Film DVD related reviews

DVD title: The Last Picture Show (Definitive Director's Cut Special Edition)
Productgroup: DVD
The Last Picture Show (Definitive Director's Cut Special Edition) - movie DVD cover picture
Great movie - then, and now

I first saw The Last Picture Show in the early 1970's - I was still in high school at the time. It was the kind of movie that left me a bit unsettled and a little confused, but kept me wondering and thinking about it. I recently decided to get the movie and watch it for a second time, some thirty-one years later.
There were some scenes and dialog that I remembered quite well, and some of the same feelings that I experienced during my first viewing reemerged as I watched once again. I was, however, able to capture some fresh insights and perspectives on the movie during my second viewing - perhaps because there were scenes that I had forgotten about, or maybe because I have thirty additional years of life experience with which to make sense out of it this time.
Although the movie appears to primarily focus on what it was like to "come of age" or transition to adulthood in the early 1950's in a small Texas town, I think that it actually uses this backdrop to explore some of life's lessons: making choices about what people think they want or need, experiencing the consequences that ensue from these choices, and how people cope with these consequences.
The story places at its hub three high school students finishing their senior year and then going forward into young adulthood. It is essentially composed of vignettes with interactions that they have amongst themselves, their parents and adult acquaintances, and their peers, while the setting of the small town and life in the early 50's serves as the underlying connectedness to each of them.
As the young adults explore the dilemmas and emotional ups and downs of making their first "grown-up" decisions, an interesting contrast becomes apparent with the older adults of the town, many of whom are still coming to grips with the decisions and experiences that they had when they were young adults.
It seems to me that the story shows, first hand, in brutally honest and graphic ways, how learning to make your way in life and get along with others is truly a life-long process, and how trust and friendship can provide a much-needed safety net as part of this process.

Studio: Columbia/Tristar Studios
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Timothy Bottoms
Jeff Bridges
Cybill Shepherd

DVD title: Shakespeare in Love
Productgroup: DVD
Shakespeare in Love - movie DVD cover picture

I was shocked when Shakespeare In Love won Best Picture and Best Actress. This movie is good enough, I suppose, for a cheap chick flick, but where's the chemistry? Where's the grace and artistry that Gwyneth Paltrow was supposed to possess in abundance? As a fan of the Elizabethan era, I can only hang my head in shame that such a film was produced. Trust me, if you want a movie that truly shows the Elizabethan era and is worthy of all the Oscars it was robbed of, try Elizabeth. Cate Blanchett was absolutely stunning in this film, more convincing in her demanding role as Queen Elizabeth that Gwyneth Paltrow could ever hope to be.

Studio: Miramax Home Entertainment
Director: John Madden
Geoffrey Rush
Joseph Fiennes
Gwyneth Paltrow

DVD title: Mobile Suit Gundam Wing - Operation 1
Productgroup: DVD
Mobile Suit Gundam Wing - Operation 1 - movie DVD cover picture

This DVD gets you under way in the gundam wing series. Like a lot of anime I have run across, you spend the first two episodes trying to figure out what is what. Once you get an idea of who is bad and who is good, the story really grabs you. It has a good mixture of action (mechas fighting mechas) and drama between the characters (surprisingly, even the 'bad guys' are well developed and offer more than an evil chuckle here and there). Overall I am sure you will be pleased with this purchase if you are an anime fan or are familiar with other gundam series.

Studio: Pioneer Video
Director: Gordon Hunt

DVD title: Baby Einstein - Baby Van Gogh - World of Colors
Productgroup: DVD
Baby Einstein - Baby Van Gogh - World of Colors - movie DVD cover picture
Great for toddlers, too!

My daughter (15 months) literally laughs out loud at some of the scenes in this DVD. She held her belly and laughed hysterically for one scene in particular (the popping of the balloons). We have a few of the other Baby Einstein videos, but mom and dad love this one due to our daughter's laughter - we can listen to her laugh all day and night. She also loves the music and the bright colors, as well as "Vincent Van Goat!" We highly recommend.

Studio: Buena Vista Home Vid

DVD title: Steptoe and Son/Steptoe and Son Ride Again
Productgroup: DVD
Steptoe and Son/Steptoe and Son Ride Again - movie DVD cover picture
Classic British Comedy!

