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Amazing Stories - Series 1 - Complete (Box Set) (DVD) 28/02/2013

The Sheltering Sky

Amazing Stories - Series 1 - Complete (Box Set) (DVD) Amazing Stories was a fantasy anthology series created by Steven Spielberg and ran from 1985 to 1987. At the time Spielberg had been responsible for four of the largest grossing films ever made in the space of a mere decade and could do more or less whatever he wanted to. He desired to resurrect sixties classic The Twilight Zone for television (Spielberg had co-produced the ill-fated 1983 Twilight Zone big screen venture and actually got his break in Hollywood directing a story for Rod Serling's Night Gallery) but when that proved to be problematic he decided to create his own original series as a homage to The Twilight Zone - the name Amazing Stories taken from the pulp science fiction magazine launched by Hugo Gernsback in 1926. Spielberg was given carte blanche by NBC to do whatever he wanted for Amazing Stories and an impressive collection of talent was arranged both in front and behind the camera. In this first season alone there are episodes directed by Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, Peter Hyams, Joe Dante, Irvin Kershner and Paul Bartel. Expectations were understandably sky high when Amazing Stories made its much trumpeted debut in 1985 with Spielberg's Ghost Train. However, despite the anticipation and numerous famous guest stars (everyone from Kevin Costner to Harvey Keitel to Charlie Sheen to Dom DeLuise) Amazing Stories was a ratings dud and cancelled after only two years when the high production costs of the series became unsustainable. It seems to be ...

The BBC Sherlock Holmes Collection (DVD) 31/01/2013

The Valley of Fear

The BBC Sherlock Holmes Collection (DVD) "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." This is a bumper collection of BBC Sherlock Holmes television productions from the sixties through to more recent fare from the last decade. There are six Sherlock Holmes adaptations from 1968 starring the always wonderful Peter Cushing (a two-part The Hound Of The Baskervilles and A Study In Scarlet, The Boscombe Valley Mystery, The Sign Of Four and The Blue Carbuncle) and then you get another version of Hound of the Baskervilles, this time from 2002 and featuring Richard Roxburgh as Holmes, Sherlock Holmes & The Case of the Silk Stocking, an original story from 2004 with Rupert Everett as the Great Detective, and, finally, The Strange Case of Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle, a 2006 drama about Conan Doyle's troubled private life and the tension between the author and his iconic fictional creation and why he decided to kill him off (only to bring him back again). Of most interest here is watching Peter Cushing play Holmes - something that is always a delight. This was a continuation of a series that had started earlier in the sixties with Douglas Wilmer in the lead role. Wilmer's interpretation remains highly regarded and he had an uncanny physical resemblance to the literary character but he declined to return for the new series when he learned that the rehearsal time would be scaled back and the shooting schedule would most likely be brutal. The BBC then offered the ...

Tales From The Darkside - Series 4 (DVD) 06/12/2012

Midnight Never Ends

Tales From The Darkside - Series 4 (DVD) "Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality. But there is, unseen by most, an underworld, a place that is just as real but not as brightly lit . . . a DARKSIDE!" This is the fourth and final season of the endearingly bargain basement horror fantasy series Tales from the Darkside - first broadcast in 1987/1988. The series was created by George Romero in the wake of the success of his 1982 horror anthology film Creepshow and although EC Horror Comics are, like the film, cited as the main inspiration for Tales from the Darkside their influence feels far less apparent. Tales from the Darkside plays more like a cheapjack eighties Twilight Zone/Night Gallery as much as anything and is enjoyable for this reason alone. The series ran for four years, becoming a cultish late night favourite through syndication and seems to be fondly remembered by anyone who encountered it either at the time or retrospectively. Given that they clearly had absolutely no money whatsoever to produce this show you have to admire their invention and unmitigated chutzpah in managing to get ninety (often very enjoyable) episodes made before the plug was pulled. As ever with these fantasy anthology shows inconsistency is the salient and unavoidable weakness and you have to shift through a lot of duds to find the gold but it's always fun searching for it all the same. You can't help but love too the wobbly almost deliberately rubbish title sequence with discordant synthesizer, babbling ...

