Special Edition # 29
After the huge misfire that was The Fountain it was a bit worrying when Darren Aronofsky announced that his latest film would set in the carny world of pro-wrestling. It was even more worrying when Mickey Rourke – long since derided as a Hollywood joke – would take the main role. Well, wouldn’t you know it, the both of them have made The Wrestler (Optimum Home Entertainment) one of the finest US films of the past few years. Whilst there has been a justified amount of praise for Rourke’s brilliant performance as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a washed up pro-wrestler looking for one last big match, it’s a shame that the film wasn’t more lauded for Aronofksy’s excellent direction and the excellent cinematography from Maryse Alberti. Even though it’s set in the present day the film throws us into a world of muted greys, trailer parks, old console systems and payphones: much like Randy, we’re apparently trapped by the 80s. Similarly, the camera is continually following Randy (indeed he’s in almost every single scene of the film) and through it's relentless pursuit we know that, ultimately, he can never escape his past. This technical bravura never feels tricksy and, alongside the brutal wrestling scenes, it creates an air of both energy and bruised romanticism to the entire film. Mention must also be made of Marisa Tomei’s extraordinary and fragile portryal of a stripper whose life mirrors that of our babyface hero. Tragic and moving but also breathtakingly beautiful this is a unique and exciting example of American cinema at its best. The DVD comes with a comprehensive ‘making of’.
If you’ve seen the latest trailer for Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes then you’d be forgiven for deciding never to watch a film from a British director again. But don’t let the ex-Mr Madonna put you off as Franklyn (E1 Entertainment) will restore your faith in the talents that are abound in this country. Gerald McMorrow’s feature debut is a bold science-fiction fantasy about a masked vigilante who roams the streets of the futuristic ‘Meanwhile City’. His story is intertwined with those of people from the present day, including a jilted lover and a man desperately looking for his missing son. As the film progresses we soon discover how each story connects and just how the future will influence the present. This is a stylish piece of work that invites comparison with many other genre films including Brazil, Dark City and Strange Days. There are points when the story gets slightly obtuse but – much like Donnie Darko – part of the joy of the film is re-watching it and working out things that you have missed before. There’s some strong performances from up and coming British actors such as Sam Riley whilst veterans Art Mailk and Susannah York bring gravitas to it all. Sometimes the film can get bogged down in its efforts to look stylish but, even with these flaws, it’s nice to see that they are people who know that British cinema can reach beyond gritty realism and revel in the telling of fairy tales. Extras are rather sparse with a ‘making of’ and deleted scenes: it would have been nice if there was a commentary as, with the sheer amount that goes on in the film, it would have made for a fascinating listen.
Another filmmaker who manages to expand the view that British cinema is more than social commetary, gangsters and period pieces is Danny Boyle. Two of his films, pivotal in the mid 90s renaissance of British cinema, are re-released on both regular and Blu-Ray DVDs. First up is Shallow Grave: Special Ediiton (4DVD), Boyle’s debut feature that is a dark and kinetic film that mixes Hitchcock with a modern aesthetic to create an enjoyably tense thriller. Chris Eccleston, Kerry Fox and Ewan MacGregor play flatmates who – after their new lodger dies – find themselves in possession of more cash than they have ever dreamed of. But soon the allure of the money proves too tempting, and they begin to turn on one another. With some razor sharp dialogue and some well-judged shock moment, this stands up more than 15 years since it first alerted us to Boyle’s (and indeed the rest of the cast and crew) talent. The DVD comes with a commentary by Boyle and a fun fly-on-the-wall documentary entitled ‘Digging Your Own Grave’ that shows the difficult process of getting the film on to the screen. But the process would be worth it as it prepared the team for their next film: one that would go down as one of the most iconic British films in history. Despite being endlessly ripped-off and parodied Trainspotting: Ultimate Collector's Edition (4DVD) is still a visceral shock to the system that is full of verve, wit and invention. From the pounding opening scene to the note perfect switches between drama and comedy, this is still as exciting – and dare I say relevant – as it was when people were still wondering who this upstart Boyle thought he was. The standard edition comes with a – really, really good – documentary looking back on the impact of the film (including the revelation the Robert Carlyle still believes that Begbie is actually gay) whist the Blu-Ray DVD comes with this and a load of other extras as well. If you’re upgrading, then the Blu-Ray edition is an essential purchase.
