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DVD selection for August 2023


Fancy a night in front of the box? Simon Evans has some great ideas from the latest batch of home entertainment releases

Earth_DVD_coverEarth (BBC, DVD) 

With its exotic locations and sweeping orchestral score, this fascinating series looking back at our planet’s pre-history has all the trappings of a Sir David Attenborough documentary series. But wait, that’s Springwatch’s Chris Packham bestriding some of our planet’s most exotic locations as he tells of the many catastrophic changes that occurred during the formation of the Earth as we know it today. Indeed, there’s the feeling of a baton being passed on here, with Packham – who is, like Attenborough, a great explainer – seemingly evolving into the BBC’s go-to nature presenter.

Packham’s sometimes abrasive views can, however, also make him a divisive figure, and sure enough there was a fair amount of climate doom-mongering as he considered the five pivotal moments in Earth’s history. But what came over even more clearly was the sheer adaptive resilience of nature in the face of the numerous threats it has faced over the past billion years or so. If that’s the case why should it not adapt to the changes the Earth is currently facing without the need to plunge the civilised world back into the dark ages? That was one question, in an otherwise fascinating and hugely enlightening series, that went unanswered.

His_Majesty_King_Charles_III_DVD_cover.King Charles III (Reel 2 Reel Films, DVD)

This in-depth feature-length documentary diligently follows King Charles’ lifelong progress from prince to king, enhanced by new interviews from those closest to him. At 74 Charles was the longest-serving heir, a role he had been schooled for since he was four-years-old, a lifetime’s apprenticeship for all the challenges he faces as a modern, and modernising, monarch.

Robin Bextor’s documentary follows the many trials and triumphs King Charles III has faced along the way, revealing many untold stories and illuminating as best he can, a person who has, by the nature of his role, to retain a certain air of mystery. The film also features footage of the King’s Coronation, the first the country had seen in nearly 70 years.

Are_You_There_god_its_me_margaret_DVD_cover.Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret (Lionsgate, DVD and Blu-ray)

Based on the highly-regarded book of the same name by Judy Blume, first published in 1970, this film revolves around 11-year-old Margaret (Abby Ryder Fortson), who is uprooted from her life in New York City for the suburbs of New Jersey, at the same time as having to endure the throes of puberty at a new school

Margaret relies on her parents, especially her mother, Barbara (Rachel McAdams), who is also struggling to adjust to life outside the big city, but Margaret also desperately misses her grandmother, Sylvia (Kathy Bates), with whom she has an especially close bond.

With her life in turmoil Margaret turns to prayer, hence the title, but her relationship with God isn’t easy either. To her credit Abby Ryder Fortson brings real sympathy and depth to what could have been a female version of Harry Enfield’s Kevin the Teenager and both Kathy Bates and Rachel McAdams are a joy.

Wolf_dvd_coverWolf (Dazzler Media, DVD)

This has to be one of the oddest BBC dramas ever to occupy primetime, not just because tonally it is all over the place but also the subject matter is pushing the boundaries of good taste, even post-watershed. That it also boasts such established mainstream stars as Juliet Stevenson and Owen Teale makes the series even more peculiar.

Part of the problem lies in the way that two very different novels by the late Mo Hayder, Birdman and Wolf, have been conflated; the story of how the main character, DI Jack Caffery (excellently played by Ukweli Roach) is still recovering from his brother going missing in childhood is somehow mixed in with a plot that involves a rich family being kidnapped for reasons unknown. The location for this second strand has been moved to Wales for production reasons, which only makes the plot even more nonsensical as reasons have to be found for DI Caffery to investigate a crime 150 miles away from his London base.

That said it’s all strangely compelling and there is a genuine twist at the end which is worth waiting for.

John_Wayne_Brannigan_DVD_cover.Brannigan (BFI, Blu-ray)

In 1971 John Wayne had turned down the lead role in the hard-hitting police cop film Dirty Harry, a part Clint Eastwood went on to make his own in a series of gritty thrillers. How galling must it have been for the old gunslinger that Eastwood, whose Man with No Name films had already made Wayne’s cowboys and Indians style of Western seem hopelessly old-fashioned, had upstaged him again.

