With the exception of the holiday week, the home entertainment industry releases over 200 DVDs every week on the average. This means some regrets about the ones you didn’t get to.
This column is to alieve that regret a little. So what we have here are a baker’s dozen of documentaries, drama and overall dementia. Enjoy. .
BUY THE TICKET, TAKE THE RIDE (Starz)
“If you're going to be crazy,” Dr. Hunter S. Thompson once said in an interview, “you have to get paid for it or else you're going to be locked up.”
There is no doubt the public paid for Thompson’s personal freak show. He couldn’t have afforded the all the guns, fast cars, divorce settlement and the nice piece of Colorado real estate he committed suicide on if he hadn’t been paid, and extremely well at that.
Then again, this is the man who once said, “when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” It’s undeniable that these are truly weird times, where, as Thompson pointed out, kids are led to believe rain is poison and sex is death. So after the magnificent first two Fear & Loathing books, he became Dr. Gonzo, influencing a generation like hardly any other. This includes even the comic industry. Go ask Warren Ellis about Transmetropolitan.
Of course, there are those who now seek to profit off of the ashen remains of the great creator of Gonzo journalism. These two documentaries are just the first two of what will probably be many more to come.
Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride does its fair share of covering Thompson’s personal history, but it really focuses more on the two major movies, Terry Gilliam’s Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas and Art Linson’s Where The Buffalo Roams. It might have been sweet to add how Thompson’s first book, Hell’s Angels contributed mightily to the coffers of Roger Corman, but hey, that’s Hollywood for you. It tries hard, but always comes up lacking, even with Johnny Depp reading bits and pieces of various Thompson tomes.
Gonzo is a more comprehensive look at the man, from his days as a juvenile delinquent in Kentucky to Depp financing the cannon that blew Thompson’s ashes to the great beyond in 2005. What is impressive is it does manage to provide some serious insight into the man who would sow the seeds of his own destruction after writing Fear & Loathing On The Campaign Trail. If it suffers from anything, it’s that it probably spends to little time on his later works than into the freak show he would slowly become as the 80s to the present came about. It’s a shame, too, as Thompson still had plenty of things to say in the last three decades of his existence. Still, it’s a noble effort packed with lots of sweet extra content such as readings, deleted scenes and even some mindblowing drawings by Thompson’s longtime companion, Ralph Steadman.
As one might expect, this is not the end of the parade by any means. Another favorite Thompson quote is: “The music industry is a cruel and shallow money-trench. A long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs. There is also a negative side.” One can say the same thing about the film industry. Depp apparently is financing a cinematic adaptation of one of the Doctor’s last works, The Rum Diary. It makes you remember another statement Thompson made, to paraphrase, the last train out of the station will not be filled with nice guys.
and the rest…
COMIC BOOKS UNBOUND (Anchor Bay)
Documentarians aren’t just picking over the corpse of Hunter S. Thompson. With The Dark Knight pulling in nearly $1 billion and Iron Man adding nearly another $600 million (worldwide), they see plenty of fresh meat on the horizon.
That said, Comic Books Unbound says nothing new about Hollywood’s current infatuation with all things comic books. It does give a little more space to the likes of the Dark Horse-based books and such indies as American Splendor as well as some minor commentary about fans finding it all getting a tad “too big.”
All said and done, it still just lines up the usual suspects (Michael Uslan, Stan Lee, etc.) and presents the same facts that have been known for the last five years. Been there, done that.
X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE (Fox) (2 DVDs)
What we have here is a very strange case of the extra content being far superior to the main event.
As X-fans know, I Want To Believe was one of the true disappointments of last year. While it was obvious the chemistry between principles David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and even Mitch Pileggi is still there, they were handed one of the lamest scripts in the history of the series. Nothing about aliens. Nothing about the “greater conspiracy.” Just ex-agents Mulder, Scully and, eventually, Skinner, out to foil some former Russian Dr. Frankensteins from their nefarious deeds. Have to admit, the film is beautifully shot. One wishes they put that much effort in the supporting roles of psychic priest Billy Connolly, as well as actors Xzibit and Amanda Peet, too.
