Categories
DVD & Blu-ray

UK DVD & Blu-ray Releases: Monday 6th June 2011

DVD & BLU-RAY PICKS

Taxi Driver (Sony Pictures Home Ent.): Martin Scorsese’s classic 1976 drama about loneliness and urban alienation examines a lonely New York cab driver (Robert De Niro) and the people he comes across. This newly restored version looks and sounds fantastic and features an impressive array of extras. [Buy it on Blu-ray from Amazon UK]

127 Hours (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) Director Danny Boyle followed up the Oscar success of Slumdog Millionaire with this absorbing drama about Aaron Ralston (James Franco), the man who was trapped by a boulder in Utah in 2003. [Buy it on Blu-ray from Amazon UK] [Read our LFF review]

Cross of Iron (Optimum Home Entertainment): Sam Peckinpah’s 1977 film examines the tensions amongst German officers on the Eastern Front during World War II as the Nazi’s retreated from the Taman Peninsula in late 1943. Starring James Coburn, Maximilian Schell, James Mason and David Warner, it is a grimly absorbing film that has improved with age. This newly restored Blu-ray looks excellent. [Buy it on Blu-ray from Amazon UK]

The Bridge On the River Kwai (Sony Pictures Home Ent.): David Lean’s Oscar winning 1957 drama about allied prisoners of war building a bridge for their Japanese captors gets a nice new HD transfer in its proper, widescreen aspect ratio. Starring Alec Guiness, William Holden and Jack Hawkins, the Blu-ray also includes some extras including on-set interviews and media coverage from the time. [Buy it on Blu-ray from Amazon UK]

ALSO OUT

Danny Boyle Collection (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / Box Set]
Fire in Babylon (Revolver Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Gnomeo and Juliet (Entertainment One) [Blu-ray / 3D Edition]
Henry’s Crime (EV) [Blu-ray / Normal]
It’s Kind of a Funny Story (Universal Pictures) [Blu-ray / Normal]
Orcs! (Optimum Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal]
StreetDance (Entertainment One) [Blu-ray / with 3D Version]
The Fifth Element (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / Normal]
The Godfather (Paramount Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal]
The Godfather: Part II (Paramount Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal]
The Godfather: Part III (Paramount Home Entertainment) [Blu-ray / Normal]
The Hole (Entertainment One) [Blu-ray / with 3D Version]
The Mechanic (Lionsgate UK) [Blu-ray / Normal]
The Mechanic (Momentum Pictures) [Blu-ray / Normal]

> UK Cinema Releases for Friday 3rd June 2011
> The Best DVD & Blu-ray releases of 2010

Categories
Cinema

UK Cinema Releases: Friday 7th January 2011

NATIONAL RELEASES

The King’s Speech (Momentum Pictures): A superbly crafted period drama about the relationship between King George VI and his speech therapist provides a memorable showcase for its two lead actors.

Beginning in 1925, the film traces how with Prince Albert (Colin Firth), The Duke of York, enlisted the help of an unconventional speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), who helped him overcome a crippling stammer as he eventually assumed the throne and helped rally his people during World War II.

The bulk of the film explores the relationship between the stiff, insecure monarch and the charmingly straightforward Logue, his loving and supportive wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham-Carter) and the royal relatives who may have contributed to his problem.

Having spent his life in the shadow of his domineering father, George V (Michael Gambon), the shy Albert struggles with the responsibility of assuming the throne when his headstrong brother, Edward (Guy Pearce), decides to abdicate.

Rush and Firth are both outstanding, and their chemistry is a joy to watch, depicting the social hangups of the British class system as they gradually form a deep bond.

An astutely observed social comedy, it also has great depth as a drama, beginning and ending with sequences of considerable weight and tension.

The film has already proved a hit on the festival circuit this year and it is very hard to see audiences and Oscar voters resisting its classy blend of history, humour and emotion. [Odeon Leicester Square, Renoir, Barbican & Nationwide / 12A]

* Read our full review of The King’s Speech here *

127 Hours (Warner Bros/Pathe): Director Danny Boyle returns from the success of Slumdog Millionaire with a vibrant depiction of man versus nature.

The story here is of Aron Ralston (played by James Franco), the outdoor enthusiast who in 2003 was stranded under a boulder after falling into a remote canyon in Utah.

