Special Edition # 2
Bill Murray’s move from funnyman into deadpan actor is furthered with his brilliantly laid back performance in Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers (Momentum Pictures). Here he plays Don, an aging lothario who discovers that his dalliances in the past have sired him a son. But which one of his previous conquests is the mother? Traveling around the US to find the answer, he finds himself on a voyage of self discovery thanks to the help of his previous conquests. The film is helped greatly by a bevy of ultra-talented female performers such as Sharon Stone, Tilda Swinton and Jessica Lange as Murray’s former lovers and Jarmusch directs proceedings with his typically relaxed style and the film is ultimately a funny, dramatic and moving lamentation on life and lost opportunities. The only disappointment is the absence of any meaningful extras on the disc.
Murderball (Optimum Releasing) is the latest of a long line of absorbing feature length documentaries that have made their way onto DVD shelves. This examines the quadriplegic players of ‘Murderball’ (which has now been re-named with the more politically correct title of Quad Rugby) a full contact sport in which the participants use armoured wheelchairs. Certainly helping to smash myths about what it means to be handicapped, this is a life-affirming movie that never descends into mawkishness thanks to the intense characters and action both on and off the sports court. A powerful portrayal of people who demand respect instead of sympathy. The extras include commentaries by the filmmakers and the players and some mildly diverting featurettes.
Before he donned the cape and the pointy ears, Christian Bale made his mark in Steven Spielberg’s exhilarating adventure based on JG Ballard’s novel. Empire Of The Sun: Special Edition (Warner Home Video) sees Bale playing Jim Graham, a British schoolboy who lives in Shanghai in 1941. When the Japanese invade, he ends up in a prison camp. He tries to survive under harsh conditions and soon sees his innocence slipping away from him. As strong as it was when it was first released in 1987 this remains an unfairly neglected gem from the oeuvre of Spielberg. Bale gives a strong turn and is well supported by luminaries such as John Malkovich and Miranda Richardson and this comes with The China Odyssey a documentary made on the making of the film in 1987. A good set if you don’t have the film already and the only disappointment is the lack of any interviews from today looking back on the film.
Walking castles, evil witches and spiteful curses would often seem to be the result of a rather bad LSD trip. However, it’s actually the work of the brilliantly inventive animator Hayao Miyazaki whose latest film Howl’s Moving Castle (Optimum Releasing) is now available to buy. Unsurprisingly, this is a gorgeous piece of work that also has a lot of heart. The disc comes with both subtitles and the English dub of the film. Surprisingly, the English version is pretty good – with Lauren Bacall and Billy Crystal amongst the ‘talent’ supplying voices – so you can try and get children who avoid subtitles to tear themselves away from the Teenage Mutant Thingamy’s (or whatever it is that young people like nowadays) and enjoy some real class.
It contained one of the most iconic credit sequences in British TV history, boasted some of the UK’s greatest actors (often with terrible 70s clothing and hairstyles) and was overseen by one of the countries most loved authors. Tales Of The Unexpected: The Complete First Series(Network) will allow you to step back in time and watch stand alone shows that were chock full of mystery, suspense and twist endings. So, if you want to see how Sir John Gielgud enjoys dishing out revenge or find out how to kill Brian Blessed with foodstuff (note to lawyers: in fiction only) then this is the show for you. And, if your thirst for suspense isn’t slaked by that, then you might also want to check out the The Alfred Hitchcock Box Set (Prism Leisure) which contains four of the corpulent captain of creepiness’ (alliteration rules) lesser known yet still amazingly entertaining films. It includes the Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman starring Notorious, the winner of the 1940 Oscar for Best Film Rebecca, and Suspicion the film that contains the surreal dream sequence created by Salvador Dali. Whilst these turn up on TV all the time (usually for the benefit of the elderly, the unemployed or those pulling a sickie) the DVD’s are a worthy purchase as all come in with Interviews with critic and author Kim Newman and extracts from Truffaut’s book on Hitchcock.
Samantha Mumba stars in a Irish Zombie movie. Wait! Come back! Boy Eats Girl (Optimum Releasing) is actually quite good, it being an undemanding horror film that plays like Shaun of the Dead for people who read Smash Hits (RIP). Nathan can’t quite declare his love for Jessica: and never gets his chance thanks to a fatal accident. But when his mother resurrects him, he finds himself with an unhealthy taste for human flesh. It’s another in the ‘Sod it, it’s Saturday night, there’s nothing left to watch so lets get some lagers and takeaway and have a laugh’ type of movies that are similar to a Fisher Price toy: intellectually undemanding but still quite fun. And the title’s great as well. The hardcore horror fan will also appreciate The Box Of The Banned 2 (Anchor Bay UK) another collection of some of the most notorious films that fell foul of the Obscene Publications Act of the early 80s. As always it’s a mixed bag, with the best film on offer being Argento’s truly terrifying Tenebrae. Other films – such as Evilspeak and Contamination – are really only notable for the fact that they contain lots of gore and were once banned. It’s all a lot fun (and there’s an interesting documentary), but you can’t help feeling that it would be better if you could buy it under the counter.
