Here's another glut of DVD and Blu-ray reviews for your reading pleasure this week, featuring the latest releases to hit the UK.
My thanks as always to those who continue to support my efforts in writing the AICN UK content by ordering various releases through the Amazon links below. But most of all, thanks a lot for reading.
Happy December! 'Tis the season to be jolly, right?
The Best of Cult Sci-Fi (DVD)
Four discs, four classic sci-fi horror films, one box. It's The Best of Cult Sci-Fi set from Universal, featuring a fantastical line-up that includes CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, and IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE.
You can't argue with the movies in this box set, but you can argue with the discs. These are very old releases of the films, which means you get a lot of classic sci-fi goodness for your hard earned cash, but nothing in the way of a collector's set, so, if you're a true fan, you're better off investing in the individual editions.
Extras: Audio commentaries, behind the scenes features, trailers and more.
COMMUNITY: The Complete First Season (DVD)
Over two years since its television debut in the States, COMMUNITY, one of TV's funniest shows, has finally made its way to DVD in the UK. This release is long overdue to say the least.
So, without further ado, welcome to Greendale Community College.
I'd heard many a good thing about this single-camera NBC sitcom way before I finally had the opportunity to sit down and watch it. Unlike many, I didn't illegally download the show and happily waited for the eventual DVD set. The anticipation was certainly worth it.
COMMUNITY revolves around a motley crew of students, particularly the exploits of Jeff Winger, an arrogant lawyer who was suspended and sent to the college when it became known that he lied about his bachelor’s degree. Highly unamused by his situation, Winger, in name and nature, does his best to coast through his time at Greendale while making it his top priority to win the affections of his smart and sexy coed, Britta.
It takes a couple of episodes for the show to find its groove, but each of COMMUNITY's happy offerings are like 20-minute pills of colour, bursting with pop culture references and hilarious improv by the legendary Chevy Chase. It is not to be missed.
Extras: An impressive array of bonus features, including audio commentaries on every single episode; outtakes; Creative Compromises: an “alternate” scene; Community Season One Last Evaluations: series creator Dan Harmon breaks the fourth wall by interviewing the cast (in comical fashion); alternate scenes from Advanced Criminal Law; three “Study Break” mini-episodes: Stop Using Your Brain, Truth or Dare and Generation Gap; Season One highlight reel; and an extended producer's cut of Communication Studies.
THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE II (FULL SEQUENCE) (DVD)
The year's most controversial film, Tom Six's THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE II (FULL SEQUENCE) is most definitely not for everyone, but, beneath its rather repugnant exterior is a smart idea submerged in an excess of gratuity.
I've seen everything there is to see that can be classed as “extreme” in horror movies. I'm not one to be offended and it's impossibly difficult to gross me out, yet the second part in the proposed HUMAN CENTIPEDE trilogy does indeed push the envelope, even at a time when the genre is overcrowded with films that focus on the gore content rather than telling a good story, and even with a cut that has been heavily censored thanks to the BBFC.
The film breaks the fourth wall by being centred around a character – Martin – who is obsessed with the original movie. So obsessed is he that he begins to experience sexual gratification from each viewing, leading him to the point where he wants to create his very own human centipede. A bug-eyed, overweight and mute simpleton, Martin lacks the knowledge and expertise of Dr. Heiter, and so the process of connecting the centipede is far less clinical and sterile as in the first film. If THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (FIRST SEQUENCE) was a modern spin on the mad scientist movie, the black and white (FULL SEQUENCE) is a sick, sinister scientist flick with no limits and no regrets.
Martin could easily go down as an iconic villain of horror. Lawrence R. Harvey nails the performance, even without a single line of dialogue, and proves to be a truly terrifying and unpredictable psychopath. He is the shining star in an otherwise monotonous, poorly written film.
Extras: An interview with Tom Six, foley recording session snippet and a behind the scenes featurette.
PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES (DVD)
The New York Times is an institution of the world press. Over its long history, it has become so much more than just a regional newspaper, having evolved into a print media powerhouse that is readily available all over the world. Ever since the internet boom, many have questioned the longevity of the paper given the fairly rapid decline in print media sales in comparison to the rise of news websites, blogs and social networks that can share the latest developments on an international scale, almost instantly. Despite embracing the adversity, the New York Times continues to weather the storm of technology and finds itself at the heart of endless speculation about its uncertain future. This storm has lasted for years and is ever present in the one-year period when PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES was filmed.
