Tuesday, April 22, 2014

DVD(s) of the Week: Long-Weekend Roundup!

Well, it's been a busy couple of weeks on the movies front thanks to the Easter break, and not only in the "actually getting out to a cinema" sense but also in a "home viewing" sense. At least in part this is due to Ewan's increased interest in watching what we are watching, which means that most 12 rated and below movies go on earlier in the evening so we can all watch them. So, a bit of a catch up is in order, from the mixed bag that is the last couple of weeks viewing. 

Side Effects
We'll start with a film that is a mixed bag all by itself; Steven Sodeburgh's Side Effects. As a director who changes genre film-to-film, I guess it is inevitable that he finally made a film that changes genre mid-runtime. Side Effects starts out as a "Bad Pharma" film, as a woman on an experimental treatment for depression starts to sleep walk, eventually murdering her recently-out-of-jail husband, apparently in her sleep. We delve into the murky world of drug trials, of the drug companies lobbying and sponsoring of Doctors, and the compromises that surround that whole history. But as things unfold, it starts to go into a wholly different direction, ending up instead a classily made "Bad Lesbians" exploitation thriller, with only a little bit of clunking mechanical whine as it changes gears. 

Mostly, Side Effects gets away with it, although some of the performances fit better in one half than the other. Most notably, Catherine Zeta Jones arch power-suited psychiatrist fits the latter, and Mara Rooneys somnabulent housewife the former, and both are fine performances, but they need to overlap better to make the centre more convincing. As it is, Jude Law is left to hold both halves together, which he just about does, but I can't help but feel a full-bore commitment to either movie would have been more satisfying. 

Now You See Me
You know the makers of Now You See Me really liked? The Prestige. So did I, and so after watching this slicker, dumber, little brother what I really wanted to do was watch it again. Four magicians are recruited by a mysterious stranger to gang up and do a series of shows that cover heists in the full glare of the media and police, and shenanigans ensue, but the whole thing is a little too slick, and a little too shallow, to really work. 

I mean, it's fine. It clips along and it keeps the interest going, but its makes not a jot of sense. Which in itself is no crime, but on the way it's constantly cribbing off better films, better characters and better performances and rather than getting to end and wanting to applaud a great trick, you end up feeling slightly short-changed. It's a terrible waste of a fantastic cast, too. 

Saving Mr Banks
So onto the Making of Mary Poppins film, Saving Mr Banks. A fictionalised account of the attempt by Walt Disney to engage author P L Travers in the adaptation of her work, it plays avuncular "Uncle Walt" against Travers' spikey, damaged determination not to let her character be compromised in any way. It's the sort of film that deserves to be terrible, as it's almost pre-loaded to be full of the sort of saccharine that Travers herself would have hated. But its not terrible, and thats largely down to how it handles its characters. 

Obviously no Disney film featuring Walt Disney is going to be overly harsh on the man, but there is enough in Tom Hank's performance to make him interesting. It's clear how much he values he values his public image, how much he manipulates it, and how much its a front. He may be sincere in much of what he says, but the film works to keep us aware of the showman - the huckster - inside. Similarly Emma Thompson's Travers is in many ways a horrible, horrible person, but the flashbacks to her childhood - integrated with a mix of heavy-handed cliche and some genuinely brilliant flourishes - contextualize it all and keep her sympathetic and interesting. 

It all makes Saving Mr Banks an ideal companion to the film it's about. It's charming and winning but it's also a little bit slight to stand alone. 

Captain Phillips
Finally, we stick with Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips, the dramatisation of a ship hijacking off the coast of Somalia. Director Paul Greengrass has a great talent for showing complex, jittery situations whilst still letting the audience be clear as to what is going on, and this is a great showcase for that, confined in a series of tight, mechanical spaces. It's a finely crafted film showing a complex situation punctuated by angry, frightened men yelling at each other and waving guns around and it's incredibly tense all the way through. 

Actually there isn't a lot else to say about it - it's just a really great thriller, and the only film here I'd unreservedly recommend!