DVD Pick: In Bruges

In Bruges is the tale of two Irish hit men named Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) who have been sent to lie low in the Belgian city of Bruges.

There they have arguments with one another and upset all manner of people from the locals, US tourists and even the crime boss (Ralph Fiennes) who sent them there.

Written and directed by the playwright Martin McDonagh, who won an Oscar in 2006 for his short film Six Shooter, this is one of the most impressive debut features in recent memory.

Not only does it contain several memorable sequences, but it contains the sort of ballsy, politically incorrect humour absent from a lot of mainstream comedy movies.

It also features some excellent performances, most notably from the two leads. Gleeson is his usual dependable self whilst Farrell shows what a good actor he can be when released from the constraints of big budget Hollywood productions.

Ralph Fiennes also makes a startling impression in a menacing supporting role that owes more to his turn in Schindler’s List than some of his more recent performances.

If you are familiar with the sensibility of McDonagh’s plays, such as The Lieutenant of Inishmore, you will find much to feast on here – it feels like Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter remade by Quentin Tarantino.

It opened the Sundance Film Festival back in January and got a wider US release in February, with a UK opening following in April.

Although it had a relatively low budget, it still didn’t really get the attention it deserved, which may have been down to bad marketing (the US one sheet poster was horrible, with the UK one not much better) or maybe the title confused people.

But the DVD is an essential purchase as this is easily one of the best films to come put this year – smart, funny and superbly made.

The extras include:

  • Deleted and extended scenes: There is a generous amount of unused footage (11 deleted and 2 extended scenes), some of which are very funny, the highlight being the scene with Ralph Fiennes’ character on the train.
  • Gag reel: Perhaps less impressive is this gag reel which consists of the actors cracking up on set.
  • When in Bruges: A solid 13 minute making-of featurette featuring interviews with director Martin McDonagh and the main cast, exploring the ideas behind the film and the experience of making it.
  • Strange Bruges: This is a 7 minute feature the cast and director discussing the Belgian town where the film was set and made.
  • A Boat Trip Around Bruges: A 5 minute film about the history of Bruges filled with some nuggets of information and trivia.
  • F**king Bruges: A short feature in which the most prominent word in the script is repeated over and over again.

Watch the trailer here:

In Bruges is out now on DVD from Universal

> Buy the DVD from Amazon UK
> Listen to our review on our podcast back in April
> In Bruges at the IMDb
> Read other reviews of the film at Metacritic
> Find out more about Martin McDonagh at Wikipedia
> The Guardian profile Martin McDonagh
> The Times interview Colin Farrell and Martin McDonagh about the film

DVD Pick: The Elephant Man (Special Edition)

The DVD highlight of the week is this special edition re-release of The Elephant Man – the superb 1980 period drama about the life of Joseph Merrick.

Based on the real story of a man so disfigured he was dubbed ‘the Elephant Man’, it explores how he was taken in by a doctor and his struggle to be recognised as a dignified human being in Victorian London.

Notable for being director David Lynch‘s second feature (after Eraserhead) it features a raft of excellent performances from the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft, John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Michael Elphick, Hannah Gordon and Freddie Jones.

However, in the lead role John Hurt is mesmerising, despite being buried under a lot of (quite brilliant) make-up which took hours each day to apply.

Although he would go on to have considerable success as an actor – often in supporting roles – this perhaps remains his greatest screen performance.

It is also a moving study of an individual struggling to come to terms with deformity and being a social outcast.

Another interesting aspect of the film is that it was produced by Mel Brooks, who became instrumental in getting the film made after his wife Anne Bancroft gave him the script to read.

When viewed in the context of Lynch’s career it has may seem different to his darker films such as Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart or Mulholland Drive but it demonstrates his early skills as a filmmaker and his taste for the fringes of society.

