Robert Tanitch reviews the latest DVD releases
PADDINGTON (StudioCanal) is a sweet, cute and open-hearted film for young children of all ages. The Peruvian bear (absolutely no relation to that American teddy bear, Ted, created by Seth MacFarlane, whatsoever!) arrives in pastel-coloured London and is immediately befriended by a nice British family (headed by Hugh Bonneville) who save him from being stuffed by a wicked taxidermist who works at the V&A and played by Nicole Kidman as a sister of Cruella De Ville in high heels.
The film, totally innocent, is a celebration of multi-cultured London as a friendly city in which anybody, and that includes endangered species and immigrants, can fit in. The computer-generated Paddington (voiced by Ben Wishaw) is very likeable and very life-like.
THE HOMESMAN (Entertainment One) is a Western but not a traditional Western, which makes it special and interesting. A feisty woman in the 1850s volunteers to drive a coach and transport three crazy women across the dangerous Nebraska plains to a Methodist hospice. Her only companion is a scurrilous army deserter (Tommy Lee Jones).
Hilary Swank plays the brave woman with high moral standards whom nobody will marry because she is plain and bossy. She is superb: a performance of compassion and steel. Tommy Lee Jones also directs. This lyrical, poignant, philosophical and beautifully photographed film looks as if it might well become a slow-burning modern classic.
MAN OF THE WEST (Eureka) is your traditional Western, once underestimated and now overestimated, dating from 1958, and directed by Anthony Mann, who is fine out of doors but not so good when he is inside a log cabin.
The scene, poorly staged, feels like a very bad play. A reformed outlaw has to return to violence to save his life when he is reunited with his old gang. Gary Cooper at 57 was too old to be playing the seeming softie. (The role had been intended for James Stewart, a natural for the role.) Lee J Cobb, cast as his former mentor, a paternal figure, who had taught him to steal and kill when he was a boy, hams it up with a crazy, hoarse chuckle. In the big fight Mann should have allowed Cooper to strip young Jack Lord completely naked.
MEA CULPA (Metrodome). A nine-year-old boy witnesses a killing. His life is in danger. Can his father, a cop, save him from the murderous thugs? Fred Cavaye’s superior French action movie is full of amazing chase sequences in bull-ring, streets, a deserted warehouse and finally, and totally absurdly, on a train.
What happened to all the passengers? Still, it’s great sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat fun, while it’s happening, and superbly edited for maximum tension and excitement. Vincent Lindon and Gilles Lillouche head the cast. The flashbacks to a fatal car accident (a failed attempt to give the characters some depth) could be scrapped.
FAIRY TALE (Icon). Do you believe in fairies? Clap your hands if you do. Here is a true story. Two little girls in 1917 managed to fool Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Peter O’Toole) and a leading member of the Theosophical Society (Bill Nighy) into believing they had actually photographed fairies. They created quite a furore at the time.
The great Houdini (Harvey Keitel), as you might expect, was not fooled; he was in the business of hoaxes. But the film, not certain whether it is aimed at adults or children, wants to have it both ways and lets the audience actually see the fairies – a big mistake. During World War 1 grief-stricken people, who had lost loved-ones, wanted to believe in fairies and angels. That’s the reality and that’s what makes the story worth retelling.
THE DROP (20th Century Fox) directed by Michael R Roskham is an OK thriller which is never quite gripping enough The city’s dirtiest money is dropped at a bar, formerly owned by a once powerful gangster but now run by Chechnya thugs for whom he acts as landlord and now unwisely tries to cheat. “I was respected. People sat up. I was feared,” boasts the late James Gandolfini in his last role.
Tom Hardy, as always, is quietly effective as a brooding bartender, who comes across as slightly autistic. The one character, audiences are sure to be most concerned for, is a cute pit-bull puppy. Poor little thing, he is liable to be killed by a villainous Mathias Schoenaerts. Surely, he will not do it? Or, will he?
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