Saturday, May 30, 2009

DVD: My Name Is Bruce

Anchor Bay Home Entertainment

Directed by Bruce Campbell
Written by Mark Verheiden
Starring Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi, Grace Thorsen, Taylor Sharpe, Ellen Sandweiss, Dan Hicks, Ben L. McCain, James J. Peck

Bruce Campbell has made a career out of being Bruce Campbell. So it's only fair he makes a film about himself. Although it may perhaps be considered an egotistical move on one hand, Bruce spends near enough the entire film mocking himself, his career path, and his movies.

The general storyline of 'My Name Is Bruce' revolves around a small town named Gold Lick which befalls the wrath of the Chinese God of War following the reckless behaviour of a group of teenagers. A much used, and here intentionally mimicked, horror B-movie device. One of the teenagers is an avid fan of Bruce Campbell and his movies, and convinces the town that Campbell can be their only saviour, kidnapping him to be such.

What this movie is essentially aiming at is a tongue-in-cheek take-off of not just Campbell's own movies, but action/horror movies in general, with intentionally-ham-fisted performances, less-than-serious dialogue and a script for Campbell that only Campbell could write. But it's not for Bruce's fans only, although being one does help.

Indeed if approached with the expectation that anything low-budget or corny is meant to be that way, the performances of most involved can be recognised and the good turns that they are. Campbell is obviously perfect playing his movie self, and has written a script to match the general behaviour of the characters he's known for, while Ted Raimi (acting brother of Sam Raimi, director of the 'Evil Dead' trilogy, Campbell's most notable films) appears in three ridiculous but highly amusing roles as Campbell's agent, Wing the aging Chinaman and the handyman responsible for adjusting the population count on Gold Lick's town sign.

The movie plays out mostly as viewers would expect, with Campbell filling the majority of his scenes with over-confident one-liners and the monster involved picking off several bit-part characters and extras until the final showdown. There's a small amount of faux-moral here and there, but it's mostly a well-executed exercise in self-derision for the purposes of humour.

Campbell really doesn't make enough movies anymore, and several references to his generally good performances in otherwise bad productions are both true, and hint that Campbell truly recognises his place.

“ a well-executed exercise in self-derision ”

Special Features: Commentary with Bruce Campbell / Heart of Dorkness - The Making of 'My Name is Bruce' / Awkward Moments with Kif / Bruce on... / Kif's Corner – The Making of Real Fake Posters / 'Cavealien 2' Trailer / Beyond Inside the Cave: The Making of 'Cavealien 2' / Poster art gallery / Prop gallery / Photo gallery / The Hard Truth News From Hollywood – The REAL Bruce Campbell / Love Birds / Trailer / Easter Eggs

Release Date: February 13, 2009
DVD Release Date: March 2, 2009
Studio: Dark Horse Entertainment
Feature Running Time: 81 mins
Special Features Running Time: 147 mins
Certificate: 15
Language(s): English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Other Format(s): Blu-Ray

DVD: Triangle

Manga Home Entertainment

Directed by Johnny To, Hark Tsui, Ringo Lam
Written by Sharon Chong, Kin-Yee Au, Tin-Shing Yip, Kenny Kan, Nai-Hoi Yau
Starring Simon Yam, Louis Koo, Honglei Sun, Kelly Lin, Ka Tung Lam

All of the hype surrounding 'Triangle' has nothing to do with the actual quality of the film or its storyline, but instead the coming together of three of Hong Kong's biggest and most respected action directors Ringo Lam, Johnny To and Hark Tsui, famously responsible for films like 'City On Fire', 'Election' and 'Once Upon A Time In China' respectively.

That kind of hype can often be an indicator that the movie itself isn't up to much, and in this case that was true. The idea was that each director would get 30 minutes of the 90-minute movie each, but the story itself was so disjointed anyway, that really had no effect at all, good or bad.

No aspect of the story moved with any real pace and the acting was, for the most part, the kind of ham-fisted overacting Hong Kong cinema is, sometimes unfairly, mocked for in the West. This is particular true of the segments where the main protagonists, a trio of friends who are trying to retrieve a buried treasure, are on the run from the various people after them; slapstick gags left, right and centre.

