this as a rental rather than purchase. For those after a dose of old school aesthetic I’d recommend The House of the Devil over this one.

Madman’s offshoot Asylum maintain their usual high standard of release with Grace. Nice crisp transfer, 5.1 Dolby soundtrack and plenty of extras giving insight into how the film came together and its appearance at the Sundance film festival.

EXTRA FEATURES:

  • Grace: Conception
  • Grace: Family
  • Her Mother’s Eyes: The Look Of Grace
  • Grace: Delivered
  • Lullaby: Scoring Grace
  • Grace at Sundance
  • Trailer

Grace is available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.

Shadow Play: The Making of Anton Corbijn

Shadow-Play

Anton Corbijn is a Dutch photographer, music video director (Depeche Mode’s Enjoy the Silence, Nirvana’s Heart Shaped Box) and more recently film director. He took his first photo on 28th August 1972 of Dutch musician Herman Brood and from small-town boy in Holland who had his pictures published in a music magazine he then went on to be a photographer for UK music magazine NME.

He has photographed virtually any cool musician you can think of: Beefheart, Tom Waits, Ian Curtis, Kurt Cobain, Henry Rollins, Nick Cave, Johnny Cash etc and even other pop-culture figures such as William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Wim Wenders.

The documentary consists of interviews with people such as Bono, Bob Geldof, Michael Stipe, Samantha Morton etc and uses footage from Corbijn’s directorial debut Control. Whilst Shadow Play is a good documentary, it feels a bit piece-meal and never really penetrates Corbijn’s genius. This may due to the large portions of the film that film the behind-the-scenes goings on of Control. Personally, I felt the Control segments would have been better as a bonus feature.

The documentary focuses on music and fame more so than photography and due to this there’s some great interviews with musicians and actors. There’s a lot of time dedicated to Joy Division, U2 and Depeche Mode all of whom Corbjin photographed and directed video clips for. Corbijn had a huge impact on how these bands presented themselves and this does deserve its place but might be a downside for those wanting to know more about his style and techniques, for example they never focus on the fact (or even why) he doesn’t use lighting and his very naturalistic approach to photography. His photography speaks for itself but it would have been neat to get more insight into his amazing talent.

Worth renting for those into the musicians Corbijn photographed and for all you photography fans this would be a great addition to your collection alongside Arthouse Films’ excellent Annie Leibovitz: Life Through a Lens.

Extras:

The only extras are a theatrical trailer for the film and some Madman trailers.

Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.

Terri

Terri-DVD-2011The teen/high school/coming-of-age film has to be one of the most universal genres. It doesn’t matter if its Jim Stark (Rebel Without A Cause) or Napoleon Dynamite, films of this type elicit nostalgia, make you reminiscence and most people identify with the misfits, loners, the burgeoning sex drive or the eternal teenage struggle to be understood by the parental unit. Terri is a lot more Indie than most coming-of-age films but is refreshingly different in its approach and as quoted by the Arizona Republic on the back of the DVD cover “ is almost an anti teen-coming-of-age movie”.

Terri is an obese, sensitive high school outcast who lives with and cares for his decrepit pilled-out Uncle. He wears pajamas and never arrives at school on time. One day Terri is summoned to meet with the vice principal, Mr Fitzgerald (played the wonderfully funny John C. Reily), only instead of scalding him he takes Terri under his wing. Fitzgerald dedicates each morning to a particular outcast/troubled kid as it turns out he was somewhat of a monster himself in high-school and knows what they are going through. Through this arrangement Terri befriends some fellow members of Mr Fitzgerald’s “Good Hearts” club (a rebellious loner and a promiscuous blonde) and begins to come out of his shell.

I really have no criticisms of the film, I’m nit-picking here so I’m not biased but some might find that the relationship between Terri and Mr Fitzgerald is really fleshed out but the relationships with his new misfits friends is kind of abrupt… but then isn’t everything in high-school? One minute you’re friends with someone then your not, one minute you have a crush on Johnny then it’s Jimmy.

Terri has none of the normal trappings of an Indie film such as a low-budget; it also has a great script and is superbly acted and filmed. It really comes down to whether or not you like stories that don’t really go anywhere, are not fast paced and are in a sense existential. The humor is very subtle so if you’re looking for a comedy this won’t fulfill your needs. If you like films that take their time and are a reflection of real life then add this to the top of your to view list. You’ll find no fairytale endings, cartoon characters, cautionary tales or dramatic life-changes within the characters here but despite this the film is not bleak at all… it’s just realistic.

Sadly there’s no extras of any substance on this release. I would have enjoyed listening to a commentary with the director or writer and interviews with the cast. I’ve never seen Jacob Wysocki in anything before but he can really hold his own next to the brilliant comedy of John C. Reilly. He’s got a lot of upcoming films in 2012 so he seems like a person to keep an eye on.

Extras:
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Madman Trailers

Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.