Oculus | Blu-ray/DVD review – Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the scariest of them all?

Oculus Blu-ray 2Karen Gillan’s spunky orphan Kaylie and her far less gung-ho brother Tim (Brenton Thwaites) endeavour to prove that an antique mirror is possessed by an evil spirit in cunningly crafted, enjoyably creepy horror thriller Oculus. Delivering spine-tingling scares over the course of the night after Kaylie rigs their old home with cameras to catch the mirror in the act, the film cleverly interweaves the present with flashbacks to Kaylie and Tim’s childhoods and the deaths of their parents. As the older and younger versions of the siblings move seamlessly in and out of the same spaces in the house, it becomes impossible to work out whether what we are seeing is illusion or reality. The acting isn’t always as elegant as the camerawork, but that doesn’t prevent this effective chiller from delivering its short, sharp shocks.

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Certificate 15. Runtime 103 mins. Director Mike Flanagan.

Released on Blu-ray & DVD by Warner Home Video Ltd.

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Maleficent | DVD/Blu-ray Review – Angelina Jolie looking good as Sleeping Beauty’s bad fairy

Disney's MALEFICENT..Maleficent (Angelina Jolie).

Striding around in her horns and black cloak and with cheekbones to die for, Angelina Jolie is quite simply spellbinding as the evil fairy Maleficent – who isn’t really evil at all, but simply misunderstood – in Disney’s epic re-imagining of Sleeping Beauty.

Although it comes across as Lord of the Rings Lite in places – with a prologue that seems to last most of the movie and a fey fairytale kingdom not a million miles removed from Middle Earth – this is an ambitious and strikingly good-looking fable which finishes off with a nicely empowering message for little girls about women doing it for themselves.

Maleficent

The action sequences are expertly handled – and include some awe-inspiring flying sequences, a couple of brutal battles and a palace showdown with a fire-breathing dragon. Incompetent fairies Imelda Staunton, Leslie Manville and Juno Temple supply some cute slapstick interludes and if Sharlto Copley’s bad King Stefan and Brenton Thwaites’s bland Prince Phillip never rise above the level of caricature, Sam Riley’s shape-shifting crow and Elle Fanning’s sunny Aurora do well to register opposite Jolie’s magnificent star turn.

While it lacks the crowdpleasing songs of Frozen, or the wry humour of Tangled, this is a doggedly magical movie-going experience which — in keeping with all great Disney movies — should give the very young a few nightmares when they get a load of Jolie’s prosthetic cheekbones.

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Certificate PG. Runtime 93 mins. Director Robert Stromberg

Released on Blu-ray, Digital HD and DVD from Walt Disney Studios In-home Entertainment on Monday 20th October.

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58th BFI London Film Festival | Pick of the Day: Sunday 19th October – Fury

1231428 - FURY

A dozen days and some 250 features on from opening night film The Imitation Game, the 58th BFI London Film Festival reaches its climax with David Ayer’s ferociously brutal World War Two drama Fury. Set in April 1945, as the Allies make their final push into Germany in the closing stages of the war, the film stars Brad Pitt as the battle-hardened Wardaddy, an army sergeant commanding a Sherman tank and its five-man crew (Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña, John Bernthal and callow new recruit Logan Lerman) on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Unflinching in his depiction of the horror and pity of war, writer-director Ayer, whose gritty police thriller End of Watch showed in the LFF 2012 Official Competition, balances the savage action with moving human drama.

The Odeon Leicester Square hosts tonight’s Closing Night Gala at 7pm, with a live satellite link to Vue cinemas across the UK and Ireland.

Fury goes on general release from Wednesday 22nd October.

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Cold in July | Film review – Michael C Hall’s jittery hero embarks on a gore-soaked, body-strewn journey

Cold in July - Michael C Hall

A world away from his cold-blooded serial killer in Dexter, Michael C Hall plays a jittery everyman hero in Cold in July, a heart-stoppingly tense, cunningly twisty crime thriller set in 1989 small-town Texas. Hall’s meek, mullet-haired family man gets hailed as a hero after shooting dead, semi-accidentally, a would-be burglar but incurs the vengeful wrath of the criminal’s terrifying ex-con father (Sam Shepherd).

Cold in July - Sam Shepard Michael C Hall Don Johnson

Yet things don’t turn out as you might expect, with director Jim Mickle and his screenwriting partner Nick Damici sending the story (adapted from a novel by Joe R Lansdale) down a series of unforeseen, gore-soaked, body-strewn paths. The plot couldn’t be more gripping, but with Don Johnson’s strutting private detective in the mix, too, the film’s richly drawn, superbly acted leading characters are equally compelling.

Certificate 15. Runtime 110 mins. Directors Jim Mickle.

Released on Blu-ray, DVD & On Demand by Icon Film Distribution on Monday 20th October.