More horror is available in Masters Of Horror: Volume 1 (Anchor Bay UK) which is good really. If you’d got it and it turned out to be knockabout comedy, then you might ask for your money back. This bi-monthly series sees famous horror directors turn their attention to making one hour films for American TV. The first two – Cigarette Burns by John Carpenter and Dream In The Witch House by Stuart Re-Animator Gordon – provide the requisite chills and spills and show a refreshing lack of censorship from the TV studios with both having a nice amount of gore. Good for Horror fans and let’s hope future releases (from luminaries such as John Landis, Dario Argento and Takashi Miike) are as enjoyable.
If you do want to see something dicked around with by American TV Executives then look no further than Robocop: The Series (Stax Entertainment). Paul Verhoeven’s original film was a staggeringly violent action film and a wickedly funny satire on the future of the American media. The TV show is a silly superhero story with some OK special effects, clichéd stories and half-hearted stabs at satire. Made before the era when American TV wasn’t scared to make shows for adult audiences, one wonders what could have happened if the story of the ‘Part Machine, Part Cop’ had been brought to the small screen with verve and invention.
The Mitchell And Webb Situation (Eureka) sees the two comedians – who’ve made a recent splash with the painfully funny show ‘Peep Show’ – in their first TV show, made in 2001 for the ill fated digital channel Play UK. With periodic flashes of their own peculiarly skillful brand of comedy, there’s quite a bit that’s funny. From the middle class tramps (“Heroin’s so moreish, don’t you think?”) to the star of a cooking show who can’t quite get his head round the idea of TV, the good outweighs the bad. It’s low budget fun that includes a Mitchell and Webb commentary on the first episode. There’s more comedy series DVD goodness in King Of The Hill: Seasons 1 & 2 (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment) a long overdue release of Mike Judge’s perfectly observed animated show about a Texas family. Much more grounded in reality then its contemporaries such as ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Family Guy’, it’s full of great characters such as Hank Hill, the conservative American who tries to lead his family through the perils of modern life. It’s funny but also often very touching. And, if you’re not swayed because the show is repeated all the time, there are also many, many extras on the DVD with commentaries (both by the makers and the characters), storyboards and extracts from the book ‘The Boy Ain’t Right’. Buy it and stick next to your ‘Simpsons’ Box Sets.
The star of Oldboy keeps his violent streak going by playing the lead in Crying Fist (Premier Asia) the hard-hitting (both physically and emotionally) account about two washed up human beings who try and re-discover their worth by entering an amateur boxing contest. Another perfect example of why Korean cinema leads the way in creating fresh and exciting global cinema as the film twists and turns and is thoroughly engrossing for its duration. Amazingly affecting and, sometimes, unwatchably brutal. Extras include Bey Logan – an expert on Asian Cinema – providing an illuminating commentary and deleted scenes.
Much more World Cinema is available to buy with movies from France, Denmark and Italy begging to be added to your collection. First up is The Horseman On The Roof (Second Sight), one of the most expensive French films ever made. Starring Juliette Binoche as a noblewoman who takes up with a dashing soldier to search for her missing husband, this is costume drama with a capital ‘C’. For a slightly more cerebral affair then it’s also worth checking Danton (Second Sight), directed by the legendary Polish director Andrzej Wajda. Gerard Depardieu gives an intense performance as the French Revolutionary who clashed with Robspierre’s Reign of Terror. Directed with authenticity and passion by Wajda, it’s a film that was worthy of many of the awards it won and it’s great to see available to the public.
Time Of Favor (Blue Dolphin Films and Video) is an intriguing Israeli film about the leader of an Israeli Army military unit who falls in love with a girl who is betrothed to his best friend. He soon finds that the motives and beliefs that he’s held all his are coming into question. With strong performances, this award winning film from Israel is definitely worth a look.
Carl Theodor Dreyer remains one of the greatest filmmakers in the history of Danish cinema and now you can two of his most remarkable films. The first is the extraordinary Ordet (BFI Releasing), based on the play by Danish born Kaj Munk. Dealing with issues of faith and orthodox religion the film is a plainly elegant and simple fable that builds with an almost unparalleled emotional power. Full of extraordinarily transcendent moments, this is a must to be added to the collection. Also available is Master Of The House (BFI Releasing), a silent film that’s a gentle comedy of manners. What’s really great about both discs is the inclusion of some worthwhile extras, include documentaries on Dreyer’s work – which make convincing arguments for his films to have more status in film history – and some of Dreyer’s short films, including an unusual road safety film entitled They Caught The Ferry.
