Every week I will bring you reviews of my home video picks of the week, as well as a round-up of pretty much everything else that is released at the same time. Don’t be shy if you are from the U.S. as the column is still interesting for you as a quick snippets of what I think of these movies and hopefully they will help you decide whether to Netflix, or make a purchase on a movie you might have missed in the cinema’s.
Apologies for the slight lateness of this week’s column- I’ve just got back from watching ACDC prove why they deserve to be cherished as more than just the makers of the Iron Man 2 soundtrack at Download Festival somewhere in deepest, darkest and- particularly- muddiest Derbyshire.
Thankfully, this week isnt exactly chocked-full of enormous, must-have releases, so I didn’t have a ridiculous back-log of films to watch on my return. What we do get to take a look at are the heavy-hitting duo of Eastwood’s Invictus and Jeff Bridges’ Oscar-winning turn in Crazy Heart, as well as the excellent Rolling Stones’ doc Stones In Exile, and the 30 year anniversary Blu-Ray releases of Caddyshack…
So, here we go…
Invictus new on DVD and Blu-Ray
Last year, I wrote an initial response to the news that Clint Eastwood was set to helm an adaptation of John Carlin’s ‘Playing The Enemy’ suggesting that the film choice may well have been a subconscious attempt to address Spike Lee’s accusations that Eastwood was racist (thanks to the lack of black soldiers in Flags of Our Fathers), and that the first biopic dedicated to Nelson Mandela should be more substantial than a sports story, but I now admit I may have been a little rash. While the film is definitely not the grand, all-guns-blazing biopic looking into Mandela’s early life, activism and subsequent imprisonment, it is a far more nuanced look at the great man’s attempts to heal the gaping racist wound that had torn his country apart for so long, hinged on a predicatably strong performance by Morgan Freeman (it was surely only a matter of time) and a surprisingly accomplished turn by Matt Damon, but falters when it comes to any kind of artistic challenge. Eastwood isnt particularly on top form with Invictus- he is rather telling an important story with due dilligence, and giving it the kind of treatment it deserves thanks to the political importance of the story, but there is nothing here to actually stretch the director, and the effect is oddly flat in places.
But that isnt to say the film is a bad one- it looks lush, but then Eastwood has honed those visual skills over the years to an almost unthinkable degree, and the two key performances are excellent. I just wish there was a little more substance, a little more of a challenge in the film, and a bit less of the sugar that sweetens the admittedly uplifting final sections of the movie. Still, it’s well worth watching again- and on Blu-Ray particularly, thanks to some excellent high-def Special Features, particularly the format-exclusive ‘Vision, Courage and Honour’ picture-in-picture track.
While the rugby sequences are better portrayed than in the majority of sports films (oddly, apart from most American Football films), like Rocky, thanks to the crew including technical advisors (among them hero Chester Williams), there is still a lot to be desired in those sequences, and I will forever bemoan the decision not to offer Jonah Lomu what would have been a hugely welcome cameo as himself, and the fact that Matt Damon is a million times too good-looking to play an ogre like Francois Pienaar.
Crazy Heart new on DVD and Blu-Ray
The second Best Actor-nominated release of the week, Crazy Heart rightfully came away with the gong for an astounding performance by the wonderful Jeff Bridges, who like a fine whiskey just seems to get better with age. Further similarities abound between that famous golden drink and the man called Dude- he is rich and refined, an acquired taste who is gradually getting more and more popular with the masses and with an inescapable rough edge that further enhances the after-taste and makes him an irresistible, if slightly off-beat choice.
The film itself inevitably draws a lot of comparisons with The Wrestler. Both are individual tales of self-destrucion, with a painfully humanist edge that you can only ever imagine will lend itself to utter tragedy come the end of the film. And crucially, both films are dragged into that special sublime level above 99% of films made every year not only by the centra peformances, but by an artesan attention to detail that is bewilderingly good and utterly compelling.
Sadly the extras dont meet the level of the film itself: an Oscar winner should surely warrant more than a 3 minute interview and some Deleted Scenes that deservedly didnt make it off the cutting room floor. Hopefully, sometime in the future, perhaps when Crazy Heart ages as well as Bridges has, someone will return to this ge of a movie and give it the specialist release that it deserves.
