Believe it or not, there are only seven full shopping weeks before something called Santa Claus teaches the wee ones of the world a lesson in misguided materialism and hope-crushing gift disappointment. Of course, this means DVD marketers industry wide are stuck trying to find creative ways of pushing the same product back into your already bloated gift sack. As you venture into your local technology center, wish list gripped firmly in hand, you will have to navigate shelves filled with box sets, special editions, limited releases and the always aggravating double dips. Still, if you look closely, you’ll see some very worthy fare out there – as well as a horrid comedy from three months ago that, hopefully, will die the oversized death its undersized storyline so richly deserves. With such a diverse selection to choose from, the only advice SE&L can supply is select wisely – oh, and anything from Criterion or Something Weird Video is always welcome under the blog’s bountiful Yuletide tree. The possible prizes awaiting your wampum for 7 November are:
Why, exactly, did critics pick on Pixar and this latest example of their anthropomorphic expertise? Is it all just a matter of success-based jealousy, or was there something really wrong with this story about a spoiled stock car who learns valuable life lessons at the hands of some backwater automobiles. For all the claims that this ‘only average’ entry in the company’s creative canon could not match the magic of Finding Nemo or Monsters, Inc., for SE&L’s money, this was some unbelievably fun stuff. Besides, the computer animation bar is set at right around The Incredibles for us, and all other offerings more or less pale in comparison. Still, Cars was a solid, sensationally realized effort that may have poured on the schmaltz, but still delivered an array of dizzying visuals that made the basic narrative explode with invention and wonder. If this is supposedly run of the mill animation, what does one label the frequently lame offerings from other cartoon creators?
One of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s more inventive and evocative musicals, this forgotten gem gets frequently overlooked (along with the unworthy Flower Drum Song) when classic song and dance showcases are considered. And that’s too bad, since it features some of the duo’s more ambitions tunes and a pair of compelling performances from Gordon MacRae as Billy Bigelow and Shirley Jones as Julie Jordan. Granted, the subject matter here is much darker than in your standard Broadway show, and the operetta approach can throw some artform aficionados off their game, but this is still one of the best combinations of story, performance and melody the pair ever attempted. Long available on DVD, this new 50th Anniversary presentation promises commentary, cut songs and an overview of the production. Even better, you can round out your collection by picking up the Box Set edition which includes other timeless masterworks like The Sound of Music and South Pacific.
What exactly, has happened to Giuseppe Tornatore in recent years? A look at his IMDb resume reveals a string of films since this 1989 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language film, but after the solid follow-up, Everybody’s Fine, his efforts have never really made an impact outside his Italian homeland. While his 1998 movie The Legend of 1990 is plastered all over some pay cable channels, few of his other productions have made it over to our discerning shores. And that’s too bad, since this love letter to cinema is one of the best nostalgic narratives the medium has to offer. Tornatore, using a flashback style storyline, expresses everything that’s magic, maddening, and moving about motion pictures, and does so with limited sap and just a small amount of pap. Previous DVD editions have revealed differing cuts of the film, as well as limited supplemental elements. This newest presentation promises to include all available versions, as well as a few complementary surprises.
Carol Reed, the British director responsible for several of cinema’s more outstanding milestones (The Third Man, Oliver!) delivered one of the most devastating takes on hero worship and shattered expectations ever attempted. In this classic coming of age tale, a young boy looks up to the family butler, a secretive man whose life appears both purposefully enigmatic and oddly clandestine. When a murder forces the child to confront his issues of loyalty and adulation, the truth becomes more difficult to decipher than the mixed messages from the adults around him. Long lost to the occasional revival by a classic film channel, Criterion steps up and gives this minor masterwork the preservationist’s polish it so richly deserves. With a brand new black and white transfer, and a documentary about the filmmaker and his fascinating career, there is more to this release than just a chance to own a remarkable motion picture. It’s a chance to celebrate a forgotten artist as well.
SE&L is sick and tired of every review of this film pointing out that the so-called story for this anti-comedy atrocity is lifted directly from the Warner Brothers cartoon “Baby Buggy Bunny”. Granted, this horrible hackwork by the used to be talented Wayans Brothers did lift a few of its fetid gags from the 1954 animated short, but there is a far more disturbing source for much of this movie’s Apocalyptic awfulness. In 1932, the Our Gang/Little Rascals starred in “Free Eats”, a slapstick send-up of poverty and the orphaned featuring – you guessed it – a pair of midgets pretending to be babies. Their ruse? To rob a rich matron of her fancy jewels. Since the dowager is throwing a party for the star unfortunates, the crooks come along for the toddler carriage ride. All manner of racially insensitive, but still quite hilarious, hi-jinx ensue. It’s the only thing that separates the humorous efforts of the past from the laugh-free lameness of this Summer of 2006 cinematic hate crime.
Oh! What a Lovely War!
