Special Edition # 46
Do you want some DVDs? Then you've come to the right place squire as I have Special Edition # 46 all ready and waiting with some tremendously fun new films to see you through the days. This time around we've got violence, corruption and a half shark and half octopus. As you do.
Danny Trejo plays a man whose family have killed and whose beloved town has been corrupted out of all recognition. Knowing that justice must be done – and deciding that grassroots political action and open dialogue are just not the thing for him – he picks up a large knife and starts cutting a bloody swathe of retribution. Machete (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) sees Robert Rodriguez return to tremendously over-the-top form with a film that has more insanity than Charlie Sheen’s diary. Trejo – as the titular anti-hero – is his usual brilliantly stoic self as he hacks his way through assorted bad guys in such an inventive way that you do sometimes fear for Rodriguez’ sanity. Also, to the film’s credit, if you look beyond the blood and nudity you’ll also discover some pretty impassioned ideas about immigration and the treatment of Mexicans in particular. But mostly you can enjoy the sheer visceral pleasure of Machete and his now legendary statement that means he won’t be getting a sponsorship deal from Orange any time soon (and if that really confuses you, just watch the film….)
Also fitting into the over-the-top category is Sharktopus (Anchor Bay Entertainment) the film about a creature that is ‘Half Octopus. Half Shark. All Killer’. If you’re looking for quality entertainment then you’ve clearly not realised that the film is called Sharktopus for goodness sake and is about as intelligent as Jordan after a night out on the vodka. There is some sort of plot in here (something to do with genetic experiments and government machinations) but it’s really an excuse for a big rubber monster to kill lots of generic characters in a silly way and Eric Roberts to walk around looking like a waxwork brought to life by some terrible magic spell. It tries to wear its arch nature on its sleeve - touting its B-Movie credentials and the fact that it’s ‘Presented by Roger Corman’ – but it just remains a Z Level flick that belongs on cable channels as ‘Insomniac Sufferers Gold’ and ‘All Cheap Movies. All Day.’ However, after the mild success of Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus one can look forward to more movies of this ilk and I am hereby copyrighting ‘Octark’. And if you can’t work out how that movie’s plot is going to go, then you’ve clearly not been paying attention…
And the cheese continues with Skyline (Momentum Pictures) which shamelessly rips off the likes of the The Matrix, Cloverfield and War of the Worlds so much that – whilst it will never trouble the Oscars – it very well may win accolades for its services to recycling. A group of people wake up to find eerie blue lights in the sky and find that strange alien forces are taking people from the planet Earth. Directorial duo The Brothers Strause come from a special effects background and, boy, does it show as the entirety of this film is predicated on action set-pieces and nifty things crated within a computer. What it does not focus on is any form of originality or anything approaching vaguely decent acting. If you have one of the TVs the size of a small shed, then this should provide some visual pleasure for you to gawp at whilst laughing at the ridiculous and hackneyed premise. But if you’re looking for anything more than visual thrills, then I suggest that you look elsewhere.
Wes Craven returns to the directors chair with My Soul To Take (Momentum Pictures) a movie about fluffy bunnies and people who like cuddles. Ok, not really: it’s a horror film about a killer called the ‘Riverton Ripper’ with voodoo shenanigans, soul transference and lots of teenagers being dumb and therefore getting killed off. One can’t help that Craven is coasting on his reputation as this is clichéd as they come (indeed, you’ll find yourself shouting “Why are you doing that? Haven’t you seen Scream?” at most of the characters) and doesn’t really contain anything noteworthy. But even coasting, Craven still has an eye for a good set-piece and – if you do feel like watching a load of irresponsible teenagers get offed – then there are lot worse horror flicks that you could see to pass the time. Still, let’s hope that the creativity that seemed to inspire Craven around the time of the (sorely underrated) New Nightmare returns to him sometimes soon.
In Unstoppable (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment) Fresh faced Will Colson (Chris Pine)teams up with the veteran railroad worker Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington) on what seems like an ordinary day. Their task is to move a train from one yard to the other, an event that reveals some tensions between the youngster and the more experienced Barnes. But when it becomes apparent that a runaway train is heading towards them – and a hugely populated area – they resolve to stop a potential tragedy. As always director Ridley Scott provides some extremely impressive action sequences, made even more remarkable by the fact that the premise of the film would seem to preclude that (after all, it’s a runaway train – it’s not as if it can go anywhere). The action sequences are juxtaposed with tense glimpses behind the scenes as the railway company and the track controller attempt to find the best way in which to stop the deadly locomotive. Some of the Hollywood clichés are piled on thick and fast and are in danger of getting a bit overwhelming, but Scott manages to avoid them derailing the film and this is a fun an unique actioner.
