Saturday, 8 January 2011

What Happened to the UK DVD Review blog?

Well it kind of died (obviously) as HD-DVD and then Blu-Ray took over.

The good news is that I am now podcasting regularly every week, although the focus is purely on new Blu-Ray releases. The new "hub" for all the reviews can be found at

There you'll find the latest audio podcasts, together with links to written reviews of films that include trailers, HD screen captures and links to other bits and pieces associated with the film.


Saturday, 28 November 2009

Blu-Ray Highlights and Pick of the Week for 30th November 2009

Watchmen (Director's Cut) (2009).

This review was originally published at

Watchmen Blu-Ray Cover and review ratings

Nobody can accuse Warner Brothers of under-exploting their Watchmen franchise in the United States. The film, from 300's director Zack Snyder, under-performed at the US box-office, and needed international sales to recover its costs, despite an extremely vocal fanbase (which turned out to be smaller than expected) for its source material, and the endless internet and film magazine hype which, let's be honest here, was more than even the Summer's biggest tentpole releases have any reasonable right to expect. Even though it's less than a year since its theatrical release, our American cousins have seen FIVE different Blu-Ray releases associated with the title. Utter madness!

Here in the UK things thankfully haven't been quite so manic on the double-dipping front. We have had silly gimmicks like a 'limited edition' (so limited it can still be found at discount in shops across the land) 'blue Dr Manhattan' Blu-Ray holder release to accompany the original theatrical release, but this is small beer compared to the States who have had: the Motion Comic blu-ray, the separate inter-linked Tales of the Black Freighter animated story blu-ray (voiced by 300's Gerard Butler no less), the Director's Cut blu-ray (identical to this UK release although I'm not sure if we get the 3D cover the Americans got) and finally (this week) the Ultimate Collector's Edition blu-ray. This last release adds a few more extra's to the Director's Cut and apparently integrates the 'Black Freight' comic directly back into the the film so you may want to consider importing that instead, especially as it's a 'region free' release.

Most sensible folks (that'll be me then!) ordered the 'region free' Director's Cut on import when it was released State-side the same week as the rather thin UK theatrical cut a few months ago. But for those that didn't, a bona fide UK release is now available.

So for Brits this release is the best in a week that is dominated by operatic music releases and different packaged and re-packaged versions of THAT plot-free film featuring those wretched brain-dead 'Transformer' robots. Remember folks, just because it's noisy doesn't mean it's good and Michael Bay has proved time and time again that he hasn't got a clue when it comes to basic dialogue, story-telling, any kind of subtlety with regard to editing or filming, or even basic consistency so PLEASE don't waste your time and money on the Transformers 2 release also out this week. Read the reviews - they ALL say it's shit!

Not that Watchmen will be to everyone's taste of course. This is not your usual super-hero fare, set around 1985 (the Nixon years) in an alternate universe, it is a much darker, bloodier and allegorical take on life than your average Superman or Fantastic Four flick, and certainly NOT one for the kiddies! It also takes time to tell its story, which caused many who just didn't really get it to complain vociferously about how 'boring' it was. And now it's about 20 minutes longer! Oh dear!

But the added 20 minutes do improve the film, allowing more of the characters' backgrounds to shine through, giving depth and slightly better explanations for what happens in the film.

Visually the film is stunning, and if there were an oscar for 'Best title sequence ever', this film would surely win it. Against a background of the history of the times (Nixon, the moon landing etc) we're given a plotted history of the group known as the Watchmen, before suddenly being plunged into the story of former members being brutally murdered, one at a time.

There are a lot of characters to show here, and a lot to convey in the 3 hours plus running time, and that isn't helped by Snyder's over-use of 'operatic' slow motion that really can grate after a while. Clearly nobody had the nerve to warn the director that there is such a thing as 'over egging the pudding'. But nobody can deny that the visuals are stunning and every dollar of the 180 million it cost are up there on screen. There are no 'big name' cast members, but the director has clearly chosen his cast based on actors who were right for the role, rather than perceived box-office pulling power.

The critics were less enthusiastic about the film than the general public have been. I think with time that opinion will change, and the film will come to be seen as a genuinely innovative 'one off', albeit one too costly and risky to set a pattern for future productions. Watchmen has more class, polish and depth than the director's previous film (300), which effectively persuaded the studio to go ahead with this project. Despite performing less well it's a better film than 300 and it's a shame more people didn't go to the cinema to see it. With a pixel-perfect transfer, breath-taking sound, ridiculously high production values, and a copious amount of extra's, you have no excuse not to check out the Blu-Ray. If you bought the original theatrical release, then the decision to upgrade is entirely down to your appreciation of the original film and its basic premise. But if you haven't purchased a copy of Watchmen on shiny disc, you no longer have a reason for not doing so.