Political satire usually comes in one of two distinct packages: outlandish and obvious, or subtle and subversive. Oddly, this 1969 British effort – clearly timed as a rebuke of the US involvement in Vietnam - wants to be a little bit of both. With an approach that’s more like a musical M*A*S*H* than an actual attempt at lampooning the events of World War I, Sir Richard Attenborough follows the infamous Charles Chilton play rather faithfully. He also gets magical performances out of UK staples Maggie Smith, Ian Holm and John Mills, among many others. There was a lot of behind the scenes intrigue during the making of this movie, and with its absence from the DVD domain, the newly minted special edition promises to address some of the scandal. In this time of war, where questions are being raised regarding the nobility of dying for an unjust cause, this ripping roast of the insanity of armed conflict may finally find an eager and accepting audience.
It’s a hobby that can count such diverse persons as Bill Clinton, the Indigo Girls and Bob Dole as participants. It requires a knowledge of language, a skill at problem solving, and a mind that can strategize and extemporize equally well. Indeed, everyday, millions of people around the world sit down with their morning paper and don’t feel fully awake until they’ve had a crack at the crossword puzzle. This delightful documentary centers on the 28th Annual competition for “professional” solvers, and yet it’s the testimonials from the famous and the faithful that really resonate throughout. Watching people describe their ‘addiction’, admitting to themselves for perhaps the first time that their lives are undeniably linked to discovering a five letter word for “frequently indifferent” is truly enlightening. Bolstered by a wealth of added content, and a chance to see who actually wins the final round of the 2006 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, this terrific title is enough to make you grab a pencil and start deciphering for yourself.
And Now for Something Completely Different:
In a weekly addition to Who’s Minding the Store, SE&L will feature an off title disc worth checking out. For 7 November:
Francis Ford Coppola Presents William S. Burroughs’ The Junky’s Christmas*
If you’re fed up of all the syrupy, saccharine holiday specials that seemingly clog up your TV screen about 30 seconds after Halloween ends, Francis Ford Coppolla and famed Beat author William Burroughs have the perfect antidote for you. This stop motion animated treat, based on the Burroughs’ story of the same name, centers around a recently incarcerated dope fiend desperate for a fix. When he finally scores, he’s forced into a position of either fending for himself, or helping out another in need. The work by director Nick Donkin is amazing, a kind of anti-Rankin/Bass approach where reality and surrealism are mixed together to form a unique combination of fact and fairy tale. Of course, Burroughs narrates this excellent adaptation, and his cracked, croaking voice adds just the right amount of seasonal cynicism. Presented along with a pair of short films that are equally evocative, here’s the perfect stocking stuffer for those who’d like to see the entire commercialized celebration blown up.
Now this is more like it. Instead of your typical week at the local B&M, shelves lined with lots of standard mainstream cinema, the full moon howlings of the Halloween season are finally finding purchase among DVD distributors. This week, in particular, a lot of double dips and sparkling special editions of horror favorites (good and groan inducing) are making a major play for your hard earned weekly pay. Not that there aren’t other more ‘normal’ titles in the offing – you could opt for a documentary about the military industrial complex, a new version of Katheleen Turner’s steamy cinematic debut, or a complete collection of the classics that made Fred Astair and Ginger Rodgers the Hollywood musical’s most mesmerizing partnership ever. Still, with the leaves turning autumnal and the smell of fireplaces filling the air, nothing says ‘seven more days ‘til Halloween’ better than a good old fashioned frightening. The creepshow choices (plus one bit of sunny Summer fluff) available for 24 October include:
For most movie fans, Project: Greenlight has been a failure, especially as an intended purveyor of independent cinema. As a guilty pleasure reality show train wreck however, it’s been nothing short of brilliant. But the movies that have resulted from this experiment in overdriven ego have been nothing short of sad…until now. Fans of gore-loaded lunacy and old fashioned spook show fun will definitely dig on this throwback to a more viscous view of horror. With a narrative revolving around some monsters attacking the customers in a redneck bar, the clothesline plotting is perfect for lots of nasty set-piece bloodletting. Credit director John Gulager (son of Return of the Living Dead‘s Clu) and a saucy script by fellow film first timers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton for getting the grue mostly right. Sure, this is a lame low budget bungle with almost no character development and a shaky sense of cinematic prerequisites, but when was the last time a film found a way to be foul and frivolous at the same time. Something like that takes a specialized scare talent.
If you can get through the first act of this well meaning mock macabre, you will find yourself thoroughly enjoying this inventive riff on the whole Blair Witch school of ‘you are there’ terror. Indeed, the best part about this otherwise average horror attempt is the way in which writer/director Slater Kane and his collection of feature film amateurs set out to sell us on the reality behind this Halloween visit to the burned out Ridgley Institution. Using a wonderfully evocative real life backdrop, and a nice combination of hand-held and security camera shots, we do get the impression of being along on a holiday party prank gone horribly, horribly wrong. Sure, some of the sequences are slapdash, but we definitely end up with something that succeeds more than it stumbles. Kudos then to a creative ideal that wants to be as realistic as possible, while also understanding that the best horror films have artistic flourishes that keep the fans fixated and on the edge of their scary movie seats.