Not The Messiah (He’s A Very Naughty Boy) new on DVD and Blu-Ray
Monty Python has had a profound effect on my comedic education, and forms the basis of my love of the absurdist humour and grotesquely skewed imagination that simply does not appear in modern film enough (Terry Gilliam aside obviously). So to be given the opportunity to watch new Python material within a framework based on my favourite Python creation of all- The Life of Brian- is just about as good as it gets.
Not The Messiah is a comic oratorio loosely based on that infamous retelling of the Christ story, which parodies Handel’s Messiah giving it the familiar absurdist twists that fans of Python material have come to be intimately familiar with over the years. As a simple oratorio, the film works well enough, but adding in the draw of having most of the Pythons reunited (minus Chapman sadly, and Cleese unfortunately) gives it an added depth that makes it an essential buy for me at least. With typically Pythonesque (read absurd) songs about God, chaos, shoes and sheep, the self-proclaimed “baroque n’ roll” music wanders from 50s doo-wop sing-alongs to Bob Dylan styled spoofs by Michael Palin, and the audible treat is matched by a very good blu-ray transfer which itself is aided by the exquisite lighting set-up of the live performance.
But, of course, Not The Messiah will not be to every taste. In short, if you dont like Python, dont watch it. You probably wont appreciate it, and you definitely wont find it funny if you’ve already decided that the Pythons’ older material is not to your liking. But for fans, this is pure gold, and there is enough new material in there to make up for the fact that this is essentially a rework of The Life of Brian.
Edge of Darkness new on DVD and Blu-Ray Combi-Pack
As Mel Gibson’s comeback vehicle, Edge of Darkness should have been a sure-fire hit, even despite those infamous comments he made after he’d had too much to drink and a fateful run in with the law- it is afterall a magpie of a film, on the surface borrowing the key ingredients that made Taken so successful, and blending them with the old-school elements that ran through the entirety of Gibson’s early, A-List career moves. Plus there’s the added sweetener of Ray Winstone, the king of this kind of movie. But the problem with the film is that Gibson and film-maker Martin Campbell try too hard to add a higher level of intellect to a film that belongs in the Angry Man With A Gun And A Motive genre that Gibson ruled throughout the 90s and into the 00s, with a conspiracy that its hard to believe even the characters really care about. Stripped barer, with more guns and less brains, this could well have been a delight, but as it stands, Edge of Darkness is more a tale of what-ifs and a slightly warming on-screen memory of who Mel Gibson was before he hit the skids.
The Rolling Stones: Stones in Exile
Fresh from screening at Cannes and subsequently on the BBC (in a rather unfortunate graveyard slot), this documentary about one of the greatest rock albums comes to DVD with a frankly amazing 90 minutes of bonus behind the scenes material (for the original one hour doc). As an intimate look at the Stones, Exile is out on its own, and some of the extra material is genuinely inciteful, particularly the band member interviews. It is probably one for rock fans (and Stones fans particularly), but any music fan would do well to buy it.
The Haunting of Molly Hartley
Notable only for including Gossip Girl’s walking sex-object Chace Crawford amongst its veritable Who’s-That of basement actors (including Medium’s vaguely familiar Jake Weber), The Haunting of Molly Hartley holds the rather impressive accolade of having scored a whopping 3% on Rotten Tomatoes. For that reason alone I was drawn to it (I’m a glutton for punishment,what can I say?). Sadly, it isn’t exactly one of those So Bad It’s Good films: instead it’s just dumb and pointless, aimed at the 90210/Gossip Girl brigade, of which I will never be a part. The acting is strangely ok (which spoils the overall shitty cult appeal for me), but any horro film that so badly misses the scare train should just fuck off, as far as I’m concerned. Aimed squarely at excitable teen screamers, The Haunting of Molly Hartley misses just about every opportunity to pull a fanbase in (aside from only the most rabid Crawford fans), and leaves you feeling entirely cheated.
DVD Extras? What DVD Extras? Six and a half minutes of cast and crew interviews does not warrant £15.99 (though Amazon are hilariously already offering it at a still-too-high £6.99).
The African Queen- Restored Edition new on DVD and Blu-Ray
In time for this new rerelease, Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart’s classic has been digitally remastered and it shows: the print quality is so excellent it is easy at times to forget the film’s age. The real defining gem of this restored edition is the audio track by the late, great Jack Cardiff who worked as cinematographer on the film and offers a stunning wealth of information about the shooting of the film, including delightful little touches like the details of a trick film-makers used to create the appearance of a swarm of flies. It is his anecdotes about the shooting of the film, though that are the most interesting aspect, revealing aspects of the stars’ personalities and relating tales of the cast and crew’s battle with the African jungle and sickness, that have up until now remained largely undisclosed.
