Archive for the ‘DVD Gems’ Category

This is my first post for over five years under the DVD Gems tag.  With DVD rental being a thing of the past, I really should rename it!  Whatever I call it, this truly is a hidden gem worth talking about.  I vaguely remember hearing mixed to positive reviews for The Domestics earlier in the year, but couldn’t find it screening anywhere.  Hindered by a terrible title (it needs explaining to the audience, and the explanation isn’t very good), it looked set to disappear into obscurity, until it recently cropped up on Netflix. The Domestics poster

After most of the population has been wiped-out by chemical weapons, gangs take over and kill anyone who isn’t part of their faction.  Amongst this a couple with a failing marriage decide to make the 200 mile trip from relatively safety in the Midwest, to her parents in a suburb of Milwaukee. the domestics kate bosworth

The world building is subtly brilliant; with little explanation of what has happened other than a brief voiceover we discover the environment and its inhabitants as we go along.   The gangs he meet along the way include: Nailers (cary large axes), Spikes (wear helmets with face masks and spikes), Plowboys (patrol the highways and dabble in kidnapping and sex trafficking), Gamblers (wear animal heads, and leave decisions to chance), Cherries (woman only, described as man haters), Sheets (wear white sheets over their heads).  The domestics are the ordinary people, not affiliated to the gangs, and trying to cling on to a normal life as it was in the old world.  This setting is closer to the original Mad Max (1979) or The Rover (2014) than the better know warrior of the wasteland from the Mad Max sequels. But all this feels like an allegory for the current socio political mess we are in now. the domestics gangs

The setting and the subtext give the film depth, but the script is to be hailed too.  The story evolves and gets better as it goes on, this is impressive as it is the first feature for writer director Mike P. Nelson.  While there are no major surprises, it doesn’t always play out as you would expect.  There are moments of tension and horror, and the film often has a horror tinged look to it, no great surprise as cinematographer Maxime Alexandre has mainly worked in horror, making his début with  Haute tension (2003).  This all gives the film some jeopardy, some stakes, we are never sure if our protagonists are going to make it or not.  It also comes in a perfect B-movie 95 Minutes ensuring a lack of flab in the plot.  the domestics

The casting is good with a mixture of vaguely recognisable TV actors and Kate Bosworth, certainly her best part in years.  Bosworth has never found her niche in the movie world, after her teen movie breakthrough; Blue Crush she flirted with both indie: The Rules of Attraction, and A list movies: Superman Returns.  Here she is perfectly cast, she starts out looking like a supporting role to the character of her husband, Mark (Tyler Hoechlin) but gradually develops into the leading character.  Along the way, they meet various people, some clearly can’t be trusted, others you aren’t sure about, they include; Nathan Wood (Lance Reddick) and his family who are trying to live their own version of the domestic lifestyle.  And Betsy (Sonoya Mizuno) as a Cherry whose intentions aren’t always clear. the domestics Sonoya Mizuno

A low budget often shows in the action scenes, here, it’s a benefit, they are well choreographed and shot and the lack of budget gives a senses of intimacy and realism you don’t get in a lot of blockbusters.  It does lack the grittiness of Mad Max, and the despair of The Road, but has a lighter tone that is very darkly satirical and sometimes humorous, there is also a glimmer of optimism and hope!


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With 99% 0f the population killed by solar flares that have left the earth as an irradiated desert.  The survivors live in cities built by robots.  Robots who are also used as servants for the rich.  The robots have a built in safety feature, they have two unalterable protocols: they cannot harm any form of life, and they may not modify any robot including themselves.  When a cop (Dylan McDermott) shoots a robot that he observes repairing itself insurance investigator Jacq Vaucan (Antonio Banderas) gets embroiled.


