Category Archives: On DVD and Blu-Ray

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Our Kind of Traitor – Review

by Ren Zelen

With the legion of fans garnered by the recent TV adaptation of novelist John Le Carre’s The Night Manager, now would seem to be a fortuitous time for distributors to be releasing Our Kind of Traitor, another adaptation which may serve to alleviating the pangs of ‘Le Carre withdrawal’.

Our Kind of Traitor stars Ewan McGregor as Perry Makepeace, a quiet academic who has taken a holiday in Marrakesh in order to salvage his relationship with his lawyer wife Gail (Naomie Harris) after Perry’s affair with a student.

When Gail brusquely leaves their restaurant table to make a conference call, Perry succumbs to an invitation from wealthy Russian, Dima (Stellan Skarsgård) to spend the remainder of the evening at a party. Perry finds himself somewhat out of his depth as he enters Dima’s mansion and notices that this hedonistic, drug-fuelled spree is populated by some very dodgy characters.


The two men continue to bond the next day over a game of tennis, and Gail gets to know Dima’s wife Tamara (Saskia Reeves) and the various children in their entourage. It soon becomes clear that Dima’s enthusiasm for befriending the couple is down to an ulterior motive: He wants them to help him negotiate a defection for himself and his family with the British government. The Russian mob for whom he works, is now under new leadership by a cold-eyed oligarch (Grigoriy Dobrygin), known only as the ‘Prince’.

The ‘Prince’ is intent on revitalizing his organization and his plan includes disposing of the ‘old guard’ of employees. Dima rightly fears for the survival of himself and his family but his only bargaining chip with MI6 is his promise to provide proof that British MPs, including the influential Aubrey Longrigg (Jeremy Northam), are being bribed by the Russian mafia to abuse their power in order to facilitate the laundering of blood money.

When Gail and Perry arrive back at Heathrow, they meet with Hector Meredith (Damian Lewis) from MI6 who persuades the reluctant couple to help him smuggle Dima and his family into the U.K.  Meredith is also keen to get his hands on the information as he has an old score to settle with Longrigg.

Although Our Kind of Traitor proves to be a decent enough spy thriller, well told, the feature length doesn’t always suit the dense storytelling of Le Carre’s work. With so much backstory and explication to shoehorn into the dialogue; there is never enough time to fully explain character, incentive or motivation.

This results in some good actors being underused (Gatiss, Reeves, and Northam) as well as motivations being glossed over. It is never convincingly explained as to why Perry would want to swap a quiet life lecturing on poetry (at what appears to be UCL), in order to risk his life for a violent Russian criminal that he barely knows. Is he trying to prove to his wife that he really is a decent and trustworthy bloke and atone for past sins, or is he perhaps trying to prove it to himself?

This is where even a responsible, competent, well-intentioned feature adaptation like Our Kind of Traitor may suffer somewhat in comparison to a lengthy TV version such as The Night Manager.

Director Susanna White, whose résumé includes some fine TV work (Parade’s End, Bleak House, Jane Eyre) as well as movies Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, opts for a quieter tone rather than underlining the drama with big explosions, histrionics or the frequent inclusion of graphic violence.

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This gives the brutal scenes more impact and allows some of the most tragic or shocking moments to happen at a distance or just out of reach while characters watch, helpless to stop the unfolding of events. One of the most refreshing aspects of the movie is how it evokes the sense of clandestine power struggles, political shifts in allegiance, shady dealings and tragic events happening quietly but inexorably behind the scenes, while ordinary people continue on in ignorance or indifference.

The screenplay by Hossein Amini, a writer who has dealt with literary adaptations (Jude, Wings of a Dove, The Two Faces of January) and action (Drive, Snow White and the Huntsman), makes only modest changes to the original novel. These mostly stem from a decision to cast younger actors (such as Damian Lewis, whose character is much older in the book) or the need to take advantage of financial incentives in using certain locations. As most Le Carre adaptations, Our Kind of Traitor provides a series of glamorous and gritty settings to appease viewers who like to revel in location porn such as was evident in the BBC’s The Night Manager.

