DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
DVD Reviews, Part 2 of 2
Published on December 1, 2004
Pt. 2 of 2 – December 2004 [Part 1]
The Gods Must Be Crazy I & II (1980/1988)
Starring: (I) Marius Weyers, Sandra Prinsloo, N!xau; (II) N!xau, Lena Farugia, Hans Strydom
The adventure in the first film begins when an airplane pilot throws an empty Coke bottle out of an airplane and Xi finds it. He has no idea what it is or why the gods should have sent it to him, but he brings it back to his family. Soon, it is discovered that this is truly a gift! It has so many uses that his family just can’t get enough of it. Unfortunately, there is only one gift and can’t be shared easily when so many people need to use it. Feelings of jealousy that never existed before soon started and people began to get hurt. His first attempt to bury the gift where no one could find it fails and more injury occurs as the members of Xi’s family fight over the bottle. Xi ponders and decides to take a long journey to the end of the Earth and toss the bottle off. This long trek puts him in contact with the crazy “gods” (the civilized folk) who don’t always act very civilized or god-like. There’s some romance, lots of comedy, and a nice conclusion to the story.
The second story involves some new characters along with Xi and his family. His curious kids see the strangest animal with big round tires that make snake-like tracks. They climb on to find out what it is about and discover a huge cache of water! They have never seen so much water in one place and want to investigate further. All of sudden the animal takes (drives) off and they are trapped. It is moving too fast to get off, so they must make the best of it. The younger one is scared, but the older assures him it will be okay. Xi discovers they are missing and goes to track them down. Along the way he runs into a strange group of characters including a doctor, some soldiers, ivory poachers, and more interesting locals. Comic situation follows one after the other until the heartfelt reunion. Both discs are good in their own right and having both in a nice double disc set with the extras make even more worthwhile. Recommended.
This is a story of two college sweethearts who are struggling to keep their relationship going after they move apart. Eric Stoltz plays a budding writer who meets his girlfriend at school. His tale of his background is perhaps the funniest part of the film and his idiosyncrasies lead to some silly situations that make him likable. Joanne likes photography and gets a job working with a handsome art gallery owner who makes Jake jealous. His script is going nowhere and his best friend urges him to go to New York to pursue his dream of writing a play to be produced on Broadway. He connects with a producer who is willing to take him on and produce his play off Broadway. The relationship between the two lovers is more and more strained, and great success is not knocking on either’s door. As Jake is driving off in his car (narrating as always) we wonder where he’s going.
In some ways this film is as sappy as the previews that come on the DVD, but unfortunately isn’t as memorable. The star-power cast would seem to indicate the possibility of a decent film, but all that came out of it was a mess of predictability, sentimentality, and attempts at humor that fall flat. As mediocre as the story is, the acting is fine and the pace is good. If only the smaller characters were better developed and the main characters weren’t so annoying, this might have been a better film. In parts I thought I was watching a combination of homage to other film’s but to much lesser effect. The main character is supposed to be witty and likable, but in the end he’s a bit embarrassing. And the female lead is supposed to draw sympathy, but that disappears rather quickly as well. So, in the end, you have two characters that possibly resemble real people, but not ones whom you’d like to hear about. I kept waiting for the film to get started, but it finally just ended—just like this review.
From the recent Hitchcock reissue program, here are five Alfred Hitchcock-directed films in a row…
Like many of its genre, Mr. & Mrs. Smith requires the viewer to significantly suspend belief. Over breakfast Mrs. Smith inquires of her husband if he had the opportunity to do it all over again so to speak, would he, in fact, still be married. His answer, as any of the male persuasion knows, is quite the wrong thing to say: “no.” Mrs. Smith takes it in stride however, and soon enough will have her revenge. Coincidentally, at the office Mr. Smith is greeted by a quirky older man who explains to him that because of a certain border problem, that his marriage is not valid and returns the marriage license fee of $2. As you might imagine, this paves the way for substantive comedy. At first the gentleman throws off the situation as silly, but when his marriage proposal is not immediately forthcoming, Mrs. Smith has other ideas for her future. The rest of the film is composed of the two banging heads and Mr. Smith involved in various hijinks in the hopes that Mrs. Smith will finally give in.
