Cor blimey governor, Special Edition # 42 is a massive one. Laurence Boyce has been watching a multitude of DVDs and the column includes numerous feature debuts, some great British features and THAT sci-fi show that is always mentioned in this column. Given it’s so big, better stop waffling on and get straight to it!
Whilst the phrase “A comedy about suicide bombers” would seem to be an exercise in Daily Mail baiting, it’s worth noting that Four Lions (Optimum Releasing) is satirical, poignant and timely. It’s also bloody funny. Chris Morris, in his feature film debut, knows that comedy can arise when you have a great group dynamic. It just so happens that this group dynamic comes from a bunch of people who want to be terrorists. In following the motley bunch of wannabe Northern jihadists, there are a group of excellently staged set-pieces (including a section at a Pakistani training camp in which our leads manage to do everything spectacularly wrong), a number of stand- out performances from the likes of Riz Ahmed and Nigel Lindsay who manage to make us sympathise with the group despite the terrible nature of their plans and line after line of tremendously funny material. Morris and crew have done meticulous research into the subject and the film never comes across as glib; indeed, the climax of the film is both disturbing and powerful and it provides much food for thought about the nature of fanaticism and the lengths that people will go to in order to belong. An example of brave and daring British filmmaking. The extras on the disc are notable as well: the deleted scenes throw up many treats whilst some of the behind-the-scenes stuff is fascinating when you get to see Morris at work. It’s just a shame that he ultimately decided that he didn’t want to put commentaries on there...
Also making his British feature film debut is Tom Harper, known for some outstanding short films, with The Scouting Book for Boys (Pathe). The story revolves around David (Thomas Turgoose who is living up to the potential that he showed in This Is England) and best friend Emily who live an idyllic lifestyle on the English coast. But when Emily reveals that she is being forced to move away, Dave helps her hide in a cave on the beach. But soon the police are looking for the missing girl and revelations from Emily soon mean that things take a turn for the worst. There’s much to admire here with confident direction, gorgeous cinematography (which really evokes the faded glory of the British seaside) and some fine acting. But the film loses its way in the second half, as the darker turn that the story takes feels forced and unnatural and it ultimately leaves the film somewhat muddled and wanting. Despite this, there is enough here to make the film a worthwhile watch and, on the strength of this, Harper and the rest of the crew have a long and successful career ahead of them.
Onto an Iranian debut now as artist Shirin Neshat collaborates with Shoja Azaru in Women Without Men (Artificial Eye). Against the background of the 1953 Iranian coup d’etat, four women attempt to escape from the shackles of a patriarchal society which binds them through marriage, religion and violence. This is less concerned with narrative coherence and more with creating an air of magical realism. It sometimes makes the film disjointed, but there are plenty of breathtaking scenes here (such as the astonishing opening shots) with Neshat’s background as a photographer ensuring that everything is beautifully composed. There is also some tremendous acting as we follow the protagonists retain dignity and self-respect in the face of terrible hardships. Iranian cinema is currently playing host to some of the most talented directors in the world, and this is a striking example of the quality of the films coming out of the country..
It seems that someone has forgotten to inform director Ian Fitzgibbon that gangster movies are a thing of the past. Perrier’s Bounty (Optimum Home Releasing) sees Cillian Murphy as Michael a man who, unfortunately for him, owes money to one of Dublin’s most notorious gangsters. But, wouldn’t you just know it, something goes wrong and soon Michael finds himself with a price on his head alongside his suicidal ex-girlfriend and his Dad, who is convinced he is going to cark it the next time he falls asleep. This comedy drama certainly doesn’t bring anything new to the genre but it still manages to be enjoyable. This is mostly thanks to the strong cast, with the likes of Murphy, Jim Broadbent and Jodie Whittaker (who is still not getting the parts that her prodigious talent deserves) all clearly having a whale of a time. Indeed, it’s the air of fun that permeates the film that manages to help it rise above the glut of similar movies that have come out over the past few years. And it’s better than Guy Ritchie has managed recently. Though, admittedly, that’s actually not saying all that much.
