Special Edition # 27
It’s the time of year when the summer blockbusters that filled the cinemas begin to fill the DVD shelves instead. In Special Edition # 27, Laurence Boyce looks at one of the biggest hits of the summer alongside some cinematic classics, some laughs and a few TV staples.
I've also been watching films with a lot of porn in them, but as its work then it’s allowed. You know, I love my job sometimes.
Robert Downey Jr. proves that he can make it as an action star in the brilliant comic book adaptation Iron Man (Paramount Home Entertainment). Downey Jr. plays Tony Stark, a reclusive millionaire who finds himself trapped by enemies. Forced to build an armored suit to survive, Stark soon realizes that he can carry on the fight against evil. With futuristic technology at his disposal, Iron Man is here to save the day. Director Jon Favreau clearly has great respect for his source material, delivering the requisite action sequences alongside a delicious undercurrent of dark humour. Downey Jr. is perfectly cast as the titular hero whilst support in the form of Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow, who are clearly having a whale of a time in an action film, adds to the fun of proceedings. This two disc set is also chock-a-block with extras that will appeal both to comic book geeks and film fans. There’s a really detailed documentary charting the genesis of the film, a history of the Iron Man character and the requisite look at the special effects of the movie. A great set that is befitting for an enormously fun film. This will keep you thoroughly entertained and remember: you should wait until the credits have finished!
And now on to something completely different with David Lynch’s debut feature Eraserhead (Scanbox Entertainment) finally available on DVD in a new transfer. Jack Nance plays the iconic Henry Spencer, a man living in a dilapidated hellhole with his girlfriend. When she gives birth to a ‘child’ (and I use the term loosely) Henry pledges to look after the both of them. But he is soon left holding the baby. Almost 30 years of people attempting to decipher it’s meaning, the film remains as dark, disturbing and impenetrable as it was when it was first released. Unique and terrifying imagery combine with some unnerving performances to create a film that is fascinating yet uncomfortable. The disc comes with an interview with Lynch, which last 90 minutes, about the making of the film which proves to both illuminating and frustrating at the same time: that Lynch definitely knows how to keep a secret. Also released are The Short Films Of David Lynch (Scanbox Entertainment). Containing the early shorts of the director, they contain many of themes and ideas that would go on to inform the later work of the director. From the creepy familial relationships in The Grandmother to the plain weird Six Men Getting Sick there’s surrealistic imagery and obtuse storylines galore. A must have collection of the work of one of the cinema’s true greats.
Speaking of feature film debuts, Reservoir Dogs: Collector’s Edition (Lionsgate) is now available for those who, shockingly, have yet to get Tarantino’s searing first feature. As you probably know, the film is a brilliantly constructed crime drama in which five strangers come together to commit a robbery. Cue swearing, violence, pop culture references, black suits and a cop who will never have the opportunity to wear his spectacles in the same way again. Unsurprisingly, this edition is all about the extras which include a new Tarantino commentary, a critics commentary and lots of other little bits and pieces that should intrigue even the most ardent of Dogs fans. Whilst the new extras do provide interest, especially those that focus on the lasting impact of the film, those who have already got this in their collections may not find it worth it (unless you want to upgrade to Blu-Ray). But those who have yet to pick this up, well, had better get to work.
