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DVD Video Reviews - February 2003 Pt. 2

The Son’s Room (2001)

Starring: Nanni Moretti, Laura Morante, Jasmine Trinca, Giuseppe Sanfelice
Studio: Miramax
Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: Italian DD 2.0, French
Extras: Trailer, Previews (Amelie, Children of Heaven, In The Bedroom, Miramax Year of Gold)
Length: 99 minutes
Rating: ****

Dramatic films can vary a great deal in their treatment of the same subject matter. This film is a perfect example of why some foreign films are much more palatable to film critics than American movies of the day. The film opens with the main character of the film, a psychiatrist, going about his daily routine and becoming enraptured with the sights and sounds of a group of Hare Krishnas singing and dancing down the street. It is this example of basic discovery that repeats itself many times throughout the film, although in quite different forms. The prime focus of the story has to do with family, life, and the daily interactions that can affect our future in powerful ways. As the main character tries to unravel the problems of his patients, he can’t help think about his family and their troubles and life struggles. He has a lovely, intelligent, charming wife and two beautiful children—a boy and a girl. Much of the story consists of the characters just sitting and conversing, talking about their day, the things that matter to them, the funny thoughts they have, and the small things that make up their lives.

The story begins to take a turn when their son is implicated in a robbery at his high school. A rare stone is missing and both he and his friend are accused of the crime. The situation causes argument and instability and sparks conversation among the family members. The interviews with the patients, the actions of the characters, the flow of the film, all seem to imply our destiny can be altered not only by the choices we make in our lives, but by blind luck, and the many variables of life itself. When things seem to come to a nice equilibrium, tragedy strikes beyond proportion to what has already occurred. The stability of the main character and those who surround him are shattered. It is sudden, unexpected, and yet at the same time accepted easily by the viewer—not as a contrived device, but as a natural disaster.

The storyline, the patients’s tales of abnormality, and the performances of the characters seem so real that it is hard not to fall into the tempo and milieu of the film. The story is heartfelt (reinforced with a pleasant score that is at times filled with life and joy, and at other times saddening). I could go on and on about the beauty of this film and how it reminded me of the way I felt watching The Big Chill or Ordinary People, or I could mention that it won Best Picture at the Cannes Film Festival, but I’d rather just recommend it wholeheartedly.

- Brian Bloom

Down By Law (1986)

Starring: Tom Waits, John Lurie, Roberto Benigni
Studio: Criterion Collection
Video: 1.78:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: DD Mono
Extras: Robbie Muller (cinematographer) Interview (7 parts), Cannes press conference (9 parts), John Lurie interview, Outtakes (16), Tom Waits “It’s All Right With Me” Music Video, Q&A with Jim (writer/director [16 questions]), Phone Calls (with 3 main characters), Production Polaroids (11 sections), Behind the Scenes Stills (2 parts), trailer, Jim’s Thoughts and Reflections (29 parts!)
Length: 107 minutes
Rating: *** 1/2

Zack is an out of work DJ who can’t seem to get it together. His girlfriend can’t take him anymore and he needs a break. When an old associate approaches him to steal a car, he wants no part of it. That is, until he hears the final price. Jack is a pimp and he’s making some decent money at it. When a guy who owes him comes to give him a new girl, he can’t pass up the opportunity to check her out. And, the third pea in the proverbial pod, Robert, is an Italian immigrant who walks around with a small book of English expressions. What all these men have in common is a jail cell. Two were set up and the other, surprisingly, is guilty of murder. Bob has a plan to escape, and when they get out, they have to reckon with each other. They are on the run for a while trying to evade the authorities. In a way, this is a buddy film, and in the end, each of the main characters will again be free to find his own way.

Each character imparts his own personality on the role he plays in this film. True fans will probably already be familiar with one of the three or all. Pace is a little slower than other drama films, but is not slow. There are some characters introduced at the beginning that are basically tossed to the side later and just serve as development for one or more of the main three. It is almost a personality film, rather than a strict story. It appears that at least some of the decisions are done purely for effect, and are not necessarily essential to the story. Benigni (Life Is Beautiful) is funny in just about every scene he is in. After watching the extras, it is clear that he is this way in real life. Confinement and freedom are expressed through symbolic devices throughout the film. The decision to film in black and white is due to the vision of the director. There are tons of extras on this DVD, so fans of the film will be happy. There are extensive musings by the cinematographer giving some insight into the production aspects and the tone of the film. According to the writer, the film was written with the three main actors in mind. There were influences by too many people to name. The choice of title is discussed, the endings, and plan behind the endings are explained. The impromptu interview section really gives you an idea as to what the people are really like. There is so much stuff on here that it could fill pages and pages.