Given the reputation attached to the three big-name directors working on this movie, it was a disappointingly boring effort with very few saving graces. The basic story was weak, the acting poor and the pace inadequate. A shame, in a sense, because the three segments idea could have been a good one.

“ ham-fisted overacting ”

Release Date: August 29, 2008
DVD Release Date: October 20, 2008
Studio: Media Asia Films
Feature Running Time: 95 mins
Certificate: 12
Language(s): Cantonese, English
Subtitles: English
Other Format(s): None

DVD: Tim Vine - So I Said To This Bloke

Starz Home Entertainment

Directed by Steve Kemsley
Written by Tim Vine
Starring Tim Vine

Tim Vine's entire stand-up routine is one-liners and puns and he brings a completely new set of them to his second live DVD. It's literally non-stop puns, many fuelled by cheap props, split up by the occasional song. Unfortunately for Tim, despite having been in the game a lot longer, this kind of comedy is rather overshadowed by the strangely popular Jimmy Carr at the moment, but the capacity crowd at London's Bloomsbury Theatre for this recording does show that he still has a substantial following.

Vine's puns range from the genuinely sublime to the simply moronic (the "pen behind the ear" segment was both stupid and far too long). The major problem is the distribution between these two extremes is not even (or to use the correct terminology, 'normal'). He is admittedly better with the one-line jokes. Most of the ones that go on any longer than that end up being very disappointing; usually either blatantly obvious or simply weak.

But the main problem with his one-liners, aside from many of them just not being very good, is that they are completely unlinked. If he could have woven several of them together into a story of some kind this could have been and absolute riot. As it is this ends up being like watching someone read out Christmas cracker jokes for an hour. He actually makes several gags about the quality of his own show, which is a tell-tale sign that he knows where the problems are and is trying to pre-empt any criticism.

On top of all of this Vine makes the biggest mistake a comedian can make; he finds his own jokes far too funny, even to the point where he pauses for too long with a slightly goofy look on his face after some jokes to make sure everyone's laughing along with him.

On the extras, there are plenty of them, and none of them are funny. Well, that's not quite true, an outtake from the main show where Tim's dad Guy gets on stage to tell the first joke he told Tim as a child is quite good and should probably have been left in the show. The rest, particularly the over-long sketch featuring Tim slapsticking his way through several sports, are terrible.

Even for fans of this style of comedy, I don't really see how this can be considered a good example. So many of the jokes are simply not funny, and the composition of the act borders on amateurish. While Vine is a perfectly charismatic and likeable performer that just isn't enough to save what is otherwise a surprisingly disjointed show.

“ like watching someone read out Christmas cracker jokes ”

Special Features: 'Tim's Dad Tells A Joke' / 'Family Holiday On The Piano' / 'Paranamasiac' / 'Parade of Sport' / 'Jukebox Pop Video' / 'Flag Hippo In Love' / Deleted Scenes / Tim's Panto Snapshot / Tim Vine In Conversation

DVD Release Date: October 27, 2008
Studio: Feel Anime Studios
Feature Running Time: 64 mins
Special Features Running Time: 56 mins
Certificate: PG
Language(s): English
Subtitles: English
Other Format(s): None

DVD: Everyone's Hero

Starz Home Entertainment

Directed by Christopher Reeve, Dan St. Pierre, Colin Brady
Written by Robert Kurtz (screenplay), Jeff Hand (screenplay), Howard Jones (story)
Starring William H. Macy, Whoopi Goldberg, Jake T. Austin, Robin Williams, Rob Reiner, Brian Dennehy

The core subject matter of 'Everyone's Hero' somewhat precluded it from both recognition and popularity in the UK and Europe, meaning until now it was only available in the US, and only saw cinematic release there as well. That subject matter is baseball, a sport only played in North America and of very little interest elsewhere.

