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Date: 17 September, 2004
Steve Couch reviews his choice of the best film releases on DVD.
of the Dead
'This is what these two were doing when they should have been studying for their GCSE's'. 'These two' are the Spaced writer/director pairing of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright.
Their misspent childhood (as reported by Bill Nighy in one of the featurettes) consisted of endlessly rewatching the complete works of horror director George Romero.
The result is this so-called 'Rom-Zom-Com'. The genre-welding offering is one of the most original concepts of the year so far, and quite possibly the funniest.
Simon Pegg (operating not a million miles away from his Spaced persona) plays Shaun, a likable everyman-type whose life has drifted into a dead-end and who is forced to start taking responsibility by the unfolding chaos and horror.
This is basically lovable slobs versus degenerative shambling undead beasts, and as such depends on the excellent ensemble cast as much as it does Pegg.
The Zombies are executed with conviction (in both senses of that phrase) and the pace of the film keeps both action and laughs ticking over at a generous rate. There's genuine emotional engagement with the characters too, making this much more than just a shallow pastiche of the Zombie genre that spawned it.
And on top of all that, Shaun of the Dead is a shining example to other releases in how to make the most of the DVD format. A bulging collection of extras, with lots of access to all the principle players and almost as many laughs as the film itself (no mean feat). No less than four (count 'em!) commentary tracks feature various combinations of the cast, plus director Wright, and all of them are worth making time for.
There are celebrity cameos from the likes of Coldplay, Vernon Kay, Trishia and Joe Cornish (of Adam & Joe fame). Possibly the quirkiest addition to the disc is the inclusion of comic-book style storyboarded Plot Holes - explanations of stuff that happens in the film but which all takes place off-screen. All in all, an inventive and entertaining collection that does justice to the excellent film that spawned it.
If you buy one Romantic Comedy with a Zombie theme this year, make it Shaun of the Dead. Quite literally, a bloody good laugh.
Adam Sandler has proved to be something of an acquired taste for many people in Britain. For every The Wedding Singer, we have had to endure too many Little Nicky's.
50 First Dates is a high-concept romantic comedy: Sandler plays Harry, a commitment-shy womanising vet, who meets and falls in love with Lucy (Drew Barrymore), who has lost the ability to make new memories after being involved in a car crash.
As a result, Harry has to woo her afresh every day. So far, so formulaic, but there are surprising emotional depth to the film, which is so much more than Momento meets You've Got Mail. Yes, Lucy's plight is milked for laughs, but we also see the pain of discovering, day after day, that her life is as illusionary as an old Polaroid.
There is plenty of lightweight slapstick (as seasoned Sandler watchers would expect), but a charming story told with a deft touch too.
The supporting cast includes delightfully idiosyncratic performances from Rob Schneider and Sean Astin, and a customarily solid turn from Dan Ackroyd. Blake Clark's performance as Lucy's father is less showy than others in the film, but gives an emotional weight that the film couldn't do without.
The extras are light and frothy: enjoyable without ever threatening to become exceptional or unmissable. But the film is a joy from start to finish. Barrymore has never looked better, the chemistry between the two stars is as good as it ever was, and there is a proper story to anchor Sandler's foolishness.
The film goes from laugh-out-loud funny to tenderly moving and back again on several occasions. This won't win awards or feature on many best of year lists, but it's a good-hearted romantic comedy that will stick in your memory and continue to raise a smile for quite some time.
More of the same from the master of the massacre? Not quite. For a start the body count is down from the previous episode, and there is nothing on the scale of the Bride's duel with the Crazy 88, but there is still plenty of blood and fury on display.
There is also more talking, and more of a sense of a story being worked to a resolution. Where Uma Thurman stole the show in part 1, David Carradine's Bill takes the honours this time round, with a compelling and enigmatic performance that isn't even marred by the fact that I found myself strangely reminded of Eastenders' Dennis Watts for much of the time.
Tarantino describes Kill Bill as 'a revenge movie' and that much is obvious, but there is a lot more to this. Part 2 is a film about whether people can change, and what they are prepared to do when the time for change is overdue. If you are prepared to look past the cool martial arts and the swordplay, this is a film of thought and substance.
As we have come to expect, Tarantino plays around with flashback scenes to good effect, filling in the Bride's back story but also preparing the ground for subsequent events in the movie.
The final encounter between Thurman's Bride and Carradine's Bill provides a fitting climax to the whole four hours plus, and even manages to throw a couple of unexpected curve-balls into the mix. It could have been even better if Tarantino hadn't shown his hand in the first film with the revelation about the Bride's daughter.
Sadly, the extras are even
slighter than Kill Bill part 1. What we get is good, but
maddeningly brief. Don't be surprised to see a combined parts 1
and 2 DVD release with all the goodies that we've been denied up
They used to say that they wouldn't accept compact disc as a legitimate format for listening to music until you could get the complete Beatles back catalogue on it.
The global domination of the DVD moves another step closer (as if it hadn't already been realised) with the release of the first series of the show that boldly went where TV had never been before.
In addition to a massive 29 episodes, including fan-boy favourites like The City on the Edge of Forever, The Enemy Within and Mudd's Women, there are text commentaries on selected episodes and a flurry of featurettes that strike a balance between revelling in the golden days of the show and catching up on what has happened to the main players since.
The past is honoured, and the ripe send-up potential isn't ignored. This is a fun collection that may not convert any non-Trekkies, but will delight existing fans of the most enduring sci-fi franchise of them all.
It's just a shame that nobody has thought
of doing something with this to make it accessible to the next generation