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Category: DVD Best-sellers

Life On Mars : Complete BBC Series 1 [2006] (buy now)

How would the modern face of policing cope in the land of The Sweeney? That's the question posed by Life on Mars, as DI Sam Tyler (John Simm) a modern cop transported back to 1973 after a nasty car accident. There, he finds himself dealing with the significantly rougher attitudes and behaviours of "old-school" British policing, as exemplified by his new boss, DCI Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister). It's a fish-out-of-water story, as Tyler attempts to teach his new colleagues some very modern methods, while attempting to get used to sheepskin jackets, wide lapels and man-made fibres.

This first series of the hugely successful BBC programme sets the scene and introduces the characters that make up Tyler's new world, but stumbles a bit by trying too hard to explain exactly how he got there (the "coma" subplot just gets in the way). Life on Mars is at its best when Glenister is on screen--he's bigoted, chauvinistic and aggressive, and goes through each episode alternately bellowing or scowling. But he's a product of his times, and in his heart, all he wants is to catch the bad guys. For Tyler, it's all about the means, while for Hunt it's all about the ends. They may not like each other much, but their on-screen chemistry is undeniable, and just one of the things that make this excellent series so watchable. --Ted Kord

Price: £14.98

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Little Miss Sunshine [2006] (buy now)

Pile together a blue-ribbon cast, a screenplay high in quirkiness, and the Sundance stamp of approval, and you've got yourself a crossover indie hit. That formula worked for Little Miss Sunshine, a frequently hilarious study of family dysfunction. Meet the Hoovers, an Albuquerque clan riddled with depression, hostility, and the tattered remnants of the American Dream; despite their flakiness, they manage to pile into a VW van for a weekend trek to L.A. in order to get moppet daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin) into the Little Miss Sunshine beauty pageant. Much of the pleasure of this journey comes from watching some skillful comic actors doing their thing: Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette as the parents (he's hoping to become a self-help authority), Alan Arkin as a grandfather all too willing to give uproariously inappropriate advice to a sullen teenage grandson (Paul Dano), and a subdued Steve Carell as a jilted gay professor on the verge of suicide. The film is a crowd-pleaser, and if anything is a little too eager to bend itself in the direction of quirk-loving Sundance audiences; it can feel forced. But the breezy momentum and the ingenious actors help push the material over any bumps in the road. -- Robert Horton

Price: £5.98

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Pirates Of The Caribbean : Dead Man's Chest (2 Disc Special Edition) [2006] (buy now)

Take the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, add a dash of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and a lot more rum. Shake well and you'll have something resembling Dead Man's Chest, a bombastic sequel that's enjoyable as long as you don't think too hard about it. The film opens with the interrupted wedding of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley), both of whom are arrested for aiding in the escape of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) in the first film. Their freedom can only be obtained by getting Captain Jack's compass, which is linked to a key that's linked to a chest belonging to Davy Jones, an undead pirate with a tentacle face and in possession of a lot of people's souls. If you're already confused, don't worry--plot is definitely not the strong suit of the franchise, as the film excels during its stunt pieces, which are impressively extravagant (in particular a three-way swordfight atop a mill wheel). It may help to know that Dead Man's Chest was filmed simultaneously with some of Pirates 3, so don't expect a complete resolution (think more The Empire Strikes Back) or the movie will feel a lot longer than it really is. Bloom shows a tad bit more brawn this time around, but he's still every bit as pretty as the tomboyish Knightley. (Seriously, sometimes you think they could swap roles.) Bill Nighy (Love, Actually) weighs in as Davy Jones and Stellan Skarsgård appears as Will's undead father. But the film still belongs wholly to Depp, who in a reprise of his Oscar-nominated role gets all the belly laughs with a single widened eyeliner-ed gaze. He still runs like a cartoon hen and slurs like Keith Richards--and he's still one of the most fascinating movie characters in recent history. --Ellen A. Kim

Price: £17.98

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Rome: The Complete HBO Season 1 (6 Disc Box Set) (buy now)

