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Category: Crime, Thriller and Mystery DVDs

Hannibal Rising [2007] (buy now)

Though Hannibal Rising's Lecter (Gaspard Ulliel) is a pussycat compared to Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs, this sequel's story of revenge is grizzly enough to satisfy lovers of Thomas Harris's epic tale. After young Hannibal (Aaron Thomas) is forced to watch his little sister, Mischa (Helena Lia Tachovska), devoured by starving soldiers in his homeland Lithuania, Hannibal vows to avenge his sister's death by slaying those who committed not only war crimes against the Lecters, but also against other families during WW II.

In detailing Hannibal's revenge plan, the film investigates the psychological implications of witnessing cannibalism to justify Hannibal's insatiable appetite for human flesh. The most interesting aspect of Hannibal Rising--its analytical connections drawn between Hannibal's childhood traumas and his murderous adult obsessions--is also the film's weak point. The links oversimplify Lecter's complex character. For example, though titillating to see flashbacks of Lecter's sister hacked up and boiled while Lecter visits a Parisian meat market, the reference is too obvious. One learns why he excels in his medical school classes dissecting cadavers, and we're given explicit explanation for why he slices off and eats his victims' cheeks. The story only complicates when Hannibal interacts with his sexy Aunt, Lady Murasaki (Gong Li). When Murasaki educates him in the art of beheading, the viewer sees Hannibal's sword fetish as a manifestation of physical lust. --Trinie Dalton

Price: £11.98

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The Departed (2006) (buy now)

Martin Scorsese makes a welcomed return to the mean streets (of Boston, in this case) with The Departed, hailed by many as Scorsese's best film since Casino. Since this crackling crime thriller is essentially a Scorsese-stamped remake of the acclaimed 2002 Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs, the film was intensely scrutinized by devoted critics and cinephiles, and while Scorsese's intense filmmaking and all-star cast deserve ample acclaim, The Departed is also worthy of serious re-assessment, especially with regard to what some attentive viewers described as sloppy craftsmanship (!), notably in terms of mismatched shots and jagged continuity. But no matter where you fall on the Scorsese appreciation scale, there's no denying that The Departed is a signature piece of work from one of America's finest directors, designed for maximum impact with a breathtaking series of twists, turns, and violent surprises. It's an intricate cat-and-mouse game, but this time the cat and mouse are both moles: Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) is an ambitious cop on the rise, planted in the Boston police force by criminal kingpin Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson). Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a hot-tempered police cadet who's been artificially disgraced and then planted into Costigan's crime operation as a seemingly trustworthy soldier. As the multilayered plot unfolds (courtesy of a scorching adaptation by Kingdom of Heaven screenwriter William Monahan), Costigan and Sullivan conduct a volatile search for each other (they're essentially looking for "themselves") while simultaneously wooing the psychiatrist (Vera Farmiga) assigned to treat their crime-driven anxieties.

Such convenient coincidences might sink a lesser film, but The Departed is so electrifying that you barely notice the plot-holes. And while Nicholson's profane swagger is too much "Jack" and not enough "Costello," he's still a joy to watch, especially in a film that's additionally energised by memorable (and frequently hilarious) supporting roles for Alec Baldwin, Mark Wahlberg, and a host of other big-name performers. The Departed also makes clever and plot-dependent use of mobile phones, to the extent that it couldn't exist without them. Powered by Scorsese's trademark use of well-chosen soundtrack songs (from vintage rock to Puccini's operas), The Departed may not be perfect, but it's one helluva ride for moviegoers, proving popular enough to become the biggest box-office hit of Scorsese's commercially rocky career. --Jeff Shannon

Price: £5.98

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24: Series 5 (buy now)

The adventures of Counter Terrorism Unit agent Jack Bauer have rarely been dull. Yet after four series of battling the bad guys in real time, some could rightfully wonder whether 24 had lots its edge, and its ability to surprise. The fifth season should put any such doubts to shame.

Set eighteen months after the dramatic finale to Season Four, things get off to a shocking and pulsating beginning. You won't find plot spoilers in this review, yet it's as if the writers realised they had some serious carpet-pulling to do to keep the show's audience intrigued once again. Set, as usual, over the course of one single day, there's then a slight lull in the first third, before things spring ferociously into life. Make no mistake: if you can overcome the usual need to suspend elements of your disbelief, this is the best series of 24 since the first, and as it winds near to its equally dramatic conclusions, it's simply hard to take your eyes off it.

