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G. Bowden "genejezkova" (London, England)

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Peep Show: Series 1-3 Box Set [DVD]
Peep Show: Series 1-3 Box Set [DVD]
Dvd ~ Robert Webb

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "You're Not A Bad Person But I Do Have To Say You Are A Moron!", 18 Sept. 2007
In their promotion of the third series of Peep Show, Channel 4 utilised a generous plaudit from Ricky Gervais declaring the show as "the best sit-com on telly", which they promptly splayed all over the billboards featuring its titular heroes, David Mitchell and Robert Webb. Watching Peep Show, it's easy to understand why Gervais would have said that, as it pretty much operates as The Office to the nth degree, the same kind of cringeworthy comedy albeit blown up to often hideous extremes thanks to the POV camerawork on each character and the audience's admission into the main characters' inner monologue. As written by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, with more than a little help from its two leads, Peep Show has gained a cult following precisely because of its alarming intimacy, its embracing its characters and their neuroses so much as to follow their thoughts into absurdly dark places. It's not without its flaws, but when it hits its frequent bulleyes, Peep Show is undoubtedly the best comedy show on TV.

However, the flaws are only too obvious at times to be papered over. Firstly, the POV photography, whilst a novel idea in giving the show its own visual identity and even registering more than a few laughs (the sex scenes in particular are splendidly awkward), is often hard to watch, particularly in the first series where the reliance on grainy digital video is especially pronounced. Some would argue that this is irrelevant given that the commentary by the characters is what provides the most laughs in the show, but in a few instances you really can't be sure what you're looking at and the effect is distracting, though it does look a lot better by series three. It must also be said that there are some moments that border on the ridiculous with regards to character actions and motivations, especially seeing as Peep Show's world is one firmly set in our own, as opposed to the affected fantasy worlds of other comedies on TV right now. However, given the absolute hilarity to be had in most of the eighteen episodes on offer here, one can more than easily forgive these indiscretions and enjoy some startlingly on-the-nose subversiveness and laughter.

The first facet of the show worthy of mention is undoubtedly the cast, of whom if someone were to merely describe them as "game" would be doing them a mighty disservice. The show does indeed belong to its two leads, rather classically thrown-together misfits who might only exhibit a shared disparagement for each other at the best of times, but at least it's shared by the both of them. Webb's Jez, a wannabe musician who isn't much good at anything other than loafing around their flat, receives the slightly crazier storylines over the first three series and many a fine moment of inspired stupidity and selfishness, with Webb's finer work shining through in series three. Without question, however, the show belongs to David Mitchell's put-upon Mark, a uniquely English ball of wannabe-upper-middle class insecurity, whose obssessive need for order and success is thwarted at every turn more by his own foolishness then any single event thrown at him. Credit goes to the writers for serving up some delightfully dark speeches for Mitchell to use to justify his priggishness, delivered with such eloquent cadence by the actor that Mark becomes a fine, sympathetic, comic monster. The rest of the cast are filled in with admirable performances, special mentions going to recurring cast members Olivia Coleman, Neil Fitzmaurice and a brilliant Paterson Joseph as Mark's ever-so demanding seminar foreman-turned-boss.

And whilst the writing doesn't hold up all of the time by following through to seemingly forced conclusions (Jez's jury service plotline in series three for example ends rather unconvincingly), there is no questioning Armstrong and Bain's bravery in exploiting issues of race, sexuality, gender, homelessness and class (to name a few) in order to get some fantastically torrid laughs. Of note are episodes involving a disastrous double date at the bowling alley and one where Mark and Jez share a hilarious game of one-upmanship involving Jez's object of desire and Mark's own sister. With Mark and Jez at constant loggerheads with all of these issues, and the photography promoting a voyeuristic intent on the proceedings, the audience is forced to recognise the at-times inflammatory comments made and understand them for the comedy to work. It's an intelligent mix of the ribald and the political that refuses to sit still and give the viewer a single comfortable laughline, but the events onscreen are simply too funny to let something like values and political correctness get in the way. Moments like this elevate Peep Show beyond the traditional sit-com into something more progressive; more so than The Office, it is a bold, uncompromising joy even if it's a little rough around the edges at times.

However, with regards to this specific DVD collection and the supplemental material on each disc, the only good thing going for it is having all three discs for a slashed price. Though, with the fourth series' imminent arrival on DVD, as well as series five already being commissioned by Channel 4, this set will certainly be made redundant for the über-fan certainly. There's also the lack of extras on each of the discs, though what paltry amount of material there is still makes an impression. Series one and three have some specially filmed extra scenes for the DVD, including Mark's video CV and Jez's music video, whilst series two boasts a behind-the-scenes featurette showing rehearsal and B-roll footage along with talking heads from key members of cast and crew. The commentaries range from flat to amusing (mostly the former) and compared with packages for, say, The League of Gentlemen and Spaced, this does pale quite considerably. But extras aside, there's no reason why any British comedy fan shouldn't have this, one of the only genuinely funny shows still around, in their collection.

