DVD Round-up, 24 May 2010

Offering a new slant on the touchy subject of suicide bombing, Adoration (New Wave Films) is the latest film from Canadian director Atom Egoyan. Best known for his 1995 reflection on grief and loss, The Sweet Hereafter, Egoyan covers similar ground, albeit on a smaller scale, as schoolboy Simon (Devon Bostick) becomes embroiled in a complex web of deceit plotted by his French teacher, Sabine (Arsinee Khanjian).

When Sabine tells her class the story of a terrorist who secreted a bomb on his pregnant girlfriend with the intention of blowing up a passenger plane, Simon is particularly drawn to the tale, owing to the fact that his father was a non-US national who died in a car crash with his mother.

Deciding to tell acquaintances on the Internet that it was his parents (Noam Jenkins and Rachel Blanchard) who were the real-life characters in the terrorist plot, Simon doesn’t foresee the problems that will be caused when a seemingly harmless white lie gets out of control.

Moving back and forth through Simon’s memories of events – his parents and manipulative grandfather (Kenneth Welsh) appear in flashback while his uncle Tom (Scott Speedman) is both in the past and present – this is cleverly structured film which asks its viewers to work out for themselves the exact sequence of events.

Told at a sedate pace by a director concerned with exploring each repercussion of an event rather than rushing to move to the next scene, Adoration is touching without ever feeling cloying or manipulative, a memorable film which will appeal to anyone looking for a film which makes them think.

Staying with the theme of memory and family, Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Still Walking (New Wave Films) is a snapshot of a day in the life of the Yokoyama family who gather each year to remember the life of youngest son Junpei, who died many years ago while saving a child from drowning.

Retired doctor Kyohei (Yoshio Harada) is the family’s patria
rch who does little to welcome surviving son, Ryoto (Hiroshi Abe), and his new wife and stepson when they arrive, the father still angry the Ryoto gave up being a doctor to become an art restorer.

As the family prepare meals, visit the grave of their son and become reacquainted with each other, Kore-eda ensures that they never turn into stereotypes: these are real people in a situation which could affect anyone and their grief is palpable throughout.

It’s also a very funny film, many moments punctuating the tension so that we’re not simply left with a sad tale of woe. The Yokoyama’s may live in Japan but they could be any family and that’s perhaps what makes the film so recognisable. It may not be loud or flashy, but Still Walking is all the more impressive for that.

From Japan we move to Thailand for new portmanteau horror, Phobia (Icon Home Entertainment), four stories with only one thing in common: death.

The stories are set-up simply enough: Happiness is a silently-told drama set in the bedroom of a young schoolgirl as she receives texts from an unknown admirer; Tit for Tat takes place in a school where a group of kids try to take revenge on the classmate who unwittingly got them into trouble for pot smoking; In the Middle follows four friends as they go white river rafting, only to encounter stormy waters; and Last Flight takes us on board a plane with a sole passenger and stewardess who have something, or someone, in common.

From the slow-moving Happiness to the hyper-kinetic Tit for Tat and onto the lighter In the Middle, it takes a while to get used to the change in styles forced on the stories by the four different directors. While the non-stop action and CGI-trickery of Tit for Tat does get old fast, the differing feel of the mini-films does give Phobia a unique feel and shows just what can be done in less than 30 minutes.

Of all the films it’s In the Middle which shines the brightest, the combination of a witty, movie-buff in-joke filled script and smart performances making it stand out and it might have been interesting to see this expanded to a full feature, even if the ending is obvious to those who have watched too many horror films.

Perhaps, with a bigger budget and more ambitious stories, Phobia sequels could become an annual treat for those willing to sample a few tasty morsels of Thai filmmaking.

Best known for his legendary animated adaptation of JRR Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, Ralph Bakshi preceded that epic with another sword and sorcery tale in the shape of 1977’s Wizards (Eureka!), which now arrives in the UK on DVD and Blu-ray.

The complex story begins somewhere in the future of our planet, where the remnants of a society destroyed by terrorists who blew up New York have shunned technology and allowed magic to once again return to Earth.

The hero of the piece is kindly wizard Avatar (Bob Holt) who, along with friends Elinore (Jesse Welles) and Weehawk (Richard Romanus) is on a mission to find his evil brother Blackwolf (Steve Grayers) after the latter discovers a film projector which he is using to show footage of Hitler and the Nazi hordes to his evil minions. The more that the images of death and destruction permeate the world, the more chance magic, and democracy, will be eradicated forever.

Wizards is a strange concoction which at times hits the mark (images of Hitler and deadly weapons killing the innocent) while occasionally leaving the viewer confused and unsure of what exactly is going on.

That this is a kids film says much for Bakshi’s singular vision and the way animated films have changed over the years – you wouldn’t see a Nazi monster eating a pig emblazoned with the Star of David in a a Pixar movie.

Helping to put Wizards into some sort of context is Bakshi himself, present on a fascinating directors commentary which explains many of the in-jokes viewers would otherwise be ignorant off. The films also looks gorgeous, a new transfer making the 34-year-old film look as good as new.

Love it or hate it, there’s no denying Wizards is unique, offering an alternate view of the world of animation which is today dominated by CGI and 3D effects.

Another unique film is director Jonathan auf der Heide’s Van Diemen’s Land (High Fliers Films), a dark tale based on the true story of convicts sent to Australia from Scotland, England and Ireland who became the victim of serial killer Alexander Pearce in 1822.

Following a group of convicts who escape into the wilds of Van Diemen’s Land (now known as Tasmania), we watch as one-by-one they fight with each other and fall victim to the violent actions of their fellow escapees.

Caught up in the dark and unforgiving landscape, the rain and mud mixing with the blood of Pearce’s victims as they try to escape an inevitable death, this is tough viewing, though played well by a strong cast who seem happy to get down and dirty with the landscape.

Van Diemen’s Land is a refreshingly dark film which never gets too gory but is still adults-only entertainment. A lack of director’s commentary or substantial extras is noticeable on this bare bones disc.

Finally, take a trip back to the 1950s for Joseph Pevney’s light-hearted romantic comedy, Tammy and the Bachelor, in which country girl Tammy (Debbie Reynolds) encounters the unconscious Peter (Leslie Nielsen) near her home and promptly falls for him as she nurses him back to health.

When Peter bids Tammy and her grandfather (Walter Brennan) farewell to return to his privileged lifestyle, it’s not long before events conspire to send Tammy searching for him and a new life.

A hit on its original 1957 release, it’s fair to say that Tammy and the Bachelor probably wouldn’t have won any awards for realism even back then. Tammy’s ignorance at the world at large is handled nicely enough by Reynolds but there’s just not much of a character there to believe in. Neilsen is on good form as Peter, his leading man status well deserved, but again their isn’t anything to latch onto.

It’s important to remember that this is a rom-com, with logic perhaps less important than a series of moments designed to get the main couple together, something this film succeeds in. Bright and breezy throughout, there’s little to actually dislike here and romantic comedy completists will no doubt lap it up.

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