- Brian Bloom

Brotherhood Of The Wolf (Le Pacte Des Loups) (2001)

Starring: Samuel Le Bihan, Vincent Cassel, Emilie Dequenne, Monica Bellucci, Mark Dacascos
Studio: Universal
Video: 2.35:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: French 5.1, Dubbed English 5.1
Extras: Deleted Scenes (5), Cast and Filmmakers (7), Production Notes, Trailer, Preview (Bourne Identity)
Length: 144 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

There was much buzz and advertisement for this film—much more than most foreign films. There is no time wasted at the beginning for lengthy introductions and explanations. The year is 1764 and a young girl is scrambling across the countryside only to be violently attacked by something horribly quick and strong. It is some sort of beast we are told, and the news of the menace it has been causing has finally reached the King of France, prompting action on his part. Two men, a forensic doctor and his Indian brother (who has a strange connection with animals), are assigned to the case and come to the town in order to start a formal investigation into the killings that have occurred. It is a brutal world, and in no time they are forced to defend themselves against some angry villagers. Soon their investigation is underway, but there is disagreement as to the size and capabilities of the animal among the members hunting party. Those of aristocracy look upon the beast as a supreme nuisance, yet they may be more connected to the beast’s existence than anyone is willing to admit. This goes for the townspeople as well. As the investigation continues and more information is uncovered, the story gets more and more interesting up to the final showdown towards the end of the film where all is explained.

Some of the action scenes make use of slow and fast motion and have a Matrix-like quality to them. The cinematography and editing and/or direction in these scenes are very involving and exciting. The story flows at a nice pace, is not confusing, but has an air of mystery that creates interest. There are several scenes with graphic violence that may offend some viewers (although it is not nearly as bad as many American horror films). The picture is bright, colorful, and very detailed. The sound quality is impressive. You could easily use this as a reference disc—the action scenes are great to demonstrate surround sound and most of the daylight scenes look stunning. Unless foreign films turn you off, I would definitely recommend this film (with a clear preference to the original soundtrack versus the dubbed American version).

- Brian Bloom

A Knight’s Tale – Superbit (2001)

Starring: Heath Ledger, Mark Addy, Rufus Sewell
Studio: Columbia TriStar
Video: 2.35:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: DD 5.1, DTS 5.1
Extras: None
Length: 132 minutes
Rating: ***+ (if you can ignore the music)

I was starting to get used to the Superbit deluxe editions with an entire disc of extra features. This is a standard Superbit disc with no special features at all. At least the sound and video are quite good, so many will probably not mind all that much. It seems that romance films tend to do really well in the box office as do action/adventure films. So, it would be expected that a tale of a young peasant squire in Medieval times who has dreams of knighthood and beautiful princesses would be a big hit. I don’t know how well this film did at the box office, but it did manage to launch the career of Heath Ledger. But what’s the story with the music? Not more than five minutes of the film passes and we hear a crowd of people at a jousting event hollering and stamping their feet to Queen’s “We Will Rock You.” This isn’t the kind of thing to help set the time and period of the film.

When an old jousting champion dies, three of his squires are at a loss to decide what to do. They haven’t eaten in a week or more, so William decides that he will take the knight’s place at the event and possibly manage to make some of the winnings turn into a meal for them all. The young lad is quite good with a sword, and with a little convincing, manages to get the assistance of the other two squires to continue to compete in the events and try to make a living out of it. However, jousting is the main competition and it requires much skill. They have weeks to prepare William and turn him into a passable jouster, but not without some difficulty. Troubles arise at the next competition when they need to show proof of his lineage. They happen upon a man named Jeffrey Chaucer, a writer. He is penniless, but is a master with the pen, and for some recompense agrees to help William pass for nobility. Due to some unfortunate luck with William’s armor, the group is forced to enlist the aid of a woman armory. She becomes part of the group and they travel together winning matches. When William becomes enraptured with a lady at an event, he pursues her relentlessly trying to gain her love. A rival of his both on and off the field is intent on destroying William in every way. Taking a trip to his old town, where his father who gave him to the knight when he was but a child, leads to the discovery that he is not of noble birth. All the cards are on the table, and it is up to the grace of an old opponent to determine William’s fate.

