Special Edition # 6
Kids today eh? All they do is play violent video games, listen to ‘Gangster Rap' and generally collect ASBO's as if they were football stickers. When we were young we had such fantasy movies as Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal to keep us in front of the TV and out of trouble. Well thank goodness that Mirrormask (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) is here to keep them out of mischief. Written by comics legend Neil Gaiman and directed by artist Dave McKean, it's a wonderfully modern fairy tale following Helena, a girl who finds herself in a mysterious world on a quest to retrieve a magical mask. Absolutely gorgeous throughout, with some amazing set-pieces, the only shame is that the film didn't do well at the cinema thus depriving you of seeing some of the amazing imagery on the big screen. Enjoy it with the family, but get the biggest telly you can find. Includes a commentary by Gaiman and McKean that throws up some interesting facts but might lose those who are not technically minded.
Laurence Sterne's ‘The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy' is a classic of literature that is considered one of the first ‘postmodern' novels. Given it's complex structure and disregard for the rules of narrative, Michael Winterbottom was going to have a hard time in adapting it for the big screen. In A Cock And Bull Story (Lionsgate Releasing), he's hit on the solution: he's not really adapted it at all. Using the novel as a background, this stars Steve Coogan playing both Shandy and the actor ‘Steve Coogan'. In essence, this is a film about filmmaking and satirises both the foibles of actors and the arduous process of putting together a movie. Whilst never quite hitting the mark of such films as 81/2 (which it obviously strives to be, given that it uses much of the music from Fellini's classic) it has plenty of funny moments (including Coogan and co-star Rob Brydon's ‘Al Pacino Shootout' and Mark Williams as a clearly bonkers historical advisor) and a playful nature, and remains a sharp slice of British filmmaking. Extras include a witty commentary from Coogan and Brydon who are clearly having the time of their lives.
George Clooney's second film Good Night and Good Luck (Lionsgate Releasing) is a timely film that weaves a political message with a fine grasp of history and a tangible atmosphere that recalls a time when television could be a cohesive force for change as opposed to an excuse for reality TV shows. David Strathairn is superb in the lead role as crusading newscaster Edward R Murrow who takes on the might of Senator Joe McCarthy and exposed the flawed heart of his communist witch hunts. A hark back to 70s cinema when film was used as a powerful political tool, this is emotive and exciting stuff.
A serious examination of a classic novel is on offer in Capote (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) the film which netted Philip Seymour Hoffman a - deserved - Oscar for Best Actor. The film is an intense story of author Truman Capote's intense research that resulted in the book ‘In Cold Blood', the true story of a Kansas family who are found murdered in their house. As Capote becomes increasingly close with one of the killers, his motivations for writing the book become clouded and his neuroses come to the fore. A rare film that actually knows that stillness can be a virtue and it's powerful story is complemented by some beautiful cinematography. Hoffman and director Bennett Miller provide a detailed commentary as well.
Those who claim that John Woo has been, well, pretty rubbish since he moved to America will only have their claims bolstered by the release of A Better Tomorrow: Ultimate Edition (Optimum Asia). Marking the first time that Woo worked with Chow Yun-Fat, this - even though it's been 20 years since it was made - is one of the most vital, exciting and thrilling action films ever made. Chow plays Mark, a killer (and I bet you thought he was going run a nursery) who runs into trouble when his younger brother, a police officer in training, discovers the truth. With some astonishing set pieces that are intricately woven with themes of brotherhood and honour, this is a masterpiece of Hong Kong action cinema. Includes a commentary from Hong Kong movie expert Bey Logan and a documentary that gives an overview of Woo's work.
Michael Haneke remains one of the most confrontational directors working in cinema today and his latest, Hidden (Artificial Eye), remains a draining experience. This intense thriller follows a television presenter who begins to receive packages of videos that contain secretly filmed footage of him and his family. It initially sounds like a typical piece of Hollywood guff, but Haneke takes events down a very dark route as our protagonist's life begins to unravel and he must confront the demons in his past. With some extremely uncomfortable imagery and a tangible atmosphere of dread, it's a stunning - if disturbing film.