Family dysfunction. Treachery. Betrayal. Coarse profanity. Brutal violence. Graphic (and sometimes brutal) sex. No, it's not The Sopranos, it's Rome, HBO's madly ambitious series that bloodily splatters the glory of Rome just as savagely as Monty Python and the Holy Grail soiled the good name of Camelot (but with far fewer laughs; very few funny things happen on the way to this forum). Set in 52 B.C. (Before Cable), Rome charts the dramatic shifts in the balance of power between former friends Pompey Magnus (Kenneth Cranham), leader of the Senate, and Julius Caesar (Ciaran Hinds), whose imminent return after eight years to Rome after conquering the Gauls, has the ruling class up in arms. At the heart of Rome is the odd couple friendship between two soldiers who fortuitously become heroes of the people. Lucius Vorenus (Kevin McKidd) is married, honorable, and steadfast. Titus Pullo (Ray Stevenson) is an amoral rogue whose philosophy is best summed up, "I kill my enemies, take their gold, and enjoy their women". Among Rome's most compelling subplots is Lucius's strained relationship with his wife, Niobe (Indira Varma), who is surprised to see her husband alive (but not as surprised as he is to find her upon his homecoming with a newborn baby in her arms!) Any viewer befuddlement over Rome's intrigues and machinations, and determining who is hero and who is foe, disappears the minute Golden Globe-nominee Polly Walker appears as Atia, Caesar's formidable niece and a villainess for the ages. In the first hour alone, she offers her already married daughter as a bride to the recently widowed Pompey. One eagerly awaits to see what (or who) she'll do next as much as we anticipate her comeuppance in the final episode.

Rome is a painstakingly mounted production that earned eight well-deserved Emmy nominations in such categories as costumes, set design, and art direction. Michael Apted (Coal Miner's Daughter) was honored with a Director's Guild Award for the first episode, "The Stolen Eagle." But artistic considerations aside, instantly addicted viewers will agree with Atia, who notes at one point, "I adore the secrecy, the intrigue. It's most thrilling." --Donald Liebenson

Price: £24.97

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Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire [2005] (buy now)

Price: £5.47

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An Inconvenient Truth [2006] (buy now)

It's not a horror film, but An Inconvenient Truth is certainly one of the scariest DVDs you could own. Presented in a straightforward format by former US Vice President Al Gore--think Royal British Institute lecture delivered with a Tennessee drawl--it sets out its compelling argument about climate change both methodically and entertainingly. Global warming is a real danger, argues Gore, and human civilisation is the root cause of it. A dizzying and shocking array of facts relating to carbon emissions, the population explosion and the disintegration of the polar icecaps all add weight to his thesis. Moreover, we're already witnessing some of the effects of global warming around the world, with an increasing amount of storms, droughts and other natural disasters, more in the past few years. But Gore doesn't present these facts merely to terrify the viewer. Instead, they're meant to shock us out of complacency and into action. Indeed, the film ends with some very simple ways we can all contribute to averting this impending global catastrophe. And that, argues Gore, is the point of An Inconvenient Truth. We have the ability to change our ways, what we lack is what Gore describes as "the political will." It is his hope that this film will begin to change all of that. --Ted Kord

Price: £4.97

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Peep Show: Series 1-3 Box Set (buy now)

Price: £17.98

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Star Wars Trilogy (Episodes IV-VI) [1977] (buy now)

Four-disc set includes:

  • Episode IV, A New Hope (Special Edition)--with commentary by George Lucas, Ben Burtt, Dennis Muren and Carrie Fisher; Easter egg: credit roll (2 min)
  • Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back (Special Edition)--with commentary by George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Lawrence Kasdan, Ben Burtt, Dennis Muren and Carrie Fisher; Easter egg: credit roll (2 min)
  • Episode VI, Return of the Jedi (Special Edition)--commentary by George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan, Ben Burtt, Dennis Muren and Carrie Fisher; Easter egg: credit roll (2 min)
  • Bonus disc: all-new bonus features, including the most comprehensive feature-length documentary ever produced on the Star Wars saga, and never-before-seen footage from the making of all three films
Subitles (all material across all four discs): English, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish

Click here to see detailed information on the special features included on the bonus disc.