Dogtooth (Verve Pictures) is an audacious and disturbing work that comes with a glowing reputation from the festival circuit and its recent UK cinema release. Its concept is compellingly strange as an (unnamed) mother and father ‘protect’ their children from the outside world by convincing them that anything beyond their secluded house will destroy them. Thus, the children are raised within the confines of their house, devoid of social interaction and with only the rules imposed upon them by their father to guide them. With their own language, strange rituals and an unshakeable belief in the ‘evil’ of the outside, the film follows the family as the attempt to fend off the ‘real world’ from invading the haven that they have built for themselves. With echoes of Lynch and Haneke, Dogtooth is disturbing precisely because it refuses to give the audience any justification for the reasons for the bizarre behaviour of the family. They just ‘are’. But, whilst the atmosphere that permeates the film is strange and disturbing, there also seems a terrible logic to proceedings that disconcerts as much as it offers scant comfort. With measured direction and passionate performances, this is invigorating and scathing cinema.
Austrian director Jessica Hausner has currently been lauded for her film Lourdes which has done great business on the arthouse and festival circuit. See where she began with Lovely Rita (Artificial Eye) a bleak tale of a girl for whom sex is an escape to a tedious adolescence. It’s a detached and somewhat cold affair (though the end is a shocking juxtaposition to this), reminiscent of some of the films that came out of the Dogme Manifesto. Yet the observational style is fascinating and sometimes disturbing as the frustration and discontent that lies at the heart of the minutiae of middle-class life is brought chillingly to the fore. Hausner also moves into genre territory with the excellent Hotel (Artificial Eye) which sees a young woman being hired to work at a luxury hotel after the girl who held the position previously disappeared in mysterious circumstances. But when she discovers that the staff are keeping secrets, she beings to wonder just whether the missing girl may not be missing at all. This is a very precise and measured film (but no less scary for it) as Hausner masterfully creates an atmosphere of underlying dread. Continually retaining a disconcerting ambiguity the film is a unique and extremely effective slice of cinematic psychological horror.
On to some more traditional horror now with Burning Bright (Momentum Pictures) in which a young woman finds herself trapped in a house with a killing machine. It just so happens that this killing machine is a real-life tiger. It’s all faintly ridiculous and – despite the fact that the premise is at least something a bit different – it’s all rather predictable. But it still manages to have great moments of tension and, given that a real tiger was used as opposed to CGI, there’s a certain fascination to be had whenever the big kitty is on the big screen. Who needs wildlife documentaries? And who needs ‘Top Gear’ as horror fans can also look out for Road Train (Optimum Home Entertainment) a film which sees a group of young campers in the Australian Outback terrorised by a mysterious truck. It’s derivative, with elements of Duel and The Hitcher amongst many others but, again, it’s competently done and horror fans should get some enjoyment out of it. They should also enjoy After.Life (Anchor Bay UK) in which Cristina Ricci plays Eliot, a girl who has had a bit of a bad day as she’s been run over. Waking up on Liam Neeson’s mortuary slab, the terrified woman is informed that he’s there to help her transition to ‘the other side’. Just what secrets does he have to hide? This is a nicely plotted thriller cum supernatural horror and, thanks to the screen presence of Ricci and Neeson, it proves to be a fun and scary little diversion.
However, if you really want to get your teeth into some scary screen action then you have to look to the past and dig up Daughters of Darkness (Optimum Home Entertainment) a lovely slice of Belgian Euro Horror. Whilst staying at a beautiful hotel, newlyweds Stefan and Valerie come across fellow guest Countess Elizabeth Bathory. Soon they become entangled in her erotic web. Just who is she? Why have three women been murdered and their bodies drained of blood? And just why does the hotel porter think that the Countess looks exactly the same as she did when she stayed at the hotel 40 years previously? I would be willing to bet that most people may have some good guesses as to the answer to those questions. This is tremendously stylish with director Harry Kumel beautifully building up a sense of the otherworldy and the strange. Indeed, the film is less concerned with the traditional trappings of vampire lore and more with wrong footing the viewer. Delphine Seyrig radiates sensuality and danger in the lead role and, despite a very specific 70s aesthetic, it hasn’t dated all that much. It could show those Twilight whippersnappers a thing or two. If you need a bit more Eurojoy then also check out Casanova ’70 (Mr Bongo Films) which stars Marcello Mastroianni as a man who can only seduce people in life threatening situation. It’s a rather silly and forgettable farce with one or two good lines and plenty of nudity. But Mastroianni is watchable as always
Lebanon (Metrodome) is director Samuel Moaz’ a powerful and personal film based upon his experiences during the 1982 Lebanon war. Intensely claustrophobic, the film follows four boys aged 20 who are behind the controls of a tank and pushed into a combat situation that they are hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with. With almost all the action taking place within the confines of the tank, the film is a masterclass in creating tension as the four protagonists gradually become accustomed to the true horrors of war. Similarly, there’s a tangible atmosphere as the sweat drips off the steel and the oppressive nature of the situation becomes ever more extreme. This eschews political analysis to focus upon how conflict slowly erodes the innocence of those who are on the front line and stands up alongside such films as Waltz With Bashir in its examination of how war affects the individual. A deserved winner of the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Film Festival.