Still, if there is a reason for getting this collection, it’s for the three-part documentary on the making of the film that comes in the extra disk. Creators Frank Spotnitz and Chris Carter go into detail on not only the making of the film, but why it took so long to make the movie, some of the mistakes they did make during production and what they had hoped to achieve. Duchovny and Anderson also are refreshingly candid. As said before, this supplementary disk ends up being a lot more fascinating than the movie it’s based on.
Still, one has to ask if the EC makes it all worthwhile? The simple answer is no. If you’re an X-fanatic, rent it. Otherwise, this is one X-Files case that will hopefully be forgotten.
This art film posits what would happen if a bunch of “independent,” i.e. broke, filmmakers go off in the country to develop a script, and come up with the idea of a stalker film. Then film becomes reality.
Or does it? The sad truth is horror films should be left in the hands of people with clearer visions. About the only thing these cineastes end up doing is hurting their egos and bodies in the most embarrassing ways. Next time guys, dig up Wes Craven’s Scream franchise or even Keenan Ivory Wayan’s A Scary Movie before you do the inevitable sequel.
LOVE & HONOR (FUNimation)
This samurai saga is impressive for not going for the over-the-top bravado the subgenre is notorious for. Instead it takes an intense tight focus on a man living within the bounds of bushido and maintaining his honor in the most distressing of circumstances.
Takuya Yamada plays a samurai who is responsible for tasting any food before it goes to his master. When a bad piece of shellfish robs him of his sight, his character does his best to live with honor, his beautiful wife and regain his self-respect when there are others around him who will use him as an unwitting pawn in their own schemes.. How he goes about it all is strikingly original and engrossing. An acting tour-de-force by Yamada.
MAN ON A WIRE (Magnolia)
It seems the Twin Towers were a magnet to madmen long before a dozen guys from Florida took their turn at them. In 1974, a nut from Europe caused all kinds of outrage and consternation among the populace of the Big Apple by daring to tightrope across between the two main buildings.
This Sundance Award winning documentary (both Jury and Audience) looks at this man called Philippe Petit and the madness that would make him do such a darn crazy thing. If that isn’t enough the extra content includes a look at him doing something similar at the Sydney (Australia) Harbor Bridge and an animated interpretation, too. Just goes to show you what lengths some people will go.
MR. MIKE’S MONDO VIDEO (Shout! Factory)
Back in the days before SNL became the best place in town for political commentary, it truly was a source for cutting edge comedy. And the man who cut the deepest was one Michael O’Donoghue. His impersonations of Michael Douglas (with nine inch needles in his eyes) or Least Loved Bedtime Stories were usually the highlight of any episode that didn’t include a guest appearance by Frank Zappa.
As it happened, producer Lorne Michael thought enough of this ubergeek to try to get him his own show. Loosely adapted after the incredible cult classic Mondo Cane, the former National Lampoon writer took us to the world where cats are given swimming lessons, laser bras are a top government project, Dan Ackroyd tries to prove he’s a mutant and elephants are electrocuted. Guests include SNL vets like Bill Murray, Gilda Radner and that slut Jane Curtin. Others contributing to the madness include Carrie Fisher, Klaus Nomi, Sid Vicious, Margot Kidder and Julius La Rosa.
As one might imagine, the powers that be at NBC didn’t think too much of Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video. Philistines! Fortunately, New Line picked it up, where it earned cult status on the midnight matinee circuit.
So here it is again. Yes, this is the version where Mr. Vicious’ vocals are deleted because it gave Paul Anka’s publishing company a s*** hemorrhage. Unfortunately, O’Donoghue died from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1994. So thank the world this sick puppy is back on the market. Not a moment too soon.
SOLD OUT: A THREEVENING WITH KEVIN SMITH (Genius)
About a century-and-a-half ago, writers earned real money touring around the country doing readings and public meet and greets. In fact, it was the main source of revenue for the likes of Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain and even a young Charles Dickens. One doesn’t know if that motivated Kevin Smith to do such a thing on his 37th birthday, but don’t be surprised if the loot did matter.
Basically, Smith shouldn’t quit his day gig. His movies rarely go over 100 minutes. This thing goes on for five hours. Even though the man has solid material, some of it shows he hasn’t lost his satirical bite in the slightest.
Still, it ends up being three hours of TMI. In other words, that’s why they created film editors, dude. A two-hour highlight real would have been sufficient, thank you very much.
