MORIARTY's DVD SHELF
Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
So here we are... only two and a half weeks later than originally promised... with the first “regular” edition of MORIARTY’S DVD SHELF, the first overall DVD-review column here at AICN.
What I don’t want to do is present a dry list of DVDs in release for you and just run down them like a series of tasks to be gotten through. One of the reasons I love the DVD format is that it has finally made it genuinely economically viable for people to program their living rooms as ongoing, rotating film festivals. There are so many releases of merit in the average week that even if you just bought one or two titles a week, you’d still fall behind. The point isn’t to just binge on whatever this week’s “big” release is, but to enjoy the almost embarrassing variety that’s now offered to you, the viewer, by all the companies out there clamoring for your attention.
As a result of the way I sort of digest the wave of DVDs that seems to crest over the Labs, I can’t really pull them apart and say that I processed each one in a vacuum. Instead, I’m going to break these down the way they’re grouped together for me as a viewer. I always keep one shelf here that’s just for stuff I am watching or about to watch, and when I do get a chance to do this column every couple of weeks, I want to try and just cover everything that’s been rotated through the player all at once.
Let’s get started today with a fistful of films that make me wanna holler...
THESE DISCS GOT SOUL, AND THEY’RE SUPERBAD!!
Yeah, sure, New Line’s sitting pretty right now after the release of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, but there was a time when they were known as an exploitation distributor, first and foremost, and right now, it feels a little like their roots are showing, and I love it.
I skipped ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS when it was in the theater because I didn’t react at all to the way the film was being sold. It’s funny, too, because I really like Ice Cube onscreen. I like that he’s got this face that can be totally teddy bear from one angle and stone cold killer from another. I like that he’s got a real sense of humor about himself, and that he writes his own films for the most part. I think Ice Cube has genuine screen charisma, the kind you can’t fake, and I find myself actually looking forward to seeing what he does. He was a big part of why I liked THREE KINGS. I wish GHOSTS OF MARS had been a great role for him, but in the end, it just didn’t come together. He felt out of step with whatever sensibility would have been needed to make that movie work. DANGEROUS GROUND was another one I wanted to like because of where it was set and the premise, and it just felt like Cube was stranded. So far, Cube has been at his best in material that he’s written himself. When he has a hand in the movies he appears in, the results are normally at least interesting. FRIDAY is one of the bonafide classics of the DVD age. I’d love to know just how many copies of that film have been sold, and I’d love to see a demographic breakdown of who bought it. I bet execs would be shocked at how universal the acceptance for that first film is.
With ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS, I really didn’t expect much. I wasn’t crazy about Mike Epps in NEXT FRIDAY, feeling he was a poor replacement for Chris Tucker. When I put the film on, I told myself that no matter how bad it was, at least I was at home and relaxing and I always had the option to just turn the thing off. Funny part is, though, I ended up enjoying the film quite a bit. For one thing, I realized that Mike Epps isn’t a replacement for Chris Tucker at all. I think the expectations that one might have gotten from the first FRIDAY made his role in the sequel a difficult one to step into. Here, though, I finally got the joke and warmed up to Epps, or maybe it’s just that he’s more comfortable in front of the camera this time. Whatever the case, his chemistry with Cube actually pays off this time, and I found myself really enjoying the film because of both of them. This is an action comedy, and for once, both parts seem to be given equal weight. I liked the action in the film and thought that Kevin Bray showed some real energy and invention. Even when a scene doesn’t completely work, it’s interesting.
There’s an great little fifteen minute documentary, one of four on the disc, called “Shot Caller: From Videos To Features”. It’s by Todd Williams, and it’s about music video directors who have crossed over into features. Brett Ratner, Gary Gray, Steve Carr, and Kevin Bray are interviewed, along with Ice Cube, who’s worked with most of them, and the piece is fairly honest about the way this business really works and why these guys are given the opportunity to direct features in the first place. What strikes me about all of them is that there is no sense of arrogance or entitlement. Instead, all of them seem fairly blunt about the learning process they went through, about how different films are from videos, and about how one helps with the other, but doesn’t guarantee anything. They all seem really self-aware, and anyone who wants to work in features and who doesn’t really know a way to break in would do well to watch this piece and take notes. These guys all started on incredibly low budgets, shooting videos for $3000 in some cases, and only gradually moved up to shooting three minute clips that cost as much as $1 million or more. They worked their asses off to get to features. I know a lot of talkbackers love to pick on Brett Ratner, but you have to admit... he worked to get where he is. He made the most of every opportunity he got, and he’s consistently pleased the people he’s worked for. When you bitch and moan about him signing on to direct SUPERMAN, you’re missing the point. If he’s got a good script to work from, Brett’s going to bust his ass to make sure that he gives Warner Bros. the best version of that script for whatever money they give him. Giant budget, conservative budget... he’ll shoot what they ask him to, and he’ll figure it out. That’s what working in music videos teaches you, if you want to learn the lessons of it. There’s a professionalism to the guys in this short that you have to respect, no matter what you think of DR. DOLITTLE 2 or RUSH HOUR or ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS.
Williams also contributes a short called “All About The Stunts,” and it’s a nice glimpse at just how high-impact a lot of the film is, even in the comedy moments. Epps’s character takes a severe ass beating in this film, as does Roger Guenveur Smith (best known as Smiley in DO THE RIGHT THING), who is seriously tortured by Cube and Epps in a scene that is sadism played for high comedy. Some people might not think that combination of tones is funny. Maybe there’s something wrong with me, but I thought it was really well done, and I laughed a lot.
For me, the best thing about the film is the discovery of Eva Mendes. I know she’s been working in films like URBAN LEGEND: FINAL CUT and EXIT WOUNDS and TRAINING DAY, but those roles didn’t make me notice her. This role did. Not only do I think she’s a sexy, stunning throwback to the way women used to be built, a la Rita Hayworth, but I also think she’s a damn fine comedic actor. Compare her role in this film to the work Rosie Perez did in IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU (they’re basically the same character), and you’ll see immediately what Mendes brings to the table. She made the film worth rewatching for me, this time with the audio commentary by Kevin Bray and Cube’s producer Matt Alvarez, who continue to strike me as really normal, well-meaning guys who have a fairly realistic sense of the films they’re making. They don’t try to oversell this, but they also don’t shrink away from talking about what works and what they like. They made a fun movie that people just didn’t see for whatever reason. I don’t remember the trailers, so I can’t say whether it was how the film was sold that stopped people from seeing it. Then again, the fact that I don’t remember the trailers is probably the answer to the question. I think Bray’s got a fun sense of visual play in this film, and although it’s slick, it’s not empty. There’s a recurrent use of these amazing sorts of satellite zoom-ins to start sequences and to set up locations that does a nice job of giving you a sense of how Miami is laid out and where everything is. When talking about the hypnotic opening titles, Bray name checks films like SHARKY’S MACHINE and BLUE COLLAR as inspirations, which certainly isn’t what I expected to hear.
I know a lot of directors have been inspired over the last 20 years by a film called THE MACK. Hell, it amazes me that I knew in grade school that “macking” was picking up on girls. How did an Oakland pimping term make its way so far into the mainstream that a kid in Tennessee knew what it meant? That’s the fascinating question that is answered by “Mackin’ Ain’t Easy,” an exceptional documentary by Laura Nix that New Line included on their new release of this classic film. And before you bother getting huffy about whether or not THE MACK is a “classic,” you might want to take a look at this film again. It’s influence on rap and hip-hop culture is profound and undeniable, and it holds up as a genuinely daring social commentary, as well. Watch the film and the documentary together, and you’ll throw the word around, too.
