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Category: Classic DVDs

Flags of our Fathers & Letters from Iwo Jima (2 Disc Special Edition) [2006] (buy now)

Thematically ambitious and emotionally complex, Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers is an intimate epic with much to say about war and the nature of heroism in America. Based on the non-fiction bestseller by James Bradley (with Ron Powers), and adapted by Million Dollar Baby screenwriter Paul Haggis (Jarhead screenwriter William Broyles Jr. wrote an earlier draft that was abandoned when Eastwood signed on to direct), this isn't so much a conventional war movie as it is a thought-provoking meditation on our collective need for heroes, even at the expense of those we deem heroic. In telling the story of the six men (five Marines, one Navy medic) who raised the American flag of victory on the battle-ravaged Japanese island of Iwo Jima on February 23rd, 1945, Eastwood takes us deep into the horror of war (in painstakingly authentic Iwo Jima battle scenes) while emphasizing how three of the surviving flag-raisers (played by Adam Beach, Ryan Phillippe, and Jesse Bradford) became reluctant celebrities - and resentful pawns in a wartime publicity campaign - after their flag-raising was immortalized by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal in the most famous photograph in military history.

As the surviving flag-raisers reluctantly play their public roles as "the heroes of Iwo Jima" during an exhausting (but clearly necessary) wartime bond rally tour, Flags of Our Fathers evolves into a pointed study of battlefield valor and misplaced idolatry, incorporating subtle comment on the bogus nature of celebrity, the trauma of battle, and the true meaning of heroism in wartime. Wisely avoiding any direct parallels to contemporary history, Eastwood allows us to draw our own conclusions about the Iwo Jima flag-raisers and how their postwar histories (both noble and tragic) simultaneously illustrate the hazards of exploited celebrity and society's genuine need for admirable role models during times of national crisis. Flags of Our Fathers defies the expectations of those seeking a more straightforward war-action drama, but it's richly satisfying, impeccably crafted film that manages to be genuinely patriotic (in celebrating the camaraderie of soldiers in battle) while dramatising the ultimate futility of war. Eastwood's follow-up film, Letters from Iwo Jima, examines the Iwo Jima conflict from the Japanese perspective.

Critically hailed as an instant classic, Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima is a masterwork of uncommon humanity and a harrowing, unforgettable indictment of the horrors of war. In an unprecedented demonstration of worldly citizenship, Eastwood (from a spare, tightly focused screenplay by first-time screenwriter Iris Yamashita) has crafted a truly Japanese film, with Japanese dialogue (with subtitles) and filmed in a contemplative Japanese style, serving as both complement and counterpoint to Eastwood's previously released companion film Flags of Our Fathers. Where the earlier film employed a complex non-linear structure and epic-scale production values to dramatise one of the bloodiest battles of World War II and its traumatic impact on American soldiers, Letters reveals the battle of Iwo Jima from the tunnel- and cave-dwelling perspective of the Japanese, hopelessly outnumbered, deprived of reinforcements, and doomed to die in inevitable defeat.

While maintaining many of the traditions of the conventional war drama, Eastwood extends his sympathetic touch to humanise "the enemy," revealing the internal and external conflicts of soldiers and officers alike, forced by circumstance to sacrifice themselves or defend their honour against insurmountable odds. From the weary reluctance of a young recruit named Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya) to the dignified yet desperately anguished strategy of Japanese commander Tadamichi Kuribayashi (played by Oscar-nominated The Last Samurai costar Ken Watanabe), whose letters home inspired the film's title and present-day framing device, Letters from Iwo Jima (which conveys the bleakness of battle through a near-total absence of colour) steadfastly avoids the glorification of war while paying honorable tribute to ill-fated men who can only dream of the comforts of home. --Jeff Shannon

Price: £16.98

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Doctor Who - Series 3 Vol. 2 (buy now)

The latest DVD release from the third season of the revived Doctor Who is one many fans will have been eagerly awaiting, due in no small part to the return of the iconic Daleks.

A pity, then, that of the four episodes on this DVD, it's the Dalek double-header that's the weakest. So let's deal with those two episodes first. "Daleks In Manhattan" and "Evolution Of The Daleks" are set in 1930s New York, where the Daleks have hatched their most daring plan to date: to use the biology of a human to evolve their own, resulting in a hybrid human/Dalek creature.

Yet in spite of some neat moments across the two episodes, the double-header never really clicks, and the hybrid creation utterly fails to convince. It leaves a few good lines, some neat action sequences and the sheer status of the Daleks to drag the episodes through.

Things perk up though with the other two episodes on this Doctor Who DVD. "The Lazarus Experiment" is a fun romp, with The League Of Gentlemen's Mark Gatiss experimenting, with predictably chaotic results, in age reversal. What marks this episode out though is the intriguing building of the story that's set to pay off later in the series.

