DVD Round-up, 10 January 2009

Set in Johannesburg, featuring prawn-like aliens whose dialogue needs on-screen subtitles to be understood and a leading character who is racist (or is that speciest?) towards the aliens, District 9 (Sony Pictures) isn’t your typical feelgood film.

Throw in some clever parallels to South African politics, a brilliant central performance from Sharlto Copley as desk-bound paper pusher Wikus Van De Merwe and a smart script which slowly builds up the tension as things go from bad to worse for Wikus, and you’ve got something special.

Add an executive producer in the shape of Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson and some of the best CGI you’ll see this year – the aliens look like they’re interacting with the humans in many scenes and watching the various guns and gadgets in action is intense – and District 9 becomes a contender for best action/sci-fi film of 2009, if not the last few years.

The effects look gorgeous on the Blu-ray edition, a commentary from direct Neil Blomkamp and extras such as the three part filmmaker’s documentary and in-depth looks at how the visuals were created helping to make this as informative as it is entertaining.

Short films may be an acquired taste, but 1965’s Paris vu Par (Artificial Eye) puts an interesting spin on the genre by linking six stories by half a dozen of France’s finest directors via different neighbourhoods of Paris.

Each director – Jean Douchet, Jean Rouche, Jean-Daniel Pollet, Eric Rohmer, Jean-Luc Goddard and Claude Chabrol – is given a separate cast and script and allowed to delve into various relationships and situations.

From a two-timing hussy attempting to pacify her lovers to a comedically-confused shop owner who thinks he’s murdered a tramp with his umbrella and a bored housewife determined to see more of the world, the films are all timeless in the stories they tell.

Out of all them it’s Chabrol’s La Muette which is the stand out piece, a funny, yet shocking, vignette which will catch even the most hardened film fan by surprise.

In each mini-epic it’s Paris that remains stalwart in the background, a non-judgemental onlooker happy to remain the playground of the tourists while real life takes place in its suburbs. Paris vu Par is a gorgeous little film which will demand re-watching.

The last few weeks may have seen the birth of a new Time Lord on our TV screens in the latest Doctor Who adventure, but turn the clock back 47 years and there’s a chance to see the very first Doctor, aka actor William Hartnell, in his last film role before the Tardis beckoned.

The World Ten Times Over (Optimum) tells the story of nightclub hostess Billa (Sylvia Simms) who shares a flat with fun loving Ginnie (June Ritchie) in the London of the early 1960s. As the glamour of the back street clubs starts to fade and Billa is faced with her distant father (Hartnell) who has come to visit, the world of the two women begins to disintegrate around them.

Although a bleak film, The World Ten Times Over is worth watching for the strong performances of Hartnell and Simms as a father and daughter who have drifted so far apart they don’t know how to communicate anymore.

Simms in particular gives Billa a world weariness which makes her all too believable and it’s surprising this film has been so overlooked in the long list of Sixties classics we subscribe to.

Moving out of London and into the 1970s, Spring and Port Wine (Optimum) takes us up to the factories of the industrial north of England and into the lives of the Crompton family, led by patriarch Rafe (James Mason).

Fiercely proud and determined not to make the same mistakes his parents did, Rafe ensures that his large family never borrow or live on Hire Purchase, their lives revolving around their small house and meal times together.

When youngest daughter Hilda (Susan George) refuses to eat the meal provided, arguing she puts her wages in the pot and deserves the right to choose, it’s the catalyst for a sequence of events which threatens to tear the family apart for good.

Based on a play by screenwriter Bill Naughton, there’s a definite stage-bound feel to the film, TV director Roger Hammond keen to keep the family gathered around the kitchen table. Young actors such as George, Hannah Gordon and Rodney Bewes imbue the film with energy while James Mason impresses as the father who knows best but who always has a twinkle in his eye.

Of all the characters it’s perhaps Diana Coupland as Mother who has provides the heart the film and it’s her the camera lingers on as the madness around her grows to a crescendo.

A snapshot of a way of life now long gone, Spring and Port Wine is a memorable ensemble piece with a nice line in humour which lightens the darker edges.

From the sublime to the ridiculous now, with the arrival of The Lost Continent (Optimum) on DVD. Made by the House of Blood itself, Hammer, the opening sequence of a motley ships crew watching their Captain (Eric Porter) commit a body to the ocean soon flashes back to the events which led to current events.

Those events involve a mysterious cargo, odd passengers and mutiny, each new twist resulting in a group of strange bedfellows drifting into misty waters and ending up in a land that time has seemingly forgot (though that’s another film entirely).

With a budget that apparently ran out during filming and a script which veers between serious and ludicrous, this is a mixed bag.

There’s undoubtedly something fun in watching giant squid eating nefarious characters, but when a group of Spanish religious nuts turn up sacrificing humans to appease their god, it’s hard to know what the scriptwriter was thinking.

One for a rainy Sunday, The Lost Continent is good campy fun: just watch out for the squid.

Finally, And Then There Were None (Optimum) is a 1970s take on 1930s Agatha Christie novel Ten Little Indians, a claustrophobic and typically convoluted story centring on a group of disparate characters brought together in an old house in the desert by the mysterious Mr Owen (the voice of Orson Welles).

Oliver Reed, Elke Sommer and Richard Attenborough are among the rag-tag group – French crooner Charles Aznavour even popping up to provide a slightly jarring musical interlude – and it’s never less than entertaining to watch them each trying to out-act the other.

Your enjoyment of the film no doubt depends on your tolerance for Agatha Christie, especially Christie minus Marple and Poirot, but there’s enough sheer nastiness and a great enough sense of mystery here to make it one of the better adaptations of her work.

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