Tuesday, December 4, 2012

DVD catch-up, November 2012

Yes, I know it's December. But it's only just December, and I meant to post this last week, when it was still November. That counts, right? Anyway, the bi-monthly round up of DVDs provided to us at semi-random from lovefilm continues after the break.

The Raid
The Raid really doesn't mess about. It sort of has a plot - a thinly sketched story of a tower block run by a local crime lord and his underlings, used as rental accommodation by all sorts of unsavory types and generally off limits to the law until a small team of Police end up caught in a botched raid against it. There is some nods to things like character, and motivation, but they feel like afterthoughts (or at least, a little bit too familiar) compared to the films clear intent to deliver straight-up action sequence after straight-up action sequence  And here it really delivers.

Once it is rolling, The Raid is relentless. Its bloody and violent and savage in a way you don't often see, like the corridor scene from Oldboy made into a whole movie. At the same time the fights are elegantly choreographed, cleanly shot (none of this fashionable-in-hollywood jerky camerawork) and at times totally wince-inducing. I loved it, I really did, it feels fresh against the current trend for 12-rated action films and its back-to-basics style gives it a more authentic feel than more mannered blockbusters.

Almost at the other end of the spectrum is Steven Soderburgh's ensemble epidemic movie. Charting a global outbreak of a killer disease, from normal citizens to governments and activists, it's a pretty grim watch at times but the dispassionate tone gives a effective power that I suspect a more emotive film wouldn't. People live or die, prosper or suffer, and the film treats them all the same. I can't speak for it's veracity, but it feels well researched in terms of how agencies like the CDC would try and work through such a crisis, and the sequences of slow structural decay as the US struggles with the huge loss of life are all the more powerful for being understated.

An odd sort of post-cold-war Thriller, Hanna is lifted by strong performances, and I enjoyed it, but...I dunno. It hasn't lingered long in the memory.

Pirates! An Adventure with Scientists
On the other hand, this was ace. I mean, you'd expect it from Aardman, but even so, this is a witty, quick-paced adventure with an incredible amount of blink-and-you'll-miss-it background humour. The Pirate Captain needs a big score to win Pirate of the Year, and Charles Darwin needs a scientific breakthrough to win the hand of the Woman he Loves. What could possibly go wrong?

So we have swashbuckling adventure, romance, dodos and Ham Night! We laughed, Ewan (who'd seen it before) laughed, and Robert decided Pirates were the best thing ever. So probably the most successful family film we've yet watched together!

Troll Hunter
And we're back to the "found footage" thing. Troll Hunter is a fake documentary following one of Norway's Troll Rangers, who are tasked with keeping watch on the Troll population and keeping them away from populated areas. It's got a lovely run down, civil servant at work feel, with his beaten up Land Rover and grouchy attitude. And the creature designs are lovely - like creatures out of a fairy story illustration but rendered into the landscape and looking utterly real.

War Horse
Finally, Steven Speilberg's War Horse. This was pretty hotly anticipated last year, got decent but not stellar reviews, and then sort of vanished off, but actually, I think its pretty good. It definitely has problems - its slightly disjointed, feeling more like a series of short scenes than a coherent movie, and at times it lays it all on a bit thick. But against that the short scenes tend to excellent and memorable, as is the cast, and it is a beautifully shot film at times, although with a deliberately "old-school" eye.

The other thing to remember is that it is clearly aimed at the younger audience. At 30-something, I'm pretty jaded on the big emotional manipulations of cinema, having been manipulated by them several times. But the way the film turns its head from some of the starker horrors - whilst still clearly acknowledging them - it seems clear that this is a move that should have its greatest impact lower down the age range. Subjectively, I think this is the case; Ewan was absorbed in it, and its messages, still talking about it (and the war it depicts) the day after.