Sex, Leins & Videotape #12. Paignton’s resident film critic Tom Leins slices his way through this week’s most dangerous DVD releases!
One of the most exciting action movies of recent years was District 13, the Parkour-fuelled thriller devised by Luc Besson back in 2004. Five years on Besson and co. are back with another dose of high-octane carnage in District 13: Ultimatum (Momentum) .
Despite government promises to the contrary, the notorious District 13 ghetto is still very much ignored by the authorities, and remains a seething hot-bed of danger and criminality. After a fire-fight erupts between cops and hoodlums on the outskirts of the District, French citizens are appalled and the Prime Minister is desperate for a way of avoiding a brutal Civil War.
However, all is not as it seems, and an eye-witness alerts idealistic slum-dweller Leito (David Belle) to footage that implicates corrupt government officials and trigger happy Secret Service agents in the slaughter. In an effort to avert impending crisis acrobatic Leito hooks up with hard-as-nails super-cop Damien Tomasso (Cyril Raffaelli) and the duo bid to uncover the murky truth. As you might expect, the narrative is less important than the high-octane heroics of Belle and Raffaelli, and the duo don’t disappoint, with an increasingly inventive array of stunts and violence. As the film reaches its latter stages it gets de-railed by Besson’s clumsy attempts at promoting racial harmony, but for the first hour District 13: Ultimatum is electric entertainment.
Ip Man (Cine Asia) is the strange but wonderful true story about a quiet, principled family man who happens to be one of the finest martial artists in the whole of China. Ip Man is an independently wealthy martial arts guru who only fights behind closed doors, so that he doesn’t humiliate his misguided challengers. Sadly, his peaceful existence is shattered by the Japanese invasion of 1937… Stripped of his assets and forced to take a job at the local coal plant, Ip Man becomes increasingly disillusioned, and when he sees his friends brutalised by Japanese soldiers in the name of sport he unleashes hell on his tormentors!
Leading man Donnie Yuen is widely regarded as a fine martial arts actor desperately in need of a movie befitting his talents, and Ip Man is definitely the role he has been waiting for. Full of bone-shuddering fight scenes (including one blistering scene in which Ip Man takes on ten Japanese soldiers at once!), Ip Man makes for utterly compelling viewing. Intriguingly, after the events depicted in this movie Ip Man devoted himself to teaching the region’s most gifted martial artists, one of whom was the legendary Bruce Lee himself! A sequel (depicting Ip Man’s relationship with Bruce Lee) is already in the works, and if it measures up to this inspired feature then it could be incredible.
Inspired by the cult Anime of the same name, Blood: The Last Vampire (Pathe) is a slick, vacuous action-horror hybrid that earned mixed reviews from critics when it first surfaced earlier this year. The movie follows the exploits of Saya, a 400 year old half-vampire, half-human warrior committed to destroying the world’s demon population. Her shadowy handlers help her to infiltrate a US Air Force base in 1970s Japan, but her blood-soaked mission quickly spirals out of control! Korean star Gianna Jun impresses as the conflicted heroine and there are enough hyperactive fight scenes to keep bored audiences involved.
French music video director Chris Nahon supervises proceedings with surprising flair considering his lack of big movie experience, but Blood never quite hits the giddy heights you anticipate. Nevertheless, despite its clumsiness and tendency towards cheesy special effects, Blood could well find an appreciative cult audience on DVD. Bizarre cameos from UK soap stars like Larry Lamb (Eastenders, Gavin & Stacey) and Michael Byrne (Gail’s estranged homosexual father Ted in Coronation Street!) increase the sense of guilty pleasure, and set Blood apart from its more po-faced rivals. Overall: easy to digest, but ultimately unsatisfying -a real fast food movie!
Last but certainly not least, we have Trick ‘R Treat (Warner Home Video) a highly enjoyable old-school horror anthology that unfolds in small-town America over the course of one dreadful Halloween. As any horror aficionado worth his or her salt knows, you should never break the rules on Halloween. If you do, you might just end up on the receiving end of a rather nasty trick – in this case perpetrated by a pint-sized ghoul with a burlap sack pumpkin mask! We meet a suburban couple who decide to blow out their Jack-O’-Lantern before midnight, a group of kids who dare to investigate the site of a notorious school bus massacre, a high school teacher with a dark secret and an elderly curmudgeon who sets his dog on small children who dare to knock on his door!
Screenwriter-turned-director Michael Dougherty blends the various story strands in impeccable style, and he has more than a few neat tricks up his own sleeve. The humour is pitch-black and the bloodshed is visceral, and Trick ‘R Treat delivers the goods throughout. If the title sounds familiar to horror fans, Trick ‘R Treat has been mired in development hell since 2007, belatedly going straight-to-DVD this week. Don’t be fooled, however, straight-to-DVD is the perfect format for this resolutely old-school horror flick, and a ravenous cult audience surely beckons.