The Week In Video Part XLVII

Thursday, July 2 2015
The Week In Video Part XLVII

Fifty Shades Of Grey finally arrived on shelves and online on Monday June 22, if not hours then days after the publication of the latest book from EL James, Grey, which was, if not fortuitous then well worked between publisher Arrow and studio Universal. The two sat nicely together as you entered majors supermarkets throughout week of release, a week that saw Universal break assorted records. Where the theatrical release broke its own records – it overtook another Universal title, The Wolf Of Wall Street, to become the highest grossing 18-rated film at cinemas ever in the UK – it now stands to do the same on DVD, with its first week’s sales easily making it the year’s biggest. And expect staying power too, this should be able to, ahem, keep it up in the charts for some time. With the Fifty Shades phenomenon showing no signs of slowing, this can enjoy sales at a decent margin – and the price really should be held – right through to the end of the year. Imagine the box set opportunities, book crossovers, promotions and more that can be done to spice up sales again. Want to know our thoughts on it? Does anyone care? With sales like this, the chattering classes, critics, assorted adult entertainment fans, S&M devotees and a great chunk of the population can sneer as much as they like (and this writer really could). What it does show is that home entertainment can still draw in scores of punters – with more set to come throughout the year. What’s arguably most ironic about the title and its success is that years after trying to ditch its mucky reputation as being for men in dirty raincoats to watch special interest material, the video industry is now welcoming what is essentially softcore pornography with open arms…

Of course the heyday of the video industry’s reputation was back in the VHS era. By the time DVD came along in the late 1990s, it was becoming much more the territory of the black trenchcoat brigade, rather than men in dirty Macs. And so, we welcome once more the the Wachowskis, the siblings Warner has stuck with since the huge success of The Matrix films back in the early days of the DVD era. Remember, the first film became the killer app for the fledgling digital format, for that Warner and us owe them a huge debt of gratitude. They’ve been intent on using up that goodwill for much of the post-Matrix era, although somewhere within the just released Jupiter Ascending there looks a good film, it’s just not easy to find. Never mind, the fanboys and sci-fi fans who gobbled up The Matrix and even its increasingly ludicrous sequels so eagerly are still loyal to the Wachowskis. And the droves who didn’t see this at the cinema – it was a decent performer but no blockbuster, a shame given its cast including Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis and, most bizarrely of all, Eddie Redmayne – are much more likely to go out and buy it for a tenner (or £15 for the Blu-ray), or rent it for a few quid for that matter, than forking out a small fortune to try and work out what was going on on the big screen…

Sticking with Warner, and at the opposite end of the scale from Jupiter Ascending is the oh-so-much-more modest Cake. It sees Jennifer Aniston giving one of her finest performances ever, one for which she was nominated but then ignored in most of the big gong ceremonies (a fact that inexplicably goes unmentioned on the sleeve, despite the wealth of quotes praising her outstanding turn as the desperate woman suffering from grief). The sleeve is a sombre affair, but Aniston’s face writ large across it will help it sell. And, even though it’s as far away from Jupiter Ascending as you can get, the two are alike in that they both work well at home. This time it’s because even the most hard-hearted cynics who have remained unmoved for much of Jennifer Aniston’s career can’t fail to shed a tear or two. This writer knows, having viewed it again at home after watching it, sobbing, on a plane…

Meanwhile, over in Return To Sender, it’s a woman coping with crime of a different sort. It’s not going to garner any awards nods, this is firmly on thriller territory, walking a fine line between a film that should have been released at theatrical and a DTV title, between sharp, well acted genre fare and something slightly more exploitative. It did have an outing at cinemas, which will raise awareness, although it’s one of those titles that are currently struggling at cinemas, with the sheer volume of releases making it difficult for a film such as this, which has Rosamund Pike starring as a woman piecing her life back together after a vicious attack, to find a sure footing. Post-Gone Girl, this could find a home…

The Face Of An Angel is the latest from one of Britain’s finest directing talents, Michael Winterbottom. His CV may be wildly varied, he seems to turn around projects quickly, often trying different techniques of storytelling and while they may not always work, they’re never anything less than interesting. The Face Of An Angel is strangely akin to his earlier A Cock And Bull Story, albeit with a hugely different starting point – this uses the brutal slaying of British student Meredith Kercher and the resulting furore in Italy, the trial of accused murderer Amanda Knox and associates and moves from there, rather than a satirical novel, The Life And Times Of Tristram Shandy. While they may be significantly removed from each other, each questions the nature of storytelling and throws up as much as it answers and, when it comes to The Face Of An Angel, this is so much more than a cheap true crime cash in. That element, however, may come in to play when it comes to sales, no matter how sensitively Winterbottom and Soda Pictures have handled its theatrical and now home entertainment release. But while it may not be a salacious, sleazy retelling of a murder, the mere association with the event does mean it will attract interest. The involvement of the likes of Kate Beckinsale, Daniel Bruhl and Cara Delevingne gives it real clout. Soda has a fine line to walk in attracting interest at the same time as not overselling, or even misselling, its potential. If it can get that right, then this can really work,

Meanwhile, Still Alice is another laugh-fest to rank alongside Cake, presenting another award-worthy performance, this time from Julianne Moore, who is diagnosed with early onset dementia. It’s powerful stuff (this writer, having had a close family member go through all kinds of dementia, both vascular and Alzheimers, found it too difficult to watch at times), but Moore’s performance shines through, this really is superlative stuff. Curzon has put together a strong campaign for the film, it should sit nicely alongside Cake. Nicely, albeit uncomfortably for some consumers, but given the fact that dementia increasingly touches our lives, it does have its place.

Also from the Curzon and Artificial Eye stable comes another award-winning title, Force Majeure was a Cannes biggie at last year’s event. It’s easy to see how this tale of a ski-ing holiday thrown off course by an avalanche worked at the festival, it’s a dark satire on a marriage falling apart after the act of God threatens to drive a wedge between a middle-class couple. Sweden’s elite are skewered and at times, the viewer is forced to watch through fingers, aghast at the scenarios playing out. The film comes complete with some cracking artwork, while if anyone can make a film such as this work, then it’s Artificial Eye.

While Force Majeure is a Swedish film, shot in the French Alps, The Devil’s Violinist, from Metrodome, seems a similarly international, or at least European affair and is all the better for it. While its subject matter – great Italian musician comes to London for some gigs, shocking 19th century London society – may not be hugely commercial, it boasts a decent cast and has a decent Amadeus kind of feel to it. Like that, it often feels exceedingly silly, which kind of adds a campish charm to the proceedings. Director Bernard Rose’s varied CV guarantees further interest.

And lastly, a worthy mention of Arrow Video’s sumptuous box set for The Long Good Friday and Mona Lisa. It’s been out for a while, with the former also available as a separate release shortly to be joined by a solus Blu-ray outing for the latter. This is as good as it gets for the collector and film fan – cracking cinema, gorgeously and painstakingly restored, presented with thoughtful and unique extras and, in the case of the box set, wonderful additional materials, essays, features and more. Yes, we keep banging on about Arrow Video, but the label really does go the extra mile. Its recent theatrical re-release for the earlier of the two Bob Hoskins gangster tales has given the two  further fillip, these really are essential items.

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