Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
Holy shit, is July really over now? This year seems to be accelerating as it progresses, and it doesn’t help that I move from one major obligation to the next, so swaddled in stress most days that I’m just happy when it’s time to sleep. This past week, I went from “looking for a house” to “must move in the next seven days,” and the result is a madhouse of activity here at the Labs.
When I started this week’s column, I was still living in the Hollywood apartment, but as I finish it, I’m writing from my new home, from my new office. I’ve been in that apartment as long as I’ve been at Ain’t It Cool News. Every single time I’ve written “Rumblings From The Labs,” that location was what I’ve been referring to. And now, in a matter of days, the Labs have been relocated somewhere else. In boxing up my DVDs, I’ve had to use a total of 16 giant boxes to get them all from one place to the next. Just seeing everything boxed up, I felt like an alcoholic at an intervention. “How many vodka bottles did I drink last week? 37? Holy shit, maybe I do have a problem.” However, storage is a dream at the new place, and I’m having fun setting up the new office and the screening area and everything else.
Because I’ve let things pile up, this week’s column actually covers three weeks worth of DVD releases. I’ll be back on the weekly schedule starting next week, but for now, enjoy this overloaded extra-large edition of the SHELF. I’m going to keep things separated by week to keep it a little more orderly, and as always, we’ll start with...
THIS WEEK’S FEATURED TITLE (7/18)
Gavin Hood’s Oscar-winning film deserves every bit of attention it’s gotten so far, and more. I’ve gushed about the film a few times now and named it my favorite film of last year, and watching it again upon getting this DVD home, I was just as fond of it. It’s a film that grows with repeat viewings, instead of diminishing like most empty spectacle does. This is a film about close-ups, about intimacy. Hood shoots everything tight on the eyes, and what incredible eyes he has to work with. Presley Chweneyagae (whose name never gets any easier to type) is a marvelous actor, expressive and true even when silent and standing still. There’s so much boiling just beneath his surface in this film. It’s remarkable work. And Terry Pheto, as Miriam, is earthy and beautiful and real. Hood paints in iconography, and the results are haunting. This is a personal redemption story, but there is something universal in the almost primal way Hood paints this particular soul’s struggle from darkness into light, and the disc offers a real insight into this writer/director’s process. He contributes a commentary track, and one of his short films is included so you can see the development of his style. I think this guy is one of the major new voices, and whatever he does next... it would probably serve us well to start paying attention now. It will no doubt be worth the watch.
THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCO COUNTY JR: THE COMPLETE SERIES
JACK OF ALL TRADES: THE COMPLETE SERIES
Bruce Campbell fans, we are legion.
Because of the move, I’m just now getting around to revisiting this Bruce Campbell cult classic. As I remember it, the show started as a nearly-normal western about Brisco (Campbell), who became a bounty hunter as a way of avenging his murdered father (R. Lee Ermey), determined to hunt down every member of the gang responsible for his death.
Over the course of the 27 episodes the series was on the air, it got progressively stranger and introduced SF elements and frequently swung into blatantly absurd comic territory. That was the charm of it, the fact that the show bent genre so playfully. Jeffrey Boam was one of the big names of the ‘80s in terms of screenwriting, but the show’s co-creator was Carlton Cuse, who now makes up one-third of the primary brain trust behind LOST, my current favoritest thing on TV. This Warner Bros. eight-disc set is fairly steep, listing at about $100 for the entire thing, but considering how long fans have been asking for this, I doubt that will be an issue.
JACK OF ALL TRADES was executive produced by Sam Raimi, a la HERCULES and XENA, and it’s a sort of a riff on THE SCARLET PIMPERNAL or ZORRO, about a guy (Campbell, of course) at the end of the American Revolution who is working primarily to thwart the attempts of Napoleon Bonaparte to get a foothold in the New World. Yep... it’s week after week of Bruce Campbell beating up the French. That’s a concept anyone should be able to get behind. As I remember it, this was a big silly show, and between 22 episodes of this and 27 episodes of BRISCO, that’s a lot of Bruce to digest all at once for fans.
AMAZING STORIES: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON
CARNIVALE: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON
Here are two box sets for fans of the fantastic on television. One has been long requested by collectors, and the other is the source of enormous frustration for fans who felt like they were left hanging. In both cases, though, what you’ll see is TV that truly embraces the fantastic, sometimes to spectacular result.
I remember when this went on the air. People seemed more interested in the idea that NBC committed to putting this on for two full seasons, 44 full episodes, without ever seeing a pilot.
And why not? The idea of a TWILIGHT ZONE-style series from producer Steven Spielberg seemed like a home run. Once it went on the air, it was pretty much what you can expect from any anthology show... some great episodes and some weak episodes, with the majority falling somewhere in the middle. “Ghost Train,” the pilot that was directed by Spielberg, sums up the show’s strengths and weaknesses pretty well. It’s a painfully slight story, but it’s so handsomely produced and good-looking for TV that it seems better than it is. I’m a big fan of several of the episodes in this first season, because when the show worked, it really worked. I think I also owe this show a huge debt, since this was Mick Garris’s first job in anthology television, working as story editor for the show’s full run. You had guys like Brad Bird, Matthew Robbins, Martin Scorsese, Joshua Brand and John Falsey, William Dear, Peter Hyams, Bob Balaban, Phil Joanou, Clint Eastwood, Joe Dante, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, and many more all working as writers and directors on the series. Not many shows can boast of better pedigrees, and when you add in names like Rick Carter, John Williams, Allen Daviau, and more working on the show, it’s little wonder it holds up as well as it does.