I first saw THE MACK as part of a blaxploitation marathon my friends and I went to in Tampa when I was in high school. Taken in that context, we hooted at the outrageous style of the film and the heightened melodrama of it all. It’s hard to take anything seriously wedged in between BLACK BELT JONES and SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM. But THE MACK isn’t blaxploitation at all. In a way, it’s as experimental as MEDIUM COOL, a near-mix of documentary and narrative filmmaking. It started out as BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL, a 40-page treatment by a real-life convict who had just been released, and ended up being almost the last record of Frank D. Ward, a real-life Oakland pimp who not only helped get the film made and gave the filmmakers access to parts of the city they otherwise never would have had, but who is also a major character onscreen. The audio commentary on the film is a hodgepodge of interviews with Max Julien, the star of the film, Harvey Bernhard, who produced it, Michael Campos, the film’s director, and a wide array of the film’s co-stars. They all seem to agree that this was a completely collaborative process, all of them contributing major things to the chemistry that resulted in this remarkable film. They had to actually negotiate their way into Oakland to be able to make the movie, somehow balancing the pressures of the Black Panthers on one side and the Ward Brothers, the guys who controlled all the pimping in the territory. This is one of those cases where the behind the scenes story is just as remarkable as the film itself, and I think there’s a great deal of replay value in the picture. This is one of those additions to my library that I know I’ll be seeing time and again as I show it to other people, giving them a chance to be amazed by the film like I was.
I’ve already played my BLADE 2 discs several times. I was quite open about my infatuation with this film when I originally reviewed it earlier this year. What I saw was a rough cut at that point, and then I reviewed the final cut, generating one of the longest single Talkbacks I’ve ever seen. Now, of course, the entire process is documented on one of New Line’s super-duper-deluxe editions, further proof that no one is as dedicated to special features and extra material than they are.
All the little things I saw in the first version that were gone in the second version are archived here, and there’s a ton of stuff, more than you can possibly wade through in one sitting, all of it hosted by the preposterously entertaining Guillermo Del Toro. “The Blood Pact,” a 90-minute making of documentary on the disc is dense with information, and is a nuts and bolts examination of how this film was developed. After you watch it, you can say that you don’t like the film if you want, but you can’t say that Guillermo made anything less than EXACTLY the film that he and David Goyer and Wesley Snipes and Peter Frankfurt and New Line all set out to make. Based on how big the film looks and how much the film actually cost, I would point anyone making genre films to watch this material and take notes. These guys got every bit of value out of every dollar spent, and the results allowed them to push the envelope as hard as THE MATRIX, just in a quieter way. The use of the “El-Cam,” as Guillermo calls it, is fairly revolutionary stuff, and what he did here was the baby steps, the Jolson singing, of the idea. It’s not flawless. It’s not perfect. But it is amazing, and it is liberating, the entire point of the thing. Once other filmmakers start poaching the ideas and using them for their own films, you’re going to realize just how great some of this work really is. There’s a lot of the film where you might think you’re looking at a puppet or at CGI or at an actor in makeup or some combination of the three, and you might be right, or you might be wrong. Del Toro doesn’t rely on any one trick. He’s a slippery bastard, always trying to fool you just a little bit more than you realize.
I think sometimes a director can outsmart his audience in such a way that it takes people time to catch up with what he’s done. He zigs when they think he’s going to zag, and no one gets it at first. The recent release of JACKIE BROWN on DVD has hopefully steered a lot of people to take another look at the film. I hope so, because I think it’s criminally underrated. In the years since its release, I think it may well have eclipsed PULP FICTION as my favorite film that Tarantino has made so far. There’s no denying the impact of PULP FICTION on everything that’s come since, but given a choice between putting either of the two recent special edition discs of the films, it was JACKIE BROWN that went into the player first, and it’s JACKIE BROWN that I’ve played more than once so far.
I could write an entire essay just about the use of “Across 110th Street” in the film. The opening titles play out with Pam Grier on the move. Where’s she going? Where is she? That song has such an amazing build that footage of her moving through an airport, standing still on moving sidewalks for the most part, becomes incredibly urgent, like something huge is about to happen. The song reaches its climax, and finally Pam starts running, and now we know... something’s going down. Something major. Something so important...
... and then she runs up to the gate of an airline, and she starts taking tickets. And she’s just going to work, and she’s a little late, and the song starts to fade as the credits end, and we realize Jackie Brown isn’t going anywhere. Nowhere at all.
That’s what makes it so incredibly powerful at the end of the film when Jackie’s in her car, driving away into whatever future she’s going to have, and that same song plays, and this time, as it builds and it builds, we know that Jackie’s finally doing whatever this major something is. This time, the song makes sense. It’s earned. And when Pam starts to mouth the words silently, it’s incredibly beautiful to me. It’s like a prayer shouted into the face of a storm. Jackie Brown has beat back the world, and whatever else happens, she’s got a head start. She’s finally ahead.
And the best part is... there’s about two and a half hours of great fucking movie inbetween those two moments that I haven’t even mentioned yet.
JACKIE BROWN is as fine an ensemble of performances as I can ever remember seeing. I find upon rewatching the film that it’s not just one performance or two or one storyline or two that appeal to me. It’s so deep, so rich, that I can enjoy something different each time through. There was a lot of very deserved attention paid to the work by Robert Forster, which is a revelation, a red flag that this character actor has been unduly overlooked, a promise since confirmed for me in Dan Cohen’s outstanding DIAMOND MEN. I’m still surprised that more love wasn’t given to Pam Grier for playing a role that is vulnerable and funny and strong and sexy and mature all at once, but maybe it’s just so natural that people don’t realize what a richly drawn character she’s really playing.
Gator in JUNGLE FEVER was the first great performance I remember seeing by Samuel L. Jackson, and Jules in PULP FICTION was definitely the moment he became a beloved movie star, but for me, any serious discussion of his work has to start with the cold, terrifying menace of Ordell Robbie. He’s a monster in this film, absolutely without remorse, and one of the things that is scary is how smart he thinks he is, and how dangerous he becomes when he realizes he’s not. As things unravel, Ordell has little or no choice but to take out his frustration in murder. There’s an efficiency that I find frightening about him in the film. Ordell’s over the top in terms of the way he talks at first, but a lot of it is an act, a bluster that he is putting on for the benefit of others. When it’s time to just cut through things, Ordell is anything but a loudmouth. He’s given enormous support by both Bridget Fonda and Robert De Niro, who does some of his very best work of the ‘90s in a role that I think people simply didn’t pay the proper attention to. As Louis, he’s really sort of heartbreaking at first, and we’re made to like this sort of loveable goof, this shuffling quiet lunk who is just out of prision, looking to hook back up and get started with whatever’s next. He is loyal to Ordell, but Melanie (Fonda) is a monster in her own right, a manipulator who overestimates her own expendibility and stealth. Quentin Tarantino has these beautiful hand-sculpted statues in his screening room, each of them representing different characters from his films. They’re exaggerated, highly stylized, evocative works, and the best of the bunch is a hunched over, clenched up, slow simmering Louis with a snake-like Melanie wrapped around him, hissing in his ear, practically daring him to do something... anything. I love the way Melanie is introduced, the way she and Louis move from one dynamic to another. Their “big sex scene” has a great laugh-out-loud cut, and the way they play off each other near the end of the film is unexpected, a real shock, but completely in keeping with what’s come before. Both performers were at their very best here, and it would be nice if they got a little credit for it. The rest of the supporting cast, including Michael Keaton and Chris Tucker and Tiny Lister, all do exceptional work, all of them working to give pitch-perfect life to the spirit of Elmore Leonard’s work. It’s appropriate that Keaton reprised the same role in OUT OF SIGHT, since that is the other best Leonard crime story so far on film.
