Special Edition # 32
A bit of a British bonanza this time as Special Edition # 32 brings a pair of UK films which delve into two of British people’s favourite subjects: politics and football. It’s a shame The Age Of Stupid isn’t out until October, otherwise we’d also have the weather. Laurence Boyce also looks at the usual mixture of classic films (including one of the best – and funniest – mockumentaries ever made), new releases and TV shows that you’ll need in order to avoid the fact that ‘The X Factor’ is back on the telly.
Given that I’m a Leeds United supporter (you see, I know pain) and have lived a couple of miles away from Elland Road Stadium since I was a young man, The Damned United (Sony Pictures Releasing) holds something of a special resonance for me. The account of Brian Clough’s disastrous stint at the club during 1974 contains some uncomfortable moments for the LUFC fan, given that Billy Bremner and the team are definitely portrayed as the villains of the piece). Leaving club loyalties aside this is a compelling love story (yes, you read that right) that happens to centre around football. It follows Clough’s career and explores the roots of the charismatic manager’s enmity for the Yorkshire team and their former manager Don Revie whilst taking in Clough’s tumultuous relationship with Assistant Manager Peter Taylor. It’s the interplay between Clough and Taylor that make the film what it is: a story of ambition, personalities and friendship. Indeed, it works very carefully to make sure that those who don’t follow the beautiful game still know what is going on whilst skilfully avoiding patronising the hardcore fans. Michael Sheen is typically brilliant as Clough managing to give a compelling performance without drifting into parody whilst Spall more than holds his own as Taylor. Whilst the historical accuracy of the film can be doubted (especially if you’re an ex-LUFC player), this remains one of the better British biopics of recent years that will prove equally interesting for footy fans and those who switch it over as soon as ‘Match Of The Day’ comes on the telly. The disc comes with a commentary, a making of documentary and deleted scenes.
The Damned United is pretty good at showing that people in the 70s had filthy mouths. But it’s still nothing compared to today if In The Loop (Optimum Releasing) is anything to go by. It revels in the gloriously filthy ways in which the English language can be employed: needless to say, even though Special Edition can be quite potty mouthed (you ever seen me sit through The Da Vinci Code?) some of the examples better stay firmly within the world of the film. The majority of the best insults come from Peter Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker, the relentless spin doctor who remains one of modern comedy’s finest creations. Yet, underneath the sharp scripting and string performances, this is an important – and ultimately depressing – examination of the state of modern politics, with UK and US politicians and their entourages embroiled in the threat of a new war being declared. Showing that the politicians are ultimately powerless when faced by the juggernaut of spin, there are some tremendously funny and dramatic moments that have been brought together by the skill of director Armando Iannucci. Alongside Capaldi, Chris Addison, Tom Hollander, Gina McKee and David Rasche are just some of those who rise to the occasion on-screen. One of the most savage and insightful British comedy drama of recent years. Comes with a commentary from cast and crew and a number of entertaining deleted scenes which would almost make an entire movie in themselves.
Look, I’ll just get it out of the way: this new release goes all the way up to 11. Happy now?. Now, if you don’t know what that’s referring to then you’d better get This Is Spinal Tap - 25th Anniversary (Optimum Home Entertainment) as soon as you can. One of the most lauded comedies / mockumentaries of all time, this now packs three discs full of Tap goodness. Needless to say, the film is still incredibly funny with all those quotable lines and funny situations still working like a charm. From the actor’s spot on English accents, the improv style of the film to songs that are funny yet still work as real pompous rock anthems, everything is note perfect. The DVD commentary with Tap in character is also spot on, with the only shame being that the American commentary – that had them out of character – has not been included here. But even so, there’s plenty more here including a new documentary about the band (with the likes of Ricky Gervais and Eddie Izzard talking about the influence of the band), a concert at the Royal Albert Hall (with lots of funny footage of the band ‘re-visiting their roots’) and lots of trailers, music videos and deleted scenes from the film (which makes almost an entirely new film). As mentioned, a bit more about the actual making of the phenomenon as opposed to the fictionalised history of the band would have been a bit more welcome, but this is a justifiably opulent disc which will prove to be a delight to Tapheads everywhere.
If you were to believe the advertising campaign originally dreamt up for the film, Two Lovers (Lionsgate Home Entertainment) seems like your typically American romantic comedy. But this film from James Gray (responsible for films such as Little Odessa and The Yards) sees Joaquin Phoenix play a loner obsessed with his next door neighbour, played by Gwyneth Paltrow in a slightly dark and depressing world. This is a vision of love amongst the damaged, and it carries a lot more reality than countless movies of its ilk in the Hollywood mainstream: perhaps this is why it was never the biggest success that it could have been. Gray brings strong performances out of his cast and presents us with a world that is both troubling yet recognisable. Those who are expecting something light and frothy will find themselves very surprised indeed, but those who are willing to experience something a little different would be well advised to seek this out.
