DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

19 DVD Reviews, Part 2 – Feature Films


Published on May 1, 2005

Pt. 2 of 2 – May 2005  [Part 1]


Hotel Rwanda Middle of the World Loch Ness Incident Porco Rosso anime
Suspect Zero House of Flying Daggers Buddy Beaches
I Love Lucy 4 Arakimentari

Hotel RwandaHotel Rwanda (2005)

Starring: Don Cheadle and Sophie Okonedo
Studio: United Artists/Lions Gate Entertainment
Video: Widescreen enhanced for 16:9
Audio: DD 5.1, Dolby Surround
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
Extras: “A Message for Peace: Making Hotel Rwanda” Documentary; Return to Rwanda documentary; Selected Scenes commentary by Don Cheadle; Audio commentary by Director Terry George and real-life subject of the film, Paul Rusesabagina, with select commentary by musician Wyclef Jean
Length: Two hours, two minutes
Rating: *****

A dedicated businessman, husband and father to his four children, Rwandan resident Paul Rusesabagina took extraordinary measures to save lives during a horrible period of war and savagery in his home country.

During this period of massive genocide just eleven years ago this month, which left hundreds of thousands of Rwandan people dead, Rusesabagina saved both his family and over 1200 refugees from certain death, harboring them in the five star hotel where he worked as an assistant manager. Hotel Rwanda, a disturbing yet poignant film by Terry George, tells his story.

In the lead role, character actor Don Cheadle caputures this courageous businessman with the right mixture of poise and humility. Rusesabagina (Cheadle) begins the film happy to appease his upper-class clientele, including prominent Rwandan military figures and UN peace keeping forces. He serves his hotel guests fine Scotch whiskey, imported Cuban cigars, and chilled German beer in order to create an environment of luxury and privilege. For a while, the relationship benefits him; Rusesabagina’s job affords him a middle class existence with a nice home, car, and comfortable life for his family.

The confident businessman is soon shaken, however, by an onslaught of killings immediately around the hotel once the war begins. The Hutu people, and their military leaders, whose every whim he once met, engage in a horrific slaughter of the Tutsis. While the difference between the two classes is minimal, the hate and prejudice which erupts is substantial and tragic.

Confronted with a mounting military presence and increasing evil, Rusesabagina (Cheadle) not only bargains with the brutal Hutu leaders to save lives, he outsmarts them. However, such bravery and fortitude, during all the madness of war, nearly breaks his spirit.

In many instances, Cheadle’s emotionally honest performance merits his Best Actor Nominations he garnered at the Oscars and Golden Globes. Amidst a moment of terror, as a hostile Hutu gunman is about to murder his family and several other innocent Tutsi people, Cheadle calmly persuades the man to stop, offering him money for each innocent life. Later in the film, when alone and dressing for work in his fine shirt and silk tie, Cheadle begins to break down and sob. The enormous loss of life, the barbarism, and many brushes with death overwhelm him. Cheadle’s acting, in both instances, is penetrating and real.

Fine performances by the supporting cast contribute to this inspirational story. Sophie Okonedo brings warmth and grace to the role of Paul’s wife, Tatiana. A gutsy woman, Tatiana (Okonedo) at various times supports her husband’s valor and guides his moral thinking as well. In fact, the script was rewritten in order to more prominently feature the close relationship between the two, and rightly so.

Another highlight is Nick Nolte’s role as the frustrated UN Colonel Oliver, who sympathizes with Paul and the plight of the Rwandan people. A pivotal scene occurs between Nolte’s character and Paul (Cheadle), when Paul believes the UN will intervene and halt the killings. Oliver (Nolte) bluntly tells Paul that no intervention will happen, that the lives of Rwandans, according to the West, are “dirt” and not worth saving. Though difficult to watch, both actors convey a certain truth of Western nation’s atttudes towards African people.

Much of the remaining cast of Rwandans-the Hutu General Paul once befriended, and other employees of the hotel–were drawn from the city of Johannesburg, South Africa, where the bulk of the film was shot– and provide credibility to the film.