I tried to get into the first season of CARNIVALE. I really did. I normally give almost any HBO show at least a season to either win me over or turn me off, but for some reason, CARNIVALE didn’t work for me from the very start. It just seemed to be a struggle for me each week. I loved the atmosphere and the environment, but the characters never stopped being ciphers to me. When HBO sent me the second season of this show, I almost didn’t watch it. But I’d heard so many fans talk about how much better the second season was, and how it didn’t deserve to be cancelled. I ended up trying again, and sure enough... the second season’s better. In fact, I wish this had been the first season. This plays like a Depression-era version of THE STAND, and the show seems to telegraph its eventual destination a little early, but all in all, this is one of the strangest seasons of any show that HBO has ever produced, and it’s worth a look.
One of the more enjoyable surprises from last year was ROLL BOUNCE. Not a “great” film, but a fun one. This film sounds like it’s a sort of companion piece, the same idea as ROLL BOUNCE, but approached from a different perspective. Antwone Fisher (as in Denzel’s ANTWONE FISHER STORY) got the story credit on this one, the story of four friends at the end of high school trying to figure out what they’re going to do with their lives, played out against the backdrop of their local rollerskating rink. The film got some nice reviews, too, so I’m definitely going to watch it, wondering if this is the BIG to ROLL BOUNCE’s VICE VERSA, or if there’s really room for two nostalgic films about rollerskating.
It seems like I’ve been crushing on Maggie Cheung forever now. She was adorable and funny and fearless in her early work with Jackie Chan, like the first couple of POLICE STORY movies and PROJECT A PART 2, and in fantasy films like THE HEROIC TRIO or the DRAGON INN remake. She’s worked with Wong Kar Wai for his entire career, and he helped redefine her to audiences in films like DAYS OF BEING WILD and ASHES OF FIRE. For my money, though, maybe her best performance was in IRMA VEP, a film directed by Olivier Assayas. He’s the director of CLEAN, which Maggie Cheung stars in, and just knowing that they reunited for this film is enough to put it at the top of the stack of stuff I’m playing as soon as I get settled into the new house. Maggie plays an addict whose boyfriend dies of an overdose, leading to a jail sentence for her. When she gets out and tries to put her life back together, the film documents the struggle. Cheung won a Best Actress award at Cannes for this one, which sounds good to me.
WARNER’S FILM NOIR CLASSIC COLLECTION, VOL. 3
WARNER BROS. TOUGH GUYS COLLECTION
Nobody does this sort of collection better than Warner Bros. Anyone who’s been buying these Warner collections has probably got a pretty remarkable assortment of classic Hollywood movies at their fingertips now. This week, you can add eleven films to your collection with these boxes, and I’m personally thrilled by both.
This film noir box is seriously well-programmed. You got Nicholas Ray’s ON DANGEROUS GROUND, with a great Robert Ryan performance as he tracks a killer while dealing with his own growing darkness. Anthony Mann’s BORDER INCIDENT is fascinating to watch now in light of our own current dialogue about immigration. HIS KIND OF WOMAN features Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell together, with enough attitude to power a small city. LADY IN THE LAKE is a Philip Marlowe movie directed by Robert Montgomery. It’s a gimmick film, too, all told in POV. Finally, there’s a lesser effort called THE RACKET, but with Mitchum and Ryan in it, it ties the set together really well.
The films collected here are the precursors to the noir pictures, the gritty urban dramas of the ‘30s. It’s a different era of movie star. There are three James Cagney films, two Bogart films, two Edward G. Robinson films, and even an appearance by George Raft. EACH DAWN I DIE and “G” MEN are both directed by the great William Keighley, and they both star Cagney. BULLETS OR BALLOTS co-stars Edward G. Robinson and Bogart in a drama about an honest cop who is unfairly fired, leading him to take a job with the criminal he spent his career chasing. SAN QUENTIN isn’t one of Bogart’s best films, but it’s got a pretty good Pat O’Brien performance in it. A SLIGHT CASE OF MURDER is actually a comedy, with Robinson playing a bootlegger who is making plans for what to do after Prohibition. Based on a Damon Runyon play, this one’s lesser-known but worth the effort to see. And finally CITY FOR CONQUEST is a big sprawling urban drama with Cagney, Arthur Kennedy, Anthony Quinn, and even Elia Kazan as an actor.
Both boxes are, of course, overstuffed with newsreels and cartoons and extra features, and Warner can rest assured that they continue to present the best film library in Hollywood with all the class we’ve come to expect.
Oh, so THAT’S where this Justin Timberlake/Morgan Freeman movie went. And look! It picked up an extra word on its way to direct-to-video release. When it bombed at the Toronto Film Festival, it was still just EDISON. Now you can judge for yourself if the film’s a pale shadow of SE7EN or if it’s a good cop thriller that got unjustly overlooked.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON
THE NEW ADVENTURES OF FLASH GORDON
ULTRAMAN: SERIES ONE, VOL. 1
Three heroes find their adventures collected on DVD this week, and nostalgia’s going to play a big part for anyone picking these up.
I watched THE INCREDIBLE HULK religiously as a kid, and even the things that make it a giant slice of cheese when you look back at it now, like Lou Ferrigno’s green bedroom slippers or the hamhanded pathos of that recurrent piano theme song as Bruce once more has to move on. Bill Bixby gave good angst every week, and the producers of the show followed a rigid formula that gave the eight-year-old Moriarty just enough Hulk each week to keep me coming back for more. This is the full first season, and I don’t think I’ve seen a single episode since they originally aired. Reason enough to check it out now.
Here’s another show that I watched a whole lot of as a kid... at least, as much as I was able to. This show seemed like it came and went real fast, and I always hated that when I was little. I didn’t want to invest in a show only to have it disappear a week later. This is a lot less campy than the Sam Jones/Max Von Sydow version of FLASH, but it looks like it drew some of its visual inspiration from that film, especially with characters like the Brian Blessed Zartan and Von Sydow’s Ming. It’s a decent pulpy SF show, and the thing I like a lot about it, looking at the episodes now, is the way it races from world to world, introducing all the various races and species of Mongo. It’s got a fun sense of invention, and it’s one of the most successful film versions of Flash overall.