Thankfully, this is one computer generated cartoon that doesn’t fall into the typical genre trappings. It doesn’t offer cutesy, cuddly anthropomorphic beings voiced by famous celebrities cracking Borscht Belt level pop culture quips. There’s no major moral about believing in yourself or savoring your friendships. There’s only one major action setpiece, and it grows instinctually out of the storyline, not merely tossed in to show off the computing power. The wee ones won’t be clamoring for Chowder or Zee action figures and only the most seasoned film going youngster will find anything instantly “likeable” about the knotty narrative. It’s a credit then to Executive Producers Stephen Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis. They have made the first tween classic, a movie destined to be remembered by audience members a little too old for talking cars and wise cracking woodland creatures, but still unable to enjoy the harsher elements a PG-13 or R film has to offer. For them, this is a Goonies to get lost in, an amiable adventure yarn that has action and atmosphere to burn.
Like a far less substantive Shaun of the Dead, this quirky little comedy from independent titan Tempe gets by on great big globs of goodwill and a sunny script that’s more slacker silliness than uproarious horror. Canadian outsider auteur Brett Kelly, responsible for The Feral Man and the Bonesetter series, tries something decidedly different here. Instead of pouring on the brooding, atmospheric elements of your standard living dead horror film, Kelly finds the funny center to a scary situation and then cranks up the irony a couple of witty notches. The result is a sometimes clever, sometimes cloying attempt to avoid the standard zombie clichés while making the frightening and the funny pay off in ways that are noticeable, not nominal. Though we never completely connect with the characters onscreen, and have a hard time getting a handle on the “mythology” aspects of this monster movie, the overall effect is one of witty experimentation in the melding of genres.
Okay, so it isn’t Napoleon Dynamite. Frankly, what could be? Jared Hess and his uniquely named wife Jerusha delivered a devastatingly original take on human folly with their look at a bunch of Idaho eccentrics, and very few films could match its amiable instant karma. So it’s unfair to grade Nacho Libre by any other standards that it’s own. Sure, Hess shows a great deal of cinematic sameness with his food-oriented opening and random blackout gags (what was with that corncob to the eye, anyway). Still, as a look at the Luchadores of Mexico and the way in which they infiltrate and influence the everyday life of the country’s sun-dried citizenry, this is a clever, cute little movie. And while it doesn’t have Napoleon Dynamite’s wealth of quotable dialogue (it’s a safe bet no spelling bee-er will be giving a shout out to pals with that “stretchy pants” line), it does contain enough clever moments to warrant a real reel recommendation.
Saw 2: Unrated Director’s Cut*
The first Saw announced a new kind of horror into the seemingly stagnant genre – a brutal and confrontational style of scares that many have now labeled ‘violence porn’. Sadly, such a title may indeed be appropriate for this less than stunning sequel. Everything that James Wan got right in the initial narrative is all but missing here. Instead, there is a real attempt to turn Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw into a new terror icon while mimicking the “clever kills” from the original tale. A few work, while a couple seem sadly derivative. It’s as if first time filmmaker Darren Lynn Bousman forgot what makes movie macabre work, and instead, focused on keeping the cat and mouse guessing game the center of the scares. While there is some worthwhile material here (the acting is uniformly good, and the art direction is downright creepy) we end up wanting more of the complex, clockwork plotting of Saw I and less of the redundant retreading that this effort seems to thrive on.
Writer (and now director) James Gunn holds a very odd place within current fright filmography. Responsible for the terrific Tromeo and Juliet and the quite decent remake of Dawn of the Dead, he has also foisted the forgettable pair of Scooby-Doo features on film fans’ fragile heads. This makes his first solo effort all the more creatively complicated. In some ways, Gunn is giving us the best of both worlds – a true splatter filled return to the days when he worked closely with indie icon Lloyd Kaufman, as well as a taste of the contemporary scares that have been his box office bread and butter. Overloaded with homages to zombie films, alien invasion flicks and those mindless mutant monster b-movies that used to clog up the bottom shelf at your local Mom and Pop video store, Gunn delivers the kind of sensational, satiric schlock that many post-modern genre films sorely lack. Here’s hoping there’s more of this kind of movie in his future. Fear often needs a shot of silliness to keep it from going completely astray.
In a weekly addition to Who’s Minding the Store, SE&L will feature an off title disc worth checking out. For 24 October:
Sweetie: The Criterion Collection*
Sweetie is a strange experience, a movie made up almost exclusively out of hints and suggestions. Nothing is ever discussed outright in this amazingly nuanced narrative, and issues that appear to be boiling below the surface are simply allowed to simmer and soak into everything around them. Obviously, as portrayed by Australian auteur Jane Campion in her first feature film, this is a family hiding a mountain of damaging dysfunction behind their dry, sometimes even dopey, demeanor. Whether it’s just a simple case of one child’s uncontrolled Id crashing into the rest of her family’s slighted and submerged egos, or something far more sinister and suspect, the result is a ticking human time bomb waiting to insert itself into situations and simply implode. As a tale of people picking each other apart for the sake of their own sense of security, Sweetie represents one of the most amazing family dramas every delivered to celluloid. But there is more to the movie than just a sizable sibling spat with parents unable to control their progeny. In the hands of Campion, it is art animated.
