DVD & Blu-ray Film of the Week

DVD Pick: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

One of the most startling and accomplished films to come out in the last year was 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

This Romanian drama set in 1987 about a woman trying to get an illegal abortion scooped the Palme D’Or at Cannes last year and it was a surprising but worthy winner.

Although the subject matter might put some viewers off it is a truly remarkable film from director Cristian Mungiu that deserves a wider audience than just the arthouse circuit.

The achievement here is that it takes what appears to be a simple situation (the difficulty of abortion in Communist Romania) and manages to wring out the intense human emotions and drama that lie below.

From the young woman who is pregnant (Laura Vasiliu), her loyal friend (Anamaria Marinca) who helps her and the abortionist (Vlad Ivanov) who performs the operation, all are complicit in a highly dangerous situation.

What elevates it above many contemporary dramas is raw power of the narrative, the terrific lead performances from Marinca and Vasiliu and the clever cinematography from Oleg Mutu that utilises long takes that draws us deeper into the characters lives.

Although it is only his second film, director Mungiu has scored a major achievement and created a film that explores the terrible dilemas facing people in a particularly dark corner of Europe’s recent past.

Artificial Eye have done an excellent job with the extras, most of them interesting and insightful.

They include:

  • Featurette – The Romanian Tour: A featurette that shows the filmmaker’s taking a mobile projection unit on a 30 day tour across Romania in order to give people the chance to see the film in a country with only 50 cinemas.
  • Cristian Mungiu Interview: In two informative interviews, the director discusses the development of the script and why his desire to achieve a sense of authenticity in every scene. Some of the shots are discussed alongside alternative takes in specific scenes, the social and historical context, the locations and the reactions to the film.
  • Interview with Anamaria Marinca: The lead actress discusses her background, how she got the part and the input she had into the script.
  • Interview with Oleg Mutu: The cinematographer talks about the lighting and the effects he was trying to achieve in the film.
  • Alternative / Deleted Scenes: Two alternative endings are included, each of them going beyond where the final cut of the film. Another deleted scene with Gabita is included and they are shown in a good quality, letterbox format.

This is one of the best films of the year and an essential purchase for any discerning viewer.

Here is the trailer:

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is out now on DVD from Artificial Eye

> Buy the DVD at Amazon
> 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days at the IMDb
> Official website
> Reviews of the film at Metacritic
> Screen shots from DVD Beaver

DVD & Blu-ray Film of the Week

DVD Pick: My Kid Could Paint That

My Kid Could Paint That is a documentary that follows a young girl named Marla Olmstead, who gains fame as a child prodigy who can seemingly paint abstract art.

By the age of four, critics were comparing Marla’s work with Jackson Pollock’s and sales of her paintings were reaching $300,000.

But after 2005 profile by ‘60 Minutes‘ suggested that Marla had help from her parents – in particular her father – the story became more complex. Was Marla a genuine child prodigy or the innocent victim of a hoax?

Directed by Amir Bar-Lev (who made 2000’s Fighter) it is a fascinating film that deals with a number of interlocking subjects such as childhood, the nature of art and the mystery of authorship.

The DVD has a number of extras that help flesh out the mysteries of this intriguing tale including:

  • Filmmaker Commentary
  • ‘Back to Binghamton’ – a mini-doc with Director Amir Bar-Lev that includes follow-up interviews, Sundance Q & A, Binghamton Q & A, deleted scenes, etc.
  • ‘Kimmelman on Art’ – a mini-doc with the New York Times art critic

The film is out now on DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Watch the trailer here:

> Buy the film from Amazon UK
> Official site
> My Kid Could Paint That at the IMDB

DVD & Blu-ray Film of the Week

DVD Pick: Bonnie and Clyde

Warner Bros have finally got around to issuing a proper special edition of Bonnie and Clyde, the landmark gangster film that signalled the rise of New Hollywood.

Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway star as Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow – the notorious bank robbers who cut a swathe through the US during the Great Depression.

A notable supporting cast includes Gene Hackman as Clyde’s brother Buck and Estelle Parsons as his wife Blanche.

Although only partly based on the historical truth, director Arthur Penn and screenwriter Robert Benton created a film that ushered in a new era of mainstream filmmaking with a groundbreaking approach to morality, sex and violence.

At the time the film was hugely controversial for its graphic violence – it was one of the first to make heavy use of squibs – but in time would be seen as a turning point for mainstream films that followed, such as The French Connection and The Godfather.