Tintin Collection - Herge 22/11/2012

Amazing Stories

Tintin Collection - Herge This is a Tintin collection of paperbacks which gives you eight books in the classic series by the Belgian artist Hergé. Tintin in America, Cigars of the Pharaoh, The Blue Lotus, The Broken Ear, The Black Island, King Ottokar's Sceptre, The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Shooting Star. These volumes capture the early years and while the series is being refined and Hergé is still slowly establishing the Tintin universe, The Blue Lotus and King Ottokar's Sceptre are wonderful and The Black Island and The Crab with the Golden Claws in particular are two books I've always liked. All the volumes here are enjoyable although the golden age of Tintin would occur later with fantastic entries like Prisoners of the Sun, Explorers on the Moon and Tintin in Tibet. In many ways this era marks the real beginning of Tintin as the first two albums (Tintin in the Congo, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets) are not generally considered to be a true part of the series but early oddities with problematic elements. Tintin in the Congo reflected both the era it was conceived in and the dubious politics of Abbé Norbert Wallez - Hergé's boss when he was a young artist at Le Petit Vingtième (a children's supplement to the Belgian Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siècle). Wallez (who had a picture of Mussolini on his desk) essentially wanted a positive spin on Belgian colonial rule in Africa and that's more or less what he got. The Africans were all childlike, easily outwitted and backward. Tintin represented ...

Studio Albums 1968-1979 (Limited Edition) - Joni Mitchell 09/11/2012

Wild Blue Yonder

Studio Albums 1968-1979 (Limited Edition) - Joni Mitchell Joni Mitchell: The Studio Albums 1968-1979 is a bumper box-set containing the first ten albums by the Canadian singer-songwriter. Song To A Seagull, Clouds, Ladies of the Canyon, Blue, For The Roses, Court and Spark, The Hissing Of Summer Lawns, Hejira, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, Mingus. It's a fantastic collection and only Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter and Mingus (neither of which I could really get on with) could be considered lesser albums. Joni Mitchell was born Roberta Joan Anderson on November the 7th, 1943, in Fort Macleod, Canada - her isolated Saskatchewan childhood always having a profound affect on her art. The key event in her life was suffering from Polio as a child and learning to play the guitar in hospital. She began to attract attention while still a teenager and performing on small shows in Toronto. Not only did she write and perform her own material but her compositions were intricate and affecting and her voice was sublime. Her lyrics were very introspective and thoughtful and painted some wonderful pictures with their imagery. After a move to New York and then Los Angeles she soon became something of a sensation in the grass roots music circles she moved in. Despite her delicate and flowery appearance, Joni Mitchell was an old trooper at a young age and willing to work hard to get a break. She had no manager or agent for a while and would travel alone to shows having to do everything for herself. When (I think it was Clouds) one of her early albums was ...

The Giant Asterix Omnibus - Goscinny 25/10/2012

Salva Veritate

The Giant Asterix Omnibus - Goscinny The year is 50 B.C. and Gaul is now entirely occupied by the invincible and mighty Romans. Well, hold on a minute, not entirely. One small village of indomitable (and completely mad) Gauls still defiantly - even nonchalantly - holds out against the bemused invaders and life is certainly never easy or dull for the unfortunate Roman legionaries who garrison the surrounding fortified military camps of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium. The Giant Asterix Omnibus is a hardcover collection that gives you eight (rather random) books from the classic French comic book series created by artist Albert Uderzo and writer René Goscinny. Asterix the Gaul, Asterix and the Goths, Asterix in Britain, Asterix in Spain, Asterix and the Soothsayer and Asterix in Belgium. Asterix first appeared in Pilote magazine in 1959 and has since been translated into 100 languages, selling over 300 million books. The series revolves around a sleepy village by the sea in ancient Gaul (a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era which included France - where Asterix is set) that steadfastly refuses to acknowledge Roman rule because they have a magic potion brewed by their venerable druid Getafix that gives the recipient super strength. So any Romans with designs on the village can expect a magic potion enhanced bashing and despite the invaders controlling the outside world (save for the surrounding forest which the Gauls consider their own private domain) life there amongst the little ...

