DVD-Video Reviews, Part 2 of 2

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

Pt. 2 of 2 – MAY 2004 [Part 1]

3 Women - Altman film on DVD Three Women (1977)

Starring: Sissy Spacek, Shelley Duvall, Janice Rule
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
Video: Widescreen Enhanced for 16:9
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Subtitles: English
Extras: Audio Commentary by director Robert Altman, Stills Gallery, Theatrical Trailers and T. V. spots
Length: 124 minutes
Rating: ****

Three Women, set in the desert area around Palm Springs, is a rich and haunting story about personality theft. This film has been described as one woman becoming two, two women becoming three and three women becoming one. Based on a dream Robert Altman experienced, much of it has a dream like quality. These sequences are accompanied by atonal music, perfect for the mood. Scenes involving water are prominent and there’s considerable cutting to bizarre murals. The desert landscapes are striking on widescreen. The actors improvised much of the dialogue. What a treat to experience Altman’s rich commentary in that section of the DVD. He states “I have no idea of how actors work and it’s none of my business. Certainly his many observations add great value to this DVD.

The opening scene is set in a convalescent nursing home where Milly (Shelley Duvall) works as an attendant. She meets Pinky (Sissy Spacek), a new attendant who she trains and quickly takes in as a roommate. Pinky is an odd, child like young woman who soon exclaims that Milly is the most perfect person she’s ever met. The recurring poignant feature of Duvall’s character is the way this completely isolated soul seeks love and acceptance, never finding either in her daily encounters with others.

Pinky begins to read her diary and wear her clothes and displays other subtle and obvious intrusions somewhat like Ripley in a Patricia Highsmith novel, though not in regard to the way the plot develops. Near disaster occurs after Milly orders Pinky to move out. Soon events take a unpredictable turns as three women merge. The third woman, the eccentric Willie (Janice Hart) has a pivotal role but less of a prominent place in the film. Spacek and Duvall are brilliant. The disgusting husband of Willie, Edgar (Robert Fortier) meets with an intriguing fate.

Three Women is simply an extraordinarily well made film on every level. If you haven’t seen it previously, I would suggest not viewing it as I did with the commentary feature on. First see the film as it was meant to be experienced. As Altman says, “Explaining damages the viewer’s take on it.”

– Donna Dorsett

The Triplets of Belleville - animation DVD The Triplets of Belleville (2004)

Director: Sylvain Chomet
Studio: CNC/BBC/Sony Pictures Classic
Video: 1.78:1 enhanced for widescreen 16:9
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, English, Spanish
Extras: “The Making of The Triplets;” Featurette “The Cartoon According to Director Sylvain Chomet;” Music video, Commentaries on selected scenes; Theatrical trailers
Length: 81 minutes
Rating: ****

This highly original and quirky animation feature was a French/Canadian/Belgian co-production and was nominated at the recent Academy Awards for both best animated feature (lost out to Finding Nemo) and best original song. The animation work was divided up among a long list of studios around the world and its visual consistency is amazing. Besides the exaggerated physical characteristics and details of the various unusual characters the other odd thing about the production is its almost total lack of dialog. This DVD differs from the theatrical feature in having the few spoken words at the beginning and end in English rather than French. The theme song sung and played by the Triplets – both on a scratchy historic B&W clip on TV at the start and more than once thru the movie as three old ladies – is quirky and catchy in the extreme. The music is Hot Club of Paris-inspired, even down to an animated Django who happily switches to playing his guitar with his toes when the three fingers on his left hand prove not enough. Some of the lyrics in the DVD are now in English but it doesn’t increasing their understanding very much. The three ladies keep chorusing “voodoo caca, voodoo caca…” who knows…

