Special Edition # 3
Laurence Boyce brings you an eclectic selection of some of the best DVD releases available over the coming weeks. If you like Cubans, Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, Anime and Francis Bacon then you’re in for a treat … and you probably also have weird things on your walls.
Soy Cuba (I Am Cuba) (Mr Bongo Films) is, simply put, one of the best films ever made. Made in 1964, it’s taken more than 30 years for the film to get the recognition it deserves. The film initially appears to be a simple piece of Communist propaganda, celebrating the progress of the Cuban Revolution. However, the film’s extraordinary grasp of cinematic language transcends this and provides an absolutely extraordinary experience. A friend of mine who saw the film claimed: “It makes feel better to know that there are films like that in the world.” I agree wholeheartedly, and I’m almost sure that you will too. Indeed, the only trouble with the DVD is – even though the film transfer is fine – you really need to see this on the big screen for this to have its fullest impact. Still, until this plays at your local cinema, the DVD makes a fine substitute.
The Road To Guantanamo (Cinema Club / 2 Entertain) has proved to be one of the most controversial films of the past few months as you can read HERE and HERE. Michael Winterbottom – who is probably the most diverse director in modern British Cinema – alongside co-director Mat Whitecross attempts to tell story of the four British Asians who ended up in Guantanamo Bay. Using a combination of documentary and fiction, he uncovers a catalogue of human rights abuses at the hands of the American forces. There are a couple of problems – the alibis of the protagonists do come across as slightly dubious at points and it sometimes lacks balance – but this is intelligent movie making that requires you to think and maybe even act. The film is available on DVD or is available for download HERE.
A sympathetic portrayal of paranoid-schizophrenic Larry ‘Wild Man’ Fischer, Derailroaded (Plexi) is a remarkable documentary of music and madness. Following his beginnings (where he played songs on the streets of LA) to his discovery by Frank Zappa, the film looks at the dichotomy of a person trying to make it in the complex world of the music business whilst suffering from an illness that leaves him low and disillusioned. Another in a string of great music documentaries that have been released over the past few years, this is not only a powerful representation of a man struggling with himself but also of a business that uses people then throws them away. With extras that include new songs and extra footage.
Two of George A Romero’s classics get the Special Edition treatment to keep all the horror fans satisfied. First up is Day Of The Dead: Special Edition (Arrow Films / Fremantle Home Entertainment), the third part of his Zombie Quadrilogy. Here, the survivors of a world overrun by Zombies are holed up as they try and experiment on the hordes of undead to try and understand them. Soon tensions are at boiling point: will the humans destroy each other before the Zombies do? With plenty of extras, including commentaries from the special effects team and a new documentary on the making of the film it’s great for people who don’t have the film already. The only grumble may come from those who’ve already bought previous editions as this seems to be the umpteenth release of the film. However, they’ll be happy to see Martin (Arrow Films / Fremantle Home Entertainment) a subtler – yet no less shocking than his other films – offering from Romero. Teenager Martin believes that he’s a vampire, despite no evidence to prove his theory. Driven by bloodlust, Martin preys on innocent victims and the film soon comes to a shocking conclusion. Ideas of compulsion and sexuality come together to create a fascinating movie. Extras include a commentary from Romero.
Familia Rodante (Artificial Eye) is a curious road movie from Argentina. At 84 years old Emilia decides she wants to be matron of honor at her niece’s wedding – despite the fact that it’s more than 1000 kilometers away. Soon her family grudgingly accompanies her but – as the trips drags on – tensions in their small van begin to reach boiling point. Frequently funny and full of charm, this is a rewarding and poignant movie. Also look out for Signs and Wonders (Soda Pictures) a tale of infidelity and corporate greed with strong turns from Stellan Skarsgard and Charlotte Rampling.
Ivans XTC (Prism Leisure) was sadly neglected on its initial release and is worthy of a second look. An examination of the excesses of Hollywood, the film sees a Hollywood Agent (Danny Huston) who discovers he has a terminal illness and decides to live his final days in a whirlwind of excess. Made on digital, this has a freewheeling anarchic feeling and never lets up its energy. With a tremendous sadness at its heart, this is a surprisingly thoughtful work from Bernard Rose, best known for his work on Candyman.
1998 movie Love Is The Devil (Artificial Eye) stars Derek Jacobi who gives an excellent performance as controversial painter Francis Bacon. Charting his relationship with small time criminal George Dyer (played by the forthcoming James Bond, Daniel Craig), the film is an intriguing contrast between the world of the 60s artist and the London Underworld. Strong acting and curious cameos from the likes of Tracey Emin and Tilda Swinton should keep those who are interested in the cultural differences that were abound in 60s London.
If you’re sick of all these serious type films then Once Upon A Time In High School (Premier Asia) might be your cup of (green) tea. Here a young boy relocates to a tough new school. Whilst trying to do all the normal adolescent things – falling in love and all that – he notices that the regime is becoming increasingly brutal. Soon he must take a stand and much violence in school. God, the most exciting it was for me at school was when someone was caught running in the corridor. Alternates between silly and brutal but, if you’re in the right frame of mind, is a good watch.
