Special Edition # 11
As the nights begin to draw in and the weather becomes increasingly cold (well, at least here in the jolly old UK - you could be reading this anywhere across the world whilst basking in tropical sunshine for all I know) what better time to curl up be the fire and purchase some DVDs to keep you company.
But what DVDs should you buy? Thank goodness that Special Edition # 11 is here to tell what's what. And, as you will see, this time around it's a bit of a monster.
Those pesky mutants are back for the final time (well, until the studios decide to resurrect them for a sequel) in X-Men 3: The Final Stand (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment). As a cure for mutation is found the stage is set for the ultimate battle between those who preach tolerance and those who demand total conquest. Will Wolverine claw his way to the top or will Magneto attract victory? (I'd like to immediately apologise for those two terrible puns). Brett Ratner is certainly a competent director and gives you all the flash, bang and wallop you'd want in the set pieces but - when we get to the meat of the story - the film sadly misses the talents of Bryan Singer. Despite the acting chops of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, it all seems slightly forced and stagey and misses the - for want of a better word - humanity of the previous two instalments. Still, this delivers on the action side of it and brings the trilogy to a satisfying end. Unsurprisingly, this double disc has more extras than a D W Griffith movie. With featurettes that cover special effects, plenty of alternative endings and loads of other stuff that would have taken me years to get through it should ensure that the fans at least are ‘X'tactic. I apologise for that one as well...
Next up is Prime (Momentum Pictures) a romcom starring Uma Thurman and Meryl Streep (who's the best thing in it and obviously got some rent to pay or something). Rafi (Thurman) is a 30 something photographer who, after her recent divorce, falls for painter David who's 14 years her junior. The wackiness ensues when it turns out that David's traditional mother (Streep, for ‘tis she) is Ravi's therapist. Who would have thought such weird coincidences like that would happen especially within the confines of a Hollywood film? OK, I don't think much of the film given that it's so formulaic young children could be given it to study in maths. But then I'm not really the target audience and it all chugs along inoffensively with a few sharp lines and everyone is clearly having fun, if not exactly going all out to win themselves an Oscar. I would say this is a perfect girly film but, as that sounds incredibly sexist, I won't. Suffice to say, those who like this sort of film will like it and those who don't, won't (it sentences like that that make me such a winner at this reviewing lark). Aside from the extras, a good reason for buying the DVD is £1 from each of the first 30'000 DVDs sold will go to Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Britain's leading breast cancer charity. Go to www.breakthrough.org.uk for more information.
Onto slightly more serious matters now with The King (Tartan DVD) a bold and provocative drama that boasts some overwhelmingly great performances from Gael Garcia Bernal (who you may remember from Y Tu Mama Tambien) and William Hurt (who'll you'll remember from, well, shed loads of stuff). Bernal plays Elvis (not that one...) a man fresh from naval duty who goes to visit his Pastor father. Soon Elvis is insinuating himself into the family and eradicating its moral values. But this merely sets the stage for more amoral - and shocking - acts on both sides of the family. A film that balances beauty and brutality with skill, this examination of faith, redemption and sin bubbles with an almost unbearable tension. Imagine Badlands jacked all the way up to 11 and you'll go some way to getting the measure of this atmospheric film. The disc comes with director and cast interviews.
If the intensity of the above exhausts you then unwind with sublime movie The Cave Of The Yellow Dog (Tartan DVD). The latest film from the director of the equally excellent The Story Of The Weeping Camel once again utilises both drama and documentary forms to tell the story of a young Mongolian girl who befriends a puppy. As she bonds with her new animal friend, providing a welcome distraction from her nomadic life, she is soon forced to make some decisions that will change her life forever. It's been a while since there's been a film that's not only a delight from beginning to end but one you want to gather your entire family round so you can watch it together. Not only is it beautiful to watch, its story of myth and childhood will appeal to absolutely everyone. A real must watch that will also mean that you don't have to watch Greyfriars Bobby for the millionth time on Christmas Day as you try to keep both Granny and your little cousin happy. He says from experience....
Whatever you do don't show them The Nameless (Dogwoof Digital) as you'll probably induce a heart attack in the former and nightmares in the latter. The first movie to be based on the work of Liverpudllian horror author Ramsey Campbell, this spooky Spanish offering makes its long overdue appearance on DVD in this country. Five years after believing her daughter has died, Claudia receives a phone call saying "They wanted you to believe I was dead," Cue investigations into the real fate of her daughter and lots of scary moments. Whilst it may have slightly had its thunder stolen by the current raft of J-Horror movies, this is a confident debut film from Jaume Balaguero and contains enough chills and spills to keep genre fans happy.