Despite its reputation, Reservoir Dogs is quite restrained when it comes to the violence. However, given that’s its Halloween time, if you need your violence fix then there’s plenty to choose from. First up is Zombie Strippers (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) which is about zombies. Who are also strippers. And that’s it. Look, the film is called Zombie Strippers and if you pick up a film with that title expecting more than gore and nudity are going to be exceedingly disappointed. Dumb yet fun and good for when the mood takes you (i.e. the mood in which you need gore and nudity. Happens to me all the time). More of ‘it does what it says on the tin’ with the Rise Of The Flesheaters – Zombie Box Set (Revolver Entertainment) which includes such, erm, classics as Zombies, Zombies, Zombies (a tongue in cheek homage to 70s exploitation which has some – you guessed it! - zombies in it), The Zombie Diaries (a zombie flick set in the UK that uses a realistic style to recall 28 Days Later) and Days Of Darkness, a film in which the zombies come from outer space. Again, gore fans should be more than happy with this set as it will provide enough nasty action to get them through the night. And I’ve just realized how wrong that sentence sounds. And if you need me to tell you what Shark In Venice (Warner Brothers Home Entertainment) is all about, then you’ve clearly not been paying attention to the previous few sentences (Oh, ok then, it has Stephen Baldwin fighting the toothy creatures: yes, bet you’re excited about that). Prom Night (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) is a serviceable remake of the 80s slasher film in which various beautiful people are offed in a variety of nasty ways whilst The Entrance (DNC Entertainment) is a vaguely entertaining thriller/horror film in which a drug dealer finds he can’t escape from his past. The Passage (DNC Entertainment), the title of which added to the previous film leads me to believe that Graham Norton may have his own DVD company, is a intriguing little horror in which Stephen Dorff finds that a series of underground tunnels in a picturesque village lead to lovely cream cakes. OK, not really, they lead to some terrible horrors. The Guard Post (Cine-Asia) is a really stylish Korean film in which a massacre at a guard post reveals terrible goings on. From the director of the rather good R-Point this is a very atmospheric and unsettling movie that stands up with some of the best of Asian horror. That little lot should keep all the horror fans going from Halloween until Christmas…
Horror fans may also get excited when they hear of Zombie And The Ghost Train (Bluebell Films) but will find themselves disappointed when they discover that it’s actually a dark comedy from Finland directed by Mika Kaurismäki, the older brother of Aki. Zombie is a musician who returns home after a disastrous stint in the army. Holed up in an apartment, Zombie finds comfort with his bottles of Vodka: will the valiant efforts of his girlfriend and best buddy be able to save him? This is a hauntingly beautiful film that veers from comedy to tragedy as we follow a man who has placed himself on a path of destruction without ever quite understanding why. The moments of the absurd clash with those situations of utter bleakness and create a somber but tender movie which is quite unique. Indeed, the only thing similar is The Liar (Bluebell Films) is his first feature in which Mika gets his older brother Aki Kaurismäki to play a hustler who cheats and lies his way through life to get what he wants. It’s a gleefully amoral affair with our main character having no scruples whatsoever and – whilst some of the pretensions towards the intellectual do become rather strained at points – it’s a interesting take of the nature of deceit and treachery. The disc also contains Jackpot 2, a short set in a desolate future Finland.
And if that has whetted your appetite for some great Finnish cinema then Mika Kaurismäki’s Tigrero (Bluebell Films) should more than fit the bill. During the 1950s legendary director Samuel Fuller went on a journey to Brazil to research a picture for Darryl F Zanuck. Whilst the film never got off the ground, the memories remain in this documentary that recreates the journey. Fuller returns to meet the tribes people he met all those years ago in the company of Jim Jarmusch (yes, you read that right) as he recounts tales of the old days alongside remembering those indigenous people he met so long ago. Part Hollywood history, part travelogue and part exercise in stunning cinematography, this is a bold documentary whose bonkers central premise works perfectly. Fuller is amazingly engaging – with Jarmusch giving him enough room to be able to tell his stories – and the film is positively engrossing. A truly brilliant documentary.