Beginning with an extended opening section, Boyle uses a variety of techniques (including split screen, weird angles, quick edits) to express Ralston’s energetic lifestyle as he ventures into a situation that would become ominously static.

He meets two women (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn) before parting with them and climbing across an isolated canyon where he becomes trapped for the next 127 hours (look out for a killer title card).

An unusual project, in that so much of it revolves around a central location, Boyle contrasts the vital specifics of Ralston’s confinement in the canyon with his interior thoughts as it becomes an increasingly desperate experience.

Using two cinematographers (Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chedia) working in tandem, the ordeal is powerfully realised using a bag of visual tricks to delve deep into his physical and emotional trauma.

Franco is the joker in the pack here: with an unusual amount of screen time he hits all the notes required: exuberant daring as he cycles across Utah; determined ingenuity as he tries to escape the canyon; and the desperate, haunted pain as he stares into the face of death.

Although the grisly details might put viewers off the climax is surprisingly transcendent. [Nationwide /15]

* Read our full review of 127 Hours here *

The Next Three Days (Lionsgate): A remake of the French thriller Anything For Her, which sees a Pittsburgh college professor (Russell Crowe) plan to break his wife (Elisabeth Banks) out of jail after he becomes convinced she is innocent of a murder conviction.

Directed by Paul Haggis, it is an old fashioned tale featuring two solid lead performances and is also put together with a quiet skill and confidence which makes the plot tick along nicely.

Although there is nothing revolutionary here, there is something pleasing about a nuts and bolts thriller in the current climate of superhero, CGI-drenched world in which we now live.

Some aspects strain credibility (Crowe becomes a criminal mastermind pretty quickly) and Liam Neeson is wasted in what is essentially a cameo role, but overall this is a solid effort even though it may struggle to make an impact at the box office given the muted reception in the US and tough competition at the UK box office this week. [Nationwide / 15]

Season Of The Witch (Paramount/Momentum): A sword and sorcery adventure about two knights (Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman) who return from the Crusades and to find their homeland devastated by the Black Plague.

When a young woman (Claire Foy) is accused of being a witch and causing the devastation, they have to escort her on a journey across the land in order to put an end to her ‘spell’.

Directed by Dominic Sena, this is a lame affair complete with hammy dialogue, unconvincing CGI and a ponderous narrative.

It feels like a paycheque affair for everyone involved and it is hard to see audiences get excited about it once the bad reviews are unleashed and the bad buzz spreads. [Nationwide / 15]

It’s Kind Of A Funny Story (Universal Pictures): The latest film from Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden (the team behind Half Nelson and Sugar) comes this adaptation of Ned Vizzini’s 2006 novel, which is the story of a burnt-out teenager (Keir Gilchrist) who checks into a mental health clinic, only to find himself in the adult ward.

There he befriends a fellow patient (Zach Galifianakis) and gets to know another teenage patient (Emma Roberts) during his five day stay.

After receiving decidedly mixed reviews on the festival circuit, this didn’t exactly set the US box office alight back in October and will struggle to make an impact here in a busy week. [Nationwide / 12A]

ALSO OUT

Abel (Network Releasing): The drama of a nine-year-old boy who has stopped talking since his father left home only to then believe he is head of the family. Directed by Diego Luna. [Key Cities / 15]

Amer (Anchor Bay Films): A French horror, influenced by the giallo genre, charts the crazy journey of a Catholic schoolgirl into a mature woman. Directed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani. [Selected cinemas / 18]

Midgets Vs Mascots (Kaleidoscope Entertainment): In what appears to be a low-budget exploitation comedy, 10 contestants (including Gary Coleman) compete for 1 million dollars in prize money. [Selected cinemas / 18]

> UK cinemas releases for 2011
> The Best DVD & Blu-ray releases of 2010

Categories
Interesting

The Aron Ralston Story

* Spoiler Warning: If you don’t know about the real life story that inspired 127 Hours then watch the film before reading this *

The gruesome details of the Aron Ralston story are actually what make 127 Hours inspirational.

Although a film featuring self-amputation might not be everyone’s idea of a breezy night out at the cinema, there is something bizarrely uplifting about the climax to the story.

When Danny Boyle’s latest film first started screening at festivals, there were reports of people fainting (or was it ingenious marketing?) and it posed something of a dilemma for those that had seen it.

