Monday 17 August 2015

Home Comforts: The best in TV, VOD, DVD and Blu-ray (Monday August 17 - Sunday August 23)


The Counsellor: Extended Cut
(22:00, Friday, Sky Movies Drama)

On paper, The Counsellor looked like a surefire modern classic in the making. Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Gladiator) was in the director’s chair with revered American novelist Cormac McCarthy (The Road, No Country For Old Men) providing his first-ever screenplay. There was an A-list cast on board, too, including Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Penélope Cruz, and Javier Bardem. However, the completed movie turned out to be a very strange beast indeed. Reviews were lukewarm for the most part, box office was disappointing, and one influential culture website even dubbed it “the worst movie ever made”. For me, it’s impossible to dismiss The Counsellor so contemptuously. Yes, it’s frequently ridiculous, even laughable, but it also contains moments of genuine brilliance. Additionally, the film is clumsy and talky but never boring because you simply have no idea what the bloody hell Scott and McCarthy are going to serve up next.

Fassbender plays the titular Counsellor (he is never given a name), a high-flying lawyer with friends in some very shady places. He buys an insanely expensive diamond engagement ring for god-fearing good-girl fiancée Laura (Cruz) and to pay for it becomes involved in a drugs deal. Fatally for him, the deal goes south and the Mexican cartel he is in hock to prove very unforgiving indeed. 

The madness begins in the first scene; Fassbender and Cruz in bed, she asking him to (please forgive the indelicate phrasing) “finger fuck” her. It’s embarrassing; one cringe-making line follows another. You consider turning the channel so you can catch the end of the snooker... even though you hate snooker. On and on it goes; two gorgeous and talented actors trapped in the most uncomfortable sex scene ever committed to film. Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck’s “gobble gobble” moment in Gigli is like something out of Ai No Corrida compared to this.

In fact, the whole film is weird about sex; as if the screenplay is written by someone who roughly knows what it is but has never seen it or done it. How else do you explain the moment Diaz’s character Malkina dry humps a Ferrari? It isn’t sexy, sensual or even titillating, it’s just plain mental. The sort of thing someone off their tits on Jager Bombs would do in a nightclub car park at two in the morning. Actually, Malkina is a lot of what is wrong with the film. Diaz is a fine comic actress but she can’t do drama and so it goes here. It isn’t entirely her fault because the part is so under-written. In fact, she only has one character trait: predatory. McCarthy and Scott are desperate to show us how much of a ruthless badass she is they even give her two pet cheetahs. Because she’s a predator doing predator things ALL THE TIME. It’s a minor miracle that Maneater by Hall and Oates doesn’t show up on the soundtrack with a huge CGI arrow in the air pointing to Malkina while it plays.

I haven’t even mentioned Bardem or Pitt’s characters but I need to stop now because, trust me when I say, I would find it pathetically easy to write a big, fat book about The Counsellor and its myriad eccentricities. However, here’s the thing about the film; when it’s good, it’s extremely good. There are moments in which McCarthy’s dialogue just crackles off the screen at you (many of the scenes are two-handers so there are some beautifully written back and forths), and when proceedings spin out of control for Fassbender and Cruz it becomes this huge, operatic tragedy full of violence, heartbreak and terror. The last half-hour or so is just plain terrific – brutally effective and genuinely emotional. The Counsellor’s main theme – the rich and powerful may think they control their destiny but, ultimately, they’re as vulnerable as the rest of us – reminds me of The Long Good Friday. As Harold Shand discovered, there’s always someone bigger and badder waiting to hold us to account for our hubris.

This longer cut of the film adds just shy of 20 minutes to the original’s 117-minute running time and includes a good many extended and alternate scenes. It doesn’t make The Counsellor any less bizarre or more of an artistic success and I for one am very glad about that.

Rating: WWWW and W (often at the same time)

View on Demand/Streaming highlights...
(from today unless otherwise stated)
Theeb (Curzon Home Cinema) A young Bedouin boy is stranded in the Arabian desert during WWI in this terrific coming-of-age drama. Also in cinemas.
The Falling (Various Streaming Services) Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones) stars in Carol Morley’s deliciously strange ’60s-set tale of a fainting epidemic at a strict English girls' school. Trailer below

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (from Thursday, Amazon Prime Instant Video) It’s commonplace for a trailer to give away the whole plot of a film but somewhat rarer for a title to do it. Brad Pitt is the doomed Wild West outlaw, Casey Affleck his nemesis.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (from Thursday, Netflix UK) Final – and least interesting – part of Peter Jackson's JR Tolkien-inspired trilogy, starring Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen.
NEDS (from Thursday, MUBI) Glasgow gangs knock seven shades out of each other in writer/director Peter Mullan's autobiographical '70s-set drama.

