Arts and Culture

Comedy, thrills and hilarious horror

Shaun De Waal

Shaun de Waal reviews the latest DVD releases

Bunny Chow: Know Thyself

Unquestionably the best comedy to come out of South Africa for some time, this is a kind of road movie that traces the journey of four stand-up comedians “and a guy named Cope” to the Oppikoppi music festival. Romantic and other troubles ensue, of course. Everyone is funny, but the bumbling Cope is often the funniest. The whole is shot in stylish, attractive black and white, with the comedy flowing naturally from the situations in which the protagonists find themselves—it is never forced or contrived into gags. The movie also has a great soundtrack (by Joel Assaizky), with a killer song in The Beat Track, the video to which is added on here. Real comedy is to be treasured—South African comedy most of all. With David Kibuuka, Kagiso Lediga, Joey Rasdien and Jason Cope. Directed by John Barker.

Volver

Spanish writer-director Pedro Almodóvar has an amazing ability to take the materials of melodrama, add irony, and thereby rediscover a wellspring of genuine emotion. He can also make one weep and laugh in practically the same frame. In Volver (which means “to return”), Penélope Cruz, who has never looked lovelier, is a put-upon Madrileña mother dealing with a wastrel husband, a teenage daughter, and a mother who has suddenly come back from the dead. The plot is tangled, feelings run high, and the tears flow freely as Cruz’s character fights for what she loves. Brilliant.

Venus

Seventysomething Peter O’Toole got his umpteenth Oscar nomination for this portrayal of a fading actor—and well-deserved it was too (though he still hasn’t won a best-actor Academy Award—just a lifetime-achievement one). Scriptwriter Hanif Kureishi and director Roger Michell gave us the story of an older woman falling for a much younger man in The Mother, and they reverse the situation here, as O’Toole’s flamboyant old thespian gets very interested indeed in Joey Whitaker’s callow young woman, seeing in her something she doesn’t even see in herself. Venus, though, is less of a shocker than The Mother; it is also more touching and much funnier. A delight all round.

Feast

We seem to be landed with a new horror movie every week, and most of them are distinctly short of imagination. Feast, which was on circuit as recently as June, trumps them all. It’s the wildest, goriest and most flat-out hilarious of any I’ve seen in ages. A group of archetypes (named Boss Man, Bozo, Beer Guy, Honey Pie, Heroine, and so on) are trapped in a bar in the middle of nowhere by a bunch of hideous flesh-eating monsters from ... well, nowhere. The thrills come at you as fast as the jokes, with some truly gross moments thrown in. And the DVD has a plethora of excellent extras, which can’t be said of most locally released DVDs, lacking as they generally are in added value.

The Proposition

How this excellent Australian “western” went straight to DVD in this country, when our big screens are filled with endless amounts of crap (or just mediocrities such as that other recent western, Seraphim Falls), is a mystery. Scripted by rock star and writer Nick Cave, it takes a bleak view of the colonisation of the continent, with the harsh treatment of the indigenous population made clear. The main storyline, though, pits a police captain (Ray Winstone) in the outback against a bunch of renegades led by the Burns brothers (Danny Huston, Guy Pearce). It’s not a shoot-‘em-up as such, though there’s enough shooting. Rather, it’s a study in moral ambiguity, beautifully made, in which the landscape (signifier of the land itself) is itself a leading character. Nice making-of featurette, too.

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Babel

From the makers of Amores Perros and 21 Grams, this is a parallel-narrative movie that ranges across the globe, from the arid hills of Morocco to the United States/Mexico borderlands to urban Japan, delving into human trauma and grief with an almost unbearable acuity. Excellent, but demanding. Stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett.

Running with Scissors

Fictionalisation of the true-life story of Augusten Burroughs, whose divorcing parents sent him to live with his shrink at about age 14. The shrink (played with relish by Brian Cox) happens to be even odder than the parents, and Augusten’s life spirals into outright craziness. Hard to know whether to laugh or cry, but the performances (especially Annette Bening and Jill Clayburgh) are very good.

Crank

Balding thug Jason Statham gets injected with a drug that will kill him if he slows down, hence the most insanely hectic thriller you could possibly want. He’s not just going to lie down and die; he wants revenge. Shot and cut with eye-blitzing rapidity, Crank also has the most bonkers (public) sex scene ever filmed.

Clerks II

Some 12 years after the first outing for Kevin Smith’s highly amusing slackers, they’re back. Can they postpone an engagement with real life for much longer? Low-key, off-beat humour perfect for a Sunday night. Stars Rosario Dawson.

Asylum

A tense, well-made British drama, based on the novel by Patrick McGrath (who wrote Spider, adapted to film by David Cronenberg). Natasha Richardson plays the wife of the superintendent at a mental asylum. Under the watchful eye of one of the doctors (Ian McKellen), she develops an intense interest in a man incarcerated for murdering his wife.

The Lost City

Actor Andy Garcia directs this family saga set in Cuba before and after the 1959 revolution. It looks good, but it’s long, slow and repetitive. Based on the novel by Guillermo Cabrera Infante.

The Devil’s Rejects

Rob Zombie’s follow-up to House of 1 000 Corpses is about some white trash on the run, and it’s really awful. It isn’t even entertainingly disgusting.


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