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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Country Strong, White Material, and Others on DVD This Week

Proving there's no "O" in "country"...

This week on DVD, four releases that no one saw. Country Strong, White Material, Heartless, and Farewell (L'affaire Farewell). A melodrama, a bare knuckle drama, a Brit thriller, and a French thriller. Which is most worth your time and money? 

Let's do this. 

More after the cut --

Now, I haven't seen any of these, but now that they're out on DVD, I'll have the chance to. At the very least, Country Strong. Full disclosure - I love Leighton Meester. She's the shining light of The Roommate (really, she's better there than she had any right to be), and she genuinely has a glimmer of talent as an actress. In fact, she's the only reason I'm looking forward to this. I've heard most of the songs from the film, and while it's hard for me to abide most country music as is, hers aren't that bad. It's the Oscar nominated song that kind of turns me off to the whole film in general. I love Gwenyth Paltrow, too, more than I love Meester, and it's a strange feeling not anticipating a film with her in it. I'm not used to that. 

She stars as a "fallen star", succumbing to alcohol and fame, letting it all get her down. But, whenever one star falls, another rises. Of course, this new country music crooner (played by Garrett Hedlund) crosses paths with Paltrow's damaged goods and our story beings. Also starring Tim McGraw and le Meester, director Shana Feste's look inside the contemporary world of country music has been called a smothering melodrama by most critics, and didn't find a way to connect with audiences. But, it's out on DVD now if anyone wants to brave it. 

Or you can just wait for the review from me. Totes up to you. 

Also out today, White Material. There's something elegant about the idea of this film. A sort of reverse racism, plantation drama; not in the strictest sense. A French woman gains control of her family's coffee plantation in Africa, and is outcast by the rebel forces during a civil war. She tries to live in civil unrest while everything her family knows is threatened to be torn apart. 

Claire Denis is an exceptional director. Known for L'intrus and the formidable 35 Shots of Rhum. Isabelle Huppert (recall The Piano Teacher, I Heart Huckabees, 8 Women) received loads of critical praise for her work, and the film had a fairly successful domestic box office run after its US release. Of course, the film was a French success. Additionally, it garnered official selections from the Toronto, Venice, and New York Film Festivals. 

This is the one this week that I'm most looking forward to, and probably the one I'll go out on a limb and recommend. 

Also on DVD -

Heartless - What has been called "part Donnie Darko, part Guillermo Del Toro" (though I'm sensing remnants of A Clockwork Orange, as well) brings us Jim Sturgess - perhaps the most lackluster leading man alive - in a film about what it means to be a monster. He is born with a disfiguring birthmark on his face and is outcast by people around him. That is, of course, until he runs across a gang of violent people who are more than they appear. Being that this is a film starring Jim Sturgess, I'm automatically not excited. But, critics warmed up to his performance more than they have in anything else. So, maybe this will be the flick that changes my mind? 

Farewell (L'affaire Farewell) - A French thriller starring Guillaume Canet (whom you might recall from the wonderful Love Me If You Dare) about the cold war. French Intelligence tips off the US government about a Soviet spy ring, and all Hell breaks loose. Again, though critics warmly received the thriller, it went largely unseen by the domestic masses. Most French films that find their way to the states wind up doing well in their native country, but go unseen here. I'm hoping this does well on DVD, because the idea is fascinating. And Guillaume Canet deserves a bigger career. He's a hell of an actor. 

So, there we have it. Four releases, four options, two I can safely recommend. White Material, and Farewell. Two French films that should do you well. Go get a movie. We've a long week ahead of us.