DVD-Video Reviews, Part 2 of 2

by | Jun 1, 2004 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Pt. 2 of 2 – June 2004 [Part 1]

Bubba Ho-Tep (2003)

Directed by Don Coscarelli
Starring Bruce Campbell & Ossie Davis
Studio: MGM
Video: 1.85:1 widescreen enhanced
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: Audio commentary by Don Coscarelli and Bruce Campbell,
Audio Commentary by “The King,” Joe R. Lansdale reads from his story Bubba Ho-Tep with still artwork from film, Deleted scenes, The Making of Bubba Ho-Tep featurette, To Make a Mummy featurette, Fit for a King Elvis Costuming featurette, Rock Like an Egyptian featurette about the music in the film, Music video, Photo gallery, Theatrical trailer, TV spot
Length: 1 hours 32 minutes
Rating: ****

“Darkly Funny.” That’s how actor Bruce Campbell characterized the stories of Joe R. Lansdale, and it aptly fits the one he and director Coscarelli choose to do for this modest-budget redemptive/Elvis/mummy picture. In the extras the director talks about the lousy reception he got in Hollywood trying to sell the money people on a movie about two aging icons battling a mummy in an East Texas rest home. Campbell says he was overjoyed to hear Coscarelli was going to shoot for six weeks rather than the three that a budget this small usually meant. They got an abandoned rest home to shoot in and went to work.

The result is quite unlike any film you’ve seen. Although the director has done horror films, this is not really one. Neither is it an Elvis nostalgia film or an Egyptian mummy film. It’s quirky. The 70-year-old Elvis had supposedly secretly changed places years earlier with an Elvis impersonator who was the one who died. While doing one of his impersonations he fell off the stage and broke his hip and then there were complications. (Campbell spent 45 minutes in an “Elvis class” but unfortunately you never see him actually singing – just dancing around the stage in front of the band. But he plays a convincing senior Elvis.) His cohort Davis thinks he is JFK and also has an explanation of why he isn’t dead, not to mention why he isn’t white (they dyed him). Residents of the rest home are being bumped off by an escaped ancient Egyptian mummy who feeds on their souls. The pair get out of bed, suit up and in the end destroy the evil mummy, though at risk to themselves. I’m sure some would find this film disgusting and depressing, but I loved it and I’m not even an Elvis fan.

– John Sunier

Cover Girl (1944)

Starring: Rita Hayworth, Gene Kelly, Phil Silvers, Eve Arden
Music by: Jerome Kern
Lyrics by: Ira Gershwin
Studio: Columbia
Video: 4 X 3 Full Frame
Audio: mono
Subtitles: English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai
Extras: Three Trailers
Length: 107 minutes
Rating: ****

Cover Girl is a gem of a musical released on DVD last year. This 1944 film was nominated for five Academy Awards. Cover Girl marked the first time in the history of the Hollywood musical that songs served to move the story forward. “Long Ago and Far Away” is one of the most beautiful songs ever written for a film. The superb score by Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin, arranged and conducted by Carmen Dragon (of Hollywood Bowl fame), sparkles throughout.

Rusty Parker (Rita Hayworth) is a dancer at a small club in Brooklyn where she performs with a large group of other dancers. She learns of an audition for a special anniversary cover girl for Vanity magazine. (The editor is very smoothly played by Otto Kruger in his role as John Coudair.) Rusty is chosen for the cover and the publicity propels her to Broadway, after a prolonged campaign by the owner of the big venue on Broadway to woo her away from the small club to which she feels loyal. In the mix is her love for Danny McGuire (Gene Kelly) who owns the Brooklyn club and is also in love with her. The story is simple yet complex enough to keep interest and involves Hayworth also playing Rusty’s grandmother, also a dancer, in flashbacks to 40 years ago. When she departs for Broadway fame and possibly a new love interest, Danny takes off to entertain the troops with his good friend (Phil Silvers) for a time but returns just in time for a lavish but obviously ill-advised wedding. The conclusion is predictable but satisfying.

