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DVD Video Reviews - June 2003 Pt. 3
Glengarry GlenRoss (1992)

Starring: Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alec Baldwin, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey
Studio: Artisan
Video: 2.35:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: DTS 5.1, DD 5.1, DD 2.0, French 2.0
Extras: Magic Time: A Tribute to Jack Lemmon, Production Notes, Crew and Cast Biographies, Clip Archive from The Actor’s Studio and The Charlie Rose Show, Bonus Audio Commentary (4), J. Roy: New and Used Furniture, ABC “Always Be Closing”
Length: 100 minutes
Rating: ****

Although salespeople are prevalent in society, movies that focus on careers are often made about men and women in other professions. In 1947, there was Death of Salesman, and in 1969, there was a documentary film made about Bible salesmen called Salesman. In 1987 we had Tin Men, but it wasn’t until the early ’90s that the stage play from 1983, Glengarry GlenRoss, eventually developed into the film that is considered by some to be one of the best films in the past twenty years. The plot of the film is rather simple. A group of salesmen attend a meeting where they are confronted by a guest speaker played by Alec Baldwin (in possibly one of his best performances). They are given an ultimatum: either they get their acts together and start making sales or they should look for new jobs. There is a new set of “leads” that he dangles in front of them, but those are reserved for the “closers.” They have two days, and the top salesman gets a car, the second best gets a set of steak knives, the others get the axe. We follow the individuals around as they try to make it happen. The following day someone burglarizes the office, takes the phones, the contracts, and the leads. This is just more fuel for the fire letting each salesman show his true character.

Sometimes having a cast full of stars in a film can be a disaster (e.g., The Paper), but other times it is magic. Every actor in this movie delivers a performance that is about as good as they come. Mamet has delivered enviable, superb dialogue that is almost nonexistent in movies today. Each personality is highly believable and powerful as represented in the film. In certain scenes, it is not clear whether to laugh or be shocked. The picture is about as noise free as they come and the music is excellent in its own right—mellow jazz with a somewhat ethereal feel. There are a lot of good DVD extras including interviews with key cast members, a video on salesmanship, a documentary film on a salesman, and other interviews/discussions with/about Jack Lemmon. A lot of effort was taken to make this film just right, and it has paid off in spades. This is a must-see film not only for salespeople, but also for anyone interested in good cinema.
Purchase Here

-Brian Bloom

Wind (1992)

Starring: Matthew Modine, Jennifer grey, Cliff Robertson, Stellan Skarsgard
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: DD 2.0
Extras: Trailers (Wind, Dogtown and Z-Boys, Vertical Limit)
Length: 126 minutes
Rating: *** 1/2

For viewers who have an interest in sailing, it is hard to resist the fast-paced action scenes on water in this film. A pit in your stomach is accompanied by exhilaration as the boats rise from the water and come crashing down while the crew hastily tries to maintain speed and stay out in front. Unlike some films that spend large amounts of screen time developing characters and telling complex stories, this film takes another tack (pun intended). Will Parker and Kate Bass try to make their romantic lives and careers mix, but the result is oil and water. The decision is made to go their separate ways, and while Will lives in the fast lane and is soon to be left unemployed, Kate is hiding out far away in the desert.

America has lost the biggest race on water to the Australians and it is up to Parker to get it back. This means building a boat like never before and finding the crew to man it. Unfortunately, a small thing called money stands in his way. A strategic allegiance with the daughter of the rich sponsor/owner of the previous boat opens up new oceans of opportunity. With his hands on the wheel, and her hands in the sponsor’s pockets, the race is back on. Leave it up to Kate to add the much-needed flavoring to the stew and the America’s Cup may just be in America’s hands once again. A little romance, a lot of thrilling sailing, and lots of testosterone add up to a fun film. Purchase Here

-Brian Bloom

Man Bites Dog (1992)

Starring: Benoit Poelvoorde, Remy Belvaux, Andre Bonzel
Studio: Criterion
Video: 1.66:1 Widescreen Enhanced B&W
Audio: French Mono
Extras: Video Interview with Filmmakers, No C4 for Daniel-Daniel short, Stills Gallery, Trailer, Essay About the Making of the Film
Length: 96 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

I was not prepared for this film. Documentary filmmakers follow Ben, a serial killer, around town as he continues with his work. To his friends and family, he is a good guy; intelligent and philosophical at times, cold and calculating at others. He doesn’t mind sharing a joke or being generous about some money he has stolen (e.g., taking the filmmakers out to nice dinner). Although the filmmakers try to remain distant and impartial, eventually they are forced to compromise their morals and engage in questionable acts of violence and rape, and even help the subject dispose of the bodies.

