Film DVD related reviews

DVD title: Pulp Fiction
Productgroup: DVD
Pulp Fiction - movie DVD cover picture
One of the great and most original films of the nineties

A decade after Quentin Tarantino produced two absolute classics in RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION, many of us are still waiting for him to redisplay the enormous virtuosity evidence in both of these films. Although not a bad film, FOXY BROWN was a bit of a disappointment, and we will have to wait and see what happens with KILL BILL and INGLORIOUS BASTARDS, the former finished and scheduled for a fall 2003 release, the latter scheduled to begin shooting in late 2003. For me, PULP FICTION was as original and as exciting as any film I had seen in ages when it came out in 1994, and I was looking forward to a worthy successor to it. I am still looking forward to it. (Note: in late 1994 I was even asked by a WGN Chicago film crew--which was polling Chicagoans leaving the theater--my favorite film of the year, and I replied instantly: PULP FICTION.)
This disappointment aside, PULP FICTION was one of the most incredible film experiences of my life. Retaining much of the edge and incredible dialog that was found in both RESERVOIR DOGS and TRUE ROMANCE, for which Tarantino wrote the script, but injecting precisely the right blend of Americana and popular culture, the film blew me out of my seat. Immediately after seeing it, I saw it again, and then again. The film had style and swagger to burn, humor to soften the violence and give it a surreal turn, and simple the greatest talk I had ever heard in the movies. All the characters in the film love to talk, and many are brilliant at it.
PULP FICTION is filled with more great moments than are usually found in three or four good films added together. Many of the segments are more or less self-contained, and would be classics on their own, but added to the others produce something even greater than the sum of its parts. You get the extraordinary hit that Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta make at the beginning of the film. The surreal trip to the nostalgia diner and twist contest with Travolta and Uma Thurman. The unbelievable sequence with Bruce Willis and the "Gimp." Christopher Walken's tale about the watch and its presentation to the young Bruce Willis character. And this listing doesn't come close to naming all the best moments in the film, and leaves out perhaps the best of the bunch, Samuel L. Jackson's extraordinary scene to end the film.
What a cast! There are a host of great performances, although I have to express some perplexity as to why Travolta received the nomination for Best Actor and not Samuel L. Jackson. While Travolta has one more scene than Jackson, in all the scenes where the two are together, Jackson absolutely and utterly dominates the action. We don't listen to Travolta; we listen to Jackson. If you removed Travolta from those scenes, nothing would be lost. Remove Jackson, and you wouldn't have anything remotely resembling the same scene. Still, Travolta is good, if not as dominating as Jackson. So many performers excel: Uma Thurman, Ving Rhames, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, the stunning Harvey Keitel, Eric Stolz, Christopher Walken. And to this day it remains the best thing that Bruce Willis has ever done.
Special mention must also be made of the superb soundtrack. I'm not sure that a soundtrack has ever been used to greater effect than in this one, from edgy rawness of Dick Dale's "Misirlou" (helping to reacquaint many with the man who truly is the King of the Surf Guitar) to Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man" to Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" to Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell" the music doesn't merely adorn the film but establishes the proper mood and carries the story forward.

Studio: Miramax
Director: Quentin Tarantino
John Travolta
Samuel L. Jackson
Bruce Willis

DVD title: John Prine - Live from Sessions at West 54th
Productgroup: DVD
John Prine - Live from Sessions at West 54th - movie DVD cover picture
Beautiful, Brilliant, Heartbreaking

I didn't consider myself a big fan of Prine, although I liked a few of his songs. But I saw this when it was broadcast, and I was awestruck: gone are the snarky mannerisms of youth, replaced by wry wisdom and heartfelt weariness. He can now sing his own songs as they were meant to be sung, with detachment and hindsight and the voice of real experience. This DVD and his "Souvenirs" CD are enough by themselves to establish his place in musical history. Prine is arguably America's best songwriter.

