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Joe Cocker In Concert
(Wienerworld, Cert: E,
60 Mins, Format: DVD)

I have to admit that Joe Cocker was never a favourite of mine in my formative years back in the late 60s, and while his white soul-boy leanings continued to be very popular during the 70s he faded from view somewhat after that, appearing occasionally for the odd hit or movie soundtrack. So this recent concert on German television is something of a reintroduction for me, and it is a most welcome one. It seems that over the years Cocker has grown old disgracefully, looking like he's matched Nick Nolte bottle for bottle, while shedding the wilder excesses of his vocal and physical performance to become a song stylist of some stature.

Joe Cocker In ConcertEschewing most of his hits in favour of what I guess could be called the classic rock and soul songbook, Cocker and his excellent band [including Jim Keltner, Chris Stainton and Dean Parks] give a bravura performance of restraint and musicianship in front of a small but highly appreciative audience. Songs include: You And I, Darlin' Be Home Soon, Delta Lady, Sail Away, Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood, Many Rivers To Cross, Into The Mystic and many more. These are all performed with a maturity few of the Fame Academy/Pop Idols generation will ever achieve, and with a respect and love for the lyric that even fewer of the current crop could identify with. Joe Cocker paid his dues a long time ago, this concert shows that he still has IT in abundance.

The DVD doesn't really come with much in the way of extras: a text bio of the singer, a lengthy list of other concert shows in the same series, an interview with the producer about the concert series, and an advertorial for the high end audio cables produced by the concert series sponsors. An interview with Cocker or perhaps a rehearsal jam session would have been most welcome, but as it is, this a superb showcase for Joe Cocker.

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America in Concert
(Wienerworld WNRD2161,
60 Mins, Cert: E, Format: DVD)

These In Concert DVDs are sourced from a German rock show called Ohne Filter, and the concept is as simple and as similar as the old BBC2 In Concert series. The performers have a small stage to work from, and the audience are pretty much as 'up close and personal' as they can be. So, there's no room for artifice or stadium theatricals. Which is just as well in the case of America as their music favours the intimate.

I can remember America from their most successful period back in the early 70's - they had a string of hits all done in that west coast unplugged style that was highly popular back then. In a way they were a lighter version Crosby Stills & Nash. Eventually the hits dried up but thankfully the band have stayed together and it was something of a surprise to receive this DVD and find the band still active. Yes, there is a case of nostalgia going on here as I quite liked America's unflashy amalgam of rock and folk.

While I rather like the restrained attitude of these Ohne Filter concerts I have to admit to being sorely disappointed by the lack of artist-specific extras on the disc. Apart from a text-based bio the rest of the 'extras' are uniform to every disc in the series and don't really amount to much at all.

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Mark King in Concert
(Wienerworld WNRD2165,
60 Mins, Cert: E, Format: DVD)

The name Mark King may not be that recognisable to you, but if I add the appellation "Thunderthumb" to his name you may get a glimmer of recognition. If I also say Level 42 the alarm bells and lights should go ga-ga! For a time back in the 80's Level 42 were one of the most successful and popular bands in the world, racking up hit after jazz-funk hit. And Mark King's bravura bass and vocals the focal point of their success. The 90's were a lean time for the band and they eventually broke up after the hits dried up. King went solo but it is fair to say that success eluded him and the welcome news is that Level 42 have reformed and are touring with a new album due soon.

This concert was filmed at the Ohne Filter Studios in Germany on 15 June 1999, and of course features King's own backing band. The tracklist includes a healthy selection of Level 42 hits and some of his solo period songs - they are: Hot Water, Pamela, Love Wars, Bitter Moon, Changing The Guard, Love Games, To Be With You Again, Mr. Pink, Running In The Family, Lessons In Love, Something About You and The Chinese Way.

The performance is as muscular and energetic as you'd expect. All the hits are played straight [no medleys or 'remixes] and the simple stage setting lets the audience focus on the music rather than fancy lighting or projections. The overall impression I was left with is that shorn of their 80's glitz the songs still stand out and that Mark King is a good journeyman performer.

DVD extras include: Interview with the producer, Artist biography, Sound tuning. All of which are exactly the same on all of the In Concert series - and by that I mean that apart from the text-based artist bio all of the other features' content is exactly the same on every DVD. I find this rather disappointing considering the rather high price point for these discs. Would it be too much to include an interview with the artist, and perhaps some archive clips.

