DVD Reviews for September 2001, Pt. 2 of 2

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


O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

Loosely based on the Homeric classic tale of Ulysses, O Brother, Where Art Thou? tells of three escaped convicts going off in search of a stolen treasure. Along their journey they meet up with the most interesting characters-a guitar player who has sold his soul, the Klan, three beautiful temptresses, a one-eyed giant the list goes on. Each man offers his own little of bit of comedy as they stumble, bumble, and run from one silly situation to the next. With a little courage, a little lying, a little stupidity, they just might make it through in one piece.

In this film it wasn't so much the story, which is quite humorous, as it was the way the story was presented that made it quite unique, and clearly distinguished it as another Coen brother's film. Acting is mostly good, and you can't fault much else. However, the weirdness factor is very high, so my guess is people will either like this film a good deal or be completely turned off by it. I wasn't as compelled while watching as I have been with their other films, but it may have just been a dislike of George Clooney that was to blame. Everyone else in the film is great. You will have to be the final judge. The image has an intentional washed out look to it that may bother some, but otherwise the look is very good. Sound is excellent as well. The film was entertaining on the whole and for some it will be much more.

- Brian Bloom


The Seven Year Itch (1955)

Another film in the Marilyn Monroe Diamond Collection, The Seven Year Itch contains probably one of the most well-known scenes in movie history: Marilyn Monroe standing on the sidewalk while the subway goes underneath and manages to blow up her dress in a most seductive way. However, this is not what the film is about. When a young woman takes an apartment for the summer right above a married man, his life may never be quite the same. He is stuck at home while his wife and kids are away for vacation, but he vows not to be tempted by the vices that are available to him; including liquor, cigarettes, and women. After all, it has been seven years of marriage and everyone knows what happens next! It only takes but a second in the hall with the lovely new tenant and our married man is going to pieces. When a flowerpot almost kills our hero, some conciliation is necessary by way of a drink. This leads to a most interesting relationship both on screen and in the mind of this married man.

This film, having been based on a stage play, is dialogue intensive. Most of the action is via conversation and some very funny physical comedy. Marilyn is as sexy and enjoyable as ever and Ewell, having been the star of the stage play, falls easily into the role on film. Direction is excellent and there are many funny sequences that help to make this film better than it would have been without. Some scenes pushed the edge of decency at the time, although they are quite tame compared to the obvious sexual content of today's films. There are many good extras and background on the life and times of this film and specifically Marilyn Monroe. Check this one out.

- Brian Bloom

Billy Bragg & Wilco: Man In The Sand (1999)

This video is a documentary on the making of the albums Mermaid Avenue (Volume I & II). As the story goes, Nora Guthrie, daughter of famous/ infamous folk singer/ songwriter Woody Guthrie, found some notebooks with many lyrics scribbled down without music. She felt that someone should turn these lyrics into songs. Billy Bragg seemed to be a good choice based on his political activism and spirited music which reminded Nora of her father. Such is how this video came into being. It follows Billy Bragg and the collaboration between him and the band Wilco to deliver songs inspired by these lyrics. We are taken on the road to concert venues, given an historical presentation of America during the times Guthrie's songs were created, and shown conversations with people from his long-forgotten town, offering expressions of good and bad feelings alike. Through this, it appears that he had a big impact on the people with which he came into contact.

The documentary seems to falter in parts but is overall fairly well put together. Most likely anyone who watches it will get something out of it. I personally never realized the subtle political implications of the song "This Land is Your Land." This video concentrates on music, so be prepared for song after song. Video is not anamorphic, so quality is not up to the standards of some of the other DVDs released these days, but it is not objectionable. Stills and historical documents were always of high quality image. If rediscovering a folk hero is your cup of tea, then you will enjoy Man In The Sand.

- Brian Bloom


The Sand Pebbles (1966)

A Navy mechanic dreams of having an engine of his own. He finds his home off the coast of China on a ship called the USS San Pablo. Things don't go exactly as has been the norm on other ships, and he rubs some of the crew the wrong way. At the same time, a young lady is volunteering her skills as a missionary teaching off the mainland. Their paths will soon cross as activities escalate between the United States and the new Chinese government. Struggles amongst the crew soon begin to settle down and the atmosphere on the ship shifts into a comfortable work environment. Unfortunately, one of his fellow soldiers falls for a woman being prostituted at a local hangout. His involvement gets more complicated and eventually creates a situation that leads to violent unrest in the neighboring area. The United States citizens are expelled and conflict is sure to occur. A rescue is in the works to save the members of the missionary, but the outcome is not necessarily a good one.

