A weekly round-up of the latest DVD releases.
By Damon Smith.
New to rent on DVD/Blu-ray.
Immortals (Cert 15, 106 mins, Universal Pictures (UK) Ltd, Action/Romance, also available to buy DVD £19.99/Blu-ray & DVD Combi-pack £26.99/Blu-ray & DVD Steelbook Combi-pack £29.99/3D Blu-ray & DVD Combi-pack £29.99).
Starring: Henry Cavill, Mickey Rourke, Freida Pinto, Stephen Dorff, John Hurt, Luke Evans, Kellan Lutz, Anne Day-Jones, Isabel Lucas, Robert Maillet.
Many centuries ago, the Gods battled the mighty Titans and imprisoned these creatures deep within Mount Tartaros, inside a cage that can only be broken by a bolt from the Epirus Bow. Thankfully, the weapon is lost... until megalomaniac King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) declares war on the Gods by ravaging the land in search of the bow. Ancient law prevents Zeus (Luke Evans), his daughter Athena (Isabel Lucas) and the other Gods from intervening in mankind's conflict, so they watch with mounting dread from Mount Olympus as down on Earth, strapping Theseus (Henry Cavill), slave Stavros (Stephen Dorff) and beautiful oracle Phaedra (Freida Pinto) mount a last-gasp defence against Hyperion and his hordes. Forged in the same cinematic fires as the muscle-bound romp 300, Immortals is a feast of naked male torsos and rippling biceps loosely inspired by the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. Screenwriters Charley Parlapanides and Vlas Parlapanides have taken this simple story of heroism against the odds and expanded it into a swaggering swords and sandals adventure awash with decapitation, dismemberment and gratuitous sex. Amidst the leather loincloth-clad cast of walking washboards and chiselled jaws, Pinto simpers as the soothsayer who relinquishes her virginity in an unintentionally amusing sex scene in a temple. Cavill is easy on the eye but his performance is wooden. The camera lingers lasciviously on his beautifully toned body as he cuts a swathe through hordes of nasty henchmen but like the rest of Tarsem Singh's film, he's a posturing endorsement of brawn over brains. One version of the Blu-ray includes the film in 3D format.
Rating: ** Contagion (Cert 12, 106 mins, Warner Home Video, Thriller, also available to buy DVD £19.99/Blu-ray & DVD Combi-pack £24.99) Starring: Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Jennifer Ehle, Laurence Fishburne, Elliott Gould, John Hawkes, Jude Law, Demetri Martin, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Anna Jacoby-Heron, Griffin Kane.
Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) returns from a business trip in Hong Kong with acute flu-like symptoms. Her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) dutifully nurses her and their son Clark (Griffin Kane), who is also feeling under the weather. Following a seizure, Beth dies and within hours, Clark is dead too. More cases are reported by an increasingly hysterical media and conspiracy theorist blogger Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) so Dr Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) from the Centre For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) dispatches one of his best operatives, Dr Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), to the Emhoff house in Minneapolis to trace the pathogen. Meanwhile, epidemiologist Dr Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) from the World Health Organisation heads for Hong Kong to see if Beth contracted the virus there. Contagion is a stylish thriller directed by the masterful Steven Soderbergh, which imagines the panic when a deadly new virus threatens to become a global epidemic. Scott Z Burns's smart script zigzags from Hong Kong to London, Tokyo, Minnesota and beyond, examining the reaction of governments, scientists and the public from myriad perspectives, unearthing personal dramas in the midst of devastating global catastrophe. Only once does the film resort to what might be considered cheap disaster movie tactics, watching nervously as two surgeons peel back the scalp of Paltrow's patient zero to examine her brain for signs of the infection. Close-ups of the infected coughing and spluttering, unknowingly passing on the virus by touching surfaces, makes for uncomfortable viewing. Tension is palpable from the opening frames and Cliff Martinez's insistent electronic score quickens the pulse.
Rating: **** The Ides Of March (Cert 15, 96 mins, Entertainment One UK, Thriller, also available to buy DVD £19.99/Blu-ray £24.99) Starring: Ryan Gosling, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Max Minghella.