Amazon.co.uk Review

George Lucas's original Star Wars trilogy is a clever synthesis of pop-cultural and mythological references, taking classic fairy-tale themes, adding more than a dash of Arthurian legend, and providing cinematic high adventure inspired as much by Kurosawa's Samurai epics as by Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. As a result, audiences of all ages can find something to identify with in Luke Skywalker's journey from disaffected teenager dreaming of adventure to Jedi Knight and saviour of the galaxy. He not only rescues a Princess, but discovers she's a close relative. And if there's a lesson to be gleaned from the Skywalker clan, it's that no matter how bad things get in the average dysfunctional family, it's never too late for reconciliation.

Originally released in 1977, Star Wars, the first film, was made as a standalone. Perhaps that's why Obi-Wan Kenobi seems a tad inconsistent in his attitude towards his old pupil Anakin Skywalker, and perhaps also why Luke is allowed to develop a guilt-free crush on Princess Leia. Lucas's story, told from the point of view of the two bickering droids (a device taken from Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress), also borrows freely from Errol Flynn's Robin Hood, as does John Williams's seminal Korngold-inspired music score.

Thanks in equal part to Leigh Brackett's screenplay and Irvin Kershner's direction The Empire Strikes Back (1980) is the most grown-up instalment in the series. The basic fairy-tale is developed and expanded, with the principal characters experiencing emotional turmoil--blossoming romance, mixed feelings and confused loyalties--amid a very real threat of annihilation as Darth Vader's motivations become chillingly personal. Luke's quasi-Arthurian destiny is complicated still further by the half-truths of his wizardly mentors; and swashbuckler Han Solo finds the past catching up with him, quite literally in the form of bounty hunter Boba Fett. The film is graced by more fabulous landscapes (ice, forest, clouds), more unforgettable new characters (Yoda), more groundbreaking special effects (the asteroid chase), and John Williams's finest score.

The difficult third film, 1983's Return of the Jedi, seems schizophrenic in its intentions, hoping to please both the kiddies who bought all the toys and an older audience who appreciated the narrative's epic and mythological strands. The result is a film that splits awkwardly into two. One thread, which might be subtitled "The Redemption of Anakin Skywalker", pursues the story of the Skywalker family to a cathartic conclusion. The other thread, which might be described as "The Care Bears Go to War", attempts to say something profound about primitivism versus technological sophistication, but just gets silly as furry midgets doing Tarzan whoops defeat the Emperor's crack legions.

In 1997 Lucas re-released the three original films in digitally remastered "Special Edition" versions, in which many scenes have been restored and enhanced (some would say "unnecessarily tinkered with"). Despite loud and continued criticisms from fans, these Special Editions are now considered definitive, if only by Lucasfilm. --Mark Walker

Price: £13.97

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Superman: The Movie (4 Disc Special Edition) [1978] (buy now)

Price: £4.97

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Happy Feet [2006] (buy now)

For anyone who thought the Oscar-winning documentary March of the Penguins was the most marvelous cinematic moment for these nomads of the south, you haven't seen nothing yet. Here's an animated wonder about a penguin named Mumble who can't sing, but can dance up a storm. George Miller, the driving force behind the Babe (and Mad Max) movies, takes another creative step in family entertainment with this big, beautiful, music-fueled film that will have kids and their parents dancing in the streets. From his first moment alive, Mumble (voiced by Elijah Woods) feels the beat and can't stop dancing. Unfortunatly, emperor penguins are all about finding their own heart song, and dancing youngster--as cute as he is--is a misfit. Luckily, he bumps into little blue penguins, a Spanish-infused group (led by Robin Williams) and begins a series of adventures. Miller has an exceptional variety of entertainment, Busby Berkley musical numbers, amusement park thrills, exciting chase sequences (seals and orca lovers might like think otherwise), and even an environmental message that doesn't weigh you down. Best of all, you don't know where the movie is going in the last act, a rare occurrence these days in family entertainment. A fusion of rock songs, mashed up and otherwise are featured; this movie is as much a musical as a comedy. Mumble's solo dance to a new version of Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" by Fantasia, Patti and Yolanda may be the most joyful moment on camera in 2006. --Doug Thomas

