Monday 24 August 2015

Home Comforts: The best in TV, VOD, DVD and Blu-ray (Monday August 24 - Sunday August 30)

Child 44
(Various Streaming Services, also on DVD and Blu-ray)

Daniel Espinosa’s film – based on the novels by Tom Rob Smith – picked up middling reviews when it hit cinemas back in April (it was also a flop at the box office). Critics’ main problems seemed to be its pace and length (a far from sprightly 137 minutes), the sprawling nature of its narrative and the cast’s Russian accents. I found the criticisms a little mean-spirited because while Child 44 certainly has its flaws, it’s rarely anything less than compelling and fascinating.

Set in post-war Stalinist Russia, military policeman Leo Demidov (Tom Hardy) spends most of his time tracking down alleged traitors and spies. However, when a colleague’s son is murdered, his investigation into the crime is quickly shut down as the killing of a child is simply not the sort of thing that happens in a “socialist paradise”. Despite warnings to stay clear, Demidov continues to collate evidence but when his wife, Raisa (Noomi Rapace), is named as a traitor, the pair are kicked out of Moscow and sent into exile in a remote rural town. Once there, however, Demidov discovers more murders, leading him to conclude a serial killer of children has been operating over a vast area for some time. With the blessing of his no-nonsense superior General Mikhail Nesterov (Gary Oldman), he starts to actively investigate the slayings.

Child 44 may appear a bit slow and unfocused but the film takes its time because it isn’t only interested in the serial killer arc; director Espinosa is keen to explore life in Russia too and does so with no little skill. The brutality and paranoia of the country’s rulers, as well as the privations of a downtrodden populace, are graphically realised and central to the point the film is making: a society built on fear and terror, be it Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia, makes monsters of men. The film juggles a lot of subplots but none of them are superfluous; each adds to the dark tone of the story or tells you something about the characters you didn’t know. Spending time in this world isn’t a comfortable experience but that’s kind of the point and I doubt a film with a running time of 90-100 minutes would have felt quite so evocative or satisfying.

None of this would work so well if Child 44 didn’t look the part but – filmed in the Czech Republic – it really is sumptuously realised. Director of photography Oliver Wood has worked on everything from Face/Off to Anchorman 2 but I doubt he’ll better his work here even if he lives to be a hundred. The word “austere” bleeds out of practically every frame, while the sets and costumes are similarly superb.

The criticism of the cast’s use of Russian accents would stack up if it felt distracting but it simply doesn’t. Not even once. In fact, for me, it was just the opposite; the accents helped draw me further into the world of 1950s Russia in a way the use of British voices may not have. To hear the critics you’d think Hardy and Oldman sounded like Harrison Ford’s submarine captain in K19: The Widowmaker but they don’t because they are both genuinely fantastic actors in a cast with more than its fair share of them.

Whilst I’m happy to defend Child 44, I’d be the first to admit it isn’t perfect. Sometimes the serial killer plot is perhaps a little too low in the mix as Espinosa concentrates on other areas of the plot. I’d liked to have seen Hardy involved in a little more detective work as the net tightened on the killer (Paddy Considine) and the ending, although just about earned, is maybe a little too Hollywood neat. These are mere quibbles, though, because this is a fine, underrated thriller deserving of your time.

Rating: WWW

Eyes Without A Face (DVD/Blu-ray dual format) Hugely influential French horror from 1960 in which a plastic surgeon resorts to kidnapping and murder as he tries to restore the disfigured face of his daughter. Trailer below

The Falling (DVD and Blu-ray) Maxine Peake and Maisie Williams star in Carol Morley’s mysterious and atmospheric girls' school drama.
Vivra Sa Vie (Blu-ray) Jean Luc Godard’s 1962 tale of a disillusioned young Parisian woman (Anna Karina) turning to prostitution gets the remastered HD treatment and a big bag of extras.
Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles (DVD) Documentary chronicling the life and career of the great actor/director in this the centenary year of his birth.
The Harder They Come (Blu-ray) Reggae-packed cult classic starring Jimmy Cliff as the country boy trying to make it big in the Jamaican music industry.

Hellboy (21:00, tonight, Film4) Ron Perlman is the demonic hero taking on the Nazis in Guillermo Del Toro’s entertaining, all-action fantasy tale.
The Man Who Would Be King (22:00, Wednesday, BBC4) John Huston’s adventure classic about two Victorian soldiers (Michael Caine and Sean Connery) plotting to rule a remote middle-eastern kingdom. Trailer below

Funny Games (21:00, Thursday, Sky Arts) Original German version of Michael Haneke’s gruelling and genuinely upsetting home-invasion horror.
This is Where I Leave You (10:15 and 22:00, Friday, Sky Movies Premiere) A great cast including Jane Fonda, Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, Rose Byrne and Adam Driver fails to lift this passable but ultimately disappointing comedy.
Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (13:50, Saturday, Syfy) It’s a Kirk/Spock marathon with Syfy screening movies 1-3 on Saturday, with 4-6 showing Sunday. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you TWOK remains the best.

The Joneses (01:35, Wednesday, Channel4) David Duchovny and Demi Moore are the perfect couple with a deep, dark secret in this passable anti-consumerism satire.
Gone Baby Gone (23:35, Friday, BBC1) Casey Affleck is the private investigator searching for a kidnapped girl in this rich and rewarding thriller directed by his brother Ben.
Beasts of the Southern Wild (00:40, Friday, Channel 4) Sentimental but magical coming-of-age tale about a young girl – Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) – battling to survive a raging storm in the Louisiana Bayou.
Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (17:25, Saturday, BBC1) Aardman delivers the goods again in this inventive and thoroughly chucklesome tale as our heroes battle a prize-vegetable scoffing monster. Trailer below

Side Effects (21:00, Saturday, Channel 4) Steven Soderbergh’s psychological thriller about a woman (Rooney Mara) who murders her husband (Channing Tatum) after taking an experimental anti-depressant.

(Available now unless otherwise stated)
The Dance of Reality (Curzon Home Cinema) Alejandro (El Topo) Jodorowsky’s first film in 23 years is an intensely autobiographical work every bit as surreal and imaginative as you’d expect from the Great Man.
Futuro Beach (VSS, also on DVD) Visually impressive but slow-moving examination of love and exile set in Brazil and Germany.
The President (Curzon Home Cinema) The tinpot dictator of an unnamed country goes on the run with his six-year-old grandson after being overthrown in Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s brutal political satire.
The Salvation (VSS, also on DVD and Blu-ray) Blood-drenched revenge-western featuring Mads Mikkelsen (The Hunt, Valhalla Rising) on top form. Trailer below

Samba (VSS, also on DVD and special Double DVD) Heartfelt but meandering immigration French comedy/drama starring Charlotte Gainsbourg (Nymphomaniac, Melancholia) and Omar Sy (Untouchable).

Please note: Films starting after midnight are always considered part of the previous day's schedule, e.g. The Joneses begins at 01:35 - 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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