Mar/Apr 2001

DVD Reviews for the Month cont.

East/West (1999)

Nominated in l999 for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, East/West concerns the plight of a young couple who answered Stalin's invitation in l946 to Russians who had fled the country to return. A young doctor and his French wife and son are the focus of a shipload of returnees who find from the start that they made a serious mistake in deciding to return to their homeland. Interrogations, terrible living conditions, suspicions everywhere, make life pure hell for them. The wife begins to rebel and eventually her husband makes all effort to get her and their son out to the West. A touring French actress who becomes involved, played by Deneuve, is their key to escape. Very gripping and even emotionally draining - don't view this to buoy up your spirits. And don't expect a happy ending, though the wife and child do eventually get to the West. Good cinematography, effective soundtrack (though I don't recall the music except for a couple rousing pieces by the Red Army Chorus). Not much use of the 5.1 surround facility.

- John Sunier

My Best Fiend

The late German actor Kinski (father of Natasha) had major roles in five Herzog films: Aguirre, Woyzeck, Cobra Verde, Fitzcarraldo, and Nosferatu. The love/hate relationship between the two creative figures is the gist of this amazing documentary. It appears Kinski was certified insane, and to get the performances Herzog wanted out of him often required the director to prod the actor deliberately into one of his frequent fits of anger. While shooting in the jungles of Peru it got to the point that both actor and director were plotting to murder one another, and at another point Herzog had to put a gun to Kinski's head to convince him not to leave the set completely and thus destroy the film in progress. Clips from the films and outtakes of some of Kinski's tempests are interspersed with talking head dialog (in English) by Herzog - often shot as he visited some of the sites in Peru and Europe where their set-tos had occurred. It made me want to immediately see the two Kinski films that I had not gotten to as yet. The film quality varies from excellent to poor (for brief Super 8 or home video footage). A thoroughly fascinating filmic document. If you've ever seen Kinksi on the screen in any film you would probably find this DVD most interesting.

- John Sunier

Kwaidan (1965)

Kwaiden is actually four short films in one. Each story is somewhat of ghost story, but not in the traditional sense.

The first story is called The Black Hair. In an attempt to improve his poor financial position, a young samurai leaves his wife and marries a rich man's daughter. He then goes on to take a higher position as a security man and soon becomes wealthy. However, he can never stop thinking about his true love. He leaves what he has recently acquired and goes off to find what he is lacking, but is it still for the taking?

The Woman of the Snow is about a woodcutter who gets stuck in a snow storm. He seeks refuge in a small cabin to wait the storm out, but while he is sleeping a strange woman approaches and takes the life of his companion. He is scared for his own life, but she makes a deal with him and spares his life. He returns to his village and eventually overcomes the sickness he had while stuck in the storm. But will he manage to keep their arrangement secret?

Hoichi, The Earless is one of the strangest stories on this disc. A blind man in a monastery is gifted with the talent to sing the legendary tales of an ancient sea battle between the Heike and Genji clans. When Hoichi starts disappearing into the night unannounced, his friends in the monastery become concerned and follow him. What they discover is a special performance that they never believed possible. They realize the need to sever his connection with these strangers, but will they manage to do so without harming poor Hoichi?

The last film is called In a Cup of Tea. This story is told as a story within a story. A writer recounts an old tale of a warrior who meets up with a phantom who appears in his cup of tea. Fear strikes him and when he encounters this ghost up close and in person, he attacks his form. When he finds himself laughed at and then confronted with more of the ghostly kind, well the ending is one of those twists that most people will enjoy. Warning: you may never look at a teacup the same way again.

All of the shorts stand on their own in terms of story, acting, and film work. A very enjoyable set if you are in a ghostly sort of mood. Actual film quality is impressive with good color and dark haunting blacks. Definitely worth checking out.

