DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

DVD-Video Reviews, Part 2 of 2


Published on July 1, 2004

Pt. 2 of 2 – July-August 2004   [Part 1]

Star Trek Voyager Season 2 Z - Costa-Gravas Joseph Campbell - Power of Myth Frasier 3rd season
Underworld directors cut Tokyo Godfathers - anime Terry Gilliam's Time BAndits Mel Brook's Dracula
Richard III, with Gielgud & Olivier Cheers, 3rd season Walk on the Wild Side Level13.net animation collection

Star Trek Voyager season 2 Star Trek: Voyager – Season Two (1995-1996)

Starring: Kate Mulgrew, Ethan Phillips, Robert Picardo, Garrett Wang, Jennifer Lien, Tim Russ, Robert Beltran, Roxann Dawson, Robert Duncan McNeill
Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
Video: 4:3 Fullscreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby 2.0 Surround
Subtitles: English Closed Captions
Extras: Seven featurettes, A Special Text Trivia Version of “The 37’s”, Photo gallery
Length: 1,183 minutes
Rating: ****

The U.S.S. Voyager is an elite Federation starship commanded by Captain Kathryn Janeway. In a freak occurrence, Voyager is transported by an alien space probe to the Delta Quadrant. This particular quadrant is located some 70,000 light-years from Federation space. Janeway is thereafter faced with the daunting mission of trying to guide her ship and crew back home. Along their journey, the crew of Voyager encounters new alien species as well as having many memorable adventures. Highlights from the second season include: “Deathwish” where a rebel Q seeks asylum aboard Voyager (featuring a guest appearance by TNG’s Commander Riker; “The 37’s” in which the crew encounters Amelia Earhart and other humans abducted by aliens in 1937; and “The Thaw” where an evil clown holds Ensign Kim captive on a carnival-like world. The entire twenty-six episodes from the 1995-1996 season plus the special features are spread out over seven discs. (Disc One: The 37’s, Initiations, Projections, Elogium. Disc Two: Non Sequitur, Twisted, Parturition, Persistence of Vision. Disc Three: Tattoo, Cold Fire, Maneuvers, Resistance. Disc Four: Prototype, Alliances, Threshold, Meld. Disc Five: Dreadnought, Death Wish, Lifesigns, Investigations. Disc Six: Deadlock, Innocence, The Thaw, Tuvix. Disc Seven: Resolutions, Basics Part I, Special Features).

Season Two’s video quality is very good. Images are clean with fine detail. Colors are warm and robust with saturated hues. Black levels are consistently dark throughout. Picture defect mastering is solid with no major flaws or compression artifacts. The overall audio quality is also very good with the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track serving as the basis for this review. The soundtrack mix favors the forward soundstage. Dialogue is crisp and intelligible. Surround channels are moderately utilized for both ambient effects and the music score. The quality and quantity of tactile sound effects vary amongst episodes, ranging from fair to good.

Reference equipment: [Video monitor- NetTV DTV-34XRT; Video scaler- Silicon Image iScan Pro; DVD player- Philips Q35AT; A/V Receiver- Sherwood Newcastle R-963T; Speakers- Acoustech 5.1 channel speaker system; Tactile Transducer- Clark Synthesis TST 329 Gold; Cables and Wires- Bettercables.com ]

- Calvin Harding Jr.

Costa-Gravras' Z “Z” (1968)

Directed by: Costa-Gavras
Starring: Yves Montand, Charles Denner, Jacques Perrin, Irene Papas, Jean-Louis Trintignant
Studio: Wellspring
Video: 1.66:1 enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French language; Dolby Digital Stereo
Subtitles: English, Spanish, German
Extras: Commentary Track with Costa-Gavras, Interviews, Restoration demo, Photo gallery from the Costa-Gavras archives, Theatrical Trailer, Filmographies, Weblinks
Length: 127 minutes
Rating: ****

This political thriller, based on a novel about real life events in Thessalonica, Greece, is riveting and deeply effecting. It won Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1969. The film was shot in Algiers, in French, as a French Algerian co-production. The actuality was that a legislator/physician, Gregorios Lambraki, who was leading dissent against nuclear weapons, was assassinated in 1963. The film moves forward with an unrelenting dramatic tension. After two senators are viciously attacked during a demonstration, the machinations of the military are revealed as they attempt to cover up the truth of what happened. There are some very violent scenes of clashes between the police and the demonstrators that seemed so real I felt I was watching news footage or somehow privy to the real thing.

