DVD Reviews for June 2001, Pt. 2 of 2

[Click on each DVD to go directly to its review]

Spartacus (1960)

Winner of four Oscars, Spartacus was a path-breaking motion picture epic in many different ways. It helped break the McCarthy-era Hollywood blacklist by courageously using blacklisted Dalton Trumbo's real name in the credits instead of a pseudonym; it made thinly-veiled references to current Washington witch hunts via similar tactics in ancient Rome, it scandalized some audiences with its suggestion of General Crassus' (Olivier) attempted seduction of his slave played by Curtis, and its violent fight sequences were unequaled until the recent Gladiator. The story of the doomed Roman slave revolt led by the indomitable Spartacus was a classic and now can be appreciated more fully than ever before due to replaced deleted footage, a lush recreation of the original Technicolor image quality (if Douglas had shot on Eastmancolor, forget it...), enhanced surround soundtrack to appreciate Alex North's fine score, and so many extras that a second separate DVD disc is required to hold them all!

The dated but touching black & white documentary on the Hollywood Ten is fascinating. So is the list of objections from the film self-censorship board; so prissy they even asked for words such as "damn" to be cut from the script. I imagine only Spartacusophiles would take the time to watch the entire film several times in order to hear all the additional audio commentary. You have to be very familiar with what happens in the film because the original soundtrack is run so low behind the commentary that dialog is mostly inaudible. The star of both the commentaries and the two separate on-camera interviews is surely Peter Ustinov. His wonderfully gossipy stories about the production, and especially about the mutual hatred of Olivier and Charles Laughton, are spiced with on-target imitations of both actors' voices and demeanor. He also talks about the unique aspect of doing an ancient Roman film that wasn't the typical C.B. Demille Biblical epic. In fact Christianity didn't exist yet because this was 70 B.C.! If you view the actual film before delving into the extras, you may find you want to immediately see it again after hearing all the insider gossip and behind-the-scenes farrago. This package is w-a-y beyond any deluxe set that ever came out on laserdisc, and both image and sound quality are amazingly superior. A true classic.

- John Sunier

Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)

With the new film Pearl Harbor out in theaters, it seems the perfect opportunity to release a film from 30 years ago about the same subject. The year is 1941 and Japan's politics are somewhat questionable. It seems inevitable that the United States will enter the war and the Japanese must take the opportunity to hit first. A sneak attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor is thought to be a good target for this secret attack. The film progresses first by weeks and then by days, narrowing down to hours and finally to the minutes up to and including the attack on Pearl Harbor. The film is done in two parts: one from the American perspective in English, and the other from the Japanese perspective in Japanese! This lent a more realistic feel to the film, and even though the film is over two hours long, the last 30 or more minutes are spent on the edge of your seat.

It is a credit to the filmmakers that even though the outcome of the movie is known, it still makes exciting cinema, and the final attack sequences are extremely engrossing and (if I may say) exciting. I'm not sure how historically accurate the film is, but it sure seems like much effort has been taken to properly portray this event in history. There are tons of well-known actors all doing excellent work, and helping to make this film quite the epic. There is a good documentary on Pearl Harbor, and care has been taken with the transfer to DVD. This film has the look of an older movie, but is otherwise very good and colorful. The audio is congested on peaks and can be somewhat indistinct in parts, but overall doesn't take away from the almost lyrical portrayal of the events at Pearl Harbor, December 7th, 1941. Anyone looking for a good historical film should definitely pick this one up.

- Brian Bloom

Men Of Honor (2000)

Men Of Honor is a film based on the life of Carl Brashear, the first African American sailor who was determined to become a U.S. Navy Master Diver. The story begins with Carl as young boy learning how hard it is to make it in the world. He sees his father day in and day out plowing a field on their farm not knowing if he will be able to support his family. Carl has a love of water he has had from as far back as he can remember, and that is what prompts him to join the Navy. Not only a chance to serve his country, but also a chance to be in the water motivates him. Times are tough in a white man's Navy, and the only jobs given to African Americans are primarily around the mess hall and kitchen.