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Yes - Keys To Ascension
(DVD, Sanctuary AMP 1006)

It says something for the longevity of a band that they can are still around in 2003 after thirty odd years and still be selling albums and filling venues almost as healthily as in their heyday. And so it is with this Yes DVD of a 1996 concert recorded in California featuring what many consider to be the classic lineup of Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman and Alan White. True, they've all aged a lot, and Anderson seems to have signed a pact with the Devil and doesn't seem to have aged but has put on the weight a bit...

Yes - Keys To Ascension

As you'd expect with a group renowned for their musical proficiency, there are plenty of twiddly bits galore, numerous guitar changes, and enough off the cuff virtuosity to make a Proms Night soloist seem like a busker. But alas no, Rick Wakeman doesn't succumb to ordering a curry al fresco while waiting for something to happen!

If you like Yes then there is nothing to dislike here - the picture quality could be less grainy in places but the stereo sound is excellent and with a 150 minute playing time there is enough space for a comprehensive delve into the songbook: Siberian Khatru, Close To The Edge, And You And I, Starship Trooper and loads more get the fans hot under the collar. As a DVD this is a very basic package, scene selection and some biography notes is all you get, but the long playing time more than makes up for that. If you are a fan of Yes I can heartily recommend this to you - if you are a newcomer, this makes a good starting place.

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Curtis Mayfield in Concert
(Wienerworld WNRD2167,
60 Mins, Cert: E, DVD)

Curtis Mayfield was one of the true legends of American soul and rhythm and blues music. Starting with his work with the Impressions in the early 60s then later in his solo career, his songs always contained a strong awareness of Black American culture and encouraged political empowerment, striving to show his audience that there was an alternative to the street culture of drugs, guns and crime that became stereotypical during the late 60s and 70s. While he was never a huge star like Isaac Hayes or Prince, he used the soundtrack of cult blaxploitation movie Superfly to get his message over to a large audience. The concert on this DVD was filmed live at the Ohne Filter Studios in Germany on 28 April 1990. It is also probably one of the last recorded performances he ever made - later that year he was struck by a collapsing lighting rig at an outdoor gig which broke his back and left him bedridden for the rest of his life. Sadly he died a few years ago, having miraculously recorded a critically acclaimed album from his bed.

Curtis Mayfield - Superflyer

Thankfully we have this concert to keep the musical memory alive of a superb songsmith, and while he was never into the heavy funk that black music mutated into back in the 70s this gig shows just how swinging and mesmerising he could be. Backed by a superb band this trawl through his songbook includes Superfly, It's Allright, Gypsy Woman, Don't be Down, Freddie's Dead, Pusherman, Billy Jack, We Gotta Have Peace, People Get Ready, Move On Up and To Be Invisible.

As usual with these In Concert discs the extras on the DVD are pretty poor - an interview with the Producer, a text-based artist biography, and a short featurette hawking the tv show's sponsors' audio cables.

Space: 1999 - Series 2 Vol 3
(Carlton, Format: DVD, Stars: Martin Landau, Barbara Baine)

OK, it's honesty time: since the age of ten or so I've been a fan of Gerry Anderson's brand of sci-fi tv, and at the age of 48 nothing much has changed, apart from the fact that despite their age and obvious limitations I can still sit entranced in front of the tv while Thunderbirds or Captain Scarlet are on. But this is Space: 1999, Anderson's second attempt at adult [real grown-up, honest!] sci-fi, after UFO.

Space: 1999 - Moonbase AlphaIn retrospect it is easy to label Space: 1999 as a British attempt at Star Trek: Sir Lew Grade waving a giant union jack at the US networks and saying we can make the same sort of shit, but bigger. And I can remember watching the first episodes on Westward TV in the early 70's with a mounting excitement that perhaps we had finally done it, gone beyond the barrier of cheap budgets, wobbly sets and cardboard acting. Even today, looking back in hind site and with the benefit of this new DVD release one can see that Gerry Anderson got it part right.

