Sex, Leins & Videotape

Devon's top film critic Tom Leins goes boldly into this week's DVD releases

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Sex, Leins & Videotape #13. Tom Leins boldly goes where no DVD critic has gone before with this week’s eye-opening selection of DVD reviews!

First up this week, TV trickster JJ Abrams boldly goes where Gene Rodenberry went before with his much-hyped re-boot of the Star Trek (Paramount) Star Trek franchise. Not content with “making sci-fi cool” with TV hits like Lost and Fringe, Abrams has now turned his attention to one of the best-loved retro sci-fi series of all time.

The opening movie in a projected series, Star Trek probes the antagonistic relationship between hot-headed upstart James T Kirk (Chris Pine) and logical but conflicted half-human, half-Vulcan Spock (Zachary Quinto). As the Star Fleet academy ushers in a new influx of recruits these two youngsters clash heads over their radically different approaches, only to find themselves thrust into the spotlight as war erupts with a rogue Romulan raiding party.

Happily, the movie requires no prior knowledge of the Star Trek universe, beginning with a clean slate and constructing its own mythology one step at a time. As JJ Abrams ably demonstrated with Lost, one of his key strengths is plucking little known actors out of obscurity and allowing them to breathe life into well-rounded characters. Pine in particular excels as the cocksure Kirk, and a supporting cast numbering Simon Pegg (Scotty), John Cho (Sulu) and Zoe Saldana (Uhura) all deliver the goods. At times Star Trek feels like it has been scientifically-tweaked to blockbuster perfection – pulse-pounding action sequences, heartstring-tugging emotional moments and bowel-clenching scenes of tension – but these ingredients merely underline Abrams’ skills as a story-teller. The head-scratching time travel plot twist derails the fun slightly, but in the end Abrams enviable storytelling verve wins out, and Star Trek is both a triumphant re-boot and a thoroughly entertaining blockbuster.

As Christmas fast approaches, the DVD blockbuster season is now well under way. Happily, anyone who prefers their Sally Potter movies to their Harry Potter movies is in for a treat, because Potter’s audacious new film Rage (Adventure Pictures) Rage (2009) is now available.

The movie takes the form of a series of overlapping talking heads, filmed backstage at a New York fashion show by a schoolboy known only as Michelangelo. As Michelangelo gains the trust of the models, designers, financiers and other backstage types, the proceedings soon develop a sinister edge, with a spate of grisly (off-camera) murders. Although the scenes were filmed in isolation Potter stitches them into a vivid tapestry, and the film transcends its experimental scope with an increasingly hypnotic charge.

The gloriously off-kilter central performance from Jude Law, (as transsexual Russian supermodel Minx) will attract most of the attention, but the star-studded cast is hugely impressive, with the likes of Steve Buscemi (hardboiled war photographer turned paparazzo Frank), Judi Dench (acidic fashion critic Mona Carvell) and Eddie Izzard (brash money-man Tiny Diamonds) all delivering memorable performances. Torquay-born model Lily Cole is even on hand to star as kooky model Lettuce Leaf. In the accompanying interview Potter confirms that the set-up was designed to draw “enormous performances from great actors”, and this bold, striking piece of work rewards her ambition throughout.

After cracking movie versions of both American Psycho and The Rules of Attraction, expectations were high for the latest adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ aggressively transgressive fiction. Unfortunately, The Informers (Entertainment In Video) (which is based on the interlinked short story collection of the same name), lacks the playful, tongue-in-cheek side that made American Psycho and The Rules of Attraction so enjoyable, and resembles a bleary-eyed, coked-up dirge.

If rumours are to be believed, Ellis’ original screenplay was butchered beyond recognition by director Gregor Jordan – a man whose career has gone into serious decline since the excellent Buffalo Soldiers. The resultant movie is vacuous and disjointed and it is easy to see why it has been disowned by certain A-list cast members. Weaving in and out of half-baked storylines like a degenerate version of Short Cuts, the movie lacks focus, and it would arguably be more interesting to take a look at the snippets littering the cutting room floor. Despite an abundance of talent, only the Fifth Wheel story strand (which stars Mickey Rourke as a predatory junkie kidnapper) shows flashes of inspiration. Ultimately as slick and soulless as the early 80s period that it seeks to document, The Informers will agitate Ellis fans and casual viewers alike. Nihilism may be a major theme in Ellis’ fiction, but The Informers shows a nihilistic disregard for the entertainment of its viewers.

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