A roundup/recap of the current best and rest in film and DVD. In this installment: Snow Angels, The Dark Knight, 30 Rock: Season 1 & 2, Extras: The Special, Silent Light (DVD); Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Waltz With Bashir, Man on Wire (Film).

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Snow Angels (Warner/Icon, $19.95 until 30/1)
Fans of The Pineapple Express eager to explore David Gordon Green’s back catalogue will be in for a jarring shock with Snow Angels. Slow, deliberate, and very, very formal, Green’s second most-recent film is compelling, but not overly ambitious or precise. In truth, it’s probably Green’s weakest effort to date. The film, which tells the story of a half dozen townsfolk dogged by imperfect human relationships, lacks the visual panache or the atmosphere of whirling, confused melancholy that elevated George Washington or All The Real Girls, both of which covered similar social ground. Instead, Green relies on the actors to cover a rather formulaic central plot about a missing toddler and a single mother. Kate Beckinsale is surprisingly accomplished in the lead role, although Sam Rockwell is more inconsistent in a challenging role as her troubled ex-husband. The true stars of the film, however, are youngsters Michael Angarano and Olivia Thirbly, portraying a young couple experiencing love for the first time. Their stunted dialogue and awkwardness are natural ground for Green, who infuses their scenes with emotive jumps and cuts, creating a whirling aesthetic buzz missing from the rest of the film. Not that the rest is awful. Green’s delicate hand is a welcome contrast to the current trends in American drama – one only needs to compare Snow Angels to the similarly themed Gone Baby Gone to appreciate his understanding of tempo. There’s plenty of breathing space, and a typically lush setting for the story to unravel. But the adult characters never quite seem to escape the screenwriter’s pen, as they have in the past. that might be because it’s Green’s first adapted story (from Stewart O’Nan’s 1994 novel), but one suspects the looming Hollywood project had more to do with it. New to DVD. (no special features).—Simon Wood

The Dark Knight (Warner Bros, $44.95 2-disc)
The infallible Christopher Nolan turned in the most hyped movie of 2008, complete with a raging profit and talk of a posthumous Oscar for its fallen star. Needless to say, Heath Ledger’s passing before The Dark Knight’s release shaped what was already a certified blockbuster into a pervasive, self-marketing behemoth; a film with a life force of its own that, viewed six months and one billion dollars on, perched itself at the height of First World decadence. The economic downturn that followed suggests another movie of its gross expenditure and sustained box office success is unlikely to prevail within the next year (or two), and despite Nolan’s heartfelt speech at the Golden Globes this month (accepting the best supporting actor award on behalf of Ledger), one can still picture Warner Bros executives licking their lips at the good timing and (mis)fortune of the death. The Dark Knight is haunted by Ledger’s spectre for other reasons though: namely, the Australian’s belligerent performance (regardless of his premature end), so single-minded and unyielding that the film exhales whenever his anarchic Joker is off screen. The sturdy Aaron Eckhart, as the outwardly moralistic, privately conflicted Harvey Dent, is overshadowed as a result, and is by far the more varied and three-dimensional character study, hindered only by a somewhat cartoonish transformation into the vengeful Two-Face, and a compressed storyline that must share an already busy running time (if anything, the film is half-an-hour too short). Eclipsed even further is Christian Bale, reduced to a man in a suit. Already dripping with expense, the DVD’s various featurettes (concisely presented in footage and voiceover, without the needless intercutting of talking heads) confirm just how much money went into the production’s anti-CGI action sequences, shot in the extravagant, cumbersome IMAX format, and with a refreshing insistence on practical special effects. New to DVD. (optional English subtitles; making of featurettes; IMAX sequences; episodes from ‘Gotham Tonight’; stills; conceptual art; trailers).—Tim Wong