Screwball Comedy was named after the performance of Carole Lombard in another film, so in many ways she’s the queen of the genre as Peter Bogdanovich pronounces in the featurette. Apparently, she really wanted to work with Alfred Hitchcock, so this is the result—a very unlikely Hitchcock film. Just like any of the films in the genre, the pace must be quick, the retorts must be flammable, and the characters must be odd enough to be likable. It is with this last requirement that gives me pause for a wholehearted recommendation. After some time the husband becomes quite despicable, and the wife is not the most charming character either. In this way they are made for each other, so perhaps this is all a part of the master plan. You’ll have to judge for yourself.
I Confess (1953)
Starring: Montgomery Clift, Anne Baxter, Karl Malden
The featurette has noted filmmakers, historians, and authors talking about the film and its popularity with those of the French Nouveau Movement. Bill Krohn brings up some interesting plot themes that never made it to the screen. The opening is dark and ominous. There are a lot of natural sites (in Quebec) used in the filming that lends it a nice authenticity. Montgomery Clift is one of the (if not the) earliest of the method actors, and is lauded by Peter Bogdanovich and others. His emotions are entirely transparent and due to his depth of feeling it’s not necessary for him to say anything for the audience to know what he is thinking. Hitchcock utilized the flashback by Anne Baxter’s character to fill in the viewer to previous history between the main character and Michael, but it is done from her point of view giving a nice romantic feel—unlike Hitchcock. The film has a suspenseful, well-written story, is well-acted, and the direction by Alfred Hitchcock is the glue that puts it all together. It may not be one of his most noteworthy film, but it would be a shame to miss it.
Strangers on a Train (1951)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Strangers on a Train is an infinitely rich quintessential Hitchcock experience. This 1951 film holds up wonderfully well as a suspense thriller. It is part of the 9 DVD set of The Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection. (The DVDs can be obtained individually as well.) HItchcock considered this film the beginning of his American career and Strangers on a Train was hugely successful.
In the opening scene we are introduced to the two main characters, Guy Haines (Farley Granger) and Bruno Anthony (Robert Walker) by an extended view of their respective shoes as they approach their departing train. These are two very different men, as immediately is apparent by the sensible dark shoes of Guy, a tennis pro, and the flamboyant white shoes of Bruno, an indolent playboy type. Bruno recognizes Guy and engages him in somewhat unwelcome conversation on their train ride from which Guy is too impolite to extricate himself.
Not only does Bruno recognize Guy from sports publicity but he’s also read about him in society and gossip pages, so he knows Guy is separated from his wife, Miriam and involved with the beautiful Ann Morton (Ruth Roman), daughter of a senator. We recognize early on that the charming Bruno is a psychopath. He suggests to Guy they both have someone in their lives they would be happier without. There’s the conniving, unfaithful Miriam (who sought a divorce but now doesn’t want one due to her husband’s recent financial success) and there’s Bruno’s wealthy difficult father. Bruno proposes if they simply swap murders, they would commit the perfect crime, as no one would suspect either of them for these seemingly motiveless murders. Guy does not take Bruno’s bizarre proposition seriously and assumes when he leaves Bruno on the train, he will never see him again.
When Miriam soon turns up dead, this innocent decent man finds himself for the remainder of the film having to devote his life to trying to free himself and those dear to him from the chaos Bruno is creating, beginning with Bruno’s insistence that Guy complete his part of the deal.
Hitchcock loved trains. He loved to contain his characters on trains. It has been suggested that the train is a metaphor for life. On the train we are enclosed and hurtling someplace and we cannot stop.
Strangers on a Train was published as a novel by Patricia Highsmith in 1950. What a match Hitchcock and Highsmith were! Highsmith was also fascinated by evil and crime. Included in the extras are comments contrasting and comparing the movie and book. The extras were absorbing and added much to the film’s enjoyment. Film historians, critics, actors, etc. explore and dissect the film. I was particularly engaged by the interview with Laura Elliott, the actor who played the unsympathethic and bitchy victim Miriam. Also the enthusiastic comments by the director Shyamalon about the plot and script are well worth hearing. I found of interest the extra on his personal family life, including interviews with his four granddaughters and his daughter. (His daughter, Patricia, played the role in this film of Ann’s younger sister Babs.) It should be noted that there is included on this two disc set, along with the U.S. version, a two- minute-longer UK version. It should also be noted that the newsreel footage of Hitchcock is totally silent!
I had only positive reactions to the superb plot, direction, acting and script. It was a riveting experience to discover at what moments Bruno’s “perfect” crime unraveled, just as it was in another Hitchcock film, Dial M for Murder (reviewed here in November). And in general there’s plenty of edge-of-your-seat plot manuvers. The excellent musical score by Dimitri Tiomkin adds to the suspense. Although a 50 year old film, the DVD transfer of both picture and the mono soundtrack is excellent. Several great scenes include the murder (as viewed through Miriam’s fallen glasses) and the spectacular extended ending.