After the sweet (and unexpectedly successful) love story Once it’s something of a surprise to see director John Carney team up with his brother Kieran to direct Zonad (Element Pictures) This is mainly because the film is a silly parody of superhero films that seems far removed from the lyrical gentleness associated with Once. Stephen Delaney plays the titular alien, who arrives in a small Irish town in an ill-fitting rubber red suit claiming to be from outer space (he’s really resident in a drying out facility down the road). The credulous inhabitants take him at his word and he becomes a local celebrity as he enjoys free drinks and the attentions if the buxom Jenny. This is full of quick-fire humour and – whilst, like many films of this ilk, it runs out of steam near the end – the constant stream of bad jokes and visual puns is mixed with an Irish charm and lightness of touch that makes this really enjoyable. Delaney is engaging in the lead role whilst the Carney’s create an interesting aesthetic that’s reminiscent of 70s parody movies such as Kentucky Fried Movie. A thoroughly enjoyable movie.
Question: have High School Teen movies ever managed to be as since the era of John Hughes / Heathers? Are we destined to live in a world of High School Musical and annoying singers? It’s something worth pondering when watching Easy A (Sony Pictures Home Entertianment) which tries to blend the lightweight, easy going nature of modern teen films with some of the bite of the heydays of the 80s. Emma Stone plays Olive Prendergast whose exaggeration about her weekend exploits soon turn her into a legendary figure around her school. Soon her sexual exploits – real and imagined – are catching up to her in ways that she would rather forget. On one level this works well, with Stone making an engaging lead (backed up by the likes of Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson) and the film has a knack for approaching subjects with a candour rarely seen in the genre anymore. Yet it still all seems rather facile (and the blatant product placement is annoying) and seems to cave in to safe answers when it seemed to be aiming for so much more. It’s a shame as – for a generic teen movie – there’s a lot of charm here but it never quite lives up to its potential.
Africa United (Pathe Releasing) follows the adventures of football mad Fabrice who is offered the opportunity to display his skills as part of the opening ceremony of the World Cup in South Africa. The trouble is that it’s more than 3000 miles away. Alongside his enterprising friend Dudu and Dudu’s little sister, the trio set off on an epic journey across African countries to reach – literally and figuratively – their ultimate goal. Making such a feel good film within one of the poorest and troubled continents in the world has caused consternation in some quarters. It’s as if, unless you’re making a hard-hitting documentary or social drama, that telling positive and heartfelt fables is somehow making light of a terrible situation. Africa United revels in a celebratory attitude picking out the joys inherent in life, yet never glosses over some of the harsher realities that the protagonists and Africa face as it confronts such issues as prostitution and child soldiers. Shot with a docu drama feel – which heightens the atmosphere – and containing some fine acting, this is a warm and enjoyable family film.
Soda Pictures have done British cinema proud by being one of the few distributors to really champion independent British films. The scheme New British Cinema Quarterly showcases four distinctive and intelligent new UK films every year and is a wonderful opportunity for both filmmakers and audiences to discover upcoming talents and new voices. The NBCQ Annual 2010 (Soda Pictures) collects last year’s offerings and shows that – despite the recent ructions within the UK industry – there is still plenty of creativity out there. We’ve already sung the praises of Skeletons and would like to add the same effusiveness for brilliantlove a poetic and sexually explicit love story about two people sharing a romance during a hot summer. It’s a brilliant evocation of intense passion and a damnation of how the creative urge can be subsumed by commerce. It’s confrontational nature will put some off but those who appreciate raw filmmaking (the film is wonderfully directed by Ashley Horner and written by the extremely talented Sean Conway) should love this. Also included in the set are 1,2,3,4 a fun and inventive movie about a group of people starting a new band and the fascinating No Greater Love, a documentary about a group of nuns – who shun the material and modern world – living in Notting Hill. The set also includes a special magazine looking at the past year of British cinema and – all in all – is really an essential purchase.
In The Land of the Free (Network Releasing) is a powerful human rights documentary that focuses on the inadequacies and harshness of the American Penal system. Vadim Jean (in a curious move for the director better known for directing the big budget Terry Pratchett mini-series on Sky) tells the story of three inmates of the Angola penitentiary who have been kept in isolation for decades. With shaky evidence for their crimes – though the trio admit that they are not squeaky clean – the film examines just how and why these men have been kept in terrible conditions. When one of the inmates, Robert King, is finally released he campaigns on their behalf and his compelling yet restrained interview woven throughout the film paints a picture of a state and institution unwilling to admit any possibility of mistakes. Indeed, this is a film that takes its time and gives an all too familiar glimpse of a system that treats black inmates with an almost scary degree of harshness and individuals rising above their cruel and unusual punishment. This is crusading documentary work at its finest.