By all means buy it for the film itself- the restoration is near immaculate apart from a soundtrack issue that makes the musical track sound too loud against the audio commentary- but keep it and treasure it for Cardiff’s joyous words of wisdom.
Caddy Shack new on Blu-Ray
Three names for you. Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and Chevy Chase. That there is why Caddyshack is brilliant, and why it is currently part of my DVD collection. But, what about this new high-def transfer? Can the higher format offer anything new to a film that has admittedly aged pretty disgracefully, having never really been given a good visual copy in the first place? Well, thankfully, the blu-ray transfer is the best Caddyshack has ever looked, with an almost perverted amount of attention going into restoring the greens of the film’s pallet (for obvious golfing reason). It’s also a marked improvement in terms of sound, thanks to the audible gloss added by the new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, and anything that helps a soundtrack containing Journey is good in my book.
Extras-wise the blu-ray offers two already familiar documentaries: “Caddyshack: The 19th Hole”- a 31-minute retrospective from 11 years ago and “The Inside Story” an 80 minuter that first aired on the BIO channel. Each one is a must-see for fans, offering a lot of interesting tidbits and behind-the-scenes footage. Overall,a good treatment, I’d say.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 3D new on Blu-Ray
Is this really necessary? I mean, obviously 3D is being heralded as the next progressive step in the evolution of cinema, but do we really need next-gen formats on general releass already? I couldn’t even watch this as I haven’t got a spare few thousand pounds to throw at a3D TV, though I did enjoy the 2D Blu-Ray version that they’ve kindly bundled in for paupers like me.
For the rich and privileged, Cloudy… in 3D will no doubt be as great as it was at the cinema, but for everyone else, I have to say the addition of the new format’s bells and whistles wont make this already great film any more great in real terms. It was a success because of its storyline, characters and charming dialogue, and while they all remain, it doesnt really matter what format you watch it on- though Id draw the line at Betamax. Long and short of it is, you need this film for your collection- and if you have the 3D capability, more power to you brother.
Features wise, the pick of the also-rans- in terms of intrigue alone- is probably Pascal-Alex Vincent‘s Give Me Your Hand, a sort of French Y Tu Mama Tambien with added pretention. The film is almost entirely devoid of substance, thanks to bad central performances from twins Alexandre and Victor Carril and a terribly inept script, but attempts to make up for it by focusing entirely on aesthetic beauty, almost intentionally to the detriment of everything else. If this isn’t filmic obstinacy at its very worst, I’m a Frenchman.
A veritable raft of End of Season football reviews, which of course will find their own audiences among each club’s fans. Because I’m a heart-on-my-sleeve, fully paid up member of The Toon Army, (and because I can be as biased as I bloody well please), it is Newcastle’s Champions that gets a mention ahead of its competitors from other clubs. Typically of an officially licenced product, the DVD features some shameless self-promotion, in amongst the various goals and highlights of a season to remember (following one definitely to forget for the North East club) and generally speaking its among the better End of Season reviews I’ve seen, thanks to the added interviews and a welcome tribute to Sir Bobby Robson.
Aside from the football, and in conjunction with the release of Invictus, is 1995 Rugby World Cup- The Full Story (on DVD), which pretty much does exactly what it says on the tin, but offers the added incentive of being the full account of one of the most politically important sporting events since Jesse Owens almost sprinted the ridiculous little moustache off Hitler’s face in the 30s. The 1995 tournament was also about as entertaining as they come, with the typical superpowers of the sport going at it like Titans- sadly England didn’t win it, despite a team oozing class, but fans can relive the relentless brilliance of an on-song Jonah Lomu single-handedly destroying teams on New Zealand’s path to the final, as well as one of the best underdog triumphs of all-time.
Meanwhile in other Blu-Ray news high-def treatments of Collateral, The Dam Busters, Apollo 13 and the War of the Worlds hit shelves just in time for Father’s Day. Visually all of three films deserve the transfer, with Collateral‘s perfect, deep tones really shining in high-definition in particular, and the stunning effects of Apollo 13 and War of the Worlds given faithful treatments that add to the feel of both films.