Tales From The Darkside - Series 3 (DVD) 11/10/2012

Camera Obscura

Tales From The Darkside - Series 3 (DVD) "Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality. But there is, unseen by most, an underworld, a place that is just as real but not as brightly lit . . . a DARKSIDE!" Ahem. This is series three of the cultish eighties bargain basement horror fantasy show Tales from the Darkside - first broadcast in 1986/87. Am I the only person in the world watching this? Probably. The series was created by George Romero in 1984 and despite the humble production values the greatest achievement of Tales from the Darkside was probably to outlast more trumpeted television fantasy rivals like Steven Spielberg's overblown Amazing Stories and the colour Twilight Zone revamp. This third series is business as usual if you've watched the first two seasons with some surprisingly good stories scattered amongst the inevitable duds. One thing I did notice though was an increasing deus ex machina reliance that rivals Star Trek. The use of vague and unexplained magic is very prevalent. There are twenty-two episodes in total (a Tales from the Darkside episode runs to about twenty-five minutes) and if you are a fan of shows like Night Gallery, Tales from the Crypt and The Twilight Zone then you should enjoy this even if you will feel a strong aura of deja vu at times and see many of the twists coming. Series three begins with Circus - written by George Romero and directed by Michael Gornick. Romero seems to have limited himself to only writing one or two episodes a year on Tales from the ...

Tintin Collection - Herge 27/09/2012

Fantastic Voyages

Tintin Collection - Herge Tintin was created by the Belgian artist Georges Rémi - or Hergé as he became better known - and made his first appearance in 1929 in Le Petit Vingtième, a children's supplement to the Belgian newspaper Le XXe Siècle. The silhouette of Tintin - a young man in golf trousers running with a white fox terrier by his side - is one of the great popular culture visual icons of the 20th century, not too far behind the Superman logo or Mickey Mouse's ears. The books have been translated into 80 languages and sold over 200 million copies and it would be no understatement to say that Tintin was a true symbol of the last century, beginning in the colonial era, becoming embroiled in wars and revolutions, landing on the moon, and even ending the series wearing a CND badge in Tintin and the Picaros before Hergé died in 1983. The first Tintin stories were patchy affairs with dated adventures in the Belgian Congo and some crude anti-Communist propaganda but once Hergé hit his stride with The Blue Lotus in the early thirties he never really looked back. Just prior to The Blue Lotus, Hergé had befriended a Chinese student named Chang from the Académie de Bruxelles and taken on Chang's suggestions that he should do more research to more accurately depict the geography, architecture and people of the far flung places Tintin visited and also develop what would become his signature ligne claire art style. Never again would Hergé illustrate a Tintin adventure without this forensic attention to ...

Tales From The Darkside - Series 2 (DVD) 13/09/2012

The Dead of Night

Tales From The Darkside - Series 2 (DVD) "The dark side is always there, waiting for us to enter, waiting to enter us. Until next time... try to enjoy the daylight!" This is season two of the strangely endearing bargain basement eighties horror fantasy series Tales from the Darkside - first broadcast in 1985. Tales from the Darkside was created by the great George Romero and ran from 1984 to 1988, eventually becoming something of a cult series in North America through syndication. If you've worked your way through The Twilight Zone, Thriller, The Outer Limits, Night Gallery, Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense, Hammer House of Horror and Tales from the Crypt then you should certainly watch Tales from the Darkside at some point. This is one of the most modestly budgeted television shows I have ever watched (entire episodes sometimes play out in one room) but there are some decent stories in amongst the unavoidable clunkers and a smattering of familiar faces. Darren McGavin, Lisa Bonet, Seth Green, Lorna Luft, Marcia Cross, Abe Vigoda, Penelope Ann Miller, John Heard, Lawrence Tiernay, Jerry Stiller. Despite the name of the series many stories here are merely fantastical, quirky or whimsical rather than frightening or horror laden and the somewhat shoddy nature of the production is all part of the charm. I love the wobbly Garth Marenghi's Darkplace style title sequence with discordant synthesizer, babbling brooks, swaying grass and ominous clouds before we enter some dark spooky woods and Paul Sparer's throaty ...