Although based on a global news story, should viewers mention what Ralston (played by James Franco) had to do in order to get out of the Utah canyon he was trapped in back in 2003?

I’m guessing that by now, anyone planning to see the film probably knows what happened, but the tough, transcendent climax is actually one of the key reasons to see the film.

Furthermore, in an age when audiences lap up the most sadistic kinds of horror, is the sequence really that tough to sit through?

With that in mind, have a look at these two videos which feature the real life Ralston describing the events as depicted on screen.

First, there is this New York Times video profile, Pushing the Limit: Being Aron Ralston, which features the man himself describing the events of 2003 (along with the photos he took in the canyon) and his life since.

Then there is this extraordinary 2005 interview with Tom Brokaw from Dateline NBC, where Ralston returns to the Bluejohn Canyon in Utah and describes in detail the ‘greatest moment of his life’.

By the way, if all this is making you squeamish 127 Hours is the only film this year to feature a giant inflatable Scooby Doo.

> 127 Hours LFF review
> Aron Ralston at Wikipedia
> Read more about the NBC Nightline interview

Categories
Lists music Soundtracks

The Best Film Music of 2010

My favourite film music of the year included albums by Trent Reznor, Hans Zimmer and Daft Punk, whilst tracks by various artists including Zack Hemsey and Grizzly Bear also stood out.

BEST SOUNDTRACKS

Tron Legacy (EMI): The sequel to Tron was a mixed bag (great visuals, mediocre script) but the score by Daft Punk was unbeliveably epic, fusing their trademark electronica with an orchestra. [Amazon / YouTube]

Inception (Reprise): Hans Zimmer’s score for Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi blockbuster mixed electronic elements, strings and the guitar of Johnny Marr to brilliant effect. [Amazon / YouTube]

The Social Network (Pid): Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross gave David Fincher’s film about the origins of Facebook a dazzling electronic flavour, at turns pulsating and atmospheric. [Official site / Amazon / YouTube]

The Kids Are Alright (Lakeshore Records): A traditional, but shrewdly assembled collection of traditional and modern songs (featuring the likes of MGMT and David Bowie) which fitted the themes of Lisa Colodenko’s film perfectly. [Amazon / YouTube / The Playlist]

Greenberg (Parlophone): A solid collection of songs from James Murphy alongside tracks by The Steve Miller Band, Duran Duran, Nite Jewel and Galaxie 500. [Amazon / YouTube]

127 Hours (Polydor): Danny Boyle films usually have a memorable soundtrack and this is no exception, featuring music from A.R. Rahman and tracks by various artists including Free Blood, Bill Withers and Sigur Ros. [Amazon / YouTube]

Black Swan (Sony): For Darren Aronofsky’s reworking of Swan Lake, Clint Mansell reworked elements of Tchaikovsky’s original music to spectacular effect. [Amazon / YouTube]

N.B. The soundtracks for Somewhere and Blue Valentine would have easily made the list if they were available to purchase in the UK.

PLAYLIST

The following tracks are not all directly from soundtracks, but may also have featured on trailers and TV spots for various films.

You can download most of these tracks as a Spotify playlist here or just click on the relevant links to listen to them.

If you have any pieces of film related music you want to share, leave a comment below.

> The Best Films of 2010
> The Best DVD & Blu-ray releases of 2010

Categories
Awards Season Thoughts

127 Faintings

The intense nature of 127 Hours has led to a slew of reports that audience members have fainted at screenings – but is it just part of a brilliant marketing plan?

During the awards season, a lot of time and money is spent positioning films for contention and Fox Searchlight are past masters at the game.

Since their birth in 1994 they have excelled in securing key wins or multiple nominations for films such as The Full Monty (1997), Boys Don’t Cry (1999), Sideways (2004), Little Miss Sunshine (2006), The Last King of Scotland (2006), Juno (2007), Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and Crazy Heart (2009).

Danny Boyle’s last film was a notable triumph, given that it was in limbo and heading for a straight-to-DVD release before Fox Searchlight picked it up.

The fact that they spotted its potential and managed to turn it into their first Best Picture win made it an especially stunning triumph.

Similarly, they spotted the potential of Crazy Heart last year and mounted a highly effective campaign that propelled Jeff Bridges to his first Best Actor Oscar.

