Special Edition # 28
Many of you will remember how ‘The X-Files’ captured the cultural zeitgeist of the mid 90s. With its conspiracy laden episodes that focused on mysterious aliens, you couldn’t move for references to the show and the constant media attention given to its stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. But then it all fell under the weight of its own mythology with the final couple of series limping along under poor writing and ever more ludicrous plots. Now The X-Files: I Want To Believe (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment) sees Mulder and Scully return to their mysterious ways as they investigate the mysterious disappearance of women in a small town. The film eschews much of the history of the show, instead trying to work as a standalone thriller. Whilst this is good for those worried about having to follow constant complicated plots, it rather puts the film into mundane territory. With some traditional thriller clichés and a family friendly sense of doom and gloom, there are entertaining moments but nothing that is really surprising. Anderson and Duchovny slip back into their roles with ease and have some good support from the likes of Billy Connolly. But if you’re not a believer already, then this will probably not convert you. Comes with the director’s cut of the film, an audio commentary and the usual making of featurettes. The double disc version of the film also includes a digital copy of the film so you can add it to your portable media player, which is ironic from the company that bombarded us with those annoying piracy ads at the beginnings of their DVDs.
After The Matrix trilogy, everyone wondered what dark alleys The Wachowski Brothers would set their sights on next. So it was quite a surprise when they decided that Speed Racer (Warner Brothers Home Entertainment) would benefit from their directorial vision. Based on the garish anime show, the film follows the fortunes of Speed Racer who, luckily for him, is a racing car driver (would have sucked if he had that name and he was a carpenter). Alongside his parents and girlfriend (Christina Ricci, whose main job seems to be standing around and looking thin) he takes on some evil competitors who wish to corrupt the sport of racing. No, not Bernie Ecclestone. This is a riot of colour and special effects. Unfortunately it’s a riot that the authorities have lost control of. As we drift from one action scene to the next, it all becomes a bit tiresome and even the little ones – at whom this is chiefly aimed – will find it hard going at 129 minutes. A shining example of the fact that Hollywood excess does sometimes need to be reigned in.
Speaking or reigning in behaviour, Donkey Punch (Optimum Releasing)
seems to be a warning against some of the excessive behaviour of drinking, promiscuity and drug taking that
plagues British teenagers today. Well, if The Daily Mail is to be
believed anyway. A group of Leeds lasses (including rising star Nichola
Burley) find themselves on a yacht with a group of posh Home Counties
lads. But when the sexual act in the title (you’re on the internet,
look it up yourself: just don’t blame me for the sites that you come
across) leads to a death things begin to spiral out of control. Any
social commentary at the beginning of the film slowly mutates into
standard slasher fare. But director Olly Blackburn deserves credit for
keeping up the tension and, on a low budget, creating some scenes that
even the most hardened horror fan will be staring through his fingers.
The DVD comes with a directors commentary and interviews with the cast.
The DVD has always provided short films with a natural home and, the daddy of them all, returns with Cinema 16: World Shorts (Cinema 16). With some classics shorts from the likes of Jane Campion, Guillermo Del Toro and Alexander Sokurov and some of the best of current short films, this is a simply brilliant compilation that has been expertly compiled. Everything in this set is a highlight but you should make sure to check out Wasp, Andrea Arnold’s grim but hopeful tale that netted her an Oscar, Soft, Simon Ellis’ wonderful tale of masculinity and fear that has deservedly won numerous awards across the world, Two Cars, One Night, a beautifully photographed and acted story of a boy and a girl who meet in New Zealand and Forklift Truck Driver Klaus, a hilariously gory safety film gone wrong. And those are only just the tips of the iceberg. The majority of the films also come with a commentary. If you’ve yet to discover short films, then this is the perfect beginning as you’ll be plunged into a stunning world of exciting and inventive films that will knock you socks off.
