DVD Reviews, Part 2 of 3

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

Pt. 2 of 3 – September 2004   [Part 1], [Part 3]

the Sound of JazzAnimusic 2Mel Torme videoCount Basie
Festival at CannesManchurian CandidateThe GoodBadUglySpeed
To the LimitThe DiscoverersAmazonWhat's Up Doc?

We continue our DVD Music Video reviews with five more!…

Tom Dowd documentary Tom Dowd & the Language of Music (2003)

Music & Appearances by Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, John Coltrane, Thelonius Monk, Allman Brothers Band, Les Paul, and others
Studio: Palm Pictures
Video: 4:3
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 and stereo
Extras: 80 minutes of bonus footage: Deleted scenes, Separate interviews with Eric Clapton, Ray Charles, Phil Ramone & others
Length: 82 minutes for documentary
Rating: ****

Legendary record producer and recording engineer Tom Dowd died in 2002 and director Mark Moormann’s swinging documentary brings to light and sound the charmed life of this versatile, likable and no-nonsense hero of recorded music. Other much better-known producers in the record business, such as Phil Ramone, Jerry Wexler and Atlantic’s Ahmet Ertegun, speak at length about Dowd and his unusual story makes one wonder why his name hasn’t been just as familiar as theirs.

Dowd was the son of professional musicians and majored in math and science in high school. He did classified research at Columbia University relating to the development of the atom bomb. After WW II the nature of his secret research prevented him from receiving college credit for his labors and he switched careers forthwith into engineering recordings. His first hit was If I Knew You Were Coming I’d Have Baked a Cake, in l949. While a longtime house engineer for Atlantic he recorded such jazz greats as Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy, and those listed above – later moving into pop stars including Sonny and Cher and Bobby Darin. Dowd was very sophisticated musically and often did arrangements and directed recording artists. He was obviously much-loved by them, as shown by his exchanges with Ray Charles. He pioneered in the move from cutting original discs to recording on tape to stereo to multitracking to the latest digital processes. (The news release credits him with introducing binaural recording to Atlantic – no such thing. What he introduced was two-channel stereo.) One of the most interesting segments of the film has Dowd at a big mixing board playing back individual tracks from the rock classic he produced and recorded – Layla, by Derek and the Dominos – demonstrating how all the musical elements fit together into a thrilling whole. Whether your interest is more in the music itself, the artists, the technical or historical side, or just some great stories about the rock, soul and jazz stars involved, you will find this film involving and fascinating.

– John Sunier

The Sound of Jazz The Sound of Jazz (1957)

Unique CBS-TV Jazz Telecast featuring Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Red Allen, Jimmy Giuffre, Red Allen, Jimmy Rushing and others
Studio: CBS/Vintage Jazz/Music Video Distributors
Video: 4:3 B&W kinescope
Audio: PCM Mono
Extras: 3 audio-only tracks: Coleman Hawkins in Dali; track by Count Basie Band in 1955 (says with Sarah Vaughn but she isn’t heard); Red Allen & Coleman Hawkins in South
Length: 58 minutes
Rating: ***** (in spite of poor AV quality)

On December 8, l957 John Crosby hosted a rather loose live telecast from Studio 58 of CBS in NYC which featured some of the top names in jazz of the time. Yes, the highly contrasty and low-res kinescope video is iffy and the mono sound is barely passable, but this remains probably the best hour of jazz ever done in the history of national network television. I was hoping the DVD reissue would clean up the awful image quality of the VHS tape I’ve enjoyed for years, but it looks almost exactly the same. First time a DVD didn’t look better than the same material on VHS. However, the sound is less distorted and somewhat wider range; I believe they had tried a sort of pseudo-stereo effect on the videotape which didn’t work at all.

