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Date: 24 February, 2005

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'He’s big, red and ugly and you don’t want to find him lining up against you. Still, enough of Wayne Rooney, what about Hellboy?!'


Now with links to resources from christian publisher Damaris, Steve Couch reviews films recently released on DVD.

Click on the orange title or cover image to buy the DVD from amazon.co.uk and Christian Aid receives some money from the sale.

Use the jump links below to read the other reviews in this column
The Bourne Supremacy
Collateral
Hellboy
Envy

The Bourne SupremacyThe Bourne Supremacy
(Universal 2004)
Certificate 12

James Bond for grown ups. Matt Damon returns as troubled former assassin Jason Bourne. This film picks up where The Bourne Identity left off, and it isn’t too long before Bourne’s idyllic existence ‘off the grid’ and away from the clutches of the CIA is thrown into turmoil.

Like its predecessor, The Bourne Supremacy has a grittier, more messily realistic feel than most secret agent fare. The fight scenes are untidily believable: the bad guys don’t give a warning before trying to shoot you; and nobody spills the beans on their plan for world domination safe in the knowledge that you will never escape from their underground lair.

The back story, (that Bourne was part of a mind-conditioning programme aimed at producing controllable, infallible assets for the spymasters to utilise however they saw fit) allows some license for skin of the teeth stunts and set-pieces, but if you are willing to accept that basic premise, then nothing that follows is unrealistic.

There’s the usual array of car chases, foot races, explosions, shootings and hand to hand fighting. But while the tension crackles, nothing feels overblown (even, ironically, when a house is blown up); nowhere do you feel that actors are playing to gallery in a way that pushes beyond the reasonable bounds of character.

Where the film really takes off is in Bourne’s messed-up head. Director Paul Greengrass describes Bourne as ‘a character steeped in violence … but aiming towards the light.’

Bourne’s refusal to accept that he is no more than a killing machine is the heart of the film, with details of plot concerning a secret service enquiry into some deaths in Berlin ultimately peripheral to Bourne continuing his quest to discover who he was and who he is.

His final appointment in the film elevates proceedings to a more human level than anything in the Bond canon. And fans of 1970s footballers may enjoy a wry smile at the final revelation.

The extras emphasise the desire of all concerned to ‘keep it real’ – stunt co-ordinators boast about the lack of CGI effects on explosions, actors wax lyrical about the director’s willingness to let the emotional truth of the performance take precedence over the technical setting up of the shot.

The deleted scenes are a let down, and whoever came up with the titles for the respective extras should be given a dictionary and a special lesson in the meaning of the word ‘explosive’. Nevertheless, this is a good selection of extras which are worth giving the once over.

If you liked The Bourne Identity, this won’t disappoint. If you are new to this particular franchise, there is much to recommend it and not a gadget in sight. The thinking person’s spy thriller.

Click here to read the Damaris Culturewatch study guide on The Bourne Supremacy.

Collateral Collateral
(Paramount)
Certificate 15

There are few films darker (in the literal sense) than Michael Mann’s Collateral, and the moral tone reflects the lack of light in this tale of a single momentous night in the life of Max (Jamie Foxx), the Los Angeles cabbie who picks up Vincent (Tom Cruise) only to discover that he is a hit-man working his way through a list of targets.

The friction between Max’s bewilderment and Vincent’s nihilistic justification for what he does (he sees moral issues to be as grey as his hair, with Cruise looking like the before picture in an old Grecian 2000 ad) drives much of the film, and it is a dialogue which leaves neither man unchanged.

Foxx and Cruise are in excellent form, and every nuance of character is put in the service of Mann’s compelling storytelling.

The extras are sparse, but well worth the time for anyone with an interest in the craft of filmmaking. Mann is the centre of attention, and film and extras alike will do no harm to his reputation as a master of the art.

His commentary track (to the whole film and to the solitary deleted scene included here) reveals both his attention to detail and his desire to preserve the viewer’s focus.

