My Big Fat Greek Wedding
If the Windex ad at the start of the movie seems crass to you, you’re expecting a lot more from My Big Fat Greek Wedding than the movie has to offer. The film might be little more than a sitcom blown up to bursting, but that Windex ad will probably go down in DVD history as a landmark of product placement.
The film, shot in Toronto and based on a script by its star, Nia Vardalos, is a comedy of assimilation, about the discomfort felt by a young woman desperate to escape the raucous, messy prison of her immigrant family with the affable WASP hunk (John Corbett) who falls in love with her and her family. That escape is futile is established early on, leaving Vardalos and Corbett to twist and writhe in the hot, gale-force winds of her operatically vulgar clan, who effortlessly hijack their wedding preparations.
Her father (Michael Constantine) is a henpecked patriarch who swears by the medicinal properties of a certain window cleaner, her mother (Lainie Kazan) just one set of limbs attached to an octopus-like matriarchal guilt beast comprised of aunts, cousins, and a black-clad peasant granny. Not even Vardalos’ Greek ancestry can diminish a squirming unease at the orgy of stereotypes that make for most of its humour, which includes a pair of WASP parents (Canadian actors Fiona Reid and Bruce Gray) so uptight that a few glasses of ouzo bring on a psychedelic freak-out.
Vardalos’ Toula and Corbett’s Ian aren’t rebels, and so there’s not much drama in their limp progress through the meat-grinder of a “traditional” wedding. Joel Zwick’s direction moves things along at maximum speed, careening past improbabilities (Ian and Toula’s lightning attraction) and over-the-top performances (Andrea Martin as a competitive aunt). Besides the Windex ad and a lively commentary track by Vardalos, Corbett and Zwick, there isn’t much in the way of extras.
All or Nothing
Mike Leigh’s film is a headlong plunge into the apparently hopeless misery of British working class-life, where almost every character is sinking into a bottomless depression without a wave or a backwards glance. As the cab-driver father of a sullen and obese clan, Timothy Spall leads the pack, his hound-dog face seeming to drag on the pavement. If it sounds like a trial to watch, it isn’t - Leigh is a master at this sort of minute drama, and the pace of the film, mostly set in a decaying apartment block, is unstinting. Even the hopeful ending - a shock if it had come any earlier in the film - feels earned, at least if you’ve had the fortitude to make it through the emotional battering of the first hour.
Bryan Singer’s first installment in a series of X-Men films was as obvious and laborious a set-up for the subsequent films as this DVD package is a set-up for the sequel, due this spring. The most famously character-based of all the great comic book franchises, Singer’s first X-Men film only manages to flesh out two of its ensemble - Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine and Anna Paquin’s Rogue. Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart rely on their considerable skills to make an impression, while everyone else melts into the film’s rich, exquisitely-shot shadows. The two-disc set includes less bonus material than you’d expect, and much of what’s been added since the original release is rich with teasing previews for the next film; a cynical and barely essential purchase for fans of the film.
The Gathering Storm
Albert Finney’s Emmy award-winning performance as Winston Churchill is the reason to buy this disc, the most audacious and fascinating take on the man ever filmed. We see a lot of Finney from the first shot, as he clambers, naked and pink, out of bed and practices a speech while relieving himself. At just over an hour-and-a-half, however, the film feels rushed, glancing through the nadir of Churchill’s career - his term in the political wilderness before WW2, when he was a lonely voice warning the world about Hitler’s Germany. The Gathering Storm feels like the first installment of an epic miniseries; if HBO has the guts, they should continue where it leaves off while Finney is still keen.