Here we have it- the inaugural (well, almost) edition of OWF's take on this week's new Blu-Ray and DVD releases in the U.K.
Every week I will bring you reviews of my home video picks of the week, as well as a round-up of pretty much everything else that is released at the same time. Don't be shy if you are from the U.S. as the column is still interesting for you as a quick snippets of what I think of these movies and hopefully they will help you decide whether to Netflix, or make a purchase on a movie you might have missed in the cinema's.
This week we take a look at the insanely popular Alice in Wonderland by Tim Burton, Firth's Oscar nominated turn in Tom Ford's A Single Man, the widely panned remake of The Wolf Man, a couple of World War II classics make their Blu-ray debut, the latest Miyazaki masterpiece, a Michael Bay 'classic' and the latest season of Curb Your Enthuiasism. AND MORE...
So without further ado;
A Single Man on Blu-ray and DVD.
First off, it isn't soulless. And the achievement of passing the billion dollar mark is not something to be sniffed at, or called an accident of a moronic majority who have somehow been duped into going out and spending their hard earned coin on watching it.
Alice in Wonderland is in fact an impressive work of art- the performances might not be brilliantly meshed, and it might be a little grating to see the same faces over and over in a Burton flick, but that distraction shouldn't detract from the fact that Johnny Depp is brilliantly odd-ball, that the majority of the voice-work is both wonderfully cast and entirely suited to the roles (particularly Alan Rickman and Stephen Fry) or that even Helena Bonham-Carter manages to channel what the Queen of Hearts should be like. Okay, there are occasional problems- in substance mostly, and script most notably, but that isnt really where Burton's ability lies.
The real beauty of the thing though is in the artwork and the overall aesthetic experience of watching Tim Burton's latest wonderfully intricate creation realized on screen, and regardless of the big-screen billion, it is on Blu-Ray that the film translates best and will consequently find its most favourable audience. The experience of 3D is all well and good, but it robs the viewer (especially those who are returning to the same film time after time) of creating their own viewing experience, by directing exactly where on screen to look. The problem with that, especially in terms of Burton's work is that his vision is rarely as one-dimensional as that, and there is an awful lot of enjoyment in exploring the backgrounds and environments that he meticulously renders. So to be able to enjoy those artistic environments as intended adds extra appeal to the Blu-Ray.
I still don't get the value of including (and charging extra for) a Digital Version of the film on a third disc though...
The Wolf Man: The Extended Editions on Blu-ray and DVD. The film is also available to purchase on iTunes.
With fashion guru Tom Ford at the helm, how could A Single Man not be sumptuous and beautiful? And while the luxurious aesthetic is not the star of the show, thanks to two stunning acting performances from Colin Firth and Julianne Moore, it dazzles in part, looking like a supermodel, but crucially, and rather atypically of that simile, with the substance to match the looks.
Additional, strong performances from Matthew Goode and relative new-comer Nicholas Hoult help add further gloss, and on the strength of the film as a whole, with its devastatingly affecting emotional heart, you get the feeling that Tom Ford is a name you'll hear more and more in filmic circles.
Narratively disjointed, fatally abbreviated and widely panned though it was, The Wolf Man actually grew on me second time around on Blu-Ray, which accentuates the gothic beauty of the portrait the film attempts to paint. The extended version is especially worthy of your pocket money as it offers precious flesh to some of the characters and makes everything glue together infinitely better- amazing how less than twenty minutes can entirely change the way a film feels.
Sadly, the film still feels like the product of too many cooks, but it is a lot closer to something good than the theatrical cut ever got- now we just need a Definitive Edition that will continue the good work. There is still a lot of ham on show, but on repeat viewing I'm beginning to suspect the presence of a traditional Hammer Horror nod woven into the film's otherwise stoically serious fabric, or perhaps I'm just too forgiving.
A Prophet on Blu-rayand DVD.
What really needs to be said about Ponyo, other than that it is the latest addition to the Studio Ghibli Collection. Those words are effectively a hallmark of artisan accomplishment- and Ponyo is certainly no let-down: the animation is simply beautiful, and while it doesnt exactly meet the heights of Spirited Away, it is certainly another on-form Miyazaki offering. The haunting visuals are deeply affecting, though they could also be the reason why more people didnt see Ponyo at the cinema- at the crux of the matter, it is simply too much of an oddity for lasting commercial appeal. But at its heart, Ponyo is a technically astute, beautifully crafted ethereal fairy-tale, and as with all of Miyazaki's canon of work it simply must be seen to be fully enjoyed.
