Latest Reviews

  • Dunkirk [DVD]
    Editor Review 29 Jun 2017

    Christopher Nolans epic war film depicts the Dunkirk landings of allied forces in 1940. Nominated for the Golden Globes and Critics choice awards as well as highly predicted for a 2018 Oscar, the film captures the intensively terrifying nature of war from the perspective of the brave forces on board ships in cramped conditions crossing treacherous seas facing air bombardment from the dark spaces within the vessels. Starring little known Fionn Whitehead and Glyn Carney alongside Jack Lowden and Harry Styles (one direction), these young actors cross swords with the experienced Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy and Tom Clancy. The films focus is on witnessing the scenes rather than the intensity of dialogue and relationships which often sanitise war movies, not always allowing the full appreciation of the horror of experience.

    Verdict
    Movingly realistic and unsentimental - amazing cinematography

  • Heathcliff [1997]
    paul huggett 26 Apr 2017

    An amazing and unmissable DVD album, with very moving music coupled with hard hitting lyrics and effective dialogue. Even a couple of lighthearted pieces (which is usual in any West end or Broadway production) cannot fail to excite, and the whole show with it's Strong cast, will definitely mesmerize both watcher and listener. It certainly captures the imagination. The Rock songs are superb, and the characters both vicious and flirtatious, especially HeathCliff with his seductive streak, Cathy with her non plus 'Keen to be different' attitude, and Isabella who lives in a fantasy make believe world until 'after' her disastrous marriage to HeathCliff. Stunning Background scenery & Meticulously prepared choreography add to the fascinating spectacle of the Magic that is: HeathCliff. An effect Visual Realisation was used as a Bonus by the time the show was filmed. The Interest and Impact of the show is Greatly Enhanced by selecting LYRICS ON. (SUBTITLES throughout the whole show) from the Main Menu.

    Before Inserting this DVD you may feel you are 'not in the mood' to watch (and hear) a passionate, tragic, moving story of obsessive love, betrayal and revenge, but you will find the music grips and the story holds you, as it unfolds with excellent support from such a great 'spellbinding' cast. After only 10 minutes you will be hooked ... *

  • Heathcliff [1997]
    Paul Huggett 25 Apr 2017

    The Songs Written by Tim Rice with Music by John Farrar - who wrote ALL the HIT songs from Grease, are as Fascinating and Terrific as All the Actresses and Actors: EVERY SINGLE ONE! Not to Mention the Brilliant Production and Stage Crew. NO ONE HAS EVER SEEN CLIFF RICHARD AT HIS MOST FABULOUS UNTIL THEY HAVE SEEN 'ALL' SECTIONS OF THIS DVD. How MOVING it ALL is.

    THE COOLEST ROCKINEST ROCK MUSICAL EVER!!

  • Heathcliff [1997]
    Paul Huggett 25 Apr 2017

    The Best Music DVD Ever! Sara, Helen, Sonia, Nicky, Jimmy, Gordon Giltrap, Sir Cliff, and All the Cast and Production Team are Fantastic!!!!

    Sir Cliff's Greatest 2 Hours on DVD!!!!

  • Rumble Fish [Masters of Cinema] (Blu-ray) [1983]
    Stuart Donaldson 10 Sep 2016

    The theme of time running out runs right through this movie, from time lapse photography to images of clocks speeded up or without hands. The second of S.E.Hinton's books translated to film by Francis Ford Coppola translates well. Filmed in Black and White for greater effect and the first soundtrack for Stewart Copeland, he went on to do The Equaliser and Spyro. Mickey Rourke provides a brooding performance of subdued quality, I read in an interview at the time that for the first two weeks he thought he was going to get sacked. Motorcycle Boy and his father are clearly educated with the discussion on Cassandra in two terms. This goes over Rusty James head. He's not stupid, just not educated. Early performances from Nick Cage, Chris Penn and Diane Lane. With the quality of Dennis Hopper, Tom Waits and Laurence Fishburne thrown in for good measure. It's a quality piece. Enjoy.

    Hero Worship, Impetuous Youth, Time, Black and White (filmed), Stewart Copeland Soundtrack.

  • Rosamunde Pilcher's Shades of Love [DVD]
    Caroline Taylor 03 Sep 2016

    I have just watched "Shades of Love" shown on Channel 5. Having already read and seen the film "September" I was absolutely fascinated by this film. Rosmunde Pilcher has excelled herself in a superb follow up. Bringing all the characters up to the modern times. The plot was greatly entwined with September. I would certainly watch this again. Is there a book as I cannot seem to find one?