Wait a moment – isn’t it October? The pseudo-official start of fall? The time when the leaves are changing and Halloween-inspired horror movies are king? Well, by the looks of the local brick and mortar, the standard ploy of flooding the marketplace with as much macabre as possible seems to have stalled, at least for the moment. Sure, there are a number of no-name terror titles making their way to shelves all across the country, but the usual glut of gore and gratuity has definitely tapered off. As a matter of fact, the only fear feature worth noting this week is the otherwise awful Omen remake that significantly stunk up the Cineplex this past summer. So pure film fans, rejoice. It looks like, in a deliberate move to counter-program the kind of DVDs available for sale, more interesting examples of non-genre filmmaking are replacing the routine fear factors. It’s enough to make you believe it’s December, or sometime in mid-March. On that note, let’s look at the product waiting for your hard earned dollars this 17, October:
He is responsible for many of the masterpieces that make up Hollywood’s greatest hits – films with titles like Double Indemnity, Sunset Blvd., Sabrina, Some Like It Hot and The Apartment. Now, thanks to a two day interview with German journalist Volker Schlondorff, we have this telling testimonial by the filmmaker himself, describing in detail the reasons behind his decision to direct (to protect his screenplays) and how each of his many amazing efforts came about. Sure, the nuggets of information may seem slight and sort of bite size, but we rarely get to hear the masters weighing in on their oeuvre, and for those unfamiliar with Wilder’s work, this career-spanning sit-down, complete with a constant stream of clips, is an excellent primer on one of Tinsel Town’s true titans. This DVD release also contains its own digital treasure trove – almost all of Wilder’s film trailers are included.
We here at SE&L don’t like Jennifer Aniston. It has nothing to do with her talent – a statement which presumes she has some – or her long running stint on that undeniably popular sitcom Friends. No, our anti-Aniston sentiments derive directly from her film catalog. A view of her IMDb resume highlights a creative canon so superficial that it threatens to be blown away by the slightest cyber-breeze. Here, she is paired with that professional pin-up for arrested adolescence, Vince Vaughn, in a tragedy that was billed as the perfect summer RomCom. Helmed by inventive director Peyton Reed, responsible for the randy retro Down with Love and cheerleader challenge hit Bring It On, what was sold as the ditzy dissolution of a perky if unhappy relationship was really a mean spirited wannabe War of the Roses. It didn’t help matters that Ms. Aniston was suffering from a bad case of post-Pitt love life syndrome. It made her hook up with Vaughn – and the movie itself – seem all the more desperate.
One of the great lost films of the last twenty years, Lodge Kerrigan’s searing and insightful look at one man’s battle with schizophrenia deserves to find an audience outside the few who’ve seen it at festivals or on long out of print VHS/DVDs. Thankfully, those prophetic preservationists at Criterion have agreed to give this experimental effort the full blown special edition treatment. Kerrigan’s approach to this subject matter is indeed unique, attempting to actually visualize the way in which the world looks and sounds to a person struggling with such a debilitating mental affliction. Unflinching in its personal and social views, highly disturbing, and stoked by an astonishing performance by Peter Greene (perhaps best known as that hillbilly rapist Zed in Pulp Fiction) this haunting, harrowing drama is not your typical Hollywood take on insanity. There’s no Best Actor bravado here, just truth in all its painful paradigms.
Piles of dreary cinematic dung don’t come any larger than this completely misguided remake of the 1976 classic. Released at the height of the public’s fascination with all things diabolical, Richard Donner’s original is a pitch perfect exercise in tone and storytelling. Yet when you consider that this is a note for note duplication of the Gregory Peck/Lee Remick thriller, it makes you wonder about the source material itself. Luckily, the real reasons for this updated debacle are easily identified. Aside from making Damien a pesky, proactive demon – not a simple little kid with a hidden Satanic streak at his core – journeyman director John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines) miscasts this movie miserably. Both Liv Schreiber and Julia Stiles are far too young for their power couple roles, and when the sulfur starts hitting the fan, both appear to be looking for the nearest adult for help. Sadly, that turns out to be a scenery scarfing Mia Farrow…and let’s face, she gave birth to Beelzebub’s baby back in the ‘60s. This nominal effort is not worth any true horror fan’s time.