Finally, the best episode on the disc, 42. While derivative, it's pacey, funny and has a real-time feel to the action that works extraordinarily well. Some smashing direction too, not least when the episode goes silent as the Doctor mouths "I'll save you" to a seemingly doomed Martha.

In all then, a mixed bag of Doctor Who, but still a terrific value DVD given the four episodes it contains. Even if the best of series three is yet to come... --Simon Brew

Price: £12.48

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Doctor Who - The Complete Series 2 Box Set (buy now)

Most have agreed that the BBC's decision to revive Doctor Who has proven inspired, with the Christopher Ecclestone-led 'first' series proving a critical and ratings success. Yet when Ecclestone announced he was departing the role after just one season, eyebrows were raised. Could the momentum be kept going for a second series?

Absolutely. The seamless casting of David Tennant as Ecclestone's successor in the TARDIS has been equally inspired, and while it's a fair debate as to whether he matches the standards set by his predecessor, the show rarely lets you draw breath to think about.

This second series collection kicks off with the 2005 Christmas special, which finds the Doctor struggling to overcome the effects of his regeneration, just as the Earth happens to be invaded. It's a smashing episode, and much of the thirteen that follow manage to match it. Particular highlights? There's "School Reunion", which cleverly works old favourites K-9 and Sarah-Jane back into the mix, while "The Girl In The Fireplace" finds the Doctor in a slightly more romantic frame, "The Idiot's Lantern" is a super, snappy episode set just before Coronation Day, while the two part "Impossible Planet" and "Satan Pit" shows just how far you can stretch a BBC budget.

Yet the series will ultimately be remembered for different reasons. The triumphant return for the Cybermen for one, and the depature of Billie Piper's Rose Tyler in the superb final two-parter, which also happens to see two of the Doctor's deadliest foes waging war. And while it's not unfair to say that this series of Doctor Who hasn't been without one or two low moments too, the vast majority of it has been really quite brilliant. Fast, energetic, well-written and cracking entertainment, you're only left wondering how they can top all this next time round… --Simon Brew

Price: £49.98

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Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat [1999] (buy now)

Following the successful video release of Cats comes another Andrew Lloyd Webber blockbuster musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and it's a savvy choice. It hasn't been represented on film before, it's short enough (78 minutes) to present without cuts and it has the star-power of former teen icon Donny Osmond, who played over 1,800 performances across North America. Rather than record a live performance, Cats director David Mallet conceived Joseph as a film, though one that is based strongly on co-director Steven Pimlott's 1991 London revival and relies more on camerawork than venturing beyond its stagelike sets.

Lloyd Webber's first project with lyricist Tim Rice was originally written in 1968 as a school cantata; accordingly, this film uses a framing sequence of a school recital, with an audience of clapping, singing kids and members of the faculty playing the roles. The Old Testament tale of Joseph and his coat of many colours gets a splashy, vigorous treatment with an energetic cast, Las Vegas-style glitz and catchy, eclectic songs, including "Any Dream Will Do", "Close Every Door", the peppy "Go, Go, Go Joseph" and various bits of country, calypso and Elvis. Osmond is perfect in the title role, with a strong voice and winning persona, while London stage veteran Maria Friedman performs well in the central role of the narrator. Richard Attenborough appears (and sings a little) as Jacob, and Joan Collins makes a brief, non-singing cameo.

Joseph certainly isn't revolutionary musical theatre, but if you view it as a kids' show, it's a silly good time (though there are poignant moments too). Parents should note, however, that this production might warrant a little discretion due to one suggestive scene and some risqu&ecute; costumes. --David Horiuchi, Amazon.com

Price: £9.98

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Grease [1978] (buy now)

Grease was a phenomenal hit with its target teenage audience when it was released in 1977. The songs dominated the pop charts and brought heady success for its lead actors, John Travolta (Danny) and Olivia Newton-John (Sandy) despite the fact that--as with their energetic co-stars--their own teenage years were some way behind them. As they seize the chance to relive their schooldays, their verve and enthusiasm explodes from the screen. The real class, though, comes from Stockard Channing as feisty Rizzo and, in a couple of cameos, wisecracking silver screen actresses from yesteryear Eve Arden and Joan Blondel.

Based on the 1972 stage show and adding several new numbers, Grease is at heart a rites-of-passage movie with plenty of feel-good moments and a euphoric buzz. "You're the One That I Want", "Hopelessly Devoted to You" and "Summer Nights" became the soundtrack for a generation of high-school students on the cusp of adulthood. Today, it looks like a pastiche of those 1950s Connie Francis rock & roll beach films. But the steady stream of double entendres and knowing body language render it more accessible to the less innocent late 1970s. It's overwhelming nostalgia for anyone in the vicinity of 40.