Bridget Jones's Diary / The Edge of Reason [DVD]
Bridget Jones's Diary / The Edge of Reason [DVD]
Dvd ~ Renee Zellweger
Offered by Quality Media Supplies Ltd.
Price: £10.29

4 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Everyone Knows That Diaries Are Just, Full Of Cruhaarp!", 24 Aug. 2007
Now, it is true to say that the iconography of Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones isn't one to be taken too seriously. Beginning life as a newspaper serial whose captions would later constitute a worldwide bestselling novel, Fielding at once captured the humility, the optimism and every single wine stain of the modern day middle-class working girl in England, with barbed asides regarding celebrity culture and the dating game that bordered on the scabrous but that were also never less-than-funny. To turn the novel into a charming romantic comedy blockbuster proved to be a bit of a no-brainer for Working Title and Miramax, and thanks to a marketing push that enveloped the world much like Miss Jones's underpants did her tummy and waist, pubs became wine bars or cocktail lounges and the film made over $270 million worldwide. Even if its success is responsible for one of the most weirdly inept sequels in recent memory and it made it okay for every twentysomething professional to drink their body weight in cheap wine every other night, there was a time when Bridget Jones was the film of choice for every night in and it remains a lovely diversion in spite of the fallout since its success.

Even if it uses the required plot machinations, quirky supporting characters, obvious soundtrack cues and innumerable other cliches that have turned the romantic comedy into the pastiche that it is hastily becoming, Diary has plenty going for it to differentiate itself from both its progenitors and its (non)successors. Firsty, it is held into place by a troika of well-judged performances from its leads, who are each clearly having a ball. Renee Zellweger's accent doesn't acquit itself as well as her awkwardly amusing physicality in the role of an English woman uncomfortable in her own skin but neverltheless remains nothing less than utterly enjoyable with her little-girl-lost expression permanently plastered on her face.

Hugh Grant hurls as much of his prior "befuddled fop" persona out of the figurative window as he possibly can with a devilishly delicious role as Jones's cuckholding sleaze-of-a-squeeze and gets to savour most of the film's best lines as a result. However, Colin Firth registers with the film's most demanding performance, seeing as the character both in the film and the book references his past work as Mr Darcy in the BBC mini-series of Pride & Prejudice so frequently. That he manages to achieve this and still create a convincingly swoonsome romantic foil for Zellweger is testament to his subtle skills as an actor. When both of these suitors share the screen together, it provides many a juicy moment for the audience to enjoy, particularly the spectacularly non-threatening, Eton boy-style fisticuffs bout near the film's end.

Moreover, the flurry of supporting characters that populate Bridget's universe aren't as overtly quirky as latter efforts from the Richard Curtis stable of romantic comedy, even if the talented likes of Jim Broadbent, Gemma Jones, Sally Phillips, Felicity Montagu and Shirley Henderson are given unfathomably little to do. Curtis's penchant for highlighting pertinent yet otherwise uncomfortably evoked issues of third world hunger are kept to the required minimum for a romantic comedy about drunken, lovelorn idiots from middle-class London (i.e. none) and director Sharon Maguire, whilst not the most visually appealing of helmers, does well to make sure that the mise en scene and the overall package is professionally adequate throughout. It's quite clear she's a dab hand with actors, and with the help of a confident script, she oversees that Diary doesn't get too mired in its cynical contrivances to still deliver a peachy treat for the romantic at heart.

Unfortunately, any good idea that achieves gold at the box office deserves a sequel according to the production house, and thus Bridget Jones's Diary was to receive a companion piece called Bridget Jones: The Edge Of Reason. Now, Fielding had written a sequel to her novel herself, albeit one not as well-received as her previous one and something remarkably different from what the film becomes. In contrast to Diary, Reason is a sequel governed by no form of rational thinking at all. Essentially a repeat of the first film with the situations, characters and even key plot points blown up to such ludicrous proportions as to align itself better with a Looney Tunes cartoon than its predecessor, Reason sports as much charm as can be afforded to a misguided, cynical attempt at blockbusterdom, despite its stars still emerging with some dignity intact.

Barbed with five credited screenwriters compared to Diary's three, the most notable casualty to Reason is the fact that Bridget Jones's character has all of a sudden turned into a rather unattractive caricature of herself from the first film. Zellweger can be credited for some of the film's laugh-out-loud moments thanks to her proven mettle as a physical comedienne (the slalom episode down the Alps in particular is a highlight), but the writing and director Beeban Kidron push her performance into such overblown vapidity it's hard for the audience to accept that this is the same intelligent, put-upon young girl from the first film. It's bad enough that the sequel has to re-hash moments from the first film with nearly half the hilarity (the fight, the bum-to-camera embarrassment, Hugh Grant's reappearance), but to have the character blunder through them as if the first film never happened is borderline insulting. The most questionable episodes involve a placation of wronged Asian girls with self-help books and chocolate bars and the second least convincing screen lesbian in recent memory (see Sonia in Eastenders for the first place winner).

Thankfully, even when Hugh Grant is slumming it he's still effortlessly charming, even if the way in which his character is brought back into the action is one of the most shockingly lazy workings in the script. Firth is again saddled with the straight man role against Grant and Zellweger, though this time he isn't given nearly as many charmingly left-of-centre moments as his declaration of attraction to Bridget or his final line from the first film; here he's alternately staid or lovesick. Fans of the supporting players from the first film are also to be dismayed at the lack of material here also, which is off-putting considering how little they had last time. You have to ask yourself what kind of film would give as reliable a comedic actor as Jim Broadbent or Jessica Stevenson (who should have won the role of Bridget hands down if anyone who's seen her TV show Spaced would know!) less than a handful of lines!?