With 127 Hours, they have Danny Boyle’s follow up to Slumdog Millionaire and a tricky proposition: this is a film that centres around a single character stuck in a remote canyon in Utah, before he conducts some unconventional surgery with a penknife.

Given that the story of Aron Ralston (played by James Franco) is fairly widely known, the studio also face the challenge that many audience members will know the resolution of the film involves a fairly gruesome act.

When it first screened on the festival circuit at Telluride in early September, Anne Thompson of Indiewire reported that medics were called to attend to audience members at separate screenings.

A week later in Toronto, The Wrap reported that there were:

“three faintings and one seizure”

By mid-October Deadline were reporting that two more people had passed out at a screening at Pixar hosted by Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich.

The pattern continued at various screenings in Mill Hill Valley, New York, London and Los Angeles to the point where Movieline started a running tally, entitled ‘A Comprehensive Timeline of Everyone Who’s Fainted (Or Worse) at 127 Hours’.

At the LFF press screening I could feel some of the audience tense up during the climactic sequence – a few near me looked away – so I don’t dispute that it is a tough sequence to sit through (although curiously transcendent in the context of the film).

After hearing the initial reports of faintings at Telluride, it seemed that the marketing folk at Fox Searchlight would have a job on their hands trying to convince people that 127 Hours wasn’t a new horror franchise from Lionsgate.

But now, with the film in platform release and selected audience members dropping like flies, it seems like a brilliant marketing plan.

Danny Boyle’s latest is not the traditional comfort food for the elders members of the academy but a much more contemporary tale of survival.

Is it being positioned for the younger and members of the academy?

Over the last 25 years the Best Picture winners were nearly always period films (the exceptions being Rain Man, The Silence of the Lambs and American Beauty), but the trend over the last few years has been towards darker and more contemporary material.

Think about the winners since 2004:

  • Million Dollar Baby (2004): Contemporary drama involving euthanasia.
  • Crash (2005): Contemporary drama about racism in LA.
  • The Departed (2006): Contemporary crime drama filled with violence.
  • No Country For Old Men (2007): Not exactly contemporary (it is set in 1980) but is surely one of the darkest films ever to win Best Picture.
  • Slumdog Millionaire (2008): Mostly set in the present, it includes scenes of poverty, child torture and the central character enduring all manner of physical and mental hardships.
  • The Hurt Locker (2010): Released before the Iraq War had ended, this featured U.S troops dying in combat and getting hooked on the drug of war.

Whilst some of the above films certainly have their uplifting moments, none of them are exactly Driving Miss Daisy.

What does this say about the Academy voters?

Could there have been a gradual generational shift towards darker films that reflect contemporary anxieties, like there was in the late 60s and early 70s when Midnight Cowboy, The French Connection and The Godfather triumphed?

Which brings us back to 127 Hours.

Are Fox Searchlight positioning this film for a younger generation of voters who embraced the darker leaning films of the last few years?

It is almost as if they are converting their initial fear about the film and turned it into a key selling point.

Want a costume drama about a posh guy stuttering? Vote for The King’s Speech.

Want a drama about geeks feuding over a website? Vote for The Social Network.

Want a confusing action film about dreaming? Vote for Inception. (I should interject that I’m a big fan of all of the above films)

But a story about the basic struggle to stay alive against impossible odds?

Well, there is this film about a guy stuck in a canyon that is so extreme, people are fainting at screenings!

After an ambulance was spotted outside a cinema showing the film in Georgia, noted Oscar watcher Scott Feinberg posted the theory that Fox Searchlight may have embraced the ‘fainting narrative’.

If it is indeed the case, this marketing strategy is almost daring the audiences to experience the film and feel better about themselves for having endured it.

It also builds up a must-see factor, which increases the buzz at a time when 127 Hours increasingly seems like Fox Searchlight’s best shot at the Oscars.

Two of their potential contenders coming in to the awards season – Never Let Me Go and Conviction – have effectively fallen out of the race, whilst Black Swan is something of a dazzling wildcard who’s dark tone and wild sensibility are likely to divide Oscar voters.

Not only does the fainting meme spread the word about Danny Boyle’s film, but it actually nudges people into wanting to see it and to prove themselves as modern, hardened cinema goers.

But will it work with Academy voters? We’ll have to wait and see.

