Special Edition # 22
When it was first announced 28 Weeks Later (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) sounded nothing more than a cash-in of Danny Boyle’s brilliant Zombie flick 28 Days Later. But the addition of Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (who previously directed the underrated Intacto) added a certain class to proceedings and hopes were raised for the project. Thankfully, Fresnadillo has come through and the film is a fine follow-up to the original feast of fear. Set six months after the events of the initial movie, this sees Robert Carlyle as a man harbouring a guilty secret whilst living in a London that is trying to rebuild after the 'Rage' virus has been declared eradicated. But as refugees return to a devastated city, it turns out that the authorities may have been too hasty in their efforts to declare everything safe and, soon, people are fighting for their lives once again. Fresnadillo has captured the terror and realism that made Boyle’s film so good but cranks everything up a level with tension and bleakness. It not only has a great story, that focuses on ideas of preservation and individual responsibility, but – most importantly – it’s damn scary throughout. Comes with lots of extras including a commentary by Fresnadillo and various ‘Making Ofs’.
Shane Meadows returns to screens with his most personal film to date: This Is England (Optimum Releasing), a powerful and emotional movie set in the early 80s. 11 year-old Thomas Turgoose (whose performance has, quite rightly, earned him a shedload of plaudits over the past year) plays Shaun Field (and if you can’t get the parallels there, then you’re clearly not paying attention) a grieving boy still trying to deal with the death of his father. He soon finds the release he’s looking for when he’s embraced by the local skinhead community. But with dangerous ideas being floated around by his new friends, is this the beginning of making Shaun into a young racist? Meadows directs with typical passion and skill and has crafted a raw film that counterbalances the grittiness with a wry sense of humour, whilst the – mostly non-professional – actors carry everything off with skill. A must have for those who value excellent British cinema. The disc includes a commentary from Meadows (who is typically self-deprecating), producer Mark Herbert and Turgoose and numerous behind the scenes featurettes.
The Ken Loach Collection Vols 1 & 2 (Sixteen Films) provides a comprehensive account of one of the most socially aware and important UK filmmakers in history. The first contains a series of films that look at families and individuals dealing with poveerty and misery with such films as Riff Raff, Raining Stones, Poor Cow and Kes. Each is now famous for various touches, including use of non-professional actors andstring critique of social injustice. But watching them again also reminds you of Loach's grand use of humour (from Brian Glover's games teacher to Rikcy Tomlinson's social faux-pas in Riff Raff) and sympathy for his subjects. Whilst never straying from the reality of the situation, Loach always a form of hope and redemption. There's a slightly more commercial edge to his works in Vol.2 with such films as Sweet Sixteen and Ae Fond Kiss as Loach mixes his examinations of Contemporary Britain with ideas of how the past affects us now (with films such as Land And Freedom and The Wind That Shakes The Barley). There's not a bad film in the bunch, and the set include The Gamekeeper, a never released on DVD adaptation of the Barry Hines novel that follows the life of a gamekeeper who works for a well to do family. Focusing on the relationship of both sets of people, Loach has made a (beautifully shot) study of the differences between the 'haves' and the 'have nots'. Also includes booklets and documentaries.
If you were an executive at a certain clown logo’d fast food franchise then it would be fair then going to the cinema has probably not been high on your ‘must visit’ list as of late. Morgan Spurlock set them up with his documentary Supersize Me and now Richard Linklater gets ready to knock them out of the park with Fast Food Nation (Tartan DVD) a fictional version of Eric Schlosser’s runaway bestseller. It examines the lives of people involved in the production of the fast food that millions enjoy on a daily basis. From the immigrants working at the abattoirs to the executives who will do anything to make sure the money keeps rolling, the film is a damning indictment on both the politics of big business and the food that makes it to our plates – or cardboard boxes. With so many stories it does sometimes feel that Linklater is trying to fit too much in but strong performances from the likes of Greg Kinnear, Ethan Hawke and Kris Kristofferson hold everything together. It will certainly make you think about the food you eat (especially after the unflinching scenes of animal slaughters) and one thinks that the sales of lettuce will go through the roof. Well, until The True Story of Lettuce gets released… The disc comes with a thin featurette and interviews with Linklater and Schlosser.
