Ok, scrumptious ones, let’s have it shall we? After the tide of scum that rose up and swamped the nation’s New Release DVD shelves last week, I’m pleased to report that this week is looking a little more like business as usual. Nothing stellar (anything due out now-ish is surely being held back just a little to capitalise on the pre-Christmas shopping boom) but at least it’s not the waste of the plastic – not to mention brain tissue – we were faced with 7 days ago.
First up – and my pick of the week – is the flawed but endearing THE BEAVER. Directed by Jodie Foster and starring man-with-his-finger-on-the-self-destruct-button Mel Gibson, this was scuppered at the box office by a) it’s hard-sell tale of a man so disabled with depression that the only way he can communicate with the outside world is through a glove puppet he finds abandoned in a dumpster (the Beaver of the title) and b) Gibson’s involvement in a court case resulting from some – once again – bad behavior on his part which led to him not promoting the film at all and leaving director and co-star Foster to try and talk about the movie when all the press were interested in was whether or not Mel had lost it again. The media furore (and possible backlash against Gibson?) ended up meaning the film itself got more or less ignored upon release and I for one can’t help but feel that this is a bit of a shame.
Jodie Foster – as a director and as an adult actor (forgetting those audacious child performances) – has always left me kind of cold but here she clearly adored the script and it’s central conceit and recognised her old Maverick chum Gibson in the main character of Walter Black. To say it’s a tricky role is a massive understatement, but Gibson here is wonderful. As a man who is sleeping his life away, unable to connect with his wife or his kids and uninspired by anything life has to offer, he is good; once he gets that puppet on his hand, however, his performance hits another level. When the Beaver first makes contact with him, Gibson is electrifying; shocked and surprised but, as the realisation hits him that this puppet can act as the middle-man, between him and a world he is simply unable to deal with, other emotions set in – relief, sadness, acceptance. All of this is done with Gibson providing both voices – Walter’s and the puppet’s – live, as it were, on-screen; in other words, when we hear the Beaver speak, we see Gibson’s mouth moving. Yet, instantly, the Beaver is entirely his own man, distinct from Walter and Gibson’s maintaining of the reality of the situation is superb. With a gruff, approximately cockney accent, the Beaver is assertive where Walter is paralysed, pro-active where Walter is content to sleep his life away and – most poignantly – caring and involved with his family when Walter is distant and drowning in his own despair.
It’s not all rosy however. While the young cast are fine, including Anton Yelchin (Star Trek’s Chekov) and Jennifer Lawrence (last seen as the young Mystique in X-Men: First Class), it’s when the film focuses on them that it starts to lose its grip. Foster is fine as the wife who, despite her love for her husband, has had enough of being unable to help him, but it’s Foster the director who occasionally lets the side down with the majority of Yelchin’s sub-plot lapsing into far too familiar “indie-lite” mode. It’s unfortunate that the tightrope walk she performs with the tone of most of Gibson’s scenes is so assured and yet the more familiar dramatic stuff is allowed to drop a level into almost cynical “Little Miss Sunshine” territory.
From about 30 minutes in, things begin to pop up that you can see the outcome to a mile away and if the film ends too close to formula, there’s the feeling that, with this well-meaning (if uniquely rendered) tale of mental illness and its devastating effect on the family, they just about earned it. A little more commitment to its own oddness in the final straight would’ve seen this elevated to minor classic status; instead it very nearly blows itself out of the water with scenes that feel like they were re-written by an indie feel-good movie of the year committee. Still, a brave effort in a sea of re-makes and sequels and a near miraculous performance from the almost written off Gibson.
Next up is SENNA. Asif Kapadia’s documentary about the late Formula 1 legend was universally praised upon it’s cinema release for it’s portrayal of the doomed, mercurial Brazilian and should do big business amongst F1 fans and city-slicker boy-racers. Not sure if I’m buying the whole “you don’t need to be into F1 to love it” line that was trumpeted in just about every review, but we’ll see.
Fans of golden skin (and plain old perverts) the world over will rejoice to know that this week also sees the release of the Penelope Cruz/Salma Hayek vehicle BANDIDAS, a combination to get the heart racing if ever there was one. The reviews were pretty disappointing but to be fair, if this sounds appealing to you, you probably don’t care. If only they had got the girls to remake Tango and Cash instead…
And speaking of two hotter than hot stars in one stinky movie, here’s 2001’s misfire ORIGINAL SIN starring Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas. As happens seemingly every time Hollywood puts two sizzlers together, we get a damp squib of a movie (see also The Mexican, The Tourist, Gigli… Sorry, cheap shot).
A bunch of other old films get re-issued this week including (but – God help us – not limited to) Terry Jones’ ERIK THE VIKING starring Tim Robbins, Richard Lester’s fantastic 1973 re-telling of THE THREE MUSKETEERS and HALLOWEEN 2 and 3. Does Halloween 3 have anything to do Michael Myers? Isn’t that the one about evil rubber Halloween masks? Yeesh. Still, Donald Pleasance is in it so it’s out if you want it. As is the BUDDIES box set in which a bunch of little dogs play football, go to space and do all manner of things that are designed to delight kids without resembling anything like normal dog behavior (so no burying their noses in a house guest’s crotch or shuffling along the floor trailing a little poop connected by a long strand of hair).
There’s also a whole bunch of TV out and most of it quality too; DOCTOR WHO Season 6 part 2, the 2nd season of HBO’S EASTBOUND & DOWN, SONS OF ANARCHY Season 3, THE SIMPSONS Season 14, the 2nd season of the recently cancelled IN TREATMENT starring the mighty Gabriel Byrne (yay, Millers Crossing!) and the 3rd season of blonde nonsense THE MENTALIST (by which i mean the Mentalist himself is blonde, not that the show is beloved by blondes. Although it might be, I just don’t know, I’ve never known anyone admit to watching it. If you’re a fan please write in, stating why the show appeals to you and your hair colour. We’ll do a graph.)
My personal pick of the TV new releases this week is the PSYCHOVILLE HALLOWEEN SPECIAL. Brought to you by Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton of The League of Gentlemen, Psychoville playswith a very similar set of rules and ingredients as The League but results, if anything, in an even darker show; Hammer Horror, pitch black humour and all-out silliness are all thrown into the mixture in equal measure to create this hour-long one-off special episode, originally aired between series one and two. Do yourself a favour though; start at the beginning and watch it all if you think this is for you. Reece Shearsmith’s Tina Turner impression in series two was one of the most jaw-dropping things I had seen on TV in many a moon; shocking, hilarious, strangely tragic and all topped off with a fart joke too. Quite unique.
Nearly there, my squishy pumpkins. In preparation for Tintin’s big screen adventure courtesy of Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, the original cartoons have been given a bit of spit and polish and are out in a new, remastered 5 disc box set. Likewise, in preparation for some kind of cataclysmic cosmic event, Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal and Danny Dyer all have films out this week, but even that’s not gonna get me down. That’s pretty much it. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few (like the Africa -set zombie movie DEAD and the Noah Taylor starring revenge flick RED, WHITE AND BLUE) but, all in all, you’re up to date.
See you all next week and remember…
Wear something nice.