So, despite an all-star cast of internationally popular actors including William H. Macy, Whoopi Goldberg, Rob Reiner and an uncredited Robin Williams, plus fleeting appearances by Forrest Whittaker, Robert Wagner and Richard Kind, it has taken two years to finally see DVD release here. The film began life under the directorial eye of 'Superman' legend Christopher Reeve, who died of a heart attack in 2004, and it would be another two years before Colin Brady and Dan St. Pierre would complete the movie with Reeve's wife Dana, amongst others, serving as Executive Producer. Dana also died, from lung cancer, in 2006 and the movie is dedicated to both her and Christopher.

A CGi animation in the style of Gil Kenan's 'Monster House', released in the same year, 'Everyone's Hero' revolves around Yankee Irving, a New York Yankees fan who idolises star player George 'Babe' Ruth. Ahead of the World Series against Napoleon Cross' (Williams) Chicago, Ruth's famous bat Darlin' (Goldberg) is stolen by Chicago pitcher Lefty Maginnis (Macy) and Yankee sets off across America to get the bat back and return it to Ruth in time for the final, deciding game of the Series, with the help of Screwy (Reiner), a talking foul ball.

Definitely one for the kids, the idea of a talking ball and a talking bat is probably enough to put most adults off (it certainly strikes as an unexpected turn of silliness), and while there are a few well-timed one-liners, mostly from Reiner, the majority of the humour is centred around the mishaps which befall Macy's Maginnis (usually getting hit by things or falling over).

The animation is smooth, if a little cartoon-like and unrealistic, but since the movie is squarely aimed at children, that's not much of an issue, and the script is pretty stock children's adventure stuff, with a slightly predictable ending, but this is all from the point of view of an adult watching the movie with other adults and no target-audience-children. It has all of the necessary, if somewhat standard, elements of an enjoyable children's movie, so while it doesn't set itself apart from the rest of the field, it does fit in without causing offense.

And finally a small point of trivia: additional children's voices were provided by Tyler James Williams, now most famous for playing a young Chris Rock in 'Everybody Hates Chris'.

“ Definitely one for the kids ”

Release Date: September 15, 2006 (USA)
DVD Release Date: August 4, 2008
Studio: Feel Anime Studios
Feature Running Time: 88 mins
Certificate: U
Language(s): English
Subtitles: English
Other Format(s): None

Friday, May 29, 2009

DVD: Strait-Jacket

Manga Entertainment

Directed by Shinji Ushiro
Written by Ichirö Sakaki (novel)
Starring Steven Blum (English), Lara Jill Miller (English), Bridget Hoffman (English), Shinichiro Miki (Japanese), Kei Shindou (Japanese), Ai Maeda (Japanese), Crispin Freeman (English), Akira Sasanuma (Japanese)

Originally a three-episode series 'Strait Jacket' revolves around a society that has incorporated the use of magic into everyday life. The side-effect for those with the ability to use magic is that, through over-use, they turn from humans to demons, killing indiscriminantly. An agency to control the use of magic, and an elite force of "scorcerists", work to battle and destroy demons, while a terrorist group stages attacks by creating them.

The story had a lot of potential, but ends up being rather tiresome. Although only 85 minutes long the story doesn't move along at a rate you would expect something that short to have. For at least the first 40 minutes or so nothing much happens. A demon appears, main subject and rogue scorcerist Leiot (not Rayotte) Steinberg dispatches it in an unorthodox way, stepping on the toes of the legal scorcerists in the process, throws a couple of one-liners at lead female character Nerin Simmons, and disappears into the night with largely unexplained sidekick Kapelteta Fernandez. This happens three or four times before any advancement in the story is made.

And when the plot twists come they are contrived and feel very predictable. Without wishing to spoil the story for wouldbe viewers, there's a corrupt official, a guy wronged as a child who goes a little off the rails when he finds out the truth and a shady side to Steinberg's past etc. etc.

It is also somewhat disappointing that, after all these years of dubbing manga for the Western market, the English side of the studios are getting no better at English dubbing. Or scripts - in particular here the Nerin Simmons script, voiced by Bridget Hoffman, is awful. Alex Von David, previously responsible for English scripts on 'Mars Daybreak', 'Lucky Star' and 'Rozen Maiden', is to blame, although his scripting for other characters, particularly Leiot Steinberg (Steven Blum), is excellent.