The wild story builds visually in a delightful way. The grandson of the little old lady is interested in nothing as a child. (He looks like the Charles Addams’ family little boy.) As a puppy the dog she gives him gets his tail run over by the child’s electric train. Thereafter the big dog climbs up to an upstairs window that opens on real train tracks and barks at every one that passes. The grandmother tries to follow up on several things he shows a slight tendency toward but with no avail. Finally she hits on a tricycle and he starts on a rigorous career toward being a top Tour de France bicyclist. In the middle of the race he is kidnapped by mysterious square-shouldered henchmen of a Mafioso and taken to the big city of Belleville. The old lady along with the boy’s dog follows his trail and is taken in after her arrival by the Triplets. Their unique procurement of a feast of frogs is unforgettable. The four bizarre sleuths, hot on the trail, discover an underground business where patrons bet on her grandson and two other cyclists madly pedaling, stationary, in front of a movie screen of the course ahead of them. A big chase ensues and all the bad guys are creatively dispensed with. This is anime for thinking grownups. Great fun! Magnifique!

– John Sunier

Onibaba - Japanese classic on DVD-V Onibaba (1964)

Director: Kaneto Shindo
Music: Hikaru Hayashi
Studio: Toho International/The Criterion Collection
Video: 2.35:1 widescreen enhanced for 16:9, B&W
Audio: Dolby Digital mono, Japanese
Subtitles: English
Extras: Location silent footage (Super 9 B&W and color) shot by one of the actors on location during the filming; Theatrical trailer; Stills gallery with production sketches and promotional art; Essay by Asia cinema critic Chuck Stephens, On-camera statement by director Shindo, English translation of the original Buddhist fable that inspired the film
Length: 103 minutes
Rating: ****

Shindo moved the entire production to temporary huts out in a giant field of waving bamboo next to a river and they camped there for the duration of shooting the film. He chose black & white and extreme widescreen for the brilliant cinematography of the fields of wind-swept stalks. The setting is medieval Japan during a period of warring, and the three main characters live hidden away in the field. A older woman and her young daughter-in-law live by killing lost and wounded samurai who wander into the area, dumping them into a deep hole and trading their swords and garments for food. The third character is a male friend of the young woman’s husband who went off to fight in the wars but escaped and returned after her husband was killed. His return precipitates jealousies, lust and rage. A mask of a demon found by the older woman is the “deus ex machina” of this story. The images, while sometimes far from beautiful, are often artistically superb. The primitive sounds of the score compliment the images and drama perfectly. Don’t know why I hadn’t heard of this classic before – I liked it better than Woman of the Dunes, and it’s a much better DVD transfer with great depth and clarity of the black and white images and no noticeable artifacts at all. You might want to first view the interview with the director as well as read the Buddhist folk tale that inspired Onibaba.

– John Sunier

Luc Besson's Subway - DVD-V Subway (1985)

Director: Luc Besson
Starring: Christopher Lambert, Isabelle Adjani
Studio: Gaumont/Columbia TriStar
Video: 2.35:1 enhanced for widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital stereo surround, French
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Extras: None
Length: 102 minutes
Rating: *** 1/2

This earlier film by the director of The Fifth Element and The Professional is a cool caper taking place primarily in the Paris subways. A hip, music-loving thief falls in love with the wife of the millionaire whose safe he has just blown. She wants some papers in it back and he wants her. Chased by both police and thugs hired by her husband, the pair hide in the underground world below and around the subway, populated by a cast of strange characters – some double-crossing and others helpful to the anti-hero of the story. A sort of black humor pervades the film plus some Keatonesque physical comedy. The underground settings are very photogenic. An original and very French adventure film.

– John Sunier

Alfred Stieglitz documentary on DVD Alfred Stieglitz – The Eloquent Eye (2001)

Studio: Thirteen/WNET/Winstar/Fox Lorber
Video: 4:3 full screen, color and B&W
Audio: PCM mono
Extras: Biographic Timeline, Web Links
Length: 90 minutes
Rating: ****

This American Masters PBS telecast documents the life and work of one of the most important figures in modern art in America during the last century. Stieglitz was an original and creative photographer who struggled to elevate fine photography to a respected art form (and succeeded). At the same time he fostered new talent in photography he also mentored various new artists in the traditional media in Europe and the U.S. and showed their work at one of the three galleries he operated in NYC during his life. He introduced Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne and Rodin to American audiences. Ansel Adams and Edward Steichen were just two of the photographers he supported. He married artist Georgia O’Keeffe and their relationship is described in the film, especially in an interview with her. Archival footage of some of the great artists he inspired is included, plus some of the great photographs he himself is known for. A wide-ranging and fascinating look at the one person who probably did more than anyone else to set the stage for the appreciation of modern art in the U.S.