Having said that, Hidden feels like Care Bears: The Movie when compared to Haneke's 1997 film Funny Games (Tartan DVD). A family holiday turns into a nightmare when a family, who are holidaying in a remote mountain house, find their lives invaded by two strangers. A series of psychological games ensues that turn to torture and extreme violence. The cinematic equivalent of being put through a mangle, this utilises every filmic trick in the book to question the nature of violence, human behaviour and the media in general. Whilst it's not for the faint of heart, those who can sit through it will be rewarded with a film that actually reminds us of the power of the moving image. This collector's edition includes an interview with Haneke and a re-mastered version of the film.
Another filmmaker who revels in controversy is Kim ki-Duk. When not making films that are serenely beautiful (such as Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter ... Spring) then he's producing work that's aggressive and disconcerting. Address Unknown (Tartan DVD) falls firmly into the latter category. Set in Korea some 17 years after the Korean War, it tells of the troubled relationship the country has with America and the anger that pervaded the society as told through the story of a boy and a shocking act of violence. A continuously provoking film that refuses to pull any punches, it's a vital part of the director's oeuvre.
Three box sets are available, collecting the work of some of cinema's greatest directors. First up is The Louis Malle Collection Volume 1 (Optimum World) which demonstrates the French director's remarkable ability to work in a number of genres. From the beautifully pitched comedy Zazie Dans la Metro, in which a young girl goes exploring Paris by herself, to the passionate drama Les Amants, in which Jeanne Moreau stars as a woman who embarks on a affair, his eclecticism is a joy. The highlight of the collection is Malle's debut feature Lift To The Scaffold, a brilliantly conceived film noir that is not only inticately plotted but also possesses one of the greatest soundtracks in film history, courtesy of Miles Davis. Extras include interviews with Malle's brother and Vive Le Tour, a short following the Tour De France
Next up is The Pedro Almodovar Collection Volume 2 (Optimum World) showcasing more of the Spanish director's celebrated works. The set takes his work from the mid 80s including films such as Kika, perhaps one of his most controversial works in it's portrayal of a girl who becomes involved in crime and debauchery. Also included is Matador, the film that was responsible for propelling into the consciousness of the international film community. Like the rest of Almodovar's work, the film has a fine balance between flamboyance, dark emotion and repressed sexuality. An exhilarating collection of films from an exhilarating director. Extras include informative introductions from Spanish film expert Jose Arroyo.
Finally for all the collectors out there there's Nick Broomfield: American Icons(Optimum Releasing). Here the documentary maker turns his unique blend of English politeness and aggressive inquisitiveness to America. Kurt and Courtney charts not only the Seattle music scene but, after an angry Courtney Love attempts to get the film stopped, also the nature of free speech. Biggie and Tupac continues the music theme with an examination of the rivalries inherent in hip-hop. Most successful here are the two films following killer Aileen Wuornos (whose life story was recounted in Monster) as she waits on Death Row. Both are a enormously affecting indictment of the American Justice System. Lots of extras here including follow up interviews and, on the first two films, commentaries.
Ludwig (Infinity Arthouse) remains one of the lesser known films from Italian director Luchino Visconti. It's a shame as his account of the life of Ludwig II - also known as the Mad King of Bavaria - is a suitably grandiose and opulent affair. With an eclectic cast, that includes Trevor Howard and Gert Frobe, and now in a restored version that runs for four hours it's an intriguing attempt at a biopic. The disc documentaries of Visconti and the Italian actress Silvana Mangano.
Much more celebrated, and deservedly so, is FW Murnau's version of Faust (Masters Of Cinema) This Special Edition is absolutely wonderful and includes a new print of the his version of the classic tale of one man and his deal with the devil. This restored version, which includes takes never seen before, brings him the mastery that Murnau had over the moving image with his bold and daring use of sets and actors. There's a lot more in the package, including commentaries by film experts and an examination of the various versions of the film. Your really have to buy this if you consider yourself a serious film lover.
Spanish filmmaker Jess Franco is still considered by many as the ‘King Of Erotic Horror'. So if you think Dracula: Prisoner of Frankenstein / The Curse Of Frankenstein (Tartan Grindhouse) are going to be intellectual extensions of Mary Shelley's classic story then you clearly haven't been paying attention. In both films expect breasts, monsters, breasts, gore, British actor Dennis Price and breasts. Oh, did I mention breasts? Fun in a ‘actually quite rubbish' kind of way, if you have plenty of alcohol in your system and like nudity you'll like this. Which is actually quite a high number of people, I must admit....
