Geoff Cox’s guide to new DVD releases (07.11.11)

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DON’T you just love it when you start watching a film and are lukewarm about it, only to find it eventually wins you over?

Quirky fable BEGINNERS (15: Universal), starring Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer, has its flaws, but is one of those movies that sticks in the memory.

LA designer Oliver (McGregor) tries to get his head round the fact that his dear old dad, Hal (Plummer), has reacted to becoming a widower by confessing he was gay all along and is committing to a new out-and-proud lifestyle.

The notion that his parents were somehow living a lie does little for Oliver’s hesitance in forming meaningful relationships, even when he finds himself falling for French actress Anna (Melanie Laurent).

So does the smart, sensitive, cool-yet-sad guy learn to love thanks to the magical power of this Gallic girl? Cliche alert!

This grating would-be romance may well get your goat, but don’t let this one aspect of the film blind you to its strengths elsewhere.

Cosmo, the superstar Jack Russell who communicates with owner Oliver via subtitled thoughts, almost steals the movie, which is no mean feat when Plummer’s in such great form as the elderly father finding fulfilment anew in his mid 70s.

What with a three-way timeline, the interjection of documentary material looking at the pressures of sexual conformity in the ‘50s and the bitter-sweet scenes where Oliver’s vulnerability affects his album sleeve commissions, Beginners obviously wasn’t slung together in a hurry.

Although it seems a bit of a jumble, McGregor gives an impeccable performance and writer/director Mike Mills, inspired by events in his own life, adopts a sophisticated approach that belies the film’s potential sitcom premise.

> Worthy, wordy American Civil War drama THE CONSPIRATOR (12: Universal) is set in the aftermath of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

Directed by Robert Redford, Robin Wright plays Confederate widow and mother Mary Surratt, the only woman arrested and tried for alleged collusion in the conspiracy surrounding the killing.

James McAvoy is the Union army officer forced to conduct her defence and he has to overcome both his own preconceptions and the prejudice of a military prosecution that has already decided her guilt.

While the acting in this solid historical courtroom drama is top-notch, as is the attention to period detail, the whole affair is just a tad dry and ponderous.

> Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST (12: Walt Disney) comes to DVD with the leading role of Prospero, the ousted Milanese nobleman practising his dark arts on a Mediterranean island, changed to Prospera so that Helen Mirren can play the part.

Mirren is predictably splendid, as are Ben Wishaw’s sprite Ariel and Djimon Hounsou’s brutish drudge Caliban.

Otherwise it’s a conventional offering in Elizabethan dress with rugged island locations.

There’s some superficial computer-generated trickery, but the film works best when the cast are allowed to simply get on with it.

Shipwrecked aristocrats David Strathairn and Chris Cooper and their mischief-making crew (Alfred Molina and a suprisingly effective Russell Brand) are a match for Mirren.

The result is good enough to leave us astonished by Shakespeare’s invention, yet it lacks the authority that might have made it something special.

> DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: RODRICK RULES (U: Twentieth Century Fox), based on the popular illustrated novels, sees Zachary Gordon reprise his role as smart-aleck schoolboy Greg Heffley who, just when he thought life could not get any more complicated, is horrified to discover that his older brother Rodrick has taken possession of his secret diary.

Meanwhile, he must navigate hurdles posed by a summer swimming contest and the school talent show.

This was a big hit Stateside, but the school and parenting styles may not resonate quite so well with viewers on this side of the pond.

That said, the pre-teen angst, sibling squabbles and broad comedy should guarantee that it goes down well with five- to 10-year-olds.