DVDs for 01/25/11 – Nowhere Girl and a Hornet’s Nest of sex&drugs&rock&roll

I dig into Inspector Bellamy, the final film by Claude Chabrol, and Enter the Void, the third feature from Gaspar Noé, at Parallax View here, and feature the new release Red at MSN here. Here are some more releases…

Young John Lennon and buddies jam

Nowhere Boy (Sony) brings us to the early life of John Lennon, the man who would put together the Beatles as a teenage boy. As fellow critic Tom Keogh observed in a post-screening conversation, this may be the first film to imagine the meeting of John Lennon and Paul McCartney on the screen. What’s so marvelous about the film (including that meeting) is that it isn’t elevated into some mythological status: none of those clichéd lines where someone in the group or some prescient member of their early audience predicts their greatness or how they will “change the future of music.” These are British boys brought together by a restless, emotionally knotted teenage Lennon, a kid whose artistic impulses and rebellious tendencies serve him poorly in high school but drive him to create a skiffle band. All they have in common is a love of American rock and roll and the charge of playing in front of an audience.

Aaron Johnson (of Kick-Ass) is utterly convincing as the “Goon Show”-loving John, raised by his Aunt Mimi (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Uncle George, whose smoldering issues of abandonment by his mother, Julia (Anne-Marie Duff), are fanned into flames when George dies and Julia suddenly reappears (“the one with red hair,” is how John refers to her at the funeral) and becomes a part of his increasingly emotionally turbulent life. Nowhere Boy shines a light on details from a part of Lennon’s life that few beyond the most passionate fans know—John’s reconnection with his mother and the fist shows of his proto-Beatles band, the Quarrymen—but it’s rewarding because the story is not about the formative life of a star, but the emotional life of a boy who never knew his father and was abandoned by his mother (it’s not that simple, of course, but to a teenage boy it sure feels that way). It’s also the story of sisters—both mothers to the artistically inclined and reflexively rebellious schoolboy—and the choices of the past that continue to haunt and divide them.

When Paul McCartney saw the film, he reportedly had one criticism: Mimi wasn’t as severe and strict and emotionally inexpressive as shown in the film. A fair point, and surely a dramatic choice to contrast the reserved, guarded Mimi and the borderline manic-depressive Julia. Mimi seems unable to show affection, but Scott Thomas is marvelous at showing pain and love and anxiety behind the vulnerable eyes of a hard face, while Duff offers a portrait of a woman who lets the charge of excitement and joy sweep her into giddy excess, a problem that her protective husband (David Morrissey) is all to aware of. It’s not hostility he harbors for John, merely a wariness that her renewed affections will push her back into “illness” (as her condition is vaguely termed). There are minor historical liberties taken with the story, but the details and textures are lovingly crafted, from fifteen-year-old Paul’s (Thomas Sangster) audition, playing Eddie Cochran’s “Twenty Flight Rock” on a left-handed guitar, to the authentic skiffle sounds of the perfectly recreated debut show of the Quarrymen, playing on the back of a flatbed truck. Most importantly, the film offers a very human story. We may go because it’s the story of John Lennon, but we care because it’s an emotionally honest and human story.

The DVD and Blu-ray releases both include two featurettes (don’t expect any insight from what are little more than colorful promotional pieces) and two deleted scenes.

By contrast, sex&drugs&rock&roll (Tribeca/New Video) hides an utterly conventional biopic behind a narrative chopped up into flashbacks, fantasies, animated interludes, music videos and carnivalesque stage shows. Most famous for performances behind the CGI-created Gollum in Lord of the Rings and King Kong in Peter Jackson’s remake, Andy Serkis looks like a mad troll and embraces the look in his incarnation of Ian Dury, the music-hall showman of the British punk scene who hit it big with the song immortalized in the film’s title and embraced fame with the same excess with which he embraced booze and drugs.

