Surviving Summer (DVD)

Angst in her pants

Released as Greta in the USA and re-titled for its straight-to-DVD UK release, Surviving Summer occupies an awkward space between (young) adult drama and tween coming-of-age fable. For while it’s clear that star (and co-producer) Hilary Duff is keen to move on from her squeaky clean Hannah Montana Disney poster-girl image, this film is not accomplished – nor edgy – enough to entice an older audience, while at the same time being near enough to the mark to alienate much of Duff’s fanbase. And a 15 certificate, brought about by strong themes and a smattering of foul language, has cast Surviving Summer adrift in a demographic where it is going to struggle to find a foothold.

One thing is for sure; this is Duff as you’ve never seen her before. She is 17-year-old Greta, a smart-mouthed teen who, upon being dispatched to her grandparents’ (Michael Murphy and Ellen Burnstyn) for the summer, immediately declares her intention to commit suicide when she turns 18. Living by her own ruled, Greta ignores all boundaries and rides roughshod over the locals, her rudeness and selfish behaviour knowing no bounds. When she meets restaurant chef Julie (Evan Ross), however, Greta begins to realise that life may be worth living after all, and the stage is set for a journey of self discover and redemption.

Unfortunately it’s a journey that follows a dot-to-dot path of cliche and platitudes, with each step feeling more tired and well-worn as the film progresses. There’s no attempt to mine new territory or give the film its own identity; it’s as if the filmmakers are content to bet the farm on the shock value of seeing the squeaky-clean Duff play such a bad girl – albeit one couched in MTV-inspired terms of inoffensive rebellion – to carry the movie, rather than rounding out the narrative or the characters. And what such great players as Burnstyn and Melissa Leo, who turns up in a small cameo as Greta’s despairing mum, are doing in this dross only adds to the confusion. One for die-hard Duff fans only; and even they may find her riot grrrl turn a tough act to swallow. 1 star

Extra Features
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ROLL CREDITS…
Stars Hilary Duff, Ellen Burnstyn
Director Nancy Bardawil
Format DVD
Distributor Icon Home Entertainment
Released June 21

Blessed (DVD)

No man is an island…

Made back in 2008 and now making its TV and DVD debut just in time for Father’s Day, Mark Aldridge’s Blessed has at its heart a powerful performance from James Nesbitt that just about keeps it out of ‘movie of the week’ territory.

He is Peter who, when the film opens, is living in isolation as the lighthouse keeper on a remote Scottish island. Through a series of flashbacks, we see his life hasn’t always been like this; formally a city trader, he left everything behind following a devastating family tragedy. Peter copes with an overwhelming sense of guilt and grief by shutting out the world, but his self-imposed exile is shattered by the sudden arrival of Charlotte (Lilian Woods), a young girl who literally washes up on the shore. Despite having lived through her own nightmare, Charlotte has an unshakeable love for life and, as her charms begin to take effect, Peter begins to realise that hope may not be lost forever.

Despite Blessed’s focus on universal themes of family, identity and love, it is a pretty small-scale affiar; the majority of the film is a two-hander between the (mainly mute) Peter and the livewire Charlotte. Nesbitt is as watchable as ever, convincing in his portrayal of a man who has lost everything even when the script distills him down to clich√©; there are endless shots of looking wistfully into space, gazing at old keepsakes and eating acres of soup. Newcomer Woods is a delight, her childish optimism and innocence cutting through Peter’s moroseness, and she more than holds her own through some of her character’s more difficult scenes.

It is, however, the cinematography by Steve Weiser that is the star of the show. The Isles of Skye are utterly beguiling, shots of lapping waves, sunsets and the wild and haunting landscapes both reflecting Peter’s emotional state and providing the perfect backdrop for his journey to redemption

It’s unfortunate, then, that the film’s ending feels utterly contrived and unbelievable enough to pull you out of the story; and the follow-up shapshots that are featured throughout the closing credits do nothing to offset the feeling of unease at the pat outcome.¬† Still, Blessed is a solid debut from writer/director Mark Aldridge and his producer wife Mary, and should find an audience who are more than willing to succumb to its charms. 3 stars

Extra Features
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ROLL CREDITS…
Stars James Nesbitt, Lillian Woods
Director Mark Aldridge
Format DVD
Distributor Momentum
Released June 21

The Wolfman (DVD & Blu-ray)

Howler

When Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) returns to his family home to help search for his missing brother, he discovers that something with supernatural strength has been killing local villagers. Teaming up with his brother’s fiancee Gwen (Emily Blunt), Lawrence makes it his mission to uncover the truth, but soon discovers that his father (Anthony Hopkins) has been hiding some gruesome family secrets…

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