As a result, Reason wasn't as big a hit as its behemoth budget demanded it to be, especially in the US where it made roughly half of the modestly-budgeted Diary, but what remains is a prize example of how not to follow up a successfully charming movie with a built in sequel from its original source. As presented in this three disc special edition, each film receives substantial extra material on their respective discs that were previously available separately, but nothing insightful or entertaining can be found on Diary's extras. However, Reason's supplemental material fares much better, including an especially filmed scene of Bridget interviewing Colin Firth as himself (declared by many as a highlight from the second book but rather obviously excised from the film) and an amazingly unapologetic commentary from director Kidron. The third disc includes more deleted scenes (nowt special) and a couple more featurettes, one of which questions Bridget Jones's iconic status in popular culture, before backing down from anything interesting or thought provoking and delivering a twenty-minute dirge of how great the films are. A wasted opportunity to build upon an otherwise lovely little film that became a phenomenon.

The League of Gentlemen - The Complete Collection [DVD] [1999]
The League of Gentlemen - The Complete Collection [DVD] [1999]
Dvd ~ Mark Gatiss
Price: £12.00

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "You're Going To Be An Elephant!!!", 21 Aug. 2007
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Though now they undoubtedly suffer comparison to weaker shows that have followed in their wake (and in a couple of instances have become infinitely more successful), the League of Gentlemen were a breath of indecent fresh air when they arrived onto BBC2 back in 1999 with their eponymous sketch series. A television series that paid as much attention and homage to classic English moments in cinema, TV and literature as it did to cult horror classics and serial killer trivia, the world of Royston Vasey and its bizarre inhabitants was one as chock full of witty irreverance as much as it was of disgusting toilet humour, with the odd un-PC characterisation thrown in for good measure. Like any uniformally terrific piece of TV heaven, the League would inspire a cult following that still laments/praises their efforts in provoking laughter and disturbance to this day, and remains especially unique in their daring to take their characters towards avenues darker and more surreal than most English comedies fear to tread.

The progenitors of this vividly weird world deserve every amount of praise bestowed upon them for bringing it to life so indelibly, as co-writer Jeremy Dyson and co-writers/lead cast members Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith imbue their characters with an honesty and commitment that most sketch shows rarely afford to do. Even when dragged up to the nines, fat-suited-and-booted or adopting all manner of over-the-top mannerisms, not only is their comedy rooted convincingly within the innumerable social neuroses of all isolated English communities, but the performances also serve to eak out some semblance of truth in the farce played onscreen, no matter how overblown, fanciful or downright disturbing it may be. The Tubbs and Edward storyline from series one is one concerned with the restrictions of home and the need to find something beyond the smalltown life whilst Hilary Briss's indiscretions in series two can be seen as an essay on corruption and blackmail amongst a smalltown's political figures. That both storylines happen to feature hair sandwiches, culinary excrements and bestiality makes their core themes more appealling. Aided substantially by exemplary costumes and makeup (particularly the former courtesy of Yves Barre), as well as an overtly naturalistic filming style that belies the staginess of past sketch shows, the League strike chords that unnerve as much as they induce laughter precisely because there is no wink at the audience to let them know when to laugh, which is as big a feat as you're unlikely to find in English comedy.

As with any cult success, the League's fanbase is one that can often be found arguing over the merits or detriments of each series, though rather unfortunately a lot have isolated series three as the nadir of their work with the BBC. Granted, with its ambitious storytelling technique and marrying disparate characters from other sketches to tell even weirder and out-of-leftfield stories, series three had the power to alienate even hardcore fans that had grown accustomed to the more traditional sketch show structures and catchphrase-reliant punchlines of the first two seasons. Series one and two were still held together by a thinly-etched storyline to help provide continuity between the six episodes as well as provide a soap-opera style level of intrigue and investment to the proceedings, and each group of characters was given either moments to shine or at the best of times character arcs and plot twists that provided further shading and depth. Series three was limited in its scope by focusing on a single set of characters in each episode for so long, but it still can't deter from the sheer subversive delights found within or some joyously silly stand-alone sketches. However, most are unanimous in their praise of the Christmas Special, which no doubt helped to inspire the multi-layered structure of series three, and it remains their highlight even outside of their work with the BBC.

The more horrific aspects of their characters and actions can be attributed to the League's fascination with the horror genre, specifically the Gothic qualities of the Hammer horrors and the Amicus horror compilations. Plot points, shots and episode titles pay homage to the likes of Nosferatu, Don't Look Now, The Wicker Man, The Shining, The Exorcist... the list goes on. Though thankfully, the level of technique from the behind-the-scenes crew helps to ensure that each reference is made tastefully and with the utmost care, of particular note being The Divine Comedy's Joby Talbot supplying a rousing underscore to the events onscreen, especially the Christmas special which includes a beautiful pastiche of Jocelyn Pook and her score for Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. It's not all doom and horror though, even if the lighter moments are tainted quite indelibly with some incredibly dark humour, notably the Chinnery sketches (the Kes pisstake is priceless), a couple of ceaselessly creepy monologues (one set in a cave system, the other in a morgue) and a wonderful Jehovah's Witness pitch that goes from bad to worse in less than two lines. In short, its the most fun you're likely to have laughing at the sort of stuff you really ought to not be laughing at.