All in all Our Kind of Traitor is a good, workmanlike spy thriller, particularly if cinemagoers are looking for a change from the slew of superhero movies on offer, but for my money, it proves no great threat to the 2011 version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which remains the best cinematic adaptation of a Le Carre book made so far.


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OUR KIND OF TRAITOR IS OUT ON DVD & BLU-RAY! 

 

 

A War – DVD and Blu-Ray Review

There are plenty of movies out there that take a look at the casualties of war. Probably not the physically ailed populous that get bombed by every country that ever lived. Ever. But the Western culture chooses to immortalise the struggle of those doing the firing. From American Sniper to Eye in the Sky, there have been a barrage of movies that tackle the inner workings of soldiers on the front line, their mentality blown to pieces like those they choose to shoot at….

OK. I’m being heavily disrespectful and cynical because I do have deep respect for soldiers who are forced into war by government’s nefarious schemes and ploys in the same way I have respect for those caught in the crossfire. What is alarming is the choice to focus on one and not the other, it seems very one sided.

So when A War came out, the recent Danish contender for the Academy Award, there was skeptism that this movie would do justice to – not only the pain and strife of our leading soldier – but to the world and the people around him, suffering at his hand.


But in the hands of Tobias Lindholm, who also directed A Hijacking and The Hunt, A War manages to portray the intricacies and difficulties of warfare without over-simplifying or sugar-coating the emotion.

Anyway, Danish movie A War looks to be a poignant and thrilling drama about the Afghan war. Starring Pilou Asbæk, it revolve around Claus who is on tour within an Afghan war whilst his wife Maria is holding day to day life together. However, when they find themselves in a troubling situation, he makes a decision that could impact the lives of his men and his family back at home.

Lindholm has never been a director to shy away from excavating truth in all its gritty emotion. The film director can masterfully command the screen with enthralling effect. The first half of the film feels clichéd and reminiscent more of war films that have come beforehand. Despite the hand-held camera shaking nail-biting tension through your skin, you can never shake The Hurt Locker heroic likeness so immortalised in Katherine Bigalow’s film that no other can escape allusions.


Yet Lindholm is clear to never stray from the narrative and themes of the film – the consequence of action and how bravery is only celebrated if there is no loss of life. The conflict here evolves A War from the usual war garb and into an intellectual struggle between who is actually right and wrong when it comes to battle. Lindholm explores a deeper side than just the initial pain of war and the unfolding of the war crime and trial juxtaposes the grittiness fantastically well. In fact, it deepens the tension as the palpable courtroom sweats like the heat of the desert.

Rising actor Pilou Asbæk is a revelation, at least to English speaking audiences, and a commander Claus Michael Pederson, you see the visceral conflict etched in his fibre, his being, and every second he is on the big screen you are absorbed into this soldier’s journey: As someone who is punished for trying to survive but also as someone who must pay for his actions. Asbæk is a marvel and does well to establish a connection with the audience. Tuva Novotny is splendid as his suffering wife, trying to keep the situation away from her family both physically and mentally too. It’s an terrific cast effort that brings Lindholm’s work to stunning realisation.

One of the best war movies you’ll ever witness, A War is a superb, deep, and full of emotional turmoil. Most remarkably, however, is Lindholm’s astute awareness of the real casualties of war…


A War is out on DVD and Blu-Ray now! 

Room (2016) – DVD and Blu-Ray Review

There are spoilers here.

The jaunty music rang out across the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood as the 87th Academy Awards were in full swing this past February. The song perhaps grated against the usual swell of classic film scores and elegance that populated grand events such as this. For keen ears, it is the music that  was uttered softly, in hushed pain, from the winner of Best Actress – Brie Larson in Room and for many big fans of Lenny Abrahamson’s seminal work, Big Rock Candy Mountain was a soulful nod to the past year’s best performance.

And Brie Larson completely deserved the golden gong.

