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DVD/Blu Ray New Release Round Up Monday 23rd July 2012

22/07/2012

To start the week we have a charming little animation that was a contender for the Best Animated Feature Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards. A CAT IN PARIS (Or UNE VIE DE CHAT to give it its original title) is a quirky French tale of a little girl, Zoe’s, pet cat, a cat that brings her captured lizards by day but spends its nights being the accomplice to Nico, cat burglar extraordinaire. A chance encounter with notorious Paris gangster Victor Costa puts Zoe in danger and it’s up to Nico, Zoe’s police detective mother and of course the cat to save her from Costa. Beautifully rendered in a striking, impressionistic style its a film full of wry humour but is cut trough with some surprisingly dark elements. Zoe hasn’t spoken a word since her father (also a police officer) was killed in the line of duty. Costa is a genuinely villainous baddie, intent on causing Zoe serious harm. It’s refreshing to encounter a film that is essentially aimed at children that doesn’t shy away from such difficult subjects, although it’s no surprise that the ones that do tend to be European (particularly French). One word of warning: the original French dialogue option is in the Bonus Features menu. I’d recommend it as the English language dialogue track isn’t great (there’s no big name voice cast as you’d get with a Studio Ghibli movie to add a bit of class) although obviously younger kids may struggle with subtitles.

Staying in Paris (this time 1890s Paris), BEL AMI stars Robert Pattinson as Georges Duroy, a penniless former soldier who climbs the Paris social ladder by seducing the influential wives of wealthy citizens. After a couple of false starts, Georges pretty soon has several mistresses on the go in a bid to get rich and powerful without having to do much actual work, a plan that has the potential to backfire terribly for everyone involved. I’m not much of a fan of this kind of film (although I’d be the first to admit that it’s not really aimed at the likes of me) but if the idea of Pattinson pouting his way through nineteenth century Paris whilst Uma Thurman, Christina Ricci and Kristin Scott Thomas strain their corsets in his direction appeals to you then this should float your boat. It doesn’t really delve deeply enough into the gender politics for my liking (Thurman in particular serves as an opportunity to look at the attitudes towards women of the era that is never fully exploited) but the society power games are interesting enough in a superficial sort of way. Available in an hmv exclusive two disc edition with added Pattinson for those that are into that sort of thing.

As if that wasn’t enough Frenchness for you, LA CEREMONIE is a quirky little French thriller revolving around a rich family who hire the somewhat odd Sophie (Sandrine Bonnaire) as their put upon maid, to maintain their country pile. She makes friends with the equally eccentric postmistress in the local village Jeanne (Isabelle Huppert) who wastes no time in helping Sophie realise the shortcomings in the way the family treat her and before too long the tensions between the two women and the bourgeois family come to a sinister head. A slow burner, it takes its time to introduce us to its characters and their dark secrets, a subtlety that’s backed up by the performances from the central cast. It’s an older film (it originally came out in 1995) but even almost twenty years on it’s an interesting exploration of the sometimes mundane nature of evil and the sometimes seemingly insignificant ways it can take hold in people’s lives which lead to devestating consequences. Another example of cracking world cinema on the Artificial Eye label.

There’s yet more French language cinema out this week (by way of Belgium), again from the lovely people at Artificial Eye, this time in the form of  Cannes 2011 Grand Prix winner THE KID WITH A BIKE. Cyril (Thomas Doret) is a twelve year old boy desperate to track down his father who has left him in a children’s home and then moved house, without telling him where he’s gone. Cyril meets Samantha (Cecile De France) who agrees to foster him on the weekends and help him trace his absent father. It’s a moving story , deftly told with a delicate touch that’s very reminiscent of the work of Shane Meadows as Cyril has to contend with the news that his father simply doesn’t want him. Doret’s performance is extraordinary as a young boy being torn apart by anger and rejection, struggling with his own self loathing. It’s a compelling slab of social realism that is also my PICK OF THE WEEK.