However, the best part of this DVD collection is the fact that the League, being the geeks that they are, have taken great pride in providing bountiful extra material for each disc in this package. Those who have bought each TV outing individually will feel shortchanged by its slashed price and the lack of any new material specifically for this release stops it from being an essential purchase for the die-hard fan (unlike, say, Channel 4's seminal Spaced DVD collection), it would be the perfect gift for someone who enjoys intelligent, raucous comedy who hasn't discovered them yet. The most amusing features on each disc containing the episodes have to be the "Local Gossip" audio commentary tracks made by the League, which sees them become more and more embittered as they detail sketches that don't work, discrepencies in the plots, various on-set travails and, most tellingly, orders from on high that limit what they can say and do (Shearsmith in particular gets incredibly rancourous). Other features include deleted sequences, behind-the-scenes documentaries, isolated score cues, music videos, trailers and character biographies. Not including series one (which probably had to suffer having all of its material posited on one disc), each menus is also beautifully designed with all kinds of animations, quirks and easter eggs, standout amongst equals being the Christmas Special (again!)

So, with its smackingly delicious blend of comedy, horror, referentialism and drama, the League of Gentlemen gave us a genuinely refreshing hit TV show that ducked easy categorisation at every turn to become of the BBC's finest comedy programs in recent years. That they proceeded to march to their own beat and treat hard-won fans with further flights of fancy as opposed to relying on cliches and catchphrases to keep the merchandise boards happy also makes them one of the more legitimate comedy troupes working today (excluding the panto tour, obviously!) Let's not forget, this is the outfit that turned a character with a raspy voice and a minstrel face into a national phenomenon, despite his having black urine and stealing women away from their homes to stuff them inside animals. Give credit where it's due, guys; Vicky Pollard would be ripped apart in seconds if she ventured into Royston Vasey, and it would probably be at least half as good as anything on these six discs of dark pleasure.
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Alien Quadrilogy (9 Disc Complete Box Set) [DVD] [1979]
Alien Quadrilogy (9 Disc Complete Box Set) [DVD] [1979]
Dvd ~ Sigourney Weaver
Offered by rb1928
Price: £29.00

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "You've Been A Part Of My Life For So Long, I Can't Remember Anything Else...", 19 July 2007
That the Alien series stands next to George Lucas's Star Wars saga as Hollywood's most recognised, adored and fiercely debated science fiction anthology bears a certain level of irony, given how aesthetically and tonally it differs from those family-friendly space adventures. The Alien series presented a relentlessly bleak vision of the future, a used and filthy dystopia not dissimilar from the finest sci-fi literature of our time but one that had yet to be so fully realised on the big screen. Like the Stars Wars films, later installments would fail to hold audiences in their thrall quite so vividly, but it can be said that the Alien saga was the first science fiction series to cross-over into a specifically non-enthusiast arena; the anti-Star Wars for everyone who over-dosed on George Lucas's universe.

This was the sentiment shared by screenwriting/producing partners David Giler and Walter Hill when they received Dan O'Bannon and Ron Shusset's script. Ridley Scott's masterpiece was the result of their collective tinkering, and one that has stood the test of time to become one of the most iconic horror films ever. Working on the proviso of "truckers in space", Scott does well to illustrate a workplace that may be light years away from home, all foil, tubing and chains, and imbued with a workmanlike realism by his cast of characters. Once the alien ship is found and the science-fiction horror gets into full swing, Scott employs moments of discomforting silence and lulls to enhance the horrific punctuations of alien attack. That Alien is still so effective in spite of so many subsequent sci-fi horror films using the same techniques is testament both to the craftsmanship and the performances of its cast.

The unsettling design of the creature itself and its increasing violation of the crew members is what helps to distance itself apart from other monster features. The creature is often described as bio-mechanical, its tubing and metallic structure helping it to actually blend in with the surroundings of the ship, and its potential as a weapon with regards to the company's trying to harness its ruthless hostility cements its reputation as one of the finest movie monsters. However, the most horrific aspect of the creature is in Scott and designer H.R. Giger's sexualisation of its attacks. The deaths of Kane and Lambert can easily be assuaged as graphic examples of rape, specifically Lambert's, which is possibly one of the most soul-destroying moments in Hollywood horror. This is nasty stuff and all the more effective in its being treated with the utmost seriousness.

The corporate paranoia aspect is one of the film's most sophisticated elements, and counters the primal fears of violation and death with more cerebral ideas of social morals and responsibility being overriden for economic growth and superiority via untrustworthy powers. Though Scott's 2004 Directors Cut enhances this aspect, it would be James Cameron's 1986 sequel that utilised this to its fullest in the series. Whilst Scott's affair was one that explicitly preyed on human anxieties and is arguably more sophisticated and scary in this regard, Cameron goes for the juggular in an all-out assault on the senses whilst single-handedly designing the proto-type for the outer space combat movie in the process. However, for all of its rudimentary thrills and still-inspired suspenseful sequences, Aliens still harnesses a humane element that elicits sympathy for most of its characters of non-descript marines and especially Ripley.

Aided substantially by Sigourney Weaver's Oscar-nominated performance and an ensemble of thoroughly engaging marines, Cameron offsets the violence, hardware and language with unique character beats that are all the more disarming given the impending thwart of not just the aliens, but also the company responsible for the incredible loss of life. Cameron has said that the Vietnam war campaign is referenced explicitly throughout Aliens, what with the gung-ho marines being sent to exterminate a mostly-unseen enemy, only to be outdone and slaughtered by them despite the firepower and brute force they equip themselves with. Quibbles may be made via the Newt rescue near journey's end, but the sheer viserality and magnitude of Cameron's film cannot be ignored, it can only be enjoyed ceaselessly. And the introduction of the Alien Queen, and the obligatory double-ending smackdown between her and Ripley, makes up for any single flaw the film has on itself, even if you really can't call it scary.