  • The Searchers [1956]
    Stuart Donaldson 04 Jun 2016

    A John Ford Classic, easily John Wayne's darkest role. It is not beyond his character to desecrate a Native American grave. He is driven by hatred and contempt, his Neice is kidnapped and his mission is to find and kill her as an insult to his heritage.
    Martin Scorcese would go and see this as a kid and be influenced by it's quality.
    There are lighter moments of humour but the darker undertones of a ruthless age in an unforgiving land are evident. Heartless men to do soul-less jobs of work.
    It's really a big screen film, it's not for the tablet or phone, filmed in Vista Vision only the big screen will do. The landscapes equal if not surpass the Cinematography of The Hateful Eight on outdoor shots. Quite frankly it's stunning and if you've not seen it your throat will catch towards the end. It's a must see for any film fan.

    Kidnapping, Revenge, Violence, Frontier Western, Redemption

  • Flowers Series 1 (Channel 4) (Starring Olivia Colman) [DVD]
    Editor Review 13 May 2016



    Verdict
    A wonderful, dark comedy written by the incredibly talented Will Sharpe and starring Olivia Coleman

  • Peaky Blinders - Series 1-3 Boxset [DVD] [2016]
    Editor Review 01 May 2016

    I am completely hooked on this series. Cillian Murphy is undoubtedly brilliant as the enigmatic Thomas Shelby. I keep asking myself why I like him. He is capable of such extreme violence but I think because corruption is so endemic in the society of the time, there is something about his sense of justice which is morally superior to the people who are supposed to represent the law. The Shelby family are from a gypsy heritage and it is the sense of family loyality that is so appealing, even though they are utterly ruthless when given a job to do. Thomas experiences the pain of love and loss in series 3, and Cillian Murphy shows his distress in a typically male fashion. The shows creator, Stephen Knight has managed to create more episodic cliff hangers than George Mallory, but that is the essential ingredient to a story about a family who live on the edge. Each season, shows the environment, dress, and costume becoming more genteel, and the family try and fit the image but know they are not accepted, and its fair to say, question anyone who would accept them for their ulterior motives. The violence and language is shocking throughout,each series and some may find this offensive, but without this intensity, the story could not be adequately appreciated. Some great use of 1920's cars, and some good horse and carriage scenes too.

    Verdict
    I cant wait for season 4 - has me on the edge of my seat!

  • Back to The Future Trilogy [Blu-ray] [1985] [Region Free]
    Kevin Stanley 30 Sep 2015

    "Wait a minute, Doc. Ah... Are you telling me that you built a time machine... out of a DeLorean?"


    It's a simple premise from which a true masterpiece was created. As plot-lines are layered upon each other to create a multi-stranded storyline that intrigues as much as it entertains. Filled with high-brow humour and high-concepts Back to the Future is the quintessential 80s movie that lays a genuine claim to being one of the best movies ever released.

    The difficulty with any time travel film is getting the continuity right, yet Back to the Future does it faultlessly, so carefully plotted that it stands up to repeated viewings and analysis, always offering more on each viewing.

    Brilliant inventor, Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) retrofits a DeLoren car as a time machine, using the 'flux capacitor' that he dream up after falling and hitting his head. But at the initial test he is killed by a group of angry Libyan terrorists who want their depleted uranium back that the Doc stole from them to power the flux capacitor.


    "Are you telling me that this sucker is nuclear?!"


    Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) jumps into the DeLoren, floors the accelerator and guns the DeLoren up to 88mph - which unwittingly triggers the time travel circuits and sends him back in time to the 50s. Once in the past and without an energy source to power a return trip he must track down the younger version of Doc Brown to help him get back to the future.

    Written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale and directed by Zemekis, the plot is inventive and funny as well as flawlessly written and acted. The lead actors, Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd work so well together riffing off each other beautifully. The supporting cast of Thomas F. Wilson (Biff Tannen) Crispin Glover (George McFly), Lea Thompson (Lorraine Baines) are so perfect for the roles that they'll forever be known for these performances.?


    What are you looking at, butthead? Why don't you make like a tree.? and get out of here!


    Not only does Back to the Future perfectly capture the zeitgeist of the 80s (skateboards, Star Wars), it also recreates the 50s with love and affection (diners, rock 'n' roll). This gives the film a warm nostalgic feel that's hard to beat. And after the extremely high standard set by the first film, it was always going to be a tough task to make the second and third film measure up. Shot at the same time and released fairly close together, the second film takes Marty and Doc Brown to 2015 (and then once again back to the 50s) and the third film takes them all the way back to the Wild West of 1885. They are both, sadly not as powerful as the original, proving that it really is difficult to predict when lightning will strike (unless you know it's going to hit the clock tower, producing 1.21 gigawatts of energy).

