Special Edition # 9
Sadly ignored during its theatrical release, Junebug (Eureka Entertainment) should hopefully find a new lease of life now it's appearing on DVD. A low key comedy that exposes the fragility and angst at the centre of the American middle class, this is a debut feature from director Phil Morrison that's a strong combination of observational humour and sharp wit. Embeth Davidtz and Amy Adams give stand out performances as an art gallery owner and her sister-in-law who is intoxicated by the possibility of a new and glamorous life. A fine example of American independent cinema, those who enjoyed the likes of Sideways should find a lot to admire here. Comes with a commentary from Davidtz and Adams and a revealing Q&A with Morrison.
Frozen (Guerilla Films) is an encouraging debut British feature from director Julie McKoen starring Shirley Henderson (one of the best actresses to come out of Britain today) as a woman still shattered by the mysterious disappearance of her sister. An achingly sad story of obsession and misplaced hope there's much to admire in this film including the skilful use of Morecambe Bay as the central location (in turn desolate and beautiful) and a narrative that asks as many questions as it provides answers. It does get slightly confused as it reaches its conclusion but this is an intriguing film well worth your time. The film comes with interviews with Henderson and %10 of the profits from the DVD will go to the Suzy Lamplugh Trust.
A more in-your-face British movie arrives in the shape of Rollin' With The Nines (Tartan DVD) the first UK gangsta film (no, Guy Ritchie doesn't count). A hip hop band are destined for the top of the charts, but when one of their number is murdered bloody retribution is the name of the game. You see, Simon Cowell has now gone a lot further than verbal insults. OK, not really. In fact this is an exploitation movie through and through with numerous minor league British stars doing nasty things to each other for 90 minutes. If you're a fan of the likes of Dizee Rascal - one of the artists providing the soundtrack for the movie - and violent thrillers then this is the perfect for you. Others should definitely avoid.
Yay! You can now buy Time Bandits: 25th Anniversary Edition (Anchor Bay Entertainment UK) though those of a certain age will be thinking "What, 25 years since it was released? Already?" One of Terry Gilliam's early efforts, it was such a great film because it was prepared to be wilfully silly and utterly terrifying at the same time. With a raft of cameos from the likes of Sean Connery and John Cleese, the bandits themselves and that ending it remains an unbeatable fantasy adventure. The extras on the disc are excellent as well including a full length commentary with the gleeful Gilliam and plenty of storyboards which, for most releases, are usually boring filler but - thanks to Gilliam's artistic vision - are absolutely fascinating.
Yet more music documentary (I think it's the law that all musicians now have to have at least one documentary made about them) now in The Devil And Daniel Johnson (Tartan DVD). A self made musician, Johnson was on the edge of becoming a huge success when he was diagnosed with manic depression. Whilst he struggles with his mental instability his music is admired the world over but Johnson can never really appreciate his success. This is a thoroughly affecting and humanistic portrait of a person attempting to deal with an Illness and an industry that is both voraciously selfish yet caring at the same time. A very worthwhile and informative purchase.
After shocking the industry pundits at this year's Oscars by winning best film it's not surprising that Crash: The Director's Cut (Pathe) is now available to buy. A searing portrait of racism and ethics it boasts an impressive cast and tight direction from Paul Haggis. For those who weren't convinced the first time around should find themselves converted with this disc. Not only is there a Director's Cut of the film - which admittedly does seem a little flabby - but a new commentary from Haggis and actor Don Cheadle. The ‘Making Of' documentary also bucks the trend by actually being quite interesting. A fantastic package.
Angel Heart: Special Edition (Momentum Pictures) is one of those films that seemed to have garnered a favourable critical reaction despite being completely barmy. For those who have yet to have the pleasure, it involves Mickey Rourke as private detective Harry Angel who is employed by Robert De Niro's mysterious Louis Cypher (hmmmm...) to find a missing man. Add some chickens and Lisa Bonet's bum and Mr Angel is in for one hell of a time. This is a movie where the style manages to offset the complete ludicrousness of it all. This is thanks to a cast who manage to keep a straight face throughout and the direction of Alan Parker. This special edition comes with a subtly humorous commentary by Parker and lots of stuff about voodoo. Shame it doesn't come with a doll and some pins.
