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Monday, Aug 21, 2006

When studios and filmmakers grouse over the effect DVD has on the box office, it’s usually day and date that they argue over. Back in the days of VHS, a major mainstream movie would wait several months before finding its way onto videotape – and even then, it was typically in a rental-only format. Sell-through didn’t arrive until much later, and with it came the death of such delays. But now, fans want titles as soon as possible, and for many in the industry, the faster a title arrives on the digital format, the lesser the likelihood an audience will visit the Cineplex to seek it out. This ‘wait and see…it at home’ principle has been blamed for the 2005 slump, and the diminishing returns for some high profile releases. This week, we have a clear example of this perplexing paradigm. A certified bomb from May makes its DVD debut a mere 12 weeks after it flopped in theaters. The question becomes, will the digital presentation be a hit, or will the film’s obvious flaws guarantee and equally fast exit from the brick and mortar. And what will it mean to day and date? We will just have to wait and see. Joining the cinematic shipwreck is a diverse collection of movies, including:


Double Indemnity: Special Edition*
For many, it’s one of the last DVD Holy Grails, a classic Billy Wilder film noir unconscionably left off the digital domain for far too long. But the fact of the matter is, Image Entertainment released a version of the seminal crime thriller back in 1998. This time around though, Universal does the title right, tossing in a pair of commentaries, a documentary, and even a TV movie version from 1973. Whatever the presentation parameters, this is one timeless example of Hollywood’s heyday that deserves to be on every film fans shelf.



Kicking and Screaming: The Criterion Collection*
Perhaps in preparation for a future visit to his critically acclaimed The Squid and the Whale, writer/director Noah Baumbach sees his first film, a story about disaffected college buddies who can’t quite commit to the responsibility of the real world, get the full blown Criterion Collection treatment. Witty, insightful, and just a little too in love with the notion of the campus as the last bastion of full blown freedom, Baumbach and his capable cast manage to make these pseudo-slackers symbols of the mid-90s malaise that swept over America.



Phat Girlz
There’s no denying the fact that, as a stand-up comedian, Mo’Nique Imes is talented. She is crude without being gross, cutting without resorting to racial slurs. Sadly, the same can’t be said for her movie career, which spans bit parts in Baby Boy, Soul Plane, and Domino and leading roles in Hair Show and this latest offering from April 2006. Using her plus size physique as the foundation for a film about love and acceptance, Phat Girlz tries to deliver a sincere message about the media’s role in shaping female body image. Too bad it’s trapped inside this lame, laugh-less excuse for entertainment.



PopMatters Review


Poseidon: 2 Disc Special Edition
It was the crappy capsizing heard round the cinematic world. Who would have thought that Wolfgang Peterson, responsible for the excellent actioners In the Line of Fire and Air Force One could screw up this remake of the beloved Irwin Allen disaster epic of the ‘70s. Sadly, with casting only The Love Boat could appreciate, and an overabundance of unconvincing CGI, what should have been a summer blockbuster slamdunk for Warner Brothers is now appearing a mere 12 weeks after the film opened in theaters. Even on DVD, it’s still a waterlogged waste of time.



PopMatters Review


Silent Hill*
Forget what you’ve heard about this film – that it’s merely a big screen translation of a far more frightening video game, that it’s The Descent without the claustrophobic cave setting – and settle back for a creature feature for the ages. Brotherhood of the Wolf director Christophe Gans outdoes himself in the mood and mystery department, taking the Playstation platform title and making it his very own. Featuring stellar performances and unnerving effects, Silent Hill represents the pinnacle of creepy, atmospheric horror. It is the most satisfying movie macabre in a very long time, and coming in a year when Hostel and The Hills Have Eyes redefined the genre, that’s saying a lot.



PopMatters Review


State of the Union*
A true forgotten gem from the oeuvre of three of Hollywood’s heaviest hitters – Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, and filmmaker Frank Capra – this timely political allegory about the difference between one’s personal and public persona couldn’t be more timely, especially in our 24 hour a day media coverage mentality. Though Universal fails to flesh out this release with significant contextual bells and whistles, this DVD is still worth owning if only for the moment when Tracy tries to address the nation while a drunken Hepburn lashes out at “the other woman”. Talk about feeling ripped from today’s headlines.



