25 February 2013-02-25

Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Garrett Hedlund in On the Road

DVD/Blu-rays out in the UK this week




On the Road (Lionsgate, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

Jack Kerouac’s Beat Generation urtext about real gone cats discovering sex, drugs and fun in 1940s USA looks never less than sensational in director Walter Salles’s translation to the screen. Riffing experimentally like the jazz on the soundtrack, it’s Grapes of Wrath-y in tone, nostalgic, perfectly capturing its protagonists’ assessment of themselves (like, way cool). In doing so it holds a mirror up to our own miserable times, mourning the loss of the energy that such self-centred optimism unleashes. Kristen Stewart, though a long way from the lead character, makes more of an impression than either Sam Riley (Kerouac) or Garrett Hedlund (as Neil Moriarty) in a film of surprising nuance and depth.

On the Road – at Amazon



Rust and Bone (StudioCanal, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

A whale trainer takes up with a shady bouncer after a life-changing accident at the aquarium. The bare plot description for this French drama really doesn’t do it justice. Watch the first 20 minutes and marvel at how much ground director/co-writer Jacques Audiard covers in a potentially super-melodramatic tearjerker/life-affirmer that never goes for easy emotion. Instead we get depth, subtlety and even a bit of class politics in the shape of the “it’s always the little guy that gets hurt” story arc. The performances, by Matthias Schoenaerts and Marion Cotillard are similarly economical and as spot-on as the writing and direction.

Rust and Bone – at Amazon



Premium Rush (Sony, cert 12, Blu-ray/DVD)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is chased all over New York by snarling super bad guy Michael Shannon. Why? It doesn’t matter. All that does matter is the JG-L is playing a cycle courier riding a fixie, whereas Shannon is a cop in a car, and that there’s enough stuntorama, cool slo-mo camera trickery and chronological back-and-forth to make this something like a latterday Run Lola Run on a Bike. Enjoyable and exciting if not quite the groundbreaker it possibly thinks it is.

Premium Rush – at Amazon



Killing Them Softly (EV, cert 18, Blu-ray/DVD)

Like his good lady wife, Brad Pitt has developed a terrible habit of just standing around in films while the director of the week polishes his ego. Here he’s a supercool Mr Fixit, a relation of Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction maybe, sent in to sort out the mess a couple of bozos have made while turning over a local gambling operation run by Ray Liotta. Waving a hand vaguely towards the current financial crisis – the gaming tables are like the financial markets and need to stay in motion, we’re told a couple of times – the screenplay makes the comparison only to immediately drop it. It’s symptomatic of a film that’s all pose and little punch, though fans of Pitt will adore the way he’s endlessly fetishised, leaving the decent acting to others – Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Richard Jenkins and a standout small role for James Gandolfini, effortlessly great as a sweaty lush.

Killing Them Softly – at Amazon



Frankenweenie (Disney, cert PG, Blu-ray/DVD)

Tim Burton’s best film since Edward Scissorhands is a beautifully animated gothic (surprise surprise) remake of a short he made in 1984 and is about a boy bringing his dead pet dog back to life. It’s in black and white and is full of cinematic homage to 1930s monster movies – angry mobs, windmills, lightning storms – though it works well even if you have no idea who Peter Lorre or Boris Karloff are. It’s for kids, really – perhaps all Burton’s films are and he has yet to realise it – fast-paced, fun and yet thoughtful enough to gently introduce the notion of death to the young mind. I did say it was gothic.

Frankenweenie – at Amazon



McCullin (Artificial Eye, cert 15, Blu-ray/DVD)

This is a great documentary about the London lad who became the best war photographer, a term he hates, of his era. McCullin’s hard-hitting, beautifully shot, high-contrast stills are used as punctuation to archive news footage from the 1960s and 1970s – much of it too shocking to be shown back then. Then there’s Don McCullin himself, eloquent, self-aware, analytical, self-critical and to some extent tortured both by what he’s seen and by how it changed him into “a war junkie”.

McCullin – at Amazon



Babette’s Feast (Artificial Eye, cert U, Blu-ray/DVD)

The Blu-ray debut of the 1987 drama – hands down the best film about food ever made – an almost erotic slow-tease about a Frenchwoman in puritanical Denmark who wins a small 19th century lottery and sets about converting the locals to her way of thinking via an extravagantly sumptuous banquet.