Particularly chilling were some of the lines in a scene during a right-wing meeting of an organization which aided the police by using violence to attempt control of dissenters: “Religion and the monarchy are the two pillars of our eternal land and western Christian civilization” and we must “make war on liberalism and an indiscriminate liberty.”

The acting was highly believable throughout. Particularly impressive were Yves Montand as the murdered senator, Irene Papas as his widow and Jean Louis Trintignant as the judge who attempts to be objective and to determine what is true and bring about justice. Trintignant’s judge who functions as the head of the investigation is very compelling as he valiantly stays the course and gradually reveals some of the critical workings of the corrupt government. The music of a then-exiled dissident Mikis Theodorakis was used for the score, featuring some Greek folk instruments such as the bazouki – very fast-paced, often percussive and involving.

In the extras is a lengthy conversation between the director, Costa-Gavras and Vassili Vassilikos, the author of the book on which the film was based. They recall details of the production of the film as well as the political background. No city was specified for the location of the film. Also no names of characters were given. Rather references were made to attorney, general, judge, senator, etc. The intention was to present the plight of threatened democracy. Specific names are not important. This could be anywhere.

This film was enormously successful in 1968. Costa-Gavras (Missing, Music Box) states that when it was shown around the world, many countries thought the events referred to them. I recall seeing “Z” in 1968 and being enormously affected as I was during this viewing 34 years later. In ancient Greek Z means “he is alive.” This film is every bit as relevant now as it was when produced.

– Donna Dorsett

Joseph Campbell - Power of Myth Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers (1988)

Studio: Mystic Fire Video
Video: 4:3 full frame
Audio: PCM stereo
Extras: Interview with George Lucas, Biographies, Bibliographies, Art Gallery, Trailer, Weblinks, Closed Captioned
Length: 6 hours
Rating: ****

These conversations, recorded between Campbell and Bill Moyers during the last two summers of Joseph Campbell’s life, are intellectually accessible and emotionally stirring. Originally created for PBS television, this production contains six sections of one hour each. Each hour has 20 to 30 notations at the beginning as an index to what that hour contains – useful for referring back to a particular topic. Fortunately not just a talking heads experience, definitely not dry, there are frequent visuals (both photography and film footage) and splendid original drawings and illustrations of the myths. Moyers’ intellectual curiosity as an interviewer is evident, as usual, and Campbell brings his work alive with tremendous enthusiasm and heart and joy, making the viewing of this video a true pleasure. I think most people would consider this a highly inspirational experience if interested in mythology or simply in living life well.

Joseph Campbell has written and edited 20 books – some now classics such as The Masks of God, a four volume study of mythology. A deeply spiritual man, he had no theology. Mythology was the song of his universe, Moyers explains. The following contain some of the content from each section (parts that particularly grabbed me) to hopefully inspire you to experience the entire six hours! The interview with George Lucas took place in 1999 and presents an absorbing discussion on why the Star Wars saga grasped such a hold on our collective imagination.

The Hero’s Adventure

Myths try to show us our place as part of the community. We have the choice of being a hero or not every day of our lives. Common threads run through the various myths and religions including comparisons of Moses, Buddha, Christ, Mohammed. Everything begins with a story. Mythologies and stories attempt to explain the universe. A child becoming an adult is a fundamental experience thru which everyone has to go, requiring “a death and a resurrection.” Knowledge of mythologies gives zest to life. A discussion of Star Wars illustrates this idea. Seeing life in mythological terms erases anxiety and puts us in accord with positive values. Do we say yes to the adventure of being alive or not? Campbell is fascinated by the mythology of dragons and concludes that the real dragons are ourselves, as our egos hold us in. Moyers asks “How do I slay that dragon within me?” to which Campbell replies “Follow your bliss! And don’t be afraid.” All a teacher can be is a lighthouse. It is typical of a hero’s journey to have a place of repose, a place within ourselves from which action comes. The center must be found. This section ends with the earth seen from space – no divisions – with faces of the world.