On to another award worthy film as the Oscar nominated Revanche (Artificial Eye) makes its way on to DVD. An examination of the nature of consequences and the power of revenge, the film follows ex-con Alex who spends his days working in a brothel and falling in love with one of the working girls. After a plan to escape goes wrong, Alex finds his life intertwined with that of policeman Robert and everything soon builds to a tense and inevitable climax. Director Gotz Speilmann has created a slow burning piece of work which mirrors the complex yet inescapable reaction that the characters have to the events of the film. It manages to be both intelligent and thought-provoking whilst also utilising the traditional elements of the thriller genre to create an absolutely gripping affair.
The Satyajit Ray Collection Volume 3 (Artificial Eye) is the first of two box sets containing work from acknowledged masters of cinema. The collection includes some of the Indian director’s later works, all of which have a decidedly political edge. Deliverance (Sadgati) sees Om Puri deliver a great performance as an ‘untouchable’ in a film that examines the caste system whilst Enemy of The People (Ganashatru) is an affecting adaptation of the Ibsen play. Finally we have Home and the World (Ghaire-Bare) which examines the role of woman as closeted Imala ventures away from the comfort of her secluded life to experience the reality of existence. Ray’s humanistic yet crusading approach to filmmaking are elegantly represented in this collection. Also available is The Alan Resnais Collection (Artificial Eye) which includes some of the French director’s later films including Life is a Bed of Roses and Melo.
Lymelife (Network Releasing) avoids the faintly damning ‘typical American indie’ thanks to its evocative recreations of 70s America and a commanding lead performance from Rory Culkin (yep, the brother of the 80s ‘moppet extraordinaire’). Reminiscent of Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm, the film sees a community under stress when an outbreak of Lyme disease threatens everyone. As 15-year-old Scott Bartlett witnesses the paranoia of his family and friends as the attempt to prevent the infection from spreading, he soon begins to realise that the heart of their distrust does not lie in the medical but instead in the secrets and lies of infidelity, fear and unrequited desire. This is a well observed and meticulously crafted work in which the hypocrisy of American family life is gradually revealed.
After all that serious stuff, then you might need something to brighten the mood. Largo Winch – Deadly Revenge (Optimum Home Entertainment) would be just the ticket. Based on the French comic book, the film is an exciting adventure for Largo Winch, a playboy adventurer who discovers that his long lost father has left him a fortune. But as he becomes the CEO of his father’s organisation, he discovers that there are plenty of people who don’t want him to succeed. This is all very slick and well done and it zips along at a high octane pace. Whilst it tries a little too hard to emulate the recent glut of comic book movies that have littered cinemas as of late, it still manages to have a charm and style of its own and its enormous fun. Also fun is 14 Blades (Icon Home Entertainment) in which an Emperor during the Ming Dynasty recruits orphans to become Jinywei - his secret guards. Qinglong is the best of the of Jinywei, but after a mission he is betrayed by his former brothers as they begin to take arms against the Emperor. Qinglong embarks on a mission to save the Emperor whilst facing down his former brethren. Whilst there’s some compelling drama and some beautiful shots, this really works of some great kung-fu sequences. And there are plenty of those. Fans of action cinema will find themselves more than sated with this offering.
Less fun is Clash Of The Titans (Warner Home Video) which really makes you wonder why everyone went to the bother of remaking the enjoyable 1981 romp. It seems as if someone said “Ooooh the effects in that old film don’t look as good now, so let’s wow audiences with some brand spanking new CGI!” Of course, what they forget is that the (quite brilliant) special effects from Ray Harryhausen added to the film’s 80s ramshackle charm whereas here the indentikit CGI means you may as well be playing it on your Xbox. Liam Neeson (who seems to have gone genre crazy what with this, The A-Team and the aforementioned After.Life) and Ralph Fiennes turn up but are phoning it in as Sam Avatar Worthington fights some mythic monsters. And then does it again. And again. There’s just nothing special here and – removed from the big screen – it becomes an average Saturday night takeaway movie for when you want something totally undemanding. The original 80s version still remains the king of Bank Holiday Mondays (a throne it shares with The Great Escape, Jason and the Argonauts and any number of Bond films. Obviously.)