Existing somewhere between Blade Runner (1982) and I, Robot (2004) but leaning more towards Isaac Asimov than Philip K. Dick.  As you would expect from a film about the evolution of robots there is a strong subtext about what it is to be human.  This is magnified by the apocalyptic setting with humanity on the edge.  The film is underlined with a sense of melancholia reminiscent of Richard Stanley’s B movie masterpiece Hardware (1990).

Birgitte Hjort Sørensen

The use of over bleached photography is getting a little old but still looks good.  Known for his flamboyance, Antonio Banderas gives a perfectly low key performance he is well supported by stalwarts Dylan McDermott, Melanie Griffith, Robert Forster and Tim McInnerny as well as rising star Birgitte Hjort Sørensen.

Autómata Melanie Griffith

The story of robots evolving is juxtaposed with the story of Jacq Vaucan’s pregnant wife.  This prospective is what gives the film the humanity, the soul that elevates it.  The low-key direction won’t impress those looking for an action adventure but those who go in expecting something more thoughtful will be better served.

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Northern Soul

Northern Soul was released last October with mixed but generally positive reviews.  Unfortunately like so many small British films its release was tiny, or “limited” as distributors like to say.  Receiving just a three day release across 120 screens before moving to DVD and VOD.  During its short release it played to near capacity resulting it making the box-office top ten despite the limited screens.  I have just caught up with it on DVD.     Northern Soul (2014) DVD Label

1970’s Lancashire: In his final year of school John Clark (Elliot James Langridge) is a bit of an outsider and loner until he meets Matt (Josh Whitehouse).  A young man with aspirations of becoming a DJ on the Northern Soul scene.  They plan to visit America to build the best collection soul records.  After visiting the famous Wigan Casino the pair get more immersed in Northern Soul scene.northern soul

The young cast are excellent, as is the attention to detail, the film looks like drab 70’s England.  The soundtrack is fantastic with a good mixture of recognisable tunes and forgotten classics of the era.  The plot is a little thin, but the movie is all about the mood and sound of the scene.

The day after watching the movie I went to get my hair cut.  Both the customer next to me in the chair and the guy cutting his hair had aspirations to be DJ’s and were discussing where they had played and who they had seen play.  They then moved on to the merits of technology, the one declaring how he doesn’t own any CD’s or vinyl and mixes straight off a memory stick.  Their conversation made me think of the film I had seen the night before and nostalgic for a time I don’t know.northern soul

The film works as both a coming of age drama and or an insight into the era but is really all about the music. Don’t   expect anything groundbreaking or revolutionary, just sit back and enjoy the vibe. 

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The Anomaly posterBack in August I wrote about The Machine, an excellent low budget British Sci-Fi movie.  I have finally managed to catch up with The Anomaly, another entry in the same genre.  The reason I started with the comparison is both movies suffer with the same problem.  a lack of distribution.  Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t going to change the world or appear on your all time to ten list, it isn’t Star Wars or Blade Runner but it is a solid entertaining low budget movie. The Anomaly Noel Clarke

Set in an undisclosed date in the near future Ryan (Noel Clarke) a former soldier suffering PTSD wakes up in the back of a van with a kidnapped child and a huge gap in his memory.  He tries to help the boy but soon discovers there is far more going on than he comprehend.  He slowly discover what is going on and what his part in it is.  I have chosen not to giving away the plot so can’t say much more. The Anomaly

Directed, co-produced and starring one man film industry Noel Clarke.  The main support comes from Ian Somerhalder and Alexis Knapp with a small part for the legendry Brian Cox, also look out for Luke (older brother of Chris and Liam) Hemsworth.  Eagle-eyed viewers will spot Clarke’s Doctor Who co-star Freema Agyeman who appears as his wife in a photograph.The Anomaly Alexis Knapp

