Special Edition # 44
We’ve just passed Halloween which means that it’s horror movie a-go-go as we have more remakes of classic scary movies (which, alongside the fact that Scream 4 has been announced, seems to indicate that the horror genre has run out of ideas entirely) and one film that is so disgusting that I think that I may not be able to eat for quite a while. Still, nothing’s as scary as George Osbourne. Special Edition # 44 has survived a cut in funding and I’m here to give a rundown of what to buy over the coming month. That’s assuming that you’ve got any money left.
Jackie Earle Haley gets pizza smeared all over his face (OK, I am sure that the make-up job is a bit more elaborate than that) as he takes on the iconic role of Freddy Kreuger in the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street (Warner Brothers Home Entertainment). For those of you not familiar with Wes Craven’s 80s terrorfest, the film follows Krueger, a child molester turned evil demon, who is capable of killing people in their dreams. A group of teenagers must fight him whilst resisting the urge to succumb to sleep and enter the world in which Freddy has control. Whilst the film takes the character of Freddy back to his darker roots (losing the one-liners and bringing his background as a paedophile more to the fore) it all feels rather by the numbers and seems constrained by the history of the franchise even though it’s ostensibly a reboot. Hayley seems almost pantomime as Krueger whilst the young cast of victims do nothing to distinguish themselves from the usual cast of cannon fodder that horror films love to line up. Ultimately it’s another limp attempt at starting all over again. Why can’t people do something original...
... a bit like, I don’t know, The Human Centipede: First Sequence (Bounty Films). And if you don’t think a film about a mad surgeon who stitches victims together (mouth to anus if you must know fact fans: don’t worry as the film boasts that it’s ‘%100 Medically Accurate) to create the titular creature is original then you obviously had some weird science lessons at school. The film has garnered a lot of notoriety on the festival circuit and, whilst the premise and ideas make some of deserved, it’s actually not all that explicit. Underneath the disgusting central idea this is a pretty standard – but very well done – example of genre cinema. Director Tom Six has channelled the spirit of David Cronenburg whilst adding some dark humour in amongst the insanity. So if you want something a bit different (and also brilliant for people who are on a diet as it will put them off their dinner) then this is an inventive slice of horror.
Frozen (Momentum Pictures) is an interesting take on the horror/genre film as a trio of skiing enthusiasts find themselves trapped in a ski life halfway up a mountain. As the night falls, they must make some difficult choices if they are going to survive. Unfortunately, if the cold doesn’t get them, the howling emanating from below the mountains does not bode well. Whilst this seem gimmicky in the extreme, director Adam Green makes it work well by getting some strong performances from his actors and allowing Ed Mark to do some excellent editing. Fantastic at being able to ramp up the tension and depicting the increasing desperation of people faced with an impossible situation it’s a unique and accomplished chiller. And if you need something a bit more silly after that then Zombies of Mass Destruction (Optimum Home Entertainment) attempts to bland satire and gore as a small American town is besieged by Zombies. Taking in sexuality, fundamentalism and American values this is all rather ham-fisted and doesn’t work as a satire and only just manages to work as an effective horror. If you like blood, guts and gores flying all over the place then you’ll find this mildly entertaining. But Norm Chomsky ain’t going to be quoting it anytime soon.
Oliver Assyas’ exhaustive biography of Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (better known as Carlos the Jackal) Carlos (Optimum Home Entertainment) seemingly attempts the impossible – to tell the story of a man of whom not much is known. Despite the fact that, as the film itself admits, many of the incidents have to be ‘imagined’, this is a fascinating delve into cold war politics and a character who became a hero to many left-wing radicals. The film follows Carlos from his birth into a communist family in Venezuela to his training in guerrilla warfare and his talent in waging war against the capitalist system. His real skill is turning terrorism into theatre and soon he becomes one of the most famous – and notorious – terrorists in the world. In some ways the film works as a introduction into the intricacies of the cold war and radical idealism but – whilst packing lots of information in – Assayas just about manages to avoid this being a rather dull ‘essay movie’. This is mainly thanks to the strong performance of Édgar Ramírez in the lead role who brings a strong physical presence and shows just how Carlos managed to turn politics into his own personal gameshow. It’s also thanks to the fact Assayas manages to eschew the usual ‘terrorist = glamour’ that dogs many films of this genre. Yes, he shows its seductive nature but he also shows the danger and fear mixed in with the ideology which drives people to great lengths. You can buy two versions of the film - the two hour plus version and the five hour plus that was screened on French TV. Of the two, the TV version is more rewarding as the theatrical version feels it is missing too much information and feels too disjointed. The film requires the viewer to process much information but, if you’re prepared to stick with it for the long haul, you should find yourself most rewarded.
