Special Edition # 4
Thanks to the perils of blown up computers and various other technological problems, Special Edition # 4 has been a long time coming. But never fear as Laurence Boyce had managed to move heaven and earth (and, more importantly, has managed to install a new version of Windows XP) to bring a bumper crop of all the DVD’s that are fit to watch when the bright sunshine starts to get a little bit too much – or it inevitably starts raining again.
Grizzly Man (Revolver Entertainment) is Werner Herzog’s fascinating documentary that examines the power of obsession and human nature. Timothy Treadwell lived amongst the bears of Katami National Park believing himself to be ‘at one’ with the fierce creatures. But when his mauled remains were found, it was obvious that Treadwell had not allowed for the fact the nature – both human and animal – are sometimes way too much at odds. Herzog uses the hours of footage shot by Treadwell to go on a journey into a man’s psyche and – as he has in many of his previous films, both fiction and documentary – finds the lines between obsession and insanity perilously thin. Often outstanding – the moment in which Herzog listens to a tape Treadwell’s death is disturbing but handled with restraint – this is a gripping documentary. The disc comes with an okay documentary on the making of the film.
Another DVD column and another film that – if you don’t have it in your DVD collection – you should feel thoroughly ashamed of yourself. Come And See (Nouveaux Pictures) is described as the "greatest war film you've never seen," and - for once - the hyperbole is correct. The film, by Russian director Elem Klimov, is the story of young farm boy Florya who decides to aid in resisting Nazi invaders during World War II. After being abandoned by his comrades, he attempts to return to his village only to uncover unspeakable horror and devastating atrocities on his journey. A film that has hits like a punch of the film, Come and See is a shocking, disturbing yet absolutely moving examination of war that makes Apocalypse Now look like a kids film. The disc comes with archive news footage and an interview with the director which both provides interesting background. But this remains an absolutely stonking movie that you have to buy now.
Unsurprisingly, Guy X (Tartan Video) doesn’t quite reach the heady heights of Kilmov’s effort as the anti-war here theme is distinctly reminiscent of M*A*S*H and Catch 22. Set in the 70s, it sees Jason Biggs as a soldier who finds himself posted to Greenland due to a clerical error. There he finds unhinged commanders and beautiful women, and soon comes to the conclusion that he’s the only sane man on the base. But soon he discovers a secret that no-one wants to reveal… This has great moments of biting humour and some great performances from the like of Biggs (who does well to shake of the American Pie stigma) and Natasha McHelone but still sometimes seems a little bit passé. Still, it was unfairly ignored at it’s time of release, and is worth your time if you fondly remember the adventures of Hawkeye Pierce and Captain Yossarian.
Battle In Heaven (Tartan Films) is one of the most extraordinarily striking films of the past few years. The film concerns slobbish Marcos who, after a kidnapping goes wrong, finds himself confessing his crime to the daughter of the general he drives for. From it’s audacious opening shot – that combines beauty with sexual explicitness – to a multitude of bravura scenes throughout, this places Mexican Carlos Reygadas as one of the most audacious filmmakers of recent years and lead actress Anapola Mushkadiz as one of the most promising actresses. Extremely strange but utterly compelling, it’s a film that will leave you short of breath due to its sheer invention.
If all the ‘heavy’ cinema starts to get to you then why not switch your brain off and enjoy Mission: Impossible - The Collector’s Edition (Paramount DVD). Originally made by Brian De Palma in 1996 – a time just before everyone and their Uncle Charlie were re-making 60s TV shows – this was utterly formulaic but so well made that you couldn’t help but be caught up by it all. Whether it’s the – now classic and often parodied – scene in which Ethan Hunt (played by everyone’s favourite psychiatrist hating actor Tom Cruise) has to stage a break in without touching the floor, a ludicrous yet immensely fun chase in the Channel Tunnel or the fact that the plot makes very little sense this is still amazingly enjoyable throughout. This version replaces the vanilla disc that’s been out for some years now, and has some informative featurettes on the making of the film. Now, if only they could get some commentaries of the disc as well....
More action cinema, with an admittedly more cerebral bent, is here in the shape of The Game – Special Edition (Universal Pictures). Directed by David Fight Club Fincher, it stars Michael Douglas as an investment banker who is given a unique present from his brother: a live-action game in which he is at the centre. What is or isn’t part of the elaborate illusion? Once again Fincher examines the nature of unreality and control in a movie that intrigues but sometimes rather gets too convoluted for its own good. This includes a good commentary from Fincher and an alternate ending which, truth be told, isn’t that much cop.
In the realms of thriller and horror, both Korea and Japan have proven themselves as leading the way in terms of scaring the audience senseless. First up is Tell Me Something (Tartan Asia Extreme), a gruesome story of a serial killer who leaves body parts littered around Seoul. Just oozing tension with a gritty film noir atmosphere it’s a intelligent and riveting film. Next up, Oxide Pang – best known for the The Eye – bring their unique vision to Ab-Normal Beauty (Tartan Asia Extreme). After a photographing a fatal car accident, a woman becomes obsessed with picturing death. Soon she’s drawn into a dangerous world. Another dynamic and intriguing slice of cinema, that takes in ideas of seeing and perception to truly unnerve the audience. Finally from Asia we have Pulse (Optimum Releasing) the latest film from Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Four friends attempt try and deal with the suicide of one of their friends. However, when he starts to appear to them in grainy computer images things take a terrifying turn as the entire world seems to be drained of life. Kurosawa keeps the tension high and the thrills coming thick and fast in a great horror movie that will most probably be ruined by an American remake.