Other Releases This Week

If you've seen David Attenborough's Planet Earth on Blu-Ray, you know how stunning his wild life series are. The new series Life is just as good, and is really just more of the same, but when 'the same' is as good as this, what's not to like? If you missed out on Planet Earth you also have the opportunity to buy a double-pack bundle that packs the two series together for a reasonable price. Highly recommended!

G-Force is the seemingly obligatory 'CGI cartoon' release of the week. Unfortunately it's not a very good one. IMDB gives it an average rating of just 4.8, and although I haven't seen the Blu-Ray I did see a 3D trailer for the film at my local IMAX. The only thing I remember about the trailer was that it was unimaginative, had no laughs, and featured rather poor rendering. One to avoid unless you're really desperate for something - anything! - to keep the kids quiet.

Reviews for The Proposal have been somewhat mixed, although many have indicated this is the first watchable film Sandra Bullock has made in a long time. It's rom-com fare, which I usually find a total turn-off, so I've given this one a miss. On the other hand, Bullock is always worth watching, as is her co-star Ryan Reynolds and since they both get naked here....    The plot sounds ludicrous, and it's doubtful that this sort of material needs high-definition (unless, of course, your main interest is the afore-mentioned nakedness, in which case I guess your mileage may vary!). So for me this is more of a rental than anything I'd want to purchase.

If, like me, you enjoy a good horror movie, Orphan looks promising, twisting the Damien-like 'evil little boy' story into an 'evil little nine-year old girl' one. Reviews have, again, been somewhat mixed and most of the criticism seems to be around the lack of originality in the story. However 15,000 people liked it enough to give it an average score of 7.2 on imdb so it's probably worth a rental at least, if not an outright purchase.

Next week sees the 'last gasp' before Christmas with more than 10 new releases on the high definition format. The week after that sees just three new Blu-Ray releases, and they're all music, so if you're going to splurge out on discs for the festive season this week or next week is probably the time to do it!

And whilst on the subject of Christmas (I know! I know!) this seems an opportune time to mention a British site specialising in reviews and price comparisons of shiny disc boxed sets. It's nothing to do with us here at Shiny Discs, but it's well worth checking out for the latest news and reviews.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

New Video Podcast Reviews at

DVD reviews are now appearing as part of my new weekly review show The Shiny Discs Show which you can find over at

The first show, for the week ending 19th April 2008, features reviews of the following UK releases: "Hidalgo" on Blu-Ray, "30 Days of Night" on Blu-Ray and DVD, "Alvin and the Chipmunks" on Blu-Ray and DVD, "Damages Season 1" on Blu-Ray and DVD, "Doctor Who: Black Orchid" on DVD, "The Death and Life of Bobby Z" on Blu-Ray and DVD, "St Trinians" on Blu-Ray and DVD, "Welcome to the Jungle" on Blu-Ray and DVD and "Chromopobia" on DVD :)

Sunday, 18 November 2007

The Jungle Book (1967)

The Jungle Book: Film 8 out of 10, DVD 8 out of 10, On Sale 5th November 2007 at a typical online price of £14.89. Imdb rating at time of writing is 7.5 with a Rotten Tomatoes 'fresh' rating of 90%

I'm not big on cartoons, even of the Disney variety - possibly because my own artistic abilities are such that in my one and only Art exam (a 'mock' O level) I got a pitiful 8%. However, I do have a soft spot for The Jungle Book, which I saw just the once before the release of this DVD set - on its original theatrical release as a ten year old kid - and I really enjoyed this just-released '40th Anniversary Edition', which boasts the usual Disney warning 'Available for a limited time only' (usually meaning a better version will be along in a few years time!)

There isn't much missing from this two disc 'platinum' edition, other than the top and bottom of the picture as the idiots have apparently decided to present the film to fill up your widescreen TV rather than present it in its original aspect ratio. You can read background information on this change in aspect ratio, along with other fascinating stuff, on my friend Brian Sibley's blog, and Brian is featured on the excellent extra's featurettes that are packaged on the second disc of this two disc set.

Orphan Mowgli and guardian Bagheera have a confrontational moment

There isn't a lot of story to Jungle Book, and what little there is doesn't have much to do with Rudyard Kipling's source novel on which it's supposed to be based, but that's not a weakness here.

