DVD Video Reviews for May 2002, Pt. 2

click on any cover to go directly to its review

Zoolander (2001)

Derek Zoolander is a three-time male model of the year, but his future on top has come into question with the appearance of the hippy sportster model Hansel. Hansel isn't the only person who'd like to see Derek hit the dust either-the evil fashion "god" Mugatu has plans for him as well. It seems that reform in Malaysia means that the sweatshops that normally make the clothes co inexpensively will be eliminated. The plan by the textile industry to keep profits up involves brainwashing famous models to help assassinate leaders who stand in the way. A young reporter, who has her eye on Derek, might just help uncover the plot and save the prime minister. Derek has had some serious personal setbacks and is thinking about retiring. But is this really Derek's place? Or, can he do more than he ever dreamed of despite his apparent lack of intellect?

This film enjoys poking fun at the entire fashion industry, so no one is really safe from ridicule. The characters are silly and do stupid things that are the obvious source of humor in the film. This is not really new ground for Stiller, and it is definitely over the top, but to good effect if you can hang with it. The most you can hope for a film like this is entertainment, and that is exactly what it delivers. When I first thought it was forgettable, I realized I was recounting humorous scenes with friends, and laughing all over again. Sound and picture are quite good, and laughs are a plenty-check it out.

- Brian Bloom

Under the Sand (2001)

Some critics felt that Rampling should have received the Best Actress Oscar at the Academy Awards for her wrenching portrayal of a wife whose husband mysteriously disappears while they are at the beach near their country vacation home. While in the opening scenes he appears to be somewhat depressed, she refuses to believe he committed suicide and no body is at first found. She speaks to him and relates to him in their home as though he is still there, but that doesn't prevent her from striking up a tentative relationship with an interested man - who finds her complete refusal to accept the death of her husband frustrating in the extreme.

The emotions of loss and grief are so strong in this film that the viewer cannot help empathizing with Marie. I was reminded of the Dutch film The Vanishing, about a woman who also mysteriously disappears. May seem slow-moving in parts, but it all contributes to the desired mood. A film sound pro recently mentioned the greater challenges involved in soundtrack post production for DVD in the home vs. the less demanding theatrical experience. I noticed the very scratchy old LP of a French tune which evidently had some strong connotation that is lost on American viewers. It was heard twice during the film, and while in the theater the surface noise was probably not seriously distracting, in a home situation it was terribly annoying and should have been cleaned up. Also specific foley sounds such as pouring tea or closing doors were way too loud in relation to the dialog and the rest of the soundtrack.

- John Sunier

Here are a pair of DVDs concerning landscapes- the first breathtaking, the second surrealistic...

The Australian Outback (2001)
Discover the Spirit of the Land Down Under

The spectacular panoramic still photography of Michael Scott Lees is the basis for this unusual Australian travel video. You are given a choice of viewing either the original stills, matted to a very wide screen with sizeable black borders above and below on a 16:9 screen, or full screen slow pans across the images together with zooms in or out on them. The full screen versions will probably appeal to most viewers because the landscapes are so quiet and barren of human figures. The only time one realizes they are not live action footage is when in shots of streams and ocean the water is blurred or a white fog from long exposure times. There are also minute artifacts that cause a leaf or area of water to shimmer or have a slight movement in a single spot, not really distracting but giving some life to the still image.

The DVD uses a new process which converts the normal interlaced image on the DVD itself into the progressive scan format. Therefore one doesn't require a progressive scan player or monitor to display a higher quality image. I turned off the progressive function on both my DVD player and RPTV set, but could see little difference among the three progressive conversions or even when all three were operating at once. The images are all such high resolution as to approach HDTV quality. The 5.1 sound is also highly detailed and evocative, especially in the DTS version. Effects such as approaching thunderstorm sounds all around as we pan across a farm with thunder clouds in the background are most effective. The images are of mountains, dusty outback, lovely verdant forests and rugged sea washed coastlines. They are divided into various categories which fade to black in between like chapters in a story. The music is provided by the Australian group known as Rivertribe Music, delivering what is described as "relaxation-indigenous-soul-tribal music." Naturally there's lots of the mysterious-sounding didgeridoo, but also Indian flutes, Irish whistle, African drums, Armenian duduk and the natural sounds of the native forests and seashores. A relaxing, meditative and enlightening visual journey - without any voice-over, by the way - which made me anxious to visit the vast land down under.