Studio: Oh Boy
Iris DeMent
John Prine

DVD title: Sorted Best of Love & Rockets
Productgroup: DVD
Sorted Best of Love & Rockets - movie DVD cover picture

This whole collection rocks! -Haunted Fish Tank: this program is so gosh darn funny.- Take the advice of the men from Bauhaus/Tones On Tail/Love And Rockets: DON'T ROCK, WOBBLE.


DVD title: 24 - Season Four
Productgroup: DVD
24 - Season Four - movie DVD cover picture
An outstanding season of 24

The fourth season of 24 may very well be regarded as the apex of the groundbreaking, critically acclaimed, award-winning drama. Not only was the show a smash hit in the ratings, but it was widely regarded by critics (and many fans) as being the best season since the first.

There isn't a whole lot of backstory that needs to be explained- season 4 almost functions as a stand-alone season, making it much more accessible for new fans to jump on board. Having been forced out of CTU a year ago, agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) has taken a desk job for Defense Secretary James Heller- and has also become romantically involved with Heller's soon-to-be divorced daughter, Audrey Raines. But it doesn't take too long before Jack is back in the action at CTU, forced to work with (well, against might be a better description) the very same administrator who kicked him out.

If seasons 1-3 were like sipping a latte, then season 4 is the equivalent of doing 20 lines of coke and washing it down with a gallon of gin. The plot is by far the most action-packed and fast-paced of the series, with the story rocketing along as Jack and CTU try to thwart multiple attacks from terrorist mastermind Habib Marwan (Arnold Vosloo). Actually, this is something I always wanted the series to try- multiple threats with a centralized villain. Gone are the irrelevant and/or annoying subplots (such as Jack's dim-witted daughter Kim) that sometimes dragged down previous seasons- what you get is a very compelling, streamlined, and breakneck story. The budget was significantly increased; consequently, the production values are the highest they've ever been. You'll notice this by the time you get to the sixth hour- it contains THE best (and by the looks of it, the most expensive) action scene 24 has ever done. But it wasn't just the budget that made the season look so good- much credit has to be given to Jon Cassar, who did an outstanding job as the lead director.

There is perhaps more cohesion among the 24 episodes in season four than in any other and the overall plot, while far-fetched at times, is logically sound. Transitions between hours are seamless- there are no random twists thrown in just to get viewers to "tune in next week." However, one downside is that the real-time premise is largely tossed out the window, and there are quite a few inconsistencies which astute observers may pick up on. Yes, it's true that the real-time format has mostly been a farce since season two, but it's much more noticeable this time around. But these are only minor complaints. Creating a show with 24 episodes like this is a daunting task, so I do give the writers a bit of leeway. I'm not a detail-oriented person and I care more about the bigger picture, so I'd rather have them gloss over minor inconsistencies if it keeps the tension ratcheted up high. The payoff in the long run is much better anyway. For instance, season 3 presented a much more complex story with more intricately planned episodes; however, some rather large plot logic errors coupled with the inability to tie the multiple storylines together left the viewer feeling somewhat disappointed.

Means as I brought season 3 up, another problem with that season was too much reliance on a small cast of characters, particularly the "old" cast from season one. This time, however, the plot is entirely event-driven- the cast is much larger and they are rotated on and off the show when no longer essential to the plot. The beginning hours have an entirely new cast, with the only leftovers being Jack Bauer and the socially inept CTU techie Chloe O'Brien, while the older characters gradually return as the season progresses. Superior casting has always been 24's best aspect, but it especially shines through in this season. Sutherland's portrayal of Jack Bauer is always superb, serving as an anchor to the series and lending it credibility (especially since he doesn't use a stunt double). Sutherland is backed up by an excellent supporting cast that delivers stellar performances: William Devane, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Alberta Watson, Carlos Bernard, and especially Shoreh Aghdashloo. (Why was she snubbed for an Emmy nomination?) What I've always liked about the acting on 24 is that the characters' actions and reactions seem real, not contrived. There is very little melodrama, macho posturing, or hamming it up- the characters don't wear their hearts on their sleeves. Again, I can't possibly convey enough how good the performances are.

