DVD Video Reviews for April 2002, Pt. 1

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"O" (2001)

  • Starring: Mekhi Phifer, Josh Hartnett, Julia Stiles
  • Studio: Lions Gate Home Entertainment
  • Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced, 1.33:1 Full Frame
  • Audio: DD 5.1, Audio Commentary
  • Extras: trailer, previews (The Wash, Cube 2, Rose Red, American Psycho 2, The Rules of Attraction, State Property), Othello movie (1922), Interviews (4), Deleted Scenes with/ w/o commentary (4), Basketball Scene Analysis (3)
  • Length: 94 minutes
  • Rating: **1/2

In an attempt to translate the Shakespearean play "Othello," the story has been set in modern times, and takes place in a high school setting. Many of the characters are similar, and included with O is the restored version of the 1922 silent movie Othello. The main character is a talented African American basketball superstar in an all-white school. His girlfriend is much desired by another, and his friend, the son of the coach, is determined to ruin his life. The seeming "friend", using devious methods and many forms of deception involving the other characters, is able to create an insatiable jealousy and mistrust between the hero and his girl. The hero's emotion is overwhelming and causes him to make questionable decisions and take very shaky actions that result in tragedy.

I'm sure that it is very hard to make a good tragedy these days. Many of the elements of this film become difficult to swallow. Although some of the parts are quite believable, some of the characters are a bit too extreme, and the combination of coincidences and setups are pushing the line where it is hard to suspend belief. Watching the older version helped to put a spin on my feelings towards the film, as did watching some of the characters talk about the message they hope the film will convey to the audience. The concepts of dealing with violence and drugs, and the realization that people are flawed are some of the important ideas put forth in the interviews. Drugs and guns may be a part of everyday life for some, but they seem to be out of place with the characters in this film.

The sound is very good throughout the movie, but the picture is amazing. The color and camera effects on some of the basketball scenes are very impressive, and if the rest of the film would have been up to this level, then I think it would have really been worth recommending. As far as the older Othello, I found it a bit long and boring, but I'm not a big fan of silent film. The characters are quite extreme and overly dramatic, but not different from many of the films of this era. This DVD has a nice combination of picture quality and extra features, but in the end I can describe the film with one word: "forced".

- Brian Bloom


Atlantis - The Lost Empire (2001)
2-Disc Collector's Edition

  • Studio: Disney
  • Video: 2.35:1 widescreen enhanced, digital-to-digital THX transfer
  • Audio: DD 5.1, DTS 5.1
  • Subtitles: English with optional French soundtrack
  • Extras: (2 discs) Printed color booklet, Visual commentary, Additional footage, DisneyPedia Atlantis (theories about the lost continent), 3 Viewing Modes Navigational System: Explore/Tour/Files - many extras presented in widescreen format, Deleted scenes, Virtual tours of CGI models, Animated Industrial Film on Whitmore Industries (the benefactor sponsoring the expedition), How to Speak Atlantean, History, Story & Editorial, Art Direction, Animation Production, Character Designs, Music & Sound Design, Publicity, more...
  • Length: 96 minutes for feature only
  • Rating: ****

Certainly not your usual cuddly-animal Disney animation feature, this epic production shows the influence of Japanese Anime as well as Jules Verne and darker comic book-based films. The technical wizardry shown in the feature is continued in the most lavish array of extras any Disney DVD has so far offered. All three modes of the multiple platform navigational system access basically the same material, but in different ways: in Explore you can tour the interior of the Ulysses submarine and then select various menu options; in Tour you view all the bonus features as one continuous program that plays for two hours; in Files Mode you have a chart of every single bonus feature listed in sequential order and you can click on any one. The historical material on the real Atlantis legend is interesting viewing. The enclosed booklet also repeats the navigational overview chart. One of the deleted scenes is entirely finished animation - that must have been really painful for those that worked on it, even if it is computer animation! The three others are shown just as sketchy line-drawing animation.

OK, to the film itself: In some of the interviews with the animators they reveal they got excited about the project when they were informed this wouldn't be the typical Disney movie - many had just worked on Beauty and the Beast. They were told there wouldn't be any singing, and there would be lots of explosions. That's true. The story is rather predictable but nevertheless fun, and many of the scenes are of impressive design, depth and detail. The characters are varied and of highly contrasting quirks. The expedition's journey to the city of Atlantis under the ocean floor is beset by all sorts of monsters and other obstacles. There are subtitles for the characters speaking Atlantean - the language was created by the same linguist who invented the Klingon language for Star Trek. The hero of the story is the young janitor at a dusty archeology museum who has a theory about the location of Atlantis. Of course we know he will end up hooking up with the beautiful princess there and staying when the rest of the expedition returns to the surface.