    Despite this the sequels still offered fun and humour. But how do you recreate perfection? Recent attempts to reboot or remake the film have been blocked by Zemekis and Gale who say they will fight against remakes even after their deaths. Such love for their movies is testament to how wonderful they really are and the amount of respect they so richly deserve. They'd never be bettered and how do you ever remake Back to the Future without Michael J. Fox or any of the original cast? You quite simply don't. These films will live on forever as examples of film making at its absolute highest.

    Watching Michael J. Fox play Johnny B. Goode at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance. it gives me chills just to writing about it.


    "It's a Blue's riff in B, watch me for the changes and try to keep up"


    And as he tears into the opening riff, made so famous by Chuck Berry it's a true movie delight. one of the highlights of a film packed with great scenes. Back To The Future is one of the finest examples of a cast and crew that came together at the peaks of their respective careers and really made the best film that they could. I can't think of a film that really deserves higher praise than Back To The Future.


    "Hey, Doc, we better back up. We don't have enough road to get up to 88. Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads."

  • Guardians of the Galaxy [DVD]
    julie 16 Sep 2015

    This has got to be one of my all time favourites. Escape into another world - very funny and totally absorbing, with a great soundtrack too. Can't wait for the next one!

    Great entertainment

  • Blood Moon [DVD]
    mark melvin 02 Sep 2015

    Great fun western werewolf romp.

  • Nightcrawler [Blu-ray] [2014]
    Kashif Ahmed 30 Aug 2015

    Jake Gyllenhaal puts in an excellent performance as gaunt, awkward grifter; Louis Bloom, in screenwriter Dan Gilroy's directorial debut; Nightcrawler. Passive-aggressive, down-on-his-luck chancer, Bloom, stumbles into the dark world of TV news: a stringer that turns up at crime scenes; films them and sells his footage to whomsoever will pay for it; which, in his case, is local news producer Nina (a brilliant comeback role for Rene Russo). Nightcrawler works as a suspenseful, character-driven drama and a scathing satire on the media industry. Louis Bloom talks like a self-help seminar, sells himself to his employers and reproduces corporate spiel ver batem; he hires naïve hobo; Rick (a subtle, convincing performance by Riz Ahmed) as his second cameraman, buys a police scanner and embarks upon a serious of nocturnal misadventures that push him ever closer to the edge: Whether its hauling an injured car crash victim to a place where he can get a better angle or engineering deadly encounters to snare that all-important footage, Bloom is as ruthless as his job demands.

    Nightcrawler checks all the boxes when it comes to indicting the socio-economic paradigm that creates men like Bloom; cynical, careerist lone-gunmen encouraged to embody the worst traits of humanity in order to keep their heads above water. Gilroy throws a few singing jabs at everyone and everything in the industry: from the intern-as-desperate-exploited-patsy to gore-hungry news bosses. For as Rene Russo's character explains: "We like crime; not all crime: a car-jacking in Compton isn't exactly news, now is it?.our viewers are interested in urban crime creeping into the suburbs; what that means is a victim or victims; preferably well-off, White, injured at the hands of the poor or a minority: Think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut". Nightcrawler is a well directed, fast paced, superbly acted, very well written film that ought to be considered a modern classic in the months and years ahead. A must see.

  • Stalag 17 [1952]
    Mark Harrison 30 Aug 2015

    It's almost obligatory to open a review of a Billy Wilder film by mentioning what a versatile director he was. Eureka's Masters Of Cinema Blu-ray series has included classics like The Lost Weekend, Ace In The Hole and Double Indemnity, all of which testify to the wit and panache that are synonymous with the director while all being vastly different from one another.

    Even if you've only been catching up with Wilder's oeuvre through these remastered releases, it's not hard to imagine how he'd become your favourite director and Stalag 17 will top up your admiration nicely. Adapted from an autobiographical Broadway play about American airmen held in a German prisoner of war camp during World War II, this 1953 gem is at once a prison break movie, a whodunnit and even a prototypical summer camp comedy.

    The plot centres on Barrack 4 in the titular prison, a barrack that appears to the rest of the compound to be cursed. There's a lot of loose information flying around between the prisoners, but somehow, this one seems to have the worst luck. A failed escape attempt leaves two men dead, which finally spurs a reckoning amongst the inmates- there must be a spy in their midst.

    The prime suspect is J.J. Sefton, (William Holden) the barrack's resident spiv, for whom no luxury seems to be out of reach. He's the one who has a distillery to serve schnapps to the men, a telescope to peep on the neighbouring female Russian prisoners and a lucrative horse-racing racket where all the nags are mice- all open to any man who'll trade cigarettes to partake, even the Nazi guards.