One of the great things about Asian cinema is the ability to give you the gist of the film in the title. Thus Mad Detective (Eureka!) is about a detective. Who’s mad. It’s those zombie films all over again. Detective Bun was a high flier in the force until he cuts off his own ear to give as his chief’s leaving present (well, you know what it’s like: the shops are shut and Amazon won’t deliver until the next day….). Discharged from the force, he lives a reclusive life until Inspector Ho comes calling: a series of robberies have been linked t a police gun and they need his skills to help them uncover the truth. A huge hit in it’s native Hong Kong, this is a quirky and kinetic thriller that boasts great performances, assured direction (from Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai) and a vein of dark humour that keeps everything entertainingly off centre. Whilst die hard fans of the genre may find everything slightly familiar, those who dabble in Asian detective films will find much to enjoy here. The disc also comes with lots and lots of extras including interviews with To and a 16 page booklet from David Bordwell. From November 3rd you can also find other extra features at http://maddetective.com/
Another Asian director who insists on being upfront when it comes to the titles of his films is Takeshi Kitano. The excellent Takeshi Kitano Collection (Second Sight) includes some of his very best works. Violent Cop is about a cop … oh, I’ve done that joke before. But it is one of his finest films, as Kitano himself plays Azuma, a cop who will resort to any means to get the job done in his fight against the Yakuza. This is a stripped to the bone movie, which remains resolutely shocking thanks to the fact that the acts of violence come in between moments of tranquility. A brutal but extraordinary affair. The same goes for Sonatine, a film in which Kitano plays a Yakuza officer who goes on the run with his fellow criminals after a gang war breaks out. There they discover the joys of a life that isn’t predicated on holding a gun. But their past will still catch up with them. Again, this has combines stark violence with a meditative quality to produce a truly thought provoking slice of cinema. Kitano also shows he can do lighter material with Boiling Point – the story of baseball player who has to deal with the Yakuza – and A Scene At Sea – the tale of a binman who, upon discovering a discarded surfboard, decides to learn how to surf. Getting Any? is a satirical swipe at Japanese culture about a man who is desperate to get laid whilst the collection is rounded off with Kids Return about high school bullying. Throughout all the films, Kitano shows himself as an accomplished director, writer and actor. Much of what he does is tremendously affecting as – bucking the trend of some Asian cinema – Kitano isn’t about the grand moments of violence or melodrama. His films are about those moments in-between in which life changes in an instant. Spiritual yet spectacular, these films are a wonderful representation of a great director. Comes with a documentary about the work of the director and two commentaries by Kitano expert Chris D.
On to some more provocative movies now with the new release of Salò or The 120 Days of Sodom (BFI). Based on the novel by the Marquis de Sade, the film is a shocking and brutal allegory that focuses upon a group of youths who are taken by the Nazis and forced to partake in degrading acts for the pleasure of their captors. It’s still a profoundly devastating piece of work as Pier Paolo Pasolini forces us to question our own inherent voyeurism and are willingness to be complicit in events and actions that we know to be wrong. The re-mastered version presented here shows the film – more than ever – to be an exquisitely crafted piece of work which makes the events in the film that much more difficult to bear: yet it’s vital to watch the film and be reminded how challenging and important the cinema can be. This 2 disc set is excellent, and includes new documentaries the examine the impact and politics behind the film and Julian Cole’s film Ostia about Pasolini’s final days, starring Derek Jarman. An absolute must have for any serious about the cinema,
As controversial, though perhaps slightly more frivolous, is Caligula: Imperial Edition (Arrow Films) which sees Tinto Brass’ excessive Roman epic restored to it’s former ‘glory’. Yes, after years of the film being hacked to pieces by various censors, you can now own the full, unexpurgated, hardcore version of the film starring Malcolm McDowell as the rather doolally Roman emperor. And now we can see everything in it’s, erm, full thrusting glory, has it improved the film? Well, not really. Like the era it’s portraying, this is a film of excess and the sensory overload begins to tire you out after a while. There are some brilliant moments, and McDowell and Helen Mirren give some great manic performances but it really starts to lose its way. Still, it’s fun to watch the other versions of the film on this disc (including the UK Theatrical version and alternative version for more prudish members of the audience) and the host of extras give some really interesting points on ideas of censorship. It may be muddled but the film still remains something of a guilty pleasure. And with the new hardcore scenes it can probably be upgraded to a really guilty pleasure.
Less graphic, but no less steamy, is The Ring Finger (Second Sight) which sees Olga Kurylenko – currently just about to go ballistic as the new Bond girl in Quantum Of Solace - as a woman who has her ring finger sliced off at work. Thus she takes new employment at a laboratory and finds herself drawn into a increasingly erotic relationship with her employer: don’t believe what they tell you, as scientists are dead sexy apparently. With hints of Secretary and a dreamy nature, this is eroticism done with subtlety and power. Sometimes the film becomes a little too weird for it’s own good, as if it were justifying some of it’s more explicit content, but with strong performances (if Kurylenko is anything to go by, then that Daniel Craig is a lucky fellow indeed) and assured direction this a sexy and enticing movie.
Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon: Special Edition (Optimum Asia) is perhaps one of the most influential films of all time. Its approach to narrative, in which different and contrasting perceptions of the characters were shown on screen, was revolutionary when the film was first screened at the Venice Film Festival in the 50s. In telling the story of a brutal crime, and the people upon who suspicion falls, the film became one of the first to really exploit the nature of cinema to ask questions about reliability, subjectivity and the nature of truth. Whilst many of the techniques seem rather old hat nowadays – with many films relying upon lazy cinematic and narrative tricks – Rashomon is still fresh and exciting thanks to the genius of Kurosawa. Again, if you don’t have it in your collection, then now is the perfect time to be adding it. Extras include a great documentary, which reunites many of the original cast and crew, and an introduction from director John Boorman.
Glauber Rocha is one of the world’s most underrated directors with some truly remarkable works under his belt. Perhaps the crowning glory in the oeuvre of the Brazilian director is Black God, White Devil (Mr Bongo Films) an epic story of Manuel, a man who must go on the run with his wife Rosa after he kills his employer in a dispute over stolen wages. Whilst there’s a ring of the Spaghetti Western to the film, there’s also a powerful attack on the political and social institutions of the time as Manuel and Rosa find themselves embroiled with crime, religion and mysticism in a country in which corruption is a way of life and violence an everyday occurrence. With a languid pace and an eye for the sparse nature of the outdoor life, this is moving and important film from a director who deserves much more recognition amongst cinephiles.
More remarkable imagery is on offer in Jean Cocteau’s Orphée (BFI), in which he re-tells the myth of Orpheus in post-war Paris. Of course, it’s the visuals of the film which still astound today thanks to Cocteau’s amazing composition and sequences. Put together as if it were a dream, the film is simply mesmerising from start to finish, partly thanks to a new high-definition digital restoration. The film also comes with an extensive interview with Cocteau and a commentary by French film expert Dr Roland-Francois Lack. Another film of exquisite beauty is Antonioni’s The Red Desert (BFI), another film that has been newly restored for DVD and Blu Ray release. Monica Vitti plays Giuliana, a girl who starts to embark on an affair after suffering a breakdown. A film of great performances and sumptuous visuals, this is a worthy re-release of a great film. Like Orphée the film comes with a brand new commentary, this time from Italian film expert David Forgacs.
Those restorers have definitely been putting the work in as there is also a new version of Lindsay Anderson’s brilliant UK feature This Sporting Life (Network). Richard Harris give a towering performance as Frank Machin, a miner who also plays for the local rugby team. As he becomes more successful in his chosen sport, he becomes a brasher and colder man, unable to express his emotions. Soon things will come to a head between him and his landlady, the widower Mrs Hammond. Anderson brings out the ferocious best of Harris (and also Rachel Roberts) and sets into motion the template of many ‘Kitchen Sink’ dramas of 60s British cinema. But, whilst some films of the ilk would feel clichéd, this is still raw and powerful stuff that unflinchingly a Northern English community and the men it creates. Truly amazing stuff. This release sees the first time that the film has been presented on the correct aspect ratio outside of the big screen.
Charles Burnett has become one of the most important African-American filmmakers of the past few years. The release of Killer Of Sheep (BFI) confirms his status as a director prepared to go against the grain, with a wry and tender film made at a time when Blaxploitation films were all the rage. Stan works in a slaughter house but is increasingly tired of the life he is leading. But, in the midst of despair, Stan finds that there will be salvation in the simplest things in life. Set to an amazing soundtrack (including the likes of Gershwin, Etta James and Rechmnaninov) this is a quietly dignified affair which revels in its realism and its sympathetic observation of the characters. The same goes for Burnett’s later piece My Brother’s Wedding (BFI), presented as both the director’s cut and original version, in which a young man must choose between his family and friends. An evocative atmosphere and remarkable performances create a film in which the powerful moments slowly rise from the quiet moments of life. Both films come with several of Burnett’s shorts and new interviews with the man himself.