One day Carl decides to take a swim with the rest of the sailors and demonstrates his ability to do more than just serve food. The action gets him put in the brig, but also manages to start his career as a Navy diver. A tough Master Diver is in charge of his training, but over time and defying racial discrimination Carl manages to complete the program and move on. It is not till much later that they both realize the respect that hold for each other.

Aside from a somewhat corny ending (which may be true to real life), this movie was very entertaining throughout. We could feel the tension between white and black, and got closer to understanding what it must have been like during this time period. Acting and writing are both good, and help to make this movie an easy recommendation.

- Brian Bloom

The Siege (1998)

New York is a dangerous place. Well, New York is normally quite dangerous, but now the citizens are plagued by bombings and other nefarious terrorist actions that have the FBI trying desperately to find out who the responsible party is. A CIA operative seems to know much more than she is telling, and the FBI is making some progress slowly but surely. It seems that the Middle Eastern religious fanatics are once again to blame for these terrible crimes that show no respect for human life. A bus and hostages in a school slowly move us closer and closer to discovering the backbone of the entire destructive network called "cells." But if that isn't bad enough, a major attack on the FBI building has the local government putting NYC under martial law. The troops come in and begin herding all the possible terrorist offenders in a camp much like the Japanese internment camps during WWII. In the end, the race becomes quickened as we discover the final plan to kill many US citizens and show the world the United States' apparent weakness.

When this movie first came out there was uproar in the Middle Eastern community about the stereotypes portrayed in The Siege. After viewing this film a second time it is clear that the filmmakers are continually trying to point out that cooperation of the many "good" Middle Easterners, and how the actions taken in the movie are in many ways morally apprehensible. Unfortunately, a lot of it comes off as being somewhat silly. There are many scenes that are over the top, overacted, or downright unbelievable. Bruce Willis did not seem right for this part, or perhaps it was the fault of the screenplay that leaves us with a conclusion to his actions that is mostly ridiculous. Aside from some plot difficulties the movie still managed to entertain, provide a few questions as to what would happen, and poke (weakly) at the viewer's moral beliefs. I would recommend it to people who like action films, especially those with Denzel Washington as the lead. If you are expecting a really good drama or an intense, thought provoking film you might be disappointed.

- Brian Bloom

The Alamo (1960)

The Alamo recounts much of the historical events at one of the many memorable battles in American History-"remember the Alamo!" In an effort to stave off the armies of Santa Ana, men hold up at the Alamo and vow to fight till the end. A young strong-headed Captain is intent with protecting this adobe mission and buying more time for the United States armies of the North. They hope and hope for some relief, but either way their courage and bravery allow them to take on incredible odds for what they believe in. Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone both lead an army of volunteers and rabble rousers to help the Captain fight to hold onto this precious waypoint and give more time to hopefully help to stop Santa Ana.

Acting was good, and story flowed... well, like a film of this vintage. The length of the film was a bit long, and near the end I was waiting and waiting for the final battle scene. In between there were several funny moments, good ole fistfights, drunken singing, and the famous John Wayne drawl mixed with humorous repartee. Also, were those scenes that make everyone groan with how overly patriotic and maudlin they are. But if you like epic war stories or semi-historical film, then you should check out the Alamo. And of course anyone who is a John Wayne fan will not be disappointed.

- Brian Bloom

Remember The Titans (2000)

Deep in the southern United States there used to be a legendary high school football team called the Titans. 30 years ago it was decided that the schools must become racially integrated and in an effort to make this happen, the head coach was demoted to assistant coach and replaced by an African American who had been successful coaching for another school. The town, the students, and the former head coach were none too happy about the decision. But, due to the will and persistence of the new coach, eventually the team falls into line. The training is tough-and it isn't just about football, but also about having respect for the sport, for the team, and for each member of the team whether they are black or white. When the training is over, they come back to town to begin the school year and have to deal with the racial prejudices from parents, other students, and still struggle with their own feelings.

