May 27, 2012

Buyers Guide UK: June 2012: Weeks 1 and 2

We're nearly into the sixth month of 2012 already, and there are plenty of exciting DVD and Blu Ray releases to come during June. Here are my personal, week by week, picks of the best and most exciting discs from the UK release schedule for the first two weeks of the month. Some I've seen, some I haven't, but I'm interested in every single one of them. You'll find purchase links at the bottom of this post. If you want to buy one or more of these releases please do so through my links, it won't cost you extra, but you'll be supporting 24FPS.


Goon [Also on DVD]
Goon was one of the nicer surprises of the first half of 2012 at the cinema. While it looked from the outside like a(nother) moronic sports comedy, with Seann William Scott playing a(nother) variation on Stifler, the truth turned out to be rather different.

While it ticks many of the expected sports comedy boxes, Goon largely gets by on two things; first off it's plainly, simply, funny. The jokes come thick and fast and the humour both verbal and visual hits a great deal more than it misses, and Eugene Levy is as entertaining as ever as Scott's Father (odd casting, given their mutual presence in the American Pie films. More unexpected is the second standout quality of Goon; its charm. Scott excels as an incredibly nice guy whose only real skill is fighting, and Alison Pill is irresistible as his love interest (giving that story more weight than you'd think). It's not a classic, but Goon is great entertainment, and it's nice to see a comedy that is warm and charming, given the way the genre has gone of late

David Lynch Boxset [Also on DVD]
I'm hardly the world's biggest David Lynch fan (though I believe I know her, Hi Marcey), but I love many of his films, and for all that he can be absolutely infuriating at times, he's never dull. This Blu Ray boxset includes six films covering the whole gamut of his career from the widely acclaimed Blue Velvet to the much derided Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (the other titles in the set are Lost Highway, Eraserhead, Wild at Heart and Dune).

With the exception of Fire Walk With Me, each disc appears to be rammed with extras, mostly in the form of Lynch's short films. For me this represents a chance to rediscover films that I've long loved (Wild at Heart and Lost Highway), get in to some I may have missed the appeal of first time round (Blue Velvet and Fire Walk With Me) and try our two that I've never seen. It should be a strange journey, which is why I'll look forward to it.

Return of the Living Dead: Ltd Ed Steelbook [Also on DVD]
If, by some horrible accident of fate, you're a horror fan and haven't seen Dan O'Bannon's ridiculously fun directorial debut, this is pretty much what you've been waiting for. Return of the Living Dead still combines gore, scares, nudity and laughs with as much verve and as much entertainment value as it ever did. The smart and speedy zombies - the first to explicitly wish to feed on braaaains - are brilliantly realised at a technical level, and actually become recognisable characters in the film too.

The Blu Ray release is backed up by a large selection of extras (five hours of them) including a two hour documentary on the making of the film, including interviews with, seemingly, just about everyone who worked on it. This will be a treat if you already love the film, and a great way to see it for the first time.

Spider-Man Trilogy [Also on DVD]
The Spider-Man series is one that I have a lot of fondness for. I've been a Spidey fan since I was a kid. The first film was my birthday movie when I was 21, and, oddly, the reboot will be my birthday movie at 31. Despite that I also know that it's deeply flawed both in terms of the individual films and how it works as a trilogy.

For every great action scene there's a few minutes of a poorly written, less than faithful, rendition of Mary Jane. For every moment that Tobey Maguire nails as Spidey or Peter there's one that he misses, and for every bravura creative decision made by director Sam Raimi there's a botch job like the Emo-Parker sequence. That said, the highs are strong enough that all the films entertain for the most part (the much maligned Spider-Man 3 may be the best of the series if you delete the symbiote stuff). This boxset retains the spectacular transfers that the Spider-Man trilogy has already had, along with the option to watch the (better, if only by dint of having an extra action scene) 2.1 version of the first sequel, but it also looks as though the extras for the first two films, which went missing from the initial BR releases, will now be included.

This is a mixed bag of a trilogy, but I'm a big enough Spider-Fan to forgive the flaws, if you are too it's an essential purchase.

Why should you see Babycall? Noomi Rapace. Right, that's that conversation over.

In all seriousness, while the presence of Noomi Rapace, unless you've only seen her in the Sherlock Holmes sequel, really ought to be enough to make you want to see just about anything, and she's extraordinary as a paranoid single Mother, on the run from an abusive relationship, there is much more to recommend Babycall. Kristoffer Joner also contributes a strong performance as the introverted, and rather sad, shop assistant who tries to befriend Rapace, and director Pal Setalune introduces a note of creeping paranoia early on, which builds and builds throughout the film, making the narrative and your understanding of the story and characters constantly malleable.

The last fifteen minutes lurch off the rails somewhat, but Rapace is worth watching throughout, and the film will likely repay repeat viewings thanks to the shifting tone.


The Muppets [Also on DVD]
So, it turns out you CAN bottle happiness. The Muppets remains my film of the year to date, and that's largely because it's the one film that really reminded me why I love films. It's hilariously funny (Beaker as part of a barbershop quartet singing Smells Like Teen Spirit), tells a solid, character based story, and is even genuinely moving at times (if you got through Pictures in my Head without wiping away a tear, I would check for a heartbeat).

The story, involving Jason Segel's Gary and his Muppet brother Walter helping Kermit put the gang back together for their first show in years may be slight, but it conjures a magical mix of nostalgia and a film that is accessible and fun for new fans, be they young or old. The whole human cast nails the tone brilliantly (especially Amy Adams as Segel's love interest and Chris Cooper as oil baron villain Tex Richman), but it's the muppet performers who steal the show; the nuance that Steve Whitmire gets from Kermit is especially astonishing.

The Muppets is a perfect comeback movie and I can't wait to revisit it over and over on Blu Ray.

Sling Blade
Billy Bob Thornton's directorial debut, expanded from his short film Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade (which, inexplicably, STILL doesn't appear to be among the extras, though the others from the special edition DVD do make the trip to Hi Def), was a blind buy for me, and one that really paid off.

Thornton himself plays Karl; a man with learning disabilities who has recently left the facilty he was sent to as a young man after committing a grisly crime, and the film revolves around his friendship with a local boy and his Mother. It would be very easy to overplay Karl, and Thornton's performance can be broad, but it's the sheer detail, and the empathy with which, both as a writer and as an actor, Thornton approaches the role that makes it not just more than a 'full retard' performance but one that feels true and allows you to really understand Karl.

For me, Thornton hasn't come close to matching this film as a director, and has seldom given a performance as good. Sling Blade is highly recommended.

Grace is Gone
There are plenty of reasons to complain about release patterns for movies around the world, but few delays have infuriated me more of late than the fact that for four years this film has sat on the shelf, unreleased in the UK. It's great that this drama about John Cusack as a Father of two young girls whose wife is killed while she's on duty in Iraq taking his daughters on a road trip to prepare himself to break the news to them is finally emerging, but it's a crying shame that it is only doing so as a barely publicised DVD release.

Cusack has perhaps never been better - or further from his established persona - than he is here, and he's aided by a sensitive screenplay and by remarkable performances from the young actresses playing his daughters. It's a sad film, but never mawkish, and though you never meet Cusack's wife, through him you feel the loss. Grace is Gone is a great movie and you should not let the long delay in its release put you off seeing it.

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