    Sefton is a cynic, but he's no spy, and it becomes all the more crucial to identify the real traitor when a new arrival, Lieutenant James Dunbar, (Don Taylor) is accused of sabotaging an ammunition train. One of the men in Barrack 4 is more than willing to sell Dunbar out to the SS, and as the only man under suspicion, Sefton is the one who has to smoke him out.

    1953 was good timing for a POW movie, but it was no accident. Paramount Pictures held the film off from release for over a year, unconvinced that the subject matter would bring out audiences. When American prisoners from the Korean War were released, the studio decided to release the film and take advantage of good morale. As it stands, the film might have made a decent morale booster all by itself.

    While the situation is very bleak, the film has a canny line of dark humour running throughout, pitching ahead of its time and landing somewhere between The Great Escape and Stripes. In particular, comic relief characters Harry Shapiro (Harvey Lembeck) and Stanislas "Animal" Kuzawa (Robert Strauss) provide a lot of laughs as Animal veers between obsessing over beautiful women and abject depression, while Shapiro is always on hand to cheer him up.

    In one sequence that could have come straight out of a summer camp comedy from many years later, the motley duo sneak over to catch a closer look at the showering ladies on the Russians' side of the compound by painting a white line in the road, all the way past the guard. The resolution doesn't come with a summary punishment by firing squad but with a Looney Tunes-style flight from the bespectacled guard after slapping whitewash all over his face.

    Layered on top of this, for contrast, is the absurdity of the Stalag guards' attitudes. The film is set in the week before Christmas 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, and the guards are keeping morale down amongst the Allied prisoners by withholding news but cheerfully telling them that German victory will soon be forthcoming. With hindsight, there's obviously plenty of dramatic irony there, but the Nazis themselves are ridiculous figures.

    As Barrack 4's "alarm clock" and personal guard Sergeant Schulz, Sig Ruman keeps telling the inmates he's their best friend while also laughing in their faces, whether they're "visecracking" about their plight or showing barely veiled contempt for their captors. Otto Preminger wields a little more malice as camp commandant Colonel von Scherbach, but even he's made to look ridiculous in a scene where he puts his boots on just to answer the phone to a superior, clicking his heels with each barked affirmative response.

    The best example of the film's dark sense of humour comes when a Dear John letter arrives in the post. Edmund Trzcinski (the original playwright, playing himself) receives a letter from his wife telling the implausible story of how she has found a baby on their doorstep, who just happens to have her eyes and nose. Trzcinski may have figured out what that really means when we did, but the film keeps cutting back to him, telling himself that he believes it. It's a bittersweet reminder of the cost of the men's internment, even while the tone is more upbeat and defiant elsewhere.

    That branch of witty comedy never subsides, but it doesn't prevent us from taking the whodunnit seriously either. Holden won a Best Actor Oscar for playing Sefton (and famously delivered one of the shorter acceptance speeches of all time- "Thank you") and as our protagonist, we march to his beat. He's flippant when the film is messing about a bit earlier on, but after a brutal confrontation, he steels himself to find out the truth.

    Unusually (and more expensively,) Wilder shot the film in sequence and made extensive rewrites during filming in order to preserve the identity of the spy from even the cast, and whether this helped or not, it makes for an effective air of mystery and paranoia. It's ambiguous enough that you can even suspect the most innocent inmates, so that when the truth comes out, the accumulated tension makes for an electric climax.

    On top of that, the new Blu-ray restoration looks marvellous, making Wilder's crisp black-and-white photography look better than ever before. The camera moves as if Wilder was shooting a suspense thriller, particularly as and when plot twists arise, and there's one haunting shot of the men of Barrack 4 staring at Sefton as it's time for lights out, and the darkness doesn't even faze them.

    Stalag 17 is yet another reminder of Billy Wilder's endless versatility, with his knack for dialogue and characters enlivening the bleakness of the setting and giving us one of the all-time classic prisoner-of-war movies.

  • Terminator Genisys [DVD] [2015]
    Kevin Stanley 27 Aug 2015

    Arnold Schwarzenegger is back as the Terminator, but this time, he's old. In a storyline that has been written, in part, to allow the 68 year old star to return in the lead role, Terminator Genisys boasts a new timeline that riffs on, and pays homage to, all of the best elements of the previous instalments of this long running franchise.

    Kyle Reese is sent back in time to rescue Sarah Connor, but when he arrives in 1984 instead of finding a poodle-haired, waitress in the form of Linda Hamilton, he finds tough-as-nails Emilia Clarke - straight from Game of Thrones! Instead of being hunted by a T-800 sent from the future in the timeline that we know, history has been changed and Sarah has been protected by the T-800 instead - now known as Guardian or affectionally as 'Pops'. It's the first of many plot twists that keep this film ticking and keeps the audience guessing. Because whilst the plot mirrors those of the 1984 and 1991 instalments brought to us from the mind of James Cameron, it also twists the reality we once knew and changes the timelines.