The couple of Billie Holiday numbers are terrific, and so is Basie’s reduced-size band crammed into the studio. The Giuffre Trio offers a completely different chamber jazz that seemed to predict the ECM-style sound of later years. And Jimmy Rushing’s blues are a complete gas. There is also a Columbia Jazz CD reissue of this classic, and it includes some tracks which didn’t make it into the TV special, including one of my fav piano solos by Mal Waldron and another with Thelonius Monk. The first and third audio-only tracks in the extras are more recent recordings by the artists, in very clean stereo. The Basie selection suffers from poor sonics.

– John Henry

Animusic 2 Animusic – Special Edition (2004)

Studio: Animusic/Goldhil Home Media
Video: 4:3
Audio: new Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix
Extras: Director commentary, animated menus, Solo-Cam angles, Production stills, screen shots & sketches, Behind-the-scenes set construction, Pipe Dream animation in widescreen, Animusic’s first animation, Sneak peak at Animusic 2
Length: Program + bonuses: 75 minutes
Rating: ****

We reviewed the first edition of this amazing music animation just over a year ago Right Here: https://www.audaud.com/audaud/JUL-AUG03/DVD-V/dvd1JUL03.html
Now the clever computer animators of Animusic have remixed the original stereo music tracks for a full involving 5.1 surround experience. I was using Pro Logic II on the initial DVD, but this goes that one better with wildly discrete electronic sounds coming at you from all around. One feature makes the marriage of very tonal and bouncy synthesized music with fascinating animations of fantasy musical instruments truly unique. That is that the very compelling multitracked synth selections were all composed first, the way most animated films are done. But the leap here is that a special and very complex computer graphic program was precisely controlled by that already-recorded score and it drew and animated all the outrageous musical instruments you see in action on the screen! Not only that, but it also moves the imaginary “camera” almost continually – panning and swooping around the instruments in dizzying choreography. The seven sections are: Future Retro, Stick Figures, Aqua Harp (my favorite), Drum Machine, Pipe Dream, Acoustic Curves, Harmonic Voltage. Walt Disney may have produced the classic visualization of instrumental music in Fantasia, but if he were still around he would plotz to see Animusic! Source if you can’t find this: www.animusic.com

– John Sunier

Mel Torme Mel Tormé – Standing Room Only (1989)

Studio: All Channel Films/Image Entertainment
Video: 4:3
Audio: PCM stereo
Length: 59 minutes
Rating: ****

Tormé was one of the great jazz artists of the day, and not just a singer known for his “Velvet Fog” voice. He was a radio personality at age 4, a composer at 15 and film actor at 18. He wrote and orchestrated his own arrangements and was an excellent drummer – which he demonstrates here during a tribute to Benny Goodman. Instead of starting out in jazz and then “selling out” for a career in pop music, Tormé did just the reverse – his career began in the pop field. The occasion for this video was a benefit concert at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music for the Brady Cancer Research Institute. Tormé’s voice is one of the most easily-identified of any in jazz, and while at this juncture he was a bit rounder and more wrinkled than I remembered him, his unique, entertaining and highly musical approach to his material proves a delight from beginning to end. He’s backed by a sizable and swinging big band. The video is fine image-wise and the linear PCM audio is clean and works well for more envelopment if you have Pro Logic II.

He crams a lot of music into an hour. Medleys are the order of the day, starting with a Sing For Your Supper Medley, a Guys and Dolls Medley, and Tributes to both Ella Fitzgerald and Benny Goodman. His signature Christmas Song is here, and other single tunes include Michel Legrand’s What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?, the Soliloquy from Carousel, For

– John Henry

Count Basie DVD Swing Era Series – Count Basie
(Also Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Joe Turner, Henry “Red” Allen, Gene Krupa, Lucky Millinder & Bill “Bojangles” Robinson

Studio: Idem/Music Video Distributors
Video: 4:3 B&W movie musical “soundies”
Audio: PCM mono
Extras: 7 other performers besides Basie
Length: 94 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