The thing that makes JACKIE BROWN truly special to me isn’t the plot or the sophisticated use of time in the film’s third act or the wonderful soundtrack, far more important to the actual characters onscreen than the admittedly impossible to forget PULP FICTION. It’s the fact that, like all the films in this piece, there’s a sense that this is a work by someone who is well-versed in exploitation or genre. There’s an awesome trailer gallery on the second disc of JACKIE BROWN featuring about a thousand movies featuring Pam Grier and Robert Forster. There must be something like 200 of them that are just women in prison movies. The fact that these actors both have these long histories in these types of films really informs their time onscreen as the leads in this film. It’s the fact that they’re finally, this late in things, being given this second chance, this shot at redemption, that makes the film so powerful and makes the work between them so real. Each one of these films... THE MACK, ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS, BLADE 2, and JACKIE BROWN... manage to both embrace their genre and deliver on the full force of their exploitation promise, and they’ve all been given above average treatment on DVD, with extras that really are worth the effort.
GO ON... SCARE ME
THE FOG is one of the lesser titles in John Carpenter’s filmography, I always thought, and listening to the highly entertaining audio commentary on the new DVD for the film, it’s obvious that Carpenter and his collaborator Debra Hill also think so. It’s not that the idea for the film is bad, and even the execution is quite striking in places. It’s just that the script never really comes together, and the structure of the piece leaves a natural lag in the middle that they have to pad quite a bit.
Still... having said that... there are some moments in that film that are just breathtaking visually. Dean Cundey really was integral to the early work of Carpenter, helping him define a look that is still very particular and very dear to me as a viewer. There’s something about their widescreen composition and the stylized way of lighting and shooting things that jumps off the screen, especially when it’s a transfer as rich and well-mastered as this one. Even if you’re not a fan of the film overall, it’s worth a second look here for the sheer striking visual power of so much of it.
The same could be said of Kathryn Bigelow’s 1987 NEAR DARK, a film that I feel has actually grown over the years. When it was released, virtually day and date with Warner Bros.’s much-bigger-budget THE LOST BOYS, the film was buried. The ad campaign, confused at best, didn’t help at all. Looking at the two films now, it’s NEAR DARK that has aged well, and I’m pleased that the rumor I reported last year (that the film’s negative was lost through neglect) turned out to be untrue. Anchor Bay has done an outstanding job with both discs in this collector’s edition. There’s a 50 minute documentary called “Living In Darkness” on disc two directed by David Gregory that is remarkably entertaining. Lance Henriksen is a blast, as is Bill Paxton, as they talk about how much fun they had playing these outrageous characters, particularly in moments like the infamous bar scene. Bigelow is also very interesting, but it’s the people who don’t show up in the documentary that had me most intrigued. I remember that Eric Red had some kind of horrible bizarre Eric Red-style incident happen last year, but I have no idea where actress Jenny Wright has disappeared to, and that’s a damn shame. In films like PINK FLOYD’S THE WALL and THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, she was a bad girl with an angel’s face and a devil’s body, beautiful and outrageous. Unfortunately, after NEAR DARK, she never played another role quite as good, and she stopped working except for one appearance in 1998. There’s an oddly touching moment in the documentary where Adrian Pasdar looks directly into the camera and says, “Jenny, if you’re out there... I miss you.” She seems to have pulled a vanishing act, and one can only hope that wherever she is, she’s happy and able to enjoy some of the very good work she was part of.
It’s obvious that the people who work at Pixar enjoy what they do way, way, way too much. There’s a tour of the “Pixar Fun Factory” on disc two of the exceptional new MONSTERS, INC. DVD that is silly and comes across as a bit of an inside joke, but what comes across quite clearly is that the reason Pixar’s films work is because they’ve created an environment that encourages complete creative freedom and a spirit of real collaboration. As the disc traces the development of the film from the first treatment to the final release, you can see how focused and polished those ideas became, and how each person who worked on the film brought something special to it, something that is part of the remarkable whole.
The transfer of the film, both widescreen and specially reformatted full-frame, is as good as DVD gets, and Pixar has packed the second disc almost embarrassingly full of supplemental material. You’ve got two Pixar shorts (the hilarious “Mike’s New Car” and the equally funny “For The Birds”) and a detailed breakdown of each step of the process. It’s a delight to see how they worked with the little girl who played Boo to try and elicit a very real reaction out of her instead of having her “act.” The more I watch this film, the more impressed I am by just how expressive each of the characters in this film ends up being. Sully has the best eyebrows ever, and the sequence where the film pays tribute to the old Warner Bros. cartoon about the bulldog and the kittycat (you know which cartoon I mean, and you know which sequence it is in the film, and if you don’t, then you need to watch more cartoons) is endlessly entertaining to me because of just how much anguish they are able to wrench out of that expressive face of his. When Mike tells Sully off in the cave in the Himalayas, it’s unexpectedly moving. I mean... he’s an eyeball with horns. How is it that he manages to convey an entire palette of emotions, and with real subtlety? And Boo... well, Boo is one of those Forces Of Undeniable Cuteness and Light that would have to melt the hard outer shell of even the most practiced Grinch. I have a feeling that time is going to be kind to this film, and the opening day sales of the disc are pretty staggering. This DVD is going to be a great record of the film and all the effort behind it as people finally realize what last year’s best computer animated film really was.
SERIOUS FOOTBALL... SERIOUSLY
GO TIGERS is the newest title from Docurama, a company created specifically to distribute documentary films on DVD. I was very curious to see this particular film, though, because I’d heard comparisons between it and a film I really liked earlier this year called THE LAST GAME, a great movie about the last season of Mike Pettine, the long-time coach of CB West High School’s championship team, and about the relationship he had with his son, who coached another team in the same town. It was a very personal story, focused on family dynamics and one man’s particular drive to build his legacy.
GO TIGERS is focused on something very different, the relationship that a town has with its football team. In this case, filmmaker Kenneth Carlson has focused on Massillon, Ohio, a town that is completely and utterly retarded for football. I mean, I’ve seen towns that love football, that have a beloved high school or college team that they support. Hell, I went to school at Florida State University, where they LOVE their freakin’ Seminoles. But I’ve never experienced anything like the mania that grips Massillon as we watch them move through a season where they have to win for many reasons. The almost crushing pressure that is on the team to deliver is well-documented here, as is the potential reward for them, a free pass to do whatever they want and as much of it. As long as they’re winning, anything goes, and these kids take full advantage of the opportunity.
There are some weaknesses in the film, though, including they handle the particular case of Ellery Moore, the team’s defensive end. He’s also a convicted rapist. He talks about how it was all a mistake, and his mother testifies several times that anyone who knows her baby knows he could never do that, but is that enough? Are we supposed to simply take the word of the kid because he’s got a great smile and knows how to give the most amazing pep talks you’ve ever seen for his team? Evidently so, based on how Carlson basically glosses over the charge after introducing it. It’s as if he was afraid of alienating the affections of anyone in the town or in the inner circle of the team, so he simply records without doing any sort of investigative work. It makes the film feel somewhat unbalanced. Even so, it’s a compelling story, and the stakes are expertly set up by Carlson and his editor, Jeff Werner. Together, they manage to create some genuinely cinematic sequences that play like the best fiction. Their use of cross-cutting is exceptional, and several of the sequences in this film are so stirring you forget that what you’re watching is real. There’s one image that’s almost unfortunate, because as soon as I saw it, I was immediately reminded of something on another DVD I recently picked up. In the Massillon hospital, we see a team booster in the maternity ward, literally tucking little Massillon Tigers blankies in around the newborn boys in hopes of sowing the seeds of a future Tiger right then and there.