    Jai Courtney takes on the role of Kyle Reese but lacks the acting ability of his predecessor Michael Biehn who added delicate nuances to the character of Reese. Emilia Clarke however as Sarah Connor is every bit as strong as Linda Hamilton and bears a genuine resemblance. She's perfect for the role and impresses greatly. Jason Clarke steps in as John Connor and does his best with a difficult role - far from being the leader of the resistance and saviour of humankind in a strange twist of the story Connor is now part of Skynet. It's the only massive mis-step in a script that is otherwise enjoyable and cleverly envisaged. The biggest plus for this movie of course was always going to be seeing Schwarzenegger back as the Terminator. His performance is impressive. He adds layers to the character that perhaps audiences would not have expected. Schwarzenegger is an actor that many people have frequently under appreciated his performance here will be something of a revelation.

    Several scenes from the 1984 original movie are lovingly recreated and tweaked in order to fit the changing timeline - Kyle Reese being chased by the police through the department store and the T-800's interactions with the punks at the viewpoint are both standout scenes.

    Terminator Genisys is far from perfect but it's an honest attempt to re-invigorate a franchise that after a low budget, sleeper-hit classic in 1984, and a CGI-stunner in 1991, had stumbled wildly with a misconceived stab at comedy in 2003 and then almost died completely without its main star in the 2009 reboot. It's certainly better than similar, recent reboots such as the utterly forgettable Total Recall and the only marginally better rehash of Robocop.

    In a world filled with cash-in sequels, irrelevant remakes and desperate reboots, Terminator Genisys is the best movie for which fans of the series could have hoped.

  • Insurgent [Blu-ray] [2015]
    Editor Review 03 Jul 2015

    In this, the second episode in the sci-fi Divergent series, Tris and Four find themselves fugitives, on the run; trying to escape being hunted down by Jeannie (the ruthless leader of the Erudite elite). With the faction system of ruined post-apocalyptic Chicago now in disarray, a power struggle is in progress and war looms threateningly in the background.

    Haunted by her past and against all odds Tris must persevere in her search for answers. What was so desperately important that her family sacrificed their own lives to protect? She must overcome her fears to continue her quest, seek reliable allies and fight to protect the ones she loves, ultimately saving their world.

    Based on a book by Veronica Roth this 2015 film stars Kate Winslett, Shailene Woodley, Miles Teller and Theo James.


    Verdict

  • Selma [Blu-ray + UV Copy]
    Jon Meakin 29 Jun 2015

    Selma is an incredible achievement and among the many things you could praise it for, it perhaps works best as the bio-pic of Martin Luther King that we still haven't had. I've always maintained that the best way to understand someone is to tell their story through one key event, not trying to encompass everything. Selma only covers a few months towards the end of Dr. King's 13 years working for civil rights and we find a man uneasy with his success, his statesman-like reputation, and how it reflects on the those he supports. He is aware of his potential fate and the strain that puts on his family; his wife Cloretta (Carmen Ejogo making the most of a limited role) speaks of death as a fog that surrounds them. While the film does not include his assassination, the knowledge that Dr. King pays that price adds an air of melancholy despite the glorious success of his achievement that started on the Edmund Pettus bridge. David Oyelowo's under-stated performance is superb, convincing as both the calm leader everyone relies on and the human being, struggling to understand if he is doing the right thing. He lifts every scene he is in, even when the film occasionally stumbles and lacks focus in the first half (particularly the awkward tone of wire-tapping sub-titles).


    There was much talk of Selma being snubbed by the Academy Awards. With just two nominations and one win (Original Song for Common and John Legend's Glory) there was a notable lack of coverage for what seemed like an obvious choice. Reviews were almost all full of praise and it did have an air of importance, the sort suspicious cynics would have you unfairly believe is Oscar-bait. The Academy's omission was certainly curious in any case, but in truth, Selma does have some minor flaws that take the wind out of its sails. Overall it lacks the consistency and, more importantly, the spark that made 12 Years a Slave distinctively special.

    That's understandable because it's heart rightfully belongs on the historic Edmund Pettus bridge and until we're on it, narratively speaking, Selma lacks focus, rushing to get to the march. Selma is far more complicated a story than that of persecution over race represented by good guys and bad guys. Set in 1964, America was becoming more self-aware of it's shameful history and progress had been made in Civil Rights, just not very quickly where voting is concerned. Tom Wilkinson as President Lyndon B. Johnson embodies America's personality in a smartly judged role, trying to balance a past he is both ashamed of and sympathetic to, with an inevitable future that he at least believes in. In other words, of course black Americans should be able to vote without fear of discrimination and violence, but... well, it is Alabama, so maybe next year? A delay cannot be afforded though and the bridge comes to represent an emotional and Constitutional crossing as well as a physical one. It must be crossed now and the battle to do so is that of one in an on-going war. That's exactly what it was, of course and the tension before the attempted crossing is palpable. The march itself is a powerful realisation of the struggle, though in-between the catalyst to action for both sides is some horrific violence that will make you wince.