We have here part of a series of DVD reissues compiling various theatrical musical shorts made during the 30s and 40s. Most are short on production values – just the band and featured performers in front doing their thing. Sometimes dancers are included – ranging from a roomful of insane jitterbuggers to a grossly overweight woman rolling around on the floor in sort of an early version of break dancing, while Armstrong plays his horn. Both visual and sound quality vary greatly – some of the images are washed out or highly contrasty and some of the soundtracks are noisy or very low level compared to the rest. The closeups of Basie lights such as Lester Young, Harry Edison, and his wonderful rhythm section of Walter Page on bass, Freddie Green on guitar and Jo Jones’ drums are a delight to see and hear in action. The tremendous power of the band comes across in spite of the iffy audio. The seven Basie shorts are: Basie Boogie, If I Could Be With You, One O’Clock Jump, Take Me Back Baby, Air Mail Special.

I’ve had the Fats Waller soundies on VHS for years. They’re about as poor on the screen on the DVD but the sound is a bit better. The tunes are: Honeysuckle Rose, You Feet’s Too Big, Ain’t Misbehavin,’ The Joint Is Jumpin.’ The Armstrong shorts also total four and are marred by more obvious uncomfortable racial cliches than the other films. At least they left out the version for a Bettie Boop cartoon where Louis is a cannibal singing I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You – though that tune is done here, along with When It’s Sleepy Time Down South, Shine, and Singin’ On Nothing. Both Krupa films feature his bouncy star vocalist Anita O’Day. Showman Lucky Millinder, who seems to be a sort of low-key Cab Calloway-type bandleader. He gets nine soundies, which outlasted his welcome for me. The tap dance number by Bojangles Robinson brings the compilation to the rousing close. I had to readjust the sound-picture sync because it was way off; then when I inserted a different DVD I had to readjust it back again.

– John Henry

Festival at Cannes Festival In Cannes (2002)

Starring: Anouk Aimee, Greta Scacchi, Maximilian Schell, Ron Silver
Studio: Paramount
Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: DD 2.0 Surround
Extras: None
Length: 99 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

The film opens with black and white stills from previous Cannes film festivals, but the film is really a piece of fiction that takes place in the present. There are several characters who figure prominently in the story. First, we find a young actress who is the hit of the show because of her tremendous role in a new movie. Later, we meet a young actress who is trying to write and direct her first feature film. While she’s having lunch with a few of her associates, a man comes upon them who claims to be a huge fan and who also just happens to be in the business of producing films. After some convincing on his part he manages to talk her into a meeting. Meanwhile, the big studio executive is trying to recruit a famous, yet older French actress. As luck would have it, the two groups vy for her and try to talk her into doing their film. As the picture proceeds, more of the characters become intertwined, and the bonds between the characters mix business and leisure in more than one way. While some will continue in their business relationship and others will abandon theirs to pursue a personal relationship, it’s hard to escape the magic of the entertainment business and the spirit of the festival.

The style of the film reminds me much of The Player. The fact that Greta Scacchi is in the film, seemed to reinforce that idea even more. The movie flows well and the little vignettes with different characters keep the pace going, so the viewer does not get bored with one story line over another. When the stories blend together and interact they do so in an additive way that helps to carry the story. The veteran actors are the highlight of the film and when they are put together in a scene, it is hard to pay attention to anything else but the words they speak. This film is not about one particular story per se, but produces a general feel and that is what ultimately makes it successful. I believe that the film (like many) tries to connect to the viewer in an empathetic way. This will happen more or less and will directly affect how well one ultimately likes this picture.

-Brian Bloom

Manchurian Candidate The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Starring Frank Sinatra, Laurence Harvey, Janet Leigh, Angela Lansbury
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Studio: MGM
Video: 4:3 B&W
Audio: Dolby Digital mono & DD 5.1 surround, also Spanish mono
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Extras: Interview with Frankenheimer, Sinatra, George Axelrod (screenplay author); Audio commentary by Frankenheimer, “Queen of Diamonds” featurette with Angela Lansbury, “A Little Solitaire” featurette with William Friedkin, Original theatrical trailer, Photo gallery
Length: 2 hours 7 minutes
Rating: ****

This DVD Special Edition was timed to coincide with the release of the remake of the picture in the theaters. So I saw them both, in the correct order, within the same 24 hour period. In a nutshell, I found both terrific and effective in their own ways, though the new version has a more up ending and takes the plot thru some interesting twists near its conclusion. Lansbury was also nominated for an Oscar for her chilling performance, and some feel this was Sinatra’s very best role in films. The film was withdrawn for some time because of its realistic portrayal of an assassination; ironic that it came out in 1962 – that didn’t do any good, did it?

