DVD Video Reviews for June 2002, Pt. 2

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Dick Tracy (1990)

  • Starring: Charlie Korsmo, Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Madonna, Glenne Headly
  • Studio: Touchstone video
  • Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen
  • Audio: DTS 5.1, DD 5.1, French stereo
  • Extras: None
  • Length: 105 minutes
  • Rating: ***1/2

Based on the comic book character, Dick Tracy tells the story of a law enforcer who is out to take down the bad elements of town. The mobsters are everywhere, but "Big Boy" is looking to take over and rub out the rest of the heads of the business. He takes over the club after putting someone encased in concrete at the bottom of the ocean. Dick has been involved with Tess for a very long time, but his career is always getting in the way. When he picks up a kid for stealing, the kid soon is emulating Tracy, and basically is adopted. The lounge singer at the club is witness to many of the nefarious activities, but is concerned for her life, and doesn't want to squawk. Tracy is determined to rid the city of crime, and a lucky break gets him a heads up on the criminal activity. A few close calls happen, and it isn't certain if Tracy will make it alive.

After the success of Batman, a movie about another comic hero made a lot of sense. The makeup and sets on this film are amazing, and always have tons of color. [Technicolor - with its exaggerated bright colors - ain't got nothin' on this movie - Ed.] The cast is tremendous and the story isn't bad either. You have to keep in mind the comic book roots of the story, and then the film is really much better then you might expect. It doesn't play like a normal drama, and a lot of things are exaggerated, like the costumes and characters, but all of this is to good effect, and even Madonna isn't that bad in this film. It really is a delight for the eyes, and will entertain throughout. [And a delight for the ears too - tunes by Stephen Sondheim and great 5.1 sonics - Ed.]

- Brian Bloom

Metropolis (2001)
Anime feature based on the comic by Osamu Tezuka

  • Studio: Mad House Animation/Tri-Star
  • Video: 16:9 widescreen enhanced
  • Audio: English and Japanese 5.1 Dolby Digital, Japanese 5.1 DTS, French stereo
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai
  • Extras: On main disc = Theatrical trailers, Animated menus. On tiny second DVD = The Making of Metropolis - Animax Special, Filmmaker interviews, Multi-angle animation comparisons, History of Tezuka's Metropolis comic book, Bios of Osamu Tezuka and director Rintaro, Conceptual art gallery
  • Length: 109 min.
  • Rating: ****

Japanese anime has won a small but growing audience in the West, and this blockbuster hits a new height in that nation's approach to feature animation. It is sure to reach a wider audience than earlier efforts - probably more via this DVD than in theatrical showings. Also recent anime epics such as Akira and Ghost in the Shell have opened up more Americans to these super-imaginative fantasy features. The gorgeous packaging of the DVD will surely aid it's acceptance. It is a colorful four-part foldout with two DVDs - the second one devoted entirely to the extras and only 3 1/4 inches in diameter.

The producers of the film had to wait until the death of Tezuka to plan the production, because the late manga pioneer had refused to have his graphic novel made into an animated film. I found it interesting that nowhere in the interviews or Making of... Documentary was any mention made of the Fritz Lang original silent film. Tezuka was obviously strongly influenced by that classic, but he did make several important changes from the original. The physical layers of the Metropolis from the rulers on top down to the downtrodden workers in the lowest level were kept, except that there are now three levels instead of two and the works are not drone-like humans but drone-like robots. The main character is the former "False Maria" robot, here named Tima. Only there is no human Maria/Tima - she was the daughter of Duke Red of Metropolis who died before the story begins. And the twist here is that the beautiful robot doesn't know she is a super-robot. She is befriended by the young nephew of a detective - who has a leading role in uncovering the dastardly plans of Duke Red (shades of Blade Runner). There's even a loveable non-verbal robot a la R2D2, this one name Fifi. The filmmakers added an entirely new character who wasn't even in the comic book - Rock - a fascistic junior hit man working for Duke Red, he specializes in blowing away robots who venture up out of their proscribed depths. Having the main sympathetic characters (except for the Japanese detective) all be children struck me as, well... less than adult. But the visual impact and artistic imagination of the animators - melding digital and cell animation in a cutting-edge achievement - was so overwhelming that I soon put that gripe aside.

