DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

DVD-Video Reviews, Part 3 of 3


Published on October 1, 2004

Pt. 3 of 3 – October 2004   [Part 1]  [Part 2]

The Bad Seed Village of the Damned x2 5 Obstructions
I Vitelloni a woman is a woman Kaena The Prophecy Manchild 1st season

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter. . .Spring (2004)

Directed by: Kim Ki-Duk
Studio: Columbia Tri-Star
Video: 1.85:1 enhanced for widescreen 16:9
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Korean
Subtitles: English, French
Length: 102 minutes
Rating: ****

Last spring I saw this Korean masterpiece by writer/director Kim Ki-duk twice in the theater and now having seen it on DVD, I plan to keep this film and watch it again from time to time. Its most striking feature is exquisite cinematic beauty. The film consists of beautifully composed shots in five vignettes of both breathtaking scenery and personal relationships. Occasional subtle humor is another element skillfully handled. It is amazing how much of a story can be conveyed and how much character development with so little dialogue.

Each season of the title opens on a small lake surrounded by forests in the center of which is a tiny Buddhist monastery floating on a raft. One monk and a small boy, who will become his protégé, go about their daily lives collecting healing herbs and enjoying the simple joys of existence. In one disconcerting scene, the boy does something in a sense playful but inherently cruel with a fish, a frog and a snake. He learns a lesson under the monk’s direction as he attempts to repair damage. The monk predicts the boy will carry “a stone in his heart” for the rest of his life. As events unfold, his ominous words are prophetic. Much more serious deeds and subsequent harder lessons await him.

The monk seems detached from the usual range of happy and sad emotions, his caring concern overly reserved. This monk is geared toward strengthening character but impressed me as having a lack of heart. (Maybe I just want all monks to show the warmth and humor of the Dalai Lama.) His apparent fondness for his cat makes him seem more human and accessible. Each season features an animal– a puppy, a cat, a rooster, a turtle. A lengthy sequence has the monk using the cat’s tail as a calligraphy brush. (Neither of my cats would sit still for that.)

Summer is actually a summer during the boy’s teenage years. A vaguely ailing young girl, about the age of the boy, is brought to the monastery by her mother who seeks help from the monk for a cure. She leaves her daughter in his care. The monk states that her suffering will be over when her soul has recovered. The boy is immediately smitten. When the monk discovers their playfulness has evolved to sexual activity, he sends the girl away. The boy is devastated. He soon follows the girl, leaving the monastery for a considerable time. To describe what follows in the Fall and Winter in much detail is to give away too much.

The scenes of courtship and subsequent passion between the two teenagers are clever, inventive and delightful. I felt sympathy for the boy’s obsession and thought the girl was experiencing the thrill of her own sexual power more than deep caring for the boy.

With the exception of many of the dramatic winter scenes, music is minimal throughout most of the film, with mostly natural sounds in the background such as birds and water. The use of surround is subtle but helps place the viewer in these natural settings. During the winter segment, the now middle-aged monk who was the original small boy, has returned to transform himself and perform a final atonement. His master, who raised him, is long gone. In the final Spring, a small boy is now in the new monk’s care. The compassion I felt missing from the older monk seems more evident in the younger monk.

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter. . .Spring is a deeply affecting cycle of life story from a Buddhist perspective about atonement, redemption and self renewal. One might assume the director is a Buddhist, but he is actually a devout Catholic. Personally I experienced a profound sense of calm viewing this film and left with a stronger realization that all of us have one or more stones to carry throughout our lives.

- Donna Dorsett

Coming up: three features about thoroughly bad kids…

The Bad SeedThe Bad Seed (1956)

Directed by: Mervyn LeRoy
Starring: Nancy Kelly, Patty McCormack, Evelyn Varden, Eileen Heckart
Studio: Warner Bros.
Video: 4:3
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: Commentary by Patty McCormack and Charles Busch; New Making of Documentary Enfant Terrible: A Conversation with Patty McCormack; Theatrical Trailer
Length: 129 minutes
Rating: ****

The Bad Seed was the first demonic child movie preceding such films as The Exorcist and The Omen. Based on a popular novel, the movie was previously a huge hit on Broadway featuring six of the original cast members from the play. The well constructed plot holds up well after almost 50 years. The Bad Seed was nominated for four Academy Awards including one for black and white photography. Patty McCormack at ten years old was one of the nominees for Best Supporting Actress.

The brief opening scene features an ominous setting of a dark stormy night at a lake in a park like setting. But quickly we are transported to a sunny day and seemingly happy family of three in their lovely home. The father, a colonel, is about to leave on some military business for a time. An array of engaging characters come into play and the story becomes increasingly gripping. We know early on that Rhoda is the killer of fellow classmate, Claude, a little boy whose penmanship medal she coveted. Gradually suspicion mounts.