Whilst When We Were Kings is considered one of the best documentaries about boxing, the Thriller in Manila (4DVD) also manages to tell a fascinating story. It focuses upon the rivalry between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier which culminated in the 1975 bout in the Philippines. There is all of human nature here: you have Ali and Frazier, once best friends, who are now bitter enemies, divided by social and racial politics. You have a society still wounded from the Vietnam War and a world desperate to see the charismatic boxers settle their differences in the squared circle. Including interviews with Frazier’s son and a host of boxing experts, this is an engrossing and compelling story of an event that – when all was said and done – was so much more than a simple boxing match.
People forget that, whilst he’s most famous for his fiction work, Martin Scorsese has a long history of making music films, including the legendary The Last Waltz. Shine A Light (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment) is his latest concert film in which he films The Rolling Stones performing at The Beacon Theatre in New York. Filming in a – relatively – intimate venue gives Scorsese the chance to concentrate on the band as opposed to elaborate sets (indeed, the set is the subject if the opening sequence). With some excellent cinematography, which adds to rather than detracts from the music, and a tangible vibrancy, the film seems to be a riposte to those who would dismiss The Stones as old men coasting on their reputations. Classics such as ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ and ‘Brown Sugar’ are done with a verve that suggests the band know that the film will form part of their legacy. Interspersed with classic archival footage, it is a concert film that is a must for fans and will convert those who are not quite sure. Comes with bonus footage and songs.
Before Heather came along, Paul McCartney actually enjoyed people taking the piss out of him. The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash 30th Anniversary Edition (Second Sight) is one of the first ever music mockumentaries where the career of Barry Wom, Stig O’Hara, Dirk McQuickly and Ron Nasty sees them change music history with their revolutionary tunes. Featuring Neil Innes, Eric Idle and cameos from the likes of Mick Jagger, John Belushi and George Harrison this is a spot on parody of The Beatles with music that is so good that EMI decided to sue (much to the chagrin of The Beatles.) Consistently funny, this hasn’t aged at all over 30 years. The disc includes a new documentary that looks at the influence of the film, with interviews with many of the key players, and a commentary from Eric Idle.
The Flaming Lips have always pushed the boundaries of music and performance with their beautifully fractured albums and breathlessly over-the-top live shows. Now they turn their attention to film with the surrealistic Christmas On Mars (Warner Music Entertainment). On the surface of Mars, a broken down spaceship houses a crew that is slowly going insane with visions of the birth of the Christmas Baby. Only with the presence of an alien super being and their genius mechanic can they try and escape from this strange – yet somehow beautiful – world. If you’re expecting Santa Claus – The Movie then you’re going to be very disappointed. And probably quite scared as well. This is a psychedelic triumph of black and white photography, low-fi production values and crazy ideas. Basically, what The Flaming Lips have been doing their entire career. If you’re sick of the usual Christmas schmaltz, then this is the perfect antitidote. This is a double CD (yes, look at the CD shelves instead of the DVD shelves if you want to find it) that comes with the original soundtrack and bonus footage of Lips front man Wayne Coyne making the film. And if you want to see the film on the big screen then get down to The Barbican in London between 12-14th December where it will be screened alongside an introduction from Coyne himself. For more information go to http://www.barbican.org.uk/film .
There’s more of a surreal nature in Hourglass Sanatorium (Mr Bongo Films) from Polish director Wojciech Has. An adaptation of the Bruno Schulz’ book ‘Sanatorium Under The Sign Of The Hourglass’, this is a difficult yet ultimately rewarding story of time, memory and loss. Joseph arrives at the local sanatorium to visit his dying father. There he finds that time has been slowed down as his father continues to live. Soon he discovers that his own past is beginning to invade the present as he begins to compare the follies of youth with the responsibility of adulthood. With its ‘stream of consciousness’ style and surreal nature, it’s a film that will not prove enticing to those who prefer their cinema with a narrative bent. But for those who are fans of the likes of The Quay Brothers, for whom this film was an influence, then this is example of Polish cinema that is worth seeking out. And the cover is absolutely fantastic.