Extra features on the DVD further which explore the real-life saga of Paul Rusesabagina are worth viewing. Screenwriter Keir Pearson, a native of Portland, OR, (Wilson High School, ’85) discusses how he came upon Paul’s story, as well as the extensive journey he took to research the film. On the technical side, sharp picture and sound quality accentuate an already moving movie.

Because Hotel Rwanda shines a light on a painful part of history, and because the Rwandan people are given a voice, so eloquently expressed by the acting of Cheadle, Okonedo, Nolte, and countless others, this is a motion picture worth seeing.

- Jim A. Fasulo

Middle of the WorldThe Middle of the World (O Caminho das Nuvens) Brazil English Subtitles

Starring: Claudia Abreu and Wagner Moura
Studio: Film Movement Series
Video: Enhanced for Widescreen 16:9
Audio: 5.1 Surround
Extras: Biographies of Cast, Short Film: Brin’s Hill, The Ecology of Love
Length: 86 minutes
Rating: **1/2

In an early scene from “Middle of the World” the first feature film by director Vicente Amorin, a crying infant, alone and temporarily separated from his family, faces a terrifying death as a semi-truck barrels down the road towards him.

The youngster survives unharmed–the scene is equally frightening and effective– though his near tragic fate underscores the seemingly impossible journey his family has begun. His father Romao, (Moura) a poor but determined young man has set out to change the grim circumstances for himself and his large family of seven. Romao feels destiny is calling him to Rio De Janeiro, where in his mind, a secure job of 1000 reals ($300.00/month) awaits him.

So, he leads the entire lot, including his infant child, on a grueling bicycle trip down the back roads of Brazil, south to Rio. It is exhausting journey and based on a real story.

Both Moura and Abrue, playing Rose, his wife, give credible performances as the husband and wife struggling to achieve a better life. Tension ensues when Rose suggests the family would be better off at a village where she can earn some money as a weaver. Romao’s devout faith that a more plentiful future lies ahead, 3000 miles away in Rio, pushes him on. Rose and the children trudge along.

Another bright light in the film is the gutsy acting of the character Antonio (Ravi Ravos Lacerdo) who portrays Romao’s oldest son. Full of teen angst and rebellion, Antonio clashes with his authoritarian father, wishing at times to break away from the family’s arduous and debilitating bike trip. Antonio’s desire to live as other teenager would, to meet girls and live independently, casts him apart from the journey, at least for a while.

Middle of the Road involves an intriguing story line with honest and emotionally charged performances by it’s lead players. However, director Amorim leaves out key elements which might make the film worthy of high praise. More details about the plight of the family, how they survived, how the father motivated the wife and family to keep going are missing. The ending brings little or no resolution to the family’s several month long struggle, and this is a big disappointment to a film which seems to demand a satisfying conclusion.

Picture quality is first-rate and showcases the landscape of Brazil’s wide-open terrain. The DVD contains a short film extra called “The Ecology of Love” by Brin Hill. The amount of word space to allocate to this small dream sequence montage can be boiled down to two words: skip it.

– James A. Fasulo

Incident at Loch NessIncident at Loch Ness (2005)

Werner Herzog and Zak Penn
Studio: Fox
Video: 1.85:1 widescreen, video & film
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DD stereo
Subtitles: English, Spanish, captioned
Extras: Audio commentary by Herzog & Penn, Deleted scenes & outtakes, Featurettes & testimonials, Revealing photos and candid clips, Inside information, Hidden “easter eggs” accessed by finding the fake “Nessie” icon!
Length: 94 minutes
Rating: *****

Anyone picking up this DVD will immediately figure out that this is not a serious documentary on the Loch Ness Monster. For one thing, there’s the big blurb on the back: “Un-Loch the Secrets of the Film with Shocking Extras!” I will sheepishly admit that although I had some reservations, when I saw the film in the theater I was taken in hook, line and sinker. Werner Herzog has got to be the most highly individual filmmaker on the planet, and when he commits himself to a filmic idea it is never half-baked or laid back. Witness the actual dragging of the giant steamboat over the Andes in Fitzcaraldo to replicate exactly what Fitzcaraldo had done. As successful as that film was, the Les Blank documentary on its amazing struggles and setbacks, Burden of Dreams, proves just as worth watching.