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58th BFI London Film Festival | Pick of the Day: Saturday 18th October – Only Angels Have Wings

ONLY_ANGELS_HAVE_WINGS - Cary Grant, Jean Arthur

Director Howard Hawks and star Cary Grant teamed up again, following the previous year’s classic comedy Bringing Up Baby, for 1939′s Only Angels Have Wings. Trading most of the laughs for melodrama, this is a spirited romantic adventure, based on a story by Hawks himself, with Grant as a pilot in South America, flying the mail through the worst storms and fogs the Andes can throw at him. Showgirl Jean Arthur starts pulses racing when she arrives on the scene, and both she and seductress Rita Hayworth – in a movie that did much to further her career – have their sights set on clipping Grant’s wings. Grant and Arthur make a winning combination and, if nothing in the story is terribly original and the drama remains largely earthbound, there are still some rousing flying sequences, which won a special-effects Oscar nomination – in the first year for that category.

Restored in 4K from the Original Nitrate Picture Negative and Composite Duplicate Negative by Sony Pictures Entertainment at Colorworks. 4K scanning by Cineric, Inc. Digital image restoration by MTI Film. Sound restoration from the Original Nitrate Soundtrack Negative by Chace Audio.

Only Angels Have Wings shows at the Vue Leicester Square at 12.30pm today. 

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The Judge | Film review – Contrived? Guilty as charged but the two Bobs’ screen charisma gets legal thriller off the hook

The Judge - Robert Downey Jr & Robert Duvall

Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall are on such mesmerising, Oscar-baiting form in old-school family melodrama cum courtroom cliffhanger The Judge that it’s possible to pardon the film for being so clichéd and contrived.

The younger of the two Bobs is slick Chicago lawyer Hank Palmer, a specialist in getting filthy rich scumbags off the legal hook (‘Innocent people can’t afford me’), and the elder is his bitterly estranged father, Joseph Palmer, an unbendingly upright small-town judge who believes courtrooms are the country’s last cathedrals.

The rift between them, forged during Hank’s wayward adolescence, looks impossible to heal when he returns to his cornbelt, bible-bashing backwater of a hometown for his mother’s funeral. Indeed, he’s already heading back to Chicago afterwards when he learns that his father has been arrested for vehicular homicide and reluctantly turns around.

You can easily guess how things will pan out, and, yes, glib son does get to defend grumpy dad in court, yes, family skeletons tumble out of closets, and, yes, characters achieve reconciliation and redemption, but the stars’ combined screen charisma – plus classy support from Vera Farmiga (Hank’s old flame), Vincent D’Onofrio (his elder brother) and Billy Bob Thornton (his opponent in court) – makes this iteration of the formula immensely watchable.

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Certificate 15. Runtime 142 mins. Director David Dobkin.

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58th BFI London Film Festival | Pick of the Day: Friday 17th October – Girlhood (Bande de filles)

GIRLHOOD -Karidja Touré as Marieme

Opening explosively with a night-time all-female game of American football set to the hypnotically urgent electro-goth of Light Asylum’s ‘Dark Allies’, Girlhood daringly stakes out new territory for French director Céline Sciamma. Where Sciamma’s first films, Water Lilies and Tomboy, examined adolescence and burgeoning womanhood in white middle-class suburbia, her third feature focuses on 16-year-old Marieme (Karidja Touré), an underprivileged black girl from the Paris banlieues and one of the players in this symbolically charged game.

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Girlhood has nothing more to do with sport (unlike Water Lilies’ total immersion in the world of synchronised swimming) but follows Marieme as she negotiates an environment in which the odds are very much stacked against her. Befriending a trio of sassy local girls (the film’s French title is Bande de filles or Gang of Girls), she tries on new clothes and new identities, at first hesitantly and then defiantly, growing in confidence and assertiveness as she goes. Society at large would definitely not sanction what she gets up to – including shoplifting, fighting and drug-dealing – but Touré’s superbly nuanced performance and Sciamma’s sharply observant direction ensure we never lose compassion and empathy for her.

Girhood shows at the Vue Leicester Square at 2.45pm today and at the Ciné Lumière at 8.45pm on Saturday 19th October.

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Catacombs (1965) | DVD review – A suspenseful feature debut from cult British director Gordon Hessler

Catacombs (1965)

The story of a girl who twice returned from the grave!
Taylor Mills CEO Ellen Garth (Georgina Cookson) is devoted to her business, her money and her husband Raymond (Gary Merrill), and is worth £1m dead. Feeling little more than a carer and 24-hr stud, Raymond drifts towards Ellen’s attractive young niece Alice (Jane Merrow), but is thrown out when the possessive Ellen catches them in a tender tryst.