The Message of the Myth

Myths guide us from birth to death and teach us how to live in the world. They are stories of the search for meaning, to touch the eternal, to find out who we are so that we feel the rapture of being alive. Myths enable us to see the divine presence within ourselves and to see life as a poem. Every religion is true in the sense of being a metaphor of the human and cosmic mystery. Each religion is a kind of software with its own set of signals. Here and now is our bliss.

The First Story Tellers

We perform rituals to enact what we believe about the world beyond this one. Our souls owe much to the ancient myths. Myths help bring the body and mind into accord and assist in the transition of childhood to maturity. Myths are like messages in a bottle. A basic belief in mythology is that there is an invisible plane supporting the visible one. A landscape of the soul is illustrated by the Caves of the Lascaux. Without rituals young people can become like barbarians. So much of our ritual is dead. God’s center is everywhere and each of us is a manifestation of that mystery.

Sacrifice and Bliss

You don’t have to go on a pilgrimage to find your sacred place. You must have a room or a certain hour of the day when you don’t consider everyday concerns, just a place to bring forth what you are or what you might be. Where is your bliss station? Put on music you really love and read a book you really want to read. The destruction of nature is a destruction of the self. A familiar theme is how a human can participate in the peril of another and sacrifice their own life. Motherhood and marriage are sacrifices. Life is always on the edge of death. Campbell says all of us have the capacity to tap the joy that’s possible by following one’s bliss. He advises us to grab the joy where you have the intuition. You put yourself on a kind of track. Doors are opened where you did not know they would be.

Love and the Goddess

Love is a universal mystery, an amazing tapestry of the human psyche. Love is the controlling principle of art and a vast subject in mythology. The greatest love stories were told in the Middle Ages. Treatment of love by troubadours was an opening of the heart. It became an ideal to be sought instead of traditional arranged marriage. He termed it “Libido over credo”, love from one’s own experience. The greatest hell is to be separated from the one you love. The main teaching of Christianity is to love your enemies. Love is the pain of being truly alive. Various virgin birth myths have appeared throughout time. He talks about myths relating to death to the past, birth to the future, death to the animal nature, birth to the spiritual in our thinking. Campbell asserts that we arrive at a sense of being one microbit in this great magnitude and then out of that comes the sense that you and that are somehow one.

Masks of Eternity

Campbell and Moyers discuss belief in a personal God and attempt to define religion. They speak about what it means that God assumes such different masks in different cultures. A simple but profound opinion is stated, “He who thinks he knows, doesn’t know. He who thinks he doesn’t know, knows.” The concepts of the psychologist Maslow’s peak experiences and James Joyce’s epiphanies are explored. I found Schopenhauer’s concept of the composed order of life particularly fascinating. He believed that our lives fit together like a symphony as we act as agents in the structuring of each other’s lives. Campbell concludes with spirited commentary on the mantra AUM – a word that represents the soul of the universe.

– Donna Dorsett

Frasier, 3rd season DVDs Frasier – The Complete Third Season (1995-1996)

Starring: Kelsey Grammer, John Mahoney, David Hyde Pierce, Peri Gilpin, Jane Leeves
Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
Video: 4:3 Fullscreen
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English Closed Captions
Extras: Four featurettes (“The Crane Brothers Remember Season Three”, “A Conversation With Art Director Roy Christopher”, “Bulldog Crazy”, and “The Mystery of Maris: The Breakup Begins”), celebrity voices
Length: 543 minutes
Rating: *****