Mowgli a young abandoned human orphan is brought up with a pack of wolves, under the watchful eye of Bagheera the panther, until Bagheera decides that the 'man cub' has to be returned to his own kind to escape the wrath of Shere Khan, the tiger with a silky-smooth voice but deadly claws. The film tells the story of Mowgli's journey and the various creatures he meets along the way: a squad of soldier elephants lead by crusty retired Colonel Hathi, Kaa the slippery, seductive, but fortunately incompetent hypnotic snake (sounding eerily like Winnie the Poo!), the amusing but psychopathic, self-proclaimed Kind of the Apes Louie, a barbershop quarter of Liverpudlian vultures who sound suspiciously like Paul, George and Ringo, and best of all, best buddy Baloo the Bear.

40 years on, the film has lost none of the charm I remember from that first viewing, and it's not hard to see why as a kid I developed a sudden appetite for a breakfast cereal I'd never been interested before (Sugar Puffs) because of its free colour Letrasets of the main figures. This animated film presses all the right buttons, thanks mainly to great, strong, instantly-memorable characters and stand-out songs that will now be familiar to all. It's quite an achievement when one realises that the emotion and empathy the film instills in its audience is just the result of some lines and inks drawn on paper.

The hypnotic snake Kaa sees a tasty snack in Mowgli

Casting is perfect, as one has come to expect from Disney, with the characters even being drawn to reflect the appearance of their vocal counterparts, with Phil Harris as slacker Balloo the Bear, being the sort of buddy everyone would like to hang out with.

Comedic value is featured throughout with incredible performances from not just Harris but the entire vocal cast. George Sanders is well known to film fans for his 'British cad' performances, perhaps best exemplified by his role as the narrator and gossip columnist in All About Eve, but was he ever in finer form than he is here as the deadly Shere Khan? His performance here is beyond exquisite, it's perfection!

Mowgli falls into line when he meets an ageing elephant colonel and his army

The transfer is as impeccable, barbaric cropping issues aside, as one has come to expect from Disney's 'Platinum' series, and the songs are beautifully presented in a strong surround sound mix. The DVD itself is presented in the usual Amray case, encased in a luxurious slip-case, which goes some way to justifying the high price tag. In the afore-mentioned blog post from Brian he mentions an included booklet - not in my British retail copy (or anybody elses, I suspect) there isn't! Just endless leaflets for offers such as a Parrot smoothie, or the chance to win a trip to DisneyLand Paris, or a home entertainment system if I buy laundry products.

Yet again we Brits seem to have been screwed when what we get for our inflated prices are compared with what the American market gets for less money. This proves to be yet another release where you're better off buying a Region 1 player and importing the DVD from the States.

Fortunately, the extra's disc help takes some of the pain away, with a series of thoughtful and well researched featurettes on the film and its animators, instead of the usual mindless kiddie-oriented 'games' fare we often get with these 'family-oriented' DVDs. The kids will probably be bored by all the interviews with old men reminiscing about what working for the Disney studio in the 60's was like, but I was fascinated throughout.

Baloo the ear teaches Mowgli about 'The Bear Necessities' of life

Extra's aside, if you've got kids then The Jungle Book should be considered an essential purchase. Forty years on the film stands the test of time, and is infinitely preferable to more technically accomplished 3D fare (I made the mistake of watching the recently issued The Robinsons on Blu-Ray before this standard DVD and there really is no comparison - The Jungle Book comes out way ahead, even to this jaded, adult viewer).

Even if you don't have kids you should treat yourself to this DVD set as I did (although given the missing booklet from the UK release, importing from the States looks like the best option). If you're not tapping your feet throughout and then pressing the 'Eject' button at the end with a big stupid kid's smile on your face at the end then you probably need to check that you've still got a pulse. Highly recommended!

Mad King Louie of the apes wants to be human like Mowgli

Saturday, 17 November 2007

The Golden Door (2006)

Golden Door: Film 8 out of 10, DVD 7 out of 10, On Sale 29th October 2007 at a typical online price of £11.89. Imdb rating at time of writing is 7.1 with a Rotten Tomatoes 'fresh' rating of 72%

When you watch as many films as I do it's hard to find something that feels genuinely different or non-formulaic. I guess you could argue that The Golden Door follows a certain formula - a simple tale about a turn-of-the-century Sicilian family leaving everything behind to take their chances in 'the new world' of America - but I think few would argue that it's a different kind of film from the norm.

Ordinarily words like 'poetic' or 'tedious and bland' (that last quote from Empire, proving yet again how they've completely lost the plot with their reviews) would have me running a mile, but The Golden Door is a wonderful, elegiac film with imagery that I'm continually harking back to, a week or so after first viewing.

And I don't think it's ALL down to the fact that Vincenzo Amato is very pleasing on the eye!

With The Golden Door director Emanuele Crialese has created a cinematic masterpiece which, admittedly, may be too slow for more mainstream audiences, but is undoubtedly a work of great craftsmanship and beauty nonetheless.