And because the human interest in Ripley had evolved so much for the audience, and Fox were understandably overjoyed at the sequel's resounding success, when the third chapter was given the greenlight, mouths and minds were baited for a resplendent return. Yet Alien3 proved to be huge let down compared to the second installment in its attempts to capture the grim futility of Ridley Scott's effort and thereby enhance the dramatic resonance with Ripley's despair and quest for redemption after the loss of her friends. Unfortunately, this existential crisis of faith and quasi-religious imagery/discussion wasn't appreciated by fans of the hardware that dominated the second film and its merchandise tie-ins. Despite this, the film still has sufficient enough dramatic heft thanks to Weaver's committed performance and some stellar photography and design, especially with regards to a new breed alien that has inherited its canine host's agility and speed.

As a grim character study of a woman coping with the loss of her family and her own destructive sense of responsibility, Alien3 could have been the most affecting chapter in the would-be trilogy if Fox had followed through. As it stands, Alien3 is a wonderful-looking, muddled mess of ideas that strives for something profound and beyond the hardware of the Alien universe. But how can you have an Alien movie without a flamethrower or motion tracker? Of course, Fox being the moneygrubbing fiends they are, they couldn't bear to let the series die out with such an emotional whimper (or comparitive lack of box office coin to the first two), and before long, Alien: Resurrection was unleashed to a bemused public.

Now upon first glance, Resurrection appears to be little more than a fine shoot-em-up science fiction horror thriller. Yet it's being part of the Alien series suggests not only a high standard in production values, but also includes itself in a pantheon that didn't only include the Alien films anymore, but also the Alien literature, artwork and especially the comic books from Dark Horse. If it were removed from the series, Resurrection could have earned itself a generous following as it has some unique and interesting ideas, some delightfully skewered visuals and a fantastic central performance from its leading lady. Among these ideas are those of memory and self-acceptance through inherited genetics, reconciling our inner natures even if they appear abhorrent to others, our family and even ourselves. So what went wrong?

Well, the mischeivous cuteness that permeates throughout all of director Jean-Pierre Juenet's work is unmistakably present, as is the gothic fantasy feel of the design and cinematography, as are the overripe, camp performances. Mixed in with the hardware, politics and malignance of the Alien universe, the result is never less than interesting but simply doesn't gel convincingly with the rest of the series. The schlock-horror aspect of the gore becomes boring after the first couple of deaths and, aside from a joyously jaded performance from Weaver, none of the characters have the same natural empathy of previous instalments. The entire final fifteen minutes involving one of the worst movie monsters in film history, the Newborn, is doubly offensive and doesn't bear thinking about in its shoddiness.

That the Alien series had devolved into the kind of pulpy, high camp science-fiction adventure that its progenitor had expressly tried to avoid is unfortunate and pretty much signalled a death knell for the series. But a following is a following, and the Alien following is one of the most dedicated in Hollywood lore, helping to summon this near flawless DVD collection into existence. Each film has exemplary sound and picture presentation (remasterd or otherwise), as well as each being presented in double-disc format, with disc one consisting of either directors cuts or special edition versions alongside the original releases and disc two including extensive feature-length documentaries, along with storyboards, first draft scripts, costume tests, deleted/alternate scenes, the works. A commentary track from various cast and crew is also present on the theatrical release of each film bar Aliens, whose commentary is featured on the extended special edition. To top that off, their is a ninth disc devoted entirely to the publicity material for each film (check out the first incredibly mis-leading teaser to Alien3).

The documentaries in particular are the stuff of bonus material dreams, featuring candid interviews from the innumerable behind-the-scenes teams, who were often at loggerheads with the studio or the director at some point. In this respect, The Making Of Alien3 provides the juiciest information, including story scenarist Vincent Ward's radically-different original treatment, though David Fincher refused to be interviewed thanks to the amount of studio interference endured on the set of the film. The only problem with this presentation is the sheer bulk of information within these discs ... it's so comprehensive that a drinking game must be unearthed from it somehow! For now, though, the Alien saga can take its place near the gold standard of DVD box-set collections and sci-fi geeks's appetites everywhere can be sated, as Fox may have delivered again on the DVD front with a lovingly made collection for an infuriatingly delightful film series.

Volta: Extra Tracks
Volta: Extra Tracks
Price: £5.99

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Virile, Vital & Volatile ..., 9 July 2007
This review is from: Volta: Extra Tracks (Audio CD)
The announcement of the kind of work going into Björk's sixth English solo album, Volta, was at first cause for celebration amongst fans of her earlier work. Specifically from those enamoured by Debut and Post, many felt that her last two projects, the acapella-inspired fifth album Medúlla and questionable soundtrack assignment Drawing Restraint 9, were a little too off-kilter and pretentious, so the news that she was now working with Timbaland on her new album, fresh from his success with Justin Timberlake and Nelly Furtado, was met with rapturous anticipation. However, this alleged foreshadowing of commerciality in Björk's new noises would prove to be misinformed, as whilst Timbaland's rhythmic quirks are noticeably present, Björk's Volta is still unmistakably hers, and what's more, it's primal energy and at times frightening urgency couldn't distance it further from the affable earlier years of her career.

However, this isn't a slight on Volta by a long shot. The beats and rhythm sections have never sounded so assured and danceworthy since Homogenic and Björk's embracing of diverse instrumentation matches Post's globetrotting fearlessly, from the nu-African march of "Earth Intruders" to the nimble oriental quietude "I See Who You Are" to the critic-baiting Middle Eastern vibe of "Hope". It's almost as if Björk is searching for an international algorhythm to which no one is safe and it all makes for some marvelous stuff. Yet there is still more than enough reason to be warned, as some of the more violent passages from Homogenic and Drawing Restaint 9 (which is actually sampled in "Vertebrae By Vertebrae") can also be accounted for, accentuated by a heightened political awareness of the world around her. She is still fighting back with love and goodwill, but there is more of an idea of the sinister forces at work against her this time.