That part was the visual look: Moonbase Alpha, the Eagles, the uniforms, the gadgets and, of course, the special effects. One thing Gerry could be counted on was the most spectacular explosions this side of Corrie Street's Ena Sharples letting off a wet fart. But the sets and the lunar landscape were also very good, and the spacescapes were better than some acid party lightshows. Oh, and with Series Two we mustn't forget the most special effect of all, Maya - unarguably the most beautiful shape-shifting alien [and downright sexy even in uniform] of any sf series, and played with humour and dignity by Catherine Schell.

So Space: 1999 had all the elements to keep a teenage lad watching. It's only when revisiting it now that you realise the part that Gerry got wrong were the scripts. Too many tried for the profound, making most aliens godlike and the Alphans unworthy to share space with them; life on the isolated Alpha was different episode to episode, there was no real-life connectivity between characters, apart from some coy rom-com between the leading cast members. In short some recurring serial story strands would have made Alpha a lot more believable. And I won't comment on the cast, you either liked them or you didn't, and I'm simply not going down the road of opposing the claims of animated wood that were bandied about at the time. I liked 'em, so there.

So now we have Space 1999 on DVD and it still looks good, the disc opens with the theme tune and an animated menu page that features Eagles landing, overflying Alpha and taking off again. To someone new to DVDs this looks cool. The disc contains the following episodes: Brian the Brain [Bernard Cribbins-voiced computer kills its crew, kidnaps Koenig and Helena and then pretty much wimps out], New Adam New Eve [literally as per the title, smoothy-looking alien 'God' with impressive droopy 'taches drags the Moon to his planet and then kidnaps our heroes to get jiggy wi' it and populate the planet], Catacombs of the Moon [Religious fanatic sees Alpha on fire, tries to take his dying wife to the caves under the base while Koenig seeks answer to why the Moon is heating up. As dire as it sounds], The AB Chrysalis [Moon is heading for planet with automatic defense system that can destroy Alpha, so Koenig tries to reason with the aliens]. The menu also offers an Extras section, and here you can see a trailer for series two, a series of black and white behind-the-scenes photos from the episodes, and finally a bibliography of series two novelisations, including cover illustrations, which I guess will keep the anoraks happy.

So there you have it, a mixed bag of episodes, certainly not the best batch you could choose, but pretty representative of what Space: 1999 was all about. It was interesting revisiting Moonbase Alpha, it still looks good considering it is over twenty-five years old and things like the moonbase computers show how visual concepts could be so wrong. The production values and style gave it a gloss that matched the American shows and even surpassed some later ones [Buck Rogers] - if only they had junked the naive profundity that stunk up so many of the scripts and emphasised the action/adventure!

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Please note:

All DVDs reviewed here are Region 2 [UK] format

All videos are PAL format


The Musketeer
(Dist: n/a, 104 Mins, Cert: PG, Format: Tape, Stars: Catherine Deneuve,
Mena Suvari, Stephen Rea, Tim Roth, Justin Chambers. Dir: Peter Hyams)

The MusketeerThe problem with the Three Musketeers story is that it has been done so many times as a movie and [in my eyes] the best version ever was that by Richard Lester back in the 70s. Later versions may be technically superior but they simply don't have the bravura cast, humour and attitude of Lester's series. And I have to say that while Pete Hyams new version is okay it is just that, okay.

The storyline is pretty much unchanged: D'Artagnan [Justin Chambers] joins the Musketeers to search for his father's killer and becomes embroiled in saving the Queen from Cardinal Richelieu [Stephen Rea] devious schemes. Tim Roth's Febre the Man in Black makes a pretty nasty henchman and Catherine Deneuve's Queen are the most memorable characters - surprisingly the Musketeers themselves [Aramis, Porthos and Athos] are played by rather anonymous actors and display none of the bravura of Lester's cast: Oliver Reed, Frank Finlay and Richard Chamberlain.

This version is full of action and in many instances makes you wonder if you are watching a Hong Kong studio version - the stunts and wirework certainly are impressive, but ultimately this is all eye candy and despite the sumptious sets and lighting the adventure itself is well worn. It would be interesting to see the Alexandre Dumas characters and setting charged with a new adventure.

As I say, if you don't have the Lester versions then this is an acceptable substitute, but don't think of it as the definitive one.