As you would expect of a low budget Sci-Fi movie the plot isn’t without holes, but none of them are significant and are soon forgotten as you root for the noble and likeable hero.  The action scenes are notable,  made on a budget the film employs well choreographed action shot with real visual flare.  It was reported at the time of release that Clarke did his own fight scenes without the use of a double, this really helps the action, as does the fighting style.  Employing the hard brutality of the real world with just a hint of The Matrix and Equilibrium style fantasy the action is fresh and entertaining.  This coupled with a mystery that unfolds slowly but without any real surprises makes for an enjoyable movie.The Anomaly  Ian Somerhalder

The film was shown at the Edinburgh Film Festival in June this year and supposedly receded a general release in the UK the following month.  Despite living in a major city (40 cinemas within a short drive), I was unable to find a local cinema showing the film.  Had the film been a no budget direct to video affair with a one cinema release to raise its profile, I could understand it, but that isn’t the case.  Although the actors are not A list, they are certainly recognisable.  That is why I cannot understand why  distributor Universal didn’t make more of it.  To exacerbate this, the film doesn’t appear to have made its way to North America in any format yet.  I don’t expect Hunger Games or Hobbit size releases, but I do think a British film deserves just a little time on the big screen over hear, if nothing else it may give it a fighting chance in other markets.

If you get the chance, to pick up a copy or see it on demand, give it a chance. 

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The Machine posterI haven’t posted under the heading DVD Gems lately but the low budget (less than £1million) British Sci-Fi thriller, The Machine is a worthy addition to the series.

In the near future we are in a mist of a cold war between the west and China.  Working for the ministry of defence, Vincent (Toby Stephens) is the head boffin in a project to create super soldier.  He enlist the help of Ava (Caity Lotz) who has created AI that could be the final part of the jigsaw.  It soon becomes clear that everyone has their own agenda.The Machine Toby Stephens Caity Lotz

Comparisons to The Terminator (1984), Splice (2009) and Frankenstein are inevitable, however it probably has most in common with Bride of Frankenstein (1935), not least for Caity Lotz’s fantastic duel role reminiscent of Elsa Lanchester.  Like so many of the other similar themed films about creating artificial life the film asks all the morel and existential questions you would expect.  The fact so few of the questions are answered could be considered a weakness, it is actually the films greatest strength.   To ask the questions without answering them gives the film an extra dimension and treats the audience with a little more intelligence than you would expect.  It isn’t that there is any great an mysterious subtext of subplot, the film merely asks questions that it lets it audience answer.The Machine Caity Lotz

Written and directed by Caradog W. James with imagination and vigour.  The effects are simple but effective making good use of the small budget.  The direction and editing are taught keeping filling the 90 minute runtime with ease.  The film also has a great dark and brooding visual style that is perfect.  The cast is good particularly the charismatic Toby Stephens and Caity Lotz who shows great range.  The great shame is that a an interesting British film didn’t receive a wider release.  Like most people, I had to wait for the DVD release.The Machine

Don’t expect an all action film, or a thoughtful thriller, but the film has elements of both of these ideas, and that is why you should watch the film, ideas!  The film is full of ideas.  I will certainly be looking out for what Caradog W. James does next.

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We Are the Night isn’t a particularly original take on the vampire movie and falls into the too cool for school trap of not using the word vampire. It does however have a certain charm that makes it worth watching. A stylish look and a suitably melancholic tone reminiscent The Hunger (1983) make it an enjoyable watch.we-are-the-night-movie-poster

The opening credits feature a montage of images starting with from colour photographs then black-and-white ones and finally paintings. The pictures depict key moments throughout the history of Germany going back three hundred years. Each image features the same blond woman who has witnessed it all through the ages. Cut to present day, three female vampires are on their way home to Berlin from Paris living out a decadent, hedonistic and bloody but ultimately empty lifestyle. Louise (Nina Hoss) the leader of the group is looking for something, more precisely she is looking for someone. She thinks she has found that in young petty criminal Lena (Karoline Herfurth).Karoline Herfurth We Are the Night