The acting is first rate. Rita Hayworth’s luminous face and amazing smile reflect so much heart. She shows a good flair in this film for comedy as well. Gene Kelly dances with himself in an “alter ego” number which is said to have inspired a similar bit in the later “Singing in the Rain.” The dancing of both Kelly and Hayworth is so graceful, so elegant. There are some heavenly dance numbers with Hayworth, Kelly and Phil Silvers as well as the bigger production sequences.

At the beginning of this wartime film, Silvers is most engaging as he sings “I’m Not Complaining” which ends “I’ll feed myself on artichokes until the Nazi Party chokes so long as they don’t ration my passion for you.” A young Eve Arden as the longsuffering and acerbic-tongued assistant to the magazine publisher plays an amusing role which reminded me of her later persona as “Our Miss Brooks” on television.

The costumes are wonderful, the colors are stunningly Technicolor-vibrant and the video quality of the transfer is excellent. This film is considered to be a stepping stone in the careers of both Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth. Kelly was given a lot more freedom to devise his own dances thereafter and Hayworth went on to star in such films as Gilda. Although the singing voice was dubbed in, her dancing made her one of the best dancers on screen.

– Donna Dorsett

Big Fish (Widescreen Edition) (2003)

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Helena Bonham Carter, Steve Buscemi, Danny DeVito
Directed by: Tim Burton
Studio: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment
Video: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround
Subtitles: English, French and English Closed Captions
Extras: Audio commentary by director Tim Burton; “The Character’s Journey” 3-part featurette; “The Filmmakers’ Path” 4-part featurette; “The Finer Points- A Tim Burton Trivia Quiz”; eleven preview trailers; scene selection
Length: 125 minutes
Rating: *****

Edward Bloom is a man who is always prepared to tell others the incredible stories of his life. These stories often border on the unbelievable and have recently become a source of frustration for Edward’s son, William. Unlike his father, William is a straight-laced writer who prefers to hear only the facts. Edward’s failing health causes William to come back home and spend some time with his father. It is during this time that William attempts to separate the fact from the fiction in his father’s stories, and ultimately get to know the real man. This is a really great movie. Tim Burton successfully weaves his offbeat, dark style into an engrossing and playful movie storyline. The entire cast is topnotch and they combine to give a touching, heartfelt performance. This is a film that should appeal to film fans of all ages and especially Tim Burton fans, as they will not be disappointed with what may be Burton’s best film to date. Highly recommended.

The video quality of this DVD is excellent. Images are clean with razor sharp detail. Blacks are consistently deep throughout. Colors are rich and vibrant with fully saturated hues. Picture defect mastering is perfect with no major flaws or digital compression artifacts. The overall audio quality is very good with the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track serving as the basis for this review. The soundtrack does a nice job of actively incorporating all of the discrete channels into the mix. Dialogue is crisp and natural sounding. The surround channels are moderately utilized for both ambient sounds and the music soundtrack. Low frequency bass is tight and punchy. Tactile sound effects are present in about one quarter of the DVD’s chapters and appear as subtle to moderate impacts from the sound effects and music.

Reference equipment used for this review: [Video projector- Studio Experience Cinema 17SF Projection screen- Da-Lite 106” Da-Snap; DVD player- V, Inc. Bravo D1; A/V Receiver- Sherwood Newcastle R-963T; Speakers- BIC Venturi 6.1 channel system; Tactile Transducers- Clark Synthesis Gold; Video Switcher- Key Digital SW4x1; Cables and Wires- Bettercables.com ]

The Day of the Dolphin (1974)

Starring: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Paul Sorvino, Fritz Weaver
Studio: Home Vision Entertainment
Video: 2.35:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: DD 3.0 (L/R/Surround)
Extras: Trivia Gallery, Buck Henry Interview (12 min), Leslie Charleson Interview (7 min), Edward Herrmann Interview (13 min), Dolphin Bios
Length: 104 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

