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Special Edition # 20

If.. DVD CoverGiven that the UK Film Council have announced that the next few months will be the 'Summer Of British Film' (appropriate given the bloody awful weather at the moment) it's good to see that Special Edition # 20 (yes, break out the champagne as we've made it to 20) has plenty of great British films for you to enjoy in the comfort of your own homes. Alongside the homegrown product, Laurence Boyce also looks at some contemporary drama, classic TV shows and a film about bestiality. Wait, what was that last one again?

If... (Paramount Home Entertainment) remains one of the highlights of 60s British Cinema as director Lindsay Anderson viciously skewers English society with this satire set in a public school. Malcolm McDowell (in a performance that I would argue just pips his iconic portrayal of Alex in A Clockwork Orange) plays Mick Travis who manages to incite revolution amongst his fellow pupils. With a radical style (though the vaunted change between monochrome and colour was a budget problem rather than artistic decision), the film just crackles with passion and energy as Anderson clearly enjoys sticking it to the ruling classes. A true masterpiece. The disc comes with a commentary from McDowell and David Robinson and Anderson's Oscar winning documentary Thursday's Children.

Distant Voices, Still Lives DVD CoverMore brilliant British cinema in Distant Voices, Still Lives (BFI), the debut feature from director Terence Davies. He follows the fortunes of a ordinary Liverpool family during the 40s and 50s as the live under the iron rule of their terrifying father (a frighteningly good role for Pete Postlethwaite). Davies gives a fine balance between the horror that is at the heart of the family and the genuine moments of joy that manage to touch their lives. This is a genuinely emotional and affecting film that is obviously very personal for Davies. It's also beautifully shot and is often stunning to look at.  A film that is worthy of re-appraisal when talking about some of the great Britsh films of the past couple of decades. The disc also comes with a commentary and interview with Davies.

Blue DVD CoverGiven that Derek Jarman was best known for his visual brilliance is always surprising that Blue (Artificial Eye) is perhaps his greatest work. A blue screen (which reflects Jarman's blindness) acts as a frame for voice overs from, amongst others, Jarman and Tilda Swinton who read extracts from Jarman's diaries as he reflects on his impending death from AIDS. Amazingly personal and reflective, as it touches upon life, death and impending loss, it's a meditative and beautiful piece of work. It's especially moving as it avoids mawkishness and Jarman's dignity remains core to the proceedings. The disc also come with short Glitterbug a collage of Jarman's Super 8 work from the 70s and 80s set to a score from Brian Eno.

Lord Of The Flies DVD CoverPeter Brooks' 1963 adaptation of Lord Of The Flies (Second Sight) finally makes it's way on to DVD and still has the power to shock even today. Brooks films the story (if you missed English Literature then it's about a group of schoolchildren who find themselves on a desert island after a crash. Their attempts to form an organised society turns sour as they regress to brutalism) with a chilling air of reality that heightens the disturbing aspects of the story. Often overlooked in the pantheon of great literary adaptation, it's a brilliantly constructed examination of the excesses of the human condition. Includes a commentary from Brook and other members of the crew.

Bigger Than Life DVD CoverNicholas Ray was one of the most eclectic, subversive and interesting American directors of the mid 20th Century. Movies such as Johnny Guitar, They Live By Night and Rebel Without A Cause are shining examples of his ability to create dense melodrama with a satirical edge. Bigger Than Life (BFI) sees him guide James Mason to one of the greatest performances of his career as he plays a schoolteacher who takes an experimental drug that has devastating consequences for his family. Years of pent up anger and frustration come pouring out of him as he rails against the staid conformity of society. A definitive study of a person's breakdown and a wry deconstruction of US life, this is superlative melodrama. This being a BFI disc, there are some great extras including a commentary from academic Edward Buscombe and a conversation with Jim Jarmusch, who worked with Ray on his final project.

Rien Sur Robert DVD CoverTwo slices of contemporary French now, the first of which is Rien Sur Robert (Bluebell Films) the story of a film critic whose life falls apart when it's discovered he's reviewed a film he hasn't seen. It's great with some stunning special effects and cameos from the likes of Marlon Brando and Little Jimmy Krankie. OK, not really. I have seen the film and it's a very dark comedy with an extremely savage edge. French icon Michel Piccoli makes a cameo appearance and clearly enjoys tearing strips off our hapless protagonist. An actor not liking film critics ... that's never happened before. Less successful is Love In The Strangest Way (Bluebell Films) a flat attempt at a Hitchcock thriller. A married man has a one night stand and, unsurprisingly, finds out the object of his brief affection is something of a nutter. It's fine for what it is but you can't feeling that everything is extremely familiar.

