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DVD/Blu Ray New Release Round Up Monday 25th February 2013

24/02/2013

A glut of lower key releases has meant that there simply wasn’t enough time this week to view everything that is coming out on Monday. Sorry PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 but you just didn’t make the cut (here’s a quick review anyway – after an hour and a half of shaky home video footage where nothing of any interest happens and that is largely indistinguishable from PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 1, 2 or 3 the realisation sets in that yes, you really did just choose to sit through that). It’s good that after last week’s SKYFALL induced wasteland there are actually a few new movies out to see, so let’s see what they have in store for us.

the corridorTHE CORRIDOR is one of those science fictiony, horrory, independent films in the vein of DONNIE DARKO or perhaps CHRONICLE which sees a group of friends head out to an isolated mountain cabin to pay their respects to the departed mother of Tyler, one of the group who has just been discharged from a mental hospital where he was treated for psychosis brought about by the circumstances of her death. There’s something else on the mountain though, and it brings with it unusual powers that will test their kinship to the limits. It’s a thoughtful film, carefully paced as the pressure mounts on the friends, pressure which leads to some fantastic practical effects when rationality gives way to the mysterious forces at work. All told it’s pretty good, although it gets a little bit vague in places, especially when it comes to the who and whys but that does at least serve to get the brain working. If that’s your thing, you should get a kick out of this.

for a good time callI fully expected to hate phone-sex-centric comedy FOR A GOOD TIME CALL. I’ve seen a slew of dreadful so-called comedies over the months (NEW YEARS EVE I’m looking at you!) so I have learned to approach them with basement level expectations but this one happily exceeded them with its bawdy (as opposed to simply crude) humour and upbeat tone. Katie (Ari Graynor, channelling early Streisand – think FOR PETE’S SAKE) and Lauren (Lauren Miller) are two former college enemies forced into being flat mates by circumstances outwith their control. To make ends meet they start up their own phone sex line, a bonding experience which helps them overcome their former animosity. Utterly predictable it may be, but it’s one hell of a lot of fun and good hearted to boot. The jokes work well, Graynor and Miller have great chemistry and the inevitability of each plot point actually seems to work to the film’s advantage, allowing you to concentrate on the fun stuff which to be fair there’s plenty of. They even manage to squeeze a couple of high profile cameos into the brisk eighty five minute running time, both of which manage to be pretty funny. On top of the laughs, there’s an interesting take on feminism and female sexuality that’s pretty refreshing, especially when you consider so many of these sex-based comedies are basically thirteen year old boy fodder that feature women almost solely as sex objects (attainable or otherwise).  When it comes to comedies you can only really judge them on one thing – do they make you laugh, and on that basis this one is a success.

Not sure if it's the clothes, the attitude or if she just looks like her, but there's something about Ari Graynor that reminds me of a young Barbra Streisand...

Not sure if it’s the clothes, the attitude or if she just looks like her, but there’s something about Ari Graynor that reminds me of a young Barbra Streisand…

 

killing them softlyA film that could do with a bit more fun is KILLING THEM SOFTLY, where Brad Pitt is the man called in to deal with some unruly miscreants who have knocked off a mob card game and need to have some summary Mafia justice dispensed to them. Mr Pitt is joined by some real heavy hitters – James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins and ANIMAL KINGDOM’s Ben Mendelsohn – but sadly their talents are squandered in a film that is trying so hard to be clever and worthy that it forgets to be entertaining. It has its moments, certainly, and the parallels it draws between the collapse of the local criminal economy when the loot gets robbed and the broader economic collapse of the global financial crisis are of moderate interest, but there just isn’t enough of a solid foundation to get everyone through to the end. Perhaps my expectations were too high (the trailer looked good, the cast looked promising) but for me this was the hitman movie equivalent of CABIN IN THE WOODS – all clever ideas executed with a cold smugness that I completely failed to connect with. Mendelsohn turns out to be the best thing about the film, his mentally unstable Aussie crook is a definite highlight (although Gandolfini is pretty good too to be honest) but the whole fails to live up to the sum of its parts, leaving it feel like a missed opportunity.