On the DVD: The 25th anniversary special edition of Grease rolls back the years: the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation transports you instantly back to fifth-form heaven in the local fleapit. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound ensures that the songs--ever the staple of MOR radio--complete the nostalgia trip with real zip. The main extra is a short series of fond reminiscences from the actors and director Randal Kleiser, actually filmed for the 20th anniversary. --Piers Ford

Price: £3.98

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Doctor Who - Series 3 Vol.1 [2007] [2005] (buy now)

Price: £11.98

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Doctor Who - Series 3 Vol. 3 [2007] (buy now)

Among the very finest episodes broadcast since Doctor Who returned to our screens in 2005, this collection of "Human Nature", "The Family Of Blood" and "Blink" surely adds up to the best single DVD release of the show to date.

Let's start with the best. "Blink" is an episode where the Doctor takes a back seat. Yet while this approach resulted in one of Doctor Who's worst ever episodes in season two, here it generates one of the very finest in the history of the show. It's from the pen of Steven Moffat, the man behind the best stories since the show's return, and manages to be clever, frightening and intricate in a way that will easily reward repeated viewers. To tell any more would be to spoil it. So we won't. Just know that while the BBC is happy to wheel out the `hiding behind the sofa' cliché, this is one episode that may have you doing just that.

Nearly matching it for sheer quality is the superb double header, "Human Nature" and "The Family Of Blood". Here we find the Doctor being hunted, and thus converting his biology to that of a human. With no knowledge of his real identity, it's down to the Doctor's assistant, Martha, to unravel what's going on.

Again though, there's plenty to lift these two episodes above run of the mill. Creepy scarecrows, even creepier schoolkids, a moving wartime setting and the willingness to take their time and build up the story all pay major dividends. The end result? Just terrific.

With not a weak link to be found, these three episodes find Doctor Who in outrageously strong form. And the season three finale is coming up on the next DVD release, too... --Simon Brew

Price: £11.98

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Marilyn Monroe - The Diamond Collection [1951] (buy now)

Released to mark the 40th anniversary of her death in 1962, The Diamond Collection brings together all of Marilyn Monroe's films for 20th Century Fox. This handsome box set stands as a salutary reminder of the considerable achievements of an actress who still reigns supreme as the greatest screen goddess of them all.

The uninitiated might be surprised at the versatility of someone whose legend is founded so much on her image as a sex symbol. In particular, her touching performance as the abused second-rate bar singer Cherie in Bus Stop (1956) is a rounded study of a woman still capable of dreaming when life has done everything to dull her. The box set as a whole offers plenty of evidence that while she certainly specialised in a unique and complex variation on the blonde bombshell stereotype--embodied in her timeless performances as Lorelei Lee (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) and short-sighted Pola in How to Marry a Millionaire, both 1953--she could certainly diversify.

The documentary, Marilyn Monroe: The Final Days, provides a sympathetic take on the troubles and behaviour which led to her being sacked from her final picture, Something's Got to Give. The presentation of the restored footage from that movie is less successful, though, as the glimpses of Monroe's incandescent screen presence, belying her illness and depression, leave a palpable sadness in their wake. Better by far to focus on her earlier work. Whatever the role, her luminous beauty and statuesque figure, combined with an unselfconsciously joyful sexuality and an on-screen vulnerability, were always at their best under the careful guidance of directors like Billy Wilder and Otto Preminger. These qualities continue to give her an enduring appeal.

On the DVD: The Diamond Collection has been digitally restored using, for the most part, the original negatives, making this a sumptuous package for any Monroe fan. Niagara and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes are both presented in standard 4:3 ratio but the rest--filmed in Cinemascope and presented here in letterbox format--are certainly better-served by widescreen viewing. The colours, like Monroe, come alive. The sound quality is crisp and Monroe's singing--she had limited but genuine musical talent--has polished up well. Multiple extras include before-and-after restoration comparisons, trailers from various countries, stills and posters, and newsreel footage. Eleven discs of Marilyn in one box, this is a veritable feast indeed. --Piers Ford

Price: £55.99

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Gone With The Wind (4 Disc Collector's Edition Box Set) [1939] (buy now)

First off, if you're a GwtW fanatic, you must buy this four-disc collection. But then again, you probably don't need to read this to make that decision. For the rest of us, know that the kitchen-sink approach has been established here with two full discs of extras. The film's restoration under Warner's brilliant Ultra-Resolution process is the major contribution to the set. However, the bare-bones version released years ago isn't bad and the film still doesn't pop off the screen as do films from the headier days of Technicolor (like the earlier Ultra-Resolution DVD release of Meet Me in St. Louis). That said, the set is worthy of the most popular movie ever made. Rudy Behlmer's feature-length commentary is dry but an exhaustive reference guide to the entire history of the film. Need more? There's the excellent full-length documentary The Making of a Legend (1989) narrated by Christopher Plummer, plus two hour-long older biographies on the two main stars. There are many new vignettes on the rest of the cast, all narrated by Plummer (a nice touch to tie everything together). The new 30-minute interview/reminisce with Oliva de Havilland will be interesting to older fans, but tiresome for the younger set. The usual sort of trailers and premiere footage is here along with a curious short ("The Old South", directed by Fred Zinnemann) that was produced to help introduce the world to the history of the South. --Doug Thomas

Price: £4.97

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Forbidden Planet - 50th Anniversary 2 Disc Special Edition [1956] (buy now)

Ahead of its time in many, many ways, Forbidden Planet has been cemented in its role as a science fiction classic over the past few decades, to the point where its 50th birthday is being marked with this special DVD release.