Baraka: Remastered (Second Sight) is Ron Fricke’s visual poem that
examines man’s relationship to the Earth. Both beautiful and
devastating, the film manages to span the globe and observe the various
rituals and ideals that hold each of us together. Given that he was the
Director of Photography on Godfrey Reggio’s classic Koyaanisqatsi,
Fricke has learned the power of the cinema to show the world in a new
light. Taking in over 24 countries and set to a wonderfully evocative
score, the film is wondrous, moving and an excellent example of the way
in which the moving image can bring us all together. As the bonus
feature shows, this re-mastered version has been painstakingly put
together and really manages to add even more beauty to the film. Add in
a new documentary about the making of the film and you have a must have
package for fans of socially responsible filmmaking.
More cinematic poetry from one of the true masters in Derek Jarman’s War Requiem (Second Sight). Set to the original 1963 recording of Benjamin Britten’s original choral piece (a combination of the Mass of the Dead with the poetry of Wilfred Owen) the film stars Sir Laurence Olivier (in his final ever performance) as the Old Soldier who reflects on the insanity of war. Dramatic scenes starring the likes of Tilda Swinton and Sean Bean are woven with harrowing archive footage that serves to underline the true nature of war and the way in which it damages the human race both physically and spiritually. A remarkable achievement that manages to be both exquisite and distressing at the same time. The disc includes a commentary from producer Don Boyd and a documentary that reunites many of the original cast.
Another classic British director takes on the war, but with a very different slant. In Alfred Hitchcock’s Wartime Resistance Films (Network / Strike Force Entertainment) the corpulent master of suspense does his bit for the war effort. Bon Voyage sees an RAF officer interrogated after his escape from occupied France. With many of the devices, such a flashbacks and ambiguous characters, that would serve him well in future projects it’s a tightly constructed short film that is consistently engaging. Aventure Malgache has a lighter touch, with Hitchcock taking a wry look at the vagaries of the French resistance and the dangers they face by double agents and traitors. A fascinating insight into the little known work of one of the world’s most important directors, the films not only give us clues Hitchcock’s growing confidence as a filmmaker but also how a country used every means at its disposal to bolster the confidence of the public during a time of crisis. So, does that mean we’re waiting for a new Mike Leigh film based on the credit crunch …?
Jiri Menzel, responsible for the classic of the Czech New Wave Closely Observed Trains, returns with the critically acclaimed I Served The King Of England (Arrow Films). Jan Dite has one ambition – to become a millionaire. He goes about this by vowing to be as pleasant as he can to everyone. Soon he is prospering, even though Hitler is beginning to divide Czechoslovakia. Even when he is placed in jail by the new communist regime, Dite retains his passion and hope for the future. This is a sharp political satire that also mixes in some baser humour to create a funny and intriguing fable about self worth and individual responsibility. Menzel’s direction is strong whereas the acting also brings forth many fine moments. A deserved winner of the FIPRESCI prize at this year’s Berlin Film Festival
The first film to be made in post revolutionary Cuba, Memories Of Underdevelopment ( Mr Bongo Films) is often regarded as one of the greatest films ever made. Director Tomás Gutiérrez Alea tells the story of Sergio, who sees his family disappear after the Bay Of Pigs. All alone in a new world, he becomes a man who has become caught up in the maelstrom of history. With a staccato style, full of freeze frames and experimental moments, this is both a journey into the psychology of a man and history of a regime that is just beginning to find its feet. It’s a remarkable piece of work with Alea, a passionate supporter of the revolution, managing to bring a balanced view of the new government. Consistently surprising and informative, the high regard in which the film is held is definitely justified.
If you used Lego to build castles, spaceships and other mundane items
then worship at the altar of Rick and Steve The Happiest Gay Couple in
All the World (4DVD). The children’s toy is used to create something
definitely not the youngsters as we follow the fortunes of three gay
couples of the fictional town of West Lahunga Beach. With more than a
hint of ‘South Park’, this is a gleefully offensive comedy show that
will have anyone who is even slightly prudish going crimson with
embarrassment. But then they should stick to repeats of ‘Last Of The
Summer Wine’ anyway. The show includes cameos from the likes of Alan
Cumming and Margaret Cho, this is a cult hit in the making. The disc
includes interviews with the cast and a featurette on the making of the
show, that should prove useful to all of you whom want to provide some
offensiveness in the privacy of your own home.