- John Sunier

Dali (1992)

What an error someone made in labeling this documentary - on the back where most DVDs list the audio format and length, it says B&W! Can't think of a film subject that would be more useless in black and white than colorful self-proclaimed genius artist Salvador Dali. The film attempts to be a filmic biography of the Spanish artist, delving into his work not only in painting but sculpture, writing, fashion, film and toward the end of his life in putting his imprint and signature on all sorts of kitschy commercial chottkes. Filming was done in Barcelona, Perpignan, Paris, London, New York and Florida - the latter where a wealthy couple who bought Dali's works continuously for years built an entire museum devoted to his art. In one of the film clips Dali proclaims "The only difference between me and a madman is that I am not mad!" In this and other pronouncements he makes in his strangely halting, every word emphasized English, Dali reminded me of Michael Palin doing one of his Monty Python characters.

The super-extroverted artist says in an interview that he believes himself to be a rather mediocre painter - that his genius lies in his vision and not in what he is creating at any one time. His attachment/dependence on his wife Gala, who appears in many of his paintings, is explored; as well as his decline following her death. His partnership with Bunuel in creating their avant garde film Un Chien Andalou will surely interest film fans. Bunuel had the money and a script but Dali told him he had a better idea since he was a genius, and that's the one they followed. They rejected any image that had a solid meaning or reference and merely spliced together the most surrealistic scenes Dali could dream up. In fact the ants in the hand and the razor blade thru the eyeball both came straight out of dreams that Dali and Bunuel respectively had dreamt. Alfred Hitchcock speaks about his use of Dali to design the dream sequence in his film Spellbound, not because of his notoriety but due to Dali's skill in bringing dream-like images to life.

- John Sunier

Shadows and Fog (1992)

On the surface, this film is about a small town with a strange cast of characters who are being tormented by a terrible killer. The police seem helpless to do anything, so the townspeople begin to organize in groups with secretive plans to catch the criminal. Woody Allen plays Kleinman, a bumbling fool of a character who manages to interact with all the key people involved: the prostitutes, the police, the magician, the sword swallower, the scientist, etc. After the sword swallower finds her "clown" sleeping with Madonna, she leaves the circus and ends up in the brothel. There, she meets an interesting man who offers her a huge sum of money to sleep with him. Meanwhile, Kleinman is off wandering around and being considered suspect by many due to some circumstantial evidence that was found at the last victim's home. It is only dumb luck that allows him to run into the actual killer, and chase him off.

Throughout most of the film, like the main character, and the metaphor put forth by the film, we are lost in the shadows and the fog. There are so many known actors and actresses in this film it will make your head swim. All of them play mostly small but integral parts in the tapestry woven by our storyteller. Like many Allen films, there are tons of satire and silliness, in the Woody Allen style. You either like his films or you don't. This one probably won't be the one to win you over as a Woody Allen fan, yet it remains a fine example of the type of skill and talent Allen possesses and uses to great effect time and time again.

- Brian Bloom

It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

As a car speeding down the highway is rounding a curve, the driver suddenly loses control and goes flying off the road down the side of a hill. Some passersby run down to see if the gentleman is all right. They find him in tatters and about to pass on from the land of the living. In his final moments, he manages to tell the story of $350,000 he has hidden away. The five men who learn of the money drive on after the police arrive, but the idea of all that money is starting to eat away at them. Soon, they are off and running trying to find the spot where the loot is hidden. They all pull off the road and try to make a deal on how to split up the money. It eventually becomes a mad, mad, mad, mad world, as it is every man and woman for him or herself! We find out that the man was under surveillance, and now that he is dead, they are tailing the travelers. As they go from one comic sequence to another, we wonder if any of them will ever find the money. The end is definitely unexpected with a few twists here and there, making it all the more fun.