Over the Hedge
Need further proof that computer animation has more or less run its course after only a decade and a half as a vital cinematic art form? Take a gander at this demographically correct quasi-comedy and decide for yourself. Guilty of each and every cinematic pitfall that currently plagues the genre (stunt voice casting, overly simplistic storyline, far too many puerile pop culture references), this sometime clever take on suburban sprawl and the many facets of friendship just can’t overcome its highly commercialized gloss. Unlike Pixar films that always seem to find the proper note between precocious and perfection, Hedge (based on a far cleverer comic strip by Michael Fry and T Lewis) appears designed deliberately to force Moms and Dads to dig deep into their pockets for endless items of tie-in merchandising (and those ads featuring our characters cavorting in Wal-Mart can’t be helping the wallets much). While not as bad as Open Season or The Wild, this CGI candy is decidedly sour.
Only ‘70s superstud Warren Beatty could be this overly ambitious and get away with it. Taking the true story of American journalist John Reed, Western witness to the Russian Revolution in 1917 and tying it to an epic underscoring of political change and challenge in the equally erratic United States, this ersatz celebration of free-thinking and racialism was lauded upon its initial release. Believe it or not, Beatty even beat out Steven Spielberg (for a little something called Raiders of the Lost Ark) and Louis Malle (for his superb Atlantic City) for the Academy Award for Best Director. Today, what felt sweeping and romantic comes across as a little naïve and somewhat soft, and even with the stellar acting of Jack Nicholson, Maureen Stapleton (snagging an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress) and Diane Keaton, Beatty is still required to carry the entire project. Thanks to the numerous hats he was wearing, it appears he may have bitten off a little more than he could artistically or pragmatically chew.
They All Laughed*
After the disastrous ‘70s streak that included Daisy Miller, At Long Last Love and Nickelodeon (Saint Jack was a quiet surprise) filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich was looking for something to re-ignite his creative spark. He thought he found it in 1979 Playmate of the Year Dorothy Stratten. Hired as part of this light and breezy comic caper, the director and Dorothy soon became fast friends. Fate, however, would deal both a fatal blow when a jealous Paul Snider, Stratton’s sleazy manager and spouse, killed the 20 year old just after filming wrapped. This cursed the film commercially, and no studio would touch it. After a limited initial release, it sank into oblivion, leaving Bogdanovich grief stricken and exiled from Hollywood for the next four years (he would return with the well-received Mask in 1985). Thanks to DVD, this well-meaning movie now has a second chance to connect with audiences.
And Now for Something Completely Different:
In a weekly addition to Who’s Minding the Store, SE&L will feature an off title disc worth checking out. For 17 October:
After Basket Case, his love letter to 42nd Street and the glorious grindhouse cinema that fueled the exploitation genre, and Brain Damage, a cutting edge commentary on drug use and culture, long time cult craftsman Frank Henenlotter was looking for another sure-fire schlock concept. After seeing James Lorinz hilarious turn as a sarcastic mafia doorman in Street Trash, the director got the idea to fashion a Frankenstein style film around his cynical, snide persona. The result was this half-comedy, half-horror farce that farts in the face of Mary Shelly’s modern Prometheus. Granted, the movie grows grating when Lorinz’s “creation” - the decent looking but acting challenged Patty Mullen - starts shuffling around and eating up endless amounts of screen time, but Henenlotter’s sense of humor always shines through. While not on par with the other movies mentioned, this is still required viewing for anyone smitten with this director’s creepy crackpot camp.
It’s a veritable smorgasbord of selections this week at the local brick and mortar. As Halloween quickly approaches – at least in the eyes of shopping malls, department stores and TV networks – and the season of fear fires up, the scary movie reissues are still riding roughshod over the product produced within the last year. If you look hard, however, you’ll find one of the summer’s more perplexing productions – a comedy which lifts many of its more meaningful elements from Frank Capra instead of the lead actor’s typical Three Stooges style. Even more confusing, this past blockbuster season saw an American master with a set of razor sharp satires and intelligent experiments to his name deliver a light little homespun confection that many found so sweet that it was almost dramatically disheartening. Still, with the pagan demonology dense and the old slasher cinema reinstating its importance to the genre, a fan can literally gorge themselves on anthologies, limited editions and collector’s sets of long beloved cinematic splatter. So grab your already gutted wallet and wander into a favored retailer for the selections available on 10 October, such as:
Starting off high concept and only rarely venturing into the low brow, Click represents a kind of career stepping-stone for the superstar Sandler. Getting to the point, age wise, when his goofy fratboy foolishness stops looking hilarious and begins feeling pathetic, this family farce tried mightily to move in directions the comic never before considered. Some found its third act lapse into Frank Capra-esque schmaltz awkward and poorly realized, while others argued that it worked well within the complicated narrative the actor was attempting. Indeed, Click is more than just a remote control gimmick – it’s every man’s middle aged crisis come to life, complete with the ability to live through it all in just a few fast forwarding moments. Sure, the ending is a tad pat, and most of the ancillary cast is wasted in ways that only add to the overall uneven feel of the film, but with Kate Beckinsale actually providing the heart that’s missing from most of the story, we are more than willing to forgive, forget and enjoy.