The over-the-top melodramatic scenes toward the conclusion add to the fun. Ms. McCormack, who played the part of the monstrous evil child very convincingly, revealed during the commentary that she was quite amazed to hear an audience at San Francisco’s Castro Theater screaming out the lines as the tension mounts in the final scenes.

Rhoda, with her blond pigtails, is such a perfect little girl on the outside and thoroughly evil inside. It is fascinating to watch this incipient sociopath at work and her effect on those around her at their various degrees of awareness or unawareness as to what Rhoda’s about. The scenes with Rhoda and LeRoy, the creepy handyman, as they engage in psychological battling, are among my favorites. The landlady fancies herself an expert in amateur psychiatry but continually dotes on Rhoda and hasn’t a clue. The two lengthy scenes with Eileen Heckart as the grieving mother make it apparent why she was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress. She conveys the unspeakable loss of a child. Monica Breedlove, the know-it-all landlady, is a kick. Nancy Kelly, nominated for Best Actress, plays Rhoda’s increasingly-concerned and frazzled mother to melodramatic perfection.

The conclusion is dramatically different from the play. There’s a gradually unfolding story as to why Rhoda is the way she is that is gradually revealed. So we experience the solving of a mystery as well as a horror story. In the theatrical trailer, it is noted “When you see it, we will appreciate your not divulging its startling climax, for you have never seen a picture like this before.” Viewing of both of extras enhanced appreciation of the film, particularly the 15 minute interview with Patty McCormack which included stills and scenes and her impressions of her fellow actors. It isn’t surprising to hear that she still receives fan mail from people who have just seen The Bad Seed for the first time, almost 50 years after it was made.

-Donna Dorsett

Village of the Damned x 2Village of the Damned (1960)
Children of the Damned (1963)

1) Starring George Sanders & Barbara Shelley
2) Starring Ian Hendry, Alan Badel
Studio: MGM/Warner Bros.
Video: 4:3 B&W
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Audio: Dolby Digital mono, English or French
Extras: 1) Commentary by Chronicles of Terror author Steve Haberman; 2) commentary by Screenwriter John Briley; Theatrical trailers
Length: 1) 77 min., 2) 89 min.
Rating: ****

While billed as a horror double feature, I see these as more in the sci-fi genre than horror. The element of paranoia is strong in both the original and its sequel, but paranoia of a different sort in each. The first and better of the British problem children films opens with a strange sleep falling over everyone for several hours on a day in the small English village of Midwich. No one else can get into the village during that time without passing out as well. When it is over life goes on, but soon it is apparent that all the young women in the village have become pregnant at the same time and all deliver at the same time. (Multiple Bad Seeds?) The children develop abnormally rapidly and all begin to look alike – very intelligent, advanced and serious little blondes of great purpose. They begin to have unusual mind powers of a destructive nature. George Sanders takes an interest and sets up a special school for them. The British army is of course involved. Word comes in that a similar thing happened in a town in Russia and the neighboring villages killed the children when they saw the dangers. The intrepid Sanders wants to avoid that. He uses a mind trick of his own to outwit them.

Children of the Damned is more affected by paranoia of the Cold War. This time the very exceptional children are found as individuals in various countries around the world and brought together in London to study them scientifically. Plotting of the various governments goes on to capture some of them and use their expertise for special weapons. In the end they assemble in an abandoned church for their last stand. Some of the authorities try to understand them, and the threat of alien takeover is not as central as it was in the original film. But a simple error accidentally launches an all out military attack on the church. The commentary track by the first-time screenwriter on this film was elucidating. The original film is especially worth seeing and not not seriously dated; in fact the one from three years seems more dated. The transfers reveal excellent black and white cinematography, and acting is of high quality, especially Sanders’ role.

- John Sunier

The Five ObstructionsThe Five Obstructions (2004)

Lars von Trier & Jorgen Leth
Studio: Koch Lorber Films
Video: Widescreen enhanced for 16:9
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, English, Danish, French & Spanish
Subtitles: English
Extras: Leth’s original 1967 short The Perfect Human, Director’s commentary by Leth, Theatrical trailer
Length: 90 min.
Rating: ***1/2

von Trier is the maddening genius behind the Dogma School of filmmaking, in which artifice is completely forbidden, everything is shot in sequence, no special lighting or sets, no music added in post production, and other hurdles which still have produced some very exciting films. In this collaboration with long time director friend Jorgen Leth, von Trier challenges his older idol to remake his 1967 short five separate times, each time with a new obstruction – four of them conceived by von Trier. For example, one obstruction is to make all the shots in the film exactly 12 frames – no more, no less. The seeming impossibility results in a delightful little short that really jumps.