Joining the usual cast too is a procession of familiar names. Peter Weller (Roboocop), Sean Astin (The Lord Of The Rings) and C Thomas Howell (The Hitcher) are among those doing their curriculum vitae no harm, but the acting honours are taken by the wonderful combination of President Logan and his first lady, played by Gregory Itzin and Jean Smart.

With a denouement that sets up a sparkling sixth season, this fifth series of 24 is a genuinely significant achievement. It's packed full of surprises, isn't afraid to take a few risks, and as all good thrillers should, it keeps you on the edge of your seat for far longer than is comfortable. A superb show, very much on top form.--Simon Brew

Price: £25.97

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24: Season 4 (buy now)

Hard to believe, but after all these years, 24 is as vital and compulsive as it always was. For this fourth series, the rules are still the same: all the action takes place in real time, and the series again follows a single day in the life of Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland).

Fortunately, Jack's knack of attracting trouble hasn't deserted him either, and quickly, it's business as usual. Starting the series with a fresh romance, a different job and one heck of an explosion, it doesn't take long before Jack is back in action, and he's soon joined by a mixture of new and familiar faces.

To talk about the plot would be unfair, as 24 is consistently a dish best served cold. Suffice to say that there's a heady mix of plotlines, twists and downright brilliant cliffhangers. Perhaps the cocktail isn't as fresh as it once was, and there are moments where you can't help but feel that plausibility is being stretched a little too far. But accepting that is part and parcel of the 24 experience, and arguably part of the fun.

That's because even as it approaches its final stages, 24: Series 4 maintains a tremendous momentum and level of intrigue, and by the time the clock ticks for the last time at the end of the 24th episode, odds are you'll be thirsting for more. Bluntly, in spite of its flaws, 24 remains one of the most essential shows currently on television--and this series offers ample evidence why.--Simon Brew

Price: £37.98

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24: Series 2 (buy now)

Jack Bauer is having another one of his "very bad days" in the second series of the ground-breaking real-time thriller 24. Once again the hours are ticking by with more guaranteed cliffhangers than a convention of mountain climbers. Holed up in a Los Angeles condo and estranged from his daughter, Jack is no longer on the government payroll; unfortunately for him, this small fact doesn't seem to matter to President David Palmer and the NSA who call him back in to the CTU and give him 24 hours to infiltrate a terrorist organisation who are planning to detonate a dirty bomb in the city of angels. All Jack wants is to get his daughter out of the city, unfortunately Kim's new employer, the abusive father of the child she is nannying, has other ideas.

Fans of the original won't be disappointed, as there are more than enough shock moments in the first few hours to hint at the climactic build-up to come, while newcomers can quickly get involved in the lives of Jack and his family. There are some new characters to bolster the veteran cast and, interestingly (although not surprisingly given the outcome of the first series), Jack's character has taken an altogether darker, more psychopathic turn. The danger the characters find themselves in also has a much more global impetus, grounded as it is in the war against terrorism. Although the territory is more familiar this time around, this second series is just as much a high-tension, taut, adrenaline-fuelled ride as the first series, and one that will have you glued to your TV for the next 24 hours. --Kristen Bowditch

Price: £34.97

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24: Series 1 (buy now)

Such a simple idea--yet so fiendishly complex in the execution. 24, as surely everyone knows by now, is a thriller that takes place over 24 hours, midnight to midnight, in 24 one-hour episodes (well, 45-minute episodes if you extract the ad breaks). Everything to take place in real time--on-screen and off-screen time the same--which means no flash-backs, no flash-forwards, no nice handy time-dissolves. Every strand of the plot has to be dovetailed and interlocked to make sure that things happen just when they should, in the right amount of time. Not that easy.

Creator Robert Cochran and his team of writers and directors have done a pretty impressive job in putting the jigsaw together and keeping the tension ratcheted up high, as Federal Agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) hares around LA trying to stall an assassination attempt on a black Presidential candidate and rescue his wife and daughter from the clutches of the Balkan baddies. Twists, turns, revelations and cliffhangers are tossed at us with satisfying regularity. It's not perfect: we get some hokey plot devices (instant amnesia, anybody?) and the final twist, once you start thinking back, makes no sense whatsoever. There are altogether too many huggy family moments ("I love you, Dad." "I love you, son"); and as for überbaddie Dennis Hopper's "Serbian" accent…

Even so, this is undeniably mould-breaking TV. Sutherland, rescuing his career from the doldrums in one heroic leap, fully deserves his Golden Globe. Sets and locations are artfully deployed--we gain a real sense of LA's splayed-out geography--and Sean Callery's score is a powerful, brooding presence. Like Murder One and The Sopranos, 24 is one of those series future TV thrillers will have to measure themselves against.

