Special Edition # 35
Special Edition # 35 is your special Xmas bumpercolumn with plenty (and we really mean plenty) of DVDs for you to be getting your teeth into. Laurence Boyce will point you in the right direction if you’re looking for presents or simply some ways to escape the endless rounds of Xmas television. So let’s get cracking with just what exactly Santa may put in your stocking over Christmas, especially if he were rather partial to good movies.
Star Trek (Paramount Home Entertainment) remains one of the best blockbusters of the year, thanks to an audacious script that re-writes Trek history, some strong direction from JJ Abrams and a bunch of accomplished performances. The film begins with the birth of one James Tiberius Kirk who fast grows up to be a rebel. Joining Starfleet Academy, alongside the highly-strung Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy and linguist Uhura. He also forms an antagonistic relationship with half-Vulcan Mr Spock. When a Romulan from the future arrives, determined to destroy an ‘Ambassador Spock’, these disparate cadets will find themselves on a ship called the USS Enterprise with their destinies changed forever. There’s so much to like here, from the way in which the film caters to both the old school fans and the uninitiated, Zachary Quinto’s measured performance as Spock and some really exciting action sequences. It does sometimes whiz by a little quickly making you wonder if you’ve missed something but this is a great example of how you take a classic franchise and reboot it with style and grace. The DVD is really good, with all the kinds of extras you would expect that prove to be quite interesting for once.
Now if you want an example of how not to do it properly than look no further than Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen (Paramount Home Entertainment) which is – to put in bluntly – complete shit. I found the original mildly diverting fun, but this is just a pile of overblown and overtly right-wing nonsense that is basically a large toy advert. Yes, I realise that most Hollywood action films resemble that remark, but Transformers 2 does it with such a naked contempt for the audience that it’s is quite staggering. The plot involves Shia LaBeouf looking nerdy but cool, Megan Fox looking faker than £7 note and lots of robots who I couldn’t give a stuff about smashing the crap out of each other. I am sure that Michael Bay will be crying intently into his millions when he hears that Special Edition has given him a bad review, but if anyone is remotely tempted to buy this then please: hire the original animated movie (it features Orson Welles’ final performance don’t you know!) or even the bloody Gobots (points for anyone who remembers them). But just don’t bother with this. Apparently there are some extras, but as they didn’t consist of the entire cast and crew saying ‘sorry’ on a loop I couldn’t be bothered.
Terminator: Salvation (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) might go down in history for Christian Bale’s rant at that poor sound guy. If only John Connor could get rid of the Terminators by shouting them down, eh? “It’s the second time that he doesn’t give a F**K about what is going on in front of the resistance, alright? I’m trying to f**king save humanity here, and I am going “Why the f**k is a Terminator walking in there? What is he doing there?” Do you understand my mind is not on saving the world if you’re doing that? You metal f**k!” Unfortunately, Mr Connor has to use more conventional methods to save the world in this sequel to the Terminator franchise, as he finds himself in the near future dealing with a wave of metal meanies whilst trying to protect the boy who will become his Dad. Bet Christmas is complicated. It doesn’t have the same emotional resonance as the early films in the series, but it’s an accomplished slice of action cinema that rattles along nicely and Bale is good in the central role. Like I’m going to say anything else about him, lest I get a visit…
There’s more from the world of the franchise as Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles Season 2 (Warner Bros Home Video) follow a reality in which Sarah Connor and her son run from the Skynet sent Terminators and attempt to prevent Judgement Day. Sadly cancelled in the US, the show is a fine example of Sci-Fi television with Lena Heady shining in the lead role as a woman who has the fate of the world on her shoulders whilst trying to deal with her own mortality. As with many shows based on a franchise, the continuity can get a little tortuous but series creator Josh Friedman just about manages to keep the twists and turns satisfying without giving too much information overload. Again, the fact that the series has been cancelled means that the end is slightly unsatisfying, but let’s hope that a reprieve is on the horizon. Comes with audio commentaries, a gag reel and the usual backstage featurettes.
The boy (well teenage) wizard is back in Harry Potter and Funny Feelings of Puberty .. erm, I mean Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince (Warner Brothers Home Entertainment). It’s really much more of the same with Harry fighting Voldemort, doing magic things and Alan Rickman walking around as if someone has elongated his face with a vacuum cleaner. Again, all very well and good and it should keep the youngsters happy (though the dark tone established by the previous entries in the series prevails here, especially when “…you know who…” carks it). But, more than any of the other films, it really does seem to be stretching out time until the franchise finally reaches it’s end and – as a standalone film – feels curiously unsatisfying. But what do I know anyway, as I’m just a muggle DVD watcher whose best magic trick is guessing which card you’ve picked. Is it the 7 of Diamonds?
