DVD Round-up, 1 February 2010

Perhaps the most underrated horror film (if box office takings are to be believed) of 2009 was Pontypool, a small Canadian chiller set mostly in the confines of a radio station as a zombie massacre occurs outside and off-screen.

One-time screen bad guy Stephen McHattie is Grant Mazzy, a big city shock jock relocated to small-town Canada on the morning shift. On his way to work one day, Mazzy encounters a strange woman on the road, but thinks nothing of it as the snow starts to fall.

Once at work, things start to go awry when phone calls from locals alert Mazzy and his producer to the fact that Pontypool’s populace are turning nasty. Mazzy must now try to work out what is happening before he and his colleagues become the next target for the rampaging mob.

Working with a tiny budget, director Bruce McDonald ekes out every ounce of drama from Tony Burgess’ script, the inherent hokiness of the plot given gravitas by McHattie’s sterling performance as the smooth-voiced Mazzy.

There’s also fun to be had with the unique reason given for the virus spreading through Pontypool, one you’ll be thinking about long after the credits have rolled. It’s a nifty little film which deserves your time, even if horror films aren’t usually your thing.

Oh, and when those credits have rolled, stay tuned for something even odder…

The Second World War may have been one of the worst moments in history but its dramatic potential remains unsurpassable judging by the continuing trickle of films set during the period.

Out now on DVD is 2009’s Army of Crime (Optimum), a smart thriller focussing on the real-life story of those who took part in revenge attacks against the invading Germans in the Paris of 1941.

When poet Missak Manouchian (Simon Abkarian) is caught early on in the war by the Germans, his wife Mélinée (Virginie Ledoyen) is forced to step in and begin subversive actions against the occupiers.

Manouchian is soon approached by a Resistance group composed of Jews, Hungarians, Poles and other immigrant workers, his task to reform a ragtag assembly of youths into something that might take on the Nazi’s.

Although it clocks in at just over two hours, Army of Crime doesn’t waste valuable time with lengthy scene setting. Instead it starts as it means to go on, pulling the viewer into the plight of the protagonists, allowing the various strands to be come together smoothly.

With torture and violence the main weapons in the Army’s arsenal it’s not surprising that this isn’t a comfortable watch, but it is an important one. Ledoyen and Abkarian make for powerful and always watchable leads, helping make Army of Crime one the most satisfying war dramas of recent years.

From 1940s Paris we jump back a few decades to the silent era and the release of yet another gem from the archives courtesy of Masters of Cinema, Ernst Lubitsch in Berlin.

German born actor and director Ernst Lubitsch became on of the most sought after Hollywood directors in the 1930s and 40s, films such as Heaven Can Wait and The Shop Around the Corner bringing him great acclaim.

Rewind to the early 1920s and Lubitsch was still living in his home city of Berlin and trying to impress audiences with his comedic acting. While he had minor success, it wasn’t until he began directing that he found real success.

This new set collects six of Lubitsch’s Berlin-era films together for the first time: Ich Mochte Kein Mann Sein (1918), Die Puppe (1919), Die Austernprinzessin (1919), Sumurun (1920), Anna Boleyn (1920), and Die Bergkatze (1921).

Stand-out on this set are Mochte Kein Mann Sein, in which Lubitsch’s muse Ossi Oswalda has to pretend to be a man in order to have a night on the town, and Die Puppe, a bizarre story which opens with a house being put together with the pieces from a toy box and characters coming to life to enact a strange love story involving a woman that’s really a doll…

Also included on the set is a fascinating documentary on the man and his life which puts things into context.

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