Staff Picks DVDs – February/March

Cover imageWhite House down.
Good action movie full of stunts. It’s the story of a young American Veteran from the Afghanistan War who wants to get into the diplomatic protection/security team for the President. He takes his young daughter on a tour of the White House and right in the middle of their tour a set of terrorists take over both the Capitol Building and the White House. There is a lot of violence. Definitely an Adult film. Rated M 16 for violence and language. Interesting storyline with twists. James Woods made a really good villain. (Brigid)

Cover imageBeyond the hills.
The new film from the Romanian auteur Cristian Mungiu, who won the Cannes’ Palme d’Or with 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, is a heavyweight, compelling drama. Based on the real event in which a young woman died during an exorcism in a monastery, it asks challenging questions such as what faith is, what normal is and who controls whom. Mungiu takes on this demanding material with a no-nonsense, non-judgmental attitude and rigour but a sensitive narrative highlights the contradiction between transcendence and reality. It’s a slow developing drama with beautiful long, unbroken takes but keeps a great level of tension and there are no dull moments. The leading two actresses (Cristina Flutur and Cosmina Stratan ) are simply superb, and shared the award for best actress at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012. Deservedly so. (Shinji)

Cover imageCaptain Phillips.
Intense drama recounts the true story of the first hijacking of a US shipping vessel in 200 years. Helmed by Paul Greengrass, Tom Hanks is excellent as Captain Richard Phillips, who finds himself at the centre of events when heavily armed Somali pirates board his cargo ship in 2009. The tense early story, where the captured Hanks/Phillips attempts to divert the pirates away from the hidden crew as they search the ship, gives way to an even more claustrophobic setting as the pirates escape with the captured Hanks in a small enclosed lifeboat. One of the films strengths is that it doesn’t demonise the Somali’s, portraying them as realistic characters with believable motivations. Gripping. (Mark)

Cover imageQuartet.
A story about a retirement home for Musicians. They are arranging a Gala concert to raise funds to help keep the home going. Three of a famous Quartet are living there but the fourth member had left them when they are younger and caused huge ructions within the group. All kinds of problems happen when the fourth member moves in. It has some funny moments in it. Very distinguished actors. If you love Opera you will love it. One of the lines from it was “Old Age is not for sissys.” (Brigid)

When two neighbourhood children (one black & one white) go missing while playing together, their parents (Hugh Jackman & Maria Bello/Terrence Howard & Viola Davis) are shattered. Suspicion immediately falls on the owner of an RV (Paul Dano) seen in the neighbourhood. But when the police, led by Jake Gyllenhaal, are forced to release him due to lack of evidence the edgy father played by Jackman feels he has no choice but to take matters into his own hands. Certain that the simple minded yet creepy Dano is responsible he kidnaps him, imprisons him in his fathers abandoned house he begins to torture him. While it’s apparent Dano knows something, just what is it? Meanwhile Gyllenhaal’s cop begins to pursue a different suspect, a young man who likes to buy children’s cloths. Just who is the real villain? There’s no denying that this film is emotionally manipulative & button pushing, but Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (Incendies) creates an eerie & layered story that unfolds slowly (the movie is quite long for a thriller) like one of those grimy, but gripping, Scandinavian crime novels that you just can’t put down. (Mark)

Cover imageGame of thrones. The complete second season.
With the new season of Game of Thrones coming out soon I decided to watch the first ones to see what was so popular. Well I got hooked which was a great surprise as I don’t usually like Sci Fi. I watched Season’s One, Two & Three in 10 days. Warning, it is addictive. (Pru)

