Special Edition # 45 marks my return after a hiatus due to things that I can’t tell you about. Well, I could tell but then I’d have to kill you.Which would be a bit unfair given that there are lots of lovely DVDs due out very soon. So, rather than dwell on an emotional reunion, let’s just get straight on with it shall we?
A Facebook movie? Whatever next? A musical about My Space? An opera about Google? Not to worry. In The Social Network (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) David Fincher has confounded the critics and created a compelling drama. Mark Zuckerberg is a precocious Harvard student who, with the help of his friend Eduardo Saverin, creates ‘thefacebook.com’. As the site explodes in popularity, Zuckerberg and his colleagues begin to taste the life of celebrities with all the money and fame that it brings. But popularity breeds jealousy and Zuckerberg finds himself in the middle of numerous lawsuits. But has he brought the problems on himself? Aaron Sorkin manages to keep the technogeek banter to a minimum and tell a tale of how pride always comes before a fall. Fincher’s direction is compelling utilising a complex structure whilst Jesse Eisenberg is excellent in the lead role alongside the likes of Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake. Like all good filmmaking, this takes inspiration from the unlikeliest of places and shows that whilst technology moves on, the human capacity for hubris remains the same. This is a two edition with commentaries and featurettes.
You’d think that Oliver Stone would have a lot to say about the recession. But in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment) he seems content to take a much more lightweight approach than audiences have been used to. In the film, Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas, reprising his role from the first film) is now older and wiser thanks to a stint in prison for insider trading. Befriending young trader Jake Moore – who so happens to be marrying Gekko’s estranged daughter Winnie – Gekko watches the entire financial sector tear apart. Just what does are Gekko’s real motives? This is all rather toothless, focusing on individuals rather than a system as a whole and it’s not helped by the fact that the main protagonists problem is that they are rich people who will end up being slightly less rich. Michael Douglas does great as Gekko, and leaves the rest of the performances in a trail of dust whilst the amount of camera and editing trickery that stone engages in means that things never get dull. A fun little piece of entertainment but a failure as a piece of social commentary
Mary and Max (Soda Pictures) is by far othe best animation released in 2010 (yep, even better than all the Pixar efforts). Directed by Adam Elliot (who picked up an Oscar for his superlative short Harvie Krumpet) the film is an animation about young Mary, an Australian girl who lives a lonely life with alcoholic parents and a low opinion of herself. Taking the New York phone book, she decides to write to a random person. She finds Max Horowitz, a 40 something Jewish man who struggles with Asperger’s Syndrome. Despite their different backgrounds an unlikely friendship blossoms. This is a simply astonishing piece of work with a beautifully constructed story combined with some technically brilliant animation and great voice performances from the likes of Toni Collette and Philip Seymour Hoffman. With a refreshingly dark edge this is an emotionally uplifting film that is one of the best films of the past few years. If you’d not seen it yet, you should rectify this as soon as possible.
Much less successful is Open Season 3 (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) the direct-to-DVD sequel to the animated films that, well, weren’t very beloved in the first place. The bear Boog accidentally gets trapped in the circus and it’s up to his colleagues to come and save him. So Elliot, McSquizzy and Mr. Weenie set on an epic journey to free Boog from the clutches of the evil circus. No, I can’t believe that I just wrote that sentence either. This is your typical modern straight to-to-DVD animation, with one or two good jokes amongst some rather soulless animation. Of course, this is aimed for hyperactive youngsters to sit in front of whilst ultra-tired adults try and grab a few minutes precious sleep and – in that – it fulfills its aims admirably. But it’s not going to be knocking the likes of Toy Story 3 off the 'favourite lists' for animation sequels anytime soon.
