This week, we begin in Margaret Thatcher’s England:
The Last of England
Not rated, 91 minutes.
Now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
The always provocative and controversial Derek Jarman directed this 1987 diatribe — now making its Blu-ray debut — against all he saw destroying his native England. As a result, the disturbing film fires out a kaleidoscope of images, and, at times, it resembles an experimental film, with its often-changing shots, its cacophonous soundtrack and its absence of continuous narration.
By recording images of many of England’s industrial sites and those who worked there, Jarman hoped to document the country’s decline. He also warns against the rampant rise of AIDS, as well as the devastating results of Margaret Thatcher’s policies. He even adds in some of his own home movies.
Tilda Swinton broke into films with Jarman, and here she tours some of Jarman’s bleak sites, while Nigel Terry reads passages from various sources, such as T.S. Eliot and Allen Ginsberg. At times, the film can be tough viewing, but collectively the images combine for devastating effects.
They Made Me a Fugitive (***1/2) While much has been made about the American post-World War II film noir genre, the same scrutiny has not been paid to some fine English entries in the category. This 1947 melodrama, making its Blu-ray debut, starred a young and earthy Trevor Howard as Clem, an ex-soldier struggling to survive in peace time. He joins forces with small-time hood Narcy (Griffith Jones), short for Narcissus, until Clem is asked to peddle drugs.
Clem breaks away, and Narcy comes after him, setting off a cat-and-mouse game through London’s seediest areas, all captured in grim glory by former documentarian Alberto Cavalcanti. Rarely was the decrepitude of postwar London shown in such fine detail.
Sally Gray plays the fickle femme fatale who only wants to end up with whoever can fill her needs.
Not rated, 100 minutes.
ATM (**1/2) Numerous plot holes keep this adequately entertaining thriller from being more effective. A group of three young people (Alice Eve, Brian Geraghty and Josh Peck) arrive at an enclosed ATM on a subzero night, only to confront a large man lurking outside under a hoodie when they try to leave.
The menacing figure proceeds to kill a security guard and then another bystander in front of them. It seems they can’t run to their car, their cellphones don’t work, and the ATM area has no security phone or messaging apparatus.
Director David Brooks works overtime to maintain tension and to keep the gimmicks moderately believable.
The DVD contains both the theatrical version (rated R, 90 minutes) and the director’s cut: (not rated, 85 minutes). The disc also holds an eight-minute “making of” featurette.
The Jodi Picoult Collection: Salem Falls (***), Plain Truth (***) and The Pact (***1/2) Movies from the Lifetime channel long ago should have shaken their image of being nothing but treacly tear-jerkers. That is partly why it is satisfying to see three of the network’s quality features assembled on two discs in one package.
Collectively, the three have good casts and professional production values, and they tell a dramatic story without being manipulative or preachy. And they are all based on novels from Jodi Picoult. All are unrated and run around 88 minutes each.
Salem Falls focuses on an out-of-work teacher, Jack (James Van Der Beek), who has an auto accident and is forced into staying in a small town. Addie (Sarah Carter), the owner of a local diner, gives him a menial job in which he seems to thrive.
Meanwhile, a high school girl, Gillian (AJ Michalka), develops an overwrought crush on Jack. When he rejects her, she accuses him of harassment, and worse, which leads to the community turning against him, including Addie. Before long, uncovered secrets explain much of the melodramatic unraveling.
Mariska Hargitay stars in Plain Truth as Ellie Harrison, a high-powered attorney who takes a job defending an Amish girl (Alison Pill) accused of killing her newborn baby. But the girl won’t even admit she had a baby, sending Ellie on a prolonged fact-finding quest.
A good cast aids The Pact, the story of two teenagers who make a suicide pact only to have the boy, Chris (Eric Lively), survive. This sets two previously close families against each other when Chris is charged with murder. Juliet Stevenson, Bob Gunton, Henry Czerny and Megan Mullally play the parents.
Also available Tuesday on DVD: Carnal Innocence, Hatfields & McCoys, Le Havre, The Weight of the Nation.