Special Edition launches with the latest DVDs
Wes Craven moves away from the horror movie to dip his toes into the world of thrillers in the mildly diverting movie Red Eye (Universal). Whilst queuing at the airport, a young lady meets the charming Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy) without realizing that – with a name like that – he must be a bit of psycho. Once up in the air, he reveals evil plans of which she will be the key. The kind of film for which the term ‘complete bollocks’ was invented for, this will entertain you as you long as you have a lager and some curry to go alongside it and there isn’t anything else to watch on a Saturday night. Some promotional guff that you’ll most likely never watch make up the extras.
Speaking of films for a Saturday night in, the original version 1954 of Godzilla (BFI), directed by Ishiro Honda, makes its way on to DVD in the UK for the very first time. The disc shows that the film’s reputation – as a rather hokey Japanese ‘B’ Movie – is undeserved. Whilst the special effects aren’t exactly cutting edge, they’re innovative for the standards of the time and the story - a monster is awoken by an atomic bomb and lays waste to Tokyo – is an earnest warning against the dangers of Atomic energy. Indeed, this is the first time that the full version of the film has been available (the version first released in this country was hacked to bits and included inserted scenes of Raymond Burr to explain the plot) and the ‘message’ of the film has been restored. Plenty of extras, including commentaries from Godzilla experts and a gallery that - for once - is actually interesting, go towards an excellent package for a great film. Even the box is really nice. Also look out for another Ishiro Honda film by the name of The Mysterians (BFI), the story of the survivors of a nuclear war who decide that Earth will be a perfect place to set up home. It lacks the urgency of Godzilla, but is still a glorious achievement of technicolour and invention that’s worth checking out.
Given that Pride and Prejudice (Universal) is as English as eating tea and crumpets whilst being draped in a Union Jack and listening to Land Of Hope And Glory, it does come as a bit of an annoyance when you find out that the ending of the book was changed for the benefit of a American audience. I mean, it’s not as if the book ended in a massacre is it? If you want to just what our Transatlantic cousins needed changing then check out the extras on this DVD. As for the rest of the film, it remains a bright and breezy adaptation of the classic novel with a fine performance from Keira Knightley in a central role. A DVD which should enthrall families and English Students who can’t be arsed to read the book. Just don’t watch the wrong ending now…
An epic film calls for an epic DVD so it’s not surprising that Ben Hur: The Collector's Edition (Warner Home Video) weighs in at a mighty four discs. The first two discs contain a new digital transfer of the film (which, if you’re used to watching the TV transmitted version, is fabulous and really brings out the opulence of the film) with a commentary by film historian T Gene Hatcher and Charlton Heston (who weighs in with a few insightful comments though, interestingly, “Fuck Michael Moore” isn’t one of them). Of real interest is the 1925 silent version of the film with a new orchestral score by Carl Davis whilst the fourth disc has two revealing documentaries and even some screen tests. Again, if you like the film but are usually content to catch Bank Holiday screenings, then this package is well worth your money in helping you re-discover a time when ‘Hollywood Epic’ really meant something.
Two high points of American 70s Cinema are re-released on DVD, with the first being Dog Day Afternoon (Warner Home Video). Starring Al Pacino, it’s the story of a wayward armed robbery whose siege turns into a media event. Sidney Lumet’s comedy drama remains as fresh and invigorating today as it was when it was released, whilst Pacino gives a typically excellent performance as Sonny, the robber who needs the cash for a sex change operation. However, it’s a shame that the ‘Making Of’ that comes with this disc isn’t the excellent forthcoming movie Based On A True Story which examines the real story that inspired the film. If you don’t have the film already, a worthy purchase but not if you just want the extras. Better is All The President’s Men (Warner Home Video) that comes complete with a genuinely fascinating commentary from Robert Redford. Redford provides lots of background to this story of journalists Woodward and Bernstein who helped bring about the downfall of President Nixon whilst the film is made even more interesting in light of the fact that source ‘Deep Throat’ has now be revealed. A must for fans of paranoid cinema. There are also apparently some featurettes on a second disc, though I never got it. Hmmm, I detect a conspiracy….
If you’re a fan of classic silent film comedy, then prepare to be delighted as there’s a myriad of new releases for you to enjoy. First up there’s the (Network) a 6 disc set with a collection of 28 of the legendary fillmakers films. From his first full length feature – The Saphead – to his most famous work such as Sherlock Junior and The Navigator this is a must have for all cinema fans that includes a documentary made about Keaton 1968 and contributions from film critics and academics. Indeed, the only problem with this set is the inclusion of comments from Paul ‘(Insert name of film) is the best movie ever!’ Ross, the man who sends a chill through the spines of cinema lovers everywhere. If you want your Keaton Ross free then it may be worth be purchasing the The Buster Keaton Collection (Cinema Club) instead. Covering the same ground as the previous release, this includes renowned critic David Robinson dissecting the talent of one of the cinema’s most gifted comedians. Finally there’s The Art Of Harold Lloyd (Cinema Club), with eight short films and a feature from the bespectacled king of pratfalls. Throughout the films the complicated stunts work brilliantly with the simplicity of the story lines to create a series of memorable films.
