DVD Round-up, 14 October 2009

A round-up of recent DVD releases.

What makes a great film? Is it the actors? If so, then the presence of Guy Pearce, Kate Beckinsale, Forest Whitaker and Dakota Fanning is surely a good start for Rowan Woods new drama Fragments (Momentum Pictures).

Sadly, if an interesting plot, inspiring direction and an attempt to make something deserving of repeat viewing is also on “must-have” list for that elusive great film, Fragments will leave you wanting.

The film opens in a Los Angeles diner when a gunman opens fire on innocent customers. It soon transpires that those involved in the incident had something in common and that the meaning of their lives have changed.

As each of the characters tries to come to terms with what happened that day, their stories form the basis of the unfolding drama.

Lethargic and full of its own self-importance, Fragments is a difficult watch. The acting talent may be top-notch but there’s little for the cast to get their teeth into, the feeling that their skills have been misappropriated for this venture a common one as each scene thuds into the next rather than flowing gracefully.

Thankfully gracefulness and serenity are present in abundance in Gideon Koppel’s fascinating documentary sleep furiously (newwave films) which follows everyday life in a small Welsh farming community over a number of months.

With no linking narration or attempt to create drama where there is none, Koppel simply sets the camera rolling as life unfolds before him. Continuity is achieved by the appearance of a library van which tours the area, local residents taking time out of their days to pick up the latest cookery book and catch-up with the librarian, come rain, snow or sunshine.

Many scenes simply linger on a solitary image while others depict the increase of new technology on a traditional way of life, the result a beautiful and contemplative film which is an antidote to many of the films you’re likely to see this year.

It’s back to the 1960’s for science fiction thriller The Day the Earth Caught Fire (Network), a British made epic from one of the country’s finest genre directors, Val Guest.

Edward Judd, Janet Munro and Leo McKern lead the cast, giving their all to the piece as the tension increases and the fate of the planet hangs in the balance following nuclear tests by both the Americans and the Soviets.

As the Earth tilts on its axis and shifts out of orbit, tough decisions must be made before the globe hurtles into the Sun.

Though made in black and white, the film is bookended by scenes given a red-hued tint to signify the effects of a nuclear explosion on London, the rest of the film flashing back to the events which led to the Earth’s descent into apocalypse.

Beautifully shot and packed with incident, this is a gem from yesteryear which looks stunning on DVD. A must-have.

If you failed to pick-up the recent Michael Haneke trilogy boxset earlier in 2009 you might want to go for the new 10-film Essential Michael Haneke (Artificial Eye) DVD set instead.

The award-winning German director, best known in Britain for the shot-for-shot US remake of his same-named German film Funny Games, starring Naomi Watts, seems to be undergoing something of a renaissance if these releases are anything to go by, which is no bad thing.

Going right back to the start of Haneke’s career, within this box you’ll find the first in the director’s “emotional glaciation’ trilogy, 1989’s The Seventh Continent alongside Benny’s Video (1992) and 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994). Based on a true story, Seventh Continent is set over a three year period in the lives of one Austrian family while Benny’s Video foreshadows Funny Games in its portrayal of casual violence.

71 Fragments is perhaps the most interesting of the three, once again featuring acts of violence seen in a new light, quite unlike the majority of modern cinema.

Elsewhere there’s Code Unknown (2000), both Funny Games (1997 and 2007), Hidden (2005), Time of the Wolf (2003), The Piano Teacher (2001) and, for the first time in the UK, TV movie The Castle (1997), which also comes with a new documentary on the man.

As a way to follow the career of a director with something of a cult status in Europe, this set is hard to beat.

Finally, also out now is French biographical thriller (Optimum), following Gallic criminal Jacques MesrineMesrine as he works his way through France’s underworld of the 1960s and 70s to become Public Enemy Number One

Made in 1984 and starring Nicolas Silberg in the lead role of Mesrine, this version should not in any way be confused with the recently released Mesrine: Killer Instinct or Mesrine: Public Enemy No.1 starring Vincent Cassel as Mesrine.

While the latter two movies combine style and substance to produce a thrilling insight into the life and mind of a master criminal brought down by his own arrogance, this film is more of a “Greatest Hits” package of events, trying hard to be gritty but forgetting to add much humanity to the man.

Still, as a way to see how different writers, directors and actors approach the same events, this is perhaps of interest to the completists out there, the film not without moments of interest as Mesrine shoots, stabs and tricks his way out of various situations.

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