Weekly Release Roundup
Okay, I lied. My pants are all on fire. As it turns out, this week
is just as dead as last week. But you Japanese film fans out there
will be happy with a major Criterion/Kurosawa release, as well as
two cult faves from Home Vision. Other than that, we only have two
major studio releases... and one of them, sadly, I didn't get
because Disney just don't love me. (sniff) Oh, well. At least
Criterion still does.
Let's take a gander at the horribly short list of releases this
The big studio release for the week (that I actually got for
review) is Secret Window.
The film, based on a short by Stephen King, follows a writer
played by Johnny Depp, who's holed up in his lake house trying
to write off a broken marriage and severe depression. In the
middle of a bout of writer's block, he's visited by a stranger
with a Southern drawl, an Amish hat and a worn copy of a story
he wrote, that he claims was stolen by Depp years prior. He then
proceeds to wreak havoc on Depp's life, refusing to stop unless
Depp "fixes his ending." Although the twists and turns
are obvious if you know how King's mind works, writer/director
David Koepp makes the paper thin story work with the help of
great acting all the way through and some really neat camera
effects inspired by his working relationship with David Fincher
on Panic Room. Secret
Window isn't a great film, but it's certainly not a
waste of time either. Still, if you're worried you might be on
the fence, this one is better left as a rental. The DVD looks
gorgeous and sounds pretty good for a heavy dialogue track.
Extras include a fun and informative commentary by Koepp, three
featurettes looking at the production, style and underlying
story and a smattering of deleted scenes with optional Koepp
commentary. Not too bad a set for an okay film.
more releases from Home Vision and Criterion Collection's Merchant
Ivory Collection are released today. One is
Over Georgie and Bonnie's Pictures and the other is Savages.
Although both are good films, I'm going to focus on...
The reason: I think a lot of people miss the joke on this one.
In fact, Criterion and Home Vision may have missed it
themselves. It's packaged as a highbrow exploration, and on the
surface it is. You have to remember that the brain behind this
film isn't Merchant or Ivory, but Michael O'Donoghue (aka Mr.
Mike - the man behind some of the funniest comedy in the first
few years of SNL).
O'Donoghue didn't think to spell his comedy out, so when
presenting a farce about an aboriginal tribe who stumbles upon a
croquet ball and finds themselves slowly but surely becoming
more and more civilized (until they become "us" over
the course of a weekend), it's left as a pretentious art house
film. Look closer, 'cause on the surface it may be pretentious
and talky, but it's still making fun of the very subject matter
and film style it's presenting itself as. Actually, I'm pretty
sure that Merchant and Ivory might have missed the joke as well,
because after years of light and invigorating looks at Indian
society, they jumped feet first into the world O'Donoghue so
expertly dissected. Oh, well. Hopefully, now people might get
it. Since this was produced with Criterion, of course this DVD
looks and sounds wonderful. Extras include a conversation with
the filmmakers and a documentary film Ivory made for the BBC.
Line King: The Al Hirschfeld Story
I love the work of Al Hirschfeld. The things he could do with a
line, a swirl and a dot amaze me every time I look at his work.
This documentary takes a nice long look at the man and his art.
We see his history, his perspective, his driving force and his
love for family and friends. Hirschfeld lived a good life and he
left behind a cannon of work for all of us to enjoy.
This disc presents the full frame film well enough. Sometimes
the video source shines through and some of the archival footage
has seen better days, but generally this is a good transfer and
surely the best it could look on DVD. The extras include a nice
gallery of art by Hirschfeld and a cute behind-the-scenes look
at Hirschfeld at work on a drawing of Paul Newman in Broadway's
revival of Our Town. Fans
of this exceptional artist and man will want this in their
This one is a tricky DVD to comment on, but I'm going to try
and not offend any Renoir fans out there. Although this DVD
houses two versions of the same film, by two of the most
celebrated filmmakers of all time, it's really Kurosawa's set.