What's more, the iconic film has never looked better. The print of Forbidden Planet has been buffed up to a terrific standard, and while it's a cliché to report that it's never looked better, we challenge anyone to disagree.

The film too is just as compelling. Set in the 23rd century, on a far and distant star Professor Morbius, his daughter and Robby the Robot are seemingly alone, until a space craft from Earth arrives. This sets events in motion that bring a real human core to a genre where such a factor, right to this day, is often lacking.

But it's not just that which makes Forbidden Planet continually worthy of attention. The special effects, for instance, are astounding given the era in which the film was made, while the ideas and ambition that underpin the production are equally of merit. At heart, though, it was and is an utterly compelling movie, which has had a long and profound influence on the genre as a whole.

This 50th anniversary edition also comes armed with extra features, notably several documentaries. But after all these years, it's still the film that's the star, and you simply wouldn't wager against it enduring for another 50 years after this. --Jon Foster

Price: £10.98

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The Sound Of Music (2 Disc Special Edition) [1965] (buy now)

Price: £6.98

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Doctor Who - The Complete Series 1 Box Set [2005] (buy now)

It was always going to be a risk for the BBC to revamp Doctor Who--few television programmes inspire as much rabid and cultish adoration. With the 2005 series, however, the BBC have really outdone themselves. Their updated Doctor Who is a revelation: a cult science fiction series that has real mass appeal, and works for both children and their parents. Christopher Eccleston is an inspired and charismatic Doctor--he leaps around the sets with an unrestrained glee, like he's a child running amok in a toy shop. His enthusiasm in downright infectious. His sidekick Rose (Billie Piper) adds a real human touch, particularly as she gradually and believably matures from in-over-her-head city kid to tough-minded interplanetary hero. Much of the credit must go to writer Russell Davies, who has a much-practiced knack for finding popular appeal without dumbing-down his ideas, and who appears to have let his imagination run riot. Even the special effects, whilst not of a big-budget cinematic quality, still manage to strike a balance between cheesiness and realism. Thrilling, funny and thoroughly entertaining, this Doctor Who is a hero for the new millennium. --Robert Burrow

Price: £50.98

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Ben Hur (4 Disc Special Edition) [1959] (buy now)

Price: £4.97

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The Wizard Of Oz (3 Disc Collector's Edition) [1939] (buy now)

When it was released during Hollywood's golden year of 1939, The Wizard of Oz wasn't regarded as anything like the perennial classic it has since become. The film did respectable business, but it wasn't until its debut on television that this family favourite saw its popularity soar. And while Oz's TV broadcasts are now controlled by media mogul Ted Turner (who owns the rights), the advent of home video has made this lively musical a mainstay in the staple diet of great American films.

Young Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland), her dog, Toto, and her three companions on the yellow brick road to Oz -- the Tin Man (Jack Haley), the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr), and the Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) -- have become pop-culture icons and central figures in the legacy of fantasy for children. As the Wicked Witch who covets Dorothy's enchanted ruby slippers, actress Margaret Hamilton has had the singular honor of scaring the wits out of children for more than six decades. The film's still as fresh, frightening and funny as it was when first released. It may take some liberal detours from the original story by L. Frank Baum, but it's loyal to the Baum legacy while charting its own course as a spectacular film. Shot in glorious Technicolor, befitting its dynamic production design (Munchkinland alone is a psychedelic explosion of colour and decor), The Wizard of Oz may not appeal to every taste as the years go by, but it's nonetheless required viewing for kids of all ages. --Jeff Shannon

DVD features

The Wizard of Oz DVD released in 1999 was loaded with extra features, but it's now safe to throw away that version in all its cardboard-package glory in favour of the new three-disc edition. First things first: All the bonus material from the earlier disc is there. That includes the Angela Lansbury-hosted documentary The Making of a Movie Classic, which is worth the price of the DVD alone; then there are the outtakes and deleted scenes, including Judy Garland's "Over the Rainbow" reprise and the home-movie recording of "The Jitterbug"; the sketches and stills and composer Harold Arlen's home movies; the audio underscores and radio programs; the 1979 interviews with Margaret Hamilton, Ray Bolger, and Jack Haley; and other items too numerous to mention. (Some text introductions to the features have been replaced by narration by Lansbury.)