premium rushIf you’re looking for something a little less high brow PREMIUM RUSH might be more your cup of tea. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Wilee, a New York City based cycle courier who finds himself pursued by some dodgy characters when he’s enlisted to deliver a special package across town. Fair warning – it’s an extremely silly film, sort of like THE FAST & THE FURIOUS only for people who prefer push bikes to customised cars. Writer/Director David Koepp (who can list INDIANA JONES & THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL amongst his writing credits, take from that what you will) has assembled a film that proves to be utterly ridiculous but surprisingly good fun as it tries to convince us we’re getting the inside track on the world of Manhattan’s cycle couriers. Particularly amusing is Wille’s “Google-streetview-vision”, presumably designed to convey the lightning speed with which he determines his route as he’s zipping through the busy city streets but which is the source of a lot of hilarious moments (I still can’t decide if these are meant to be as funny as they are or not, although clearly someone’s tongue is in their cheek somewhere). The bike stunts are actually pretty smart, even the stagier ones, but full marks go to Michael Shannon (BOARDWALK EMPIRE, TAKE SHELTER) who hams it up as the villain of the piece, and a dementedly fine villain he makes. It’s all very silly but surprisingly entertaining and I was getting a kind of CRANK vibe from it, only without the fighting.

frankenweenieThere will come a point in any conversation I have about Tim Burton where I will lay down the gauntlet and challenge people to name anything he made after ED WOOD which was actually any good. Apart from a few stalwart SLEEPY HOLLOW supporters, evidence is thin on the ground that Burton actually has any ideas left in him. None of this of course has been an obstacle to a highly successful career as being the director of choice for undiscerning Goths who think his aesthetic style is all you really need and probably believe THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS was all his own work. FRANKENWEENIE, a stop motion, feature length remake of a 1984 shrot film by Mr. Burton is yet another style over substance footnote in an increasingly dissatisfying career. The idea itself isn’t a bad one – young Victor’s pet dog (and best friend) Sparky gets hit by a car before being resurrected by Victor using the power of science, much to the suspicion and hatred of those around him is superb, even if it is just a direct lift from (sorry, homage to) Mary Shelley, but in its execution it becomes yet another exercise in the trademark Burton aesthetic as he tacks on as many tributes to classic horror and monster movies as he can. Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by the excellent PARANORMAN (which is not just vastly superior in terms of story and character but also in animation too) but FRANKENWEENIE just doesn’t cut the mustard. Like the reanimated pets that pepper the story, it’s a bit soulless, a hollow facsimile of the classic films it’s attempting to homage. If you are a fan of Burton’s work you will doubtlessly enjoy this as much as anything else he’s done in the last ten years, but it really doesn’t do it for me. At all.

He had to get a swirly spiral in there somewhere, didn't he?

He had to get a swirly spiral in there somewhere, didn’t he?

 

rust and boneWhich brings me to this week’s PICK OF THE WEEK. Jacques Audiard’s (writer/director of the spectacular A PROPHET) latest film, RUST AND BONE, is a slab of French social realism that is not to be missed. A nightclub bouncer who finds himself caught up in an illicit bare knuckle boxing ring is equally drawn to a woman he meets while at work and when she suffers a traumatic accident they find themselves strangely dependent on one another. Matthias Schoenarts and Marion Cotillard (who you may remember from such films as CONTAGION and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES) shine in the leads, both carrying off characters who are crumbling under the weight of their problems and who are clinging to each other for dear life with complete conviction, as Audiard delivers another film that packs a punch on an emotional as well as social level. It’s a film about damage and the things that people do to try and overcome, or at the very least mask the symptoms of, that damage. Moving, sometimes funny and occasionally gut wrenchingly emotional it forces you to empathise without ever resorting to cheap, mawkish theatrics. Essential viewing.

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