Those who write off season four as being a mindless shoot-em-up or the TV equivalent of a Bond flick don't know what they're missing. Jack Bauer is more of a modern-day Sisyphus than a James Bond. Villains antagonize very well- expect to see much violence, death, destruction, and personal loss before the day is over. And the CTU staff is not composed of the clich?d type-A alpha males and females- in fact, it is mostly a quirky assortment of colorful, rounded characters who constantly bicker with each other and frequently screw things up. Speaking of which, one good thing about season four is that it never takes itself too seriously. There is quite a bit of dark humor and even some self-depreciating humor aimed at longtime fans (i.e. the fan phone, Cubs mug, etc.). You can really see that the entire cast and crew are enjoying themselves while filming this season.

For all the years I've watched the show flounder in the ratings, it was nice to see that 24 finally got the mainstream success it deserved. However, when a series with a cult fan base like 24 suddenly becomes popular, you will inevitably see the knee-jerk negative responses from some of the hardcore fans. You are likely to find some reviewers here proclaim that 24 is now "dumbed-down for the masses." Actually, this couldn't be further from the truth. I've always been amazed at the maturity of the writing on 24 compared to other shows and movies. They never insult the viewers' intelligence- some events that occur early on in the day do not play a part until the very end of the season, and there is little expository dialogue to spoon-feed the backstory to viewers. Also, unlike some of the more didactic and pretentious directors out there (i.e. Steven Spielberg), 24 presents its dramatic themes as morally ambiguous, leaving the viewer to decide what's right and wrong.

This is probably a good place to stop, or else this review will come off sounding like the ramblings of a drooling, sycophantic 24 fanboy. (like it hasn't already!) Overall, this is an outstanding season for what is indisputably the best show ever on television. In my opinion, this was the best season since season one. If your idea of good TV is flavor-of-the-month shows such as "Desperate Housewives," dreck like "CSI" and "The West Wing," or the abomination known as reality TV, check this DVD out. You may be in for a surprise.

Studio: Fox Home Entertainme
Kiefer Sutherland

DVD title: Harold and Maude
Productgroup: DVD
Harold and Maude - movie DVD cover picture
After the father, the daugther loves it

The french TV broadcasted this film a few weeks ago and I'd love to watch it again, but this time tha was with my daughter and wife. My daughter loved it and was really impressed. She also fall in love with the music, not knowing C Stevens. She w'd love to play at the piano "if you want to sing out" but unfortunately it is unfoundable in France. I hope one of the readers of this comment will found the way to provide us with the score.

Studio: Paramount Home Video
Director: Hal Ashby
Ruth Gordon
Bud Cort

DVD title: Boy Meets World - The Complete First Season
Productgroup: DVD
Boy Meets World - The Complete First Season - movie DVD cover picture
By far the best season of the entire series

If you've only seen a few episodes of "Boy Meets World" late in the show's running, then you're really missing alot. Unfortunately, the show really started to go downhill in terms of the writing late in the series. (Everyone seems to get this "stupidity" complex and act dumb all the time, just for the sake of jokes.)

But this season truly was inspired by something great. The dialogue is witty and sometimes emotional. The relationships between Cory, played by Ben Savage, and the rest of the cast are truly great and still ring true today. I especially like the episodes when Mr. Feeny, played by William Daniels (the voice of KITT in "Knight Rider") has something meaningful to teach Cory. (Which in the first season, is almost all of them. Hehe.)

The first season is really the one worth picking up, even if you never watch the later ones.