Speaking of J-Horror (what a seamless segue, eh?) Takashi Shimizu (he of The Grudge fame) returns with his latest skin crawler Marebito (Tartan Asia Extreme). Masuka is a cameraman whose main obsession is fear. When he takes a ghostly creature home, she soon becomes more sinister and he begins to understand what the nature of fear actually is. Sounds like what happened to me the last time I went to nightclub. Marebito does feel as if Shimizu is treading water slightly as it's very hard to shake the feeling that we've seen it all before. Yet, even when we know all the tricks, Shimizu has a talent for making people jump and this should provide adequate sustenance to all those who feed upon being terrified. The same goes for Three Extremes: II (Tartan Asia Extreme) that takes three of the most talented J-Horror directors in Japan to create a triumvirate of terror. The most successful of the three films in this portmanteau film is Peter Chan's ‘Going Home' a gloomy tale about a cop who finds a man determined to resurrect his dead wife. Lifted thanks to the always excellent cinematography from Christopher Doyle, it's well worth a watch,
Simply put Manga Essentials (Manga) does exactly what it says on the tin being a collection of the most important anima films of all time. First up is the double disc version of Akira a film that remains as mind-poppingly awesome as it was since it was first released 20 years ago (yep, 20 years ago). Otomo's story of a post nuclear Tokyo is stylish and remains one of the most influential films of the past few decades. The set is excellent as well as it includes the remastered version of the film. Next up is Ghost In The Shell a story that examines cyborgs and the notion of human identity whilst the final film, Ninja Scroll, eschews the futuristic setting for a more visceral approach of two ninjas who investigate a demonic conspiracy. Showing that animated films could be deal with adult themes (and, in the case of the blood, nudity and gore abound in Ninja Scroll) could be made especially for adults. All of the films are visually stunning and remain landmarks not only in their genre but in cinema in general. If you haven't got these then this set should be on your list right now.
Moving on to cinema classics, we see the Masters Of Cinema series come up with yet another winner in the form of Shoeshine (Eureka Entertainment). The film, from the genius of Italian Neo-Realism Vittorio De Sica, sees the world through the eyes of two young boys who work the streets, shining the shoes of the occupying American troops. But their dreams of a better life become shattered when a petty crime takes their innocence away from them. The first foreign film to win an Oscar, it's an extraordinary achievement utilising non-professional actors and balancing fatalism with a passion for the triumph of the human spirit. The disc itself comes - amongst a whole host of other extras - with a restored version of the film, an interesting audio commentary from De Sica expert Bert Cardullo and an interview with the actors who played the central characters. This DVD debut will appeal to film buffs, academics and all those who want enjoy cinema at its finest. Which is hopefully everyone who's reading this...
The Graham Greene Box Set (Optimum Classic) also contains a couple of examples of fine cinema. First there's The Third Man which is just about the finest British film ever made. If you haven't seen it then a quick précis for you: zither music, cuckoo clocks, Orson Welles, tonnes of style and one of the greatest endings ever. And if you have seen it, then you know that you'll have to buy it on disc. The same goes for Brighton Rock in which Richard Attenborough plays perhaps one of the most amoral characters in cinema. Pinkie is a petty criminal who starts seeing a waitress in order that she doesn't turn him in. But events conspire against him, leading to a memorable climax. Lesser known are The Heart Of The Matter - in which Trevor Howard plays a broken police officer in colonial Africa - and Fallen Idol an intense thriller. All the films in the set capture Greene's portraits of flawed masculinity and an old world order that is slowly eroding. A thoroughly enjoyable set.
The stiff upper lip of Southern English gentlemen is replaced by the no-nonsense with of the Northerner in Billy Liar (Optimum Classic). Tom Courtney - in a role that still remains one of his most memorable - plays the eternal fantasist whose life in a bleak Northern town is only brightened by his constant daydreams. But when Liz - Julie Christie in another iconic performance - comes into his life escape may be possible. But can Billy really move his forward or is he doomed to a life of nothing but dreams? A key text from the British New Wave in the 60s, it encapsulates the battles between a new generation desperate to move away from the austerity of war and an older generation who are still stifled by routine. As exciting and touching as it was when first released, it remains a highpoint of British cinema.
