DVDs/Blu-rays out in the UK this week
Thale (Metrodome, cert 15, DVD)
This tense fantasy thriller about a Norwegian police clean-up team finding a mythical creature in a hidden cellar is this year’s Troll Hunter. Unexpected, refreshing, atmospheric and tightly plotted, it’s beautifully shot with vivid colours and unusual deep-focus photography, oh the wonders of digital. Even if you hate this sort of thing, it’s worth watching, and if you do hate this sort of thing you’ll be happy to hear it’s only a short 75 minutes or so. I found some comments from its director, Aleksander Nordaas, over on Pirate Bay underneath the magnet and torrent links to Thale, pointing out to the freebooters who are downloading his movie that he poured his heart, soul and all his money into this film. Not chiding them, not busting their balls, just asking nicely if they would also consider spending a bit of coin through the legal channels. How amazingly even-tempered he is, as well as talented. I hope some of them did – in spite of Thale’s unfathomably low IMDB rating, Nordaas really deserves to make another film.
Argo (Warner, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)
Ben Affleck’s tense, polished and accomplished entertainment about a CIA man co-opting Tinseltown into the rescue of hostages in Iran is, most remarkably, based on a true story. There are many reasons why Hollywood gave it the Best Picture Oscar, not least because it proclaims a) the superiority of American democracy over Iranian ayatollahs b) it harks back to a time when the US was still undoubtedly number one c) it turns a defeat (the loss of Iran to the mullahs, the US’s man, the Shah, being kicked out) into a victory and d) it also harks back to when Hollywood was still number one. It’s a Clooney-esque film (he produced) – political, slick, wise, adult and entertaining, and director Affleck shows his mettle particularly as the tension racks up towards the end, wheeling out barriers to escape of every conceivable sort, until it became almost funny. Though for me the best bit was watching Alan Arkin, as one of those gimlet-eyed, cigar-chomping, old Hollywood producers shouting “Argo fuck yourself”. A line everyone is so pleased with they use it again and again. Great stuff.
The Sapphires (Entertainment One, cert PG, DVD)
The audience for this sort of film has probably dried up and blown away. Which is a pity because it’s got romance, music and emotion – it’s a toe-tapping feelgood musical, in other words, with a story arc that’s straight out of The Commitments, and featuring a charismatic performance by Chris O’Dowd, playing the shambling boozer in 1960s Australia who becomes the manager of an aborigine girl group, next stop Vietnam. It’s a true story too.
Battle of Warsaw (Metrodome, cert 15, DVD)
Poland’s first 3D movie is an intensely patriotic affair set in the aftermath of the First World War when the newly formed Soviet Union thought it would gobble up its next-door neighbour. Directed by Jerzy Hoffman, a veteran who brings so much 1960s flavour that you’d swear Julie Christie was about to turn up, it’s a bloody, gutsy film with a familiar twin-track plot – a love story set against the backdrop of bloodshed – and has a pair of proper starry leads in Borys Szyc and Natasza Urbanska. And as soon as it starts we know it’s only a matter of time before she abandons her life as a Weimar-style cabaret singer, signs up as a nurse and heads for a battlefront finale where… no spoilers here. No one seems to particularly like this film, but I did – yes, it’s film-making almost as an exercise in semaphore, but it has touches of the brutal absurdity of The Good Soldier Schwejk and has a lot of time for the working of sheer dumb luck. The 3D? Well, it’s unnecessary but it’s only used in the battle scenes, which come at roughly ten minute intervals.
Hope Springs (Momentum, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)
I doubt you’ve ever wanted to see Meryl Streep rubbing Tommy Lee Jones’s groin (over his trousers, please) or maybe I’m wrong and you also fantasise about Meryl pleasuring herself under the bed covers in the night. In which case this wholly uncool but undoubtedly well done comedy about an old married couple (no, not old old, this being Hollywood) putting the spark back into their marriage – thanks to relationship/sex counselling from a dialled-down Steve Carell – is for you. If not, there’s always Pornhub.
Gambit (Momentum, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)
Having made a lash-up of remaking The Ladykillers, the Coen brothers (they write but don’t direct) do similar injury to a 1960s caper movie that wasn’t very good first time round. Then it starred Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine. Now it stars Cameron Diaz, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman and poor Tom Courtenay. It’s a relentlessly unfunny misconception about the selling of a phoney Monet painting which takes things that were just about still funny in the 1960s – the sound of a man’s trousers ripping, or a chambermaid burping – no, they weren’t funny then either, you’re right, and adds some Pink Panther-style physical comedy. Which would probably be OK if Firth weren’t doing it. But he’s no worse than Diaz’s Texas accent. In fact only Alan Rickman gets out alive. But then he always does. My gambit – avoid.
© Steve Morrissey 2013