UK DVD & Blu-ray Releases: Monday 5th March 2012

DVD & BLU-RAY PICKS

The Ides of March (Entertainment One): Adapted from Beau Williams’ stage play Farragut North, the basic story is a cocktail loosely inspired by the skulduggery of recent US presidential primaries. It focuses on a young, ambitious strategist (Ryan Gosling) who is assisting his campaign boss (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in getting an inspirational Democratic candidate (George Clooney) elected. With the Republican field bare, the primary takes on extra significance, especially when a rival campaign manager (Paul Giamatti), a journalist (Marisa Tomei) and an intern (Evan Rachel Wood) start to pose ethical and moral dilemmas. With a script credited to Williams, Clooney and Grant Heslov, it seems to be a deliberate attempt to apply the weary but wise tone of classic 1970s cinema to recent times. Clooney’s approach as director draws on the best work of Alan Pakula and Sidney Lumet, with moral ambiguity, composed framing and a considered use of long takes all adding to the atmosphere. [Read our full review here] [Buy on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK]

Contagion (Warner Home Video): Director Steven Soderbergh’s latest is an all-star disaster movie that follows a global killer virus – think Traffic, only with disease. When Beth (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns from a Hong Kong business trip to suburban Minneapolis, her husband (Matt Damon) is alarmed when she falls ill. When the virus spreads, the response team at the Center for Disease Control (Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet and Jennifer Ehle) and the World Health Organization (Marion Cotillard) have to stop it spreading, whilst a Bay Area blogger Jude Law keeps ahead of the news media. Managing to avoid most horror/sci-fi clichés, Soderbergh channels to spirit of 1970s films like Earthquake, whilst updating it for out similarly bleak age. The script by Scott Z Burns is alarmingly plausible, drawing on the recent SAARS scare, whilst Soderbergh handles the global locations with such an assured touch, most people probably won’t notice. [Buy on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK]

Anonymous (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): 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. The premise 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). The blizzard of stories that accompanied its cinema release centred around the authorship question and Sony Pictures staged a deeply misguided marketing campaign, baiting those upset with the premise. Not that it worked as early audiences seemed to have more problems with the ambitious jigsaw puzzle script, which cleverly mirrors the themes of Shakespeare’s plays. [Read our full review here] [Buy on Blu-ray or DVD from Amazon UK]

ALSO OUT

American Evil (Metrodome Distribution) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Columbus Circle (Universal Pictures) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Deviation (Revolver Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Dinosaur Jr: Live at 9:30 Club – In the Hands of the Fans (Wienerworld) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Dracula Prince of Darkness (StudioCanal) [Blu-ray / with DVD – Double Play]
Game of Thrones: Series 1 (Warner Home Video/HBO) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Immortals (Universal Pictures) [Blu-ray / Normal]
LEGO Star Wars: The Padawan Menace (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Nurse Jackie: Season 3 (Lionsgate UK) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Sket (Revolver Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal]
The Rum Diary (EV) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Tomboy (Peccadillo Pictures) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Urban Explorers (Anchor Bay Entertainment UK) [Blu-ray / Normal]

Recent DVD & Blu-ray picks
The Best DVD and Blu-ray releases of 2011

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

Trailer: Anonymous

A political thriller about who wrote the plays of William Shakespeare might not seem like obvious material for director Roland Emmerich.

But Anonymous opens in the US in September and the first trailer has been released:

It follows Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans) – who some people believe wrote Shakespeare’s plays – and is set against the backdrop of the Essex rebellion against Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave).

Incidentally, 16th century London was recreated at Babelsberg Studios in Berlin with sets and a lot of CGI.

> Anonymous at the IMDb
> More on the Shakespeare authorship question at Wikipedia