On the DVDs: 24 is released in a six-disc box set. On discs 1- 5 there are no extras, but disc 6 includes the "alternative" ending and a preview of Series 2, presented by an urbane Kiefer Sutherland, that tells us precisely nothing. The transfer, in 16x9 widescreen and 2.0 Dolby Digital sound, does the high production values of the original every justice.--Philip Kemp

Price: £25.97

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24: Series 3 (buy now)

There's not one cougar to be found in 24's dynamic third season, and that's good news for everyone. After Jack Bauer's daughter Kim (Elisha Cuthbert) survived hokey hazards in season 2, she's now a full-time staffer at CTU, the L.A.-based intelligence beehive that's abuzz once again--three years after the events of "Day Two"--when a vengeful terrorist threatens to release a lethal virus that could wipe out much of the country's population. Jack (Kiefer Sutherland) attempts to broker a deal for the virus involving drug kingpin Ramon Salazar (Joaquim de Almeida), whose operation Jack successfully infiltrated at high personal cost: to maintain his cover, he got hooked on heroin. That potentially deadly triangle--drug lords, addiction, and bioterrorism on a massive scale--sets the 24-hour clock ticking in a tight, action-packed plot involving a potential traitor in CTU's midst; the return of TV's greatest villainesses in Nina Meyers (Sarah Clarke) and former First Lady Sherry Palmer (Penny Johnson Jerald); a troubled romance between Kim and Jack's new partner Chase (James Badge Dale); and a scandalized reelection campaign by president David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), who monitors CTU as they struggle to (literally) save the day.

The intricately woven subplots that are 24's greatest strength are masterfully developed here, and character arcs are equally strong, especially among CTU staffers Tony (Carlos Bernard) and his wife Michelle (Reiko Aylesworth); CTU director Ryan Chappelle (Paul Schulze), who is season 2's tragic bargaining chip; and the annoying but well-intentioned Chloe O'Brian (Mary Lynn Rajskub), who makes pivotal contributions with by-the-book efficiency. It's 24's superior casting that overcomes the series' occasional lapses in credibility, and season 3's twists make marathon viewing a nerve-wracking delight. By the time it's all over, with a high body count and the surgical reattachment of a main character's severed hand, 24 once again leaves you gratefully exhausted. As always, Sutherland anchors the series in the role he was born to play. When Jack takes a private moment to release 24 hours' worth of near-fatal tension and psychological anguish, Sutherland proves that 24's dramatic priorities are as important as its thriller momentum. DVD extras include behind-the-scenes featurettes (about the prison break sequence, climactic F-18 Hornet air-strike, and real-life bio-weaponry) that pay welcome tribute to the series' hard-working crew, who create Emmy-worthy television under pressures as intense as 24 itself. --Jeff Shannon

Price: £28.97

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The Sopranos: Complete HBO Season 1 [1999] (buy now)

Writer-producer-director David Chase's extraordinary television seriesThe Sopranos is nominally an urban gangster drama, but its true impact strikes closer to home. This ambitious TV series chronicles a dysfunctional, suburban American family in bold relief. And for protagonist Tony Soprano, there's the added complexity posed by heading twin families, his collegiate mob clan and his own nouveau-riche brood.

The brilliant first series is built around what Tony learns when, whipsawed between those two worlds, he finds himself plunged into depression and seeks psychotherapy--a gesture at odds with his midlevel capo's machismo, yet instantly recognisable as a modern emotional test. With analysis built into the very spine of the show's elaborate episodic structure, creator Chase and his formidable corps of directors, writers and actors weave an unpredictable series of parallel and intersecting plot arcs that twist from tragedy to farce to social realism. While creating for a smaller screen, they enjoy a far larger canvas than a single movie would afford and the results, like the very best episodic television, attain a richness and scope far closer to a novel than movies normally get.