- Brian Bloom

In The Heat of the Night (1967)

A prominent businessman has been murdered in the deep south. There is a ton of pressure on the police to discover who the murderer is and bring them to justice. Virgil Tibbs gets picked up at the train station because a deputy thinks that he may fit the profile of a suspect--he's black and he has money in his pocket. The police don't know who are they are dealing with however. Virgil is more than capable of determining how the murder was committed, and he won't stop till he finds who the killer is. But the town is resistent to any help whatsoever, and that includes the chief of police. As we go from one suspect to the next, it is not clear who is really the killer and why.

This film won five Academy Awards including Best Picture. Race relations play a big part in the tale, and even when you find yourself liking Rod Steiger's character, you find yourself disliking him. In fact, all the characters are not without scrutiny, and you find yourself taking up the viewpoint of each to determine what they are all about. Each character is told so well that you feel that they come to life. As a film, In The Heat of the Night is hard to criticize. Sidney Poitier goes a little over the top at times, but that doesn't detract from the film in the slightest, and in some ways the part demands it. Truly a classic of its genre and absolutely worth a viewing.

- Brian Bloom

Malice (1993)

There is a serial rapist/ killer on the loose and Andy is about to become the prime suspect. But that is merely a subplot and the story begins to unfold twisting and turning along the way. Andy lives with his pretty young wife in a big Victorian house that is in need of renovation. His wife suggested that they might want to rent the top floor in order to pay for new plumbing. When the latest victim of the serial rapist is saved by a brand new doctor at the local hospital, Andy goes in to thank him for saving her. Coincidentally, the doctor is a high school classmate of Andy's. Andy's wife has been suffering from strange abdominal pains lately, but it doesn't seem out of control. Luckily, when she is rushed to the hospital for medical attention, the doctor is there to perform the procedure and save her life. But will her life ever be the same again? Will any of theirs?

Malice is a wonderful thriller with lots of surprises and really good characters. Even when you are sure you have it figured out, there are still lots of interesting twists and turns ahead. Everything fits together nicely and the serial killer subplot helps throw you off until the real story is revealed. There aren't many extras on this disc but picture and sound are fine. Anyone who enjoys a good dramatic thriller will enjoy this film. Check it out.

- Brian Bloom

Benny & Joon (1993)

A lonely mechanic has little time to look for companionship while he takes care of his mentally ill sister. Joon is incredibly creative, but can't be trusted to be left on her own due to her dangerous tendencies of directing traffic and lighting things on fire. The doctor thinks that maybe Joon would be best in a home, but her brother can't bear to see that happen to her. Their lives both change for the better when Joon loses a poker hand and gets to take Sam into their house. Sam is obsessed with films and is strange in his own ways. Both being outcasts in one way or other Sam and Joon begin to feel for each other despite the warnings of her brother. Everyone is put to the test when their desires for happiness collide in contrary ways. In the end we get a nice ending with everyone getting what they really needed to begin with-a little love, and a little companionship.

There are moments in this film where it appears that it is getting better and the story strengthens, but then it slips back into silliness and then into seriousness just as fast. I wasn't sure whether it wanted to be a comedy, a drama, or a sad love story. Supporting characters are introduced and then they seem to fall into the backdrop. The story really tries hard, but in the end I wasn't sure how successful it was. Acting was good, but there was not enough life to the film to really like all the characters. Maybe it just needed a little push in one direction or the other instead of trying to be all things to all people. If you are looking for a light movie, then look elsewhere. The subject matter can get rather heavy, and the story becomes quite serious at times, and especially near the end. Yet, the intent is true, and for that it is worth checking out. Perhaps you will get more out of it than I did.

- Brian Bloom

House Of Games (1987)

A successful psychiatrist is riding the success of her new book, but the answers to the big questions of her life are not forthcoming. As she gets closer and closer to discovering the ailing of her patients she begins to wonder why she bothers. In an effort to make a difference for one of her patients, a compulsive gambler, she seeks out a mysterious man at the House of Games. This place of con men and mind games fascinates her, and she ends up being the pawn in a game of the man she seeks. She discovers a desire to learn more and the intrigue of it all becomes an obsession. She decides to write a new book on the confidence game and study the world of cons. As she gets deeper and deeper into the world of the con men, it becomes difficult to decide whether she is a partner or a patsy. Back and forth we go trying to figure out who is on whose side. In the end it seems she may finally get what she is after-a little bit of comfort and control.

