WOLCOTT: The Complete Series/Colin Bucksey, director/Network Blu-Ray A welcome chance for re-acquaintance with a neglected series. Fresh out of uniform, supremely confident and keen to make waves, Wolcott is a man in the middle, facing hostility both from the community he polices and his colleagues in the Force. His investigations into the fatal stabbing of an old woman and a journalist soon uncover a brutal drug war being fought between criminal gangs. The prestigious police drama Wolcott was the first British production purposefully broadcast in the mini-series format – and also the first British drama to feature a black actor, George William Harris, in a leading role. Wolcott channelled the same hard-edged, streetwise vibe as The Sweeney. Harris (whose crime drama work included Layer Cake) impresses as a tough, loner detective with a penchant for rubbing people up the wrong way. Winning sizeable viewing figures, its unflinching depiction of crime left a marked impression on viewers. Wolcott also included notable roles for Hugh Quarshie, Warren Clarke and Rik Mayall.
MISSISSIPPI BURNING, Alan Parker, director/Second Sight Blu-Ray Based on one of the most notorious race-related murder cases in US history, Alan Parker’s (The Commitments), multi-award winning Mississippi Burning gets its first ever UK Blu-ray release courtesy of Second Sight. This powerful film stars Hollywood heavyweights Gene Hackman (The French Connection), Willem Dafoe (Platoon) and Frances McDormand (Fargo), and arrives in a newly restored edition with a slew of brand new special features on 14 September 2015.
RIPPER STREET: SERIES THREE, Various directors/BBC Worldwide Blu-Ray The BAFTA-nominated period crime series inaugurated a notable first: a resurrection from the dead after it had been cancelled, despite its clear popular success. Series Three begins four years after the culmination of the previous series, and represents another heady descent into the lives of the denizens of the dangerous streets of Whitechapel in late Victorian London. The vivid scene-setting and rich atmosphere of the earlier series is satisfyingly in place.
COLORS & STATE OF GRACE, Dennis Hopper & Phil Joanou, directors/Second Sight Blu-Ray An intriguing brace of tough Sean Penn classics Colors and State Of Grace, are released on Blu-ray courtesy of Second Sight. Colours is directed by cult actor/director Dennis Hopper, classic 1980s cop drama Colors starring Hollywood heavyweights Sean Penn and Robert Duvall makes its UK Blu-ray debut courtesy of Second Sight. Late 1980s Los Angeles, the gangs rule the streets, with the Crips and the Bloods battling to reign supreme. In a dog-eat-dog world of drugs and guns, they don’t care who gets caught in the crossfire. It’s blue verses red and if you’re wearing the wrong colour it could cost your life. Long serving cop Bob Hodges’s (Robert Duvall) plans for an easier life are scuppered when he is moved to LAPD’s Gang Crime Division. His years of experience and street-wise ways are put to the test when he’s partnered with hot–headed rookie cop Danny McGavin (Sean Penn). The pair grapple with their new partnership on the gang-ridden streets of Los Angeles and although Danny finally lets Hodges show him the ropes, his adrenaline-fed brutality earns him a reputation with the very gangs they want to help as a war on the streets is ready to explode. In State of Grace, Sean Penn gives a star turn as an undercover cop who infiltrates a local crime gang in his hometown, in the classic 90s New York gangster movie State of Grace. Also starring acting greats Ed Harris and Gary Oldman. After a decade away, Terry Noonan (Sean Penn) is welcomed back into the fold in his New York Irish-American neighbourhood, Hell’s Kitchen. A one-time street tough, Terry is now an undercover officer tasked with getting entrenched with crime boss Frankie Flannery (Ed Harris), who happens to be the brother of both his best friend Jackie Flannery (Gary Oldman) and old flame Kathleen Flannery (Robin Wright). As he rekindles old friendships and his romance with Kathleen, he starts to question his loyalties as the violence begins to escalate. State of Grace, a flop on its initial release, looks better than ever in this Blu-Ray incarnation.
