Blu-Ray

The latest winner in the format wars, we look at both television and movies that are hitting the shelves in this pristine new technology.

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Sunday, 22 April 2012

Shot and set during World War II, Hitchcock’s “Lifeboat” follows the fortunes of ten or so survivors of a Nazi U-boat attack on an ocean liner. As the film opens, the still-smoking funnel of the doomed vessel sinks beneath the waves. One by one, bedraggled survivors clamber onboard the lifeboat, happy to still be alive but slowly coming to terms with their predicament. The boat is damaged and emergency supplies are low. No-one knows how long it will be until help arrives or which side of the conflict it will come from.

Matters are complicated by the arrival of a sailor from the German craft. Do they toss him straight back into the water, condemning him to almost certain death, or do they allow him to stay onboard, using up precious rations and risking sabotage? This and many other moral, psychological and physical challenges await the stricken survivors. They strike out for nearby Bermuda, but the chances of capture by a German ship are high.

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Monday, 16 April 2012

Ryan Kwanten (True Blood) is Griff, a cripplingly-shy, socially inept office worker by day, and a fearless, PVC-wearing street avenger by night. His house is tooled-up with banks of computer monitors scanning Sydney’s streets for thugs and street gangs. When the alarm signal sounds, Griff leaps into action to take the offending scum down. You might think it sounds a bit like “Kick-Ass”, but there is more to “Griff” than initially meets the eye.

Griff’s brother Tim (Patrick Brammall – Home and Away) keeps an eye on his younger sibling; 28-year-old Griff has a history of being bullied ever since his school days, and Tim is concerned that he might be having fresh trouble at work. This in turn encourages his extra-curricular activities at night, as donning his superhero outfit helps Griff take on a completely new persona and leave his workplace troubles far behind. Then Tim’s new girlfriend Melody (Maeve Dermody – “Beautiful Kate”) enters the picture, and both of their lives get turned upside down.

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Tuesday, 03 April 2012

As one of the crew mentions in this disc’s extras, “Life is Beautiful” is a bit of an oxymoron, not least the juxtaposition of the title’s sentiment with the Nazi concentration camp setting of the second half of the movie. Despite this it is in many ways a joyful film to behold, due in no small part to the hugely energetic and lively contribution of Roberto Benigni who directed, co-wrote and stars in it. Massive critical acclaim including three Oscars in 1999 is richly deserved.

In 1939, Guido Orefice (Benigni) travels to Rome with a friend to wait in his uncle’s glamourous restaurant. On the way there he miraculously saves a beautiful woman called Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), and immediately falls in love with her. Over the course of several daring and slapstick encounters he wins her heart. They marry and have a son, Giosué (Giorgio Cantarini – “Gladiator”), but Fascism and prejudice are on the rise, and like many Jews across the world they ultimately find themselves incarcerated and separated in a terrible prison where the threat of death is ever-present.

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Saturday, 25 February 2012

“Repo Man” is a whacky B-movie about the workers at a car repossession company who get mixed up in a shady government cover-up of alien visitors from outer space. The film’s MacGuffin is a Chevy Malibu with deadly stolen evidence from a top secret air force base. UFO believers are trying to expose the existence of aliens before the authorities can reclaim their property and silence the rebellious elements permanently.

Otto (Emilio Estevez – “Young Guns”, “The Breakfast Club”) is a young white punk who jacks in his dead-end job at a supermarket and unwittingly takes on the role of a repo man when Bud (Harry Dean Stanton – “Alien”, Big Love) dupes him into repossessing a car. Although he initially resists taking on the job permanently, Otto realises he has no other choice and so he joins the firm and embarks on a series of increasingly dangerous escapades with Bud and his offbeat colleagues. The more valuable the vehicle they are assigned to collect, the larger the commission but also the greater the risk.

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Saturday, 18 February 2012

“Mad Detective” is a decidedly unconventional thriller about a ‘mad’ cop, a dead cop, a bent cop and a regular cop. Lau Ching Wan stars as Bun, an ex-detective who was expelled from the force five years ago after slicing off one of his ears during his boss’s leaving party. Known for his strange but eerily successful crime-fighting methods, Bun is tracked down by Inspector Ho (Andy On) as a last resort when all else has failed in a case of a missing colleague, feared dead.

