Special Edition # 12
Laurence Boyce takes time out of his busy schedule (well, takes time out of watching DVDs) to bring you the latest round of the DVDs that should either rock your world or destroy your faith in humanity in Special Edition # 12. Note that there's one film he doesn't like at all. I wonder if you'll be able to tell which one it is...
Is The Da Vinci Code (Sony Pictures Releasing) as bad a movie as everyone says? Surely a move to DVD would at least raise the critically panned movie to the level of a vaguely enjoyable B-Movie. Surely no-one would waste their money on such an enormous turkey? The quick answers are “yes,” “no,” and “of course they would, it’s Hollywood.” It’s terrible: a hackneyed story, a bunch of talented actors phoning it in and a director in Ron Howard who seemingly must have spent the entire shoot in some of stupor to churn out this piece of garbage. I am basing this review on the theatrical release as only the extras were sent out to reviewers presumably based on the assumption that all right minded DVD players would immediately eject the DVD. So unless the film has radically been re-cut for it’s DVD release or – hope upon hope – accidentally pressed with another film I’m assuming it’s still shite even if not projected on a big screen. The extras aren’t much better and are the perfect illustration of the phrase ‘polishing a turd’ with some grandiose justification of making the film and some pointless code breaking exercises. Some have accused the critics of the film of being consumed by intellectual snobbery but they must be a member of Ron Howard or locked up in a local asylum. It’s not so much the fact the film is so rubbish that so galling: it’s the fact that they spent so much money on it and still managed to cock it up. A shining example of all the worst excesses of the Hollywood film industry.
Let’s move on to nicer things now with Earthlings (Swipe Films) a wry documentary charting those who speak the Klingon language. The more astute of you may realise that Klingon is a fictional language often spoken in the popular sci-fi show ‘Star Trek’. Indeed: thanks to it’s cult status and a linguist by the name of Mark Okrand the language is now the world’s only constructed language and there’s even a Klingon National Language Institute. It’s easy for this kind of documentary to descend into “Hah, look at the nutters!” and Alexander O Phillipe avoids this creating a rather sweet story of people who – whilst maybe slightly obsessive (one man has taught his son Klingon from birth) – are still thoroughly amiable people who you could you go have a drink with. And then see that drink spat all over as they say stuff in Klingon. Comes with a commentary and – of course – menus in both English and Klingon.
There are delights on offer in Offside (Artificial Eye) the story of a young girl who’s absolutely crazy about football. Unfortunately, she also happens to be Iranian which means that she – and all other women – are banned from the football ground. So when the Iranian national team get a world cup qualifier, she and an enterprising group of friends dress up as men, head towards the stadium and hope that the soldiers don’t see through their disguise. This is a smart and funny comedy from Iran that is consistently engaging and manages to raise a number of important issues without losing the humour. It’s also a perfect example to those who believe that world cinema equates to films that are dour, serious and boring.
After spending years in front of the camera, Richard E Grant finally takes the plunge by moving behind it with his directorial debut Wah-Wah (Lionsgate Releasing). This is a deeply personal film as Grant draws upon his childhood living in Swaziland during the dying days of the British Empire. Young Ralph is sent from Swaziland to boarding school after his parents divorce. Three years later he returns to find his father (a good turn from Gabriel Byrne) married to a brash American girl who rallies against the stiff and upper class Brits. But the joy of anarchy takes a darker turn when Ralph’s father becomes increasingly violent thanks to alcohol. This is a fine blend of whimsy with some deeply felt – and sometimes excruciatingly uncomfortable - moments that shows that Grant has a talent for directing. Yet it also sometimes feels bland and Grant seems almost too close to the subject. Still, this is an engaging debut that makes you await Grant’s next movie.
If you don’t want to do a ‘director’s cut’ of a film what do you do? Easy: be like Terry Jones and release a DVD like Erik The Viking: The Director’s Son’s Cut (Arrow Films). Yep, Jones has roped his son Bill in to help drastically re-edit his 1989 film that stars Tim Robbins as the titular character who’s getting rather tired of the rape and pillage that’s usually involved in the job description of a Viking. Cue his quest to wake the gods with only a motley crew by his side and the opportunity to meet many weird characters who are played by a myriad of British actors including John Cleese and Tim McInnerny. Whilst – unsurprisingly – there’s a sense of the anarchic spirit of Python, the film is very uneven despite the drastic re-edit. Too adult for kids and too childish for adults, the films has it’s moments but just seems a bit of an indulgent muddle. Good for fans of the Pythons but others may be a bit confused and bored. Lots of extras, including the original cut of the movie and interviews with the Jones boys.
Back to more serious matters now in Heading South (Soda Pictures) a film explores the changing cultural and political landscape of Haiti during the 1970s. Three women hole up in the tourist sections of Haiti until they meet up with handsome local Legba. Leading them into the underbelly of the real Haiti he not only reminds them of the passion that is missing from their lives but he also shows them the real nature of poverty and danger. This is a typical romantic flick crossed with a sharp political thriller and the cross pollination doesn’t quite work. There’s some strong acting from the likes of Charlotte Rampling but director Laurent Cantent (director of the underrated Human Resources) can’t quite hold it all together. An interesting but flawed movie.
The Deer Hunter: Special Edition (Optimum Home Entertainment) still remains one of the most powerful movies ever made about the Vietnam War and was the deserved winner of five Oscars in 1978. Whilst remembered by many for the infamous Russian Roulette sequence between Robert De Niro and Christopher Walken people forget the director Michael Cimino has crafted an almost unbearable treatise on the effects of war and the nature of masculinity. This film moves through extremes – calm one minute, brutal the next - as it tells the story of a group of friends and how they deal with the war described by many as ‘America’s Folly’ and is utterly, utterly compelling throughout. A vital and important movie that – if you don’t have already – you should get for your collection whilst, if you do own it, then this Special Edition should tempt as it contains an excellent commentary from Cimino and some illuminating interviews.