Ben Stiller returns for Night At The Museum 2 (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) which is a sequel to Night At The Museum. But I guess that you sort of guessed that already. Stiller plays a security guard in which the exhibits come to life. Like in the first one. He then gets involved in all sorts of scrapes whilst lots of famous actors, including Ricky Gervias, Steve Coogan and people Americans have actually have heard of, turn up. Much hilarity is promised but, to be fair, not really delivered. Sure to be a staple of Saturday afternoon TV for years to come, it’s a dumb but mildly amusing film with everyone clearly doing everyone a favour, as if they all lived in the same big Hollywood house. Indeed the ‘Luvvie-o-meter’ must have been set to overload. The disc comes with a featurette about monkey’s which puts the work of David Attenborough into the shade (Note: this is a lie. About the Attenborough stuff I mean. Not the fact that there’s a featurette about monkeys because there is).
Stiller’s mate Will Ferrell turns up in Land Of The Lost (Universal) where, like Stiller, he gets to be mildly amusing in a special effects laden action/comedy romp. Based on the 70s show of the same name, Ferrell plays a disgraced professor who – after a strange set of circumstances – finds himself in a parallel world in which dinosaurs stalk the planet. Like ‘Starsky and Hutch’ and ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ before it, the film tries to add an ironic and adult edge to what was ostensibly a children’s TV show. And, like ‘Starsky and Hutch’ and ‘The Dukes of Hazzard’ before it, the film is something of a mess. Ferrell mugs a little bit too much whilst, in support, Anna Friel doesn’t really bring much to her role. Yet another film that will be a staple of Saturday afternoon television over the coming years.
And we keep going with the Hollywood comedy as The Hangover (Warner Brothers Home Entertainment) sees three best friends wake up after a stag party. Unsurprisingly, they can’t remember much and need to find out where the baby in the closet and the tiger in the bathroom comes from. So the group attempt to piece together just what had happened at the weekend with predictably funny consequences. This takes the vein of Old School (indeed, Todd Phillips directed both) and The 40 Year Old Virgin in pitching a childish comedy at adults and, mostly, succeeds. The three leads provide charisma and the situations are generally funny. Yes, it’s derivative, but it’s done with just about enough verve to be thoroughly watchable. Whilst it probably won’t be a staple of Saturday afternoon TV (it’s just a little bit too filthy for that) it’ll appeal to overgrown children everywhere. And, if that doesn’t warn you against the dangers of drinking, then Coffin Rock (High Fliers) might just shock you sober. After years of failing to conceive, a young woman has a drunken one night fling with a stranger and becomes pregnant. But the stranger is not going to be waiting for the Child Support Agency to call as he turns out to be rather unhinged. Do’h! This is an adequate thriller, with a clever central conceit, that chugs along providing a few scares and chills.
Gentle comedy in Sunshine Cleaning (Anchor Bay UK) a new American Indie from the producers of Little Miss Sunshine. Amy Adams plays a single mother who finds herself sorely lacking funds. In order to pay for her son to get into a better school, she decides that she’ll up a business cleaning crime scenes. As you do. And guess what? Lots of quirky things happen and they learn lots about love, life and happiness. Yep, if you could buy a ‘How To Make An American Film’ kit this is pretty much what you would come up with: “Take one Amy Adams, add a pinch of Alan Arkin. Stir in a strange situation and witty people. Film for 90 minutes”. But, whilst it’s predictable, it is well done and does provide an entertaining way in which to pass the time.
All Tomorrow’s Parties (Warp Films) is a brilliant documentary that follows the music festival of the same name. Held in a holiday camp, the film is pieced together from director Jonathan Caouette (best known for the excellent Tarnation) from footage taken by fans at the festival over the years. The film features the likes of Grinderman, Hawk and a Hacksaw, Lightning Bolt, Battles and many, many more. Not only is the music great but it also gives you an amazing flavour of the vibe of the festival. Indeed, it makes you want to visit there and enjoy some of the fantastic music. Unsurprisingly, the extras are plentiful including a commentary by the promoters of ATP, many performances that haven’t been included in the original film and a booklet that includes more than 10 years worth of ATP poster artwork. For those who like their music esoteric and a festival that is truly unique, this is a musical and film highlight of the year.
If you go to All Tomorrow’s Parties, then there’s a chance that you might bump into a character very much like the one played by Paddy Considine in Le Donk and Scor-Zay-Zee (Warp Films). Shane Meadows’ latest sees the titular Le Donk attempt to guide the career of portly rapper Scor-Zay-Zee. When an Artic Monkeys gig becomes a chance for him to show off his new charge, then the burnt out roadie sees his chance at grabbing the brass ring. Le Donk is an amazing comic creation that Meadows and Considine have been riffing on for years. Full of malapropisms and pithy sayings, Le Donk (and Scor-Zay-Zee) manages to prick the self-important bubble that the music industry (and, given that Meadows plays himself in the film, the UK film industry as well) surrounds itself with. There are points that it feels indulgent, and even at a lean 70 minutes, it starts to outstay its welcome and – as a Meadows films – it feels minor. But there are enough laughs on offer that this is immensely entertaining.
