DVD-Video Reviews, Part 2 of 3

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


Pt. 2 of 3 April 2004 [Part 1] [Part 3]

Desperado (1995)

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Joaquim De Almeida, Selma Hayek
Studio: Columbia TriStar
Video: 1.85:1 widescreen enhanced for 16:9
Audio: DTS 5.1, DD 5.1
Length: 103 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

Though normally sequels are not more popular than the first film in a series, that is the case with Desperado. Although many people feel that El Mariachi was a better film, others may not even know that it exists. With the DVD release of the third film in the series, there is now a new collector’s edition of Desperado. This is a review of the 2001 Superbit release. One of the strong points of this film is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. In addition, it is a clear that the director has a talent for turning what may seem quite ordinary in other films into exciting drama. This is what ultimately elevates it into a much better film. I have to admit that sometimes I can’t understand what Antonio Banderas says—take Ballistic – Ecks v. Sever, but in this movie his dialogue is kept to a minimum and he enunciates better. The scenes in the beginning of the film, although quite violent, offer some of the best humor in the movie. Steve Buscemi, Quentin Tarantino, and Cheech Marin have the honors.

On the whole the story is quite simple: revenge. Banderas’ character is on the hunt for the drug trafficker who has killed his love. The legend of a mysterious man who goes from town to town carrying a guitar case filled with weapons is circulating and making people nervous. It seems that none of the men who have been hired to kill him can stop him. Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about Hayek. She runs a bookstore in town; unfortunately no one in the town reads. She serves as a nice love interest for the gunslinger and is won over by his charm. The pace of the film is fairly even, and there is no doubt that Desperado entertains. The picture and sound quality is very high, and the only reservation I have relates to the extensive scenes of violence. If this is not a deterrent, then by all means get caught up in the action.

-Brian Bloom

The Collector (1965)

Starring: Terence Stamp, Samantha Eggar
Studio: Columbia TriStar
Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: DD Mono
Extras: Trailers (The Collector, Panic Room, Enough)
Length: 119 minutes
Rating: *** 1/2

This film is based on a novel by John Fowles who also wrote novels like The French Lieutenant’s Woman and The Magus. The story is about a young man with an obsession for collecting butterflies. He was always the quiet, forgettable type who worked in a bank. After winning the lottery, he attains a cottage well away from people, to whom he does not relate well anyway. His isolation has been gnawing at him, a need for companionship is strong, and his way of going about this goal is based on what he knows: collecting. He kidnaps a beautiful young art student and plans to hold her until she develops love towards him. She has entirely different plans and tries to escape from her prison more than once. Her actions range from anger and defiance to reason to pleading and finally, to submission. The viewer soon realizes that even with her captor’s promises of freedom, this is not his intention, and she will not be released no matter what.

The director of this film is none other than William Wyler who directed such noteworthy films as Funny Girl, Ben-Hur, Roman Holiday, and The Best Years of Our Lives, among others. Although the tension of the film builds and falls throughout, the impact is not as great as it would have been back in the 60s. Terence Stamp does a great job playing the cold, innocent, affected persecutor. Any kind of sympathy and understanding we have for his character soon evaporates, as we see his game-playing elevated to a new level as the movie progresses. Any releases of emotion in reaction to the pleas from his captive do not last long. They quickly turn to anger and he strikes out in his affirmed position to continue to hold the captive. Without giving away the ending, it is utterly satisfying in an unsettling way—the only way it should have been.

-Brian Bloom

The Fighting Temptations (Widescreen Collection)(2003)

Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., Beyonce Knowles, Steve Harvey, Mike Epps
Directed by: Jonathan Lynn

Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
Video: 2.35:1 Widescreen enhanced
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, English and French Dolby Surround
Subtitles and Captions: English, English Closed Captions
Extras: Seven extended scenes, eight extended music numbers, theatrical trailer, four preview trailers
Length: 122 minutes
Rating: ***

Newly fired New York City advertising executive Darrin Hill receives notice that his aunt has passed away and he is to attend her funeral. Darrin travels home to Georgia where he discovers that his aunt has left him a conditional $150,000.00 inheritance. The condition is that Darrin must lead the local choir in qualifying for the annual “Gospel Explosion” competition. The task is more difficult than it first appears because the local choir is short on bodies and even shorter on talent. Darrin successfully recruits some new additions to the choir, including a beautiful jazz singer and three prison inmates. However, Darrin has precious little time to whip his makeshift choir into a gospel music force.

The Fighting Temptations has a predictable plot and is very much your standard comic fare. What saves this film from mediocrity is its wonderful musical performances and amusing character actors. Beyonce’s vocals shine and Cuba Gooding Jr. puts forth a high-energy acting performance. Overall, this is a positive, uplifting movie that is easy to recommend.

