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DVD And Blu-ray reviews

Posted: 06/05/2013 17:56

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SIGHTSEERS

Director : Ben Wheatley Cast : Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Eileen Davies Genre : Comedy Country of Origin : UK 2012 Language : English 88 mins. Rating : ****

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Unsettling, distinctive, creepy and very funny with touches of Alan Bennett and Mike Leigh.

Sightseers follows Chris (Steve Oram) and his naive girlfriend Tina (Alice Lowe) on a once-in-a-lifetime caravan holiday that unlocks erotic intimacy and introduces us to their strange and creepy world.

Naive timid Tina lives with her obsessive mother Carol, beautifully played by Eileen Davies and has no idea that Chris is a psycopath with a thing about litterers and middle class law enforcers - he crushes then under the wheels of his Volvo or disposes of them by smashing their heads in. Chris admits that he wants to be in control and Tina's response is to join in the chaos which takes in the National Heritage industry and hideous campsites that blight the English countryside.

Sightseers is scripted by Steve Oram and Alice Lowe and Ben Wheatley's long time collaborator, Amy Jump and the lead characters give effortless performances which carry the production though odd moments when it looses direction and struggles slightly for ideas. The early scenes are the best and the wonderful Carol (Eileen Davies), Tina's clingy possessive mother bickering with her daughter is straight out of a Mike Leigh play. Laurie Rose's cinematography sells the stunning beauty of Derbyshire and Yorkshire and provides a wonderful backdrop to the killing game.

Don't be put off by a comparing it with Kill List, the director's previous work. Sightseers is funny, full of black humour and the kind of film that only independent British film makers can get to our screens. Even with a Director's Fortnight Cannes 2012 Premier and doing the film festival circuits, independent small budget gems like Sightseers don't get their deserved release.

SMALL TOWN MURDER SONGS

Director : Ed Gass-Donnelly Cast : Jill Hennessey, Amy Rutherford, Peter Stormare Genre : Crime thriller Country of Origin : Canada 2011 Language : English 75 mins. Rating : ***

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Walter (Peter Stormare), a middle aged cop in a small Ontario Mennonite community has been personally humiliated by a failed relationship with his former lover, local bad girl,Rita (Jill Hennessey) the polar opposite to Sam (Martha Plimpton) a waitress at the local diner and his current lover. Haunted by past memories and estranged from his father and brother and the Mennonite farming community because of his violent past, Walter turns to religion as a defence against his inner demons undergoing a ritual baptism.

This second feature by writer-director-editor, Ed Gass-Donnelly is a hauntingly compelling small budget who-dunnit psychological character study of the effect a local murder has on Walter's reformed life. It's surprisingly short at 75 minutes and you sense that there's a lot more to this closed community but it's very watchable with strong lead performances.

Quasi gospel hymns by the Ontario Indie Band Bruce Peninsula blast the ears evoking the forces of righteousness and dramatise Walter's inner torment and biblical exortations in capital letters appear on screen as we see flashbacks to his violent past. Different, yes and no Hollywood studio names, shoot-outs, severed heads, or musically accompanied love scenes. Some may say a bit pretentious, but it's an unusual and memorable piece of cinema that lingers in the mind. As with Sightseers, it's a shame that well made interesting small budget films of this type don't get wider distribution. They screen at film festivals and cinema clubs and even DVD release sees limited viewing.

JACKPOT

Director : Magnus Martens Cast : Kyree Hellum, Mads Ousdal, Henrik Mestad Genre : Comedy Country of Origin : Norway 2011 Language : Norwegian and Swedish with English subtitles 90mins. Rating : ***

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An outrageously violent black comedy take on dishonour among thieves influenced by Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers.

Based on the story by Norwegian author, Jo Nesbo who gave us the art-heist thriller Headhunters, Jackpot opens with a shoot-out at a seedy out-of-town sex shop strip joint south west of Oslo near the Swedish-Norwegian border. The only survivor is the bewildered Oscar (Kyree Hellum) clutching a pump action shotgun who crawls out from under the corpse of a very large stripper.

The eccentric Oscar with three of the ex-cons employed at his small plastic Christmas Tree factory, psycopath Billy (Arthur Berning), slow thinking Thor (Mads Ousdal) and grinning Dan (Andreas Cappelen) have won 1.7 million Kroner on the pools. Jump for joy? Divide up the winnings and live happily ever after? There can only be one thing - sharpen the knives and load the guns.

There are nods to the Coen Brother's Fargo and Wallander as Oscar relates the story mainly as flashbacks as he's interrogated by Solor (Henrik Mestad), the enigmatic Police Detective. Entertaining, funny and wildly outrageous.


FROM THE NOT-TO-DISTANT PAST - IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THIS GEM VIEW IT NOW

ELENA

Dir: Andrey Zvyagintsev Cast: Nadezhda Markina, Andrey Smirnov, Elena Lyadova, Alexei Rozin Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize Cannes 2011 Genre: Drama Country of Origin: Russia 2011 Language: Russian with English subtitles 109 mins. Rating: ****

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Elena like many foreign language subtitled films had limited UK screenings. It's an outstanding, award winning, quietly disturbing, exquisitely filmed, brilliantly acted, precisely directed Hitchcock -Chabrol-like drama from the Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev.

Winner of Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize Cannes 2011, Elena is gripping cinema with a twist on the classic noir thriller of familial ties, loyalties, the corrupting power of money, class resentment and coveted inheritance in modern day Moscow. Elena (Nadezhda Markina), a middle-aged former nurse lives in a luxury Moscow apartment with her husband Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov), a retired successful businessman. From different walks of Russian society, they met when Elena cared for Vladimir a decade ago when he was recovering from peritonitis. Both have children from previous marriages - Vladimir's wild-child daughter Katya (Elena Lyadova) is childless, has little contact with her father and lives for the moment whilst Elena's son Sergei (Alexei Rozin), despised by Vladimir, is an unemployed wastrel and lives in a run-down black of flats with his wife and two children, the eldest of whom is to be drafted off to Ossetia for army conscription unless the right people can be bribed to get him into university. Vladimir's sudden heart attack whilst swimming triggers an unexpected reunion that threatens Elena's inheritance leading her to hatch a desperate plan.

The hypnotic opening long take of the sun rising on a Moscow apartment as we watch Elena begin her morning routine leads into a powerful tale of moral and spiritual corruption where money rules and class resentment simmers.

Elena is gripping cinema and Mikhail Krichman's exquisite camera work with fixed precisely composed long takes and Anna Mass's editing heighten the tension to give an eerie, bleak and mysterious atmosphere. Underline that with Michael Glass's striking music score ((Symphonie No. 3), Andrey Zvyagintsev's precise direction and actors so good that even with little dialogue you're drawn into their lives and you have an outstanding Russian drama.

The Return, Andrey Zvyagintsev's debut film in 2003 was greeted with critical acclaim with the suggestion that he could be the heir to Andrei Tarkovsky. Elena places Zvyagintsev as a major force in world cinema.

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