New Releases: 16th March

HUNGER GAMES MOCKINGJAY PT.1:

The latest part-one-of-two-movies-split-up-from-one-book-for-a-reason-that-is-totally-not-money is here! The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 was last year’s most commercially-successful film, and no doubt it will continue that trend on DVD release. The film is quite a bold tonal shift from the first two, and essentially sets up a civil war narrative that will be concluded in the final film. The drama here is definitely more adult and this is an ambitious film for a YA audience. The ensemble cast is, as usual, excellent (even Josh Hutcherson), and there is the novelty of seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final screen performance to rope those who might not usually go for such fare. More war drama than teen adventure, this one is definitely worth a watch, even if it doesn’t quite equal the brilliant second film in the franchise.

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MY OLD LADY:

New-Yorker travels to Paris after inheriting a massive home from his estranged father. Maggie Smith lives there, and she doesn’t want to leave. This is, in a nutshell, the plot to My Old Lady, potentially the winner of this year’s Most-Airbrushed-Poster award (those actors on the poster are 67, 54 and 80 – they don’t look like that!). My stock review for this sort of film is that it’s enjoyable, if unmemorable, but it’s buoyed by a wonderful cast, who do all they can, in particular Kline and Smith, to elevate the material. An ingenious conceit that sets up the battle between Kline’s protagonist and crotchety-old-lady-for-hire Maggie Smith’s crotchety old lady hints at an intelligence the film doesn’t quite carry through. But this is a touching and enjoyable little film that can’t do anyone any harm. I’ll revisit it when I’m 60, and thus the target demographic.

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THE INTERNET’S OWN BOY:

Those quotes on the poster: very accurate. Aaron Swartz, who took his own life aged just 26, was one of the great internet prodigies of our age. And here is a film that sucks you deep into the murky world that took over his life when his own quest for personal liberty and social justice found the wrong targets and trapped him in a legal nightmare for the last 2 years of his life. This is one of those stories that is hard to think of as actually being true, so removed is it from the realm of what those of us with ordinary brain capacity think about daily. But, like last year’s Ed Snowden doc Citizenfour, this will shock you with its journey of someone dedicated to making sure people are not being taken advantage of by those that run the technology designed to improve our lives. This is strong, emotional and gripping stuff.

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MARIUS:

Right now Daniel Auteuil can kind of do whatever the hell he wants and he knows people will see his slice-of-life French dramedies. It’s a foolproof business model, that’s for sure. It is not, unfortunately, a foolproof model for making a good film. Marcel Pagnol, one of the great French writers, directed a trilogy based on these stories himself in the 1930s and 40s, and I would advise people to seek out those crackling, vital pieces of filmmaking instead of these. The romance here is between beautiful people, but come on, this is France, every romance is between beautiful people. Of course, if you are a fan of Auteuil and aforementioned business model, perhaps you will find something here that I did not.

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FANNY:

The second part in Auteuil’s Pagnol trilogy (we patiently await a third, Cesar), Fanny is a definite improvement on the first film. The drama here is weightier, the story angled more towards a story of single mother Fanny and her divided love for Marius and her son, which prompts her to do things that may destroy the lovers’ hopes for happiness. Here one can tell that Auteuil is more actor than director, as the performances impress, but the drama, which is sincere but soapy, does not. Still, this is clearly a passion project of his and if you take in part one and two, who’s to say the final installment won’t make it all worth it.

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WHEN THE GAME STANDS STILL:

One-time movie Jesus, Jim Caviezel, is back with another set of miracles. This time, it’s the true story of a high school football coach who carried his team from unknown status to the greatest team in the history of that sport. Let’s start with the good things: the story is quite incredible, that’s for sure, and the football sequences are solidly crafted. The less good stuff would be everything else. For those that love their football dramas, may I direct you to Remember the Titans (aka That Film We Were Made to Watch in High School P.E.). There is a lot of cliche around in this one, and while not unwatchable, this is one of those stories that perhaps deserved a more sophisticated directorial touch than it got.

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HORNS:

Critics were a little harsh on this one, I feel. Yes, it’s completely muddled tonally and, yes, the script sounds like it was written through a protracted session of ‘Eeny-meeny-miny-mo’ but it offers some great set-pieces, an out-of-the-box idea and a really wonderful lead performance from Daniel Radcliffe, who seems as committed as ever to shake off the boy-wizard mantle. Indeed, it’s Radcliffe that makes all of this work, as a man accused of the rape and murder of his girlfriend who awakes to find horns having sprouted from his head and some rather nifty paranormal abilities. A useful comparison might be Dogma, though Horns has none of the sophistication and vicious humour that film had. If you can overlook some cosmetic flaws and have fun with it, this is an ambitious horror-comedy that works on several levels, and Radcliffe is quite brilliant.

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DISCONNECT:

I’m not entirely sure why this one has taken more than 2 years since its release to come out on British DVD, but let’s just be happy that it has. Disconnect  is about a group of people looking for some kind of connection in this technological jungle we live in. If you fell asleep reading that previous sentence (and have woken up on a bus to Croydon thinking “Who am I? And how did I get here?”) have no fear. Although this one gets quite didactic, and although there is some very heavy-handed ‘THIS IS AN IMPORTANT MOMENT’ content, the performances more than make up for it, and the drama underneath all the schmaltz is actually quite powerful. Those that like their dramas ensemble-cast and emotionally meaty, do check this one out (as well as the director’s previous (documentary) effort, Murderball).

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WHITE BIRD IN A BLIZZARD:

There is something fascinating that happens with the work of director Gregg Araki (Mysterious Skin, The Doom Generation) – even when, as in the case of this film, he somewhat mangles the plot he is working with and ends up with a bit of a mess, as he does here, his films manage to become even more engaging and hypnotic. It is inexplicably to the advantage of White Bird in a Blizzard that it never quite neatly straddles its twin tales of thriller and sexual awakening, because this is what makes it such a good watch. You’ll have to see it to know what I mean. Shailene Woodley continues to be brilliant, as she always is, and Eva Green is suitably beautiful and enigmatic. This story of a young girl’s sexual awakening and confronting of her mother’s mysterious disappearance promises nothing if not a unique experience.

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SKELETON TWINS:

It seems to be a theme this week that the films to arrive are good-but-not-great dramas with strong performances, and this is no different. You would be forgiven for thinking that Skeleton Twins is a comedy, based on the two leads. Although Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig are two of today’s premier comic talents, this is decidedly darker, more mature fare for both of them, though there is a smattering of lighthearted comedy too. As two estranged siblings who attempt suicide on the same day, these two convey a deep, complicated relationship with elegance and a welcome lack of sentimentality. Definitely recommended, if ever there was a film not to judge by its cover (and leads), this would be it. Watch and ye shall be rewarded with some slight but sincere dramedy driven by two excellent actors.

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SPIRAL SEASON 5:

Do I really need to convince anyone to watch Spiral? No? Good. If you’re unfamiliar (which I doubt applies to any customers of Video City), may I refer you to the lovely Simon, who will no doubt have you convinced to start from Season 1 in about 10 seconds. If you are familiar, well, you know what to do.

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BROADCHURCH SEASON 2:

Broadchurch was one of the smash hits of the last TV season, and this is a wonderful case of more of the same. Conceived as a trilogy originally, the stories of Detectives Hardy and Miller are taken to new, emotional and thrilling places. There’s a bit of a dip in the middle of the second series, but it starts and ends very strongly and- actually, why am I writing this, go and take out Season 2. Unless you haven’t seen Season 1, then by God go and take that out instead. Just watch it people, this is great TV, end of.

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Posted by Dave

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