Film DVD related reviews

DVD title: Do You Believe in Miracles? The Story of the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team
Productgroup: DVD
Do You Believe in Miracles? The Story of the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team - movie DVD cover picture
Perhaps The Greatest Coaching Job in the History of Sports

A great chronicle of those heady days in Lake Placid nearly 25 years ago. Everyone seemed to find something they liked in this improbable victory. For me it was the coaching job turned in by Herb Brooks. It may be the greatest coaching job in the history of sports. Here are excerpts from an AP article about the late Coach Brooks which says it all:

Herb Brooks was behind the bench when the American Olympic Hockey team pulled off the greatest upset ever at Lake Placid NY in 1980, beating the mighty Soviets with a squad of mostly college players.That shocking victory, plus beating Finland for the gold medal, assured the team a place in immortality.

The young U.S. team was given no chance against a veteran Soviet squad that had dominated international hockey for years and had routed the Americans 10-3 in an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden the week before the Olympics.

On Feb. 22, 1980, the U.S. team scored with 10 minutes to play to take a 4-3 lead against the Soviets. As the final seconds ticked away, announcer Al Michaels exclaimed, "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!"

It remains one of the most famous calls in history.
Brooks' leadership helped turn a ragtag team into champions. He had hand picked each player.

"You're looking for players whose name on the front of the sweater is more important than the one on the back," Brooks once said. "I look for these players to play hard, to play smart and to represent their country."

Interviewed years later on why he headed to the locker room shortly after the Miracle on Ice, he said he wanted to leave the ice to his players, who deserved it.

Players kept a notebook of "Brooksisms," sayings the coach used for motivation, such as: "You're playing worse and worse every day and right now you're playing like it's next month."

But, before playing the Soviets, Brooks told his players: "You're meant to be here. This moment is yours. You're meant to be here at this time."

"He was ahead of his time," team member Ken Morrow said. "All of his teams overachieved because Herbie understood how to get the best out of each player and make him part of a team. And like everyone who played for him, I became a better person because I played for Herb Brooks."

Born in St. Paul, Brooks played hockey at the University of Minnesota, where he later coached from 1972 to 1979, winning three national titles. He was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 1990.

When Brooks decided to coach the 2002 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team at Salt Lake City, he was asked why he would return after writing the most improbable story in hockey. "Maybe I'm sort of like the players -- there's still a lot of little boy in me," Brooks said. "And maybe I'm a little smarter now than I was before for all the stupid things I've done."

Brooks was the last player cut on the 1960 U.S. gold medal team, and unfairly so, the victim of favoritism by his coach. But he persevered, and played on the United States Olympic Hockey Team in 1964 and 1968. And when he coached the 1980 Olympic Team, he did not repeat the mistake made by his 1960 coach. It was difficult and painful, but he did the right thing selecting the players for his 1980 team. And as they say, the rest is history. Or was it really a miracle? That is left for each reader to decide for themselves.

In an interview at his White Bear Lake home not long before his untimely death, Brooks described to the Minneapolis Star Tribune about watching one of his favorite movies, "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."

"You know, Willie Wonka said it best: We are the makers of dreams, the dreamers of dreams," Brooks said. "We should be dreaming. We grew up as kids having dreams, but now we're too sophisticated as adults, as a nation. We stopped dreaming. We should always have dreams. I'm a dreamer."

This DVD deserves to be in every sports fans' library. With it I recommend the book, One Goal: A Chronicle of the 1980 Olympic Hockey Team, if you can find a copy of this sought after collectible.

Studio: Hbo Studios

DVD title: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Productgroup: DVD
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - movie DVD cover picture
Crazy stuff

A film that lives up to the infamous novel. Depp is ideal as the Hunter we think we know from countless rolling Stone and other writings. Benedico plays his part FLAWLESSLY! Don't take a first date to this movie though, unless she's into ether.

Studio: Universal Studios
Director: Terry Gilliam
Johnny Depp
Benicio Del Toro

DVD title: Crime Story - Season One
Productgroup: DVD
Crime Story - Season One - movie DVD cover picture
Crime story

It was my husband's favorite show. He has watched them & loves it.

Studio: Anchor Bay Entertain
Dennis Farina

DVD title: Willow (Special Edition)
Productgroup: DVD
Willow (Special Edition) - movie DVD cover picture
A classic!

