New DVDs for January

New DVDs for January include the third instalment in Vin Diesel’s Chronicles of Riddick; the American feature debut of Park Chan-wook (of Oldboy fame); new Norwegian TV show Hellfjord; the award winning & critically acclaimed Blue Jasmine; and the new documentary on reclusive author J.D Salinger…

Cover imageStoker.
“Stoker is a masterful psychodrama that teems with unsettling vibrations that hark directly back to Alfred Hitchcock, but also to the wave of contemporary cinema that has been surging in South Korea for the past decade. It is the first American feature by the auteur Park Chan-wook, whose widely seen trilogy of “revenge” films, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance, paved the way for the meticulous craftsmanship of Stoker. The inspiration for Wentworth Miller’s haunting script was Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, though Stoker makes for an altogether creepier tale of a mysterious uncle, his melancholy niece, and the deadly interplay of family secrets slowly revealed. Park’s delicate weaving of style transforms the material into a narrative symphony, with thematic elements conveyed in the smallest details of composition, art direction, and graceful cinematography. Mia Wasikowska is India Stoker, the teenage niece who just lost her father to a violent auto accident. It’s a complete surprise to India and her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) when his handsome younger brother Charlie (Matthew Goode) shows up at the brooding family mansion (itself a character that is integral to the story). Charlie’s enigmatic smirk signals both calm and danger, and his presence is a catalyst that ratchets up the emotional turmoil India and Evelyn are already experiencing. India senses the danger even as she is drawn to Charlie, and her mother’s repressed sexuality turns into a bonfire under his mysterious charm. He tempts and teases them both in an expertly choreographed dance of menace that fuels the rage building in India and puts further pressure on her mother’s cataclysmic despair. To say that there are plot twists is an understatement for a movie whose elegant creativity is the biggest twist of all.” (Adapted from Amazon.co.uk review)

Cover imageRiddick.
“Pitch Black, the first collaboration between writer-director David Twohy and Vin Diesel, stands as a model genre movie, presenting an ingeniously taut narrative while also giving Diesel ample room to develop an antihero for the ages. The success of that film led to the unexpectedly baroque The Chronicles of Riddick, which greatly expanded the scope, but to somewhat diminished effect. The duo’s third go-around wisely returns to the roots of the character, delivering a small-scale, gleefully vulgar film that occasionally resembles a berserk sci-fi version of Man vs. Wild. Featuring some way-cool critters and no shortage of gallows humor, it knows exactly what it is: half B-movie, half awesome ’70s van art. Quickly dispensing with the ornate mythology of the last installment (respect to Karl Urban for returning, however briefly), the story finds Riddick left for dead, on a planet where absolutely everything wants to eat him. As he begins his quest to dominate the local flora and fauna, matters are complicated by the appearance of two teams of bounty hunters (including Katee Sackhoff and the gargantuan Dave Bautista) searching for his chromed dome. Twohy keeps things mean and reasonably lean throughout, giving the squabbling mercenaries some enjoyably hissable personality traits while hurtling toward an intense siege finale.” (Adapted from Amazon.com review)

Syndetics book coverHellfjord.
Hellfjord is the story of urban police officer Salmander, a second generation Pakistani immigrant, who after accidentally killing his police horse in front of thousands of children gets promptly dismissed from the police force. But due to a loophole in his civil service contract, he must serve out a 3-month notice period. His captain banishes him to Hellfjord a tiny fishing community in the far north of Norway. On arrival, things just go from bad to worse for Salmander. Hellfjord is populated by simple-minded people with an average age of 67, only interested in keeping to themselves. But when Salmander scratches the surface, he discovers a secret that will turn Hellfjord upside down. Maybe even inside out.” (From Syndetics summary)

Cover imageThe to do list.
“A winning lead performance by Aubrey Plaza and a script that doesn’t treat its characters or its audience like morons help buoy director-writer Maggie Carey’s The To Do List. The setting is mid-’90s Boise, Idaho, where Plaza’s Brandy Klark is a model student at her high school: senior valedictorian, perfect grades, headed to Georgetown in the fall. She’s also a bitchy, bossy busybody and, worst of all, a virgin. Weary of the nonstop torrent of teasing her “condition” has inspired on the part of her classmates, friends, and older sister (Rachel Bilson), Brandy revises her to-do list until it consists solely of sexual acts, many of which she can’t even define (most are also far too raunchy to print on a family website–what the movie lacks in nudity, it more than makes up for in profane language), that she plans to engage in before heading off to college. Her summer job as a lifeguard trainee at the local public pool provides plenty of candidates to help her on her quest; although she fully expects to be deflowered by the studly, guitar-playing Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), she’s only too eager to use Cameron (Johnny Simmons), the one guy who actually cares about her, and various others to check off the other items on her list. Brandy approaches all of this as if it were a science project, with a combination of innocence and aggressiveness that results in multiple awkward situations. But this girl is no doormat; she’s a doofus, but a smart one, and she handles all the hazing and humiliation with admirable aplomb. And therein lies the film’s principal appeal. The script, while often amusing, doesn’t condescend, and it even offers some genuine, if obvious, insight into high schoolers and the many problems and pressures they face. Heck, even Brandy’s parents are treated with some dignity.” (Adapted from Amazon.com review)