> Movieline timeline of faintings at 127 Hours
> Reviews of 127 Hours at Metacritic and MUBi
> My take on 127 Hours at the LFF

Categories
Cinema Festivals London Film Festival

LFF 2010: 127 Hours

Director Danny Boyle returns from the success of Slumdog Millionaire with a vibrant depiction of man versus nature.

The story here is of Aaron Ralston (played by James Franco), the outdoor enthusiast who in 2003 was stranded under a boulder after falling into a remote canyon in Utah.

Beginning with an extended opening section, Boyle uses a variety of techniques (including split screen, weird angles, quick edits) to express Ralston’s energetic lifestyle as he ventures into a situation that would become ominously static.

He meets two women (Kate Mara and Amber Tamblyn) before parting with them and climbing across an isolated canyon where he becomes trapped for the next 127 hours (look out for a killer title card).

Although it was a widely publicised news story at the time, there is a dilemma when discussing the events of this film.

Some will go in knowing what happened, whilst others will not.

For the benefit of the latter, I’ll refrain from revealing the full details but it is worth noting that the film is not a gory exploration of Ralston’s distress and audiences might be surprised at the overall tone of the film, which is far from gloomy.

An unusual project, in that so much of it revolves around a central location, Boyle contrasts the vital specifics of Ralston’s confinement in the canyon with his interior thoughts as it becomes an increasingly desperate experience.

The details of the situation are expertly realised as a penknife, water bottle, climbing rope and digital camera all assume a vital importance with a large chunk of the film feeling like an existential prison drama.

This gives it a slightly unusual vibe, as the audience is effectively trapped with Ralston in a claustrophobic way.

Using two cinematographers (Anthony Dod Mantle and Enrique Chedia) working in tandem, the ordeal is powerfully realised using a bag of visual tricks to delve deep into his physical and emotional trauma.

Before we get to the canyon, the sun filled landscapes of Utah are shot and edited with a vibrancy and panache recalling some of Boyle’s earlier work, notably Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire.

There are also some poetic details that enrich the atmosphere: the distant planes above cutting through the blue sky, insects nonchalantly roaming free and the colour of the rocks themselves which look startling in the sunlight.

Once he actually becomes trapped, a variety of different shots and perspectives help give the situation different visual flavours: the interior of his water bottle, the bone inside his arm and video diary footage on his personal camera, become important in breaking up the gruelling monotony of his predicament.

His interior thoughts are brought to life with memories, flashbacks and hallucinations: a break-up with a girlfriend (Clemence Poesy); visions of his family and childhood; a strange chat-show monologue with himself and a flash flood.

There are times when it feels the filmmakers are over-compensating for the limitations they chose, and more doses of stillness would have been welcome, but overall the visual and audio design helps us get inside Ralston’s physical and emotional situation with clarity and empathy.

But the most brilliant decision of all was the casting of James Franco. His surface charms and hidden depths as an actor provide a perfect fit for the role, as he impressively navigates the emotional ride of his character.

With an unusual amount of screen time he hits all the notes required: exuberant daring as he cycles across Utah; determined ingenuity as he tries to escape the canyon; and the desperate, haunted pain as he stares into the face of death.

A.R. Rahman’s score is a bit looser than his work on Slumdog Millionaire, but it makes for an emotional backdrop to the events on screen and Boyle’s use of songs (notably Free Blood’s ‘Never Hear Surf Music Again’) is effective in cutting together with the images on screen.

Although 127 Hours feels longer than its 93 minute running time (well, it wouldn’t it?), this is actually a sign that Boyle’s gamble in dramatising this material has actually worked.

It is an unusual project in all sorts of ways, eschewing narrative conventions and revelling in its creative rough edges, as it focuses relentlessly on one man’s physical and mental struggle.

There is something in Ralston’s struggle that is both primal and fascinating. Inevitably we ask what we ourselves would have done in the same situation.

But this film version is not just a technical exercise in outdoor survival. It is a reminder of the basic need to survive in the darkest of circumstances.

By the end 127 Hours becomes a transcendent film about the power of life in the face of death.

127 Hours closed the LFF last night and goes on US release on Friday 5th November and in the UK on Friday 7th January.

> 127 Hours at the LFF
> Official website
> Reviews from Telluride and TIFF via MUBi