State’s roundup of DVD reviews out this month.
Director: Robert Altman.
Starring: Andie MacDowell, Matthew Modine, Anne Archer, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Robbins, Chris Penn, Robert Downey Jnr, Tom Waits, Frances McDormand, Jack Lemmon, Lyle Lovett, Huey Lewis.
Running Time: 180 minutes
Robert Altman’s classic ensemble piece from 1993 gets a welcome re-release. Intertwining Raymond Carver’s classic short stories into a reasonably cohesive whole, the maverick director manages to control a truly massive cast, many of whom deliver career best performances, particularly musical heroes Tom Waits and Lyle Lovett as an abusive husband and a nutty baker, respectively – the cast shared a special Golden Globe Award in 1994 for ensemble acting.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Short Cuts, however, is the dichotomy between the ambition of creating a film of this scale, where there are no fewer than 10 different plot strands, and the fact that each of the stories covered is a small tale, where the characters’ base humanity is the draw, rather than any studio pyrotechnics. And yet, there’s plenty of drama, with dead bodies, car crashes, domestic abuse, phone sex, infidelity, jazz and crazy bakers.
Altman’s pioneering style was to be adopted many times after Short Cuts, most notably with Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (1999), Stephen Soderbergh’s Traffic (2000)and the most successful of the lot, Paug Haggis’ Oscar-winning Crash (2004). While the film’s unique technique may have been diluted since its initial release, its quality as one of the finest character dramas ever created remains untainted. At once a statement on the human condition, a critique of life in modern America, an exploration of fate and circumstance and an indictment of an LA on the verge of meltdown, just don’t expect happy endings.
For Fans Of: Crash, The Player, Magnolia.
~ John Walshe
The Cinematic Orchestra – Ma Fleur live at the Barbican
Running Time: 72 minutes.
With this live DVD, The Cinematic Orchestra attempt to capture their supposed reputation as ‘one of the best live bands in the UK’, with nine songs recorded last May in London. It all looks very promising from the start: a wide stage, a large projector screen above, a string quartet and guest singers.
Sadly, the band are too caught up in the masturbatory frenzy of playing soundtrack jazz to give a live performance, save the drummer Luke Flowers, whose superb drumming is the caffeine-rush stopping you from dozing off. The introduction of Patrick Watson with an effects pedal helps proceedings somewhat, what with being a performer and all. No cool visuals to accompany the gig as expected, just nine single images – one per song. How exciting. Ooh! They have an Apple Mac? Maybe we’ll be treated to some upbeat electro-jazz fusion? No, no, none of that excitement here either. The laptop is just a show of modernity. It’s all too safe and studious.
State did discover an exciting new feature on our DVD player, though, that allows us to fast forward the video and the audio, essentially remixing the Cinematic Orchestra as they play. Some of it sounded like Squarepusher at his finest! Unfortunately, when you reduce it to normal speed, it goes at an unbearably slow pace, like they took all the kineticism out of music and channelled it to background muzak. Sleep-inducing.
For Fans Of: Noodly Live Jazz DVDs / Sleep.
Extras: Bonus Audio CD of remixes and alternative versions / Short film – “To Build A Home” / An hour long video art re-interpretation of Ma Fleur’s artwork.
~ Niall Byrne
Daywatch – Director’s Cut
Director: Timur Bekmambetov.
Starring: Konstantin Khabensky.
Running Time: 139 minutes.
The second instalment in Kazakhstan-born Bekmambetov’s Russian vampire trilogy, Daywatch (like its predecessor) is based on Sergey Lukyanenko’s novel, The Night Watch (which also gave its name to the first film in the series). Clocking in at a heart-racing 139 minutes, the action takes place a year after the events of Nightwatch, with Anton Grodedsky (Khabensky) still working to ensure balance is maintained between the two powerful sects of vampires and witches, the Light and Dark Others.
Before Anton can get too comfortable with love interest Svetlana, however, there’s all sorts of sinister shenanigans going on, involving impenetrable fortresses, ancient legends and a stick of chalk that can change the world – trust us, it’s better than it sounds. Add in body-swapping, the most amazing driving sequence State has seen outside a Bourne movie and a host of other special effects that Hollywood would be proud of and it’s no surprise that this is one of the biggest grossing Russian movies of all time. Think The Matrix meets Underworld, with some serious action sequences, stunning special effects and a plot so maze-like, it’ll take monumental concentration to get through it.
A word of warning, however. If you haven’t seen the first film, you can forget about Daywatch making any sense: all the scene-setting has been done before. There’s nary a flashback or even a dream sequence to help familiarise the viewer with the characters, the story or the reason why these two sets of powerful immortals are hanging around in downtown Moscow, smoking fags, drinking super- strong beer and generally making nuisances of themselves before they set about destroying the Russian capital completely, in one of the most visually amazing sequences State has seen in a long time. Sure it’s pure hokum, but it’s an adrenaline rush all the same.
For Fans Of: The Matrix, Underworld, Blade.
Extras: Making Of Featurette/ Russian Trailer.
~ John Walshe
The Office – An American Workplace, Season Two
Executive Producers: Greg Daniels, Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant.
Starring: Steve Carrell, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, B.J. Novak.
Running Time: 7hrs 37mins
While the first series of the US remake of The Office seemed to suggest that it might go the way of some less than successful translations (Men Behaving Badly, Red Dwarf, Fawlty Towers), Season Two saw NBC take a step back, stop simply rewriting the original episodes and move the show in its own direction. The mock documentary format remains, as do the US versions of the UK characters, but the writers have managed to craft a subtle American sensibility, without losing the understated style of the British version.
As with the BBC show, the strength of The Office lies primarily in the combination of performance and material – helped by the appearance of some of the show’s key writers in the cast. Steve Carrell is the perfect Ricky Gervais substitute, the potential to be hugely annoying reigned-in, in favour of a role in the classic love/hate mould. His Michael Scott character, as with David Brent, is on the surface fairly objectionable, but heart it’s impossible not to root for his ultimate happiness.
The other key plot line, the stuttering romance between Jim and Pam, is beautifully played by Krasinski and Fischer, etched out over the 22 episodes before reaching some sort of denouement that sets up Season 3. The format may well prove to be unsuitable for such extended treatment in the long run, but for the moment this finds The Office – An American Workplace firmly finding its feet.
For fans of: The Office, I’m Alan Partridge, Curb Your Enthusiasm
Extras: Deleted scenes/ Out-takes/ Webisodes / Steve Carrell interview
~ Phil Udell