Brand new to this edition is a sharp restoration using Warner's Ultra Resolution process and an accompanying featurette on how it's done. The technicians also discuss how the sound was remixed, though that would have been more effective had it included surround-sound demonstrations. Other features on the new set include a commentary track by critic John Fricke supplemented by vintage cast interviews (he offers a lot of trivia, and debunks the myth that Shirley Temple was ever close to getting the Dorothy role); profiles of nine cast members and clips of other movies they appeared in (including Toto); a lightly animated 10-minute storybook again narrated by Lansbury; 2001 and 2005 behind-the-scenes featurettes; and a 1950 Lux Radio Theater broadcast.

The old 1999 disc also included one-minute excerpts of three early treatments of The Wizard of Oz. The third disc of this new three-disc collector's edition includes the complete versions of those treatments and more. They are four silent films: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910, 13 min.), The Magic Cloak of Oz (1914, 38 min.), His Majesty, the Scarecrow of Oz (1914, 59 min., written and directed by Baum himself), The Wizard of Oz (1925, 72 min., Larry Semon). The fifth treatment is Ted Eshbaum's 1933 Technicolor cartoon short which has songs and sound, and is the first depiction of Kansas in black and white and Oz in colour. The third disc also has a 38-minute biography of L. Frank Baum and collector's-edition supplements include a gorgeous set of photo cards among other materials. This is a gloriously comprehensive addition to anyone's classic DVD collection. --David Horiuchi

Price: £4.97

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Oliver [1968] (buy now)

Film buffs and critics can argue until their faces turn blue about whether this lavish Dickensian musical deserved the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1968, but the movie speaks for itself on grandly entertaining terms. Adapted from Dickens's classic novel, it's one of the most dramatically involving and artistically impressive musicals of the 1960s, directed by Carol Reed with a delightful enthusiasm that would surely have impressed Dickens himself. Mark Lester plays the waifish orphan Oliver Twist, who is befriended by the pick-pocketing Artful Dodger (Jack Wild) and recruited into the gang of boy thieves led by Fagin (played to perfection by Ron Moody). The villainous Bill Sikes (Oliver Reed) casts his long shadow over Oliver and his friends, but the young orphan is still able to find loving care in the most desperate of circumstances. Full of memorable melodies and splendid lyrics, Oliver! is a timeless film, prompting even hard-to-please critic Pauline Kael to call it "a superb demonstration of intelligent craftsmanship," and to further observe that "it's as if the movie set out to be a tribute to Dickens and his melodramatic art as well as to tell the story of Oliver Twist". --Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com

Price: £4.97

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Jump In ! (Freestyle Edition) [2006] (buy now)

Jump roping that's worlds away from anything seen on the local playground bursts from the screen in this Disney Original Movie about the clash between two athletes and their respective sports. Boxer Izzy Daniels (Corbin Bleu) has a hard time taking neighbor Mary's (Keke Palmer) devotion to jump roping seriously, but as Izzy trains relentlessly to maintain his undefeated status and win the Golden Glove, Mary's team practices just as intensely for the city Double Dutch finals. Izzy gains a reluctant respect for Mary's sport when he accompanies his sister Karin (Kylee Russell) to a competition, but it takes some serious convincing to persuade him to fill in for a teammate who's abandon the team on the cusp of city finals. Izzy quickly discovers that Double Dutch is more demanding and rewarding than he'd ever imagined, but when the entire school finds out about his newest sporting exploit, he's taunted into quitting. As Izzy tries to regain his boxing focus, he suddenly realizes that winning the Golden Glove is more his father's (David Reivers) dream than his own. After some serious soul-searching, Izzy decides that he can't let what others think keep him from doing what makes him happy. Jump In! takes a unique look at the varied world of sports and features some great catchy new music from Corbin Bleu and Jordan Pruitt, but the game-winner is its focus on the importance of following one's heart. (Ages 5 and older) --Tami Horiuchi

Price: £10.48

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My Fair Lady [1965] (buy now)

Hollywood's legendary "woman's director," George Cukor (The Women, The Philadelphia Story), transformed Audrey Hepburn into street-urchin-turned-proper-lady Eliza Doolittle in this film version of the Lerner and Loewe musical. Based on George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, My Fair Lady stars Rex Harrison as linguist Henry Higgins (Harrison also played the role, opposite Julie Andrews, on stage), who draws Eliza into a social experiment that works almost too well.

Star wattage keeps this film exciting, that and such great songs as "On the Street Where You Live" and "I Could Have Danced All Night." Actor Jeremy Brett, who gained a huge following later in life portraying Sherlock Holmes, is quite electric as Eliza's determined suitor. --Tom Keogh

Price: £4.97

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Jane Eyre - 2006 (BBC) (buy now)

Continuing the BBC's unrivalled reputation for costume drama, their new adaptation of Jane Eyre proved to be one of the television triumphs of 2006. Based, as you'd expect, on the Charlotte Bronte book of the same name, this two-disc set brings together the full series, spread across the best part of four sumptuous hours.