When it was released in 2000 Achero Mañas’ debut El Bola (Axiom Films) swept the Goyas (the Spanish equivalent of the Oscars). It’s deserving of the accolades as it’s a powerful portrayal of Pablo a tough child of the streets whose life is dogged by a violent family and a lonely existence. When he makes a new friend, he discovers that there is a possibility of redemption. With an elegant realism, some simple storytelling and a great turn from 12-year-old Juan José Ballesta in the lead role, the film is very reminiscent of the work of Ken Loach. It’s also an interesting study on the complex relationship between masculinity and violence. Whilst the subject matter has been covered many times before, it’s done so with skill and talent and it’s worth tracking down.
Frantisek Vlácil’s Adelheid (Second Run) was one of the first films to deal with the thorny issue of the strained relations between Czechs and the Germans at the end of the Second World War. Viktor Chotovicky arrives in a small Czech village to make an inventory of the house of Alfred Heidenmann, a German war criminal. Whilst there he is assigned a servant, Adelheid, who just so happens to be Heidenmann’s daughter. Soon they fall in love. But who do they love more – each other or their nations? This is a film all about nuance – hardly a word is said (indeed, the fact that the lead protagonists speak a different language is telling) but its looks and subtle gestures that have a tremendous power. As an examination of the tension between personal happiness and national duty it’s an amazing piece of work, though one that is unfortunately not given the reputation it deserves. Second Run DVD once again do an excellent job in distributing lesser known world cinema with an excellent transfer of a mannered yet engrossing film.
There’s another excellent re-release in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (Park Circus). With some absolutely stunning cinematography from Jack Cardiff (see Special Edition # 41 for more) the film stars Ava Gardner as a woman who falls for James Mason’s 17th-century seaman who has been doomed to roam the Earth until he can find love. This is an epic romantic tale that’s chock full of melodrama and, even with its vague supernatural trappings, the style is sometimes reminiscent of the films of Douglas Sirk. The melodrama is helped by the fact that Gardner and Mason have an amazing chemistry and light up the screen every time that they are together. Add in the fact that it’s beautifully shot in glorious technicolour, it’s an excellent reminder that it takes more than just a bit of CGI for films to be grandiose and epic. The disc includes trailers and the short film Death of Manolete whilst the film comes on standard disc and Blu Ray.
Alongside The Kid The Gold Rush (Park Circus) is perhaps one of Charlie Chaplin’s fondly remembered films. Scenes in which The Tramp, who here travels to Alaska in order to strike gold, eats his shoes and performs a dance with some bread rolls are still lauded (and often parodied) to this day and it’s a testament to Chaplin’s consistent inventiveness as both a performer and director and ability to evoke pathos without sentimentality that means the films still stands up today. There are two versions of the film, an excellent restoration of the original 1925 version and the 1942 film, which saw Chaplin record a new score and add narration. The Tramp makes his final appearance in Modern Times (Park Circus) in which he attempts to live in the confines of a new era. It takes a beautiful woman to help him find his way. Chaplin’s last silent feature, it’s depression era setting prefigures his more socially aware works such as The Great Dictator whilst retaining the fantastic eye for physical comedy that made him such a star. Both films come with trailers, introductions by film historian David Robinson and deleted scenes and also come on both standard disc and Blu-ray.
Every cliché you’ve seen about the fashion world. Every idea you’ve ever had that it’s full of vein people who don’t care about anything except looks. Every notion that the fashion world is one step removed from real life. Guess what? They’re all true. Well, they are if documentary Valentino – The Last Emperor (Optimum Home Releasing) is to be believed. In documenting the almost half a century career of fashion designer Valentino Garavani, director Matt Tyrnauer is allowed direct access to the backstage world of models, designers and high fashion. The trouble is that fashion world seems such an enormous parody of itself that even the (sometimes fascinating) story of Garavani’s rise to the top doesn’t really register. Also, given that much of the world it predicated on ostentatious displays of wealth, it sometimes all feels a little obscene given the world economic climate. Of course, if you love fashion than I am sure you will love watching this. In a diamond encrusted DVD player no doubt.