The latest series of Flipside releases from the BFI unearth yet another series of obscure and intriguing British films from years past. Herostratus (BFI) is a vaguely experimental and artistic affair about a man who decides to turn his suicide into an event for all the public. The premise is fascinating, with notions of the emptiness of celebrity and the need for fame and attention earnestly bandied about. But with the work of people such as Chris Morris (whose ‘Richard Geefe’ columns, whilst more of a satire on newspaper columns, were still a sharp stab at celebrity mediocrity) the film has become somewhat dated. The same goes for All The Right Noises (BFI), about a man who has an affair with a teenage girl, which – whilst Tom Bell gives a good performance as the married protagonist – seems too earnest for its own good. The final film in the collection is Man Of Violence (BFI) a gangster thriller that seems to bridge the gab between the lurid excesses of the 60s and the dour reality of the 70s. Whilst none of these from the latest batch in the collection could be considered ‘musts’ of British Cinema, they hold a certain curio value. With the usual extras the BFI is renowned for – short films, interviews and well-written booklets – there’s enough extra information for historical fascination if nothing else. Away from the Flipside collection, Penny Points To Paradise / Let’s Go Crazy (BFI) also have a certain curio value for comedy fans, showcasing two post-war comedies starring the likes of the cast of The Goon Show. Whilst this is comedy at its most traditional, there are flashes of the anarchy that would make the members of the Goons one of the most influential comedy troupes of all time. Actually, most fascinating about the set is the inclusion of The Slappiest Days of Our Lives , a collection of clips from silent comedies with a voiceover from Sellers.
Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy’s Helen (New Wave Films) is a flawed but interesting British debut about a lonely girl who begins to take on the identity of another girl. The titular character – played with (sometimes too much) restraint by Annie Townsend – becomes involved in a police reconstruction designed to help find a missing girl. She soon finds herself slowly taking on the mantle of the girl, and becoming involved with those who were important to her life. This is a very measured piece of work, almost to the point of dourness. Molloy and Lawlor’s direction has a glacial beauty but its coldness can often be it’s downfall: you can’t help feel removed from proceedings thanks to the slightly artificial air, created both visually and by some of the acting. Yet there’s a underlying intensity to the film that is undeniably affecting and this marks out Lawlor and Molloy as talents to watch out for over the coming years.
Also making their feature debut are Spanish filmmakers Luis Piedrahita and Rodrigo Sopena in Fermat’s Room (Revolver Entertainment), about a group of mathematicians who are invited to a house to solve puzzles. Now: that sounds as boring as watching paint dry. What would you do if I told you they were deadly puzzles? Yep, it all sounds a bit more exciting now. This is a fun little film that tries to combine the likes of Saw and Cube (that’s the film by the way, not the new British TV show starring Philip Schofield) alongside a few unique styling of its own. It will keep you guessing and, whilst it adds nothing new to the genre, provides an amiable – and intellectual – way in which to while away a couple of hours.
Artificial Eye continues with re-releases from the catalogue of Tartan Films with Etre Et Avoir (Artificial Eye), Nicolas Philibert’s acclaimed documentary a class of primary school children in a rural French town. With an observational style reminiscent of Fred Wiseman, the film is a testament to teacher Georges Lopez’ respect and care for his young charges with some intricately observed moments along the way (never let a nipper use the photocopier!). Whilst subsequent events have slightly tarnished the film (Lopez sued Philibert, believing he deserved a share of the profit the film made) this is still a simply made but richly emotional documentary. Also released is The Hal Hartley Collection (Artificial Eye), comprising three of the American indie filmmaker’s best films. Hartley displays an original eye and penchant for understated comedy with films such as Trust – perhaps one of his best known works - a tale of a romance between a teenager and college student. With a light touch and with a clear influence on the current filmmakers of the American Indie scene, this is a well observed romantic comedy. Darker is Henry Fool that sees a binman become one of the leading lights of the literary scene that contains many sharp barbs at those who would manipulate for their own personal gain. Finally there’s The Girl From Monday - ostensibly a sci-fi film – that pokes fun at capitalism with a race of aliens who take over himan bodies leading to people offering their bodies on the stock exchange. Whilst the ‘American Indie’ genre seems to become slightly tired, Hartley’s films still fresh and innovative and this is a set worth picking up to see where the likes of Wes Anderson and Jason Reitman got their influence from.