The Exorcist: The Complete Anthology*
Though it contains such sloppy sequel missteps as The Exorcist II: The Heretic and both Renny Harlin and Paul Schrader’s unnecessary prequels, there are still three good reasons to consider picking up this sell-through priced package - the original film, its equally compelling DVD redux, and the underrated third installment helmed by author William Peter Blatty himself. As an exercise in horror, The Exorcist stands as one of those true genre rarities – a narrative that plays successfully in both the realistic and supernatural realms. As an everyday tale of a mother’s fear over losing her daughter to the unknown forces of maturity, the drama is dense and detailed. As a religious based diatribe on how evil lurks deep within the heart of even the most innocent child, it’s a true terror knockout. No other director before or since had William Freidkin’s talent for taking the fantastic and framing it within the ordinary. Blatty’s return to the more normalized nature of wickedness was welcome, but for sheer shock value, stick with the original – and the included digital re-edit featuring the infamous ‘spider walk’ scene.
The Fox and the Hound: 25th Anniversary Edition
Just a week after revisiting the confirmed classic The Little Mermaid, Disney drags out this uneven effort from 1981 – when the studio was sinking in a 2-D animation quagmire – and tries to give it the masterpiece polish of its other films. Thankfully, no amount of added content can correct the problems inherent in this syrupy, saccharine story. Without giving away much, let’s just say that these natural enemies who become pals in childhood are forced to face each other later on when the naiveté of youth no longer allows them the ability to be free of judgment or instinctual response. Though the novelty of seeing – or in this case, hearing – Kurt Russell return to his House of Mouse roots might be draw enough for some, the badly rendered animation and depressing core concepts might lead a few wee ones to whine about the lack of wholesome fun usually associated with a work from Uncle Walt. Many still view this feature as a fine effort from a mostly new guard of young Disney staffers, yet it seems stiff and dull compared to the masterful films that were a mere five years or so away.
Considered by critics to be Jean-Luc Godard’s last great film – or biggest blasphemous abomination, depending on whom you survey – this reworking of the birth of Jesus and his equally holy mother is definitely different. With the mad scientist of the French New Wave firmly in control of his cinema subverting mannerisms – odd cuts, sequences of stilted surreality, parallel plotting – and a post-modern appeal that updates the Bible to the back streets of Paris, what should be significantly sacrilegious manages to capture the concepts of faith and belief better than any preachers sermon or authentic ‘Gospel’ recreation. Many will be surprised at how funny and uniquely human it all is while others will marvel at how the master of motion picture deconstruction actually makes his massive experimentalism work. Once baby Jesus is born and starts acting like a miniature messiah however, all bets are off. Still, for the purely hypnotic visual trance that Godard can apparently fashion in his sleep, this is one of his most arresting and engaging efforts.
A Prairie Home Companion *
It doesn’t seem like the most promising combination – the king of deadpan communal comedy, Garrison Keillor and the master of multi-character narratives, Robert Atlman, collaborating on a film version of the radio icon’s famous show. But by all accounts, the 81 year old auteur has delivered another of his stunning studies of human frailty supported by Keillor’s simple, homespun humor. Using a moc-doc sort of format (the film follows the fictional final show for Prairie‘s cast and creator) and interlocking stories that seem to slowly merge into a standard Altman interpersonal infinite, what could have been harsh and critical becomes soft and whimsical, especially in the hands of a true cinematic artist. Thanks to bravura turns by Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones and Keillor himself, this behind the scenes look at the individuals who come together to deliver a weekly radio repast is, perhaps, not one of Altman’s confirmed masterworks, but it does prove far more potent than most of the mediocre movies that came out this year.
Style Wars & Style Wars Revisited*
Many love the music and the cultural lifestyle, but few are probably aware of the connection between rap, hip hop, break dancing and graffiti. The art of tagging, or marking one’s territory with paints and symbols as a warning to others, is as old as ‘50s greaser gangs. But thanks to the ‘70s malaise that drowned New York in a sea of underprivileged and lost youngsters, the notion of vandalizing the subway cars late at night, mostly with brightly colored and artistically designed derivations of one’s name, became a symbol of status in a reality brazenly bereft of same. This concept of citywide acknowledgement and respect soon became a substitute for violence and brutality, with kids using their spray can skills instead of their fists to settle scores. As this amazing documentary (now reissued with a new film revisiting the scene) shows, once music caught up with the whole graffiti underground, it wasn’t long before scratchin’, dancin’ and rappin’ became the new tools of trade for those looking to escape their situation. Today it’s all so commercialized and compromised. Want to see the reality of a revolution before it was corrupted by corporations? This is the place to start.
Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2: Two Disc Gruesome Edition*
You think Michael Bay took a beating when he announced his remake of the seminal ‘70s scarefest, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre? You should have heard the howls when original Chain Saw creator Tobe Hooper announced that he was about to direct a sequel to his power tool classic. And even worse, he intended it to be a social satire. The collective groans from the horror hopeful were almost as loud as Leatherface’s favorite limb cutter. Surprise, surprise, Chain Saw II was a regular revolting hoot, a movie mixing Tom Savini’s vivisection F/X with Dennis Hopper’s mad Method acting turn as a vindictive relative of the original film’s victims. There was even a crackerjack comic performance by Sawyer cook Jim Siedow. Though heavily edited to earn the necessary “R” rating mandated by Cannon heads Golan and Globus, this rip roaring Tejas two-step was still a nasty, novel take on the entire Saw mythos. Some find it sloppy and uneven. Others argue for its place right alongside its far more serious sister film. Thanks to a brand new special edition DVD release from MGM, now’s the time to settle this bet between the divided devotees once and for all.
And Now for Something Completely Different
In a weekly addition to Who’s Minding the Store, SE&L will feature an off title disc worth checking out. For 10 October:
John A. Russo, one of the collaborators/masterminds behind Night of the Living Dead (along with George Romero), has long tried to destroy his reputation by creating a series of incredibly bad b-movies (Voodoo Dawn, Midnight) and starting a surreal series featuring schlock actresses in various states of undress (many going under the Scream Queen moniker – Scream Queen Swimsuit Sensations, Scream Queen’s Naked Christmas). So should we expect anything better from this sophomorically titled treat trading on the taboo topic of a nasty Noel? Even with the amazing Debbie Rochon in the lead, and a certifiable whack job dressing up like Kris Kringle to thrash his victims with a handy dandy claw, this still could be an example of bottom feeder bait and switch. You know – sounds good on paper and in summary, but barely works as a narrative once the celluloid starts to unfold? Anyway, SE&L will just side with the lovely Canadian cult actress at the center and avoid Russo all together. With his money mad hands all over the Dead DVD in which new footage was inserted to pad out the masterpiece’s marketability, he deserves to be ignored.
Though SE&L can certainly understand the anger over that crass commercial concept known as “the double dip” (read: studios endlessly re-releasing favorite films in differing DVD packages and presentations), sometimes a revamp is a clear motion picture mandate. Back when the format first arrived, several companies, clamoring for a piece of that initial product pie, put out anything they could on the digital domain, most times without concern over extras, aspect ratio or picture quality. Sure, something like Scarface has seen multiple merchandising variations, while distributors like Anchor Bay have made a mint over numerous reconfigurations of Dawn of the Dead and Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy. But if you look at the list of reissues clogging up this weeks pick’s for brick and mortar highlights, you will see several that deserved their major makeover. That’s not to downplay the importance of the many new releases available, but when one can own a practically pristine version of one of Hollywood’s cinematic standards, a new action hero epic seems a little lame. Anyway, here are our picks for 3, October:
Body Double: Special Edition *
Before he fell completely off track in the ‘80s, Brian DePalma delivered a pair of preeminent motion picture masterworks. Sadly, only Scarface has endured. And it’s a shame, really. Of all his Hitchcock influenced homages, Double has the most devilish combination (Vertigo meets Rear Window) of all the director’s experiments in tension. Thanks to wonderful performances by Craig Wasson, Gregg Henry and a pre-plastic surgery Melanie Griffith, and a script that stays true to most of the Master of Suspense’s subtleties, what could have been a seedy slice of copycat gratuity became a smart and savage commentary on contemporary Hollywood. Too bad a misplaced misogynist assault on the filmmaker lessened the film’s BO appeal. Thanks to this new DVD presentation – and its incredible making-of documentary – one learns of the film’s porn star beginnings, as well as how vicious the attacks on DePalma really were. Sadly, it seems they’d only be worse today.
William H. Macy gives another of his idiosyncratic everyman turns as the title character, a seemingly normal nebbish who is suddenly assaulted by a Dante’s Inferno like New York City. Helmed by horror master Stuart “Re-Animator” Gordon and scripted by none other than Tony titan David Mamet, this adaptation of the playwright’s stage show loses little of its bite in this terrific translation. Similar in conceptualization to Martin Scorsese’s misunderstood ‘80s comedy After Hours, Mamet applies his standard slash and burn dialogue to all manner of shocking personal monologues for his lead. Indeed, some may find Edmond’s homophobic and racist rants a tad hard to take – and for those looking for some manner of redemption or understanding on Macy’s part, this is not that kind of movie.
Ganja and Hess*
Call it voodoo done right or exploitation gone all artsy, but true aficionados find this relatively unknown horror film hard to forget once they’ve seen it. Playwright Bill Gunn had high hopes for his literate look at vampirism and ancient curses. Sadly, after a less than impressive play date in the Big Apple, distributors eviscerated Gunn’s original cut within an inch of its artistic life and re-released it as Blood Couple. Even with 30 missing minutes it did no better. Long out of print, Image Entertainment gets substantial genre props for revisiting Gunn’s original cut, including the incorporation of additional footage not found in other DVD versions. With a wealth of supplemental information, including commentaries, making-of documentaries and a look at Gunn’s original script, this presentation practically revives Ganja and Hess to its prerelease glory. During a month which sees all manner of movie macabre clogging the airwaves and retail outlets, this is one unknown quantity worth checking out.