Of course, there's still some stirringly lovely stuff amidst the gloom, notable examples being the exciteable roving of "Wanderlust" (another worthy lyric from trusted friend Sjón) and the charming blunder-beats of "Innocence", both of which have Björk sing in childlike rapture for connection to other beings of the world, a theme communicated in the best work from her career ("Human Behaviour", "Big Time Sensuality", "Alarm Call", "Unison" ... to name a few). However, the loveliest surprises are her duets with Antony Hegarty, though it must be said that "The Dull Flame Of Desire" is the clincher, seven minutes of sublime vocal editing, harmonies, operatic horns and a slow burn beat rustling underneath that doesn't outstay its welcome. "Pneumonia" reps a close second for the album's premier ballad though, its pensive horn arrangement (also taken from Drawing Restraint 9) and subtle effects enhancing an especially moving performance from Björk.

As for the contributions from her gang of players, Björk is keen to let them make their stamp, but there's no doubt that her musical authority is what they are all acting under. Especially regarding her work with Timbaland, Björk is probably the first artist since Missy Elliott to actually use Timbaland's exemplary production to her advantage rather than let it overpower her own composition, which is no mean feat. If anyone deserves special mention alongside Ms Gudmundsdottir, they would have to be the lovely Antony (who has never sounded so beautiful as on "Dull Flame") and old hand Mark Bell, whose co-production and writing on "Declare Independence" helps to quash both "Pluto" and "Storm" as Björk's most sonically extreme album track yet (in short: it's the bollocks!).

There are a few tonal misjudgements ("Hope" may be the album's lightning rod for criticism lyrically and musically) and unlike Post, which utilised different genres in a lighter, sprightlier fashion, Volta does make for a bumpy, jarring ride at the worst of times. However, this is what pop music of the future ought to sound like, and if genuine artists like Björk are allowed to continue pushing the envelope as she is keen to do with electronic music, then maybe this truncated fad of unadventurous, cheesy acoustic dirge will soon peter out. Altogether now ... "Raise Your Flag! (Higher, Higher!!)"


37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Somewhere Between the Mainstream and the Heavens..., 26 Mar. 2007
This review is from: Takk... (Audio CD)
Given their presence in the pop world since 1999's Ágætis byrjun, you'd be forgiven for not knowing that 2005's Takk... was in fact Icelandic rock group Sigur Rós's major label debut. After their collective star was shot into the ascendant with Ágætis, not to mention backed up further by 2002's () and a couple of soundtrack assignments, the Rós was snapped up by EMI to begin work on their fourth long player. With EMI keen to get their mitts on some of the twilight majesty of Ágætis as opposed to the stark beauty of (), they couldn't have asked for a more fitting effort from the four-piece as they have offered an unabashedly mainstream affair, though still tempered with enough sparkle and artistic integrity to melt even the hardest of hearts. Cynics may argue that the band has well and truly sold out big time (and their songs' inclusion on near enough every single advert on television suggests this certainly), but even that can't deter from the many spectral delights that are as emotionally stirring as anything else in the band's back catalogue.

It can be said that the band on this CD sound like one at their most exultant and joyous, leaving behind much of the drama and tragedy that infused their earlier works with such resonance (even Ágætis had its fair share of tormented noise). Compared to the operatic wordless vistas of (), Takk... sees frontman Jonsi singing in his trademark falsetto about jumping in puddles, raking haystacks and the glowing sun, deliberately facile lyrics sung with rapt expression amid a backdrop of alternating sweet percussion and/or orchestral grandeur. Texturing the work also are distinct rhythmic scuttles and scratches, reminiscent of Aphex Twin's quieter moments or fellow Icelanders Björk and Múm, which help to imbue the pieces with an electronic fluidity as the guitar feedback soars alongside the string and brass sections. Obvious highlights include the singles "Hoppípolla" and "Sæglopur", the latter's piano chords helping to summon possibly their most epic moment to date and the former's irrepressible orchestral pomp never failing to stir. And for those who can't listen to these songs without thinking of reality TV shows or charity adverts, then the noble quietude of "Sé lest" and the giddy dance of "Gong" should serve as alternate remedies perfectly.

However, the true beauty of the LP is present first and foremost in the band's unwavering identity and their not sacrificing key facets of the music at the behest of promises of worldwide acclaim. Sure, Takk... is without doubt their most accessible CD with regards to its livelier, happier emotional meter than their previous work as well as the glossy mainstream sheen that positively bounces off of each of the songs (even the potential-filler "Hoppípolla" reversal, "Með Blóðnasir"). Yet it still manages to invest enough of Sigur Rós's unique, elemental nature to secure their international status as one of the world's leading rock outfits and everyone has to give credit where it's due to a band that still sound this young, vital and effusive eight years down the line. Once the overbearing hype cools off, or all of those adverts come out of circulation, Takk... will be rediscovered as one of the best albums of the decade and a calling card for one of the most important bands working in pop music today. Simply magical.