This box covers the full run of the series, all twenty-four episodes from two seasons.
Finally, there’s ULTRAMAN. This has been a controversial release in some circles of fandom because of alleged rights issues and arguments about the quality of the transfer. For me, the chance to see ULTRAMAN again after all these years is worth whatever annoyance there is about subtitling or occasionally print quality problems. I remember watching this show before and after school every day when I was in first and second grade, and looking back at it now, I’m starting to understand just why I’m warped the way I am now. As much as the GODZILLA movies, this is where my love of kaiju came from. Watching Ultraman kick the shit ouf of giant monsters every day is one of the things that primed me to cheer every time Harry starts the chant of “MAN IN SUIT! MAN IN SUIT!” I’m sure people who are more familiar with the materials than I am will show up in talkback to debate the merits and quality of this particular edition, but I’ve been having fun watching these episodes, especially since they make my baby cheer every time he sees a giant monster show up onscreen. If ULTRAMAN becomes a gateway drug to kaiju for a new generation, then it’s more than served its purpose.
MEET THE FEEBLES
THE PEE-WEE HERMAN SHOW
REN & STIMPY: THE LOST CARTOONS
There’s some weird part of me that adores the result when someone decides to take the basic elements of children’s programming and pervert them for comic effect. Here are three of the most successful examples, but three very distinct comic voices.
I’m willing to bet there are a lot of fans of LORD OF THE RINGS who have never seen Peter Jacksson’s earlier cult films, and of all of them, this is the one I’d love to show to the average RINGS fan without warning. Basically, this is Jackson’s take on what happened backstage at The Muppet Show, a hyperfilthy movie that takes all the worst shit you’ve ever heard about actors and singers and performers of all stripes and gives all their worst behavior to a bunch of puppets. I’m reluctant to ruin even one joke for you, because this is one of those films that you really can’t believe, even as you’re watching it. I haven’t seen the new transfer, but I’m hoping it’s better than the original DVD release.
Don’t confuse this with PEE-WEE’S PLAYHOUSE, the brilliant children’s show that is now playing in reruns on Adult Swim, and which is also available on DVD. This is the original PEE-WEE HERMAN SHOW, developed by Paul Rubens as part of The Groundlings. This is hilarious, a subtle adult riff on children’s show conventions, and I still remember seeing it on HBO, completely unaware of what it was. This is more akin to the work that Paul did in the early Cheech and Chong films than it is to his much-more-famous Saturday morning program, so be warned.
John Kricfalusi got a raw deal. No two ways about it. He created a huge buzz hit for MTV and Nickelodeon at a time when they desperately needed one. He ushered in a style and a general sense of humor that you could argue spawned most of what we see on Adult Swim these days. And for all of his efforts, he’s been marginalized and finds himself without a regularly scheduled series and without a regular outlet for his creative efforts. This disc, the last in the recent wave of REN & STIMPY releases, is made up of cartoons that simply could not have been shown on basic cable. And, yes, I know how much SOUTH PARK gets away with. I think Matt and Trey have a very special relationship with Comedy Central, and no one else is able to do what they do. It’s a shame, too, because if REN & STIMPY had been allowed to be this insane whenever they wanted to, it would have been even better. There’s a cartoon here called “Stimpy Gets Pregnant” that manages to perfectly lampoon the entire emotional roller coaster of pregnancy while also containing the single most disgusting image I’ve seen this year on any size screen. It’s fun stuff, and it’s packed with extra features, and if you’re a fan of John K’s work, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.
ROAD HOUSE 2
If you have to have the retarded redneck pleasures of ROAD HOUSE explained to you, I pity you. You’ll never really enjoy the saga of Dalton, bouncer supreme for the Double Deuce. You’ll never be worthy of the wisdom of Wade, Yoda to Dalton’s Luke, and you’ll never appreciate the delicate interplay between Sam Elliott and Patrick Swayze. You’ve likely never savored the unbridled shittiness of Ben Gazzara as Wesley. Like I said, I pity you. But for those of us who are in on the joke, ROAD HOUSE is back in special edition form, and I’m sure it’ll be added to many DVD collections finally as a result, mine included. I must admit, I'm also curious about the Kevin Smith/Scott Mosier commentary.
The second film, though, hardly seems to be worth the effort. Sony’s been cranking out sequels to pretty much any mid-level live-action semi-moneymaker, all of them going direct to DVD. Johnathon Schaech starred in 8MM 2, and now he’s actually the writer and star of ROAD HOUSE 2. Schaech’s had a weird and disappointing career as a movie star despite matinee idol looks, but he appears to have caught a second wind as a writer. He’s attached to adapt novels like BLACK HOUSE and FROM A BUICK 8 and THE HOUR BEFORE DARK, and he just wrote an episode of MASTERS OF HORROR called “The Washingtonians” that sounds like the craziest fucking thing, a story about a guy who uncovers the truth about George Washington being a cannibal with a taste for children. Even knowing that there’s little chance this film will be anything but “teh suck,” I’m tempted to do a double-feature one night just for the potential laughs.
As I settle into my new office, I’ve managed to pack the closet with discs, so it doesn’t look as cluttered in my office as I was afraid it might. Still, I’m not sure exactly how I’m going to find anything, and I’m still organizing the various shelves and sections, trying to make it as user friendly for my family as I can.
I’m going to try to get this column back on schedule this coming week, and also to start reviewing again. I’ve gotten a lot of great letters from you guys lamenting the end of my DVD blog, and I don’t want to leave you hanging. I’m going to be upgrading my home system to include HD, meaning I’ll be expanding the coverage. But for now, let’s just focus on getting through this week, starting with...