It's a faithful adaptation, with Ruth Wilson giving an exceptional performance in the title role. Mr Rochester's boots, meanwhile, are filled by Toby Stephenson, and both prove to be wise choices. Backed up by an excellent supporting cast, they're also supported by some quite superb scenery, warm photography and skilful, at times neatly understated the direction, that gives the story space to develop.

Is the best adaptation of Jane Eyre? It certainly builds a compelling case, and while there's the odd slight misstep along the way, it's primarily a terrific interpretation of a classic romance. Perhaps the only real disappointment is that the DVD release itself doesn't offer more in the way of added features, but given the presentation and quality of the main attraction, that's unlikely, rightly, to deter those in search of some classic BBC drama. --Jon Foster

Price: £16.98

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Grand Prix (2 Disc Special Edition) [1966] (buy now)

Price: £2.97

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Romeo And Juliet [1996] (buy now)

While perhaps not the defining moment in the making of Leonardo DiCaprio's career, his appearance in this dazzling take on William Shakepeare's Romeo & Juliet back in 1996 did the careers of both Clare Danes and himself no harm at all. Perhaps the real star of the show here though is director Baz Luhrmann, who employs a frenetic, at times downright-brilliant style to the age-old tale of tale of star-crossed lovers. Luhrmann would go on to make Moulin Rouge a few years' later.

From the off, his take on Romeo & Juliet explodes unpredictably onto the screen, bubbling with vision and originality, accompanied throughout by an excellent score and soundtrack that rightly spawned two spin-off CDs. There are sacrifices made along the way to support Luhrmann's vision though, with the text being stripped down to leave the core of the story in tact, and that's just one of a number of complaints that Shakespeare purists may have.

And yet, perhaps more than any other attempt to bring the work of the Bard to the screen of late, this is an extremely accessible entry-point to Shakepeare's work. That it's also by turns breathtaking, dazzling and a sheer joy to watch doesn't harm its cause either. The two leads are charming, the support cast backs them up superbly, and the end result is one of the most interesting visual treats that Hollywood mustered up throughout the 1990s.--Simon Brew

Price: £5.97

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Doctor Who - Series 3 Vol. 4 [2007] (buy now)

The return of The Master has been one of the many recent triumphs of Doctor Who. And with this, the final single DVD release of season three of the show, the three concluding episodes deliver John Simm's majestic take on one of the Doctor's deadliest and oldest enemies.

These three episodes also see Torchwood's Captain Jack Harkness rejoining the Tardis, and along with the Doctor and Martha, there's a mighty battle to be fought.

It all starts with "Utopia", one of the very finest episodes of Doctor Who's third season. This is a clever, slow-burning tale, with Derek Jacobi guest-starring, and it features a final ten minutes so good it's enough to make Who fans weep. Things continue with some style in "The Sound Of Drums", where The Master really comes into his own, replete with a devastating cliffhanger to set up the season finale. And ironically, it's that finale, "The Last Of The Time Lords", that's the weakest of the three here, a slightly muddled--but still very enjoyable--wrapping up of a very strong series.

The skill of these three episodes is how cleanly they interweave with the subtle building blocks that have been put in place for them over the duration of Doctor Who's run. And with an ending the bodes well for the 2007 Christmas special too, this DVD is further proof of just what strong shape Doctor Who is in. Cracking stuff. --Jon Foster

Price: £10.98

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Saving Private Ryan - Dvd [1998] (buy now)

Since its release in 1998, Steven Spielberg's D-Day drama Saving Private Ryan has become hugely influential: everything, from the opening sequence of Gladiator ("Saving Marcus Aurelius") to the marvellous 10-hour TV series Band of Brothers, has been made in its shadow. There have been many previous attempts to recreate the D-Day landings on screen (notably, the epic The Longest Day), but thanks to Spielberg's freewheeling hand-held camerawork, Ryan was the first time an audience really felt like they were there, storming up Omaha Beach in the face of withering enemy fire.

After the indelible opening sequence, however, the film is not without problems. The story, though based on an American Civil War incident, feels like it was concocted simply to fuel Spielberg's sentimental streak. In standard Hollywood fashion the Germans remain a faceless foe (with the exception of one charmless character who turns out to be both a coward and a turncoat); and the Tom Hanks-led platoon consists of far too many stereotypes: the doughty Sergeant; the thick-necked Private; the Southern man religious sniper; the cowardly Corporal. Matt Damon seems improbably clean-cut as the titular Private in need of rescue (though that may well be the point); and why do they all run straight up that hill towards an enemy machine gun post anyway? Some non-US critics have complained that Ryan portrays only the American D-Day experience, but it is an American film made and financed by Americans after all. Accepting both its relatively narrow remit and its lachrymose inclinations, Saving Private Ryan deserves its place in the pantheon of great war pictures.