The winner of the Golden Lion at 2010 Venice Film Festival Somewhere (Universal Pictures) is a vaguely surreal story of celebrity malaise and parental responsibility. Film superstar Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff, who is clearly enjoying satirising Hollywood life) stays in an opulent hotel living a life of strippers, TV and dull excess. But when his 11-year-old daughter returns to his life, the emptiness that he has felt starts to dissipate as he bonds with his little girl. In some ways this feels like a return to form for Sofia Coppola after the messy Marie Antoinette. It’s an intimate story that’s told with subtlety and without recourse to melodrama and is excellently played by Dorff and young Elle Fanning as his offspring. Yet it’s extremely hard to relate to. Yes, the close relationship of family is something that almost everyone can relate yet the nature of being a Hollywood megastar is not. It’s difficult to sympathise with a rich superstar no matter how bored he may be and it’s this that often tips the film into precociousness. Yet Coppola remains a singular filmmaker in mainstream cinema and – despite its flaws – Somewhere’s refusal to indulge in excess makes it a worthy watch.
Whilst Akira Kurosawa is best known for the likes of Rashomon and Seven Samurai, his pre-1947 throws up some fascinating gems that show the development of one of the greats of world cinema. Early Kurosawa (BFI) shows that his first films were marked by a patient eye and a sense of serenity comprabable with that of Ozu. Sanshuro Sugata is a languid film set in 1882 about a young man learning judo. With a remarkable eye for period detail this is a striking and moving affair about gaining life experience which works as a perfect metaphor for Kurosawa’s burgeoning career. They Who Step on the Tiger’s Tail is a strange move into the surreal – it’s based on an old Japanese folk tale – that contains some intriguing moments of broad comedy, something that the director further explores with more subtlety in One Wonderful Sunday. As its title would suggest, it’s a wonderful piece of work about a financially poor couple who can only meet on one day a week due to their situation. Full of pathos and musings on a culture devastated by war and a young generation examining an older one blighted by conflict, it’s tender sensibility is moving and revelatory. What else but a tremendous DVD set from the BFI that – once again – proves that to really appreciate the greats you must try and take in all their work.
When John Krish won the Evening Standard Award for Best Docuemntary in 2010, there may have been a few people thinking “Who is he?” If you don’t know let John Krish – A Day In The Life (BFI) show you the work of one of Britain’s finest post-war documentarians. A compilation of four his documentaries, individually commissioned by the likes of the Samaritans and the NSPCC, the work on offer here shows how Krish transcended the limitations of his brief to create a vivid portrait of fifties and sixties Britain. They Took Us To The Sea follows some Birmingham children on a trip to the seaside whilst Our School is a an attempt to examine and celebrate the – then new – secondary modern. These are both playful and informative as Krish refuses to create mere commercials – these are vibrant slices of real life that reflect that diversity of the country. More sombre – yet equally as fascinating – is They Call Him John a bitterly sad glimpse into the lonely life of a widowed pensioner. Perhaps the best here is They Elephant Will Never Forget a paean to the trams that were disappearing from the London streets. Too powerful for the people who originally commissioned it (British Transport promptly sacked Kirsh when they saw just how strong his lamentations were) it’s a sad yet nostalgic look at a technology and culture that is slowly being passed for a new world. Utterly wonderful documentary making that is an invaluable portrait of Britain’s past.
Boudu Saved From Drowning (Park Circus Films) is perhaps one of Jean Renoir’s most enjoyable films with Michel Simon starring as a tramp who refuses to conform to the constraints of society. When he is saved from the depths of the Seine by a Parisian bookseller, our hero creates havoc as he slowly ingratiates himself into the life of his saviour with predictability chaotic results. There’s such a joy and freedom to the film with Boudu’s joie de vivre having such potency. Yes, he’s self-serving and something of a cad but – even in the modern era – his rejection of bourgeois society seems so brilliantly anarchic and wilfully exciting that you can’t help but be swept along. Renoir shows a deft eye for realism amongst the satire and also manages to stage some fine physical comedy set-pieces. The restoration of the film (which comes as both standard and Bluray) is a top notch job from Park Circus and a worthwhile addition to any collection.
The Brute (Mr Bongo Films) is reminiscent of Boudu Saved From Drowning as a landlord takes in an rough and ready tenet who repays the favour by sleeping with everyone in sight, including the landlord’s wife. One of the films from Luis Buñuel’s Mexican period, this casts a critical eye on provincial village life with a – pardon the pun – brutal precision. As impassioned as Buñuel’s more famous works, this is a strong and compelling affair. Also released is Susana (Mr Bongo Films) which sees a sensuous maid is thrust into the lives of a straight-laced Catholic family. This is a potboiler full of melodrama and heaving bosoms. In less skilled hands, this would be your average soap-opera like rubbish but Buñuel’s constant destruction of religion throughout the film places it in a different light thanks to its energy and gleeful refusal to defer to accepted ideas. Even as minor works in Buñuel’s canon, these are still vital and crusading affairs.
