Keeping this short this week as I’m right in the middle of covering the Seattle International Film Festival and my time is sadly limited. Some great titles to be found here, though, a few of which are even worthy of being added to a person’s hi-def and DVD libraries sight unseen.
The Great Dictator
Charlie Chaplin’s first full-length talkie The Great Dictator gets the full Criterion treatment and by all account the results are absolutely extraordinary. A wonderful film that’s as wild and as unique as anything the iconic writer, director and actor ever made, the movie is a constant thought-provoking delight full of humongous belly laughs making it worthy of numerous repeat viewings.
Oliver Stone’s 1986 Academy Award-winning classic about his experiences as a solider during the Vietnam War is still a vibrant and alive chronicle of Hell on Earth and the battle for one grunt’s soul (Charlie Sheen, before he became a walking joke) as he makes his way through the jungle. Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger are superb, and even if the movie is a bit heavy-handed and preachy at times this one nonetheless remains Stone’s tour de force achievement. Mitchell will have a full review of this release up for all to read soon.
Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s stunning 1972 science fiction classic Solaris gets the full-blown Criterion Blu-ray upgrade and let me say this disc completely and totally blew me away. A spectacular, haunting film in its own right, in high definition this one jumps into the stratosphere and I felt like I was seeing it in a brand new light almost as if it were my very first viewing. A masterpiece, this is one of those films anyone who adores great cinema should just break down and buy sight unseen.
Based on the true story of Henri Charriere, director Franklin J. Schaffner’s (Patton, Planet of the Apes) wonderful 1973 biopic of the man’s decades-long attempt to escape the confines of a notorious penal colony in French Guiana is a stirring testament to the enduring strength of the human soul. While a bit too straight forward at times, this film is still a massively wonderful emotional and physical adventure anchored by an astonishing performance by the great Steve McQueen and a quite unusual and mesmerizing one by the then still up-and-coming Dustin Hoffman. I’ll have a full review of the Blu-ray up in the next few days.
I Am Number Four
I’ve written a Theatrical Review of this one, and I’ve recently also written a Blu-ray Review, and in each of them I admit to enjoying this cheesy little throwaway for what it is. All the same, I do wish it had done a bit better at the box office then it ultimately did. I think I sequel could potentially have been pretty fantastic.
Gnomeo & Juliet
Again, here’s my Theatrical Review of this title, and here is my Blu-ray Review, and in both you’ll discover I had a pleasant enough time watching this little animated Shakespeare variation even though nothing about it blew me away. It will make for a pretty darn great rental, though, and I imagine little kids will want to watch it again and again and again probably driving their parents crazy in the long run.
Gods and Generals
Writer and director Ronald F. Maxwell’s duel adaptations of two of writer Michael Shaara’s acclaimed Civil War novels The Killer Angels and Gods and Generals. Made in 1993, the 271-minute Gettysburg is by far the more successful of the two, the film containing a plethora of memorable performances and moments that more than make up for its rather lackadaisical pacing.
As for the 2003 follow-up Gods and Generals, presented here is a new 280-minute extended “Director’s Cut” and, sadly, results aren’t any better this time round then they were back during the film’s original (and quite limited) theatrical release. While performances are still solid all around (especially by Stephen Lang as Confederate General “Stonewall” Jackson), the film itself is something a shocking long-winded bore. While meticulously researched and authentic as all get-out, as an actual narrative motion picture this one fails at nearly every turn, and only die hard Civil War buffs (kind of like myself) will find much of value in the watching of it. I’ll have full reviews of both Blu-rays up for everyone to read soon.
The Big Bang
Down and dirty underground crime saga starring Antonio Banderas, Thomas Kretschmann, William Fichtner, Sienna Guillory, Delroy Lindo, James Van Der Beek, Sam Elliott and Snoop Dog, The Big Bang isn’t exactly a success. It’s convoluted mystery is more of a pain in the butt then it needs to be, while the ultimate outcome is hardly a surprise considering all the work it took to get there. At the same time, director Tony Krantz’s latest is a wacky, cinematically unhinged boondoggle filled with spectacular cinematography and with just enough quirky undertones to keep it consistently intriguing. Not the best movie ever, but one genre fans might get a kick out of all the same. I’ll have a full review of the Blu-ray up soon.
The week’s second Steve McQueen title to get the Blu-ray treatment, 1971’s Le Mans is a bit dramatically inert yet still acted to steely perfection by its star. A soggy melodrama about a veteran driver participating in the famous (or is it infamous?) 24-hour road race, the reason the movie remains worthwhile is thanks to its insistence on immersing the viewer as completely as possible inside this high-speed world. While not quite as visually stimulating as John Frankenheimer’s 1966 classic Grand Prix (which hits Blu-ray next Tuesday, by the way), this is still a masterfully photographed visceral saga whose kinetic plusses far outweigh its overly saccharine emotional minuses.
Arguably director Joel Schumacher’s best film (which, I realize is a very short list), this saga of new Army recruits going through Advanced Basic Training at Louisiana’s infamous Fort Polk, a.k.a. Tigerland, is worthy of remembrance if only because it introduced the fiery talents of a certain Colin Farrell to the world at large.