This latest film purports to be mostly a documentary shot on video by a couple of guys following Herzog and Penn to Scotland to do a documentary of their own on film about the legend of the Loch Ness Monster and how persistent it remains against all logic. For the first time, Herzog is supposedly not the director but has worked out a deal with screenwriter Zak Penn who will be the actual director. In the video documentary footage (tapeage?) of the dinner party in LA at which the various participants and friends (including Jeff Goldbaum) get together there are already rumblings of strong disagreements between Herzog and Penn. The cinematographer tells the camera how honored he is to be making a film with the famous Herzog. Next we are in overcast Loch Ness, Scotland and meeting some of the staff Penn has hired there. We meet an over-the-top scientist with all sorts of specimens in jars and who has some rather bizarre theories about Nessie. There are negotiations over the boat and its captain which will take them out on the Loch.

The first morning of the expedition the plot thickens. Among the crew boarding the boat is a shapely brunette in a jump suit who is said to be the sonar expert, hired by Penn unbeknownst to Herzog. Penn had insigniaed jump suits made for everyone, but Herzog steadfastly refuses to wear his. At one point the sonar expert strips hers off to sun tan in the fog – revealing a tiny American flag bikini. (THAT’s when I should have realized my leg was being pulled.) I think I’ll stop there so viewers will have some fun getting pulled into the “incident.” Suffice it to say some very clever ruses were used, from originally announcing planning of the new film by Herzog (which made Variety) thru the directions Penn gave the actors to just improvise on their general personas rather than following a script (there was none). The appearance of the “real” Nessie is set up earlier by Penn’s insistence on Herzog filming a laughable homemade floating Nessie – of course Herzog steadfastly refuses. The believability of the attack on the boat by Nessie is heightened when it is revealed two of the crew members were drowned and there is even a service for them later.

The hoax doesn’t stop with the extras. First, although the box lists all sorts of extras the only one that shows up with the feature is to hear the optional audio commentary or not. The commentary starts right off with a disgruntled Herzog arguing with Penn over the way he commandeered the film with dumb ideas such as the sonar expert. Penn tries to get him to agree to cool it so they can do the commentary together, but Herzog gets so mad he stomps out of the studio and slams the door, leaving Penn to record all the rest of the commentary alone. (At least I think he does it alone – I didn’t want to see the whole film again just then.)

I studied the notes on the cover and tried to access the other extras again with little success. There were no instructions on how to proceed. Finally I flipped the disc and tried the other side, which turned out to have all the rest of the extras – featurettes, deleted scenes etc. All interesting but still not revealing the hoax. So I tried navigating around the various section titles appearing on the extras menu. They really make you work to get at the truth. Finally, I glimpsed a tiny black “fake Nessie” icon in the Loch in the background. It took me some time to get it to appear again but when I did all the beans were spilled. A complete explanation of the planning that went into the film, statements by Herzog – he reveals how difficult it was for him to keep a serious face at some points, by Penn and other members of the cast-”crew.” Even some footage of meetings with the special effects people who created the Nessie effects as well as the supposed sinking of the boat and drowning of the two crew. It turns out most of the “real” Nessie was done with a simple bucket on a long pole dragged just under the water. Penn admits that the whole project would never have been possible without Herzog (and his name). Herzog was the last director that Hollywood or any fan would have expected a comedy from, so that supported the hoax. One review compared Incident at Loch Ness to Blair Witch; I find that a demeaning comparison – Blair is nothing about nothing and Incident is a great deal about something entirely different! I think it’s one of Herzog’s finest efforts.

