Summer's Top 5 DVD Releases
It’s summer in Australia, and we all know what that means: lots of fun in the sun enjoying the wonders of… eh, who are we kidding? These days Summer in Australia either means weather so blow-torch hot going outside is an act of self-destruction or rain so hard sticking your hand out to see if it’s raining leaves your fingers more wrinkled than a 80 year olds. So what better time to stay inside in air conditioned comfort watching DVDs? No, that’s not a rhetorical question.
5. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning
The Universal Soldier franchise is basically one big mess if you’re going to try to follow it from the beginning (yes, there are two completely different movies known as Universal Soldier 2), but fortunately the basics never change: the US military is bringing dead soldiers back to life as unstoppable killing machines, and usually Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lungren (who both starred in the 1992 original) are lurking around somewhere.
Not that anyone really cared what was happening with the Universal Soldier franchise until director John Hyams (son of famed cinematographer Peter Hyams) came along. The skilful action sequences and not completely ridiculous plot in his first Universal Solder film, Regeneration, marked him out as a director to watch. With his second, Day of Reckoning, he’s created an action film that can easily stand with what passes for big-screen action today. Basically a waking nightmare, it kicks off with John (Scott Adkins) waking from a six month coma with only one solid memory – seeing his family killed in his home by masked gunmen led by Luc Deveraux (Van Damme).
Swearing vengeance, he lurches from fight to brutally over the top fight haunted by bizarre visions (he can’t look in a mirror without seeing a bald, face-painted Deveraux) and mounting evidence telling him he’s living a lie. Hyams makes a virtue of the flaws of low-budget action film-making, with cheap sets and empty houses becoming authentically creepy and dream-like as John drifts through them trying to put his life together, while the bad acting from the lumbering tough-guy cast makes perfect sense – they are all reanimated corpses, after all.
Even the frequent sex and nasty violence demanded by the genre makes sense here; how else would zombie steroid freaks who live only to kill spend their spare time? (they also don’t mind a drink). The result is genuinely disturbing in parts, with plenty of action movie thrills is others: not only does this have one of the best car chases in ages, it follows it up with a fight scene in a sporting good store that is going to be hard for any movie – whatever the budget – to top in 2013.
4. Your Sister’s Sister
Jack (Marc Duplass) has a dead brother and it’s tearing him up inside – and outside, if his behaviour at the wake is any guide. So when his brother’s ex-girlfriend (and his good friend) Iris (Emily Blunt) suggests that maybe he gets away from it all by staying a while at the empty family holiday home on a nearby island, he figures why not?
He gets on his bike, rides to the ferry, takes the ferry, rides off the ferry, cycles all the way to the house, gets there, gets off his bike, goes to go inside and finally get some rest… and then discovers Iris’ sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) is already staying there. It’s just too late and long a trip for him to turn around and go home, so it’s decided he’ll stay the night, even though Hannah has some issues of her own she’s also trying to get over, having only recently broken up with her long term girlfriend. As you’d expect from people who’re hurting, the booze comes out, sad stories are swapped, Jack makes a clumsy but sweet pass at Hannah, Hannah doesn’t slap him down, and next thing it’s the next morning and Iris has decided to make a surprise check-up.
Let’s just say things only get more complicated from there. Writer / director Lynn Shelton (Humpday) has created a film that works largely thanks to some winning chemistry between the three leads, but that’s not to downplay her work; she knows enough to get out of her cast’s way and let them go to work. This is a film that’s almost entirely about people wanting to move forward and make changes to pre-existing relationships – between friends, between siblings – and all three leads do a great job of making those pre-existing relationships feel real.
Having the trio be charming and funny doesn’t exactly hurt either, and with a story that’s as slight as this one – once the two big plot hiccups are established around the halfway mark the rest of the film largely involves everyone wandering around trying to figure out what to do – having characters that you actually like and want to spend time with is a very big plus.
This isn’t a film that’ll leave you wrung out or devastated, but sometimes you just want to spend some time with people you like watching them muddle through their lives. Often on bikes.