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

Patrice Chéreau (1944-2013)

patrice-chereauIt has been announced that french director/actor/writer, Patrice Chéreau, died yesterday. Chéreau left behind him a well-respected body of work, including the sumptuous La Reine Margot, starring Isabelle Adjani and Daniel Auteuil – one of the go-to classics of recent French cinema, Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train, the controversial English-language film Intimacy which sparked much debate surrounding the question of unsimulated sex on film, and the fantastic Gabrielle starring Isabelle Hupert and Pascal Gregory.

gabrielle-movie-poster-2005-1020449997Based on the short story, The Return by Joseph Conrad, Gabrielle tells the story of a high-society couple whose relationship, on the night of their 10th anniversary, is thrown into question by the revelation of an infidelity. With minimal dialogue the film manages to be utterly captivating through masterful performances and Chéreau’s incredibly sensitive direction. Much recommended.

posted by Dixie Turner

New Addition: Les bronzes (1978) + Spotlight on Patrice Leconte

Newly gracing our ever-expanding (and collapsing) shelves:

Les bronzes (1978) – Leconte’s second feature film was this highly successful comedy which centres around a group of holidaymakers in a Club Med-style resort, where sun, sea and sex (and especially sex) is the order of the day.

One of the France’s most well-respected and versatile directors, Patrice Leconte, turned 65 last week. He is one of the elite few to have a Video City shelf dedicated to him – come and make use of this genius system of ours, and have a rifle through some of his other films:

Monsieur Hire (1989) – nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes – Based on the book by Belgian author, Georges Simenon, Monsieur Hire is a psychological drama of sexual obsession, guilt and deceit shot with supreme beauty and elegance. Starring Michel Blanc (Girl on the Train) and Sandrine Bonaire (Jeanne la Pucelle).

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The Hairdresser’s Husband (1990) – nominated for 7 Cesar awards. Roger Ebert said of this film that it was sexier than a dozen Basic Instincts (which, given that the Basic Instinct franchise was already unwatchable at number 2, perhaps isn’t such a huge compliment). A story of strange attractions in which history repeats itself. As a young boy Antoine falls for his suicidal hairdresser and becomes obsessed with having her cut his hair. As a grown man he meets Mathilde who is also a beautiful hairdresser and the two form an intimate – and erotic – bond which ends in tragedy… Starring Jean Rochefort (Tell No-one).

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Ridicule (1996)  – nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and also for a Palme d’Or. Ridicule is a costume comedy-drama set at the court of Versailles where all must play at games of wit in order to gain the favour of the aristocracy. A fantastic critique of the pomp and callous corruption of the landed gentry to whose amusement all had to pander in order that more pressing concerns be met. Starring Fanny Ardant (Finally, Sunday!) and Jean Rochefort (Man on the Train).

Girl on the Bridge (1999) – romantic drama about two strangers who meet on a bridge when both are at the end of their proverbial rope. Daniel Auteuil (Every French Film You’ve Ever Seen) plays a a down and out knifethrower who sees in Vanessa Paradis (Heartbreaker) the possibility of a new professional partnership which will get him out of a financial fix. Naturally, the professional nature of their relationship bends as an attraction between them develops into a love that neither are prepared for.

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The Widow of Saint-Pierre (2000) – Serbian director, Emir Kusturica (Black Cat White Cat, Underground etc), plays a man imprisoned on the island of Saint-Pierre, awaiting execution for murder. Whilst the guillotine is being shipped over, the wife (played by Juliette Binoche)  of the Captain in command (played by Daniel Auteuil) takes an interest in the man and tries to redeem him.

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Man on the Train (2002) – Jean Rochefort and Johnny Hallyday star as two strangers who meet on a train – one is a criminal, the other a teacher. The pair form an unlikely bond, each growing to envy aspects of the others’ life, until eventually they decide to trade places.

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My Best Friend (2006) – hugely successful comedy starring Daniel Auteuil and Dany Boon. A successful business man is challenged one evening to produce his ‘best friend’, as all who know him can see he has no true friends at all. In a desperate bid to track down past acquaintances, old school mates etc, he unwittingly befriends the unassuming taxi driver who has so tirelessly been ferrying him around.

“Irresistably winning” is an apt description, if by ‘winning’ you mean trite and irritating. But nevermind. Immensely successful; hugely popular.