The image quality is tops - hard to see how HDTV could be much better - and the DTS surround brings one more intimately into the action onscreen, taking it more fully into the realm of a live action film than typical for animation.

- John Sunier


The Net (1995)

  • Starring: Sandra Bullock
  • Studio: Columbia Pictures
  • Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced
  • Audio: DD 5.1, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Audio commentary (2)
  • Extras: From Script to Screen, The Making of, Filmographies (4), trailer, Previews (28 days, The Thirteenth Floor)
  • Length: 114 minutes
  • Rating: *** 1/2

Angela Bennett is a skilled computer systems analyst that helps to fix problems with large computer systems, games, and just about anything. She keeps to herself, and doesn't really have many friends, at least ones IRL (that's "in real life" for you who are not so computer savvy). One day she is sent a disk with an interesting computer bug. Apparently, by selecting a small pi symbol at the bottom right of the screen, the user can gain access to a network of computer systems that controls important government and private sector functions. She goes off on her vacation, but nothing goes quite like planned. Before she knows it, she is caught up in a huge conspiracy involving a sophisticated group of computer criminals and a secret society. All the commotion revolves around a specialized program that is supposed to prevent computer hacking. She knows too much and they want to have her eliminated, but she is tougher than they realize. Even without her identity, she's determined to make things right.

Playing on our obvious reliance on computer systems, this film helps to push mild paranoia just a bit further. It helps that the target of the "erasure" is a woman who doesn't know her neighbors, has but one person who really knows her on sight, including a mother who has Alzheimer's disease and doesn't know her own daughter. Aside from these few elements that stretch the storyline, The Net is not a bad action thriller. You sort of know what will happen in the end, but getting there is a fun ride. The Special Edition has good sound and picture, and lots of Sandra Bullock-reason enough for some to pick up this flick.

- Brian Bloom


The Bad News Bears (1976)

  • Starring: Walter Matthau, Tatum O'Neal
  • Studio: Paramount
  • Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced
  • Audio: DD 5.1, Mono
  • Extras: none
  • Length: 101 minutes
  • Rating: ****

On the surface, this movie is about a washed-up old minor-league pitcher who finds himself coaching a rag-tag group of kids who can barely play baseball. His heart isn't really in it, but after watching a terrible loss and seeing the team spirit broken almost beyond repair, he decides that he will try and turn them into a real team. First he enlists the aid of a ringer, an eleven year-old girl who can pitch up a storm. Then he goes after a young motorcycle ridin' punk who just happens to run the field like a pro. As the time passes, they slowly grow to learn the fundamentals of the game, just as they learn the fundamentals of life.

There are no extras on this DVD, and the picture is somewhat dated although not too bad. Sound is okay, but won't stress your surround sound system in the slightest. The direction is excellent, and performances all hit close to the real. The kids aren't the only ones with a little learning to do, as the coach soon discovers. In some scenes there are moments of cruelty and violence towards the kids, almost to the point that would make you wince. In other scenes, it is easy to see the tenderness and caring that exist between some of the characters. Like Stand By Me, this movie is about relationships with people, and knowing what we are made of-all this with a good story that helps pull you into the film. In the end, we can all be winners-not a bad message, and definitely an excellent movie.

- Brian Bloom


Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

  • Starring: Eddie Murphy, Judge Reinhold, John Aston
  • Studio: Paramount
  • Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced
  • Audio: DD 5.1, DD 2.0, French stereo, audio commentary
  • Extras: Cast and Crew interviews, Casting the film, trailer, location map, photo gallery, music
  • Length: 105 minutes
  • Rating: ***1/2

Axel Foley is a smart, Detroit cop with a bit of an attitude. When an old out-of-town friend comes to visit and shows him some bearer bonds that may be a little "hot," he turns the other cheek. But the friend's quick demise in Axel's presence soon has him on a trip to Beverly Hills to investigate the friend's former employer who may have something to do with his death. Beverly Hills isn't exactly glad to see Axel, and he finds there to be a huge culture clash not only with him and the civilians, but with the police department as well. Eventually, he manages to find some evidence of wrongdoing, but convincing the Beverly Hills police is not as easy. He befriends a couple of the officers, and one comic incident after another ensues.

This film wavers between a comedy and a drama, but to very good effect. It was a huge star vehicle for Eddie Murphy and rightly so. When you watch the interview with the casting director and you realize that it could have been Sylvester Stallone in the role, you realize how critical the job of casting plays in the final outcome of a film. There is a bit of overacting and hamming it up, but it doesn't detract from the overall feeling of the film. It is definitely pushing 4 stars, and the extras on the disc are quite nice. Image quality and sound quality are good, and you should have no reservations about buying this one. And the soundtrack is full of great 80s tunes as well!