Lifeboat (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment) doesn’t often appear in the pantheon of great Hitchcock films, yet perhaps is the finest example of how the director could wring the maximum amount of tension from the most seemingly mundane of situations. Here, the film is set entirely on a crowded lifeboat whose passengers serve as a microcosm of society. Tightly written and – of course – expertly shot, this is a tremendous affair that’s helped by the special edition disc which includes an enthusiastic commentary by Hitchcock expert Dr. Drew Caspar and a long interview with the director himself from 50s Canadian TV. And anyone who can tell me how Hitch can make a cameo in the film wins a prize.
The fact that What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (Prism Leisure) gave Leonardo DiCaprio his big break will have many people jumping for joy. And an equal amount of people gnashing their teeth with anger. Having said that, DiCaprio holds his own in the performance stakes with Johnny Depp and Juliette Lewis in playing a mentally challenged boy who unwittingly becomes the bane of his brother’s life. Lasse Hallstrom presents a blend of the surreal and the sentimental in a film that, whilst sometimes a little bit obvious, hits all the right buttons in it’s portrayal of a person trying to escape from his suburban life.
It seems as if the powers that be in the DVD universe have decided that everyone needs a laugh as there’s a ton of comedy just come out released for your viewing mirth. First up is The Smell Of Reeves and Mortimer: Complete Series (2 Entertain), the show that saw Vic and Bob up sticks and make the move from Channel 4 to the BBC. This two season showcases some absolutely inspired comedy from the classic Masterchef skit (Lloyd Grossman floats and has cutlery for fingers) to the ludicrous singing routines, this is perhaps some of the Northerne duo’s finest work. The follow up, Bang, Bang, It’s Reeves and Mortimer (2 Entertain) seems less successful with the two relying more on hitting each other for laughs. Still, a few moments – such as fake docusoap ‘The Club’ – will make it worthwhile for fans. However, a real stand out is the long awaited release of A Bit Of Fry and Laurie: Series 1 (2 Entertain). Both have gone on to bigger things (movie success and ‘House’ respectively) but this shows that, had they stayed in comedy, they would be still be a remarkable success. With plenty of verbal dexterity buoyed by Pythonesque moments (the amount of sketches that finish without a punchline are redolent of the comedy troupe) and a fine air of the silly, this is dazzingly well written material. The only problem is – much like the Reeves and Mortimer DVD’s – there aren’t any extras. It would have been nice to see some sort of retrospectives looking back on the shows.
Nightingales (Network) is perhaps one of the most neglected comedy shows of modern times. James Ellis, Robert Lindsay and David Thewlis play security guards who spend their nights getting into increasingly strange incidents. If Harold Pinter did a sitcom, this would be the result. Frequently funny and often baffling this undiscovered gem of comedy was made on a limited budget but performed with flair. Right at the other end of the spectrum is Red Dwarf VIII (BBC DVD / 2 Entertain) which sees the last time – for the moment at least – that the boys (and girl) from the Dwarf would appear on our screens. Taking the series somewhat back to basics, as Rimmer and Lister get plenty of hilarious monologues, the show had some great moments but you did feel was starting to flag. Still, it would be nice to see the long mooted movie finally come to fruition and finish the show off properly. This is chocker with extras including commentaries, documentaries and outtakes. Finally on the funny front there’s Maid Marian and Her Merry Men: Series 1 (Eureka). A kids programme, that was watched by lots more than just kids, this had a gleefully anarchic air and a funny script by Tony Robinson. This is the kind of thing you’ll by for your nephew for his birthday and ‘forget to give it to him’ so you can watch it for yourself. Top entertainment for when you want a nostalgia fix.
Back to more serious subjects as The Beat That My Heart Skipped (Artificial Eye) finally makes its way to DVD after winning a slew of awards on the film festival circuit. A young criminal whose life is spiraling out of control sees a glimmer of redemption after his mother comes back into his life. Roman Duris gives a mesmerizing performance in the central role whilst director Jacques Audiard shows that he’s a young director to watch over the next few years as this movie could go down as a great modern gangster story. There’s more gritty French drama in Rendez-Vous (Second Sight) a tense erotic drama starring Juliette Binoche who becomes obsessed by a shy estate agent. A winner of the Cannes Film Festival award for Best Director in 1985, this is a captivating work with Binoche showing why she became one of the most respected actresses in her native country.
The collection of Studio Ghibli films continues unabated with, firstly, Princess Mononoke (Optimum Releasing) an epic movie from the director of Spirited Away Hayao Miyazaki. After being wounded by a supernatural being, a warrior must find a cure from an area that is the home to old gods and unnatural powers. With some many elements to this film – the clash between good and evil, notions of mortality and much more – this a jaw dropping accomplishment of style and content that is perhaps the finest movie Ghibli have produced. With the Japanese original and the dubbed version – with a script by Neil Gaiman – I think you should buy this now. And whilst you’re doing that you might also get My Neighbour Totoro (Optimum Releasing) the story of two girls who encounter strange creatures that help the trees grow. Another amazing achievement from Miyazaki, it begs the question: Walt Who?
All these DVDs should be available now. Unless the release date has changed at the last minute, then they won't.