Imagine if you could take only one memory with you into the great beyond, what would you choose? This is the intriguing conceit at the heart of After Life (Soda Pictures), a brilliantly charming Japanese film in which the recently deceased discover that – whilst in limbo – they have three days to choose their most meaningful memory. This will then be filmed, screened for them and the rest of their memories erased as they move on to their ultimate fates. Director Hirokazu Kore-Eda, filming on a very low budget, has made a low key delight in which ideas of fate and memory are explored with both a humorous lightness of touch and an affecting emotional reality. An ingenious and heart warming film that is filled with constant surprises and enjoyable ideas.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 25 years since Wild Style (Metrodome) was unleashed on our screens. Charting the birth of hip hop, the film is a vital and seminal street movie that sees DJs and rappers such as Grand Master Flash help give birth to the movement that changed the musical and social tastes of a generation. The film itself centres on graffiti maestro Zorro who travels through New York en route to one of the biggest and most famous parties ever held. The funniest thing about the movie is that, even a quarter of a century on, it stills as fresh and exciting today as it was when it was first released. This is partly helped by the enormous amount of extras included which excludes an exuberant commentary from director Charlie Ahearn, interviews with cast and crew and many live performances. A stunning disc for a film that has stood the test of time.
Soviet cinema has often been concerned with reflecting on the terrible Russian loss suffered during World War II, as two new releases from director Sergei Bondarchuk show. First up is Bondarchuk’s 1959 debut Destiny Of A Man (Nouveaux Pictures), which seems him take up lead role duties as a soldier who returns from Nazi Death Camp to find his family whose memory have kept him alive. A testament to the human spirit triumphing over evil, this is a movie that helped pave the way for the tradition of humanist films in Soviet cinema. His 1975 film They Fought For The Motherland (Nouveaux Pictures) is a slightly more world weary view of humanity as soldiers retreat from Stalingrad, devastated by the horrors and destruction wrought upon them. Will the madness of war be able to rid them of the last vestiges of their humanity? Both films have been fully restored and come with interviews with the actors who worked with Bondarchuk.
The past few columns have seen numerous war films that see conflict from many different points of few. The tradition continues with Blessed By Fire (Soda Pictures) which examines the Falklands War through the point of few of Esteban, a journalist who visits his friend Vargas, an ex Army colleague who now lies in a coma. He soon thinks about the past conflict and the toll it inflicted upon him and his friends. This is certainly an interesting movie, especially as it’s one of the first from Argentina to tell their side of the story and there’s a fine reversal of the usual ‘men bravely deal with war’ notion. But it’s often too sentimental for its own good and the fake stabs at emotion – ironically – rob it of heart. A flawed curio.
With a fine line between fiction and documentary, Abbas Kiarastomi’s Close Up (Soda Pictures) is a fascinating reflection on the nature of film and reality and is almost akin to an Iranian version of 8 ½ that channels the spirit of Orson Welles' F For Fake. A wealthy family find themselves the focus of a new film from lauded director Mohsen Makhmalbaf. But is it really the famous director. Or has an impostor infiltrated their home? Soon a magazine reporter, the courts and Kiarastomi are all on embroiled in a clash of fiction and reality. This is a must for all serious fans of cinema as it’s deconstruction of image and realism make it one of the most labyrinthine and joyously confusing films of the past few decades. It also happens to be one of Kiarastomi’s personal favourites which should be justification enough. Comes with a short film The Opening Night Of Close Up from Nanni Moretti.