It may not have been made in the 60s, but Withnail And I: 20th Anniversary Edition (Anchor Bay Entertainment UK) crackles with the spirit of the era with such an intensity that it may have wanting a drink afterwards. If you haven't seen the film before, then hang you head in shame but rejoice in the fact that you can now buy this edition that includes a commentary from the most curmudgeonly of directors: Bruce Robinson. You may have heard many of the facts before, but Robinson is an engaging - and acidic - speaker. Also comes with the 1999 documentary made about the film and a - sadly rather dull - featurette in which two people visit the locations of the film. It also comes with a copy of the excellent soundtrack. Demand one of the finest films known to humanity and demand it now because, even if you've already got it, the Robinson commentary is worth the price of admission alone. Just lay off the lighter fluid, eh?
Jacques Rivette created films full of verve and invention but, when the names of the great directors of the French New Wave are mentioned, he is often sadly ignored. Now his genius can be re-discovered thanks to the release of his first feature Paris nous appartient (BFI) a languid mystery in which a student attempts to find out why a Spanish activist died. A perfect marriage of setting and story, this is a fascinating affair. The same goes for Celine and Julie Go Boating (BFI) which serves as an unlikely influence for Desperately Seeking Susan. Utilising a twisting storyline and a ‘film within a film' scenario it's a magical realist tale of a magician and a librarian whose adventures combine the spirit of Lewis Carroll with a joyful lack of respect for established cinematic rules.
If you think that pool is nothing but a bunch of scruffy students failing to pot the black in some run down student union then you've obviously never seen The Hustler: Special Edition (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment). Paul Newman is the epitome of cool as ‘Fast' Eddie Felson who tries to beat the legendary pool player Minnesota Fats. Will his gamble pay off or will he lose his cool and his girl? A visually stonking movie (it won the Academy Award for Cinematography) with some great performances the disc itself is full of extras including a commentary with Newman and lost of documentaries about the making of the movie that are really fascinating. There's also a featurette showing you how to make the perfect trick shot so you can all be hustlers too: that'll show them in the students union.
Modern classics for you now in Spike Lee Joints Box Set (Universal) containing five of the director's finest joints. Clockers is a fine combination of politics and police drama as Harvey Keitel plays the hard nosed police officer investigating the death of a dealer whilst Jungle Fever examines the subject of interracial romance with uncompromising attitude as Denzel Washington an Annabella Sciorra face prejudice and hate in the midst of their love. Mo Better Blues eschews Lee's more gritty style for a sleek story of a jazz musician and his ascent to stardom. Crooklyn is one of Lee's most personal films that - again - mixes tough comment on urban America with a gentle examination of the power of familial love. But the stand out here is Do The Right Thing one of the most important and vital American films of the 80s/90s (the film was made in 1989). Set over 24 hours in a Brooklyn paralysed by a heatwave this sees Lee himself plays Pizzeria delivery boy Mookie who attempts to live his life amidst a sea of racial tension. When his boss Sal - played with hot headed skill from Danny Aiello - becomes involved in an escalating incident, Mookie must decide what side he's on. Social realism collides with Brecht and the end result is a thought provoking film that will fill you with awe. If you think that Lee has lost his edge over the past few years, this set will remind you of what made him great in the first place.
Total cult now (good job I checked my spelling this time around) as the Roger Corman produced Death Race 2000 (Universal) speeds onto DVD. In the future, a rally is won not by who's the best but by who can run over the most innocent people (which I heard was one of the plans to make Formula 1 more interesting, though I could have been misinformed). This piece of exploitation is all a bit dated now, especially as the likes of ‘Grand Theft Auto' make the film look as shocking as your average episode of ‘Bargain Hunt'. Yet David Carradine and one of the earliest starring roles from Sylvester Stallone are fun to watch and Corman ensures there's a fine vein of the satirical running throughout. Mindless fun.
The Dalek Box Set (Optimum Home Entertainment) sees everyone's favourite aliens styled on pepper pots exterminate their way on to the big screen in two slices of glorious 60s kitsch. In Dr Who And The Daleks Peter Cushing plays the titular timelord as a rather bumbling old granddad who accidentally lands on the planet of the Daleks. The stars of the film are the tin plated terrors who menace all and sundry in this film that - much like Ant & Dec - should be complete rubbish but remains curiously entertaining. The same goes for Dalek: Invasion Earth in which Bernard Cribbins helps the Doctor to save the Earth, presumably due to the fact that - even though they're the most evil creatures in the galaxy - the Daleks can't bring themselves to exterminate the man who narrated The Wombles. Include a documentary entitled ‘Dalekmania' and you have some great extermi-tainment (oooh, I just invented a word!) for everyone.