If you have a problem, if no-one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire ... nope, not them. I was thinking about The Protectors (Network Releasing) a trio of ‘Uber-detectives’ for which no case is too baffling or strange. It just has to be in a really nice location. This is a typical 70s show from ITC with some good looking yet vaguely wooden lead actors (though Robert Vaughn does well as the American whose character ensures US TV company investment ... uh, I mean that everything runs smoothly), a bunch of guest stars (look out for John Thaw and Patrick Troughton) and the requisite enjoyable theme tune (‘Avenues and Alleyways’ by Tony Christie). As one of the more expensive ITC shows, there’s more location filming than usual (yes, the stock footage is kept to a minimum which – in some ways – detracts from the charm) and it certainly manages to be entertaining. Whilst it lacks the eccentricity that made shows such as ‘Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)’ so enduring, cult TV fans should get an enormous kick out of this.
If anyone could get the BBC and Channel 4 working together it would be Dennis Potter. There seems to be almost mischievous intent in his insistence that his final two plays be a co-production between the two; unsurprising for a man who would consistently push back the boundaries of television. Written when he knew he was dying of terminal cancer, Karaoke & Cold Lazarus (Acorn Media) blend fantasy and reality to typically great effect. In ‘Karaoke’ Daniel Feeld works on a TV screenplay called “Karaoke” but soon discovers that his words are coming true. 400 years later, in the follow-up drama ‘Cold Lazarus’, all that is left of Feeld is a cryogenically stored brain. In a dystopian society, will his memories help set people free? Given the circumstances they were written in there’s a certain air of melancholy in both pieces as Potter attempts to place a full stop on his distinguished career. But there’s also inventiveness, cheeky references to his other work and star turns from the likes of Albert Finney, Richard E Grant and Diane Ladd that make these moving and exciting television plays.
Despite the fact that it’s rather good, Tony Shaloub’s OCD suffering detective ‘Monk’ never seems to get the respect he deserves. Given a bad timeslot on terrestrial TV and never talked about in the same breath as ‘Columbo’ or ‘Ironside’ or – dare I say it – ‘Quincy’, Mr Monk may just be a little too eccentric for some people’s tastes. But don’t let that put you off and go and, if you’ve missed it so far, check out Monk: Season 7 (Universal Playback) which features Shaloub on top form. The show manages to be a really funny comedy, with some drama thrown in, but is crafted to the point where it doesn’t throw away. This season includes the fantastically convoluted and funny ‘Mr. Monk's 100th Case’ which features a host of stars (including John Turturro and Sarah Silverman) and Steve Zahn as Monk’s delinquent half-brother in the, unsurprisingly titled, ‘Mr. Monk's Other Brother’. Yes, it doesn’t have the gravitas of ‘The Wire’ or the coolness of ‘Mad Men’. But it is tremendously good fun, which is sometimes just what you need.
Matt Smith finally graces the pages of Speical Edition with Doctor Who: Season 5 Volume 3 (BBC DVD). As the eleventh incarnation of The Doctor, he’s been nothing short of a triumph with a childish charm and a sense of other-worldliness. But he’s also been ably supported by Karen Gillan as his companion Amy, who is at the centre of the episode ‘Amy’s Choice’. The time-travellers are thrust into a new world by the mysterious Dream Lord – which is real and which is fantasy. Amy must choose or they will lose their lives. Some fine acting and a tight script make this a great example of modern era Doctor Who whilst the two-parter consisting of ‘The Hungry Earth’ and ‘Cold Blood’ is a throwback to the Pertwee era. The return of some old enemies (or are they friends?) provide a problem for the Doctor and a group of villagers who are forced to help defend the Earth. Whilst it seems a little stretched out over two episodes this still manages to mix Boys Own Adventure with some intelligence and wit. Yep, Doctor Number 11 is great. David who?
And for a bit of old school Time Lord then check out the Doctor Who – Cyberman Box Set (BBC DVD). This collects ‘Revenge of the Cyberman’ (in which the Cybermen want to destroy a planet made of gold), a Tom Baker romp that marked the first appearance of the metal meanies for several years and ‘Silver Nemesis’(in which The Doctor fights them on Earth as they attempt to get hold of a deadly statue) a Sylvester McCoy adventure that also acted as a celebration of the show’s 25th Anniversary. Unfortunately, both aren’t that good as they suffer from following superior stories (‘Genesis of the Daleks’ and ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ respectively) and containing some silly ideas (Oooh, the Cybermen are allergic to gold. Great, we’ll stop an invasion by playing Spandau Ballet to them at full blast). But Baker is, as always, worth watching whilst McCoy – a Doctor who never got the respect he deserved – was finally settling into the role. As always, the commentaries have some great reminiscences from acst and crew and the documentaries are up to their usual high standard. Whilst both aren’t vintage Doctor Who, the mere presence of the Cybermen makes this set an important part of Doctor Who lore