In a lot of ways Charlotte (Jennifer Ulrich) is the most interesting character (An actress from the silent era, she appears to have appeared in Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (1922)) who has grown tied of the lifestyle and longs for the daughter she had to abandon when she became a vampire. It is however a character we have seen many times before, most notably Louise (Brad Pitt) in Interview with the Vampire (1994). She doesn’t provide the same conscience that Louise does in Interview with the Vampire, but does help ground the characters and with it the film. According director to Dennis Gansel, the three initial vampires each represent a time key times in German history: Louise, the lat 1700’s, Charlotte the 1920’s (the golden age of German cinema) and Nora the 1990’s after the fall of the Berlin wall. The era they are all from is mentioned, but it goes beyond this, the characters retain.Jennifer Ulrichwe are the night

Like The Lost Boys and Near Dark (1987) the movie introduces an established “family” of vampires just as a new member is reluctantly recruited. The rebellious nature of the character belies her humanity, as this manifests itself she threatens the existence of the family. Although all the usual ideas are explored, Ultimately the potential downfall of the characters isn’t a noble redemption or the despair folly of unrequited love, it is simply the emptiness of their lives. This is as bigger message about today’s modern disposable society as any of the historical ideas in the movie.Nina Hoss we are the night

With its lack of original ideas and the fact it is subtitled means that it is never going to be a film for everyone, however for fans of the genre it is better than a lot of the English langue vampire movies that have jumped on the Twilight/Underworld bandwagon.

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When I received a DVD in the post from the rental company I subscribe to I was a little disappointed as I didn’t remember adding it to my watch list, however I was pleasantly surprised by The Tall Man resulting in the question: why didn’t it get a cinema release? So for the first time in two and half years I give you an entry into my “DVD Gems”.

A small mining town in Washington State is slowly dying since the mine closed. Amidst the desolation the towns children are slowly disappearing one by one, the police and the community have no idea what is happening beyond the presence as a mythical “tall Man”. Everyone appears to have given up and the local police are inept, only Seattle detective, Lieutenant Dodd (Stephen McHattie) and young nurse (Jessica Biel) have any life or vigour remaining. Beyond that it wouldn’t be fair to spoil any of the plot.the tall man

There was a time during The Tall Man that I thought of Martyrs (2008). Having sat down to watch the movie with no prior knowledge or expectations I didn’t realise at the time that the two movies share a writer and director in the shape of the darling of the New French Extreme, Pascal Laugier. With this in mind it is even more surprising that the movie didn’t find its way into UK cinema’s. Not as good as Martyrs but more accessible and less extreme it could have easily found an audience amongst horror fans, however it isn’t actually a horror movie although it shares many themes and tropes of the genre. It is a well paced and well constructed atmospheric thriller far from a horror shocker. For fans of the genre, it is a perfect case of “bait and switch” but I won’t say how, that would ruin it. There are twists and turns in the plot, the most daring of them isn’t necessarily daring in its reveal as much as how early in the movie it happens. To its credit, it keeps you hooked beyond this point and keeps you asking questions about what is going on. It has its problems, chief amongst them is the stereotypical and clichéd small town setting with its stereotypical clichéd characters. This however is integral to the plot and as distracting as it can not be avoided.the tall man jessica biel

Director Pascal Laugier and director of photography Kamal Derkaoui have created a stunning looking movie. The photography if very dark, even in the daytime, this helps evoke a feeling of desperation and despair in the dying town. The sets perfectly give the impression of a setting a generation shy of becoming a ghost town. This fits well both with the thriller aspects of the movie as well as the underlying social commentary. The cast is perfect with Jessica Biel giving a suitably intense and low key performance. Stephen McHattie plays a suitably grizzled detective. Jodelle Ferland (who looks more like horror/thriller queen Danielle Harris every time I see her) acts as narrator but also plays a part that strings the elements of the story together, she does a great job.Tall-Man Jodelle Ferland

