UK DVD & Blu-ray Releases: Monday 31st October 2011

DVD & BLU-RAY PICKS

The Tree of Life (20th Century Fox Home Ent.): Terrence Malick’s hugely ambitious exploration of human life through the lens of a family growing up in 1950s Texas won the Palme d’Or earlier this year. Starring Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCracken and Sean Penn, it features some astounding visuals, a story rich in emotion and some innovative visual effects. Forget reports about critics being divided on the film (they weren’t) and savour one of the best of the films of the year so far. [Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK] [Original theatrical review]

The Conversation (StudioCanal): One of two classic films Francis Ford Coppola managed to direct in 1974 (the other was The Godfather Part II) this psychological thriller played upon themes of paranoia and surveillance, which were timely in the year Watergate forced Nixon to resign. Starring Gene Hackman as an expert who gradually fears he may have uncovered something sinister, it is a masterclass in visuals, audio and editing. Co-starring John Cazale, Frederic Forrest and Harrison Ford it does for audio what Antonioni’s Blowup (1966) did for photography. [Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK]

The Outsiders (Optimum Home Entertainment): Coppola’s 1983 adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s novel included a remarkable array of young actors: C. Thomas Howell, Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Diane Lane, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe and Ralph Macchio all feature in this teen melodrama about fueding ‘greasers’ and ‘socs’ in 1950s Oklahoma. It showed Coppola could recover after the disastrous One from the Heart (1982) and seemed to pave the way for his accomplished period films in the resulting decade, such as Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) and Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988). [Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK]

ALSO OUT

Bad Teacher (Sony Pictures Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Beautiful Girls (Miramax) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Everything Must Go (G2 Pictures) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Helldriver (Bounty Films) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Maniac Cop (Arrow Video) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Michael Jackson: The Life of an Icon (Universal Pictures) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Mimic (StudioCanal) [Blu-ray / Special Edition]
Orphans (Park Circus) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Quentin Tarantino Collection (Miramax) [Blu-ray / Box Set]
Robin of Sherwood: Complete Series 3 (Network) [Blu-ray / Box Set]
Shrek (DreamWorks Animation) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Shrek 2 (DreamWorks Animation) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Shrek the Third (DreamWorks Animation) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Smallville: Season 10 (Warner Home Video) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Smoke (StudioCanal) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Tactical Force (Entertainment One) [Blu-ray / Normal]
The Adventures of Mark Twain (Eureka) [Blu-ray / 25th Anniversary Edition]
The Princess of Montpensier (StudioCanal) [Blu-ray / Normal]
X-Men: First Class (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / Normal]

UK Cinema Releases for Friday 28th October 2011
The Best DVD & Blu-ray releases of 2010

 

James Cameron Accepts Popular Mechanics Award

James Cameron recently accepted the Popular Mechanics award for Breakthrough Leadership in 2011 where he discussed technology, filmmaking and the Avatar sequels.

Here is video of Popular Mechanics Editor-in-Chief Jim Meigs and Sigourney Weaver presenting the award to Cameron and his subsequent speech:

Earlier in the day he spoke at length to Meigs, where they discussed his early sci-fi influences, the importance of 2001: A Space Odyssey, why filmmakers should embrace technology, deep-sea exploration and the real-world influences on Avatar:

Here is the subsequent audience Q&A where he discusses higher frame rates, how the US can get its innovative edge back, the presentation of scientists on film and the experience of 3D in cinemas and the home.

> Popular Mechanics Archives
> Q&A print interview at Popular Mechanics
> Lengthy 2009 video interview where Cameron talks about the visual effects of Avatar
> More on James Cameron at Wikipedia
> Voice Cameos of James Cameron

Anonymous

The very idea of Roland Emmerich making a movie about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays is enough to spark laughter, but the end result is a handsomely staged period piece.

For those not familiar with the Shakespeare authorship question, it goes a little something like this: how could a man who didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge write some of the greatest works of literature of all time?

Throw in the fact that little is known about certain aspects of his life and you have a vacuum into which a well-oiled conspiracy can grow, the principal one being that the Earl of Oxford wrote the plays, which this film uses as a dramatic device.

For me, this has always been the literary equivalent of the people who think Paul McCartney died in 1967 or that the US government was somehow involved in 9/11.

But like those ideas it has an alarmingly large number of supporters, including Mark Twain, Sigmund Freud and even actors like Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance, who both have small roles in this film.

