DVD & Blu-Ray reviews: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Svengali, Cat People, A Year in Provence, Dom Hemingway


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The Independent Culture

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (12) Peter Jackson DVD/Blu-ray (161mins)

What in Smaug’s fangs is going on here? The Lord of the Rings trilogy looked like fun. Fun to make, be in and watch. This isn’t fun. It’s a grind, from the portentous dialogue (“So, you are the one they call Oakenshield”) to Howard Shore’s overbearing score. Bilbo (Martin Freeman, above), Ian McKellen’s chuckling Gandalf (is he stoned?) and some ill-characterised dwarves continue their quest to snatch a wondrous jewel from the lair of the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch, his sinister tones a highlight). As with the first slice of Hobbit, the most compelling confrontation – this time between Bilbo and Smaug – comes right at the end. It takes an entirely humourless age to get there.


Svengali (15) John Hardwick DVD/Blu-ray (93mins)

There’s precious little nuance or originality about Jonny Owen’s tale of an enthusiastic music lover, Dixie (Owen), who ups sticks from Wales to London to manage an obnoxious band. We don’t hear their songs, and instead are offered lazy stereotypes: they brawl, they’re petulant and they’re greedy. Yet the gullible Dixie, unconvincingly, takes on their demands. Some cute cameos – Martin Freeman, Matt Berry, Alan McGee – and a smidgen of charm aside, this feels dated and, unforgivably, it wastes Vicky McClure in the thankless girlfriend role.


Cat People (PG) Jacques Tourneur DVD/Blu-ray (73mins)

“Cats just don’t like me,” claims Irena (Simone Simon), a mysterious Serbian in Jacques Tourneur’s singular chiller. The beauty falls for an upright gent (Kent Smith) but refuses to sleep with him or even kiss the poor chap for fear of unleashing the evil feline beast within. Irena seeks therapy but finds more comfort prowling the big cat cages at the local zoo. An eerie and gorgeously shot one-off from 1942.


A Year in Provence (PG) various directors DVD/Blu-ray (370mins)

Annie (Lindsay Duncan) and Peter (John Thaw) take “les plunge”, quitting their well-paid London jobs for a new life in Provence. However, the plumbing in their 200-year-old farmhouse is up the spout, their French is limited and they struggle in the butchers. The good life is proving a struggle for the well-heeled pair in this deeply comforting and gentle 1993 TV adaptation of Peter Mayle’s bestseller.


Dom Hemingway (15) Richard Shepard DVD/Blu-ray (94mins)

Wasn’t there a tacit understanding that Jude Law wouldn’t  get to play mockney gangster types after the execrable Love, Honour and Obey? Didn’t we all agree on that? It’s obvious that Law is trying extremely hard to convince here as Dom,  a deranged safe-cracker who has been released from a 12- year stretch. The more he shouts, leers and swears, the less convincing he is in this misogynistic and monumentally unfunny British caper. It doesn’t lack for energy, though.