The Sand Pebbles is much more than what is shown on the surface. Race relations and the morals and work ethic of men in the military contrast with political agendas, personal pride, and a philosophy of life in general are all presented. Duty and service fight against romance and love--not just for other people but ideas as well. If you can stick with the story and the length of this film, you may not come away smiling, but you just might be provoked into an appreciation for what we have and the people who function not for our freedom, but for their own reasons which result in what we call a nation.

- Brian Bloom


Von Ryan's Express (1965)

It's WWII and an American colonel is shot down over enemy lines in Italy. He is discovered by the local Italian military and is placed in a prison camp along with a battalion of British soldiers. Since their officer was killed he is put in the position to assume charge of the men. He is appalled at the current conditions in the camp-they have little food and medicine and old, dirty clothing. They have a plan to escape via a tunnel that has been dug, but the new man in charge decides that maybe it isn't such a good idea. When Italy falls, the men think they have finally regained their freedom, but a regiment of German soldiers is rounding up the war prisoners and taking them back to the homeland. Their only chance at escape becomes the very train that is transporting them to Germany. With a little help from some of the captives they might just find a way to freedom before they end up in a death camp.

Acting is good and the story is quite enjoyable with a few laughs here and there. Frank is really in control and makes you think that anything is possible with him in charge. Lots of good outdoor excitement and suspense help to keep interest in the plot. Occasionally with high volumes there was distortion in the audio, but it was otherwise ok. The DVD also incorporates a remastered stereo soundtrack. If you are a Sinatra fan, then getting this disc is a no-brainer. For the rest, it is worth a look as well.

- Brian Bloom

"X" The Man With The X-Ray Eyes (1963)

A scientist has long been conducting research on improving vision. He is convinced that with a special serum he is working on he can expand the capabilities of man and enable many advances due to this improved sight. His testing on animals has had mixed results and his funding is soon to be cancelled. When a pretty, young doctor comes along to decide if his work should be continued, she becomes enamored with his charm and wants to get more involved. Unfortunately, the funds are cancelled and in an effort to determine if he has been wasting his time he experiments on himself. The serum is successful beyond his imagination and he is able to "see" inside objects and even people! Colleagues misunderstand him and a freak accident puts him on the run and leaves him practicing his very different form of medicine in strange venues. Things haven't really been going smoothly and he has to come to terms with what has happened and manage to make it through the rest of his life living with his choices and mistakes.

This movie is a bit better than I expected but still falls into the category of a Sunday movie for teenagers at a Drive-In. The plot gets rather silly in parts, but you have to be willing to laugh at this movie and just sit back and enjoy. There is a little philosophical preaching too, and considering the movie was made in about three weeks it is pretty good! Acting is not too bad, although it is over the top in parts. Camera work is fairly good, and if you can accept the story line then you won't be too bad off. Colors were bright and even, but the picture was fuzzy and soft and film grain is clearly evident. Dialogue was understandable although lacking in definition - and it is only mono. If you are in the mood for a little 60's late night sci-fi then this might be your ticket.

- Brian Bloom


Love Potion #9 (1992)

What do two scientists who work together have in common? Neither of them seems to have much luck with the opposite sex. The guy has a problem approaching women. He is very neat, has a good stereo, and is somewhat of a square. The woman is not particularly pretty, spends many quiet nights at home, and is a booty call for some other guy that does not want commitment. Everything changes when, on his birthday, the guy visits a gypsy. He is given a potion that will make women desire him. He thinks it is a joke, but soon finds out the truth-it works! Sharing this discovery with his fellow scientist, they both agree they should test the potion. When members of the opposite sex hear the sound of someone who has used the potion they are powerless for four hours. But will they be able to keep the potion away from people who might use it for devious purposes? Will they discover that they might just be happy with each other?

It is not the storyline that is that bad, although it is fairly predictable and by the numbers. And the acting isn't terrible either. The problem is that the movie just doesn't grab you and stand out in any one way. It definitely had the feel of an older 80's movie where people are doing silly things and can't seem to see what reality is. Sound is fine, but is mostly dialogue. If you've ever fallen in love and then got turned down, you might appreciate some of the goings-on in this flick. Otherwise, you'd give yourself away as a Sandra Bullock fan if you get this one.

- Brian Bloom


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