Babette’s Feast – at Amazon


© Steve Morrissey 2013


Great Films About Food

With the good burghers of the UK reeling from revelations that there’s more horse in their impossibly cheap frozen dinners and meat patties than in the 2.30 from Uttoxeter, I started thinking about food in films. Not the “food as scene setter” – though who doesn’t hanker after a cosy neighbourhood Italian restaurant with booths and checky tablecloths, the sort you see in old Scorsese movies – no, I’m after the ones where food is either pivotal, or transgressive, or transformational. Significant, in other words. By the way, I bought these burgers from Tesco – and they’re off!



Babette’s Feast (1987, dir: Gabriel Axel)

Often held up as the best film about food – I’d go along with that – Babette’s Feast dangles sensual pleasure in front of our noses for almost its entire duration, then finally gives us what we’ve been waiting for. The food is like a big payoff romantic moment. Based on a Karen Blixen novel (as was Out of Africa) it tells of an emigre Frenchwoman holed up in some puritanical Danish nowhere who suddenly discovers she’s had a big lottery win. To celebrate, she decides to cook a banquet, as only a Frenchwoman could, and invite all the locals. The only problem being that the locals don’t hold with fancy eating of any sort. Lobster… truffles… alcohol! The joy of this film is watching austere 19th century protestants yield to innocent, life-affirming and, yes, god-honouring pleasure. Fabulous, though best not watched on an empty stomach.

Babette’s Feast – at Amazon


Eating Raoul (1982, dir: Paul Bartel)

A cult item in the early 1980s – it ran and ran in the small tatty cinemas that still existed then. It’s a story about everyday folk luring swingers to their home, then killing and robbing them, before being left with a waste disposal problem. It’s not so much the plot that pulled in the crowds but the way in which director Paul Bartel tells the story. Deadpan black comedy. You see a lot of that about these days, but you didn’t back then.

Eating Raoul – at Amazon


Soylent Green (1973, dir: Richard Fleischer)

One of a small handful of interesting sci-fi films that Charlton Heston – too old for the chariot – made at the time (Planet of the Apes and The Omega Man also spring to mind), Soylent Green was the last film of a sick looking Edward G Robinson and an early arrival in the genre now known as dystopian sci-fi, which regularly features big government and big business in an unholy war against the little guy. I doubt that many people used the word “dystopian” too often back then. In the upcoming Cloud Atlas one of Jim Broadbent’s many characters shouts in a moment of madness – “Soylent Green is people,” Chuck’s big line at the end of the film. Sorry for the spoiler if you haven’t seen it.

Soylent Green – at Amazon


The Turin Horse (2011, dir: Béla Tarr)

The great Hungarian auteur best known for his epic Werckmeister Harmonies claims that this is his last film. And what a way to go. As if he were saying “you want arthouse, I’ll give you arthouse”, Tarr starts out with a little preamble about the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s final sane act – he threw his arms around the neck of a horse that was being beaten to protect it. After that he took to his bed, never spoke again, went entirely mad and died. Then, in a muted monochrome (as if shot by Bergman’s cinematographer Sven Nykvist), Tarr introduces us to what looks like the entirely unrelated, unchangingly miserable, almost entirely wordless lives of an old farmer and his young daughter. The highlight of each day being when they eat dinner – a single large potato which they fall on as if they’ve never seen food before, while the gale moans, the soundtrack clanks and an off-screen extra throws yet another bucket of dried leaves into the wind machine. Bleak doesn’t begin to describe it. Yet it is intensely gripping. What is the crotchety Hungarian doing? I reckon he’s having a big arthouse laugh.

The Turin Horse – at Amazon



4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (2007, dir: Cristian Mungiu)

One of the best directors working in Europe right now, and a key player in the Romanian New Wave of the noughties, Mungiu has not bettered this incredibly dark film about a girl going to get an illegal abortion in the grim old days of the Ceausescu regime. Piling misery on misery, indignity on indignity – at one point the abortionist decides he needs extra payment, sex with both the pregnant girl and her accompanying friend – the film’s payoff shot, right after we’ve seen a newly born, newly dead baby lying on a bathroom floor, is the plate of food brought to the girl in the restaurant of the hotel where she’s had the procedure. It’s offal, breaded brains, cold cuts and the grimly reminiscent like. Cue end titles and Mungiu’s ta daaa – a card comes up with the words “From the series Tales from the Golden Age“. Comedies don’t come much darker than that.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days – at Amazon


PS I didn’t mention Sweeney Todd because I can’t stand the melody-dodging music of Sondheim, much as I love his lyrics, and Johnny Depp is many things but a singer isn’t one of them.

PPS Also didn’t mention Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the great documentary about the sushi master with a tiny resto in the basement of a Tokyo office building. And also forgot Our Daily Bread (2005) another documentary, this time an astonishing one about the increasingly mechanised production of food.


© Steve Morrissey 2013