This film is chock full of action and excitement through countless jousting. There is comic relief via the Chaucer character, and a romantic slant via the attentions of the young mistress. There is spirit and good intention in this film, although it is not entirely original in its plot lines. The younger and older crowd will surely enjoy the action however, and the pace may be the thing that saves it. The acting is ok, the sound and picture are excellent, and assuming you can ignore the strange juxtaposition of the classic rock ‘n’ roll music with the rest of the period of the piece, then you will likely enjoy this movie.

- Brian Bloom

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season Seven (1993-1994)

Starring: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Levar Burton, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Gates McFadden
Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
Video: 4:3 Fullscreen
Audio: English DD 5.1, English DD 2.0
Subtitles: English, English Closed Captions
Extras: “Mission Overview: Year Seven” Featurette, “Departmental Briefing-Year Seven: Production” Featurette, “A Captain’s Tribute” Featurette, “The Making Of ‘All Good Things’” Featurette, “Starfleet Moments and Memories” Featurette, Collectible Booklet, “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” DVD preview
Length: 1,174 minutes
Rating: ****

The Complete Seventh Season of Star Trek: The Next Generation makes its DVD debut on December 31, 2002 and it marks the final release for Paramount Home Entertainment’s highly successful, Next Generation box sets. Season Seven features a rugged silver cardboard outer-casing and has an insert and DVD color of purple. Season Seven’s memorable moments include an appearance from Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher in the episode “Journey’s End”; episodes featuring appearances from such fan-favorite characters as Barclay, Guinan, and Tasha Yar; and the superb series finale “All Good Things…” with John de Lancie reprising his role as Q. The entire 26 episodes from the 1993-1994 season are spread out over seven discs. (Disc One: Descent (Part II), Liaisons, Interface, Gambit (Part I). Disc Two: Gambit (Part II), Phantasms, Dark Page, Attached. Disc Three: Force of Nature, Inheritance, Parallels, The Pegasus. Disc Four: Homeward, Sub Rosa, Lower Decks, Thine Own Self. Disc Five: Masks, Eye of the Beholder, Genesis, Journey’s End. Disc Six: Firstborn, Bloodlines, Emergence, Preemptive Strike. Disc Seven: All Good Things…).

The video quality for Season Seven is very good and fittingly, the best of all of the Next Generation box sets. Images are sharp with nice detail. Colors are robust and accurate with fully saturated hues. Black levels are consistently deep and dark. Picture defect mastering is solid with no major flaws or digital compression artifacts. The overall audio quality is also very good with the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track serving as the basis for this review. The soundtrack mix predominantly favors the forward channels. Dialogue is accurate and natural sounding. The surround channels are fairly active and are used for both ambient sound effects and the music score. The quality and quantity of tactile sound effects varies amongst episodes, ranging from average to good. The tactile effects are in the form of light to moderate impacts and originate both from the sound effects and the music score.

Reference equipment used for this review: [Video monitor- NetTV DTV-34XRT; Video scaler- Silicon Image iScan Pro; DVD player- Microsoft Xbox; A/V Receiver- Sherwood Newcastle R-963T; Speakers- BIC DV62si mains, DV62CLRs center, Adatto DV52si rears, D1210R subwoofer; Tactile Transducer- Clark Synthesis TST 329 Gold; Cables and Wires-]

- Calvin Harding, Jr.