Mike Nichols needed to complete a contract with Joseph Levine, but couldn’t find a film that everyone could agree upon. Finally, The Day of the Dolphin, a book by Robert Merle, was used as a starting point for the film. It was adapted with Buck Henry and resulted in the version you see on this disc. Secret dolphin research headed by George C. Scott’s character has been trying to teach dolphins to speak English! He and his staff live on an island and are funded by a group of investors who don’t really know what the heart of the research is about. When people start asking questions, the scientists attempt to keep quiet and stay off the government radar. A strange man played by Paul Sorvino, finds his way into the lab, although the workers make an attempt to hide their activities and lie to him about their research. Unfortunately, others discover the dolphins and are intent on using them to carry bombs and plant them underneath ships in a government assassination plot.

This film really dates itself, and, like many other conspiracy movies in the 70s is set up the same way. There is an egotistical scientist who thinks only of his research and what he can accomplish with little thought as to the possible harm to others. As the story moves forward, unknown entities take an interest in his research and try to corrupt it for their own use. It almost comes to a terrible conclusion that is narrowly avoided by the dolphins that take on more human qualities (and not necessarily good ones) than ever imagined. The acting and writing in the film is good, and it was fun to see Paul Sorvino with a full head of hair, but the way the story played out is a little far-fetched. Others disagree and point to actual use of dolphins in modern day government projects—who knows? The interviews are interesting and talk about the development of the film, shooting on location, and working with dolphins. The Trivia Gallery section of the extras is worth checking out as it has other video footage like a German trailer, and the commercial that Leslie Charleson did for toothpaste that Nichols saw before hiring her for the job. The movie is billed as a family favorite, and even though there are only a few scenes with violence in them, the subject matter is depressing in many ways. The dolphins are pushed to do things they don’t want to do, and the frustrations of the humans in the film are taken out on the dolphins. In this sense the film is successful—people, even with noble intentions, can lose sight of what they are doing. When realization strikes, this sacrifice is painful, and causes the final action in the film. You can guess what happens.

-Brian Bloom

Les Liaisons Dangereuses (2003)

Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Rupert Everett, Nastassja Kinski
Studio: JLA Productions Remstar Future Film/Wellspring
Video: 1.78:1, enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital Stereo
Subtitles: English
Extras: ArtFilmCollection.org; Filmographies for Josee Dayan (director), Deneuve, Everett, Kinski, Sobieski; Photo gallery: Behind the scenes & Production stills
Length: 200 minutes
Rating: ****

This 2003 French film is set in Parisian high society of the 1960’s. The original Liaisons Dangereuses was set in the 18th century, and this is the latest of several films based on it. At 3 hours and 20 minutes long, this film is so absorbing and well-edited that the viewer is not that aware of the unusual length. The erotic story is directed by the French filmmaker Josee Dayan and co-produced by France and Canada. It was originally a television mini-series.

In one of the early scenes Valmont, brilliantly played by Rupert Everett (My Best Friend’s Wedding) is heard in a voiceover musing that some people join together for the best and others for the worst. Watching Madame de Merteuil or Isabelle, (Catherine Deneuve is terrific as usual) and Valmont weave their plans for seduction, betrayal, and revenge, I was mesmerized and felt I was observing pure evil. When Valmont playfully suggests to Isabelle as they watch some tango dancers on the floor below that someday they might be doing the same, except she with blue hair and he bald, she replies that on the contrary, “I think we shall be roasting in hell.”

Early we learn that Isabelle was cast aside by Gercourt, an ex-lover, long ago. He has recently sought her forgiveness but is now engaged to her goddaughter Cecille, and would like her goodwill. Isabelle vows revenge and enlists the help of Valmont. For both Isabelle and Valmont control of lives is everything.