In episode five of season two of MR. SHOW, there’s a sketch called “The Basketball Recruiters” which pits David Cross and Bob Odenkirk against each other in a bitter battle to find the best recruits as early as possible that actually takes recruiting of babies as an absurd extreme. The image in MR. SHOW is basically identical to that in GO TIGERS, proof that Bob and David’s comedy is great because of how closely it cuts. There are moments when what they did as ridiculous comedy is basically true now, and it’s that prescience that keeps their work contemporary and makes this collection of both season one and season two of their wonderful HBO show a must-have for any comedy fan. Not only is there something to cherish in each and every one of these episodes, but the commentary tracks that Bob and David and a slew of guest stars have recorded are incredibly funny and informative. Bob and David slip in and out of different characters, as do actors like Jay Johnston and Tom Kenny and Jill Talley, and they also are quite candid about the way they put the show together.
Over on their official site, Bob and David recently asked fans to just let RUN RONNIE RUN die a quiet and ignoble death. They call it a “mercy killing” at this point. It’s a shame that they’re dissatisfied with the way that film came out, and they seem disillusioned by the process they went through with Troy Miller, and that’s a real shame. He’s an integral part of these shows, and Bob and David are class acts on the commentaries, with nothing but good things to say about their work with Miller. You can see the genesis of the film in “Fuzz The Musical,” one of the special features on the DVD, the introduction to Ronnie Dobbs. There’s a glimpse of the live show the guys did in LA to help sell the show and there’s also a half-hour segment called “The Incredible Fantastical News Report,” a best-of that features a lot of new material as well.
MR. SHOW is more than “just another sketch show.” It’s a record of a particular time and place in LA comedy, a sort of springboard for all sorts of talent that Bob and David had become friendly with. Jack Black, Talley, Kenny, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Sarah Silverman, the one and only Paul F. Tompkins, Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn, Scott Auckerman, BJ Porter... that’s a lot of talent, a lot of people who are incredibly funny in their own right. MR. SHOW WITH BOB AND DAVID may be the title, but it’s the sum of all those particular talents that will make it endure.
YOU’RE LOOKING RATHER ANIMATED TODAY
20th Century Fox deserves credit for doing TV in a box right. They are awesome. Both of the BUFFY box sets I have are excellent, even if there is always room for more extras, but if I start writing about BUFFY, this column will triple in length. No, it’s THE SIMPSONS that I’m currently wading through. THE SECOND SEASON is the first full-length season they had, and although a lot of hard-core fans say it’s the third season where the show really hit its stride, I think some of the high points from the entire run of the series came during this particular run of 22 episodes. “Bart The Daredevil” has a joke at the end that literally makes me laugh every single time I see it, even now, ten years later. “One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish” and “The Way We Was” back to back showed that the show could literally wrench our hearts as viewers even as it made us laugh outrageously. Other highlights include the first “Treehouse of Horror” episode and “Three Men And A Comic Book,” a great Bart episode that should make any geek wince in recognition. What’s best is watching the writers really start to get the show right and push the envelope with growing confidence.
There’s a commentary on every single episode in the SIMPSONS box, and they’re endlessly fascinating to me. It’s just different combinations of writers, producers, and directors showing up to talk, and in many cases, it sounds like they haven’t seen the episodes in a while. They’re brutally tough on their own work, and they complain about the pacing more than any whiner on any newsgroup ever. But they’re also funny guys, and they’re really open about where jokes and ideas and characters came from. It’s obvious that they adore their cast, and they speak of them in the most glowing possible terms. If you’re looking for dirt or some sort of friction, this is definitely not the commentary for you. Instead, what you’ll get here is a chance to watch one of the most influential and important shows in animation history with the creators walking you through it, step by step, with the perspective of years of experience to temper their reactions. Put simply, THE SIMPSONS box sets are history, and anyone who loves television animation or well-written comedy has to make room for these essential collections, both the ones that are already out and the ones that Fox will continue to issue at regular intervals in the future.
There’s also pretty much no debating the impact that SCHOOLHOUSE ROCKS: THE SPECIAL 30th ANNIVERSARY EDITION has had on an entire generation. I mean, the cartoons on the disc had the impact. The disc itself, a brand-new collection issued by Walt Disney DVD, has every single cartoon created for the series, as well as several cartoons that haven’t been seen before. There’s the three installments of SCOOTER COMPUTER & MR. CHIPS, for example. Less than a minute into the first of the three cartoons, I had to put it on pause because I felt like somebody had slipped me a tab of very strange acid. There’s a reason these are “long-lost” cartoons while things like “Figure Eight” and “Three Is A Magic Number” and “Verb” and “Conjunction Junction” have long since passed into the shared lexicon of millions of people who grew up on the shows. “The Weather Show,” on the other hand, is pretty decent, and would have been a nice addition to “Science Rock.” They don’t really explain why these cartoons didn’t get aired, and that’s a shame. In general, the discs could have used a lot more behind-the-scenes information. Where’s the documentary that takes us through the genesis of the project and explains who put all these classic educational shorts together? There’s a question and answer with George Newell, one of the producers and creators of SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK, and he talks about how the entire project started because David McCall, an advertising executive (and Newell’s boss in 1972 when this began), realized that his young son could remember the lyrics to Rolling Stones songs, but not his multiplication tables. Bob Dorough, one of the key songwriters for the entire run of the series, was commissioned to write the first song, turning in “Three Is A Magic Number” right off the bat. Tom Yohe quickly storyboarded the song, creating the visual style that is so completely recognizable over the course of the entire series, and it was Michael Eisner and Chuck Jones who bought the series for ABC. And it’s fascinating to know that, but I would have liked to have seen more and to have seen interviews with all these guys and to have learned why there were different animation companies for many of the cartoons, even though they all ended up looking so similar. As good as this set is, and there’s no denying the picture and sound quality is archival, as good as you’re likely to get, it would have been nice if we could have finally learned more about the particular stroke of collective genius that united all those creative people and educated so many of us in our formative years.
Those crucial, tender years and the odd resilience that carries us through them are the subject of the much-revered animated film GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES, which is being released by Central Park Media in a beautiful new 2-disc DVD set that gives the film a properly respectful presentation that makes the case for it as one of the more significant releases in modern anime. I know that when I was a guest at Ebertfest earlier this year, I was there to discuss anime with Roger, and he cited this as one of his favorite films. He pops up here on the disc in an interview (more of of a monologue about the film’s merits, actually, delivered on the set of EBERT & ROEPER, complete with the show’s logo in the background) in which he makes some wonderful points about what the film gains from being animated instead of live-action, and how the film both fits into the standard of anime and how it also breaks some of the conventions of the form. There’s also a revealing talk with the director, Isao Takahata, where he talks about the punishing schedule the film had to be created on because of some last-minute decision making on the film. He got his greenlight very suddenly, without warning, with a March release date in the impending year built in. He abandoned some ambitious technical plans and dove into the movie, working in very conventional cel animation, just worried about finishing in time. He also talks about how slight the story is, how it’s not really a story at all.
And in a way, he’s right. This isn’t a plot-heavy film. This is a film about moments. It’s about the tiny details of daily life. It’s about routine and the mundane textures that make up everything we do, especially in the face of something as disruptive and horrible as war and the death of loved ones. The film essentially traces what happens to two children who are orphaned in the firebombing of World War II. It’s breathtakingly sad stuff, and there are moments in the film that are just painful to sit through. If anyone ever dismisses animation as “children’s films,” this is the movie you put on to shut them up for good. Based on the autobiographical remembrances of Akiyuki Nosaka, this is one of the most human and lyrical pieces of feature animation produced in any country, and this DVD’s picture and sound quality is a beautiful, fitting treatment for something so powerful.