Studio: Buena Vista Home Vid
Ben Savage
Rider Strong

DVD title: Apocalypse Now
Productgroup: DVD
Apocalypse Now - movie DVD cover picture
Brilliant: The best Vietnam War movie, Bar none.

when seeing this movie for the first time it amazed me the second and third it destroyed me. this is one of the most remarkable movies put to film. francis ford is one of the most ingenous film directors of all time. when producing the movie he felt that it would be the first movie to win the noble peace prize. i fill that would understat the movie it is a monolithic movie acomplishment like no other. it is a must for any film student. and even more of a must for an every day film lover. widescreen shows how this true art should be seen. this to me is the most inspirational noncomprmising picture ever highly recommended by an avid movie goer.

Studio: Paramount Home Video
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Marlon Brando
Martin Sheen

DVD title: Faust
Productgroup: DVD
Faust - movie DVD cover picture
pure poetry

This is such a wonderfully imaginative blending of various Faust stories, a kind of commentary on Faust as cultural icon. Amazing that such a thing could appear in the late Twentieth Century when few could reference all the references, when even the Faust phenomenon is fading. The use of puppets and stop-motion--the imagery overall-- is exceptional. This is Svankmajer's "Late Quartets" or "Missa Solemnis"--a grand uncompromising statement by a great artist. Recommended to those who have the patience, maturity, and good fortune to be able to appreciate such complex and demanding works of art.

Studio: Image Entertainment
Director: Jan Svankmajer

DVD title: Croupier [IMPORT]
Productgroup: DVD
Croupier [IMPORT] - movie DVD cover picture
Clive Owen steals the show

Jack Manfred is a writer seeking to find the elusive inspiration required to pen his first novel. He hasn't always been a writer, however. Before sitting down in front of a word processor he experienced first hand the lure of the casino; his father traipsed around the world gambling away everything he had and often alienated his young son in the process. Now Manfred has settled down with his store detective girlfriend Marion and his Duran Duran hat and spends his time trying to put it all down on paper. The casino has different ideas for Jack, calling him back when his father pulls some strings and gets his son a job as a croupier in a London gaming house. Much like the alcoholic who continually hears the siren sound of the liquor bottle and the neighborhood bar, Manfred initially fights the impulse to return to dens of iniquity full of roulette wheels, chips, and lost souls looking to buck the odds. As much as Jack hates to admit it, he does have a mathematician's mind for gambling. During the interview for the job, he pulls chips off the felt and stacks them with the precision of a surgeon. Manfred can keep track of multiple bets with cool ease; can analyze the motives and psychologies of the gamblers sitting down at the table, all while keeping his mask of exterior detachment firmly in place. Obviously, and agonizingly, he gets the job.
It quickly becomes apparent to Jack that returning to the "house of addiction" poses numerous difficulties. Marion, at first enthused about her boyfriend's new job and big paycheck, begins to notice subtle changes in Jack after he begins work. Other employees at the casino exert their own nefarious influences on our hero, with one of the female croupiers luring Jack in with her wiles while a male croupier tempts Jack in a different way. One immutable rule of the house applying to all employees concerns gambling: don't do it. Obviously, the owners of the gaming house don't want chronic gamblers as employees because debts accrued at the tables will ultimately lead to stealing or cheating. Another rule concerns fraternization with customers and employees outside of the casino: again, don't do it. Knotty relationships with fellow workers can cause one to lose concentration or lead to nasty emotional blowups. Mixing things up with the punters can lead to scams and cheating.
Manfred, essentially an honest guy, manages to break nearly everyone of these rules in record time, although he does keep himself out of serious trouble until he meets a beautiful gambler by the name of Jani de Villiers. This woman attempts to lure Jack into a situation that could, and does, have serious and lingering problems of a decidedly life threatening nature. Through it all--the eventual blowup with Marion, the increasing problems with fellow employees, and the lure of Jani--Jack Manfred finally writes. He writes about his job as a croupier, about the lost souls swirling about the gaming tables, and he does it so well his book must surely lead to success and fame. Maybe.
"Croupier" is a wonderful effort from director Mike Hodges, the same bloke who did "Get Carter" way back in the day. The movie boasts Clive Owen as Jack Manfred, the stunningly gorgeous Alex Kingston in the role of punter supreme Jani de Villiers, and Gina McKee as Jack's straight arrow girlfriend Marion. Owen steals the show, as he should, in his role as the cynical, icy Jack Manfred. Our hero has a lot of personal problems--from his childhood difficulties dealing with a father addicted to gambling to attempting to change course and earn a living as a writer--and Owen believably pulls it all off. I read somewhere this actor is on the shortlist to fill the role of James Bond when Pierce Brosnan steps down, and I couldn't agree more with the choice. In fact, I noticed a striking resemblance between Owen and Sean Connery while watching "Croupier." Maybe it was some of this guy's mannerisms or his subtle charm, but whatever it was the comparison is a valid one. Heck, some of the interior shots of the casino where Jack works reminded me of an early James Bond film, with the snappy dialogue and expressive eye contact. I don't want to overemphasize Clive Owen, though. Alex Kingston does a bang up job as de Villiers, a woman so beautiful you can barely look at her without sunglasses. Even better, we get to see A LOT of Kingston in this role.
Performances are key to this film because the plot tends to confuse at points. After awhile, I quit trying to piece it all together and just sat back to enjoy Owen as he navigated through a host of personal problems. I wouldn't want to call "Croupier" a "slice of life" film, although it certainly fits that bill nicely. The movie isn't primarily about casinos either even though it does give the viewer great insight into the sordid world of gaming houses. "Croupier" is a film about Jack Manfred's personal pain and how he attempts to deal with it as an adult. He's an arrogant guy who thinks he can remove himself from the real world and its attendant problems--his voice-overs and mannerisms hint at his personal belief that HE is above petty problems faced by the mere mortals staring back at him over stacks of chips--but ends up enmeshed in numerous difficulties nonetheless because while he won't gamble at the tables, he does gamble in his personal life. Watch the movie to find out how Jack's risks lead to a major plot twist at the end of the film, and figure out for yourself whether he wins or loses.

