DVD Round-up, 21 September 2009

A round-up of recent DVD releases.

Based on the 2005 six-part BBC thriller featuring David Morrissey and John Simm caught up in a scandal following the death of a political aide, State of Play (Universal Home Entertainment) sees Ben Affleck and Russell Crowe take over for this pared down US remake.

When Senator Stephen Collins (Affleck) hears of the death of his assistant and lover, it’s not long before the press get a hold of the story, old friend Cal McCaffrey (Crowe) volunteering himself as investigator into the story of the year. In fine conspiracy movie fashion, it’s not long before there’s more death and a dash of destruction for Cal to look into, the appearance of professional political blogger Della (Rachel McAdams) perhaps the biggest mystery for the old-school journo to get his head around.

Newbies to the world of State of Play will revel in the smart dialogue, witty one-liners and Helen Mirren, while fans of the original will find themselves playing a game of “spot the difference” throughout as scenes and characters are excised to ensure the run time stays manageable. It’s an impressive mix which perhaps doesn’t quite have the grace of the BBC version but it makes up for it with sheer energy.

Liam Neeson and James Nesbitt play against type in Five Minutes of Heaven (Element Pictures), an intriguing BBC film depicting the aftermath of a real-life Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) killing in 1970’s Belfast on two men caught up in the violence.

What makes this story unusual is that once the facts are out of the way – Alistair Little (Neeson) did indeed murder the brother of James Griffin (Nesbitt) in 1975 as part of a desire to be seen as worthy of membership of the UVF – the film moves into “what if?” territory, the film depicting what might happen if the men confronted each other today.

Screenwriter Guy Hibbert’s script depicts the guilt and pain felt by the two men in a number of ways, with Neeson and Nesbitt’s actions often saying more than overlong dialogue could hope to. Though the pair share little time on-screen together, Nesbitt’s twitchy performance is an antidote to Neeson’s outwardly relaxed persona, flashbacks to their past helping to explain the present.

Topped off by some stylish direction from Downfall director Oliver Hirschbiegel, this is a satisfying drama which definitely deserves more than five minutes of your time.

Armour and amour abound in The Black Shield of Falworth (Eureka!), freshly minted for its release on Blu-ray.

The first Cinemascope film made in
Technicolor, this 1954 swashbuckler stars Brooklyn-boy Tony Curtis as English peasant Miles, determined to discover his true lineage by gaining access to MacWorth castle and swordfighting his way to the facts behind his family tree.

On hand to offer the love interest is Janet Leigh as Lady Anne, while Patrick O’Neal’s Sir Walter Blount is suitably menacing to the young knight-to-be.

Ignore the fact that this was clearly filmed on an LA backlot and that Curtis’ accent is Sussex by way of the Bronx and you have a suitably rip-roaring little adventure which looks better than ever in this new hi-def transfer.

Finally arriving on DVD after years of being overshadowed by siblings Gregory’s Girl and Local Hero, That Sinking Feeling (2Ientertain) was Bill Forsyth’s directorial debut in 1980 and for many it’s his best, most personal, work.

Focusing on four young teenagers from Glasgow, the film follows them as they discuss suicide and sinks, a plan to carry out a heist hatched among them.

Though Forsyth’s trademark wit and magic is present, it’s tragically overshadowed on this release by the fact that the DVD’s owners have given us the international version of the film, complete with watered down “posh” Scottish accents which completely alter the feel of the piece.

If you can get through the film without wincing every time someone opens their mouth then you might just enjoy the film. Otherwise it’s a sadly tainted film which can only be recommended to Forsyth obsessives who just can’t wait to see it turns up on TV soon in the correct version.

One film which certainly isn’t witty or magical is The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations (Icon Home), the second sequel to the 2004 Ashton Kutcher-starrer Butterfly Effect. Kutcher is long gone from the franchise, now replaced by Chris Carmack as Sam Reid, a man who can travel back in time with the aid of a low-fi time machine and lots of ice in a bath.

Reid helps local police to solve crimes, pretending he’s psychic while each time nipping back to the scene of the crime to see for himself what really happened. When things get too close to home for Sam, he tries to change the course of history to save his dead girlfriend while trying to keep things on track in the present.

Sadly Butterfly Effect 3 makes little sense. The constant time travelling gets quite confusing, with no clear idea of what’s going on from one minute to the next. Carmack is decent enough but he’s not helped by having a one-dimensional character and co-stars who look bored.

Perhaps if Butterfly Effect 4 ever gets made they’ll travel back in time to stop number 3 ever getting greenlit and I’ll forget I ever watched it.

Finally, forget the cult of Mamma Mia! – one of Benny and Bjorn’s earlier musical efforts, Chess: The Musical (Warner Music Entertainment) has now arrived on shiny disc.

Marti Pellow heads the cast of this Cold War romp, with love among the chess pieces of a world championship the cetral focus of the piece.

Though the cast have clearly put in the effort, and it must have been impressive to witness from the stalls, there’s something missing on DVD, a lack of energy and buzz.

Still, if you love a good musical, Marti Pellow or anything with Benny and Bjorn’s name attached, then this is for you.

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