One of the earliest britcoms (1962-1974), Steptoe and Son is about a quarrelling father-and-son pair of rag-and-bone men (ie. junk dealers) who barely make ends meet most of the time. It was the habit in the 70s to make a film version of successful britcoms. Sometimes it worked; more often than not it didn't. Steptoe and Son is, at least in my opinion, a shining example of a britcom that made the transition to film beautifully. Subtitled "The Cinema Collection", this dvd contains two 90-minute films, both of which are really well done and contain lots of humorous (and some downright hilarious!) moments. Personally, I enjoyed both equally as well, and a familiarity with the series and characters is not a prerequisite. Also, the quality of the picture is very good--especially considering the films were made over 30 years ago.

For those unfamiliar with the series, I recommend watching the earlier film, Steptoe & Son (1972), first as it illustrates in greater depth the relationship between father and son. In a nutshell, Albert Steptoe is a frail, scrawny, tatty old man with a peg-toothed grin whose humorous appearance is milked to its full comic potential. But he is a wily, selfish old codger and a master at the art of emotional blackmail. His son Harold longs for a life of his own, but for all his frustration with his father's abuses, he really is a victim of his own compassion. He does care about his father and, being incapable of breaking free, is destined to a life of frustration and emotional bondage. This film sees Harold at long last falling in love and getting married, but with a father like Albert, the marriage cannot be anything short of doomed. Indeed, the film opens with Albert and Harold arguing about the reasons for his marriage having failed. The story is then presented in retrospect, coming full circle to end where it begins. I'll say no more, as I don't wish to give the story away. I will just mention (lest anyone be offended or wonder about the suitability for children) that there is a scene with a stripper--whose performance is presented in its entirety. It's probably quite tame by today's standards; still, I thought I ought to mention it.

The second film, Steptoe & Son Ride Again (1973), opens with the Steptoes going through a particularly bad patch financially, but matters only get worse when Harold gets them indebted to a mobster! Hilarity ensues as the Steptoes try one thing after another and end up taking a very extreme (not to mention risky!) measure in order to get themselves out of debt. Frank Thornton (Are You Being Served's Captain Peacock) makes a guest appearance near the end.

In conclusion, these two films (and indeed the entire series) hail back to an England and a way of life that is, sadly, gone forever; moreover, they hail back to an era in British comedy that has, also sadly, long since passed. If you enjoyed the series even a little bit, then this film collection is a must have. Personally, I enjoyed it every bit as much as the series (and perhaps even a little more!). If you're unfamiliar with the series but enjoy the types of comedies that Britain put out in the 70s or are a fan of shows like After Henry or Australia's Mother and Son (which also prominently feature a domineering, emotionally blackmailing parent), I really do recommend giving this one a try. With a mixture of comedy and pathos, these are not gentle, cosy, relaxing films; rather they can be quite loud and abrasive, what with all the bickering, but they are very funny. And if you find you enjoy the film collection, by all means get the episodes from the series that are available on video.

Highly recommended!

Studio: Anchor Bay Entertain
Director: Peter Sykes

DVD title: The Duellists
Productgroup: DVD
The Duellists - movie DVD cover picture
Only Barry Lyndon Compares Visually

Ridley Scott has a fine eye. Many of his films are not my favorites because of their high-concept stories, but visually, few directors can touch Scott's sense of space, time, and composition. This little-seen gem is comparable only to Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece "Barry Lyndon" in its attempt to create the ambient light and sense of place of the late 1700's -early 1800's.
Based on a story by Joseph Conrad, chosen because the rights had lapsed, the film concerns two French hussar officers, one of whom, played with republican fervor by Harvey Keitel, is quick to anger and to duel. His nemesis is the aristocratic officer played by Robert Carradine, who doesn't understand why Keitel hates him so much. The film follows their careers in the Napoleonic wars over the course of fifteen years, from the early triumphs of l'Emporer in Lubeck, to the disaster of Russia, and the return of the Bourbon's. Despite their long-standing animosity, Carradine even saves Keitel from the guillotine, for which he his repayed with disdain and aggression.
This story is episodic, and there are many loose ends, but who cares? This is one of the most astonishing films ever made in its meticulousness, it's bravery (not cow-towing to hi-key filmic conventions), it's invention (a budget of only $900,000 dollars?!) and in the totally successful vision the filmmakers put up on the screen. Films costing 10 times as much or more are not so riviting as this film.
Scott did have to compromise; he wished for Michael York and Oliver Reed, but the financiers wanted American actors. Even though Carradine is occasionally weak, Keitel is intense throughout.
The Duellist is one of my favorite films. The DVD transfer is immaculate and the special features give us interviews with Ridley Scott, and the film's composers notes on his musical choices.