The extras include the following:

  • Joseph Merrick – The Real Elephant Man: An highly informative 20 minute featurette on the real life of Merrick introduced by Jonathan Evans, an archivist of Royal London Hospital Museum. He describes the historical context but also explores the differences between the film and Merrick’s actual life. One of the most interesting snippets is that Merrick sought out his career in a freak show as a way to make money and that he was not such a victim as the film presents. It also speculates what disease Merrick was actually suffering from, a question that continues to baffle medical historians.
  • Interview with John Hurt: In a 20 minute interview, the actor describes various aspects of his experience playing the role: how he based his physical movements on a corkscrew; the unlikely success of the film in Japan; working with fellow actors Anthony Hopkins, John Gielgud, Michael Elphick and Hannah Gordon; the difficulty of the shoot, how he completed all of his work in between making Heaven’s Gate in two parts (he notes that the whole of The Elephant Man cost less than the prologue of Heaven’s Gate!); the studio exec who didn’t know how to sell the film and how he kept some of the props from the film.
  • Interview with David Lynch: Another revealing 20 minute interview, this time with director David Lynch. He reveals several things about working on the film such as: his struggles after Eraserhead when he couldn’t find financing for his own script called ‘Ronnie Rocket’; how the pitch for The Elephant Man immediately appealed to him; the initial resistance to the project from studios; how Anne Bancroft loved the script and gave it to her husband (and producer) Mel Brooks; how Brooks loved Eraserhead and supported Lynch throughout the production; the origins of the script; the ‘beyond-the-beyond great’ cast who Brooks helped recruit; the importance of veteran cinematographer Freddie Francis in shooting the film in black and white; the makeup for Merrick, which Lynch actually worked on in a garage Wembley for a time before makeup artist Chris Tucker took over; how Hurt underwent 6-8 hours of makeup every day to become Merrick; the importance of visiting an old Victorian hospital and how only wants to work on digital film.

It also contains the original theatrical trailer:

Overall the extras are very good without being spectacular but this remains an excellent film, well worth checking out if you don’t already own it.

> Buy the DVD from Amazon UK
> The Elephant Man at the IMDb
> Find out more about the real Joseph Merrick at Wikipedia

DVD Pick: I’m Not There

I’m Not There was an audacious and brilliantly executed examination of the life and music of Bob Dylan.

Writer-director Todd Haynes inverted the usual music biopic formula by having six different actors play a version of the enigmatic singer-songwriter.

Marcus Carl Franklin, Ben Whishaw, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Richard Gere and Heath Ledger all play characters based on Dylan and the film is a patchwork of different stories based on chapters of his life.

Franklin is the young guitar player, Wishaw the budding poet, Bale the folk icon (and later the born again Christian), Blanchett the iconic 60s rock star, Gere the actor on a Western and Ledger the disillusioned 70s celebrity.

Although this approach might seem a little esoteric it has the effect of tapping right into the themes and brilliance of Dylan’s music, which is plastered all over the film.

The performances are excellent with Blanchett in particular standing out as arguably the most famous version of Dylan – the jaded, chain smoking iconoclast familiar to viewers of D.A. Pennebaker’s 1967 documentary Don’t Look Back.

Perhaps most poignant section, given his untimely death in January, is the section with Heath Ledger portraying the Blood on the Tracks-era Dylan. He again demonstrates what a fine actor he could be given the right role.

The soundtrack is also similarly inventive, with the likes of Sonic Youth, Cat Power, Yo La Tengo, The Hold Steady and Antony & The Johnsons all contributing cover versions of Dylan songs. It also features a previously unreleased Dylan recording of the title track ‘I’m Not There’.

The DVD includes over one hour of special features, including a tribute to the late Ledger, a conversation with the director and a look at the making of the soundtrack.

They include:

  • 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • English DD5.1 Surround:
  • Introduction to the Film
  • Commentary by director/co-writer Todd Haynes
  • A Conversation with Todd Haynes (40:50mins)
  • Making the Soundtrack (20:15mins)
  • A Tribute to Heath Ledger (3:09mins)
  • Dylanography (Character galleries, discography, bibliography and chronology)

Check out the trailer here:

I’m Not There is out now on DVD from Paramount Home Entertainment

> Buy I’m Not There on DVD from Amazon UK
> I’m Not There at the IMDb
> Reviews of I’m Not There at Metacritic
> SpoutBlog’s coverage of Todd Haynes discussing the film at the NY Film Festival
> Find out more about Bob Dylan’s life and music at Wikipedia

DVD Pick: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was one of the major cinematic achievements of the past year – a film of outstanding technique and extraordinary emotional depth.

It is adapted from the memoir of Jean-Dominique Bauby, the editor of French Elle magazine who’s privileged life came to a halt after a devastating stroke  left him with Locked-in Syndrome – a condition which meant he could only move his left eye.

The film documents his struggle in hospital as he gradually learns how to communicate by blinking to speech therapists as they recite the most used letters of the alphabet.