A&E, a company that has been coming on strong in DVD collections recently (I’ll be doing a look at their Gerry Anderson sets in my next DVD column), recently issued a complete collection of an Aardman Animation series that I’d never heard of called REX THE RUNT, but based solely on the Aardman name, I decided to sit down and wade through all 26 10-minute episodes of this decidedly strange stop-motion series about the surreal adventures of Rex, Wendy, Bob, and Vince, all dogs. And, on the other side of all 26, I still don’t know if I’d say it’s worth your time or not. There’s no denying that there’s a certain dry British wit at work here, and there are many places where it pays off with some big laughs, but you never really get a feel for any of the characters. It’s more about attitude and a surface cleverness, and the result is that you’re never really compelled to see what’s next. I watched all the episodes because I wanted to be able to review them, not because I felt like I wanted to see what sort of trouble the characters would get in from episode to episode. And I don’t think it’s the fact that the show is so distinctly British. There’s a lot of English comedy and drama alike that I’m quite fond of (look for reviews of THE PRISONER and SPACED in the weeks ahead for more on the subject). It’s just that in this case, clever doesn’t seem to be enough. If only to compare to the incredible, seminal work on the SIMPSONS box set, a glance at REX THE RUNT was quite educational, but not something I’d recommend except for the most devoted of Aardman fans, and even then, it’s more of a curiousity piece than anything.
YOU WANT A TWIST ENDING? I GOT YOUR TWIST ENDING!
I’ve talked about a lot of discs with a lot of special features in this column this week, but I’ve said it before and I mean it: in the end, what matters to me is having an affordable library of great titles available, and as long as I can have the film, I’m not hung up on what else I get.
This point was driven home for me this past weekend when my girlfriend picked a couple of movies to watch. She selected them at random from the stack of new titles that were on top of the TV here in the inner sanctum of the Labs, and without realizing it, she pulled a double feature of suspense classics, both drawing upon Daphne Du Maurier stories for inspiration.
Paramount DVD finally put out one of my very favorite oddball horror films, DON’T LOOK NOW, made by director Nicolas Roeg right in the middle of his most fertile and productive run of films. PERFORMANCE, WALKABOUT, DON’T LOOK NOW, and THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH are all still effective and electric and powerful, and I love each of them for different reasons. With this film, there’s a lot to like, and sometimes it’s hard to resign all the different influences in this film into a cohesive whole as you think about it. There’s the great interplay between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie as John and Laura Baxter, grieving parents and walking wounded since the death of their daughter, drowned in a pond on their property in the middle of a lazy Sunday afternoon. There’s the freaky interplay between English sisters Heather and Wendy, both of them creepy and intense even though it’s only Wendy who has second sight, and who seems to be in touch with the little girl the Baxters lost. There’s the way the whole film seems to fold in on itself timewise. What is the past? What is the future? Was fate set in stone before the story even began? Who is the figure in the red cloak? Is their daughter still with them, still trying to guide them or touch them in some way? The film asks questions it doesn’t even try to answer, and that’s one of its many strengths, as well.
DON’T LOOK NOW would be famous if only for the duly-praised sex scene in which Roeg crosscuts between the couple making love and dressing later, afterwards, for a night out, and there’s something about the particular rhythm of what he shows and when he shows it and seeing something uncovered, then covered, that really does make this special in mainstream erotica. It’s a scene that manages to convey something of the real detail of intimacy, and it manages to be explicit without being graphic. When Steven Soderbergh paid homage to the scene in OUT OF SIGHT, he managed to create another classic scene because of the different way he used the jumps in time to convey something about a moment, but there’s no denying it was Roeg’s brilliant idea first. The film’s setting is also one of the things that makes it so unique, a horror film making full use of the inherent creep factor of Venice, a city riddled with confusing side streets and narrow bridges and alleys and tunnels and canals. The film’s ending turns the location into a source of almost unbearable anxiety and fear, and is among the most memorable in the long history of the horror genre.
Daphne Du Maurier must have been the M. Night Shyamalan of her time, because REBECCA, Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film that bears as much of David O. Selznick’s stamp as it does that of the director, is also a dark puzzle box that deals some wonderful, wicked surprises to the viewer late in the film, making you work all the way up to the very end. I know there’s a big Criterion version of REBECCA, but I just wanted the movie, a good print I didn’t have to pay an arm and a leg for, so I picked up the new Anchor Bay release of the film, and it’s a great print. When you compare the price of the two, the Anchor Bay disc looks like a pretty good deal. I’m one of those weirdos who doesn’t particularly subscribe to the whole “Hitchcock Is God” thing, so I don’t really need to wade through extras extolling his genius. I like particular Hitchcock films, and if anything, I like them as free of discussion as possible. I am bored to tears by talk of Hitchcock and his place in film. Most of his movies seem trapped in amber, unable to move me now because of the way they’ve been overdigested, overanalyzed, absorbed completely into the mainstream so that they can never work on their own again for us. REBECCA is, of course, the only Hitchcock film to ever win Best Picture, and it’s the film that kickstarted his American career. This is one of those films like SHADOW OF A DOUBT or NOTORIOUS that I simply love unconditionally, that I like to rediscover every few years.
For me, the appeal of REBECCA is the way Joan Fontaine’s journey from timid mouse to complete woman is painted against the mysterious story of Maxim De Winter, played by Laurence Olivier. Fontaine narrates the film, and one of the master strokes of the screenplay is the way we never learn her name, even as we hear the name of De Winter’s first wife, Rebecca, so many times and we hear her described so vividly that even though she never actually appears in the film, in some ways she’s more substantial than Fontaine. If you’ve never seen the film, I’ll just shake my head in gentle confusion at you and recommend that you run and grab a copy and get pulled into the dark secrets of Mandalay and Mrs. Danvers and the frozen heart of a troubled millionaire.
I’ve got to run put together my Rumblings for later this morning, featuring a SPIRITED AWAY review and a look at FOUR FEATHERS, also opening today, and I’d like to get a bunch of stories together from other contributors. I’ll be back soon with another of these DVD columns with some of the stuff I didn’t have room for in this one, and I’m open to suggestions if there’s anything you’d like to see us discuss. Until then...
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Sept. 20, 2002, 7:44 a.m. CST
Is this going to be a review of the Region 2 DVDs or is there an American release of this I'm unaware of?
Sept. 20, 2002, 7:49 a.m. CST
Huh!? Nope, can't wait until I get the Simpsons 2nd season and Schoolhouse Rock on DVD! "Ahh... He's got a board with nail in it!!!!"
Sept. 20, 2002, 7:58 a.m. CST
Im first and would also like to comment on Near dark. IMO this is one of the best vampire movies ever. It pisses on The Lost Boys. I do have one DVD query. Does anyone know if The Boys in Company C will ever be released on DVD, please some distributer pick this up, another movie i would love to see get the DVD treatment, is The Vagrant with Bill Paxton, another one which has never come out on disc.
Sept. 20, 2002, 8:17 a.m. CST
Jackie Brown is the best thing Tarantino has made to date, and only gets better upon multiple viewings. Monsters Inc. is brilliant, a shining star of a family film, and it will live on many many many more years than that horrible movie that won the best animated film oscar. And Mr. Show is sadly missed, the loss of Run Ronnie Run is a pity (I was looking forward to having "A Kick In The Cunt" in MP3 form on my 'puter), but if Bob and David don't feel the final product is good enough to get release, then I agree. Let it die, for the most part. It'll become a novelty amongst the bootleggers, just like the Fantastic Four movie. A rare find for those with the tenacity to seek it out. As far as I'm concerned, I'll catch Bob and David on their Hooray for America tour and all will be well in the world. That is all.