The Renoir version is included almost like a supplemental piece.
That's not saying that Renoir's version of the Maxim Gorky play
is of lesser quality... it's not. Both films are incredible
works of art, created by filmmakers with great vision at two
different periods of time and in two different parts of the
Kurosawa's 1957 version of The Lower
Depths or Donzoko
follows a group of people who live together in a tenement house.
Among others there's a delusional prostitute, an old drunken
actor, a jaded gambler, a former samurai, a tinker and a thief.
The thief is played by Toshiro Mifune, and although he isn't
truly the focus of the film, his side story (the fact that he's
having an affair with the landlord's wife but is in love with
her sister), plays out quite prominently. The film, even though
it's focused on a claustrophobic environment and down on their
luck characters, has a humorous edge to it. The moments of life
are played out with a light touch, and even if it has a dark,
hopeless climax, the film isn't depressing.
Contrasted with that is the original 1936 Renoir version. Where
Kurosawa honored the original theatrical roots of the play, Renoir
takes a more cinematic stance. The film is bigger and there is more
"action." It's basically the same idea, with a love
triangle between a thief, a landlady and her sister along with a
wizened old man "helping" a young man better himself, but
the tone is not as comic as Kurosawa's. Nor is it as dark.
Looking at the two side by side, I think most will prefer the
Kurosawa version, but there's an added appreciation for the films
when looking at them together. I love that Criterion has started
doing these "like-minded" double features (see: The
Killers and A Story of
Floating Weeds). I hope we'll see more.
The DVD features both films in prime form. Sound is the original
mono and is fine for both films. Video is remastered at the original
ratio of 1.33:1 and also works well. Renoir's version fares slightly
better that Kurosawa's, as the source for the 1957 version isn't as
well kept as the 1936. Extras include an introduction by Renoir for
his version, a commentary by Donald Richie and another entry in the
Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create
series. Film fans everywhere will want this set.
From Pier Paolo Pasolini (Salo
and The Gospel According to St.
Matthew) comes this story of a prostitute trying to
make her world a better place in post WWII Italy, while coming
to terms with a new life and a son that she left behind years
ago. Not the best film Pasolini would go on to make, Mamma
Roma is still an impressive feat made that much
better by the presence of the alluringly beautiful Anna Magnani.
Magnani plays Mamma Roma with unswerving sex appeal and a
humanity that showcases the fact that she is one of Italy's
greatest actresses - ever. With this film, Pasolini gives a
short view into a style that would inspire legions of
filmmakers. Its ban upon release in Italy alludes to what would
become a career of controversial filmmaking. Criterion's release
showcases the film wonderfully with anamorphic widescreen video
and a clean mono soundtrack. Extras include a poster gallery,
trailer, interviews with crewmembers of Pasolini including
director Bernardo Bertolucci, a documentary about the filmmaker
and a short film starring Orson Welles as a crazed filmmaker
making a film about the Passion of the Christ, which is eerily
similar to the true-life story of Mel Gibson. Art imitates life
imitating art. Weeeeee.
Home Vision, along with the documentary about Al Hirschfeld and
the two Merchant Ivory films, today releases a pair of films by
legendary Japanese filmmaker Yasuharu Hasebe, the man behind
Black Tight Killers and
Meiko Kaji's swan song as Female Convict Scorpion in 1973's Female
Prisoner Scorpion: #701's Grudge Song.
First up is Bloody Territories,
one of the first films to exploit the Japanese Yakuza. No longer
a gang of thugs with a chaotic bloodlust, as seen on the films
of Seijun Suzuki or Hasebe's Black
Tight Killers, these gangsters are fully organized
and businessmen of sorts. Sure there's still some chaos and
bloodlust, but this film shows for sure that the Yakuza are the
masterminds of the crime world in Japan... even if their
organization is splintering, and young up and comers are taking
over the old with the new. Being one of the first of the genre,
this entry is on the weak side, without the "fun" that
later films about the Japanese Yakuza exhibit. Maybe no one
wanted to piss anyone in the real Yakuza off? This DVD looks
great in anamorphic widescreen and sounds just as good. Extras
include a filmography of the director, the trailer for this film
and the neat Home Vision Zatoichi
Cat Rock: Sex Hunter
Next up is Stray Cat Rock: Sex
Hunter, the third in the five film Stray
Cat Rock series and the second directed by Hasebe.