More re-released classics in Colonel Redl (inD DVD) Ivan Sazabo’s second film in the trilogy that includes Mephisto and Hanussen. A young officer (Mephisto’s Klaus Maria Brandauer in a cracking performance) becomes the head of secret police but soon falls from grace over the course of a curious career. The film examines greed, the thirst for power and the fallibility of human nature with an almost surgical precision. But it’s this precision that leaves the film sometimes feeling rather cold and consequently it doesn’t have the power of its predecessor in the trilogy. The lead actor saves it though and gives it enough humanity to make it a fascinating watch
From the sublime to the ridiculous with District 13 (Momentum Pictures) the first in a series of ‘free running’ films to actually get a release in the UK. For those of you who aren’t conversant in free running/parkour, it’s basically the ability to leap tall buildings and generally do things that most people only attempt (and fail) when they’ve got half a bottle of scotch inside them. There’s some plot here about Paris in the future and ghettos, but sod that we’re here for the action and the film does deliver in spades. Much like a Jackie Chan movie, you’ll find yourself consistently saying ‘How the hell did they do that,’ especially when you learn that it all comes without the use of visual effects. This is complete bollocks of the highest order but, unlike The Da Vinci Code, I say that as a compliment.
More silliness abounds in Ju-On: The Grudge 2 (Premier Asia) the original Japanese sequel to the horror movie. Someone makes the mistake of making a horror movie where the curse of the ‘grudge’ is still prevalent. This means a little boy in blue (no not Papa Smurf) starts to appear from nowhere and when her wigs start to take on a life of their own, she knows that she’s in serious trouble. Whilst there’s still some suspense on offer here (director Takashi Shimizu still knows how to make the best of the peripheral vision of the audience and scare the hell out of them) there’s just some scenes that are too jokey to really work. Fun for those who want a bit of a laughable horror night in but big fans of the original may find themselves quite disappointed.
Francois Ozon’s Time To Leave (Artificial Eye) is one of his most personal and affecting films as he tells the story of a 30 year old who is forced to face up to the idea of his own mortality. Unable to confide in anyone after a shock diagnosis, Romain finds that anger is the only way in which he can deal with the situation. But a strange meeting soon see him accepting his situation as life seems to be giving a chance he thought lost. This is an intimate affair that really captures the idea that, when life throws something big at you, it’s often the small things and our relationships that help us deal with it. Jeanne Moreau gives gravitas to proceedings as Romain’s grandmother and this is an emotionally wrought affair that stands up well next Ozon’s other films.
Tinto Brass is apparently known as ‘Il Maestro’ and is allegedly the King Of European Erotica (boy would I have loved to been at that coronation ceremony). Well judging by The ‘Maestro’ presents … Three Classic Films from Tinto Brass (Nouveaux Pictures) ‘Il Maestro’ is Italian for ‘dirty old perv’. With Salon Kitty a kinky story of the Nazi regime, P.O Box Tinto Brass and The Voyeur this is lots of women flashing their bits as much as possible under the pretence of art. Fine if you like that sort of thing and I’m sure that it’s the first time in ages when the pictures galleries on a DVD are actually used by people. Well, until those people go blind…
If the world keeps on going at it’s current pace, the only shops will be MacDonald’s, Starbucks and Subway’s and everything on TV will he the prefix ‘CSI’ added to it. The takeover continues with the release of both Crime Scene Investigation: Miami Season 3 Part 2 and Crime Scene Investigation : New York Season 3 Part 2 (Momentum Pictures) that sees the show that engenders the response “I shouldn’t like it but can’t keep away from it,” carrying on with people still solving crimes whilst looking almost scarily pretty. And, if you’re a bit annoyed with all this ‘releasing only half a season at a time’ business (I swear we’re soon going to get one episode a DVD from some shows soon) then there’ll a BOGOF (that’s Buy One Get One Free for all you non supermarket shoppers) on all CSI releases from 23rd October.
Nostalgia now as Gerry Anderson: The Monochrome Years (Network Releasing) shows all these young whippersnappers what kids entertainment is really about. Forget CGI when you can have lots of puppets on a string. With the little known Four Feather Falls, a faux Western that includes the voice of Nicholas Parson (and I never thought I’d write those words in my life!), Supercar about a car that’s, well, super, Torchy The Battery Boy which has the best title of any kids show ever and, finally, Fireball XL5, a fun attemot at sci-fi with such characters as Robert The Robot and Mr and Mrs Spacy Spy (whose names would suggest they haven't quite grasped the notion of secrecy in this whole spy business). You'll pretend to buy this for the kids, but you know that it's really for you. Go on, admit it....
Late 80s comedy rears it’s head with the release of the complete series of The New Statesman (Network Releasing). Rik Mayall is his slimy best as Alan B’Stard a Tory MP who will do anything to further his political career. Amoral, nasty and perhaps the most despicable person on the face on the planet, B’Stard is a great creation. Given their morality during this period though, Tory MP’s were probably relieved by the fact that the show went so easy on them as B’Stard goes through various evil schemes and bumps off his rivals. The four series are a nice blend of wit and crudity and this set is a great purchase. Less successful is Rik Mayall Presents (Network Releasing) in which the comedian is given a series of one off shows to present various characters. With many of these types of shows, there are one or two successful shows (such as Mayall’s slimy talk show host) but Mayall doesn’t really have the range to carry it off.
All these films are available either now or in the next week. Just make sure you don't that film. You know which one I'm talking about....