DVD and Blu-ray highlights...
Cruel Story of Youth (DVD/Blu-ray dual format) Japanese filmmaker Nagisa Ôshima gave us In the Realm of the Senses (Ai No Corrida) and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, but this is a beautiful restoration of his second film – a ground-breaking meditation on Japan’s disillusioned post-war youth.
La Grande Bouffe (Blu-ray/DVD dual format) Mad Italian film in which (and I quote) “A group of men hire some prostitutes and go to a villa in the countryside. There, they engage in group sex and resolve to eat themselves to death”. Back in the day, it upset Mary Whitehouse enormously. Trailer below

Pickup on South Street (Blu-ray/DVD dual format) Sam Fuller directs Richard Widmark in an action thriller set in New York at the start of the Cold War. The Blu-ray features a new 1080p presentation of the movie.
Naked Lunch (Blu-ray) David Cronenberg’s sort-of adaptation of William Burroughs’ drug-infused beat novel is arguably the strangest film the Canadian director has ever made. It’s also one of his best. In fact, it’s a good week for Cronenberg fans because there is also this… 
Videodrome (Blu-ray/DVD dual format) A pricey but packed-with-extras prestige limited edition release for the Great Man’s 1983 S&M/body-horror/sci-fi spectacular. As well as a restored High Definition digital transfer of the unrated version of the film, this set comes with all manner of commentaries, documentaries, previously unavailable short films and a hardback book.

Cable & Satellite highlights...
Knocked Up (21:00, tonight, ITV2) Middling pregnancy comedy starring Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl. Judd Apatow directs which is rarely a good sign.
Hidden (21:00. Thursday, Sky Arts) Michael Haneke thriller about a family being kept under surveillance by a person or persons unknown. Slow and frustratingly oblique, it's nevertheless creepy and unsettling.
The Blood on Satan's Claw (01:00, Thursday, Film4) There's a 'FrightFest' theme to Film4's late-night programming this week, including this early-70s horror about an English village converting to devil worship. Bare boobs, blood 'n' Beelzebub ensue.
Interstellar (15:15 and 20:00, from Friday, Sky Movies Premiere) Christopher Nolan's interminable but nonetheless intriguing sci-fi odyssey. Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway star.
Ferris Bueller's Day Off (21:00, Friday, E4) Matthew Broderick is the high school smart-arse bunking off with pals in a comedy that is not only very funny but eminently quotable too. Writer/director John Hughes's finest moment... Broderick's too. Trailer below

Terrestrial highlights...
Transsiberian (23:35, Wednesday, BBC1) Woody Harrelson and Emily Mortimer star in a Hitchcockian thriller set aboard a train travelling between China and Moscow. Thrills, spills, murder and deception are the order of the day.
Beowulf (22:40, Friday, ITV) Ray Winstone plays the titular warrior of legend who must battle the monster Grendel... and then a bit later have a punch up with the creature's vengeful mother too. Made in 2007, I have a feeling the CGI may not have aged well.
On The Town (23:40, Friday, BBC4) "New York, New York, a helluva town, The Bronx is up, but the Battery's down, The people ride in a hole in the ground, New York, New York, it's a helluva town!" Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly sing and dance up a storm as sailors on shore leave in the Big Apple.
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (01:05, Friday, Channel 4) The final film directed by the late, great Sidney Lumet (Serpico, Network) sees two brothers (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) trying and catastrophically failing to pull off the perfect crime. Trailer below

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (00:10, Sunday, Channel 4) Michael Douglas returns as Gordon Gekko, out of jail and struggling to come to terms with a world very different to the one he had bestrode like an uber-capitalist colossus in the 1980s. 

Please note: Films starting after midnight are always considered part of the previous day's schedule, e.g. Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps begins at 00:10 - technically Monday morning - but is still part of Sunday's listings. All times in 24-hour clock.


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

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