Speaking of ludicrous, the idea of a ventriloquist's doll coming to life would normally induce sniggers. But, like Angel Heart, strong direction (here from Richard Attenborough) and an excellent cast (Anthony Hopkins and Ann-Margret amongst them) mean that Magic (Anchor Bay Entertainment UK) is a brilliantly chilling film. Here, Hopkins is a magician who find that his dummy ‘Fats' has begun to hold a murderous hold over him. The second best ‘evil dummy' movie ever made (Dead Of Night still holds the number one slot) is an atmospheric and scary treat. This comes with a raft of featurettes on the making of the film.
Horror of a more obvious kind in the latest collection of Jess Franco feature films. Devil's Island Lovers / Night Of The Assassins (Tartan Grindhouse) don't exactly take their cues from the works of Ingmar Bergman. Sadistic killing and slaughtering all done with a 70s vibe are the order of the day here and - if you enjoy that sort of thing - then I'm sure these will already be on your list. Even more icky (if that's possible) is Three: Extremes (Tartan Asia Extreme) a portmanteau film featuring the 40 minute cut of Dumplings (see full DVD review HERE), Takshi Miike's Box and Park Chan-wook Cut sees the director follow his usual formula of revenge and ultra violence. By its very nature, it doesn't hang together that well but provides some excellent scares. Finally Reincarnation (Tartan Asia Extreme) sees Takashi The Grudge Shimizu develop an atmospheric mystery about an actress who sees a series of murders, first committed in the 70s, occur around her. Whilst we've ‘been there, been scared by that' it's still a well put together and scary film.
C.R.A.Z.Y (Soda Pictures) is an engrossing family drama about the relationship between Zac and his father. Following the family through the 60s until the 80s it examines changing ideas of sexuality as the decades move on. There's some great use of music here (from The Stones to Charles Aznavour) and the subject is handled with sensitivity without losing any energy and vitality. It is, thankfully, an issue movie that avoids endless preaching. Includes a Q&A with the cast and director.
Rejoice as there's another Kim Ki-Duk movie released. In Samaritan Girl (Tartan DVD) he takes a typically controversial subject as two girls move into prostitution to earn money for a trip to Europe. After a brutal accident, the father of one of the girls comes onto the scene to exact violent revenge. Again, Ki-Duk showcases his talent as he balances the extreme and shocking with an almost sublime sense of redemption. A deserved winner of the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival, this again proves why he's one of the most exciting directors in the world today.
On to classic cinema now as Carol Reed directs James Mason in the inspired Odd Man Out (Network Releasing). Controversial at the time, it sees Mason playing an ‘Irish Freedom Fighter' who - after being wounded - seeks refuge with an ordinary family. This British slice of film noir is not only a tense thriller but an intelligent insight into the ‘Irish Problem' of the time. This digitally restored print highlights the moody atmosphere created by Reed and this remains one of the greatest British feature films ever made. And, if you want some Hollywood classics, then Cinema Club have released a bevy of films on DVD for the first time including Frank Capra's Lady For A Day (Cinema Club) and The Sun Also Rises (Cinema Club) a taut drama based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway. Good to see them available on DVD though it does feel slightly wrong to watch them at any other time than the afternoon just after you've had your Sunday Lunch.
Luis Bunuel returned to his native Spain after years in exile to direct Viridiana (Arrow Films). The end result saw the Vatican rather unhappy as the film sees a young nun whose Uncle is attempting to corrupt her. Whilst not chock full of blasphemy like the church would have wanted you to believe, it's a powerful account of faith and corruption that is a surprisingly straight narrative feature from the godfather of the cinematic surrealist movement. Exterminating Angel (Arrow Films) sees Bunuel on more familiar ground with an allegorical tale of a group of guests at a dinner party who find themselves unable to leave the room. After days have passed all social order has broken down and the idea of class has become a fallacy. Both savage and humorous, it's a slightly dated but fascinating poke at the bourgeoisie.
