blu-ray DVD & Blu-ray

UK DVD & Blu-ray Releases: Monday 15th March 2010



A Serious Man (Universal): The Coen Brothers returned from the Oscar success of No Country For Old Men, with this exquisitely crafted black comedy exploring the pointless nature of suffering. Beginning with a seemingly incongruous prologue set in an Eastern European shtetl, it moves on to explore the hellish suburban existence of a Jewish maths professor named Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) in Minnesota, during 1967.

With a hectoring wife (Sari Lennick) who wants a divorce, her annoying widower lover (Fred Melamed), a leeching brother (Richard Kind), a pothead son (Aaron Wolff ) into Jefferson Airplane, dithering academic colleagues, an awkward Korean student and a succession of perpetually useless rabbis, he appears to living in a modern day version of The Book of Job. One of the best films of the year, it might just be the Coen Brothers’ finest film to date. [Buy the Blu-ray | Buy it on DVD]

The White Ribbon (Artificial Eye): Director Michael Haneke won the Palme d’Or at Cannes back in May with this expertly crafted drama about the strange and disturbing things that start to happen in a German village on the eve of World War I. The action revolves around the dominant characters in the stern Protestant community: the Baron (Ulrich Tukur), the pastor (Burghart Klaussner) – who wields a significant influence on the local children – and the doctor (Rainer Bock).

As you might expect of a Haneke film the technical aspects are superb, especially Christoph Kanter’s production design and Christian Berger‘s stark black and white photography. The deliberate lack of a musical score helps add to the sense foreboding as viewers get a chilling glimpse of the generation that would grow up to embrace Nazism. [Buy the Blu-ray | Buy it on DVD]

Johnny Mad Dog (Momentum): A riveting and brutal examination of child soldiers in Africa from director Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire ranks amongst the best war films in recent memory. Although nominally set in an unnamed African country, it was shot in Liberia – still recovering from a long civil war – and makes use of former child soldiers and documentary-style techniques to create a hellish recreation of a contemporary issue.

Based on the 2002 novel Johnny Chien Méchant by the US-based Congolese author Emmanuel Dongala, it is a remarkable achievement even if many audiences might not make it through the gut wrenching opening sequence. [Buy it on DVD]

Elizabeth (Universal): This 1998 historical drama explored the early reign of Elizabeth I (Cate Blanchett) and how she became one of the most iconic rulers in British history. Torn between her duty to political allies – Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush) and Cecil (Richard Attenborough – and her love for childhood sweetheart Dudley (Joseph Fiennes), she also has to see off Catholic conspirators such as the Duke of Norfolk (Christopher Eccleston) and a Vatican spy (Daniel Craig). Capably directed by Shekhar Kapur, it plays fast and loose with historical details, but remains an absorbing look at one of the most fascinating periods in British history. The production design and costumes are convincing and all look terrific on Blu-ray. Nominated for several Oscars, it helped launch Blanchett as a star and also look out for small roles featuring Eric Cantona and a 12-year-old Lily Allen. [Buy the Blu-ray | Buy it on DVD]

Zombieland (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): One of the sleeper hits of last summer was this horror comedy about a group of survivors (Woody HarrelsonJesse EisenbergEmma Stone, and Abigail Breslin) trying to stay alive after a zombie apocalypse hits the USA.

A road trip film of sorts, it bears quite a few similarities to Shaun of the Dead in its jokey, referential humour. That said it is an entertaining ride and a welcome antidote to the scores of gory, horror remakes which have sprouted up in the last decade. Strangely, it also bears some similarities to Adventureland, which also starred Jesse Eisenberg, as well as featuring a theme park. [Buy the Blu-ray | Buy it on DVD]



Clash of the Titans (Warner Bros) [Buy the Blu-ray | Buy it on DVD]
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (Universal) [Buy the Blu-ray | Buy it on DVD]
Ninja (Lionsgate UK) [Buy the Blu-ray | Buy it on DVD]
Pink Floyd: Momentary Lapses (Classic Rock Productions) [Buy it on DVD]
Survival of the Dead (Optimum) [Buy the Blu-ray | Buy it on DVD]
The Beatles: A Magical History Tour (Classic Rock Productions) [Buy the Blu-ray | Buy it on DVD]
The Crimson Wing (Walt Disney) [Buy the Blu-ray | Buy it on DVD]
The Fourth Kind (EV) [Buy the Blu-ray | Buy it on DVD]
Cold Souls (Universal) [Buy it on DVD]
Goal! III – Taking On the World (In 2 Pictures) [Buy the Blu-ray | Buy it on DVD]
Seven Ages of Britain (2 Entertain) [Buy it on DVD]

The Best DVD and Blu-ray releases of 2009
UK cinema releases for Friday 12th March including Green Zone and Shutter Island


UK Cinema Releases: Friday 20th November 2009

New Moon / A Serious Man / The Informant!