- John Sunier

Porco Rosso animePorco Rosso (1992)

Anime feature by Hayao Miyazaki
Studio: Ghibli Films/Walt Disney (2 discs)
Video: 1.85:1 widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 THX, DD Stereo, French and Japanese language
Extras: Voice talent special with Michael Keaton, Brad Garret & others; Complete storyboard of entire film on Disc 2 with soundtrack; Original Japanese trailers; Interview with Producer Toshio Suzuki
Length: 93 minutes
Rating: ****

Another unique and delightful family anime from “Japan’s Disney “- Miyazaki; his Spirited Away being the last smash film to captivate Northern American audiences. This earlier film takes place in a fantasy Italy somewhere around 1930 I would guess. Porco is a former WWI pilot who is now a reclusive bounty hunter. His name is because his face has been transformed into that of a pig via some mysterious spell. He fights a band of seaplane-flying pirates who hire a rival stuck-up pilot to carry on an aerial dogfight with Porco and shoot him down.There is also a beautiful woman who owns a restaurant on a picturesque Italian island where both Porco and the pirates like to hang out. The rival and Porco are also rivals for her affection. There’s also a very young girl airplane designer and builder of a fast new plane for Porco who flies with him to tweak her new creation in the air. The Italian scenery and also the dogfights and planes flying thru the clouds are gorgeously rendered by Miyazaki and his hardworking animators. Michael Keaton has a lot of fun doing Porco’s voice. A charming family film with plenty of intellectual and historical details to interest the adults.

- John Sunier

Suspect ZeroSuspect Zero (Widescreen Collection)(2004)

Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Ben Kingsley, Carrie-Ann Moss
Directed by: E. Elias Merhige

Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
Video: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: English DD 5.1, French DD 5.1
Subtitles and Captions: English, Spanish and English Closed Captions
Extras: Commentary by Director E. Elias Merhige, four-part featurette “What We See When We Close Our Eyes”, Remote viewing demonstration, alternate ending with optional commentary, Internet trailer, previews
Length: 99 minutes
Rating: ***

FBI Agent Tom Mackelway is tracking a series of murders and all signs are pointing to a former FBI agent named Benjamin O’Ryan. O’Ryan was part of a former secret government program that trained agents to get into the minds of serial killers by using telepathy. Through his research, Mackelway discovers that O’Ryan had formulated a theory that a single killer, referred to as ‘Suspect Zero’, could travel the country murdering people and avoid capture provided that the killings were truly random in nature. Mackelway, along with the help of his former partner, must determine whether O’Ryan is the Suspect Zero responsible for a long list of murders or whether he is actually guiding them towards another person. Suspect Zero is a cold, dark movie that reminded me a lot of Silence of the Lambs. Ben Kingsley turns in an excellent performance as an intense, but very troubled man who wants his inner pain to cease. This film is successful in creating a chilling atmosphere without the need to display much violence or gore. I would recommend checking out this movie at least as a rental and fans of the film will want to purchase the DVD for its nice set of extras.

The overall video quality of this DVD is very good. Images are a little soft but are otherwise clean with nice detail. Colors are accurate and dark with saturated hues. 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 predominantly favors the forward soundstage. Dialogue is crisp and firmly anchored in the center channel. The surround channels are selectively used for both ambient sound effects and the music score. The low frequency channel is mellow and deep. Tactile sound effects are present in about one quarter of the DVD’s chapters and appear as subtle to medium impacts.

Reference equipment used for this review: [Video projector- Studio Experience Cinema 17SF; Projection screen- Vutec 103” SilverStar; DVD player- V, Inc. Bravo D1; A/V Receiver- Sherwood Newcastle R-963T; Speakers- BIC DV62si mains, DV62CLRs center, Adatto DV52si rears, D1210R subwoofer; Tactile Transducers- Clark Synthesis Gold; Video Switcher- Key Digital SW4x1; Cables/Wires- Bettercables ]

- Calvin Harding Jr.