Chinese director Jia Zhang-Ke, best known for then wonderful Still Life, continues to blend documentary and fiction in his latest film 24 City (New Wave Films). As before, he focuses upon current changes in contemporary China by examining a Chengdu munitions factory that is being demolished to make way for luxury apartments (the titular ’24 City’). Using both real employees and actors to tell the various stories of loss, change and confusion the film discovers not only a nation racing towards an uncertain future but also questions ideas about memory and how humans deal with change. With this form of documentary becoming increasingly prevalent (one just has to see the wonderful film The Arbor - in cinemas at the time of writing - as an example) 24 City is an example of how cinema is able to tell real stories whilst managing to acquiesce to the demands of storytelling.
More traditional documentary in the shape of Collapse (Dogwoof) the latest film from Chris Smith best for directing American Movie and The Yes Men. This is a troubling talking heads piece featuring Michael Ruppert, a former LA Police Officer who espouses his apocalyptic vision of the world’s future. Whilst it would be easy to dismiss him as a crackpot, Ruppert predicted exactly how the financial crisis would go down almost to the letter and has a very bleak outlook for the future of humantity. Smith gives Ruppert a chance to air his views and he is indeed very convincing in some of his arguments. Yet Smith also gives you enough distance to sift through the information that Ruppert provides and – whilst it may have some people wanting to run to the hills – for others it will, at the very least, provide some very serious food for though. Which is good because, if Ruppert is right, food is going to be in very short supply...
Juraj Herz’s Morgiana (Second Run) will come something of a surprise who have think of Czech cinema in terms of stark realism and intense social commentary. Based on a short story by Aleksandr Grin (whose work saw him compared to Edgar Allan Poe) the film is a mad and hallucinatory tale of the beautiful Klára who is envied by her ugly sibling Viktoria. The jealousy runs so deep that she begins to poison the object of her hatred. With shades of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane, this is a heady mixture of gothic horror, fairy tale and treatise on the nature of sexual repression. With something incredibly gorgeous and ornate imagery the film is a visual treat whilst also managing to be a compelling tale. It’s an interesting slice of European genre cinema that’s been treated with the usual care from Second Run DVD. Also given much care is My Way Home (Second Run), the story of a Hungarian soldier who, during the dying days of World War II, is captured by the Russians. Left in the care of a young Russian soldier, the two form an unlikely bond. Considered one of the finest works from Hungarian director Miklós Jancsó, this is a powerful and moving examination of humanity amongst the shocking violence of war. Also included is a excerpt from Miklós Jancsó’s rarely-seen documentary series Message of Stones and a reprint of Penelope Houston’s seminal 1969 Sight & Sound article on the director.
More classic cinema from a European auteur with Andrezj Zulawski’s classic Possession (Second Sight). Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill play Anna and Mark, a couple whose relationship has completely broken down and descended into a hell of shouting matches and extreme violence. Mark is blissfully unaware that Anna has embarked upon an affair with an other-worldly creature – a relationship that she is prepared to protect at all costs. Whilst the premise sounds faintly ridiculous, it’s done with an intensity (including much graphic gore) that is reminiscent of the work of David Cronenberg and the more difficult films of Lars Von Trier. Filmed just after Zulawski had gone through a complicated divorce, the film is full of disturbing surrealism and barely concealed anger that works both as a political allegory and a treatise on the effects of divorce and familial destruction. This is a genre defying and often disturbing film that showed that Zulawski was (and remains) one of the true mavericks of cinema.
When Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush (BFI) was originally released it was considered extremely controversial. But Clive Donner’s adaptation of the Hunter Davies novel seems rather tame by today’s standards as its plot – a teenager attempts to lose his virginity – seems to be holding up half of the Hollywood film industry (the other half being adaptations of comic books). With loads of references to birds, booze and bonking it’s a comedy that has become something of a relic and doesn’t really work in the cold light of the cynical 21st century (though music fans may enjoy the soundtrack with the likes of Traffic and the Spencer Davis Group). Much more successful is Bronco Bullfrog (BFI) which takes an unsentimental look at teenage life in the late 60s and predates themes that would be explored in such films as Quadrophenia. Del is a welder in East London who drifts along with his friends hoping for an escape that looks like it will never come. But when he meets the petty criminal Bronco, he find a new and exhilarating life of crime. But will it catch up with him. This is raw cinema, with a cast of newcomers that manages to both unconventional and brave. Whilst it has a certain grimness it also manages to capture the intoxicating spirit and energy of youth and it’s a excellent – and sadly forgotten – of 60s British Cinema. Both discs are from the BFI and have been restored to the usual excellent standards that you have come to expect.