From the radical growth of Twitter and the advent of the iPad to the worldwide sensation known as Julian Assange's WikiLeaks, 2010 was not just a big year for news with an international impact, but a year that changed the way said news travels through the global grapevine. This fascinating documentary chronicles both the impact and change and how it affected those on the front line of journalism at one of the world's largest newspapers.
Extras: Interviews with David Carr, Sarah Elliston, Evan Smith, Carl Bernstein and Emily Bell; four featurettes: Tech Meeting, Iraq Troop Withdrawal Day Two, Journalist Reactions, American Newspapers in Transition; and the UK theatrical trailer.
SILENT RUNNING (Blu-ray)
Vibrant, bold and fresh, Douglas Trumbull's SILENT RUNNING, one of the most overlooked sci-fi movies of all time, has soared on to Blu-ray courtesy of the consistently excellent Masters of Cinema label.
Starring Bruce Dern, the film explores the loneliness of a castaway ecologist as he floats through deep space in a freighter ship that holds humanity's last known natural forests. Contained within huge domes, they are being maintained for eventual transportation back to earth, where all plant life is extinct. Orders come through from back home, however, that the crew must return to earth and the forests be destroyed.
When people think of great science fiction films, the most common titles are Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, Ridley Scott's BLADE RUNNER and ALIEN, STAR WARS and Tarkovskiy's SOLARIS. Rarely do film fans make reference to Trumbull's SILENT RUNNING, and yet he is actually the man responsible for the special effects of both 2001 and BLADE RUNNER. So how could it be that the film-maker's directorial debut has received a mere morsel of acclaim in comparison to the aforementioned movies? Perhaps its the scale of SILENT RUNNING. It isn't a fantastical, epic sci-fi adventure or exploration, it's a human story, one of isolation, and it unfolds as bleakly as it does brilliantly.
Extras: Isolated music and effects track; an audio commentary with Douglas Trumbull and actor Bruce Dern; The Making of SILENT RUNNING; A Conversation with Bruce Dern; Douglas Trumbull: the director discusses the making of the film and his post-SILENT RUNNING career; and the original theatrical trailer.
DEADLY BLESSING (DVD)
Horror could well be the genre with the most film-making icons whose quality of work has been the most unbalanced. John Carpenter wrote and directed the masterpiece HALLOWEEN, but he also made GHOSTS OF MARS. Tobe Hooper is the man responsible for THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, yet his career has dwindled rather dramatically over the years with cinematic offerings like CROCODILE. Wes Craven is another example. He shocked the world with LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and brought Freddy Krueger into the world with A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, but has stains on his legacy that go by the names SCREAM 4, MY SOUL TO TAKE and, indeed, DEADLY BLESSING.
1981's DEADLY BLESSING is a jumbled and dull effort that feels like a dreary TV movie caught up in the beginnings of the slasher boom. Injected with a lifeless dose of the supernatural, the film concerns an extreme Amish farming community stalked by a mysterious knife-wielding, black-gloved murderer. Quick to blame an entity known as “the Incubus,” they begin pointing the finger at the widow of a former Amish man who died in an accident involving a tractor.
Despite a couple of interesting scenes that revolve around a large spider and the mouth of a young Sharon Stone, Craven's first film of the '80s is largely a languid and uninspired effort.
Extras: Reversible sleeve artwork; double-sided poster; collector's booklet written by film critic and author Kim Newman; an introduction by star Michael Berryman; Craven Images: The Horror Hits of Michael Berryman; and Deadly Desires: An Interview with Screenwriter Glenn M. Benest.
LARRY CROWNE (DVD)
In a work climate where the sheer number of post-graduates has meant that experience has become more valuable than university qualifications, it seems irrelevant and slightly strange for a film like LARRY CROWNE to be about a man who has worked the same job for many years, only to find himself let go simply because of his lack of a college education.
Meet Larry Crowne, a middle-aged man fired from his job at a Walmart-esque store, where he was a multi-time Employee of the Month. The result of his sudden unemployment kick-starts a complete change in his lifestyle. Without a job, he has to downsize his life while pursuing what he has been led to believe is the antidote for his employment woes: university, and with it comes new found friends, romance and scooters.
Written, directed and starring Tom Hanks, LARRY CROWNE is a sweet, low-key comedy that is as light-hearted as it is light on laughs. It's a watchable and even pleasant movie for a rainy afternoon, it just isn't believable in the slightest.