Much of the soundtrack employs a sort of 1920's Weimar-Republic-jazz soundtrack which creates an auditory dichotomy of nostalgia and futurism much as the visual elements did in Brazil. The final scenes of cataclysmic slo-mo destruction (similar to Akira) are accompanied by completely different music on the Metropolis soundtrack. In seeming homage to Stanley Kubrick's famous use of the pop song "We'll Meet Again" at the conclusion of Dr. Strangelove, the soundtrack (without dialog) suddenly becomes Ray Charles, chorus and orchestra in a rousing rendition of "I'll Never Stop Loving You."

- John Sunier

The Accused (1988)

  • Starring: Kelly McGillis, Jodie Foster
  • Studio: Paramount
  • Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced
  • Audio: DD 5.1, DD 2.0, French Stereo
  • Extras: trailer
  • Length: 110 minutes
  • Rating: ****

It could have been just another evening in a local bar-some young college kids, a few regulars, a couple of pretty girls, and some white trash-but it wasn't. In the back room where the music is playin' and the jukebox is all lit up, a pretty young woman is getting loose, and trying to forget a fight she just had with her boyfriend. All the guys present have other ideas, and soon it is a veritable sex scene. She runs out and gets taken to the hospital by a passerby, and charges rape. As more elements of the incident come to light it is hard to know who exactly is guilty. Is it just the participants? Is it solely the girl? Or is it the crowd who cheered on the orgy?

Powerful roles and subject matter make this film one that is truly hard to forget. Rather than exploring the beginning of the story quickly (i.e. the "rape"), it is pieced together as the movie goes along. This increases the dramatic effect, and creates a renewed distaste and rancor, when we see the true circumstances behind the actions in the bar. The movie attempts to create a moral dilemma, and asks the question: Are the members of lower social classes in our society deserving of and requiring of the same justice as those in the higher classes? However deplorable it is for people to sit back and allow or even encourage criminal activity by others, is that punishable by law? McGillis is good as the District Attorney, even with a little silly self-righteous drama, but there is a good reason why Foster can win academy awards, and this movie is good evidence of that ability. The material is not to be taken lightly, but understanding this, the movie is highly recommended.

- Brian Bloom

Ruthless People (1986)

  • Starring: Danny DeVito, Judge Reinhold, Helen Slater, Bette Midler
  • Studio: Touchstone Video
  • Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen
  • Audio: DD 2.0
  • Extras: none
  • Length: 90 minutes
  • Rating: ****

A businessman hatches a plan to murder his rich wife. He informs his mistress and goes off to take care of business. Unfortunately, someone else has something completely different in mind. Sure enough, his wife has been kidnapped, and a ransom is demanded for her release. Seeing the opportunity of a lifetime, the man stalls the kidnappers in hopes that they will do away with her. But they are not professionals, and the police have all sorts of trouble finding the real bad guy. It turns out, that the mistress is looking to upgrade her position in life, and has something going with the police as well. She applies a little pressure on the commissioner and has the investigation going in a totally different direction. The real truths are to be discovered at the end with funny sequences all along the way.

Aside from the fact that this DVD doesn't have a single extra feature, the movie stands on its own. There are several memorable scenes that people recount time after time. Some of the sequences have the feel of a Three's Company episode, and add a bit of zaniness to the whole film. Twisting and turning even till the end, this film leaves the viewer interested in the outcome, and laughing the whole way to the bank. This is light, enjoyable film that makes you realize there were some good films made in the 80s.

- Brian Bloom

Seems Like Old Times (1980)

  • Starring: Chevy Chase, Goldie Hawn, Charles Grodin
  • Studio: Columbia Pictures
  • Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced, 1.33:1 Full Screen
  • Audio: DD mono
  • Extras: trailer, preview (Cops and Robbersons)
  • Length: 102 minutes
  • Rating: ***1/2

Nick's been working hard on a novel, but his life is about to take a rather interesting turn. It seems that he is a target for two gentlemen who have decided to use him in a bank robbery. First they kidnap him in an attempt to strike it rich. Sure enough, Nick is caught on camera, and the police are out looking for him. After he is thrown out of a moving vehicle, he manages to work his way back to his ex-wife, Glenda, who is currently married to the district attorney! He sees finding Nick and wrapping the case up as a perfect chance to get ahead in his job, but he has to find Nick first. Glenda is big on strays, and she just can't seem to get rid of him; in fact, she agrees to defend him in court. One humorous incident follows another in this romantic farce.