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( )

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Volenska Realised + Remastered, 22 Feb. 2007
This review is from: ( ) (Audio CD)
By the eve of the release of their third LP, Sigur Rós had ascertained an immensely impressive reputation in the international pop arena. Key surges in their popularity were fuelled by appearances alongside God Speed You Black Emperor and Radiohead at various festivals, generous airplay on radio and extensive soundtrack work (they featured quite heavily in Cameron Crowe's "Vanilla Sky"). Like many bands before them, they had the world at their feet thanks to a breakthrough album and needed to prove their mettle with the music press with their next release. And, quite commendably, Sigur Rós decided to strip away the grandiose nature of their last album in favour of a starker, more intimate affair with their listeners' ears. More challenging and at times rewarding than Ágætis byrjun, () is of a darker hue than the twee and twinkle that peppered their earlier work, but still retains the significant magic to carry itself along potently.

On (), the band fully realise their concept of Hopelandic music that was briefly indulged in on their prior albums. The tone and feel of the pieces is more akin to Von's gothic religion than Ágætis' slighter melodies, though thankfully the collective musical knowledge of the group has improved tenfold since then. Here, lead man Jonsi sings exclusively in his manmade gibberish in an effort to blend the vocals into the overall texture of the songs, often coming up with bewitching results (hear "Track One" especially, which is movingly subtitled after drummer Orri's daughter "Vaka" when played live). The arrangements behind the songs are simpler, more forceful and gradually build until they reach the very pinnacle of the best slow-burn stunner pop music has to offer (hear "Track Three" or "Attachment"). However, once the album gets to the halfway point and therein inherits a darker tone, problems do arise notably within the "wall of noise" sequences, though "Track Eight" ("The Pop Song") still exhibits substance-infused stadium gig majesty. The band also retains its leftfield sensibilities by having no official song titles, credits or lyrics on any of the pieces, rather allowing the listener to branch out of their own subconscious to find out what each song means.

All of which cements that, more so than Ágætis and their follow-up Takk..., () is a fan's favourite as opposed to something for everyone to be enthralled by as only someone overtly affected by Sigur Rós and their music could empathise with the creative indulgences posited on this CD. Thankfully, they do have the talent and prowess to pull their various tricks off with emotional aplomb as well as appealing to their trademark primordial soundscapes, even if these are a little rougher around the edges than most songs in their back catalogue. () is a darker, more compromising adventure in sound for the four-piece and their fans certainly, but it also proves that versatility and willingness to take chances doesn't necessarily mean you need a new producer to oversee the progress made. What remains is a worthy addition to the ever-surprising canon of Icelandic pop/rock.

Sigur Ros - Agaetis Byrjun
Sigur Ros - Agaetis Byrjun

11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Millennial Euphoria Boom Started Here!, 21 Feb. 2007
Much like fellow Icelander Björk's album Debut cannot be accurately described as such (cultists know her first was recorded at the tender age of 11), Sigur Rós's Ágætis byrjun belies its meaning of "an alright start". Sigur Rós had in fact already released their debut album, Von, in Iceland along with a remix album, before catching the ears of David Fatcat and his Brighton-based Fatcat Records with some new live material. Though their former work was dubiously received at best, Sigur Rós trounced every expectation that could possibly be afforded with a follow-up album synonymous with its time and place in pop history, coining the reflective euphoria that would inform later bands of the new millennium. The group's blend of distorted noise and orchestral pomp via falsetto vocals and offbeat guitar arrangements celebrated the past century with a stirring reverence and emotional simplicity rarely heard in today's jaded sounds, leaving the listener enraptured with poignant fascination.

Ágætis has developed a reputation of representing the band's native landscapes, all barren desolation giving way for unique vistas of ice, earth and the northern lights. This would be more convincing if the band's production and instrumentation weren't referencing earlier progenitors of prog rock so frequently, though the strikingly romantic chords and melodies betray the often soulless past sentiments of this sub-genre. One of the band's more prolific themes is that of their music being bound by a core of elemental youth and optimism, their lyrics addressing ideas of rejuvenation after destruction and shutting down whilst being offset by absurdly humorous imagery (key offenders being "Ný batterí" and "Svefn-g-englar"), all enhanced by Jonsi Birgisson's primordially elfin vocal. It would be in this respect that Sigur Rós retain their Icelandic roots best, their joie-de-vivre and patriotism shining as bright as it can whilst still taking the mick out of themselves.

In all honesty, another five-star review of this five-star album is only likely to annoy both fans and disparagers of Sigur Rós and their work. It must be said that Sigur Rós shouldn't be credited for being pioneers of popular music leading us into the new millennium with a dreamy, ethereal new sound, as many of the programming twitches and subversions present on this album have been divulged before by many a progressive rock artist or group. Yet one cannot help but appreciate them as a breath of fresh air amidst the arty, pessimistic dregs who bemoan life's luxuries as if they were poison. Sigur Rós are by turns playful, disturbed and wounded in their sound (the wistful "Starálfur" and the thrashing "Viðrar Vel Til Loftárása" display how unique and disparate the album can be best) and rightly deserve their place in the indie spotlight as Iceland's leading rock group. The start is more than alright, and nothing short of glorious.

Price: £13.99

37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Not-So-Alright Start ..., 2 Nov. 2006
This review is from: Von (Audio CD)
Before Sigur Rós became the alternative music darlings of the new millennium with their justly revered breakout album, Ágætis byrjun, their local reputation in Iceland was primarily presented in the form of this, their debut album Von, pressed and released under the Bad Taste label formed in the `80s by some of Iceland's more prolific punk music tearaways. The album's reputation amongst fans and the band themselves has since become a dubious one, what with the band's line-up having changed significantly since (Ágætis saw Kjartan Sveinsson enter the fray on keyboards and Orri Pall Dyarsson replacing original drummer Agust after it's release) and the band going on record with saying how disappointed they were with the end result in interviews. Further evidence of the band's efforts to forget Von can be surmised by the title of their second album, which translates as "an alright start". And whilst Von isn't a criminally ignored gem (for the most part, the band's reservations frequently ring true), there are still shafts of light present that suggest that this beleaguered four-piece at the very least had some potential in their midst.