30 Rock: Seasons 1 & 2 (Universal, $39.95 each)
It’s no surprise 30 Rock scooped the Golden Globes trifecta (best TV comedy and actors). Tina Fey’s turn as Sarah Palin (“I can see Russia from my house”) was the funniest performance of the year; while Alec Baldwin’s imitation of Winkin’ Starbursts Sarah was also inspired. In 30 Rock, riffing on Saturday Night Live, Fey consistently amuses as Liz Lemon, head writer. The comic highlight, though, is Baldwin as Jack Donaghy, NBC’s Republican corporate executive. His many quotable Season One one-liners include: “Sure, I gotcha. New York, third-wave feminist, college-educated, single and pretending to be happy about it, over-scheduled, undersexed, you buy any magazine that says “healthy body image” on the cover, and every two years you take up knitting for a week.” Opening episode of Season Two, Seinfeld-Vision, is an absolute pearler. Jack’s New Year’s resolution is to digitally include Jerry in all of NBC’s current programming, like MILF Island and America’s Next Top Pirate. Jerry shows up looking like his dentist has told him he’ll have to use Kramer’s toothbrush for the rest of his life. In Subway Hero, Jack’s attempt to find hip, youthful Republican celebrities for a big McCain fundraiser flounder when only 40s TV star Bucky Bright puts his hand up. The Collection, where Jack hires a private detective (Steve Buscemi) to dig up the dirt on him and Somebody to Love, where Jack hooks up unawares with a liberal Democrat C.C. (Edie Falco), also score. My favourite is Greenzo, where as part of GE greenwashing, Jack develops a silly Green Mascot for NBC, Greenzo (David Schwimmer). New to DVD. (Season 2: 15 episodes; audio commentaries; deleted scenes; Cooter table read; 30 Rock Live; Tina Hosts SNL; An Evening with 30 Rock).—Alexander Bisley

Extras—The Special (BBC/RS, $29.95): After Ghost Town, heading down the yellow brick road to Andy’s shitcom When the Whistle Blows, it was good watching Rick Gervais on form with Extras—The Special. Andy now has fame, but not respect, and it’s eating his soul. Gervais’ idiosyncratic blend of hilarious/painful is same as it ever was. Could someone really be as moronic as the kind-hearted Maggie? In any case, the scene where she pretends to be Andy’s PA while The Guardian interviews him is dangerously funny. Other highlights include Darren and Barry selling cellphones, Maggie downsizing flats and Andy’s mad as hell moment on Celebrity Big Brother. I found Steve Merchant and Gervais’ aboulia-addled commentary dippy; it’s better just to watch the work, the discourse detracts. Persepolis (Roadshow, $29.95; delayed until 5/3): Conveys Iran through one appealing girl’s experience. Like a Jafar Panahi film, it’s critical of the destructive theocrats, but conveys the country’s inspiring progressive element. The delicate animation is refreshingly whimsical and appealing in contrast to steriod-pumped, Shrek on 11 excess. Cassandra’s Dream (Roadshow, $29.95): Finishing his exceptional Crimes and Misdemeanours/Match Point trio with this humourless flourish, The Woodman riffs plangently on crime and punishment. Could be his darkest film. Along with Vicky Christy Barcelona shows the master still has it. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (Hopscotch/RS, $29.95): Another senior director, Sidney Lumet, leaves the young pups in the dust probing crime’s personal tragedy. Fiercely moral, inventively constructed; forceful, while allowing elegaic space. Philip Seymour Hoffman does it again. Family Guy—Season Seven (Roadshow, $59.95): Y’all know if it’s your sort of thing by now. Occassionally stale or over-the-top, but sometimes very funny.—Alexander Bisley

