Sex, Leins & Videotape #45. Paignton film critic Tom Leins investigates this week’s strangest DVD releases
George A Romero’s critical stock may fall every time he releases an underwhelming new ‘Dead’ movie, but the zombie movie veteran was once one of horror’s boldest, most compelling talents -a notion that Martin â€“ The Immortal Edition (Arrow) is very keen to re-address.
Made back in 1977, Martin is an enjoyably subversive spin on the tried ‘n’ trusted vampire myth, swapping old-world glamour for small-town grubbiness. At first glance, young Martin is a typically awkward teenager -shy to the point of muteness, and hesitant around girls. However, the geeky youngster harbours a twisted secret -he has an insatiable appetite for human blood. His elderly Uncle Cuda is sceptical of the youngster, and treats him like an old-fashioned Nosferatu figure, and although Martin is desperate to keep his blood-lust in check, he finds himself scouring the streets for deserving prey. In an era when reluctant bloodsuckers are firmly in vogue, Martin reinforces the belief that Romero was way ahead of his time, and gives fans a welcome chance to get to grips with a seriously misunderstood slice of retro horror.
Although a 30-year-old George A Romero obscurity may not seem like an essential DVD offering for casual horror fans, Martin -The Immortal Edition is a horror freak’s wet-dream, and this lovingly crafted DVD package will thrill anyone who thinks that distributors have got lazy in recent years. The double-disc set also includes Wampyr -the Italian version of the movie (featuring a score by notorious Dario Argento prog-rock favourites Goblin), a European Romero documentary and even a Making Of featurette. Chuck in a poster, art cards, and a booklet featuring an essay by Romero himself and you have a DVD package that comprehensively transcends the film’s lowly origins. Not just an enthralling curio, but a lavish repackaging to boot. Lovely stuff!
Last year, aging Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood announced that he was giving up acting in order to pump all of his energies into directing. His latest movie –Invictus (Warner Home Video) -charts the efforts of newly appointed South African President Nelson Mandela -a man determined to bridge the Apartheid-induced racial gap through the medium of sport. With the 1995 Rugby World Cup imminent, Mandela (played by the uncanny Morgan Freeman) takes a special interest in the nation’s underperforming rugby team captained by Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), and tries to win over the sceptical, football-loving black population by publicly embracing rugby. Although Morgan Freeman’s majestic Mandela impersonation is hugely impressive, the formulaic script feels slightly timid, and badly affects the film’s energy.
Sadly, after an engaging first half, Invictus slumps when it reaches the climactic world cup final, and Eastwood’s movie lacks the requisite tension to keep viewers truly hooked. I can only imagine how difficult it is to choreograph a rugby match to pre-determined specifications, but the extensive game scenes feel dangerously sluggish and suggest that rugby really doesn’t lend itself very well to the ‘sporting showdown movie climax’. Eastwood is no stranger to the director’s chair, and the star-turned-filmmaker has already amassed a rich back catalogue of work. While Invictus is a well-acted, evocative piece of work, it lacks the darkness of earlier movies such as Unforgiven, Mystic River and even last year’s Gran Torino. It may be watchable, worthy, and brimming with fine scenes, but Eastwood’s latest offering is far from essential.
According to Mexican folklore, every time a bridge is built, the Devil will ask for one soul in return -to guarantee that the bridge never falls down. This sinister legend provides the jump-off point for In The Pit (Network), a curious documentary that snagged the Sundance Grand Jury Prize upon its original 2006 release. Focusing on the construction of Mexico City’s Periferico Freeway, Juan Carlos Rulfo’s evocative documentary is essentially a tribute to the working man and explores the rarely-told stories of the men whose blood, sweat and tears go into the construction of such a structure.
By exploring the hopes and dreams of the regular men in charge of building the freeway, the film transcends its potentially uninspiring subject matter and sucks you into the lives of those involved. Sure enough, before the bridge is completed, the devil rears his ugly head and claims a soul for himself, adding a spooky edge to proceedings. It may be too offbeat for some tastes, but In The Pit is a thoughtful, eye-opening documentary that examines the lives and loves of the working men toiling away in the underbelly of Mexico City. As one contemplative construction worker ponders towards the end of the film: ‘We’re in hell, paying for our sins.’
Trampling the same ground already covered by the Disney animation of the same name, Mulan (Cine Asia) follows the exploits of a young girl who finds herself pressed into military service in order to defend her homeland from barbarian invaders. When the Emperor issues a decree that all families in the Northern Province must defend their territory from Rouran warriors, young Mulan disguises herself as a male soldier, rather than subject her decrepit father to the visceral horrors of the battle-ground. Despite her elaborate ruse, the tough, resourceful Mulan quickly rises through the ranks and establishes herself as a fearsome general. Only the mutual attraction between her and her fellow General Wentei threatens to destabilise their ferocious fighting unit.
Unfortunately, if you’re expecting a blistering 300-style feast of stylized combat action, you’re looking in the wrong place. Although there is no shortage of battle sequences, Mulan badly lacks personality and turns an intriguing story into an overwrought battle-ground melodrama. Ultimately, Mulan is a blandly competent adventure story that lacks the kind of storytelling flair that would have set it apart from the pack. Vicki Zhao (Mulan) does a respectable job as the titular heroine, but the by-numbers narrative lacks excitement, and the film never really delivers the kind of brutal action that would have taken it to the next level. All in all, a disappointingly average affair.