Modern British cinema now with Running in Traffic (Eureka Entertainment) in which Joe, a man who has just lost his father, finds himself struggling to deal with his deceased father’s debts. Enter his crooked Uncle Bill who tries to help him with some very dodgy dealings. This tries but the writing strains credibility and seems to take every cliché out of the British cinema book with utter misery at every corner and a sub-plot about a Polish waitress shoehorned in to add to the depression. First time director Dale Corlett shows sparks of talent – and there are some strong turns from the likes of Bryan Larkin and Kenneth Cranham – but the material cannot be saved. For a much stronger debut try Small Time (BFI), the first feature film from Shane Meadows. Lacking high production values (or for that matter, any production values at all) this follows a bunch of petty criminals and they daily lives in Nottingham. In terms of story and aesthetic, the film is flawed but feels richly authentic and displays the care for character that Meadows would go on to develop with his other films. It’s a fascinating insight into the development of one of the UK’s most accomplished filmmakers that also includes his funny short film Where’s The Money Ronnie?
Those who think that Spielberg’s upcoming adaptation of Tintin is the first crack at a live action version of the Belgian boy reporter who solved crimes with the aid of the aid of his dog Snowy may be rather surprised by the next release as two rare Belgian films are uncovered. First up is Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece (BFI) in which our intrepid young hero embarks on a quest for buried treasure alongside his cohorts Captain Haddock, Professor Calculus and – of course – Snowy. This is actually a great attempt at capturing the spirit of Hergé’s original adventures (indeed, it was one of the few adaptations of which he approved) with a fine sense of adventure and some glorious locations. Young star Jean-Pierre Talbot’s is uncanny as Tintin and this should hold the interest of even the most PS3 obsessed of youngsters. The same goes for Tintin and the Blue Oranges (BFI) a fun romp concerning the Professor and his invention of a magic fruit of the deepest blue which is made all the more interesting by the fact that the film was adapted by Asterix creator René GoscinnyBFI releases two rare Tintin adventure films on DVD . Both DVD’s come with a high-def transfer and an illustrated booklet with new essays.
More throwaway fun – though definitely not for children – in True Legend (Optimum Home Entertainment) which sees Yuen Woo Ping (best known for his choreography for such films as The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) return to the directors chair after an absence of more than 14 years. It tells that story legendary Chinese hero Su Qi-er who – oh sod it, does anyone really care about the storyline. All that you need to know is that Michelle Yeoh and many other famous Chinese actors do loads of great martial arts that will have you have you and your mates going ‘Ooooh’ and ‘Aaahhhhh’. This has some truly spectacular set-pieces but it’s not going to do anything convert anyone who isn’t already a fan of the genre.
If you don’t like Doctor Who then you better look away now as we have LOADS. First up is Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series (BBC DVD). The problem with any person playing the Time Lord is that you potentially turn off all the fans who were completely enamoured with the first – and given that David Tennant was one of the most popular Doctor’s ever, things did not bode well for Matt Smith. But from the very first episode – the brilliant The Eleventh Hour – Smith nailed it, making the part his own and making forget about that David Whatsisface who was there before. Smith brings a brilliant eccentricity to the role that emphasises the Doc’s joy and otherworldliness and he’s quite brilliant. But the new season’s success is also down to new showrunner Steven Moffat who gives everything a breath of fresh air and dispenses with some of the more indulgent traits of his predecessor Russell T Davis. There are plenty of great episodes including the Richard Curtis directed ’Vincent and the Doctor’, the return of the Weeping Angels and the Daleks and a feisty companion in the form of Amy (Karen Gillan, who seems to be having the time of her life). Shame that the re-interpreting of the theme tune sucks all the power out of it. Still, those worried that the Doctor was losing is step should find faith once again. And there are the usual great extras including selected commentaries with Moffat and crew (no Smith though sadly) and some – for one once worthy – extra scenes including one in which Amy finds about previous TARDIS crew members...