With Bun on board, it quickly becomes apparent to Ho that the disgraced officer has a bizarre gift: he can see and hear people’s inner personalities as distinct characters living around the central person, but invisible to everyone else. For example, when interviewing a witness or interrogating a suspect, Bun might see both a dominant female character giving the nervous person calming and confident responses they have to relay to the police, and an aggressive alter-ego that wants to take the law on by letting his fists do the talking. In one case seven personalities all vie for a piece of the action!

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Saturday, 11 February 2012

On his commute home after a session with his band, drummer Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon (Dempsey and Makepeace, “Captain America”) spots a stalker lurking in the shadows. He gives chase and winds up accidentally killing the man in a deserted opera house. To add further mystery to the catastrophe, he spies another figure wearing a chilling cartoon mask taking photos of him from the upper wings, suggesting he has been set up. Confused and riddled with guilt he returns home to his wife Nina (Mimsy Farmer – “The Black Cat”), torn between confession and suppression.

Soon afterwards he starts finding blackmail notes and photographic evidence around his house, leading him to believe that the photographer is someone he knows. Friends and acquaintances start getting murdered and so, on the advice of a close mate (Bud Spencer – “They Call Me Trinity”) he hires a private investigator (Jean-Pierre Marielle - “The Da Vinci Code”) to help him solve the mystery. The killer, however, has other ideas.

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Saturday, 11 February 2012

Dolph Lundgren might be seen as a B-rank action star of the 80s, 90s and beyond, often delivered straight to DVD and following in the shadow of Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis. Whilst he made a name for himself in the likes of “Rocky IV” as the super-fit, super-clichéd Russian boxer Ivan Drago, “Red Scorpion” proves that there is more to this ripped Swede than meets the eye. The movie delivers plenty of guns and explosions but also an intelligent core that helps it stand out from the crowd.

Lieutenant Nikolai Rachenko (Lundgren – “Universal Soldier”) is a towering Spetsnaz killing machine, sent on an undercover mission to infiltrate a rebel army in the heart of Africa and take out its leader. The Communist Russians and Cubans enjoy massive military superiority in the region but the rebels are a persistent guerrilla thorn in their side. Nikolai is imprisoned for sham insubordination and then escapes with a rebel soldier called Kallunda (Al White) and a suspicious reporter called Dewey (M Emmet Walsh). Can he stick with them long enough to get close to the rebel leader before his cover is blown?

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Monday, 30 January 2012

“Rolling Thunder” follows the story of Major Charles Rane (William Devane). On his return to his home town of San Antonio, Texas, he is given a true hero’s welcome. He and his friend, John Vohden (Tommy Lee Jones) have endured eight years of physical and mental torture in a Vietnamese Prisoner Of War camp, and the mental scars run deep. The world around him is just a blur, and he has had all his social skills tortured out of him.

The adjustment to life in ‘Civvy Street’ is not going to be easy. Rane’s wife has been unfaithful with one of his friends. His son, just a year and a half old when Rane was shipped off, doesn’t recall him at all. Rane sees his son as his only bridge back to normality. The world has moved on, but Rane’s imprisonment stopped the clock on his own existence. The gift of a box of silver dollars from an appreciative local community is the spark that leads to tragedy.

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Saturday, 07 January 2012

Trolls are real. That is the premise of this ‘found footage’ monster movie, and after watching it you might just believe it is true. Following the tradition of “The Blair Witch Project” and “Cloverfield”, this movie posits that discovered home video has been discovered. It depicts an expedition into the beautiful Norwegian landscape by three research students who have heard about an enigmatic hunter called Hans (Otto Jespersen).

They eventually track Hans down and despite his best efforts to lose them, they follow his strangely battered Land Rover into a wood where they witness something terrifying. This is their first encounter with one of several species of troll, and once they have lived to tell the tale the students insist on joining Hans wherever he goes in search of these mythical creatures. During the course of their various expeditions they will encounter many more bizarre monsters and unearth a government conspiracy of literally gigantic proportions.

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Saturday, 07 January 2012

“Frankenhooker” is a very much a movie in the Ronseal tradition. A daft blend of Frankenstein and a very soft-core porn flick, it is like a more risqué version of “Weird Science”. Jeffrey Franken (James Lorinz) is a kooky and rather obsessive genius who loses his beloved girlfriend Elizabeth in a silly lawnmower accident, and then brings her back to life using body parts selected from carefully vetted prostitutes.