Sept. 20, 2002, 8:32 a.m. CST
by KID AB
Me and my pals went to see Jackie Brown in London. I personally enjoyed it and still do as I approached it from a different angle to Resevoir Dogs and Plup Fiction. One of my friends was (And probably still is, i haven't seen him for a while) unanimous in praise for this film, while the others thought it was "Alright", though later they would think it was a big pile of shit. Me though, i loved the use of "Across 110th Street", at the beginning and the end of the movie. I didn't really relate that song to what was happening on screend at the time, but now i really want that DVD.
Sept. 20, 2002, 8:38 a.m. CST
There was a lawsuit back in the 70's against ABC and the SR folks brought on by Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey for copyright infringement. If you notice on the new disc, there are places in the song with odd edits and overpowering sound effects. That is to cover the words, "The Greatest Show on Earth". Yup, not only does B&B abuse endangered animals, they sued Schoolhouse Rock as well. Bastards. As for the Scooter Computer shorts, they DID air. They just weren't as popular as the SR episodes. I quite vividly remember watching them. Good writing, as always, Moriarty. Keep it up!
Sept. 20, 2002, 8:39 a.m. CST
on dvd? "When my 10 gallon hat is feeling 5 gallons flat, I hanker for a hunk of cheese."
Sept. 20, 2002, 8:59 a.m. CST
I love it for the sense of melancholy in the setting of an aristocratic household. It's palpable, and was very strange to me when I saw it as a really young kid. I saw a lot of Hitchcock films as a kid and remember them all, little moments, it all comes back, because the scenes are so right and unique, I guess. Though I don't worship him either. One of my most anticipated DVDs is Marilyn Manson's HOLY WOOD tour, 'Guns, God and Government' sometime in early October I believe. Anyway, I think you're wrong about Ratner, Mori, he just hasn't made a good film, so that's most important to me...
Sept. 20, 2002, 9:07 a.m. CST
Oh, I'm so pleased to hear a DVD is being released. I've been trying to see this film for ages. Perhaps with the impact of Spirited Away, more of these projects will get released stateside. (Can't wait to see SA tonight!)
Sept. 20, 2002, 9:08 a.m. CST
It's been a good few weeks that's for sure. You missed Return of the Living Dead, M. Another gem. But Near Dark. Jesus Christ that film is BOSS. And The Fog, y'know, flawed but great fun. Forster is just an amazingly graceful actor. I think the whole relationship between Max and Jackies makes JB Quentin's best film for me. Good growth. What else? Anyone like Wolfen? p.s. Jenny Wright is gorgeous.
Sept. 20, 2002, 9:17 a.m. CST
I can't believe that you neglected to mention the appearance of Pam Grier's exploitation film buddy Sid Haig and his small role as a judge in JB. It was great to see what Drago from Jason of Star Command was up to.
Sept. 20, 2002, 9:19 a.m. CST
Holy crap! I had forgot all about Time For Timer! My boss is wondering why I've spent the last five minutes sitting at my desk laughing my ass off. Thanks!
Sept. 20, 2002, 10:05 a.m. CST
by Sod Off Baldric
NEAR DARK: Great movie (I forgot just how great it actually is) and Anchor Bay has given it a great DVD treatment (as usual). The film looks and sounds wonderful. The "Living in Darkness" documentary is a blast...Lance Henriksen is quite the card. JACKIE BROWN: This film is a masterpiece and makes an excellent addition to any film buff's library. The DVD package is stuffed to the gills with cool extras (no commentary, though...can't win 'em all), and Moriarty wasn't lying...there are like eight krabillion exploitation trailers, and they do indeed rock. MR. SHOW: I will always be grateful to my buddy, Jake, as he introduced me to this twisted program. The DVD rules...the commentary tracks are every bit as hilarious as the episodes themselves. Oh, did I mention that I'm going to be seeing Mr. Show live next weekend? Well I am! Whoo-hoo! Anyway, looking forward to picking up the Schoolhouse Rocks CD...when I can actually afford it. I have to start pacing myself. At the rate I'm buying DVDs, comics, and video games I may have to actually start foregoing other things...like food. Who needs it anyway, right? Later.
Sept. 20, 2002, 10:15 a.m. CST
Wasn't Jenny Wright in Young Guns II?
Sept. 20, 2002, 10:22 a.m. CST
Everything on your list falls into the must-see category... and 90% of it into the must-purchase list! Enjoy everything you write -- keep the good stuff coming!
Sept. 20, 2002, 10:28 a.m. CST
If you've never happened upon Keith Gordon's directorial debut THE CHOCOLATE WAR, based on the young-adult novel by Robert Cormier and featuring phenomenal use of music from Yaz and Peter Gabriel, you've missed a serious, serious treat. It's a small, personal film that just absolutely astounds on every level. It's somewhat different from the novel, but no angst there. And Jenny Wright has a small but delightful role. Really -- if you haven't seen it, FIND IT. And if you're thinking, "Keith Gordon... wasn't he the geek in CHRISTINE and BACK TO SCHOOL?" you're right -- but he's also the same Keith Gordon went on to make A MIDNIGHT CLEAR and MOTHER NIGHT and directed at least one episode of the miniseries WILD PALMS. Keith is AMAZING. Don't miss it.
Sept. 20, 2002, 10:57 a.m. CST
I thought it was told in first person and never gives the girl a name either? I read that book so long ago, I don't remember. I notice the Masterpiece Theater version doesn't say it either, so if it was invention of Hitchcock version's screenplay then it was reused. **** Mori, I get that you're opinion of Hitchcock is, well, classic you as it defies the temptation to be told what to think by the mass opinion, and that's right of you. But, I think Hitchcock's films are interesting BECAUSE they are so, well, encased in amber as you put it. They all feel very apart from reality, largely because the man hated location filming and so filmed most of his footage on clausterphobic soundstages. I always feel like I'm watching someone's imagination, not a version of reality at all when I see his films(well, the big ones anyway). I do agree, I think the "he is god" stuff is tired. I don't really like any filmmaker being called a god because it's such a lazy way to praise someone. "He's just so good and so much better than you and me, he must be a god!" Yeah, stick it here, sycophant. But you MUST acknowledge that Hitchcock produced. He made tons of movies, and amazingly some of his best films(and experiments) came late in life.
Sept. 20, 2002, 11:08 a.m. CST
by drew mcweeny
Drath, I think it's fair to say that much of the vocabulary of modern suspense filmmaking was either invented or perfected by Hitchcock over the course of his career. It's impossible to overestimate his contribution as a master of the genre and also of simple camera craft. He had a flair for communicative composition that was remarkable. I agree that part of the kick of his films is the artificial universe he creates. My girlfriend spent much of REBECCA entertained by the obvious process shots for everything from driving the car to walking on a cliff. I don't think Hitch thought the rear projection was going to fool anyone. He's creating a very specific, very heightened reality. The famous opening shot, the tracking push through the burnt-out ruins of Mandalay, complete with the little trick of moonlight that almost makes it look like a living home again, is an incredibly obvious miniature, but it's part of setting the stage, and the way Hitch uses it to underline the moment is masterful. When he was on, his films were great. But I don't want to believe in a God that would make TORN CURTAIN or FAMILY PLOT. Or even 16 different versions of THE 39 STEPS. The trapped in amber thing I'm referring to isn't that great artificial quality that makes many of his films (especially headgames like VERTIGO) such a delight, but is instead the stifling verdict of brilliance that's been laid on his films to such a degree that disagreeing is to invite open hostility. That's all I meant...