Two films from legendary Italian auteur Michelangelo Antonioni now, released on the ever reliable Masters of Cinema label. First up is La signora senza camelie [The Lady Without Camelias] (Eureka), the director’s second feature in which he tells the story of Clara, an ordinary girl who is thrust into the limelight after taking a small part in movie. She soon starts to become a huge star, much to the chagrin of her husband, but when she takes a more serious role it looks as if the film business is ready to turn against her. This is a fascinating ‘movie about movies’ that looks at ideas of hubris and notions of identity that’s elegantly filmed and beautifully performed. Le amiche [The Girlfriends] (Eureka) examines the role of women as Clelia, newly arrived in Torino to set up a fashion salon, becomes involved in the complications of the lives of her new friends. A stab at the obsessions of the Bourgeoisie and a paean to women, this film from Antonioni's mid-period is an important and vital part of the director’s oeuvre. These films pave the way for the likes of L'avventura and La notte and – while remaining compelling films in their own right – provide a fascinating insight into the development of Antonioni's style and ideas. Both are released in dual format editions (on both Blu-ray and DVD) and have been remastered to the high standards you’d expect for Masters of Cinema. Also, as you’d expect, there are lots of illuminating extras including specially commissioned introductions and booklets with specially written essays.
Originally filmed in 1969 Larks On A String (Second Run) finally saw the light of day in 1990 after being banned by the Czech government for its anti-authority stance. Directed by Jiří Menzel – responsible for the superlative Czech film Closely Observed Trains – the film sees those a group of ‘counter-revolutionaries’ being forced to work in a state run junkyard in order that they be ‘re-educated’. One of the inmates, Pavel, finds himself falling in love with a female inmate and soon an unlikely romance blossoms amongst the rubbish heaps. This is jet-black comedy that juxtaposes the bleax surroundings with the mundanity of everyday life as the inmates discuss the world as they sort through piles of junk. As with Closely Observed Trains, there’s a slightly absurdist humour here that manages to indict backwards politics and celebrate the freedom that love can bring. It’s satirical but never falls into outright cynicism as it laughs in the force of oppressive forces and ridiculous ideals. Warm, biting and very human the film is a touching example of Czech cinema from the time of the Prague Spring. This is a Second Run DVD and – as such – the transfer and extras are all done to the highest standards.
As people wait eagerly for Series 6 to start, you can get a fix of the Time Lord in Doctor Who: Revisitations 2 (BBC DVD) which re-releases three classic stories from different eras of the Gallifrey-born alien. First up is ‘The Seeds of Death’, a fun little story in which the classic trio of Patrick Troughton (as the second incarnation of The Doctor), Frazer Hines (as the kilt wearing Jamie) and Wendy Padbury (as the short skirt wearing Zoe) battle the Ice Warriors. This is fine pulp sci-fi with the central trio working extremely well together. Then Jon Pertwee turns up in 'Carnival of Monsters', an inventive story about the Doctor fighting monsters that have been let loose from an intergalactic zoo. Finally Peter Davison fights the Daleks in 'Resurrection of the Daleks' (1983), an extremely dark and violent story in which the evil metal encased meanies plan to destroy Earth and Gallifrey. There are lots of new extras here with retrospective documentaries and new commentaries but - if you already own these – there’re really not worth spending more money. But if you’re yet to get these stories, then they will make a fine addition to your Doctor collection.
If you haven’t experienced the joys of the show yet then Mad Men Series 4 (Lionsgate) may not be the best place to start. Go see series 1-3 and we’ll wait for you here. Welcome back. Good isn’t it? And now you want to see lots more. This stylish show set in an ad agency in 60s American oozes class all the way (and lots of smoke as everyone seems to be on the fags) as it weaves in and out of the personal and professional lives of its characters. This season sees the mysterious past and womanizing ways of lead character Don Draper become entangled with his attempts to run a newly formed ad agency and keep from going under. This remains a fascinating look at 60s America, working as a comment on the changing attitudes of a nation for whom the prosperity and wealth of a generation will soon be under threat. Even by the fourth series, the show is still delivering plenty of engrossing stories and fine performances. And you might have to enjoy this set as the recent announcement that Series 5 won’t be happening until at least 2012 will mean that you still have a long time to go before you can get a new fix…
Unless otherwise stated all the above are available as standard and Bluray