Earning a total of 27 Emmy Awards to date, including 5 consecutive wins for Outstanding Comedy Series, Frasier is a spin-off of the popular television show Cheers. Set in Seattle, Frasier follows the lives of radio show psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane, his high-strung psychiatrist brother Niles, their gruff, ex-cop father Martin, Martin’s live-in home-care provider Daphne, and Frasier’s radio show producer Roz. The entire 24 episodes from the 1995-1996 season plus the special features are spread out over 4 discs. Memorable episodes from the Third Season include: “Shrink Rap” where Frasier and Niles attempt to go into psychiatric practice together; “Chess Pains” in which Frasier becomes obsessed with trying to beat Martin at chess; and “High Crane Drifter” where Frasier becomes a hero after throwing a belligerent patron out of the local coffee shop. (Disc One: She’s The Boss; Shrink Rap; Martin Does It His Way; Leapin’ Lizards; Kisses Sweeter Than Wine; Sleeping With The Enemy. Disc Two: The Adventures Of Bad Boy And Dirty Girl; The Last Time I Saw Maris; Frasier Grinch; It’s Hard To Say Goodbye If You Won’t Leave; The Friend; Come Lie With Me. Disc Three: Moon Dance; The Show Where Diane Comes Back; A Word To The Wiseguy; Look Before You Leap; High Crane Drifter; Chess Pains. Disc Four: Crane Versus Crane; Police Story; Where There’s Smoke There’s Fired; Frasier Loves Roz; The Focus Group; You Can Go Home Again; special features).

The overall video quality for this DVD set is very good. Images have a soft appearance but are otherwise clean with adequate detail. Colors are accurate and rich with well-saturated hues. Black levels are consistently deep. Picture defect mastering is solid with no major flaws or compression artifacts. The overall audio quality is good with the English Dolby Digital 2.0 track serving as the basis for this review. The soundtrack mix predominantly favors the forward soundstage. Dialogue is intelligible and firmly anchored in the center channel. Surround activity is confined to the audience laugh track and the show’s theme song. The LFE channel is minimally active.

Reference equipment: [Video monitor- NetTV DTV-34XRT; Video scaler- Silicon Image iScan Pro; DVD player- Philips Q35AT; A/V Receiver- Sherwood Newcastle R-963T; Speakers- Acoustech 5.1 channel speaker system; Tactile Transducer- Clark Synthesis TST 329 Gold; Cables and Wires- Bettercables.com ]

- Calvin Harding Jr.

Underworld - Directors Cut Underworld (2-Disc Unrated Director’s Cut) (2003)

Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Scott Speedman
Directed by: Len Wiseman

Studio: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment
Video: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: English and French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, French, plus English Closed Captions
Extras: Audio commentary by director Len Wiseman and actors Kate Beckinsale and Scott Speedman; “Fang Vs. Fiction” featurette; 7 mini-featurettes (“The Making of Underworld”, “The Visual Effects of Underworld”, “Creature Effects”, “Stunts”, “Designing Underworld”, “The Look of Underworld” and “Sights and Sounds”); outtakes; storyboard comparison; 4 theatrical trailers and 2 TV spots; Finch music video; collectible booklet
Length: 134 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

For several centuries, a war has raged on between the Lycans (werewolves) and the Vampires. These two immortal clans will kill each other on sight and both have taken full advantage of modern weaponry in their efforts to eradicate one another. Lucien, the leader of the Lycans, is searching for a human mortal named Michael whose genetic composition holds the key to victory in the war. Selene, a beautiful vampire and deadly assassin, becomes aware of the Lycans’ interest in Michael and she sets out to rescue him from their capture. Underworld is a heap of escapist fun. There is as much action and gunplay in this film as in any John Woo flick. Throw in an attractive female heroine who gives Lara Croft a run for her money and you ultimately have a film that will keep any science fiction fan thoroughly entertained for a couple of hours. Recommended.

The video quality of this DVD is excellent. Images are pristine with superb detail. Blacks are consistently dark throughout. While the film often has a deliberate blue tint, colors are otherwise accurate and rich with saturated hues. Picture defect mastering is perfect with no major flaws or digital compression artifacts. The overall audio quality is also excellent with the English Dolby Digital 5.1 track serving as the basis for this review. The soundtrack actively incorporates all of the discrete channels into the mix. Dialogue is intelligible and firmly anchored in the center channel. The surround channels are aggressively utilized for both ambient sounds and the music soundtrack. Low frequency bass is explosive and powerful. Tactile sound effects are present in about one half of the DVD’s chapters and appear as subtle to heavy impacts from the sound effects and music.