Although not an expert on the period, I have yet to see any compelling evidence that proves Shakespeare didn’t write the works attributed to him and tend to trust scholars such as Stanley Wells, Stephen Greenblatt and Jonathan Bate, who have written and spoken at length about how the man from Stratford did actually write the famous plays and poems.

Which brings us to Roland Emmerich’s new film, which arrived in UK and US cinemas this weekend amidst a predictable blizzard of stories about the ‘controversy’ surrounding this film with several critics scoffing loudly at it.

In fact Sony Pictures seemed to have staged a deeply misguided marketing campaign, baiting those upset with the premise of the film.

As of this weekend it hasn’t worked as early tracking suggests younger audiences have more problem with the ambitious jigsaw puzzle script than they do with the authorship question.

This has meant that they have scaled back the release of the film and their hopes of award season success seem limited to the technical categories.

All of this is a shame because Anonymous is a highly accomplished film, even if the phony debate surrounding it leaves a lot to be desired.

How did a project like this come about?

It goes back to the script John Orloff first wrote in the 1990s, which was originally shelved because of the success of Shakespeare in Love and later postponed in 2005 when Emmerich was going to direct it.

By this point he had earned enough money for the studio system with his apocalyptic blockbusters – Indpendence Day (1996), The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and 2012 (2009) – to attempt a pet project like this.

He’d always been an admirer of the script, which cleverly fuses Elizabethan literary and political conspiracies, whilst simultaneously reflecting very Shakespearean themes such as appearence and reality, the passage of time and the realities of power.

Opening with a modern day prologue (like Henry V) which takes the premise that Shakespeare was a fraud, it employs an ambitious flashback structure that goes between the succession crisis at the end of the Elizabethan era and the earlier events which led to the creation of plays which reflected both the politics of the time and would burn brightly for centuries to come.

Although it is hard to describe the narrative without venturing into major spoiler territory, but it revolves around Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) and the conceit that he not only wrote the plays of Shakespeare, but did so as part of an elaborate political conspiracy involving Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave), playwright Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) and Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (Sebastian Reid).

It is vital to remember that like Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991) and Shakespeare’s play Richard III, this is a version of history, which plays around with history for dramatic effect and further discussion.

Forget the provocative device that the movie has been sold on and enjoy the way in which it weaves the subjects and themes of Shakespeare into an Elizabethan conspiracy thriller.

The way in which elements of Shakespeare’s plays are woven into the material is masterful – Henry VA Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet are just some of the plays that are referenced throughout, leading up to a climax which makes you want to watch the story all over again.

For those curious about Emmerich’s involvement, he manages to use his considerable technical skills as a big budget director to help shape a stunning depiction of Elizabethan England.

The production design, costumes and visual effects work wonders in creating a believable world – probably the best ever recreation of this period – even though the events which happen in it are wildly speculative.

It is this duality which makes Anonymous interesting – a film which uses the latest filmmaking technology is also an engaging depiction of the power of words in both politics and art.

There is also some stellar acting going on, most notably Rhys Ifans in the main role. After a wildly fluctuating career, he gives a performance of great depth and power, which is as welcome as it is surprising.

In supporting roles there is the neat trick of casting the mother and daughter team of Redgrave and Joely Richardson as Elizabeth I (both are excellent) and other reliable British thespians like David Thewlis in key roles.

The major flaw in terms of the characters is (ironically) the presentation of Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) as a total dolt, which is a failed attempt to position him in the traditional fool role – although any student of the plays knows it is often the fools who provide the insight and wisdom.

As for the failed joke in the otherwise excellent script about actors and playwrights, it didn’t prevent actors like Moliere and Pinter from becoming decent writers.

However, the presentation of the plays within the film is excellent – if a little inaccurate – and is probably the most advanced recreation of the Globe Theatre on film, showing how the audience were an important part of the experience (which also mirrors the political importance of the stage at the time).

The digital visuals by cinematographer Anna J. Foerster look incredible, with the darker candlelit interiors captured with amazing depth and clarity.

Shot on Arri’s (relatively) new Alexa camera, some scenes may be used as a benchmark test for what can be achieved using modern digital cameras.

For Emmerich this may be a glorious one-off before he goes back to the blockbuster realm – so good in fact, that future audiences might think he didn’t actually direct it.