The film is at its best and its greatest achievement is when it expects audiences to think about what they have seen and how they feel about them. It leaves its conclusion open. I don’t mean unfinished or even ambiguous, just open. This isn’t a David Lynch movie where we question what we have seen and what it means, It gives us a series of events that by the end, the facts are clear and without question, however the morality and meaning are left for the viewer to decide. The overriding theme and the question it poses were asked a few years ago in a very different movie (I won’t name it as it will give too much away), while the other movie in question was better, it was also more closed in its opinion. As with the other movie most people will draw one of two conclusions, however it is possible to like or dislike the film on its own merits regardless of which camp you are into, the movie isn’t preaching one idea or the other, it is asking a question. This along with the plot twists may be what is putting some people off. If you feel cheated by plot twists of like being told what to think avoid this film.the tall man Stephen McHattie

If you reed the numerous (and somewhat mixed) reviews on Rotten Tomatoes or IMDB you would be forgiven for thinking the movie is incoherent thanks to the plot twists, I am happy to report they are wrong! There are twists and turns in the plot, while they may or may not be surprising, but they are never incoherent or hard to follow. Far from a classic but certainly a memorable entry into the genre and far better than many that get a cinema/theatrical release.

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Glorious 39

It is impossible to talk about this movie without some plot spoilers, hopefully it won’t put you off reading my review, it may just convince you to see this underappreciated movie.

There is a line in the song Won’t Get Fooled Again by The Who (great song by the way!):

“But the world looks just the same

And history ain’t changed”


But history, or at least our perception of it does change and has changed, and it makes our view of the world very different. It is often suggested that the victors in war write the history, this is true but over time other opinions start to appear. My first experience of a World War II movie from a German prospective was Germany, Pale Mother (1980) directed by Helma Sanders-Brahms, I saw it whilst in my late teens and although I didn’t actually enjoy the film it did change the way I have looked at war movies ever since. The one subject of the war that seems to have been overlooked by British filmmakers is “Appeasement”, Glorious 39 being a rare film on the subject. It is also a subject that is largely glossed over in school history lessons (at least it was when I was at school). A little background on the subject: Neville Chamberlain was elected Prime Minister in 1937, he proceeded to do all in his power to avert war with Germany, most notably the Munich Agreement in 1938. Following this he announced that they had secured “peace for our time” and was declared a national hero.

Written and directed by Stephen Poliakoff, Glorious 39 is a conspiracy thriller set against a backdrop of this complex political situation just before the outbreak of war. Told in flashback from present-day London, young Michael Walton (Toby Regbo) visits his ageing cousins Walter and Oliver Page (Christopher Lee and Corin Redgrave) to talk about family history particularly his great aunt, Anne Keyes. We are quickly transported back to the summer of 1939. Anne (Romola Garai) and her siblings Celia (Juno Temple) and Ralph (Eddie Redmayne) are arranging a dinner party to celebrate their father’s birthday. The farther in question, Alexander Keyes (Bill Nighy) is the head of an upper-class family and member of parliament. Other guests include their mother Maud (Jenny Agutter), Hector (David Tennant) a family friend and also Member of Parliament, Lawrence (Charlie Cox) Anne’s lover and Joseph Balcombe (Jeremy Northam) a shady government agent.

What starts out as a country house drama rapidly descends into a paranoid thriller that could easily have come from the pen of John Buchan. As war becomes inevitable the upper classes look to preserve their way of life, the society balls continue as if nothing has changed and their existence is a step removed from the middle and lower classes. And this is the key to the characters, their intentions cease to be about right and wrong and become about preserving their privileged and outdated way of life making the movie about a different idea of right and wrong. Part of the beauty of the piece is the effortless way it delicately weaves the national and international story into a more personal family story. Although the story itself is fictional the background is real, the pre-Churchill government really did use the secret service to suppress opposition to the policy of appeasement. Have things really changed that much in the 70 years that followed?