The latest in a long string of comic book adaptations RED (Entertainment One) sees Bruce Willis plays Frank Moses, a retired CIA agent who wakes up one day to find what seems like the entire world wanting to kill him. Dragging along the innocent Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker), he attempts to find out why he is being targeted, and soon discovers it links in with a mysterious mission he undertook many years before. Willis, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman and John Malkovich (who is actually quite good) seem to be in this movie to show their grandchildren that they can still be cool. They’re certainly not appearing for the inherent quality of the material. The plot is the stuff of countless other action/conspiracy movies and the action sequences – whilst clearly well put together – are nothing out of the ordinary whilst it can never quite decide if it wants to be a hard hitting drama or silly comedy. The stars are clearly having great fun – shame it never really transfers to the audience.
Something of a cult favourite of 60s British Cinema Morgan: A Suitable Case For Treatment (Optimum Classics) makes a welcome appearance on DVD. The film stars David Warner (one of Britain’s greatest actors who has never quite seemed to get the recognition he deserves) as the Marxist / rebel / artist Morgan Delt. His unconventional approach to life is a source of concern to his long-suffering wife (Vanessa Redgrave) and soon she is trying to get him committed whilst planning on a starting a new life with an altogether more suitable partner. Just what is it really like in Morgan’s fantasy world? This is a cinema that breaks free of the shackles of the kitchen sink and lets insanity reign free. Its barrage of surreal comedy and non-stop craziness certainly makes it a consistently energetic piece and Warner’s performance is breathlessly unrestrained. But it lacks the heart of films such as Billy Liar and its unfocused nature mean that – whilst it is fondly remembered and deservedly so – it has dated rather badly. But its energy is undeniable and it’s definitely worth a watch for fans of the era and its cinematic offerings.
The Duplass Brothers, formerly darlings of the American Indie scene, move over to the studio system with their latest film Cyrus (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment). They still manage to tick all the boxes for their American Indie credentials (darkly comic story about a man whose self-esteem at rock bottom and has to deal with the horrible son of his prospective new love) but they're now allowed to hire the likes of John C Reilly. Thankfully the money is well spent, as Reilly is excellent in the lead role as man trying to deal with a person’s almost unhealthy obsession with his mother whilst Jonah Hill is brilliant in the titular role of the ultra-jealous son. However one can’t help feel that the script is a little too light at times and takes the easy way out. Whilst one shouldn’t be dark for the sake of it, the move into more positive territory sometimes seems forced whilst the refusal to deeply explore Cyrus’ complex relationship with his mother does seem to hint at bowing to the system. Still, this is a fine US comedy replete with strong acting.
A quick confession – I actually thought the first Resident Evil film was quite good. Yes, it was rubbish. But it was the good kind of rubbish. As the series reaches its fourth film in the franchise, people don’t know need to worry as the films have kept up the grand tradition – they’re still rubbish. In Resident Evil: Afterlife (Sony Pictures Entertainment) there’s lots of stuff about zombies and viruses whilst Milla Jojovich runs around in a bunch of outfits which would seem completely unsuited to battle situations. Yes, this is total guff but it finds itself a perfect home on DVD (even though it was filmed in 3D) as it’s the usual ‘get the beers on and switch the brain off’ type of film that’s fun to enjoy every once in a while. And, as an adaptation of a computer games goes, this is one of the better ones (more an indication of how Hollywood treats computer game adaptations than any inherent quality of the film). Indeed, this seems to be a zombie of a franchise – something that will shuffle along, never dying and never requiring the use of any brains.
For some real horror then you need look no further than Amer (Anchor Bay Entertainment), one of the finest and most scary films of the past year that had no less a luminary than Quentin Tarantino include it in his top 20 films of 2010. A modern Giallo film and, by extension, a homage to the work of Dario Argento and Mario Bava the films is an abstract tale of adolescence that explores the power and terror of burgeoning sexuality whilst also the power and violence invested in the act of looking. It’s a technically marvellous piece of work, with the bold colours and sharp style of its progenitors perfectly aped (alongside a wonderful 60s soundtrack) whilst it manages to be a masterclass of being both scary and visceral (indeed, some of the climactic scenes are not for the faint of heart). Obtuse and strange yet utterly compelling this is a towering modern horror movie. Special Edition would recommend the BluRay of the edition of the film as its carefully constructed aesthetic really needs to be seen in the best way possible.