There was potential here, and while not revolutionary, the animation was strong enough not to let it down. Unfortunately the under-developed story and contrived characters don't give it much chance at all.

“ ends up being rather tiresome ”

Release Date: November 25, 2007 (Japan)
DVD Release Date: October 27, 2008
Studio: Feel Anime Studios
Feature Running Time: 80 mins
Certificate: 15
Language(s): English / Japanese
Subtitles: English
Other Format(s): None

DVD: Brooklyn Rules

Icon Home Entertainment

Directed by Michael Corrente
Written by Terence Winter
Starring Alec Baldwin, Freddie Prinze Jr., Scott Caan, Mena Suvari, Jerry Ferrara

Although the initial feel of 'Brooklyn Rules' is a seemingly derivative teenager-caught-up-in-the-mob tale, the intended message is a much more wholesome one (without being too "rom-com" about it) with very little emphasis on graphic violence (only one truly violent scene, and nothing much is shown) and greater weight put on character definition and the bond of friendship.

Indeed 'Brooklyn Rules' is a story of childhood friends much more than it is a gangster movie, but with enough grit that it's not going to end up being Sunday afternoon TV fodder. What makes the movie so enjoyable is the flawless and often very funny constant banter between the trio of fast-talking friends at the heart of the story played by Freddie Prinze Jr. (who needn't have gone so heavy on the cliché Brooklyn accent), Scott Caan and the ever-so-Sean-Astin Jerry Ferrara. Mena Suvari doesn't have much to do but Alec Baldwin is near-perfect in his role as wise guy Caesar, doing an excellent job of making the viewer see the good side of his character.

The movie received some heavy criticism upon its cinematic release in the US for trying too hard to be like other famous mob movies. To be honest, a point was missed here. This movie isn't trying to be a mob movie. It's set in the classic New York mob era, and certainly the story has a lot of mob elements which drive it on, but these are just the background to the main story about the three friends. The causes of most of their problems, and the events in the film, could have been set against any backdrop where one of the trio starts to get involved in crime. This could have been set around a modern-day criminal gang in any major US city and it wouldn't have altered the movie in the slightest, aside from some of the period-specific dialogue and clothing etc.

'Brooklyn Rules' doesn't revolutionise anything. Very little about the movie is markedly different to what already exists, but the story is good, the acting is strong and the motif clear. If approached with an open mind viewers should find themselves caring enough about the characters to be suitably affected by some of the key events while watching, and although the ending feels ever-so-slightly rushed, it's a satisfying if untaxing viewing experience.

“ very funny constant banter ”

Release Date: May 18, 2007 (USA)
DVD Release Date: August 11, 2008
Studio: Southpaw Entertainment
Feature Running Time: 95 mins
Certificate: 15
Language(s): English
Subtitles: None
Other Format(s): None

DVD: The Man From Earth

Anchor Bay Entertainment

Directed by Richard Schenkman
Executive Producers Emerson Bixby and Mark Pellington
Starring David Lee Smith, Tony Todd, John Billingsley, Ellen Crawford, William Katt, Richard Riehle, Alexis Thorpe, Annika Peterson

This is one of those rare movies which relies entirely on its dialogue and intrinsic ability to tell its own story without the need for special effects and overblown action scenes. For the most part, it's success. But not entirely.

It doesn't really have a point, and therein lies the majority of its beauty. Stories don't have to have a point to be good stories. Just like science fiction movies don't have to have hordes of aliens, fleets of space ships and more explosions than an episode of 'A-Team' to actually be science fiction movies. But they do need a little more depth of characters if they're going to completely hold interest. Viewers are likely to find themselves only caring about one out of eight of them. It's the central one of course, but the other seven are merely foils, posing key questions to further the tale.

While Ellen Crawford's Edith is somewhat irritating it's only her, and Richard Riehle's Dr. Gruber, who are given any kind of fleeting emotional substance. Alexis Thorpe's student Linda is suitably wide-eyed-inquisitive, William Katt's Art disbelieving, and Tony Todd's Dan enthusiastic, but ultimately they are all only their to enable David Lee Smith as leading character John Oldman to explain the story of his seemingly immortal existence.

