FEATURED DVD: Persepolis (Sony)
In his eye-opening <a href=http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080117/REVIEWS/801170305/1023>review of this film</a>, Roger Ebert brings up one very illuminating point. After Al Qaeda attacked and destroyed the World Trade Center, that night thousands of citizens in Tehran held a candlelight vigil for all the innocent slaughtered. I remember seeing shots of that on one news channel or another, and it certainly gives one a moment to pause before calling Iran an “empire of evil.”
That kind of foresight should come into play when reviewing Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical novel- turned-animated masterpiece, .
Yes, there are moments such as when Satrapi is stopped by the local constabulary for running in such a way that they considered it “provocative.” There is also the time when she’s comes up against an oaf now in charge of her school, and how she easily manipulates this former farm worker. Then again, there are the scenes where she nearly ends up starving to death in Vienna. The point of the film is the real evil of the world isn’t a monolithic government that currently governs the former Persia with the same conviction as the religious fundamentalists over here would, if given the chance, but the sheep-like cowardice and brutality of those under them.
As is now well known, this film was done using very traditional animation techniques. If you don’t believe, check out the extra content section on the making of, and try to find an Apple or similar system in the studio. Yes, there are some, but few and far between by most standards.
Actually, what is truly revolutionary is the actual pen and ink style utilized by Satrapi’s partner, Vincent Paronnaud. He purposely draws all the characters very flat and--dare I say it?—two dimensionally. Still, even when the scene is primarily in black and white, hints of color does seep through. Further, when there are scenes in color, the scheme moves towards primaries. In the color sequences Satrapi’s jacket is a brilliant #1 red while her face is a fairly uniform Crayon-like flesh tone. The result is truly iconic, like staring a Byzantine religious totem. It’s also as impactful.
More important, while the color scheme and general design are flat, the character animation is full-bore three dimensional. Aided and abetted by the likes of such European royalty like Catherine Deneuve and Deneuve’s daughter Chiara Mastroianni on the voice team, the expressiveness of the characters draws you in, magnifying the impact of the story by leaps and bounds.
The extra content included I found nearly as good as the movie itself. For starters, fans will have the option of choosing between the original French addition (with Deneuve) or English dub (which again includes Mastroianni as well as Sean Penn, Gena Rowlands, and Iggy Pop). While there is no straight-up recounting of the Iranian Revolution and its after effects, there are plenty of other details to pore over.
So, while this film lost the Oscar to Brad Bird’s last year, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its value. Its quiet lessons of what it’s like to be in Iran will earn this movie classic status in its own right. A true must-have in any library.
THE ALKAHOLICS/Live From Rehab (MVD)
The Liks are one of the L.A. rap troupes to break after Dr. Dre, Snoop, Eazy-E broke the West Coast scene wide open. They then broke up after three LPs in three years. That’s when the fans realized what a truly great crew they were. Now it’s a dozen years later. Here they are, and as potent as ever.
As this DVD proves, the ‘Liks were/are a tight unit. Their rhymes and beats are on the money, they flow from one rap to the next with the ease of solid pros. They are also a lot of fun in an old school kind of way. No show biz, just straight up delivering. So BET fans can skip this one, not a single ho on the set to distract you from the verse.
Nice to see them back. Hope they stick around for a little longer than the last turn.
BUDDHA OF SUBURBIA (BBC) (2 DVDs)
It seems every decade, someone comes up with that period’s equivalent of Holden Caulfield or Sal Paradise; i.e. a youngster travelling through his decade and experiences are of the times. For the 70s, it could very well be Karim Amir (Naveen Andrews) the central character of this BBC 4-part production and the award-winning book it’s based on by Hanif Kureishi. .
For those only familiar to this series through David Bowie’s exceptional soundtrack, we follow Karim’s life just at the start of Britain’s glam period through its years of social upheaval and on to the verge of Margaret Thatcher becoming Prime Minister. We watch him and his friends go through various relationships, major bits of British history, develop careers, and even die. All the while Karim is the tabula rasa everything is set on while Bowie and director Kevin Loader provide additional commentary and counterpoint in their own ways.
Exceptionally acted and very well researched, I can see this series becoming a solid classic as time goes on. I know, as another person who lived and matured during that period there was so many things I immediately related to that I had absolutely no problem putting it on again and again. By all means search this one out.