Serkis is great but the film is a familiar freak show of hardship and ego run amuck: a mad man of a singer-songwriter who, physically crippled by childhood polio that left an arm and a leg emaciated and nearly useless, blasts his way to stardom with cheeky lyrics and a stage act heavy on theater, while off stage fails as a husband (to artist Olivia Williams, tired of his self-involved existence), father (to impressionable son Bill Milner) and boyfriend (to adoring Naomie Harris). Like the Dury presented on screen, the film plays at provoking a response from the audience but doesn’t give us any reason to care about Dury other than his reputation and excess. Bill Milner (Son of Rambow) plays Ian’s son Baxter, an angry, bullied little kid desperate for paternal attention who absorbs the excess of dad’s lifestyle and spirals into insolence and arrogance, a potential tragedy that is dropped without any satisfactory resolution; Whitecross makes Baxter exhibit A in Ian’s personal failures, and then fails to give him the same consideration the film offers its fucked-up rock and roll hero. It’s got energy, but it doesn’t give us much of a portrait of the man behind the public persona. The DVD features filmmaker commentary and interview and deleted scenes.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Music Box), the final film in the Stieg Larsson trilogy Millennium Trilogy, wraps up the tale of defiant punk hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) and investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) with more efficiency than excitement. Director Daniel Alfredson goes through the motions of the exposition-heavy plot like it was a checklist and only the fierceness of Rapace’s incarnation of Lisbeth and Nyqvist’s conviction as the loyal Mikael give any personality to the passionless portrait of justice. By the end of the film it becomes an arch, stilted courtroom drama where the tables are turned with such colorlessly systematic precision that the poetic justice loses all of its emotional satisfaction. David Fincher is currently filming his version of trilogy and I look forward to seeing what a director with vision will do with such a potentially dynamic story. In Swedish with English subtitles and an alternate English dub track, but no supplements. A box set of the complete trilogy on DVD and Blu-ray has been announced for release on February 22.

The end of January is an unusually rich week for imports. In addition to those mentioned above, there is Dogtooth (Kino), the Oscar-shortlisted social satire and surreal family comedy from Greece and a film that landed on a lot of 2010 Top Ten lists; White Wedding (Image), which was South Africa’s submission for the 2010 Academy Awards Foreign Language Category; and Red Hill (Sony), and Australian thriller with True Blood‘s Ryan Kwanten (without the Louisiana drawl the Aussie actor acquired for the show).

Ronald Reagan Centennial Collection (Warner) – Warner contract player Ronald Reagan never became more than a light leading man and utility player, but at his best he was a charismatic screen presence. This eight-disc set collects a cross section of his work, including his most memorable performance as a cheerful ne’er-do-well shattered by tragedy in King’s Row (1942). He’s a breezy secondary romantic interest to Bette Davis in Dark Victory (1939), a grinning, two-fisted All-American soldier under Errol Flynn’s command in Desperate Journey (1942), part of the all-star cast of moral booster This Is the Army (1943) and the Gipper to Pat O’Brien’s Knute Rockne, All American (1940). Leading roles in The Hasty Heart (1949), Storm Warning (1950) and The Winning Team (1952) fill out the set. All of these films have been available on DVD before, some of them in various box sets (including the five-disc Ronald Reagan: The Signature Collection from 2006). This collection includes the supplements from those releases, including commentary on three films, vintage shorts and cartoons, and a radio adaptation of Knute Rockne with O’Brien and Reagan.

Also new this week: Secretariat (Disney) with Diane Lane and John Malkovich, SAW: The Final Chapter (aka Saw 3D) (Lionsgate), in DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D editions, Feed the Fish (Strand) with Tony Shalhoub, Adventures Of Power (Phase 4) with Adrian Grenier and Jane Lynch, the animated Dead Space: Aftermath (Anchor Bay) and the documentaries What’s The Matter With Kansas? (Passion River Films) and Bill Withers: Still Bill (Docurama).

For TV on DVD for the week, see my wrap-up here. For the rest of the highlights, visit my weekly column, which goes live every Tuesday on MSN Entertainment.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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