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Iron Maiden: Flight 666 - The Film (2 Discs) (Casebound Book)
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I too saw this film at the cinema and have to say after the disappointment of the ANVIL film, this really was a nice surprise. The documentary follows the group as they travel the world on their 2008 tour (although it misses the European part out). It blends live concert footage with behind the scenes stuff, some of which is absolutely hilarious. The guys obviously get on really well, even after 25+ years and it shows. The fact that Maiden bothered to tour some countries you don't usually associate with metal and rock'n'roll shows just why they are as popular as ever. They treat their fans with respect and the fans love them even more.
My only gripe (and the reason i haven't given this 5 stars) is that some of the songs are played more than once during the film, thus there is a degree of repetition ('Fear of the Dark' is a great song but it must have turned up three times in this film). A little more variation would have been nice!
However this is easily the best documentary i've seen in ages and runs Spinal Tap very close to the all time winner of 'Best film about a rock band'. When you aren't rocking with Maiden in this film (and the live footage is brilliantly filmed, making you feel as if you are there) you'll be laughing your head off at some of their antics and quips to the camera.
The Complete Superman Movies Collection (4 Discs)
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Admittedly this is the most basic set of the 4 Reeve films (serious fans may want to get the more expensive one with the various different cuts of the films) it is very good value if all you want to do is just watch them. Superman 1 is actually the extended version available in the other packages so it has a couple of additional scenes to the version released in the cinemas in 1978. Superman 1 also has a good set of extras including a recent interesting documentary about the making of the film, screen tests for actresses to play Lois Lane and a commentary track. Superman 2,3 & 4 just have the basic film and trailers. The film prints are all fine too as is the sound so its good value for the price.
In fact the only real problem that none of the various packages can overcome is the quality of the actual films. Superman 1 & 2 are awesome stories and are still great fun to watch. Christopher Reeve is perfectly cast in the title role and pulls it off magnificently. The support cast are all great too (Margot Kidder, Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, Brando and a wonderful performance from Terence Stamp in Superman 2). Superman 3 is looking a little dated now and Richard Pryor seems a little out of place in it, but it does have some great moments that make it watchable (the junkyard fight is truly spectacular and is the scene everyone remembers). Superman 4 is a horrible mess caused partly by the budget being slashed in half just before filming began. This results in some rotten special effects, a really laughable supervillain and a feeling that this could have been a decent film if the Salkinds (the producers of the first three) hadn't bailed out and sold the rights to Cannon Films, producers of low budget Chuck Norris and early Van Damme adventures. Still i suppose it is necessary to include Superman 4 just to make the set complete. And it must be said that whatever the faults of Superman 4, Reeve and Kidder still maintain their dignity with solid performances.
On the whole this set is worth buying if you aren't too fussed by missing the extras on the other 3 films.
The Jazz Singer: Special Edition (2 Discs)
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If it wasn't for the fact that this was the first publicly released 'talkie' then The Jazz Singer would probably have faded into insignificance now. As a film in its own right it is not great (although its interesting to see Warner Oland in his pre-charlie chan days) and the script about a father and son who fall out then make up at the end is soppy sentimentalism and like a third rate soap opera in places. There are also some scenes in which blackface makeup is used which may upset some politically correct viewers (remember this film is over 80 years old though so such sensitivities didnt really exist then).
However there is no denying the historical significance of this film. Although only a small portion of it actually has any spoken dialogue (recorded and played back seperately on the vitaphone disc system) it showed that audiences wanted to hear actors as well as see them by its enormous box office success, thereby changing the way films would be made forever. Vitaphone would have gone the way of the dinosaurs within five years of this films release (when sound on film proved a more practical way to record sound) but within 2-3 years of this film the major studios stopped making silents and with this a lot of old careers died and new ones were born (see the film 'Singin in the rain' for an idea of the impact of sound). Incidentally 'The Jazz Singers' director Alan Crosland died aged just 41 in 1936
Like i said, the Jazz Singer isn't a great film in its own right but the disc is worth getting not just to see the film that changed moviemaking but also because Warner Bros have put a really good set of extras on the disc that should appeal to all lovers of old films and film students.