- Brian Bloom


Joy Ride (2001)

  • Starring: Steve Zahn, Paul Walker, Leelee Sobieski
  • Studio: Fox
  • Video: 2.35:1 Widescreen Enhanced
  • Audio: DD 5.1, DD 2.0, French 2.0, Audio Commentary (3)
  • Extras: trailer, deleted scene, alternate endings (3), Featurette, voice auditions for villain,
  • Length: 96 minutes
  • Rating: ***

Instead of taking a plane trip home from school, Lewis buys a used car and heads off to pick up a girl for which he has feelings. Along the way he discovers that his brother, Fuller, is in jail, and plans to bail him out. Fuller wants to come along for the ride. Being the savvy traveler, Fuller picks up a CB radio to talk to truckers and avoid cops. Fuller puts Lewis up to a practical joke to pretend that he is a woman with the handle "Candy Cane". Soon they are pulling the chain of a trucker named Rusty Nail. They don't realize how serious things are getting until they set up a meet for Rusty and the fictitious Candy Cane. In the morning when the police arrive, and a man is found mutilated, they feel lucky that they are still alive. But little do they know, that soon enough they will become the game along with their friend Vienna, in a hunt which may leave none of them in the land of the living.

This film is meant to be a scary thriller. In parts you do find yourself jumping, but there isn't much ground that hasn't been covered in many other movies in this genre. You have to fall into the differing acting styles of the main characters. Leelee is playing it pretty straight; Zahn is playing a character very similar (a bit silly and crazy at the same time) to other roles he has played like the one in That Thing You Do. Or, if you listen to the audio commentary, you may believe he isn't really acting. And Walker is the deadwood character similar to his role in Pleasantville. With a little practice he could become the new Keanu Reeves! In any case, you find yourself watching and waiting to find out how good will prevail. Picture and sound was quite good, so if you feel the need for a little action and suspense, then Joy Ride may be the thrill ride you are looking for.

- Brian Bloom


Of Freaks and Men (1998)

  • Starring: Sergei Makovetsky, Dinara Drukarova, Victor Sukhorukov, Lika Nevolina
  • Studio: Image Entertainment
  • Video: 1.66:1 Widescreen, Sepia color
  • Audio: Russian DD 2.0
  • Subtitles: English
  • Extras: none
  • Length: 89 minutes
  • Rating: ***

Of Freaks and Men tells the twisted tale of an immigrant and his helper who make their living on photographing bare-bottomed women being flogged. The story takes place in the early 1900s, and focuses on a few all-together different characters whose lives become intertwined. A doctor adopts baby Siamese twins and his wife trains them to play the piano and teaches them to sing. Meanwhile, a young girl who has the adoration of her rich father, lives a wealthy, innocent lifestyle after the death of her mother. The immigrant is violent and one to be reckoned with. His photographer is manipulated into his job due to debt, and feels trapped. With the addition of a movie camera, their exploits advance to a higher level. The helper is devious himself, and soon decides to photograph the twins to make money on the side. The innocent are taken advantage of, and made to do things under duress. After some disturbing incidents, the innocent characters are set free, but are still greatly affected by their experiences.

This film could best be described as a dark comedy. The characters are strangely interesting, and this helps to pull you into the story. Some may be offended by the nudity and suggestions at pornography, or even the physical, mental, and emotional abuse portrayed and inflicted upon those who are unable to defend themselves-others may be titillated. It is this raw quality that lends a truth to the film, and its sometimes lighthearted way of presenting it that appeals. What may at first seem a little comic, soon becomes quite serious, but can be viewed from a distance, so as not to feel the full import of the happenings. Who are the freaks, and who are the men?

- Brian Bloom


Roy Lichtenstein (1991)

  • Studio: South Bank Show/Image Entertainment
  • Video: 4:3
  • Audio: DD mono
  • Extras: none
  • Length: 50 min.
  • Rating: ****

In a way a film on Lichtenstein's pop art is a fine companion to Yankovic's parodies because his art parodies their comic strip stimuli - in the sense of a medieval musical parody being variations on an existing melody. One critic described Lichtenstein's huge canvases as like "having Robocop come after you - you know it's not real but you can't get away from it."

I'd heard of the British TV show South Bank for years and it was interesting to finally get to see one. Wish PBS would carry it - this example is a very well-done interview and documentary on the artist. Though carrying a reputation for reclusiveness, he is forthright and pleasant in his interview, and shown working in his studio. His bold graphic style has influenced American painting for 30 years. He departed from the comic images style for some years but is at it again and getting a million dollars on a Tuesday for a painting he does on Monday. The interview delves into not only specifically the pop art phenomenon but also some of the history of Western Art.

- John Sunier


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