DVD & Blu-ray reviews: From Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game to Mark Rylance in Wolf Hall

Jack O'Connell (above) as a young Squaddie in the film '71

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The Independent Culture

'71 (15) Yann Demange DVD/Blu-ray (99mins)

“You’re just a piece of meat to them,” claims Richard Dormer’s Irish medic while attempting to save the life of a squaddie, Gary (Jack O’Connell), hiding in Belfast, 1971, after a raid on a house goes wrong. Injured, Gary is forced to fend for himself while being pursued by the Provos and corrupt intelligence officers. Yann Demange’s pulsating debut grips like a Lee Marvin stranglehold, hums with fury and boasts another compelling turn from O’Connell.

****

Wolf Hall (15) Various directors DVD/Blu-ray (350mins)

“That’s a conversation I shouldn’t have had,” mutters Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance), who measures and considers his words and actions with cunning and courage in the BBC’s outstanding adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s novel. After Cromwell’s master, Cardinal Wolsey (Jonathan Pryce), is sent to an early grave by Henry VIII (Damian Lewis) and the manipulations of Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Cromwell studiously plots revenge. This beautifully staged political drama throbs with intelligence, but it’s the acting that grips, especially from a restrained Rylance.

*****

 

The Imitation Game (12) Morten Tyldum DVD/Blu-ray (114mins)

Benedict Cumberbatch, who specialises in know-it-all control freaks (also see Sherlock, Khan, Assange), plays another here. Only this one, Alan Turing, helped win the Second World War and was, tragically, rejected by the English establishment. At first this 'irascible genius' is rejected by his Bletchley Park colleagues also, but his huge brain and vital Enigma machine win them over. Turing's homosexuality is touched on tastefully, too tastefully, in this attractive but underwhelming period piece.

**

Down by Law (15) Jim Jarmusch DVD/Blu-ray (102mins)

Jim Jarmusch’s movies have been ponderous and pointless of late (witness Only Lovers Left Alive), but this bone-dry 1896 comedy is the auteur at his best: unhurried, subversive, distinctive and blessed with sumptuous monochrome cinematography from Robby Müller. Pimp Jack (John Lurie) and radio DJ Zach (Tom Waits, in his most satisfying film performance) are framed for crimes and slung into a New Orleans slammer, along with Roberto Benigni’s hapless Italian tourist. The mismatched trio escape but have to tackle swamps and their fragile temperaments.

*****

Life Itself (15) Steve James DVD/Blu-ray (120mins)

No one appears to have a bad word for Roger Ebert, arguably America’s most recognisable film critic, who wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times and presented At the Movies, alongside Gene Siskel. Steve James’s poignant documentary charts Ebert’s fractious relationship with his co-host, his love of cinema and his decline from cancer. The letter that Ebert sends Siskel’s widow packs quite a punch: “My stupid ego, and maybe his, complicated the fact that I’ve never met a smarter or funnier man...”

*****

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