Snatch Superbit Deluxe (2000)

Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Farina, Vinnie Jones, Brad Pitt, Rade Sherbedgia, Jason Statham
Studio: Columbia TriStar
Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: DTS 5.1, DD 5.1
Extras: Trailer, Teaser Trailer, Previews (John Carpenter’s Ghost of Mars, Go, Dr. Strangelove, The Professional, The Lady From Shanghai), Deleted Scenes w/ Commentary (6), Video Photo Gallery, TV Spots (3), Filmographies (6), Storyboard Comparisons (3), Making Snatch
Length: 102 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

Turkish and Tommy are in the boxing business looking to make a little dough. But the story of this film is much like real life in that people often do not end up doing the things they had in mind for themselves. The story begins in Antwerp where a diamond heist is about to take place. It is the diamond that will propel the story forward and create the mayhem and madness that continues throughout the film. Turkish narrates much of the tale and characters pop up as the film unravels. Frankie Four Fingers has the stone and needs to unload it. He’s in London and some Russians want to get their hands on it. But, it would be a seriously bad move to let the Americans know that Russians are involved, so the Russian hires a bunch of local guys to lift the diamond. Meanwhile, our favorite boxing managers go looking to get a trailer from a bunch of gypsies to help get their business going. Things don’t turn out exactly as planned, and what looked like a good deal turns sour.

Unfortunately, the news gets even worse as the outcome of the upcoming fight has been fixed. The boxer whom the two men represent has gotten a little damaged by the gypsy who has sold them the bad trailer. The attempt to steal the stone has gone awry, Frankie is not in the picture any longer; the Russian is not out of the clear as the Americans and “The Head” having hired a gun to recover the stone. One thing leads to another and the story really gets going.

Comparisons to the style of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels will be undeniable. The pace of the film is quick and as the director would say, “lacking fat.” Every scene, every action, and every word is on camera for a particular reason. The camera may twist and turn in strange quirky directions; the speed may slow down and then speed up again including stills for emphasis, and the hip background music involves the viewer as well. I didn’t have the original release for comparison, but the sound and picture are quite good. The acting is good, the story flows well, and in many ways this film is much more accessible than Ritchie’s previous film. Excepting the violence and strong language, it is hard not to like this movie. Check it out.

- Brian Bloom

Beauty and the Beast- The Enchanted Christmas S.E. (1997)

Vocal Talents: Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Bernadette Peters, Tim Curry, Haley Joel Osment
Studio: Disney
Video: Fullscreen 1.33:1
Audio: DTS 5.1, DD 5.1
Extras: Behind The Scenes Featurette, Forte’s Challenge Game, Enchanted Environment, “As Long As There’s Christmas” Music Video, Sing Along With the Movie, Disney’s Song Selection (Deck The Halls, Stories, As Long As There’s Christmas, Don’t Fall In Love, As Long As There’s Christmas Reprise, A Cut Above The Rest), Previews (The Jungle Book II, Lilo and Stitch, Atlantis II: Milo’s Return, Beauty and the Beast: Belle’s Magical World S.E., The Santa Clause S.E., Winnie The Pooh: A Very Merry Pooh Year, Beauty and the Beast S.E., Disney’s The Country Bears, 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure, Disney’s Princess)
Length: 72 minutes
Rating: ***+

The Beauty and the Beast crew are celebrating the Christmas following the year depicted in the original Disney Beauty and the Beast film. The story (as told by Mrs. Potts) picks up in the middle of the first movie and elaborates on the Christmas festivities. It starts right after Belle left the castle and went off into the forest only to be attacked by a pack of wolves. Belle’s attempts to lighten the brooding disposition of the Beast are successful at first, but Forte, the master’s court composer, has other plans in mind. The maestro, along with Fife, a magical piccolo, are intent on foiling Belle’s plans for a wonderful Christmas. The servants help Belle to assemble the preparations to make Christmas special. Belle and Chip go off to find the perfect Christmas tree, but there is nothing on the grounds of the castle that suits them. Instead, they go off into the Black Forest at the insistence of Forte to look for it.

As the viewer might expect, the journey is yet another opportunity for Belle to meet her demise. Meanwhile, the Beast has softened and is planning to give Belle a Christmas gift. She’s a no-show, and when the Beast finds out she is in forbidden territory he becomes enraged. He destroys the Christmas preparations, chases after her, rescues and saves her, but then locks her in the dungeon. Luckily, Belle has already prepared a gift for the Beast, and this is enough to change the Beast’s mind about the whole occasion. However, Forte is intent on his plan to remain magical and prevent the Beast from falling in love with Belle. We all know how it turns out, but there are many pleasant musical numbers, a few touching moments, and plenty of excitement for the kiddies.

- Brian Bloom

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