The film opens with one of the many scenes where our protagonist wrestles the life from an unsuspecting woman on a train. The scene changes and Ben is more than happy to explain his formulas for calculating the necessary weight to keep the body down at the bottom of a stream. To give a balanced view of Ben, the filmmakers make efforts to meet with both friends and family and get their opinions. They have a high opinion of him, although not all know exactly what it is he does for a living. Ben explains his motive for these routine killings—money and pleasure. He is more than amiable to share his philosophy of life, opinions on women and love, or even engage in some shenanigans. In a party setting, or in a bar, you might very well find this man an affable chap—a most lugubrious type dissecting his own actions with a fervent demeanor that is hard to reconcile with the horror he leaves behind. No one is safe from his indiscriminate killing: a construction worker, the mailman, an old woman, and even a child.

He’s quite a renaissance man; often propounding about architecture, art, social conditions, and the state of man. He even pauses in a heated pursuit to point out some pigeons and recite a short impromptu poem. He’s a very fine piano player. He takes his work seriously and employs a variety of techniques. When funding for the film is in question, he philanthropically offers to finance the film with the money he steals. The dangers of his chosen profession lead to a death of one of the film crew, but they decide to plod on. Tragedy will strike again, but not before more heinous acts are captured on camera. We wait until all this violence will catch up with Ben.

In some ways, the film reminded me of The Blair Witch Project and in other ways of A Clockwork Orange. The documentary on the documentary on the DVD sheds some light on the intentions of this film. Like I said, my first instincts were repulsion, but this soon gave way to a profound interest in how warped Ben was while still being able to maintain a seemingly casual relationship with many of his fellow men. It can’t be recommended for the light at heart, but this picture will fascinate others—although I cannot imagine anyone exclaiming that they “enjoyed it.” Purchase Here

-Brian Bloom

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

Directed by Terry Gilliam
Based on the book by Hunter S. Thompson
Starring: Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro
Studio: Universal
Video: 2.35:1 ratio, 16:9 widescreen enhanced
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby 2.0, DTS 5.1
Extras on movie disc: Three audio commentary tracks = Terry Gilliam, Depp and Del Toro, producer Laila Nabulsi and Hunter S. Thompson; Several deleted scenes with commentary by Gilliam; English subtitles;
Extras on Supplement disc: Documentary “Hunter Goes to Hollywood;” Feature-length 1978 BBC-TV documentary “Fear and Loathing on the Road to Hollywood” with Thompson and artist Ralph Steadman; Excerpt from Fear and Loathing audio CD; Original artwork by Steadman; Stills gallery; Storyboards and production designs; Hunter Thompson correspondence read on-camera by Johnny Depp; Details on controversy over the screenwriting credit; Theatrical trailer and TV spots; Materials on the inspiration for Dr. Gonzo; Booklet with essay by critic J. Hoberman and two pieces by Thompson
Length: for the basic movie, 119 min.
Rating: **** (depending...)

I put off viewing this one for some time even though my favorite film (Brazil) is also from Terry Gilliam. The subject didn’t interest me that much and I had read that some of it was pretty disgusting. Well, that part was correct (and explains the “depending...”). Based on the book based on the Rolling Stone articles by “gonzo” journalist Thompson, the story takes place in l971 in the midst of Vietnam War protests and Nixon and supposedly the completely irresponsible drugged-out activities of both protagonists are stimulated by the depressing reality of those war years. “Duke” (later morphed into Doonsbury’s cigarette-holder character) and his unhinged Samoan attorney are roaring towards Las Vegas stoned to their eyeballs on a suitcase full of various contraband drugs (with a little nest in the corner for a big bottle of tequila). Duke’s job is to cover a motorcycle race which ends up taking place in a cloud of dust in the desert where nothing can be seen anyway. Both fall into a very bad trip psychedelic odyssey which eventually results in the complete destruction of at least two Vegas hotel rooms. The second ruined room is during the pair’s quick return to Vegas, this time to cover a convention of drug enforcement sheriffs. While the speaker up front is describing the dire effects of reefer madness, Thompson is snorting coke in the audience and picking up pills that he has dropped on the floor. Somebody called Fear and Loathing “Cheech and Chong by Fellini.”