Unlike Francis Coppola's operatic dramatisation of Mario Puzo's Godfather epic, The Sopranos sustains a poignant, even mundane intimacy in its focus on Tony, brought to vivid life by James Gandolfini's mercurial performance. Alternately seductive, exasperated, fearful and murderous, Gandolfini is utterly convincing even when executing brutal shifts between domestic comedy and dramatic violence. Both he and the superb team of Italian-American actors recruited as his loyal (and, sometimes, not-so-loyal) henchman and their various "associates" make this mob as credible as the evocative Bronx and New Jersey locations where the episodes were filmed.

The first year's other life force is Livia Soprano, Tony's monstrous, meddlesome mother. As Livia, the late Nancy Marchand eclipses her long career of patrician performances to create an indelibly earthy, calculating matriarch who shakes up both families; Livia also serves as foil and rival to Tony's loyal, usually level-headed wife, Carmela (Edie Falco). Lorraine Bracco makes Tony's therapist, Dr Melfi, a convincing confidante, by turns "professional", perceptive and sexy; the duo's therapeutic relationship is also depicted with uncommon accuracy. Such grace notes only enrich what's not merely an aesthetic high point for commercial television, but an absorbing film masterwork that deepens with subsequent screenings. --Sam Sutherland

Price: £22.47

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New Tricks - Series 1 [2003] (buy now)

Price: £10.97

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CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - Season 6 Part 2 [2001] (buy now)

Price: £22.98

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New Tricks - Series 3 [2007] (buy now)

In an ocean of police shows competing for screen space, New Tricks has one heck of a trump card. For while its plotlines aren't particularly radical, and while the pace is perhaps gentler than you may expect, its cast greedily devour the material and lift a good show into something really quite special.

The premise behind New Tricks is that three retired detectives are called in to work as a mismatched team of sorts to solve crimes. So far, so routine. But those three detectives are played by Dennis Waterman, James Bolam and Alun Armstrong, a trio who can not only act, but are also capable of maximising the comedy potential on offer. Then, there's the juicy inclusion of Amanda Redman, who brought the three of them back together in the first place. Combined, these four are clearly having a terrific time with the show, and it's fun we're all invited to share in.

The third season of New Tricks, presented in this DVD set, features eight varied episodes and the obligatory end-of-season cliffhanger, along with some welcome guest stars. The stories cover ice cream, witchcraft, dogs and school, and it's to the show's credit that it does balance the serious moments with its plentiful humour exceptionally well.

In short, New Tricks is a real treat, putting core values ahead of gimmicks and letting us all enjoy the rewards of its approach. Cracking stuff. --Jon Foster

Price: £14.98

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Ocean's Twelve [2004] (buy now)

Like its predecessor Ocean's Eleven, Ocean's Twelve is a piffle of a caper, a preposterous plot given juice and vitality by a combination of movie star glamour and the exuberant filmmaking skill of director Steven Soderbergh (Out of Sight, The Limey). The heist hijinks of the first film come to roost for a team of eleven thieves (including the glossy mugs of Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Bernie Mac, and Don Cheadle), who find themselves pursued not only by the guy they robbed (silky Andy Garcia), but also by a top-notch detective (plush Catherine Zeta-Jones) and a jealous master thief (well-oiled Vincent Cassel) who wants to prove that team leader Danny Ocean (dapper George Clooney) isn't the best in the field. As if all that star power weren't enough--and the eternally coltish Julia Roberts also returns as Ocean's wife--one movie star cameo raises the movie's combined wattage to absurd proportions. But all these handsome faces are matched by Soderbergh's visual flash, cunning editing, and excellent use of Amsterdam, Paris, and Rome, among other highly decorative locations. The whole affair should collapse under the weight of its own silliness, but somehow it doesn't--the movie's raffish spirit and offhand wit soar along, providing lightweight but undeniable entertainment. --Bret Fetzer, Amazon.com

Price: £4.48

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Outlaw [2007] (buy now)

Outlaw is no easy film, with no easy answers. The latest from writer/director Nick Love, previously behind The Football Factory and The Business, it tells the story of a Britain overrun with crime, with no one willing to stand up to it.

Until, that is, a group of people--led by Sean Bean's Bryant--decide to effectively take matters into their own hands. And so, with each of this group having their own reasons for their actions, they start to exact a form of revenge on the those who have wronged them, laying the scene for an interesting vigilante crime-thriller.

Amidst a fair cavalcade of at-times quite brutal violence, Outlaw has a real feeling and message at the heart of it. But you'd be hard pushed to say that the message is well handled, or that it's the main reason for watching the film. Instead, the strengths are some of the performances (Bean is joined by the likes of Bob Hoskins, Lennie James and Dannie Dyer) and the increasingly confident direction from Love. At times it's blistering to watch, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel.

