Monday, September 22, 2014

DVD(s) of the Week: Round-up Time!

Yes, it's that time again, when I attempt to round up a bunch of movies we've watched over the last month or so, but where my feelings on them aren't ebullient enough to demand some sort of long-winded ramble. I know, I know, as the sort of person who, in the right moment, could write up a review of his coffee, I should be ashamed of myself. But sometimes things are just "fine", and there isn't a lot get your teeth into. So with that in mind, here's four quick reviews.

Veronica Mars
First off, probably my favorite of the bunch. I loved Veronica Mars, a show with very little traction over here in the UK but a charming, witty and punchy-when-it-needed-to-be detective show set around a Californian High School. Anchored by some great scripts and performances, Veronica Mars was never a big hit even in the US, and stuttered out after a great season and two good ones, before rebounding back last year as a Kickstarter funded movie. Its hard for me to view the film without that reservoir of goodwill, and I guess thats part of the problem.

What the movie of Veronica Mars feels like then, is both a coda to the series and potential back-door pilot for more. Smartly, it makes this a central theme of the plot, showing us a Veronica who has "got out", only to be drawn in like a not-so-recovered addict to her former habits. Its the sort of self-awareness that the TV show managed, and like the show, the cast bring their A-game, so it's funny, smart and engaging. All that said, it does feel like a double-length episode rather than a movie, and the lose plot-threads left for a future we may never see stops it standing properly alone; a bit like that most famous TV-to-Movie transition Serenity, I'm not sure it would satisfy newcomers unfamiliar with the world on show.

The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2
When we saw the first part of the adaptation of Frank Millers The Dark Knight Returns, I was concerned that this very literal, direct transcription wasn't weathering the years too well. Sadly, this problem continues into the second part, as it's geo-political satire feels pretty dated and many of it's themes retroactively undermined by Millers increasingly nutty politics. Increasingly I felt that it could have done with a little more adaptation, taking the themes and events and making them feel more contemporary, rather than still being stuck in the fears of the late 1980s.

That said it is a handsome job; the voice acting is great, and I even warmed to the voice of Bruce even though it wasn't Kevin Conroy. They get the balance of being faithful to panel shots against the need of animation to be, y'know, animated, just about right, and overall it's fine. But sadly it's only fine, something for fans, (sound familiar) rather than something I'd recommend to anyone without that attachment to the character or story. And in that case you've probably read the original a few times anyway.

The Raid 2
I really liked The Raid; a focused, brutal martial arts movie set during a police raid into an organised crime run tower block. Great fight direction and a lot of forward momentum, with a minimum of plot to get in the way (that's a compliment), it was a lot of fun. The Raid 2 takes the path of most sequels, going bigger and wider, but it's not really necessarily better. This time it takes our surviving badass and sends him undercover to the local underworld, placing him as a bodyguard to the son of one of the cities major crime lords. Shenanigans, as they say, ensue.

The problem is that the addition of all this plot means that the action slows down a fair bit and much of that plot isn't actually that new. What's actually done is - again - fine, but there is a sense that I've seen these scenarios before, these archetypes before, and there really isn't anything much being brought to the table here. The set pieces are fabulous, the direction is great, but it feels like a hollow-ness at the heart of the film that the first movies battle for survival didn't have time to reveal.

Non-Stop
Not a sequel, adaptation of reboot, Non-Stop is instead the latest installment on the ongoing "Liam Neeson Punches Things" franchise. This time he's a grizzled Air Marshal with a tragic backstory and a penchant for violence, who gets involved in an increasingly convoluted hijacking/blackmail/murder/something plot on a trans-atlantic flight. There's not too much to say about Non-Stop other than it's actually a pretty solid B-Movie  that works mostly because you shouldn't think too much about it. I mean, the plot, in the end, is utterly silly and more full of holes than, well, a crashing aircraft with Liam Neeson on it.

I wonder what Liam Neeson will punch next? I'm hoping for something really out there like Yeti, or the Loch Ness Monster.