THIS WEEK’S FEATURED TITLE (7/25)
THE PRISONER: THE COMPLETE MEGASET 40th ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION
There’s not enough space in this column today to pay proper tribute to Patrick McGoohan’s brilliant, mind-bending TV series, so I’ll have to dedicate an entire review to this one in the next week or so. It’ll give me a chance to fully vent my love of this remarkable riff on the ‘60s spy thriller genre. Basically, McGoohan had just finished his run on SECRET AGENT, a damn fine conventional spy show, and something about the repetition and the rigid formula must have made him snap. The result is a show that strips everything down to basics, painting in archetype, hiding puzzles inside of puzzles. A man (McGoohan) resigns from the British secret service, and when he goes back to his apartment to get ready to leave the country, he’s gassed and abducted. When he wakes up, he’s been taken to an island, to a place simply called The Village. No one has a name there. Instead, they’ve been given numbers, and our hero finds himself redubbed as Number Six. Over the course of the seventeen episodes that make up the full run of the show, he works to figure out how to escape The Village, as well as who is running it. Those relatively mundane questions allow McGoohan to explore some truly surreal situations, and the show builds to an apocalyptic two-part finale that will either make you a fan for life or irritate you so badly that you never get over it. A&E has repackaged their early PRISONER megaset in new slimpacks so it’s relatively easy to store now, and they’ve added a 60 page collector’s booklet with episode summaries, behind-the-scenes trivia, and more. If you don’t already have the show, here’s your opportunity to see why this continues to be the standard that I hold all other TV shows against.
2005 ACADEMY AWARD SHORT FILMS COLLECTION
SMALL GAUGE TRAUMA: FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL
I’d like to personally thank whoever made the push to get these two discs out. I love the notion of collecting short films on DVD, and these two collections satisfy two very distinct niches.
Magnolia Pictures was smart to finally do what I’ve been begging some smart distributor to do for at least a decade now. They put together many of this year’s nominees and winners in the short film categories (live action and animation) and put them together in this DVD package. You’ve got over two hours worth of material altogether here, and there are some lovely highlights. “The Moon And The Son: An Imagined Conversation” is devastating, a powerful piece of emotional storytelling with simple animation and complex character work. “Cashback” is like a really dirty WALTER MITTY riff, and it’s entertaining, stylish. It’s being expanded to feature length, so if you want to see a preview of what to expect, the short is a great chance. “Six Shooter” is an accomplished film that establishes Martin McDonagh as a real talent, a voice worth paying attention to. Brendan Gleeson is often very good in the features he appears in, but his work here is rich and nuanced and impressive. I love the ambition of “Mysterious Geographic Explorations Of Jasper Morello,” as well. I guess I understand why “9” and Pixar’s “One Man Band” weren’t included on the disc, but it’s still disappointing. Even so, this is worth at least a rental.
On the other hand, if you’re a fan of fantastic cinema of all stripes, like horror, SF, or fantasy, then just go ahead and buy this new Synapse Films release sight unseen. Do it. You’ll thank me later.
One of the best parts of going to the FanTasia Film Festival every summer for the years I was going (real life has interfered the last few years to my mounting frustration) was the Small Gauge Trauma programming. This is where the festival shows short films from around the world, and many of the best moments of each fest came from discovering these remarkable talents in such an unfiltered way. Corporate horror is so frequently disappointing because it has to satisfy some basic commercial formulas. It has to look like something the execs have seen before, or they can’t define it. With these short films, you’re seeing totally personal visions, and the results are strong across the board. There are 13 films here, some animated, most live-action, and there are blends of the two as well. I love “Chambre Jaune,” which makes my giallo-lovin’ heart glad. “Gorgonas” is a remarkable animated film, and it’s more than just spectacle. There’s a really smart writer at work in this one. “I’ll See You In My Dreams” does one of the hardest things to do... it actually brings something fresh to the zombie sub-genre. “Love From Mother Only,” which I actually saw on tape after my last FanTasia, is a strong possession tale with an excellent sense of style. There’s lots more to enjoy here as well, including some great extra features. These filmmakers probably never imagined they’d get their films released like this, complete with audio commentaries and other extra features. The disk looks and sounds great (no surprise, since it’s Don May’s Synapse), and it’s one you should definitely track down.
ANIMANIACS VOL. 1
PINKY & THE BRAIN VOL. 1
I wasn’t the right audience for these Warner Bros. cartoons when they went on the air... I think I wsa about 22 or 23 at the time... but I can respect the fact that they were huge with the audience they were intended for, and I admire their attitude towards the classic cartons that Warner Bros. was built on.
ANIMANIACS details the comic adventures of Wakko, Yakko, and Dot, along with a pretty large supporting cat of characters like Slappy Squirrel, Mindy and Buttons, and Chicken Boo. It’s formatted so they can pack as many different gags and bits and characters into a half-hour as possible, a big part of the show’s appeal. It also made it easy for different units of animators to work on different things, and the result is a show that was uneven but always enthusiastic.
PINKY & THE BRAIN was actually spun off from ANIMANIACS. Pinky and the Brain are lab mice living at the Acme Labs, and every night, they hatch a plan to rule the world. That’s pretty much it. Lots and lots of pop culture parody is the rule of the day, and Maurice LaMarche’s voice work as The Brain manages to go past just being a goof on Orson Welles.
ASK THE DUST
John Fante’s Depression-era look at the sruggling underbelly of Hollywood is, at best, a cult item. Robert Towne obviously felt some strong personal connection to this portrait of a writer working to find his voice, the thing that will make him unique in a town full of people with the exact same ambitions. The story obviously still has some resonance, and always will as long as Hollywood retains its hold on the public’s imagination as the place where dreams come true. By emphasizing the immigrant experience, Fante’s story turns Hollywood into a metaphor for America at large. Salma Hayek and Colin Farrell bare themselves completely in the film, both physically and emotionally, and it’s some of the best work either one of them has ever done. The film’s a modest affair, a romantic tragedy more than anything else, but the way South Africa doubles for Hollywood is pretty astonishing, and Towne obviously understands the romantic pull of Hollywood then and now.