Neil Simon definitely has a gift for witty material, this film being no different. Chevy Chase is downright hilarious at times, and really makes this film fun. The side gags with some of the additional characters that occur in Glenda's house are a lot of fun too. This isn't a deep film with tons of meaning, but it will make you laugh, and sometimes that is all you need. Picture is a little dated, and the sound isn't anything to write home about, but the laughs are worth the price of admission.

- Brian Bloom

Breaking Away (1979)

  • Starring: Dennis Christopher, Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern
  • Studio: Fox
  • Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced, 1.33:1 Pan and Scan
  • Audio: DD 2.0, DD mono
  • Extras: Trailer, tv spots (2), previews
  • Length: 100 minutes
  • Rating: ****

Dave is fascinated with cycling, and having discovered that the leading cyclists are all Italian, he does everything he can to imitate them. He talks with an Italian accent, he studies their culture, and he even pretends to be Italian for a cute co-ed he meet at a local college. His father, who works selling used cars for a living, thinks Dave is wasting his time, and should get a real job and stop pretending to be someone he is not. His three best friends, who are also locals of the town, accept his behavior and still go down to the quarry to swim. There is a constant feud between the rich college kids and the locals. When an opportunity comes to compete against them in a bicycle race, you would think they would jump at the chance. But, as the friends have grown older, they've also started to grow apart and find their own separate paths. What will have to happen to get them to unify their efforts, battle their fears, and rediscover their friendship and faith in one another?

Like Stand By Me, this film is about coming of age, and the relationship between childhood friends. Dave battles for the acceptance of his family while he struggles with his identity. Once he realizes how cold and hard life can be, and that the people he idolizes don't respect him and his ability, he is confused about his future and whether anything makes sense. None of the circle of friends truly has a direction in the beginning of the film, but in the end, knowing that they have a unique friendship is enough for them. Much of the film is a metaphor-a beautiful one at that-that will appeal to anyone who remembers the struggles of being a teenager.

- Brian Bloom

The One (2002)

  • Starring: Jet Li, Delroy Lindo, Carla Gugino
  • Studio: Columbia
  • Video: 2.35:1 Widescreen Enhanced
  • Audio: DD 5.1, French 2.0, Audio Commentary
  • Extras: documentary on film, special effects and fight scene film info, how to film multiple versions of Jet Li, trailer, filmographies, costume and makeup for different versions of Jet Li's character, animatic comparison.
  • Length: 87 minutes
  • Rating: ***

Reality is much more complex than we ever realized. Apparently there are multiple parallel universes, and the capability for travel between them exists in at least one of those universes. In each universe there is a replica of us. A criminal has discovered that by killing his duplicate in other universes, he grows stronger. He wants to be "the one". The authorities of his universe are on his trail and do capture him, but he keeps managing to get free. The last version of himself is on Earth, and he is out to kill this version. The film is about this final search and his attempt to become all-powerful.

Some of the people who have seen this film have dubbed it The Matrix: II. The reason is obvious once you've begun to watch-the effects are using the same bullet time camera that was pioneered in the other film. This adds an excitement to the many different fight scenes that appear throughout the film. The story seems almost entirely like Highlander though, and there really isn't much meat to the film. Basically, you are getting a martial arts/sci-fi/action film. You might recognize a few of the actors, and they do an okay job. If there were a little more story, and a little less action, then this film might have really gone somewhere, but alas, that did not happen. If you are a fan of Jet Li, then you won't be disappointed, but if you are looking for a little more, then you will. Take this one under advisement.