Brothers onBlu-ray andDVD.
The pick of the bunch for this week's releases- A Prophet is an extraordinarily accomplished feature. It is not only the best French crime film of the year, it is also among the contenders to be deemed best overall film of the year. Director Jacques Audiard has created a visually engaging, uncompromising prison epic, which assaults the senses and demands attention, to the extent that the overall experience is both exhilirating and emotionally exhausting. His observational work is sublime throughout, and the character studies make sure that the film transcends its generic bracket, to become, if there is any justice, a widely and historically acclaimed film for years to come.
Eagles Over London on Blu-ray and DVD.
Destined always to live in the shadow of Oscar winner The Hurt Locker, to the extent that it entirely sneaked under myradar on cinematic release (and I have an unlimited card at my local cinema so I see everything usually!) Brothers is none-the-less a damn good war film that deserves to be considered alongside Katherine Bigelow's film as a near-equal. Central to the film's success are strong performances from both Jake Gyllenhall and particularly Tobey Maguire (though he was widely and wrongly accused of being woefully miscast in certain quarters), and an impressive faithfulness to the Danish original's terse melodrama. It doesnt have the bells and whistles of some of its generic stable-mates, and thankfully it doesnt feel like Oscar-bait (as some others do), but Brothers proves that war films dont necessarily require a grandiose "meaningful message" about the wide connotations of war.
Bad Boys - new on Blu-ray
The most fun you could possibly have with a war film since the director's other forray into collective consciousness The Inglorious Bastards, which has come to infamy more at the behest of another eccentric genius, Enzo Castellari's Battle of Britain film looks exactly like an unironic B-Movie derivative with a bloated budget. It is worthy of everyone's attention because of its faithfulness to the idea of a war caper movie, and the impressive set pieces, but the lasting feeling you get coming out of it is that you have just watched a proper old fashioned mad-cap caper.
Tora! Tora! Tora! - new on Blu-ray
Michael Bay has never been more on-song than with his Bad Boys franchise (hence the appearance of a third forthcoming offering), with the first in the duo ranking as his best film to date, before he became a bloated caricature of himself and started making the kind of dirisible films that have made him the butt of many a Hollywood joke. But before the pseudo-racist robots and unnecessary and unwanted horror remakes, Bay was associated with a particular brand of actioner, with the impetus on explosions and brashness and an impressively over-stylized aesthetic that reveled in wide panning shots and slow motion. Bad Boys is almost of another time, harking back to the earlier 1990s action manifesto, with guns and quips in equal measure- and it has to be said, on Blu-Ray it looks great.
A momentous affair in the history of American and Japanese cinema, thanks to an unprecedented collaboration, Tora! Tora! Tora! is pure brilliance, and was wrongly overlooked in the year of its release thanks to Patton coming out at the same time. The effects at the time were ground-breaking, and the excellent high-def transfer does them wonderful justice- the final air raid is as spectacular today as it was when I first saw it on a particularly grainy VHS years ago. A definite must for any war film afficionado, and a cracking advert for transferring old movies to the new format.