The most striking sentiment that can be afforded to Von (that's "Hope" for us Englanders) is how much it distances itself in mood and production from the rest of Sigur Rós's future catalogue. In essence, it could play much better as a soundtrack to a lost zombie apocalypse film circa Romero or Argento, all discordant ambient noise peppered with a couple of recognisably dated goth-pop songs. The band's eponymous track comes as a shock first of all with its starting quietly with sweet percussion before descending into unpleasant screaming, an overtly sinister piece one wouldn't think of emerging from a band whose music has since become so beatifically poignant. The instrumental pieces tend to meander without much direction or force, unlike the arrangements to come in (), and the songs appear rigidly confined to their structures rather unlike the thinking aloud found in Ágætis and Takk.... Also, it's all being produced and mixed by the band in its infancy means there is a lot of room for improvement; vocals are often distant leaving the melodies hard to make out and artistic license is stretched to breaking point on a handful of tracks (key offenders being "18 Sekúndur Fyrir Sólarupprás" and the opening six minutes of "Rukrym").

That being said, whilst it never comes close to anything as beautiful the band have written since, the foundation blocks of what was to inform their later work are clearly in evidence. Their use of choirs here can be seen as a precursor for how frontman Jonsi would later use his elfin trill, which makes their work sound more organic than a simple melody with a backing arrangement, exemplified by the haunting opening of "Dögun" and the album's most conventional song, "Hún Jorð". The band's obsession with musical reversals and palindromes also finds room on the LP, the most obvious example being "Mykrur's" reversal into "Rukrym". If someone were to listen to this album without any prior knowledge of Sigur Rós and their music since, they would be distinctly unimpressed save for a couple of tracks if they were being kind (title track "Von" actually sounds like a good song even with its dodgy production). However, for the Sigur Rós fan listening with hindsight, one can admire the CD as a band trying to find their sound safe in the knowledge that they will finally get there. For completists and the easily sympathetic only.
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In Time: The Best of REM 1988 - 2003
In Time: The Best of REM 1988 - 2003
Offered by Bridge_Records
Price: £3.95

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All(ternative) American Heroes, 25 Aug. 2006
The American pop world is really too lucky to have a band like R.E.M. around, still touring and recording nearly thirty years later and showing no signs of restraint with their melodious music nor their political ethos. Michael Stipe may be the member synonymous with the latter facet of the band, as well as its most vociferous, being the lead singer and lyricist. However, without the amusedly melancholic and hopeful arrangements courtesy of Mike Mills, Peter Buck and the dearly-missed Bill Berry that lie beneath Stipe's soulful vocals, R.E.M. would not have retained their status as one of American music's finest establishments. For the passing listener, one only needs to have this CD play softly in the background to realise how under-the-radar successful and ubiquitous the band and their work have become.

In Time has since caused a lot of consternation and argument between fans of the group, resurfacing points of contention including controversial omissions from the final track list ("Shiny Happy People" these guys weren't!) and accusations of selling out that have plagued the band since the unprecedented success of Out Of Time, especially with single "Losing My Religion". And whilst even acts as worthy as R.E.M. cannot be entirely forgiven for succumbing to the record label-machine with the release of another retrospective collection, the content surely cannot be held under as intense a scrutiny. No one does timeless, self-effacing Americana much better than these guys and the fact that each of these songs sound like they were recorded days apart as opposed to decades is testament to their consistency.

This isn't to say that In Time is simply a collection of eighteen tracks that sound exactly the same as one another; it is an exploration of a vast emotional spectrum, at times joyous and profoundly silly, at others mournful and disturbed. Anchored by Stipe's nobly fey vocals, the music holds fast onto its subject matter and its influences, which range from the Beach Boys to grunge music to Patti Smith (who physically ingratiates herself into the mix with "E-Bow The Letter"), with playful touches abound, such as the mandolin that opens "Losing My Religion", the robotic chorus on the otherwise freewheeling "Animal" and Stipe's Brian Wilson-style backing vocals on "At My Most Beautiful". And the lyrics still resonate stronger than ever, from the universal cry of "Everybody Hurts" to the profound absurdity of "The Great Beyond" to the pointed commentary of "Bad Day". The title of stand outs amongst equals, however, ought to be bestowed onto "Imitation Of Life" and "Nightswimming".

Whilst In Time may not remain essential for the R.E.M. fan who has done well to make sure the band have sat pretty atop the American indie-pop pedestal for nearly three decades, it remains an accessible tribute for the passing listener and provides the utmost answer to anyone left questioning their endurability in the pop world ... simply put, it's because they are that good. Marrying mainstream production values with a leftfield heart and state-of-mind in their daring to ask emotional questions of life and purpose whilst sharing in its idyllic virtues with a keen-eared listener, theirs is an intelligent indie music that makes a point without being condescending or patronising. Religious indictments, ironic celebrity reverence, skinny-dipping, tributes to absurdity, insomnia, the human condition itself, all coalesced into one collection of often spellbinding work. Please keep going, Messrs Buck, Mills and Stipe!

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