Romanian cinema has continued to delight over the past few years with such wonderful films as The Happiest Girl in the World and The Death of Mr Lazarescu. The latest film from Romianian director Corneliu Porumboiu – who directed the wonderful 12.08 East of Bucharest – is Police, Adjective (Artificial Eye) which takes realism to the extreme and continues the strong trend. However, if you enter proceedings with the typical police drama in mind then you are going to get something of a shock. A young policeman comes into conflict with colleagues when he hesitates to turn in a teen found with drugs. But there are no moments of melodrama here: just the slow tedium of police procedure in slow and unflinching detail. Indeed, this meticulously structured film will not be for everyone as it flirts with testing the audience’s patience. But for those prepared to sit through the everyday tedium of real policework will find that – like many of his contemporaries – Porumboiu extracts drama from the mundane and creates a compellingly human piece of work.
Alexander Dovzhenko’s first two films in his loose trilogy that celebrates Ukranian folklore are stunning examples of early Russian cinema with a remarkable and lyrical intensity. Arsenal (Mr Bongo Films) tells the story of the aftermath of the Ukranian Civil war as a recently discharged soldier returns home to discover that freedom is not all that he thought he would be. This is a downbeat affair but told with a passion that is forceful and beautiful and is classical storytelling at its finest. Interestingly Dovzhenko takes a more experimental approach in Zvenigora (Mr Bongo Films) about a boy who spends a life in the mountains searching for buried treasure. Both a paean to the Ukranian way of life and a critique of Bourgeois society, this is a uniquely brilliant affair thanks to it's unconventional structure and dense layers of meaning. Both films are most welcome on DVD and represents one of the great filmmakers of the early era.
In some ways Freakonomics (Optimum Home Entertainment) would seem to be an indication of how modern documentary can often dumb down. Based on the extremely popular book – which equates economics with popular culture – it features directors such as Morgan Spurlock create various vignettes and screams ‘Hey kids, we’re going to make complex subjects fun!’ There’s even an animated sequence in it. But there are some genuinely fascinating moments with presenters Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner – the authors of the original book – providing some engaging arguments and the subjects themselves (such as a connection between legalised abortion and dropping crime rates) do certainly provide an alternative from the usual dry viewpoint that some documentaries can come from. But the vignette style makes it all feel rather incoherent (rather like the book itself) whilst some of the conclusions seem rather dubious in the cold light of day. This is populist documentary making - not a bad thing on its own, but some may find the film lacking.
The story of Eva, a sultry nightclub performer in WWII occupied Norway who is also a double agent, would be the perfect opportunity for a wonderfully sleazy and decadent story of wartime morality and ethics gone awry. Then you realise that the lead role is being played by the girl in the pop band Aqua and the entire thing falls apart. To be fair Lene Nystrøm is not bad (though I am bitterly disappointed that she doesn’t bust out Barbie Girl at any point): it’s just that Betrayal (Optimum Home Entertainment) has ambitions to be an opulent war drama but comes across as rather a dull TV extravaganza. Our central protagonist seduces everyone in sight and sells off every secret under the sun and it all starts to feel faintly ridiculous and feels more couched in the realms of soap opera than a serious war drama. Tension is lacking and the direction is rather workmanlike. You know, thinking about it more, they really SHOULD have put ‘Barbie Girl’ in this.
They should have also put ‘Barbie Girl’ in the insufferable Eat Pray Love (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment). Preferably on a loop. Julia Roberts plays Liz, feeling increasingly suffocated in her marriage and with a yearning to discover more about love. So she moves in with an increasingly unsuitable range of men before heading to India to find her spirituality and falling for hunky Javier Bardem. This film is long. Really long. I mean a ‘my god is this ever going to stop’ and ‘isn’t this banned by the Geneva Covention?’ long. And it’s dull: if I wanted to watch hours of Julia Roberts finding herself, I’d buy her a hall of mirrors with security cameras inside. “But hang on,” I hear you say. “You’re a man. Surely this adaptation of the best-selling novel of the same name is not aimed at you and you have no right to judge.” Never fear, as I have done my research (by forcing some poor unsuspecting souls to watch this) and the general conclusion is that I am right: this is faux aspirational cinema at its worst, convincing women that everything will be OK as long as they bugger off to India for a bit, learn to chant and fall into Javier Bardem’s arms. It makes Sex and the City look as if it were scripted by Germaine bloody Greer.