Price: £5.97

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The Prestige [2006] (buy now)

The Prestige attempts a hat trick by combining a ridiculously good-looking cast, a highly regarded new director, and more than one sleight of hand. Does it pull it off? Sort of. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman play rival magicians who were once friends before an on-stage tragedy drove a wedge between them. While Bale's Alfred Borden is a more skilled illusionist, Jackman's Rufus Angier is the better showman; much of the film's interesting first half is their attempts to sabotage--and simultaneously, top--each other's tricks. Even with the help of a prop inventor (Michael Caine) and a comely assistant (Scarlett Johansson), Angier can't match Borden's ultimate illusion: The Transporting Man. Angier's obsession with learning Borden's trick leads him to an encounter with an eccentric inventor (David Bowie) in a second half that gets bogged down in plot loops and theatrics. Director Christopher Nolan, reuniting with his Batman Begins star Bale, demonstrates the same dark touch that hued that film, but some plot elements--without giving anything away--seem out of place with the rest of the movie. It's better to sit back and let the sometimes-clunky turns steer themselves than try to draw back the black curtain. That said, The Prestige still manages to entertain long after the magician has left the stage--a feat in itself. --Ellen A. Kim

Price: £5.97

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Goodbye Lenin! [2002] (buy now)

Contemporary comedies rarely stretch themselves beyond a bickering romantic couple or a bickering couple and a bucket of bodily fluids, which makes the ambition and intelligence of Goodbye, Lenin! not simply entertaining but downright refreshing. The movie starts in East Germany before the fall of communism; our hero, Alex (Daniel Bruhl), describes how his mother (Katrin Sass), a true believer in the communist cause, has a heart attack when she sees him being clubbed by police at a protest. She falls into a coma for eight months--during which the Berlin Wall comes down. When she awakens, her fragile health must avoid any shocks, so Alex creates an illusive reality around his bedridden mother to convince her that communism is still alive. Goodbye, Lenin! delicately balances wry satire with its rich investment in the lives of Alex, his mother, and other characters around them.

On the DVD: Though the DVD extras for Goodbye Lenin! include a detailed featurette on the digital effects used in the movie (particularly intriguing because they had to be completely invisible--many viewers won't realize there were digital effects until they see this featurette) and a convivial cast commentary (in German with English subtitles) with Daniel Bruhl, Katrin Sass, and Alexander Beyer, the star of the DVD is director Wolfgang Becker himself. Not only is his commentary rich with historical information and thoughtful notes about the making of the movie, for the deleted scenes (including two lovely scenes that expand on the relationship between Alex and his girlfriend Lara) he and Tom Tykwer (director of Run Lola Run and part of the X Filme collective that produced Goodbye Lenin!) have an insightful conversation about the editing process, storytelling, and the essence of watching a movie. Utterly fascinating, and invaluable to any aspiring filmmaker. --Bret Fetzer

Price: £2.97

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Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban [2004] (buy now)

Adapted from JK Rowling's third novel, this installment of the family fantasy adventure story finds trainee wizard Harry Potter (played by Daniel Radcliffe) and his best friends Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint), facing the dangerous convict Sirius Black (played by Gary Oldman). Black has escaped from Azkaban Prison and is on his way to Hogwarts, so the school calls in supernatural assistance in the form of Dementors -- but will they turn out to be a great help or a further threat?

The first of the Harry Potter films to be directed by acclaimed Mexican film director Alfonso Cuarón, Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban is generally regarded as the most stylised and darkest entry in the series thus far. It stars the actors from the preceding films in the series, except for the role of Albus Dumbledore, which sees Michael Gambon take over from the late Richard Harris. Much of the original crew also returned, including screenwriter Steve Kloves.

The film broke several opening records around the world upon its release, including the top opening film in UK film history, and made approximately £20m in its first three days, totaling £90.3m in ten days.

