DVD Tuesday: ‘Bang Bang Club’ and ‘Priest’

by W. Andrew Powell

The cast of The Bang Bang Club

The cast of The Bang Bang Club

Bullets fly in the drama, The Bang Bang Club, which arrives on DVD and Blu-ray this week and tells the story of a group of photographers in Apartheid South Africa. Other new releases include the terrible action film Priest, starring Paul Bettany; and Demolition Man on Blu-ray.

The Bang Bang Club
Starring: Ryan Phillippe, Taylor Kitsch, Malin Akerman, Frank Rautenbach, Neels VanJaarsveld
Director: Steven Silver

Rated: 6/10

Documentary filmmaker Steven Silver took on the difficult topic of the Bang-Bang Club in his film about the infamous group of war-time photographers who worked in South Africa during the early days of Apartheid in the 1990s.

Risking their lives during the bloody conflicts, the photographers did whatever it took to get in the middle of street battles so they could get the shots their publishers wanted.

Ryan Phillippe plays the role of Greg Marinovich, a new recruit in the club who proves himself during one daring, but potentially stupid run in with a violent group of men. Getting incredible photos from the experience, he becomes close friends with the group of journalists, while falling for the photo editor Robin Comley, played by Malin Akerman, who chooses the pictures that make it into publication.

Running between the outbursts of violence, and the refuge of their office and their rooms, the men will face terrible atrocities head on, while some of them will ultimately have to come to terms with their own morals about their part in the story, and what they’re witnessing.

Co-starring Taylor Kitsch, Frank Rautenbach, and Neels VanJaarsveld, The Bang Bang Club is clearly driven by Silver’s work in documentaries, using the same visual style you would expect if you were really following these photographers through the streets of South Africa in 1994. That visual sensibility powers the key emotional moments of the film, and gives the movie its greatest moments, but there is a lot more going in the film outside of that, and unfortunately it’s not all helpful to the film’s mood.

The street scenes certainly carry the film, but the story wanders back and forth between the relationship between the photographers, Greg’s rise to fame and his relationship with Robin, and all of the political issues broiling around the region leading up to fall of Apartheid. Because of all these elements mixing together, it’s often hard to care about some of the characters, and it’s even harder to feel drawn into this story which is constantly changing speeds and directions.

On top of that, nearly all of the characters feel like they were based on stereotypes, rather than real people, and that’s ultimately what ruined the film for me, especially as the stories depend on us caring deeply about them.

As a photographer myself, I was drawn to this film and the story, and it’s not all bad, but it will disappoint many people who would expect more from such an important topic, and a film that clearly had so much going for it.

In terms of the technical aspects, and the features, the Blu-ray looks solid, with great film quality, and it comes with a few great features, like a making-of featurette, audio commentary with the director, deleted scenes, and a series of interviews with the cast and crew of the film.

Starring: Paul Bettany, Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q, Stephen Moyer, Lily Collins, Karl Urban
Director: Scott Stewart

Scott Stewart deserves a pat on the back, but so far it’s not for his directing career.

Look back just a few years and Stewart was involved with some of the better special effects coming out of Hollywood, working with visual effects company The Orphanage on films like Iron Man, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

As a director though, Stewart has so far failed to do much more than irritate critics, whether you’re talking about his dud Legion, or his latest sci-fi offering, the adaptation of Priest.

Based on Min-Woo Hyung’s Korean comic book of the same name, the film is set in a post-apocalyptic version of Earth where mankind has been fighting with vampires for a long, long time. Trying to protect themselves from the thirst of the vampires, humanity now lives inside city fortresses run by the Church.

When his niece, played by Lily Collins, is captured by vampires though, one warrior, played by Paul Bettany, will have to set aside his life to hunt down the blood suckers. Priest will get a little help on his mission though, including from his niece’s boyfriend, played by Cam Gigandet, and a Warrior Priestess played by Maggie Q.

Based on dozens of terrible reviews, Priest was skippable in theatres, and it’s still the kind of film you can pass up on DVD. Linda Barnard of the Toronto Star called the film, “A mash-up of vampire horror and period westerns stewed with Blade Runner cityscapes and ridiculous religious images in a bubbling cauldron of dumb ideas and sinfully bad dialogue.”

Tirdad Derakhshani of the Philadelphia Inquirer also commented, writing that “High production values and slick editing can’t save this picture. Nor does its overbearing soundtrack music, which tries to strong-arm viewers into believing they’re watching a pulse-pounding thriller.”

Demolition Man [Blu-ray]
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock, Nigel Hawthorne, Benjamin Bratt, Bob Gunton
Director: Marco Brambilla

Rated: 7.5/10

Cheesy as it is, Demolition Man is still one of my favorite popcorn action movies, and I’m just a little amazed at how great it looks on Blu-ray.

Released back in 1993, and set mostly in 2032, the film stars Sylvester Stallone as the Los Angeles Police Department’s most well-known head-cracking cop, the great John Spartan.

Opening in the late 90s, where John takes down the vile and vicious Simon Phoenix, played by a never-better Wesley Snipes, the “Demolition Man” ends up with a lengthly prison term thanks to Simon. The difference from our prison system is that John and Simon are cryogenically frozen, rather than rotting in a prison cell, and after nearly 40 years Simon finds a way of escaping into a future where violence has been practically wiped out of the San Angeles area.

For the San Angeles police, the only answer to the problem of Simon’s evil is to find someone who knows how to deal with the villain, so they thaw John out and ask him to help them. Little do they realize, however, that Simon has “escaped” because of a careful plan, and John is getting in the way of those plans.

Featuring snappy dialogue and action-packed performances by Stallone and Snipes, not to mention a very funny Sandra Bullock as the love interest, Demolition Man is a little silly and farcical, but it’s also a lot of fun, and it’s a classic dumb-as-nails action film. The Blu-ray doesn’t really have much in the way of extras, aside from a commentary track, but the film looks brilliant with a very clean transfer.

For action fans, it’s a must watch in my books.

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