Four years later Wayne made this London-set action thriller, but it was far removed from those hard-edged Dirty Harry movies, with its slightly tired ‘cop out of water’ and ‘abrasive Limey boss’ (played by Richard Attenborough) tropes, not to mention Wayne’s endearingly chaste relationship with his female detective partner (Judy Geeson).

Wayne plays veteran Chicago detective Jim Brannigan who has been sent to London to recover Larkin, a notorious gangster. Things soon go awry when Larkin is kidnapped and a contract is put out on Brannigan’s life. Cue much mayhem as Brannigan tears through mid-Seventies London (beautifully captured by cinematographer Gerry Fisher) on the trail of his prey. It’s all reliably old-school with plenty of stunts, punch-ups, banter and a cast packed full of great Brit character actors, among them Don Henderson and Brian Glover – as if Dirty Harry never happened in fact.

The_doctors_the_colin_baker_years_behind_the_scenes_dvd_cover.The Doctors, The Colin Baker Years: Behind The Scenes

The Doctors, The Sylvester McCoy Years: Behind The Scenes (Reeltime Pictures, DVD)

In the long hiatus between the last season of the ‘classic’ Doctor Who era, in 1989, and its re-emergence in 2005, fans kept the flame alive through a number of unofficial, professionally produced, high quality documentaries. These have now been collected in a series of excellent Reeltime DVD collections featuring interviews with key actors and production personnel from the seven ‘classic’ eras. The ‘behind the scenes’ DVD collection focuses on the directors, writers and other key personnel, who give fascinating insights into just how the show was put together at the time.

No Who fan would dispute that the last four years of the show were no golden age. These were the panto years, full of bizarre guest stars, bombastic music, cheesy monsters and flimsy plots. Little wonder that the show came close to cancellation four years before the Beeb finally wielded the axe. Which, oddly, makes the interviews from the Sixth and Seventh Doctor eras all the more compelling. What exactly went wrong? And what was it like working on the show at the time? Answering these questions and more from the Colin Baker period are directors Chris Clough and Matthew Robinson, composer Dominic Glynn and writers Wally K Daly, Philip Martin and Glen McCoy, while the Sylvester McCoy era is represented by writers Ben Aaronovitch, Stephen Wyatt and Ian Briggs, as well as director Andrew Morgan, visual effects supervisor Mike Tucker and composer Keff McCulloch.

Also look out for…

Sister_Boniface_Mysteries_DVD_cover.The Sister Boniface Mysteries Series 2 (Dazzler, DVD and Blu-ray) The Vespa-riding, crime-solving nun is back, helping Great Slaughter Police Department with their enquiries. The Sixties-set series finds Boniface forcing a murderer into checkmate at a chess tournament, taking a spin at a pirate radio station, confronting a coven of witches and having to defend her own reputation as the conviction of her greatest adversary ‘The Good Samaritan’ is called into question…

Carmen_DVD_coverCarmen (Dazzler, DVD and Blu-ray) Melissa Barrera and Paul Mescal star in Benjamin Millepied’s imaginative modern-day retelling of one of history’s most famous love stories and operas, featuring a new music score by Nicholas Britell…

Three_Ages_DVD_cover.Buster Keaton: Three Ages (Eureka Entertainment, Blu-ray) This 1923 silent comedy was the first feature that Buster Keaton wrote, directed, and starred in and it follows multiple narratives across three different historical eras, the Stone Age, Ancient Rome, and Keaton’s own time. The film follows Keaton as he competes for the love of a woman (Margaret Leahy) whilst having to defend himself from a nasty bully (Wallace Beery), and is full of incredible stunts and brilliant visual gags…

Moving_On_DVD_coverMoving On (Sony Pictures Entertainment, digital) Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin play Claire and Evelyn, old friends who reunite to seek revenge on the widower of their recently deceased best friend in this dark comedy…

Twin_Town_DVD_coverTwin Town (Media Sales UK, Final Cut Entertainment, DVD and Blu-ray) The dark, comic subject matter of this 1997 film, and the involvement of Trainspotting’s Danny Boyle and Andrew McDonald as executive producers, led to this being dubbed the ‘Welsh Trainspotting’ at the time of its release, that and its fascination with the sleazier side of Swansea. Two brothers (played by real-life siblings Rhys Ifans and Llyr Ifans) seek revenge when their handyman grandfather is seriously injured working for a local Mister Big leading to some blackly comic moments.

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