And this explanation is, for the most part, enthralling, trying its best to root itself in scientific fact and the extrapolation of our scientific knowledge to date. How accurate or credible some of the science is could be debated, but throughout it maintains a comfortable level of plausibility such that at no time does the story slip entirely into the realms of complete fiction; rather those of possibility. The religious parts of the story are perhaps even less credible, but thoroughly entertaining if the viewer is open to a little "blasphemy".

'The Man From Earth' requires some effort to watch. It is not Saturday-night-with-a-beer material. Viewers are required to listen to what's being said and digest the ideas being put forward. This is not a throw-away movie or a high-impact movie. It's perhaps not as intelligent as it would like to be, lacking as it does any real characterisation in the smaller parts, but is certainly more intelligent than most science fiction which finds its way onto our screens, and is well worth the patience it demands.

“ enthralling ”

Special Features: Audio Commentary with producer/director Richard Schenkman and actor John Billinglsey / Audio Commentary with executive producer Emerson Bixby and author/sci-fi scholar Gary Westfahl / 'From Script To Screen' featurette / 'Star Trek: Jerome Bixby's Sci Fi Legacy' featurette / 'On The Set' featurette / 'The Story of The Story' featurette

Release Date: November 13, 2007 (USA)
DVD Release Date: July 7, 2008
Studio: Falling Sky Entertainment
Feature Running Time: 87 mins
Special Features Running Time: 188 mins
Certificate: 12
Language(s): English
Subtitles: None
Other Format(s): None

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Victim of The System

Unbelievable. Amidst the recent news stories of politicians' fraudulant expenses claims, several places have already tried using the term 'Expenses-gate' and someone has even bought

One site did admittedly follow up their use of the 'Expenses-gate' term with "for want of a better term for it", but really, using no term at all would have been for the benefit of the situation. Don't try to pretend you aren't playing along with the more mainstream media.

Now don't get me wrong, there is a genuine scandal going on here; a status the majority of the previous mis-monikered 'gates' couldn't aspire to. But this is an example of journalism so lazy even the Daily Star has yet to stoop so low.

As for the scandal itself, there are several ways in which various politicians have duped the system (not that it is apparently particularly difficult to do so), but the recurring theme seems to be that of the 'second home', a rule which has been highly controversial for years.

Officially, Members of Parliament can live either in their constituencies, i.e. the area of the country they were elected to govern, or in London, as they are required to divide their time between the two. Because it is necessary for them to effectively 'live' in two different places, they can designate either their London or constituency property as their 'second home' and are afforded an allowance, from public money, for where costs are "wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred from the purpose of performing your Parliamentary duties". The maximum yearly amount stands at between £23,000 and £24,000.

What seems to have been going on in a large number of cases, is changing the official designation they give their homes in order to make the best personal use of the free money from the tax-payers. Examples are not hard to find.

Labour MP Margaret Moran switched her 'second home' designation to her seaside house (100 miles from her consituency, incidentally) such that days later she could spend £22,500 of tax-payers' money treating dry rot.

Home Affairs Select Committee Chairman Keith Vaz spent his allowance on a flat in London despite his £1.15m constituency home being just 12 miles away.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith nominated her Redditch family home as her 'second home', while claiming her sister's property in London, where she stays some weeknights, is her primary residence. She has reportedly spent over £152,000 of public money on kitchen appliances, home entertainment equipment including televisions and DVD players, dining furniture, and even pay-per-view movies. Probably very little of which were necessary for performing of her parlimentary duties.

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears switched her 'second home' three times in the same year, and claimed an allowance against all of them.

The list goes on as many others are known to have 'flipped' their home designation in order to refurbish more than one property at the public's expense. This is without claims for chauffeurs (Michael Martin), gardening (Peter Mandelson, David Milliband) and personal security (Barbara Folletts).

The most comical part of all of this is comments from Labour Deputy Leader Harriet Harman, who has basically said it is not the responsibility of MPs to make legitimate claims, but of the Fees Office, who grant the claims, to reject them. That may technically be the case, but what she's really saying is MPs can be as dishonest as they like, provided no one catches them out.

