DVDs: Mar 05

PG, 663 Minutes

We have had the book of Alistair Cooke’s America sitting in our living room shelf for as long as I can remember. Its dust jacket is faded and torn in places and I’m not sure how much it’s been read. It should have been; Newsweek described it as ‘The first and maybe the finest tribute to the nation’, and, if this DVD is anything to go by I’d agree.
Alistair Cooke was one of Britain’s best loved American correspondents and for over 50 years he reported on all aspects of American life in his BBC radio series Letters from America. In 1973 he wrote and presented this insightful thirteen part documentary (following closely his same-titled book) in which he provides his own personal history of America, telling numerous interesting stories about the people, places and events that shaped the nation. These 50 minute episodes succeed in covering much historical ground: The past 400 years of American history in fact. In the introductory episode ‘The First Impact’ Cooke visits some of his favourite places, including New Orleans, the home of many jazz greats, Vermont and San Francisco. What is made obvious right away is the passion Cooke has for this ‘adopted’ country and also the effect this country has had on his life. In episode two he discusses the Spanish conquistadors who settled in Mexico, Arizona and Texas, right up to looking at 1972 America in episode thirteen where Cooke visits Hoover Dam which helped transform the desert into a gambling paradise.
Special Features: Interview with Alistair Cooke that took place on the television programme Pebble Mill at One, interviewed by Bob Langley. This documentary series also comes with English subtitles.
Final Word: Certainly more accessible than a daunting 3cm thick ‘coffee table book’. These 13 episodes on 4 disks manage to impressively chart a 400 year history of a nation which most outsiders (and insiders) choose to criticize. On this note it was refreshing to watch and listen to a man who delighted in this country despite its differing views. This is quite possibly the reason he took to this nation like he did.

M, 93 Minutes

As sporting movies go it is not often you find ones that involve the game of lawn bowling and as for playing the game, unless you fit into the ‘acceptable’ age category you might be looked at quite strangely. In the seaside town of Torquay this game is taken very seriously, especially by Ray Speight (James Cromwell) – gifted bowler and club champion for 20 years; a man lacking the conviction to take his skills to the national level, content with his 20 year reign at the local bowling club. Beyond the manicured lawns however, in the run down section of town resides Cliff Starkey (Paul Kaye) who plies his skills as a bowls prodigy, ready to take on Speight. Armed with his American agent and sportswear executive Rick (Vince Vaughn), Cliff begins to turn the game of Lawn Bowls into quite a spectator sport receiving much attention for his ‘bad boy’ persona. A person Speight seeks to ensure never gets to play in Britain’s championship. Unfortunately for Speight, one of Starkey’s biggest fans is a local teacher named Kerry, Speight’s daughter.
Special Features: Commentary by Director, Mel Smith, Cast & Crew Interviews, TV and Radio Spots, Theatrical Trailer.
Final Word: A ‘family movie’, one which pertains to the familiar theme of good triumphing over adversity. As I uphold the belief that British comedy is the best comedy I have to be honest and say that despite this being a decidedly British movie it doesn’t quite hit the spot.

M, 141 Minutes

Yeah, like you, we never foresaw ourselves reviewing a Metallica DVD. However, this one is different. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky set off to produce a kind of cinematic fanzine about the heavy metal band they loved, but in the process captured on film the disintegration of rock’s bad boys during the recording of their recent album St Anger. The documentary, shot in largely fly-on-the-wall mode throughout, throws up a stark contrast between the carefully manufactured demonic images that music companies use to market their metal bands, and the human fragility of the men in the band itself.Rather than Metallica, the group could arguably rename itself The Lost Boys, because the DVD shows them trying to break free of the marketing machine that grips them.
While playing to concerts of thousands of angry young men thrusting “the horns, man” (a fist with forefinger and pinky raised) into the air, Metallica’s musicians are agonising over how to write lyrics rejecting the anger and violence and drug use of their youth in favour of something more positive. The boys from Metallica, you see, are all grown up. They’re fathers, they’ve kicked the drugs and booze, and they sip Evian water. Heck, the band even hires a motivational shrink to analyse a communication breakdown within the band.
While the language is offensive, the documentary is fascinating.
Special features: 40 additional scenes, intimate interviews with band members about the film, audio commentaries from both the band and the directors.
Final Word: Not a ‘family’ movie, but certainly a deeper insight into the people caught up in the ravenous demands of the heavy metal music biz. – IW