View from the Couch
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Date: 17 July, 2007
Steve Couch reviews Blood Diamond, Hot Fuzz, The Last King of Scotland and The Fountain and recommends other films and programmes now available to buy on DVD.
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There are at least six different films in here fighting to get out.
It’s a moving personal journey as a father strives to overcome impossible odds to reunite his family;
it’s a redemption tale with a hard-headed soldier of fortune weighing the financial opportunity of a lifetime against a chance to do one good deed;
it’s an odd-couple buddy movie as the father and the soldier find their paths inextricably linked; it’s a political expose, revealing the hidden cost of the diamond industry’s darkest secret;
it’s a travelogue with beautiful African panoramas filling the screen in lush detail;
and it’s an action thriller with guns, explosions and plenty of fast-moving tension.
Director Edward Zwick balances all these disparate elements and produces a genuinely tense thriller which doesn’t drag despite a run time of over two hours and some fairly hefty social comment.
Undeniably, the film has raised general awareness of the issue of conflict diamonds, and asks some uncomfortable questions of the audience – just how complicit are we in the horrors of forced labour and African boy soldiers?
The extras aren’t great, even on the two-disc version (which does at least include a useful feature on the diamond trade for those who want to explore the central issue of the film more deeply).
But nevertheless, this excellent, entertaining and thought-provoking film is well worth watching. Just don’t expect to be left with a nice, fuzzy feel-good glow.
Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright continue their takeover of Hollywood. Following the shambleaway success of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz is another loving homage-cum-parody, with the creators’ collective eye fixed this time on the riches of the cop movie genre.
Hot Fuzz is by no means a film just for action buffs, but the better you know the source material, the more you are going to get out of the in-jokes and parodies.
In contrast to his Shaun role, Pegg plays Nick Angel, a hard-bitten, dedicated London PC whose zeal is an embarrassment to colleagues and superiors alike.
As a result he is transferred to rural Sandford, where the peaceful idyll is soon to be shattered by a series of murders.
The rest is delightfully predictable, with all the cliché’s duly lined up and taken down. The combination of tone and setting achieves a Bronx-on-the-Wold hybrid, which is deliciously captivating.
Once the film reaches the prolonged action finale (a good 45 minutes or so of it), the sheer joy of the exercise becomes overwhelming – with Pegg and the less-than-lithe sidekick Nick Frost perfectly playing the part of athletic action heroes.
There’s an extensive supporting cast featuring everybody from Jim Broadbent and Billie Whitelaw to Steve Coogan and Bill Bailey, but ultimately it’s the tried and tested chemistry between Pegg and Frost’s which provides the film’s anchor. Both are brilliant, with Frost’s amiable bumpkin a constant delight.
An utterly brilliant array of extras, the two-disc version boasts three and a half hours of stuff which is pretty much all worth taking a look at.
Four (count ‘em!) commentary tracks, numerous video blogs (previously available online) and some in-character explanations to fill in a handful of plot holes from the movie.
There’s plenty to laugh at, and plenty of help in spotting the multi-layered in-gags and references that are part of the film’s essential geek appeal.
Shaun of the Dead set new standards for combining quality and quantity of DVD extras, and Hot Fuzz maintains the same calibre. There aren’t many DVDs that are worth buying for the extras alone, but arguably this is one of them.
So in a nutshell: very funny, lots of action movie clichés, and guns, lots of guns. Will reward frequent rewatching, but if you don’t mind a bit of comedy gore squelching, you might find yourself looking away on more than one occasion.
Two stunning performances – one from Oscar winning Forest Whitaker, the other from fast-rising future King of Scottish acting James McAvoy – make this a spellbinding film.
McAvoy is Nicholas Garrigan, a young Scottish Doctor who happens to be working in Uganda in 1970 and bizarrely finds himself appointed as personal physician to newly installed dictator Idi Amin (Whitaker).
McAvoy’s triumph is in keeping our sympathies with Garrigan, even as he shows us the less appealing aspects of the character.
His gauche naivety gives way to slow-dawning horror at what he has become part of, and of how difficult it will be to get himself out of another fine mess.
Whitaker, on the other hand, brings light and shade to Amin. You can believe how the man won popular acclaim in his homeland, as well as how he committed monstrous atrocities.
The range of the performance, at times amiable and avuncular, at others electrifying and terrible, is well deserving of all the plaudits and awards that have come Whitaker’s way.
There are a couple of scenes that you won’t want to be eating your dinner in the middle of, but it’s a marvellous piece of work by all concerned.
As divisive a film as I’ve seen in the last year. There are some that will hail this as a wonderful, intelligent and thought-provoking treatise on the subject of death. Others will cry ‘Emperors New Graveclothes’ and deride it as over-ambitious, pretentious, arty clap-trap.
Writer/director Darren Aronofsky skilfully weaves three distinct storylines together, one set in the present, one in the past (Renaissance Spain) and one, apparently, in the future.
The film is beautifully shot, and finely acted by the temporal-hopping leads Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz (or Mrs Aronofsky, as she is known to the writer/director).
But for all the dazzling imagery and careful interweaving of different lines of narrative (and they do interweave, rather than simply cut one to the other), is this any good?
As I’ve said, this is a film that has already provoked sharp differences of opinion. For my money it’s a fine film that is well worth watching.
There is a broad spirituality on display here, and it’s certainly more than just vacuous pseudo-intellectual posturing. If you have a taste for intelligent, challenging science-fiction (we’re talking Solaris rather than Doom here) this is well worth a watch.
You might hate it, but isn’t that half the fun of serious films?
The Good Shepherd
Starter For Ten
Flavour of the month James McAvoy and a host of other fast-rising Brits do fine work in this enjoyably light-hearted piece about a young man with a University Challenge obsession.
Notes On A Scandal
If you like Miss Zellweger, you’ll like her in this. If you are one of the people who finds her annoying, you’ll be annoyed all over again. In spades.
Doctor Who: Series 3 Volume 1
The Pursuit of Happyness
Steve Couch is a writer for Damaris Trust.