Film DVD related reviews

DVD title: The Children of Heaven
Productgroup: DVD
The Children of Heaven - movie DVD cover picture
Yes, It is Magical

I hate to reiterate what so many other reviewers have stated here, but this is a magical movie. It takes you into the world of two Iranian children as they attempt to overcome what is for them a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. This movie is one of the few times when I went in with high expectations and was not disappointed. It is a simple story but told with sublime beauty and grace.

Studio: Miramax
Director: Majid Majidi

DVD title: Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd (New Line Platinum Series)
Productgroup: DVD
Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd (New Line Platinum Series) - movie DVD cover picture
Very Funny!!!!!!!!!!!!

I saw this movie on Xmas day. It was a very funny movie, forget what they said in the other reviews. It's a cool movie.

Studio: New Line Home Entertainment
Director: Troy Miller
Derek Richardson
Eric Christian Olsen
Eugene Levy

DVD title: Firefly - The Complete Series
Productgroup: DVD
Firefly - The Complete Series - movie DVD cover picture
This is a truly brilliant show

I had not heard of this show until after it was cancelled. A television series of this quality is an exceedingly rare find. I wholeheartedly recommend Firefly not just to sci-fi fans, but to anyone who enjoys an excellent cast, an ingenious script, and a captivating story. Maybe HBO could pick up the ball that Fox so mindlessly dropped.

Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Home Video
Nathan Fillion

DVD title: Sting - All This Time
Productgroup: DVD
Sting - All This Time - movie DVD cover picture
Can't wait to own the DVD!

Just saw this on A&E (before the release of DVD) - AMAZING how Sting and his talented band have made new his great music even better - every song is done in a fresh new way - whether by speeding up the tempo (Every Breath You Take), making it more jazzy, showcasing an awesome trumpet player (Moon Over Bourbon Street), or just adding some new kicks (Brand New Day, If I Ever Lose My Faith). The documentary of the preparation for the concert was fascinating - you sit in on the band working through variations and trying out funky stuff - fabulous!
The concert was held on Sept. 11, and the references and respects paid to the victims of the terrorist attacks were vivid and moving. The scene of Sting rounding up the team to discuss whether or not the show should go on was a testimony to the democratic way Sting leads his band, giving each player a chance to voice their opinion. We are lucky that they chose to do the show, albeit cutting some of the numbers (which we still get on the DVD from the dress rehearsal video taken Sept. 10) for a beautiful, appropriate set. And perhaps the music was all the better as each member of the band threw their grief and sorrow about the attacks into their music - this was an amazing show.

Studio: Uni/A&M
Director: Jim Gable

DVD title: That '70s Show - Season Two
Productgroup: DVD
That '70s Show - Season Two - movie DVD cover picture
A rare and wonderful show...

"That '70s Show" is one of my favorite pop culture experiences, and I couldn't be more delighted to see it on DVD, particularly since this colorful set has a better bunch of extras than the first season. Fans who have seen live tapings of the show will be delighted by the included "webisodes" which serve as home movies of the experience. (It's especially nice since fans can't take photos at the tapings.) David Trainer, who has directed all but the pilot episode of the show's seven seasons, gamely provides 3 commentary tracks. (I enjoyed them, but I wish the cast would join in.)

Why does this show work, when so many sitcoms don't? For one thing, the cast is remarkably gifted, and much like your own friends, each is appealing in their own way. Topher Grace centers the cast as Eric Forman, and he is a wonder. His quirkiness and comic timing are delightful, but it is his sweetness that allows the show to achieve a rare balance of outrageous comedy and tender realism. The situations on the show are often outlandish, but the characters also seem like people you know, and you can relate to their emotions.

Two episodes mid-season illustrate this balance of comedy and reality perfectly. In "The First Time" the show deals with how Eric and his girlfriend, Donna (Laura Prepon), decide to have sex for the first time. This experience is nicely set amidst the remarriage of Donna's immature parents (Don Stark and Tanya Roberts) who have made Donna's life difficult with their marital wars. They ask her to write their vows for them, and Donna has to articulate what love is. She has difficultly doing it, because they haven't set much of an example. After she pulls this off, she is ready to have sex with Eric. This episode, which also has several comic subplots, is beautifully done. For a few minutes, you forget you're watching a sitcom. Then, just as that tone is set, the show rebounds with "Afterglow," about the morning after. Turns out their first time wasn't all Donna had hoped, and the awkwardness between Eric and Donna is played out to painfully embarassing, and painfully funny, heights. And the way the guys (the delightful trio of Ashton Kutcher, Wilmer Valderrama and Danny Masterson) react to Eric's dilemma? Priceless.

Season Two is full of other gems, too many to mention. This show has very few bad episodes, and its creativity and energy put me in a good mood almost every time I watch it. My only regret is not discovering it sooner. If "That '70s Show" is off your radar (as it was for me until a few years ago), give it a shot. It is a rare, undervalued jewel.