Studio: Pid
Director: Mike Hodges
Clive Owen

DVD title: Far From Heaven
Productgroup: DVD
Far From Heaven - movie DVD cover picture
Far from Heaven stands out in a sea of mediocrity

It has been two years and many movies since this movie came out, but I keep coming back to Far from Heaven as a movie of substance and very fine acting. The story itself is static and engaging; the multi-dimensional story keeps one's interest and engages the emotions meaningfully.

One story line is Dennis Quaid's character's emerging homosexuality and its effect on his wife, himself, and their marriage.Another aspect is His wife's (Julianne Moore) relationship with their gardener (Dennis Haysbert). Racial prejudice and tension are laced throughout the film; racist violence erupts when a few schoolboys hurt the gardener's young daughter, taunting her about her daddy's "white girlfriend." Moore's and Haysbert's characters innocently begin a casual relationship which begins to blossom into deeper feeling; this is where the movie soared, the characters beautifully and effectively conveying that the heart is color blind. I loved watching Miss Moore's character, especially, as she was a fine person with a pure heart, and it was refreshing to experience that innocence and goodness.

The ending wasn't happy, but it was realistic. Whatever relationship the two main characters had or wanted to have, was constrained by the social mores of the times, by the limitations society put on interactions between the races, spec., between blacks and whites, even in New England, where the story takes place. Miss Moore's character watches the gardener leave on a traIn at the end, and her expression at their farewell is a magnificent piece of acting, speaking volumes without a word being uttered.

This movie truly moved me and was thought provoking, with well-drawn, complex characters. Adult language and situations existed but were kept to a minimum, thus (for me) enabling the story to develop well without these kinds of distractions.

Studio: Universal Studios
Director: Todd Haynes
Julianne Moore
Dennis Quaid
Dennis Haysbert

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