By no means a comfortable ride, but a compelling one which shifts through the gears when needed and delivers you breathless at the final destination.

Click here to read the Damaris Culturewatch study guide on Collateral.

Hellboy Hellboy
(Columbia TriStar 2004)
Certificate 12

He’s big, red and ugly and you don’t want to find him lining up against you. Still, enough of Wayne Rooney, what about Hellboy?!

Cast out from another dimension into our world as a result of the experiments of Nazi occultists at the end of the second World War, Hellboy is adopted and raised by a well meaning scientist, who teaches him to transcend his demonic origins and be a force for good.

But when the architects of the evil scheme to destroy all life on earth reappear, can Hellboy be relied upon to fight our corner, or will he fulfil his original destiny and bring about the final triumph of the powers of chaos?

Your reaction to the previous paragraph will probably determine your reaction to this film. For comic book fan-boys whose appetite is whetted, the film won’t disappoint. For anyone less committed to the genre, a little caution is advised.

Not that the film is without its merits, even for those of us who live in a world where comics are more likely to mean Cannon and Ball than Marvel and Dark Horse. Ron Perlman is striking in the title role, providing a charismatic central performance as the curmudgeonly demonic one.

There is some depth, and a genuine sense of Hellboy as more than just an accident waiting for someone to happen to. Issues of freewill and determinism, of nature versus nurture, choice versus destiny are all wrapped up in this, but somehow they don’t really get the airing that you suspect was intended (hint: guess whether or not Hellboy ends up destroying the world.)

While it reaches unsuccessfully for gravitas and profundity, it delivers actions and spectacle in spades, so maybe it’s a little harsh to complain.

As seems to be the norm for this type of film, there are extensive DVD extras, including comic book style material and, bizarrely, vintage Columbia cartoons – a version of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, and three tales of Gerald McBoing Boing, the boy who made noises instead of being able to speak.

The first (Gerald’s ‘origin tale’, in comic book speak) is scripted by no less than Dr. Seuss, and is delightful, but I’m not sure what it’s doing here.

So, this is a must for fans of supernaturally tinged comic book sci-fi. For the rest of us, there is still an enjoyable evening to be had with Hellboy, but only if you don’t take it all too seriously. And don’t stare at his horns.

Click here to read the Damaris Culturewatch study guide on Hellboy.

EnvyEnvy
(Columbia Tri-Star)
Certificate 12

Ben Stiller and Jack Black are possibly the hottest names in film comedy right now, and although this is an enjoyable romp, you are left with the feeling that Envy isn’t going to find its way to the top of either stars’ CV.

Nick (Black) and Tim (Stiller) are neighbours, workmates and best friends. Tim is the focused company man, climbing the corporate ladder; Nick the hopeless dreamer.

When Nick comes up with the idea of Vapoorizer – an aerosol spray that makes dog poo disappear – Tim declines the opportunity to invest. Needless to say, Nick makes a fortune when Vapoorizer flies out of the shops like vapoorized poo off a freshly mown lawn, and Tim is left with his faced pressed up against the window pane of success.

It’s an enjoyable romp, with some well crafted comic moments. The focus is on Tim’s attempts at dealing with his envy and resentment, getting drawn into the murky world of the deliciously eccentric Christopher Walken, digging himself deeper and deeper into the smelly stuff as he makes a succession of bad decisions.

The morality tale that unfolds centres on his role as a good guy laid low by jealousy. And maybe that’s the problem. Both of the central characters are just too nice. Nowhere do we get the self-centred edge of Black at his best (see School of Rock or High Fidelity), nowhere is Stiller’s rage given full throttle (see Mystery Men, Dodgeball).

Envy is a perfectly good night’s entertainment, which can’t help but look longingly at the bigger, better films in the back catalogues of its two stars. Hey, maybe that would make a good theme for a movie.

Other DVD recommendations
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