A weekly round-up of the latest DVD releases.
By Damon Smith.
New to rent on DVD/Blu-ray.
The Descendants (Cert 15, 110 mins, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Drama/Comedy/Romance, also available to buy DVD £19.99/Blu-ray £27.99).
Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause, Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard, Patricia Hastie.
Matthew King (George Clooney) stares forlornly at his adrenaline-junkie wife, Liz (Patricia Hastie), as she lies in a vegetative state after a water-skiing accident. Doctors tell him there is no hope of recovery. With a heavy heart, Matthew bravely gathers his 10-year-old daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) and rebellious 17-year-old daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley). The eldest child stopped talking to her mother shortly before the accident and it transpires that Alex discovered Liz was having an affair with real estate agent Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard). Matthew is devastated by the betrayal but eventually decides to take a two-day vacation to inform Brian of Liz's injury. "Everyone who loves Elizabeth deserves a chance to say goodbye," Matthew tells an incredulous Alex. The Descendants is a heartbreaking portrait of a family in crisis. Characters are delicately sketched and there are lovely scenes between Clooney, Woodley and youngster Miller. Comic relief comes in part from Nick Krause as Alex's slacker pal Sid, who joins the Kings on their painful odyssey. Even he tugs the heartstrings in a remarkable tete-a-tete with Matthew that reveals the anguish behind his clown's goofy smile. Belly laughs are balanced with tragedy and despair and writer-director Alexander Payne doesn't strike a single false emotional note. Clooney elegantly navigates choppy emotional waters as a father struggling to deal with the grief of his two children. The scene in which his character prepares to give the final order to the doctors, kissing Liz on the forehead and whispering, "Goodbye my love, my pain", as a single tear rolls down his cheek, is sublime.
Rating: **** The Darkest Hour (Cert 12, 85 mins, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Sci-Fi/Action/Thriller/Romance, also available to buy DVD £19.99/Blu-ray £24.99/3D Blu-ray £27.99) Starring: Emile Hirsch, Max Minghella, Rachael Taylor, Olivia Thirlby, Joel Kinnaman, Veronika Vernadskaya, Dato Bakhtadze.
Internet entrepreneurs Sean (Emile Hirsch) and Ben (Max Minghella) fly thousands of miles at their own expense to sell their online tourist guide to the Russians with the help of Swedish business partner Skylar (Joel Kinnaman). However, Skylar rips them off and steals the intellectual property. Sean and Ben drown their sorrows at a fashionable nightclub where they meet globe-trotting photographer Anne (Rachael Taylor) and her best friend Natalie (Olivia Thirlby). The party reaches a crescendo just as Moscow is hit by a blackout. Clubbers pour on to the street as luminescent shapes fall from the sky, heralding an alien invasion. The Darkest Hour starts promisingly but boredom surfaces after the aliens begin culling the extras. Genuine emotion doesn't trouble Hirsch, Minghella and co as the film wheezes and splutters from one lacklustre set piece to the next. Plot information is delivered largely as clumsy expository dialogue by characters who seem incapable of remembering their own name let alone distilling the finer points of the electrical resistivity of glass. It's refreshing to be far from American soil for the extermination of mankind. Images of the deserted Russian capital are chilling and director Chris Gorak showcases the city's impressive architecture as survivors search for pockets of human resistance. Unfortunately, screenwriter Jon Spaihts doesn't have a good ear for dialogue ("I'm just trying to keep my freak-out on the inside!") and his two-dimensional protagonists are completely disposable. The creature design - sour-faced trolls in spinning, electrified orbs - is not the visual effects department's finest hour. The Dullest Hour would be more fitting.
Rating: ** The Grey (Cert 15, 112 mins, Entertainment In Video, Action/Horror/Thriller, also available to buy DVD £19.99/Blu-ray £24.99) Starring: Liam Neeson, Nonso Anozie, Frank Grillo, Joe Anderson, Dallas Roberts, Ben Bray, James Badge Dale, Dermot Mulroney.
Sharp-shooter Ottway (Liam Neeson) is employed by a refinery in Alaska to shoot the wolves that sometimes target the roughnecks as they carry out their exhausting work. After a gruelling five-week shift, Ottway boards the plane home only for a brutal storm to wrench the craft apart, depositing the widower and seven other men - Burke (Nonso Anozie), Diaz (Frank Grillo), Flannery (Joe Anderson), Henrick (Dallas Roberts), Hernandez (Ben Bray), Lewenden (James Badge Dale) and Talget (Dermot Mulroney) - into the Alaskan tundra at the mercy of a pack of flesh-hungry wolves. The Grey is a testosterone-fuelled survival thriller than casts Neeson as the hard man haunted by tragedy. Physically, the actor is more than capable of taking on an entire ecosystem but he fails to fully convey Ottway's underlying grief that drives the hero onwards when other men fall. The pivotal crash sequence is orchestrated with brio by director Joe Carnahan, who depicts the carnage through the eyes of Ottway as he drifts out of consciousness, flames licking the air above his head as the fuselage disintegrates. Visual effects really come to the fore when digitally rendered wolves are combined with trained live animals and puppet animatronics. Disappointingly, the computer-generated creatures don't always look realistic and the script, co-written by Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, has bark but no bite. Tension dissipates in the second half as some of the plot twists and decisions strain credibility. Supporting cast is largely dispensable, earmarked as fresh meat for the furry predators.