The Family Friend DVD CoverAfter the excellent The Consequences of Love Italian director Paolo Sorrentino returns with The Family Friend (Artificial Eye), an intriguing character study. Giacomo Rizzo gives an amazing central performance as Geremia, a man who likes to believe that he has lots of friends who are, in reality, the victims of his loan sharking operation. When he falls in love with the daughter of one of his customers, he soon discovers the emptiness at the centre of his life. This is a considered and beautiful piece of filmmaking that highlights Sorrentino's skill at a making an audience sympathise with an essentially unlikeable person. One of the best Italian films of the past few years.

The Fallen DVD CoverWorld War II film The Fallen (Scanbox Entertainment) is a refreshingly different look at the conflict that has proved fodder for Hollywood over the years. Here, we concentrate on three units (one Italian, one German and one US) as they try and survive during the madness of war. Take some hard hitting moments and add a smattering of Catch 22 and you have a sympathetic portrayal of those who were forced to fight for their lives without ever truly understanding what brought them to the situation in the first places. Refusing to take sides, the film is a consistently affecting and engrossing piece of work that celebrates the human spirit.

Sleeping Dogs DVD CoverIf you're famous for having a weird voice and appearing in Police Academy movies then how do you get people to know you for something else? Easy. You make a film about a woman who has, erm, intimate relations with a dog. Surprisingly Bobcat Goldthwait's Sleeping Dogs (Tartan DVD) is actually quite sweet as a girl confesses a youthful indiscretion to her boyfriend that, unsurprisingly, becomes common knowledge. The subject matter is dealt with unflinchingly (and hilariously) but this is ultimately a film about how much we should be judged on our past. A thoroughly engaging film that's certainly worth a watch. Just make sure that there aren't any members of the RSPCA about first...

Danger Man DVD CoverBefore he was banged up (in the fictional sense) Patrick McGoohan played suave secret agent John Drake in Danger Man (Network). Each episode centred on a man. Who often found himself in danger. Facetiousness aside, it's aged quite well with a continual supply of exotic locations (that look suspiciously like stock footage) and bad guys to fight every week. It's interesting to McGoohan playing Drake as a knight in shining amour and shows why he turned down the part of James Bond (he believed the character was too salacious). This set contains all 47 episodes alongside a ridiculously detailed book that contains all you need to know aside from McGoohan's shoe size (and I probably just skipped that). Perfect for a wet afternoon which, by the looks of it, there are going to plenty of over the coming months.

 Homicide: Life On The Streets - Season 2 DVD CoverIf you've been glued to 'The Wire' lately, then you really should make the effort to check out Homicide: Life On The Streets - Season 2 (Fremantle Home Entertainment). Following the fortunes of a Baltimore homicide squad, the show was one of the first to concentrate on the process of solving crimes rather than showing us the crimes themselves. By now the show was hitting it's strides and managed to bring in the characters personal lives without overshadowing the main focus of the show. Thus you had people you cared alongside consistently gripping stories. The highlight of this season is probably the three part episode in which one of the main characters is seriously wounded, giving us time to reflect on the characters that we've come to care about. The only disappointment is a lack of any extras but this is still one of the best US dramas ever made.

Jekyll DVD CoverFinally we have James Nesbitt turning all evil in Jekyll (Contender Home Entertainment) an update of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic from the pen of Steven Moffat (best known for some of the more scary episodes of the modern day 'Doctor Who'). It's certainly a lot of fun with Nesbitt letting it all hang in his performance and some great ideas (such as the alter egos contacting each other via answer phone messages). But it does feel a little stretched out over six episodes and does have a tendency to drag. Still, it will keep you entertained and it has a cracking ending that should get everyone's heart beating. If you're in two minds about buying this, well, you're probably the target audience..

All these discs should be available over the coming weeks. Check all the usual online sites for full information. Go on. You can't expect me to do all the work can you? Still no competition this time around. Will be back soon, I promise.