Special Edition # 16
Oh, the doubters were so wrong. When it was announced that Daniel Craig was taken over the role of James Bond in a radical re-invention of the character, there were howls of derision from many quarters. “The Bond franchise is too stale,” they cried. “Audiences won’t be excited by Bond anymore,” they claimed. “Daniel Craig has got blonde hair for god’s sake!” they thundered. But Casino Royale (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) is one of the most hard edged action films of the past year with Craig making the role of the world’s most famous secret agent (admittedly, a bit of an oxymoron) his own, golden locks and all. Hitting the reset button for the series, it takes us to the beginning as Bond has just got his 00 number and finds himself having to thwart the plans of dastardly millionaire Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen who puts in a good performance despite the fact his character is quite underwhelming) in a high stakes poker games. Eschewing the gadgets (‘Q’ fans will be disappointed) this takes hard hitting action (when Bond punches, he punches) and a refreshingly adult tone to create a gripping action thriller for the modern era. Indeed, it is surprising that the film managed to get a ‘12A’ certificate considering the harrowing murder scenes and the uncomfortable genital torture scene (I crossed my legs a few time, I can tell you). There are a few problems with the film, such as the final half hour which does start to drag, but this is top notch blockbuster movie making that has breathed new life into a beloved character. There are some extras, which I’ve been told are alright for what they are (mostly promotional puff pieces) but I haven’t been able to see them.
Given that it seems that half of America wants to sue him into oblivion, Sacha Baron Cohen must be pretty thankful that Borat (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment) was one of the biggest hits of the year, as the profits may just have to go into his lawyers pockets. He can also take comfort that he’s created something of a cultural phenomenon with the machinations of Borat Sgadiyev, the Kazakhstani TV celebrity who embarks on an odyssey across America and meets a number of different – and frankly, sometimes terrifying – people. It certainly deserves its reputation as an embarrassingly funny movie with Cohen knowing how to extract the humour out of his ‘interviewees’ (read: victims) without having to resort to totally cheap prodding. But it’s also a disturbing affair that not only reveals some of the prejudice that runs rife in the country (the entire ‘Throw The Jew Down The Well’ sequence will have you slack jawed with disbelief) and the general acquiescence of people to believe in the notion of celebrity no matter how abhorrent it may be. The disc comes with deleted scenes – which are predictably hilarious – and some spoof adverts. It’s a shame that Cohen – who seems to have thrown off his shyness after making many appearances as ‘himself’ over the past few months – couldn’t have provided a commentary or even a short interview as an insight into the making of the film would have proved fascinating. Maybe there’ll be a special edition winging its way in the near future to get some more money out of us…
Speaking of that practice, those who bought Fight Club a few years ago – and many did, considering it was one of the first DVDs to come with a raft of special features – might be a bit annoyed that you can now purchase Fight Club Uncut (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment). With the same extras as the original disc plus an uncut version of the film, this will prove a treat for those who have still not got your hands on this shiny disc. In case you missed it the first time around (someone must have known about the first rule of Fight Club and kept their mouth shut), the film focuses on Jack whose dull life is upturned by the arrival of Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt, in an iconic performance) who shows him that it’s also self-destruction that makes life worth living. This still – pardon the pun – pulls a punch as a movie and is skilled in making nihilism into an attractive lifestyle choice. The new disc includes some footage originally cut (a bit more violence that doesn’t really affect the plot) but the jewel here is a new commentary from original Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk who brings an amazingly informative and witty take on the film. It almost makes it worth purchasing again, even if you’ve followed the mantra of the film and tried to divest yourself of all your belongings…
Shoah (Eureka) is perhaps the most profoundly moving and emotionally draining works of cinema ever created. During the 70s and 80s Claude Lanzmann interviews those who experienced the horrors of the Holocaust first hand. Jewish survivors and Nazi Officers are quizzed by Lanzmann, alongside those who witnessed the horrors on the periphery. Lanzmann uses a repetitive but persistent style that gradually sees people let down their guard as they reveal feelings that are both achingly affecting and – at points – frighteningly inhuman. Lanzmann also eschews using archive footage and instead revisits Auschwitz and other extermination camps. The eerie emptiness of these places that groan under the weight of terrible memory is some of the most singularly powerful material here. Very much, this is very much a film about the details as it’s the small facts that people reveal that give an insight into a picture that is almost unthinkable. Even at 550 minutes, this still only goes some way of helping you understand the madness of that time but remains an astonishing work that everyone should see. Then set also includes a 120 page book that is a excellent companion examining the technique and the impact of the film.
A clutch of budget re-releases now, perfect for those who’ve been hitting the old wallet a little too hard. First up is Super Size Me (Prism Leisure) which, as almost everyone now knows, follows Morgan Spurlock as he goes on a MacDonald’s only diet and suffers the consequences. Whilst slightly overtaken by the subsequent reaction to the film, it’s still an interesting documentary. Guy X (Prism Leisure) is a uneasy mix of M*A*S*H and Catch 22 as Jason Biggs finds himself as a soldier who ends up in the Artic embroiled in a shady cover up. This nervy comedy thriller has it’s moments but wants to do much in a short amount of time and ends up being a bit of a mess. Campbell Scott (one of the most underrated actors in the US) plays a mild mannered orthodontist in The Secret Lives of Dentists (Prism Leisure) whose life comes under fire when his wife reveals she’s in love with someone else. Soon pleasant domesticity turns into a battleground in this fine examination of the decaying nature of the American family. Finally Silver City (Prism Leisure) stars Richard Dreyfuss as an American politician who has to help hide the bodies – both literally and figuratively. An enjoyably cynical examination of the US political system. All these are good examples of US Independent cinema and worth the money at their bargain price.