Superman - The Movie
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Yes thats right. If it wasn't for this big money extravaganza from 1978 there may very well have been no X-Men, Fantastic Four, Batman etc etc. Warner Bros poured a huge amount of money into this film, some $50 million which 30 years ago was a hell of a lot. The good thing is that every penny is up there on the screen. New special effects had to be invented for parts of this film because it was so innovative and although this was years before CGI, the production team did a fabulous job (only the scene where young Clark runs alongside the train looks really fake).
A top notch cast helped propel this to box office success, Hackman and Brando especially. However where the film really scores is with the casting of the then unknown Christopher Reeve, who is superlative and easily the best Superman ever. Kudos must go to the producers, the Salkind brothers, who refused to cave in to Warner Bros demands to cast a named actor (Warners wanted Burt Reynolds!). I think even Warner Bros must admit that they were glad they lost that argument.
The film is long, a good 2.5 hours from what i remember but what a ride! The scene where Superman saves Lois Lane (a well cast Margot Kidder) when she falls out of a helicopter is worth the cost of the disc alone. The effects are all top drawer for the time and were done by the people who worked on the Bond movies and Gerry Anderson tv shows (like Space 1999). A mention must also go to John Williams masterful soundtrack. The theme became so iconic that when Bryan Singer made Superman Returns in 2006 he said he would only do so providing he could use the same piece of music as the theme.
This film is excellent, although a little long for small children. Characters are given a chance to develop and the script is quite intelligent and witty. However for an extra £9 you can buy the exactly same disc plus the other 3 Christopher Reeve films (Superman 2 is great fun, 3 is so so but has some great moments and 4 is not a good film but worth watching).
This disc has some decent extras. The screen tests, the documentaries and the deleted scenes give make up a fine dvd release and add to the quality of this release.
This Is Spinal Tap (Single Disc)
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So much has been written about this film already and i don't think i can add much more. The accents are all bang on the money, probably the best English accents ever done by American actors, and the music, (whilst lampooning the self important but ultimately nonsense lyrics of prog rock bands) is wonderfully entertaining and well done.
There is so much enjoyment to be had here and spotting who the band remind you of in whatever scene is half the fun. Whilst the film is unofficially acknowledged to be based on 1970s UK rock band 'Saxon' you can see elements of Black Sabbath, Rolling Stones, Status Quo, Led Zeppelin and The Who as well. Kudos to the actors for making their characters so believably stupid in such a credible way. The script crackles with subtle humour and the cod-philosophizing is endemic of those musicians who took themselves and their talent so seriously. In fact so well made is this film that i gather many were fooled on its cinema release into believing it was a real documentary about a real British band touring the USA, testimony indeed to Rob Reiner's direction and the actors involved.
There are so many hilarious highlights and if you haven't seen this film then you absolutely must do so immediately. The music is also pretty damned good considering the songs are deliberately crass. All in all this is a superbly funny film made by some very talented people. In fact all i want to know now is if Derek Smalls really is a fan of Shrewsbury Town Football club?
The Magic Box (Boulting Brothers Collection)
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William Friese Green was one of the major contributors to the invention of moving pictures. He started off as a stills photographer in Victorian England but his curiosity led him to risk (and lose) everything as he sought to be the first to show the possibility of moving pictures.
Friese Green may or may not have invented the moving picture, depending on which country you are in, but his dedication to the process wreaked havoc on himself and his family. This is certainly not a glamorous story but a brave one. Robert Donat is superb as the mild mannered but dedicated British inventor. The rest of the cast are also wonderful, especially his doting family. And this film is famous for the amount of cameo appearances by established British actors so watch out for some familiar faces.
The Magic Box was made to help celebrate the Festival of Britain in 1951 and as such it is a wonderfully made film (in Technicolor). It also helps to keep the name of Friese Greene from slipping into total obscurity and is a worthy watch for lovers of British films.
Meantime: Special Edition
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I love this film. Mike Leigh really has nailed what the 80s were about here, unemployment, bleakness, youth, multiculturalism, social housing etc. Those of us who (just about) remember the early 80s will see something here that reminds us of these times.