The Wizard
Far be it from Short Ends & Leader to deny the retro resplendence of this love letter to Ninetendo and its Super Mario Brothers. Indeed, The Wizard represents a veritable right of passage for anyone who grew up under the hypnotizing influence of the NES game system and those crazy, mushroom stomping plumbers. With a young Fred Savage as the older brother of Jimmy “The Wizard” Woods and more nods to arcade culture than a weekend at E3, this simplistic plot about familial appreciation and a video game championship predated our current Xbox/Game Cube standard. Back then, professional gaming seemed asinine. Today, it’s every adolescent’s dream job.




And Now for Something Completely Different

In a new weekly addition to Who’s Minding the Store, SE&L will feature an off title disc worth checking out. For 22, August:


Tromeo and Juliet: 10th Anniversary Edition*
Marking the second DVD go-round for this beloved Troma title, the Bard’s basic story of star-crossed lovers is fused with a scatological punk rock sensibility to create the first ever gross out version of a Shakespeare play. Perhaps more amazing than the awkward performances, plentiful gore, and abundant nudity is the number of unknown actors and crewmembers who went on to become famous fixtures in both Hollywood and the Indie film scene. They include screenwriter James Gunn (Scooby-Doo, Dawn of the Dead) Will Keenan (Operation Midnight Climax) and current reigning b-movie scream queen Debbie Rochon.


*=PopMatters Picks


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Monday, Aug 14, 2006

It’s another uninspired week in the DVD aisles, with lots of lame product taking up valuable merchandising space. Certainly, if you’re interested in the latest installment of the dragged out Simpsons’ release schedule (we are now up to season EIGHT) or some less than stellar box set collections of “classic” films by Hollywood stalwarts like Clark Cable, Jimmy Stewart and Ronald Regan, there’s very little of note. Instead, there’s another digital variation on a seminal ‘70s classic, two offerings by one of Italian horror’s most recognized auteurs, an unusual biography, a sloppy send-up, a flat family film, and a compendium of masterworks from an important French artist. Together, they make a deliciously diverse set of possible purchase options. The selections that SE&L’s thinks may or may not tickle your filmic fancy for August 15 are, in alphabetical order:



Apocalypse Now: The Complete Dossier*
Or, actually, the “incomplete” dossier. Still MIA in this otherwise stellar presentation of Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam via Joseph Conrad masterwork is the equally sublime Hearts of Darkness documentary. Said warts and all look at the production, featuring audio recordings of the filmmaker’s frequent meltdowns, has long been rumored to be part of a comprehensive Apocalypse package. Its absence here continues to fuel speculation that Coppola no longer appreciates the film’s portrait of him as director/demagogue. Thankfully, we have both versions of the finished epic (original and expanded cut) and a wealth of extras to keep us occupied.
PopMatters Review


Do You Like Hitchcock?
After a comeback, of sorts, with 2004’s The Card Player, horror master Dario Argento helmed this stylish TV movie, part of a proposed series in which other famous Italian filmmakers would pay homage to the unqualified Master of Suspense. Opinions are mixed on the final outcome, with some critics complaining that Argento seems stuck in the overstylized aspects of his aesthetic while others enjoy the numerous references to genre artists (Murnau, Lang) from the past. One thing’s for sure – with Argento behind the lens, the visuals will far outshine any narrative missteps.


Heart Like a Wheel*
Long before Danica Patrick made fast (racing) females pop culture cool, Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney broke the gender barrier in the competitive world of top fuel drag racing. This 1983 bio-pic features a stellar lead turn by Bonnie Bedelia as Mudowney, with excellent supporting work from Beau Bridges, Hoyt Axton and Leo Rossi. Over the Edge director Jonathan Kaplan doesn’t go for slam bang action, or a phony vignette-oriented overview of Muldowney’s life. Instead, he allows the characters to develop and grow, making the emotional impact in the story all the more potent.


Hoot
Favored Florida son Carl Hiaasen has been notoriously gun shy about having his work translated to the silver screen. After all, the last time he allowed a novel of his to be interpreted by Hollywood, the result was the certified stinker, Demi Moore’s infamous Striptease. Nearly a decade after that debacle, Hiassen hooks up with comedian turned director Will Shriner to helm a version of his most family friendly tome. While this story of a transplant teen compelled to take up the cause of an endangered owl is faithful to its source material, many critics found the results dull and uninspired. 