On the DVD: Saving Private Ryan on disc comes in a good-quality anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer with a suitably dynamic Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix in which bullets fly all around your living room. Extra features are pretty minimal, with a standard 30-minute "making of" piece called "Into the Breach" and two trailers. There are text notes on the cast and crew as well as the production, and a brief message from Mr Spielberg himself about why he decided to make the movie. --Mark Walker

Price: £2.98

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Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (2 Disc Special Edition) [1968] (buy now)

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang entranced and thrilled children and their parents when it puttered into the cinema in 1968. More than three decades later, and despite the eventual arrival of a stage version that throws the full weight of blockbuster effects at the story, the original remains the real thing for fans of all ages. The flying car is the star and it's impossible not to feel a surge of thrilling relief as the wings kick in when she plunges over the cliff and soars off on her great adventure. The songs might not be the greatest in musical history, but they are delivered with great charm by Dick Van Dyke as Caractacus Potts (a toned-down version of his infamous Bert in Mary Poppins), Sally Ann Howes (Truly Scrumptious) and the children.

And then there is Robert Helpmann's child catcher, a terrifyingly sinister figure who exudes a pungent whiff of undiluted evil unmatched by any character since Dorothy squared up to the witch in The Wizard of Oz. Cameos from British character actors abound: Benny Hill, Lionel Jeffries, Anna Quayle, James Robertson Justice and Max Wall all put in appearances that add some fibre to the overall sweetness of the story. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is the ultimate nostalgic confection for family viewing.

On the DVD: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Special Edition comes to DVD in widescreen format with a Dolby soundtrack to recreate the authentic cinematic experience for everyone who remembers it from the first time round. The picture quality is robust, revealing some rather homespun aspects to the special effects. Extras are dominated by Dick Van Dyke remembering his time on the film, plus a short item on the origins of the car itself and various trailers. --Piers Ford

Price: £5.98

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9th Company 2 Disc Collectors Edition (buy now)

Price: £11.98

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Full Metal Jacket [1987] (buy now)

One of a series of revisionist Vietnam cinema released in the late 1980s, Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket is essentially split into two stories linked by a number of characters. The film follows new recruit Joker (Matthew Modine) and his fellow soldiers through their basic training and into combat in Vietnam. The first half is a chilling portrayal of military brutality and de-humanisation, mainly at the hands of Sgt Hartman (played at a level of staggering intensity by ex-Marine Lee Ermey), that centres around the tragic character of Private Pyle, a young man pushed to the edge of his endurance. The tone of the film is no less harsh when transported to the combat zone as we see the results of the training process in action: the young men turned into unquestioning killing machines. Joker is perhaps the one exception, a soldier with "Born to Kill" written on his helmet who also sports a peace sign on his lapel. But the film finds itself caught in the trap of many of the war movies of the time--how to create audience empathy with characters who are essentially in the wrong. It's a dilemma that Full Metal Jacket never really solves, although as a spectacle the film is a masterpiece. Made in the days before CGI became the norm, the battle sequences--filmed, rather bizarrely, in London's Docklands before its redevelopment--are hugely realistic and are perhaps the key moments of the movie, heightening the disorientation and fear felt by the soldiers. By offering no more than a snapshot of the Vietnam conflict (the action deals with one individual skirmish), Kubrick cleverly leaves any judgement on the war to the audience, although clearly attempting to influence them. The fate of the characters who survive is also left in the balance, but we can perhaps imagine what awaits them.

On the DVD: Part of a series of Kubrick DVD reissues, Full Metal Jacket has been treated to the full remastering and restoration treatment. The battle sequences have benefited the most, gaining a new audio and visual crispness and clarity that adds to their already impressive sense of realism--you can almost feel the heat searing from the screen and the explosions detonating around you. Maybe not the best war film ever made, as some may claim, but certainly one to take you right to the heart of the action. --Phil Udell

Price: £4.97

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Mary Poppins (2 Disc 40th Anniversary Special Edition) (buy now)

Price: £8.98

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Doctor Who - Timelash [1985] (buy now)

Believe the vocal Doctor Who fanbase, and you'd have Timelash's card marked as a story to steer clear of. But thanks to the perspective of time, and another smashing DVD, this really is a whole lot better than you may be expecting.

Timelash is a tale from the undercooked Colin Baker era in the TARDIS, and on face value, there are lots of problems that were symptoms of this period of the show: hammed up acting, unconvincing monsters and a script that could have used a good deal more work are all present and correct here.

But--whisper it--Timelash is actually good fun. Really. There's the always-likeable Peri, H G Wells, an overarching sense of entertainment and ultimately a breezy 90 minutes to enjoy. Even those who don't usually warm to Colin Baker will find him in a calmer state here, although perhaps that's more to do with the hideously over-the-top performance from Paul Darrow.

