Monday 27 July 2015

Home Comforts: The best in TV, VOD, DVD and Blu-ray (Monday July 27 - Sunday August 2)

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
(Various Streaming Services, also DVD and Blu-ray)

As I revealed here a couple of weeks ago, writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour's "Iranian vampire western" is my favourite film of the year so far. I strongly suspect it will still occupy top spot come the end of December, too. 

Set in Bad City, a windblown, oddly-deserted industrial town somewhere in Iran (Taft, California in reality), this most peculiar of love stories centres on The Girl (Sheila Vand), a lonely, chador-clad blood-sucker who prowls the streets looking for evil men to punish. One such night-time patrol brings her into contact with troubled Arash (Arash Marandi) – one part James Dean, one part major doofus – and they enjoy an immediate mutual attraction.

The plot is deliberately slight and the subtitled dialogue (the film is in Farsi) pretty sparse. Neither of those things matters, though, because Amirpour is more interested in what The Girl represents and making sure everything around her looks fabulous while that is explored. The film's soundtrack is glorious too. There’s no composed score but rather a collection of perfectly chosen songs by a host of diverse acts. Federale (featuring the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Collin Hegna) do a lot of the heavy lifting, their Ennio Morricone-inspired tracks fitting the film’s western vibe like a snug cowboy boot. 

Shot in gorgeous, high-contrast black and white with cinematographer Lyle Vincent, Bad City is the kind of place that only exists in movies or comic-books. It’s a noirish modern wasteland full of empty car parks and desolate boulevards in which deep shadow and shimmering street lights engage in a perennial war for supremacy. In other words, it’s the perfect setting for criminality, horror and a forbidden romance between two forsaken outsiders.

Stylistically, the film is a mash-up of all sorts of seemingly random elements and influences (David Lynch, Rebel Without a Cause, spaghetti westerns, German expressionism, fairy tales, Tarantino, Springsteen) from a host of different eras, and is therefore possessed of a certain timeless quality. It looks old and new at exactly the same time – very now but just as likely to have been made at any time during the last 50 years. Or even the next 50.

Rating: WWWW

Gone Girl 

(Sky Movies Premiere, 21:00 and 01:00, from Friday; NOW TV, from Friday)
David Fincher's adaptation of the Gillian Flynn best-seller caused quite the media stir when it was released into UK cinemas last October. I lost count of the number of broadsheet think pieces and columns I came across dedicated to exploring whether the film was misogynistic or trying to fathom precisely what it said about the state of modern marriage. I found the coverage all rather puzzling because, while Gone Girl is certainly fine entertainment, it's mostly just a great big twisty-pulpy-sexy thriller not a million miles away from potboilers such as Jagged Edge and Basic Instinct. Granted, director Fincher (The Social Network, Fight Club) lends it class and gravitas, but it's more a film to be enjoyed with your brain in neutral than one picked apart or taken too seriously.

Ben Affleck is Nick Dunne, Rosamund Pike his wife Amy. On the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, she goes missing and it isn't long before the police, public and a ravenous media have Dunne pegged as a murderer. But things aren't quite as simple as that. Secrets, lies, deceptions and double bluffs soon come tumbling out of the closet and you realise that not only was the couple's seemingly idyllic marriage a sham but that the pair are deeply dysfunctional individuals. Fincher – and Flynn, who wrote the screenplay – initially have great fun inviting you to pick a side: smart, sexy Amy or loveable lunk Nick? However, the deeper the film leads you into the wreckage of their relationship the more genuinely awful they both become. It’s a neat trick although I can’t imagine such a frosty, misanthropic piece of work sitting well with those who like their films to contain a little more warmth and soul.

Rating: WWW

Clouds of Sils Maria 

(VSS, DVD and Blu-ray)
Fantasy and reality collide in this talky but fascinating drama featuring Juliette Binoche as a successful Hollywood actress asked to star again in the stage play – Maloja Snake – that launched her career 20 years before. Concerning a lesbian relationship between an older woman and her much younger employee, Maria Enders (Binoche) had originally played the role of the manipulative teen that drives her boss to suicide. Enders initially recoils when offered the part of the middle-aged woman in the revival but she and personal assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) nevertheless take to a remote region of the Alps to rehearse. Stewart – who improves as an actor with every film – imbues Val with nuance and depth, and matches old-stager Binoche every step of the way here. 

Maria and Val’s is an enigmatic relationship – intense, yes, but as friends and confidants rather than lovers. At times it’s hard to work out when they are actually conversing and when they are running lines from Maloja Snake. There is mutual dependence but distance and antagonism between them, too. Unpicking their complicated friendship is as tricky as unpicking the film’s many themes and ideas. Clouds is clearly a rumination on ageing, and how easily we are all replaced by younger, more dynamic up-and-comers (in Enders’ case it’s by enfant terrible Jo-Ann Ellis, played with twinkly-eyed glee by Chloe Grace Moretz). But there’s more to it than that, including a distinct meta element that interrogates the way in which art and real life overlap. You end up wondering whether anyone or anything in the film is meant to be real; a thought that lingers every bit as long in the memory as the beautifully-shot Swiss Alps.