EYEWITNESS, Jarl Emsell Larsen, director/Simply Media And still they come: Nordic Noir drama that grips like a vice; another prime example from an endless stream. The latest import is this compelling six-part series. Two school friends become grimly involved in a series of frightening encounters after witnessing a crime. With the customary impeccable performances for the genre, Eyewitness is another winner.
CRUEL STORY OF YOUTH, Nagisa Oshima, director/Eureka Blu-ray A young Japanese woman squats on the floor, her groin covered by a thin strip of fabric. There is blood on the carpet between her legs, and her gown is pulled open revealing her naked breasts. With the index finger of her right hand, she draws a line across her stomach in menstrual blood. A young man, virtually nude, stands in front of a fully clothed crowd. He wears a traditional Japanese hairstyle and has a large flower tattooed on his stomach. His groin is thrust aggressively forward, covered only by a wisp of material, leaving his pubic hair fully exposed. A young woman moves her mouth gently around the penis of her lover, and smiles at him as seminal fluid runs down from either side of her mouth. All of these deeply provocative images come from the films of one of the most uncompromising directors in modern cinema, the Japanese filmmaker Nagisa Oshima. His turbulent career began in the 1960s, and his films were always ready to engage with the problems of society, both that of the past and the present. Frequently at the centre of his work was a readiness to utilise graphic sexual imagery in a way found unacceptable in many countries; the last of the three images mentioned above comes from his best-known film, Empire of the Senses (1976) which, although subsequently available almost completely uncut on video and DVD was considered so shocking in this country that the only way to see it in London was to temporarily join a ‘pop-up’ cinema club (for this legal circumvention, a Notting Hill cinema was converted to a cinema club for the period of the film’s showing). The curious proviso for this wheeze was that there had to be a delay after signing up before being allowed into the cinema, so that it was impossible for viewers to see the film from the beginning; as in the heyday of cinemagoing, people had no choice but to wait till sometime after the opening of the film and sit through till the beginning of the next showing. Oshima was the first major modern Japanese director whose work was to be seen in the West, and his achievement was first recognised in a significant fashion when London’s National Film theatre showed a selection of his work, although there had been earlier showings at the now-defunct Gala film club. The director’s subject was post-war Japan, and he directly dealt with the problems of living in his country in a different manner from that of his much respected predecessors Ozu and Mizoguchi, showing a more focused concentration on society’s outsiders. In ten years, the director made fifteen features and worked in television, but most of this work remained (and still remains) unseen in Britain. His celebrity – of a part with his self-willed creation of an outrageous cinematic metier — resulted from two films made for the major studio Shociku dealing with teenage rebels and featuring acts of violence and carnality, Cruel Story of Naked Youth (1960), released in a crisp print here and The Sun’s Burial from the same year. The treatment of the favourite themes of the director in these two films (both remarkably prescient of the imminently pending sexual revolution) was more extreme than that to be found in other Japanese cinema of the day, not to mention the more censorious cinema of the West. The violence Naked Youth, for instance, showed a young woman whose foot is caught as she’s trying to free herself from a moving car and is dragged along the road on her face. The subsequent Death by Hanging eight years later used Brechtian devices distancing the viewer from the film, while Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (1969), though still using such distancing effects (which makes watching the film an often infuriating experience) simultaneously went for a direct visceral appeal. Unlike his predecessors, the director was concerned directly with the effects of Western society on traditional Japanese mores, and particularly the changes taking place in the lives of young Japanese. Student riots, for instance, were treated in non-judgemental fashion; if any judgements were present, it was an impatience with the stiff-necked values of the earlier wartime generation. A recurrent theme of Oshima’s films is a kind of refraction of Kabuki theatre method through the strikingly posed performances of his cast, combining the artificiality of an ancient theatrical tradition with a neorealist observation; an almost impossible marriage which the director is repeatedly able to bring off. The shadows of Japanese imperialism fall heavily on his work, and Oshima rejects such values by stressing the freedom that sexual expression brings — even though there is often a heavy price to pay for such licence.