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DVD Zone: February 2009

| January 30, 2009 | 0 Comments

The Secret Policeman’s Ball
(Shout Factory)

82666311030

In 1976 Peter Luft, the assistant director of Amnesty International, made a phone call to John Cleese, founding member of the legendary British comedy troupe Monty Python. At the time, Amnesty was a struggling organization barely making ends meet in the fight to bring awareness of human rights violations around the globe. Over the course of the call, the two came up with the idea for a benefit comedy show that would feature not only Cleese and his Python buddies, but other British comedy legends such as Dudley Moore and Peter Cook. The resulting event, dubbed Pleasure At Her Majesty’s, was more successful than they could have imagined. In one fell swoop they redefined what a charity show could be and put Amnesty on the map as a viable force for public awareness.

And of course, they would have to do it again.

In 1979, they rebranded the event as The Secret Policeman’s Ball. This time around, not only did they have Cook and the Python crew returning, but added Rowan Atkinson to the fold. More significantly, however, was the addition of music between the skits. For time considerations, the acts would have to radically alter their arrangements and go acoustic, thereby creating the “unplugged” setting years before MTV laid claim to it. In this outing, the audience was treated to Pete Townshend performing “Pinball Wizard” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

By 1981, the balls were the place to be, and for The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball, the crew rounded up Sting, Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck to perform. Yet there was one performer who still needed convincing. Bob Geldof thought that big charity events such as this had no real effect and didn’t make much of a difference. Grudgingly, he accepted, and after seeing the result, he was inspired to create “Live Aid.”

There would be two more balls in 1987 and 1989 with Jennifer Saunders of Absolutely Fabulous fame, as well as noted comedian Hugh Laurie (yes, he had a life before House). Now, for the first time, all are available in one box set.

The three-disc collection includes all five balls, as well as the 2004 BBC documentary Remember The Secret Policeman’s Ball? Also on the docket are a wealth of extras including TV spots and news coverage of the events, as well as scenes cut from the original release.

Films: ***1/2 Features: ***1/2

Mirrors
20th Century Fox

Remember when horror films coming out of Hollywood would be something other than torture porn or remakes of better, Asian horror films? Me neither, and here we go again.

With Mirrors, 20th Century Fox reaches out to Korea for a remake of Geoul Sokeuro, with Kiefer Sutherland – as an alcoholic ex-police detective with marital problems – employed as a night watchman at a burnt-out department store. Seems the store has a bit of a past, with the previous guard having gone nuts and offing his family, or so it would seem. Apparently there’s some sinister forces living in the mirrors that make you do things you probably wouldn’t ordinarily do, like slashing your own throat or ripping off your own head.

Of course, Sutherland is immediately haunted by the mirrors, although curiously the other watchman on the job seems to suffer none of the visions.
Mirrors could have been an effective thriller if there had been just a hint that it all might only be happening in Sutherland’s mind. Instead, right from the beginning we know that it’s just a standard spook story with the mirrors providing constant “gotcha” moments where things jump out only to jar the audience in lieu of creating real suspense. Mirrors isn’t a bad film, just one loaded with missed opportunities. And hey, at least it ain’t another snuff flick.

The disc provides features on the making of the film, as well as an interesting discussion with sociologists and folklorists who provide insight as to why mirrors play so heavily in mythology.

Film: ** Features: ***

Also available . . . For those that haven’t learned their lesson from Tomb Raider or Resident Evil and still think films based on video games are a good idea, there’s Max Payne (20th Century Fox). Mark Wahlberg stars as a cop whose sole purpose in life is getting revenge on the ne’er-do-wells who killed his family, and to be part of unbelievably long slow-motion shots. Loaded with chat and short on action, Payne almost makes you pine for the good old days of Bob Hoskins picking up a paycheck for Super Mario Brothers.

Timothy Hiatt

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