The video quality of this DVD is excellent. Images seem intentionally soft but are otherwise clean with nice detail. Colors are vibrant and rich with well saturated hues. Black are consistently dark throughout the film. 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. With the exception of the musical numbers, the soundtrack mix predominantly favors the forward channels. Dialogue is crisp and intelligible. The surround channels are actively utilized for the music score and contain a smattering of ambient sound effects. The low frequency channel delivers smooth, deep bass to the film’s soundtrack. Tactile sound effects are present in the form of subtle to moderate impacts resulting almost exclusively from the 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 Venturis; Tactile Transducers- Clark Synthesis Gold; Video Switcher- Key Digital SW4x1; Cables/Wires- www.bettercables.com ]

– Calvin Harding Jr.

Hud (1963)

Starring: Paul Newman, Melvyn Douglas, Patricia Neal, Brandon de Wilde
Studio: Paramount
Video: B&W 2.35:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: English 5.1, Restored Mono, French
Length: 111 minutes
Rating: ****

Martin Ritt directed this wonderful portrayal of the rebellious ranch hand Hud Bannon that was based on a book by Larry McMurtry. Newman was nominated for an Academy Award while the film had seven nominations total. The film opens with pleasant yet sad music filling a backdrop of a serene and quite landscape. Hud’s nephew is looking for him, finds broken glass from his exploits last night, and locates his fancy Cadillac parked in front of another’s man’s house. Hud shifts the blame to his nephew and gets away unscathed. The plot is quite simple and involves the discovery of a disease found in his father’s cattle—one that dictates the destruction of the entire herd. The movie starts with the first dead cow, and continues up until the final decision is made with the help of a government expert.

What makes this film special is the character development and their interrelationships. There is a great deal of history between Hud and his father, and the housekeeper and his nephew help to further along our understanding of this relationship. Hud has always been restless and wild, and this has brought strife between him and his father. The father is growing old and tired, but is stuck with his traditional moral views. The dialogue is entirely natural, and the small incidents in the film magnify the unrest and disappointment growing inside Hud. Hud is despicable in many ways, but the viewer still manages to sympathize with him. Newman gives an amazing performance that is followed by impressive storytelling and a great supporting cast. There’s hardly an extraneous scene in the film, and everything builds upon the whole in a perfectly calculated manner that has the air of reality. The pace may seem slow for some, but it not only suits the lifestyle depicted, but gives the film a dreamy quality that helps the viewer become apart of it. Highly recommended.

-Brian Bloom

Mona Lisa Smile (Widescreen Edition) (2003)

Starring: Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Marcia Gay Harden
Directed by: Mike Newell
Studio: Columbia TriStar
Video: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby 2.0 Surround
Subtitles: English, French
Extras: Three featurettes, Elton John music video, ten trailers, filmographies
Length: 120 minutes
Rating: ***

Katherine Watson is hired to teach art history in the 1950’s at Wellesley College, an all-female institution. The students there are extremely bright, but Katherine does not realize that the school is foremost a finishing school whose purpose is training the girls to attract and then serve their future husbands. Katherine, a freethinking liberal, clashes with school administration and alumni as she tries to teach her students that they can be more than just housewives. I thought this movie was good, but not great. I felt that the basic storyline was not original and had been done better in films such as Dead Poet’s Society or The Emperor’s Club. Nevertheless, this DVD is worth a spin if for nothing more than enjoying the outstanding acting of this terrific ensemble cast.

The video quality of this DVD is excellent. Images are pristine with sharp detail. Blacks are consistently dark throughout. Colors are warm and robust 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 is dialogue-driven and predominantly favors the forward soundstage. Dialogue is crisp and natural sounding. The surround channels do not have a large presence and are utilized for music and ambient sounds. Low frequency bass, found only in the music soundtrack, is smooth and mellow. Tactile sound effects are present in about one quarter of the DVD’s chapters and appear as subtle impacts from the music soundtrack.

— Calvin Harding, Jr.

Swept Away (By an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August) (1975)

Starring: Giancarlo Giannini, Mariangela Melato
Studio: Fox Lorber
Video: 1.85:1 Letterboxed widescreen
Audio: Italian language, Mono
Subtitles: English
Extras: Filmographies (3), Production Information,
Length: 116 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

The story is one that may not seem all too unfamiliar: a man and a woman deserted on an island in the Mediterranean. It is the telling of the story that differentiates this film from the rest. Director Lina Wertmuller’s version is one filled with controversial topics about sex, love, politics, and traditional roles of man and woman. The elements of the film that make it disturbing, at the same time, make it riveting.