Silent Light (Vendetta/Kojo Pictures, $34.95)
Carlos Reygadas is no stranger to the high highs and low lows of critical attention. He also doesn’t shy away from referencing his cinematic heroes: Tarkovsky, Antonioni and Buñuel for starters, and in his new film, Silent Light, none other than Carl Dreyer. In this instance it’s more than a reference – it constitutes the fundamental heart of the film, in which he updates Dreyer’s 1954 masterpiece, Ordet. For those who don’t know Dreyer’s film, it’s ultimately about a faith strong enough to bring someone back from the dead. It’s the sort of subject matter few filmmakers would have the gumption to tackle in these defiantly irreligious times, but Reygadas obviously has no fear of setting the bar as high as he can possibly reach, and in my view it hasn’t done him any harm: his films just keep getting better. Silent Light is the tale of a simple family man struggling with the deeply conflicting misfortune of finding his soul mate in another woman. Torn between love for her and a sincere, though less elemental love for the mother of his children, this committed Mennonite and genuine man of the earth is caught in a battle between his conscience and his feelings. The impact on his wife, however, is tragic. Silent Light embraces the limitations and contradictions of religious faith, but it also transcends them. Reygadas tacitly accepts the existence of something invisible and profoundly powerful: it could be spiritual; it could be the power of human love; or it could be cinema. With Dreyer as his guiding (silent) light, he fearlessly delves into the realm of miracles, mystery, redemption and transcendence to create vibrant and deeply affecting cinema with its roots firmly planted in the earth.
If nothing else, Reygadas knows a thing or two about how to tap into our capacity for emotional elation, but not everyone buys it. Some people find his work meretricious, while others (and I count myself among them) find it intellectually, aesthetically and emotionally satisfying. For Reygadas, cinema is about “…creating your own world and taking all the liberties you want.” He has an acute eye for landscapes and faces, and a great instinct for dramatic evocation, enabling him to invest an extraordinary depth of feeling and meaning into his remarkably cinematic images. For his detractors, it’s all about sincerity: is Reygadas genuine or merely a clever magician? Personally, I don’t think it matters – all filmmakers are magicians to some degree (suspension of disbelief and all that). Reygadas will surely continue to grow (and more importantly, settle) as a filmmaker, and I expect his cinema will deepen. New to DVD. (no special features).—Steve Garden [Read More]

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Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen, 2008): Head, shoulders, heart, soul and funny bone above any ’08 romantic comedy. Barcelona in summer. Passionate artists Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz spend quality time with the free-spirited Scarlett Johansson. Blazingly sensual escapism, ground in realism. The Woodman’s still got it. Cruz, liberated from mediocre American movies, is an Almodovarian force of nature. Neatly complementing his ferocious No Country for Old Men turn, Bardem is charming. In Theatres Now. Waltz With Bashir (Ari Folman, 2008): The most topical film in cinemas. Ex-Israeli soldier Ari Folman vividly explores the 1982 war in Lebanon. With exceptional music, like the superb scene where a soldier hides in the ocean. “I am at peace. Just me and the sea.” Critical of Israeli militarism, but humanistic and nuanced; avoiding the noxious, self-aggrandising thuggery of the John Mintos. In Theatres Now.—Alexander Bisley

See also: Waltz With Bashir reviews by Jacob Powell and Catherine Bisley.

Man on Wire (James Marsh, 2007)
An eccentric Frenchman decides to pull the middle finger at a conformist and regulated society and walk across a wire. Four hundred metres above the ground, suspended between the obviously now gone Twin Towers in New York. Without telling the authorities. With a slack cable. If you’ve got a fear of heights, this is probably not the film for you. Philippe Petit won his fifteen-minutes of fame with this heist in 1974, and some have called it the “artistic crime of the century”. The story is re-told with Petit and his fellow co-conspirators almost gleefully recounting their version of the events. The film also cleverly adds in re-created footage, and the attention to Petit’s outrageous coup is lovingly retold. The result is a tale of obsession, determination, cheekiness and courage and the end result of it all, is a moment of perfection.
That said, the documentary did struggle to leave me with the same feeling of perfection. Part of the problem was the lack of the money shot: actual footage of Petit walking across the rope up there. Obviously if it doesn’t exist, it doesn’t exist, but the sense of the sublime moment was lost, simply because we couldn’t feel that moment. Instead, we’re forced to hear how amazing the moment was, rather than the long uninterrupted shot that would have truly captured it. The film also over-compensates by chucking Satie on the soundtrack to accompany the photos – aesthetically Satie’s contemplative ambience fit well with the tone of Petit’s stunt. However the Gymnopédie really has entered the realm of cliché (Michael Nyman’s Greenaway back-catalogue worked better throughout the film, even if Greenaway fans might struggle to disentangle themselves from the music’s original context). The film’s lack of context (especially in the stunt’s aftermath – a rather unnecessary sex scene) might jar a little too for the cynics, but it’s clear that the film was building towards the moment of art. Who really cares about the hangover? This is entertaining stuff, the build-up works like a thriller, and it’s hard not to savour Petit’s enthusiasm in recounting the day he reached the peak of his craft.In Theatres 29/1.—Brannavan Gnanalingam [Read More]