Lots of new films this time around as Special Edition # 33 has more examples of Hollywood being unable to think of new ideas, a bunch of documentaries and the usual intriguing mix of world cinema and TV releases.
Originally a BBC Drama, State Of Play (Universal Releasing) has transferred to the big screen under the direction of Oscar winner Kevin One Day In September Macdonald. The original was a heady mix of political intrigue and complex motivations and, to Macdonald’s credit, this continues in this new version in which journalist Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe, who’s on good form) finds himself involved in the investigation of the murders of two congressional aides. However the condensation of the plot means that this is not as richly satisfying as its UK parent but – taken on its own – its an extremely exciting political thriller that manages to be reminiscent of some of the great US conspiracy movies on the 1970s. Aside from Crowe, Helen Mirren and Ben Affleck are on good form and this is a good example of intelligent Hollywood fare. The extras include a deleted scenes and a making of.
With its punful title, Sounds Like Teen Spirit (Warner Music Entertainment) immediately sets out its stall. The documentary follows the fortunes of several participants on the 2007 Junior Eurovision which – whilst not big on our part of the continent (probably as we’re already knee deep in reality shows) – is quite a big thing for our continental European cousins. The film takes its cues from such films as Spellbound and walks the fine line between making fun of the precocious singing moppets and taking a swipe at the desire for fame that has been engendered amongst the young. As entertaining as it is, the film never really gives enough insight into the motivations of some of the youngsters and it seems a much more slight example of the recent glut of aspirational documentaries. Still, the singing portions are fun and there's enough here to hold the interest.
French director Jacques Rivette has consistently provided audiences with thoughtful and considered cinema that marked him out as one of the more experimental directors of the French New Wave. Some of his later works showed his eye for the epic with Jeanne La Pucelle Part 1: Les Batailles (Artificial Eye) and Jeanne La Pucelle Part 2: Les Prisons (Artificial Eye) being a perfect example. A take on the story Joan Of Arc, this eschews some of the more melodramatic moments of her life, instead concentrating on her daily life with an almost documentary like gaze. The battle scenes are presented in a retrained style, whilst Sandrine Bonnaire, as ourt main protagonist, gives a measured performance. The languid nature can prove slightly wearing at times, but there’s an everyday beauty here that is hard to ignore. Bonnaire also stars in Rivette’s Secret Defense (Artificial Eye), a Hitchcockian thriller which mixes genre conventions with a sense of truth and reality. Whilst beautifully shot, with another strong performance from Bonnaire, this is a little too cold and emotionless for my tastes. Still, it’s wonderful to look at and those prepared for the long haul will find much to reward them in the film.
Another person with an amazing eye for detail is Gideon Koppel, whose brilliant documentary sleep furiously (New Wave Films) makes its way on to DVD. This is a serene and beautiful piece of work that focuses upon the a small Welsh farming community whose traditions are slowly but surely dying out. This is a paean to a lost way of life with Koppel (shooting on film) providing some absolutely stunning landscapes and an extremely excellent soundtrack from Aphex Twin providing the perfect accompaniment to the film. Poetic and moving, this potrait of a community is one of the finest British documentaries of the past few years. The DVD includes the pilot documentary for the film entitled ‘Sketchbook for the Library Van’ and the trailer.
Cult classic Amsterdamned (Nouveaux Pictures) makes it way to UK DVD for the first time ever and it’s definitely one for horror fans to check out. Unsurprisingly, the film is set in Amsterdam where dogged detective Visser searches for a serial killer who is using the Dutch canals to lure people to their deaths. Soon hooking up with a woman diver who may help him find the person responsible, Visser soon finds himself in a race against time when his daughter decides to try and find the killer herself. This is an extremely accomplished thriller with director Dick Mass referencing some classic thrillers of the past (including Jaws and Blood Simple) whilst utilising his location to the best advantage. Add in a line of black humour and some extremely affecting set-pieces and you’re left with an extremely gripping thriller that grabs the attention.
More cult action in Outlander (Momentum Pictures) in which aliens land on Earth during the time of the Vikings. Cue lots of battles between said aliens and our horned heroes. You can just imagine the meeting that got this film greenlit (“Hey guys, I’ve got a brilliant ideas: let’s have Vikings fight aliens,”) and the film never gets beyond much beyond it concept. But with the likes of John Hurt and Sophia Myles making the best of the material, this ends as big, dumb, mindless entertainment. Also look out for classic sci-fi film The Day the Earth Caught Fire (Network Releasing), Val Guest’s tense story about the Earth shifting from its axis and moving closer to the sun. With a heavy dose of cold war paranoia and imagery that would go on to influence a host of future sci-fi films, the film is still a relevant and timely piece of work. The cult films also continue with Dying Breed (DNC Entertainment), an Australian horror movie about a student who must face the wrath of evil cannibals. It’s all a bit silly, but there are enough bloody set pieces to keep horror fans well entertained.
Dynamic: 01 The Best of Davidlynch.com (Scanbox Entertainment) collects some of the short films that director known to some as ‘Jimmy Stewart from Mars’ presented for subscribers for his website. There are experimental animations, such as Industrial Soundscape and Bug Crawls which are typical of Lynch’s interest atmosphere and sound whilst Boat sees Lynch himself taking a mysterious journey. There’s also the disturbing The Darkened Room and – unusually for Lynch – the funny Out Yonder Neighbor Boy. Lynch fans will have fun as the director explores his usual themes including alienation and Americana and he proves surprisingly open in a 20 minute section in which he answers questions from fans who were members of his website. Some fascinating work, but this is strictly for fans of Lynch.