The 26 year old actress was pretty much the sole frontrunner of award season. The performer, who started acting throughout her teens and gained traction during her early twenties in films such as Scott Pilgrim vs the World and 21 Jump Street. She gained acclaimed for her role in Short Term 12 – a film which you all should see by the way – but it was this year’s heart-wrenching Room that solidified her as one of the world’s greatest actresses (oh, and my Twitter friend for about three months.)

The actress has soared and if you missed her impeccable performance in Room, which fought off the likes of Charlotte Rampling and Cate Blanchette, then it is luckily out on DVD and Blu-ray today.

Room revolves around Joy who, seven years ago, was kidnapped by a man known only as Old Nick and is held in an 11 by 11 foot enclosure. Giving birth to a son, Jack, Joy makes the decision to tell him that life within Room is all there is and everything within the television does not exist. However, urged yet again to escape when Old Nick takes away their power, Joy tells him the truth and Jack is forced to confront a larger world than the one he has known – the little and dingy Room


A commented bounded around from a dear critic friend who stated that Room was very similar to The Revenant: The Oscar winning movies were about survival and perseverance. Whilst one battle with the harsh nature and brutal beauty of the world, the other took on the brutality of man in all his sickening horror. Joy’s story, told through the round eyed innocence of her son Jack, is the endurance through kidnap, rape, and confinement and then, the preservation of her son when he is unwantedly born.

More so than the obvious and physical entrapment displayed here, Room excavates a remarkable understanding of mental illness such as Ma switching off for days on end whilst inside the room and her inability to readjust outside of Room. In fact, two of the arguably more troubling scenes within the film are when she faces what has happened to her and Jack that, juxtaposed against the seemingly idyllic and now foreign world she used to live, breaks her spirit all over again which is shown in the conflict with her mother and the news-reporters contempt for sensitivity (accusing her of being an unfit mother for not allowing Jack to escape.) Room never tackles the subject matter with a clunky hand.


Brie Larson is the spirituous and intricate performer who solidifies these themes. She is able to layer Joy with the realist emotional changes that her vitriol and rage as well as hope and courage are all utterly believable. The sense that this young woman was taken in the prime of her life and suffered for seven years under the command of someone else rocks throughout the film and Larson handles this story – a very true one for some people – with completely control and sensitivity, weaving the heftiness of her suffering in understated gestures, the bags around her eyes, and the pain etched into her voice. Larson takes a role that could’ve been wrongfully enhanced by melodrama and, instead, quietly hurts. Surprisingly, it’s a performance louder than most.

Lenny Abrahamson demands the excavation of the human soul in most of his work that the ferocious director encroaches from whilst the young Jacob Tremblay, who, during press junkets and red carpet shenanigans became our adoptive son, is a revelation and can tackle the arc of wonder and frustration tremendously well.

Room is a marriage of Emma Donoghue’s story with these superb talents and it liftst into this powerful and superb feature.


Room is out on DVD and Blu-Ray 9th May

Looking Back…Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)

To celebrate the release of I Saw The Light, Sarah looks at Tom Hiddleston’s best work in Only Lover’s Left Alive.

I have to admit that in my journey through cinema, I have missed one vital director; Jim Jarmusch. In fact, a few writers of my film team have filled our section with glorious articles on his films and I’ve been sat there, editing them, like “how do I not know about his man?” Because for glorious and intense independent films that spout poetry and intellect, Jarmusch is your man.

Starring the delectable Tom Hiddleston and the wonderful Tilda Swinton, Jarmusch has re-vamped the vampire genre. It revolves around Adam and Eve, two ancient vampires who are living in the 21st Centuary. Adam is a rock-star who is plagued by fans and finds solace in a companion in Ian. Eve lives away, getting the best blood from a dealer. When Adam finds himself lost and as suicidal as a vampire can be, a phonecall from Eve, who happens to be his wife, reunites the soulmates. But their reunion is lessened by the arrival of Eve’s sister Ava upsets the roster.


