Wednesday 1 November 2017

My Cousin Rachel, Alone In Berlin, The Lure: Your Week In Film (October 30-November 5)

A fishy tail: The Lure is one of the strangest films you'll ever see

This week's highs and lows in UK home entertainment, on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD. All films are available to buy, rent and/or stream now, unless otherwise stated.

Ratings guide:  WWWW - Wonderful  WWW - Worthwhile  WW - Watchable  W - Woeful

Release-wise, it's a funny old week, for the most part a mix of films I've either already covered (The Villainess, It Comes At Night) or am actively avoiding (Hampstead, Transformers: The Last Knight). As a result, this week's column is a bit of a mishmash of new stuff and titles from the last month I hadn't yet got round to covering...

My criticisms of the Criterion Collection haven't really altered any since the last time I mentioned it - the discs remain too expensive (£18) and the company's habit of releasing stuff already available in the UK can be downright annoying. That said, they have such a wide and impressive range of titles that you'd pretty much forgive them anything, especially when picture and sound quality are so high and the extras are never less than exemplary. Occasionally, the company's release schedule throws out a real curveball, too, which brings me to The Lure (Dual format) WWWW.

A Polish musical about mermaids, it comes on like the bastard child of David Lynch and Guillermo Del Toro, although, if The Shape Of Water is anything to go by, I suspect the latter is a big fan of Agnieszka Smoczynska's 2015 film. It sees two fish-tailed young women -  Srebrna (Marta Mazurek) and Zlota (Michalina Olszanska) - come ashore in Warsaw and join a seedily glamorous cabaret. They sing, they strip, they show off their impressively gigantic tails for boozed-up punters who probably think they've had one vodka too many. Srebna assimilates into human society with ease and even starts a relationship with a member of the house band, but Zlota is less willing to give up her species' traditions and it isn't long before she's stalking the Warsaw night looking for men to eat. Yes, these mermaids aren't exactly Daryl Hannah in Splash!

I'm not going to lie to you, this is a gloriously odd film with the frequent musical numbers (a version of Donna Summer's I Feel Love sets the tone) merely adding to its sense of derangement. The Lure has a woozy, fairy-tale quality and elements of horror flit in and out during a tight 92-minute running time. It's seedy and unsettling too, but is, at heart, a coming-of-age story about two naïve young women going to the big city and having their lives irrevocably changed by the experience. It's been a while since I've seen anything quite like it (Lucile Hadzihalilovic's Evolution or Jonathan Glazer's Under The Skin are fellow travellers) and would really urge you to get your hands on a copy. You'll thank me, really you will.

Siren song: Two mermaids join a Polish cabaret in The Lure 

We're well used to seeing resistance to Hitler and the Nazis depicted on screen from the perspective of plucky Brits, brave Yanks and stoic Russians. But it's somewhat rarer to witness it from the point of view of the Führer's own countrymen, who are usually characterised as little more than one-dimensional persecutors or cannon fodder. Vincent Perez's Alone In Berlin (DVD and VOD) WWW takes a small but impressive step to redress that imbalance, focusing as it does on a true story from the Second World War's early days.

It's 1940 and following the death of their only son in the conflict, working-class Berliners Otto (Brendan Gleeson) and Anna Quangel (Emma Thompson) commence a small-scale act of rebellion against their country's tyrannical leader and the war machine over which he presides. Otto writes a series of anti-Hitler slogans and screeds on postcards, and he and Anna surreptitiously leave them around the city for people to find. Of course, many are handed in to the authorities and Daniel Brühl's local policeman quickly comes under pressure from the Gestapo to root out the perpetrators.

Everyone just about gets away with their German accents, but, beyond that, the performances are quite something. Gleeson is a quiet ball of rage and grief, having to keep his heretical anti-Nazi thoughts to himself, but desperate to shout them from the rooftops. Thompson is if anything even more impressive, her seeming reserve disguising a spirit keen for revenge, however small that payback may be. Without going into spoiler territory, Brühl has the most difficult task and I'm not sure I quite bought into his character's journey. But that's a minor niggle in what is a low-key but powerful piece of work. Additionally, it offers a snapshot of Berlin society during wartime, mostly devoid of the over-rehearsed stereotypes of which we have become far too familiar. 

House of cards: Gleeson and Thompson take on the Nazis

Films concerning impossibly cute, outrageously precocious moppets are, under normal circumstances, my kryptonite. But Gifted (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WWW is so ridiculously charming, so well written and acted, that it inveigled itself into my affections in no time at all.

Chris Evans (Captain America) is Frank, a teacher-turned-boat-mechanic trying to give his late sister's mathematically gifted daughter, seven-year-old Mary (McKenna Grace), as normal an upbringing as possible. But when the girl's grandmother turns up (Lindsay Duncan), the pair clash over the direction her education should take, leading to legal action, deception and heartbreak.

This is family-based drama of the finest calibre with superb performances all round. Duncan (who elevates everything she is in) is terrific here as the scheming, manipulative Evelyn, who thinks she has her granddaughter's best interests at heart. The scenes in which she and Evans argue are the film's best, not because there is shouting or violence but because they ring so true - brutal one minute, affectionate the next, just like any family bust-up tends to be. Young Grace is the star of Marc Webb's film, though, turning in the best performance from a child actor I've seen since Jacob Tremblay in Room. Yes, she's really that good.

It's a Gift: Chris Evans stars in a likable, heartfelt drama

My Cousin Rachel (DVD, Blu-ray and VOD) WW is a passable but rather unmemorable adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's 1951 novel of the same name from Notting Hill (1999) director Roger Michell. Rachel Weisz (The Lobster) plays the titular character, a mysterious Contessa possibly responsible for the death of Ambrose (an uncredited Deano Bugatti), beloved guardian to Sam Clafin's Philip. When Rachel - a distant cousin of both men - appears at Philip's Cornwall estate, he intends to confront her, but is instead disarmed by the woman's charm and beauty. He of course falls in love with her and the rest of the film lets you mull over whether she is a cold, calculating femme fatale or an innocent victim of falsehood (Weisz is genuinely unreadable in the central role).

The whole thing rattles along agreeably with little to raise the hackles but, somehow, apart from the central guessing game, this gothic romance does little to truly draw you in either. It's nicely acted and nicely shot, but a premise that should grab you by the lapels only really does so in an impressively worked and melodramatic climax. It's easy to like, then, but difficult to love.

Kissin' Cousins: Is Rachel a scheming femme fatale?

Film of the week: The Lure

What I'm seeing this week: It's an indie double bill of Call Me By Your Name and The Killing Of A Sacred Deer for me.  

Top 10 UK DVDs/Blu-rays (films only)
1. The Mummy
2. Fast & Furious 8
3. Wonder Woman
4. Moana
5. Beauty And The Beast (2017)
6. Pirates Of The Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge
7. Diary Of A Wimpy Kid 4 - The Long Haul
8. Cult Of Chucky
9. Sing
10. Baywatch

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