HEATHERS/20th Anniversary Edition (2 DVDs)
SEX & DEATH 101 (Anchor Bay)
Life hasn’t been exactly kind to David Waters. The man struck the proverbial nail right on the head in 1988, when he wrote the film . From there he went on to a small handful of films that were, at best, above mediocre (like ) to god awful ().
It isn’t hard to see why with these two releases. The man has his moments of brilliance, but he needs an editor. When it came to , he had it in the form of director Mark Lehman and producer Denise DiNovi. You realize this when you scan the extra content of the dark humor classic.
Let’s be real, the fact is was a film who’s effect is still being felt today. Just call up that humongous retail operation and ask for the geek squad. If the EC is any indicator, Waters created that term among many, many others now used by the post-boomer generation. While it didn’t introduce us to Winona Ryder, Christian Slater and Shannen Doherty, it went a long, long way toward insuring their career longevity. What set them is Waters’ dark humor combined with some of the most brilliant dialog to ever grace a teen flick in the late 1980s. The final scenes, where Winona’s character Victoria shows us a whole new way to light a cigarette is absolutely classic. Most importantly, as the EC shows, Waters had some very different ideas for an ending, and thank god Lehman and DiNovi had the critical sensibilities to change them…three times.
One wishes he had that with Waters’ first film in seven years, . His basic story is sound. Simon Baker is Roderick Blank, a man whose future looks incredibly blessed. Then a list suddenly appears in his email, detailing the name of every woman he’s going to ever have sex with. The last one is the kicker, it’s Winona Ryder, playing a character who the newspapers call Death Nell. There’s a solid reason for the name, too.
The problem is Waters throws in one too many threads into this otherwise pretty solid comedy. Even the inclusion of Patton Oswalt as one of the powers-that-be responsible for Blank’s predicament doesn’t help. The film ends up being widely uneven, grossly funny in an kind of way one moment, shallowly profound the next. Even though Baker and Ryder are solid in their overall broad roles, and Mindy Cohn (best known as the voice of Velma for the ) is exceptionally funny, one wishes someone was a round to rein Waters in.
So, if you don’t have in your library already, you now have absolutely no excuse not to. While shows Waters may not be a one-shot wonder, let’s hope he finds someone to help him. With a little restraint the man has the potential of making another film like the former.
HOWARD GOODALL’S BIG BANG (Kultur) (2 DVDs)
Who exactly is Goodall? I’m not sure. On the other hand, I like how the man takes us on a musical trip through the history of Western classical music much like James Burke did in his respective TV series, .
Goodall’s basic concept is Western classical (note: NOT pop) is differentiated by five key concepts: notation (aka written music), equal temperament, opera, the piano and electronic recording. He does so pleasantly and many times wittily, but can also put you to sleep if you aren’t totally awake. I also found his dissertation on the importance of opera needing. It spent way too little time on Verdi, Wagner and Chinese opera, and didn’t mention Phillip Glass at all. On the other hand, the last segment, on how Edison and company changed music is the stuff of great debate.
Another point, this was a set that screamed for extra content, of which there was none.
So nice start, Mr. Goodall, whoever you are. Now get to work and finish this thing up.
ICONS OF ADVENTURE (Columbia) (2 DVDs)
Here’s a fact many of us fans of drive-in movies forget. The legendary Hammer studio didn’t just produce horror movies. Like Corman and AIP domestically, this famed grindhouse giant of Great Britain used to also pump out adventure and other forms of B-list bonanzas.
This set collects two pirate movies, and , one incredibly wonderful Asian threat films, and a film that fans of Indy Jones will find eye-opening, . All but one stars Christopher Lee, who I guess felt it was great to set aside the cape and fangs every so often. You’ll find a number of other B-list stars, too, my favorite sit being ’s Roger Delgado, the original Master, in both and .
If that isn’t enough, Columbia gives you some serious added value in the form of the first chapter of the rarely seen serial, a non-Three Stooges comedic short called and an extremely rare showing of the Charles M. Mintz animated short featuring Scrappy entitled “The Merry Mutineers.” All the prints are top notch and the sound wonderfully restored.
If anything, if you program this right, you can take this collection and turn it into a personal Saturday matinee, replete with two films, a short of your choice and, naturally, your cartoon. Warm up the pop corn and fill up your sippy cup. If you love this kind of fodder you’re going to have one great time. Let’s see more of these, please!