THE BEAST MUST DIE
AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS
What a fun day for horror fans. Thanks to Dark Sky Films, we’ve got this triple-feature of Amicus titles that are all worth picking up for genre freaks. When most people think of British horror, they think of Hammer, but Amicus was just as big a force, and it’s a kick to see some of their titles given this sort of treatment on DVD finally.
Amicus loooooooved to make anthology films. This one’s got a really natural hook courtesy of screenwriter Robert Bloch, as a psychiatrist making his rounds listens to four different stories from four different patients. Of the four stories, I think the third and fourth are the best, but Roy Ward Baker does a nice job with all of it. Peter Cushing, Charlotte Rampling and Patrick Magee are just a few of the familiar faces in the fim.
THE BEAST MUST DIE is a hoot, a film with a great exploitation premise, a really ridiculous gimmick, and an excellent cast. Peter Cushing’s in this one as well, but he’s not the star. Instead, Calvin Lockhart stars as a SHAFT-like private investigator who also happens to be a big-game hunter. He’s hunted pretty much everything, so now he wants his shot at the most dangerous ga... er, werewolves. Yes, he wants to hunt a werewolf. And since you can’t just order one out of a catalog, he uses his bad mutha detective skills to track down six people who might be a werewolf and invites them all to his private island. You’ve got some really great actors here like Michael Gambon and Charles Gray, and the movie ends up as a mash-up of Agatha Christie, THE WOLF MAN, and the aforementioned Merian Cooper film. The most ludicrous moment of the whole thing was actually the main hook in the trailers. Since you’re supposed to try and solve the mystery of who really is the werewolf, there comes a point near the end of the film where there is a “werewolf break,” a four-minute pause during which you are supposed to shout out your answer. I can only imagine how much fun this must have been in a grindhouse in Times Square when the film first came out.
Also directed by Roy Ward Baker, this is about newlyweds who inherit an old family estate on his side. When they move in on their wedding night, though, the wife is raped by a ghost, an d then begins to see visions of past violence. The husband is convinced she’s going insane, but there’s more to it than that. This is a really well-made film by Baker, even if the disembodied hand that plays a major role is on the silly side of things. It’s a classy entry from the studio, and a real gem for fans of gothic horror.
AWESOME I FUCKIN’ SHOT THAT
This film is a DVD-designer’s dream, and it looks to me (I haven’t seen the disc yet and wasn’t sent a copy for review) like they’ve taken full advantage of the potential. By now, you’ve probably read about how the film was put together. The Beastie Boys handed out a hundred video cameras at their Madison Square Garden show, and then they cut together the best moments recorded on all those cameras. The result is a film that really does manage to capture the full experience of going to a concert, and it makes the fans as much a part of things as the band. It’s a great set if you’re a Beasties fan, and on DVD, it seems like the film allows you to watch things from alternate angles and to watch more than one POV at once. There’s also an option that allows you to listen to the audio of MCA, Adrock and Mike D’s microphones only. There’s a commentary by the band, a short film starring David Cross, and more. This is a definite must-have for me, and if you’re even remotely a fan of the band, I suspect you’ll love it, too.
BLACKBALLED: THE BOBBY DUKES STORY
Sports comedies are never going to go away. They’re cheap, they’re easy to make, and it seems like people love to take the conventions of the genre and keep applying them to different obscure sports. These are just two of the many recent examples.
I’m not operating under any illusions that this film is going to be good. I didn’t see it this spring, but the reason I’m still curious is because I want to see the next step in the inevitable flame-out of the career of Jon Heder. His brief and interesting turn in MONSTER HOUSE aside, this guy baffles me. I think Napoleon Dynamite isn’t going to be the character that defines him because his performance was particularly amazing, but rather because he’s got nothing else going on. He can’t do anything else. Him co-starring with Rob Schneider and David Spade promises to be a low-grade comedy apocalypse. How can I not at least take a peek out of morbid curiosity?
I interviewed Rob Corddry about this film earlier in the year, and the film itself is a low-key charmer that deals with a return to glory for the disgraced Bobby Dukes, a former champion that left the sport of paintball after a controversial match in which he was accused of “wiping.” Rob Riggle also does really great work in this one, and the entire film has a loose, improvisational feel that works in its favor. It hardly reinvents the wheel, but it’s an independent comedy, so it’s up to you to seek it out since it won’t be spoonfed to you. Even better, the disc is packed with extras, including a cast commentary. Considering how long Paul Scheer, Rob Riggle, and Rob Corddry have known each other and worked together, I’ll bet it’s pretty engaging, much like the film itself.
THE BOONDOCKS: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON
CHAPELLE’S SHOW: THE LOST EPISODES
Black comedians and writers frequently use race as a way to talk about any number of subjects, the prism through which they naturally view events. This week, two of the more prominent voices in black comedy culture weigh in with DVD releases.
Aaron McGruder’s comic strip is occasionally funny and occasionally pedantic and, not surprisingly, so is the animated show based on his comic strip. Regina King provides the voices for both Huey and Riley, brothers who give McGruder a way to comment on all sorts of things. Both of them are crazy about black culture, and McGruder celebrates it just as much as he criticizes it. My favorite part of the show is the voice of John Witherspoon as Granddad, but then again, Witherspoon is normally my favorite thing about any project he’s part of. The DVD comes with all 15 episodes from the first season as well as a sampling of extras including in-character commentaries by “Uncle Ruckus,” one of the most outrageous characters on the show.
