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DVD Video Reviews - April 2003 Pt. 3

Maid In Manhattan (2002)

Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Ralph Fiennes, Natasha Richardson, Stanley Tucci, Bob Hoskins
Directed by: Wayne Wang
Studio: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment
Video: 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, 1.33:1 Fullscreen
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English, French, and English Closed Captions
Extras: 5 theatrical trailers
Length: 105 minutes
Rating: ***

Marisa Ventura is a single mother who works as a maid for an upscale hotel in Manhattan. While trying on the clothes of one of the hotel’s wealthy guests, Marisa is accidentally mistaken to be a rich socialite by senatorial candidate Christopher Marshall. To make matters more difficult, Marshall is also a guest of the hotel. Marisa manages to hide her true identity from Marshall for a short period of time, but after spending a magical evening together and falling in love, her secret is discovered. Marshall is then left to decide whether his love for Marisa is greater than the huge difference in their social statuses.

The video quality of this DVD is excellent with the widescreen version serving as the basis for this review. Images are clean and crisp. Blacks are consistently deep throughout. Colors are vivid and bright with fully saturated hues. Picture defect mastering is perfect with no major flaws or digital compression artifacts. The overall audio quality is very good with the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track serving as the basis for this review. The soundtrack’s mix predominantly favors the forward channels. Dialogue is always intelligible and natural sounding. The surround channels are moderately active, and are used for both music and ambient sounds. The low frequency bass is tight and punchy. Present in about one-quarter of the DVD’s chapters, tactile effects appear as light impacts and originate exclusively from the music score. Purchase Here

Reference equipment used for this review: Video projector- Studio Experience Cinema 17SF Projection screen- Da-Lite 106” Da-Snap; DVD player- Pioneer Elite DV-37; A/V Receiver- Sherwood Newcastle R-963T; Speakers- BIC DV62si mains, DV62CLRs center, Adatto DV52si rears, D1210R subwoofer; Tactile Transducers- Clark Synthesis Gold; Cables and Wires-

- Calvin Harding Jr.

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, Audio Commentary
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 non-existent 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

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

I See a Dark Stranger (1946)

Starring: Deborah Kerr, Trevor Howard, Raymond Huntley, Tom Macaulay
Studio: Janus Films/Home Vision Entertainment
Video: 1.33:1 Full Frame, B&W
Audio: DD 2.0 Mono
Extras: Trailer
Length: 112 minutes
Rating: *** 1/2

Mysterious beginnings at the Isle of Man, and an introduction to the main character, Bridie Quilty, are where the film begins. The year is 1939 in the western part of Ireland at a tavern. A man recounts old stories about the revolution, and the icon Cromwell. All the while, young Bridie listens as she has every night year after year until her hate of the British is festering. At her 21st birthday, she is intent on going to Dublin to join the Irish Republican Army. Her efforts are thwarted by the man whom she believed would help her, so she exits in a huff. She runs into a German spy, a man whom she met on the train, and assists him in his spy work. It isn’t exactly what she bargained for and when people start dying she has severe second thoughts. A young officer who has romantic ideas about the lovely woman only serves to create more conflict. He’s completely in the dark about the true designs of our heroine, but his persistence is rewarded as Bridie grows fond for him, and lets him on the clandestine activity.

The film is somewhat reminiscent of a Hitchcock flick, although there are elements of screwball comedy mixed in with the spy/saboteur genre. After this movie, Kerr became an international star. As the main character she shines—showing off her skill as an actress, her feisty appeal, and beauty. The movie doesn’t take itself too seriously and at moments it is a dark thriller, at others it is quite the farce. The story is smart, witty, and at times will manage to keep you on the edge of your seat. All the while it is difficult to keep your eyes off the magnetic personality of Bridie Quilty. Just when you think things are going to settle down, she’s up and running all over again propelling the film to its funny, yet desirable climax. Purchase Here

-Brian Bloom

The Man In The White Suit (1951)

Starring: Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood, Cecil Parker
Studio: Anchor Bay
Video: 1.33:1 B&W Full Frame
Audio: Dolby Digital English 2.0, French 2.0
Extras: Trailer, Alec Guiness Bio
Length: 85 minutes
Rating: *** 1/2

There is some interesting background on British cinema during the post-WWII era described in the booklet that accompanies this DVD. In an effort to boost domestic cinema in Britain, Sir Michael Balcon created Ealing Studios and began to produce films about England. After the war, he decided that comedies would be the way to get international exposure. This began the new style of English comedy—“understated, self-deprecating and irreverent.” Black comedies and social satires became quite popular and paved the way for many hit movies that met with worldwide acclaim. Among these films is The Man In The White Suit.

The story focuses around Sidney Stratton, a man who is determined to invent a fiber that is fireproof, dirt proof, and that will last virtually forever. His idealism gets the better of him as he spends the research money from different textile companies he works for in pursuit of his goal. He gets fired from position after position until he finally finds a man, Alan Birnley, whose greed gets the better of him and completely funds his project. Although it is being kept a secret, other textile manufacturers and laborers soon discover the plan. Unfortunately, they do not share Stratton’s views, and believe that an everlasting material would cause great loss of jobs and profits. They unite and pursue Stratton in an effort to subdue his invention and his person! Birnley’s daughter (who has a fondness for Stratton) is enlisted to help change Sidney’s mind about the whole affair. But it is to no avail, and he escapes captivity with his white suit—a prototype made from the new fabric. A funny chase ensues—suppression is the only viable answer according to both Capitol and Labor. In the end, it may all just come to pieces.