JUNGLE BOOK 2 Special Edition
SWORD IN THE STONE/45th Anniversary Edition (Disney)
Now here are two lesser releases from the Mouse Factory. Yes, each have their qualities, but…
Released in 1963, was one of the last films that Walt Disney had an actual hand in making. In fact, it was actually directed by one of the legendary Nine Old Men, Wolfgang Reithermann, with Uncle Walt just “supervising.” Hate to say it, but you can feel the apathy, too.
Quite frankly, when you compared this film to some other films of the time, like the original or , the magic just isn’t the same. The jokes are almost as stale as the subject, the real scares that were a Disney signature are pasteurized, even the voice performances aren’t up to snuff. While the film has its moments, this retelling of TH White’s fantasy about the young King Arthur just doesn’t cut it, Excalibur or not. The extra content does include some nice features, including the story of primary songwriters The Sherman Brothers, and a slightly out-of-date bit from Disney’s original TV show about magic, but they still don’t compensate.
Which leads us to this sequel to Disney’s last real project, . Released in 2003, the studio was flushed with new success from films like and and also flooding the TV market with OVA sequels like . Even though the voice cast included such big names as John Goodman, John Rhys-Davis and Haley Joel Osment, the jazzy charm of the first movie is completely gone. Instead we get a semi-preachy yarn about the values of being with one’s own kind. Further, as much as I like Goodman, he’s no Phil Harris. The extra content regarding songs that didn’t make the final cut also disappoints.
Yes, the incredible craft and personality animation that is the Mouseworks signature is there, but otherwise, if you don’t have these two in your Disney library, you really aren’t missing much. For Disneyana completists only.
MAD MEN/Season One (Lionsgate) (4 DVDs)
Got to admit, the packaging for this collection is impressive. I only wish the rest of this set was.
For those lucky enough to have missed this TV series, it tells the tale of a group of Madison Avenue ad men (aka “Mad Men”) in the very early 1960’s. The trappings are impressive. From the fashions, just about everyone smoking Lucky Strikes to the pre-Beatles soundtrack, the TV series tries its best to convince us it’s 1960. But when you get down to it, from there it’s nothing more than a well-financed soap opera, with its lead (Jon Hamm) spending more time trying to juggle his relationship with three different women than examining what went down for media manipulation for the day. I also get the feeling that the actors are just doing their jobs and cashing their checks. I never got too involved in their plights or their endless whining about what to do about the recently discovered cancerous side effects of cigarettes.
Still, there’s the packaging. I mean putting this collection inside a metal case resembling a Zippo lighter is genius. On the other hand, that kind of tells you a lot about the series itself. Looks great, but put it on and it burns out real fast. If you pick this up, don’t be surprised if you feel burned.
THE TATOOIST (Sony)
I’ll give this little bit of horror an A for effort, but that’s about it.
In this one lead Jason Behr is a tattooist out to make his, pardon the pun, mark. He travels the world searching for new designs, finally landing in Samoa, an island nation who put a lot more into their tats than just black ink. From there we take an original idea and jump real deep into some serious clichés. Worse still, while the film is occasionally creepy, I’ve seen more real scares at a tat shop than in this stinker.
So do yourself a favor and give this one a pass. Otherwise you’ll find yourself indelibly marked by the boredom.
THE X-FILES: REVELATIONS (Fox) (2 DVDs)
Well, the packaging promises that the eight episodes contained here are all big hints to the upcoming new theatrical film, . If that’s the case, it’s going to be one very strange movie.
You see, it’s not that the quality of the various episodes isn't great. In fact, I’d included four of them—the pilot, “The Host,” “Post-Modern Prometheus” and “Bad Blood,” as four of my personal favorites. The remaining four, “Millagro,” “Momento Mori,” “Beyond The Sea” and “Clyde Bruckerman’s Final Repose,” are no slouch either. Still, to somehow incorporate the themes of these eight very diverse episodes will take some serious doing. Still, the front cover says, and I quote, “Essential Guide to the X-Files Movie.” Even the opening commentary from creators Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz doesn’t lay any real info about the film, even if their comments are fun in their own right.
Truth be told, if you want that, jump over to the extra content and take a look at the recent WonderCon panel Carter and Spotnitz as well as actors Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny did earlier this year. You’ll get a lot more clues there than you will anywhere else. There’s also the inclusion of the recently released trailer.
So be warned fans. As we all know, the truth is out there. I just get the feeling it got stretched way out of proportions with the release of this set. If you have the nine complete season sets (and I know many fans who do), you can easily skip this collection. If you just want a nice tight set of some of the best shows, well then you won’t feel like you’re being ripped off…at least too much.