The pick of the bunch for me personally is definitely the Special Anniversary Edition of The Dam Busters, which is as much a British tradition as it is a film in its own right. And now, re-mastered for Blu-ray in this special edition, the film just gets better. The transfer is about as crisp as you can hope for with a film this age, and crucially the restorers have avoided the often fatal error of going for an overly cleaned-up feel that robs the film of its original authenticity. Thankfull this new high-def versionll wears some of imperfections of the original, and is all the more charming for it. Additionally, there’s also a new documentary, ‘The Dam Busters: 617 Squadron Remembers’, which features interviews with the last remaining survivors of the raid, presented by Max Arthur.
American Dad- Season Five & Complete Seasons 1-5
Seth MacFarlane is responsible for three of the funniest cartoons currently blessing TVs on both sides of the Atlantic (four if you count his frequent appearances on Robot Chicken), and while Family Guy steals the status as the funniest (though brief moments of The Cleveand Show pushed it close) it is American Dad which is the most refined. Family Guy notoriously took time to grow into its shoes, being cancelled twice times along the way for good measure before MacFarlane and Co hit the nail right on the head, but American Dad had no such teething problems. The show has been a politically satirising, surprisingly intelligent hit since it appeared five seasons ago, and long may it continue as far as I’m concerned.
Impressively, the fifth season is the best so far, with the execs clearly revelling in the knowledge that they have wittled the fanbase down to the true diehards who they can pander to, offering the same formulaic (that’s not to say bad) adolescent and often controversial humour with a forked politically motivated barb to its tail.
Father & Son
I am indebted to Sky TV for this review, but I think it says it better than I possibly could…
Gritty from the outset, Father & Son is at pains to show the impact of crime, particularly gun crime, on the streets of Manchester. It’s a worthy subject and the drama rumbles with a constant sense of tension and menace. The problem is that like Dougray Scott’s attempts at a Mancunian accent, the results are a little hit and miss.
Father & Son seems so preoccupied with creating the kind of menacing criminal undertone that American dramas have so vividly created of late, that it almost forgets to do the basics well. Most disappointing of all are its characters, who on the whole boil down to little more than a haphazard collection of clichés. As a result gangland bosses are little more than hardened pantomine villains, and the young gang members on which the series dwells, are reduced to caricatures who spout nonsensical slang gleamed from across the Atlantic. In one particularly jarring scene at the start of the first episode, a gaggle of gun-toting gang members whizz around Manchester’s streets hopping over obstacles on their BMXs before gunning down their target. The idea, presumably was to create a sense of youthful menace tied up in the media furore over hoodie-clad gangs, but the resultant sequence feels like something out of Escape From New York and the gimmick strips the characters of any sense of genuine depth.
It’s a shame really… but this gritty drama reeks of missed opportunity.
The Office: An American Workplace- Complete Season Four
When the original British version of The Office finished with an almighty emotional farewell- and many a teary eye at Obsessed Towers I’m not afraid to add- in 2003 (God, has it really been seven years already?!) fans could have been forgiven for sneering at the suggestion that the American remake would go on to complete the same two-season run as its British sibling, let alone more than triple it. American remakes of successful British shows don’t exactly have a history of success in the US- and comedies in specific (particularly those dealing in the intimacy of human relationships) seem to fare the worst. Despite strong British fan-bases, As If, Coupling, Cold Feet and The IT Crowd have all suffered the indignity of being cancelled after less than a handful of episodes (or just the pilot in the case of The IT Crowd), and you have to suspect that the mooted remake of The Vicar of Dibley (to be called The Minister of Divine) starring Kirstie Alley would have headed the same way. And yet, mostly minus the combined powers of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, The Office: An American Workplace continues to pull in viewers and plaudits alike.
And to complete the round-up of this week’s TV releases, we have a couple of American Chopper (Series 6 Parts 40-42 and Parts 43-45) boxsets, which are ridiculously volumised (to complete the set, you’ll need a frankly scandalous outlay and a shelf busting number of discs), as well as Autopsy: Gunther’s ER- The Anatomy of Medical Emergencies, the horrifying TV series that is as grim and horribly unmissable as a human autopsy programme sounds.
Finally, and for the second week in a row, I finish with a British TV series with comparatively good longevity, but no discernible appeal that I can fathom whatsoever. Waterloo Road Series Five- Autumn Term is essentially Grange Hill from the point of view of the teachers, or Teachers without the humour, and is about as grim and joyless a series as I can imagine inflicting on anyone.
Tune in next week (back to the usual Monday slot) for more DVD and Blu-Ray release musings and ramblings.