"Willow" is a mixed bag of different movie venues and audience reactions, ranging from originality to predictability, from exciting to downright weird. It lacks the ingenuity and spirit of such child-oriented movies as "The Neverending Story" and "The Goonies," but for the most part, it pays off, and you may be surprised to find yourself enjoying different sections of the film.
The beginning is wonderful, a highly suspenseful opening in which an evil queen brings all pregnant mothers in her kingdom before her in hopes of locating and destroying the one chosen to bring her reign of terror to an end. A midwife smuggles the child out of the castle, and before she is set upon by wildebeests, she sends the child floating down the river, where it comes to the attention of the Nelywn community.
In the world of "Willow," there are two sets of people: the Nelwyns, a community of short, midget people, and the Daikinis, regular-sized humans. The baby is a Daikini, and so Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis) is called upon to return the baby to its original habitat. Setting out on the dangerous journey, he soon meets adventurous Madmartigan (Val Kilmer), and the two pair up to take the baby to its destination, which changes almost every minute as they encounter such beings as a forest fairy, and a sorceress who comes in the form of a rat, a bird, a goat, etc.
The movie isn't really interested in setting a straight course for itself. The constant changing of setting, pace, and destination are all a reminder that a movie such as this is more of a device for action and humor rather than logical plot. Because this movie is aimed at children, and has a childlike quality of its own, it gets away with such a tactic.
Having said that, the film is exceptionally entertaining. It's full of humor and yes, even a little bit of suspense, likeable characters, who are sometimes so goofy and cumbersome that you'll laugh until you cry, and a story that is the stuff dreams are made of. Kilmer's character is a throwback of sorts to the swashbuckling heroes of yesteryear, while Davis is a hero as well, and the one we all come out rooting for.
The action sequences are mindless good fun, ranging from a high-speed horse chase to some showdowns at various castles throughout the land. These scenes all give Lucas and director Ron Howard a chance to showcase some of the finer set pieces in a children's movie, from knights in armor and beautiful yet foreboding vistas, to dark, gothic castles and otherworldly creatures conjured out of magical powers.
Watching the movie as an adult proves to be far different than from seeing it in my childhood. As a child, I remembered the excitement of such scenes, and looking back on them, I find that it is unfair to dismiss the movie on its logic. I do find that some scenes are somewhat disturbing for younger children, at whom the movie is aimed, such as the sequence in which a two-headed dragon rises out of a river; they seem a bit too daring for a children's movie.
The fantasy land created in "Willow" lives up to the expectations of the genre, and even goes a bit further. The story is a bit befuddled, but paying attention to its flaws takes away from the fun and excitement it has in spinning its tale. The special effects are dazzling without being jaw-dropping, and the action is intense without being gratuitous. As a children's movie, "Willow" is pure, nonsensical satisfaction.

Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Home Video
Director: Ron Howard
Val Kilmer
Joanne Whalley
Warwick Davis

DVD title: Tender Mercies
Productgroup: DVD
Tender Mercies - movie DVD cover picture
Subtle with Upper-case Letters

Each reviewer has mentioned just how "joined" each scene is, and how subtle the various messages of each of these scenes are. So SUBTLE, in fact, that no one -- to my knowledge -- has ever noticed the subtlety in the second-to-last scene wherein Robert Duvall is hoeing the garden, reflecting (with a fair amount of frustration) about God's intentions. Pay close attention to Tess Harper. If you still haven't figured it out, email me at and I'll clue you in. It suggests that a scene was cut from the final edit that might satisfy anyone who had wished for closure in this excellent movie about humanity.

Studio: Republic Studios
Director: Bruce Beresford
Robert Duvall
Tess Harper

DVD title: The Game
Productgroup: DVD
The Game - movie DVD cover picture
One of the top 10

Combines many aspects of different movie genres, including very effective film noir aspects. It is obvious that the screenwriters and Fincher know what they are doing. The story couldn't be better with lots of philosophical questions and is full of suspense. You constantly want to find out what happens next and throughout the journey you are sceptical that it will be successful but halleluja! Douglas is ideal and I am very surprised that this previous viewer from San Diego was disappointed with the characterization of the film - IT COULDN'T HAVE BEEN OTHERWISE! Most definite: one of the best American films I have seen - among Highlander, Contact, etc.