Studio: Fox Home Entertainme
Ashton Kutcher

DVD title: Lost In Translation (Widescreen Edition)
Productgroup: DVD
Lost In Translation (Widescreen Edition) - movie DVD cover picture
Lonely Days, Lonely Nights

Bill Murray is Bob Harris, a once popular American actor who now, in his middle-age, has found more acceptance and money from the people of Japan than from his own country. He arrives at a prestigious hotel in Tokyo and is given a royal treatment by his greeters and hosts. He is by himself in the land of the rising sun, his wife and kids having stayed behing in the US while he travels across the globe to do some liquor commercials. This Tokyo excursion will take about a week, and the monetary reward will be quite handsome. Contrast this with Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), who is at the same hotel tagging along with her photographer husband, John (Giovanni Ribisi), as he does a multiple-day photo shoot. John is at work most of the time, and so Charlotte is by herself at the hotel, her attempts to keep from being bored proving fruitless. Both Bob and Charlotte are married people, but they are also very lonely people, and that is what "Lost In Translation" is all about.
Bob and Charlotte catch glimpses of one another at different places in the hotel, and finally decide to converse in earnest at the hotel bar. The entire plot of the film is about these two people getting to know each other. The story revolves around them. In fact, the story *is* them. Bob, in his early-fifties, is old enough to be Charlotte's dad, but that doesn't matter here. It's not about age. It's about the place, and the points that each of these people are at in their lives. Bob loves his children very much, but we do not sense he feels the same for his wife. We hear her on the phone when she calls him, and the same weary sentiment seems to flow from her voice. They are becoming a couple in name only. Then there's Charlotte & John. Both are young, and both are self-possessed. John is into his photography to the point of neglecting Charlotte. But we get the idea that even if gave her more attention, Charlotte might not really warm up to him. She has issues of her own. If Bob is going through a mid-life crisis, then Charlotte seems to be going through a young-life crisis.
"Lost In Translation" is about being alone. Loneliness doesn't always mean that someone is physically separated from loved ones or from people in general. One can be alone in the middle of a crowded room. Such is the case with Bob & Charlotte. They're in Japan for a week. They don't really speak the language. Bob's wife is in the US, and Charlotte's husband is always at a photo shoot. The two lost souls find each other at the hotel, spend time with one another, and even sleep in the same bed together. But we know that while this is providing a small comfort for the time being, it is not a lasting solution to their problems. And we also understand that both Bob and Charlotte -- even if Bob's wife were in Tokyo with him, and John was by Charlotte's side all the time -- would still be lonely. Their life struggles lie deeper than what one person can provide, especially the persons they have chosen to settle down with.
This is probably Bill Murray's most understated performance, and it works brilliantly. He lets you in on Bob's emotions without betraying too much sentimentality. He conveys so much with just a smile, a frown, his body language, or simply the look in his eyes. He should get an Oscar nomination for this. Scarlett Johansson, who left me unimpressed in the movie "Ghost World" a few years ago, is excellent in her role here. She portrays Charlotte as a deep, troubled, yet intelligent young woman and, like her co-star, does it without overstating it. She spends much of her screen time walking around a hotel room in her pink panties, and does it so simply and matter-of-factly that it becomes both vulnerable and sexy at the same time. Johansson is definitely an actress to watch for in the coming years.
Sofia Coppola has succeeded in creating a sliver of time & place with "Lost In Translation". It creates two of the most realistic characters to ever grace the cinema. You forget this is a movie, and start to really care for these people as though they really exist. And you get the feeling that this is a single, solitary moment that will be over with and then fondly remembered by the characters for a long time to come. This sweeps over you before the film is even over, much like when you are in the middle of a special occurence or event in your own life, and you stop and think about the fact that at one point - very soon - it will cease to be the present, and will instead become only a nostalgic memory.
And there you have "Lost In Translation"

Studio: Universal Studios
Director: Sofia Coppola
Scarlett Johansson
Bill Murray
Giovanni Ribisi

DVD title: 1984
Productgroup: DVD
1984 - movie DVD cover picture
Michael Radford's Film Is DoublePlusGood