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Hong Kong 1941
(Hong Kong Legends, 97 Mins, Cert: n/a, Format: DVD,
Stars: Chow Yun-Fat, Cecilia Yip-Tung, Alex Man Chi-Leung. Dir: Po-Chi Leung)

To call Hong Kong 1941 just another World War II melodrama does the movie a great disservice. Originally shot in 1984 to very high production values, the movie looks at a period of history through Chinese eyes: that of the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong. Seen through the eyes of three characters played by Chow Yun-Fat, Cecilia Yip-sTung and Alex Man Chi-Leung, rather than the privileged English living there, you get a real feel for the confusion and fear instilled in the Chinese population by the approaching Japanese Imperial Army. A feared army that had already slaughtered tens of thousands in Manchuria.

Hong Kong 1941Hong Kong 1941 is also a romance, an adventure movie and a tragedy - starving Chinese are given food by the invaders, but only if they show their approval of the New World Order. The Samurai sword separates many Chinese heads from bodies, and in scenes reminiscent of Vichy France, Chinese collaborators turn on their own people. And against this backdrop is a movie of passion, a love triangle that can only end in grief, and a single goal - to escape from Hong Kong and reach the freedom of Australia.

I'm not an expert on movies from Hong Kong, most of what I've seen are bog standard martial arts kick-fests, so this movie was a real eye-opener and one of the most impressive oriental movies I've ever seen. The acting by the cast is sympathetic and spot-on, and the direction by Po-Chi Leung is full of empathy for the story. A few scenes of marching Japanese soldiers and British prisoners economically set up the background to the main story and one roots for the three main characters as they desperately try to find a way to escape.

The transfer to DVD is excellent, a beautifully sharp print, with dual English and Cantonese soundtracks and subtitles. The disc is also loaded with special features: Photo Gallery, Biography Showcase on Chow Yun-Fat, Interview Gallery and a selection of theatrical trailers. Finally there is a fascinating audio commentary track by Hong Kong movie expert Bey Logan that filled in many gaps in my knowledge of oriental movies. Altogether, Hong Kong 1941 is a great movie with a big story to tell.

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The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash - Special Edition
(Second Sight, Cert: 12, 73 Mins, Format: DVD, Stars: Eric Idle, Neil Innes,
Rikki Fataar, John Halsey, Dir: Eric Idle)

The RutlesThis is one of those movies that has built up its own legend since its original release in 1978. All one has to say is that it is a spoof documentary on a Beatles-like pop group written and performed by ex-Python Eric Idle and ex-Bonzo Dog Band member Neil Innes, and featuring self-concious cameo performances from George Harrison, Paul Simon, Mick Jagger (and Bianca), John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Michael Palin. While it is still very clever some of the gags and routines seem a little laboured now - the documentary style and spoofery have been recycled so many times on various tv shows and other movies that the original has become tarnished.

What remains a joy [for me], though, are Neil Innes' clever pastiches of Beatles songs and the merseybeat sound, a skill he expanded on during his several series of The Innes Book Of Records. These really are a pleasure to hear and its a great shame that the full versions of these weren't included as audio tracks in the Special Features Section.

The extras on the DVD aren't over generous: a commentary by Eric Idle, who I have say sounds like he wanted to be somewhere else, two deleted scenes featuring Mick Jagger and Paul Simon, a new introduction by Eric Idle and the usual scene selection option - and that's it. Oh, and don't expect too much from the soundtrack, it's mono - so all expense has been spared. Again, it's a shame that no-one bothered to interview Neil Innes for this DVD release.

As interesting [and entertaining] as it is to see The Rutles again, one can't help but feel that this release is a lost opportunity to document what was a genuinely groundbreaking movie.

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The Band - Live at Loreley
(DVD, Sanctuary SDE3006)

The Band - Live at LoreleyThis DVD of The Band is a record of a outdoor concert they did in Germany back in 1996, so this isn't the original line-up, but it does feature Rick Danko, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson, and the new boys - Jim Weider, Richard Bell and Randy Carliante - are no slouches either. Having recently watched the Last Waltz movie I did sort of miss Robbie Robertson's presence but after a few tracks the new lineup had showed that they could 'rock the house'. Mind you, the audience is so far back from the stage you could be mistaken into thinking that you were seeing two different gigs only partially sharing the same time and space.