Robert Walker had previously acted only in light comedy and musicals and died tragically the year following the making of the film. The film revolves around how everyone in the film is affected by the action of Walter’s character, Bruno. There are notable differences between the movie and the book. Hitchcock chose an ending more moralistic and Hollywood that did not include Highsmith’s exploration of how a good person might be corrupted.
Highly recommended. Essential viewing for Hitchcock fans as well as fans of superb suspense thrillers!
The Wrong Man (1956)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
When Alfred Hitchcock was five years old his father asked his friend, the chief of police, to lock the boy up in jail for five minutes or so to teach him about the fate of bad little boys. As a result Hitchcock had a lifelong fear of jails and police and his filmmaking was profoundly influenced as well. Mistaken identity is a frequent theme of Hitchcock’s films. The Wrong Man is one of the most unsettling films I’ve seen.
The Wrong Man is a true story which includes actual names and locations in New York City. The script was written by the famous playwright Maxwell Anderson. Using a somewhat documentary approach, this sad and touching tale is an account of how an average family man with a routine life is arrested and tried for robberies in the neighborhood which he did not commit, crimes committed by someone who looks like him. The protagonist is pulled into a nightmare through no fault of his own, totally by fate and random circumstances. The story is gripping and tense as this dreadful dilemma is explored.
Henry Fonda plays the role of Manny Balestrero, a Stork Club bass player who loves his wife and two young sons. Fonda is extremely convincing as an Everyman. It is heartbreaking to watch Vera Miles as Rose, Manny’s wife, as she eventually experiences a serious nervous breakdown and subsequent madness for a considerable time. The humiliation, helplessness, anguish and quiet rage that Balestrero undergoes is so well acted by Fonda, we experience at least a measure of what it must be like to be falsely accused. There’s very effective use of Catholic symbols which accounts for one of the film’s most dramatic images.
Though not fun or entertaining, this film is an essential experience for any Hitchcock fan. It’s a complete departure in style from his other films, influenced by mid 50s European realism, though the theme of an ordinary guy trapped in a situation beyond his doing was frequently found in Hitchcock’s work. Bernard Herrman’s wonderful musical score is spare and restrained and at times appropriately creepy, though there are some lyrical moments during scenes of domestic life.
The transfer to DVD is good with some minimal grain in a few scenes. Though mono, the audio is crisp and sharp. The extras include the original trailer and an insightful 20 minute collection of commentary by film historians and directors on the making of the film. Highly recommended.
Stage Fright (1950)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Drama student Eve Gill (Jane Wyman) attempts to protect and clear Jonathan (Richard Todd) who is being framed for a murder. It’s rewarding to see Todd eventually become almost as scary as Tony Perkins in Psycho though the fim itself isn’t that scary or suspenseful. Eve leads a risky double life as she does some amateur sleuthing and becomes the maid and dresser of the stage star Charlotte Inman (Marlene Dietrich) who is, not surprisingly, glamorous and evil.
Dietrich is memorable singing the Cole Porter song “The Laziest Gal in Town.” (Sexy Dietrich could easily steal the show but Wyman, though mousy in contrast, is so very convincing and cute in this role and definitely holds her own. Her comedic talents are evident. Wyman was a superstar at the time and at the peak of her career.} Eve fairly quickly shifts her affection to the detective Wilfred Smith (Michael Wilding) who is investigating the murder of Charlotte’s husband. So the mystery becomes a love story as well and we are relieved to see Eve lose her crush on the unstable Jonathan but gratified to see she’s still working hard to clear him. The ending is a surprise and involves a flashback from the opening of the film.
There are several scenes with Eve’s parents, played superbly by British actors Alister Sims and Sybil Thorndyke – both very funny. Hitchcock’s ambivalence about mothers is, as always, evident here with the portrayal of the dotty mother. Several actors are wonderfully entertaining in their small supporting roles such as Joyce Renfeld and Kay Walsh. Patricia Hitchcock, the director’s daughter, appears in a bit role. (Patricia Hitchcock was well cast in several of Hitchcock’s films, including a significant supporting role in Strangers on a Train.)