Isabelle is determined that Valmont seduce and impregnate Cecille. Matters become more complicated when Valmont, while visiting his aunt Rosemonde (Danielle Darrieux) at her country estate, meets another guest with whom he becomes obsessed. Marie Tourvel is played by Natassja Kinski. According to Rosemonde, Marie would never cheat on her husband who is currently out of the country. Everyone knows about Valmont’s reputation as a Don Juan, so to seduce Marie requires much creativity. We so wish for her not to fall in love with the evil and insincere Valmont whose feelings ultimately become more complicated than he bargained for, though to judge his sincerity is impossible. The terrible and destructive lies grow more complex as the two predators relentlessly pursue their unworthy goals.

It is amazing the manner in which everyone plays into the hands of Valmont and Isabelle, yet we can imagine how this might easily happen in real life. The two meet secretly in a Catholic church several times to discuss their machinations. Even their apartments back in Paris connect through secret doorways. As the plot develops in complexity, the potential for danger and tragedy increases. When Valmont demands his reward for his successful efforts on Isabelle’s behalf, matters take an unexpected and surprising turn.

The musical score was done by Angelo Badalamenti, who composed the music for Twin Peaks. It is a very romantic, lush, scene-setting score but with a similar ominous quality that he wrote for Twin Peaks, although the actual music is quite different. The acting is a joy to behold with the great Catherine Deneuve (who can ever forget Belle de Jour of over 30 years ago and so many more?) and how can Rupert Everett as Valmont be the same actor as in My Best Friend’s Wedding? The often lavish costumes are beautiful. The video transfer is excellent with vibrant colors. The extras are limited to filmographies and some striking photos, behind the scenes material and production stills. A highly-recommended film.

— Donna Dorsett

A Story of Floating Weeds (1934) / Floating Weeds (1959)

Two films by Yasujiro Ozu
Studio: The Criterion Collection
Video: both 4:3, 1st B&W with Japanese intertitles, 2nd color
Audio: 1st silent with optional score in Dolby Digital mono; 2nd Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese
Subtitles: English
Extras: 1st – audio commentary by film historian Donald Richie, new score by Donald Sosin in style of Robert Schumann; 2nd – audio commentary by Roger Ebert, Theatrical trailer
Length: 1 – 86 minutes; 2 – 119 minutes
Rating: ****

Ozu was concerned in his films with the dynamics of the everyday-life family. He decided to present the simple plot of Floating Weeds twice in his career. The main differences of the later version were color and sound, some more modern references, the setting moved from a small inland town to the seaside, and taking a half hour more to tell the tale the second time (even though the intertitles took up some time in the silent version). An itinerant actor returns with his troupe to perform in the small town and reunites with his former lover in order to see his illegitimate son who is now a young man. Even though the actor/director now has an entirely platonic relationship with the former lover, it angers his current mistress in the troupe and she stirs things up. But following some heartache all around, all ends fairly well.

The original silent film was enjoyable, although it took some getting used to the soundtrack music. Ozu loved Robert Schumann and used his piano music for some of his silent films. It just doesn’t seem to fit the culture and actions. The director had an almost anti-cinematic method of expression in making his films. Roger Ebert’s commentary with the later film explains many of the unusual approaches – which can be seen in both films. He liked to frame every shot in some way – with doorways, poles, windows etc. Ozu often shot from a position as if the viewer were seated on the floor on tatami mats rather than at normal height. He usually showed an empty room, then had the actors enter, and at the end of a scene, leave. When shooting a procession he seldom did so from the front as would even a first-time camcorder-user, but showed the backs of the procession moving away from the camera. His love of Hollywood movies is shown in some subtle details but quite blatantly in having the madam of a brothel appear in a white slip and in a similar pose to Elizabeth Taylor in Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, which came out the year before. When the first music is heard on the soundtrack at the beginning of the film, it accompanies the theater troupe trooping thru the town. One is taken aback because it sounds exactly like circus music by Nino Rota for a Fellini film! The restoration of both films is superb, as with all Criterion product. The silent version especially would be difficult to watch if in the condition most such old movies on video are found.

