Special Edition # 5
It’s a British Summer, which means two things: football and Big Brother on a never ending loop. So, unless you’re a football fan or enjoy watching freak shows, then there’s not much to watch at this moment in time. So in Special Edition # 5 let Laurence Boyce point you in the right direction of some of the very best DVD’s available to buy, rent or borrow at the moment. Who needs Rooney’s toe when you’ve got the cream of Korean cinema?
Korean director Chan-Park Wook is one of the most extraordinarily visceral and thrilling directors in the world today. Now he finishes his trilogy of revenge movies – which began with Sympathy For Mr Vengance and continued with the remarkable Oldboy – with Lady Vengeance (Tartan Asia Extreme). After being in jail for more than a decade, Lee Guem-ja is released and promptly plans her revenge on the person who put her there. Cue lots of breathtaking sequences and stomach churning violence. This is a film that revels in the extreme. This is not only evidenced by the violence on offer but also in terms of narrative structure that confounds and a truly unique style. This is grand melodrama in the greatest traditions of cinema, with some perfectly placed moments of black humour, that should leave you rather astounded. Extras include a commentary from Park and a trailer.
More Korean cinema in A Bittersweet Life (Tartan Asia Extreme) from Ji-woon Kim, director of the terrifying A Tale Of Two Sisters. Here he takes on the gangster genre with such verve that Guy Ritchie should hang his head in shame (well, at least it’s another reason why Ritchie should hang his head in shame). Sunwoo manages a hotel and also has a nice sideline in being the right hand man of criminal boss Kang. But when Sunwoo finds himself ordered to get rid of Kang’s girlfriend, an attack of conscious soon sees him taking on the might of an underworld gang all by himself. Absolutely unrelenting, this is vastly entertaining, stylish and complex. Indeed, the only trouble with Korean cinema as good as this is that you know that Hollywood are going to steal all the ideas and won’t do them half as well. Extras include the trailer and an account of the reaction to the film when it was shown in Cannes.
The Last Seduction: Special Edition (Network Releasing) sees a timely release of one of the finest American independent films of the 90s. Linda Fiorentino gives a career performance as Bridget, a woman who skips town with the proceeds of a drug deal. Hiding out in a small America backwater she starts a heated affair with a naïve local man – but it’s less about love and more about Bridget’s manipulative plans. And she will let no-one stand in her way. A great throwback to the days of amoral Film Noirs, it’s a film that not only has a wonderful atmosphere, but Fiorentino’s wonderful performance as one of cinema’s greatest uberbitch. This is a two disc special edition that includes a director’s cut of the movie, a commentary from Dahl and a retrospective documentary about the film.
There’s another re-release of a great movie as La Haine: Ultimate Edition (Optimum Releasing) makes it’s was on to DVD. It’s been 10 years since this stark and startling film was first released yet, its story of three young men trapped in the bleak suburbs of Paris as racial, political and cultural tensions threaten to explode into violence, is probably more relevant today than it’s ever been. Indeed, the DVD includes some reflections on the 2005 riots in Paris and how La Haine prefigured many of the troubles. Other extras include a fantastic documentary on the making and impact of the film (which is worth buying the DVD for, even if you already have the film) and the original soundtrack of the film.
Kidulthood (Revolver Entertainment) takes a look at the youth culture closer to home as it examines the lives of a group of teenagers who deal with the aftermath of the death of a girl who is bullied. In the current climate, a world of Daily Mail inspired fear in which anyone wearing a hood is obviously a mass murderer, this is a sober and interesting attempt to get understand much of the culture today. Yet, whilst the cast are excellent, the film does sometimes fall into preachiness. Nevertheless, a fine film that should hopefully much more of an audience on DVD.
America seem to have all the best TV shows at the moment, with ’House’, ‘Lost’ and ‘24’ (even though – let’s face it – that show is beginning to descend into self parody). Now you can buy the latest in Prison Break: Season 1, Pt. 1 (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment). Yet another exercise in high concept TV, this sees Michael Scofield gets himself put in jail so who can find out who is responsible for his brother being on Death Row. He’s not been totally impulsive though, as he’s cleverly tattooed the plans of the prison on his back even though the bloke at the parlour said a skull would look better. Slick and professional, this is tense all the way and the concept well thought through without over stretching itself. Let’s hope the latter half of the series doesn’t destroy all the good work and also has some extras as this sadly has nothing. You can also get CSI: Miami 3.1-3.12 (Momentum Pictures) one of the seemingly innumerable spin offs (I swear there is a ‘CSI: Bognor Regis’ on some channel, somewhere) of the series in which geeky scientists instead of hard nosed cops find themselves the heroes. If you haven’t heard of the show, you’ve obviously been living under a rock which probably means you’re going to be carbon dated and thoroughly analysed whilst the rest of us can enjoy a polished show that, whilst they’re all starting to get predictable, is somehow compelling. Extras on the disc include episode commentaries and you can find out more about the CSI phenomenon here: www.behindthetape.co.uk. Whilst on the subject of American TV, don’t miss out on mid 90s show Due South: Series 2 (Network Releasing) the continuing adventures of a heroic Mountie and his slobbish detective buddy. By now it was becoming formulaic, but this still has enough wit and charm to rise above other shows and – whilst obstensibly – has the guts to move into darker territory with episodes such as ‘Juliet is Bleeding’. Great entertainment which also has a fantastic soundtrack.