Cover imageThe Americans. The complete first season.
On the surface Philip (Matthew Rhys) & Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) are an ordinary suburban couple, who own a Travel Agency & have two children, a teenage girl & a younger boy. However in reality they are Russians, sent into the US 15 years ago to establish their identities & are agents for ‘Directorate S’, the foreign espionage arm of the KGB. When their new neighbour Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) turns out to be an FBI agent, newly promoted to the Counterintelligence Unit they think the game may be up… but it’s only just beginning. Once you give yourself over to the somewhat contrived set-up of the show, you begin to realise what a great idea it is. The lives of the two leads are complicated by the fact that he is in love with her, but to her he is just a cover, and while his ideology is beginning to get shaky her commitment holds fast. Further complications ensue from the arrival of a new handler, increasingly risky missions, Beeman’s recruitment of a mole in the Russian Embassy, and the fact that both of them have to sleep with ‘assets’ to mine information. Both leads are excellent, especially Russell, and the show benefits from it’s 1980’s settings in two distinct ways; firstly that there is relatively little technology at play (compared to a lot of contemporary ‘espionage’ films & TV shows) so missions are accomplished with skill & tradecraft; and secondly that the 80’s is a decade far enough in the past, but not old enough that it’s world politics seem completely ‘historical’ – thus events like Regan’s attempted assassination, the development of ‘Star Wars’ missile defence technology, & the struggle for solidarity in Poland are realistically integrated into the plot. The show is also full of great supporting turns from Emmerich as the conflicted FBI agent, Margo Martindale as their new handler, Annet Mahendru as sexy Russian spy Nina, and especially Richard Thomas (of ‘The Walton’s’ fame) as Emmerich’s FBI boss. Recommended. (Mark)

Cover imageThe whale.
This doco about a young Orca, nicknamed Luna, is a fascinating and moving true story. Finding itself separated from its pod, the young mammal adopted a small coastal community on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and proceeded to befriend the locals. Not really a wildlife doco, the film is closer to ET, in that the story told is about a non-human life form that, through circumstance, is forced to make contact with humans and the consequences of that contact. (John)

Cover imageDrug war.
Johhnie To’s take on The French Connection sees the stoic Captain Zhang capture a major drug dealer after an explosion at a drug lab. Forcing him to turn informant or face the death penalty. A tense police procedural initially focusing on surveillance & infiltration techniques, before it culminating in an over-the-top Peckinpah-esque shootout. Best scene: when Zhang impersonates both the deadpan supplier and the crazy drug distributor, ‘Ha! Ha!’, while setting both up at the same hotel in the same hour. Crazy but fun. (Mark)

Cover imageDespicable me. 2 : in 3D.
If you liked Despicable Me you will enjoy this one as well. It is a family movie and animated, and can be enjoyed by adults as well as children. It has Felonius Gru going under cover to help save the world. (Brigid)

Cover imageDeep cover.
Early 90’s crime flick co-scripted by Michael Tolkin (The Player) sees Laurence Fishburne (in his first leading role) play a by-the-book cop assigned by the DEA to infiltrate & bring down a major cocaine empire in Los Angeles. Fishburn narrates with a kind of ghetto philosophy/moody Film Noir melange as he works his way up the drug dealing chain until he meets mid-level distributor Jeff Goldblum, a Jewish Attorney who harbours a secret desire to unleash his inner gangster. Together they form a partnership that could take them straight to the top. Hugely underrated cop thriller is a bit of a lost gem. Both actors give great performances, Goldblum has never been better really, and Fisburn embodies the moral confusion of his role. All the characters are portrayed realistically without the Scarface type trappings of drug money & excess wealth, but rather with a kind of corporate pragmatism. One of the first films to examine the nexus of political hypocrisy & corruption of the ‘War On Drug’s’ pre-dating films such as Traffic or Don Winslow’s epic novel The Power of the Dog. The kind of movie Tarantino wished he had written (and indeed spent most of his career trying to emulate). (Mark)

Cover imageSound City.
Dave Grohl, of Nirvana/Foo Fighters fame, wrote and directed this doco about the legendary LA recording studio, set up by businessmen unashamedly interested in only the money making side of music, that happened to have the sweetest sound of any studio in the USA, and where literally hundreds of hit records were made including, quite by chance, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and Nirvana’s Nevermind. The movie is a homage to analogue sound recording and is recommended to those interested in the history of pop and rock music and is worth watching if only to see the remaining members of Nirvana in full studio flight with Paul McCartney taking the place of Kurt Cobain! The accompanying soundtrack CD, Sound City – Real To Reel is also recommended, featuring tracks recorded by Dave Grohl on his beloved Neve analogue mixing desk (which is the real the star of the film) by artists including Rage Against the Machine, Stevie Nicks, Fear, Rick Springfield and Trent Reznor who rub shoulders across a surprisingly solid collection of songs. (John)