    It's hard to comprehend that Martin Luther King had made such huge strides in a relatively short space of time, yet we can't celebrate his legacy as purely historical. Recent events in Ferguson show that hate and ignorance continue, 50 years on from that historic crossing. Perhaps we'll know true diversity has been properly recognised in art at least when a film such as this can be snubbed by an award ceremony because, despite it's brilliance, it simply doesn't quite measure up to other nominees. Instead, in 2015, there is still a niggling feeling of sinister motives. That isn't fair on anyone, least of all this powerful film and those who made it.

    Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 legally desegregated the South, discrimination was still rampant in certain areas, making it very difficult for blacks to register to vote. In 1965, an Alabama city became the battleground in the fight for suffrage. Despite violent opposition, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) and his followers pressed forward on an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, and their efforts culminated in President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

  • Jaws [Blu-ray] [Region Free]
    Jon Meakin 22 Jun 2015

    Jurassic World's cinema release in 2015 marks just over 20 years since Steven Spielberg re-wrote the monster movie with the original Jurassic Park, but it's a full 40 since he changed cinema forever with the incredible Jaws. And it's looking like a teenager. The current Blu-Ray release is stunning quality and it's striking how fresh the film still is; it's still one of the best of that kind of film and likely to remain so for some time.

    But what kind of film is it exactly? Obviously horror and bearing more than a passing resemblance to Hitchcock's The Birds, yet also an event film. Along with Superman and Star Wars, Jaws ushered in the era of the original 'blockbuster'. Some would argue that's a bad thing, but while these films did open up the ruthlessly commercial side of cinema more than ever before, with a noisy focus on franchise and merchandise rather than art, it was a long time coming and these early films were made with the best of intentions and bucket loads of talent.

    The first theatrical film for Spielberg (his debut Duel was made for TV) Jaws is arguably still his best film, full of invention in every frame and a superb, ambitious screenplay. It's particularly astonishing to watch the editing (with Verna Fields) and compositions, the way the simplest of exchanges are injected with energy. Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai) would always ensure there was movement in every scene he composed, often simply with weather in the background. As well as famous shots such as the three-step zoom on the beach, Spielberg achieves a similar ambition, yet it never feels gratuitous. Although some of his later work can be over-engineered, the mise en scene of Jaws is perfectly measured. The camera roams when it needs to roam, and lingers when it should linger. And of course John Williams' score provides the rhythm. Often imitated, it's only when you see the film again you can really appreciate just how brilliant that theme is. It creeps into the back of your brain ratcheting up the tension.

    It's exhilarating stuff and every time I see Jaws there is something new, but on this last occasion I was paying more attention to the screenplay and considering the popular critical idea that it isn't about a shark at all. It's about divorce. Bit random, I know! There's definitely a very large shark in the film and it does seem to have grabbed everyone's attention. Then again there should be a reason for the creature.

    The best movie monsters represent a single character's more mundane real-world demon (or a country's, with Japan's fear of nuclear armageddon represented by Godzilla). In this case it's Roy Schneider's police chief and while there is nothing explicit about a difficult relationship with his wife Ellen (Lorraine Gary) -on the contrary, they seem happy- there is a melancholy bubbling to the surface. Read between the lines and this is a marriage being worked at. Chief Brody's family are new to the town and it is inferred they moved from New York to a more idyllic lifestyle, escaping a violent job. Ironic that Brody finds in Amity a more singular deadly risk yet he is determined to deal with it despite his aversion to water and boats. That determination becomes all-consuming, almost as if he needs the distraction.

    The film is fairly neatly split into two halves: 'Not On The Boat' and 'On The Boat'. When Brody eventually steps aboard The Orca with Oceanologist and shark-expert Matt (Richard Dreyfuss, in fine form) and gnarly old shark-hunter Quint (the intimidating Robert Shaw), the brief emotional scene with Ellen suggests an amicable trial separation. If he fails to kill off his shark-shaped demon he won't be coming home.