There are plenty of hilarious scenes in all the anarchy, mixed with the disgusting ones. (I was wrong to think it was just the last few years when movies felt they had to show in detail at least one character throwing up to be any good.) The special effects showing how the hotel clerks appear to the thoroughly tripped-out Thompson and how the patterns in the rug begin to undulate and crawl up his legs are great fun. When the typical Vegas habitues of the cocktail lounge suddenly turn into voracious lizards in suits and straplesses Thompson utters his classic observation “We’re in the middle of a f---ing reptile zoo! And somebody’s giving booze to these goddamn things!”

You may or may not enjoy expanding your own consciousness along with Thompson by watching not only the feature but the seemingly endless supplements that come with it on the second DVD. I didn’t make it to all of them but the BBC documentary did look interesting - though I find Steadman’s artwork even more disgusting than anything in Gilliam’s movie. Depp is wonderful in his role as the drug-addled journalist with the aviator glasses, and Christina Ricci has a small role in the film. Del Toro seems so genuinely crazed that he made me very uncomfortable. The names of the Vegas locations were changed - Circus Circus becomes Bazooka Circus - and all the staff and guests are dressed and acting even more outlandishly than one would normally see there. Plus there are tiny people, bizarre animals, off-the-wall things happening in the background that take repeated viewings to catch. Example: the circus trapeze act in the hotel entails a pregnant acrobat delivering a baby in mid-flight. Setting this over-the-top story in Las Vegas is appropriate, since without any drugs whatever a normal individual (for whom Vegas is not their favorite city) might feel the place is a major hallucination anyway. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

Equilibrium (no date)

Starring: Christian Bale, Emily Watson, Taye Diggs
Studio: Dimension Home Video
Video: 2.35:1 enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio: DD 5.1
Extras: Commentary track by Director Kurt Wimmer; Commentary track with Wimmer and Producer Lucas Foster; Documentary: “Finding Equilibrium”
Length: 107 min.
Rating: ****

No date appears anywhere on the DVD and I don’t recall it appearing in the theaters here. While I didn’t agree that seeing this sci-fi feature would make me “Forget The Matrix!” (as Pacifica’s WBAI said), I did find it a good thoughtful story with plenty of Matrix-like Hong Kong-influenced heavy action. Unlike the Matrix series’ integration of diverse spiritual and philosophical threads (one Presbyterian church had a series of sermons based on The Matrix!), Equilibrium appears to be a less-than-seamless amalgam of story lines and visual stylings from The Matrix, Fahrenheit 491, Brave New World, 1984, THX 1138, Metropolis and Brazil. And throw in a couple of dirigibles to the mix (actually I guess they were in Brazil too). Love those dirigibles. I’ll see any movie with a dirigible in it.

The only crime in this future world is to have human feelings/emotions, since the fascist authorities believe strong negative emotions are what caused the wars that nearly destroyed mankind. So everything that triggers emotional response - music, art, books (a la Fahrenheit 491) has been banned and anyone transgressing is either killed on the spot or later incinerated. Everyone is forced to take the drug Equilibrium regularly to block their emotions and they live and work in a sparse high-tech environment without any decoration or art. (But there are small touches of anachronistic items such as old fashioned staplers on the pristine metallic office desks - a la Brazil. And of course the dirigibles...) There is an outlying forbidden area where those refusing the drug hide out with vestiges of culture and art. Bale plays the top enforcer who discovers his partner in this area reading poetry, and must kill him. His exposure to some of the forbidden books and music - especially in the secret room of the Emily Watson character - leads him to try going without his own regular dose of Equilibrium. His reaction to hearing for the first time the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth is a corny but very effective moment in the film. (Sharp-eyed/eared audiophiles may wonder how there could there be a windup acoustic 45 rpm phonograph, let alone a record with an over one-minute lead-in groove!) That’s when - as with Neo in The Matrix - the enforcer realizes that things are not as they seem. He even finds that his two children had stopped taking the drug earlier after their mother had been incinerated. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