Goddess (Mr Bongo Films) sees Satayajit Ray tell the story of Doyamoyee, a girl who is declared a goddess by her father-in-law. She soon starts to believe the pronouncement as a line of villagers appear to pay homage to their new deity. As an examination of faith and belief, this is a remarkable achievement by Ray, with lead actress Sharmila Tagore giving a mesmerising and moving performance as a woman faced with the daunting prospect of being worshipped whilst being unable to protest against her situation. This is an elegant work which shows Ray’s amazing ability to use stillness and silence to generate powerful emotions. Perhaps the Stayajit Ray film that most explicitly deals with Indian culture, this is a long awaited release of one of cinema’s greatest directors. Also re-released on DVD is The Man Without A Past (ICA Films), Aki Kaurismaki’s’s story of a man who is mugged, and has to rebuild his life from scratch. Full of dry humour and Kaurismaki’s unique vision, it’s a stylish and engrossing affair.
If you’re watching Desperate Romantics (BBC DVD) believing that it’s some sort of Simon Schama-esque documentary about English painters during the 1800’s then you’re going to get something of a surprise. Yes it’s about English painters: but this is about their sexual technique as much as it is about their painting technique. Indeed, each episode begins with the disclaimer: "In the mid-19th century, a group of young men challenged the art establishment of the day. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were inspired by the real world about them, yet took imaginative licence in their art. This story, based on their lives and loves, follows in that inventive spirit.” In other words: “We’re going to make up stories about these people shagging their way across London. But, even if it won’t help you with your Art GCSE (though it may come in handy for Biology) this is an entertaining romp (and ‘romp’ is the perfect word) which blends period drama with a modern narrative. It’s sometimes a little hard to take seriously (indeed, it’s like the show is knowingly winking at you throughout), but the energy of it all makes for some enjoyable viewing.
Peter Capaldi has obviously been paying attention during his time on ‘The Thick of It’ as he steps behind the camera for Getting On (BBC DVD), a well observed comedy drama about NHS nurses attempting to care for the elderly. Shot in the same raw and urgent style as Armando Ianucci’s political sitcom, this also shares the same bleak yet sharp sense of humour. The cast, who also helped shape the script, is uniformly excellent, with Joanna Scanlan, Jo Brand (herself a former psychiatric nurse) and Vickie Pepperdine all providing jokes and pathos as people attempting to do their best in the midst of ever increasing red tape. The show has recently been deservedly recommissioned by the Beeb and remains a fine example of the fact that – when it tries – the corporation can be responsible for some of the best and most thought provoking TV shows on offer. It is a shame that there aren’t any substantive extras, as an insight into the creation of the show would have proved welcome. Still, there are some interviews with the actors in character which are worthwhile and the show itself makes this a disc worth having.
Doctor Who: The Twin Dilemma (BBC DVD) marks Colin Baker’s first time in the role and showed both the positive and negative of what his Doctor would embody: suffering from his recent regeneration, The Doctor tries to strangle companion Peri. Which is just wrong, as everyone knows he should have tried to strangle Mel. But, as the Time Lord always does, he soon becomes embroiled in a plot involving missing twins, old friends and bitter enemies. This adventure suffers from attempting to get too much into one story with the main story feeling like a backdrop to establishment of Baker’s Doctor. In trying to emphasise the alien nature of The Doctor, Baker is a rather irascible character with shades of grumpiness not since William Hartnell (he tries to strangle his companion in the story, which is just wrong. Unless it’s Bonnie Langford). But it seems a little too much in this story and ‘The Twin Dilemma’ seems a step too far into distancing the character from his previous incarnations. It’s a shame as Baker was softened and began to blossom in the role when the rug was pulled from under him. The disc comes with a commentary and an excellent documentary about the Doctor Who comic strip of the era. Also look out for Doctor Who: The Keys Of Marinus (BBC DVD), which sees the First Doctor and his companions embark on a quest to save the planet Marinus by preventing the a machine from falling into the hands of the evil Yartek. A curious tale – each of the episodes are basically mini-adventures in their own right – this is still a mildly exciting example of early Who, Includes commentaries with William Russel and Carole Ann Ford and a feature on the set design.
If you’re looking for dense humour, subtlety and sophistication then Robot Chicken: Season 2 (Revolver Entertainment) is probably not for you. The brainchild of Seth Green (best know for his turn in Austin Powers) and Matthew Senreich, this is a crude (sometimes in both senses of the word) stop motion show which skewers pop culture. Delights here include the chance to discover what Pikachu actually does when not fighting other Pokemon, see how the Care Bears become involved with ethnic cleansing and what would happen if the Golden Girls were the main focus of ‘Sex and the City’. Needless to say, this is all rather rude, crude and enormous fun if you get the references that are littered throughout the show. If you find swearing, violence and cartoon characters doing rude things the best thing ever, then that’s probably what you’re going to think of this show. The disc comes with loads of extras including enthusiastic commentaries from the likes of Green and Senreich.
Check online for release dates of all DVDs mentioned.