TOUCH OF EVIL (Blu-ray)
Whether he was playing Harry Lime or Police Captain Hank Quinlan, Orson Welles knew how to portray a bad guy with complete conviction. 1958's TOUCH OF EVIL, written, directed and starring Welles, has made its Blu-ray debut in a two-disc release that sees the classic black and white film not only presented in a number of different versions, but treated with the utmost respect.
Charlton Heston is Ramon Miguel Vargas, a man in the employment of the Mexican government as a drug enforcement official who finds himself in the midst of murder and police corruption in a Mexican border town. Following a fatal car bomb attack, Captain Quilan (a plump and hardly recognisable Welles) launches an investigation and soon finds a prime suspect, but Vargas fears that evidence has been planted.
Opening with a stunning one-take tracking shot that lasts for over three minutes, TOUCH OF EVIL is as technically marvellous as CITIZEN KANE. The direction and cinematography are extraordinary.
This fantastic Masters of Cinema release includes the original theatrical version, which was heavily cut by Universal, and a reconstruction that pieces together the film based on the 58-page memo Welles wrote regarding his original vision.
Extras: The first disc includes the 1998 reconstruction in two aspect ratios, 1.85:1 (with a 2008 audio commentary by film scholar Rick Schmidlin) and 1.37:1 (with a 1999 commentary featuring stars Charlton Heston, Janet Leigh and Rick Schmidlin); the original theatrical trailer; and two features (Bringing Evil to Life and Evil Lost and Found). The second disc has the 1958 theatrical cut, also in two different aspect ratios, 1.85:1 and 1.37:1, both with a commentary by film-maker F.X. Feeney, and the 1958 preview version in 1.85:1 with a commentary by film critics James Naremore and Jonathan Rosenbaum.
HORRIBLE BOSSES (DVD)
STRANGERS ON A TRAIN meets OFFICE SPACE in HORRIBLE BOSSES, director Seth Gordon's farcical comedy about three best friends who concoct a plan to murder their overbearing bosses. If you've ever wanted to see Kevin Spacey play a psychotic, abusive financial worker, Jennifer Aniston in one of her best and funniest roles in years as a nymphomaniac dentist, and Colin Farrell as a cocaine addict without a care in the world for anyone but himself, you'll enjoy the often hilarious HORRIBLE BOSSES.
Extras: Seven deleted scenes.
In the last few years there has been a slew of movies about animals with voiceboxes, and that's, mainly, a very bad thing. ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS gets a pass for being a fun family flick, but there are no excuses for the likes of the abominable CATS AND DOGS: THE REVENGE OF KITTY GALORE, FURRY VENGEANCE (not a sequel to TEETH), and yes, the new animal on the block, ZOOKEEPER, starring Kevin James as... well, a zookeeper. One who relies on his new found talking friends (elephants, giraffes, lions, monkeys, etc) for advice on how to turn his life around after getting back in touch with his ex-girlfriend who turned down his marriage proposal years prior.
Naturally, anyone who discovers that they're able to hold conversations with captive animals hangs on their every word.
As you may expect, ZOOKEEPER is an insipid comedy devoid of the same laugh and charms as the CHIPMUNK movies and the Eddie Murphy DR. DOLITTLE, and reaffirms James' inability to carry a feature on his shoulders.
Extras: Laughing is Contagious: outtakes; Bernie the Gorilla: working with the animatronic gorilla suit; Creating the Visual Effects; and The Furry Co-stars.
GUILTY OF ROMANCE (Blu-ray)
Sion Sono is quickly becoming the new Takashi Miike as it pertains to making quality extreme, transgressive Japanese cinema. He may not be helming quite as many movies per year as Miike, but he's well on his way.
Framed by a detective's investigation into the savage murder of two prostitutes, GUILTY OF ROMANCE is the story of twenty-something Izumi, the bored housewife of a successful romance novelist. Frustrated with her husband's lack of affection and the tired routine of everyday life, she pursues a career in modelling when informed by a customer at the supermarket where she works that she has what it takes to pose before the camera. It soon becomes apparent that the modelling is actually pornography, much to Izumi's initial chagrin, however, as a result of her sexual repression, she gets used to the idea of attraction and the desire of men for her body.
GUILTY OF ROMANCE wraps up Sono's “Hate trilogy”, which began with the four-hour epic LOVE EXPOSURE and continued with the excellent black comedy, COLD FISH. GUILTY OF ROMANCE has none of the humour of the aforementioned film, but it certainly is a dark and compelling sexual psychodrama with lashings of violence and gore.
Extras: An interview with star Megumi Kagurazaka, the UK theatrical trailer and a commentary with film critic and festival curator Jasper Sharp.
That's it for this week!
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