Leonard Maltin’s Animation Favorites
from the National Film Board of Canada (1994)

Begone Dull Care; Mindscape; Log Driver’s Waltz; The Cat Came Back; Getting Started; The Sweater; The Street; Pas de deux; Anniversary
Studio: NFB/Image Entertainment
Video: 4:3
Audio: DD mono
Length: 95 min.
Rating: ****

I remember as a child being turned on to animation more by being shown Norman McLaren’s classic paint-directly-on-film Begone Dull Care than I ever was by Disney cartoons. Perhaps its tight sync of abstract dancing lines and scratches to the boogie woogie piano of Oscar Peterson was a factor. And this is just one of these nine short films in which the musical element is uppermost (perhaps I should have included it with our music videos in Part One this month). Getting Started is about a piano student who just can’t seem to begin his daily practicing and finds a million other things to do first. It resonates strongly with anyone procrastinating diving into a task they really aren’t excited about doing in the first place. Pas de deux is also from Film Board animation pioneer McLaren and uses live filming of two dancers, but highly processed with multiple images, to create one of the most gorgeous dance films ever made. The music features the panpipes, and the special effects required immense effort in a special printer to achieve the strobing effects of the dancers’ arms and legs. Today pressing a button on a video processor would probably give you a similar effect instantly. Many NFM animations used well-known folksongs for their soundtracks, and the hilarious Cat Came Back is one of those, as well as The Log Driver’s Waltz. Maltin has made a fine selection of hits from the huge library of thoughtful and delightful animation the National Film Board has created in their over 50 year existence. Introduce newbies to a whole different world from your average Bugs Bunny cartoon by adding this wonderful disc to any family movie library. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

Frasier - The Complete First Season (1993-94)

With Kelsey Grammar, David Hyde Pierce, Jane Leeves, John Mahoney
Studio: Grub Street/Paramount
Video: 4:3
Audio: DD 2.0
Extras: Commentary by producer/creators Peter Casey & David Lee on the pilot episode; “Behind the Couch;” “The Making of Frasier,” Frasier Crane’s Apartment; Celebrity Voices
Length: 9 hours, 4 min.
Rating: ****

Generally accepted as one of broadcast TV’s best all-around sitcoms, Frasier is watched regularly by many viewers who would never watch any other sitcom. (Well, at least those with live actors - leaving open The Simpsons.) It’s won all sorts of acclaim over its long life, and like many series, the first few seasons are felt to be the very best. A spin-off of Cheers, Frasier the show has the psychiatrist character moving to Seattle after divorce from Lilith and starting a call-in advice radio show. His unseen callers sometimes include various celebrities, and some of the best are separately profiled in the supplementary materials. In addition to the on-air adventures at the station dealing with troubled listeners - often shared with his female producer-engineer, Frasier has to deal at his apartment with his retired police detective father, his live-in physical therapist Daphne and his younger brother Niles, plus his father’s devious little dog Eddie. Not to mention his own problem fraught attempts at romance. One of the show’s frequent themes is the total contrast between blue-collar Ballantine ale-loving father Marty and the champagne-taste prissiness of Frazier and Miles. Early in the first season it becomes apparent that Miles’ marriage is also not in the best shape (we never see his wife and she always bows out of dinner plans), and he is becoming moony over the cute Brit Daphne. Everyone is believable and endearing in their foibles, and seldom does the viewer get the feeling you are being condescended to or milked for silly laughs. The writing of the series is uniformly of a high quality.

It’s really satisfying to watch these great episodes all of a piece - without the endless commercials breaking in frequently. It also means you get thru one in 20 minutes instead of 30. So 24 episodes times 20...well, that’s how it gets to be nine hours of great entertainment. The stereo sound is fine and creates a pleasant though modest surround field using ProLogic II or the DTS version of same. One thing I noticed about both this and the Mad About You DVDs (which I didn’t notice on the X-Files DVDs) was a generally soft focus on the images throughout. It didn’t seem lower resolution or to suffer any artifacts - just a lack of the sharpness exhibited by most DVDs. If you have a screen at the low end of home theater size - say 27-inch - you probably won’t even notice. Purchase Here

- John Sunier

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