– John Sunier

Once Upon A Time In The West (1969)

Starring: Claudia Cardinale, Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson
Studio: Paramount
Video: 2.35:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: DD 5.1, Restored Mono, French Mono
Extras: Trailer; Cast Profiles (5); Production Stills Gallery; Locations Then & Now Stills Gallery; Railroad: Revolutionizing the West Featurette (6 min); Documentaries- An Opera of Violence (29 min), The Wages of Sin (20 min), Something To Do With Death (18 min), Audio Commentary track
Length: 165 minutes
Rating: ****1/2

Set in the Old West when the railroad was the only business in town, and where there was no stopping its path (either by property or person), this film by Sergio Leone, is one of the best ever made. It is homage to the westerns he loved as a child and a brutal commentary on the ideology of America at the time. A film well acted, well written, or well directed is noticed by the critics and often by film viewers. But a film with all these three elements present, a haunting score, in a believable setting, and with a story that delves deep into your psyche is rare. Bernardo Bertolucci worked on the screenplay, and the actors in the film couldn’t have been better selected. Although some of the casting was unusual and the movie itself was not planned according to Leone, the culmination of everything made cinematic history. Actors, like Henry Fonda, who were often good guys were put in reverse rolls. Female characters in these types of pictures were often in much more subservient roles or played whores, while in this film Cardinale is one of the important characters lending strength and determination to the role. Leave it to a foreigner to appreciate classics like Shane and High Noon and turn around and make a film that takes westerns to the next level.

Frank is a hired gun whose job is to “convince” people to move aside for the railroad. Jason Robards’ character is an outlaw who is falsely accused for the death of a family who was murdered by Frank and his cohorts. Claudio Cardinale plays the bride of the man who was killed. She is intent on staying and realizes the investment she has when the railroad eventually passes by her property. Charles Bronson plays “The Man,” a mysterious character that is searching for Frank, although we don’t know why till the very end of the film. In many ways it is a story of good vs. evil, and the film’s common characters help the viewer to relate to the struggles that, even though may be separated by more than a century, seem real and self-evident. This film is a classic and deserves a place in any filmgoer’s collection.

-Brian Bloom
Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise (2004)

Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: Timothy Spall, Michael Begley
Studio: BBC/Koch Vision
Video: Widescreen enhanced for 16:9 (shot on video)
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Length: 75 minutes
Rating: *** 1/2

I wish both theatrical exhibitors and DVD producers would begin to be up front about low-budget feature films which are shot originally on low-res video. Not that I would necessarily boycott them because of my videophile pretentions, but just because I like to know what I’m going to see. None of the reviews or publicity of 28 Days Later mentioned that the image quality was atrocious. Of course as truly hi-res video is being more and more used for original production just identifying as shot on digital video wouldn’t tell the whole story. I do appreciate that some films simply couldn’t have been made without shooting them on video – such as the recent Cinemania. I don’t believe Vacuuming is one of these.

Anyway, one expects something a bit over the top from the director of Trainspotting and 28 Days Later – and he probably used the same gear to shoot this one as 28 Days Later – I should have been forewarned. Nobody vacuums in the nude in this video. But there are plenty of outrageous scenes. The young protagonist who spends his time doing DJ mix tapes for fun takes a job as a vacuum cleaner salesman to please his girlfriend – who moves out anyway. His partner is a hard-drinking Type AA blowhard who is gunning for the top salesman goal in order to win an exotic two-week beach vacation. This super-go-getter will do absolutely anything to make a sale, including dressing up in a red cape and Spanish hat to seduce a lonely woman who fancies herself a Spanish sexpot. The struggling new salesman finally makes his virgin sale but his conscience prompts him to go back and retrieve the vacuum, tearing up the contract and telling the poor single mother with several kids she can’t possibly afford it. Unfortunately a few yards from the apartment he is set upon by delinquents who steal the vacuum from him. And that one sale was going to count toward his older partner winning the upcoming competition. When the big evening of the award occurs at a Blackpool convention hotel the cocky, blustering salesman learns he was short just one sale and the award goes to a competing salesman. He is literally destroyed, but the young hero has been befriended by a successful DJ and looks like he is on his way to a fulfilling (and unlikely) life doing what he loves.