With nothing to lose, Raymond joins Ellen’s shady attorney Richard Corbett (Neil McCallum) in an elaborate scheme to murder his wife. Events take a sinister turn when Raymond kills Ellen and buries her in a garden shed before the plan can be put in motion. But, as Ellen believed in life after death, there are signs that she is not content to remain in her grave…

Catacombs (1965)

…will live forever as a masterpiece of suspense!
This 1965 thriller (called The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die in the US) marked the directorial debut of the late Gordon Hessler (he died in January of this year at the age of 83), who had cut his teeth on Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in the US, and would later helm the cult horror duo The Oblong Box (1969) and Scream and Scream Again (1970) in the UK, both starring Vincent Price, as well as Ray Harryhausen’s Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973).

The routine script is an adaptation of the 1959 novel by Jay Bennett, a former scriptwriter on the Hitchcock TV series, and shares similar themes to Henri Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques (1955), William Castle’s The Night Walker (1964) and even Otto Preminger’s Laura (1944).

Catacombs (1965)

Gary Merrill, best known for starring in 1950’s All About Eve with Bette Davis, was also a regular on the Hitchcock TV series. His age and looks certainly make him an unlikely gigolo here, but he carries it off quite well. And Jane Merrow, who plays the Lolita like Alice later turned up in 1967′s Night of the Big Heat and Hands of the Ripper (1971). Producer Jack Parsons was responsible for such cult genre fare as 1962’s Witchcraft, starring Lon Chaney Jr, in his only British film role, The Earth Dies Screaming (1964) and Don Sharp’s underrated Curse of the Fly (1965).

While Catacombs plays like a feature-length episode of a Hitchcock TV mystery, there are some disturbing moments that linger: like when Raymond is commanded by Ellen to carry her to bed for sex (it will make you cringe); or Ellen’s look-a-like getting a brick to the head then being set alight in a car that’s then sent over a cliff (vicious stuff). The catacombs of the title don’t actually appear in the film, but provide a vital clue in solving the mystery, and there’s more than one twist after the big reveal – which is straight out of William Castle’s The Tingler (1959).

Catacombs (1965)

THE UK DVD RELEASE
Catacombs is presented in a brand-new transfer from the original film elements, in its as-exhibited theatrical aspect ratio from Network Distributing as part of their British Film collection. The special features include image gallery and promotion material (in pdf form).

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58th BFI London Film Festival | Pick of the Day: Thursday 16th October – Foxcatcher

FOXCATCHER

Bennett Miller, director of Capote and Moneyball, again proves himself a master of fact-based dramas with Foxcatcher, which turns the true story of the ill-fated relationship between champion wrestling brothers Mark and Dave Schultz and their multi-millionaire benefactor John du Pont into a gripping psychological thriller. Channing Tatum’s Mark and Ruffalo’s Dave both won gold medals at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Yet Mark still feels overshadowed by the older, more confident Dave and is ready to accept the twisted mentorship of the filthy rich scion of the du Pont chemical dynasty, who has set up a wrestling training camp at his sprawling Foxcatcher estate and has delusional ideas of himself as an inspirational coach and guide. Boasting compelling performances by Tatum, Ruffalo and, behind a beaky prosthetic nose, a near-unrecognisible Steve Carell as du Pont, Foxcatcher pins the viewer to the mat with its emotionally resonant tale of class, ambition, patriotism and the pursuit of sporting excellence.

Foxcatcher is the American Express Gala at the Odeon Leicester Square at 7.15pm tonight and shows at the Odeon West End at 12noon on Friday 19th October, and goes on general release from Friday 9th January 2015.

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Chinese Puzzle | DVD review – Muddle and mishap when Romain Duris’s city-hopping writer lands in New York

Chinese Puzzle - Audrey Tautou, Romain Duris

Writer-director Cédric Klapisch has been chronicling the city-hopping romantic-comedy adventures of Romain Duris’s young Parisian writer Xavier and his multinational group of former student friends for more than a decade, touching down in Barcelona for an exchange year in 2002’s Pot Luck (L’auberge Espagnole), shuttling between Paris, London and St Petersburg in 2005 sequel Russian Dolls (Les Poupées russes) and now landing in New York for what one assumes is the concluding episode, Chinese Puzzle (Casse-tête chinois).

At every turn, Klapisch has put his hero through all manner of muddle and misfortune and he contrives more of the same here. Xavier goes to New York because his English wife, Wendy (Kelly Reilly), has left him for another man and taken their children with her. He fathers a child with his freewheeling lesbian friend Isabelle (Cécile de France) and her partner (Sandrine Holt); marries a Chinese-American woman to gain American citizenship; and finally reconnects with old flame Martine (Audrey Tautou).

You would be hard pressed to pack in more incident, yet despite this the story feels slight. And given the amount of time we’ve spent with them over the years, the characters are disappointingly shallow and so are the life lessons they learn. Fortunately, the most farcical episodes have a fizzy zest, while Klapisch delivers so many stylish and quirky touches throughout that it’s easy to overlook his film’s flaws. Oh, and Duris’s rumpled charm still works its magic, too.

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Certificate 15. Runtime 117 mins. Director Cédric Klapisch.

Released on DVD by StudioCanal.

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