Ultimately, though, Outlaw, in spite of its strengths, is a mixed bag, yet one with plenty to recommend it. It's a well-made, diverting film, albeit not one for the squeamish, and while it's got its fair share of flaws, you're unlikely to be disappointed by it. --Jon Foster

Price: £10.98

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New Tricks - Series 2 [2003] (buy now)

Price: £10.98

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The Sopranos: HBO Season 6 (Part 1) (buy now)

Price: £29.98

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Pulp Fiction (2 Disc Collector's Edition) [1994] (buy now)

With Pulp Fiction writer-director Quentin Tarantino stunned the filmmaking world, exploding into prominence as a cinematic heavyweight contender after initial success with 1992's Reservoir Dogs. But Pulp Fiction was more than just the follow-up to an impressive first feature, or the winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes Film Festival, or a script stuffed with the sort of juicy bubblegum dialogue actors just love to chew, or the vehicle that re-established John Travolta on the A-list, or the relatively low-budget ($8 million) independent showcase for an ultra-hip mixture of established marquee names and rising stars from the indie scene (among them Samuel L Jackson, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames, Harvey Keitel, Christopher Walken, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Julia Sweeney, Kathy Griffin and Phil Lamar). It was more, even, than an unprecedented $100-million-plus hit for indie distributor Miramax. Pulp Fiction was a sensation. It packs so much energy and invention into telling its non-chronologically interwoven short stories (all about temptation, corruption and redemption among modern criminals, large and small) it leaves viewers both exhilarated and exhausted--hearts racing and knuckles white from the ride. (Oh, and the infectious, surf-guitar-based soundtrack is tastier than a Royale with Cheese.) --Jim Emerson

Price: £5.97

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CSI: Crime Scene Investigation - Miami - Season 4 - Part 1 (buy now)

Price: £25.98

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Sleeping With The Enemy [1990] (buy now)

Price: £2.97

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The Sopranos: Complete HBO Season 5 (buy now)

Facing an indeterminate sentence of weeks/months/years until new episodes, Sopranos fans are advised to take the fifth; season, that is. At this point, superlatives don't do The Sopranos justice, but justice was at last served to this benchmark series. For the first time, The Sopranos rubbed out The West Wing to take home its first Emmy for Outstanding Dramatic Series. Michael Imperioli and Drea de Matteo also earned Best Supporting Actor and Actress honors for some of their finest hours as Christopher and Adriana. From the moment a wayward bear lumbers into the Sopranos' yard in the season opener, it is clear that The Sopranos is in anything but a "stagmire." The series benefits from an infusion of new blood, the so-called "Class of 2004," imprisoned "family" members freshly released from jail. Most notable among these is Tony's cousin, Tony Blundetto (Steve Buscemi, who directed the pivotal season 3 episode "Pine Barrens"), who initially wants to go straight, but proves himself to be something of a "free agent," setting up a climactic stand-off between Tony and New York boss Johnny Sack.

These 13 mostly riveting episodes unfold with a page-turning intensity with many rich subplots. Estranged couple Tony and Carmela (the incomparable James Gandolfini and Edie Falco) work toward a reconciliation (greased by Tony's purchase of a $600,000 piece of property for Carmela to develop). The Feds lean harder on an increasingly stressed-out and distraught Adriana to "snitch" with inevitable results. This season's hot-button episode is "The Test Dream," in which Tony is visited by some of the series' dear, and not-so-dearly, departed in a harrowing nightmare. With this set, fans can enjoy marathon viewings of an especially satisfying season, but considering the long wait ahead for season 6, best to take Tony's advice to his son, who, at one point, gulps down a champagne toast. "Slow down," Tony says. "You're supposed to savor it." --Donald Liebenson, Amazon.com

Price: £23.47

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Children Of Men (2-disc Special Edition) [2006] (buy now)

Price: £6.98

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The Sopranos: Complete HBO Season 4 [1999] (buy now)

Unlike the previous three, this fourth series of The Sopranos largely eschews an overriding story arc in favour of developing several interrelated plot strands, most of which are then left dangling tantalisingly at the end. This year Tony's many extra-marital affairs finally come home to roost, even as he faces challenges to his leadership from within and without. Paulie Walnuts simmers with resentment over his perceived neglect, a resentment only exacerbated by Christopher's promotion; while Christopher's growing drug habit undermines Tony's trust in him. Paulie makes overtures to Johnny Sack and the New York family; Sack himself bears a deadly grudge against Ralph Cifaretto, and also embroils Tony in a dispute between the two families. Ralph and Tony clash over a shared interest in both a race horse and a goomar--you just know it's going to end in something much worse than tears.