- Brian Bloom

Stavisky (1974)

  • Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Charles Boyer, Francois Perier
  • Directed by: Alain Resnais
  • Studio: Studio Canal/Image Entertainment
  • Video:1.66:1 widescreen enhanced
  • Audio: Dolby Digital mono, French with English subtitles
  • Extras: None
  • Length: 112 min.
  • Rating: ***1/2

A sumptuous visual and musical feast from France, with 1930s high life in ornate hotels, casinos and classic cars plus the only instrumental movie score by Stephen Sondheim. Evidently based on historical events, this is the story of a larger-than-life con man who goes by dozens of names, but Stavisky is his pet name in the public eye. His gorgeous wife and automobiles as well as his fast-talking optimism seem to keep increasingly shaky financial dealings afloat until a final collapse that almost brings down the entire government due to his having bribed many of them in on his scams. The capper is his saturation of the country with phony vouchers. Scenes of various financial types hurriedly burning files in their fireplaces echoes (pre-echos?) the current Enron debacle. There are hints of the coming greater debacle in one of the financial coverups involving the sale of arms to Mussolini, plus the revelation that Stavisky is Jewish. Charles Boyer is a pleasure to see as Stavisky's financially-naive baron friend who ends up in effect having to testify against him. A very young and fresh-faced Gerard Depardieu has a brief part in the film. Excellent color and plenty of detail in the screen image with no noticeable artifacts. I haven't seen anyone else commenting on this, but all the English subtitles on DVDs today seem to be accurate translations, without spelling goofs, and neatly placed and colored so as to be completely readable without obscuring details on the screen. That's definitely not what I remember from seeing foreign films in theatrical or film festival settings!

- John Sunier

Salesman (1969)

  • Dir. By: The Maysles Brothers
  • Studio: Maysles Films/The Criterion Collection
  • Video: 4:3 fullscreen black & white
  • Audio: DD mono
  • Subtitles: English for hearing impaired
  • Extras: Theatrical trailer, Audio commentary by Albert Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin, 1968 TV interview with the Maysles, NPR Weekend Edition audio piece on "The Rabbit," Behind-the-scenes photos, Filmographies
  • Length: 91 min.
  • Rating: ****

The Maysles revolutionized documentary filmmaking with such features as Gimme Shelter's record of the Rolling Stones' Altamont concert. Salesman takes the viewer intimately into the depressing world of door-to-door Bible salesmen and their customers - a phenomenon that no longer exists, according to the NPR audio-only clip in the Extras section. It's a sort of under-the-surface look at the hard realities of American "normalcy" that gave me a fleeting thought of David Lynch - not to suggest there is anything else remotely similar in the two filmic approaches to life! Another connection that quickly comes to mind is Arthur Miller's Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman - especially in relation to the one of the four salesman named Paul. He is not the go-getter of the four. Far be it for him to get up and announce during a sales/cheer-leading session that he's going to make $50K that year selling the expensive plastic-covered illustrated Bibles to those leads provided by local Catholic churches - people at such a struggling level that they can't commit to even one dollar a week on an installment plan to pay for the Bible.

Each of the four has a nickname they have given themselves, and Paul is The Badger. As his sales fall so does his confidence, and he covers by giving his cohorts long imitations of his recalcitrant would-be customers, delivered in a fake Irish brogue. Paul is selling faith but he's lost faith in himself. And understandably too - the desolate feeling of being with these men and their "marks" and dealing with the pressure of their daily quotas is almost over-powering. When a successful salesman ("The Bull"), adept at using any bulls***ing required to close his sale, takes Paul out with him and tells the customer they visit why Paul is there, you almost want to crawl under the sofa with Paul and pretend you're not there. The Maysles' message about the dark side of the American commercial world in general and the commodification of faith itself - as organized religion becomes commercial exploitation - is inescapable.

I haven't the space to reveal details, but I can report that in the 70s I knew someone who knew the priest who is seen here briefly exhorting the assembled salesmen at the annual meeting about "the holy work" they are doing. He was very excited about being involved in the film and with the final result. It would be interesting to know the wording of the agreement between the four salesmen and the Maysles about their finished film and its release. There was an extremely castigating Canadian documentary filmed on Hugh Hefner years ago. Its release was dependent on Hefner seeing the final cut and approving it. He loved it and it was shown on TV and widely distributed, much to the grief of his PR people who tried to break the news to him that he was depicted as an idiot.

- John Sunier

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