On to Italy as two of Federico Fellini’s more playful films find their way onto our favourite shiny discs. Ginger And Fred (Infinity Arthouse) sees Fellini examine the world of small time show business. The always stunning Giulietta Masina and Marcello Mastroianni play the eponymous title characters who used to imitate the routines of their more famous namesakes. Meeting up after 20 years they look back on their life in the business they all like to call ‘show’. There’s a more surreal bent to And The Ship Sails On (Infinity Arthouse) in which the passengers on a 1914 Ocean Voyage indulge in bizarre behaviour until reality intervenes. Both films contain the beautiful imagery and mischievous pushing at the boundaries of cinema that have made Fellini one of the world’s greatest director’s. Perhaps not the best way to get into the director (if you haven’t seen Fellini then shame on you, go and see 81/2 now and then go from there) but would suit all those trying to complete their collections.
And finally Japan as the ever excellent Masters Of Cinema label releases yet another absorbing film from Japanese director Keisuke Kinoshita. Twenty-Four Eyes (Eureka) sees a young teacher as she shapes and molds a class of young people throughout 20 years. This is a weighty film dealing with themes such as Japanese identity, the rise of militarism and the innocence of children, but it remains completely absorbing throughout it’s 155 minutes. Guaranteed to bring the even the most unemotional of people into floods of tears, this stands proudly next to the very best work of Kurosawa.
Free Cinema (BFI Releasing) is a comprehensive collection of the films that served as a pre-cursor to the British New Wave of the 50s and 60. These short films – screened initially at the National Film Theatre – gave new life to the documentary form as they concentrated upon the lives of ordinary people combined with a personal aesthetic style. Films such as Lindsay Anderson’s exceptional O Dreamland – a 1953 film which deals with the Margate Funfair - or Karel Reisz’ We Are The Lambeth Boys are indicative of the passion and excitement inherent in the Free Cinema movement. Endlessly fascinating, and with a 43 minute documentary on the movement, this a superbly packaged and informative release. To find out more about Free Cinema, see James MacGregor's article Groundbreakers: The Free Film Movement in British Cinema http://www.netribution.co.uk/2/content/view/206/224/
Gideon’s Daughter (2 Entertain / BBC DVD) is the follow up to Stephen Poliakoff’s excellent drama ‘Friends and Crocodiles’. Bill Nighy stars as a PR Consultant who gets caught up in the fame and excitement of the new Labour government in 1997. As the distance between him and his daughter begins to grow and the disillusionment with his work increases his life starts to spin out of control. Poliakoff’s examination of the state of 90s Britain provides for some gripping television with Nighy, Emily Blunt and Miranda Richardson all doing a bang up job. Poliakoff is also on hand for a commentary, an interview and is the focus of ‘Timeshift’ documentary on the disc and shows why he has created some of the best British TV of the past decades. Speaking of great British TV, This Life: Series 1 & 2 (2 Entertain / BBC DVD) provide some absolutely stunning moments as the characters try to deal life whilst in their 20s. Sex, witty dialogue, sex, dramatic storylines and just a little bit more sex created gripping moments and – if you’ve never experienced the trails and tribulations of Milly, Egg and the rest of our lawyers – you should check it out.
Finally (phew) the Cinema Reserve collection sees four seminal American films appear on Special Edition DVDs. First up is which is just stunningly brilliant on so many levels that it should be almost declared illegal. Firstly there’s the film itself as John Ford directs Henry Fonda and Victor Mature in the story of the Gunfight of the OK Corral. Simply one of the greatest Westerns ever made (though I still say that Johnny Guitar just beats it). Then there’s the double disc itself. A commentary by Ford expert Scott Eyman provides lots of information and a pre-release version of the film, which is completely fascinating. Buy it now, or I’ll come and find you. And make sure that you also have enough money for The Day The Earth Stood Still (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment), the great sci-fi film directed by Robert Wise that sees a robot lands on the White House lawn (stop the George Bush jokes now…). Includes a nice commentary from Wise and a feature length ‘Making Of’. Laura (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment) is a maddeningly riveting thriller with murder, double crosses and femme fatales galore. Otto Preminger’s direction is spot on and this is another great disc. And then there’s All About Eve (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment), the Oscar winning movie with Bette Davis at her bitchy best. Less extras than the other discs in the series, this is still yet another classic movie that really should be in your collection. All in all, the Cinema Reserve collection is pretty damned good. More please!
Just before I go, I should also point in the direction of a full review of the Best Of Straight 8 2005 here. It’s a inspiring and enjoyable collection of some brilliant short films, so make sure to check it out.
All these film should be available now, unless otherwise stated. Release dates do change, so you may have to wait before you can get a couple of them. Did your parents never teach that patience was a virtue?