That apart this is a damn fine record of a band that know how to rock and blow. The old favourites are there: The Weight, Stage Fright, Ophelia, Rag Mama Rag, plus a good selection of tracks from their current [at the time] album High on the Hog - and there's a nicely stoking version of J.J. Cale's Crazy Mama. Utilising a twin drum lineup this let Levon Helm [the original drummer] take most of the vocal duties, his chainsaw voice cutting through the music with panache and verve.

Picture and sound quality is very high, with a 5.1 surround sound option if you have a home cinema system, so you should be right in the middle of things - though it sounded great in normal stereo on my tv. Options include a Jukebox track selector, interviews with Helm and Danko and a video DJ who will offer rather pretentious scene setting observations if you click the musical note icon that appears on the screen at the start of most tracks - my advice would be to ignore it 'cos after a couple of sessions with the moron I was ready to kick his head in. That apart, this is a damn fine DVD.

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The Time Machine
(Universal, 96 Mins, Cert: n/a, Format: Tape, Stars: Guy Pearce, Samantha Mumbo,
Jeremy Irons, Mark Addy. Dir: Simon Wells)

One of the things that most irritates me about all movie versions of The Time Machine is that the science and creation of the machine itself is always ignored and we are expected to believe that such technology just happens - but then, H.G. Wells himself didn't dwell on it, so why should we expect the movie makers to... Wells was too busy with his own agenda of playing fortune teller about the way humanity would evolve in the future and had his own socio-political axe to grind.

The Time MachineWhich brings us to the latest Hollywood version of Wells' classic sf novel. And things don't look too good, I must say. The location of the story has been shifted to turn of the century America and viewed through extremely rose-tinted lenses, too. The setting is pure greetings card Americana: chestnuts roasting on the street corner, ice skating in Central Park, horse-powered cabs. Wells' scientist hero has a fiancee who is murdered during a mugging and his frenzied attempts to alter history fail with him being accidentally catapulted 800,000 years into the future, where he meets the Eloi and the Morlocks. While the special effects are, as you'd expect, pretty good, the movie itself is pretty pedestrian, with much of the plot predictable to the nth degree. Jeremy Irons cameo as the Morlock leader is supposed to add some sort of weight and import to the fact that the Eloi and Morlocks are mutations of the same genetic dna, but the actor is sadly wasted in what is a thankless role - just like he was in Dungeons & Dragons.

I guess it doesn't help that The Time Machine is such a well-known classic tale that any new movie can hold very few surprises if it remains faithful to the source material. This new version is ok, and it looks good under its new coat of fresh paint. But there's little conviction in the acting and it doesn't add anything to the original 1960 version.

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Invincible
(Momentum, 90 mins, Cert: n/a, Format: DVD, Stars: Billy Zane, Byron Mann,
Tory Kittles, Stacey Oversier, Dominic Purcell, David Field. Dir: Jefery Levy)

Billy Zane is Os, a Shadowman from another dimension, a superhuman killer who, in the opening scenes, literally sees the light and becomes the hero pitted against his oppo, Slate, who has plans to return home via destroying the world in the usual Dante-esque catastrophy. Os finds and trains four human mutants with superpowers to battle Slate, expounding his peace, love and happiness to all philosophy in scenes that slow the pace of the movie to that of a constipated snail. In fact I'm embarrassed to admit that I nodded off a couple of times while watching this dvd - I don't recall ever doing that before.

InvincibleThe movie has several martial arts set piece battles but they all lead to an unsatisfying conclusion which wimps out destroying the cosmic heavy. Invincible is also heavy on the influences of other movies in both the plot and the visual style - here's a few that cames to mind while watching it: Matrix, Highlander, X Men, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. The director has fallen into the trap of utilising various tricksy visual effects to try and enhance a below par script. I'm not sure why respected movie legends Jet Li and Mel Gibson are listed as executive producers, I don't see anything in the finished product that should have attracted their support...

I can't think of anything more scary than the haircut Billy Zane sports during the opening scenes of this movie - it looks like a hybrid of the Gallagher brothers moptops after a dna experiment went wrong in blender. Mind you, the David Carradine 'Grasshopper' look that he sports during the rest of the movie is equally nightmarish. The actors playing his four 'disciples' have little to do other than go through the usual martial arts poses and look inscrutable - characterisation is minimal and none of them really do anything to rise above the mediocre script and direction. Invincible is all flash and no substance, it tries to mix Hong Kong crash and bash with New Age piety and never gets anywhere.

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