There's never likely to be a revisionist call to instate Timelash as a classic piece of television, but time has at least proven that it's an enjoyable one. Factor in a DVD that features a commentary track (including Darrow!), a 25-minute documentary and assorted notes and listings, and it's hard to feel shortchanged. --Jon Foster

Price: £9.48

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Dunkirk [1958] (buy now)

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Flags of our Fathers & Letters from Iwo Jima (4 Disc Special Edition) (buy now)

Thematically ambitious and emotionally complex, Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers is an intimate epic with much to say about war and the nature of heroism in America. Based on the non-fiction bestseller by James Bradley (with Ron Powers), and adapted by Million Dollar Baby screenwriter Paul Haggis (Jarhead screenwriter William Broyles Jr. wrote an earlier draft that was abandoned when Eastwood signed on to direct), this isn't so much a conventional war movie as it is a thought-provoking meditation on our collective need for heroes, even at the expense of those we deem heroic. In telling the story of the six men (five Marines, one Navy medic) who raised the American flag of victory on the battle-ravaged Japanese island of Iwo Jima on February 23rd, 1945, Eastwood takes us deep into the horror of war (in painstakingly authentic Iwo Jima battle scenes) while emphasizing how three of the surviving flag-raisers (played by Adam Beach, Ryan Phillippe, and Jesse Bradford) became reluctant celebrities - and resentful pawns in a wartime publicity campaign - after their flag-raising was immortalized by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal in the most famous photograph in military history.

As the surviving flag-raisers reluctantly play their public roles as "the heroes of Iwo Jima" during an exhausting (but clearly necessary) wartime bond rally tour, Flags of Our Fathers evolves into a pointed study of battlefield valor and misplaced idolatry, incorporating subtle comment on the bogus nature of celebrity, the trauma of battle, and the true meaning of heroism in wartime. Wisely avoiding any direct parallels to contemporary history, Eastwood allows us to draw our own conclusions about the Iwo Jima flag-raisers and how their postwar histories (both noble and tragic) simultaneously illustrate the hazards of exploited celebrity and society's genuine need for admirable role models during times of national crisis. Flags of Our Fathers defies the expectations of those seeking a more straightforward war-action drama, but it's richly satisfying, impeccably crafted film that manages to be genuinely patriotic (in celebrating the camaraderie of soldiers in battle) while dramatising the ultimate futility of war. Eastwood's follow-up film, Letters from Iwo Jima, examines the Iwo Jima conflict from the Japanese perspective.

Critically hailed as an instant classic, Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima is a masterwork of uncommon humanity and a harrowing, unforgettable indictment of the horrors of war. In an unprecedented demonstration of worldly citizenship, Eastwood (from a spare, tightly focused screenplay by first-time screenwriter Iris Yamashita) has crafted a truly Japanese film, with Japanese dialogue (with subtitles) and filmed in a contemplative Japanese style, serving as both complement and counterpoint to Eastwood's previously released companion film Flags of Our Fathers. Where the earlier film employed a complex non-linear structure and epic-scale production values to dramatise one of the bloodiest battles of World War II and its traumatic impact on American soldiers, Letters reveals the battle of Iwo Jima from the tunnel- and cave-dwelling perspective of the Japanese, hopelessly outnumbered, deprived of reinforcements, and doomed to die in inevitable defeat.

While maintaining many of the traditions of the conventional war drama, Eastwood extends his sympathetic touch to humanise "the enemy," revealing the internal and external conflicts of soldiers and officers alike, forced by circumstance to sacrifice themselves or defend their honour against insurmountable odds. From the weary reluctance of a young recruit named Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya) to the dignified yet desperately anguished strategy of Japanese commander Tadamichi Kuribayashi (played by Oscar-nominated The Last Samurai costar Ken Watanabe), whose letters home inspired the film's title and present-day framing device, Letters from Iwo Jima (which conveys the bleakness of battle through a near-total absence of colour) steadfastly avoids the glorification of war while paying honorable tribute to ill-fated men who can only dream of the comforts of home. --Jeff Shannon

Price: £29.98

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If.... [1968] (buy now)

The Palme D'Or-winning British classic, If...'s long wait for a DVD release is finally over, and the end result does it proud. Boasting commentaries, interviews and a quality documentary too, it's a true collectors' piece for fans of the film.

And make no mistake about it, it's the superb movie that's the star here. If... is, for those new to it, set in a British public school, and from this setting it has plenty then to say on authority and society. Directed by the late, great Lindsay Anderson, the film centres on Mick Travis, magnetically portrayed by Malcolm McDowell.

Superbly marrying fantasy and more realistic elements, If... is packed with iconic, and often quite surreal moments, leading right up the to the famed and indelible ending that sticks long in your mind once the credits have rolled.

A strong, powerful influence for many who followed it, If... is powered by Malcolm McDowell's astounding performance (which would earn him the part in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange). It's arguable that he's never been better than he is here, and he's in good company, thanks to a top-quality supporting cast too.

Perhaps the greatest complement to If... though is that, decades after is initial release, it's not only recognised as one of the finest British films ever made, but it's regarded in many quarters as a classic of cinema full stop. And if you've not yet had the pleasure, this DVD release finally, belatedly, can open the film up to a whole new audience. Let's hope it does. --Jon Foster

Price: £10.98

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