House of Flying DaggersHouse of Flying Daggers (Widescreen Edition)(2003)

Starring: Ziyi Zhang, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Andy Lau
Directed by: Zhang Yimou
Studio: Sony Pictures
Video: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: Chinese, English, and French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles and Captions: English, French
Extras: Commentary with director Zhang Yimou and actor Ziyi Zhang; two featurettes (“The Making of House of Flying Daggers” and “Creating the Visual Effects”); Storyboard comparisons; Costumes gallery; Photo gallery; “Lovers” music video; Previews
Length: 119 minutes
Rating: ***

The House of Flying Daggers is a revolutionary gang that is attempting to overthrow the corrupt government of the Tang Dynasty. A blind female dancer named Mei is believed to have ties with this gang. After her capture by government soldiers, two officers, Leo and Jin, devise a plan to have Mei lead them to The House of Flying Daggers. Jin pretends to rescue Mei in hopes of gaining her trust. However, Jin begins to develop true feelings of affection for Mei, which puts his mission in jeopardy. Things become even more complicated as both Leo and Mei have secrets of their own that later surface. I have mixed feelings about this movie. On a positive note, it is a visually beautiful movie with outstanding fight choreography, superb cinematography, and dazzling use of color. The plot, however, has some serious deficiencies and the pacing is somewhat slow. I did not enjoy this film anywhere near as much as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but it is nonetheless worth a viewing if for nothing more than its visual qualities. Fans of the genre will want to own the DVD for its decent extras but others may want to consider renting before purchasing. Recommended.

The overall video quality of this DVD is very good. Images, while occasionally soft, are otherwise clean with nice detail. Colors are vivid and bright with fully saturated hues. Picture defect mastering is solid with no major flaws or artifacts. The overall audio quality is also very good with the English dubbed Dolby Digital 5.1 track serving as the basis for this review. The soundtrack mix features a pleasing balance between the forward and rear soundstages. Dialogue is intelligible and firmly anchored in the center channel. The surround channels are moderately active, incorporate several split channel effects, and are used for both ambient sounds and the music score. The low frequency channel is crisp and taut.

– Calvin Harding Jr.

BuddyBuddy (2004)
Starring: Nicolai Cleve Broch, Pia Tjelta, Aksel Hennie, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Janne Formoe
Studio: Film Movement (www.filmmovement.com)
Video: 1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: Norwegian w/ English subtitles
Extras: Previews, A Ninja Pays Half My Rent Short Film (5 min), Biographies
Length: 100 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

The story of this delightful film revolves around a group of friends who have some trouble in love and life. Kristoffer seems to be doing rather well until his girlfriend has to “screw” things up when she gives him her apartment keys. His compatriot, Geir, has troubles of his own with a past relationship, but they find enjoyment throughout the day filming each other doing silly things. One day a stunt of theirs gets the attention of the TV station and a new reality show is born. In addition to their videotaped excursions, many of the fun involves their roommate, Stig Inge, who hasn’t left their building and it’s surroundings for many years. Kristoffer mistakenly let the station believe that Stig Inge is only acting, but when they request a live interview, the jig is soon to be up. A friend of Stig Inge has been staying at the apartment and serves as a voice of reason to Kristoffer who is on the rocks with his girlfriend after giving the keys back. In the end, all the characters come to terms with their difficulties and work towards a positive end.

Imagine Stand by Me, but with 20-somethings and you’ll have a good idea of this film. The topics of discussion are different, but the level of camaraderie is the same. The acting is fun and ranges from light and humorous to more serious and dramatic. The pace is well done, and it’s easy to feel sympathetic towards all the characters. Each one is well-developed and interesting in its own right and comes into common situations that we deal with on a daily basis. It would advisable to watch with a friend or partner as this movie leaves you feeling good about those whom you care for and should be shared. The short included with this film is a highly enjoyable satirical piece—it makes me laugh with each viewing. This film may not be readily available as it is marketed on Film Movement’s website, but it is worth searching out. The rating is pushing four stars, so this film is highly recommended.