Marco Ferreri made a habit of infuriating prudish people with such films as La Grande Bouffe and 120 Days of Sodom and his 1967 film The Harem (Infinity Arthouse) was no exception. A woman uses her sexuality to manipulate the lives of three men in order to get everything that she desires. Quite shocking in its day, the film has dated quite badly but Ferreri’s playful skewering of the middle class of the time still provides much to retain the interest and works as a great companion piece to the films of the Italian masters such as Fellini.
Christ Stopped At Eboli (Infinty Arthouse) is by another great of Italian cinema, Francesco Rosi. Facist Italy 1935. A painter turned doctor is exiled to a small village due to his anti-fascist views. Initially isolated, he soon learns to appreciate the beauty of the place that he has been trapped in as he learns to look past poverty and appreciate the national character. A wonderfully observational and human piece of work, it is a film often overlooked when talking about great Italian cinema. Hopefully, the DVD release will go some way to rectify that.
One director who has never had his films overlooked is Yasujiro Ozu. Ozu: Volume 3 (Tartan DVD) collects some more of his greatest work. The highlight here is the absolutely sublime Ohayo (Good Morning) a gentle comedy that charts generational in 50s Japan. But Equinox Flower – about the conflict between a father and a daughter – and Tokyo Twilight – a dark film about the slow dissolution of a family – are also stunning pieces of work which show Ozu at his most calm yet insightful. The prints on the DVD are pristine whilst there’s some illuminating film notes from critic Doug Cummings.
The Hidden Blade (Tartan DVD) sees Japanese cinema of a more melodramatic nature as the director of Twilight Samurai return to old themes of honour and redemption. Here a Samurai finds himself part of a world that no longer wants him. Shall he stay true to his roots, or follow his dream to marry a peasant girl, even if it means that he can no longer call himself samuai? Plenty of emotion and with some languidly brilliant directing, this thoughtful piece of work will appeal to those who like their films to take them on a spiritual journey. However, if you like blood, martial arts action and gore then you stay well away …
… and perhaps go for Last House On Dead End Street (Tartan Grindhouse). A notorious American film of the 70s, this sees a released prisoner decide that society must pay for his incarceration. He is soon forcing victims to act in ‘movies’ which – unfortunately for the cast –seem to need no special effects at all. If you’re a gorehound it goes without saying that you’ve probably had this on some bootleg DVD/VHS for the past 20 years. As such, I’m sure you’ll be delighted and have it on order already. As for the rest of us, it might prove to be a little distasteful as, whilst obviously fiction, the film’s attempts to convince us of the ‘reality’ of the situation become trite and boring.
During the early part of this century Danny Boyle directed two excellent films that went direct to TV. Both were his initial forays into the digital filmmaking that now informs so much of his work. Now you can own Vaccuming Completely Nude In Paradise and Strumpet (both Cinema Club) and see how the style developed. The former sees Timothy Spall as an obsessive Vacuum cleaner salesman whilst the latter stars Christopher ‘Will always be referred to as Doctor Who for the rest of his career’ Eccleston as a poet who meets up with a homeless girl and they both decide to look for fame and fortune. Both are wonderfully quirky meditations on modern urban life with a vein of gentle comedy. Fans of Boyle should purchase these immediately.
Comedy in a broader sense is available in two great early 90s sketch shows from the BBC First up is A Bit Fry and Laurie: Season 2 (2 Entertain). These 6 episodes show Fry and Laurie alternate between devastatingly witty wordplay and foolish slapstick to create a unique show. Not only was it a satire on 80s consumerism and greed, but it also revelled in the absurd which – most importantly – made it consistently funny. Less consistent was Alexei Sayle’s Stuff: Series 3 (2 Entertain) in which the Scouser looked at the state of Britain in a series of increasingly surreal sketches. Sometimes Sayles’ mugging to the camera becomes distracting but when sketches hit the mark – such as the parody of 80s video trailers – it’s very good indeed.
Finally we have two music documentaries. Given the glut of them as late “Not more” I hear you cry. But don’t worry as these stand up above the crowd. Firstly we have Jean Luc-Godard’s classic Sympathy For The Devil (Fabulous Film) in which he follows the Rolling Stones. Initially it’s a staid affair as he charts them recording ‘Beggars Banquet’. But he also explores issues of race and power in a series of sequences which turn the film into a fascinating – and important social document. The disc is packed with extras including an alternate version of the film and documentaries. More up to date is Screaming Masterpiece (Soda Pictures), an examination of the music scene in Iceland. With luminaries such as Sigur Ros and Bjork (who thankfully doesn’t decide to punch the hell out of the person with the camera) this is an informative movie that also possesses a nice sense of humour. A must for all those who like their music on the a little bit more eclectic.
All these DVDs should be available in shops now, provided that they haven't been moved to make way for enough England memoribilia to sink a small country.