Robert Tanitch reviews the latest DVDs
Downton Abbey (Universal). Maggie Smith, Hugh Bonneville, Jim Carter, Michelle Dockery, Penelope Wilton, Elizabeth McGovern, Laura Carmichael… it’s like seeing old friends again after a three-year absence. Downton Abbey is not a film in its own right. It’s another handsome episode in a much-loved series and appeals directly to the audience’s nostalgia for the past and their love of the rich and all the grandeur and protocol. Production values remain extremely high. It’s 1927 and the main plot is the arrival of King George and Queen Mary for an overnight stay. Carson, head butler, is brought out of retirement to cope with the pressure. There’s rivalry between the Downton staff and the royal staff brought in. There’s a military parade and a potential assassination and a grand ball. There are numerous subplots and straight and gay romances. The casting is impeccable. Maggie Smith’s dowager, anticipating death, has a touching farewell speech. Will there be another Downton Abbey movie? You bet.
Hotel Mumbai (Sky). Islamic terrorists attacked the city in 2008. Anthony Maras directs this exciting and totally engrossing movie, concentrating on the terrifying events which took place during the 3-day siege of the 5-star hotel. The tension is chilling throughout. The terrorists are brainwashed teenagers taking their orders on headphones. The callous killings are not easy to watch. The cast is headed by Dev Patel who is cast as a brave kitchen worker, a composite character of the members of staff who sacrificed their lives to save the guests.
Harriet (Focus). The amazing thing is that there has been no film about the great freedom fighter Harriet Tuban (1822-1913) until this biopic by Kasi Lemmons. This tribute to her courage and selflessness is long overdue. Harriet, born into slavery, escaped her plantation owner (Joe Alwyn) in 1849. She made the 100 mile journey alone and took refuge with the head of Pennsylvanian Ant-Slavery Society (Leslie Odom Jr.). She returned many times, making dangerous sorties to liberate hundreds of other slaves. She put her faith in God. Cynthia Erivo gives a powerful heroic performance.
Parasite (Curzon). South Korean director Bong Joon Ho directs a black comedy about social inequality which suddenly changes gear and becomes a horror movie. A destitute family lives in squalor in a basement flat which is liable to be flooded with sewage. One by one, they insinuate themselves into a rich family’s luxuriously modern home, taking on the roles of tutors, housekeeper and chauffeur. They never let on that they are related and hoodwink these essentially nice rich people who have no idea how the poor live. The film won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.
Wild Rose ( Entertainment One). A 23-year-old Glaswegian, a working class country singer and single mother, irresponsible, selfish and vulnerable, dreams of performing in Nashville. She has been in prison for drug-dealing and nobody, according to one club owner, wants to see a convicted criminal performing She’s a terrible mother to her two children, aged 8 and 5, whom she constantly abandons, dumping them on her mother (Julie Walters). Will she get to Nashville? Will her children ever forgive her? Jessie Buckley belts out It Aint No Place Like Home for a big emotional finale. Tom Harper directs.
The Report (Curzon). Following 9/11 everyone was scared it would happen again. But can torture ever be justified – even if it saves lives? The Report is The Torture Report and it is based on the senate intelligence committee study of the CIA Detention and Interrogation program. The White House did not want it published. Islamic terror suspects were subjected to waterboarding, sleep deprivation, humiliation, isolation, insects and mock burials. The CIA knew that torture is an ineffectual way of gathering intelligence but continued with it. The docudrama is directed by Scott Z. Burns. Adam Driver is the researcher, five years on the job. Annette Bening is his boss, a Democrat senator.
Waves (Focus). Trey Edward Shults’ film is two separate teenage stories joined together and played out by the same black middle class family. In the first story a 17-year-old boy (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) rages when he suffers an injury (which will stop him from becoming a wrestling champion) and rages even more when he finds his girl friend (Alexa Demie) is pregnant and she doesn’t want an abortion. In the second story his younger sister (Taylor Russell) loses her virginity with a decent lad (Lucas Hedges). You wait in vain for family history to repeat itself but nothing happens.
Missing Link (Lionsgate). Stop motion adventure from Laika animation studios: a furry 8-foot 650-pound monster persuades a distinguished Victorian gentleman explorer (voiced by Hugh Jackman) to take him to Shangri-La to meet his long lost cousins, the yeti. Their adventure, a satire on colonialism, gradually becomes a parody of the India Jones series. Zach Galifianakis voices the monster and is both endearing and funny. The time-consuming animation is impressive.