UK DVD & Blu-ray Releases: Monday 20th September 2010

DVD & BLU-RAY PICKS

The World at War: The Ultimate Restored Edition (Fremantle Home Entertainment): The landmark documentary series about World War II is rightly regarded as one of the greatest in the history of television. It took four years to produce the 26 episodes which were produced by Jeremy Isaacs and narrated by Laurence Olivier.

The range of material is breathtaking, featuring a broad spectrum of people involved in the war including civilians, soliders, officers and politicians.

Key interviewees include Albert Speer, James Stewart, Curtis LeMay, Lord Mountbatten of Burma, Alger Hiss, Paul Tibbets, Anthony Eden and Traudl Junge.

Originally screened in the UK on ITV between October 1973 and May 1974, it has subsequently become a staple of history channels around the world.

This new version has undergone a painstaking restoration process with the audio enhanced and a new widescreen presentation. The decision to convert the aspect ratio from the original 4:3 to 16:9 meant that restored masters were created for multiple use (for Blu-ray, DVD and broadcast).

The aspect ratio conversion was done by going back to the original materials and then using a special pan and scan process which was set to strict guidelines.

The ten hours of special features include:

  • Brand new – Restoring the World at War – narrated by Sir Jeremy Isaacs, this feature explores every element of the restoration process
  • 11 features including the making of the original series
  • Photo galleries
  • Biographies Speeches and songs
  • Newsreels and maps.

[Buy it on Blu-ray / Buy it on DVD]

The Ghost (Optimum Home Entertainment): Adapted by Robert Harris from his own novel, the story sees a journalist (Ewan McGregor) agree to ghost write the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), who bears a striking similarity to Tony Blair.

When the writer sets to work at the PM’s residence in Martha’s Vineyard, he finds out that his predecessor has mysteriously drowned as well as some other unnerving things.

Lang could be guilty of war crimes, specifically colluding with the US on torturing terrorist suspects, and after talking to his wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) and assistant Amelia (Kim Cattrall) he uncovers murky inconsistencies about the political leader’s background.

The first and most obvious aspect of The Ghost is the quality of the film making. Although it isn’t up there with his best work (Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown and The Pianist) it is a highly absorbing and technically proficient thriller.

Its stately pace and considered approach are so old fashioned as to be positively revolutionary in these times, but it is a reminder that a veteran European director can still make a relevant and accessible film about contemporary issues.

The extras on this version include:

  • The Ghost Writer: Fiction or Reality? (10:46 in HD)
  • The Cast of The Ghost Writer (11:48 in HD)
  • World Premiere in Berlin (1:52)
  • Press Conference to Berlinale (36:33 in HD)
  • Interviews with McGregor (2:11), Brosnan (2:53), Harris (3:58), Olivia Williams (3:23), Polanski (8:33 in HD)
  • Trailer (2:17 in HD)
  • Photo Gallery (1:30 in HD)

[Buy it on Blu-ray / Buy it on DVD]

The Special Relationship (Optimum Home Entertainment): The third film to explore the career of Tony Blair is a well staged drama about his political relationship with Bill Clinton. Screenwriter Peter Morgan previously dramatised key periods in the career of the former British Prime Minister in The Deal (2003) and The Queen (2006), both of which were directed by Stephen Frears.

The latest charts Blair’s relations with Clinton in the 1990s as he sought to form an alliance with a political soul mate who could package ‘third-way’ liberal politics to an electorate that had fallen for Thatcher and Regan.

The bulk of it deals with Blair (Michael Sheen) and Clinton (Dennis Quaid) debating various issues in the late 1990s, whilst Cherie Blair (Helen McCrory) and Hilary Clinton (Hope Davis) look on and provide commentary on this transatlantic relationship.

As in his previous works depicting modern history, Morgan offers some sharp insights into Blair’s political journey from a Prime Minister dazzled by the trappings of power, to one who soon becomes too enamoured with spin and military intervention.

Clinton comes across as some kind of unlikely soothsayer, but director Richard Longcraine puts things together with a good deal of technical skill – despite having a TV premiere it has the feel of a feature film – and it will provide a lot of talking points for people in a month which has seen the real life Blair issue his memoirs.

The extras aren’t exactly extensive on this one, featuring the following:

  • Trailers
  • Interviews
  • B-roll footage

[Buy it on Blu-ray / Buy it on DVD]

Mother (Optimum Home Entertainment): After the success of his 2005 monster film The Host, director Bong Joon Ho has returned with this strange but compelling thriller set in rural Korea about a devoted mother (Kim Hye Ja) who goes to desperate extremes to protect her mentally disabled son (Won Bin).

A mixture of psychological thriller, mystery and domestic drama, it features an outstanding central performance from Kim Hye Ja, several satisfying twists, some killer editing and a vaguely unsettling sense that mad things will happen at any moment.

