A weekly round-up of the latest DVD releases.
By Damon Smith
New to rent on DVD/Blu-Ray
The Hunger Games (Cert 12, 136 mins, Lionsgate Home Entertainment UK Ltd, Action/Thriller/Romance, also available to buy DVD £22.99/Blu-ray £27.99)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz, Alexander Ludwig, Amandla Stenberg, Willow Shields.
North America lies in ruins and in its place stands the deeply divided autocratic nation of Panem, controlled by President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Every year, one boy and one girl from each district are selected by lottery to take part in The Hunger Games: a televised contest designed by Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley). Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take the place of her younger sister Primrose (Willow Shields), joining baker's son Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) as the tributes from District 12. Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and alcohol-sodden mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) escort Katniss and Peeta to the tournament, where the pair must face their rivals including sadistic Cato (Alexander Ludwig) and weakling Rue (Amandla Stenberg). Only one can survive. Based on the first chapter of Suzanne Collins's post-apocalyptic trilogy, The Hunger Games is a nail-biting survival thriller galvanised by strong performances and breathlessly orchestrated action sequences. The script remains faithful to the source novel including chilling scenes of adolescent protagonists slaying each other to survive. Gore is plentiful though never excessive. Lawrence beautifully captures the steeliness and despair of a resourceful daughter who would die for the people she loves. Hutcherson is equally compelling and the menage a trois with Liam Hemsworth's rugged best friend is swiftly established. Director Gary Ross employs handheld cameras to sprint alongside competitors, giving a palpable sense of their disorientation and mounting dread as whooping rivals close in for the kill. In The Hunger Games, death is a lottery - literally - but for entertainment purposes, we're the big winners.
Salmon Fishing In The Yemen (Cert 12, 102 mins, Lionsgate Home Entertainment UK Ltd, Romance/Drama, also available to buy DVD £19.99/Blu-ray £24.99)
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Emily Blunt, Kristin Scott Thomas, Tom Mison, Amr Waked, Conleth Hill, Rachael Stirling.
Socially awkward fisheries expert Dr Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor), who works for the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, is asked to strengthen Anglo-Arab relations by helping consultant Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt) to realise the impossible dream of Sheikh Muhammad (Amr Waked) and introduce British salmon to the Middle East. Alfred is initially reticent but the prime minister's potty-mouthed press secretary, Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas), exerts pressure to conceive a workable solution. "If your sheikh wants to pour his money down the drain, why doesn't he buy a football club like everyone else?" quips Alfred to Harriet, whose initial friction belies unspoken attraction. However, she is dating Captain Robert Mayers (Tom Mison), who is serving in the Middle East. Directed with a light touch by Lasse Hallstrom, Salmon Fishing In The Yemen is an unabashedly feel-good confection, which wrings every last drop of sentiment out of its slender premise, proving that polar opposites attract - especially if it leads to a traditional happy ending. Based on the novel by Paul Torday, Hallstrom's film is fluff but it's beautifully framed and well-acted fluff to warm the cockles of a cynical heart. McGregor and Blunt are an attractive pairing and Scott Thomas adds a delicious salty tang to the emotional syrup, savouring all of the script's choice one-liners, including a barbed quip about Vera Lynn. Pleasingly, there's no emotional catharsis for this puppeteer from the corridors of Westminster - she ends the film plotting and scheming, completely untouched by the rosy glow of two people in love.
Albert Nobbs (Cert 15, 109 mins, Entertainment One, Drama, also available to buy DVD £19.99)
Starring: Glenn Close, Janet McTeer, Aaron Johnson, Mia Wasikowska, Pauline Collins, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Bronagh Gallagher.
Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) is a dedicated member of staff at Morrison's Hotel in late 19th century Dublin. For years, Albert has kept his gender a secret from owner Mrs Baker (Pauline Collins) and the customers but the subterfuge is shattered when the butler shares his room with painter Hubert Page (Janet McTeer), who also turns out to be a woman in disguise. Hubert agrees to keep Albert's confidence and discloses that he has a wife (Bronagh Gallagher). This stunning revelation inspires Albert to contemplate a marriage proposal to pretty maid Helen (Mia Wasikowska). However, she doesn't share his dream of a tobacco shop in the back alleys. New employee Joe (Aaron Johnson), who is romancing Helen, encourages her to conduct a sham romance with Albert "as long as there's a bob in his pocket and you've a hand to pull it out". Albert Nobbs is a handsome and languid period piece adapted from a short story by Irish writer George Moore. The plot is pedestrian and linear and there is an inevitable tragedy hovering over the film in its closing frames. Yet through sombre tones, there are tangible notes of hope and defiance, sparked by strong, defiant women who refuse to be consigned to the shadows. Rodrigo Garcia's film is distinguished by a scintillating, tour-de-force central performance from Close. It's a virtuoso portrayal and any hints of femininity vanish completely; silent and mournful glances hint at dreams that must be suppressed in a rarefied world where money talks, but pompous, overbearing men talk even louder.