The lead character in French Film (Revolver Entertainment)is a film critic. Who is actually quite nice. This automatically makes it the bestest film ever. What, you mean I have to write more? Well, if I must… Hugh Bonneville plays Jed, the aforementioned critic, whose relationship is on the rocks whilst his friend Marcus is annoyingly happy with his beautiful girlfriend. In preparing for an interview with the French director Thierry Grimandi (played by Eric Cantona, who manages to cheekily mimic every cliché about a French film director you could thing of) he starts to discover that the French philosophy on love is exactly what he needs to help this difficult period in his life. Despite its title, this film is so English and Middle Class that it actually hurts as people run around in their nice houses, have their nice problems and probably ingest large amounts of hummus and pesto. But it’s all rather gentle and sweet with a sly sense of humour. And unlike some films I can mention, it manages to pack everything into a short running time.
Whilst everyone is keen to point out that the Coen Brothers latest film is not a remake of True Grit (Paramount Home Entertainment) but instead an adaptation of the original novel, it’s still hard to avoid comparisons to the classic Western. They’ll now be even harder to avoid thanks to this release of the 1969 film that saw John Wayne win the Oscar for Best Actor. He plays Rooster Cogburn, a hard-drinking and ornery old cowboy who becomes embroiled in the hunt for outlaw Tom Chaney. He finds himself teaming up with young Mattie Ross (Kim Darby who is a brilliant blend of innocence and toughness) who wants Chaney for murdering her father and a Texas Ranger who wants Chaney for the murder of a senator. When Chaney hooks up with a notorious gang of criminals, the trio find that their task will be much more difficult than they first believed. In some ways, this is the culmination of Wayne’s career with Cogburn representing the final stages of life for the Western icons he played. Indeed, the film itself is both a farewell to a genre that was becoming less popular and a celebration of its power for creating myths and telling stories. The Blu-ray includes a documentary about the film and book it’s based on and a commentary by Western film historian Jeb Rosebrook, executive editor of True West magazine Bob Boze Bell and historian of the American West J. Stuart Rosebrook.
Perhaps Californication: The Third Season (Paramount Home Entertainment) will help David Duchovny escape some of the typecasting that befell him when he left The X-Files. To be fair, he did an excellent job is his appearances on the Larry Sanders Show as the predatory guest who has an unhealthy obsession with the talk show host and has continued with his portrayal of Hank Moody, a sex obsessed and self-destructive author. The third season sees Hank becoming a teacher at college and trying to reign in his hedonistic ways whilst trying to show that he can be a good father. Unfortunately, it never usually works out. This is jet black adult comedy with Duchovny shining in the lead role whilst being ably supported by the likes of Natascha McElhone and including special appearances from the likes of Kathleen Turner. It’s never really got the respect of the likes of 30 Rock and How I Met Your Mother which is a shame as it contains sharp writing and performances and deserves to be checked out.
The result of 8 years of intensive restoration work Chaplin at Keystone (BFI Releasing) is a comprehensive collection of the screen legend’s earliest films. It’s certainly fascinating to see how Chaplin developed his craft amongst these early films and learn how Chaplin began to apply all that he had learned on the Music Hall circuit to the silver screen. Also included is Chaplin’s earliest screen appearance in 1914’s A Thief Catcher. Alongside the four discs of comedy films are a documentary about the restoration and an examination of Keystone as a location. There’s also a booklet by film historian Jeremy Vance which contains notes on every film included in the collection. Not only an excellent collection thanks to its subject due but due the sheer effort that went into restoring some extremely important parts of film history.
(Unless noted all DVDs are available as both standard and Blu-ray)