Reference equipment used for this review: [Video projector- Studio Experience Cinema 17SF Projection screen- Da-Lite 106” Da-Snap; DVD player- V, Inc. Bravo D1; A/V Receiver- Sherwood Newcastle R-963T; Speakers- BIC Venturi 6.1 channel system; Tactile Transducers- Clark Synthesis Gold; Video Switcher- Key Digital SW4x1; Cables and Wires- Bettercables.com ]

- Calvin Harding Jr.

Tokyo Godfathers anime Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

Anime directed by Satoshi Kon
Studio: Columbia TriStar
Video: 1.85:1 enhanced for widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Japanese
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Extras: Making Of featurette, Theatrical trailer, Bonus trailers
Length: 92 minutes
Rating: ****

A sometimes gritty but heartwarming modern fable about three unusual homeless people and how their lives are changed completely by the sudden finding of a baby in a garbage dump on Christmas Eve. Personal redemption is the main theme here, but presented with such flair, action and realism that you sometimes begin to forget it’s animation. The three main characters are a hard-drinking, bitter, down-and-out bum, a transvestite who had been a performing drag queen, and a young teenaged girl runaway. In their efforts to take care of the baby and find its mother they come up against many wild encounters which push them into confronting their past lives. They are all negative and fighting at the start but begin slowly to work together toward their goal. In fact they become sort of action movie heros in their nothing-can-stop-us pursuit of that goal. It’s not all gritty – the director balances the emotional scenes with some quirky humor. Toward the conclusion the coincidences begin to pile up unrealistically, but that happens in many such movies and isn’t hard to accept in this wonderful urban drama about a seriously dysfunctional family.

As in most anime, sections of corny over-the-top animation (huge mouths, eyes) alternate with breathtaking artistic urban landscapes with snow or rain or the play of light patterns. Use of color is distinctive and creative as well. It was obviously felt that the characters’ voices on the original Japanese soundtrack were important to keep, so there is no English dubbed track here. The anime is not designed to be a family film as was Spirited Away, and it should appeal to a quite different audience from the typical anime. In fact it seems to open up a whole new anime genre for adults. In the featurette the three actors who voice the main characters each introduce themselves and talk to the camera about their roles – most fascinating. This is must-see, even if you don’t consider yourself an anime fan. [I found a frustrating navigation glitch that reminded me of some DVD-A discs - most of the time the chapter button on the player or remote didn’t work - only the fast forward or reverse.]

- John Sunier

 

Time Bandits Time Bandits (1981)

Starring: John Cleese, Shelley Duvall, Sean Connery, Ian Holm
Directed by Terry Gilliam
Studio: Hand Made Films/Anchor Bay
Video: 1.85:1 enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX
Extras: Entire 2nd disc = The Films of Gerry Gilliam – career retrospective with interviews with Gilliam and Duvall, Brad Pitt, Amanda Plummer, Mercedes Ruehl, Madeleine Stowe & David Warner; Interview with Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin; Theatrical trailers; Foldout map of the universe and liner notes; Bio of Terry Gilliam; Entire original screenplay on DVD-ROM
Length: 116 minutes
Rating: ****

I had this Gilliam classic on Betamax and the contrast with the new DVD was immense. Perhaps I should say lack of contrast, because the Betamax looked completely washed out next to the DVD. It uses a new remastering process called DiViMax; can’t say it looked like hi-def but it is certainly an excellent transfer with fine detail, depth in the dark areas of the image, and no visible artifacts. The big plus of the DVD is the second disc which is filled with extras – mainly a long interview with the two former Monty Pythoners, Palin and Gilliam, who collaborated on the script, plus the British TV series on various top directors’ episode concerning Gilliam’s career. He’s already one of my favorite directors, and the retrospective made me want to see Monty Python and the Holy Grail again as well as 12 Monkeys (but not his first film, Jabberwocky). Gilliam’s Brazil is my single favorite film.