Each time the Danish devil hopes Leth will fail, but each obstruction seems to get creative juices flowing and the result ends up well worth viewing. One of the five is completely animation and was my favorite, though von Trier groused that it didn’t fulfill his complete obstruction. Leth himself plays the main character in the final of the five films. The discussions between the two directors about his obstruction to come form the rest of the film, between seeing the results. We never do see the complete original film first as part of the theatrical release – which would seem to be a natural step in understanding what goes on, but one can do that by going to the extras on this DVD. Movie buffs will love this stuff, the rest may be somewhat bored or think von Trier is really being sadistic to his older friend.

- John Sunier

A Fellini double-feature now…

La Dolce VitaFellini’s La Dolce Vita (1961)

Starring Marcello Mastroianni, Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimée
Studio: Koch Lorber Films
Video: Widescreen enhanced for 16:9
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Audio: DD stereo & mono, Italian
Extras (on second disc): Commentary by Richard Schikel, Fellini TV – collection of Fellini shorts, Remember the Sweet Life – interviews with Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg, Cinecitta – Musical montage of Fellini’s beloved studio, Interview with Fellini on “Fellini, Roma & Cinecitta,” Extensive photo gallery, Restoration demo, Bios, Filmographies, 8-p. collector’s booklet with rare photos
Length: 167 minutes plus an hour of bonuses
Rating: ****

Hey, Fox Lorber – if you only furnish half of the DVD to reviewers how are we supposed to review the whole darn thing? It’s not distracting enough to have big yellow warnings come onscreen frequently reminding us that this is a screening copy, but to not include the second disc with extras when such extras are the major attraction of many movie reissues on DVD today is plain niggardly and self-defeating! You’re being as decadent as the hateful Mastroianni character in this classic Fellini opus which won an Academy Award in 1961 (only for best costumes, surprisingly). On top of that, this is the first DVD I’ve viewed which lacks even scene selection – so standard it is no longer regarded as an extra.

Mastroianni plays a tabloid journalist whose beat is the glitzy celebrity and show biz life in Rome at the time. He buys it all, constantly searching for the next big scandal to write up in his rag, and goes to one wild party after another put on by the sybaritic rich in Rome. He treats his girlfriend with disdain, even after she attempts suicide over his neglect and promiscuity. Another older male friend who seems to have it all together and whom Mastroianni obviously envies inexplicably kills his family and himself. The section with Ekberg – who absolutely defines the word statuesque – is the visual highlight of the long film – especially their scene wading around in the Trevi Fountain. Nino Rota’s music is an integral part of the film, as it is of all of Fellini’s films. Except it’s hard to believe that he approved the use of a cheesy electronic organ on the soundtrack when Mastroianni’s pal is playing the pipe organ in the cathedral. The remastered quality is excellent, with deep tonal details in the masterful black and white photography. Only sorry I can’t report on the demonstration of how they accomplished some of the restoration.

- John Sunier

I Vitelloni - FelliniFellini’s I Vitelloni (1953)

Studio: The Criterion Collection/Image Entertainment
Video: 4:3 B&W
Subtitles: English
Audio: Dolby Digital mono, Italian
Extras: Vitellonismo – documentary featuring interviews with actors in the film, the assistant director and Fellini’s biographer, Stills, posters & memorabilia, Theatrical trailer, Essay by writer Tom Piazza
Length: 107 minutes
Rating: ****

The word means something like “fatted calves” and was inspired by some of Fellini’s pals in his seacoast home village of Rimini who spend their post-adolescence still living at home with indulgent families and their evenings at the pool hall. Fausto, the one who is sort of their leader, gets a local girl pregnant is forced into marriage by his father, but it doesn’t change his philandering ways. Another of the young men is trying to be a playwright and pursues a visiting actor to get him to read his play. Only one member of the group seems to demonstrate some conscience and concern about the layabouts’ way of life. He is the one at the end who takes the train to Rome and escapes from the small town. Noted actor Alberto Sordi is one of the Vitelloni and Fellini’s brother Riccardo plays another. Nino Rota’s music is again an important part of the film’s mood in this second solo feature from the Italian director. The B&W transfer is clean and detailed, and the subtitles are said to be an improved translation over the original release. The extras add a great deal to understanding of the film. Some of the stories about Fellini from his friends and co-creators are priceless. This would be the first of Fellini’s films to rate as a must-have for Fellini-ites.