Although Jeffrey is determined resurrect Elizabeth (a role charmingly and sexily brought to life by Patty Mullen), he is tormented by the guilt associated with having to kill the hookers. Consequently he resorts to drilling his own brain to impede his sense of morality, and formulates some deadly ‘super crack’ which he knows the call girls will not be able to resist and will therefore trigger their own demise. As a bonus, the crack causes addicts to violently (and very comically) explode into helpful limb-size chunks.

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Sunday, 27 November 2011

24 days before Christmas in the icy Lapland mountains, some archeological miners believe they have discovered something truly remarkable: the tomb of Santa Claus. Shortly afterwards the dig site is found abandoned and dozens of reindeer are slaughtered. Inquisitive children Pietari (Onni Tommila) and Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää) sense something is up but the adults will have none of it…Until they unwittingly catch a bizarre, wiry old man in a trap meant for wolves.

Unlike your typical Hollywood, saccharin-sweet Christmas fare, “Rare Exports” is prickly, unpredictable and more than a little quirky. Pietari suspects that – assuming he exists - the real Santa Claus is not a chubby, jolly old man but rather is a mean-spirited, demonic being whose physical abilities belie his apparent age, and whose sole mission is to punish naughty children in unspeakable ways. Having secretly broken into the dig site with Juuso, and possibly been indirectly responsible for the reindeer deaths, the frightened boy fears the worst.

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Monday, 21 November 2011

Management candidate Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman) has been logging 12-hour days and eating everything his twisted supervisor Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey) dishes out, toward the promise of a well-earned promotion. But now he knows that's never going to happen.  Meanwhile, dental assistant Dale Arbus (Charlie Day) has been struggling to maintain his self-respect against the relentless X-rated advances of Dr Julia Harris, D.D.S. (Jennifer Aniston), when she suddenly turns up the heat.

Accountant Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis) has just learned that his company's corrupt new owner, Bobby Pellit (Colin Farrell), is not only bent on ruining his career but plans to funnel toxic waste into an unsuspecting population. What can you do when your boss is a psycho, a man-eater or a total idiot?  With quitting not an option, this is the basis for a dark comedy that for many will have a description to steer clear of.  However, it’s much better than it sounds. 

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Tuesday, 15 November 2011

“Touch of Evil” is a dark and brooding film noire starring and directed by Orson Welles in 1958. Welles plays Hank Quinlan, an obese, scowling steamroller of a police captain stationed in a town on the Mexican border with Texas. Quinlan has a huge string of successful cases under his belt, but despite his instincts generally being on the nose, it turns out that he sometimes bends the law to ensure the right result.

Enter Mike Vargas and his new bride, Susie (Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh). Vargas is a Mexican narcotics agent who does things by the book, and finds that he and his bride are the target of a drug lord whose brother Vargas is taking to court. When a car bomb kills a wealthy American businessman, Quinlan and Vargas both get drawn into the case; Quinlan takes exception to the Mexican’s involvement, making things increasingly difficult for him until events take a truly sinister and deadly turn for the worse.

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Monday, 07 November 2011

Embattled Vietnam Vet John Eastland (Robert Ginty – “Coming Home”) returns to New York to find an urban environment swamped in crime and corruption. His best friend and colleague Mike (Steve James – “American Ninja”) is crippled in a violent encounter with the local ‘Ghetto Ghouls’ gang, sending John on a vengeful rampage that starts with the rank and file mob elements and works up to major power brokers in the metropolis. No-one is safe.

Meanwhile, Detective James Dalton (Christopher George – “City of the Living Dead”, Fantasy Island) quickly works out that a single, highly skilled and well-equipped vigilante is taking out the city’s scum. The means do not justify the ends, so he must bring the killer to justice. As resourceful as Eastland is, sooner or later he will have to face the full force of the Law, the mob, or both.

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Monday, 31 October 2011

In “Panic Button”, four regular users of the fictitious social networking site All2Gethr.Com are surprised to learn they have been awarded a dream holiday to New York, with spectacular extra prizes on offer during the flight. The contestants board a richly-furnished private jet and, champagne freely flowing, unthinkingly agree to the terms and conditions of the competition, little realising that the stakes for failure could be stratospheric.

The players are young mum Jo (Scarlett Alice Johnson – “Adulthood”, EastEnders), Internet moral guardian Gwen (Elen Rhys – “Season of the Witch”, Holby City), computer wiz-kid Max (Jack Gordon - Primeval) and mouthy and lewd Dave (Michael Jibson – “The Bank Job”). Their joyful mentality quickly transforms into shame, sorrow and then anger and terror as the mysterious Alligator avatar in control of the game pries deeper and deeper into their private lives, and reveals some truly dubious online activity.