The Time Bandits are a little band of dwarfs who were working for God but got bored and decided to strike out on their own little crime spree through all history, using black holes their special map identifies for them. This enables the spoofing of several famous figures in history, including Napoleon, Agamemmnon (Sean Connery), and Robin Hood (a hilariously idiotic John Cleese). It also enables quick transitions from one ridiculous situation to another, much as Gilliam’s bizarre cut-out animation glued together the various original Monty Python skits. The wild humor and slapstick will appeal to kids, but there’s plenty of trenchant satire for the adults. This is a family movie like no other; make that liberal family movie. The dwarf Time Bandits travel with a young boy into whose bedroom they crash one night. They are being pursued not only by God but also by an overacting David Warner as the master of the Dark Forces of Evil. (By the way, the boy’s annoying parents are blown up at the end of the movie; Gilliam tested that ending and one where they survived and audiences preferred the first.) There’s many special effects, but done very creatively on a budget, mostly with miniatures. One critic called this the best fantasy movie ever made, and while I haven’t seen that many I would tend to agree.

- John Sunier

Richard III with Olivier & Gielgud Richard III (1955)

Starring: Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Claire Bloom, Ralph Richardson
Studio: Criterion Collection
Video: 1.66:1 Widescreen Enhanced for 16:9
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Extras: Audio Commentary, Great Acting: Laurence Olivier (1966 BBC interview-48 min), Production Gallery, TV Trailer (12 min), Theatrical Trailer
Length: 158 minutes
Rating: ****

This film was shot in only sixteen weeks from 1954 to early 1955. Olivier had long planned to adapt this play of William Shakespeare, but had begun to think it unwise. With a little convincing (financial) from the production company who was backing the film, the change came about and aren’t we lucky it did! When the film was first released in the United States in 1955, the movie premiered on television the same day it opened in theaters. It had gained an audience of 62.5 million viewers, but languished at the box office. However, in 1966, it managed to break attendance records in many locations. In its re-release in the 1970s, the film lost almost twenty minutes of playing time. This Criterion version restores the version as complete as possible while special attention was made to make sure the final version matched the official release script page for page.

For those not familiar with the play, the story begins in the later half of the 15th century when rival factions vie for the English crown. The story opens as Edward IV is being crowned. We are introduced to several of the main characters including the villian of the film, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. His plottings for the crown are unrelentless and as the story goes we realize how unscrupulous he is. When he covets the widow of the man he has slain, he gets her. When he wishes his brother eliminated he disparages him to the King and the King has Richard’s brother imprisoned. Eventually the King decrees that he will be executed. Although the King rescinds his order of death, Richard manages to allow his brother to be killed anyhow. When the King discovers that his final decree was not carried out, he takes ill and passes. The natural successor to the throne is Edward’s son, a young child. “Uncle” Richard soon has he and his brother put to death, and manages to eliminate all who stand in his way. A ruse contrived by Richard and a co-conspirator has even the mayor of London fooled into seeking Richard as the answer to the prayers of England, and desire his ascension to the throne. Alas, attaining power is not the same as keeping it, and those who can see Richard for the Devil he is, attack him and leave him horseless on the battle field. He hurries around imploring the famous line: “a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.” We realize there is no escape.

Like the play (obviously due to its origins), the film characters speak old English. Those having trouble may choose to engage the subtitles. However, the acting is at such a high level that even without words the storyline can be discovered. The sets can be somewhat barren, almost like a stageplay, but the outside scenes are often filled with people. The costumes are bright and colorful and give the image a Technicolor look like the scene in Wizard of Oz right after the arrival of Dorothy. Olivier excels in his role–his portrayal of Richard is riveting both in his delivery and his appearance. In parts he will turn to the camera and speak directly to the audience making us a member of the proceedings–an intimate conspirator in his wicked game. In the extras there is an elucidating interview with Olivier not only discussing the production of Richard III, but encompassing his entire acting career up to the film and beyond (given the limits of the time of interview). His conceptions of his role in the process, and more importantly his philosophies on acting are worthwhile watching for any who have a strong interest in acting and/or film. You would be hard pressed to find a finer adaptation of a Shakespearian play–a classic.