Sept. 20, 2002, 11:39 a.m. CST
by Sod Off Baldric
BLADE 2: I don't care what any fanboy has to say about that flick...I think it is an utter blast. It's like an anime flick come to life...but unlike direct live-action adaptations of anime films (WICKED CITY and FIST OF THE NORTH STAR come to mind) this one is actually good. The DVD package for BLADE 2 is awesome...making of special, deleted scenes, a music video, production art, isolated score, and two different commentary tracks. I haven't had a chance to get to Del Toro's commentary yet, but Snipes and Goyer's commentary was very good.
Sept. 20, 2002, 1:11 p.m. CST
cost is $44, email if interested, thanks... and uh, moriarty
Sept. 20, 2002, 1:15 p.m. CST
i finally saw Blade 2 on DVD the other day, and i don't understand why so many geeks were disappointed by it. i'll grant that the first Blade was "better", but i thought Blade 2 was pretty cool too. the idea of the genetically engineered ultra vampires was pretty cool, and it retained the whole theme of racial/genetic "purity" that helped put first Blade above and beyond the usual superhero fare. in edition, the fight scenes were great, the SFX were great, the requisite hot chick was hot, the gore was nasty and soundtrack was slamming. i mean, what else do you want from a genre movie? granted, the first film was better, but this was good too and i look forward to Blade 3... if there is going to be a Blade 3... is there?
Sept. 20, 2002, 1:40 p.m. CST
When the hell am I going to get them ? And how come "Panic Room" has no extras on it except for the trailer (which I have already, thanks), yet it's fairly expensive ? I don't care about "superbit" crap. I thought the whole POINT of DVD's was that the video and audio was so much better than VHS. Now we need BETTER video and audio ?! I can't justify buying "Panic Room" in the fear that they'll just release a double disc special edition in a few months. Say it ain't so.
Sept. 20, 2002, 1:49 p.m. CST
I missed something!
Sept. 20, 2002, 1:59 p.m. CST
I just did a review of SR for the magazine I write for, and one thing I focused on was just how well the songwriting was displayed. Stuffing objective information into a three minute pop song is challenging enough, but when the resulting song is actually catchy, well...that's a miracle. "Figure Eight" is a brilliant song, above and beyond its educational tendencies.
Sept. 20, 2002, 2:20 p.m. CST
by Bubba Da Cat
Super Bit DVDs are known for only having good audio and video and no extras. There's going to be a new Panic Room with extras on it in the near future.
Sept. 20, 2002, 4:21 p.m. CST
Unfortunately, not all of us can afford to buy a couple of dvds a week. As it is, I can barely afford my huge rental appetite. Too bad, however, that most rental stores buy mostly new release dvds, and very few re-releases. There are so many older movies on dvd that I know are out and widely available for purchase, but none of the 5 video stores in my area (decent metropolitan stores, chain and independent) carry a 10th of what's coming out. The small ones i assume just don't have the room, and the big ones like Hollywood just suck, they're still buying 5 times as many videos as they are dvds..... Another thing, does anyone else worry about the longevity of these dvd releases? I've rented plenty of dvds that have been out for only a few months, but are already scratched to hell. At that rate, they won't last more than 2 or 3 years. and most of these are only produced for a short time, then they're gone, just like a lot of videos, but unlike those, they aren't nearly as sturdy. The average renter probably plays frisbee with these things. Unlike today, where you can go into a video store and find a video that's 15 years old, but still in fine shape, i think there will be a lot less old and out-of-print dvds in the future.....
Sept. 20, 2002, 5:26 p.m. CST
i sent this review to herc and mori 2 days ago, got no resonse, so here is my comprehensive review of the 24 season 1 dvd:
Sept. 20, 2002, 5:28 p.m. CST
Because I remember a SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK segment with a weather guy demonstrating how wind forms with the rotating currents and such. Now when is Disney going to get off their duffs and release... a DVD collection of MENUDO ON ABC, the music videos which largely replaced SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK on Saturday mornings on ABC starting in the 1982-83 season? "I like to da-aa-aa-ance!"
Sept. 20, 2002, 10:15 p.m. CST
Moriarty must have got lucky with his review of Monsters. The DVD has a problem handling the layer transfer (seen at 84:01 minutes on the widescreen version of the movie on some players.
Sept. 21, 2002, 12:24 a.m. CST
BLACK BELT JONES!!!!! By far the greatest blackplotation flix of the 70s. It had dialogue, action, fro's and a great villian to boot. I can't get enough of this film. Unfortunately the psuedo sequel, Hot Potato, sucked hairy, welted donkey balls. The Belt Has Spoken.
Sept. 21, 2002, 12:31 a.m. CST
I really dig this DVD column by Moriarty... I wish more DVD column's had as much passion for movies as this one does. Keep up the great work Moriarty... your now setting the standard for what a cool well written and thought out DVD review should be. As far as recent DVD releases... the AnchorBay release of "Hitch-Hike" was a pretty damn wild ride... and the Reg. 3 release of Takashi Miike's movie *Happiness of the Katakuris* proved to be an amazing remake of the Korean movie "The Quiet Family" and overall "Happiness of the Katakuris" is my favorite DVD released of late. I'm looking forward to watching the DVD's for the movies "CQ" and "Werewolf Shadow." The only really other DVD I can safely say I watched that completely was badass was the Hong Kong Legends release of the 96 Steve Wang movie "Drive" that starred Mark Dacascos... if you have an all region player that plays PAL... get this movie and watch it immediately. Jackie Brown remains to me to be a great *hang out* movie... I'll never forget the first time I saw the movie in Austin with Tarantino there screening it... during the night it rained like 80 inches (so it seemed at the time)... and I was driving down the highway 35 in Texas like George Clooney in the Perfect Storm fighting all hell of nature in a storm to see this movie... and it did not disappoint one bit... considering if I hadn't made it to the theater that night they would have written on my tombstone... RIP - Died while trying to see Jackie Brown.
Sept. 21, 2002, 12:58 a.m. CST
tired of hearing about Hitchcock's brillance yet praising the efficiency of Brett The Rat Rattner? A new low, guys.
Sept. 21, 2002, 3:32 a.m. CST
With the onslaught of the DVD format, it's about time this site had a regular column devoted to it. And who better than Moriarty to do it!
Sept. 21, 2002, 3:37 a.m. CST
by Cash Bailey
Not to make fun of the brother (THE HITCHER is the mutt's nuts) but anyone curious as to what Mori was referring to just needs to check out the talkbacks on this article - http://www.aintitcool.com/display.cgi?id=9160. They pretty much fill you in on what happened. There's also a link to a swett interview with Red.
Sept. 21, 2002, 5:21 a.m. CST
I'm not enough of a html wiz to pull it off, but there should be lots of "It's not that ...., ....., it's just that .... never really comes together." And "The [aspect of the film], [...]ly [...]ive, manages to ..." Chock in an unhealthy number of self references ("I feel" and the ever popular "to me") and it would all be indistinguishable from the real thing. Ah, but we kid because we love. BTW, the Chuck Jones animated short that Monsters Inc. references is "Feed the Kitty". Anyone not catching that on the first viewing should indeed watch more vintage 'toons.
Sept. 21, 2002, 7:17 a.m. CST
a great movie, but i cried like a baby. All the war lovers should see this movie.
Sept. 21, 2002, 8:28 a.m. CST
Less than a year old Pioneer 5-disc player and sound system all-in-one. Might just be a flaw with some of the discs, not all of them...
Sept. 21, 2002, 11:42 a.m. CST
by Big Papa
...why no mention of "Return of the Living Dead" and "Frailty"?
Sept. 21, 2002, 1:49 p.m. CST
Don't take this for fact, but I had heard rumors a while ago that the sudden decline in her career was due to a pretty bad heroin habit that she was attempting to get under control. Hopefully, she has kicked it and has just decided to stay out of the entertainment business with all its tappings in an effort to keep herself in a healthy way. The other possiblilities are too dark to consider.