Which is, of course, absolutely no surprise at all. Hasn't that more or less been the motto for all politics since THE DAWN OF TIME? You have a problem though, Harriet. You have been caught out. So now what? Carry on blaming the Fees Office? They're not going to take the rap, overseen as they are by Speaker Michael Martin, who has one or two less-than-moral expense claims of his own. And the calls for those found out to pay back the money are obviously not going to be answered.

I suppose it's easy enough to publicly claim it isn't your fault when party leader Rab C. Nesbitt is largely doing the same. He has, bless his tatty string vest, at least called for a vote on changing the rules so that the 'second home' allowance only applies to MPs living beyond "travelling distance" from Westminster. That only solves part of the problem though, as many of the blatant cash-ins for property refurbishment and furnishing are actually within the rules.

As Alastair Campbell recently said (one of the few sensible things the Jonathan Ross of politics has ever said), MPs should not be allowed to change their second home disignation once they nominated the property. And (he didn't say this) they should not be allowed to claim for furnishing the place. Let's not forget these people are paid huge wages, have more perks than a California nudist beach, and have such a large network of underlings working on their behalves to cover-up any wrong-doings they make Tony Soprano look like Joey Tribbiani.

So OK, maybe give them some money towards a second property because their job requires them to have the two residences (we all know if our own jobs required something similar we'd be in the manager's office with our hand out quicker than a Chelsea player to a referree) but almost all of the other things the leaked receipts have shown, absolutely not. They can afford those themselves. And they can afford mine too.

Friday, May 08, 2009

The Big Dirty

Following the positively elating news that 'Big Brother' is to finally meet its long overdue end, and daytime chat show gruesome twosome Richard and Judy are to quit, Irish budget airline RyanAir have let the World down by bailing out of their plans to introduce a "fat tax" for larger passengers.

As the problem of obesity continues to get bigger (excuse the pun) people have been calling for measures such as charging for two seats on trains and buses, and charging extra for flights for several years. Until now barely any company had publicly entertained the idea, but RyanAir said they were planning to bring in some form of additional tax, with the most popular method being to charge per kilogram over 130kg (20.5 stone) for men and 100kg (15.7 stone) for women, and additionally for ever inch in waistline over 45" for men and over 40" for women (which is a little unfair, but that's besides the point).

Now, citing potential check-in delays, they've buckled under the media spotlight and scrapped the plans, despite having to admit that over 30,000 passengers surveyed were in favour of the move. They've claimed that because they're moving the majority of their check-in process to the internet, they will have no way of collecting the "fat tax" fairly without making passengers go through manual check-in at the airport and thereby slowing down the whole process.

This feels like a pretty weak excuse for an airline who have even considered charging people to use the on-board toilets. They've clearly pulled out to avoid the controversy.

But the fact remains a measure such as this, which has to be pioneered by someone, is needed. Currently, the only deterrents to over-eating (the cause of 99% of obesity, let's be honest) are health warnings, which most lack the will-power to avoid, and social stigma. But on the social side it's becoming more acceptable. Which is fine, do what you want, until such time as it impacts the people around you. Then it's a problem. Obese people using public transport do not fit in the seats. There's no point getting offended by that, it's simple physics. But, most of them will force themselves in anyway, regardless of the discomfort it causes for the people sitting either side of them. So they're clearly not put off by social awkwardness or potentially upsetting other people.

The only thing which is really guaranteed to motivate people is money. If these people were to be charged extra because they take up a well-above-average amount of space, or in cases like flying, where weight is an issue (we pay excess luggage charges, for example) weigh an excessive amount, there should be deterrents in place. Just like it's perfectly OK to take over-sized luggage on a plane, provided you pay for it, it should be OK to take up extra space, provided you pay for it.

Perhaps larger seats need to be brought in, which cost more than standard seats. Basically, there should be consequences to everyone's actions, and if people want to over-eat and be overweight then they should pay the consequences for that. Just as people who drive larger cars have to pay extra in tax.

It's time to quit being so sensitive over this and someone, RyanAir, has got to go first.