– John Sunier

The Ladykillers (1955)

Starring: Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, Herbert Lom
Studio: Ealing Studios/Anchor Bay
Video: B&W 1.66:1 enhanced for 16:9
Audio: Dolby Digital mono, English or French
Extras: Theatrical trailer, Alec Guinness bio
Length: 91 minutes
Rating: ****

This is the sort of B&W classic that when it’s over makes you want to say “They don’t make movies like that anymore!” It’s considered by most critics one of the best comedies ever made, and is probably even ahead of the other Guinness masterpieces of the period such as The Lavender Hill Mob, The Man in the White Suite and Kind Hearts and Coronets. The story is actually a brilliant black comedy – and we don’t mean Afro-American. It seems to fit appropriately into today’s world with the more ruthless comedic taste of younger people. Yet it has a delightful politeness about it that still existed in the UK at that time but not in the U.S. This was Peter Sellers’ first film, so his role is not major – it’s definitely Guinness all the way and he runs with his role as “Prof. Marcus.”

He is actually the mastermind of a gang of bank robbers who rent a room from an elderly widow because her house is next to the tracks of the train station where they have planned their job. They disguise their planning sessions by bringing various string instruments into the house and then playing a gramophone record of a string quintet to mollify the old lady. She begins interrupting them at inappropriate times to serve tea, and finally her meddling gets to the point that she figures out what they are really doing and the crooks begin planning to murder her. But when lots are drawn, none of them want to do in the sweet old lady. Better stop there, but you can be sure the old lady comes out both unscathed and rich. Hilarious, perfect characterizations, and clever editing. First-rate widescreen transfer to DVD too. The bit with Guiness trying to make his polite exit and the old lady stepping on his long scarf is worthy of the best physical humor of Monty Python. Forget the current redo with Tom Hanks – this is the Ladykillers that will kill you!

– John Sunier

Spirits of the Dead – Three Tales of the Macabre by Edgar Allan Poe (1969)

Directors: Roger Vadim, Louis Malle, Federico Fellini
Starring: Brigitte Bardot, Jane Fonda, Peter Fonda, Alain Delon, Terence Stamp
Studio: Janus Films/Home Vision Entertainment
Video: 1.75:1 enhanced for widescreen
Audio: PCM mono, French language
Subtitles: English
Length: 121 minutes
Rating: ***

I’ve always been attracted to feature films which are collections of short films by different directors on a similar theme. This one was unusual in bringing together three important foreign directors with some top stars of the time – all doing Poe’s stories of tormented individuals who in each case meet their maker in the end. Horror movie fans of today will probably find these pretty tame, but they are generally more creative and interesting than the Christopher Lee Poe series. Each one definitely displays the highly individual style of its particular director.

Vadim took the story Metzengerstein, changed the protagonist from a male baron to a sadistic and ruthless female and starred Fonda, his wife at the time. Her costumes look at lot more Frederick’s of Hollywood than 18th century and Vadim really dug bouffant hairdos. But there are some striking scenes, especially Fonda wildly riding into the flames the horse who embodies the spirit of the neighbor she killed. William Wilson is the story of a doppelganger who represents the conscience of a military officer and card cheat. Bardot loses a bet and gets whipped in an interesting scene. The Fellini effort is so Fellini; it employs Nino Rota music lifted from Juliet of the Spirits and other films. Terrence Stamp is the accursed Toby Dammit, a once-top actor on the slides in an amoral, drunken ride to the abyss. The widescreen transfer is excellent – I seem to recall very poor picture quality when I originally saw this film in a theater, but then the prints theaters got of most European films were poor. It’s a spirited bit of cinema that serves as a sort of footnote to what these actors and directors did in other films.

– John Sunier

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