Almost everyone is familiar with George Orwell's novel NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR--either you read it of your own volition, or you had to read it in a high-school or college literature class--so it would be redundant to recount the basic plot here. Two major theatrical versions of the novel have been proffered to the English-speaking public: Michael Anderson's 1984, released in 1956, and Michael Radford's NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR, released (appropriately) in 1984. Anderson's 1950s edition is rather dull and lacks the severity of the novel, but Radford's more recent film is about as close as one could possibly get to directly translating Orwell's literary vision to the silver screen.
The novel is meant as a warning about how the human spirit, and therefore humanity's future, degrades and deteriorates under strict, ruthless totalitarianism. Orwell's description of life under a strong-fisted dictatorship is bleak, drab, and colorless, and the novel's protagonist, Winston Smith, and his fellow citizens are described as being barely more than animate skeletons. Radford creates the visual equivalent by peopling his NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR with reflections of the victims of Nazi concentration camps, and the quality of life in his Oceania is hardly much better. Even the architecture is severe and cold, the clothes that people wear are rag-like and virtually colorless, and the homes and offices of even government employees like Smith look old and unhealtfully dirty.
John Hurt is perfectly cast as Winston Smith. Not only does he look thin and gaunt, but his superb acting skills allow him to portray Orwell's antihero with an inner despair that the audience can actually feel through his face and physical bearing. Suzanna Hamilton is also a good choice for Smith's love (or lust?) interest, Julia. She is attractive enough to make it believable that Hurt's Smith would desire her, yet she is also able to bring to life Orwell's vision of Julia as a hedonistic anti-establishment rebel. Best of all, though, is the casting of Richard Burton as O'Brien, the Ingsoc Inner Party official who ultimately betrays Smith. Burton maintains a stoic air throughout the film, remaining calm and mild even as his character tortures Smith, and his O'Brien, as in Orwell's novel, is eerily unsettling.
The DVD from MGM offers an anamorphic widescreen digital transfer from a quality print, but it is short on extras (theatrical trailer only). However, this is such an outstanding film version of a literary great that the lack of extras should not deter film buffs or Orwell fans from adding the DVD to their collections.

Studio: MGM/UA Video
Director: Michael Radford
John Hurt
Richard Burton
Suzanna Hamilton

DVD title: Verdi - Otello / Maazel, Domingo, Ricciarelli
Productgroup: DVD
Verdi - Otello / Maazel, Domingo, Ricciarelli - movie DVD cover picture
opera is so misunderstood

As one who directs opera for a living, I am dismayed by some of the comments by other reviews here. They sound like they were written by college students trying to impress themselves with their new-found intelligence. They could never dream of making a film on this scale. I was greatly moved when I first saw this film. Yes, the willow song is missing. Why? Because it doesn't (as beautiful as it is) further the dramatic story. Would I cut it from the staged version? No. But, what people many involved in the field often forget is that opera was always intended as a synthesis of the dramatic and musical arts. It is NOT just about the music. A good director tells a story. In addition, telling a story in film is not the same as telling a story on the stage. When people see this film (and I have shown it to many) they love it! They even weep at the end. Of course these are people who have no preconceived notions or generally have not seen the staged version. It does its job. It is absolutely beautiful, powerful, breathtaking and dramatic. Iago getting harpooned was a stroke of genius. We all wanted it. Composers write the music and do not pretend to write the staging. So what--if it wasn't written in the score as a dramatic notation. The film did not draw attention to the director but had the opposite effect--it drew us into a different world and made me personally forget that I was watching a film. That is the mark of a good director. Were their flaws? Sure. But all artists are flawed. Get over it. This is a monumental work. From a dramtic standpoint, I prefer it to most staged productions. If you want something from a musical standpoint, get the CD. Those who hate the fact that opera is a synthesis, should stay out of the opera house. The art form has been ruined by these kinds of people (especially at the Met) where fat singers dying of consumption "park and bark" their way through a piece intended to be dramatic--where two singers will stand on opposite sides of the stage and sing undying love to one another without any connection at all. Bravo to directors who are not afraid to take risks and actully tell a believable story.

Studio: MGM/UA Video
Director: Franco Zeffirelli
Plácido Domingo
Katia Ricciarelli

DVD title: Video Girl Ai
Productgroup: DVD
Video Girl Ai - movie DVD cover picture
Full of joy, full of sorrow...

The story is simple and effective. In a mere six episodes, this DVD manages to introduce all the main characters, establish the motivations of each, and then build to an ending. Throughout you'll find yourself laughing at the antics of "Ai" (the girl from the video world), pulling for Yota (the "Dateless" male lead), and hoping that someone will end up finding happiness. Through all the twists, your heart will be wrung of its emotion. Then when the final scene arrives and you look for release, you'll find none. The ending was NOT what had been expected.If you enjoy stories that are like emotional rollercoasters, you love this one...

Director: Mizuho Nishikubo

DVD title: Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The Complete Third Season
Productgroup: DVD
Buffy the Vampire Slayer - The Complete Third Season - movie DVD cover picture
buffy kicks

The third season is great. a new slayer comes to town (that uh, would be faith). it shows the friendship between buffy and faith and then the exciting conflit. during this season, you witness as buffy kills a man and puts faith in a coma. angel comes close to death and you really get to see the relationship of buffy and angel. the mayor acheives assention and buffy and the scooby gang stop it. all aroung, the second seaon is bangin'!!!

Studio: Fox Home Entertainme
Sarah Michelle Gellar
David Boreanaz
Eliza Dushku

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