Director Julian Schnabel brought a sense of beauty and wonder to a difficult story and Ronald Harwood’s script found a clever way of dealing with the seemingly unfilmable aspects of the original book.

The way in which things are shot from the central character’s point of view is ingenious and also highly effective in conveying his condition.

Performances across the board are first rate, with Mathieu Amalric outstanding in the lead role and excellent support too from Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josée Croze and Max Von Sydow.

In a year of dark films, this was notable in that it found hope, humour and humanity amidst the terrible condition of its main character.

It didn’t really get the audience it deserved at cinemas, so it is essential viewing now if you missed it first time around.

Pathe have done a fine job on the DVD release which contains the following extras:

  • Feature commentary with director Julian Schnabel: An engaging and thoughtful commentary from Schnabel which manages to convey his ideas about the film without overdoing the anecdotes. The film clearly means a lot to him and his comments are enlightening about the real life Bauby and how the film was constructed.
  • Submerged: The Making of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (12 mins): This behind the scenes featurette contains interviews with the filmmakers and producers detailing their involvement and thoughts about the film.
  • Cinematic Vision (7 mins): Producers John Killick, Kathleen Kennedy and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski explain the experience of working with Schnabel.
  • Charlie Rose interviews Julian Schnabel (20 mins): A meaty interview which provides a decent overview of the story and how Schnabel ended up making the film.

Check out the trailer for the film here:

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is out now on DVD from Pathe

> Buy the DVD from Amazon UK
> IMDb entry
> Official site
> Read other reviews at Metacritic (it scores a highly impressive 92/100)
> Find out more about Jean-Dominique Bauby at Wikipedia

DVD Pick: Juno

One of the most surprising and charming hits of last year was Juno.

The title character is a teenage girl (Ellen Page) who has to deal with an unexpected pregnancy by her best friend (Michael Cera) and decides to give up the baby to an adoptive couple (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner).

It also stars J. K. Simmons as her father, Allison Janney as her stepmother and Olivia Thirlby as her best friend Leah.

Directed by Jason Reitman and scripted by Diablo Cody it was nominated for several Oscars (with Cody winning Best Original Screenplay) and went on to become Fox Searchlight‘s first film to gross over $100 million at the box office.

It stands up well on a second viewing and although the sharp and witty dialogue was probably what most people loved first time around, the emotional undercurrents and nuanced performances are what stand out when revisiting the film.

Fox have done a good job on the DVD with a solid transfer and some nice extras which include:

  • Audio Commentary with Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody: An excellent commentary from the director and screenwriter. They make a highly engaging pair as they reel off anecdotes about the production including bloopers (like the abortion clinic door and the wrong phone codes in the Pennysaver), ideas behind certain scenes, the actors on screen and the fact that the DJ Cut Chemist actually play’s Juno’s chemistry teacher.
  • Deleted Scenes (with optional commentary by Reitman & Cody): The deleted scenes are nearly all of the ‘I-can-see-why-they-were-deleted’ variety and often quite short, but there are a couple of notable sequences including an alternate montage of the film’s climax with a rockier music track.
  • Gag Reel: A collection of outtakes with a variety of actors corpsing.
  • Gag Take: An intriguing outtake of a scene in the shop where Rainn Wilson (who plays the guy behind the counter) gets into an argument with Reitman about how to hold shopping bags. It actually looks like a real on-set spat but given that it is called a ‘gag reel’ then maybe its some kind of joke. Ellen Page’s instant reaction to an insult is particularly funny.
  • Cast & Crew Jam: A weird motange of the cast and crew jamming with instruments.
  • Screen Tests: These are sometimes included on DVDs and in the case of this film are interesting raw versions of scenes from the film. The tests with Page and Cera stand out as you can see how they nailed their roles even at an early stage.
  • Featurettes: There are several mini-documentaries that focus on various aspects of the production including ‘Way Beyond Our Maturity Level: Juno-Leah-Bleeker’, ‘Diablo Cody is Totally Boss’, ‘Jason Reitman for Shizz’ and ‘Honest to Blog! Creating Juno’. All of them have some interesting parts but they tend to be the kind of EPK on set interviews that crop up on traditional ‘making of’ shows.

Here is a trailer for the film:

Juno is out on DVD today from Fox Home Entertainment

> Buy the DVD from Amazon UK
> Juno at the IMDb
> Read more reviews at Metacritic
> Official UK website