A veritable feast of Clint Eastwood Blu-ray goodness pretty much dominates the rest of the high-definition new releases this week with Kelly's Heroes, The Rookie, Where Eagles Dare, Absolute Power and Heartbreak Ridge all given the transfer treatment and given individual British releases before the forthcoming release of the definitive modern Clint Eastwood Blu-Ray Collection (already available in America but without a concrete release date on our shores as yet). It's about time that Kelly's Heroes and Where Eagles Dare were given the high-def treatment, but it is particularly pleasing to see Absolute Power and The Rookie on Blu-Ray, as they are from the stock of films that pitched Eastwood as the anti-hero figure and it is in that type of role that I think Eastwood revels most.Another highlight is Yann Arthus-Bertrand'sHome, the intimate filmic portrait of the Earth from above and follow up to Arthus-Bertrand's seminal photographic work The Earth From Above, which is about as beautiful an advert for Blu-Ray as Planet Earth was when it converted a huge audience to the promise of high-definition. Sticking with documentaries, Robert Kenner'sFood Inc arrives this week with more than a whiff of Michael Moore about it (though with a far less film-maker-centric approach) thanks to a inevitable bias and the militant moivation. But it is well made and an impressive expose on the American food industry, and it will no doubt have an effect on American viewers- if they can stomach it all in one sitting. Something else that leaves a somewhat strange taste in the mouth is A Lizard In A Woman's Skin. But then Fulci's long-awaited horror is definitely a thin of cult, so it's never going to beto everyone's pallet. Typically sexy and voyeuristic, sadly the film encourages audience detachment,which isnt exactly conducive to the empathy required by the plot and it's largely downhill from there. It is just about terrible enough to be worthy of purchase for cult appeal alone. Philippe Caland'sRipple Effectwhich is both an indication of why Minnie Driver is no longer A-List and a warning to Forrest Whitaker not to take risks on projects like this. Similarly badly-received, though not quite as badly as Caland's offering, is Stuart Hazeldine'sExamwhich works well as an example of Hazeldine's potential, but is too silly by half and culminates in a depressingly anti-climactic finale to be taken seriously. TV- BoxsetsCurb Your Enthusiasm Season 7 on DVD and Complete Seasons 1-7 Boxset
La La Land on DVD
The best American comedy to hit screens for a long time, Curb Your Enthusiasm's longevity (it is now offcially the longest HBO scripted series) and awards magpie-ing are testament to its brilliance and season 7 does well to channel that continued level of success. Sadly, the "complete" boxset is entirely superfluous, now that the Eighth season has been announced, and buying it will only lead to the infuriating experience of owning an incomplete complete boxset and the additional seasons on individual discs.
Arguably the finest British comedy of the year so far, La La Land marries the hilarious situational satire of Borat with the squirm inducing comedy of Dennis Pennis, but with the added amplifier of genius comic provocateur Marc Wootton. Wootton is horribly compelling as the three leads: Brendan Allen, a documentary maker with zero talent and even less integrity, set on becoming the next Michael Moore; Shirley Ghostman, a disgraced medium willing to lie, cheat and drug his eay to becoming Americas next psychic superstar; and Gary Garner, and East London taxi driver using the inheritance from his late porn-star mother to forge a new career as an action star in the mould of his hero Jason Statham. The comedy is pant-wettingly effective, and left me actually helpless in parts, while the series is given added polish with narration from Julian Barrett of The Mighty Boosh and an impressive original score by Steve Mason of the The Beta Band.
Also out in the land of TV, the surprisisngly badly-received Money, starring friend-of-Pegg Nick Frost, though lacking any of the finesse or prowess of any Pegg/Frost project and notable only for an authentic but satirical look at the decade of excess (the 80s) and a funny turn from Mad Men'sVincent Kartheiser.
Add to that the second season of Psyche, the high-concept bastardised detective show that heavily riffs on the excellent Monk in terms of tone and comic identity, and happily almost hits Tony Shalhoub's highs during the second season, which are helped by a good selection of extras.
In a rather dramatic change of tone, The Genius of Britain, a compelling documentary series presented by some of the most celebrated brains of Britain is available for Brits to buy, and well worth the money it is, though at 45 minutes the episodes feel a little clipped.
Elsewhere, shelves will be beautfied by two beautiful but wildly different BBC adaptations- firstly Small Island, well adapted from Andrea Levy's multi-award winning novel about Jamaican immigrants and Londoners involved in World War 2, and typified by a strong performance by Bullet Boy'sAshley Walters. Further back in history, The Secret Diary of Miss Anne Lister, adapted from the real-life diaries of the infamous lesbian, and with some strong performances throughout- it could well be this year's Tipping The Velvet, though it is far more heart-warming than its more overtly sexually charged generic fellow. The third adaptation of the week is Chris Ryan's Strike Back, a sort of British attempt at 24, which unfortunately never really hit the mark for me.
In other TV release news, I am probably the only British person not to be seduced by the ongoing sci-fi behemoth that is Doctor Who, so I remain painfully underwhelmed by this week's Series 5 Vol 1 release (and still appalled that they infuriatingly volumise their boxsets), even though the story-telling gets better every time I watch it. But then fans dont need any kind of endorsement to rush out and buy the DVD, and a few apathetic words will surely not dent the pile of gold that floods into the releasers' pockets either.
Plenty to get buyers' hearts going, and a few less exciting. Tune in next week for more new releases.