The women have as many problems, though: Adriana has reluctantly turned FBI informer, a drug-addled Christopher squashes her dog, and she has to confess that she can't have children; Carmela falls maddeningly, frustratingly in love with one of Tony's closest companions; Janice inveigles herself into Bobby's affections in a display of breathtaking emotional manipulation; while Meadow can no longer conceal the disgust she feels about her father's business, and Dr Melfi is increasingly sidelined, since Tony's behavioural issues have become, to all practical purposes, untreatable. The whole ends on a downbeat note as personal disillusionment overshadows the mob politics. With the imminent arrival of Steve Buscemi to the cast, the fifth series is primed to be an explosive one. --Mark Walker

Price: £24.97

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Spooks - Series 4 - Complete [2002] (buy now)

A gripping British antidote to the counter-terrorism related drama that's coming from the US, Spooks' secret agents are back on superb form in this enthralling fourth season. The DVD set features all ten episodes, and there's an immense amount to enjoy.

For those new to Spooks, it's a drama that's packed with twists and turns, clever characterisation, conspiracies and a generous dollop of intrigue. The Spooks of the title are counter-terrorism spies, living in a constant world of danger, and some of the edgy plotlines of this and the seasons that preceded it are testament to that.

After the minor criticisms levelled at season three, this fourth series jumps back into action, and while you won't find spoilers here, it quickly exceeds expectations. So when the credits roll at the end of the superb final episode, there are few who won't be checking out a release date for the fifth series.

Inevitable comparisons to 24 ensue, but the beauty of Spooks is that it has enough verve and enough ideas to carve out a niche all of its own. It's an excellent piece of British television drama, and while its tough approach won't engage with all, the majority are likely to find themselves hooked. And quickly. --Jon Foster

Price: £14.98

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The Sopranos : Complete HBO Season 3 [1999] (buy now)

The Sopranos is more than just a suburban Godfather, it's a modern-day I, Claudius with all the consanguineous conflict of the Caesars translated to New Jersey. At the beginning of the third series--just as brilliant and compelling as the first two--the Soprano clan are under close surveillance from the FBI; but, as ever, that's the least of their problems. Anthony Jnr is getting into trouble at school, Meadow's romantic liaisons at college are a cause of friction, Carmela is having a crisis of conscience and Tony trades one dangerously neurotic mistress for another. Livia's death does nothing to help Tony's psychological problems, and his relationship with therapist Dr Melfi is increasingly strained, especially after she undergoes a shocking ordeal of her own.

There's tension in Tony's other "family", too, as Christopher finally gets made but then chafes at the extra responsibility, much to Paulie's disgust. In one magnificent episode (directed by Steve Buscemi) the two become stranded in the snow-filled woods overnight where all their mutual resentment boils over even as they both freeze. But Tony's real problems emerge from the Aprile family: Jackie Jnr is becoming a dangerous loose cannon, actively encouraged by his borderline psychotic stepfather Ralphie (a marvellous Joe Pantoliano), whose erratic behaviour threatens to ignite a deadly feud ("He disrespected the Bing", says Tony after punching him). When Jackie Jnr and Meadow become an item, both of Tony's dysfunctional families collide with devastating consequences.

On the DVD: The Sopranos, Series 3 arrives in a neat fold-out four-disc set, with four episodes on a double-sided first disc and three each on the remainder. The contents are an improvement on previous releases, with three separate episode commentaries, which are all informative and worthwhile: costar and sometime writer Michael Imperioli (Christopher) talks us through his own script for "The Telltale Moozadell"; Steve Buscemi appears on his directorial effort, "Pine Barrens"; and series creator David Chase chooses the penultimate episode, "Amour Fou". In addition there's a tiny three-minute backstage featurette. Picture and sound are up to par as ever. --Mark Walker

Price: £24.97

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Leon [1995] (buy now)