Woody Allen Four Movie Comedy Collection (DVD) 30/08/2012

New York Stories

Woody Allen Four Movie Comedy Collection (DVD) This is a collection of four Woody Allen films from the turn of the millennium. Small Time Crooks, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Hollywood Ending and Anything Else. Woody Allen has been writing, directing and acting since the sixties and first gained fame as a (rather cerebral and nervous) stand-up comedian. The raw but frequently hilarious Take the Money and Run marked Allen's directorial debut in 1969 and he hasn't looked back since - literally in this case as the man himself apparently never watches a single frame of his films again once they are completed. From the Marxian absurdity of Bananas to the bittersweet magic of The Purple Rose of Cairo, the prolific director has built up a large and unique body of work. "I enjoy your films," says the space alien to Allen's Sandy Bates in Stardust Memories. "Especially the early funny ones." Allen's 'early funny ones' (Bananas, Sleeper, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, etc), soon became increasingly accomplished and impressive to look at. Contrast the technical crudeness of Bananas with the visual ambition of Love and Death, and yet both are essentially freewheeling surreal comedies where the jokes come thick and fast. The early funny ones gave way to the neurotic romanticism of Annie Hall and the black and white majesty of Manhattan, Allen's sepia tinted love letter to New York. The chilly Bergmanesque drama Interiors showed the director was perfectly willing to make purely dramatic pictures if the mood took ...

Night Gallery - Series 3 (DVD) 16/08/2012

Dreams and Nightmares

Night Gallery - Series 3 (DVD) "Good evening. Let me welcome you to this parlor of paintings. We offer them to you for your enjoyment and edification - feel free to dwell on them at your leisure and in your own good fashion. But kindly don't touch, because here they frequently touch back..." The third and final season of the cultish horror fantasy series Night Gallery - first broadcast in 1972/1973. There were big changes for this final year and sadly they were not for the better. Night Gallery was conceived as an anthology where you got three or four stories of varying lengths spread across fifty minutes but NBC were increasingly unhappy with the show's ratings by this stage and forced the producers to abandon the compendium structure by cutting each episode down to half an hour. They then moved it from its prime time slot to Sunday night, only commissioned fifteen new episodes and slashed the budget in half. As if that wasn't enough damage they then removed the fantastic psychedelic nightmare title sequence with spooky electronic music by Gil Mellé for something far more generic and suggested that Rod Serling's thoughtful original scripts and Jack Laird's genre adaptations should make way as much as possible for some simpler horror/action/suspense fare. Night Gallery was always a schizophrenic show with creator Serling, head producer Laird and the meddling network all constantly fighting each other from a distance for their own vision but now the point of schism was ridiculous. It's little wonder there ...

The Great Asterix Omnibus - Rene Goscinny 02/08/2012

When the Sky Falls

The Great Asterix Omnibus - Rene Goscinny "The year is 50 B.C. and Gaul is entirely occupied by Romans. Well, not entirely. One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders. And life is not easy for the Roman legionaries who garrison the fortified camps of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium..." The Great Asterix Omnibus contains six adventures from the famous French comic book series. Asterix and the Normans, Asterix the Legionary, Asterix and the Chieftain's Shield, Asterix and the Great Crossing, Asterix in Switzerland, and Asterix in Corsica. The Asterix series was a perfect unison between the talented and amusing artist Albert Uderzo and the equally talented and amusing writer René Goscinny (who in terms of sales must be the two most successful authors France has ever produced). They met in 1951 and emerged together at a time when the French comic industry was starting to become irritated by the increasing cultural domination of America and expressed a vocal desire for some patriotic swashbuckling homegrown heroes of their own to read and enjoy. So together they created Asterix, a diminutive but cunning and brave yellow pig-tailed Gaulish warrior who lives in a little picturesque village by the sea that defies Roman rule. Why has the Roman Empire swept all before them in irresistible and unstoppable fashion in countless far away lands but failed miserably to defeat and capture a solitary and sleepy village by the coast in Gaul? What is the secret of these pesky natives? The ...