Long-term friendships are forged and as the team grows stronger they become a force to reckon with. When hardship falls and the chips are down they pull together and are no longer the young boys who came to play football, but men; men who have been changed in a way that most people will never understand or realize, but in ways they will never regret. The story is inspiring in the way it is told even though I am informed that it is not completely true to actual events. Good performances and well-intended and well-delivered rhetoric make this one you should enjoy.

Both the DTS and DD soundtrack offered good sound, but most of the sound came from up front. Occasional action and music sequences made better use of the surrounds. The DTS soundtracks played louder, so direct comparisons were impossible.

- Brian Bloom

Chain Reaction (1996)

The world population is growing and the need for cheap power is tantamount to our ultimate survival as our resources become fewer. A group of scientists are currently working on an extremely delicate yet powerful method of retrieving large amounts of energy from small quantities of water. One night at the lab, strangers show up and kill a few scientists and sabotage the equipment. A breakthrough had just occurred and these men were after the information and were going to cover their tracks by eliminating and/or framing some of the scientists. This puts Eddie and Lily on the run from the men who want the information and the law enforcement agencies as well. It seems there is nowhere they can hide without being tracked. As they try to get more information so they can clear their names, it seems that the conspiracy is starting to roll back onto the people they had once believed they could trust. Time is running short, but Eddie believes he may have found a way to prove his innocence and catch the men responsible. Only time will tell.

The DTS soundtrack played louder than the DD track, so comparison was impossible. Sound was good with both tracks, although much of the movie is dialogue driven with some ambient sounds, the action sequences made more use of the surrounds. Picture was good, but fuzzy, soft, and with video noise present in certain scenes. Color was generally okay. This film could have been much more than it was. If you are looking for a little action, a little drama, and not too much to think about, then this one is for you.

- Brian Bloom

Antitrust (2000)

A group of bright young computer programmers are about to enter the work force and decide what they will do with their lives. They plan a start-up company and are looking for funding. They all agree they will stay away from N.U.R.V.-a large company that sucks up smaller companies and becomes bigger and bigger. However, the lure of fame and fortune seduces one of them to join the ranks of the corporation. He never realized the full impact of that decision and begins to research certain questionable activities at the company. Clever that he is, he soon discovers things he never dreamed could happen, and then the pursuit begins. His life may never be the same, but if he is to go down in flames then he is prepared to bring down others along with him.

Perhaps if I didn't keep repeating the name "Bill Gates" in my mind every time I saw Tim Robbins then I would have liked this movie better. Or not. It is a by-the-numbers story where you can guess the ending in the first 5 minutes of the film. The picture is very good with good color and a clean look. The sound is good, but is mostly dialogue driven and won't do much for your surround system. If you are into flash and silly computer programming sequences then this is for you. Otherwise beware that just because Tim Robbins is in it doesn't make it a winner.

- Brian Bloom

I Know Where I'm Going (1945)

Right from the beginning we are told that our young lady knows where she is going. She has a not only a good head on her shoulders but a swing in her step that speaks of self-confidence far beyond that of most people. As we drop into the present we are at a meeting between her father and herself in a swanky club where she is a regular. She has withdrawn her money and surprises him with the fact that she is engaged to be married to one of the richest men in Europe. She is to leave on a train and then transfer to car and then boat to meet him on an island. Due to terrible weather she can't complete her journey and is forced to stay in a local town just across the water-only a few miles away. While staying there she meets a wonderful cast of characters, and a young man for whom she begins to develop feelings. Time passes and she desperately needs to get across, but after enlisting the service of a man to take her, they both almost perish in the storm. After the storm clears and the sun shines through it is time for her to meet up with her new husband she has to make a decision and we all learn if she really knows where she is going.

Good writing and fun off the wall characters made this movie enjoyable. Some of the storyline is a bit dated but has commonalities that are present in current films and will be present till the end of time. Loyalty, and honor, and impetuousness, and freedom, and love are all given their fair share of screen time in this film. Supplementary material is good, and production quality is good as well. In the end, I think we all know who she will end up with, but seeing it on the big screen still makes you get a little choked up. And if you like that feeling, then check this film out.