Onto TV now as two of our greatest television writers see their work released onto DVD. Jack Rosenthal at ITV (Network Releasing) is a wonderfully put together that not only contains many of his one-off dramas but key episodes of some of the shows that he worked on. Delights on offer here include Another Sunday and Sweet FA, a great comedy that exposes the ridiculous competitiveness that lies at the heart of amateur football, Ready When You Are Mr MacGill, the original 70s version of the play that takes a look behind the scenes of TV as an extra finally gets his break and The Knowledge a simply great programme of Taxi Drivers who try and gain the almost mythical ‘knowledge'. Add in an episode of ‘Coronation Street', a show Rosenthal worked on at the beginning of his career, and numerous sitcoms and this 5 disc set becomes an important document of the history of British Television.
Some great work from 90s television is available in The Alan Bleasdale Collection (4 DVD). ‘GBH' is the highpoint as Robert Lindsay and Michael Palin take each other on in a fascinating tale of politics, power and corruption. A darkly funny work that sees the greed of the 80s collide with the caring 90s. Lindsay also appears in ‘Jake's Progress' a taut tragic-comedy about a family and their child. Finally ‘Melissa' sees Bleasdale take on the thriller genre. He succeeds as this is an immensely entertaining story of murder and corruption. Bolstered by commentaries from Bleasdale and the cast, this box set is a must anyone who likes quality television. And, let's face it, there's not very much of it about nowadays.
Having said that the phrase ‘TV was much better when I was young' has been rendered rather useless thanks to DVD. This is no more so apparent in Kinvig (Network Releasing), a rarely seen 80s comedy from the pen of Nigel ‘Quatermass' Kneale. An ordinary man gets caught up in the wiles of a space woman in a show that - whilst it may have been funny for it's time - seems rather dated now. Perhaps it was best if it was left to the memory. More successful is Beasts (Network Releasing) an anthology series centring around a myriad of strange creatures. Whilst these one hour shows vary in quality, and the effects are pretty ropey, it has a naïve charm that carries it off. Finally on this front we have Danger UXB (Network Releasing) a drama about the men who dealt with the unexploded bombs during the Blitz. Again, slightly dated but there's enough strong writing here to give nostalgia fans a warm glow.
Comedy from the 90s rears its head in Drop The Dead Donkey: Season 4 (2 Entertain / Cinema Club). By this point in the history of the, the motley crew at Globelink News have become extremely familiar and the writers of the show have started to think of more extreme things for them to do including marriages, pregnancies and randy weathergirls. Even though the soap opera aspect of the show is now becoming slightly tiresome, there's still some fine satire on offer here that is helped by uniformly excellent performances from a cast who are now very comfortable in their roles.
Over to American TV as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Season 5, Part 2 (Momentum Pictures) comes to DVD for a thorough forensic examination. It is now getting quite hard to distinguish which series is which thanks to numerous spin offs but, suffice to say, expect lots of glossy yet disgusting scenes in which people manage to solve almost every crime in the world by analyzing a single speck of dandruff. This season also sees the celebrated two part finale ‘Grave Danger' directed by Quentin Tarantino which provides superior thrills and chills. Some usual featurettes and the like which you'll probably only watch when you have nothing to do.
The criminal theme continues with Another Public Enemy (Tartan Asia Extreme), the sequel to the hit Korean film. When a criminal prosecutor starts to investigate the death of an old friend's father, a rivalry builds between the two. Soon they are at war, as our hero tries to cut through the swathes of corruption. There are lots of psychological insights into the nature of good and evil alongside some blood and guts action. There's a certain degree of familiarity here, but this still will provide some entertainment for the Korean Cinema enthusiast.
Finally, back on to more serious cinema with British movie Song Of Songs (Soda Pictures). Rising star Natalie Press plays a devout Jewish woman who attempts to repair relations with her estranged brother. As they deal with their complicated past, both become involved in a series of games that become ever more serious. Dealing with notions of religion, violence and family relationships it's definitely a very weighty film. Sometimes the ideas become a little too much and it feels more like a lecture than film, but thanks to the strong performances and confident direction still manages to be a bold and interesting contribution to British cinema. Look out for future films from director Josh Appignanesi, who also provides a commentary for the DVD.
All the above titles should be available now. See if you can part exchange your no longer needed England/Germany/Argentina/Ghana/Italy/Australia/Brazil/Portugal (delete as appropriate) merchandise for a discount.