Cover imageKidnap and ransom. Series two.
Tense second series of this ITV show sees Trevor Eve return as hostage negotiator Dominic King. When the negotiation for the return of a British Asian family in Srinagar, India, goes wrong after local police intervention the kidnappers escape and take control of a nearby tourist bus, prompting a new crisis. Unknown to everyone however, one of the passengers on the bus is the daughter of a prominent British politician & Eve soon finds himself dealing with multiple hostages, insufficient money & plenty of twists and double crosses. Recommended. (Mark)

Cover imageFrances Ha.
If you have ever been to Japan or studied Japanese you should come across the word ‘ganbare’. It can be translated in a number of ways but often used when encouraging or cheering up someone, like ‘hang in there!’. I kept saying this word while watching this Noah Baumbach’s new film. It’s about a 27-year-old girl making her way in New York City. This may sound all too familiar, but in a French Nouvelle Vague-esque black and white screen, and with a touch of Woody Allen, the leading star Greta Gerwig steals the show. Gerwig (some call her the ‘Meryl Streep of mumblecore’) plays Frances who is a dancer and a choreographer but not successful at all. She’s also almost broke and therefore tries everything she can, but nothing seems to be working. It’s a rare successful, girl-centric offbeat comedy and Gerwig’s low-keyed but mesmerising performance makes it happen. In the end, the friendship saves her but it may still be a long way to go. ‘Ganbare’ Frances. (Shinji)

Cover imageDon Jon.
Joesph Gordon-Levitt does the ‘full Guido’ in ‘Don Jon’, his first stab at writing & directing. Levitt is Jon Martello (nicknamed ‘Don’ by his pals based on his ability to ‘pull’ prime women) a young playa who digs his car, his crib, his boyz, but most of all he digs porn… and lots of it, never letting his various conquests get in the way of his ‘hobby’. Things change, however, when he meets the girl of his dreams, ‘Joisy girl’ Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) a princess obsessed with romance as defined by Hollywood movies. Everything is laid on pretty thickly in the first half, with Jon’s dysfunctional family and Johansson’s cringe worthy accent it sometimes comes across as an (inadvertent) parody of The Jersey Shore reality show. However once Julianne Moore’s character is introduced things settle down a bit & the film begins to make some interesting points about the pressure of expectations perpetuated by popular media, sex, intimacy, relationships, and of course the pervasive influence of porn. A bit uneven and its frank subject matter may not be to everyone’s taste, but it does have some genuinely funny moments (the scene where Johannsson won’t let him buy a mop is particularly amusing) and Tony Danza as Jon’s dad is awesome (of course). (Mark)

Cover imageWorld War Z.
The zombie movie with a pace just short of that of 28 Days Later. Initially the movie feels more like an adventure flick with gore than a horror but then in the latter half of the movie this action turns into horror territory. This is especially the case when the main protagonist reaches the lab. At this point, just for a moment, I was jolted out of the story by how much this scene reminded me of game scenarios but stuff got intense and visceral fear was felt. Recommending this movie with a rating of 3.5 out of 5. (Tams)

Cover imageLong weekend.
I think this is a remake of an earlier Australian movie. Peter and Marcia (a married couple) go away together for a nice romantic long weekend. They are trying to rekindle the magic after some pretty brutal marital problems. Peter has just spent $10,000 on camping equipment so that is his idea of fun (not hers). The couple fight and argue right through the movie. Unfortunately along the way they arrive at the wrong beach. There are definitely some yuck moments in it. This movie has the creepy kind of feel of Picnic at Hanging Rock, with the ‘Be careful of Mother Nature’ moral which they totally ignore. The environment they find themselves in was not one conducive to happy couples. There is some quite creepy parts in it and I don’t think I would like to watch it alone but I did manage to watch it right through. There are some good twists in it. Definitely not the beach to visit. Very Australian with a dugong and Kangaroos in it. (Brigid)