-Brian Bloom

BeachesBeaches (1988)

Starring: Bette Midler, Barbara Hershey
Director: Gary Marshall
Studio: Touchstone/Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Video: 1.85:1 Enhanced for 16:9 Widescreeen
Audio: Dolby Digital Surround Sound
Extras: Beaches Bloopers, 1989 Wind Beneath My Wings Music Video, Mayim Bialik Remembers Beaches, Barbara Hershey Screen Test, Audio Commentary with Director Garry Marshall
Length: 123 minutes
Rating: ***

Beaches is all about an intense, enduring friendship between two very different females which survives dramatic fluctuations of careers, marriage, divorce and illness. Real time is 1988. As the film opens, the famous singer C. C. Bloom (Bette Midler) is rehearsing for her next concert at The Hollywood Bowl. She’s suddenly called away to an apparent emergency. Most of the film is a series of flashbacks to the previous three decades.

After meeting accidentally on vacation at age eleven on the beach at Atlantic City, C. C. and Hillary (Barbara Hershey) develop a strong connection via a decade of long distance letter writing before they meet again in New York. When circumstances separate them at other times, they again write letters. The voice overs as letters are read serve as effective and lovely transitions for the film.

C.C. lives a lower middle class life in the Bronx in her early years and Hillary a life of privilege and wealth near San Francisco. C. C. is a fiesty Jewish entertainer from childhood on with a stage mother (Lainie Kazan) both pushy and loving. Hillary is a proper, well behaved W.A.S.P. child who is dazzled by the flamboyant little C. C. played superbly by Mayim Bialik. While C.C. pursues a career singing and acting, Hillary graduates from Stanford and becomes a lawyer. She rebels against her staid family and while living with C. C. in New York works for the ACLU.

That two women so completely opposite in tastes and temperment could be best friends makes no rational sense and yet makes complete sense when observing the chemistry between them. Beaches is more than a “chick flick.” It explores issues around success, values and loyalty in addition to being a poignant story of friendship.

Some mutual jealousy leads to a sad estrangement for a time when the two are well into adulthood. As both women separately grieve the loss of each other, C. C. moans to her then husband, “What will I do without my best friend?” to which he sweetly replies “You got me.” When C. C. repies “It isn’t the same,” that sums up how female relationships are often emotionally intimate in certain ways that female/male ones are not.

The casting in Beaches is noteworthy. Barbara Hershey, a veteran of about 60 films, plays the part of the beautiful, smart, sensitive and supportive friend effectively. Bette Midler is predictably just right in the role of a highly versatile, ambitious entertainer who becomes a big star. Her ego driven, self absorbed character eventually evolves into a more fully realized and generous human being when life demands it.

John Heard brings to his role believeable qualities as an idealistic theatrical director of a small company. Lainie Kazan, the quintessential stage mother, reveals in her few scenes a warmth and directness with her daughter that take her beyond the stereotype of the hovering maternal presence. Spaulding Gray, the brilliant, now deceased monologist, in a small role shows a sweet vulnerability.

Our attention is riveted to the developing story centered on
C. C. and Hillary. The character development of the men in the film is mainly limited to how they are with the women. The 11 year old C. C. (Mayim Bialik) was played by a child who looked like a miniature Bette Midler. Her screen time was unfortunately limited to the first half hour or so. Little C. C. sang and danced and was wonderfully brassy, just as we might imagine Bette Midler as a child might have been.

Bette Midler fans probably find the film worthwhile for Bette’s singing alone. The music includes I Think it’s Gonna Rain Today, Wind Beneath my Wings, Under the Boardwalk, The Glory of Love and several others.