There are so many different comedians in this film that it gets hard to keep count! Many of the gags are unexpected and hilarious, and even the ones that are expected are still very funny. You find out from the interviews in the special features section that many of comic scenes were all in the script, and not adlibbed. A lot of good background on the filmmaker is presented via many of the actors who worked in the film. There are tons of extra scenes that were restored from a work print. Most of them suffer from all sorts of picture noise, color shifts, and other problems, but they are all still viewable and interesting in their own right. The picture and sound of the movie are good, and the picture is presented in a very wide-aspect ratio that will benefit from a large video screen. This movie has been recently imitated by Rat Race, yet the original is still thought of as one of the zaniest and funniest films of all time.

- Brian Bloom

The Fifth Element (1997)
Superbit version

Speaking of dreamlike images, they're in this sci-fi blockbuster a-plenty. When it first appeared on DVD The Fifth Element became a popular source for home theater demonstrations at dealers and shows such as CES - especially the scene in which the alien diva sings her aria while Jovovich kung-fus the heck out of a bunch of ugly alien mercenaries backstage. The concept of this 23rd century universe is colorful and outrageous with a certain French twist flair. It has aspects of Cirque de Soleil in outer space. The obvious anachronisms of objects from the past in this futuristic world may remind one of another sci-fi classic, Brazil. For example, Willis' l950s-era flying NYC taxicab.

Jovovich as Leeloo is herself the Fifth Element required to combine with the other four for either good or evil purpose. Gary Oldman as the over the-top villain naturally has the latter purpose in mind. And he's not nearly as over-the-top as Ruby Rhod - the extravagant campy host of the TV show on the pleasure resort in space where the Diva Plavalaguna scene takes place and to which Willis (as the unwilling protector of LeeLoo) has been brought as a guest. Ian Holm as an art dealer/seer assists later in getting all the elements properly together and the universe is saved. Oops, did I give anything away here? The SuperBit release is terrific in both image and sonic departments. I didn't have the original release at hand for comparison but in earlier comparing of others where I did the improvement was sometimes noticeable but extremely subtle on my 51 inch screen.

- John Sunier

Now for a couple of movies that could be very disturbing to some people. Just skip to the next article if you're especially squeamish about ears or rabbits in surrealistic situations...

Blue Velvet (1986)

Quintessential Lynch here. His fascination with setting up a Mayberry-like innocent town and then delving into the deep and disturbing secrets beneath the cleancut appearance is at its peak here, but was also seen in the Twin Peaks TV series and even in the recent Mulholland Drive (though there he had to strive to make Hollywood look innocent on the surface.) MacLachlan's college boy is led into a compelling and erotic murder mystery when he discovers a decapitated human ear in a field. Beautiful nightclub singer Rossellini is under the control of drug-crazed sadist Hopper and MacLachlan is attracted to her and tries to learn more about the underworld of his town. His girlfriend Laura Dern is innocently drawn into the amateur detective's investigation. Angelo Badalamenti's brooding musical score aids and abets the film's dark and suspenseful mood. In case you're wondering, Blue Velvet is the song Rossellini keeps singing for Hopper. The picture quality is generally good, though a bit washed out in some of the darker scenes (and there are lots of them). Lynch won a Best Director Oscar for this one in l986.

- John Sunier

Fatal Attraction (1978)

Now this is the sort of package that more DVDs should strive for. I frankly found the documentaries and interviews on this DVD almost more interesting than the film itself - though it was great to see it again after all these years. The Social Attraction one is especially pertinent. Time magazine said people just can't stop talking about this movie. In Britain people now refer to a woman of the unstable variety of the film's Alex as a "bunny boiler." (That doesn't give anything away if you haven't seen the movie.) I had forgotten the strong protest against the film from the feminist/women's movement. Today it is difficult to understand their objections. After all, Attorney Dan in the story considers his short affair with Alex a big mistake and she attempts to kill him. The original script-planning discussion in the extras was fascinating. It was also an entirely new role for Glenn Close, who had not done such an overtly sexy woman before. The producers talked to therapists and other experts about whether the actions and feelings of such a character as Alex were reasonable or possible. Another surprise was the material on the test screenings; the filmmakers' learning that audiences were completely dissatisfied with the original ending - which had Alex committing suicide in a scene reminiscent of the conclusion of Madama Butterfly. So they got all those concerned back together again and re-shot the ending which we now see in the film.

- John Sunier


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