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DVD/Blu Ray New Release Round Up Monday 12th November 2012

11/11/2012

We’ve reached that point in November where every big name stand up comedian releases their latest tour DVD simultaneously, something that kind of crowds out the opportunity for much in the way of movies but there are a few films emerging from the shadows this week (of wildly varying quality) for those of us less enamoured with stand up titles. First up we have “the funniest film of its kind since BRIDESMAIDS” (if Virginmedia.com are to be believed), FRIENDS WITH KIDS, an attempt at yet more baby related comedy, following as it does in the wake of the utterly mirthless WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING (which I’d been led to believe was the funniest film of its kind since BRIDESMAIDS – if you ask me neither statement is much of an advert for BRIDESMAIDS). This time around the focus is less the process of gestating a child and more the pitfalls of raising them and the impact that becoming parents has on a group of thirty-something friends more used to the Manhattan social scene rather than nappies and baby bottles. It breaks the cardinal sin of comedy by not really turning up with any jokes (there are some moments with THE IT CROWD’s Chris O’Dowd that raise a smile, despite an American accent of dubious origin but these are in the definite minority) and in fact the film plays out more as a romantic drama rather than the Rom-Com it purports to be. It gets worse though, because it hinges on you feeling sympathetic towards the main pairing of the group, Jason and Julie (Adam Scott and Jennifer Westdfelt) whose “close platonic friendship honest” is one of the most irritating on screen partnerships I’ve had the displeasure to witness. It would probably help if Scott didn’t seem to be doing an impression of Tom Cruise doing an impression of Alan Alda for the entire film. If this is the best film of its kind since BRIDESMAIDS the comedy genre is in critical condition.

This week also sees the release of the first big Christmas movie of the season, SANTA PAWS 2: THE SANTA PUPS, the follow up to 2010’s SANTA PAWS. It’s one of those Disney straight to DVD kids things with talking dogs (in fact singing dogs), magic Christmas wish granting crystals and a lack of Christmas cheer that needs to be remedied to save the day. You know, the usual. Obviously it’s clearly not aimed at the likes of me but after having watched two dozen Christmas films last December for this blog (do a search for BLOGVENT if you fancy checking those reviews out) I like to think I know a thing or two about what makes a decent Chrimbo classic. This is just pretty annoying, not least because of the atrocious writing (a song about a Christmas cold? little puppy dogs that say “oh em gee” and “totes”) that I would be ashamed to expose any child to. Other than that, it’s not a total writeoff, even if (maybe because) it’s ripped off the main thrust of its plot from the vastly superior ELF. “It’s a sickness” intones Mrs. Claus at one point and she’s not wrong. I’ve set this as the baseline for this year’s crop of Christmas movies, hopefully there will be plenty of better examples over the next six weeks (otherwise we’re in trouble).

From cute and cuddly to shocking and brutal now with CITY STATE. There’s been a good crop of Scandinavian gangster cinema recently, most of which seems to trace its lineage back to Refn’s PUSHER TRILOGY, and this Icelandic effort is another decent example.  When a Serbian garage owner gets on the wrong side of some Icelandic gangsters he finds himself in a bit of a predicament but a phone call to his brother in the motherland sparks him off on a rampage of bloody revenge. Meanwhile, when the self same gangsters attract the attention of the police they start to feel the heat from both sides of the thin blue line as their business spirals into chaos. It’s riveting stuff, satisfying too as you get embroiled in Sergej’s very personal vendetta against the bad guys that have wronged him. It’s also something of a culture shock – normally in this kind of film you’d see guns a plenty, but even at the highest levels of brutal gang violence there is nary a gat to be seen, surely a testament to Icelandic society. That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of bone cracking violence on display, it’s just of a very different nature to what we’ve been conditioned to by Hollywood. All in all though its a great film, brimming with menace, violence, suspense and drama, oh and a supporting role from Jonathan Pryce. That’s why mum’s gone to Iceland.

Now, we all hate bankers right? Especially those horrific investment, “city” types that plunged the world into a financial abyss four years ago, but just in case you had any lingering sympathy for them writer/director J.C. Chandor’s feature debut MARGIN CALL should reassert them as the number one villains of the twenty first century. Set at the dawn of the 2008 global financial crisis it follows the fortunes of a company that’s twigged to the horrendous toxicity of its own dodgy assets ahead of the curve and takes drastic steps to protect its own interests. It’s a tale of greed and money, an indictment against capitalism and the pursuit of wealth and it’s pretty damn good. As it should be with a cast that includes Kevin Spacey, Stanley Tucci and Jeremy Irons (among others) and a solid script. Chandor actually takes great pains to present his characters as rounded people and not simply leering, one dimensional greed monsters but that isn’t to say that they are particularly sympathetic. The subtle shades of morality from one trader to another give you  people to root for and people to boo but in the grand scheme of things they are all just different grades of villain and the casual way they decide to make their own company’s sketchy dealings somebody else’s problem (or in this case, everybody else’s problem) is a wonderful crystallisation of the issues with this thing we call capitalism. “It’s all just money, it’s made up” declares Jeremy Irons’ CEO in the middle of everything and MARGIN CALL does a great job of exposing the fragility of the collective capitalist delusion that earns it a place in the company of the likes of GLEN GARRY GLEN ROSS and WALL STREET.

David Cronenberg also explores the collapse of capitalism this week with COSMOPOLIS. The chemically inert Robert Pattinson feels, at first glance, a strangely appropriate choice to play financial wunderkind Eric Packer, maintaining his empire from the back of his customised, luxury stretch limo as the outside world collapses into anarchy and there is an ever increasing likelihood of an attempt on his life. Unfortunately, when it comes time for some sort of emotional input into his performance the deadness never really fades from Pattinson’s eyes. There are elements here that are reminiscent of earlier Cronenberg works (VIDEODROME and EXISTENZ are both echoed at various stages) but by and large this feels like DC-lite, a sort of by the numbers exploration of capitalism gone wrong, the people rioting and young Mr. Packer being forced to reconsider the the touchstones of reality. There’s never really a real sense of threat and there is perhaps one percent of the sordid eroticism of the likes of CRASH on show which left me with an overwhelming feeling of “is that it?” by the end. There are threads of ideas but they never really seem to combine into a coherent whole and what is there feels like a bit of a rehash of past classics.

My PICK OF THE WEEK this week is the downright disturbing (and not entirely un-Cronenbergian) EXCISION. Pauline (Annalynne McCord) is a troubled young girl, bullied at school and despaired of by her parents, who escapes the misery of her existence in her own fantasy world of surgical fetishism and perverse, bloody, sexual adventures. This is WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN filtered through the minds of Lynch and Cronenberg, a disturbing journey into a disturbed mind that is as beautiful to look at as Pauline isn’t. McCord’s performance is superb, augmented by costume and make up design that makes the real-life Pauline seem positively diseased, a grimy, unwholesome wretch compared to her glamorous, blood worshipping fantasy alter ego. It’s in the gently paced, pressure cooker build up that the film really excels though as oddness gives way to weirdness gives way to all out depravity, all in the name of gaining the love and attention Pauline so desperately craves from her family.Top notch stuff.

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