For those in pursuit of more macho exploits, FORTRESS follows the crew of “The Lucky Lass”, an American B17 Flying Fortress based in North Africa that flies sorties over Italy during World War 2. I was nearly put off by the bargain basement CGI that kicks off proceedings, a mass air battle between a huge formation of bombers, their fighter escorts and half the Luftwaffe, but underneath the flea market effects lies a half decent war film with a workable script that is actually pretty entertaining. Blessedly the focus is less on the actual bombing missions (keeping the laughable CGI  to a minimum) and more on the relationships between the crew members of the bomber and the impact on this dynamic when new crew are brought in to replace men killed on a mission. Director Mike Phillips’ history of directing/producing documentaries for the History Channel shows through (especially in the effects sequences which have the feel of a TV documentary to them) and there’s something comforting in the knowledge that it’s possible to make the jump from one to the other.

In the same war, but a different theatre, fans of forties style intrigue should get a kick out of SHANGHAI, a spy thriller bordering on a whodunnit that sees John Cusack’s American spy find himself embroiled in the Shanghai underworld as he tries to figure out who is responsible for the murder of an old friend. It’s a task that proves far from straightforward as he crosses paths with the local Triad chief (the legendary Chow Yun Fat), his wife (played by the stunning Gong Li) and the local head of Japanese intelligence (the equally formidable Ken Watanabe), not to mention the Shanghai resistance movement who are determined to fight against the Japanese occupation of China. When you throw the imminent surprise attack on Pearl Harbour into the mix it makes for a decent enough thriller, even if Cusack’s attempts at noir-ish voice over are a little bit grating. They’ve done a great job on recreating the Shanghai of the early forties on screen though and there’s enough action and intrigue to keep it all ticking over and while arguably the great cast has been a little bit underused, it’s still great watching them work.

Before THE RAID, before MERANTAU WARRIOR, Welsh writer/director Gareth Evans cobbled together VENGEANCE DAY, a no budget, camcorder shot, ultraviolent crime caper that has grand ambitions, ambitions that reach far beyond its capabilities. Showing the eye for violence that Evans would employ to such great effect in his later work, its the story of Andrew, a young man who finds himself turning to violence as an outlet for his anger at the world after he loses his father. He comes to the attention of a local gang who initiate him into their dodgy drug deals but he soon realises that they are up to other, more sinister activities and things go from bad to worse. Unremittengly bleak, it feels at times like Evans was trying to be a bit too clever when he put this together. Largely dialogueless, its non linear structure feels a bit muddled, something not helped by the poor image quality (the sound’s not up to much either) but it’s pretty clear that there were some decent ideas behind the film, even if the execution doesn’t quite match up. While the plot is a little bit implausible, it builds nicely to a frenzied conclusion that prefigures the carnage in THE RAID but is decidedly downbeat. As much of a fan on Evans as I am, it’s difficult to recommend this to anyone other than hardcore completists and it’s difficult to imagine this ever being released commercially without his subsequent success but it does provide an interesting insight into Evans’ career. 

Dexter Fletcher makes his Directorial debut with WILD BILL, a London gangster/family drama hybrid that successfully blends cheeky wit with genuine drama. Paroled after eight years in jail on the Isle Of Wight, Bill (a cracking performance from Charlie Creed-Mills) returns to his East London home to find his two young sons Jimmy (ATTACK THE BLOCK’s Sammy Williams) and Dean (Will Poulter of SON OF RAMBOW fame) have been abandoned by their mother and are forging their own way in the world. Bill dreads the idea of going back to jail and so does his best to stay out of trouble, but when Jimmy falls foul of Bill’s old gangster mates he find himself inexorably drawn back into his old ways. It’s a charming film with a great script, a fantastic soundtrack and an amazing cast and a debut that Fletcher should be proud of. He steers it clear of Guy Ritchie style cliche and manages to avoid over sentimentalising the strained relationship between Bill and his kids. Classy stuff.

All reviewed DVDs provided courtesy of the Inverness branch of hmv and are released in the UK on Monday 23rd July. You can keep up to date with what hmv are up to on Twitter here and Facebook here.

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