The making of the film documentary, about 20 minutes long, adds to the enjoyment and understanding of the film. There’s much discussion of the unusual treatment of the flashback at the beginning of the film–a description of which would be a spoiler. The way the flashback was utilized became very controversial, considered by some to be brilliant and by others to be a huge flaw. Most of the documentary focuses on the casting with engaging commentary on the various actors. In a recent interview with Wyman, she recalled how, during the filming, Dietrich mothered her and gave her advice, such as be sure to “make them pay attention to you.”
Stage Fright is not one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces but it’s worth viewing and certainly of value to Hitchcock fans. Francois Truffaut stated to Hitchcock in his book length interview, Hitchcock/Truffaut, “this film neither added to nor took away from your reputation.”
The DVD transfer is excellent with a clear and undistorted audio presentation. The video preserves the high contrast between light and dark in the cinematography.
The World of Jacques Demy (1995)
Studio: Cine Tamaris/Wellspring
- John Sunier
Studio: 7th Art/Koch Lorber
Whereas historical documentaries might contrast old black and white photos with modern color shots of the same locations, this devastating Polish film often starts with monochrome shots of unassuming streets and buildings in Lodz – kids on skateboards and people with headphones in their ears – and then dissolves to color slides of the same buildings and streets with ragged crowds of the 300,000 Jews who were crammed into the Ghetto. The guide on this unique documentary in the history of Holocaust films is Dr. Arnold Mostowicz, who had been a doctor in the Ghetto himself, signing death certificates and dealing with the heartless chief accountant himself. Genewein’s descriptions of the Ghetto and the horrible proceedings of those who “were just following orders” are taken from his letters and notes and used as narration under the color images. The sense of slowly advancing doom in the chronology – going from closing off the Ghetto to the final sending off of the remaining inhabitants to the death camps – is just as horrific and touching as Schindler’s List or other dramatizations. Photographer won Best Film aware at the l998 Amsterdam Documentary Festival and fully deserved it.
- John Sunier
The Best of Resfest Digital Film Festival, Vol. 2 (2003)
Studio: many/Palm Pictures
As with any program of short films, you will really like some and others you could care less about. But the nice thing is that all are short and the one boring to you will soon be over and replaced with one that can be inspiring. None of these films have been compiled on DVD before, but some have appeared on PBS- TV series devoted to short creative films. The major production in this volume is probably the German film Copy Shop, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2002 for Best Short. A single character (who reminded me of Roman Polanski) who works in a copy shop experiences a life-changing crisis when the copy machine seems to be turning out human copies of himself. The entire film is processed to look like a contrasty photocopy itself. Eeriness and humor at the same time. Bike Ride is a simply narration by a young man who as an adolescent rode his bike a long ways on a whim to see his girl friend, who then broke up with him. It is illustrated by childlike animation and stills of objects mentioned in the narration. The opening film, Bad Animals, has a hapless man on a bus harassed by people in furry animal suits and is alternately hilarious and disturbing.
- John Sunier
The Best of Resfest Digital Film Festival, Vol. 3 (2003)
Studio: many/Palm Pictures
- John Sunier
Trekkies 2 (2004)
Starring: Denise Crosby
* = Not that I’m not envious – I run into occasional situations where I feel the need to put on my Spock ears and inject some logic into an incipient disaster.
Christmas in Connecticut (1992)
Starring: Dyan Cannon, Kris Kristofferson, Tony Curtis
Christmas is soon approaching and what better way to celebrate than watching Elizabeth Blane, cooking show extraordinaire, and loving family. Kris Kristofferson plays a loner who went off in a snowstorm to rescue a young boy and brought him back alive only to find his house had burned down. One of the only surviving possessions was a cooking book by Elizabeth Blane—an item reported by every news station across the country. Blane’s producer played by Tony Curtis is convinced that having this national hero on the TV show for a Christmas special would bring the ratings through the roof! Before Elizabeth knew what happened, she was all set to do a special show in her Connecticut home with her wonderful family. But there are a few huge problems—she can’t really cook, she doesn’t have a home in Connecticut, and she doesn’t have a family. When all the characters are assembled together it is one silly and conflicted scene after another.
This movie has the prestige of being directed by our new governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. It definitely has the feel of a TV show where the edits are in places that make you think the viewer is about to see a commercial. The sets are nicely done, the acting is fine, and there are no glaring problems, but the appeal will be to those who like holiday specials in the shape of a romantic comedy. The movie is predictable from start to finish, but as in many things it is how you get there that helps to make this one more enjoyable than most.