Out on 1 June and 8 June
Miles Teller either rushes or drags (you be the judge). Bradley Cooper reaches for his sniper. Domhnall Gleeson has inappropriate thoughts about a robot. Yes, heres this fortnights new DVD and Blu-Ray releases. Click on for our reviews of Whiplash, Ex_Machina, American Sniper, Stretch, The Gambler, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Trash, The Interview, Son Of A Gun, Jauja, Inherent Vice, Sabotage and Can't Come Out To Play. For the best movie reviews, subscribe to Total Film.
Is there any greater adrenaline high in cinema this year than the final moments of Whiplash? Keep your Avengers and your Fast & Furiouses Damien Chazelles Sundance darling-turned-Best Picture nominee has them all licked with its finale, an operatic, intoxicating 10-minute set-piece capping this tale of ambitious music student Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) and his mentor/ tormentor Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Viscerally thrilling though the climax is, its impossible to categorise as a triumph because nothing in Chazelles diamond-sharp script is exactly what it seems. As much as Andrew is finally achieving the vindication for which he has literally shed blood, sweat and tears, hes doing so at enormous cost, giving in to an urge that will potentially destroy him. This final scene is less about a victory than an overdose, and Whiplash is less about ambition than about addiction. In many ways I think this is a drug movie, Chazelle notes to Simmons on the Blu-Rays commentary track, only the drug is drums. This mission statement is tangible throughout: in Justin Hurwitzs anxious, propulsive jazz score, in Tom Cross staccato editing, in the looming, neon-lit New York streets where Chazelle dwarfs the 19-year-old Andrew. And its written all over the brutal physicality of Tellers performance, how hollowed out and dead-eyed he gradually becomes in the pursuit of greatness, the ritualistic way he bathes his bleeding knuckles in ice before going back to repeatedly reopen the same wounds. Based on Chazelles own experiences as a young drummer, Whiplash homes in on the relationship between Andrew and his enabler Fletcher, a revered but ferociously abusive conservatory jazz instructor who is the perfect negative image of every inspirational teacher weve ever seen transform students lives on screen. He correctly identifies a core of steel in the seemingly meek Andrew, whose determination to become great at all costs matches Fletchers single-minded search for a worthy protg. Though Simmons Oscar-winning performance is a long way from Yoda or John Keating, Whiplash does follow the same structure as a traditional mentor narrative: there is the spark of the first meeting, the students initial failure, the montage of furious practising, the gradually developing intimacy between teacher and student only here the intimacy comes out of reciprocal violence, as Andrew hardens up and starts snarling back at Fletcher. Monstrous but utterly believable, Simmons forces you to hang on his every movement for glimmers of tenderness or vulnerability, luring you into the same Stockholm Syndrome as his terror-struck students. While Whiplashs laser focus on its central sadomasochistic duo leaves the supporting characters with little more than cameos, the performances are textured enough to make these glimpses matter. Andrews love interest Nicole (Melissa Benoist) exists solely to become a casualty of his snowballing ambition, but she feels believably like a character whose life continues off-screen. Ditto Paul Reiser as the dad whose unconditional love becomes repulsive to the merit-fixated Andrew. Chazelles script is tangibly crafted, every detail a choice take the single, understated family dinner which provides all the backstory we need, or the handful of times Fletcher calls Andrew by his first name, each one loaded with a different manipulative intent. The films quite extraordinary midpoint sequence transforms a drive down suburban streets into a feverish, nightmarish race against time, its mounting score and quick cuts tinged with a mania Chazelle likens to a coke addict on a bender. And here again, were back in drug-movie territory, as Andrew eventually attempts to get clean and distance himself from his drug of choice only to relapse, hard and fast and in show-stopping fashion. Its not every film that can contort self-destruction into such an exhilarating ending, and its this that makes the emotional impact of Whiplash so curiously universal maybe youve never held a set of drumsticks, but you know on some level the feeling of compulsion, and the seduction of giving into something you know is bad for you. Watching Andrew drown in his own drum solo is comparable to Requiem For A Dreams none-more-bleak climax, or Shames despair-fuelled orgy, except that here we see only the up. Its a natural cinematic high, and by the grace of movie magic we get to cut away before the comedown. Bonus features are quality over quantity, with Simmons and Chazelles tremendously enjoyable chat track the standout, combining character analysis, detailed discussion of the films marathon 19-day shoot and good-natured ribbing of the absent Teller. Theres Chazelles original short upon which the film is based, while another highlight is a deleted scene (much discussed during the films press tour) which breaks away from Andrews POV to delve briefly into Fletchers home life, and is that rare example of a genuinely brilliant scene which was correctly ousted from the final cut. EXTRAS: Commentary > Featurettes > Short film (BD) > Deleted scene (BD) Director: Damien Chazelle Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist Blu-ray release: 1 June 2015 Emma Dibdin