Speaking of offensive, some of you may have heard of the comedian Russell Brand. Only a few of you mind, as there’s hardly anything been written about him in the papers lately. Oooh, can’t you just feel the sarcasm in the air? Anyway, if you’re not completely sick of him by now then check out Russell Brand: Ponderland (Universal). The show is basically an excuse for him to make witty and rude comments about a bunch of archive TV clips which, to his credit, he does really well indeed. Despite all the hoopla, Brand is extremely funny (unless you’re a grandparent) and this disc showcases the range of his talents, from highbrow verbal banter to vulgarity that he seems to get away with. Of course, if you really want vulgarity, then Brendon Burns: Live (So I Suppose This Is Offensive Now) (Universal) may be up your street. The comedian, who has established a fine reputation on the circuit but never really been in the mainstream due to the nature of his act, rants, raves and swears against the injustices of the world and is damn funny and doing so. Again, if you’re put off by naughty language, then perhaps a nice cup of cocoa would suit you instead.
Or how about I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue Live (BBC DVD). True, it is spectacularly rude but it does so via some subtle – and not so subtle – double entendre’s that will have people in stitches throughout. Filmed during the radio show’s national tour, the disc feature the sadly missed Humphrey Lyttleton in one of his last appearances as the chairman of the ‘antidote to panel games’. Regulars Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Barry Cryer team up with Jeremy Hardy to do a multitude of silly things including ‘One Song to the Tune of Another’, ‘Uxbridge English Dictionary’ and the legendary ‘Mornington Crescent’. Truly funny, relying both on verbal dexterity and a glorious silliness, this is a perfect tribute to the man that they call ‘Humph’ and an English institution that endured for 35 years. And, you never know, you might even get to see what the lovely Samantha actually looks like.
Whilst this side of the UK border has only just started to wake up to its charms, ‘Still Game’ has been a favourite of Scottish viewers for some years now. The Still Game: Christmas and Hogmanay Specials (BBC DVD) show why it is so beloved with comedians Greg Hemphill and Ford Kiernan playing octogenarians Jack and Victor. Played with a twinkle in the eye and a respect for the older generation that is often missing in shows of this type, there are some fine episodes here including one which sees Jack and Victor get stuck in a lift as they flashback to their lives in the mid 70s. A fun collection that should have you getting right into the Christmas and – if you’re so inclined – Hogmanay spirits.
There are more young people making themselves look older than they are in Mrs Merton and Malcolm – The Complete Series (Network). A spin off from the popular chat show, this sees Caroline Ahearne play the elderly star in a home setting, living with her son Malcolm (Craig Cash, who gives a fine turn as the naïve but loving offspring) and her mysterious, bedridden husband who is never seen on-screen. There are plenty of dark moments here amongst the humour and the show can really be seen as a trial run before Ahearne and Cash would go on to create one of the most groundbreaking sitcoms of the modern era, ‘The Royle Family’. Add in appearances from the likes of Steve Coogan and sitcom god Brian Murphy, this is a show that needs to reappraised as one of the most affecting and intelligent sitcoms of the late 90s.
Whilst now more famous for their individual work (with Ben Miller doing fine work in ‘The Worst Week Of My Life’ and Alexander Armstong become a staple of many TV dramas) The Armstrong and Miller Show Series 1 (BBC DVD) shows that they still have a lot to give as a comedy team. There are some really funny sketches here, including the Second World War pilots who speak like modern teenagers, the filthy minded music hall duo and the Dad who gives his son brutally honest questions to the important questions in life (including telling his son that it was his fault that the divorce happened). There are a few cases when the repetition begins to grate, but all in all this is well observed sketch show that always manages to raise a smile. Comes with interviews and outtakes.