Friday, September 10, 2010

DVD picks of the week: All hail Hal Holbrook and Helen Mirren

Looking at that headline, it's probably as much as anything a reflection that I myself am getting pretty friggin' old, but - by a pretty wide margin - the best two things on DVD this week are a movie starring an 84-year-old man and the complete run of a sublime TV series starring a 65-year-old woman (though on the younger side of the scale, I'm watching vol. 3 of the UK teen series "Skins" streaming on Netflix too, and that's a real treat.)

First up comes "That Evening Sun," a genuine Southern drama that has been around for quite a while. I first missed the chance to see it at the 2009 Atlanta Film Festival 365, but luckily managed to catch it in its rather meager theatrical run (it apparently has made a paltry $281,000 or so at the box office) last spring. The flick also played the Macon Film Festival this year, and is extremely worth catching now on DVD.

The few who have seen this already will know it's a rare starring turn by Hal Holbrook, the kind of treasure that should be savored while it lasts. Holbrook is probably my favorite performer, if I were forced to pick only one, and here he plays Abner Meecham, an aging Tennesseean who bolts the nursing home to try and reclaim the family homestead that his son has sold out from underneath him.

It's really a role Holbrook was made to play, full of anger, pride and, best of all, a dark humor. Returning to the farm, he finds it now inhabited by two of my other favorite Southern actors, Ray McKinnon and Maconite Carrie Preston (aka Arlene on "True Blood"), along with their daughter, played by ingenue Mia Wasikowska.

What ensues is a war of wills that can at times be hard to watch because, as each holds his ground, they each become less and less likable, but that gives the drama based on a short story by William Gay and directed by Scott Teems a natural feel.

Music by Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers makes this all go down even sweeter, so if you wanna take a chance this weekend on a movie that so far hasn't even managed to make a blip on the radar screen, trust me and give "That Evening Sun" a try.

Today's second pick comes with a disclosure: Acorn Media was kind enough to send me the complete "Prime Suspect" to review on DVD, but that doesn't change at all just how great the UK police procedural starring Helen Mirren was and still is.

Though the stories contained in the seven, three-hour-or-so installments are as gritty - and often more so - than anything you'll find on the best of American police procedurals, it's the performance of Helen Mirren at its core that make these so entertaining.

The humanly flawed cop has been played out way past the point of cliche many times, and very well by Dennis Franz on "NYPD Blue" and Dominic West on "The Wire," but Mirren plays it so naturally that it trumps the pattern completely.

Watching how her life's foibles (among other things, her Jane Tennyson battles the bottle as much as she does her inability to have anything approaching a full personal life outside of the police beat) intertwine with the often frustrating and sickening cases she pursues make this the most well-rounded police series I've encountered on TV. It's indeed on a level with David Simon's "The Wire," and anyone who's been here before knows that from me that's the highest form of praise.

These have been available individually on DVD for years now, but I believe Acorn's collection is the first time they've all been collected in one set. They would make a fine gift for anyone who enjoys great TV, or if you're so inclined, perhaps for yourself.

And with that, I have to go now to the job that pays me in something besides promotional DVDS. Peace out.


Justin said...

They sent you a copy of the collected Prime Suspect? That's awesome.

Reel Fanatic said...

There are very few companies that send me stuff, Justin, but thankfully, Acorn Media handles a lot of great British stuff, and they still do .. I have to say that the complete Prime Suspect is the best thing I've ever gotten for writing this

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