The titles missing word, of course, is deus deus ex machine being the classical tradition of ending a story with God coming down to Earth to sort everything out. In modern British sci-fi cinema, Alex Garland is rapidly fulfilling that role. As the screenwriter of 28 Days Later, Sunshine and Dredd, hes already been responsible for some of this centurys most interesting homegrown films. Now, with directorial debut Ex_Machina, hes taking his divine right seriously behind the camera, too. Garland builds his rich story world from a single location and a handful of actors, to create a sleek thriller-fable about the bizarre love triangle between an inventor, his robot creation and a newly arrived protg. This is sci-fi stripped of needless spectacle and distilled to base elements of concept and character. Indeed, it often resembles a long-lost episode of The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits or (more pertinently, given its fusion of timeless anxieties with Google-age concerns) Charlie Brookers Black Mirror. This isnt a criticism, because Garland adds big-screen heft to these mainstays. Ex_Machina has ideas to burn about research ethics, the subtleties of what constitutes intelligence, and the gender divide. With so few characters, there is nowhere to hide, so it pays to have plenty to say and this is certainly a writers film. Yet Garland avoids overwriting. Theres a no-nonsense attitude, personified by Oscar Isaacs tech guru Nathan, a blokey savant whod much rather get wasted (or dance) than give speeches. Into Nathans lair comes Isaacs future Force Awakens co-star Domhnall Gleeson as ambitious-but- nave wunderkind Caleb; after Frank, it confirms Gleeson as the go-to guy for playing disciple to strange masters. Caleb transforms the film into a cerebral psycho-drama, whose every narrative chess move is mirrored by a brilliantly suggestive production design that offsets geometric shapes with a messy Jackson Pollock. At the centre is Alicia Vikanders robot Ava, instantly one of the great screen robots. The plot revolves around a Turing test can Ava pass as human? and Vikanders expressive but slightly calculated glances expertly mine the ambiguity. Avas apparent subjugation throws the masculine world of creation into sharp relief, making this like Spike Jonzes Her an unusual feminist tract about machine empowerment. The result is cerebral without being chilly, yet even as events tumble towards a violent climax, theres a refreshingly British reticence at work: the aloof politeness of the action suits far better than the obvious temptation to go gung-ho. Off-screen, at least, Garlands god stays in control of the machine if you discount the extras. With just 13 minutes worth of featurettes (Blu only), the occasional insights (Garlands deliberate avoidance of cold blue-light sci-fi in favour of a more organic aesthetic) dont atone for the lack of something more robust. EXTRAS: Featurettes (BD) Director: Alex Garland Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac Blu-Ray release: 1 June 2015 Simon Kinnear
With most modern war movies so careful to stress the tragic personal consequences of combat, its rare to see one that doesnt bog down in moral quandaries. But thats exactly the case with American Sniper. Chris Kyle a real-life US Navy SEAL sniper with over 160 confirmed kills is as straight-up and uncomplicated as they come, shrugging off suggestions by the Navy doctor that he might suffer from PTSD . Instead, when asked why he signed up to fight for America, he replies Because its the greatest country on Earth and Id do everything I can to protect it. When asked if he has a saviour complex, he says No, I just want to get the bad guys. And it makes for a refreshing take on a somewhat common story. Bradley Cooper layers the considerable bulk he put on for the role with brooding, unwavering fortitude, as Chris Kyle bears the familiar marital strain that comes with military service.
But in this instance, Kyles heavy conscience and guilt run second place to his actions because Clint Eastwood isnt interested in focusing on the rights and wrongs here, only in telling Kyles story: a patriot defending his country, a family man with honour, a hero with a rising reputation and a determination to confront a villainous nemesis known as The Butcher.