- John Sunier

A Woman is a WomanGodard’s A Woman Is a Woman (1961)

Starring: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean-Claude Brialy, Anna Karina
Rialto Pictures/HVE The Criterion Collection
Video: 2.35:1 color, enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Subtitles: English
Audio: Dolby Digital mono, French
Extras: Early short film by Godard: All Boys Are Called Patrick, French TV interview with Karina & Brialy, Theatrical trailer, Publicity for film, posters & stills gallery, Promotional audio for film, 24-p. booklet with essay by film critic and excerpts from 1961 interview with Godard and cinematographer Raoul Coutard
Length: 84 minutes
Rating: ****

This was the closest Jean-Luc Godard came to doing one of the colorful musicals of his New Wave director friend Jacques Demy. It was his first big-budget, color and widescreen production and showed more warmth and humor than any film buff would suspect of Godard. Though it has a musical score by Michel Legrand, it’s sort of an anti-musical, with music being cut on and off sharply – not being heard when it would seem appropriate and suddenly coming on when it seems no reason for it. He himself called it “a neorealist musical.” American movie musicals and actors are clearly appreciated by Godard and his actors; at one point Belmondo says some about Burt Lancaster and winks knowingly directly at the camera.

The adorable Anna Karina character (who was at the time pregnant by Godard) is a stripper (probably the world’s most decorous stripper at that) who lives with lover Brialy. But she suddenly decides she wants to have a baby and he refuses with some idiotic palaver about not wanting to break training for the competitive bicycle racing he does on weekends. Brialy takes her on the street and stops various men passing by to ask if they would like to assist the young lady in getting pregnant. That doesn’t work out, so she enlists his best friend, played by Belmondo. The menage-a-trois plot thickens, but is eventually wrapped up in a sweet little petits fours (make that deux) of an ending. (Everybody smokes constantly – you have to get used to that in French films, n’est pa?) Godard clearly had a ball making this film. He normally wrote each day’s scenario in the morning just before shooting began and there was no actual script at all – the actors were encouraged to come up with their own dialog to advance the story line. A fascination with the cinema in general is at the heart of this tasty little bon bon.

- John Sunier

Kaena animeKaena, The Prophecy (2004)

Voices of Kirsten Dunst, Richard Harris, Anjelica Huston
Studio: Destination Films/Columbia TriStar
Video: 1.85:1 enhanced for widescreen
Subtitles: English
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Making-of featurette, Virtual interview with Kaena, Previews
Length: 91 minutes
Rating: ****

Knowing nothing about this anime feature I thought from the artwork it would just be another Japanese second-rate TV animation – probably based on a computer game of some sort. I decided to watch the making-of extra first and was surprised to hear the dialog all in French. I checked my DVD player setup to see if I had accidentally selected that option somehow. Then I watched a bit more of the documentary and realized that this was a French production, created by a young company of computer animators – who actually had only done video game-type animation before this. It began as a video game but grew slowly into a complete feature. This was quite a feat since the software the group had, besides a very small budget, was far from the latest gear used by Lucas Film or Pixar, for example. Yet they created a rich and fascinating fantasy world (or worlds) with a look entirely different from Japanese anime and yet beholden strongly to it. Kaena is as different from most anime as is Far Space from most TV sci-fi. It is the first European-produced “3D” animation feature.

Kaena is a rebellious teenage girl (well-endowed, of course) living in a primitive village in the center of a huge coiling plant which reaches into the clouds. Her people are in danger because the crop they harvest – the sap of the plant – is drying up. Kaena ignores the fears of her people and the high priest to journey down (or up – those directions become meaningless) the plant to find out what is beyond their world. It is an awful secret which she is the key to unlock and solve. Some of the creatures she encounters are wonders of fantasy. I especially liked the super-intelligent worms who got around in mechanical bodies with arms and legs, and especially one who was smugly proud of his vastly superior intelligence. The images are fresh and often mind-blowing; the cgi animation certainly never suffers from its creators lacking the latest software to express their unique vision. If you like animation and fantasy you’ve got to see Kaena.

- John Sunier

ManchildManchild, First Season (2002)

Studio: BBC/Koch Vision
Video: Enhanced for 16:9
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, English
Extra: Photo gallery
Length: All 7 episodes: 196 minutes
Rating: **** (maybe)

Only three of the seven episodes were featured on the screener disc provided for review and based just on them I feel it a bit dicey to announce the whole series as being excellent. But I did enjoy them. The BCC series has been referred to as a Sex and the City for men. It concerns four men friends – three of whom are single – who are working very hard at not seeming to be over the hill or having a mid-life crisis. Each of the three sample episodes deals primarily with the adventures of one of them and the reactions of the other three. It’s irreverent, sometimes politically incorrect and very upfront about sex and intimate matters – in the style of HBO. Some hilarious situations ensue – not your typical American sitcom by any means. One of the four is black, very erudite and rather…uh, effete. But he is shown to be staunchly hetero – British men have a wider range of expression without being thought gay. Don’t blame me if the other four episodes stink, I enjoyed the three I was permitted to view…

- John Sunier




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