Picture and sound are good, and performances are funny and work well in the film. The film was nominated for an Oscar for best screenplay, so you can assume the dialogue is well done and quite enjoyable. The action, unlike modern movies that would have tons of special effects added, is primarily achieved by editing, and depicted in a few scenes that take place while Stratton is running for his life. The pace may be slow for some, but most people will appreciate the style and wit of the British approach. Purchase Here

-Brian Bloom

Cobra Verde (1987)

Starring: Klaus Kinski, King Ampaw, Jose Lewgoy, Salvatore Basile, Peter Berling, Nana Agyefi Kwame II
Studio: Anchor Bay
Video: 1.77:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: German 5.1, German 2.0, English 2.0, Audio commentary (Eng)
Extras: Talent Bios, Trailer (German), Trailer (German w/ subs), Trailer (English)
Length: 110 minutes
Rating: ***

This extraordinary film is based on a novel by Bruce Chatwin entitled “The Viceroy of Ouidah.” The movie tells the tale of the 19th century Brazilian bandit Francisco Manoel da Silva, “Cobra Verde.” It opens with desolation, dirt, solitude, barren scenes, and a bleak landscape. It is essential to listen to Herzog (director) talk about the film, and especially the hardships dealing with Kinski during production. On first watching, it is impressive how intense and crazed the performance by Kinski is delivered. After hearing the commentary, it is clear that he is like that in real life and as the director describes, “he was out of control and coming apart.” Kinski was crazed and actually physically attacked Herzog with a rock! He sloughs off the occurrence as though it weren’t a big deal. Real miners were used in the following scenes depicting gold mines that were devoid of almost any mineral. Da Silva’s life as a drifter ends abruptly when a sugar plantation owner in the town square discovers his abilities—control of slaves. He doesn’t last long in his position as overseer when the owner discovers that Da Silva has impregnated all of the owner’s daughters.

Next, the plantation owners, having found out who the overseer really is, plot to have him sent to Africa where they believe he will not survive. They offer him a position to take over the slave trade in the area, and for that they will compensate him. He knows their plan, but his desire to take on the challenge overwhelms him, or perhaps it is just the knowledge that he has nothing to claim as his own. He meets with much hardship and difficulty in winning over the natives and defeating an enemy who is believed to be insane. He is successful at the moment, but that turns to despair, and in the end he is left alone again to live with that which he has done.

Herzog is a stickler about using natural scenery and local people to make the film look as authentic as possible. He even used a real slave fortress in Ghana for filming scenes of the second part of the film. He also likes to take a spectator view and present the material as he feels it would look during the time without political or social commentary (e.g., the issue of slavery). His personal experiences in Africa as a young man helped shape some of the themes in the film. Symbolically, the last scene of the movie even disturbs the director, not for its meaning necessarily, but for his use of a crippled man to show the crippling of the continent—a lack of discretion according to Herzog. As Kinski’s character struggles to free a beached boat off the shore where he must leave, he falls into the water, and is tossed and turned in despair. For sure, it is not an easy film to watch, but from a cinematic perspective, it can not be discounted. Purchase Here

-Brian Bloom

Balzac- A Life of Passion (1999)

Starring: Gerard Depardieu, Jeanne Moreau, Fanny Ardant, Virna Lisi, Katja Riemann, Claude Rich
Studio: Fox Lorber/ Bravo Network
Video: 1.5:1 Aspect Ratio
Audio: DD French Stereo
Extras: Filmographies (7), TV Spot, Trailer (Count of Monte Cristo), Episode I/II selection
Length: 200 minutes
Rating: ***

When I first started this disc, I was surprised by a TV commercial (in English) for a Land Rover. I fumbled for the controls thinking I had not selected the correct input on the TV. Immediately following the commercial, the program started without warning. Perhaps it was this that left me feeling that this was a made-for-TV movie, or the just the general feel of the production. The disc is separated into two episodes, each of which is a good hour and forty minutes. Although the program starts with Balzac as a child, it is purely for the purpose of character development. He is scolded by his mother for being a less than stellar student—his exuberance crushed. No doubt his relationship with his mother is never the same, but his larger than life personality (easily portrayed by Depardieu who is clearly a larger than life actor), is unaffected.

Being poor, Balzac struggles with his serious novels, and in the meantime works writing magazine articles to make ends meet. His somewhat older lover helps finance his passion, while he helps to revive hers in the bedroom. His interests shift as he becomes obsessed with a young Countess with whom he intends to exchange favors. He will help to write her memoirs, while her reputation will help him obtain recognition in the literary world—or at least in the popular arena. His fellow contemporaries do not miss his skills, although he is very much underrated. He continues to write – the words practically ooze out of his being – and the characters he creates come to life. Finally, he hits big and the last effort he has created is a success. His actions are not always consistent with what one might expect, but are inline with his character. He has long since owed much to the government, and they come to take more and more of his possessions. His mother is disgraced by his lack of funds, but Balzac is much more concerned with his success on the page and in the bedroom.

His newest admirer is a young woman in Russia. He is dedicated to getting her affection and making her his own. His lust for her grows until he can no longer wait. Her husband discovers the affair, but Balzac manages to delicately extricate himself from the situation. His life continues to grow worse as he looses almost all his possessions and at the time he finally is united with his love, his health suffers. From a documentary point of view, we learn about many aspects of Balzac’s life, and his character is brought to life by Depardieu’s performance. The supporting actors are good, and the sets and scenes are beautiful—an Amadeus with a pen. Purchase Here

-Brian Bloom

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