The most impressive thing about this final collection of CHAPELLE’S SHOW episodes is how clearly it answers the question of what went wrong. Chapelle doesn’t seem to be able to separate what happened behind the scenes with what ended up onscreen, and the result is a collection of three episodes that deal directly with the impact of that $50 million contract on the show, Chapelle’s comedy, and his life in general. Some of what’s here is very, very funny, but some of it falls flat, like the pressure crippled him to some extent. This is not a high watermark for the show, but I think it proves that Chapelle, even in his weakest moments, had plenty to say and knew just how to say it.
A CANTERBURY TALE (Criterion)
I love the filmography of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Together, they created a particular mood, a visual signature that they brought to both their fantastic films like A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH or their more realistic films. It would be one thing to try a diret adaptation of Chaucer’s CANTERBURY TALES, but it would be difficult and long and probably would fail to capture the spirit of the book in any way. Instead, Powell and Pressburger have created a story that works as a love letter to Powell’s birthplace but that also updates Chaucer’s ideas to WWII-era England. This is an affectionate, eccentric film, packed with great characters and beautifully crafted. Criterion’s also filled the disc with extras that genuinely enhance your appreciation of the effort involved. It’s a lesser-known title for most viewers, but it’s absolutely worthwhile.
FINAL DESTINATION 3
A trio of very different types of horror films make their debut this week.
Slick and occasionally scary, this is the story of a professional cellist who survives a car crash, walking away from her career in the aftermath. She starts teaching, convinced that a quiet lifestyle will protect her from any further horror. Obviously she doesn’t realize she’s in an Asian horror film despite the presence of a creepy mute girl, a tip-off if I’ve ever seen one. Sure enough, all sorts of crazy things start happening, and after a long slow fuse of a first hour, this film actually gets pretty aggressive and effective. I love the Tartan Asian Extreme line of DVDs. They’ve been aggressive as hell about picking up titles from Korea, Thailand, China, and Japan, and the collector ends up winning.
I am not a Brett Leonard fan. I think he’s made some dreadful films. However, I’ve met him briefly. I’ve spoken to him. He strikes me as a really smart, really personable guy who sounds like he really, really wants to make good films. And having met him, I’ll admit it... I root for him to put it together. After hearing him talk about what he intended, I wanted MAN-THING to turn out to be this groovy little horror film that Marvel just didn’t sell right. It wasn’t, but I hoped. And now, I have heard many good things about his new one, this horror film set against a sub-culture of the internet that fetishizes freakishly obese women. A series of elaborately staged murders drags an investigator into a world of “feeders” and “gainers.” I must admit... I am so intrigued by the set-up that I once again find myself rooting for the film to be as good as I’ve heard. It looks like there’s a fair amount of extra material on the disc, too, but I’m totally unfamiliar with the releasing company, which appears to be Danger After Dark Films. No idea how their discs are, quality-wise, or if they’re worth purchase.
New Line, of course, has always been one of the most pro-active companies in terms of packaging and mastering of DVDs. They’ve always tried to incorporate special features in their discs, and their work on the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy was pretty damn great across the board. With the release of FINAL DESTINATION 3, they’ve incorporated a gimmicky sort of special feature, a riff on the capabilities of branching technology, that allows you to pick different options for the characters onscreen at certain places in the movie. I saw the film and enjoyed it in a sort of low-key junk food way earlier this year, so I was curious to see how different you could make the film.
Not very, as it turns out. It’s mainly little things. I did save one guy’s life so he lived in “my” version of the film, and another guy died in a totally different way. But several of the choices I was asked to make didn’t do anything to the overall film or to any of the death scenes. I’m more interested to see what Judd Apatow ends up doing with this idea on the DVD for next year’s KNOCKED UP, where we’ll be able to watch the film with all the various improvs dropped in randomly, changing the scenes each time you watch the film.
THE FASSBINDER COLLECTION II
Hey, aspiring filmmakers! If you ever want to feel really shitty about yourself, just consider the case of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who left behind over 40 films, many of which are masterworks, even though he died at the age of 37.
Fantoma, in an effort to remind us all how brilliant Fassbinder was and how lazy we all are, has repackaged some earlier releases of two films from the director. This time out, they’ve released MARTHA and IN A YEAR WITH 13 MOONS. MARTHA is a sort of existential horror film about marriage, originally made for German television. IN A YEAR WITH 13 MOONS is a whole different level of crazy, a film about a transsexual counting down the final miserable days of his/her life. Volker Spengler’s performance is one of those things you simply have to see for yourself. However, I’ll warn you... everything that drives some people bugfuck about his filmmaking is turned all the way up in 13 MOONS, and for some people, it will be torture. That’s one of the reasons I find his work so interesting, and one of the reasons I think it’s important for companies like Criterion and Fantoma to keep his work in circulation.
HAMMER FILM NOIR COLLECTOR’S SET (VOL 1, VOL. 2, and VOL. 3)
Y’know, it makes sense that Hammer released more than just horror films. Blindlingly obvious, even. It’s just that their name became so synonymous with horror that it’s sort of crowded everything else in their history as a studio out of the picture. This DVD set works to correct that in some small way by releasing six film noir pictures that they released over the years. All six are new to me, and I find that really exciting. Even the titles thrill me. BAD BLONDE is about a boxer who finds himself seduced into trying to kill his manager by the manager’s hot hot wife. MAN BAIT is all about a girl working in a bookstore who stumbles into a great blackmail opportunity. A STOLEN FACE sounds like a cross between VERTIGO and FACE/OFF as a plastic surgeon makes over a female con on the lam to look like his ex-lover. BLACKOUT deals with an American in London who marries a woman during a bender, only to wake up with blood on his hands, accused of killing her father. Finally, there’s THE GAMBLER AND THE LADY and HEAT WAVE. I’m especially excited to see the Terrence Fisher films that are part of his collection. He was a great director, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen his non-horror stuff before.