On to the old school with Doctor Who and the Seeds of Doom (BBC DVD) which sees Tom Baker fight some particularly pesky and evil plants. He’s The Doctor. He does that sort of thing. This is one of more the dull Baker stories with a silly premise stretched out to six episodes and, as it comes off the classic story ‘The Brain of Morbius’, just seems rather forgettable. Still, Baker does his best and the disc is excellent including the documentaries that 2Entertain do extremely well and a commentary from Baker and other cast members. If you want a classic Baker story then pick up the ‘Talons of Weng Chiang’ which comes a part of Doctor Who – Revisitations 1 (BBC DVD). This collects three classic stories – also included are Peter Davison’s last outing ‘The Caves of Androzani’ and the 1996 Television Movie – and adds new extras and bits and bobs. Whilst it seems a cynical way of screwing more cash out of die-hard fans (because it is) those who don’t own these already will find this a good value boxset. ‘Talons...’ is a wonderful slive of Victoriana blending murder and aliens alongside Baker at his manic best whilst ‘Caves’ was recently voted the best Doctor Who story of all time. The TV Movie has Paul McGann do really well despite a paucity of material and it’s a shame he never got more to do beyond the current audio plays in which he portrays The Doctor. The extras (including new commentaries and a nice piece on the TV Movie about the show’s hiatus) are good – though, if you own these already, probably not worth forking out the money once again.
Almost there but we have one more appearance by The Doctor (this time the David Tennant incarnation) who turns up in The Sarah Jane Adventures Season 3 (BBC DVD) in the episode ‘The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith’. For those of you who haven’t seen the spin-off series then there’s lots of guilty pleasures here (as this is ostensibly a show for children) and it’s nice to see one of the most fondly remembered companions lead her own show alongside a gaggle of precocious children. It’s all rather lightweight, with pantomime bad guys and spiffy alien super computers, but it breezes along in its own special way and the appearance from the Tenth Doctor is actually a really nice touch with a story that manages to be a romp whilst still having an underlying sense of pathos. OK, it may be for the kids: but Doctor Who is meant to be as well, and that’s never stopped you from watching it, has it? Oh yeah, and K9 turns up as well. Yay!
Some more cult TV with The Avengers: Season 5 (Optimum Home Releasing) as John Steed and Emma Peel deal with the forces of evil with equal helpings of class, crime fighting skills and camp. The first series of the show that was filmed in colour and feels incredibly comfortable in its over-the-top nature with Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg effortlessly riffing off each other and clearly enjoying the mad stories they work with. Indeed, the stories of this season got progressively more bonkers with the likes of ‘Return of the Cybernauts’ (something of a classic episode) and ‘Mission...Highly Improbable’ all displaying a prominent sci-fi bent. All of this season is just ridiculously entertaining and a brilliant antidote for the current cold winter nights. This includes commentaries from the likes of legendary producers Brian Clemens and equally legendary TV star Peter Wyngarde and a really nice retrospective documentary.
Family Guy Season 9 (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment) sees Peter Griffin and the guys back to deliver some of the rudest lines in American animation. There are some particularly good episodes in this selection including ‘The Road to the Multiverse’, another knockabout adventure for Brian and Stewie which features a brilliant Disney pastiche and ‘Spies Reminiscent of Us’ , a spoof of Spies Like Us which includes appearances from the likes of Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd. After a couple of seasons in which the quality of the show has been variable and this season the writers seemed to have sharpened themselves up somewhat with plenty of political commentary alongside the more scatological humour. Lots of extras on the disc, including the requisite commentaries plus uncensored versions of the episodes; there’s something uniquely funny about hearing Stewie use the ‘F’ word....
More silliness in The Goodies... At Last the 40th Anniversary! (Network Releasing) the show that made Bill Oddie, Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor what they are today – old men who are forced to remain on television and radio to try and eke out a meagre living. Sorry, I seemed to be channelling the spirit of Humphrey Littleton for a second there. Anyway, this contains 31 episodes (including the full series shown on LWT) of the mad antics of the trio and they go around the world and just, well, do supremely silly things. From the classic Kitten Kong (about a giant kitten rampaging around London) the an episode about the ancient Lancastrian art of 'Ecky Thump (which someone found so funny on its original broadcast that they died laughing half an hour later – that is absolutely true) there much entertainment to be had here, especially since the series has never been repeated. It sometimes was dismissed as a ‘mere kids progamme’ but The Goodies contained some great 70s comedy and is worthy of another look for any fan of comedy.
All the DVDs were reviewed as standard editions – check online for Blu-ray availability.