- Brian Bloom

Meet The Parents (2000)

Greg is madly in love and about to pop the question to his girlfriend when chance circumstances allow him to discover that her father expects would-be suitors to ask for permission. It just so happens that her sister is about to be wed and they all travel to stay with her parents before the wedding. Greg does everything that is humanly possible to make a good impression with her circumspect father, but always seems to fall short. Incident after incident occurs, leaving the audience laughing but with Greg feeling quite unwelcome. When the wedding nears, things just seem to get continually worse, and it looks like we are headed for an unhappy ending. You'll have to check it out if you want to see the inevitable conclusion to this one.

Anyone who has ever had a run-in with a significant other's parents or with in-laws will appreciate this over-done film. It is mostly silly and unbelievable, but it is guaranteed to get at least a laugh or two. There are tons of extras on the disc as well as a couple of games to play having to do with lying. The picture has some noise to it, but is otherwise very good. There is not much use of the surround speakers but otherwise the sound is fine. The DTS soundtrack was more expansive, had more depth, better sense of space, and better definition and detail. This is a light film that is good for at least a chuckle or two. Ben Stiller fans won't be disappointed.

- Brian Bloom

9 to 5 (1980)

Anyone who has ever had a job which involved working for someone else has had to have felt unappreciated or taken advantage of at one time or another. If you haven't, then you've been really lucky. In any case, this film is about three women who have problems with their boss. One is a newly divorced woman who hasn't worked in years and is struggling to make ends meet in the corporate world. Another is a long-term employee who has been passed over for promotion even though her ideas are stolen and used by her boss to impress higher-ups. And the last is a bubbly curvaceous blonde who is constantly being sexually harassed. An accident in the workplace leads to an interesting conspiracy among these three women to kidnap their boss and improve the workplace while he is a little tied up.

I wouldn't say that laughs abound, but there is enough cuteness and spark to make this film worth looking at. All the leads do a good job in their roles, especially Lily Tomlin whom I find funny in just about any role she takes. In some ways the film is dated, but in others it describes many of the ridiculous policies of corporations that are made fun of in comic strips like Dilbert. Sound is good, but there is occasional harshness or overloading when dialogue gets loud. Picture is good overall, but video or mpeg noise is present. Otherwise the transfer looks good and helps to make this film another one to add to your list of movies to see.

- Brian Bloom

Fiend Without A Face (1958)

In a rather quiet small town things are changing. Well, not so much change as people are ending up dead! That in of itself is something to be concerned about, but when the local forensic expert examines the bodies in detail what he finds is rather shocking-the brains are missing! The townspeople are mad as all get out and they blame that new big military installation where they know not what is going on. An officer is determined to find out what has happened, but he meets with all sorts of antagonism from the locals. There is a notable scientist that is staying in the town and perhaps he has the answers. After some brief discussions it is quite apparent that the scientist is not being totally forthcoming about his own activities. Could he have something to do with these deaths? With enough prodding and by working together there just might be a way to overcome the fiends without faces.

According to the information packaged in the DVD case as well as the supplemental material on the DVD itself, this movie is a classic. The reason is apparently due to the time it was made and the fact that it blended the science fiction genre with that of horror. By today's standards the movie is just plain silly. The characters act in silly ways, the dialogue makes you laugh in parts, and there would be no way that I could consider a classic in terms of the quality of the material. In one scene the young pretty woman villager comes out of the shower with a towel wrapped around her, and there is no doubt in my mind that this scene was included to give a little excitement to the probably typical male teenage crowd that must have gone to the theater to watch this film. Fiend Without A Face surely wasn't terrible, and there was a little bit of excitement towards the end, so you might want to check it out. The extras are really good and very interesting from a historical perspective. As long as you aren't expecting The Seventh Seal or Citizen Kane you should be all right.

- Brian Bloom 


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