A spoiled, rich, beautiful Capitalist, Rafaella, enjoys tormenting the crew on the ship in which she travels for a month-long vacation. She is always right, her opinion is all that matters, and she gives it freely to all who will listen. The trouble starts when she demands to be taken out for a swim although the hour is drawing late. The deckhand who has borne the brunt of her attacks, Gennarino, is in her charge, and objects to the excursion, but is unable to convince her to change her mind. Misfortune occurs in the form of a broken motor on their raft and they drift for days, undiscovered by their companions. They end up on a deserted island and have to fend for themselves. The dynamic of the relationship soon changes, and it is the servant who becomes the master—often humiliating and abusing Rafaella.

This strange relationship provokes questions from the viewer. Although we detest Rafaella’s behavior in the beginning of the film and label her an undeserving shrew, does this justify her maltreatment later in the film to subjugate and break her will? The romantic and sexual questions are equally provoking. Has Gennarino truly made her a woman after passionate sex and subservience—a role she could never have achieved in her previous life? The ending of the film may surprise some, but it does seem to be the only believable outcome resulting from their circumstances together. Prepare yourself for social commentary and poignant satire, and you will be in the right frame of mind for this film.

-Brian Bloom

The Out-of-Towners (1970)

Starring: Jack Lemmon, Sandy Dennis
Studio: Paramount
Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: English Mono, French Mono
Extras: None
Length: 97 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

This comedy by Neil Simon operates on the idea of Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong—will. George Kellerman, of Twin Oaks, Ohio has the job opportunity of a lifetime as a Vice President in charge of sales of a plastics company in New York. He and his wife are going together and their trip is about to be more than they ever bargained for. At first it is a delay on the airplane, then lost luggage, then the wrong train, then a cancelled hotel reservation, then…well, you see the way this is going. The Kellermans brave the elements, their lack of food and lodgings, and do everything that is humanly possible to make sure George makes his interview at 9:00 am the following day.

Lemmon’s anxious portrayal of Kellerman plays well off Sandy Dennis who goes from the supportive wife, to the defiant partner as their mutual misfortune grows worse. Although there are quite a few scenery changes as the couple goes from place to place lending a frenzied pace that mirrors the characters desire to get where they are going, the dialogue and dry wit is what makes the film worthwhile. Lemmon has a list of names that keeps getting longer—names of people who he intends to sue! The big city life is most certainly different from the Kellerman’s hometown, and the out-of-towners are out of place as well. Even when their trip is over and they are on a plane home, things don’t seem to go as planned. Anyone who has been to a major metropolis can empathize with the craziness in the film, and the satire plays much closer to the truth than most would like to think. For a wild and entertaining ride, check it out.

-Brian Bloom

Vengo (2000)

Starring: Antonio Canales, Antonio Perez Dechent
Studio: Home Vision Entertainment (HVE)
Video: 2.35:1 Widescreen Enhanced for 16:9
Audio: DD 5.1, DD 2.0 Spanish
Extras: Filmography for Tony Gatlif, Trailers (Vengo, Swing), Interview with Actors (22 min), Los Almendros-Plaza Nueva: Short Film (25 minutes)
Length: 90 minutes
Rating: *** 1/2

This movie takes place in a barren part of Southern Spain. Caco has become the head of the family after his brother has killed a member of the rival Caravacas gipsy clan. Having to deal with the death of his daughter, his handicapped nephew (who is now fatherless because his father has fled the country to stay alive), and the tensions between the two gangs is tough. A rumor that his nephew will be the target of a vengeance killing has all the family concerned. The story follows Caco and his family in their struggle up to the point when there is a final resolution and an attempt at peace is made with the Caravacas.

There are lots of closer shots with a handheld camera early on in the film that give it the feeling of many American independent films. As Caco tries to take over as the head of the family, it is clear that his methods are backed by strong intentions, but overtly show a great caring and appreciation for his family and the gipsy lifestyle. Even with his personal suffering, he shows unconditional love towards those for whom he cares. In an effort to stay some of the loneliness he feels due to the absence of his daughter, he decides to make a man of his nephew Diego. After Diego’s encounter, Caco hounds him for information about his experience. All Diego says is “It wasn’t love” over and over while Caco laughs—one of the many defining moments of the film.

Much of the film is filled with celebration backed by traditional Gipsy music. These performances are quite unusual and special in their own ways. From event to event we see professional performers play this unforgettable distinct brand of music that lends a feeling of authenticity to the picture. The good that Caco (and other characters) possess is overshadowed by traditions and the way things are and will remain. This permanence, I believe, is another rarity in film.

On the DVD in addition to the feature, is a short film that I found very enjoyable. Not only did it highlight many of the elements of the gipsy lifestyle, but also it was quite a touching tale about a bus driver who misses work one day and how this affects those who normally ride his bus. It is only 25 minutes long and worth checking out; as is Vengo, “I come.”