The extras are:

  • The Making of Mother
  • The transformation of Hye-Ja Kim
  • Cast and crew reflect
  • Trailer

[Buy it on Blu-ray / Buy it on DVD]

ALSO OUT

Arn – Knight Templar (High Fliers Video Distribution) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Camp Rock 2 – The Final Jam (Extended Edition) Walt Disney Studios Home Ent. [Blu-ray / DVD]
Cop Out (Warner Home Video) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Death Note (4Digital Asia) [Blu-ray / with DVD]
Forbidden Planet (Warner Home Video) [Blu-ray / DVD]
I Spit On Your Grave (101 Films) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Lang Lang: Live in Vienna (Sony Classics) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Mars Attacks! (Warner Home Video) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Robin Hood (Universal Pictures) [Blu-ray / DVD / Limited Edition]
The Back-up Plan (Sony Pictures Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / DVD]
The Hannibal Lecter Trilogy (Universal Pictures) [Blu-ray / DVD]
The Sword With No Name (Showbox Media Group) [Blu-ray / DVD]
Tooth Fairy (20th Century Fox Home Ent.) [Blu-ray / DVD]
[Rec] (E1 Entertainment UK) [Blu-ray / DVD]
[Rec] 2 (E1 Entertainment UK) [Blu-ray / DVD]

The DVD and Blu-ray releases for September 2010
The Best DVD and Blu-ray releases of 2009

The Ghost

The Ghost is a skilful political thriller examining the aftermath of the War on Terror which reflects the life and career of its director Roman Polanski.

Adapted by Robert Harris from his own novel, the story sees a journalist (Ewan McGregor) agree to ghost write the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister, Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), who bears a striking similarity to Tony Blair.

When the writer sets to work at the PM’s residence in Martha’s Vineyard, he finds out that his predecessor has mysteriously drowned and some other unnerving things.

Lang could be guilty of war crimes, specifically colluding with the US on torturing terrorist suspects, and after talking to his wife Ruth (Olivia Williams) and assistant Amelia (Kim Cattrall) he uncovers murky inconsistencies about the political leader’s background.

The first and most obvious aspect of The Ghost is the quality of the film making. Although it isn’t up there with his best work (Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown and The Pianist) it is a highly absorbing and technically proficient thriller.

Its stately pace and considered approach are so old fashioned as to be positively revolutionary in these times, but it is a reminder that a veteran European director can still make a relevant and accessible film about contemporary issues.

I still have grave reservations about Ewan McGregor’s ability to do an accent but his overall performance is perhaps the best work he has done in quite some time.

Brosnan has much less screen time than I expected, but the easy charm, intelligence and thinly-veiled vanity he brings to the role is spot on. It might just be his best ever performance.

The real revelatory turn though is from Olivia Williams, who reminds us that this isn’t just a satire on the Blairs. Far from being a Cherie Blair clone, she is pitch perfect in an intriguing role, filling it with subtlety and nuance.

Given that the vast bulk of the film takes place at a house in America, the production design is first rate. The interiors were shot at studios in Berlin, with the island of Sylt in Nothern Germany ably doubling for a rainy Martha’s Vineyard.

Despite the technical expertise, including some nice widescreen cinematography from Pawel Edelman (who shot Polanski’s Oliver Twist and The Pianist), there is a distracting score by Alexandre Desplat, which – for the first half of the film at least – is filled with jaunty, vaguely comic rhythms and melodies that somewhat dilutes the sense of menace.

Some may expect this to be a broad satire on Blair’s enthusiasm for US foreign policy under the Bush Administration, but to the film’s credit it is more nuanced than that.

Indeed, the politics are not as cut and dried as they might initially seem. Although the climactic twist is something of a let down, there is a mournful tone to the film which captures both the disillusion with Blair and impotence citizens feel in the face of political leaders waging wars with no foreseeable end.

For some reason this film is called The Ghost in the UK and The Ghost Writer in other territories (although the print I saw it on said the latter), but the discrepancy is an interesting one as the title proves to be more than just a marketing after thought.

In a literal sense it describes the journalist (who is never named) but it could also refer to Lang, who is literally in a political afterlife and whose past actions continue to linger. But in an ironic twist – that no-one could have foreseen when it went into production – the real ghost of this film is Polanski himself.

Although it can be contentious to judge any work through a biographical lens, this film is a notable example of life and art colliding in an extraordinary way.

Whilst the film was in post production last September, the events of Polanski’s past caught up with him when he was arrested in Zurich and faced possible extradition to the US for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.

Although the controversy about that is yet to be resolved, all the way through The Ghost Writer I couldn’t shake the parallels between his life and what was on screen.

Like Lang, Polanski is forced into exile in a foreign country with the threat of prosecution; he has a murky past coming back to haunt him and he is also charming, skilled and flawed.

In the novel one could get the idea that the ghost writer is a version of Robert Harris, an initial supporter of Blair and a close friend of New Labour architect Peter Mandelson, who became disillusioned by the Iraq War.

But with the film adaptation, it struck me that the audience is invited to put themselves in the ghost writer’s shoes (there is probably a reason he is unnamed). Considering the parallels between Lang and Blair, the film actually becomes a fascinating insight into the career and life of Polanski.