Night Gallery - Season 2 - Complete (Box Set) (DVD) 26/07/2012

The Midnight Hour

Night Gallery - Season 2 - Complete (Box Set) (DVD) "You're most welcome in this particular museum. There's no admission, no requirement of membership, only a strong and abiding belief in the dark at the top of the stairs, or things that go bump in the night..." The second series of the cult fantasy horror anthology series Night Gallery (first broadcast from 1971 to 1972). As ever with the compendium structure Night Gallery fluctuates wildly in quality but this second season is stronger than the first and contains some truly fantastic Rod Serling penned scripts like The Messiah on Mott Street and a classic adaptation of Silent Snow, Secret Snow narrated by Orson Welles. You get the scariest of all Night Gallery stories in The Caterpillar and one of my own personal favourites - the hugely enjoyable A Question of Fear. There are a couple of decent Lovecraft segments, stories set in the future, in the Old West, in alternate dimensions. If you can sift through the forgettable material there is much to enjoy and admire, from the brilliant Camera Obscura to the wonderfully bizarre Brenda. There are twenty-two hour long episodes spread over five discs and each episode contains between two and four segments all introduced by Serling as the curator in a surreal art gallery under Rembrandt light unveiling macabre paintings by Tom Wright. One thing I should point out though is that while some of the segments run to over thirty minutes a number of them are what became known as "black out skits" in Night Gallery jargon. Short comic ...

Complete - Smiths (The) 12/07/2012

This Night Has Opened My Eyes

Complete - Smiths (The) Complete is a remastered collection of the four studio albums, one live album and three compilations released by The Smiths during their short lived but eventful career. The Smiths, Hatful Of Hollow, Meat Is Murder, The Queen Is Dead, Strangeways Here We Come, The World Won’t Listen, Louder Than Bombs, and Rank. Johnny Marr was involved in remastering the albums and the songs often seem to have a new lease of life, a more crystalline sharpness that is welcome on the early material where production values left something to be desired at the time. The title of the collection is not entirely accurate as there are a smattering of b-sides that have eluded inclusion here (most notably the brilliant Jeane) but this is still the most comprehensive official release available. The Smiths were shuttered terraces and red-brick portico in biting October sleet. A comforting black and white film on a rainy afternoon. They were funny too - something that was sometimes missed by those that never warmed to them. The preposterously homoerotic lyrics, melodramatic self-deprecation and whimsical Carry On flourishes. The past always loomed large in the world of their willowy lead singer Morrissey. His pantheon of idols and sepia tinted sense of nostalgia and doomed provincial dreams and drama. His upbringing in Manchester where he was something of a local outcast and oddball until guitarist Johnny Marr knocked on his door one (now mythical) afternoon in 1982. "Johnny came up and pressed his nose ...

Bruce Lee (30th Anniversary Box Set) (DVD) 28/06/2012

The Last Dragon

Bruce Lee (30th Anniversary Box Set) (DVD) A box set featuring the four Hong Kong films Bruce Lee made with Golden Harvest before his tragic and sudden death in 1973 at the age of 32. The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, Way of the Dragon, and Game of Death. Enter the Dragon is not included here as that was partly funded by Hollywood with money from Warners. These films can best be described as unsophisticated and were made very quickly and very cheaply. They derive from the Chinese theatrical tradition where nothing is ever too subtle and to say the humour doesn't always translate beyond its intended audience would be something of an understatement. However, you do not watch a Bruce Lee film for the acting, story or cinematography. You watch a Bruce Lee film to see Bruce Lee performing dexterous athletic feats and uncanny kicks and punches beyond the realm of most mortals. Lee wasn't quite an overnight success but once he got his start in films there was never any doubt that he was going to become a huge star. He was charismatic, intelligent, highly skilled, lightning quick, incredibly dedicated, and a master at choreographing fight sequences. He only made five pictures before his premature death but they were enough in the end to make him one of the pop culture icons of the 20th Century. Lee revolutionised the Hong Kong film industry and martial arts genre and paved the way for everyone and everything from Jackie Chan to The Matrix. It's fair to say that he was somewhat ahead of his time (especially when one considers the ...
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