The extras are worth viewing. The adult Mayim Bialik gives a wealth of charming recollections of her experience during the making of Beaches. I found the Beaches Bloopers and the Barbara Hershey screen test mildly amusing. More impressive was the audio commentary by Garry Marshall, the director. His remarks are an interesting blend of plot commentary and information and trivia. He calls attention to various minor actors, explaining who they are and what they are doing now or some unusual observation, such as telling us that the role of Hillary’s Aunt Vesta was played by a woman who was Marshall‘s “stop smoking therapist.” Marshall makes some comments on the set design and cinematography. We learn that Beaches was the cinematographer Dante Spinotti’s first film and that he was later nominated for his work on L. A. Confidential.

Marshall remarks that he likes to concentrate on the actors with the more difficult roles so he hires a lot of the same people in his films for the minor roles. It is clear he holds a lot of respect and fondness for his actors.

-Donna Dorsett

I Love Lucy 4th seasonI Love Lucy: The Complete Fourth Season (1954-55)

Starring: Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, William Frawley
Studio: CBS TV/ Paramount
Video: 4:3 full screen B&W
Audio: PCM mono
Extras: Flubs, Restored music, “Behind the Scenes” Audio Featurette, Original Series Openings, Original Animated Sequences, Production Notes, Spanish Subtitles, Spanish Audio available on most episodes, English Closed-Captions, Song Selections, Guest Cast Information, Five Complete Episodes of Lucy’s Radio Show: My Favorite Husband
Length: 13 hrs. 7 min.

I Love Lucy: The Complete Fourth Season is available as a 5 disc set and includes 30 episodes. The special features on each of the five discs provide a wealth of background details. Originally aired between 1954-55, the stories are clever and inventive, the humor timeless. With their landlords and best friends, Ethel and Fred Mertz, the Riccardos create an unforgetable ensemble cast.

I Love Lucy was first seen in October, 1951 and has never been out of syndication since its original run. The fact that Lucille Ball (1911-1989) and Desi Arnaz (1917-1986) pioneered in shooting their show as 33 mm film just like a feature film is obvious in the excellent B&W image quality of the transfer to DVD. The mono sound is also good quality.

Of particular interest to me as a fan of old radio are the five half hour episodes complete with commercials of “My Favorite Husband”, Ball’s radio show which preceded the television series. Viewing Lucy is like watching “live” television, as rarely were there second takes, hence the collection of flubs which are usually too subtle to be called bloopers.

To summarize the basic story of the series, Lucy is a housewife with a baby living in a New York City apartment with her successful Cuban band leader husband, Ricky Riccardo. Lucy is constantly getting herself and sometimes her husband and friends, the Mertzes, into bizarre situations. Lucy’s somewhat of a diva in her daily life with her wild and outrageous antics. Lucy strives to pursue her dream of getting into show business though she is without talent. Ricky is the long suffering husband (though by today’s standards somewhat chavinistic) with his unpredictable, wacky though lovable wife.

Below are descriptions of some of the 30 episodes exerpted from the box notes to give you a sampling of these classic early television stories, guaranteed to produce many moments of laugh out loud laughter. Ageless comedy at its best!

The Matchmaker: Hoping to encourage a shy couple to wed, matchmaker Lucy invites the duo to a quiet, intimate dinner at the Ricardos’ apartment in an attempt to provide an example of marital bliss.

Ricky’s Movie Offer: Lucy sees her dream of stardom coming true when a Hollywood talent scout is scheduled to come to the Ricardos’ apartment to audition Ricky for a movie role.

Ricky’s Screen Test: For Ricky’s Don Juan screen test, Lucy is asked to feed Ricky his lines with her back to the camera. But she’s determined to make this test the first step on her path to stardom.

Lucy’s Mother-in-Law: Nervous about meeting her Cuban mother-in-law for the first time, Lucy enlists the help of “mind reader” to convince Ricky and his mother that she can speak perfect Spanish.

California, Here We Come!: The Ricardos and the Mertzes are all ready to drive to California, until Lucy’s mother arrives, thinking that she’s part of their travel plans. Frustrated, Ricky loudly complains to Lucy that “everybody we’ve ever known” is coming along. Now the Mertzes, offended, don’t want to go.