TOO TOUGH TO DIE: A TRIBUTE TO JOHNNY RAMONE (Anchor Bay)
If ever there was a band that deserved a proper documentary tribute, it was The Ramones. After all, these four kids from Queens did more to shake the very foundation of what was called Rock’n Roll than any of the local competition (which included Kiss and the New York Dolls) ever did.
This doc centers around a tribute concert done, as it turned out, two days before guitarist Johnny would die from prostrate cancer. Vocalist Joey and original bass player Dee Dee were already gone. Of the survivors, the first two drummers, Tommy and Marky, as well as second bass player CJ, do come out to testify about the importance of the band and Johnny in particular. Joining them are overall host Rob Zombie, Henry Rollins, X, the Dickies, label owner Seymour Stein, band manager Arturo Vega, Eddie Vedder, Sonic Youth and even Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols. The music is hard and brash, the way it ought to be, and the various artists and friends recollections are surprisingly poignant.
Is there some info missing? Director Marty Stein could have done some more about the band’s mid-period, when they rivaled The Grateful Dead as hardest touring rock band of the world (300 shows a year) and a discography would have been nice. Otherwise, this is still a great doc about a band that was way too young to die, literally, and the guitar player who was their taskmaster.
TV PARTY: The Sublimely Intolerable Show, January 8, 1979
TV PARTY: The Everything For Sale Show, June 13, 1982
The late 70s and early 80s were an interesting time for both music and TV. Cable was just coming into its own, and one of the grounds for many cable networks to mine local markets was to provide “public access” to anyone who could put together some kind of programming. At the same time, the music industry was afloat with the punk/DIY attitude, meaning tons of “independent” record labels breaking out bands ranging from Sonic Youth to Black Flag. Even future megastar acts like REM started on an indy label (their first single was from a company called Hibtone).
Now put the two concurrent steams together, and you wound up with New York City’s TV Party. Hosted by Glenn O’Brien it was kind of modeled after Hugh Hefner’s old Playboy After Dark without the anywhere near the budget or the number of skimpily dressed women. Cutting edge artists would perform in the most informal of manners, and it wasn’t uncommon for broadcasts to go to hell in a handbasket as it aired.
These two disks capture such shenanigans in all their blemished glory. The first, shot in black and white, is highlighted by the late singer Klaus Nomi, and includes interviews with Blondie and Richard Sohl of the Patti Smith Group. It also includes about ten minutes of dead air due to equipment malfunctions. The second disk is near the end of the series run. Even though it was shot in color, one can see O’Brien was plainly on the ropes, apparently even nursing a tooth infection as he did the show.
Still, when you look back, these disks are an incredible document about how things once were. Now the web has filled in a lot of the gap. Still, it just doesn’t feel the same either.
WALT DISNEY TREASURES: ANNETTE (Disney)
Back in the day, the late 1950s/early 1960s to be exact, it was amazing to think about what was considered a sex symbol compared to what’s going down today. Such was exactly the case with the Mickey Mouse Club’s #1 superstar, Annette Funicello.
Back in the days when young starlets were usually too blonde, over-the-top in the figure department and overall mindless, Funicello’s dark complexion and girl-next-door persona made her a hit among the boys. So much so that no less than Disney himself gave her a one-season sitcom inside the MMC. The formula was pretty American pie. Annette was an orphaned “country cousin” being raised in the big city. She had a best pal in Shelley Fabares and a clueless uncle played by veteran actor Richard Deacon. From there, lots of other Mousketeers got work helping and/or hindering her adjustment to urban living.
Have you seen it before? You bet. Probably the best twist on the formula would come from Patty Duke who played identical cousins, one suave and British, the other exuberant and American. Still, this was 1959 and Uncle Walt didn’t feel the need to be so elaborate.
As with any of the Treasures collection, this set comes with some very nice extras. Among them are a sweetly nostalgic recollection from Leonard Maltin and many of Funicello’s associates, two episodes of the Club and some other things that fans of the period will adore. Try these rose-tinted glasses occasionally. It’s a sweet change of pace.
Next Column: The British have done some amazing things over time. Next column we look at all new things Aardman, Python, Who and lots, lots more.