Monday 13 July 2015

Home Comforts: The best in TV, VOD, DVD and Blu-ray (Monday July 13 - Sunday July 19)

Someone asked me the other day why I use the term "Various Streaming Services" rather than listing each View on Demand provider individually. It's simple, really: because there are too many and I don't want endless lists of them cluttering up blog entries that are probably quite heavy with information already. From what I can gather the main providers are iTunes, Curzon Home Cinema, BT TV, Amazon Instant Video, Virgin Movies, EE, TalkTalk and Eircom. Some of them offer films to buy as well as rent, some are rent only. Personally, I watch via Virgin Movies and Curzon Home Cinema - at least that's the plan. I've had Curzon for four or five months now and haven't been able to see a single film from beginning to end without it freezing or losing connection entirely. Anyway, the guys at provide a terrific advance monthly list of everything that's coming to VOD, including information about which service you can see each film on. I'd be lost without it...

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence 
(Various Streaming Services, DVD and Blu-ray)
I’m tempted to call this utterly surreal Swedish black comedy “Pythonesque” but I’m not sure that description entirely does it justice. I mean, the Monty Python influence is certainly there for all to see – a 17th Century Swedish monarch (and members of his army) pop into a modern-day pub where he makes a pass at one of the barmen, while the death of a passenger in a ship’s canteen leads immediately to a discussion about who is going to eat his lunch. It’s also structured a lot like a sketch show – lots of odd little skits or vignettes, some of which feature the same characters, call-backs to previous gags and amusing repetition.

However, Pigeon is substantially bleaker – and quite possibly stranger – than anything the Pythons have ever put their names to. 

There’s no plot as such, although the film’s two main characters – travelling salesmen Jonathan and Sam (
Holger Andersson and Nils Westblom) – pop up at regular intervals to link the “story” together. They peddle novelty items including extra-long vampire teeth and disturbing rubber masks of a character called “Uncle One-Tooth” (pictured, top of page). They are hopeless at it, their weirdly melancholic air lending them a sinister aspect that the pair’s sales patter – “We just want to help people have fun” – only reinforces. Would-be customers recoil from them and their failure to offload a single item starts to weigh heavy. The company supplying the novelties is chasing them for money, their friendship becomes strained, and trying to sell people “fun” just makes them thoroughly miserable.

Indeed, misery of one sort or another looms large in Roy Andersson’s film (the final part of the "Living” trilogy he began in 2000 with Songs from the Second Floor). It’s there in every scene’s muted colours and unmoving camera, in every character’s gormless expression and peculiarly pasty complexion. The fact we’re invited to laugh at these abundant misfortunes has its own punchline later on when proceedings take a turn for the genuinely horrific. You find yourself asking, “Am I meant to laugh at this too?” 

Rating: WWW

The Skeleton Twins 
(09:30 and 18:15, from Friday, Sky Movies Premiere)
This bleak comedy-drama stars former Saturday Night Live pair Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader as the titular siblings. Maggie and Milo are two lost souls, left bereft and suicidal after their father jumped off a bridge when they were only teens. It’s a gloomy, autumnal film at times but one leavened with sharp wit and enjoyable character moments. The leads are both excellent as is Luke Wilson as Lance, Wiig’s dull but thoroughly decent husband. Writers Craig Johnson (who also directed) and Mark Heyman deserve great credit for their ability to mine laughs from such difficult subject matter. Trailer below

Rating: WWW

Streaming and View on Demand highlights
(films available from today unless otherwise stated)
Coherence (Netflix UK) Clever, low-budget sci-fi featuring a mysterious comet, parallel worlds and more doppelgangers than you can shake a stick at.
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (VSS) Beautifully animated Japanese fairy tale from Studio Ghibli.
The Voices (VSS) Marjane Satrapi (creator of the excellent Persepolis graphic novel) directs Ryan Reynolds in a bizarre black comedy about a man urged to kill by his pets.  
Eyes Wide Shut (Amazon Prime Instant Video, from Thursday) Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman star in Stanley Kubrick's final film. Not one of his best, alas.
A Most Wanted Man (Netflix UK, from Sunday) Philip Seymour Hoffman's last great role - as a German spook on the trail of Islamist terrorists in Hamburg. Trailer below

Cable and Satellite highlights...
Scent of a Woman (20:00, tonight, Sky Drama) Al Pacino bellows "Hoo-hah" a lot and somehow picks up an Oscar for his trouble.
The Wild One (19:30, Wednesday, TCM) Badass Marlon Brando leads his rough 'n' tough motorcycle pack - the Black Rebels - into battle against the cops and rival gangs. 
The Player (23:35, Wednesday, Film4) Robert Altman's Hollywood satire looks a little toothless when set alongside the likes of David Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars. Still funny, though.
Honeymoon (14:45 and 23:30, from Friday, Sky Movies Premiere) Terrifically creepy newly-wed horror starring Rose Leslie (Ygritte, in Game of Thrones). Trailer below
Zombie Flesh Eaters (00:45, Friday, Horror Channel) Lucio Fulci's undead epic contains a scene that still freaks me out 30 years after eye I first saw it.

Terrestrial highlights...
Amour (01:20, Wednesday, Channel 4) German director Michael Haneke's heartbreaking tale of love and old age.
Pretty Woman (23:15, Friday, BBC1) Romantic comedy starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. It turns out being a prostitute isn't all bad. Yay!
Shallow Grave (00:10, Friday, Channel4) Danny Boyle's movie debut (from 1994) is a grisly black comedy starring Christopher Eccleston, Ewan McGregor and Kerry Fox.  
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two (19:00, Saturday, ITV) A final slice of boy-wizard-related guff. I shall be rooting for Voldemort.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (14:40, ITV, Sunday) Steve Martin and Michael Caine have a blast as battling con artists in this slick and very funny comedy. Trailer below

DVD and Blu-ray highlights...
Electric Boogaloo - The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (DVD) Documentary charting the rise and fall of the US film company that gave us cinematic treasures such as Bo Derek's Bolero and Dolph Lungren as He-Man.
X-Men: Days of Future Past - The Rogue Cut (DVD/Blu-ray) Last year's mutant superhero blockbuster - now with added Anna Paquin. Clip below
The Roy Andersson Collection (DVD/Blu-ray) Four films from the Swedish director, including the excellent A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (see review above).
The Dead 2 - India (DVD) Zombies! In India! Whatever next?

Please note: Films starting after midnight are always considered part of the previous day's schedule, e.g. Amour begins at 01:20 - technically Thursday morning - but is still part of Wednesday's listings. All times in 24-hour clock.


WWWW = Wonderful
WWW = Worthy
WW = Watchable
W = Woeful

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