– John Sunier

Cheers - 2nd season DVD set Cheers – The Complete Second Season (1983-1984)

Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
Starring: Ted Danson, Shelley Long, Rhea Perlman, George Wendt, John Ratzenberger, Nicholas Colasanto
Video: 4:3 Fullscreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English
Extras: Five featurettes (“Strictly Top Shelf: The Guys Behind the Bar”, “Cliff’s Notes: The Wisdom of Cliff Claven”, “Carla The Comeback Queen: Insults for Every Occasion”, “Di Another Day: Diane Chambers From A-Z” and “Gag Reel: Bloopers from Season Two”)
Length: 539 minutes
Rating: *****

One of the most beloved television series of all-time, Cheers garnered 28 Emmy Awards over its 11-year run. Set in the city of Boston, Cheers centers upon the staff and patrons of a local bar owned and operated by former major league relief pitcher Sam “Mayday” Malone. The charm of Sam’s establishment is that it’s a place where “everyone knows your name.” Memorable episodes from the second season include: “They Called Me Mayday” wherein Sam is asked to write his baseball memoirs by Dick Cavett; “Fortune and Men’s Weight” in which the fortunes told by Coach’s antique fortune-telling machine begin coming true; and “I’ll Be Seeing You” wherein Sam hires famed artist Phillip Semenko (Christopher Lloyd) to paint Diane’s portrait. The entire 22 episodes from the 1983-1984 season plus the special features are spread out over 4 discs. (Disc One: Power Play; Li’l Sister Don’t Cha; Personal Business; Homicidal Ham; Sumner’s Return; Affairs of the Heart. Disc Two: Old Flames; Manager Coach; They Called Me Mayday; How Do I Love Thee Let Me Call You Back; Just Three Friends; Where There’s a Will. Disc Three: Battle of the Exes; No Help Wanted; And Coachie Makes Three; Cliff’s Rocky Moment; Fortune and Men’s Weight; Snow Job. Disc Four: Coach Buries a Grudge; Norman’s Conquest; I’ll Be Seeing You (Part 1); I’ll Be Seeing You (Part 2); special features).

The video quality for this DVD set is very good especially given the age of the source material. Images are surprisingly sharp with nice detail. Colors are accurate and dark with well-saturated hues. Black levels are consistently deep throughout. Other than some occasional film grain, picture defect mastering is solid with no major flaws or compression artifacts. The overall audio quality is simply average with the English Dolby Digital 2.0 track serving as the basis for this review. The soundtrack mix heavily favors the forward channels. Dialogue is intelligible and securely anchored in the center channel. There is very little surround activity or noticeable bass outside of the opening theme song and other brief music passages.

Reference equipment: Video monitor- NetTV DTV-34XRT; Video scaler- Silicon Image iScan Pro; DVD player- Philips Q35AT; A/V Receiver- Sherwood Newcastle R-963T; Speakers- Acoustech 5.1 channel system; Tactile Transducer- Clark Synthesis TST 329 Gold; Cables and Wires- Better Cables

Somethings Gotta Give - Keaton & Nicholson Something’s Gotta Give (Widescreen Edition) (2003)

Directed by: Nancy Meyers
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Keanu Reeves, Frances McDormand, Amanda Peet, Jon Favreau
Studio: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment
Video: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: English and French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, French and Spanish
Extras: Audio commentary by writer/director Nancy Meyers, Diane Keaton and producer Bruce Block; audio commentary by writer/director Nancy Meyers and Jack Nicholson; “Hamptons House Set Tour with Amanda Peet” featurette; ten trailers, cast and crew filmographies
Length: 128 minutes
Rating: ****