Studio: Paramount Home Video
Director: Ridley Scott
Keith Carradine
Harvey Keitel

DVD title: Kill Bill, Volume 2
Productgroup: DVD
Kill Bill, Volume 2 - movie DVD cover picture
The Bride has Developed

I thought Vol. 2 was a lot more developed than the first release. Vol. 1 was very fast paced and action packed, and definitely Tarantino Style. Vol. 2 slowed things down a bit, it gave you more than just action sequence filler. I like where the story went, the questions that were answered and it still included action sequences that meshed well with Vol. 1. If you weren't into the 'gore' of the first Volume, this provides a mellower approach.

And I though it was pretty slick when The Bride took Elle Driver's eye out.

Studio: Miramax Home Entertainment
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Uma Thurman
David Carradine
Michael Madsen
Daryl Hannah

DVD title: Star Trek - Insurrection
Productgroup: DVD
Star Trek - Insurrection - movie DVD cover picture
Moral Dilema, Drama, Humour - Insurrection has it all!

Few people these days allow themselves to think beyond the movie, to think about the concept of the movie... don't limit your brain!
Insurrection was a movie for everyone: Trekkies, Trekkers and general movie goers. It combined drama, humour and moral questioning, provoking the movie goings' brain into thinking outside the realm of the storyline.
In previous TNG films, the writers have tried to bring in new concepts that (for me) really haven't worked: Data with a sense of humour and Geordie with eyes. This film brought in some wonderful concepts which complimented the tv series, rather than ignored the character development previously defined: look for some fun warbling between Picard, Worf and Data; the relationship between Riker and Troy (it's been bursting to happen for years) and the beautiful scene as Geordie catches the sunset over the village.
For the non trekkie, the setting was beautiful and you can imagine this place being a piece of heaven. The direction and filming was good too.
Roll on May 6 - Release Date!

Studio: Paramount Studio
Director: Jonathan Frakes
Jonathan Frakes
Patrick Stewart
Brent Spiner
LeVar Burton
Michael Dorn
Gates McFadden
Marina Sirtis

DVD title: Under the Tuscan Sun (Widescreen Edition)
Productgroup: DVD
Under the Tuscan Sun (Widescreen Edition) - movie DVD cover picture
A very special movie! Lovely!

Under The Tuscan Sun is a very special kind of movie. It isn't just a movie... it's an experience in which the viewer is immersed in a magical and special place and a wonderful woman trying to find her feet after heartbreak. Compelling and inspiring. I was hooked! 5 stars!

Studio: Buena Vista Home Vid
Director: Audrey Wells
Diane Lane
Sandra Oh
Raoul Bova

DVD title: Posse
Productgroup: DVD
Posse - movie DVD cover picture
Sharp, witty post-Watergate Western that's still relevant

Here's a perfect example of a small, quietly subversive film, obviously created in a specific time, whose message hasn't dated in the least. It's produced, directed by & stars Kirk Douglas as a Texas lawman with his sights on the Senate, perhaps even the Presidency. He travels in a special train provided by the railroads, whom he'll represent once in office; he has a handpicked posse to help him in his pursuit of train robber Bruce Dern, whose capture will assure a successful election. Douglas' lawman also travels with a photographer, who makes the most of every photo op, such as his early capture of outlaw Dern.

As this was made in 1975, it's very much a post-Watergate film. And as such, it's still quite relevant today. For example, when Douglas makes his big speech to the town after capturing Dern, invoking God & goodness & appealing to the pre-programmed traditional beliefs of the townspeople, you realize that by changing just one word in that speech -- by substituting "terrorists" for "criminals" -- it's the same empty rah-rah speech we hear so often today.

However, Dern doesn't want to hang, and he definitely doesn't want to be used as an election prop. I won't give away what happens next, but it's quite satisfying. The film also stars James Stacy, who had recently lost an arm & a leg in a horrendous motorcycle accident, as the town's newspaper man, wary of Douglas & of any ambitious politico. He obviously represented Vietnam vets at the time; now he'd just as easily represent maimed veterans returning from Iraq, or any war, sacrificed for the personal ambitions of a smarmy would-be leader.

The performances are excellent, and even the minor background characters are given fine moments of characterization. The dawning realization of some of the townspeople that they are being used is played for sadness rather than easy mockery, as they understand that they've agreed to their use (and abuse). All presented in a tidy 92 minutes! Highly recommended.

Studio: Paramount Home Video
Director: Kirk Douglas
Kirk Douglas
Bruce Dern

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