Salvatore and his two sons receive a sign that they should head for 'the new world' of America

Vincento Amato plays Salvator Mancuso, a long-widowed Sicilian peasant struggling to earn enough to support his two sons - one a seemingly adopted deaf mute - and ageing mother. Salvator wants the best for his family, and thinks that following his twin brother, who left for 'the new world' of America some years previously, is probably the best way to achieve that. It's a decision presumably arrived at by the numerous, repeated stories that in America 'money grows on trees' and 'rivers flow with milk'.

Still undecided, he climbs a mountain to ask God for some sign as to what he should do - go or stay? - and appears to get it when almost immediately his mute son brings him a misappropriated photo of some American founding fathers pictured alongside a ridiculously large vegetable.

The film for the most part plots the family's voyage to the new world, the golden doors of the title, with an emphasis on the repercussions of the family meeting an English Rose character Lucy Reed, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, at their port of departure. Lucy seems to be in trouble and attaches herself to the family, eventually asking Salvator to marry her so that she can legally take up residency in the United States.

Widowed Salvatore is intrigued by his English fellow traveller

The cast are uniformly excellent, with Amato and Gainsbourg having particularly difficult roles to play in that most communication has to be non-verbal. Amato has to convince us that on the one hand he's a strong father figure - a good, proud, honest, hard-working man - whilst also being vulnerable and somewhat naive about what the emigration attempt means for his family who are the most important thing in his life. Salvatore is an eternal optimist and his portrayal throughout helps keep what is actually quite dark and depressing material, light and magical. His sudden love for the extremely 'alien' Lucy Reed (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is never in doubt, thanks to a wonderfully subtle performance that relies for the most part on subtle facial movements and mannerisms that rely, if anything, on 'under-acting' the role.

Gainsbourg has an equally difficult role as the enigmatic English Rose who clearly has a troubled history, as evidenced by the gossip about her from fellow travellers and her own stubborn and strong - but isolated - demeanour throughout. She impresses in every scene, subtly seducing all those who might help her, whilst being firm with those who cannot or will not, and it's hard to think of any living actress who could have given us such a clear vision of this role.

Charlotte Gainsbourg plays English woman Lucy Reed, in need of a husband for a new life in America

But the real stars of the film aren't the leads, excellent though they are. The real star is director and writer Emanuale Crialese who avoids falling into the trap of over-sentimentalising the story, or sticking to a single, strong narrative, instead choosing to tell his heart-breaking story anecdotally through little vignettes, or surreal dream sequences, with a fluidity that is mesmerising and beautiful to look at.

In some ways the film asks more questions than it answers. We never find out the whole back-story for the central character of Lucy Reed, or truly understand what her motives are. The film essentially ends with Salvatore being asked a question that we never really get the answer to, such that the viewer has to make his/her own mind up as to what actually happens to the family, although a surreal 'dream sequence' coda showing the family and other travellers swimming through rivers of milk give some clues as to what the film has been about, and what the possible outcome might be.

A tidy ending is really not the point of the film, which has been designed to highlight the experiences of those early Italian pioneers who followed their dreams over a hundred years ago, and in the process give us some understanding as to the trials and tribulations they faced. As such, it succeeds beautifully and helps put some perspective on the aspirational journeys of our ancestors when compared with the 'but it's my dream' nonsense of today's X-Factor celebrity-obsessed wanna-be's.

With a shaved off 'tache and fog to obscure his new look Salvatore proposes to English woman Lucy Reed

The DVD contains a good transfer of what looks like difficult material. There are no scratches or print damage, but with so much of the film being shot in dark surroundings there are above-average signs of significant grain/noise and murkiness that at times give the impression one is watching a VHS tape rather than a DVD. I'd love to see a version of this film on one of the high definition formats, cleaned up to remove much of that murkiness.

Extra's wise there's an excellent 'Making of', but unfortunately presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, together with an American trailer that is at least presented in the correct anamorphic format. This is perfectly adequate for a foreign language film like this, but I've docked the DVD a mark over the film because there appears to be a problem with the pressing. Both copies of the DVD (I'm on my second copy now) lock up two of my DVD players around the half-way mark with the XBox 360 HD-DVD drive frequently stuttering and locking up with an annoying 'Attempting to read media' error. Having to switch to a laptop to watch the middle 10 minutes of the film is extremely annoying to say the least, and given the number of discs my players are perfectly happy with, this has to be a fault with the disc pressing.

Disc pressing issues aside, this is a recommended purchase as opposed to a rental. The beauty of some of the scenes is such that I'd be surprised if this wasn't one of those films most would want to return to and rewatch at some point. Excellent stuff, despite what Empire says!

The Italians look out optimistically to 'The New World', little knowing what trials and traumas US immigration has in store for them