Away from any themes or morals the movie works as both a paranoid thriller and a costume drama. There are scenes that look like imitations of Hitchcock, some work better than others but together they perfectly capture an air of mounting paranoia. The look of the film is as good as any regular costume drama. The acting is fantastic from a brilliant cast that reads like a who’s who of British talent (including: Bill Nighy, Julie Christie, Jeremy Northam, Christopher Lee, Corin Redgrave, Hugh Bonneville, Jenny Agutter and former Dr Who David Tennant) it is actually Romola Garai who stands out. Having already excelled as the teenage version Briony Tallis in Atonement she again proves she should be a bigger star.

A great film that was criminally treated on its cinema release, check it out on DVD.

Four Stars out of Five


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Diane Ford (Michelle Monaghan) lives life on her own terms, working as a long-haul truck driver, she owns her own rig and spends weeks on end on the road and has no real commitments. Her only relationships revolve around one night stands with random strangers and drinking with best friend Runner (Nathan Fillion) who despite being married doesn’t make much of a secret of his feelings for Diane. All this changes when her ex-husband, Len (Benjamin Bratt) is diagnosed with cancer and goes into hospital for an operation. She is forced to care for their eleven year old son Peter (Jimmy Bennett) who she hasn’t seen since he was a baby.

With Michelle Monaghan and Nathan Fillion, the most underrated and underutilised actors in Hollywood this movie was destined to be something special. First time writer/director James Mottern has sculpted a story with a certain honesty and integrity built on the foundation of an interesting and engaging main character. This is further elevated by perfectly casting and fantastic acting from that cast. The idea of “truck drive reunited with estranged son” is not an original one, most notably tackled previously in the Sylvester Stallone vehicle Over the Top (1987) a movie so thin on plot it had to introduce an arm wrestling subplot to fill its 90 minute runtime. For its plot, Trucker has no such problems as it sticks to the strained relationship between mother and son; and strained it is! Devoid of motherly instinct or affection, Diane repeatedly refers to Peter as “dude”, his most used name for her is “bitch”. A certain bond has to be created between this pair as much for the realism of the situation as the needs of the plot and story arc, but how far can it develop? Diane’s greatest desire is for her independence, Peter’s only desire is to be reunited with his farther. What the film lacks in depth and scope it more than makes up for in intensity, focus and the often brutal honesty of character.

If any more proof were needed that Michelle Monaghan should be given a leading role in a major Hollywood movie (and not a crappy rom-com) this is surly it, and if Nathan Fillion finds his way to be her co-star all the better.

Four Stars out of five

Made in 2008 and only receiving a limited UK cinema and DVD release this year.

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The Graves (2009)

Two sisters from Arizona, Megan Graves (Clare Grant) and Abby Graves (Jillian Murray) go on one last road-trip before Megan leaves for a job in New York. After getting lost looking for a roadside attraction – the worlds largest thermometer –  they find themselves a small town. The waitress in the diner where they have lunch gives them directions to Skull City a local attraction, an abandoned mining town turned museum. It doesn’t take long before people start to die. The most pleasing and surprising thing about the movie is that just when you think it will be a Hostel style torture movie it becomes a supernatural horror with characters you want to see survive.

The thing that makes the movie work is the casting, Whilst Clare Grant and Jillian Murray aren’t great actresses, they are likeable and believable as sisters. It also features Tony Todd, best known as Candyman, Bill Moseley who has real horror credentials with parts in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986), Army of Darkness (1992), House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and its sequel The Devil’s Rejects (2005) and Amanda Wyss who was Freddy Krueger’s first victim, in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).

The story is hugely predictable and lacks originality and has no surprises. The acting is average at best and the photography isn’t great. It is basically a crappy B horror movie. It isn’t very good, but it really as no pretensions and doesn’t pretend to be any good and as such I kind of enjoyed it.  I have heard “Buffy meets The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” mentioned, its not a bad description although it lacks the humour of Buffy and the scares of Chain Saw.  The near epic eighty-four minute runtime flew by.

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