Sept. 21, 2002, 4:40 p.m. CST
Hey everyone - I saw Run Ronnie Run and I'd like to say Bob and Dave should not be that embarassed about it. You can see it too if you have a fast connection and download it from Kazaa. It's not that bad. It starts slow, is funny, especially in the middle, and then sort of ends badly but I don't know why New Line is not releasing it. They suck.
Sept. 21, 2002, 4:42 p.m. CST
Oh, and Eva Mendes is a bad lil' honey....But seriously, isn't it time that all of these Hitchcock skeptics grew up.....Honestly, associating Shyamalan with Spielberg and Hitchcock is one of the worst cases of generalization that I have ever come across....To say that a literate, subtle and tasteful screenwriter like Du Maurier is in anyway comparable to a beat-it-over-your-head, mushy clap-trap-writin', obvious, C+ movie makin' dude like M. Night, is pretty low imho. And where do you get off justifying the quote unquote *craftsmanship* of Ratner and Carr (let me be clear on this, I'm not knockin' them) when Hitchcock was the ultimate studio craftsman? The difference between the 'craftsmanship' of Ratner & co. and Hitchcock is that the latter was one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. And why the fuck does everyone pigeonhole Hitch as a 'suspense' film maker. With Shyamalan for company! Has Hitch ever gone for the easy shock or the 'boo moment' as we like to call it down here? Shyamalan tries to make the audience jump every chance he gets. This dude has never heard of the word restraint...I recently saw Under Capricorn again and it surprises me to no end that this masterpiece has been senselessly neglected by crtics for the sake of ghettoizing Hitchcock as the Master of Suspense....Never has Hitchcock's obsession with death and sexuality seemed so Lawrentian (the comparison, if anything, sometimes seems unfavorable to D.H.). Shot in astonishingly elaborate long takes, this is the kind of film that finds the most brilliant poetry in the slightest movement of the camera......the kind you associate with the films of Ozu and Mizoguchi.....there are some astonishingly long and complex takes, some lasting 8 to 10 minutes and each scene is mounted with a minimum number of edits, as Hitchcock sends his actors through elaborately choreographed blocking and his fluid camera moves in and out among them, framing and reframing to highlight emotions without breaking the unity of the performance....Joseph Cotten's performance is truly poetic, especially his soliloquoy about the way in which love dies with the passage of time...........And what about The Trouble With Harry....Alfred Hitchcock's 1955 comedy has long been overshadowed by the masterworks that surround it (Rear Window on one side, Vertigo on the other).... but it's a wonderful, fanciful film...the most optimistic movie he ever made--a fairy tale among nightmares.... The film is a celebration of the powers of the artist--as life giver, creator, liberator--assembled with gentleness and whimsy...... The moment when the artist (John Forsythe) proposes to his lover (Shirley MacLaine, in her film debut) is the most gracious in Hitchcock's work. He says, "We'll be the only free couple in the world," and his words are a light of hope for all the tortured couples that populate Hitchcock's films, from Rich and Strange to Marnie....which brings us to Marnie....Universally despised on its first release, Marnie remains one of Alfred Hitchcock's greatest and darkest achievements....... Tippi Hedren, in a performance based on a naked, anxious vulnerability, is a compulsive thief; Sean Connery is the neurotically motivated southern gentleman who catches her in the act and blackmails her into marriage....... The examination of sexual power plays surpasses Fassbinder's films, which Marnie thematically resembles, going beyond a simple dichotomy of strength and weakness into a dense, shifting field of masochism, class antagonism, religious transgression, and the collective unconscious.......The mise-en-scene tends toward a painterly abstraction, as Hitchcock employs powerful masses, blank colors, and studiously unreal, spatially distorted settings.......Theme and technique meet on the highest level of film art......You want a craftsman working deep within the studios and still managing to make beautiful pieces of art...Alfred fuckin' Hitchcock's your man....him and the rest of his generation of directors including Ford, Lang, Hawks, Mann, Preminger, Welles, Walsh, Sternberg, Ulmer, Cukor, Boetticher, Fuller, McCarey, Minnelli, Ophuls, Ray, Sirk, Tourneur, Lewis and Aldrich not to mention the young Stanley Kubrick are the real 'craftsmen' - dudes who worked within the system to create masterpieces. Why the fuck should we accept stuff thrown out by Ratner and Bay and the rest of their ilk (much less justify it)when we have ample evidence that working within the studio isn't the soul destroying process that many of these pseudo-critics make it out to be????? That kind of an argument (and the apathetic attitude that it implies) simply means that we're gonna bend over and take this kind of mediocrity......You will have noted that I mentioned 3 of Hitchcock's films which are considered to be his 'lesser' works...Can anyone tell me with a straight face that any of Shyamalan's films can even claim to have come close to the depth and complexities of these 'lesser' works, leave alone works like Vertigo, Rear Window, Notorious, Psycho, Strangers on a Train, Rope, The Man who Knew too Much, North by Northwest or The Birds?.......Then fuck you, jack....The old timers I mentioned above were giants....the video artists and poseurs like Shyamalan are fuckin' pygmies..... Did I mention that Eva Mendes is a BAAAD lil' honey?
Sept. 21, 2002, 5 p.m. CST
Ol' Hitch plays with his old plot conventions and comments on the sexy tropes that he defined. One of Hitchcock's most adventurous and expressive experiments in narrative form he returns to the dual plotting of Psycho, thinking it through again as a comedy in which the two compared/contrasted couples (Bruce Dern and Barbara Harris versus Karen Black and William Devane) do not meet until the final minutes.As for Torn Curtain, you can't say that it's a bad film. Coming after a masterpiece like Marnie, it almost had to be a disappointment. But Hitchcock was incapable of making an uninteresting film, even when burdened with unsympathetic stars like Julie Andrews and Paul Newman, and Torn Curtain has its moments, most notably in a murder scene that attacks the movie myth of quick and painless killing and especially the kettle sequence, you'll know what I mean when you see it. In fact, I remember Martin Scorsese mentioning it as one of the scenes that he has tried to work into every film of his. The way that Hitchcock subtly frames and reframes the whole thing is amazing to say the least......... The first half of the film, with Newman as an opportunistic missile scientist trying to worm his way into East Berlin so he can pick the brain of a leading communist researcher, has a complicated, off-centered moral tone that the second half of the film, a more or less straightforward chase, dismayingly allows to wither away......And how about a late work like Frenzy, which another tb'er mentioned......This turned out to be Alfred Hitchcock's penultimate film (1972), though there's no sign of the serenity and settledness that generally mark the end of a career. Frenzy, instead, continues to question and probe, and there is a streak of sheer anger in it that seems shockingly alive. The plotting combines two of Hitchcock's favorite themes: the poisoned couple (Marnie, The Man Who Knew Too Much) and the lone man on the run (North by Northwest, Saboteur).......Now you show me a contemporary film maker who has done stuff which comes even close to this......Mori, you must belong to the Pauline Kael school of thinking which considers Hitchcock to be inferior to De Palma......tsk, tsk.
Sept. 21, 2002, 6:41 p.m. CST
by Cash Bailey
I watched that movie for the first time last week and it's a ripper. I swear to God, young Shirley Maclaine was just the most adorable thing in the history of films. And John Forsythe was awesome! Almost like a better-looking Bogart that toally owned the screen in that film. Why did he not go on to have a huge film career?
Sept. 23, 2002, 8:40 p.m. CST
Love The Fog and Near Dark. True classics of that genre. I thought Blade 2 sucked. // Jenny Wright was in ST. Elmos Fire too. Where did she go???
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