    It is to Spielberg's credit that he could translate the various and shifting tones in Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb's screenplay (based on Benchley's own novel) into a narrative at once affecting and thrilling. For all his enthusiasm to skilfully scare the crap out of us with horrific moments, including the opening attack on a skinny-dipper or a young boy taken in a shower of blood in front of a crowded beach, the composition of the quieter scenes have as strong an effect. Note the moment at dinner where Brody's youngest son mimics his pre-occupied dad; or on the boat comparing scars, where Brody keeps potentially the best one quiet, before Quint tells the haunting story of the USS Indianapolis. This is already a thriller of the highest quality and that shark is still yet to be seen properly.

    The magnificent beast was created by Bob Mattey and is a mile-stone achievement in animatronic effects. Well, when it worked! Spielberg himself has admitted that he probably made a better film because of the problems with Bruce (the affectionate nickname for the shark, apparently inspired by Spielberg's lawyer) limiting his plans and it makes you wonder how much higher standards could be now if filmmakers hadn't a CGI safety net to rely on. As it is the brief glimpses of the shark are deeply unsettling, especially when you see the size of him compared to The Orca. And when he finally makes his full entrance? Just keep telling yourself, he's 40 years old and made of fibre-glass! It won't work though.

    The shark is all the more powerful an image for the false sense of security built up by Bill Butler's gorgeous cinematography. From snappy hand-held work to the wonderful and serene skylines, the film looks gorgeous throughout. One of those rare movies where you could pause at any moment and you'll probably get an image worth framing. Visually the film's a masterpiece, with or without the shark. That's where so many pretenders fall short; focusing too much on the monster, putting everything else in service to its appearance. Alien is another example of building the characters and sets so well that the creature has that much more power when it finally does strike because it is as real a place as possible that is being attacked.

    Forty years on Jaws still retains considerable power. It is as thrilling and at times as scary as anything else in the genre. The fear of sharks may be misappropriated, but it's still a primal dread that will never dissipate, if only because audiences want to be scared that much.

    There appears to be no special release to commemorate the anniversary, which is a good thing. The current Blu-Ray from 2014 is fantastic value. As well as demonstration standard presentation of the main feature, included is a superb documentary. If you have somehow never seen Jaws there really is no excuse now.

    When the seaside community of Amity finds itself under attack by a dangerous great white shark, the town's chief of police (Roy Scheider), a young marine biologist (Richard Dreyfuss) and a grizzled shark hunter (Robert Shaw) embark on a desperate quest to destroy the beast before it strikes again.

  • The Longest Week [DVD]
    Kashif Ahmed 28 May 2015

    Feckless philanderer and upper class twit, Conrad Valmont (Jason Bateman) is a thirty-something Man-of-Leisure, who suddenly finds himself out of pocket and potentially disinherited, when his billionaire parents file for divorce. Quietly removed from the family's Manhattan hotel, he embarks upon a week-long escapade; during which he meets mysterious model Olivia Wilde, trades barbs with debonair artist friend Billy Crudup and generally acts the fool in a desperate bid to resolve his financial predicament.

    The Longest Week is a well-directed, character driven comedy that despite the rather slow pace, never outstays its welcome. Set in the present day but firmly rooted in the swinging Sixties, writer / director Peter Glanz decorates his scenes with deliberate anachronisms that hark back to the era of La Dolce Vita and Breakfast at Tiffany's (e.g Valmot's Moped, Olivia Wilde's Audrey Hepbrun look, feather rugs, rotary phones etc). And though its rarely laugh-out-loud funny, you'll find yourself smiling on the inside at Valmont's dry wit and drole observations.

    Jason Bateman is one of my favourite comic actors; I like him in almost everything from Arrested Development to Extract to Horrible Bosses and even The Change Up. Bateman has impeccable comic timing / delivery and he brings a light touch to this slight, but very watchable movie. Billy Crudup is also on fine form and remains one of the most underrated actors of his generation; he's so good at disappearing into a role that he's almost subliminal as a presence in his own right. Remember, this is the same person who played a 70s rock star in Almost Famous, a dope fiend in Jesus's Son and a semi-cosmic superhero in Watchmen. Here, Crudup is Valmont's foil but has a few memorable character traits of his own e.g. his wholly inappropriate break-up technique involves giving the object of his rejection a Volvo as a parting gift!

    Now most critics hated this film because they felt that Peter Galnz was imitating Wes Anderson. Personally, I'm not entirely convinced by that argument, after all, Wes Anderson doesn't hold a copyright on quirky comedies any more than Luis Bunuel does on the bourgeoisie. And whilst the subject matter may be familiar, its still presented in a generally entertaining manner which ought to appeal to fans of this genre. Worth a look.

  • Birdman [DVD]
    James Morse 22 May 2015

    Birdman is like nothing else you've ever seen.