Penn and Benton were heavily influenced by French New Wave directors like Francois Truffaut, who strangely enough was offered the chance to direct it before passing on it.

The film stands up well today and now has a decent set of extras to cmplement it. They include:

  • Revolution! The Making of Bonnie and Clyde. A behind the secen doc consisting of three sections:
    • Bonnie and Clyde’s Gang (22 minutes)
    • The Reality and Myth of Bonnie and Clyde (24 minutes)
    • Releasing Bonnie and Clyde (18 minutes)
  • Love and Death: A History Channel documentary that explores the real life Bonnie and Clyde (43:13)
  • Warren Beatty Wardrobe Tests (07:39)
  • Two deleted scenes:
    • The Road To Mineola (2:06)
    • Outlaws (3:17)
  • Teaser and Theatrical Trailer

Check out the original trailer here:

Bonnie and Clyde is released today on DVD from Warner Home Video

> Buy Bonnie and Clyde from Amazon UK
> Bonnie and Clyde at the IMDb
> Reviews of Bonnie and Clyde at Metacritic

DVD & Blu-ray Film of the Week Reviews

DVD Pick: Breach

Breach DVD coverBreach sadly didn’t find the audiences it deserved at the cinema but is a well crafted and compelling spy drama.

It is based on the real life story of Eric O’Neill, a young FBI agent working under Robert Hanssen, who was an agent convicted of spying for the Russians in 2001.

Starring Ryan Phillippe as O’Neill, Chris Cooper as Hanssen and co-starring Laura Linney, Dennis Haysbert, Caroline Dhavernas and Kathleen Quinlan it was written and directed by Billy Ray, who also made the similarly under-rated Shattered Glass in 2003.

The highlight here is the terrific central performance from Chris Cooper, who gives a haunting turn as the enigmatic traitor. He skilfully teases out the contradictions at the heart of Hanssen’s life: why would a religious patriot who railed against the godless Soviet Union then sell secrets to them?

In certain respects, this is the polar opposite of the Bourne and Bond spy movies. Instead of gunfights and chases, it focuses of the sobre reality of law enforcement –  a world where beaureacratic infighting slowly grinds agents down. A pre-9/11 environment where a clever man like Hanssen could deceive his unwitting colleagues.

The story itself is quite incredible – the film opens with real footage of then Attorney General John Ashcroft describing a “serious breach in the security of the United States“. It was was one of the most embarrassing episodes in the history of US intelligence and Hanssen only escaped execution by co-operating with the FBI. He is currently serving a life sentence in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day at the Supermax Federal Penitentiary in Colorado.

The extras aren’t extensive but have some good insights into the events surrounding the film. They include:

  • A commentary by writer/director Billy Ray and Eric O’Neill
  • 8 deleted scenes and alternate scenes with optional commentary by Billy Ray and editor Jeffrey Ford
  • Featurette: Breaching the Truth (10 mins 49 secs)
  • Featurette: Anatomy of a Character Brought to You by Volkswagon (6 mins 47 secs)
  • The Mole: A PBS programme from 2001 about Hanssen’s career and arrest (19 mins 21 secs)

Check out the trailer here:

> Buy Breach on DVD from Amazon UK
> Official site for Breach
> Reviews of the film at Metacritic
> Find out more about Robert Hanssen at Wikipedia

DVD & Blu-ray Essential Films Film of the Week Interviews

Interview: Stuart Cooper on Overlord

Overlord on DVDIn 1975 director Stuart Cooper made Overlord – a drama about a soldier in the run up to the D-Day landings.

What makes the film unique is that it was filmed with the help of the Imperial War Museum and uses documentary footage from their vast archive, set against the central narrative.

Starring Brian Stirner, Davyd Harries, Nicholas Ball and Julie Neesam it is now being re-released on DVD after showing to great acclaim at the Telluride Film Festvial in 2006 and a short run at the ICA in London last month.

It was then that I spoke with Stuart Cooper about the film and you can listen to the interview here:

To download this as a podcast via iTunes just click the image below:

Overlord is out now on DVD from Metrodome

> Download this interview as an MP3 file
> Buy Overlord on DVD from Amazon UK
> An article by Stuart Cooper in The Guardian about the re-release of Overlord
> Roger Ebert reviews the film in 2006
> Various reviews of Overlord at Metacritic