The Twilight Saga: New Moon (E1 Entertainment): The second instalment of the Twilight saga based on the mega selling books by Stephenie Meyer sees vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) leave for Italy in order to protect Bella (Kristen Stewart) who is consoled by her friend Jacob (Taylor Lautner) who turns out to have secrets of his own.

If you have no idea what any of this means then you probably aren’t a teenage girl. But female fans (of whom there are many) are going to make this one of the biggest films of the year and swell the coffers of UK distributor E1 Entertainment. (Read my full thoughts on the film here). [Vue West End & Nationwide / 12A]

A Serious Man (Universal): The Coen Brothers explore the late 60s Minnesota of their childhood with this tale of a Jewish maths professor named Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg). It explores his struggles with a hectoring wife (Sari Lennick), her annoying widower lover (Fred Melamed); a leeching brother (Richard Kind); a pothead son (Aaron Wolff ); dithering academic colleagues and a succession of perpetually useless rabbis.

After the Oscar success of No Country For Old Men, they have made one of their most personal films, a rich and superbly crafted tale with stunning technical contributions across the board. Easily one of the best films to come out this year it also ranks alongside Fargo and No Country as one of the Coens’ very best. How it does at the box office is another matter but it fully deserves Oscar and BAFTA recognition. (Read my full thoughts on the film here.) [C’World Haymarket, Curzon Soho, Odeon Covent Gdn. & Nationwide / 15]

The Informant! (Warner Bros.): Based on the so-bizarre-it-has-to-be-true story of Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon), a corporate whistle blower in the 1990s who helped expose a price fixing scam despite being a compulsive liar.

Stylishly directed by Steven Soderbergh, it is smart, funny and evocative of the 1990s. Matt Damon is superb in the lead role and look out for some fine supporting performances from the likes of Melanie Lynskey and Scott Bakula. [Nationwide / 15]



Glorious 39 (Momentum Pictures): A mysterious tale set around a traditional British family on the eve of World War Two, starring Romola Garia, Bill Nighy, Julie Christie and directed by Steven Poliakoff.  [Odeon West End & Key Cities from November 27th / 12A)

The First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life (Metrodome): A sprawling French drama centered around five keys days in a family’s life directed by Rémi Bezançon. [Apollo Piccadilly Circus, Genesis Mile End & Key Cities / 15]

Machan (Yume Pictures): Hindi film about a love story with a terrorist angle starring Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor and Vivek Oberoi. [Empire Leicester Square / 15]

The Sea Wall (Axiom): A drama about a teenage girl who has an affair with a worldly older man in 1920s French Indo-China based on a Marguerite Duras novel. Isabelle Huppert stars. [Apollo Picc Circus, Cine Lumiere, Curzon Renoir & Key Cities]

Southern Softies (Northern Pics/Chick Ken): A travelogue by John Shuttleworth, in which he visits the Channel Islands. [Gate Notting Hill, Greenwich Picturehouse, Ritzy & Key Cities]

Examined Life (ICA Films): A documentary examining life with the help of modern thinkers. [ICA Cinema & selected Key Cities]

Ulysses (Contemporary Films): A re-issue for director Joseph Strick’s bold attempt to film James Joyce’s famously ‘unfilmable’ novel. [Barbican / 15]

> UK cinema releases for November 2009
> Get local showtimes via Google Movies UK
> UK DVD & Blu-ray picks for this week including Fanny and Alexander, Star Trek, Moon, For All Mankind and North By Northwest (W/C Monday 16th November 2009)

Cinema Festivals London Film Festival

LFF 2009: A Serious Man

Michael Stuhlbarg and Adam Arkin in A Serious Man  Image courtesy of Universal and Focus Features

A Serious Man is a personal and exquisitely crafted black comedy that explores the pointless nature of suffering in 1960s Minnesota.

One of the handy things about winning a clutch of Oscars is the collateral it gives you to make a personal and defiantly anti-Hollywood film with no name stars.

After the critical, commercial and Oscar success of No Country for Old Men, this is precisely what Joel and Ethan Coen have done with their latest project.