Cover imageBlue Jasmine.
“After everything in her life falls to pieces, including her marriage to wealthy businessman Hal (Alec Baldwin), elegant New York socialite Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) moves into her sister Ginger’s (Sally Hawkins) modest apartment in San Francisco to try to pull herself back together again.
Jasmine arrives in San Francisco in a fragile mental state, her head reeling from the cocktail of anti-depressants she’s on. While still able to project her aristocratic bearing, Jasmine is emotionally precarious and lacks any practical ability to support herself. She disapproves of Ginger’s boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale), who she considers another “loser” like Ginger’s ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay). Ginger, recognizing but not fully understanding her sister’s psychological instability, suggests that she pursue interior design, a career she correctly intuits that Jasmine won’t feel is beneath her. In the meantime, Jasmine begrudgingly accepts work as the receptionist in a dentist’s office, where she attracts the unwanted attentions of her boss, Dr. Flicker (Michael Stuhlbarg). Feeling that her sister might be right about her poor taste in men, Ginger starts seeing Al (Louis C.K.), a sound engineer whom she considers as a step up from Chili. Jasmine sees a potential lifeline when she meets Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), a diplomat who is quickly smitten with her beauty, sophistication and style. Jasmine’s flaw is that she derives her worth from the way she’s perceived by others, while she herself is blind to what is going around her. Delicately portrayed by a regal Cate Blanchett, Jasmine earns our compassion because she is the unwitting instrument of her own downfall.” (Adapted from Amazon.co.uk description)

Cover imageBad education. Series one.
Bad Education, written by and starring Jack Whitehall, follows Alfie Wickers the worst teacher to ever (dis)grace the British Education System, and a bigger kid than the pupils he teaches. Abbey Grove School is populated by some of the weirdest teachers you could ever meet: Fraser (Mathew Horne) the hair-brained Headmaster who longs to be down with the kids, Miss Gulliver (Sarah Solemani) the biology teacher with a heart of gold but perhaps a dash too much openness and honesty, Miss Mollinson (Leila Hoffman) the happily swinging Head of Maths who won’t let her hip-replacement get in the way and Deputy Headmistress Miss Pickwell (Michelle Gomez) who displays all the charm and sensitivity of a Third Reich Dominatrix. Alfie’s class is Form K, a bunch of misfits that have been written off by the rest of the school, but Alfie can’t help but see a bit of himself in them. This is about a class of kids and their teacher’s quest to get through life and get the best results with the minimum amount of effort possible. Sadly it’s not an equation that always adds up. From disastrous parents’ evenings to cringe-worthy sex-education lessons to life-threatening self-defence classes to school elections full of dirty tricks and a school trip to see a rhino-pig; Bad Education is school life as you’ve never seen it before.” (From Amazon.co.uk description)

Cover imageThe hobbit : an unexpected journey.
“It took some time for Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson to return to Middle Earth, but the wait was very much worth it. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey starts off by playing strongly to its links to the previous adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy, before setting off on an adventure of its own. The first of three films based on The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey isn’t a fast film to get going, but it does spent quality time introducing its key characters. Most moviegoers are more than familiar with Sir Ian McKellen’s Gandalf of course, but the collection of dwarves and Martin Freeman’s take on Bilbo Baggins are all brought together, and the adventure ensues. It’s a journey that’s punctuated by terrifically orchestrated action sequences, a swirling score, and lavish production design. Furthermore, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has one or two real standout moments contained within its running time, not least when we finally get reunited with Gollum. The sequence where Bilbo Baggins and Gollum come face to face is as good as anything Jackson put on screen in the Lord Of The Rings films.” (Adapted from Amazon.co.uk review)

Cover imageThe human scale.
“50 % of the world’s population lives in urban areas. By 2050 this will increase to 80%. Life in a mega city is both enchanting and problematic. Today we face peak oil, climate change, loneliness and severe health issues due to our way of life. But why? The Danish architect and professor Jan Gehl has studied human behavior in cities through 40 years. He has documented how modern cities repel human interaction, and argues that we can build cities in a way, which takes human needs for inclusion and intimacy into account. The Human Scale meets thinkers, architects and urban planners across the globe. It questions our assumptions about modernity, exploring what happens when we put people into the center of our planning.” (From Syndetics summary)

Cover imageSalinger.
Salinger is a 2013 feature length documentary looking into the private world of J.D. Salinger, the reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye. Salinger features interviews with 150 subjects including Salinger’s friends, colleagues and members of his inner circle who have never spoken on the record before as well as previously unseen film footage, photographs and other material. The film is the first work to get beyond the Catcher in the Rye author’s meti­culously built up wall: his childhood, painstaking work methods, marriages, private world and the secrets he left behind after his death in 2010.” (From Syndetics Summary)