Masters of Horror: Dario Argento’s Jenifer
When Showtime announced the premise behind its new anthology series, Masters of Horror, the scary sky appeared to be the limit. The world’s leading genre moviemakers creating original fright flicks for the small screen – what could go wrong? Well, just ask anyone who sat through Don Coscarelli’s Incident On and Off a Mountain Road or John Landis’ Deer Woman. While Joe Dante’s Homecoming received universal praise, Dario Argento’s addition, a slick, sick adaptation of a 1974 Creepy Magazine story was not so successful. It goes without saying that the title “entity” is a nasty little looker. The rest of the movie is not that much fun.


Scary Movie 4
Oh joy, more pointless spoofery without a lick of subtlety and sense. Nothing more than a lame lampoon of every blockbuster film that arrived in theaters since the last installment of the franchise, there is no longer anything frightening in these films – except their continuing existence. With nary a Wayans in sight and a constant reliance on gags both obvious and under-realized, the formerly talented creative team behind the still funny Airplane!/Naked Gun movies shows how far they have sunk in their desire to be demographically correct. Besides, how do you seriously ridicule cinematic and social stumbles as obvious as The Village or Tom Cruise’s Oprah dramatics? That’s like shooting farce fish in a barrel.
PopMatters Review


Six Moral Tales by Eric Rohmer, The Criterion Collection*
Though he’s considered an important part of the French New Wave of the ‘50s and ‘60s, director Eric Rohmer was not out to change the face of cinema. Instead, he was more concerned with bringing the dark truths and harsh realities of human interaction into the typically staid world of Hollywood hokum. Collecting all six efforts in this self-styled series – The Girl at the Monçeau Bakery, Suzanne’s Career (both 1963), The Collector (1967), My Night at Maud’s (1969) Claire’s Knee (1970) and Chloe in the Afternoon (1972) – Criterion delivers another stunning box set celebrating an important motion picture artist.


And Now for Something Completely Different

In a new weekly addition to Who’s Minding the Store, SE&L will feature an off title disc worth checking out. For 15, August:


Sars Wars: Bangkok Zombie Crisis
First off – gotta LOVE that title. It would take a whole heck of a lot of cinematic incompetence to screw up this superb idea. An outbreak of the deadly virus turns twisted, as victims mutate into foul flesh eaters. It is up to a guy with a sword to stop the rampage. While it claims to be created “in the tradition of Shaun of the Dead”, this sounds more like the amazing Argentinean undead epics Plaga Zombie and Plaga Zombie: Mutant Zone. In fact, if it’s one-tenth as inventive and entertaining as those hilarious horror comedies, this could be the fun fright find of the year.



*=PopMatters Picks


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Monday, Aug 7, 2006

It’s definitely the dog days of DVD summer this Tuesday. Unless you are interested in failed TV shows, outsider genre offerings (with less than tantalizing titles like Back Woods, The Tooth Fairy and Electric Zombies—UGH!) or various permutations of the rock and roll vanity project (video collection concert performance, etc) there’s very little in the way of legitimate mainstream motion picture fare. While this means that those few identifiable releases are guaranteed a bigger slice of the consumer pie, such a selection won’t necessarily drive patrons to the old brick and mortar. After all, will you be going out of your weekly way for the gay comedy Adam and Steve? Or some butchered box set of Westerns/Mysteries/Horror offerings? So take the following list with a healthy dose of skeptic’s salt. PopMatters isn’t necessarily recommending them—“recognizing’ may be a better term. The selections that grabbed SE&L’s attention for August 8 are, in alphabetical order:



Brick
Beginning like a typical teen thriller, then slowly sinking into a prickly post-modern noir, this third film from director Rian Johnson is a real Indie gem. Featuring a clockwork script, impressive acting, and enough twists to keep you guessing right up until the end, this throwback to the days when men were macho, women were cheap and crime never paid (it just loaned out its joys for reimbursement later) can be a little bracing at first. After all, we aren’t used to high school students talking like pulp private dicks. Yet once it discovers its own particular rhythms and settles into its unfolding puzzle box story, the result is something unique indeed.
PopMatters Review