Maiko Kaji is Mako, the leader of the girl gang that supports
The Eagles, a gang of tuffs that speed around in Army Jeeps and
generally raise a ruckus. When one of the Eagles looses his girl
to a African-American/Japanese mixed man (a Half), the leader of
the Eagles, Baron, declares war on all the mixed-race Japanese
citizens living in their town because his sister was raped by a
Half years prior. Problem is, Mako is secretly fawning for
Kazuma, a recently arrived Half who is searching for his sister.
Sides will be chosen, battles will be fought and a cool
hallucinogenic film will unspool. It's rip roaring and fun, in
the same way Jack Hill's Switchblade
Sisters is. Like Bloody
Territories, this DVD has a nice clean anamorphic
transfer of a limited source with solid mono sound and extras
that include a Hasebe filmography, the trailer for this film and
the Home Vision Zatoichi
Behind the Cape
What if our world had a real, honest to goodness superhero like
the ones found in comic books and the movies? Would we love him
or her, or hate them? Would we expect too much from them and
become overly reliant? Those are the questions asked in this "mockumentary"
about a Superman-like superhero dubbed "SuperGuy."
Using interviews from those who know him best and archival
footage from his past (his triumphs and blunders), we get an
inside look at the origins of a man who runs around in tights
and saves those in need. While piecing together his life, the
film also has a sideline view of situations which lead to his
dramatic fall. How, in true chaos theory, his heroic deeds may
have dire results somewhere else. It's an interesting film. It
can be fun and funny, while also raising "real world"
thoughts about what it might be like if superheroes really
existed. I'd love to see the lawyer who would represent
meta-humans, wouldn't you? SuperGuy
looks just okay on DVD. The picture quality is unfortunately
VHS-grade at best, and the full frame presentation does nothing
but show off the fact that this is a low budget film. The sound
is in Dolby Digital stereo, but again delivers only a VHS
experience. Extras include trailers for more Razor Digital
releases, a blooper reel that serves as a behind-the-scenes look
at the production and a smattering of deleted scenes. SuperGuy
might be fun for that fanboy out there who loves this sort of
thing. Maybe, too, for that mockumentary fan. But it'll be a
hard sell for just about everyone else. If you like quirky films
though, give this one a try.
want to check out these TV releases as well...
BMG releases two Elvis TV specials (Elvis
Presley: 68 Comeback Special: Special Edition and
Presley: Aloha From Hawaii: Deluxe Edition DVD), fans of
the FX reality show spoof The Joe Schmo
Show should be happy with the release of
One Uncensored! and, of course, a must own this week is
the always brilliant
911! The Complete First Season.
Also coming to DVD this week...
... the other major studio title I didn't get (but you should) -
Santa. You'll also find the unrated version under the
Santa. This one looks cute:
Lost Skeleton of Cadavra. Anchor Bay releases the vice cop
Patrol. An underrated thriller set in the gambling world
with Ron Eldard, John Goodman and Courtney Cox comes to DVD in the
Runner. Look for Warner's
Doo and the Loch Ness Monster hanging out in the aisles
today. And there's one more Criterion out there for you too...
Woman Is a Woman.
I don't think next week is any better, but we'll see. June is
usually a horrible month for DVD, as the studios prepare their big
fall titles for release. But come back next week and we'll see what
surprises Hollywood has cooked up for my birthday. Yes, next DVD day
is a special day indeed. Well, for me and my immediate family. Of
course, presents are always welcome.
Hugs and kisses,