    It begins with a man in his underwear levitating. It ends with a moment of beautiful ambiguity involving a window and a young girl's face. And in-between, it takes in subject-matter that encompasses pretty much everything you can think of - from grand ideas about the meaning of life and the value of art, to smaller notions such as the fickle nature of celebrity stardom and the consuming prevalence of Facebook and Twitter.

    But while Birdman is full of interesting content, it's noteworthy as much for its filmmaking style as for the nuts and bolts of its story. Most notably, director Alejandro González Iñárritu constructs the bulk of his movie - which tells the tale of washed-up film star Riggan Thomson (played by Michael Keaton) and his attempts to rejuvenate both his career and his personal life - so as to appear to be one continuous, unbroken take.

    What initially appears to be a mere stylistic flourish quickly reveals itself to be much more than that: by constructing the story as a single shot - and keeping the action largely confined to a theatre in which Thomson is attempting to stage a worthy play that will give him the artistic credibility he seeks - Iñárritu draws us into the world of the film and never lets us go, setting the action to a compelling continuous jazz-drumming soundtrack that keeps things interesting and exciting even when they could otherwise threaten to lag.

    The director encourages us to follow characters as they move from room to room in real-time, when other films might simply cut from one scene to the next; he hovers expectantly with a (daringly) empty frame for seconds at a time when characters leave a scene, building tension for the next development; he unsettles us by jumping forwards through time from one scene to the next, even though the moments appear to the viewer to be continuous; and he creates a sense of a tangible reality that helps to ground the film in its early stages, even at the same time as he shows us things that we know simply could not be happening if this film was as straightforward a drama as it initially seems.

    That's because Birdman isn't a straight drama at all; or at least, it isn't *just* that. Interspersed with the more realistic elements of the story - which see Thomson attempt to juggle his relationships with his daughter (Emma Stone), his co-star (Ed Norton), his ex (Naomi Watts), his lawyer (Zach Galifianakis) and his fiercest critic (Lindsay Duncan) - are scenes in which Thomson exhibits apparently supernatural powers, converses with a manifestation of the superhero Birdman (that he used to play in a series of hit movies), and even witnesses larger-than-life action-movie style scenes that somehow seem to go unnoticed by the rest of the film's cast.

    By playing with these fantastical elements, Iñárritu - who also wrote the screenplay - encourages us to question the heightened reality that's presented to us: to interpret each moment through the lens of a potentially unreliable narrator, or at least see some sections of the film as being symbolic more than literal. By blurring the line between what's real and what isn't, the director opens up his story to a satisfying level of ambiguity, allowing for a variety of interpretations that make this movie a lot more interesting to chew on than it would have been as a more conventional drama.

    As the central player in a film that never takes its eyes off its lead for too long, Keaton is called on to carry much of the movie - and it's a challenge that he meets tremendously well. Of course, it helps that he's parodying his own real-life persona and playing on his real-life career trajectory to an extent: after all, Riggan Thomson being a slightly faded movie star who made his name in the "Birdman" series is not that far away from Keaton's currently relatively-low profile after his famous stint as Batman. But Keaton goes beyond simply 'playing himself' to give Thomson a sincere yearning for greater meaning, and a sense of existential anguish that really helps to round him out as more than just a two-dimensional has-been movie star.

    Ed Norton, too, plays on his real-life reputation of being a little bit 'difficult' and controlling, sending himself up beautifully. And Emma Stone is utterly beguiling as Riggan's daughter, with a youthful naivety that belies the fact that she's actually one of the most insightful and mature characters in the story.

    It's telling that every person that I know who has watched Birdman has taken something different away from the film. My younger, more technologically switched-on brother enjoyed the exploration of social media as being just as much of an arena of performance as the theatre within which Riggan performs; my sister saw it as a funny celebrity satire; my parents viewed it as more of a story about the relationship between the older and younger generation, and about the trials of getting older; and I saw it as more of a representation of a mid-life crisis over what defines you, how you measure your own sense of self worth, and whether it really matters what others think of you.

    For me, it's those introspective elements of Birdman that really stand out, and that help to make the movie far more universally-relevant than a simple synopsis might suggest. From the regularly-glimpsed notice in Riggan's dressing-room - stating that "a thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing" - to the frequent use of reflections as a visual motif, there's a subtle recurring theme of whether you can ever see yourself as others see you, and whether you can truly reconcile your inner identity with the person that you project to the world.

    Birdman's alternative title - as shown at the very start of the film - is "The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance". Like much of the movie, it's something that's immediately amusing and thought-provoking, but also ambiguous enough to be open to more than one interpretation. And that's the film in a nutshell: a likeable comedy that also carries a fair amount of dramatic weight, and gradually reveals itself to contain some fairly deep and challenging ideas that you might find yourself pondering long after you've switched off your TV.