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Special Edition # 38

Come on the long days! Laurence Boyce has been stuck in front of a computer for the past few weeks, watching many, many films and currently needs a tanning machine to ensure his skin resembles the colour of porridge. Thankfully, the stuff that he’s been watching for Special Edition # 38 means that Laurence Boyce has at least got to enjoy some really good films and TV shows. But, for the love of humanity, get the man some Vitamin E as soon as possible...

Otherwise I very well may be mistaken for one of the protagonists of Zombieland (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) in which Woody Harrelson teams up with Jesse Eisenberg to blast the undead and ensure the ‘un’ prefix of their description no longer applies. On first look there’s not much here apart from gory set pieces and witty one-liners; not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that, as the film does it with such gleeful abandon that it’s pretty difficult not to have enormous fun with it all. But if you look under the rotting skin and you’ll find some quite funny mickey takes of Hollywood (especially thanks to a cameo from a pretty major US actor) and there’s an intelligence here that’s refreshing (watch it Michael Bay and you’ll learn thing or two – nope, I still haven’t forgotten Transformers 2). Most likely it’ll become a franchise where all the freshness is beaten out of it and it becomes a shambling corpse, but this is enjoyable (and refreshingly gory) mainstream fare.

Of course, if you want someone to show you how a zombie film is done then George A Romero is your man. At least that’s what you would think. Unfortunately Survival Of The Dead (Optimum Home Entertainment) is slightly dead on arrival. With the zombie plague in full swing, a band of deserting soldiers arrive on a remote island determines to escape the insanity. They find to enclaves: one dedicated to exterminating the undead plague, whilst the other wants to find a cure. Soon the factions are at each other’s throats. And so are the zombies. This strives to be so much like Romero’s early classics, with wonderfully staged set pieces of horror combined with piercing social insight. But this has none of the sort with some bad acting (apart from Kenneth Welsh and he’s so much better in 'Twin Peaks'– see later on in the column), some limp attempts at tension and social commentary that’s ham fisted and obvious (we’ve got nationalism, colonialism and responsibility all thrust upon us in the manner of the morals presented at the end of 80s American cartoons). Whilst it seems unfair to beat a director round the head (perhaps with severed arm) on how a film compares to his previous films, this cannot compare at all to Romero’s classic original trilogy – or even Land Of The Dead come to that. Has anybody checked him lately – if he’s been bitten, it might explain it. Also look out for the horror film Salvage (Revolver Entertainment). From the same scheme that brought Of Time and the City and Kicks (hey, at least the fund is eclectic) to the big screen, it’s a daft little mish-mash of horror films as the inhabitants of a residential street find themselves cut off from the world and fighting for their lives. It’s derivative, and a bit silly, but it passes the time pleasantly enough and is enjoyable for a game of ‘What soap have I seen him/her in before?’ – it’s even filmed on the former Brookside Close.

Now, I don’t know if it’s been mentioned, but this column has always had a special loathing for the big pile of cack that was Transformers 2 (hey, I haven’t mentioned it in this column. Oh wait. Yes I have) so I must admit that I wasn’t really looking forward to 2012 (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment). Roland Emmerich and a plot that promised big, dumb action set-pieces didn’t exactly set me alight with anticipation. But whilst it’s rife with cliché, silliness and enough cheese to keep a retro fondue party going until – well - 2012, the film manages to stay on the right side of implausibly enjoyable. Perhaps it’s seeing John Cusack as the survivor of a global catastrophe, Woody Harrelson turn up once again and the sheer ridiculousness of it all that kept me from wanting to tear my eyes out. Even the pompously titled ‘Roland Emmerich – Master of the Modern Epic’ didn’t make want to scream. True at 150 minutes it is way, way too long and its stabs at warning of the dangers of climate change are risible but – as stupid Hollywood films go – it’s an OK stupid Hollywood movie. And better than Transformers 2.

Completely the opposite is Bunny and the Bull (Optimum Home Entertainment) which, for me, is one of the most affecting British film of the past year. Marking the feature directorial debut of Paul King (best known for directing ‘The Mighty Boosh’) this an inventive, funny and emotional story of Stephen Turnbull, an obsessive-compulsive sufferer stuck in his dingy flat. He reminisces about a European road-trip with his friend Bunny where they meet the sexy Eloisa amongst a host of other strange characters. Soon it becomes clear just what managed to keep him locked up in his flat. It’s unique aesthetic style, with sets that are designed to have a theatrical / homemade feel and some excellent performances (include cameos from the Boosh boys) make this a twisted road movie and a bold and ambitious British movie. Whilst those who find themselves annoyed at the ‘monkey whimsy’ style humour that abounds in the Boosh will not be converted, but others should find much to enjoy. Of course, if you want some traditional British filmmaking then Glorious 39 (Momentum Pictures) just screams ‘quality period drama’. Stephen Poliakoff’s drama follows the secrets and lengths that people will go to appease Hitler. It has a good air of menace, and Julie Christie, David Tennant, Jenny Agutter and Christopher Lee all acquit themselves with aplomb. But it still feels rather flat as if it’s torn between a cinematic experience and something more suited for a Sunday night on BBC 2. Ultimately, not one of Poliakoff’s strongest works though those with an eye for seeing some British thesps indulge themselves, then this should provide some fine viewing.