HUDSON HAWK: 15th ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION
The past fifteen years haven’t given Sony any insight into how they might better sell HUDSON HAWK. They totally mismanaged the initial release, selling it as an action film a la DIE HARD, and this cover does nothing to fix that mistake. “Danger is his middle name” is your tag line? How about selling the film as what it is? A very strange, very silly cult comedy that takes the piss out of the action movies Willis was starring in at the time. Far closer to MOONLIGHTING than DIE HARD in tone, HUDSON HAWK is frequently referred to as a “guilty pleasure” when people admit to liking it. Fuck that. I just plain like this film. It makes me laugh. Willis looks like he’s having tons of fun here, and Danny Aiello makes a great sidekick for him. Even better, Richard E. Grant’s bad guy is one of the most gloriously nutso villains in film history. I’m curious to see if this is just a new anamorphic transfer, or if they’ve actually put together some worthwhile anniversary extra features.
OPEN LETTER TO THE EVENING NEWS
ROMA CITTA LIBERA
The fine folks over at NoShame Films are back with an Italian cinema double-feature this week of very interesting titles.
First up is this searing black comedy in which a group of young radical Italians send a letter to a major newspaper in which they threaten an act of violence in response to the Vietnam war. When the letter gets printed and the public begins to respond, the young leftists have to decide if they’re going to follow through on the threat, or if it was all just empty words. The disc is packed with extras, and there’s a second disc that features a documentary from director Franco Maselli that looks at the history of Italy in the 20th century. Great stuff.
This is totally different, tone-wise. It’s a sad, melancholy film about a cat burglar who saves the life of a guy about to kill himself. The two of them spend a long night together, eventually picking up a prostitute when they save her from arrest. I was fascinated to see director Vittorio De Sica of THE BICYCLE THIEF fame show up here as an amnesiac, and the film itself is a classic example of Italian neorealism. It’s a damn fine film, and the extras genuinely illuminate the process and this film’s place in Italian cinema history.
RAWHIDE: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON
Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’... keep them box sets rollin’...
On a seemingly endless cattle drive, Rowdy Yates (a very young Clint Eastwood) helps trail bozz Gil Favor (Eric Fleming) face down whatever challenges come their way. And that’s pretty much the whole spine of the show. Like most good Westerns, the story is just a way to explore character and moral situations. What makes RAWHIDE special and still great is the authenticity of it. This was a beautifully researched show, and it was surprisingly hard-edged considering when it was made. Eric Fleming’s a compelling lead, and it’s little wonder Clint Eastwood broke out when you see how good he was here. And without this series, would we have had one of the best scenes in THE BLUE BROTHERS? I. Think. Not.
Oh, man, I’m smitten. Smited. Smote. Whatever.
There are three stars in this film. The most obvious of the three is Abbie Cornish, the 24-year-old who plays Heidi, the main character in the movie. She’s a remarkable young performer, with a way of telegraphing every thought and feeling with the smallest of gestures. Heidi’s sixteen, and she’s just taking the new pussy out for a test drive. She’s one of those girls... aware of her newly-developed sexual allure but also deeply insecure about it. She wants to know that she is wanted. She wants someone to take care of her, to treat her well, and the only way she knows to reach out is through sex. She makes the mistake of putting a move on her mother’s boyfriend, and she’s thrown out of her house as a result. She drifts a bit, finally ending up in a small town where she meets Joe (Sam Worthington), a young man struggling with sexual issues of his own. Cornish is in every scene in the movie, and she does such good work that it’s easy to forget you’re watching a performance. She simply is Heidi, fucked up and fascinating. I’ve read several comparisons between Cornish and Nicole Kidman, but I think she’s also got a real strong Mary Louise Parker thing going on, like in this shot:
Physical comparisons aside, she’s an original presence, and I hope this is just the beginning of bigger things for her. I also hope this film serves the other two stars equally well, writer/director Cate Shortland and cinematographer Robert Humphreys. Their work is sensational, small-scale but devastating. Shortland’s got a natural sense of storytelling and a remarkable way with character, and Humphreys has given the film a rich, lush color palette. SOMERSAULT won several Australian Film Institute awards when it came out in 2004, but it’s taken until now for it to get an American release. It was worth the wait, and I highly recommend you take a chance with it.
TALES FROM THE CRYPT: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON
By now, you’ve probably decided whether or not TALES FROM THE CRYPT is for you. This horror anthology show that ran on HBO, inspired by the E.C. comics of the ‘50s, is filled with cornball humor, over-the-top gore, and some truly godawful puns courtesy of the show’s host, The Crypt Keeper. This season features episodes directed by Tom Hanks, William Friedkin, Stephen Hopkins, Peter Medak, Richard Donner, Tom Holand, John Frankenheimer, Joel Silver, and more, and guest appearances by Hanks, Meat Loaf, Christopher Reeve, David Warner, David Morse, Brad Pitt, Joe Pesci, Timothy Dalton, Kevin McCarthy and many more. It’s not the best season of the show, but as with every season, there are both good and bad episodes, and for fans, it’s a no-brainer that this belongs in your collection. It’s certainly got a place in mine.
So that’s all the catching up. Now we’re finally up to this coming week of releases which is, thankfully, the easiest of the three. As of Tuesday, everything in this article should be in stores, so I know when I make my first trip to Amoeba in a month, I’ll be going a little crazy catching up with all the things I’ve missed.
As with every other week, we’ll start this one with...
THIS WEEK’S FEATURED TITLE (8/1)
Most film fans today only know Robert Downey because of his son, but Downey was a fascinating underground filmmaker whose best film, PUTNEY SWOPE, has been out of print for much too long. Now, finally, one of the best eviscerations of America’s chemical dependence on advertising is available again, and I strongly urge you to check it out. Downey actually worked on Madison Avenue back in the early ‘60s, and this film erupted from all the darkest thoughts he had while he was selling his soul one tiny piece at a time. In the film, Putney Swope is a black man working for an ad agency who gets accidentally promoted to president of the agency.