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Monday, 31 October 2011

Francis Ford Coppola’s directing career has veered between thunderous epics such as “Apocalypse Now”, “Dracula” and “The Godfather” Trilogy to subtle and moving character pieces including “Peggy Sue Got Married”. “The Outsiders” falls in the latter category but deserves plenty of attention, not least because it features an excellent cast and a devastating message about wayward youths and the repercussions of gang warfare between the haves and have-nots. It is set in the 1960s but the issues are truly timeless.

C Thomas Howell (“The Hitcher”, “Red Dawn”) leads up the ensemble “Brat Pack” cast as Ponyboy Curtis, the youngest of three brothers left to fend for themselves after their parents died in a tragic car accident. Ponyboy is a member of The Greasers, a gang from the poorer North side of town. Other gang members include Johnny (Ralph Macchio – “The Karate Kid Trilogy”), bad boy Dallas (Matt Dillon – “Crash”), Ponyboy’s eldest and middle brothers Darrel (Patrick Swayze) and Sodapop (Rob Lowe), Two-Bit (Emilio Estevez) and Steve (Tom Cruise).

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Monday, 31 October 2011

A menacing killer is on the loose in New York, and the twist this time is that the perpetrator appears to be a cop. A dead cop! After a string of brutal murders, people are running scared in the city and every cop is distrusted. Police Captain Ripley (William Smith) suspects Officer Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell), and although the evidence is building to corroborate his theory, Jack is doing everything in his power to prove his innocence.

Meanwhile, Detective Frank McCrae (Tom Atkins – “The Fog”, “Escape from New York”, “Halloween 3”) is not so sure. He comes up with a bizarre theory that a long-deceased cop called Cordell is involved, though convincing his superiors of that might prove to be a little tricky. As the death toll rockets, can McCrae and Jack’s colleague Mallory (Lauren Landon – “Hundra”) solve the case before the killer sets his sights on the Commissioner (Richard Roundtree – “Shaft”)?

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Monday, 24 October 2011

In a valley overshadowed by the imposing, snow-capped Narayama mountain, folk in a 19th Century Japanese village struggle for survival. They lead a simple existence albeit one bound by strict laws. Shôhei Imamura’s “The Ballad of Narayama” dwells on a ruling dictating that on their 70th birthday, the elderly inhabitants must ascend the mountain to meet a god, thereby helping to keep the population under control and reducing the burden on resources, primarily food.

Grandmother and widow Orin Neko (Sumiko Sakamoto) is one year away from turning 70, and despite being able-bodied, caring, resourceful and still a hard worker, she is preparing to embark on her final journey. We join her and the Neko family in the cold heart of winter. Several feet of snow covers everything outside their wooden home, and they make do with dwindling food stocks until spring arrives. As the seasons tick by, the village must replenish its supplies and ensure the next generation is born.

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Monday, 24 October 2011

1971 was a big year for controversial, censor-baiting movie releases in that both “A Clockwork Orange” and “Straw Dogs” were unleashed on an unsuspecting public. Now, 40 years after its release, Sam Peckinpah’s shocking fable about the thin line between civilisation and bloody chaos returns to our screens courtesy of this anniversary edition. The re-release coincides with a star-studded remake that will be hitting our cinema screens in a fortnight.

Set in beautiful, rural Cornwall, the original stars Dustin Hoffman and Susan George as passionately married couple David and Amy Sumner. David is a bookish scientific author who has abandoned his violent homeland to concentrate on a new book. Amy is an attention-seeking free spirit who is returning to her roots, a sturdy farmhouse in a village with some familiar faces including ex-lover Charlie (Del Henney – “Brannigan”).

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Sunday, 09 October 2011

“Get yer trousers on, you’re nicked!” was the first line uttered by John Thaw’s iconic character Jack Regan. Making its debut on 4 June 1974 as part of the Armchair Cinema umbrella brand, this was the second in that format’s run, following on from the previous week’s “The Prison”, starring James Laurenson (revolving around a successful Paris magazine proprietor embarking on a destructive voyage of self-discovery, after his wife shoots dead her own sister, with whom he had an affair with for several years).