This is exactly how you develop a waning genre and bring it into a modern setting. Conflicting the gothic poetry of the vampire lore with the bright lights of cities makes Only Lovers Left Alive. The drawl of the drama is, albeit slightly pretention, is purely divine. Jarmusch weaves a story that is not only visual in depth and so vibrantly beautiful that your eyes will devour every scenic joy. The film is infused with wit, dark humanistic emotions that can only be experienced in the after-life and a lack for life from the already dead. The haze that surrounds Only Lovers Left Alive is simply celestial, like a sleep walk through the film that’s dreamscape is impossible to not adore.

At the centre of this impossibly gorgeous film is two stars that exude this bereft and depth of a vampire life. Brooding and cynical, Tom Hiddleston’s Adam is stunningly done. Hiddleston conveys the want for rest, that archaic notion that life has been lived repeatedly and the stumbling world around him just effervesces this aura that irritates him. He deliberately adds personality that is both droll and exhausted. His counterpart is just as delightful. Tilda juxtaposes his lust for “death” with this calm yet jovial nature that is able to capture light within the dark. Her lucid acting that powerful captures verse and speech. The pair entwine in this mystical relationship that enchants in its mystery.


It’s impossible not to hear this review in a sultry tone. But that is almost the narrative of this film. Only Lovers Left Alive is a good charming independent film. It oozes the romping sex appeal and seduces the audience. Though vampires will always perforate our cinematic outings, ranging from the bad to the excellent. But no one will ever do vampires quite like Jim Marmusch who simply and exquisite gives us this wonderful film. The little nuances, the impeccable music and two lovers, strewn across the stars of time make Only Lovers Left Alive simply magnificent.


I Saw The Light is out in cinemas now 

Twenty Years On…The Craft (1996)

There was a trend throughout pre-teen and teenage girls in the late 90s; a trend that scared every parent to their wits! Where every sleep over was shrouded in mysterious chanting and candlelight. Spells, witches, and more were whispered in hushed tones and everyone had come down with something serious…..the craft.

No?

Just me?

No one else tried pin-prick their friend’s finger then drink blood-laced milk?

*cough*

Twenty years ago, The Craft came into our lives and for that, we are better for it. Set in Los Angeles, Sarah (Robin Tunney) has been moved from San Francisco. At her Catholic School (irony,) Sarah befriends a group of outcast girls; Nancy (Fairuza Balk,) Bonnie (Neve Campbell), and Rochelle (Rachel True.) However, these girls are known for dabbling in witchcraft and realising Sarah’s potential, invite her into their coven. Soon, Sarah and Co are dabbling up spells and invoking spirits to solve their problems. But even the most earnest of spells have consequences as our ladies are sure to find out.


Despite what initial critical and audience response would have you believe, The Craft is actually really good. The Craft is also an accurate portrayal of some elements of Wicca (Baulk is actually a Wiccan and helped producers make the film more realistic.) As well as this, it shows a much darker side to all this magic malarkey left unexplored in fantastical movies. For example, the “power of three” consequence is strife within this movie and simple shows that no matter how much you want something, it could also bite you in the arse.

What’s more, when it comes to those magical moments then the special effects aren’t really that bad for a nineties movie (seeing as over 3000 snakes and bugs were used, it’s hard to make them look fake.) The mystical moments truly solidify your believe in magic.

Not only is the CGI convincing enough to make young girls believe that you could lift your fat friend into the air using words and two fingers; the Craft has something more. The characters and acting within this are just brilliant. Fairuza Balk, since growing into her crazy looks, plays completely terrifyingly insane extremely well. Her Nancy, who takes one sip of power and goes loco, is sublimely frightening and sadistic within the film. She is held up well by the painfully shy Bonnie and the bullied Rachel. The outcast element here enhances the atmosphere, allowing you to relate and . Each character has their own struggles and battles, looking at the rest of the world from the space they have been shoved in. Each is portrayed subtly and beautiful by our lead cast. They invoke all different kinds of emotions from sadness to anger, each suited for their role.