Price: £5.47

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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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Betty Blue (Subtitled) (DVD) [1986] (buy now)

Sex and sunlight are on ample display in Betty Blue, director Jean-Jacques Beineix's passionate look at mad love. (Every French director is contractually required to make at least one movie about l'amour fou.)

It begins at the seashore, where handyman and failed novelist Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade) has his life electrified by Betty, a woman whose sense of abandon frequently tips over into the pathological. This was the role that introduced gap-toothed, voluptuous Beatrice Dalle to the world, and neither Dalle nor the world has ever quite recovered. Traces of Beineix's precious Diva are still present, though this is a darker and more memorable ride, especially in the three-hour "version integrale" that restores an hour of footage. Its copious nude scenes are a drawing card, but stick around for the age-old alchemy of life translated into art. Gabriel Yared's score is a favourite of movie-soundtrack mavens, especially its haunting piano theme.-- Robert Horton

Price: £4.97

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House - Season 1 (Hugh Laurie) (buy now)

He pops pills, watches soaps, and always, always says what's on his mind. He's Dr. Gregory House (Emmy nominee Hugh Laurie, Blackadder). Producers David Shore, Bryan Singer, Katie Jacobs, and Paul Attanasio haven't rewritten the hospital drama, but they've infused a moribund genre with new life and created one of TV's most compelling characters.

More than any previous medical procedural, it resembles Attanasio's underrated Gideon's Crossing, but House is lighter on its feet. As fascinating as he is, the show wouldn't work as well if it were all House all the time (that would be like Sherlock Holmes without Watson or Moriarty). Fortunately, he's joined by an intriguing cast of characters, portrayed by a combination of experienced vets (Omar Epps, Lisa Edelstein, Tony winner Robert Sean Leonard) and new faces (Jennifer Morrison, Jesse Spencer). Aside from the complicated cases they tackle each week, the sparks really fly when House's brilliant, if naïve charges are put to the test--and as the head of a teaching hospital, it's his job to test them (although his tough love approach is constantly landing him in hot water with Edelstein's administrator).

From the first episode, House attracted a talented array of guests, including Robin Tunney ("Pilot"), Joe Morton ("Role Model"), and Patrick Bauchau ("Cursed") as Spencer's father. In addition, Chi McBride and Sela Ward appear frequently (with Ward returning for the second season). Viewers who first watched these 22 episodes will be gratified to note that the music has survived the transition to disc, such as the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want," as featured in both the pilot and season finale ("Honeymoon"). The only apparent omission is the credit theme (Massive Attack's "Teardrop") from the pilot. --Kathleen C. Fennessy

Price: £24.98

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Die Hard Trilogy (6 Disc Collector's Edition) [1988] (buy now)

Price: £12.97

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Spaced - Definitive Collectors' Edition (buy now)

Spaced is a sitcom like no other. The premise is simple enough: Daisy (Jessica Stevenson) and Tim (Simon Pegg) are out of luck and love, so pretend to be a couple in order to rent a flat together. Downstairs neighbour and eccentric painter Brian suspects someone's fibbing, and almost blows their cover with their lecherous lush of a landlady, Marsha. Fortunately he soon falls for Daisy's health-freak friend Twist, while Daisy herself goes ga-ga for pet dog Colin. Tim remains happily platonic with lifemate Mike; a sweet-at-heart guns 'n' ammo obsessive. The series is chock-full of pop culture references. In fact, each episode is themed after at least one movie, with nods to The Shining and Close Encounters of the Third Kind proving especially hilarious. Hardly five minutes goes by without a Star Wars reference, and every second of screen time from Bill Bailey as owner of the comic shop where Tim works is comedic gold. The look of the series is its other outstanding element, with slam-zooms, dizzying montages, and inspired lighting effects (often paying homage to the Evil Dead movies). It's an affectionate fantasy on the life of the twenty-something that's uncomfortably close to the truth.