With high tension and some hefty performances, Eastwood gives us a sturdily efficient, unshowy (one CG bullet aside) take on modern warfare. It is one-sided, of course, with every Iraqi character getting painted in some villainous light while Murica continues being Team Awesome throughout but, after so many recent misfires, its good to see Eastwood finally hitting his mark again.
Featurettes explore the films fraught journey to the screen, but balance reverence with anecdotage, from scripter Jason Hall earning Kyles respect by punching out a lippy SEAL to Cooper doing his own weight-lifting even more impressive when you see the size of the weights. EXTRAS: Featurettes (BD) > Making Of (BD) Director: Clint Eastwood Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller Blu-Ray release: 1 June 2015 Matt Looker
Bypassing cinemas both here and in the US (where it made its debut on Netflix), Joe Carnahans return to Smokin Aces territory is an undeniably flawed but never boring action-comedy boasting Chris Pine (uncredited), Jessica Alba and David Hasselhoff as himself saying punk-ass motherfucker (twice). Patrick Wilson is Kevin, a luckless limo driver whose day goes from bad to worse when he picks up Pines demented billionaire the starting point for a wild, if somewhat bumpy ride that borrows freely from the likes of Collateral, After Hours and The Hangover (not least the latters Ed Helms). EXTRAS: None Director: Joe Carnahan Starring: Patrick Wilson, Ed Helms, James Badge Dale, Jessica Alba, Brooklyn Decker Blu-Ray release: 1 June 2015 Neil Smith
It cant be a coincidence that Mark Wahlbergs superb performance here comes from a script by William Monahan, who wrote The Departed, starring a career-best Wahlberg. Looking a lot more wiry than usual, Wahlberg plays Jim Bennett, a brilliant but self-destructive English professor with a pathological addiction to losing huge sums of money in casinos. Monahans dialogue adds extra sheen to this slick remake of the classic 1974 film starring James Caan, but its hard to care about the stakes when the protagonist is so apathetic about his own odds for survival. EXTRAS: Making Of > Deleted scenes Director: Rupert Wyatt Starring: Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, Brie Larson Blu-Ray release: 1 June 2015 Matt Looker
KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE
Director Matthew Vaughn and source author Mark Millar here skewer the Bond formula with uber-violence and near-the-knuckle gags. The result is a fresh, funny, if frequently coarse movie about a teenage petty criminal (Taron Egerton) montaging his way to becoming a member of a secret squad of British gentleman spies (Colin Firth plays mentor). A (Thunder)balls-out actioner with a licence to steal from its many peers, in the name of eyebrow-raising entertainment. Pick of the (Blu) extras is 90-min Making Of. EXTRAS: Making Of (BD) > Featurettes (BD) Director: Matthew Vaughn Starring: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong Blu-Ray release: 8 June 2015 Matt Looker
Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Reader) directs from a script by Richard Curtis though you could be forgiven for thinking that another Brit-film power player, Danny Boyle, is afoot given the overt echoes of Slumdog Millionaire. Three Rio street scavengers (Rickson Tevis, Eduardo Luis, Gabriel Weinstein) find a wallet offering clues to scandal that could be their ticket out of the favela, and they seize upon it with gusto. The kids easily outshine the stars (Martin Sheen, Rooney Mara) and though story surprises are few and far between, the handlings never less than solidly competent. EXTRAS: None Director: Stephen Daldry Starring: Rooney Mara, Martin Sheen, Wagner Moura Blu-Ray release: 8 June 2015 Andrew Lowry
We always had a box of dildos on set, ready for boner jokes, cackles Seth Rogen on his commentary with co-director Evan Goldberg, indicating the level of humour to expect from the political satire that threatened to launch WWIII. Still, theres courage and inspiration in the mix, and Americas trash culture is very much part of the gag here, as the host and producer (James Franco and Rogen) of a tabloid news show are tasked with assassinating North Koreas supreme leader Kim Jong-un (Veeps Randall Park). Infuriatingly, the yak-track avoids the Sony hack or, indeed, politics. EXTRAS: Commentary > Featurettes > Deleted scenes (BD) > Gag reel (BD) > Line-o-ramas (BD) Directors: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg Starring: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Randall Park Blu-Ray release: 8 June 2015 Jamie Graham
