Sidse Babett Knudsen as Birgitte Nyborg in Borgen
During the summer months, not every weekend throws up new cinema releases likely to appeal to grown-up viewers. One way around this is to peruse the new DVDs available: here’s a selection available from July 9.
Being Elmo is a charming documentary about a man named Kevin Clash, the puppeteer behind Elmo, one of the most popular Muppet characters in Sesame Street; he’s up there with Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Kermit and Miss Piggy. Clash came from an ordinary working-class background in Baltimore, and stood apart from his classmates growing up because of the singularity of his ambition; he always wanted to be part of Jim Henson’s team, who had created the Muppets.
As an adult, Clash conveys the profound sense of joy he feels in playing Elmo, being around kids who respond to the lovable puppet who always speaks of himself in the third person. Clash behaves like a man who thinks he’s been dealt a great hand in life. Without being too sentimental, Being Elmo is warmly moving – a treat for you, your kids and your grandchildren too. (Dogwoof, £19.99)
I’m a big fan of crime writer James Ellroy’s blistering novels, especially those concerning the dubious ethics of the Los Angeles Police Department. His stories have enjoyed varied fortune in being adapted to film, the marvellous L.A. Confidential being the most notable success.
So I was looking forward to Rampart, which stars Woody Harrelson as Dave Brown (right), a veteran L.A. police officer with, shall we say, issues. Another way of putting it? He’s a vile character: a womaniser and woman-hater, a racist and a violent, self-regarding bully.
It’s all too much; we’re used to films with bad guys like Dave achieving redemption in a clichéd manner, but he’s beyond the pale. Full credit to Harrelson for a performance of frightening conviction; but Rampart feels like an ordeal. After watching his crimes against (usually) innocent humanity, you may feel in need of a cleansing shower. (Studiocanal, £17.99)
Art-house buffs and fans of world cinema are likely to be entranced by Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, a wonderful mood piece from Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
It’s a police procedural that takes place by night in the middle of the Turkish countryside. A police commissioner, a prosecuting attorney, a doctor and a murder suspect drive around in search of a body, the victim of a violent murder. The suspect, claiming he was drunk at the time, insists he cannot remember where he buried it.
What’s it all about? You may well ask. It’s all to do with the search, but these characters pause to hold forth about mortality, anxiety, politics and life’s complexities. Each shot is beautifully composed; this is film-making of the highest order. It’s long, slow-paced, and you may still feel baffled even as the film ends. But it’s more than likely to haunt your memory for days afterwards. (New Wave Films, £ 15.99)
And if none of these films take your fancy, you could always splash out for the box-set of the first season of Börgen, one of those Danish TV drama series that has graced BBC4 this past year. This one is about Birgitte Nyborg, Denmark’s first female prime minister (played by the luminous Sidse Babett Knudsen), who finds herself by day wrestling with compromises to keep her liberal coalition government afloat, before returning home to deal with domestic problems surround her husband and two children.
The joy of Börgen (the nickname of Denmark’s parliament building) is that it works on two levels – both as an intelligent, complex political thriller and as a character-driven, cliché-free family drama. It’s unashamedly for grown-ups. In Danish, with sub-titles. (Arrow/Entertainment One, £39.99)
(Please note: the price quoted in all cases is the Recommended Retail Price. If you shop around, especially online, you can benefit from considerable reductions.)
Read David Gritten every month in the the Out There section of Saga Magazine - full of unmissable events, book reviews, art, music, special offers and a whole lot more. Find out why we're the UK's best-selling magazine: Subscribe here now.