The Hidden Blade
As much a revisionist look at the samurai film as a staunch follower of same, Blade represents writer-director Yoji Yamada’s second installment in his trilogy based on a series of novels by Shuuhei Fujisawa. In a career that’s spanned 41 years and 77 films, Yamada was mostly known for his Toro-san films—all 48 of them. But with 2002’s superb The Twilight Samurai, Yamada garnered a great deal of critical attention. Twilight was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and walked away with 13 Japanese Academy Awards. Word is that Blade is just as good as it’s predecessor. If true, this bodes well for this DVD release—and the upcoming Bushi no ichibun, the final installment in the triad.


Inside Man
Spike Lee spices up the heist film with his own unique brand of urban angst, and brings Tinsel Town A-teamers Denzel Washington, Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe, Jodie Foster, and Clive Owen along for the ride. He ended up with the biggest box office hit of his career, and an outpouring of critical affection almost unheard of in this auteur’s 20-plus years behind the lens. While some felt the ending was unsatisfying, especially in light of all that came before it, this is still one of the most entertaining and engaging films in the director’s diverse career. It offers a maturity and an intelligence that argues for a new phase in the filmmaker’s always contentious canon. 
PopMatters Review


The Jayne Mansfield Collection
Consisting of three of Mansfield’s more memorable movie turns (The Girl Can’t Help It, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw), this is one compendium overloaded with both cinematic and camp value. Loads of DVD extras (commentaries, documentaries, featurettes) and pristine transfers help disprove the theory that Mansfield was nothing more than a low rent Marilyn Monroe. Though she never really got a chance to stretch as an actress, this is one sex symbol that was more than an over-inflated chest—at least, for a short while. 


Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector
While utilizing the human personification of the New South NASCAR numbskull, this member of the Blue Collar Comedy tour takes fat, drunk and stupid to whole new levels with his first feature film. What a man with questionable hygiene would know about wellness and cleanliness must be one of those Tinsel Town issues resolved by that cinematic catch-all, the suspension of disbelief. With the late great Jim Varney unable to rise from the dead and pump out another Ernest P. Worrell extravaganza, we’ll just have to settle for this entertainer whose more catchphrase than comic. 


Manderlay
As the second film in Danish director Lars Von Trier’s proposed trilogy on the United States (entitled “USA – Land of Opportunity), Manderlay lost its original lead (Dogville‘s Nicole Kidman) and gained a potential young talent in The Village‘s Bryce Dallas Howard. This, and other casting changes didn’t bother critics as much as the storyline’s suggestion that right minded liberals may not always have the best interest of “the races” at heart. Sure, all of the first film’s tricks (bare stages, chalk mark “buildings”) are present and accounted for in this plantation potboiler, but no one can successfully mesh art with outrage like Von Trier. Sadly, this may be the filmmaker’s final word on such a provocative subject. The final film (Wasington) is currently on ‘indefinite hold’.
PopMatters Review


Shinbone Alley
Image offers up its own digital version of this 1971 rarity, a crazy cartoon featuring music by George Kleinsinger, a script by Mel Brooks and Joe Darion, and all based on a Broadway show compiled from the stories by Don Marquis (noted New York newspaper columnist and short story writer). This tale of Archy the author who’s reincarnated as a cockroach, only to fall in love with a fickle feline named Mehitabel, has long been hailed as either a work of visionary pen and ink grandeur, or a minor effort in the otherwise bloated world of ‘70s serious animation. With a tagline that shouts “It’s sophisticated enough for kids, simple enough for adults!”, it’s kind of hard to tell which side is right.


And Now for Something Completely Different

In a new weekly addition to Who’s Minding the Store, SE&L will feature an off title disc worth checking out. For 8 August:


Ghost in the Teeny Bikini
Ever wonder what porn stars do in their off hours. Why, they make low budget softcore sex romps. The fearless Fred Olen Ray, responsible for such hack classics as Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Invisible Mom, and Teenage Cavegirl, is on hand to tell the story of an actress named… Muffin Baker, who returns to her hometown to attend the reading of her dead Uncle’s will. Of course, all kinds of spooky and sexy hi-jinx ensue. With Method meat puppet Evan Stone along for the ‘ride’ and enough sin and skin to keep an adolescent boy ‘engaged’ for hours, this sort of self-effacing schlock has been Ray’s bread and bodkin butter for decades now. Apparently someone likes what he does.



