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Dr Strangelove: Collector's Edition
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"Dr Strangelove" was made in 1964, only two years after the Cuban Missile crisis which almost led to World War Three. The Cold War, however, is now long over, meaning that the film has lost much of its topicality. Even so, it's still a remarkable piece of work by virtue of its performances. Famously Peter Sellers plays three different parts but the prize for the funniest performance goes to George C Scott as General Buck Turgidson, a five star numskull whose philosophy seems to be "nuke first and ask questions later". Also hilarious is Slim Pickens as a nuclear bomber pilot whose first action upon learning that America and the Soviet Union are at war is to take off his flying helmet and put on a Stetson! From an opening like this, riding the nuclear bomb like a bucking broncho is a tragic inevitability.
Also of note are the great sets - the film was followed four years later by "2002: A Space Odyssey" - and Kubrick's fascination with machinery and procedure - the audience almost feel as if they are in the B52 bomber as it flies towards the end of the world.
"Dr Strangelove" is a film where Kubrick's remote, clinical style is perfectly suited to the grim subject matter and results in a great many laugh-out-loud moments. The film is a superb testament to so many of the great talents involved no longer with us. Buy it and you'll see why.
Pistol Whipped (Fight Factory)
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In this one Seagal is offered a job by a shadowy organisation fighting organised crime. We know this is a shadowy organisation because Seagal's "interview" is conducted in a deserted theatre which is, well, very shadowy.
For the rest of the film liaison with the organisation is through a man known as "Blue". Seagal and "Blue" enjoy something of a sadomasochistic relationship, with the former giving the latter a good kicking every 20 minutes or so. However, "Blue" is the forgiving type and never seems to hold this against his charge.
Having signed on the bottom line, our man starts to conduct surveillance on his first target, whom he is to terminate "with extreme prejudice". Whilst doing so Seagal is picked up by a beautiful stranger. One night of passion later and the stranger is making comments about a certain part of Seagal's anatomy, adding a new meaning to the phrase "big action hero".
And so onto Seagal's first "hit", a nasty Mafioso type who fatally insults a waitress. Having previously been described as a "ghost", our man amplifies that by behaving like a particularly noisy poltergeist and assassinating his victims in full view of a restaurant and after a flow of insults - Seagal is no Jason Bourne, emerging from and disappearing back into the shadows before the victim has time to blink.
One more "hit" and suddenly Seagal meets trouble. His controllers want him to terminate his best friend. You can tell he's Seagal's best friend because he selflessly married Seagal's ex-wife, although the cynic might say this was grounds enough to send him six foot under. At this point, the bullets really start to fly although rarely hitting their target, rather surprisingly since Seagal is about 6' 6" in all directions and difficult to miss. Obviously, it would be inappropriate to spoil the ending so it's now up to the reader to decide whether he or she wants to part with his or her cash and find out, I only hope this review has been helpful.
Nico: Above The Law
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Seagal spends most of "Above the Law" walking round with his arms folded, doubtless because it was his film debut and he felt very uncomfortable in front of the camera. However, the slim-line Seagal does actually look like a credible action hero in this one and since he presumably didn't have much clout with the studios at the time, the audience is spared any attempts to save the planet (although corrupt government agencies get a look in).
In a career that has seen him appear in everything from fair-to-middling productions such as "Under Siege" to the downright awful like "Out of Reach", this Andrew Davies-directed film must rank amongst Seagal's better efforts. Finally, fans of Sharon Stone should note she is cast as Nico's wife and has precious little to do.
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I'd be interested to learn how much this film cost to make. With its absence of big names (other than Eastwood), contemporary suburban setting and reliance on drama, not expensive effects, to hold the viewer's attention, not much I would have thought. But it seemed to do well at the box office, meaning it was a good investment for the studio and it's certainly a good investment for the viewer who can witness Eastwood quite slyly subverting his urban vigilante persona in a performance that never becomes maudlin. He says this will be his last starring role; at 79 maybe it will but on the strength of "Gran Torino", it would be nice if he changed his mind.
Armageddon: Special Edition (2 Discs)
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If this deafeningly loud film were any more bone-headed it would be standing outside a nightclub saying you can't come in. But there again, a sci-fi film produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and starring Bruce Willis was never going to be the next "2001: A Space Odyssey" was it? Perhaps not a film for the more sensitive viewer then.
U Turn (UCA)
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Typically overwrought offering from the as ever over-emphatic Mr Stone which leaves you feeling as battered as most of the characters by the end. Someone really should tell him that less is more.
2001: A Space Odyssey - Special Edition (2 Discs)
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I remember seeing this as a small child in the local cinema when it first came out and forty years later it's still as enigmatic as ever. Apparently when Kubrick was writing the screenplay he took out everything that was specific in Arthur C Clarke's source novel, resulting in the hugely ambiguous and ambitious film we have here.
Strangely, watching this in 1968 it seemed as if it might happen by 2001. However, in 2009 it seems an even more remote prospect than ever, which I suppose is a rather inverted way of the film showing its age. But even if the film is in one way dated, it's still an arresting spectacle and a fantastic tribute to all those involved in its production.
I think my favourite part is the "stargate" sequence although the edit from swirling bone to spacecraft is absolutely breathtaking as well. And that's not forgetting the androgynously-voiced HAL 9000 computer, which has one of the most potently understated lines in cinema history: "Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore. Goodbye."
If you like intelligent sci-fi, this film is a must-have.
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"Mars Attacks" is a homage to and spoof of 1950's sci-fi movies that allows director Burton to lampoon just about every American institution going, from the presidency to capitalism by way of the right to bear arms. Having done that, matters take a turn for the anarchic and Tom Jones is thrown into the mix. Unsurprisingly the film was a flop in America and goes some of the way to explaining why Burton now lives in London.
The Third Man: Special Edition (2 Discs)
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"The Third Man" is a positively sublime film and for me has the ultimate screen villain, Harry Lime. Forget Hannibal Lecter and the Terminator, in the scene on the Prater Wheel where Lime (Orson Welles) justifies his criminal activity to Holly Martins (Joseph Cotton), it's like watching Satan tempt Eve with the apple in the Garden of Eden. And after they get back down to earth, we have the famous speech about the cuckoo clock. They couldn't have done it better. No-one could.
Elsewhere, there's one classic moment after another: a comedy actress who yearns for death, a sinister shadow which turns out to be a man selling balloons, the score, the final chase in the sewers, the ruined Vienna, the list is almost endless.
In the past this has topped the list as the favourite British film. Buy it and you'll see why.
A Night To Remember (Titanic)
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James Cameron's film about the sinking of the Titanic was from the point of view of two fictitious passengers whereas "A Night to Remember" encompasses the experiences of everyone from the First Officer, Kenneth More and nominal star, to a drunken baker. Oddly, perhaps, the scattergun approach works far better and provides a number of touching moments, proving along the way that what a good film really needs is not CGI or directors out to make a few highly questionable statements but real drama occasioned by human interaction.
Yes, it may be in black and white and have relatively primitive effects but unlike its big budget relative, it's never dull and from what I've read, far more historically accurate. Watch this one evening and it will be a night to remember.