In the the fascinating 2008 documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, the LA prosecutor Roger Gunson commented on the recurring themes of the director’s work:

“Every Roman Polanski movie has the theme [of] corruption meeting innocence over water”

The infamous events of March 1977 could be interpreted in these terms: Polanski (corruption) met Samantha Geimer (innocence) over water (Jack Nicholson’s jacuzzi).

With The Ghost we again have corruption (political crimes and CIA intrigue), meeting innocence (a journalist discovering dark things) over water (drowning writers, political torture involving waterboarding).

Although ghosts are impossible in the literal sense, it is spooky the way Polanski’s life and career haunts what could be his last ever film.

> Official site
> The Ghost at the IMDb
> Reviews of The Ghost at Metacritic
> Posters of Polanski films that reflect some of his themes

UK Cinema Releases: Friday 16th April 2010

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NATIONAL RELEASES

Dear John (Paramount/Momentum): A romantic drama about a US soldier (Channing Tatum) who falls for a conservative college student (Amanda Seyfried) while he’s home on leave. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom (yes, the man who once made My Life as a Dog) this is aimed squarely at female audiences who lapped up The Notebook on DVD, and as such it could do reasonable business. Random fact: this was the film that ended Avatar’s long run at the top of the US box office. [Odeon Leicester Square & Nationwide / 12A]

Cemetery Junction (Sony Pictures): The latest project from Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant is a coming of age tale set in Reading during the 1970s that involves three men working at an insurance company: Freddie (Christian Cooke); Bruce (Tom Hughes) and Snork (Jack Doolan). Loosely based on Gervais’ own background, he’ll be hoping that the more introspective tone won’t put off audiences expecting to see the David Brent dance for the 76th time. [Nationwide / 15]

The Ghost (Optimum Releasing): Based on the novel by Robert Harris about a a journalist (Ewan McGregor) who is hired to write the memoirs of a former UK Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan), who may or may not have sinister motives. Directed by Roman Polanski, who has had an eventful year to say the least, it premièred to generally warm reviews and will undoubtedly intrigue upscale audiences, especially as the PM character is unofficially based on Tony Blair. [Odeon Leicester Square, Tricycle Kilburn & Nationwide / 15]

Repo Men (Universal): A sci-fi thriller set in the near future when artificial organs can be bought on credit, the story centres on a repo man (Jude Law) who struggles to meet the payments on his heart and has to go on the run. Directed by Miguel Sapochnik, this got scathing reviews in the US and makes you wonder what happened to Jude Law’s career. [Vue West End & Nationwide / 18]

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ALSO OUT

Boogie Woogie (Vertigo Films): A comedy of manners set against the backdrop of contemporary London and the international art scene, starring Amanda Seyfried, Gillian Anderson, Stellan Skarsgård, Christopher Lee and Joanna Lumley. [Apollo Piccadilly Circus, Coronet Notting Hill & Key Cities / 15]

City Of Life And Death (High Fliers Films): A Chinese film which dramatises the Nanking Massacre of 1937. Directed by Lu Chuan and starring Liu Ye and Gao Yuanyuan. [Curzon Mayfair, Gate & City Screen / 15]

Crying With Laughter (Britfilms Distn.): First-time feature from director Justin Molotnikov set in Edinburgh about a comedian (Stephen McCole) and a fan (Malcolm Shields) who wants him to attend a ‘reunion’. [Apollo Piccadilly & Key Cities / 15]

The Heavy (Parkland Pictures): A gangster thriller about a hard man (Gary Stretch) recently released from prison who is upset with his politician brother (Adrian Paul). [Key Cities / 18]

Give Me Your Hand (Peccadillo Pictures): A road movie from French director Pascal-Alex Vincent, about teenage twins hitch-hiking across France to attend the funeral of their mother. [Cine Lumiere, Shortwave Cinema & Key Cities]

The Manchurian Candidate (Park Circus): A re-release for the classic 1962 conspiracy thriller starring Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey. [BFI Southbank & Key Cities / 12A]

The Market (The Works International): A low budget British film about a Turkish salesman from director Ben Hopkins. [BFI Southbank & Rich Mix / 12A]

Beeswax (ICA Cinema): Another blast of Mumblecore (hopefully the last) which sees two sisters in their mid-30s go in and out of jobs in Austin, Texas. [ICA Cinema]

Bananas!* (Dogwoof): A documentary from Swedish director Fredrik Gertten about a raft of class-action lawsuits taken out against the Dole Food Company, which has used controversial chemicals on their banana plantations in Nicaragua. [ICA Cinema & Key Cities]

Paathshaala (Eros): Bollywood film set in an Indian school starring Shahid Kapoor, Ayesha Takia, Ali Haji and Nana Patekar and directed by Milind Ukey.

DVD and Blu-ray Picks for Monday 12th April including The Bicycle Thieves, Henri-George Clouzot’s Inferno and Wonders of the Solar System
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