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Date: 27 January, 2004
Steve Couch reviews his choice of the best film releases on DVD. To
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'Much has been made of Keith Richards'
- sorry, Johnny Depp's - inspired performance as Captain Jack
Sparrow, and rightly so, but there are several other exceptional
of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
I can't say I held out a lot of
hope for this before its cinema release in the summer. We've seen
films based on books and comic strips, kids TV programmes and even
computer games, but a theme park ride?
From such origins, surely even the bottom of the barrel would be an
achievement. This couldn't possibly be any good could it?
Oh yes it could. This is a wonderful film. A
family action adventure movie that rattles along, taking the audience
with it for the duration of the ride.
The cast, led by the excellent Johnny Depp, includes a generous
smattering of faces familiar to British TV audiences (including
Jack Davenport from 'This Life' and 'Coupling' and Mackenzie 'Gareth'
Crook from 'The Office') and the performances achieve the right
balance between conviction and the knowledge that this is meant
to be fun.
The fight scenes are marvellously choreographed, and the effects
- most notably the ones concerning the cursed pirates - are convincing
and spectacular. Best of all and against all the odds, there is
a plot ('Charlie's Angels' eat your heart out).
Much has been made of Keith Richards' - sorry,
Johnny Depp's - inspired performance as Captain Jack Sparrow, and
rightly so, but there are several other exceptional performances
here. Geoffrey Rush gives depth to Sparrow's nemesis Captain Barbosa,
while also playing with the conventions of the pirate genre, resulting
in a character who could have stepped from the pages of Robert Louis
Keira Knightly shines as the free spirited Elizabeth, Orlando Bloom
works well as a foil to Depp, excelling at the action and becoming
more convincing as the film goes on, and Jonathan Pryce clearly
enjoys himself as Governor Swann, Elizabeth's not entirely heroic
The extras are worth the admission price too.
The most enjoyable of the three commentaries is probably the one
where Jack Davenport and Keira Knightly send themselves up, along
with many of their colleagues and half of the film.
The second disc features a generous selection of documentaries,
video diaries and deleted scenes. The overall impression of the
extras is that this is a film which everybody had as good a time
making as the audience have watching it.
The material about the real pirates of the Caribbean was perhaps
a little thin, but is a decent enough start for newcomers to the
Anyone looking for more detail probably already knew they were looking
in the wrong place. As with the film itself, the extras put the
emphasis on entertainment rather than education, and are good enough
at that to make any complaints a little unfair.
Despite scenes showing characters walking on
the ocean bed, this is a film of Depp rather than a film of depth,
but it's none the worse for that. A cheerfully enthusiastic romp
of a film, which achieves everything it sets out to do. Break out
the popcorn, put your brain on pause and enjoy yourself for a couple
Office Series 2
After the surprise success of the first series, writers
Stephen Marchant and Ricky Gervais set about the task of killing
their golden goose before the eggs had the chance to go off.
This two disc set provides all the episodes from the final series,
plus a limited selection of out-takes and deleted scenes, some of
which are every bit as good as anything that made it onto our TV
Whereas the first series introduced David Brent as the most egotistical,
least self-knowing boss ever to grace the airwaves, this time around
we are invited to watch as both his world and his job spiral out
of control and down the drain.
The addition of new staff members from the Swindon
office gives fresh fuel to the favourite comic devices of the first
series. Tim has a new love interest, although once again, Gareth
labours under the illusion that he's in with a chance himself.
A wheelchair bound woman acts as a comic time-bomb from her first
appearance - we know that David Brent is going to say or do something
horrifically inappropriate, we just don't know what or when.
Most significant of all, David's new boss Neil turns out to be everything
that David wants to be and thinks he already is. David's ego and
sheer ineptitude at his job puts the two men on a collision course,
and the result is excruciating even for anyone who has never crashed
and burned in a job.
There is plenty of strong language and course
humour, so this won't be everyone's cup of tea. For those who don't
mind those factors, the interplay between the carefully crafted
characters makes this a sophisticated comedy gem that gets funnier
with each viewing.
'No stupid characters and no stupid jokes': the secret of Frasier's
success as revealed by executive producer David Lee in the commentary
track to the pilot episode (sadly, the only one of the 24 episodes
here to receive commentary treatment).
Lee, along with his fellow producer/writer Peter Casey reveals some
of the other 'rules' of sitcoms that they set about breaking - longer
scenes than normal allowed the actors to have more lines and more
room to develop their performances; no unnecessary establishing
shots and no musical cues; and a willingness to sustain long gaps
between punchlines to give the show more emotional weight than most
From the word go, Frasier was a show that trusted the intelligence
of its' audience. Put like that, it's amazing that it ever got commissioned.
Although the extras are sparse - just one episode
with a commentary, a 'Making Of' documentary and a round-up of celebrity
callers - the material that we get does add to the enjoyment of
And it's the episodes which provide the real reason for buying this
set: crisply written and acted, this is character driven comedy
at its best. Excellent value, a DVD that will sustain repeated viewing.
But there is still no explanation about what tossed salad and scrambled
eggs have to do with anything.
Man Who Sued God
An Australian-set film that was never going to be a major box office
smash, but which probably deserved a larger audience than it got
over here. Billy Connolly is Steve Myers, a one time lawyer scratching
out a living catching fish.
The film starts with the destruction of his boat by lightning, and
the refusal of the insurance company to pay up for an 'Act of God'.
This drives Myers to sue God, or rather to sue the churches, as
God's representatives on Earth. From that decision the rest of the
plot flows naturally, and nothing that follows seems forced, although
court room events in final courtroom showdown may raise some eyebrows.
But God and the church isn't the real target
of this entertaining comedy - the archest of barbs are reserved
for the insurance companies and the lawyers (hardly the most difficult
of satirical targets).
There is a succession of clergymen (along with a cynical rabbi)
who range from the bumblingly inept to the admirably intelligent
and sincere. At one point Connolly's character offers the opinion
that God would probably be on his side of the legal battle, and
the filmmakers (not to mention numerous Biblical figures - Amos
to name just one) seem to agree with him.
This is the kind of film that Ealing studios
used to churn out way back when (although I don't recall quite this
level of expletives in 'The Man In The White Suit' or 'Passport
to Pimlico': who would have expected that from Billy Connolly?).
There are no extras, which is a shame, but this is an enjoyable,
well-made film which holds the attention and has something to say,
even if its' targets are the most obvious of sitting ducks. Worth
watching, but possibly one to rent rather than to buy.