More landmarks of British cinema history as the BFI have launched Flipside, a new strand of DVDs dedicated to celebrating weird and esoteric films from British cinema history. The strand starts off with a bang as The Bed Sitting Room (BFI) is officially released on DVD. Full deserving of its status as a ‘lost classic’ Richard Lester’s (best known for A Hard Day's Night) brilliant satire set in a post apocalyptic England, is everything you’d expect from one of the most anarchic and playful directors of the era. The survivors of World War III eke out a life in a ruined London whilst dealing with mutation (including one character who turn into the eponymous space of the title) and the question of just how important The Queen’s tea-lady may actually be. Swinging between surreal comedy and despairing existentialism this is a glorious and savage swipe at society and conformity written by John Antrobus. Starring the likes of Spike Milligan, Peter Cook and Rita Tushingham, the film may be of its time but still has a genius and flair that resonates today. The DVD quality is excellent acomes with contemporaneous interviews with Lester, Cook and Milligan and a meticulously researched essay by BFI curator Michael Brooke. It's wonderful to see it avaiable again. Also in the Flipside collection are London in the Raw and Primitive London (both BFI), two Arnold L Miller documentaries that take their cue from the series of ‘Mondo’films that delighted in shocking audiences during the 60s. Both films delve into the underworld of London, a world of beatniks, strip clubs and tattered dreams. Whilst both films are firmly rooted in the realms of exploitation, there’s much to appreciate here beyond the attempts at titillation. We’re faced with an England that is dragging its way out of post-war austerity but that can’t hope to live up to the glamorous ideals that ‘Swinging London’ seems to be offering. The permissive society is about to begin: but will everyone be allowed to take part? Again, the BFI have done a wonderful and thorough job with these releases with short films, interviews and pristine transfers all part of the deal. Fans of British cinema should look forward to more releases from the Flipside strand over the coming months.
Female centred revenge films (especially extremely violent one) have become more prominent over the past few years. Films such as Switchblade Romance and Baise Moi have provided a brutal counterpoint to many genre films that have often wallowed in misogyny. Martyrs (Optimum Home Entertainment) has been courting controversy at festivals across the world with the story of woman who takes a sick and bloody revenge on the people she believes abused her as a child. This a relentless piece of work, and will leave you exhausted at the end as there is never any respite from numerous terrible happenings. But it would be unfair to dismiss the film as ‘torture porn’. Despite the extremely difficult nature of proceedings, there are a number of interesting points to be made on the nature of guilt and spirituality. This is definitely a film that will have a minority appeal, but for those who like their films to be uncompromising then this will be certainly worth a punt.
Onto TV as we come to the last season of one of the most lauded television series of the past few years. Battlestar Galactica: The Final Season (Universal Playback) concludes the story of the battle between the Cylons and the final 50’000 human survivors who roam the galaxies in the starship Galactica searching for the mythical lost colony of Earth. A remake of a fun – but rather superficial – show of the 70s, this modern day version showed sci-fi could do grand drama and work on a number of levels. Brilliant characterisation, tight writing and some commanding acting meant this was a show that could deal with modern politics (with much of what goes on being an allegory for the war on terror) and history in a profound and meaningful way. Always gripping and never dull, the show has become one of those shows mentioned in the same hallwoed breath as US TV shows ‘The Sopranos’, ‘The Wire’ and ‘Oz’. The final season certainly delivers with some shocking revelations and the requisite thrills and spills and a well-thought out final episode that – whilst not as satisfying as everyone would have hoped (though, with the weight of expectation, what could be?) – rounds the series off well. The set comes with the usual raft of extras with featurettes, webisodes, deleted scenes and video blogs that will provide all the background information that you could possibly want.
Now, if you ever need a witty rejoinder, then Mr Edmund Blackadder is your man. He'll be able to provide us with one, even though his biting sarcasm and ruthless nature make him quite unlikable. Yet we can't help but love him anyway. Now you can relive all his adventures in Blackadder Remastered - The Ultimate Edition (BBC DVD). From the relatively ignored first series (which, whilst being a bit of a shock for those used to the more suave Blackadder, still has it’s moments if you look hard enough) to the poignant and moving end of series 4, there’s more wit contained in here than at a wit selling shop owned by Mr Wit who lives in Whistable. The real treat for fans is the bonus features including a 90 minute documentary about the history of the series (with interviews with all the main players), the one-off specials (including the bloody awful one done for the Millennium Dome) and selected commentaries (some of which include great moments where Atkinson critiques his own performance with the words “I should have left a pause after the word ‘sausage’”). If you’re a massive fan and already own the vanilla disc of this then I would wince and shell out the cash to get this new edition. The extras are well worth it. And if you’ve never bought it before, well, what are you waiting for?
And that’s it for this column and we’ll be back … oh, wait. There’s just one more thing. Yep, if you like your detectives dishevlled, chewing on a cigar and always coming back for more then you'll be delighted to know thta Columbo: Season 10 - Volume 1 (Universal Playback) is available for all your needs. If you've never seen Columbo before then all that needs to be asked is, what? There are undiscovered tribes in the deepest reaches of the jungle who've seen at least one episode. Usually when having their sunday lunch. Needless to say, there are 8 stories in this set with guest stars (George Hamilton turns up!) playing rich people who murder someone only to have the the crumpled wonder arrive and rain on their parade. Yes, you thought Columbo was merely a rather pedestrian detective show: in fact it's an allegory for class warfare. Take that 'Battlestar Galactica'! This is the sort of thing you should buy if you have an inkling that you are going to be stuck in the house for a while. If you also a box set of 'Diagnosis: Murder' and the 'Best of Countdown' then congratulations: you can now act like a student 24 hours a day.
Special Edition will return.
Oooh, it's just like the end of a Bond film...