Which brings me on to Robin Turney who I believe is a seriously underrated actress. She is wonderful to watch as the broken heroine who is good with a wicked side as well. You root for her but you know that she is dangerous as well. She’s the kind of hero you relate to, even if she is wiggling her magic fingers in a love spell.

The Craft is chilling, terrifying and gets under your skin. There is also an incredible soundtrack despite the usual “How Soon Is Now” that seems to be the staple for brooding nineties movies everywhere. I heard someone say this about The Craft, and I believe it so; The Craft is a fantastic movie sandwiched in a bad genre. No one sees movies aimed at teens because in general, they are the same and once you grow old, they don’t appeal to you. The Craft is an exception that’s breaks the rule and sadly, with the release of a film that shan’t be named (Twilight) it is still going to be lumped in with the teen supernatural genre, even decades after release.

And that’s a curse that needs breaking.

Infinitely Polar Bear (2014) – Review

Mental illness in film is a really hard thing to depict because every single experience is different, there is still large stigma around it, and it is hard to equate someone’s suffering when you haven’t suffered something similar. Many of the more successful movies intricately weave their own backstory in order to provide an insight to people plighted by a mental disease and how they move forward with their struggles. Maya Forbes, in her directorial debut, enthuses her own past with this saccrine yet sensitive film – Infinitely Polar Bear.

Infinitely Polar Bear revolves around a family of four whose father Cam is suffering from bipolar disorder. After a manic episode, mother Maggie decides it’s best for them to separate and takes their daughters Amelia and Faith whilst Cam gets rehab. Unfortunately, finances are slim and Maggie decides to enter a business school for eighteen months in order to get qualifications and a better job. Cam is left in charge of Amelia and Maggie in this sweet portrait of living with mental illness whilst trying to raise a family.

There isn’t a review of this film that doesn’t start, or at least mention, Mark Ruffalo as one of the greatest actors on the planet. That’s because it’s true. It’s so true that sometimes just looking at his face makes you quake with anger at how bloody brilliant he is (my breast constantly quiver with jealousy.) As Dan, Ruffalo is this treasure of a performer whose kinetic energy drives this near pitch-perfect depiction of bipolar. Able to handle the mania with the depression, the normalised states and the extremes, Ruffalo’s nuanced performance is breathtakingly real, poignant, and human. Forbe’s real lie daughter Imogene Wolodarsky and Ashley Aufderheide as daughters Faith and Amelia are treasures despite having no prior acting experience. They are charming, funny, and ferocious, adding innocence and chemistry alongside Ruffalo’s performance. Don’t forget Zoe Salanda who is steadfast as mother Maggie, trying to accumulate stability for her family.

Forbes delicate script and story-telling is remarkable, drawing on her own experience with her father to tell the tale. Perhaps using her own history as the backbone for this film elevates it into one of the greatest because it never relies on clichés nor skim over the facts to be an Oscar-bait movie on mental illness. Instead, Forbes takes you into this world where these daughters and this father try to get along despite their differences. The biggest dramatic point is each other’s lack of understanding – the daughters who can’t understand their fathers “eccentricity” and a father who can’t get why things keep falling apart and his daughters hate him. The art of getting it right is depicting both the character’s growth is never assigning blame. Dan is not a heinous father, whittling away their innocence because of his bipolar nor are the children bratty for getting frustrated at their situation. Similarly, Maggie isn’t abhorrent for choosing to educate herself to provide for all of them in the future. Whilst there are tensions and extremities here, Forbes intellectually makes Infinitely Polar Bear a charming exploration of this different family but never scrutinises anyone involved.


A tender, sophisticated movie that has a big heart, Forbes has done wonders by introspectively weaving the emotion of her past and enhancing it gloriously for the screen. The aspect of a chaotic family still brimming with unconditional love gifts this movie a poetic weight that is life-affirming, warming, and humorous too. The warmth radiated from this explicitly good family unit, if albeit dysfunctional, allows Infinitely Polar Bear to work without exploiting mental illness. With some impressive, realistic performances, led by Mark Ruffalo, the film is a high-note for Forbes in a glorious directorial debut. Make sure you catch this impressive feature.