> Official site
> Reviews and links about Anonymous from MUBi
> More on the Shakespeare Authorship Question at Wikipedia

UK Cinema Releases: Friday 28th October 2011

NATIONAL RELEASES

The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn (Paramount): Animated version of the famous Belgian character from director Steven Spielberg. Based on the first three books, it sees Tintin (Jamie Bell) and his loyal dog Snowy as they come across a valuable model boat and various characters, including: enigmatic Sakharine (Daniel Craig), drink-soaked Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) and twin Interpol agents Thomson and Thompson (Nick Frost and Simon Pegg). [Read our full review here] [Nationwide / PG]

The Ides of March (E1 Films): Adapted from Beau Williams’ stage play Farragut North, this political drama focuses on a young strategist (Ryan Gosling) assisting his campaign boss (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in getting an inspirational Democratic candidate (George Clooney) elected. Co-starring Paul Giamatti, Evana Rachel Wood and Marisa Tomei, it was directed by Clooney. [Read our full review here] [Nationwide / 15]

Anonymous (Sony Pictures): Rolan Emmerich’s latest film is something of a departure: a conspiracy drama about who actually wrote the plays of William Shakespeare, set against the backdrop of the succession of Queen Elizabeth I, and the Essex Rebellion against her. Starring Rhys Ifans, Xavier Samuel, Jamie Campbell Bower and Joely Richardson. [Nationwide / 12A]

The Help (Disney): Drama set in the American South during the era of segregation and three women who strike up an unlikely friendship. The surprise sleeper hit of the summer at the US box office, it was directed by Tate Taylor and stars Emma Stone, Mike Vogel, Bryce Dallas Howard and Viola Davis. [Nationwide / 12A]

> Get local cinema showtimes at Google Movies or FindAnyFilm
Recent UK DVD & Blu-ray releases

London Film Festival Award Winners 2011

The winners have been announced at this year’s London Film Festival Awards.

BEST FILM: We Need To Talk About Kevin (Dir. Lynne Ramsay)

On behalf of the jury John Madden (Chair) said:

“This year’s shortlist for Best Film comprises work that is outstanding in terms of its originality and its stylistic reach. It is an international group, one united by a common sense of unflinching human enquiry and we were struck by the sheer panache displayed by these great storytellers. In the end, we were simply bowled over by one film, a sublime, uncompromising tale of the torment that can stand in the place of love. We Need to Talk About Kevin is made with the kind of singular vision that links great directors across all the traditions of cinema.”

BEST BRITISH NEWCOMER: Candese Reid, Actress in Junkhearts

Chair of the Best British Newcomer jury, Andy Harries said:

“Candese is a fresh, brilliant and exciting new talent. Every moment she was on screen was compelling.”

SUTHERLAND AWARD WINNER: Pablo Giorgelli, director of Las Acacias.

The jury commented:

“In a lively and thoughtful jury room debate, Las Acacias emerged as a worthy winner, largely because of the originality of its conception. Finely judged performances and a palpable sympathy for his characters makes this a hugely impressive debut for director Pablo Giorgelli.”

GRIERSON AWARD FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY: Into the Abyss: A Tale of Life, A Tale of Death (Dir. Werner Herzog)

The award is co-presented with the Grierson Trust (in commemoration of John Grierson, the grandfather of British documentary) and recognises outstanding feature length documentaries of integrity, originality, technical excellence or cultural significance. The jury this year was chaired by Adam Curtis.

BFI FELLOWSHIP: Ralph Fiennes and David Cronenberg (as previously announced)

Greg Dyke, Chair, BFI said:

‘The BFI London Film Festival Awards pay tribute to outstanding film talent, so we are delighted and honoured that both Ralph Fiennes, one of the world’s finest and most respected actors and David Cronenberg, one of the most original and ground-breaking film directors of contemporary cinema, have both accepted BFI Fellowships – the highest accolade the BFI can bestow. I also want to congratulate all the filmmakers and industry professionals here tonight, not only on their nominations and awards, but also for their vision, skill, passion and creativity.’

Jurors present at the ceremony included: Best Film jurors John Madden, Andrew O’Hagan. Gillian Anderson, Asif Kapadia, Tracey Seaward and Sam Taylor-Wood OBE; Sutherland jurors Tim Robey, Joanna Hogg, Saskia Reeves, Peter Kosminsky, Hugo Grumbar, and the artist Phil Collins.

Best British Newcomer jurors Anne-Marie Duff, Tom Hollander, Edith Bowman, Stephen Woolley and Nik Powell; and Grierson Award jurors Mandy Chang of the Grierson Trust, Charlotte Moore, Head of Documentary Commissioning at BBC, Kim Longinotto and Adam Curtis.

> LFF official site
> Previous winners at the LFF at Wikipedia