The Sinatra character, Major Marco, has bad dreams about his service in the Korean War, which included capture by the enemy. He begins a search for the answers and runs into a nasty plot participated in by Mrs. Iselin (Lansbury) and involving her son (Harvey) who served under Marco in Korea. Her figurehead second husband is a senator and they’re all connected with a secret group of enemy string-pullers. Marco has a relationship with the Janet Leigh character – though he’s such a nervous wreck you can’t understand what she sees in him. This relationship is the least effective part of the film. Harvey also has a rather far-fetched relationship with a woman who is the daughter of a liberal senator being smeared Joe McCarthy-style by Lansbury’s senator. Lansbury squashes her son’s relationship. The plot thickens considerably; Pauline Kael said “it may be the most sophisticated political satire ever made.”

The black & white cinematography is rich, dramatically lit and well-transferred to DVD. The 5.1 surround mix from the original mono is not what you would get with a movie of today, but it is amazing they could accomplish what they have. The front three channels carry most of the sonic information. The special features enlarge appreciation of the film immensely – especially the interview with the director, screenplay author and Sinatra. Not only the dramatic and somewhat cynical ending but other points in the story allow the viewer to come to his/her own conclusions. Not so the remake of the film, which spells things out overmuch as do most films today.

– John Sunier

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (1966) – 2 Disc DVD Collector’s Set

Directed by Sergio Leone
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach, Aldo Giuffre
Studio: United Artists/MGM
Video: 2.35:1 enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English surround, Original Italian mono track
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin
Extras: On second disc = Deleted scenes, Audio commentary by film historian Richard Schickel, “Leone’s West” Making Of documentary, “The Leone Style” documentary, “The Man Who Lost the Civil War” documentary, “Reconstructing The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” featurette on audio re-recording, Featurette on the soundtrack composer Ennio Morricone, Original theatrical trailer, Poster gallery, International theatrical mini-posters included in box with booklet essay by Roger Ebert.
Length: 2 hours 59 minutes
Rating: *****

Coming at the end of a series of Leone Westerns shot in Italy or Spain – some of which also starred Eastwood in a similar role – this long, ambitious, epic production is regarded as a sort of Laurence of Arabia of spaghetti Westerns. Quentin Tarantino calls it “the best-directed movie of all time.” While normally it’s best to peruse the extras after seeing the feature film, in this case one could deepen involvement in the film by looking at some of the special features first. Especially educational is the documentary on the Confederate general who did actually try to invade some settlements in Texas and Oklahoma. Never having seen the feature before I wondered about the Civil War scenes – surely the Confederates didn’t get that far west. Well, they did. Every small historical detail in the film was researched by Leone and is based on fact.

The special feature on Leone’s style describes how he liked both long shots (wide angle views) as well as long shots that stayed on the screen seemingly forever. He also like to contrast super closeups such as a characters eyes only, with wide desert vistas. The famous final scene of the three characters in the name of the film – one so-called good (Eastwood), one bad (Van Cleef) and one ugly (Wallach) – is almost a parody of extreme Leone in its constant switching back and forth between the shifty eyes of the three protagonists prior to the final shootout. Sometimes he seems to be drawing out a scene to absurd length just to see how long he can keep up the unbearable suspense.