Studio: Usa Films
Director: David Fincher
Michael Douglas
Sean Penn
Deborah Kara Unger

DVD title: Last Orders
Productgroup: DVD
Last Orders - movie DVD cover picture
A Perfect Cast for an Unforgettable Film

Upon reaching a certain age, especially when a proper catalyst is provided, one may become wont to consider and reflect upon the life one has lived-- to take stock, as it were. And, without question, the death of a long-time, close friend or associate can effect such a catalysis, which is precisely what happens in "Last Orders," directed by Fred Schepisi, a drama that suggests that perhaps the end of a life can offer a valuable and renewed perspective to those who go on to write yet another chapter of their own in this great book we fondly know as the Human Comedy. Finally, it's about individual resolve and beginnings that can be found in endings, and the life therein reserved for those who may yet count themselves among the living.
Jack (Michael Caine), a working class butcher in London, planned one day to retire with his lovely wife, Amy (Helen Mirren), to the seaside hamlet of Margate. As often happens in life, however, Jack was denied the realization of his dream by the unbidden intervention of Fate, in the form of it's eternal emissary, The Grim Reaper. But Jack enters his everlasting sleep even as he lived his life, one step ahead of the other guy; and the attainment of his final wish begins with the consigning of his ashes to his three closest, life-long friends and his son, Vince (Ray Winstone), along with a request he adjures them as a group to honor. And so it is that Vince, Vic (Tom Courtenay), Lenny (David Hemmings), and Jack's best friend, Ray (Bob Hoskins), set out on a journey to effect the "Last orders" of their good friend, Jack; a journey that will take them into the future by way of the past, as they reflect upon what has gone before, and the possibilities that now lay ahead.
With this film, Schepisi has crafted and delivered what is essentially a moment in time; a moment he examines through a sentimental journey rife with all of the hard knocks and stoic truths that made up Jack's life, and which he presents just as Jack lived it. And a sentimental journey though it may be, don't expect to be seeing it through rose colored glasses. As the story unfolds, what emerges is a portrait of a complex individual made up of the myriad and many facets of the human condition. And each flashback, combined with an episode from the present, reveals another piece of the puzzle that was Jack; and by the end, the picture we have of him is complete. We see him for who and what he really was, good, bad or indifferent, with all the flaws and foibles that were part and parcel of the ebb and flow of his life-- everything that defined him as a human being. Also, inasmuch as the story is told through the eyes of his friends and loved ones, it necessarily follows that they are revealed, as well, especially Amy and Ray. We do get to know Vince, Vic and Lenny, of course, but to something of a lesser degree. In the final analysis, then, what Schepisi has created here is nothing less than an intimate and incisive character study through which Jack, his friends and their story comes vividly to life. Schepisi does the material proud, but then he was, of course, afforded the talents of an extraordinarily gifted ensemble cast, from which he extracts a number of memorable performances.
As Lawrence Jamieson in 1988's "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," he was the most suave and sophisticated gentleman (albeit con man) the screen has seen since Niven or Grant, but without question, since his portrayal of "Alfie," in 1966, Michael Caine has been everyones favorite cockney, and no one-- make that NO one-- does it better. And it's precisely that nuance of character that Caine brings to his portrayal of Jack that makes him so alive and convincing. Caine can be ingratiating even when he's playing a "hard" guy, and there is a decidedly hard side to Jack; but there's a very caring side to Jack, too, which Caine also manages to convey with facility, and he does a splendid job of fusing the many sides of his character into one very real whole. It's the kind of top notch performance we've come to expect from Caine, and it makes his character and the film entirely credible.
When it comes to playing cockney, Caine may be the King, but Bob Hoskins is certainly the Crown Prince, coming in a close second. These two, in fact, would clean up if the Oscars ever decided to include the categories of Best Cockney and Best Supporting Cockney. There are times, perhaps, when you have to turn an ear in to understand what they're saying, but it's part of the charm and viability of their respective portrayals. And Hoskins has an appeal all his own, and though he lacks Caine's charisma, he does have a definite screen presence, all of which helps to make the relationship between Ray and Jack believable.
The wonderful Helen Mirren, meanwhile, turns in a remarkably poignant performance as Amy. Her portrayal readily brings the inner conflicts and complexities of her character to the fore, as Mirren successfully shows us the many sides of this woman, who is wife, lover and mother, all rolled into one. Most importantly, her Amy is so human; there is an earthiness to her, but it is tempered by her more maternal and caring instincts, and it lends an honesty and integrity to the character that makes her very real.
Courtenay, Hemmings and Winstone turn in noteworthy performances, too, each making the utmost of the screen time they are afforded, successfully establishing their characters and the nature of their relationship with Jack as well as one another. It's all a part of what makes "Last Orders" such entertaining and engaging cinema, a film that is both sincere and unforgettable. And that's the magic of the movies.