Rating: WWW

Streaming and View on Demand highlights...
Listen Up Philip (VSS) Jason Schwartzman is the ghastly Manhattan novelist, Elizabeth Moss his long-suffering girlfriend, in a highly misanthropic black comedy.
While We’re Young (VSS) Middle-aged marrieds (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) have their lives and careers turned upside down by a younger, hipper couple (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried) in Noah Baumbach's sharp comedy.
White God (VSS) Critically-lauded Hungarian revenge drama that sees a city's canine population rise up against the humans that abuse and kill them. Trailer below

Argo (Amazon Prime Instant Video, from Friday) A CIA agent poses as a Hollywood movie producer in a bid to rescue US hostages from Iran. Oscar-winning thriller directed by and starring Ben Affleck.
The Boxtrolls (NOW TV, from Friday) Eccentric, anarchic children's animation about an underground race of strange creatures, and the orphaned boy who becomes one of them.

DVD and Blu-ray highlights...
Man with a Movie Camera (Blu-ray) Voted the greatest documentary of all time in a Sight & Sound poll last year, Dziga Vertov's 1929 film uses a variety of cinematic techniques to capture the life of a city. Presented with a score by Michael Nyman and packed with extras.
Suite Française (DVD/Blu-ray) Edgy romantic drama, set in occupied Paris during WWII. Michelle Williams – the wife of a prisoner of war – and Matthias Schoenaerts – a German officer – conduct a forbidden affair.
Stalag 17 (Blu-ray) Billy Wilder's WWII prison camp comedy makes its Blu-ray debut. William Holden won the 1953 Best Actor Oscar for his role as an anti-social prisoner suspected of being a German informant. Trailer below

Shopping (Blu-ray) Jude Law and Sadie Frost star in Paul WS Anderson's dystopian ram-raid thriller from 1994.
Tromeo and Juliet (Blu-ray) The first film penned by James Gunn (Guardians of the GalaxySlither) relocates the famous Shakespeare tragedy to modern-day New York. Expect kinky sex, car crashes, dismemberment – and a ton of impressive extras on the Blu-ray.

Terrestrial highlights...
Twelve Monkeys (23:45, Tuesday, BBC1) Director Terry Gilliam's on top form in an eccentric slice of time-travel sci-fi, starring Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt.
Elegy (02:00, Wednesday, Channel 4) Philip Roth adaptation in which an older man - Ben Kingsley's literary professor - conducts an affair with a younger woman - Penélope Cruz, playing one of his students. Not sure Elegy was the right title - Fantasy, more like. Trailer below

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (23:15, Friday, BBC1) Haley Joel Osment is the robotic boy searching for his true nature, aided and abetted by Jude Law’s ‘pleasure droid’. Soppy sci-fi from Steven Spielberg.
Raiders of the Lost Ark (18:25, Saturday, BBC1) Harrison Ford is all-action archaeologist Indiana Jones battling to keep the Ark of the Covenant out of Nazi hands. Still brilliant, no matter what The Big Bang Theory says.
Dead Poets Society (23:20, Sunday, BBC2) One of the late Robin Williams’ most celebrated roles. He plays an unconventional teacher inspiring his students to “seize the day” and challenge the status quo.  

Cable & Satellite highlights...
The Place Beyond the Pines (22:55, tonight, Film4) Ryan Gosling's the motorcycle stunt rider turned bank robber, Bradley Cooper the rookie cop with whom he's on a collision course in a powerful drama.
Fight Club (23:40, Tuesday and 23:10, Thursday, ITV4) David Fincher's wonderfully twisty psychological thriller still packs a punch nearly 16 years after its release. Ed Norton, Brad Pitt and Helena Bonham Carter star.
The Wild Bunch (23:45, Friday, ITV4) William Holden's band of ageing outlaws are out of time and out of luck in a masterful – but brutal – western from director Sam Peckinpah. Trailer below

Risky Business (23:55, Friday, Sky Movies Tom Cruise) With Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation opening on Thursday, Sky is devoting an entire channel to Cruise's impressive movie back catalogue all week. This film – a romantic comedy of sorts co-starring Rebecca De Mornay and released in 1983 – was the actor's first lead role.
The Lost World (11:00, Saturday, More4) Claude Rains leads an expedition into the Amazon to prove his theory that dinosaurs still exist. Take a wild guess what he finds there?

Please note: Films starting after midnight are always considered part of the previous day's schedule, e.g. Elegy begins at 02:00 - technically Thursday morning - but is still part of Wednesday's TV listings. All times in 24-hour clock.


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

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