SON OF A GUN
Son Of A Gun starts strong: its Aussie-prison setting gives the tense, tentative friendship between new inmate J.R. (Brenton Thwaites) and grizzled top dog Brendan (Ewan McGregor) room to breathe. But then writer/director Julius Avery awkwardly switches tack to a prison-break movie, then a heist movie, before finally settling for a load of been-there, done-that double-crossing. McGregor, thankfully, dominates every scene hes in. Alas, the ones hes not in fare badly, especially those involving J.R. and his romance with gangster squeeze Tasha (Alicia Vikander); both characters are painted in such broad strokes its hard to care if they live or die. EXTRAS: None Director: Julius Avery Starring: Ewan McGregor, Brenton Thwaites Blu-Ray release: 8 June 2015 Stephen Kelly
Viggo Mortensen is a Danish engineer forced to venture into the sparse wilderness of 19th-Century Patagonia when his daughter goes missing. Jauja is the latest deliberately some would say punishingly paced feature from Argentine auteur Lisandro Alonso: imagine The Searchers directed by Michelangelo Antonioni on sedatives. The unusually narrow aspect ratio is even more startling on the small screen, simultaneously deepening and tightening the landscape, while colours are glaring and dream-like. Its a unique, mysterious spectacle, but any attempts to glimpse meaning beneath its opaque surface are denied. EXTRAS: None Director: Lisandro Alonso Starring: Viggo Mortensen DVD release: 8 June 2015 Stephen Puddicombe
Newsflash: cringe humour attack shit is lame, says Ally (Genesis Rodriguez), the long-suffering girlfriend of shock-jock podcaster Wallace (Justin Long). Shes right, but Long still leaves for Canada to scare up a story for the show he hosts with Hayley Joel Osments Teddy, ending up the plaything of walrus-obsessed psycho Howard (Michael Parks). Based on a (fake) advert planted on his own SModcast, Kevin Smiths body-horror-comedy would have made a genuinely freaky short, but its loaded with blubber including Johnny Depps most embarrassing screen performance with just a commentary and deleted scenes to compensate. Less Tusk, more tsk, tsk. EXTRAS: Commentary > Deleted scenes Director: Kevin Smith Starring: Justin Long, Michael Parks DVD release: 8 June 2015 Matt Glasby
Dont worry, thinking comes later, reckons Larry Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix). Good advice. Paul Thomas Andersons freewheeling adap of Thomas Pynchons novel bears a deceptive multiplicity. At first sight, this postmodern picaresque through L.A.s mean(ingless) streets is a delightfully stoned comedy of bad manners and ace cameos. Only later does a deeper film emerge: a fable of community spirit versus capitalist urge that transcends its 1970 setting. PTA is still the master even when dialling down the directorial bravura. Extras comprise a handful of short, pointless themed promos. Poor show.EXTRAS: Trailers Director: Paul Thomas Anderson Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Katherine Waterston, Owen Wilson Blu-Ray release: 8 June 2015 Simon Kinnear
Esteemed Observer critic C.A. Lejeune was upset by one scene (clue: boy, bus, bomb) but this Joseph Conrad-inspired thriller of foreign anarchy in the UK is British Hitchcock at his most darkly playful. A Euro-network of terrorists in London includes a cinema owner (Oscar Homolka), giving Hitchcock carte blanche to stage self-aware skits like the subversive Disney sequence. The plot is routine but the high-tension audacity still electrifies: no wonder Inglourious Basterds paid its respects. Perfunctory extras. EXTRAS: Introduction > Featurette > Gallery Director: Alfred Hitchcock Starring: Sylvia Sidney, Oskar Homolka, John Loder Blu-Ray release: 1 June 2015 Kevin Harley
CANT COME OUT TO PLAY
Echoes of Stephen King, David Cronenberg and the Brothers Grimm resound in John McNaughtons (Henry, Portrait Of A Serial Killer) first film in over a decade a smart suburban horror that terrifies with tough love instead of cheap shocks. Samantha Morton and Michael Shannon are the parents who keep their disabled son locked in his bedroom and start getting snippy when the girl next door comes over to play. Dark secrets unspool at their own pace, and Morton leads a fine cast with a frighteningly fierce performance as a smothering mother. Overwrought but with a tragic dimension that hits hard. EXTRAS: None Director: John McNaughton Starring: Samantha Morton, Michael Shannon, Nathasha Calis DVD/VOD release: 22 June 2015 Paul Bradshaw