-Brian Bloom

Cheers - Season Three Cheers – Complete Third Season (1984-1985)

Starring: Ted Danson, Shelley Long, Rhea Perlman, George Wendt, John Ratzenberger, Nicholas Colasanto, Kelsey Grammer
Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
Video: 4:3 Fullscreen
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English closed captioning
Extras: Five featurettes (“Virtual Vera”, “Shrink-Warped: Introducing Frasier Crane”, “Carla’s Whipping Boy”, “Nicholas Colasanto: His Final Season” and “Cheers Bar Tour”)
Length: 619 minutes
Rating: *****

One of the most beloved television series of all-time, Cheers garnered 28 Emmy Awards over its 11-year run. Set in the city of Boston, Cheers centers upon the staff and patrons of a local bar owned and operated by former major league relief pitcher Sam “Mayday” Malone. The charm of Sam’s establishment is that it’s a place where “everyone knows your name.” In addition to the introduction of the character Frasier Crane to the cast, some of the memorable episodes from the third season include: “Sam Turns the Other Cheek” wherein Sam tries to create a story covering up how he got shot in the rear end; “The Heart is a Lonely Snipehunter” in which the guys reluctantly take Frasier on an outing and then leave him in the woods to hunt ‘snipe’; and “Diane Meets Mom” wherein Frasier’s mother threatens to kill Diane unless she stops seeing Frasier. The entire 25 episodes from the 1984-1985 season plus the special features are spread out over 4 discs. (Disc One: Rebound (Part I); Rebound (Part II); I Call Your Name; Fairy Tales Can Come True; Sam Turns the Other Cheek; Coach in Love (Part I); Coach in Love (Part II). Disc Two: Diane Meets Mom; An American Family; Diane’s Allergy; Peterson Crusoe; A Ditch in Time; Whodunit; The Heart is a Lonely Snipehunter. Disc Three: King of the Hill; Teacher’s Pet; The Mail Goes to Jail; Bar Bet; Behind Every Great Man; If Ever I Would Leave You; Executive’s Executioner Hines. Disc Four: Cheerio Cheers; The Bartender’s Tale; Bells of St. Cletes; Rescue Me; special features).

The video quality for this DVD set is very good. Images are clean with nice detail. Colors are accurate and warm with nicely saturated hues. Black levels are consistently dark throughout. Other than the occasional instance of film grain, picture defect mastering is solid with no major flaws or compression artifacts. The overall audio quality is fair with the English Dolby Digital 2.0 track serving as the basis for this review. The soundtrack mix heavily favors the forward channels. Dialogue is natural sounding and securely anchored in the center channel. Surround channel activity is confined to the opening theme song and audience laugh track. There is only minimal LFE channel activity.

Reference equipment: [Video monitor- NetTV DTV-34XRT; Video scaler- Silicon Image iScan Pro; DVD player- Philips Q35AT; A/V Receiver- Sherwood Newcastle R-963T; Speakers- Acoustech 5.1 channel system; Tactile Transducer- Clark Synthesis TST 329 Gold; Cables and Wires- www.bettercables.com ]

– Calvin Harding Jr.
Mel Brooks' Dracula Dracula – Dead and Loving It (1995)

Starring Leslie Nielsen, Mel Brooks
Directed by Mel Brooks
Studio: Castle Rock/Warner Bros.
Video: Enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital surround
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: Commentary by Brooks, actors Steven Web and Amy Yasbeck, and co-writers Rudy de Luca and Steve Haberman; Theatrical trailer
Length: 90 minutes
Rating: ***

Somehow I missed this back in l995. It’s fun but not up to the heights of Brooks’ Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein. Nielsen is of course the perfect choice for Count Dracula, and Brooks himself portrays vampire-killer Dr. Van Helsing in quite a different fashion from the hero of the current movie Van Helsing! Some twists on the usual vampire lore are carried out, and of course there is plenty of slapstick stuff. A couple of the visual humor attempts are a bit over the top even for Brooks, especially one involved copious amounts of blood. The actress who has the role the late Madeline Kahn would have played doesn’t begin to equal her predecessor’s comedic perfection. I was expecting more hilarious verbal humor than the movie delivered, but if you’re any sort of a Brooks fan you will have to see this one at least once. The visual transfer is excellent but there is little use of the surrounds.