Leone’s Westerns are more stark and brutal than any American Western. Everything is believable in its grime and dust; no Hollywood prettying-up here. And the three main characters are portrayed unflinchingly too as looking out strictly for themselves and quick on the trigger to kill anyone who opposes them. All three are after a fortune of Civil War gold. Among the many stumbles in their paths is the Civil War, which gets to itself almost a whole film-within-the-film. The descriptions from both Eastwood and Wallach about working with Leone on this rather loose and low budget film are priceless. Eastwood wore his own lambs-wool vest and took it with him to his hotel room or trailer at night since there was no replacement for it if it disappeared.

Morricone’s music with its famous whistling melody is a vital part of the film’s appeal. Some of the scenes would be completely flat without his evocative score. Nineteen minutes were cut from the original release of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and this special edition replaces 18 minutes of it. The transfer is spectacular, and one is surprised to find in the featurette on restoring the film that its super-widescreen format was shot on a now-abandoned format employing less than half of the actual film used for most wide-format films today. This Techniscope process was developed to put two widescreen frames in the same space where one Anamorphically-squeezed widescreen image is typically placed. Yet the screen image doesn’t look seriously grainy. There was an occasional bit of dirt in the projector gate. Colors and detail are superb except in a couple of extremely dark scenes. The 5.1 sound mix is also a kick, although the music for the opening titles is terribly distorted. Some of the dialog had to be re-recorded especially for this restoration because the original English dubs had been lost. I would say this is surely a masterpiece of restoration of a masterpiece of Western moviemaking. (And I don’t even like Westerns…)

– John Sunier

Speed Speed – IMAX DVD w/ WMV HD disc (2004)

Studio: MacGillivray Freeman Films/Image Entertainment
Video: 1.78:1 (HD/DVD) or 1.33:1 (DVD)
Audio: DTS 5.1 (DVD), DD 5.1 (HD/DVD), DD 2.0 (DVD)
Extras: Greg MacGillivray Bio, MFF History (info about production company and film history), Trivia (about the movie), Learn about WMV HD video, Previews (Amazon*, Coral Reef Adventures, Discoverers*, Dolphins, Journey Into Amazing Caves, The Living Sea, The Magic Of Flight, To The Limit*, Speed*, Stormchasers)–* indicates only in HD while others are both HD and SD
Length: 30 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

This disc is one of two I received that offers a second DVD with high definition video. It is part of a series of nine two-disc DVDs of IMAX productions. I currently have a computer hooked up to my main projection TV which enabled me to try the high definition disc on the big screen. When I first inserted the disc, I was asked to install two files. After installation I received an advisory that stated that my computer may not offer an optimal viewing experience. I ignored this and moved forward. First I was greeted with the WMV HD robot trailer—it was quite impressive and possibly the best video I had ever seen on the projector. The setup screen came up automatically. There is a test for 5.1 audio, but seemingly no way to play back in straight stereo. I noticed that the audio seemed a bit lower in level, and although my preamplifier mixes down the DTS and Dolby Digital material, it did not seem to work 100 percent. In the video options menu you can select between 720P and 1080P!! The program itself recommended that I use the 720P setting. It’s important to realize that the minimal configuration recommended by Microsoft for 720P playback is a 2.4 GHz processor, 384MB of RAM, and a 64MB video card. To watch playback in 1080P, you’ll need a 3.0 GHz processor, 512MB of RAM, and 128MB video card. Both machines would require Windows Media Player 9, DirectX 9.0 and Windows XP. I had a 128MB video card but only 128MB of RAM and a 1.8GHz processor. Unfortunately, this meant that the video was extremely jumpy and the sound dropped in and out. Strangely enough, I was able to view the trailers with no trouble and only occasional skips. Mouse movement will bring up controls and the Windows Media Player interface, and when the main screen shows there is the typical “X” in the upper right corner to allow you to close down the program. In addition, the disc offers a web link to more information about the WMV HD material as well as having additional trailers for download.