The second series finds the gang at 23 Meteor Street a little older, but definitely none the wiser. Tim's career is hampered by severe hang-ups over The Phantom Menace. Daisy's career is just plain non-existent. There is still a spark of sexual tension between them, but it's overshadowed by Brian and Twist getting it on. Propelling the seven-episode series arc is the threat of Marsha discovering that none of the relationships are what they seem, Mike's increasing jealousy and a new love interest for Tim. That's the basis for a never-ending stream of in-jokes and references that easily match the quality of the first series. Tim has a Return of the Jedi flashback, then déjà vu in reliving the end of The Empire Strikes Back. There are spoofs of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Robocop, The Sixth Sense and comedy rival The Royle Family. There are guest spots from Bill Bailey, Peter (voice of Darth Maul) Serafinowicz and The League of Gentlemen's Mark Gatiss and Reece Shearsmith. Every episode is packed with highlights, but this series' guaranteed geek pant-wetting moments have to be the mock gun battles, slagging off Babylon 5 and learning that "The second rule of Robot Club is: no smoking." Jessica Stevenson won a British Comedy Award for this year. It deserved a whole lot more. --Paul Tonks

On the DVD: This three-disc collector's edition contains all the extras from the previous DVD releases, plus a host of brand new features including music promos, cast interviews, and an in-depth and specially filmed documentary featuring interviews with cast members including Simon Pegg, Jessica Stevenson, Nick Frost, cameo actors (Bill Bailey, David Walliams, Mark Gatiss, Reece Shearsmith) and journalists. It also includes a tour made by Simon, Jessica and Edgar of different show locations with clips of archive footage from the very first programmes Simon and Jess appeared in together.

Price: £14.98

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Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone [2001] (buy now)

As the first Harry Potter film of the celebrated series, this is a must for ardent fans and newcomers to the global fantasy phenomenon. An adaptation of J. K. Rowling's enchanting, funny debut novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (known as the Sorcerer's Stone in the US), it's our first big-screen encounter with the series' well-loved characters and the goings-on at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

We meet orphan Harry Potter (played by a young Daniel Radcliffe) while he's as yet unaware of his magical powers and is living a miserable existence with his horrible Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia. A mysterious letter arrives, delivered by the friendly giant Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane in fine acting form), inviting Harry to study at the exclusive Hogwarts School and he soon discovers his true heritage as the son of a wizard and a witch. He's also gained widespread notoriety, being the only survivor of an attack by the evil wizard Voldemort that killed both his parents. The film explores Harry's growing realisation that there are two worlds: the non-magical world of humans, called "Muggles", in which he used to reside and the magical fantasy world of wizardry that is his destiny.

The greatest strength of the film comes from its faithfulness to the novel, and this new cinematic world is filled with all the details of Rowling's imagination, thanks to exuberant sets, elaborate costumes, clever makeup and visual effects, and a crème de la crème cast, including Maggie Smith, Richard Harris, Alan Rickman and more. Especially fine is the interplay between Harry and his new schoolmates Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) as they club together to fight the forces of evil. --Sally Giles

Price: £5.47

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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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10 Minute Solution - Pilates (buy now)

Price: £6.98

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Star Wars Episode 3 : Revenge of the Sith (2 Disc Edition) [2005] (buy now)

Ending the most popular film epic in history, Star Wars: Episode III, Revenge of the Sith is an exciting, uneven, but ultimately satisfying journey. Picking up the action from Episode II, Attack of the Clones as well as the animated Clone Wars series, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and his apprentice, Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen), pursue General Grievous into space after the droid has kidnapped Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). It's just the latest manoeuvre in the on-going Clone Wars between the Republic and the Separatist forces led by former Jedi turned Sith Lord Count Dooku (Christopher Lee). On another front, Master Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) leads the Republic's clone troops against a droid attack on the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk. All this is in the first half of Episode III, which feels a lot like Episodes I and II. That means spectacular scenery, dazzling dogfights in space, a new fearsome villain (the CGI-created Grievous can't match up to either Darth Maul or the original Darth Vader, though), lightsaber duels, groan-worthy romantic dialogue, goofy humor (but at least it's left to the droids instead of Jar-Jar Binks), and hordes of faceless clone troopers fighting hordes of faceless battle droids.