- John Sunier

Walk on the Wild Side Walk on the Wild Side (1962)

Starring Laurence Harvey, Jane Fonda, Capucine, Anne Baxter, Barbara Stanwyck
Studio: Columbia TriStar
Video: 1.85:1 widescreen B&W
Audio: Dolby Digital mono
Length: 114 minutes
Rating: ***

I think I wanted to see this classic again primarily because of the Elmer Bernstein jazz soundtrack, which followed on his success with the first real jazz soundtrack for a feature film – Man With the Golden Arm. Saul Bass did the striking opening and closing titles featuring a stalking black cat and Bernstein’s Oscar-nominated tune. Unfortunately, that main theme is about all that is heard musically, aside from a bit of small group jazz in the French Quarter brothel where much of the story takes place. Harvey plays a Texas farmer who train-hops to N.O. to search out Hallie – a French girl he met briefly a few years earlier. On the way he runs into Kitty (Jane Fonda), a feisty and thieving young runaway. He finally locates Hallie and is devastated to learn that she is now working at The Doll House – a high-class brothel – and eventually struggles to take her away from it. Indications as to the true calling of the place are so subtle as to be almost absent; you never see any half-dressed women going upstairs with any men. There are suggestions of a lesbian relationship between Hallie and the madam of the house, icily played by Stanwyck. Ann Baxter plays a Mexican-American widow who also has her eyes on Harvey’s character. But he ignores them all in favor of Hallie, who he loses in the end anyway. I wouldn’t give Fonda an A for acting, and it’s difficult to accept the sophisticated British Harvey as a simple Texas farmer, no matter how good his fake accent. Or their ill-matched relationship. Still, a worthwhile entry in the list of movies featuring New Orleans brothels. The black & white images are well-transferred, with detail and depth almost the equal of the Criterion reissues.

- John Sunier

Level13 Animation collection Level 13.Net – Around the World (2004)

Studio: Film Roman/Image Entertainment
Video:4:3 full frame color
Audio: Dolby Digital stereo, some in Portuguese
Subtitles: English
Length: 45 minutes
Rating: *

There is no explanation of what Level13Net is, but it has evidently has something to do with a producer from The Simpsons and King of the Hill wanting to bring some of the best animated films to a larger audience worldwide. There have been previous collections of international animation – I believe there is an annual compendium of winners or at least was so in the past. While some fall flat the viewer can just wait briefly for the next one since they’re all short, and chances are several of them in any program will be gems. It’s also educational to get a feeling for the subject matter and handling of various subjects in different cultures around the world.

Strangely, I only found one of these two dozen animations really worthwhile – “Memories” – about a sensitive boy who is taken out hunting by his macho father and nervously shoots something, evidently against his will. When they get home the trophy turns out to be the head of a snowman, which his father has proudly mounted on the wall alongside other beast heads. The total of short films gets to 24 by inclusion of a series of many brief blackouts titled “Anabel” from either Brazil or Portugal. They all have to do with something supposedly threatening or horrifying to little Anabel, but are all corny and obvious. A few of the shorts are subject matter than could easily be part of Spike and Mike’s Sick & Twisted animation program. It’s hard to believe someone associated with the Simpsons made such lousy choices from some of the fine animation being done around the world today. Image quality also varies all over the place and is mostly poor. Considering all the unbelievable labor that goes into each and every frame of an animation (I’ve done them) and how short they are, one would think that image quality would be preserved at least as successfully as with a feature film.

- John Sunier




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