View from the Couch
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Date: 22 June, 2006

DVD Cover


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'James Mangold's movie is as good as the genre gets.'

 

 

This month, Steve Couch reviews the DVDs of Walk the Line, Munich, Doctor Who series 2 and Guys and Dolls.

Use the links to order the DVDs from amazon.co.uk and Christian Aid will receive a percentage of the sale.

Use the jump links below to read the other reviews in this column
Walk the Line
Munich
Doctor Who series 2
Guys and Dolls

Walk the LineCover
(20th Century Fox, certificate 12)

I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. Well, I didn’t, but I do enjoy slipping the line into conversation to see who spots the reference and who starts backing slowly away.

If only for providing me with hours of fun (maybe I should get out more), Johnny Cash is deservedly regarded as a legend of popular music, and he enjoyed a renaissance of popular and critical acclaim towards the end of his life. And, as with all classic musos of a certain vintage, a biopic was inevitable.

But here’s the good news: this one rocks. Anchored by two remarkable performances from Joachin Phoenix (Johnny) and Reese Witherspoon (June Carter), James Mangold’s movie is as good as the genre gets.

Essence

The emphasis is on capturing the essence of the characters, rather than simply doing sharp impersonations (hence the casting of Joachin rather than Alistair McGowan).

Even with the cast taking vocal duties on all the musical performances, the soundtrack is fantastic, for which much credit should go to musical co-ordinator T-Bone Burnett (appearing this year at Greenbelt in a long-overdue return to his day job of singer-songwriting. Thank you, God).

The film comes in single and two-disc versions. The bonus disc of extras is good, containing several featurettes which are enjoyable and interesting (but also short and less than essential).

Possibly the best of the bonus material is the extended musical scenes, giving longer versions of some of the songs showcased in the film. In all it’s an above average set of extras, but whether the extra Cash is worth the extra cash is up to you.

But the film is wonderful, capturing both the heart and the darkness of the original Man in Black.

Click here for the Damaris Study guide for Walk The Line

MunichCover
(Universal, certificate 15)

At one point, Steven Spielberg’s film about the response to the terrorist killing of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics had the working title of Vengeance. Changing it was a good move.

Quite apart from making it sound like a cowboy movie (probably starring John Wayne as a hard-bitten man tracking down the people who stole his cattle / deflowered his daughter / trod on his dog’s paw), Vengeance would be much too simple and one-dimensional a title for this intelligent, complex, fascinating slow-burner of a film.

The film isn’t so much about the atrocities in Munich as about the Israeli government’s response to them. A small team of Mossad agents are recruited to assassinate the people responsible, and we follow their progress, successes and doubts about the task.

Thoughtful

This is very much Spielberg in hard-hitting thoughtful mode. If you are looking for the thrills and spills of his popcorn blockbusters, you’re in the wrong place.

Through the eyes of Eric Bana’s Avner and his team, we are invited to ponder the implications of revenge on both a personal and an international scale, and Spielberg isn’t afraid to leave us without any easy answers.

We see the political repercussions of the secret mission, as well as the cost that each of Avner’s assassins pays personally. With a running time of over two and half hours, Spielberg has given himself time to really explore his main characters, and at times it isn’t an easy watch – emotionally, rather than in terms of blood and gore.

But it’s the kind of film that will keep you thinking long after the disc is out of your DVD player and back in the box.

Extras

There is virtually nothing by way of extras – a single fifteen minute featurette, plus an introduction to the film by Steven Spielberg, where he heads off criticism that the film might be seen to be taking a particular line about the wisdom of America’s response to recent terrorist activity.

In truth, the film does the talking for him, offering a sophisticated approach that recognises the vast complexities of such issues and which could never be accused of being partisan propaganda. Essential.

Click here to read the Damaris study guide for Munich

Doctor Who series 2Cover
BBC DVD, certificate PG (volumes 1 and 3), certificate 12 (volume 2)
(Volumes 1 and 2, available now, volume 3 released 10th July

My admiration for last year’s revived Doctor Who is no secret to regular readers of this column. And regular readers will by now be waiting for a shameless plug. Here it comes:

Back In Time: A Thinking Fan’s Guide to Doctor Who by Steve Couch, Tony Watkins and Peter S. Williams.

Available from all good bookshops or online here.

Hurry while stocks last. But a new year means a new man at the TARDIS controls. How would David Tennant fare when stepping into Christopher Eccleston’s sizeable shoes?

For my money, Tennant makes an excellent Doctor – by turns funny, intense, affable, unpredictable and charismatic – but the stories he has been given so far haven’t matched the best of 2005. Nevertheless, there is good stuff to be had on these DVDs.

Last year, my advice was to ignore the extras-free single disc releases and wait for the whole season box set. However, given the excessive price, I’ve changed my mind. This time round I recommend picking and choosing the best of the single disc versions.

Volume 1 offers only two – count ‘em – episodes, the Christmas special and the first episode proper of the 2006 series. The Christmas Invasion, however, is classic Who and well worth the admission price on its own.

Perfect

As perfect an introduction to a new Doctor as I can remember, and a story that holds its own in any company. New Earth is a solid introduction to the 2006 series, with some delightfully well judged moments and the return of one of 2005’s villains, but ultimately fails to reach the heights of some other episodes.

Volume 2 is consistently good, and possibly the best of the three volumes released to date. All three episodes are excellent, with the Scottish Victorian werewolf tale Tooth and Claw perhaps the best of the series so far.

Add to that the juxtapositioning of 18th Century France with spaceships from the distant future in The Girl in the Fireplace and everybody’s worst childhood fears confirmed in School Reunion, and the result is a disc that is strong on both variety and quality.

Most exciting of all to long-term Who fans and men of a certain age is the one-off return of Elisabeth Sladen, reprising the role of Sarah-Jane Smith, last seen gallivanting around the Universe with Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker.

K9

She’s got K9 with her, which is always a subject to divide Who fans. For what it’s worth, I was never particularly enamoured of the metal mutt, but his role in School Reunion is well-judged and thoroughly enjoyable, even for me.

Volume 3 includes the two part story that brings the Cybermen back to our screens, and another single episode story set in London on the eve of Elizabeth II’s coronation.

The latter is, to my mind, disappointingly thin, but the Cyberman double is deliciously tense and gives one of the classic Doctor Who monsters a well deserved refit.

I’m not totally sold by Roger Lloyd-Pack in the mad scientist role, but the Cybermen themselves are believable and even quite moving on occasions. More than this, for the first time in the show’s history, they don’t look camp.

So, if you’re only buying one of these, it’s probably volume 2. The lesser episodes this round are more frequent and more disappointing than with the 2005 series, but all three of these discs still contains some high quality family drama.

Guys and DollsCover
(MGM, Certificate U)

The 1955 classic film of the show, starring Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando and the songs of Frank Loesser.

I’m not a huge fan of musicals, but this is as good as they get. If you know the film, you won’t need me to sing its praises, just to let you know it’s out there.

If you don’t know the film, you might know songs such as Luck Be a Lady Tonight or Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat. If not here’s what you need to know: it’s a peerless gem full of gamblers, wise guys on the make, long suffering sweethearts and the Salvation Army.

If that list doesn’t seem to add up, you’ll just have to take the plunge and find out. It’s a blast from start to finish, just don’t be left with cider in your ear.

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