But then it all changes.

After setting up characters and situations for the first two and a half movies, Episode III finally comes to life. The Sith Lord in hiding unleashes his long-simmering plot to take over the Republic, and an integral part of that plan is to turn Anakin away from the Jedi and toward the Dark Side of the Force. Unless you've been living under a rock the last 10 years, you know that Anakin will transform into the dreaded Darth Vader and face an ultimate showdown with his mentor, but that doesn't matter. In fact, a great part of the fun is knowing where things will wind up but finding out how they'll get there. The end of this prequel trilogy also should inspire fans to want to see the original movies again, but this time not out of frustration at the new ones. Rather, because Episode III is a beginning as well as an end, it will trigger fond memories as it ties up threads to the originals in tidy little ways. But best of all, it seems like for the first time we actually care about what happens and who it happens to.

Episode III is easily the best of the new trilogy--OK, so that's not saying much, but it might even jockey for third place among the six Star Wars films. It's also the first one to be rated PG-13 for the intense battles and darker plot. It was probably impossible to live up to the decades' worth of pent-up hype George Lucas faced for the Star Wars prequel trilogy (and he tried to lower it with the first two movies), but Episode III makes us once again glad to be "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away." --David Horiuchi, Amazon.com

Price: £4.98

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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets [2002] (buy now)

Price: £5.47

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Shaun Of The Dead [2004] (buy now)

It's no disparagement to describe Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright's zombie-rom-com Shaun of the Dead as playing like an extended episode of Spaced. Not only does the movie have the rather modest scope of a TV production, it also boasts the snappy editing, smart camera moves, and deliciously post-modern dialogue familiar from the sitcom, as well as using many of the same cast: Pegg's Shaun and Nick Frost's Ed are doppelgangers of their Spaced characters, while Jessica Stevenson and Peter Serafinowicz appear in smaller roles. Unlike the TV series, it's less important for the audience to be in on the movie in-jokes, though it won't hurt if you know George Romero's famous Dawn of the Dead trilogy, which is liberally plundered for zombie behaviour and mythology.

Shaun is a loser, stuck in a dead-end job and held back by his slacker pal Ed. Girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) is exasperated by his lack of ambition and unceremoniously dumps him. As a result, Shaun misses out on what is apparently the end of the world. In a series of beautifully choreographed and edited scenes, including hilarious tracking shots to and from the local shop, he spectacularly fails to notice the death toll and subsequent zombie plague. Only when one appears in their back garden do Shaun and Ed take notice, hurling sundry kitchen appliances at the undead before breaking out the cricket bat. The catastrophe proves to be the catalyst for Shaun to take charge of his life, sort out his relations with his dotty mum (Penelope Wilton) and distant stepdad (Bill Nighy), and fight to win back his ex-girlfriend. Lucy Davis from The Office and Dylan Moran of Black Books fame head the excellent supporting cast. --Mark Walker

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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

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Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones [2002] (buy now)

The most densely plotted instalment of the saga so far, Attack of the Clones is a tale of both Machiavellian political drama and doomed romance; it's epic war film and silly comic-book fantasy combined, as teenage Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christensen) chafes at the restrictions imposed by his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) and falls in love with Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman). Renegade Jedi Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) is leading a breakaway federation of disgruntled systems; while the insidious influence of Darth Sidious is felt rather than seen as his invisible hand guides apparently unrelated events, from Jar Jar's unwitting instigation of a disastrous Senate decision to bounty hunter Jango Fett's revelatory role at the centre of the conspiracy.

Along the way the story has fun with the conventions of Chandleresque detective fiction as Obi-Wan explores the seedier side of Coruscant, and incorporates the noble warrior ethos of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in its portrayal of the Jedi order. The portentous tone is lightened by tongue-in-cheek self-referential dialogue and the antics of robotic clowns R2D2 and C3PO. (One niggle for music fans, though, is the cavalier cut-and-paste approach to John Williams's music score.) Like the Empire Strikes Back, Clones is the bridging film of the trilogy and thus ends on an equivocally bittersweet note.