Luc Besson (The Fifth Element) made his American directorial debut with Leon, a stylised thriller about a French hit man (Jean Reno) who takes in an American girl (Natalie Portman) being pursued by a corrupt killer cop (Gary Oldman). Oldman is a little more unhinged than he should be, but there is something genuinely irresistible about the story line and the relationship between Reno and Portman. Rather than cave in to the cookie-cutter look and feel of American action pictures, Besson brings a bit of his glossy style from French hits La Femme Nikita and Subway to the production of The Professional, and the results are refreshing even if the bullets and explosions are awfully familiar.--Tom Keogh

Price: £5.97

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The Sopranos : Complete HBO Season 2 [1999] (buy now)

The second series of The Sopranos, David Chase's ultra-cool and ultra-modern take on New Jersey gangster life, matches the brilliance of the first, although it's marginally less violent, with more emphasis given to the stories and obsessions of supporting characters. Sadly, the programme-makers were forced to throttle back on the appalling struggle between gang boss Tony Soprano and his Gorgon-like Mother Livia, the very stuff of Greek theatre, following actress Nancy Marchand's unsuccessful battle against cancer. Taking up her slack, however, is Tony's big sister Janice, a New Age victim and arrant schemer and sponger, who takes up with the twitchy, Scarface-wannabe Richie Aprile, brother of former boss Jackie, out of prison and a minor pain in Tony's ass.

Other running sub-plots include the hapless efforts by Chris (Michael Imperioli) to sell his real-life Mafia story to Hollywood, the return and treachery of Big Pussy and Tony's wife Carmela's ruthlessness in placing daughter Meadow in the right college. Even with the action so dispersed, however, James Gandofini is still toweringly dominant as Tony. The genius of his performance, and of the programme-makers, is that, despite Tony being a whoring, unscrupulous, sexist boor, a crime boss and a murderer, we somehow end up feeling and rooting for him, because he's also a family man with a bratty brood to feed, who's getting his balls busted on all sides, to say nothing of keeping the government off his back. He's the kind of crime boss we'd like to feel we would be. Tony's decent Italian-American therapist Dr Melfi's (Loraine Bracco) perverse attraction with her gangster-patient reflects our own and, in her case, causes her to lose her first series cool and turn to drink this time around.

Effortlessly multi-dimensional, funny and frightening, and devoid of the sentimentality that afflicts even great American TV like The West Wing, The Sopranos is boss of bosses in its televisual era. --David Stubbs

Price: £23.97

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Snatch - Two Disc Set [2000] (buy now)

Snatch, the follow-up to the Guy Ritchie's breakthrough film--the high-energy, expletive-strewn cockney-gangster movie Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels--hardly breaks new ground being, well, another high-energy, expletive-strewn cockney-gangster movie. Okay, so there are some differences. This time around our low-rent hoodlums are battling over dodgy fights and stolen diamonds rather than dodgy card games and stolen drugs. There has been some minor reshuffling of the cast too with Sting and Dexter Fletcher making way for the more bankable Benicio Del Toro and Brad Pitt, the latter pretty much stealing the whole shebang as an incomprehensible Irish gypsy.

Moreover, no one can complain about the amount of extras featured on this DVD that includes 15 minutes of deleted scenes, a making-of documentary, trailer, storyboards, production notes and commentary from Ritchie himself. And, sure, people who really, really liked Lock, Stock--or have the memory of a goldfish--will really, really like this. The suspicion lingers, however, that if the director doesn't do something very different next time around then his career may prove to be considerably shorter than that of 'er indoors. --Clark Collis

Price: £5.97

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Alias - Complete Season 5 [2002] (buy now)

Price: £27.98

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The Name Of The Rose [1987] (buy now)

Jean-Jacques Annaud's The Name of the Rose is a flawed attempt to adapt Umberto Eco's highly convoluted medieval bestseller for the screen, necessarily excising much of the esoterica that made the book so compelling. Still, what's left is a riveting whodunit set in a grimly and grimily realistic 14th-century Benedictine monastery populated by a parade of grotesque characters, all of whom spend their time lurking in dark places or scuttling, half-unseen, in the omnipresent gloom. A series of mysterious and gruesome deaths are somehow tied up with the unwelcome attention of the Inquisition, sent to root out suspected heretical behavior among the monastic scribes whose lives are dedicated to transcribing ancient manuscripts for their famous library, access to which is prevented by an ingenious maze-like layout.