Harry Sanborn is a wealthy playboy who prefers the company of much younger women. Furthermore, Harry is unwilling to commit to any long-term relationships. When a trip to a Hamptons beach house with his latest fling (Marin) ends up sending him to the hospital with a mild heart attack, Harry is thereafter confined to rest at the beach house under the care of Marin’s mother, Erica. Erica and Harry begin falling in love with one another but Harry’s inability to commit to a relationship may prevent a happy ending for them. This was a fun, enjoyable movie. Both Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton are at the top of their games in terms of acting and they play well off one another. This movie is a glowing example that successful romantic comedies aren’t exclusively in the domain of twenty or thirty something aged actors. Highly recommended.

The video quality of this DVD is excellent. Images are unblemished with fine detail. Blacks are consistently dark throughout. Colors are vivid and bright with well 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 is dialogue-driven and favors the forward soundstage. Dialogue is clean and firmly anchored in the center channel. The surround channels are selectively utilized and primarily for music and background ambience. There is very little low frequency bass present in the soundtrack but is smooth and mellow when employed. Tactile sound effects are present in about one quarter of the DVD’s chapters and appear as subtle impacts from the music soundtrack.

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- Better Cables

– Calvin Harding Jr.

School of Rock - Jack Black DVD
School of Rock (Special Collector’s Edition – Widescreen)(2003)

Starring: Jack Black, Joan Cusack, Mike White, Sarah Silverman
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen enhanced
Audio: English and French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround
Subtitles and Captions: English subtitles
Extras: Commentary by director Richard Linklater and actor Jack Black, commentary by the child actors, “Lessons Learned in School of Rock” featurette, Jack Black’s Pitch to Led Zeppelin, “School of Rock” music video, “Kids’ Video Diary: Toronto Film Festival” featurette, theatrical trailer, two preview trailers, MTV’s Diary of Jack Black, DVD-ROM content
Length: 109 minutes
Rating: ****

Thirty-something amateur rocker Dewey Finn is down on his luck. He is not only behind on his rent to his roommate Ned, a substitute teacher, but Dewey has also just been kicked out of his band right before a $20,000.00 rock ‘n’ roll competition. While sulking back at his apartment, Dewey takes a phone call intended for Ned and sees an opportunity to make some quick cash. Pretending to be Ned, Dewey accepts a temporary job teaching at a prestigious elementary school. Dewey puts his new class of talented and bright students on full-time recess until he discovers that some of the kids are actually classical music prodigies. That discovery inspires Dewey to attempt to transform the students’ musical abilities into a rock band that he can enter into the competition. On the whole, I liked School of Rock. Jack Black is a high-energy comedian who, despite having to tone down his personality a shade to conform to a PG-13 rating, is a laugh riot in this film. The kid actors were engaging without being annoying. My only complaint of this film is that I would like to have seen Joan Cusack receive more screen time with a better-developed character to showcase her considerable comedic talents. I recommend this DVD to people of all ages who enjoy clean, funny comedies.

The video quality of this DVD is excellent. Images are crisp with fine detail. Colors are robust and deep with saturated hues. Black are consistently dark throughout. Picture defect mastering is perfect with no major flaws or compression artifacts. The audio quality is very good with the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track serving as the basis for this review. The soundtrack mix is predominantly dialogue-driven (aside from the music) and favors the forward soundstage. Dialogue is accurate and intelligible. Surrounds are utilized primarily for the music score with the occasional ambient sound effect. The low frequency channel delivers thumping, punchy bass to the film’s rock music. Tactile sound effects are present as subtle to moderate impacts.

