Each week we take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly of the home entertainment offerings, reviewing and rating the films and the special features packed onto the discs.
Release of the Week
The Film Steven Soderbergh reunites with writer Scott Z. Burns to tell the tale of another kind of deadly contagion in the world of pharmaceutical treatment with Side Effects. Dependency of one kind or another, and the moral wasteland of the modern medical landscape are in play here. Soderbergh delivers another cracking thriller which benefits from a fine lead performance from Rooney Mara.
It is her relationship with Jude Law’s Dr. Banks which gives this suspenseful mystery its grounding. The duplicity hinted at from both sides has shades of Hitchcock at his finest and Soderbergh has a knack of finding the exact moment to knock his audience out of its complacency.
Side Effects is another winner for the director. A taut and engrossing thriller which teases its story out with pitch perfect precision. It has a fine cast, and there’s a lot Soderbergh and Burns have to say about the daze of a life on antidepressants. Where Side Effects triumphs is in the efficacy of its story and the moral depth of its foundation. A must see.
Special Features It’s a well stocked disc, although many of the interviews and supposed documentaries are little more than 3-minute EPK blasts of self-congratulatory yahoos. There is also a very strange Super 8 fake featurette which is a nice parody of the rest of the extras. Likewise there are two fake commercials for the fictional drugs from the film – nothing mind-blowing. There are a few other brief featurettes which focus on the various aspects of the film but again there’s nothing that you would see on a dozen movie websites. And Soderbergh is sadly absent from many of these.
[Rating:2/5] Jon Lyus
A Late Quartet
Film When Peter (Christopher Walken), the cellist in a globally-renowned string quartet, is diagnosed with Parkinson’s, he announces that he intends the first concert of the season to be his last. Faced with collapse, the tensions that have been lying beneath the surface for years between the four, boils to the surface, forcing them to confront their issues as the personal and the professional collide, with potentially devastating consequences.
Few and far between are the films that have classical music at their centre, and even fewer focusing on chamber music. A Late Quartet uses Beethoven’s Op.131, his String Quartet No. 14, as its inspiration. The four perform the seven-movement piece, played without stopping, as Peter’s farewell. Yaron Zilberman makes a strong feature directorial debut, and it should be very interesting to see in which direction he next steps. Mark Ivanir, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Catherine Keener complete the quartet alongside Walken, with Imogen Poots starring as Hoffman and Keener’s on-screen daughter, and all five are in their prime here. The classically unacquainted should not fear, for the drama that ensues following Peter’s diagnosis is where the film shines. It is this that is enhanced by the music, rather than secondary to it.
Those who are newcomers to classical music can look forward to a film that opens your eyes to a whole new world, one that is simultaneously alive and well in today’s world, and yet also facing some troubled times. Let us hope that A Late Quartet will be inspiration enough to help encourage audiences to seek out live performances such as those given by the quartet in the film.
Special Features Sadly, there is all but nothing to talk about. The only special feature on the disc is the film’s trailer, and as good as it is, it’s also hardly worth mentioning.
Given that the film looks at classical music, so rarely seen on the big screen, a real opportunity was missed here to go into more detail on that – a commentary from Zilberman, interviews with the cast and crew, perhaps a featurette on the inspiration behind using Beethoven’s Op.131, and more would have made for fascinating viewing.
[Rating:1/5] Kenji Lloyd
Dressed to Kill
Film Arrow finds a welcome home on Blu-ray for Brian De Palma’s twisted homage to Hitchcock (with more than a fair share of giallo-like bloodletting and perversity). As always, the label ensures their customary high quality preservation and presentation of classic genre fare is catered for. A sexually-repressed housewife (Angie Dickinson) who is seeking the help of a psychiatrist (Michael Caine) gets more than she bargained for whilst thrill-seeking, and her fate endangers the life of a high-call escort (Nancy Allen).