Free Zone (Bluebell Films) sees French director Amos Gitai attempt to show facets of the Middle Eastern conflict beyond that of which we would normally see on the news. Natalie Portman plays Rebecca, a woman who finds herself on a strange road trip with Israeli woman Hanna. Rebecca is getting over a difficult relationship whilst Hanna is determined to collect a debt owed to her husband. As they head towards the ‘Free Zone’, the tax free region of the area, the realities of the conflict begin to present themselves. This is a film built on the chemistry between the leads and it is a very good chemistry indeed. Whilst some may find it rather wordy in places, this is an engrossing film about love, loss and reality.
Criminal Justice (Acorn Media) was originally screened on BBC 1 over five consecutive nights. Whilst it was lauded as a brave TV experiment, especially in our multi-channel era, its release on DVD will change the intended dynamic of the show somewhat. Thankfully, when watched as a whole, the show is a gripping and well written story of a young man (Ben Whishaw, whose performance shows why he is one of the most respected young British actors of the moment) who, after a wild night out, finds himself arrested for murder. Awaiting trial in prison he soon discovers that it doesn’t matter whether he is guilty or not: it’s how he manages to survive. Whishaw is ably supported by some heavyweight talent including Pete Postlethwaite and Bill Paterson whilst there is an air of brutal realism to proceedings (unsurprising given that the scriptwriter is also an ex-lawyer). A fine example of quality British drama.
The Englishman abroad had become a staple of travel programmes ever since Michael Palin decided to travel ‘Around The World In 80 Days’. It’s a very simple formula: take a presenter (preferably a comedian) and have him interact with an indigenous population with a mixture of bemusement, fascination and a general air of bewilderment. It certainly works for Paul Merton In China (2 Entertain) in which the deadpan funny man explores a country that is both proud of tradition yet looking towards the future. As with many shows of this ilk there’s the quirky, such as the designer of robots, the serious and the downright gross (let’s just say some of the food the Merton eats may put you off your dinner). Merton is an engaging host – though some of his bits do feel very staged – and, whilst the show adds nothing new to the genre, it rattles along at a fine pace.
The sketch show has been something of a resurgence lately, as the likes of That Mitchell and Webb Look Series 2 (Fremantle Home Entertainment) shows. Relying on both stand-alone gags (The spoof Channel 5 documentary ‘The Boy with an Arse For a Face’ may be very childish but, unfortunately, it’s very funny as well) and recurring characters (such as Sir Digby Chicken Ceaser, the alcoholic tramp who thinks that it’s his job to save the world) the show is a nice combination of the intellectually witty and the completely scatological thanks to the duo of Mitchell and Webb. As always with these kind of shows, there will be a couple of sketches that fall on their face (the robot distinguishing between cheese and petrol becomes rather tiresome) but when they hit the right note (the take off of Sky TV’s football adverts is particularly glorious) you’ll be laughing out loud. Comes with the usual host of extras including outtakes, interviews and behind the scenes documentaries.
And, if you’re sick of those young whippersnappers coming in and taking all the comedy glory, then perhaps At Last Smith & Jones (Fremantle Home Entertainment) will be more up your street. A compilation of the best sketches from four series of ‘Alas Smith and Jones’, it sees Griff Rhys Jones and Mel Smith deliver some fine 80s comedy that mixes stand-up, sketches and song parodies. The compilation material is well chosen with nothing that has really dated and everything manages to raise a smile: particular highlights include the business men acting like babies at lunch (which is a monumental by all concerned as you can tell they are trying not corpse throughout) and a scarily accurate spoof of Meat Loaf and Cher. Fans will enjoy being reminded of that era whilst those who are a little younger wouldn’t go wrong in picking this up to add to their comedy education. Comes with extras including the Smith and Jones Xmas Specials.