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 Venturis; Tactile Transducers- Clark Synthesis Gold; Video Switcher- Key Digital SW4x1; Cables/Wires- Better Cables

Timeline sci-fi DVD Timeline (Widescreen Collection) (2003)

Starring: Gerard Butler, Paul Walker, Billy Connelly, Frances O’Connor, David Thewlis, Ethan Embry
Directed by: Richard Donner
Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
Video: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: English DD 5.1, English DD 2.0, French DD 5.1
Subtitles and Captions: English and English Closed Captions
Extras: Three-part documentary “Journey Through Timeline”, “The Textures of Timeline” featurette, 2 theatrical trailers, 4 preview trailers, hidden alternate menu design
Length: 115 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

Professor Edward Johnston, his son Chris, and a team of archaeologists are on a dig in France unearthing La Roque Castle and other finds from the French and English War. Professor Johnston then excuses himself from the dig and heads to New Mexico to meet with International Technology Corporation, the project’s sponsors. A couple of days later, the dig team discovers part of the professor’s eyeglasses and an ancient “Help Me” note etched in his handwriting in a room that no one has entered in over 600 years. Chris and some of the team head to ITC in New Mexico themselves to ascertain the professor’s current whereabouts. They soon discover that ITC has created a 3-D fax machine that opened a wormhole to 16th Century France. As the professor is currently trapped in the past, Chris and the team travel back in time to France in an attempt to rescue him. Despite underperforming at the box office, this film will undoubtedly find a new audience on DVD as it is a good adventure flick. Granted, its time travel plot may not be all that original, yet the movie nevertheless succeeds due to its nonstop action and well-choreographed battle scenes. Recommended.

The overall video quality of this DVD is excellent. Images are crisp with razor sharp detail. Colors are robust and vivid with well-saturated hues. Picture defect mastering is perfect with no major flaws or compression artifacts. The overall audio quality is also excellent with the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track serving as the basis for this review. The soundtrack mix actively incorporates all of the discrete audio channels. Dialogue is intelligible and firmly anchored in the center channel. In addition to sporting several split rear effects, the surround channels are aggressively utilized for both sound effects and the music score. The low frequency channel is moderately active and pumps out dynamic, deep bass to the film’s action scenes. Tactile sound effects are present in about one half of the DVD’s chapters and appear as subtle to heavy impacts from both the sound effects and the music soundtrack.

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 DV62si mains, DV62CLRs center, Adatto DV52si rears, D1210R subwoofer; Tactile Transducers- Clark Synthesis Gold; Video Switcher- Key Digital SW4x1; Cables/Wires- Better Cables

– Calvin Harding Jr.

God Is Great and I'm Note - Tatou - DVD God is Great and I’m Not (2002)

Starring: Audrey Tatou, Edouard Baer, Julie Depardieu
Studio: Koch Lorber
Video: Widescreen Enhanced for 16:9
Audio: Dolby Digital Surround Sound
Subtitles: French with English subtitles
Extras: Photo Gallery, Trailer
Length: 95 minutes
Rating: *

The exceedingly pretty and charming Audre Tatou plays Michele, a young model who falls in love with Francois, a Jewish veterinarian in his early 30’s. They have a somewhat emotionally volatile relationship as Michele’s “spiritual quest” zigzags around from Catholicism to Buddhism to Judaism. A girlfriend suggests to her that she see a therapist during a particularly stressful time because she’s “ripe for the Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Much of the time Michele is focusing on the trappings of the Jewish faith. She tortures Francois over his determination to remain a non-practicing Jew. She also plays around with Buddhism and Catholicism, on a, you guessed it, superficial basis. There are several amusing scenes. One involves Francois interrogating Michele as she secretly attempts to observe Shabat.

In another scene, she innocently lights her cigarette with the Hanakah candlestick. His visiting from Israel parents are forgiving of the mistake and slightly aghast at her faux pas, she quickly makes up for it by commenting on “the Maccabees victory in the 2nd century, the menorah, festival of light, miracle of the oil.” The charmed parents are impressed with her vast knowledge.

Michele berates Francois as follows “You believe in nothing. You never go to synagogue. Last Friday you ate a big ham sandwich. You call that Jewish? You have no spirituality. So naturally I amaze you.” This is supposed to be a light hearted comedy but the vacuous dialogue throughout drove me nuts.

I loved Audrey Tatou in “Amelie” and “I Love You. I Love You Not.” She is an excellent actress, but this film is just plain silly and boring beyond belief. If you are a die hard Tatou fan, you may want to see it anyway. But be warned.

– Donna Dorsett

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