The story is based around a family living on a council estate in S E London. The two teenage brothers (excellent performances from Phil Daniels and Tim Roth) live in a time and a place where there is nothing to do, no work and no money. This fantastic cast also features Alfred Molina, Pam Ferris and a terrifying yet at times hilarious turn from Gary Oldman as 'Coxy'.
This was Mike Leigh's first cinema film for 12 years and it is one of his best in a great many ways. It may lack the polish or budget of his films made in the last 15 years but in many ways it is one of the most earnest and a fascinating watch with a quality cast at the begining of their careers. Brilliant!
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An extraordinary film even by Mike Leighs standards.
When Johnny (an excellent David Thewlis) has to leave Manchester to (as he says ) "avoid a kicking", he heads for London where he turns up at the home of his ex-girlfriend and her housemates. Johnny is a highly intelligent young man who seems unable to leave people to the blissful ignorance of their lives, and has to make his opinions known on everything, from baked beans to Nostradamus. As he ingratiates himself on the housemates his presence coincides with a set of events that show just how bleak and empty life can be. In fact Johnny is perhaps a little too intelligent for his own good and his outlook on life sometimes isn't appreciated by those around him. This is a snippet of the lives of the unfulfilled, set over the course of a couple of days (before Johnny once again has to move on).
If this sounds a very thin storyline then you are right, it is. But this is a Mike Leigh film, and they rarely have traditional storylines, just a thread of an idea that the actors are encouraged to develop. Brilliantly acted at times this is improvisation at its best. Yes its dark and depressing at times, but it also has moments of black comedy that had me laughing. If you know the films of Leigh you will have a vague idea of what to expect. Leigh has made some great films (Meantime, Life is Sweet, High Hopes, Career Girls) but this is probably the boldest of the lot for reasons that words alone cannot convey here.
All in all recommended for those who want to see the flip side to the sanitised comedy films made by hollywood. Marvellous stuff!
M*A*S*H (MASH) - Season 1
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Based on a great film anyway, M*A*S*H is a beautifully made and acted show. Set in an army hospital during the Korean war of the early 1950s it manages to still be consistently funny even now, 36 years after it was first shown.
Its not hard to see why this show is so highly rated, even now. It is funny but not in a sanitised way. It was not afraid to have a dig at good old uncle sam, and it found the perfect blend or comedy, irony and pathos. The characters were all well rounded (especially as the series developed) and Alan Alda was born to play the role of Hawkeye (and to upstage Donald Sutherland who played the role in the film is no mean feat). The casting of other characters was also spot on and gave them a chance to develop.
This show worked because it rebelled against usual sitcoms and brought a sense of anger with it. It was bitingly satirical, critical, tragic at times and yet always damned funny. Maybe the fact that the Vietnam war was still going on also helped to keep it topical despite the fact it was based on an earlier conflict.
Mash worked and still works because it wears its heart on its sleeve. The characters grow as the show develops and whilst some episodes really stick out as plain brilliant, the writing and acting is consistent throughout its run. Satirical black comedy at its finest! Personally i rate this show and 'Bilko' as the two best comedy series to ever come out of the US. A wonderful show !
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I've just written a review for the similarly themed 2003 film 'To Kill a King' and am very surprised there is no review for 'Cromwell' so here is my take.
I remember doing the English civil war at school and being bored to tears by it. This film actually not only makes it interesting but makes you realise just how significant the event was. Richard Harris brings his own gravitas to the role although Cromwell was a notoriously ugly and brutish man, much more like Tim Roth's portrayal in the 2003 film.
There is a good sense of scale involved here. We see the key battles being fought (and yes that is a very young Timothy Dalton as Rupert) and the incredible obstinance of the King (played with huge dignity by Alec Guinness). Irishman Harris may have seemed an odd choice for the role but he does it with conviction and belief. This film portrays Cromwell as a man who knows that he must do some terrible things for the greater good of the country, and whether or not there is any truth in that is another matter, but Harris portrays him as a tortured soul driven by circumstances and the need for a greater good.
A solid supporting cast also help to bring this film to life. The politics and maybe historical accuracy may not always be correct but the fine cast, direction and script make this a worthy, if slightly long, film to watch.