Studio: Columbia Tri-Star
Director: Fred Schepisi
Michael Caine
Bob Hoskins

DVD title: The Young Ones - Every Stoopid Episode
Productgroup: DVD
The Young Ones - Every Stoopid Episode - movie DVD cover picture
Hands Up! Who Likes Me? ... Damn!

The answer Rick, should be that we all like you. You were the moral center, the deepest and most flawed character, and the fever pitch gauge of the program. Your continued quest for respect, power, and acceptance was a brilliant journey. Most of this was offset of course, by the fact that you were a complete bastard.
After four plus years since the VHS release, and countless emails to the BBC, the DVD version of the Young Ones has *finally* been released. Having it on pre-order for months through Amazon[.com], I was excited to see it arrive a few days ago. Like many others, I first became aware of them during their playback on MTV in the mid/late? 80's. As hilarious as it was then, it's aged well and plays even better today as a marvelous sitcom and character study. Continued viewing brings out new subtle and not so subtle nuances each time out.
How would one describe the program to a newbie. Four students at Scumbag college, living in filth on their scholarship grants, battle daily tedium and their own stereotyped existence. Simmering beneath this conflict are abstract meetings of inanimate objects, cleaning utensils, neighbors, and random occurrences. The four students are archetypes for future comedies.
1. The nillilistic punk, Vyvyan. Played by Ade Edmondson, Vyv, complete with iron stars permanently attached to his forehead exists only to destroy. Like a vengeful Hindu god, he smites everything in his path, except those he exhibits the barest traces of humanity towards; his hamster SPG, his car, and his begonia. Introduced to the viewer by crashing through a wall riding a wrecking ball, Vyv is involved in the majority of the physical humor.
2. Neil, the vegetarian hippie. Always dirty, always downtrodden, and almost always on the toilet, in the kitchen, or in bed, Neil is the shows spiritual den mother. He is also probably the recipient of most of the pain doled out by Vyv.
3. Mike, the playboy hipster. Seems a bit old to be in college still, doesn't allow is small stature to get in the way of his grand plans and over exuberant braggadocio. The only flat mate capable of reigning in Vyv and focusing that power with dictatorial precision. Mike's role doesn't have much depth as written, and perhaps that's with just cause for a guy who travels with a blow up doll and old tapes of women moaning his name. Essentially a smooth straight man in the mold of Bud Abbott.
4. Finally, Rick. The sociology student, people's poet, anarchist, and all around poseur. Rick never lets an episode go without commenting on some aspect of current life in Thatcher's Britain, how he'd fix it, or, tear it down. It seems terribly difficult to take his anarchist rantings seriously as he flops about in his yellow dungarees, red shoes, and pig tail sprigs. Still, I find Rick the most consistently amusing of the lot. His whip quick mood changes from obsequious currying Mike or Vyv's favor to righteous indignation over Neil's choice of South African lentils is priceless.
Combined, these characters create an incredible dynamic as they interact with each other and their varied guest stars. Additionally, early 80's musical groups could appear without any form of story set up and play in the bathroom or living room at any given time. When the boys would go out on the town ala Bambi, appearing on University Challenge, it was especially amusing to see the reaction of people on the street who couldn't make sense of them.
I find some of the references are still obscure to someone not familiar with early 80's English lifestyle, but the DVD contains subtitles which were definitely helpful for allowing one to hear some of the more hushed secondary conversations missed in the first go around. The third disc contains snippets of comedy documentaries produced since the Young Ones aired, as well as the first episodes of the spiritual successor series to the Young Ones. Filthy Rich & Catflap, and Bottom. They also included a 'where are they now' section that shows just who all came out of the Young Ones and got their start there. The number of today's successful actors, and comedians is staggering. Groundbreaking and incredibly funny, The Young Ones is a classic. Highly recommended.

Studio: Warner Home Video
Ruth Burnett

DVD title: Ivan Vasilievich - Back to the Future
Productgroup: DVD
Ivan Vasilievich - Back to the Future - movie DVD cover picture
Russian comedy at its best

It is one of the best Russian comedies of the Soviet period. This film is about a scholar who invents a time machine and by accident sends his neighbour and a burglar who happens to be in his neighbour's flat to the time of Ivan the terrible. It is absolutely hysterical. Great cast. Great acting. I have seen this film many times and every time I laugh my head off. I would recommend all the films by Leonid Gaiday.

