DVD Round-up, 19 April 2010

It’s a sad fact that sleaze and scandal are something of a mainstay of modern British life. Gone are the days of hushed-up goings-on in nightclubs by politicians and minor celebrities which at one time would only have bothered their consciousnesses – these days they’re likely to be splashed across the front of a tabloid rag and in the next issue of a celebrity magazine.

Of course, not everything makes it as far as the papers, with extortionate fees paid to publicists such as Max Clifford to hush up the seediest stories while others are given a new spin which makes them more palatable to a sleaze-hungry public.

The how’s and why’s of cover-ups and expose’s are at the heart of Chris Atkins’ scathing new documentary, Starsuckers (Network), which fearlessly looks behind the lies and half-truths while creating a few of its own for the purposes of the film.

At breakneck speed we’re dragged through the gutter and beyond as Clifford is shown proudly discussing his work while new light is shed upon celeb-led good causes such as Live 8, the truth behind them worthy of a documentary of their own.

Quite what can be done to halt the rot setting in any further is debatable, but it’s important that as many of us watch Starsuckers before that next issue of Celebrity Fakes-R-Us Weekly hits the shops.

Extras include deleted scenes, a making-of and commentary.

Steven Soderbergh is a director with a varied back catalogue of films: the man who brought us the fun Ocean’s 13 is also responsible for the darker Che and the cult The Limey. Now he changes direction again for The Informant! (Warner Home Video), a picture which almost defies categorisation as it introduces us to a world of industrial espionage and personal intrigue in 1990s America.

Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) is a successful vice president of an agri-business who does the unthinkable and admits to FBI agent Brian Shepard (Scott Bakula) that his company has been involved in price-fixing.

Going undercover as informer for the FBI, Whitacre becomes involved in ever-more dangerous situations as he tries to expose his bosses, the plot getting further twisted when it turns out he in turn is playing games with the FBI.

The Informant! is never a straightforward watch, with jaunty incidental music at odds with the drama and Whitacre’s mental state often difficult to understand. What’s obvious is that Damon is a skilled comic actor, his confident grasp of the material ensuring that repeated viewings will allow the viewer to better gain an insight into the mind of his character.

The Blu-ray-only director’s commentary is worth checking out, Soderbergh’s yack tracks renowned for their frankness and honesty.

Espionage of a different kind can be found in the new release of 1960s thriller Maroc 7 (Network), featuring US actor Gene Barry as wannabe-Bond Simon Grant making his way from swinging London to dusty Morocco in search of a deadly fashion photographer, played by the less-than-killer Leslie Phillips.

Maroc 7 is fascinating for its kitsch value and the sight of Phillips (who also produced the film) doing more than simply ogling the fairer sex, though it’s safe to say that Barry was never going to beat Connery at his own game as the rather bland Grant. Cyd Charisse adds glamour to the piece and the score is above par.

Extras include three image galleries and a PDF publicity booklet.

Cult movie fans who revere the work of Japanese actor, director and sometime gameshow host “Beat” Takeshi Kitano should look out for the mind-boggling Takeshis’ (Artificial Eye), his new film which looks at the world of a celebrity in an entirely new way.

Whilst Beat Takeshi (Takeshi) is a much-loved film star, convenience store worker Kitano (also Takeshi) is a lookalike actor who is searching for his own way into the industry.

Fate lends a hand by crossing the paths of the pair, both the film’s characters and its viewers pulled into a world of confusion as a result.

Takeshis’ is a film which needs time devoted to it, a wild ride which never takes itself seriously but refuses to turn itself into a joke. Takeshi fans won’t need told twice that it’s a must-see, while newbies might need more convincing and should probably start with one of the actors previous works, such as Zatoichi, before embarking on this.

Finally, step back to Camelot for Eureka’s lavish release on DVD and Blu-ray of 1954’s Sunday television favourite, Prince Valiant, starring Robert Wagner, James Mason and Janet Leigh.

Prince Valiant (Robert Wagner) travels to Camelot to become Sir Gawain’s (Sterling Hayden) squire only to discover treachery in King Arthur’s court – all in glorious Cinemascope!

Though it’s little more than a romp, Henry Hathaway’s film looks and sounds epic, while the sight of James Mason in knightly garb is almost worth the price of the film alone

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