Hardly renowned for his subtly, De Palma cranks things up to an operatic level here (further aided by regular composer Pino Donaggio’s luscious score) and his seemingly principal interests of that era, voyeurism and surveillance, are duly explored. It’s all pretty ridiculous of course, but it’s done with the director’s customary heightened style and brio. He masterfully teases out the suspense to almost unbearable levels at times (a sexual cat-and-mouse game in an art museum is an extraordinary piece of erotic cinema).
Despite the challenging material, the film hasn’t dated particularly well. De Palma’s insistence of using thematic links to his idol’s most celebrated work offers a nagging sense of déjà vu, and the cheat ending is cribbed straight from his tale of that teen telekinetic, four years earlier. This is still an elegantly-crafted slasher however, with more than enough nasty shocks and twisted humour to entertain genre fans.
As to be expected from Arrow, there’s a wealth of extra here. De Palma himself crops up in older footage, but there are entertaining standalone interviews (all new material) with actors Angie Dickinson, Nancy Allen and Keith Gordon (who turned to the directing craft after he was partly inspired by working on this film). Dressed to Kill’s producer, George Litto, also contributes to a fun 20 minutes ‘making of’. Fans of DePalma will gobble this up. A trailer and a fun unrated/R-rating visual comparison are also available here.
[Rating:4/5] Adam Lowes
Enter The Dragon – 40th Anniversary Edition
Film Released in Hong Kong just six days after the untimely death of its star Bruce Lee, Enter The Dragon was created to showcase Lee and his fighting skills. What better way to do so than to have most of the film take place during a martial arts tournament on the mysterious private island of the villainous Han. After a pretty girl turns up dead of an overdose on the island, Shaolin martial artist Lee is asked by a member of the British intelligence service to fight in the tournament in order to find out exactly what is going on there.
Unfortunately, time has not been kind to Enter the Dragon, despite the fact that it looks great on Blu-ray. What’s immediately apparent is that Lee wasn’t much cop as an actor. He has a captivating screen presence, and could certainly fight, but he is decidedly flat in most of his dramatic scenes.
The Blu-ray’s visuals are excellent, with the film’s many dark scenes looking clear and crisp. The sound remains one of the film’s weak points, as the dubbing is poor (the actor playing Han spoke no English, and it’s clear he wasn’t very good at mouthing his lines phonetically). Lalo Schifrin’s excellent score sounds dynamic and rich, however.
Warners have not skimped on these, although most of them were included on previous DVD releases .The best of these is the documentary ‘Blood and Steel: The Making of Enter The Dragon’ – a kind of ‘everything you ever wanted to know’ about the film. The new features ‘No Way As Way’ (produced by Lee’s daughter Shannon), ‘The Return to Han’s Island’ and ‘Location: Hong Kong with Enter the Dragon’ are interesting but slight.
The generous helping of Special Features, coupled with the excellent image quality (this is the restored version of the film, available since the BBFC relaxed its censorship of martial arts violence) make this the definitive version of this kung fu classic.
[Rating:4/5] Ian Gilchrist
The Returned (Les Revenants)
Film The Returned, the inspiration behind the popular current TV series of the same name, sees the recently deceased returning to a French town, and then monitors the townspeople’s reactions as their former loved ones are assimilated back into society. It’s primarily a film looking at how people cope with bereavement and equally how they then deal with their unexpected return. To an extent it can be called a zombie movie (after all it is about the undead returning to interact with the unsuspecting living) but this is unlike any other zombie-themed film.
The pace is leisurely and there’s no horror as such, just a continuous unshakable sense that something sinister is about to happen at any moment. The climax is left open to interpretation and while it is affecting to a degree, it does feels a little underwhelming, as if the tension was ratcheted up for no discernable reason.
That being said however, The Returned is an atmospheric and surprisingly eerie movie which is extremely effective in many regards. It’s well worth seeking out if you enjoy the TV show, though it may be wise to wait until that has finished, else it may spoil the ending somewhat.