The Little Mermaid: Two Disc Special Edition*
The irony of this release is staggering. Mermaid represents Disney’s mid-‘80s effort to save its sinking animation department – a corporate entity that was recently decimated by the supposed switch to all CGI fare. And yet the House of Mouse is greeting the second DVD dip of this mini-masterpiece like a pen and ink prophecy. Granted, you can’t ask for a more effective use of the artform. Combined with Alan Menkin and Howard Ashman’s Broadway ready score and the perfect compliment of heroine and villain, this resplendent effort marked the moment when Disney realized the full power of its post-modern animation possibilities. Of course, their eventual over reliance on the facets formulated here (epic musical accompaniment, brash characterization, a winking nod to a more cynical social mindset) would bring about Pixar’s digital revolution, and the eventual decision to dump 2-D. Of course, Walt’s way of doing things mandates this package be available for “a limited time only”, so get your copy while you can.
Maltese Falcon: Three Disc Set *
It’s stunning when you think about it. John Huston was 35, and making his first movie ever with this definitive detective tale. He managed to wrangle a cast that consisted of a prime piece of Bogart, a sensational Sidney Greenstreet, a perfect Peter Lorre and a wholly complimentary Mary Astor. Employing a near word for word and scene by scene recreation of Dashiell Hammet’s noted novel, Huston added his own artistic touches to turn a glorified gumshoe story into some manner of metaphysical epic. Many have fawned over the feature in the years since its release, and rightfully so. This is old fashioned Hollywood filmmaking at its highly polished best. This new three disc DVD, completely pimped out with commentaries, documentaries and two other versions of the Hammett classic (from 1931 and 1936) should give Falcon fans more added content than they ever imagined. When combined with the masterpiece of a movie at the center of this set, this easily becomes one of the year’s best preservationist presentations.
Point Break: Pure Adrenalin Edition
As the ‘90s attempted to take the action film in as many different directions as the box office would allow, this X-treme sports version of the typical cops and robbers routine hit a notable novel nerve with audiences. The combination of Patrick Swayze’s stealing surfer swagger and Keanu Reeves’ Valley boy FBI basics created a kind of kitschy cult chemistry, and the dude speak dialogue loaded with Zen like zaniness (“Peace through superior firepower”) still provides untold guilty pleasures - even today. While DVD versions have long been available, this new packaging promises to give us a series of deleted scenes (long a fan Holy Grail) and a collection of newly created featurettes. Sadly, Break would mark director Kathyrn Bigelow’s big budget albatross. With success came Strange Days, and her eventual fall from Tinsel Town grace.
X-Men: The Last Stand*
Okay, so Brett Ratner didn’t step in and completely destroy the mutant magic. In fact, he made Bryan Singer’s more serious minded installments look logistically lax by comparison. Sure, fans wanted to hate every frame of this final chapter in their favorite comic franchise, but Ratner just ratcheted up the action and piled on the principle characters. The result is a scattered summer blockbuster that only seems sensible when stuff is blowing up. While several of the setpieces – Jean Grey’s evil return, Magneto’s manipulation of the Golden Gate Bridge – match well against those in previous X entities, it is obvious that Last Stand‘s filmmaking was forged out of a desire to make money, not memorable motion picture mythology. Still, for the casual X-men maven, or someone not expecting a Singer level of loyalty, this is one of 2006’s better popcorn creations. And the DVD promises a collection of unused endings – just the thing to give the faithful meaningful messageboard fodder.
In a weekly addition to Who’s Minding the Store, SE&L will feature an off title disc worth checking out. For 3 October:
The Blood Trilogy *
While he may not have invented the concept of gore (his inspiration, the noted Grand Guignol theater in France had been around since 1897), no one before had delivered such devastating, blood slicked scares to the silver screen. Upon realizing that nudity had more or less run its exploitation course, founding filmmakers Herschell Gordon Lewis and David F. Friedman were looking for another financially viable cinematic approach. Claret became the cash machine for the determined duo, beginning with their seminal scarefest Blood Feast. Revolving around an insane caterer and his desire to create a flesh buffet to the Goddess Ishtar, this vivisection-fest is rife with repugnant imagery. Wanting not to repeat themselves, Lewis and Friedman Southern-fried their next nasty novelty, 2000 Maniacs. A ballsy Brigadoon revamp featuring pissed off Confederate ghosts murdering mindless Yankee tourists, it was another hefty hit. By the time of the Bucket of Blood inspired Color Me Blood Red, however, the bloom was off the grue-covered rose. Not even the still fresh innovation of seeing copious amounts of arterial juices could save the subgenre. As the roughie returned exploitation to its raincoat crowd confines, Lewis and Friedman parted company. Their corporeal collaboration remains a benchmark in the realm of horror, and with Something Weird Video providing the digital goods, you know you’re getting pristine copies of these remarkable movies.