So what does the picture look like? All I can say is it was amazing! I have never seen a picture from a commercially available disc look as good as this. When I tried the DVD which I viewed on another TV and thought to have a very good image it was not even close. The material itself is relatively short and is an “examination of various aspects of speed on the ground, in the air, and in space.” The discussion starts early on in 1859 when a man put cranks on a hobby horse to create a primitive bicycle that can reach speeds of 10mph. From this point the narration moves forward in time to the Stanley Steamer, the internal combustion engine, to race cars, jet engines, and the impressive speed of the space shuttle at 24,791mph! The disc reminds me of the kind of videos shown in science class when I was in school. [But slicker and higher-tech…Ed.] Viewed as an educational film it’s worth checking out. And for those who have access to a computer running Windows XP and powerful enough to play the WMV HD disc–prepared to be impressed. I was lucky enough to have a second computer that has a 2.8 GHz processor at 256MB video card with 512MB of RAM for a second test. Unfortunately, this computer was only connected to a 19in. ViewSonic monitor. However, the video was clearly the best I’ve ever seen on this monitor. It is questionable whether this format will survive, but at this time it clearly offers the best picture available to the consumer set up for it, short of D-VHS [Which will also be short-lived…Ed].

-Brian Bloom

To the Limit To The Limit – IMAX DVD and WMV HD (1995)

Studio: MacGillivray Freeman Films/Image Entertainment
Video: 1.78:1 (DVD/HD) and 1.33:1 Full Frame (DVD)
Audio: DTS 5.1 (DVD), DD 5.1 (HD/DVD), DD 2.0 (DVD)
Extras: Greg MacGillivray Bio, MFF History (info about production company and film history), Trivia (about the movie), Learn about WMV HD video, Previews (Amazon*, Coral Reef Adventures, Discoverers*, Dolphins, Journey Into Amazing Caves, The Living Sea, The Magic Of Flight, To The Limit*, Speed*, Stormchasers)–* indicates only in HD while others are both HD and SD
Length: 38 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

For full explanation of WMV HD setup and options see my review of Speed. Needless to say all the exclamations about the wonderful picture quality also apply to this disc. The subject matter is all about challenging the limits of our body. A rock climber, a skier, and a ballerina, are all used as examples for how the body functions under stress. In addition to the video of the three engaged in their various activities, there is extensive footage and depictions of how (biologically) the body functions. This includes: the process of breathing, the circulatory system, and muscles and how they function, nerves, the brain, and the operation of other senses. The video (both outdoors and indoors) is simply amazing. With the skiing, there are several shots with the camera actually on the skier herself. The sights and sounds are so realistic it’s as if you were there. [And the higher resolution of the original 70mm stock – shot sideways to utilize the maximum real estate – is definitely visible even in the standard-definition DVDs…Ed.]

-Brian Bloom

The Discoverers The Discoverers (Feel the Courage, Live the Adventure) (1999)

Studio: MacGillivray Freeman Films/Image Entertainment
Video: 1.78:1 (DVD/HD) and 1.33:1 Full Frame (DVD)
Audio: DTS 5.1 (DVD), DD 5.1 (HD/DVD), DD 2.0 (DVD); English, Spanish & French versions in DD 5.1
Extras: Learn about WMV HD video, Previews, Making Of documentary, Experiments to Try at Home, 2nd disc with complete feature in MS Windows WMV HD playable on Windows XP PCs
Length: 72 minutes (adding times of both discs together)
Rating: ***1/2