Norwegian director Bent Hamer has made a name for himself creating quirky movies about awkward individuals trying to find their place in society. Kitchen Stories was a well paced drama about the growing friendship between a ‘Kitchen observer’ and his subject, whilst Factotum was a creditable attempt at brining Bukowski’s work to the big screen. In O’Horten (Artificial Eye), Hamer focuses his attention on a 60+ retiree who – after years of the same routine – finds himself embarking on new adventures. With more than a hint of magical realism, this is an intricately shot tale of a person rediscovering the joys of life. With lots of absurd situations such as our hero accept a night time tour of the city from a blindfolded driver, it’s unsurprising that Horten’s first name is Odd. It’s often funny, sometimes emotional but never twee thanks to the central performance from Bård Owe and Hamer’s assured direction. Bad Boy Bubby (Eureka) is also something of an individual, but he has a lot less of the whimsy. Indeed this film is still a shocking and confrontational work even though it was released during the 90s: well, a story about a man whose been locked up by his mother who uses him for sexual gratification will do that to you. When our titular hero (or ‘mad bastard’ as he’s affectionally referred to) is finally released (via a set of unpleasant circumstances) he has to deal with a world he’s never seen. Initially, he can only mimic what is seen around him. Will the outside world destroy him or will he find his place in an unfamiliar world? Director Rolf De Heer keeps a fine balance between sickness, humour and affection and – if you really dig below the surface – there is an almost touching morality to proceedings. You just have to dig deep. In the lead role Nicholas Hope is astonishing as the emotionally stunted man/child. This re-released version includes the Blu-Ray, standard DVD and a digital copy of the film.
The Battle of Algiers (Argent Films) still remains one of the finest in the history of cinema and, those people who have yet to own it, would be wise to check out this special edition re-release of the film. Gillo Pontecorvo’s film follows Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) during the 50s and 60s who used terrorism in an attempt to release the country from the grip of French colonial rule. As the FLN increase their attacks, the French government send the military to destroy those who would oppose their rule, leading to unspeakable acts being committed by both sides. Shot in a faux documentary style and mainly utilising non-professional, this is a film of urgency and power that still remains remarkably balanced about the entire conflict – whilst it celebrates the ultimate victory for Algeria, it also laments the horror wrought by both sides. Ennio Morricone provides an evocative score which, somehow, works well with the documentary and the film’s musings on the nature of revolution and terror remain as relevant to a modern audience. The disc includes an interview with Pontecorvo and an interview with producer Saadi Yacef (who was also a member of the FLN).
Jimmy McGovern has always been of TVs most powerful writers, thanks to the edge of rage that runs through the man himself. Hillsborough (Network DVD) is arguably the piece in which McGovern was at the top of his game, thanks to his determination to strip away the lies and deceit that surrounded the 1989 disaster which saw 96 Liverpool FC fans crushed to death. He examines the plight of three families of the victims of who must deal with the closed ranks of the Police and a press that seems to be only interested in knocking them down. As much as this is about the tragedy, it’s also a rallying cry against the constant marginalisation of the working class within British society, themes he would explore in his ‘Cracker’ episode ‘To Be A Somebody’. Whilst McGovern’s impassioned script is at the heart of this, this also includes typically mesmerising turns from Chritophers Eccleston and Ricky Tomlinson whilst Charles McDougall provides tight direction. A powerful example of politicised television drama.
Peter Davison faces his ultimate foe in Doctor Who: The Black Guardian Trilogy (BBC DVD): a man with a deep voice wearing a dead bird on his head. Hey, the Daleks don’t sound scary if you think of them as talking pepperpots. This collection encompasses ‘Mawdryn Undead’, which sees The Doctor visit his old friend The Brigadier who’s now teaching maths. Introducing the new companion of Turlough (whose loyalties to The Doctor are not what they seem), this is fun little story of parallel universes and lots of complicted timey wimey stuff. Next up is ‘Terminus’ which sees the TARDIS crew end up on a plague ship and find themselves embroiled in a plot to save the crew. It’s all a little bit earnest, and most fans remember it for the fact that companion Nyssa walks around in a state of undress for no apparent reason. Not that I’m complaining. Last is ‘Enlightenment’ which sees The Doctor face up to the Black Guardian for the final time as he joins a race known as ‘The Eternals’ in a race across the galaxy. Perhaps the best one of this set, thanks to the surreal story and the wrapping up of the Turlough arc. All in all this is a great collection of classic Who, this comes with the requisite commentaries and specially commissioned documentaries that these releases have become famous for. As always, the effects look a little cheesy (and the re-edited version of Enlightenment adds new effects that look even worse) but Davison is engaging as the fifth incarnation of the Time Lord and the stories display a creditable scope for the era.
Check online for exact release dates of all the above DVDs.