-Brian Bloom

Vampire Hunters (2002)

Starring: Ken Chang, Michael Chow, Lam Suet, Chan Kwok Kwan, Anya
Studio: Columbia TriStar
Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: Chinese 5.1, English 5.1, French 2.0
Extras: Trailers (Cowboy Bebop, National Security, Time And Tide)
Length: 90 minutes
Rating: ** 1/2

This somewhat unconventional story takes place in 17th century China where zombies are loose, feeding on humans and turning them into vampires. A group of warriors are on a quest to rid the land of these horrific creatures and end their reign of terror. We are told that the negative energy builds up in the dead and this turns them into zombies. If they remain zombies for long enough, they become vampires. The vampires are quite ugly and look more like the undead than the typically handsome men and women depicted in movies like Underworld. Also unlike other tales, the vampires have telekinetic abilities and can suck the blood right out of a man just by breathing on him. Their first attack is unsuccessful and most of the men are killed or get separated. Four of the more experienced warriors, Rain, Lightning, Thunder, and Wind, continue to track the vampire and take on the guise of servants in a wedding party. Meanwhile, bandits are in search of gold hidden by the groom’s father—the solitary master of the house. He happens to be an expert wax maker who encases all of the dead family members in wax. This is important later in the story when the “zombie wrangler” is hired to cause mischief in the household so the bandits’ boss can locate the gold.

The film has several action sequences, but on the whole doesn’t take itself too seriously. The main characters are much like those in Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress. They bumble around a bit and say and do silly things, although their fighting ability is excellent. Aside from the flying and some other worthwhile fight scenes, some of the special effects (especially the zombies) look a bit dated. Unless the intention was to make them act like “stiffs,” the movement of the zombies resembles mannequins being moved around the stage. The story seems pieced together in parts and the action sequences take place in the dark making it hard to see exactly what is going on. The characterizations are superficial and stereotyped at best, so you won’t find and deep meaning here—just a horror/martial arts film.

-Brian Bloom

Frasier – The Complete Second Season (1994-1995)

Starring: Kelsey Grammer, John Mahoney, David Hyde Pierce, Peri Gilpin, Jane Leeves
Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
Video: 4:3 Fullscreen
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English Closed Captions
Extras: Commentary on “The Matchmaker” episode by director David Lee and writer Joe Keenan, “Marching on to Season Two” (interviews cast and crew), four featurettes (“The Mystery of Maris Continues”, “Roz’s Dating Tips”, “The Niles & Daphne Attraction”, “And Then There Was Eddie”), celebrity voices
Length: 553 minutes
Rating: *****

Earning a total of 27 Emmy Awards to date, including 5 consecutive wins for Outstanding Comedy Series, Frasier is a spin-off of the popular television show Cheers. Set in Seattle, Frasier follows the lives of radio show psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane, his high-strung psychiatrist brother Niles, their gruff, ex-cop father Martin, Martin’s live-in home-care provider Daphne, and Frasier’s radio show producer Roz. The entire 24 episodes from the 1994-1995 season plus the special features are spread out over 4 discs. Memorable episodes from the Second Season include: “The Innkeepers” where Frasier and Niles purchase a restaurant but their constant meddling drives the chef and his staff to quit; “The Candidate” in which Frasier and Niles back a Congressional candidate who later claims he was previously abducted by aliens; and “The Botched Language of Cranes” where Frasier alienates Seattle by recommending a sunnier climate for one of the city’s radio callers to his show. (Disc One: Slow Tango in South Seattle; The Unkindest Cut of All; The Matchmaker; Flour Child; Duke’s We Hardly Knew Ye; The Botched Language of Cranes. Disc Two: The Candidate; Adventures in Paradise (Part 1); Adventures in Paradise (Part 2); Burying a Grudge; Seat of Power; Roz in the Doghouse. Disc Three: Retirement is Murder; Fool Me Once Shame on You Fool Me Twice…; You Scratch My Book…; The Show Where Sam Shows Up; Daphne’s Room; The Club. Disc Four: Someone to Watch Over Me; Breaking the Ice; An Affair to Forget; Agents in America Part III; The Innkeepers; Dark Victory; special features).

The overall video quality for this DVD set is very good. Images, while on the softer side, are always clean with fine detail. Colors are warm and robust with saturated hues. Black levels are consistently dark. Other than some film grain, picture defect mastering is solid with no major flaws or compression artifacts. The overall audio quality is serviceable 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 natural sounding and intelligible. Surround activity is limited to the audience laugh track and the show’s theme song. The LFE channel is only active in the show’s opening theme song.

– Calvin Harding Jr.

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