If you want go back to some more unique aesthetics, then you’d be well advised to also check out Rumba (Network Releasing). With influences from the likes of Jacques Tati and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, this is a curious and brilliantly strange example of a film that eschews dialogue for physical comedy. Two champions on the dance circuit, their existence is somewhat akin to perfection see their lives begin to take a turn for the worst thanks to a car accident. Will they ever be able to discover the paradise they lived in again? This blends some wonderful set-pieces (such as one in which our protagonists change into their dancing gear whilst still driving their car) with splashes of colour that turns darker as the films goes on. It’s an emotional and joyous film to behold with directors and actors Dominque Abel and Fiona Gordon bringing great chemistry and physicality to their roles – perhaps unsurprising given that they are a real life couple. For anyone who wants to see something new from the cinema then Rumba fits the bill entirely.

Dwayne Johnson (the actor formerly known as The Rock) heads the voice cast of Planet 51 (Entertainment In Video) which sees a world of picket fences and green grass invaded by an alien: it just so happens that the inhabitants of this idyll have green-skins and the invader is curiously human astronaut named Captain Charles ‘Chuck’ Baker. With this nice little role reversal, we begin a comic story of misunderstandings and predictable animated shenanigans. This is all nicely done, but it seems very par for the course of animations nowadays. Good computer animation? Check. Lots of set-pieces with jokes for the kids and a few for adults? Check. Lots of ripe potential for spin off merchandise and sequels? Check. It’s not to say that’s bad: just predictable in a ‘if it’s on telly, and there’s nothing else on, it will pass the time quite nicely’. Given that we’ve had such gems as Coraline and Up over the past year, then this just doesn’t really cut the mustard. Though I am sure there are hoards of little ones ready to disagree with me...

Tulpan (New Wave Films) was one of the gems of world cinema released during 2009. Asa, a young sailor who's just finished his military service, returns to line with the family on the outskirts of Kazhakstan in their yurt. As he dreams of another life, he meets the beautiful and mysterious Tulpan and tries to follow his head and heart. This is a tender story filmed in a documentary with some absolutely astonishing cinematography. Our characters live in a world of extremes – serenity will lead to chaos in the blink of an eye – where the loss of even a pregnant sheep can mean the difference between life and death (indeed, a scene in which an animal gives birth is ten times as dramatic and tense as anything Hollywood has designed over the past two decades). Whilst this is best appreciated on the big screen, this is still a wonderful film that’s worth discovering on DVD. Other excellent new world cinema releases include Sounds Of Sand (Bluebell Films), an extremely dramatic story about an African family trekking through the desert in a desperate search for water. Simple yet engrossing, this has strong performances and is a fine testament to the bravery ingrained within many people. Live and Become (Bluebell Films) also celebrates the strength of people in the face adversity as a young Ethiopian boy pretends to be Jewish to escape famine and the civil war. Another example of some of the excellent cinema that is currently out of Africa at the moment.

Sous Le Soleil De Satan [Under The Sun of Satan] (Eureka) is another in the new releases from the excellent Masters of Cinema series. This French drama, that was a controversial winner of the Palme D’or at the 1987 Cannes Festival, is a weighty and intense drama that stars Gerard Depardieu as a priest undergoing a spiritual crisis. This requires patience as it’s a very slow moving piece – with the occasional burst of violent action – but those who stick with it will be rewarded with an absorbing examination on the nature of faith, with Depardieu absolutely mesmerising in the lead role. This comes with plenty of archive footage that examines not only the reaction to the film’s success at Cannes (which was not the most positive) and many interviews with cast and crew made around the time which make for some fascinating insight into the film. Also look out for A Nos Amours [To Our Romance] (Eureka) in which 16-year-old Suzanne begins to explore her sexuality whilst dealing with an increasingly difficult and violent home life. This is sometimes a bit too melodramatic for its own good, but there’s still plenty of drama here and – as another Masters of Cinema release – there are plenty of excellent extras that give the film context.

