March 1, 2011

All the real girls

Cannes Jury Prize and Oscar winner Andrea Arnold gets some well-deserved Criterion love for her painful and poetic sophomore feature

Also this week: The Cable Guy, Hatchet II

With only two features and a trio of shorts under her belt, Andrea Arnold has already become one of Britain’s most revered directors you’ve never heard of. Her films bear a likeness to the old-school kitchen-sink dramas made famous by Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, but her latest slice of miserablism is anything but derivative. Playing at TIFF ’09 alongside female-focussed coming-of-age fare like Precious and An Education, Arnold’s contribution didn’t strike as broad a chord, but it runs laps around those films. 

With its decidedly pseudo-vérité aesthetic, Fish Tank (Criterion)  fully depends on the credibility of its lead. Arnold could not have found a more suitable candidate than non-professional newcomer Katie Jarvis, who had a parallel upbringing to the character she so accurately portrays.  

Jarvis plays Mia, a scrappy teen whose only outlet is dancing to hip-hop in an abandoned apartment. She lives in a housing estate with her useless mother (Kierston Wareing) and bratty little sister, and spends most of her days picking fights with her peers, scoring booze and attempting to free a horse chained up in a parking lot. When mom introduces her latest suitor (star-in-the-making Michael Fassbender), the family dynamic appears to change for the better, but obviously not for long. 

Like Mia, Fish Tank refuses to be pigeonholed. Neither cynical nor sentimental, it paints a hopeless portrait of Britain’s stark underbelly without drawing any easy conclusions. Shot in claustrophobic full frame, the film also looks unconventional. More than just a visual throwback to the British TV movies that inaugurated this brand of filmmaking, the camera expertly captures Mia’s suffocating habitat. 

Available on DVD and Blu-ray, Fish Tank’s pristine high-def transfer balances its vibrant natural palette while retaining its lo-fi grit. Extras include interviews with Wareing and Fassbender, audition footage and stills. Surprising no one, Criterion has gone the distance by also providing Arnold’s three previous short films: Milk, Dog and 2003’s Oscar-winning Wasp. The latter is easily the pick of the litter, but all three shorts demonstrate a tremendous talent that continues to grow.

Also Available
Newly released on Blu-ray to mark its 15th anniversary, Ben Stiller’s tonally haywire The Cable Guy (Sony) would probably be a hit if it were released in today’s more accepting comedy climate. Coming off the heels of his inexplicably adored Ace Ventura persona, Jim Carrey threw his mainstream fans for a loop as Chip, a funny-scary-maniacal cable guy who grows obsessed with one of his clients (Matthew Broderick, never better). The result is a shit-show of Carrey’s generally hit-and-miss conduct, but the film’s subversive winks are borderline brilliant. If you consider yourself a fan of Stiller, Carrey or producer Judd Apatow, you’ll be happy to hear all three dudes share their thoughts in a new commentary. Also on tap is some rather great vintage promo material, deleted scenes and extra awesomes. 

After last year’s terrifically tense, occasionally elegant Frozen, you’d think Adam Green would move on to classier pastures. Instead he retreats to his redundant feature-debut roots with Hatchet II (eOne). Many horror critics championed Hatchet as some kind of new standard in low-rent slasher-dom. So if you’re already on that bandwagon, this sequel should not disappoint. Picking up immediately where the first one ended, Halloween alum Danielle Harris takes over the role of Marybeth, who’s still on the hunt for ethereal killer Victor Crowley. High-concept dismemberment ensues. Content aside, the DVD and crisp Blu-ray offer two commentaries and a swell batch of behind-the-screams docs.