This movie is much better than you'd expect. It tends to draw you in and hook you just like the main character gets hooked. Crouse is an actress whose name may not ring any bells, but she has been in many good films and television programs over the years. She tends to be a little stiff and unsure about her acting at times, but it doesn't really detract from the fun of the film that is due to the well thought out plot. That is where the skills of Mamet are most present. Direction and scene development help to focus the viewer on style and preoccupy one with elements that will prove important later on. Everything is tied together nicely, and once the film pace picks up after the introduction it goes easily towards the culmination, and what may seem to be an unusual conclusion.

If you are fond of good storytelling and plots that turn and twist a bit, then you will enjoy this film. The action is sparse but effective, and each character is interesting in one way or another. There is a little audio hiss and audio becomes marginal in some scenes, but otherwise audio and video are fine.

- Brian Bloom

Romper Stomper (1992)

Romper Stomper is a film about skinheads--how they live, what they think, what they do, and whom they hurt. The movie starts with the gang looking for trouble in the city of Melbourne. The leader picks up a drug addicted girlfriend and a triangle forms between his main mate and her. There are several scenes of violence, racism, and general "wrong-doing." As more and more Vietnamese move into the neighborhood, the skinheads take action against them. The young girl is an interesting feint against which the main character is divined. In fact, she is probably the strongest force in the movie. As the main woman in the film she takes the form of mother, child, and lover all at different times. From this we observe the reactions of the members of the gang--how thoughtless, how hurtful, how confused.

After watching the extras in this two disc set, my impressions of this film are somewhat different than right after watching it. If you look at this movie like a typical drama, then you might find yourself a little disappointed. However, if you tend to see it more as a documentary with the events in the film recounting actual events that have occured then you will like this film more. There are several sequences which seem to be strung together and don't really flow like I'd wish. The first thing I was thinking when I saw this film was that it was very similiar to American History X. I can't help but think that, at least chronologically, this film was made before that one, but that film was a more successful drama while introducing the viewer to the skinhead mentality. This film kept teetering between showing the rawness of the life of a skinhead and the struggle to attempt to maintain a continuous story with some obvious moral underpinnings and direction. It seems the writer/ director wanted to show all of these different subscenes, but sacrificed some of the whole. The other concern was whether some of the feelings given off by the film where intentional and thought out, or just happened due to lack of production values.

In the end, you have to make up your own mind. It seems that the critics of the time were impressed with the realistic feel and depictions of skinhead life, so maybe you will be too. Consider this film as a cross between Do the Right Thing and A Clockwork Orange and Mad Max.

- Brian Bloom

Python (2000)

A genetically engineered snake is being transported by plane to a government lab and due to the ineptness of the men on board, the plane crashes, the snake escapes, and thus begins the horror of a movie called Python. It all happens in a sleepy town where we meet the usual cast of characters: two young women on a camp-out, three local law enforcement officers, a couple of early twenty-somethings, a sleazy real estate salesman, etc. The government has come to town with a ridiculous explanation of why the townspeople are being devoured by acid, and hope to recapture the vicious snake. The python has its own agenda and is getting even larger as time goes on. There is an installation built that houses all sorts of fancy electronic gadgets that supposedly will aid in the recapture effort. Well, as usual, they didn't come prepared, and this movie turns into another one of those B movies that are on at two in the morning.

The kids enlist the help of the snake's designer who lets them know what they are up against. Even though the snake seems to be very intelligent, apparently a couple of kids can outsmart it and save the day. As the movie plodded on I marveled at the acting ability of some of these people. Perhaps to some who have nothing better to do this movie might be worth watching. Oh. And the special effects are terrible too! It seemed as if some of the characters were actually trying, and for them I truly feel sorry. Better luck next time.

- Brian Bloom


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