Monday 7 June 2010


Slacker on DVD's is a round-up of this weeks most notable releases on DVD and Blu-Ray, along with some of the less notable ones too.
More after the jump...

Not a retelling but a sequel to the classic fairytale story, this new Tim Burton fantasy sees a grown-up Alice fall back down the rabbit hole with no recollection of her previous trip. The world of Underland is ruled over by the grotesque Red Queen, and Alice must team up with the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) to dethrone her and install the good White Queen in her place.
In my honest opinion, the worst thing to happen to Tim Burton's career was Pirates of the Caribbean. Yes, I know he had nothing to do with those films, but it's the franchise that made Johnny Depp a legitimate movie star, and he brought Burton (hardly kicking and screaming) into the mainstream with him. By now Burton's style is about as kooky and unique as getting a chinese symbol tattooed on my arm. He does try some new things here and the resizing of characters features, most notably the Red Queen's head, isn't something I've seen before, but it's not what you'd call a major departure from his signature style. At this point in his career, Burton is revelling in the chance to show some grandiose spectacle (he is certainly a creator of worlds), but I'd love to see what he'd produce with the budget taken away. By my count his last good film was Big Fish, which was still full of fantastical creatures but was a much more personal and successful piece of storytelling.
But back to Alice in Wonderland and it's not a complete loss, with some fine acting by the supporting cast, in particular Matt Lucas as the Tweedles and Stephen Fry as the grinning Cheshire Cat. Helena Bonham Carter's Red Queen is a more spoilt brattish version of Queenie from Blackadder, and there's a lot of humour from her role. But Alice (Mia Wasikowska) doesn't get to do a lot except look puzzled, and Johnny Depp is unfortunately on autopilot here; it takes more than standing there looking odd to lead a film I'm afraid.

Eight candidates of diverse backgrounds and ethnicity enter a room with the same aim; they all want the one job that is on offer. There is one question, one answer and 80 minutes to complete the test. After turning over their question paper to find a blank page, they must work together to figure out the question or all leave disappointed. Quite a smart movie that gets your attention with an intriguing hook, we play along as they try to work out this simple puzzle. Information is drip-fed back to us to jog our memories, and it shows a level of ingenuity I've not seen since the first Saw film. We are confined to the exam room for the entire running time, and as the claustrophobia and tension rises, the clock ticks down to zero. All the candidates have attributes and faults that may win or lose them the task. Jimi Mistry appears as the gambler Brown and Luke Mably commands attention as the brash White, but the female roles are not as well fleshed out and this harms the film when you're trying to work out who to trust. Similar in tone to 1997's Cube, when you reach the conclusion you'll either be slapping your forehead or shouting at the screen in disbelief.

See if this sounds familiar. A seemingly normal family man with escalating money problems snaps and decides to kill those closest to him, leaving a wake of destruction. This British suburbia gone wrong film was made in 2005, so the fact it's getting released on rental this week shows either exceptionally poor timing or poor taste. I hope it is the former. Another found footage film, we watch as protective family man Andy keeps up the pretense of happiness, when all around him his life is falling to shit. His voyeuristic daughter captures this all on her new handycam, which according to the opening disclaimer is now Yorkshire Police evidence. The problem is that it does seem like it could be a real situation, but it's not entertaining to watch. It shows a snapshot of family life, they just happen to be quite an irritating family. The film also suffers from some amateurish filmmaking. If you're going to film someone to show that they're dead, make sure they don't breathe on the camera and fog up the lens. Due to the Cumbria massacre I expect this will be pulled, but you're not missing much anyway.

Following the disappearance of his younger brother, reknowned stage actor Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) must return to his childhood home and confront his demons. When Lawrence is bitten by a beast that roams the moors, he finds out some terrible family secrets come the next full moon. If there's an actor on the planet who should be able to encapsulate the feral state of the Wolfman it's Benicio Del Toro, but here he falls a bit short of what is required for a number of reasons. He seems out of shape and permanently befuddled, and instead of attempting an English accent, Benicio has gone for the Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves approach. Just explain your American accent away near the start and no-one will mind. This film seems to spend more time setting up his accent and obvious Puerto Rican descent than how it ended up there's a Wolfman roaming about. Anthony Hopkins is solidly entertaining as the family patriarch, but his eyebrows are so arched that you'll never be in doubt about his motivations. Hugo Weaving is also good as the detective in charge of the hunt. With regard to the Wolfman himself, the practical effects impress a lot more than the CGI, and the blend between the two is never completely right. The film takes on a different pace when the Wolf arrives in London, and its these scenes that offer the most enjoyment. It's vicious and blood thirsty in all the right ways, and offers some extreme gore in places. There are some interesting transformation scenes, and although it rarely manages to hit full steam, when it does it offers some solid entertainment value.

Following the death of his longtime partner Jim, George Falconer (Colin Firth), a College English professor, decides today will be the last day of his life. But first he just has to get through the day. Directed by Tom Ford, better known as a fashion designer for Gucci, this film is a lot more than dapper gentlemen in their immaculate suits. George is a lovely but heartbroken fellow who must wade through his hardships to find a reason to carry on. As he reassesses his life, his relationship with Jim is fleshed out in non-linear form. George's pleasures in life are his perfectly pressed suits and staring out of the window as part of his morning routine, as well as having to care for his substitute wife Charley. Julianne Moore is great as the alcoholic Charley, damaged goods forever mourning the fact she cannot be the object of George's true affections.
Perhaps the newfound attention from his deep-thinking student Kenny can revitalise George and show him a way to carry on. We see George's life becoming more flush with colour the further away from the brink he is pulled.
There's an attention to detail, be it the lined up pencil sharpeners or the use of a garish poster for Hitchcock's Psycho, that shows a clear talent for directing that few display in their debut feature. This film will become Colin Firth's defining role, never more charming or quintessentially English. The story touches on subjects not confined to mere homosexuality, it's about lost romance and the victims of remorse. Timeless and exquisitely beautiful.

In this epic French drama Tahar Rahim stars as Malik, a petty criminal who is handed a lengthy sentence at a dangerous prison. He is soon initiated into a gang, led by the incarcerated mob boss Cesar, and becomes involved in the prison yard politics between the Sicilians and the arabs. Just because these guys are in prison, it doesn't mean it shouldn't be business as usual. There is nothing special about Malik, an illiterate yob put into an extraordinary situation. The only difference between him and his yardmates is that he has a conscience, forever haunted by visions of his first kill.
This is a breakout performance for Tahar Rahim, his vulnerable street rat reminiscent of Robert De Niro's young Vito Corleone in Godfather Part II, however Malik never achieves the same grand rise to power as seen in Scarface or the Godfather, his standing in the prison community more akin to Chopper. It is not an easy watch, taking its time to show all the facets of his character and at 149 minutes, perhaps could have lost half an hour of prison life. A Prophet is not quite the masterpiece some claimed it to be, but it is solid filmmaking and an engaging if slow paced crime thriller.

DVD of the week? A Single Man.

1 comment:

  1. Quite a good week for releases, I think you are more or less spot on with these reviews.
    The more I think of alice, the more I don't like it and you make a good point about Johnny depp bringing tim burton into the mainstream. Making a kids film for Disney, tim burton wouldn't have done that 15 yrs ago.