High-flying Democrat presidential candidate Governor Mike Morris (George Clooney) has a knack for spouting the perfect sound bite with a winning smile. Flanked by his ballsy campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and brilliant press secretary Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling), Morris seems destined for the White House. However, an ill-advised dalliance with seductive intern Molly Stearns (Evan Rachel Wood) leaves Morris's reputation hanging by a gossamer thread as New York Times journalist Ida Horowicz (Marisa Tomei) and the other media vultures begin to circle. Meanwhile, rival campaign manager Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti) looks for chinks in Morris's armour, knowing full well that everything hinges on securing the endorsement of influential Senator Thompson (Jeffrey Wright). The Ides Of March is a hugely engrossing thriller that doesn't get too bogged down in the political process, concentrating more on the abrasive personalities responsible for getting a well-groomed mouthpiece into the Senate and hopefully onto Pennsylvania Avenue. Clooney is charm personified and Hoffman and Giamatti are deliciously oily as rival puppet masters. Once again it's Gosling who delivers the stand-out performance, transforming from a wide-eyed strategist, convinced that Morris is the man to affect lasting change, into an emotionally shattered husk. The machinations of the final 20 minutes feel too neat and the dialogue doesn't drip with enough bile but Clooney's film slickly and stylishly campaigns for our attention and largely gets our vote. In the director's chair, he gradually cranks up the tension as he depicts the Machiavellian plots of men, who will sacrifice idealism and honour at the twin altars of ambition and greed.
Rating: **** The Rum Diary (Cert 15, 116 mins, Entertainment In Video, Drama/Comedy/Romance, also available to buy DVD £19.99/Blu-ray £24.99) Starring: Johnny Depp, Amber Heard, Aaron Eckhart, Michael Rispoli, Richard Jenkins, Giovanni Ribisi.
Journalist Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) heads to San Juan, Puerto Rico, during the Eisenhower era to take up a position on The San Juan Star run by long-suffering editor Lotterman (Richard Jenkins). Photographer Sala (Michael Rispoli) becomes Paul's right-hand man as the newcomer enjoys rum-soaked island life and forges an alliance with local businessman Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), who is plotting to transform the island into a capitalist paradise. Having hired Paul to write the promotional material, Sanderson and his American investors insist that the journalist signs a non-disclosure agreement. However, Paul is far more interested in Sanderson's trophy fiancee Chenault (Amber Heard). Based on Hunter S Thompson's novel, The Rum Diary is clearly a labour of love for Depp, who previously starred in the trippy film version of Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas and paid for the writer's 2005 funeral. While the actor's motives are touching, this comical road trip is a bore. Almost nothing happens in two hours and when the plot finally kicks into gear and the lead character is poised to expose a shady property deal, that subplot also fizzles out. The Rum Diary is a blur of strange and sometimes amusing vignettes. Depp holds the folly together with his theatrics but there is little else to recommend Bruce Robinson's film. Supporting performances add colour but no emotional depth, while Heard looks stunning in close-up, frequently without her clothes. A hallucinogenic sequence, which causes Paul to look at Sala and scream, "Your tongue is like an accusatory giblet!" is the only deserved laugh.
Rating: ** Anonymous (Cert 12, 124 mins, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Drama/Romance, also available to buy DVD £15.99/Blu-ray £19.99) Starring: Rhys Ifans, Edward Hogg, Vanessa Redgrave, David Thewlis, Rafe Spall, Jamie Campbell Bower, Joely Richardson, Sebastian Armesto, Sebastian Reid, Sir Derek Jacobi.
During the later years of Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave), Edward de Vere (Rhys Ifans), the Earl of Oxford, pens a number of plays that pour scorn on the society of the day. However, Edward cannot put his name to these impassioned works when many, including his puritanical father-in-law William Cecil (David Thewlis), are convinced that the theatre is the crucible of the Devil. So a wastrel young actor called William Shakespeare (Rafe Spall) takes public credit while de Vere recollects happier times when he (played in flashback by Jamie Campbell Bower) became romantically entangled with the young Queen (Redgrave's real-life daughter, Joely Richardson). Meanwhile, Edward's friend Ben Jonson (Sebastian Armesto) refuses to disclose the truth to scheming Robert Cecil (Edward Hogg), who intends to install King James on the throne and deny the Earl of Essex (Sebastian Reid). Anonymous is an interesting departure for director Roland Emmerich, who is best known for digital effects-heavy blockbusters including Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow. His film wears the doublet and hose of the era in style but there's no method in the madness of John Orloff's screenplay with a perplexing, fractured chronology that precludes dramatic momentum. Ifans is solid as the visionary who professes, "All art is political otherwise it would just be decoration" but Spall's comical turn threatens to derail to picture and the romantic subplot between Edward and Elizabeth I is a damp squib. At 130 minutes, Emmerich's history lesson is hefty but for all its impressive production design, this conspiracy theory is much ado about nothing.