On the DVD: Attack of the Clones is an all-digital film, and so looks suitably superb in this anamorphic widescreen transfer, accompanied by a THX encoded Dolby 5.1 soundtrack. Anyone who owns The Phantom Menace two-disc set will know what to expect from the special features: here's another group commentary led by George Lucas, two lengthy documentaries on the digital effects ("From Puppets to Pixels" and "The Previsualisation of Episode II") plus several other featurettes and Web documentaries, notably "Films Are Not Released, They Escape", a look at the sound design. There's also a fun trailer for the R2-D2 mockumentary "Beneath the Dome", trailers, photo galleries and more to satisfy any Star Wars fan. --Mark Walker

Price: £6.97

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House - Season 2 (Hugh Laurie) (buy now)

Price: £24.98

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Pirates Of The Caribbean - The Curse Of The Black Pearl - 1 disc [2003] (buy now)

The movie that helped breathe new life into the summer blockbuster, the success of Pirates Of The Caribbean: Curse Of The Black Pearl is remarkable for several reasons.

Firstly, there's the unlikely source material. There's no previous history of theme park rides inspiring major hit movies, yet that's just what's happened here. Secondly, there's the patchy performance of pirate-related movies over the years (does anyone remember seeing Cutthroat Island in a cinema?). And then there's that performance from Johnny Depp, the one that had Disney executives in a flap prior to the release of the movie. His Captain Jack Sparrow is a fantastic, unlikely creation, proving to be both unpredictable yet utterly compelling. Such is his impact on the film that it's hardly surprising Depp snared an Oscar nomination for the role.

Yet Depp's performance shouldn't blind anyone to the film's many other qualities. The supporting cast, particularly the likes of Geoffrey Rush, Jack Davenport and Jonathan Pryce are all clearly having a whale of a time, while Gore Verbinski's pacey yet controlled direction rarely lets the momentum slow. And with all their work grounded by a quality script and worthwhile story, the end result is a film that clicks in many, many different ways.

Of course, it's now proved the inspiration for a pair of sequels, yet no matter how they turn out, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Curse Of The Black Pearl will always stand as a quite brilliant example of what happens on those rare occasions when Hollywood blockbusters get it absolutely right. And it's a treat that can easily be enjoyed time after time.--Simon Brew

Price: £8.97

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Grey's Anatomy - Series 1 [2005] (buy now)

Just when you wanted to say "Oh no, not another hospital drama," Grey's Anatomy turns into one of the most addicting series on television. With no big stars and no hype, the ABC series debuted last spring as a mid-season replacement and became a bonafide smash in its nine-episode season.

The series, a hybrid of House's medical detectives and Dawson's Creek's hormones and catchy pop-rock soundtrack, follows five competitive surgical interns at the fictional Seattle Grace Hospital. There's optimistic ex-model Izzie (Katherine Heigl), bumbling do-gooder George (T.R. Knight), competitive glacier Cristina (Sandra Oh), cocky womanizer Alex (Justin Chambers), and the show's namesake, Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), whose medical career is complicated by her famous surgeon mother who now lives with Alzheimer's, and her frowned-upon relationship with another surgeon, Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey, enjoying the best career revival since Rob Lowe). The doctors juggle romance and foster friendships while trying not to stab each other in the back over surgeries.

Grey's Anatomy's first season, while entertaining, went a little far trying to find its groove, overdosing on Meredith's overly simplistic voice-overs ("At the end of the day... faith is a funny thing"), and musical montages. It has the usual trappings of a hospital drama (unusual cases, such as the patient with the 70-pound tumor, and trysts in the on-call room), but with more warm fuzzies and light touches.

Pompeo, who can sound just like Renee Zellweger if you close your eyes, is likeable but not strong enough of a presence compared to her co-stars. Luckily the quirky dialogue and stellar acting by the ethnically diverse cast, particularly by Chandra Wilson (Dr. Bailey, aka "the Nazi") and Oh, who won a Golden Globe for best supporting actress, more than make up for it. --Ellen A. Kim

Price: £20.97

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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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