People just love to 're-imagine' Shakespeare don't they? Whether it's Baz Luhrmann going all contemporary in Romeo And Juliet or Ken Branagh plonking everything in feudal Japan for As You Like It it's all obviosuly due to Shakspeare being relevant for any age. And not beacuse actors don't like wearing doublet and hose. Oh no. Anyway, Macbeth (Revolver Entertainment) gets the modern treatment from Geoffrey Wright, best known for Romper Stomper. Unsurprisingly, his version is a dark and violent affair that emphasises the cold hearted themes of lust, avarice and revenge that runs through the play. The young actors bring passion, if not always pathos, to the film and there is a nice line of socking moments, But you can't help feel it's all slightly anaemic and that it will find a more sutiable audience amongst countless students who can't be bothered to read the original play.
Werner Herzog seems to have unlimited energy (well, you’d have to, to put up with Kluas Kinski for all those years) as he’s reaching a level of prolificness that would make even Michael Winterbottom envious. His latest effort is Wheel Of Time (Soda Pictures) in which the director visits Bodh Gaya in India, the sacred place where Buddhists perform the ‘Wheel Of Time’ initiation ceremony. The Dalai Lama, who visits the ceremony, has given Herzog permission to film this secret ceremony for the first time and he uses this unprecedented access to create a documentary that is enormously beautiful and shows the lengths that people will go to in the name of devotion. Herzog himself is an engaging guide throughout the ceremony and seems to have positioned himself as one of the great documentarians of the modern age.
It something is going to be nonsense, then it should at least be entertaining nonsense. So it’s a good job that Spooks – Series 5 (Contender Home Entertainment) has both entertainment and nonsense in spades. For those who have yet to the pleasure, ‘Spooks’ centres around a covert section of MI5 that get mixed up with all sorts of unsavoury characters and groups whilst simultaneously trying to deal with their own internal strife. Series 5 kicks off everything with a bang with terrorist attacks and accusations of treason amongst our heroes and carries on in pretty much the same way across its run of 10 episodes with slick and stylish action across the way. Stars Rupert Penry-Jones and Hermione Norris clearly have fun running around, defeating the bad guys and you can’t help be thoroughly diverted – as long as you don’t think too carefully about it. This five disc set comes with commentaries on the final two episodes and a preview of Series 6.
As sure as night follows day, people who get famous know that early work of theirs that disappeared without a trace will soon get dredged for all and sundry to judge. Simon Pegg now gets this treatment with We Know Where Live: Remixed (Fremantle Home Entertainment) a late 90s Channel 5 sketch show he made in conjunction with Fiona Allen, Amanda Holden, Sanjeev Bhaskar, and Ella Kenion. He (and the rest of his co-stars who have also done quite well foe themselves) needn’t worry because, whilst it’s far from great, there’s enough good stuff for it to stay far away from embarrassing. There’s a nice line of the surreal done before everyone and their Uncle Charlie was doing it, and some of the shetches do raise a smile. Still, it is very much a first effort from all concerned and it often does show. Casual fans may not find much here but die hards will love to have their collection complete. And, if anyone is listening, now that this has been release can we have the really neglected (and funny) show ‘Asylum’ released on DVD. Pretty please?
You wait ages for a Channel 5 (sorry, I mean ‘Five’) comedy show on DVD and then two come along at once, thanks to the release of Suburban Shootout – Series 1 (4 DVD). Starring some of the finest female comedy talent in the UK (including Amelia Bullmore, Felicity Montague and – the always woefully underrated – Emma Kennedy) it’s a deliciously subversive sitcom in which the typically English village of Little Stempington turns out to be a hotbed of crime run by ladies who would seemingly be more at home making jam for the WI. Silly and energetic, it’s a lot of fun and it’s nice to see somebody try something else with the sitcom form. Having said that, 8 episodes seems a little too much and the joke of ‘Hey, it’s a twee English person. But she has a machine gun!’ does start to wear a little thin. But comedy fans will find a lot on offer and the disc comes with plenty of the usual extras of documentary and commentaries (though the menu system is one of the most annoying that I’ve found on a DVD for a long time).