Robert Tanitch reviews the latest DVDS
PHILOMENA (Fox). A well-known journalist helps an old Irish lady to track down her illegitimate son who had been sold for £1,000 fifty years previously by the nuns when she was in their care. The search takes them to America. A tragic story (which needs to be told) is laced with humour and the unlikely relationship between journalist and old lady is perfectly judged by Judi Dench and the unexpectedly serious Steeve Coogan. Stephen Frears’s film, full of anger, compassion and forgiveness, is strongly recommended.
A YEAR IN PROVENCE (BBC). Peter Mayle’s unexpected best-seller resulted in so many tourists visiting Menerbes that many ex-pats, who also had decided to have a second home in Provence, thought he had destroyed the area. Then this sentimental, undemanding, mildly amusing TV series, headed by John Thaw and Lindsay Duncan, brought even more tourists. Mayle himself had such hordes of unwanted visitors that he sold his property. French actors are cast in the French roles but that doesn’t make their characterisation any the less patronising.
SAVING MR BANKS (Walt Disney). PL Travers never wanted Walt Disney to film her Mary Poppins stories. She, very rightly, did not trust him; and in real life she absolutely loathed the finished film. Travers (Emma Thompson) comes across as a very disagreeable person, very rude and impossible to work with. The script has far too many flashbacks to her Australian youth and her alcoholic father. Tom Hanks, who plays Disney, is all charm; but then he could hardly be anything but, since it’s a Walt Disney film
JEUNE ET JOLIE (Lionsgate). How would you cope if you found out that your 17-year-old daughter has turned to prostitution? A French mother desperately wants to know why? But neither the director, Francois Ozon, nor the actress, Marina Vacth, comes up with any answer, both remaining totally impassive throughout the film. It remains a mystery. The girl doesn’t need the money and she doesn’t enjoy the sex with her elderly clients in posh hotels. There is no emotion whatsoever.
WHITE DOG (Eureka). Samuel Fuller’s powerful film which dates from 1982 gets a very rare viewing. A young woman adopts a beautiful Alsatian dog and finds that he has been trained to attack and kill black people. Can a black trainer (Paul Winfield) re-educate the dog so that it is no longer racist? Or will the dog have to be put down? The studio was so frightened the film would actually incite racism that it never got a proper release.
BAD COUNTRY (Sony). Contract killer turns informant and works with a good cop to bring down a big criminal organisation. The presence of Matt Dillon and Willem Dafoe (two compelling actors with splendid walrus moustaches) makes you think this thriller is going to be darker and deeper than it is and certainly better than its predictable volatile finale, a seen-it-all-before shoot-out.
DON JON (Warner) Twenty-something single man, singularly charmless, prefers porn to sex. He meets a girl (Scarlett Johansson) who prefers romantic comedy to reality. Things don’t work out for him until he meets a mature woman (Julianne Moore, no less). Joseph Gordon-Levitt acts, writes and directs this autobiography which is very much hands-on. The satire tries hard to be funny and serious at the same time and fails; and is only relentlessly crude.
DIANA (One Entertainment) concentrates on the last two years of the life of the Princess of Wales and her lesser-known affair with Hasnet Khan, a Pakistani heart surgeon. It was love at first sight; but it was never going to work, what with the constant media pressure and she a Christian and he a Muslim. Naomi Watts (who doesn’t look like Diana) and Naveen Andrew, inevitably, can’t do much with such a trivial and bland script.