As for comedy that’s a bit more up-to-date, then there’s The Smoking Room Series 1 (BBC DVD/2 Entertain) available. The trials and tribulations of a group of office workers who are avoiding work by having a quick fag certainly makes for an interesting scenario, and there’s some top notch performances and writing here. The staginess of the enterprise – being that it’s all set in one place – does sometimes get a bit wearing, but this provides some great entertainment. If you don’t fancy the realism of ‘The Smoking Room’ then The Mighty Boosh Series 2 (BBC DVD/2 Entertain) might be more your cup of acid spiked tea. Julian Barrat and Noel Fielding star in this brilliantly surreal comedy of shamans, monkeys and demon nannies summoned from hell. With it’s own twisted internal logic and ideas that are so insane that you can’t help but like them, this is very funny indeed and only occasionally misfires. Lots of the usual extras (commentaries and making of’s) make for a good package.
The past few years have seen a glut of great music documentaries. Amongst the Dig’s, Some Kind Of Monster’s and Rock School’s, Searching For The Wrong Eyed Jesus (Plexi) has been sadly forgotten about. Now it’s available on DVD, make sure that all you music fans out there help re-discover a brilliant film. Jim White travels through the American South to discover the myths and legends that make up its musical heritage. From the truck stops to the trailers, there’s a wealth of strange characters who all have stories to tell. Evocative and beautiful, there’s just so much on offer in this to enjoy. And, it goes without saying, that’s there’s some brilliant music. Add some extras that include and extra songs and you have an excellent package that’s worth your money, even if you caught this on the TV.
Ghost In the Shell 2: Innocence (Manga Entertainment UK) made a splash when it became the first Anime film to be nominated for the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. With its grandiose themes and stunning visuals, it certainly deserved to rub shoulders with some of the very best of World Cinema: hang the naysayers who complained at seeing a ‘cartoon’ as part of the competition. In the year 2032, humans co-exist with robots and, when a cyborg cop is placed on the case of a malfunctioning unit, he begins to question the very nature of his existence. Gorgeous looking but with weighty themes giving the film some meat, it’s certainly a towering achievement of the Anime movement. This double disc includes a commentary by director Mamoru Oshii and exclusive English dub of the film, done by the American cast whom provided the voices for the first one.
If you’ve never seen The Bicycle Thieves (Arrow Films) then stop reading this, go out and buy it, watch it and come back. I’ll still be here. Now, as you wipe the tears from your eyes, you can agree that is one of the best films ever made. Just brilliant to see on DVD and it comes with a documentary on director Vittorio De Sica which is a fascinating look at the king of Italian Neo-Realism. Also on DVD for the first time is Miracle In Milan (Arrow Films) the story of a boy who’s discovered in a cabbage patch who grows up into a man who inspires homeless people to build themselves new places to stay. A forgotten gem of Italian cinema, there’s an amazing warmth to this film and it makes a perfect companion to ‘Bicycle’.
If Charles Dickens was alive today then there’s a good chance that he’d be writing some of the most celebrated soaps around, probably with lines of dialogue such as “Please sir can I have some more, you slag,” and “Estella, SHUT IT!.” Those who mourn would could have been will have to console themselves with Bleak House (2 Entertain/BBC DVD) the acclaimed BBC adaptation of Dickens novel. With a an all-star cast, it gripped the nation during the Winter and is definitely worth a purchase on DVD.
Some of you may remember Due South Series 1 (Network), the quirky US TV series that made a brief splash on the BBC during the mid 90s. The story of a Mountie who finds himself solving crime on the mean streets of Chicago with the help of a cynical cop sounds, well, rubbish. However, creator Paul Haggis (who went on to Hollywood fame by writing and directing Crash) has crafted a series with immense wit and charm, and the central figure of Constable Benton Fraser is a superhero figure carried off with believability thanks to the acting talents of Paul Gross. It may look a bit twee compared to the likes of ‘The Sopranos’ and ‘Oz’ but remains a sadly forgotten highpoint of American TV and the only disappointment is bugger all extras. What, not even a map of Canada?
A more recent TV show is Sweeny Todd: The Director's Cut (BBC DVD/2 Entertain) which includes the rather strange casting of Ray Winstone as the ‘demon barber of Fleet Street’ – and you thought it was Nicky Clarke. A fine adaptation of the classic story of the barber who provides the meat for his next door neighbours pies: and if you can’t guess where the meat comes from, then let’s just say that his customers get a lot more than something for the weekend. Almost reveling in it’s gruesomeness (this is the Director’s Cut – no pun intended – with even more gore) this isn’t suitable for sensitive individuals or vegetarians (so, if you’re thinking of buying Morrissey a birthday present, then strike this off the list) but remains a mildly enjoyable affair for those strong of stomach.
More horror – of a slightly more subtle variety – is abound in an early effort from Guillermo Del Toro. Cronos (Optimum Releasing) tells the story of a man who becomes immortal but at a terrible price. It’s clear that, even as a young director, Del Toro was amazingly inventive and would be a force for people to reckon with in the Horror industry. This is topped off by a commentary from Del Toro that is so informative you almost want to send him a couple of quid for his efforts. Don’t worry: you’ll remember how much Blade took and the feeling soon passes…
Finally for this time around, there’s a Studio Ghibli film with Porco Rosso (Optimum Releasing) released on to the old shiny disc. The former is the brilliantly surreal story of a fighter pilot in 20s who is cursed to live the rest of his life with the features of a pig (must…resist ..urge…to make ‘Jade from Big Brother’ joke). It’s spectacular stuff as Miyazaki –better known of course for Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle – displays his typical aptitude for jaw dropping animated sequences. It will delight both adults and children alike with a story that is admirably complex combined with the gleeful imagery. Thoroughly exciting throughout, and there’s even the option of watching the subtitled or dubbed version.
Unless stated, all these DVD should be available in good shops now, but release dates do change. If they have don’t blame us. Please