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Monday, Jul 31, 2006

Another Tuesday. Another influx of new releases eager to drain away your hard earned dollars. Summer is usually slow for major DVD titles, since local theaters are still delivering the popcorn fodder that ordinarily defines the season. Still, along with the myriad of typical fare being offered, including the original Yours, Mine and Ours (with Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball doing the Brady Bunch mixed family thing), the 2006 revamp of The Shaggy Dog (leave it to Disney to remake even its lamest live action titles) and yet another digital dip for the mythic Magnificent Seven (making it a fifth release for this Seven Samurai remake) there are some celebrated discs worth considering. Earning the S.E.A.L. Seal of Approval for 1, August 2006 are the following DVDs that PopMatters readers might be interested in. In alphabetical order, they are:



Beavis and Butthead: The Mike Judge Collection Volume 3

– the final 40 episodes in creator Judge’s juggling of the Beavis and Butthead legacy, these music video-less vignettes are just not as effective without their pop culture commentaries. Still, for fans who’ve longed to see these delinquent dorks take “Woodshop”, battle “Head Lice” and consistently fail in their efforts to ‘score’, this last installment of the DVD series is well worth a look.


The Mr. Moto Collection: Volume 1

– as odd as it sounds to our current cultural sensitivity, Golden Age Hollywood had no problem letting a Hungarian character actor play a Japanese detective in a series of racially dubious mysteries. When the performer in question is the captivating Peter Lorre, however, some minor ethnic stereotyping can be tolerated. While never quite as popular as their cinematic cousins featuring Charlie Chan, the Moto movies remain fascinating curios to Tinsel Towns treatment of Asian culture, and one of its more intriguing artists.


Olivier’s Shakespeare (Criterion Collection)

– though his versions of the Bard’s classics may no longer be definitive (a certain Mr. Branagh could challenge his claim to such a statement) Laurence Olivier was definitely instrumental in bringing Shakespeare’s plays to a wider mainstream audience. Included here are his Oscar winning turns as Hamlet (1948), along with his nominated work in Henry V (1944) and Richard III (1955). As with all titles bearing the Criterion tag, the prints are perfect and the supplemental material divine.


Richard Pryor: Live in Concert

– the unquestioned king of comedy delivers the definitive standup experience in this 1979 live performance. If you believe Dave Chappelle is the unwitting master of race-based humor, or deem that no one can out curse Chris Rock, here’s your chance to see the true titan of scandalous social criticism master his definitive domain. Forget his occasionally sloppy acting performances. This is the Pryor that built the legend.


Rude Boy

– the Clash, in all their slapdash DIY glory, costar in the quasi-fictional film about a roadie who takes up with the seminal punk band as they tour a socially strapped 1980s England. Though much of the drama is hackneyed and forced, there is no denying the group’s power as a live act. It may not be as effective as 2000’s masterful documentary Westway to the World, this is still a must see souvenir for anyone with found memories of the ‘only band that mattered’.


PopMatters DVD Review: Click HERE


V for Vendetta

– it seems like now, more than ever, we need a movie that advocates a people’s power to infiltrate and influence their government. Creator Alan Moore may be mad at the less than successful adaptation of his comic – sorry, GRAPHIC novel - and whine over how his ‘80s allegory has no significance in a post-2000 world, but with a script by those weird Wachowski Brothers and direction by Matrix alum James McTeigue, there is as much visual as political spectacle here.


PopMatters Film Review: Click HERE


What the ‘Bleep’ Do We Know: Down the Rabbit Hole Quantum Edition

– promising a more complex and interaction approach to the polarizing docu-drama-mentary, this three DVD set offers brand new material meant to further supplement (and complicate) an already contentious presentation. Many still find this film’s mixing of metaphysics and science more nonsensically New Age than educationally enlightening, but any film that tries to address some of the big picture issues that the cultural conversation seems to neglect is definitely worth consideration.


PopMatters Film Review:Click HERE


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