OTHER NOTABLE RELEASES
- Anton Chekhov’s The Duel
- Burning Palms
- The End of Poverty?
- Happiness is a Warm Blanket, Charlie Brown
Fertile Ground (After Dark Original)
Disappointing entry in Lionsgate’s “After Dark” film series about a married couple, Emily (Leisha Harris) and Nate (Gale Harold) Weaver, who move to a small town farmhouse after a miscarriage and encounter a bunch of a spooky, unsettling weirdness. The movie is surprisingly slow and not very scary, moving towards a conclusion that is far more obvious then I imagine the filmmakers intended it to be.
Fighting Mad / Moving Violation
Two more entries in the Roger Corman Cult Classics series, this DVD double-feature contains an early effort from director Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs, Something Wild) and a little seen car chase classic enthusiasts of the genre have waxed poetic about for decades. For my part, Demme’s Fighting Mad is the slightly better motion picture, if only because actor Peter Fonda manages to ground all the over familiar revenge-fueled silliness with a bit more honest emotion then the film remotely deserves. That said, those much lauded car chases in Moving Violation are kind of spectacular, and in the spirit of complete and total honesty I kind of wished they went on for a bit longer then they ultimately do.
Typical Disney Channel silliness about a group of High School freshman spending some time in detention whom decide to come together to form a ragtag Rock and Roll band to utterly expected results. At the same time the movie is not without its charms, and the target audience is sure to adore it, while the succession of lukewarm Radio Disney-friendly songs aren’t near as annoying as I feared they would be. All-in-all, it gets the job done, and while I’ll never watch it again I know both my young nieces will probably love it.
The Ron Howard Action Pack (Eat My Dust! / Grand Theft Auto) [Roger Corman's Cult Classics]
More from the Roger Corman vault, this time a pair of early efforts from future Academy Award-winner Ron Howard (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind). Forget about Eat My Dust!, it’s rather forgettable. The real gem here is the iconic Grand Theft Auto. That one is a classic, and I’m tempted to pick up this reasonably priced double-feature DVD (sadly, Shout! Factory didn’t send one for review) just to add it to my own personal library.
Seconds Apart (After Dark Original)
Our second “After Dark” entry of the week, this one is by far the more successful of the two, and although Seconds Apart can’t quite sustain itself all the way to its rather anticlimactic finale by and large this a creepy, deeply unsettling effort horror aficionados will probably want to get a look at. The plot concerns a pair of psychotic telekinetic twins who use a series of disturbing visions to create unspeakable havoc, and while the film doesn’t live up to its opening acts I still enjoyed watching it most of the way through. I’ll have a full review of the DVD up soon.
Annoying and obnoxious romantic comedy starring one-time “Facts of Life” darling Mindy Cohn about a woman who tries distance herself from her many gay friends in order to land a boyfriend. This movie practically drove me up a wall, much of it feeling beyond forced and extremely false. It’s the kind of effort where I pondered leaving the theatre before it was over and marks a serious step in the wrong direction for The Big Gay Musical director Casper Andreas.
The Kids in the Hall: Death Comes To Town
For five groundbreaking seasons, Canadian-bred comic prodigies The Kids in the Hall stretched sketch comedy to its ultimate limits with hilariously off-the-wall results. Now they’ve returned with The Kids in the Hall: Death Comes To Town, an 8-episode comedy series featuring the Kids playing all characters. When Death gets off the Greyhound bus in small town Shuckton, Ontario, everyone in town is implicated when one of its most distinguished citizens is found murdered. As a suspect is arrested and the trial plays out, the entire town is affected and its dark secrets are unraveled and exposed. (Description reprinted from Amazon.com)
Directed by Oscar winner Martin Scorsese and produced by Emmy and Peabody winning documentary producer and Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, along with Margaret Bodde, Public Speaking captures the essence of legendary New York bestselling writer Fran Lebowitz, who is perhaps most known for her unique take on modern life. The film weaves together monologues, as well as footage from several of Lebowitz’s speaking engagements, along with archival footage of Lebowitz from the 1970’s to today. (Description reprinted from Amazon.com)
Technology will accelerate exponentially. Within 25 years, computers will have consciousness. Humans will soon be bionic. These predictions make bestselling author Ray Kurzweil (The Singularity Is Near) a prophetic genius to some, and a highly sophisticated crackpot to others. There is no question, however, that he has predicted the future with more accuracy than anyone else in history. Transcendent Man gets inside the mind of the award-winning scientist and A.I. specialist through extensive interviews with Kurzweil himself and revealing conversations with friends and colleagues. The film outlines Kurzweil s theory of singularity the point when change occurs so rapidly that humans will need to merge with technology to keep up while also chronicling Kurzweil s history, his myriad accomplishments (including 24 U.S. patents), and his unique vision of the future. (Description reprinted from Amazon.com)
OTHER NOTABLE DVD RELEASES
- The Royal Wedding: William & Catherine
- Transformers: The Complete Series