Studio: Image Entertainment
Director: Leonid Gaidai

DVD title: Evolution Boxed Set
Productgroup: DVD
Evolution Boxed Set - movie DVD cover picture
The PBS 7-part primer on the theory of Evolution

Everybody knows that when it comes down to the final question in a game of Trivial Pursuit that they should make me try and answer a science question because I know pretty much nothing about science and nature. This is because the one thing I knew about high school biology was that you dissected animals and being sick in front of the smartest girls in school did not appeal to me at all. So I took Life Through the Microscope (it involved drawing) and Ecology (it was the only class that fit my schedule) and missed out on Biology, Chemistry and Physics. However, since I did my dissertation on the infamous Scopes "Monkey" Trial I do have something of an interest in the controversy over evolution if not the concept itself. This seven-part series exploring various facets of evolution was perfect so someone like me who insists on having theory of any sort mixed with a heavy dose of practice.
"Evolution" is as much about the profound impact the evolutionary process has had on our understanding of the world around us as it is on the various versions of the theory that have been expounded in scientific textbooks for the past century. The series basically focuses on five key concepts regarding evolution, sandwiched between episodes that constitute a dramatic introduction and a controversial coda:
"Darwin's Dangerous Idea" offers dramatizations of key moments in Darwin's life along with contemporary talking heads explaining the profound implications of the evolutionary theory and the place it holds in the scientific community today as a pivotal concept. It takes a while to adjust to the episodic approach of the dramatizations, which come and go without a real sense of regularity, but since they dramatized the famous retort of Huxley to Bishop Wilberforce and other key moments in the popularization of evolution there is a certain effectiveness to it all. What you get from this episode is a better idea of what the initial complaints were to evolutionary theory and who was making them.
"Great Transformations" explores the evolutionary changes that caused the incredible diversity of animal life that exists on earth. The focus is on the development of the four-limbed body plan, which is explained in the context of how animal life moved from water to land and eventually to human beings, thereby answering the key question of why are human connected to all life.
"Extinction!" represents the flip side of evolutionary transformations, explaining the how and why behind the fact that 99.9 percent of all species that have ever lived on earth are now extinct. This leads to the provocative question as to whether human beings are going to cause the next mass extinction on the planet.
"The Evolutionary Arms Race" puts the entire concept of natural selection and survival of the fittest in the context of humanity's battles with microorganisms, looking at a case study regarding the reemergence of tuberculosis in Russian prisons. With the alarming spread of resistance among pathogens that cause disease, the episode explains how this particular "race" offers the major threat to human existence. The scary question here is whether we are fighting a battle we cannot win.
"Why Sex?" makes the contention that in evolutionary terms sex is more important than life itself. But on a more pragmatic level is addresses the question of whether males are necessary to perpetuate the species, looking at a wide variety of case studies drawn from nature. This episode also explains the principle of monogamy in evolutionary terms.
"The Mind's Big Bang" addresses the question of why humans are the dominant species on earth. The answer is found in the past, when something happened to primitive humans to trigger a creative, technological, and social explosion, which ultimately allowed humans to dominate the planet. The episode tries to uncover (literally) the primitive forces that contributed to the emergence of the mind of the modern human being.
"What About God?" is the coda to the series in that it returns to the initial question of Darwin's day regarding the conflict between evolution and religion. The debate is presented within the context of a college student whose family is not happy with what he is learning about evolution at Wesleyan College, a group of high school students trying to get their local school board to allow the teaching of creationism, and the activities by adults on both sides of the question to win this pivotal battle. I consider the episode to be remarkably even-handed, but then I do not think there is an inherent conflict between the two, which invalidates my opinion for true believers on both sides.
Overall I like the fact that "Evolution" goes for depth rather than breadth. The case studies, at least to my uneducated mind, come across as being representative of the issue under discussion. The DVD series also features access to the Evolution Web site with its interactive games, activities, and biographies, so those who would like to get additional information and insight on any one of these topics can easily do so. There are also student lessons for teachers who want to work these episodes into their science classes and a printable teacher's guide (remember, "Evolution" was produced by WGBH Boston, which means we are talking--surprise--public television).

Studio: Wgbh Pubns

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