Abbas Kiarostami’s Shirin (BFI) is an intriguing experimental work in which we see an audience of more than 100 women watching a film which we never see. The audience is made up of a multitude of famous Iranian actresses (and Juliette Binoche who happened to be around when filming was taking place) and the film allows the audience to construct the narrative of the film that they are watching and also a narrative about their identities and their reasons for watching the mysterious film. There’s certainly a lot going on here, with notions of voyeurism, narratives and cinema itself all being explored. But it never seemed to find the right level: its very nature would mean the film is suited to being seen on the big screen, yet (to me) it still feels a little too much. Whereas an art gallery would suit it better, but much of it’s musing on the nature of cinema would be lost. But watching it on DVD adds a new layer to the film and those who appreciate bold and brave filmmaking will appreciate Kiarostami’s vision. Comes with a documentary about the making of the film.
Mid-August Lunch (Artificial Eye) is a gentle Italian comedy about Gianni, a middle-aged man living at home with his demanding mother. During a summer celebration, in which much of the population of an old Roman city leave, Gianni finds himself entertaining some of the elderly inhabitants of the city despite his best intentions. A beautiful rumination on growing old, this is a simple film which rewards patience thanks to a fine mixture of pathos and farce. Also look out for Paris Vu Par (Artificial Eye), a classic anthology film for the 1960s that includes some of the cream of the French New Wave, with sections from Jean Luc-Godard and Claude Chabrol, amongst others. Some delightful stories work with to create a homage to the city of Paris and its inhabitants. Also, whilst on the subject of classic cinema, look out for Frank Borzage Volume 1 & 2 (BFI). The actor turned director created some beautiful early Hollywood films that were full of beauty and innocence and the volumes include 7th Heaven a silent movie in which two lovers transcend their poverty stricken lives and Liliom a sweet story of yet another troubled relationship.
For All Mankind (Eureka!) is the latest Masters Of Cinema release that focuses upon one of the greatest achievements of humanity: landing on the moon. During the Apollo Lunar missions from 1968-72 astronauts were given 16mm cameras and asked to film whatever they could. What results is an astonishing documentary of epic scope and scale. With a specially composed soundtrack from Brian Eno, the film manages to convey the sheer magnitude of the missions whilst still keeping a human dimension that adds an extremely emotional dimension to proceedings. This special edition comes with lots and lots of extras, including a re-mastered version of the film, a commentary by director Al Reinert and Apollo 17 Commander Eugene A Cernan and special interviews and gallery. An awe-inspiring film.
Another inspiring documentary is Life (BBC DVD) which focuses upon, well, life. The BBC Natural History unit make you glad to pay the license fee with extraordinary footage of the lengths that animals will go to in order to survive. From fruit bats to polar bears, there’s jaw-dropping footage linked by David Attenborough’s usual expert narration. Finally on the documentary side is Berlin (BBC DVD) in which journalist Matt Frei takes us on a journey through the history of the trouble city. As always, this is a meticulously researched and thought provoking documentary that not only teaches you the history of the place, but manages to give you some understanding of what gives the city its vibe and makes it so exciting.
Ok, let’s stop being serious and turn our attention to two new cartoon box sets being released. First up is Aqua Teen Hunger Force Volume 2 (Revolver Entertainment) which sees a milkshake and his friends embark on a series of adventures. Now, if that previous sentence has left you cold then this is definitely not the show for you. But those who love the likes of ‘Robot Chicken’ will discover this a gleefully silly and enjoyable show. The same goes for Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law Volume 2 (Revolver Entertainment) about a washed up cartoon character who now finds himself defending the likes of Fred Flintstone from alleged mafia connections. Again, wonderfully silly especially if you like to see some of your favourite cartoon characters out of their element. Both sets come with animatics, extras and lots of other things where you can happily waste your time.
Finally, what better way to end the Xmas column with one of the most Christmassy films of all time. The Wizard of Oz 70th Anniversary Edition (Warner Brothers Home Entertainment) gives you a chance to see the classic film (and if I have to explain the film to you, then you’ve been clearly raised by wolves and can’t understand what’s written here anyway as it’s not in wolf language) in all it’s glory alongside a Sing-A-Along version of the film and tonnes and tonnes of documentaries and special features about the film, its songs and its legacy. Even if you catch this on TV every holiday season, this is a worthwhile package as the in-depth extras – and the chance to croon along to ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow” – are too much to resist.
On that note, Special Edition is off to write a note to Santa telling him that Michael Bay has been a very naughty boy. We'll be back late December / Early Jan to tell you what to spend your vouhcers on. Have a good holidays, and we hope you get all the DVDs you asked for.