Beginning with a bizarre extended prologue set in an Eastern European shtetl, it moves on to explore the hellish suburban existence of a Jewish maths professor named Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) in Minnesota, during 1967.

With a hectoring wife (Sari Lennick) who wants a divorce, her annoying widower lover (Fred Melamed), a leeching brother (Richard Kind), a pothead son (Aaron Wolff ) into Jefferson Airplane, dithering academic colleagues, an awkward Korean student and a succession of perpetually useless rabbis, he appears to living in a modern day version of The Book of Job.

All of this is filmed with a precision and defiant, dark wit that is a hallmark of the Coens at their very best.

If you enjoyed the pointless, bumbling criminality in Fargo and the satire of Bush-era stupidity in Burn After Reading then you will probably love this. If not, then you probably won’t.

But even those put off by the tone of the film would be hard pressed not to admire the sheer class on display behind and in front of the camera.

A Serious Man posterThe performances are mostly note perfect, with Stuhlbarg especially outstanding in the lead role and a supporting cast filled with fine contributions, although keep a special eye out for George Wyner and Simon Helberg as two contrasting rabbis.

On a technical level, it is up to the very highest standards of modern cinema.

Regular collaborator Roger Deakins shoots with his customary artful precision whilst the production design, art direction and costumes are flawless.

Watching it on a beautiful digital projection, I was already thinking how great this is going to look on Blu-ray.

As usual the editing (by the Coens under their regular pseudonym Roderick Jaynes) is splendid and listen out for how they way they’ve mixed the sound, be it Jefferson Airplane on a portable radio or the way a family slurp their soup.

Part of the richness of the film lies in its uncompromising take on suburban angst. There is no let up, no cheesy uplift and the characters are mostly a succession of grotesques there to torment the protagonist. But really, it is funny.

For some this will merely be a pointless exercise in misanthropy but there is something deeper here that the Coens are targeting, namely the false comforts and rules in which many place their trust.

Religion, family, career advancement, philosophy and consumerism are all subjects which get thoroughly skewered over the course of the story. The comedy that comes out of this, is one rooted in recognition and pain rather than goofy, slapstick relief. The laughs here are muffled but highly acute.

In the hands of lesser filmmakers this could easily be a mess, but with the Coens it feels just right. In fact it feels so authentic that one can only presume that much of it is rooted in their personal experience of growing up in St. Louis Park, Minnesota.

Back in 1998 I remember reading an interview where they talked about signing up for a record club as teenagers and anyone who watches the film with this in mind will feel a twinge of recognition at one of the sub-plots.

Bob Graf, the Coens’ longtime producer said to the Star Tribune last year that:

“It’s a story inspired by where they grew up, things that they remembered from their childhood”

Whilst assistant art director Jeff Schein has also commented on the time period:

“It’s a mental travelogue of 1967, and for me, since I grew up near the Coens in St. Louis Park, it’s a childhood story.”

Aside from the autobiographical aspects, it will be interesting to see how Jewish audiences react to the film, with its richly detailed observations about Jewish life.

Not only do we have an startling prologue spoken entirely in Yiddish, but there are sequences involving a large gallery of Jewish characters: waddling secretaries, puzzled dentists, shouting wives and cryptic rabbis are all going to evoke twinges of recognition, laughter and – amongst some – disquiet.

But although it is drenched in Jewish culture – specifically that of the Midwest – it isn’t exclusively about Jews or Jewishness.

Ultimately one could put forward a compelling case for saying that the film is about throwing the enigma of religious teaching back on itself. This is effectively a non-parable made up of parables, that highlights how the ‘answers’ of Judaism (and organised religion) merely lead to more confusion and chaos.

My guess is that this will not be the awards slam dunk that Fargo or No Country For Old Men turned out to be and some will be put off by the slow pace and darkly poetic humour.

But this is the Coen Brothers operating at their very best, a heartfelt and beautifully constructed piece of cinema that is likely to reward future viewings.

A Serious Man is out at UK cinemas on Friday 20th November


Trailer: A Serious Man

The trailer for the new Coen Brothers film, A Serious Man.

Set in 1967, it follows the life of a Jewish academic living in a Minneapolis suburb.

The good news is that longtime collaborator Roger Deakins is back on board as cinematographer.

It opens in limited release on October 2nd in the US.

> A Serious Man at the IMDb
> Coenesque: The Films of the Coen Brothers