L.A. At Last: Arriving in Hollywood, Lucy, Ethel and Fred go star -hunting at the Brown Derby, where Lucy gets more than she bargained for when movie star William Holden takes a seat in the next booth. After enduring Lucy’s star-struck gaze, he decides to turn the tables and stare right back at her!

Don Juan and the Starlets: Lucy and Ricky’s wedded bliss hits some turbulence when Ricky leaves Lucy at the hotel and heads out for an evening of publicity with five gorgeous starlets.

The Hedda Hopper Story: Lucy and Ricky make a big splash when they attempt a publicity stunt designed to land Ricky’s name in Hedda Hopper’s celebrity gossip column.

Hollywood Anniversary: Ricky has forgotten the date of their anniversary, but he has a scheme to convince Lucy that he knew it all along–and that he’s planned a big party at a famous nightclub.

Don Juan is Shelved: An outraged Lucy is determined to impress MGM studio boss Dore Schary with Ricky’s talent and popularity after the band leader’s Don Juan movie is shelved.

The Dancing Star: Lucy’s friend Carolyn Appleby, visiting from New York, wants to meet some of the stars Lucy has been bragging about. So Lucy goes into high gear to convince Carolyn that she’s chummy with Van Johnson, who is appearing at the Ricardos’ hotel.

Harpo Marx: Still attempting to impress Carolyn Appleby, Lucy fools her nearsighted friend by impersonating a number of celebrities, including Gary Cooper, Clark Gable, Jimmy Durante, and Harpo Marx. But things take an unexpected turn when the real Harpo shows up!

Ricky Needs An Agent: Pretending to be Ricky’s agent, Lucy tries to bluff an MGM bigwig into casting Ricky in a film by claiming that Ricky has a competing offer to star in a new Broadway show. But her strategy backfires when the studio releases Ricky from his contract!

-Donna Dorsett

ArakimentariArakimentari (2004)

Documentary on photographer Nobuyoshi Araki
Studio: Troopers Films/Tartan Video
Video: 4:3 color
Audio: DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, DD Stereo, Japanese
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Filmmaker’s commentary, Additional Footage, Original theatrical trailer, Photo Gallery by Araki
Length: 75 minutes
Rating: ****
Warning: Some photographs rated XXX!

Araki lays claim to being the most published serious photographer in the world, with over 350 different photo books of his work. That work spans a wild variety of subjects and is of high quality in all of them, but what has made his name and iconoclastic reputation are his erotic photographs, often of Japanese-style sexual bondage. He has become the symbol of sexual liberation in prudish Japan and now that this aspect of his work is being seen in the U.S. he will probably soon be on the black list of many different conservative groups.

The man is shown to be an amazing dynamo of energy and good humor with many quirky personality traits and abilities. In fact, he seems to me to be nothing so much as a Japanese anime character brought to life. Among his quotes is “I wish I was a god with a thousand arms, each one with a camera” – easy to picture as an anime character, right? The exploration of Araki’s personality and life by filmmaker Travis Klose is rounded out by statements from some of his models, publishers, fellow envious photographers and friends, including Björk, Richard Kern and Takeshi Kitano. One comes away with the feeling that although he doesn’t act much like a genius (or even his age) he probably is.

The photos of his late wife are especially touching when he continues shooting even on her deathbed. He has cultivated a reputation since that difficult time of sleeping with all his female models but the ones interviewed reveal that is not true. He just seems to have a light and jocular approach that puts them at ease and gets them to pose any way he desires – and he desires some most unusual ways to be sure. On the other hand, one of his most fascinating projects was just photographing thousands of faces head on without any sort of special posing or lighting. He possesses quite an ego but is so upfront about it that one can’t be very judgmental. The whole thing can be wrapped up with the observation, “What a character!” The soundtrack is provided by turntablist DJ Crush, and while I generally can’t stand that sort of thing, with Araki’s life it seems to fit very well.

- John Sunier


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