Funeral Parade Of Roses (Eureka) is a mind blowing Japanese film from the late 60s from director Toshio Matsumoto. Pushing back the boundaries of what was acceptable at the time there's copious nudity, copulation and drug use (which, admittedly, now comprises your average episode of ‘Eastenders'). Two drag queens compete for the attention of a drug dealer (still like ‘Eastenders'....) until the situation overflows into a bloody climax (still like ... oh, you get the joke by now). Whilst it doesn't exactly make sense, this is a rare chance to see some Japanese psychedelic cinema. Includes a commentary and interview with the director.
Classic Hong Kong action is abound in Hapkido (Hong Kong Legends) a forgotten masterpiece of the martial arts genre. Starring a surprisingly thin Sammo Hung it sees the usual set-up (this time two rival martial arts schools) as an excuse for lots of exciting action. Providing some great set pieces, it's a remarkably exciting piece of work despite the moral restrictions of the time. A good chance to discover more about the history of the genre.
Very classic cinema is explored in Before The Nickelodeon (BFI) a documentary from 1982 that explores the work of Edwin S Porter. One of the great pioneers of the cinema, he was responsible for the classic The Great Train Robbery and The Life Of An American Fireman and one of the first people to play with notions of editing and cinematic space. A perfect time for this release with the resurgence of interest in early cinema and my only complaint is the lack of extras as it would have been nice to a couple of Porter's films in full. Also fascinating is Dickens Before Sound (BFI) a series of films that, well, do what it says on the tin. Including early versions of ‘Scrooge' and ‘Oliver Twist' these are not only historically interesting examples of the development of cinema but also immensely entertaining in their own right.
More film noir action now in Crush (Tartan DVD) a debut feature from Alison Maclean. Here we have femme fatale Lane, played by Marcia Gay Harden, who - after a car crash - manipulates the subsequent events into her favour. Lane displays a delicious lack of morals as she plays everyone off one another and, in playing her, Harden just about steals the show in this low key but extremely absorbing affair of jealousy and lust.
Whilst some tend to think of footballers as nothing more than a bunch of spotty whiners who get paid vast amounts of money without ever actually producing results (you'd never guess I was a Leeds fan would you?) Scully (Network Releasing) recalls the days when football was more of a passion as opposed to a commodity. Written by Alan Bleasdale in 1984 this series followed the fortune of a teenager who followed his dreams to play for Liverpool. Sort of like ‘Grange Hill' for adults with added football this is a surprisingly enjoyable TV show with an idiosyncratic sense of humour and works as a good companion piece to ‘Boys From The Blackstuff'. Plus Elvis Costello plays a character which means it's got to be good.
Something of a phenomenon Broken Saints (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment) first appeared as instalments on the internet. The tale of four strangers who experienced chilling vision bridged the gap between graphic novel, flash animation and movie garnering a massive following. Now available in this box set it is an exciting piece of work but - admittedly - does lack a certain something without the ‘community' atmosphere it originally engendered. Speaking of phenomenon, Naruto Unleashed Series 1, Volume 1 (Manga Entertainment) is currently one of the most popular kids programmes around (cue rant about how it isn't as good as ‘Bananaman' etc.). Trying to summarise it would take me an age (it includes demon foxes and other strange characters) but it's been described as a ‘ninja Harry Potter for the Pokemon generation'. It is quite fun but it's not as good as Bananaman (repeat until old).
Don't forget to read the full and enthusiastic review Simon Magus / The Nine Lives Of Thomas Katz of (Fabulous Films) HERE. Two of the best British films of the modern era. Fact.
Next issue (where Special Edition makes it into double figures! You ring the cake) we'll also look at The Armando Iannucci Shows As a teaser go to www.beingarmando.com to get yourself a preview.
All the above DVD's should be on sale unless they've decided to change release dates specifically to annoy me. Which I wouldn't put past some people you know...