The fun starts when he turns everything upside down, renaming it the “Truth and Soul” agency. They make some insane ads that dare to present the reality of America instead of the fantasy, and at first, it seems to be working. The system grinds him down, though, and in the end, the laughs that the film earns become bitter ones. This film will definitely offend some people, but if you’re interested in smart, adult comedy, this is a lesser-known gem that is easily the most interesting release of the week.
ALICE IN WONDERLAND
Made for TV in 1985, this isn’t the most faithful adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s book, but it manages to be playful and frequently very funny, and considering what was obviously a TV budget, it’s actually pretty inventive in terms of staging and visual style. It’s one of those films where they’ve packed so many stars into small parts that it becomes a who’s who-style game. The first two hours loosely adapt ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, while the second two hours adapt THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS. It’s especially great for families, and as long as you can make it through Steve Allen’s fairly awful songs, this is worth at least a rental.
BEAVIS & BUTT-HEAD: THE MIKE JUDGE COLLECTION, VOL. 3
Hats off to Paramount for the way they’ve handled the BEAVIS & BUTT-HEAD release. Once they finally committed to doing it, they did all three of these boxes fairly quickly, and they packed every one of the sets with worthwhile extras. These are genuinely great collections of all of the cartoons that Mike Judge feels best represent the entire run of B&B. This set also includes “Frog Baseball,” the short that started the whole thing. By now, I’m sure you know whether or not you think the characters are funny.
I do, and I appreciate seeing this much effort behind finally releasing these for fans.
BROKEN SAINTS: THE ANIMATED COMIC EPIC
I remember seeing early episodes of this on Newgrounds.com back in the day. It was one of the pioneers online of flash animation storytelling, and it was really sophisticated, especially compared to everything else on that site. I never kept up with the series, though, and I know that it’s evolved quite a bit as its moved from one medium to another. This DVD collects something like 12 hours of storytelling in what has been described as a “moving comic book” that is creatively spearheaded by writer/director/producer Brooke Burgess. I’m curious to see this whole thing collected, and I’ll admit that at least part of what intrigues me is the sizeable role played by Colin Foo, who played the butler in CIGARETTE BURNS, and who spent some time talking this one up to me. It sounds like a large-scale superhero/SF story as strangers respond to visions of the end of the world and all find themselves drawn to a city where they hope to uncover the truth about the experience they are sharing. At over 700 minutes of storytelling plus a fat fistful of extra features, this looks like a hell of a bargain at thirty-something bucks.
THE COMEBACK: THE COMPLETE ONLY SEASON
CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON
Two HBO comedy shows release full season box sets this week, both trading on the comedy of the uncomfortable, and their different approaches result in very different degrees of quality.
I’m not one of those people who hates FRIENDS on general principle, just because it was successful, but I can’t say I’m a rabid fan of it, either.
As a result, I can’t say I really carried any baggage one way or another to THE COMEBACK, Lisa Kudrow’s project that combined a satire of a reality show and a scathing look at what happens to TV celebrities once fame is finished with them. Valerie Cherish is a well-imagined character, and Kudrow’s background with the Groundlings serves her well as a performer. Unfortunately, there’s a fine line between the sort of extreme discomfort that Ricky Gervais does so well and outright misery, and THE COMEBACK often finds itself on the wrong side of that line. Much of the show strikes me as pathetic and sad, and while you could argue that is the point, it still doesn’t make it compelling to me. If you are a fan, though, you’ll really enjoy this package, since Kudrow does commentaries as herself and also as Valerie, and there are a number of features that further the notion of Valerie as “real.” It’s strange to say, but I admire the effort of this show more than the result.
CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM is an undeniably great show, and after the relatively weak season four, this is an improvement. It’s still marked by some dramatic up and downs, including a fairly major missed opportunity in which Larry ends up at the Playboy Mansion. This feels like a final season, especially considering where the last episode ends, but I know there’s at least one more coming. If this had been the end, it would have been a mild end to what is frequently one of the best half-hour comedies of all time. There are a few special features here, but if you buy it, you’re buying it to own the show.
A FISH CALLED WANDA
Aside from PYTHON and FAWLTY TOWERS, this is the best film work of John Cleese’s whole career. He never really made the jump to movies as a leading man, and it seems doubly mystifying when you see just how effortlessly great he is here.
Just as Steve Martin decided to write himself a career-best role the year before in ROXANNE, Cleese decided to write himself the role that no one else managed to create, and the result is dazzling. What makes WANDA so good is that he was incredibly generous as a screenwriter, making sure to give great roles to Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Michael Palin as well. If you’ve never seen the film, it’s about a barrister who is seduced into helping a bunch of jewel thieves, and it’s basically an excuse for everyone to play completely insane. Kline’s Otto is one of the great characters of the ‘80s, and Curtis and Cleese have some real romantic chemistry. Cleese is never afraid to embarrass himself, and as a result, watching him deflate his own pomposity is exhilarating. I’m curious to see what sort of extra features MGM’s put together for this special edition.
THE MR. MOTO COLLECTION, VOL. 1
I give Fox Home Entertainment real credit for balls. They just released a CHARLIE CHAN collection, and now they’re releasing four of the best of the MR. MOTO films, in which German-born Peter Lorre plays a Chinese detective who’s sort of like a precursor to Indiana Jones, often traveling around the world in search of treasure. THANK YOU, MR. MOTO, THINK FAST, MR. MOTO, THE MYSTERIOUS MR. MOTO and MR. MOTO TAKES A CHANCE are all included here, along with a few featurettes about Lorre, the producers, and the development of the series. These are fun mystery/adventure films, and will certainly satisfy fans of the star.
OLIVIER’S SHAKESPEARE (Criterion)
This is one seriously classy box