The passion to explore our world is the subject of this IMAX presentation, successfully transferred to both standard and hi-def DVD. (Being a Mac user I was unable to view the HD disc in the package, but in spite of surveys showing many people do watch DVDs on their computer monitors I believe I prefer watching standard def on my 53-inch screen rather than HD on my 17-inch computer monitor at my desk.) Various pioneers who worked toward the common goal of discovering something are profiled in the various stories of discovery which take us visually around the globe. The stories also span a long period of time. One of the most difficult in shooting (with the giant, difficult-to-manuver IMAX camera) was the Magellan sequence, which involved actors wearing native Patagonian Indian costumes of the period over wet suits – since if they fell out of their tiny rowboat into the wild straits of Magellan they would freeze to death quickly. the section with Dr. Louis Herman working today with very smart dolphins in Hawaii is also fascinating – especially the shot of two dolphins swimming up to a yacht to rub noses with two onboard dogs. While like most IMAX films the production is a wonderful visual and sonic experience by itself, the Making Of documentary broadens one’s understanding of the courage and adventure the filmmakers go thru to produce such a film utilizing the world’s largest film format! Be assured that this DVD series does look entirely different from most DVDs, and everything is not lost in the transition down from the huge 70mm format. The multi-speaker sound of the IMAX theaters has also been skillfully mixed down to an enveloping 5.1 DTS experience for home theater.

– John Sunier

Amazon Amazon – IMAX DVD w/ WMV HD disc (1997))

Studio: Keith Merrill Film/Image Entertainment
Video: 1.78:1 (HD/DVD) or 1.33:1 (DVD) on same disc
Audio: DTS 5.1 (DVD), DD 5.1 (HD/DVD), DD 2.0 (DVD)
Extras: Learn about WMV HD video, Complete feature in WMV HD on second disc
Length: 39 minutes
Rating: ****

This IMAX production was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary short in l997. The distinctive voiceover of actress Linda Hunt adds a PBS/Discovery Channel aura to this absolutely compelling portrait of the mysterious Amazon and the disappearing rain forests on its banks. The greatest variety of plant and animal life in the world is sampled, and the filmmakers spend time with native tribes completely untouched by Western civilization. A part of the story line concerns a partnership between an American scientist and a tribal shaman, who are both searching the rain forests for rare medicinal plants. The images are rich and colorful and the many exotic sounds of the region are effectively captured in a surrounding home theater experience, especially in the DTS 5.1 version. There are occasional strong low frequency sounds. This is miles beyond the usual travelogue but it retains considerable educational values.

– John Sunier

Whats Up Doc? What’s Up, Doc? (1972)

Starring: Barbra Streisand, Ryan O’Neal, Austin Pendleton, Madeline Kahn
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: DD Mono
Extras: Cast & Crew, Theatrical Trailer, “Screwball Comedies…Remember Them?”, Awards, Scene Specific Commentary by Barbra Streisand, Audio Commentary by Peter Bogdanovich (director/producer)
Length: 94 minutes
Rating: ****

The plot of this film is rather simple, or not. Here goes… see there’s this guy trying to win a grant to study the musical sounds of rocks. He keeps his rocks in what you might think would be a very unusual suitcase. Another man has secret government documents that yet a third man is trying to steal. A beautiful know-it-all drifter played by Barbra Streisand is trying to get on the rock collectors’ good side—oh, by the way, she has the same suitcase. A rich, old woman happens to be staying at the same hotel and guess what? She has the same suitcase but it’s full of jewels. So we have the shady hotel manager who is trying to have the jewels stolen to get to a group of other gentleman, we have the rock collector with his fiancée trying to win a prize, we have a young woman trying to take advantage of whomever she can, we have a secret agent with secret documents, and someone trying to get a hold of them as well. You can just imagine what kind of hijinks occurs when one person tries to possess the case of another and the cases get all mixed up.

As a younger man, the director was influenced by the likes of the Marx brothers and the other enjoyable screwball comedies of his day. In an effort to recreate the same type of film he made this one and, believe me, it’s a huge success. Every actor and actress in the film is about as perfect for their role as can be imagined, and even though some of the silly scenes are expected, it doesn’t make them any less funny. Streisand is delightful as the young street urchin who ends up getting romantically involved with Ryan O’Neal’s character. And one of the funniest characters played by Austin Pendleton (who many may recognize but not know by name) is hilarious in his role. Like many of the great screwball comedies of the past, What’s Up, Doc manages to keep the viewer’s attention throughout and deliver laughs from start to finish. This one shouldn’t be missed.

-Brian Bloom

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