Whilst the remake (The Thing) is usually much more remembered – if for pure visceral impact if nothing else – Howard Hawks’ 50s movie The Thing From Another World (Universal) is still a choice slice of science fiction. With the simplest of ideas – scientists find a frozen alien craft and then find that they just might be in a wee bit of trouble when it starts to thaw – Hawks creates high tension and a tight narrative without the histrionics (well, at last not as obvious histrionics) as many 50s sci-fi films of its ilk. Of course there’s great fun within this trying to recognise the parallels with the perceived communist threat and examining some of the more dodgy aspects of the politics being placed in front of us, but this also works as simple and effective rip-roaring adventure. This set comes with an interesting commentary from John Carpenter who looks at the impact of the film and the connections to his remake whilst there’s also a colourised version of the film (which, curiously, seems to work really well with the garish colour suiting the subject). A fine set for the sci-fi minded.
Best known for ‘Beavis and Butthead’ and ‘King of the Hill’, Mike Judge has also created some wonderfully satirical movies. Office Space was a sadly neglected swipe at office culture but now Judge goes for a much broader sweep in Idiocracy (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment). After an Army experiment, Joe Bauers (Owen Wilson) wakes up in the year 2505 and discovers that the world is run by stupid people (cue Bush gag). Now the most intelligent person in the world, Joe is the only person qualified to run the world. But does he want to? Whilst this sometimes drifts into the realms of the crude but this is an interesting - albeit rather brief – satire on the deterioration of American culture. It’s just a shame that the only extras are deleted scenes as a commentary would have been very welcome indeed.
It’s been a few decades since Albert and Harold Steptoe first shambled on to our screens, but – topical references aside – it still remains one of the most funny and tragic shows ever transmitted on British television. This is more than ably shown in Steptoe and Son: Series 7 (BBC DVD) which, despite being the penultimate series of the show, contains two of the finest episodes ever to revolve around the bickering rag and bone men. ‘Oh What a Beautiful Mourning' sees Albert and Harold going to a Steptoe funeral, with some brilliantly observed character interaction and a fine sense of the farcical. But it’s ‘The Desperate Hours’ that highlights not only the genius of the performances of the actors but the writing of Ray Galton and Alan Simpson. Leonard Rossiter guest stars as an on-the-run prisoner who invades the squalid home of the Steptoe’s but soon finds out that they might be worse off than him. No flashy effects, only one location, just stunning writing and performances.
Modern comedy now with Man Stroke Woman Series 1 (BBC DVD), a sketch show that mainly concentrates on – as the title would suggest – the difference between men and women and stars a troupe of up and coming stars including Nick Shaun Of The Dead Frost and Nicholas ‘Nathan Barley’ Burns. It’s very much hit and miss with some sketches just falling flat on their faces with crass obviousness (man wakes up next to ugly woman: ties to sneak out but he remembers that it’s actually his wife. Hold my sides) but when it hits, it can raise many a belly laugh. Favourites include the ‘men who bugger off as soon as a girl mentions her boyfriend’ and the really quite funny men who admit that they don’t like football and in fact are always thinking about something else. It will appeal to all, but there’s enough here to keep comedy fans happy despite some of the problems. I can never say a DVD is nice, can I?
The great thing about having a DVD column is that I can, on occasion, indulge myself. So when I found out two shows that I grew up with were going to be released on DVD, I jumped at the chance to review them. First up is Count Duckula – Series 2 (Fremantle Home Entertainment), a spin-off from ‘Dangermouse’. A vegetarian vampire duck (voiced by David Jason) desperate to break away from his family legacy drags his dour butler and deranged Nanny into a series of bizarre adventures. Whilst lacking the verve of ‘Dangermouse’, it’s a great mish-mash of bad puns and surreal humour (and an insanely hummable theme tune). A little more genteel is The Wind In The Willows – The Complete First Series (Fremantle Home Entertainment), the classic animation with David Jason as Mr Toad, Peter ‘Wallace’ Sallis as Ratty and Sir Michael Hordern as Badger. Faithful to the original stories, it’s a serene and memorable show. With yet another great theme tune. Of course, being adults it may be a bit frivolous but for children, nephews and the like it would make a great purchase. At least, that’s what you can say to the shop assistant...
And with that blatant piece of nostalgia, I’ll sign off for this column to return in the next couple of weeks. The best joke about the film industry, which was requested for in the last column, goes to Andrew Juneson for the following:
“A beautiful woman is in a lift and sees a famous Hollywood producer. Excited, shje goes up to him and says “Oh my god, I can’t believe that it’s you. I’ve always admired your work. I think you’re brilliant. In fact I love your work so much, I want to give you blowjob right now!” The Hollywood producer looks at her and goes “OK. But what’s in it for me?”