As the hottest weeks of the year loom large, Rob Garratt rounds up the best new DVD releases to help keep you sane – and indoors. Plus you have the chance to win them all.
As you read this, Dubai will be entering the zenith of summer. Temperatures this time last year were the hottest ever – on July 27 2012, the emirate broke its own record with thermometers reaching a peak of 48.5°C. So while you’re forgiven for battening down the hatches and cranking up the A/C, it’s likely by this point of summer you might be getting rather bored of channel-hopping on the telly. To help alleviate the cabin fever, we’ve been busy munching microwave popcorn until late into the night to help compile this list of the ten best DVDs to hit UAE shelves in recent months. What’s more, we’re also offering five lucky readers the chance to win a bumper summer survival set of all ten titles. All are available from Virgin Megastore. Happy viewing.
Anna Karenina Best known for literary adaptations Pride & Prejudice (2005) and Atonement (2007), director Joe Wright is back doing what he does best – putting Keira Knightley in lovely period frocks. Taking on Leo Tolstoy’s masterpiece, Wright kicks the fizzy stylisation up several notches into Baz Luhrmann territory. The pop songs have been kept at bay by Dario Marianelli’s lush score, but Wright’s chief postmodern gambit here is setting Tolstoy’s epic Russian romance – horse races, frozen lakes and all – almost entirely within the confines of a theatre, the characters oblivious to their new context as they emote around stage-hands and pulleys.
It’s a bravely disorientating move, the play-within-a-film providing an effective metaphor for the inescapable gaze of Moscow high society as Anna rebuffs her stodgy husband (Jude Law) for the studlier attentions of cavalry officer Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).
Django Unchained In the past decade there were those who – perfectly reasonably – assumed that Quentin Tarantino’s time had passed. Well, somebody’s clearly rattled his cage, because Django Unchained, for all its digressive, episodic and frequently ludicrous nature, is a blazing return to form. This is a meaty spaghetti western, heavy on the spicy sauce and peppered with the sort of unforgettable touches only Tarantino could get away with. There are problems, of course, but this is a film bursting with pleasures: the note-perfect performances, a brace of close-to-the-bone, borderline offensive moments, the soaring cine-literate soundtrack, the sheer, relentless drive. So welcome back, Quentin.
Evil Dead Fire-and-brimstone teaser sequence notwithstanding, Fede Alvarez’s slick, hard remake of the 1981 cult horror hit by Sam Raimi takes its sweet, tedious time getting going. But once the nasty spirit comes calling, Evil Dead more than delivers: blood and vomit flow copiously; bodies get hacked with electric slicers and chainsaws; our possessed anti-heroine even does scary things with the sharp side of a knife.
The sanguine showstoppers are almost enough to distract you from the fact that the movie is more interested in serving the original film’s cult fans than carving its own identity, but knowing your heritage is no bad thing.
Gangster Squad The Untouchables goes west. Josh Brolin plays John O’Mara, the square-jawed, clean-living cop tasked by a walrus-in-a-tuxedo (Nick Nolte) to bring down the operation of gangland kingpin Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn, channelling Al Pacino in Dick Tracy). O’Mara forms a task force, hauling in interestingly named pal Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) who, unknown to O’Mara, is having an affair with Cohen’s squeeze, Grace (Emma Stone). Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer keeps things moving at a breakneck pace, resulting in a handful of enjoyably pacy action sequences, but sadly, also lots of head-scratching plot holes. Cue plenty of period-perfect recreations of postwar LA getting blown up and bullet-riddled.
The Guilt Trip One might be tempted to write off The Guilt Trip as overly familiar, but Barbra Streisand volunteering for a one hour steak-eating challenge has almost certainly got to mark a screen first we think.
Streisand’s food-loving Jersey mom, Joyce, does just this during a cross-country road trip with her grown son, Andrew (played by a surprisingly mature-looking Seth Rogen). His dorky ineptitude at marketing his environmentally friendly cleaning product, the journey’s ostensible purpose, is matched beat for beat by Joyce’s sheer capacity for absolute and overbearing mother-nagging. While barely a minute of the film passes the plausibility test, it’s actually worth watching for Streisand’s turn alone.
Identity Thief Melissa McCarthy’s profile is on an upward curve after the successful flick, Bridesmaids, and the dilemma for this amply proportioned comedian is whether to hold out for material that capitalises on her bolshy personality and quick-fire wit, or sign up for starring roles that essentially just make fun of the fat lady.
Here, she’s chosen the latter, playing a scheming sociopath who runs a lucrative fake credit-card scam by posing as an online security company. The latest schmuck who is dumb enough to give her his details is corporate bookkeeper, Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman), who tracks her down, thus beginning an uptight straight man role, heaping serial slapstick ignominies on his co-star, who gamely bounds through everything the script throws at her.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone There’s no denying that the sight of a great actor at work can be a singular pleasure. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone has two such actors here in the comedic form of Steve Buscemi and Alan Arkin. These two form part of a gallery of very watchable faces that also includes Steve Carell, Jim Carrey and the late, great James Gandolfini. Carell plays the titular magician, who has spent a decade entertaining audiences in Gandolfini’s Vegas hotel with his lifelong sidekick Anton Marvelton (Buscemi). But now audiences are dwindling, Burt and Anton are at each other’s throats, and more daring comics like self-harming David Blaine-clone Steve Gray (Carrey) are on the rise.
Jack Reacher Maybe it’s all the couch-jumping and tabloid weirdness, or maybe it’s his outrageous appearances in Tropic Thunder and Rock of Ages, but it’s becoming difficult to take Tom Cruise seriously. Here an ex-US Army drifter who uses his superhuman fighting skills and vast intellect to help the needy, Cruise’s Reacher is a kind of a one-man A-Team. His mission is to investigate the case of James Mark Barr, a military sniper accused of picking off five ordinary people in Pittsburgh. But although the case against Barr seems watertight, Reacher has his suspicions, and it all leads – rather wonderfully – to Werner Herzog in funny-coloured contact lenses.
It’s hard to tell in what spirit we should receive writer-director Christopher McQuarrie’s film – Herzog’s scenery-chewing turn and most of Cruise’s laughably macho dialogue suggest pastiche, but an air of gritty, post-Bush bleakness and some brutal, bone-snapping violence make for an odd tonal balance. The result is an action-heavy detective story which walks a fine line between the compelling and comical, but remains utterly entertaining either way.
Mama Andrés Muschietti’s three-minute fright flick Mama (2008) fully delivers on the horror of its premise: Two young sisters try to sneak out of their house when an undead spectre comes to collect them. For his feature debut, the director adds 97 minutes more, displaying a refreshingly keen visual sense, rare in modern horror movies.
After seemingly fending for themselves for five years, the feral Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lilly (Isabelle Nélisse) are sent to live with their uncle, Lucas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) in an upscale house paid for by the local psychiatric hospital. But the girls have brought someone along with them, a jealously protective ghost, who will stop at nothing to keep the siblings close to her.
This Is 40 Any filmmaker who casts his wife and children in central roles is inviting autobiographical readings, though one hopes Judd Apatow’s family life is a little less tumultuous than in This Is 40. Billed as a ‘sort-of sequel’ to his Knocked Up, this scattered but ambitious comedy from the writer-director-producer plays more like a spin-off, focusing on the supporting characters of that 2007 smash. No more financially or emotionally stable than they were five years earlier, bickering spouses Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Mrs Apatow herself, Leslie Mann) navigate marriage, parenthood and middle age. They should invent a new rating for this movie – a 35 cert. Watching a married couple having his ’n’ hers meltdowns might be enough to put anyone younger than that off the whole settling down idea forever.