The horror theme continues in The Ordeal (Tartan Terror), a French production about a stranded traveller who, after being given shelter for the night, but finds the person looking after him seems rather unwilling him to let him leave. Moments of black comedy heighten the tension in this unremitting piece of work that takes in elements of Deliverance and Straw Dogs. After watching the, you’ll certainly make sure that your car’s fully serviced before you go on your next big trip. Finally on the horror front, we have sadly forgotten suspense from the 70s with Richard Mulligan’s The Other (Eureka!). Two twins live on their grannies farm, but after discovering that their brotherly bond also stretches to the supernatural, things really begin to become unsettled. A film that’s all about atmosphere a mood, this is a great example of perfectly crafted genre fare from America. If you like Carrie and The Exorcist then this should find a place in your DVD collection.
When animated show ‘Family Guy’ was taken off the air, the Fox Network were rather surprised when it became a huge hit on DVD. So surprised that they actually recommissioned the show. Now you can buy Family Guy: Series 4 (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment) on the format that ended up saving it. And, thankfully, it’s just as funny as always. Whilst comparisons with ‘The Simpsons’ is inevitable, the humour on offer here is more savage and adult (indeed, the DVD leaves all swearing unbleeped) and is often close to the knuckle hilarious. The commentaries on each episode can be a bit dull, but just enjoy the shows. You should also check out American Dad: Series 1 (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment), from the same team as ‘Family Guy’. Here the humour focuses on a family patriarch who’s ultra conservative and a CIA agent. With many swipes at the current state of America and a certain unpopular US President, this isn’t exactly what you call subtle but has enough laugh out loud moments to be interesting. It’s also worth it for Patrick Stewart’s occasional appearances at the Deputy Director of the CIA.
And if you like your sharp comedy to come from this side of the pond, then Green Wing (4 DVD) should immediately go on to your shopping list. Part soap opera, part drama, part sitcom and part surreal nightmare, this takes a number of risks (not only in terms of subject matter but in terms of each episode lasting an hour long) and contains many laugh out loud moments: highlights being Mark Heap’s neurotic Dr. Statham and Michelle Gomez as the barking mad Sue White. Even if you watched these on the TV, the DVD is a worthwhile purchase as watching them all together adds a certain extra frisson to the show whilst the commentaries, admittedly rather scrappy at points, do provide a lot background to the making of the show.
13 [Tzameti] (Revolver Entertainment) is a fine debut from director Gela Babluani that fuses brutality and apprehension with an almost frightening skill. The premise – a young man accidentally becomes involved with a gang who bet on human lives – sounds clichéd but thanks to Babluani’s inventiveness and some urgent black and white cinematography, this is a nail-biting experience through and through. It’s been a while since there’s been a first-time feature exhibiting this much confidence and flair. Babluani is definitely one to keep an eye out for in the future.
We dispense with the future for the moment, as we look at cinema’s past with numerous re-releases for cineastes to get their teeth into. First up is The Claude Chabrol Collection (Arrow Films). Containing 8 relatively early works (with the exception of Madame Bovary, which was made in 1991) for the director often cited as ‘the French Hitchcock’ this is a delightful set of films that just burst with adultery, suspense and murder. Les Biches remains a daring story of a love triangle, but the jewel of the crown in this is Le Boucher an astonishing story of a small town teacher who falls in love with a butcher. But is he the serial killer that’s gripping the town in fear? It still has the power to shock today and remains a jewel of French cinema and the collection is almost worth it for that alone. Another classic of French Cinema is 1938’s Hotel Du Nord (Soda Pictures) by Marcel Carne. A torrid story of unrequited passion and suicide pacts, this is a fine example of what was dubbed ‘poetic realism’. Great to finally see on DVD with English subtitles, the DVD also contains an introduction from French film historian Raul Ryan who gives some valuable background to the making of the film.
On to Denmark as two more films from Carl Theodor Dreyer make their way to DVD. First up is Day Of Wrath (BFI Releasing). A dark and gripping account of a woman who becomes involved in witchcraft during the 17th Century, this is an forceful and absorbing examination of faith and love in which Dreyer reveals his mastery of cinema. Powerful use of lighting to convey emotion combine with a profound story to make a movie of rare intensity which comes a commentary by Caspar Tubjerg, an expert on the work of the Danish director. Dreyer’s final film Gertrud (BFI Releasing) also appears on DVD. A frustrated woman finds that love can never be as ideal as romantic notions would seem to suggest. Whilst the subtlety and nuance which make up this film may be a little trying for some, those who stick with the film will find themselves immensely rewarded.
Bailey On…. (Network) was a series of three documentaries that saw the famous photographer examine of the lives of Cecil Beaton, Luchino Visconti and Andy Warhol. The chief fascination with the shows in 2006 is their insight into a world that no longer exists as cameos from the likes of Mick Jagger and Twiggy remind of the inventiveness that was abound during the 60s and 70s. Includes a recent interview conducted with Bailey who talks about the impact of the shows almost 30 years after they were first screened. A fascinating historical and social document.
Directors get the credit. Producers get the blame. Cinematographers rarely get anything. Visions Of Light (BFI Releasing) attempts to redress the balance by focusing on the work of cinematographers (or directors of photography) throughout cinema history. From The Cabinet of Dr Caligari to Goodfellas, filmmaker Arnold Glassman provides a comprehensive and fascinating account of those who have been responsible for the look of some cinema history’s most beloved film. Included are Haskell Wexler – who counts One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest as one of his achievements – and the legendary Vittorio Storaro from Apocalypse Now. Endlessly fascinating and informative.
All these film should be available now - and thanks to my laptop - some of them should have been on the shelves for a long time. Technology eh?