Enter Sean Connery as investigator-monk William of Baskerville (the Sherlock Holmes connection made explicit in his name) and his naive young assistant Adso (a youthful Christian Slater). The Grand Inquisitor Bernado Gui (F. Murray Abraham) suspects devilry; but William and Adso, using Holmesian forensic techniques, uncover a much more human cause: the secrets of the library are being protected at a terrible cost. A fine international cast and the splendidly evocative location compensate for a screenplay that struggles to present Eco's multifaceted story even partially intact; Annaud's idiosyncratic direction complements the sinister, unsettling aura of the tale ideally. --Mark Walker

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The Da Vinci Code [2006] (buy now)

Critics and controversy aside, The Da Vinci Code is a verifiable blockbuster. Combine the film's huge worldwide box-office take with over 100 million copies of Dan Brown's book sold, and The Da Vinci Code has clearly made the leap from pop-culture hit to a certifiable franchise (games and action figures are sure to follow). The leap for any story making the move from book to big screen, however, is always more perilous. In the case of The Da Vinci Code, the story is concocted of such a preposterous formula of elements that you wouldn't envy Akiva Goldsman, the screenwriter who was handed a potentially unfilmable book and asked to make a filmable script out of it. Goldsman's solution was to have the screenplay follow the book as closely as possible, with a few needed changes, including a better ending. The result is a film that actually makes slightly better entertainment than the book.

So if you're like most of the world, by now you've read the book and know that it starts out as a murder mystery. While lecturing in Paris, noted Harvard Professor of Symbology Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is summoned to the Louvre by French police help decipher a bizarre series of clues left at the scene of the murder of the chief curator, Jacques Sauniere. Enter Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), gifted cryptologist and Sauniere's granddaughter. Neveu and Langdon are forced to team up to solve the mystery, and from there the story is propelled across Europe as it balloons into a modern-day mini-quest for the Holy Grail, complete with alternative theories about the life of Christ, ancient secret societies headed by historical figures like Leonardo Da Vinci, secret codes, conniving bishops, daring escapes, car chases, and, of course, a murderous albino monk controlled by a secret master who calls himself "The Teacher."

Taken solely as a mystery thriller, the movie almost works--despite some gaping holes--mostly just because it keeps moving forward at the breakneck pace set in the book. Brown's greatest trick might have been to have the entire story take place in a day so that the action is forced to keep going, despite some necessary pauses for exposition. Hanks and Tautou are just fine together but not exactly a memorable screen pair; meanwhile, Sir Ian McKellen's scenery-chewing as pivotal character Sir Leigh Teabing is just what the film needs to keep it from taking itself too seriously. In the end, this hit movie is just like a good roller-coaster ride: try not to think too much about it--just sit back and enjoy the trip. --Daniel Vancini, Amazon.com

Price: £6.98

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North By Northwest [1959] (buy now)

A strong candidate for possibly the most entertaining and enjoyable film ever made by a Hollywood studio, North by Northwest is positioned between the much heavier and more profoundly disturbing Vertigo (1958) and the stark horror of Psycho (1960). In the corpus of Alfred Hitchcock films it shows the director at his most effervescent in a romantic comedy-thriller that also features one of the definitive Cary Grant performances. Which is not to say that this is just "Hitchcock Lite". It's a classic Hitchcock Wrong Man scenario: Grant is Roger O Thornhill (initials ROT), an advertising executive who is mistaken by enemy spies for a US undercover agent named George Kaplan. Convinced these sinister fellows (James Mason as the boss and Martin Landau as his henchman) are trying to kill him, Roger flees and meets a sexy Stranger on a Train (Eva Marie Saint), with whom he engages in one of the longest, most convolutedly choreographed kisses in screen history. And of course there are the famous set pieces: the stabbing at the United Nations, the crop-duster plane attack in the cornfield (where a pedestrian has no place to hide) and the cliffhanger finale atop the stone faces of Mount Rushmore. With its sparkling Ernest Lehman script and that pulse-quickening Bernard Herrmann score, what more could a filmgoer possibly desire? --Jim Emerson, Amazon.com

On the DVD: This wide-screen print of the movie looks remarkably fresh, preserving the vivid depth of the original's VistaVision cinematography. The main extra feature is a new and entertaining 40-minute documentary hosted by Eva Marie Saint in which most of the surviving cast and crew give their insights into the making of the picture (we learn for example that canny Cary Grant charged 15 cents per autograph). Screenwriter Ernest Lehman provides an audio commentary and on a separate audio-only track Bernard Herrmann's masterful score can be heard in its entirety. There's also a stills gallery and trailers. --Mark Walker

Price: £8.98

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