Although much attention has been rested upon the subsequent series The Sweeney, “Regan” certainly benefits from the remastering and restoration into Blu-ray high definition, which it has never been treated to before. Granted, weighing in originally on 16mm film, it cannot quite reach the dizzy bright heights of those productions originally rendered in 35mm, but it is a significant improvement on what has come before. You’re no longer distracted by the scratches and blips, and can concentrate on the story as it unfolds.

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Sunday, 09 October 2011

There’s a bizarre snobbery at work with the Hammer Films version of “Quatermass and the Pit”. The 1967 big screen adaption of the 1958 BBC television series tends to suffer the same critical mauling in some circles as the cinematic overhaul of the first two Doctor Who Dalek adventures. So, here we have the chance to view the final entry in the original Quatermass trio of stories realised in Blu-ray High Definition, and hope it leads to a re-evaluation.

Rest assured, it should be, as original author Nigel Kneale gets to helm the screenplay, and director Roy Ward Baker turns in some his best-ever work, in a career that spanned the likes of The Avengers, The Saint and Minder on TV, and “A Night to Remember”, “Moon Zero Two” and “The Monster Club” for the cinema. The combination in this Quatermass is spooky and unsettling, letting the words and performances create the fear, rather than relying on special effects.

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Monday, 26 September 2011

Argento’s second movie is a slow but suspenseful murder thriller with plenty of death and colourful characters. James Franciscus (“Beneath the Planet of the Apes”, Mr Novak) stars alongside Karl Malden (“Patton”, The Streets of San Francisco). Carlo Giordani (Franciscus) is a tenacious newspaper reporter sniffing around a top secret biotechnology lab in Rome where a break-in has occurred but strangely nothing appears to have been stolen.

He bumps into Franco Arno (Malden), a blind man with a penchant for puzzles and a curious mind. They soon team up to investigate the case which rapidly spirals into a multiple homicide. It turns out that the lab was developing a controversial test for people with a ‘XYY’ genetic trait that apparently suggests they have a greater propensity for violence and criminal activity. Can the odd pairing crack the case before the ruthless killer’s focus turns to them?

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Monday, 26 September 2011

“Cannibal Holocaust” is undoubtedly one of the most controversial ‘video nasties’ of them all, primarily acquiring that label for its depiction of real animal killing and cruelty, and disturbingly sexual violence. Bizarrely, the cannibalism aspect is of secondary importance. DVD label Shameless has released new editions to tie in with the current vogue for ‘found footage’ films, not least because this trend-setting movie predates “The Blair Witch Project” by twenty years.

Professor Harold Munroe (Robert Kerman – “Spider-man”) is despatched by a TV network into the Amazonian jungle to track down four intrepid film makers. They were making a documentary about mysterious tribal activity but never returned to civilisation. Munroe and his backup make some grizzly discoveries and find some cans of film in the possession of natives. The professor returns to America and engages in a battle with the network to stop the shocking footage being broadcast.

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Wednesday, 21 September 2011

For those of you who don’t know this 1971-1972 series, Danny Wilde (Tony Curtis) and Lord Brett Sinclair (Roger Moore) are two millionaire playboys – one a self-made man who battled his way out of the New York slums, and the other a peer of the realm, born into the high life – who are duped by retired Judge Fulton (Laurence Naismith) into righting wrongs that come onto the judge’s radar.

Filmed on location around Pinewood Studios and in Monaco, The Persuaders! was the casting coup of Lord Lew Grade, pitching two big names together, after the idea of two mismatched playboys first surfaced in an episode of The Saint (“The Ex-King of Diamonds” – Stuart Damon in that case playing the American half).  That episode is including within this stunning HD set, and I have bad news for all those on a budget – you are going to have to upgrade from your DVDs!

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Monday, 12 September 2011

Horror film "Insidious" was one of 2010's surprise hits thanks to great word of mouth, and a relatively miniscule budget of $1.5 million reaped box office takings worldwide of over $90 million. The movie concerns some decidedly spooky goings-on that plague Josh and Renai Lambert and their three kids. Soon after they move into a swish new house, young son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) tragically falls into a mysterious coma after a freak accident.

The incident coincides with the commencement and then rapid escalation of standard haunting phenomena such as creaking doors, disturbing voices playing over the baby monitor and ghostly beings wandering around the house. Petrified out of her wits, Renai (Rose Byrne – “X-Men: First Class”, “Sunshine”) persuades Josh (Patrick Wilson – “Watchmen”, “Lakeview Terrace”) that they need to move again, so they do, only for the terrors to relocate with them.

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