If you like your heroes and villains a bit more 2D then Ultimate Avengers (Lionsgate Releasing) may be just the ticket. An animated movie featuring Captain America, Thor, Iron Man and lots of other characters that all have a little ‘tm' immediately after their name, this is very much what you'd expect from a comic book movie. Lots of fights, square jawed heroes and diabolical villains that - if you like the comics - you'll probably enjoy whilst, if comics engender the response "Isn't that for kids?" will leave you cold. And, of course, it still fails to have a theme tune that is as catchy as the original Spider Man one (cue readers of this column unavoidably humming it to themselves for the rest of the day.)
The small screen beckons with The Saint - The Monochrome Years (Network Releasing) which contains every single episode of the Roger Moore series that saw him play a suave spy, that probably gave certain film producers the idea to cast him as another suave spy. It's all great 60s entertainment with some silly stories, a breathtakingly sexist attitude to women and guest spots from the like Honor Blackman, Julie Christie and Oliver Reed. Another good thing is that a percentage of the proceeds from this will go to ‘Heaven's Angels', a project designed to address the issue of healthcare delivery in sub-Saharan Africa. Before anyone comments as well, the entire series is 71 episodes. That's 3550 minutes of Roger Moore. No, I didn't watch every single episode...
It's been on late night BBC for years and you've probably seen it more times than you care to remember. But, as Sgt. Bilko: The Phil Silvers Show - 50th Anniversary Edition (Paramount Home Entertainment) shows, it's still damned funny and shows many modern comedy shows a thing or two about getting laughs. Whilst formulaic (Bilko does a con, almost succeeds, then it all goes wrong but he finds a way to make sure he's smelling of roses by the end) Silvers shined with his rapid delivery and astounding wit. His crew of dopey Privates proved to be the perfect straight men and this selection of episodes shows why this deserves to be placed in the pantheon of great comedy shows. Some of the extras seem a little forced (reminisces from the ‘stars' and the like) but this is a great release. Plus the show inspired ‘Top Cat'. What more could you want?
The Simpsons: Season 8 (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment) sees the unfunny cartoon family return with some tired and jaded adventures that are poorly, badly voiced and generally a waste of time. OK, not really of course but given that it's rather boring to write "It's brilliant!" for the umpteenth time so I thought I'd give you all a shock. Highlights here include Mr Burns revealing a softer side to his personality as he gives his all to the cause of recycling, Sideshow Bob meets up with his brother who sounds suspiciously like Niles from ‘Frasier', Homer gets involved in a delicious Bond parody and also makes his first enemy. If you're one of those who moans ‘it's not as good as it was' then this should shut you up in no time. The commentaries have improved with this set as well, with loads more voice actors (including John Waters) taking part and talking about their time lending their voices to America's favourite family. Worth buying, even if you see them on a constant loop on satellite TV.
In My Name Is Earl: Series 1 (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment) Jason Lee gives a performance so laid back, it's a wonder he's not constantly hitting his head on the floor. He plays a petty thief and all round git who - after winning the lottery - comes to the realisation that only through good deeds will he gain redemption. So he sets about righting the things he once did wrong (wait a minute, isn't that ‘Quantum Leap?) with - unsurprisingly - comical results. A fine US sitcom, it's not as groundbreaking as some would lead you to believe but this is still a blend of strong writing that has more than a whiff of The Coen Brothers about it. Comes with commentaries and a special DVD only episode.
If you want your comedy to be a bit more strange then Green Wing: Series 2 (4 DVD) should be just the ticket. The continuing adventures of the weirdest hospital clears up the cliff hanger from the last season and goes on with it's continual raft of surreal situations and some humour that - whilst it will have you going ‘that is completely wrong' - is absolutely hilarious. True, with the tangled storylines of love and affairs, the series sometimes veers onto soap opera territory but it remains a gripping watch. The extras include some commentaries with various cast and crew and a short documentary on the creation of the series which, sadly, doesn't reveal what drugs the creators must have been to think of the show in the first place.
There's a reason why I do this job and that's to get DVDs with the title Badly Dubbed Porn (4 DVD) delivered. Utilising a cast of fine comedy actors, the DVD does what it says on the tin really and sees some of the finest soft-core action (I just wrote that and have realised how creepy it sounds) with some wildly inappropriate dubbing that is probably so much more intelligent than the original scripts of the movie. OK, it's a one joke show but it is pretty funny at points and - if you're sick of all the sharp wit and dark satire that lies at the heart of many shows nowadays - then this should keep you entertained. And, remember, if anyone asks you're only watching it for the comedy value.
All these are available now so make sure that you stock up for the winter as if you were some sort of technological hamster.