Bodysong (BFI) is a remarkable documentary that garnered slight controversy on its initial release thanks to showing real violence and sex (than, a few years later, a film like Nine Songs rendered all the fuss nothing more than a storm in a teacup). Director Simon Pummel carefully structures a vast archive of found footage to archive the human experience from birth to death. With chapters following adolescence, violence and many other formative rites of human passage, Pummel has created an epic cinematic poem. Tied together with a score from Jonny ‘Radiohead’ Greenwood, it’s an endlessly fascinating film that highlights the common ties that humans have despite our apparent vast differences. This comes as a standard edition, with a commentary by Pummel and Greenwood and interviews,whilst the special edition includes a 200 page booklet with detailed information on all the archive footage used in the making of the film.

Doctor Who: Myths and Legends (BBC DVD) sees both Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker star in three stories in which the Time Lord does his thing of saving the world whilst smiling all the way through, And he does need to smile through these as, even the most ardent of Who fans will admit, that these are slightly shonky stories. First up is 'The Time Monster' in which Pertwee’s incarnation of the Gallifreyan comes up against a machine called TOMTIT (stop sniggering at the back) as it causes anomalies in time and sees The Doctor and The Master head back in time to Atlantis. Then 'Underwol'd sees Tom Baker help the crew of a desolated space ship whilst 'The Horns Of Nimon' is perhaps one of the most silly Who stories ever, which involves using the legend of the Minotaur to make TV star Graham Crowden overact horribly. These are packaged together as they wouldn’t really be worth buying on their own, as they mostly represent all the clichés to do with the classic Doctor Who series. But, as always, each story is entertaining in its own way and the extras are brilliant as always including some really illuminating commentaries with cast and crew.

When you have no less than an authority than Russell T Davis (who, rightly or wrongly, has been accepted by many as the most important creative force in television at the moment) singing your praises, then you must be doing something right. Skins - Series 4 (4DVD) is a brave and bold examination of teenage life in which hedonism rules and the rule of ‘live fast and leave beautiful corpse’ definitely one in which our protagonists live by. This includes Thomas, whose life is turned around when a stranger dies and many others dealing with life, love and death. Even on its fourth series there’s a sense of experimentation and passion to the show, not only thanks to the compelling stories and young cast (ably assisted by a cast of more experienced actors and comedians including Chris Addison, Paul Kaye and Simon Day) but also thanks to the young directors bringing some bold ideas to the TV (including the BAFTA Award winning Esther May Campbell who has been lauded in here before). A fresh and exciting TV show that will keep you watching, even if you’re not the target audience. The DVD includes bonus Skins stories, an animated feature, behind the scenes videos, and commentaries with the writers and directors.And for those of you yet to see any of the series, I would also recommend the Skins - Series 1 to 4 Box Set to while away the hours whilst wondering where your youth went. Probably spent watching movies and TV....

Whoops Apocalypse – The Complete Apocalypse
(Network Releasing) sees the curious sitcom, and equally curious film, finally released on DVD. Originally broadcast in 1982, the show saw comedy veterans David Renwick (who became later well known for ‘One Foot In The Grave’) and Andrew Marshall make fun of the Cold War and global arms race. Whilst the tension of the early 80s gave rise to some wonderful and biting comedy (‘Spitting Image’ for a start), this show has faded from memory for good reason. It’s occasionally funny, with some laugh out loud moments and good performances from the likes of Peter Cook, but it all seems very dated with the aims of the satire sailing over the head. The film – with an almost entirely new cast and storyline – is much the same, with the odd moment of brilliance tucked away some flat moments. This is very much a curio: those who have an interest in comedy past and present may find a worthwhile addition to their collection, but htose who are just looking for some laughs may find themselves rather disappointed.

Finally – in all sense of the word – we have Twin Peaks Season 2 (Universal Playback) whose British release has been longer awaited than the iPad, the general election and the World Cup combined. The second season saw the mystery of the death of Laura Palmer put to rest (including two scenes – one of a shocking murder and the other set in a prison cell – that I still consider some of the finest in television history) and a new one begin with the appearance of the mysterious villain Windom Earle and the love of Special Agent Dale Cooper’s life. It’s true to say that the fact that Lynch had less time to devote to the show is apparent (despite has cracking appearances as deaf FBI agent Gordon Cole) with some of the surrealism seeming forced and too many soap opera elements becoming dominant. But the characters are still strong, with Kyle Maclachlan still perfect as Cooper, and the aforementioned Kenneth Welsh’s turn as the diabolical Earle is sometimes unfairly forgotten. And the ending to the series still has the power to shake you up. The disc comes with extras such as introductions by the Log Lady, but if I were you I’d buy the Twin Peaks Gold Definitive Edition which includes absolutely loads of stuff including extras from Lynch himself.

Back in around four weeks, with hopefully more healthy skin and rested eyes. Not going to happen is it?