DVD Video Reviews Part 2 - November 2001

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Salvador (1985)

Salvador is an account of many of the events that took place in El Salvador during the times of civil unrest and rebellion in the eyes of photojournalist Richard Boyle. When a reporter living in the States is left by his wife (who takes his young child with her,) he ventures with an unemployed friend down south in search of women, drugs, a good old time, and maybe even a story he can sell. He finds himself in a country that he doesn't recognize anymore. His life is frequently in danger and he witnesses countless tragedies during his stay. The guerillas are fighting the government and the people are in a state of flux and uncertainty. The "Death Squads" are killing the natives and the press is just starting to give the country the global attention that is necessary to undergo a change. Most of the story revolves around the politics and the experiences of the journalist as he comes up against the powers that be.

Since the material is supposedly biographical, it is hard to criticize the content and effort. It is painful to see some of the struggle that goes on during the film and the oppression that is rampant. In this sense, the film is widely successful. In the back of my mind there was always a question of how much certain aspects were embellished, but I gave the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt. If a semi-historical, biographical, political discourse on humanity and struggle is of interest then this film is worth checking out. Also, we see the early directorial debut of Oliver Stone and interesting documentary on this film in the extras. Salvador is a genuinely honest attempt to convey the feelings of an oppressed people in Central America.

- Brian Bloom

Thumb Wars - The Phantom Cuticle (1999)

Oedekerk was the writer of Ace Ventura and Patch Adams among other films, and couldn't resist putting his thumb on yet another Star Wars parody. It's a huge production for this sort of thing - with fairly neat looking sets, especially the spaceships. Lighting, sound and other aspects are tops. If some of the humor falls a bit flat it can't be helped, it's still a hilarious parody that Star Wars fans will want to suck on for sure. (Though I preferred the very creative one some years back using flying toasters and blenders for the spaceships.) "Thumbation" involves a quite creative process of putting faces somehow digitally on the tips of actual human thumbs which play all the characters.

Princess Bunhead (with three mini cinnamon rolls fastened to her head) braves The Black Helmet Man with the help of reluctant hero Loke Groundrunner and in the end defeat the Evil Thumbpire. In the process you learn some shocking things about the relationship between C3PO and R2D2 as well as a questionable aspect of Loke's initiation as a hero. The whole thing is even funnier the second time around when you select Oedekerk's commentary on the making of the spoof. The 5.1 sound is amazingly realistic too. And you also get a coupon for a free roll at your local Cinnabon outlet!

- John Sunier

Screw Loose (1999)

Greggio is one of Italy's top comedians and also directed this movie which quickly exposes itself to be one Mel Brooks gag after another. That's not a negative thing unless Brooks is over the top for you. The wacky adventure begins when Bernardo (Greggio) is asked by his supposedly dying father to bring back from America the GI who saved his life in the war. One guess who that soldier was, and as suggested by the movie's title, he's in a mental institution. Jake (Brooks) is kidnapped willingly by Bernardo and taken back to Italy, followed by Jake's beautiful doctor. In the end the father isn't really dying, Jake is well enough to become a partner in the health food company run by rather and son, and Bernardo marries guess who. Did I spoil it for you? Unlikely. Not up to the level of Blazing Saddles or Young Frankenstein - and Greggio is no Roberto Benigni - but even second-rate Brooks can be a kick.

- John Sunier

Showbiz Goes To War (1982)

There has always been a connection between Hollywood (or the entertainment industry) and politics. Whether it is an extravagant display of patriotism or downright condemnation of certain policies, movie and television stars always seem to have an opinion. Because of the wide range of influence that these people have, we tend to pay more attention to them than we probably should. In any case, this amount of influence is useful in promoting the war effort, bond buying, and helping to create an environment of patriotism and support for the many men and women during wartime. This disc focuses primarily on the years surrounding WWII.

This DVD is chock full of stars performing in all different venues, both in production capacities and off the cuff. Just a few of the stars included are: Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, Bette Davis, Clark Gable, Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, and many more. Some of the sections included are: propaganda movies, war bonds, military performances, pin-ups, armed forces radio, donations, and USO and Red Cross benefits. Between the bond rallies, the singing and dancing and comedy, and even some of the animation, Showbiz Goes to War gives you an informative look at how stars can and do promote patriotism during wartime-a welcome and comfortably nostalgic trip.

- Brian Bloom

Banned & Censored

The most fascinating part of this program of 13 questionable cartoons is the on-screen written material about the history of the Hayes censorship office. It gives the blue-noses a more detailed face than we might have had before. There are actual lists of the specific items in each cartoon that Hayes wanted excised or upon which he based a decision not to approve them as they were presented. Plus reprints of the decency laws that show exactly what the office required to keep America's screens well-scrubbed. It's interesting that almost any sexual suggestion was verboten but violence was hardly addressed at all.

The complaints included the cleavage in a cartoon opera singer's bosom, Betty Boop's garters showing, bare bottoms on cupids, and a horse being beaten repeatedly by a farmer. The two cartoons made especially for showing to soldiers in WWII (Dr. Seuss was involved in these, by the way) get away with considerably more since they were not for general audiences, but even they seem tame and corny today. The most shocking animations didn't get hailed by the Hayes office but are here to show the unbelievably racist portrayal of black characters - such as Little Black Sambo (who was created by Disney's top animator and creator of Mickey Mouse - Ube Werks). The DVD purports to offer three different sound choices: Dolby Digital, Dolby ProLogic, and something called Feel the Sound. Well, I did and it hurt - the soundtracks show no evidence of being restored in any way and are often unintelligible. Furthermore the images are very far from "fully restored" as the cover says.

- John Sunier

Dinosaur (2000)

An attack by a Tyrannosaurus Rex leaves a nest of eggs unprotected. After another flying dinosaur grabs one of the eggs and makes off with it, there is no telling how far from its original nesting place it will go. The journey finally ends on an island inhabited by lemurs that decide to keep the baby dinosaur and raise it. A strange storm of meteors forces them to vacate the island and when the barrage passes, they find themselves in a virtual wasteland full of bones and scavengers trying to get a hold of them. They find a group of dinosaurs on the way to their own nesting grounds, and join into the pack. There is much infighting in the group and the leader is both stubborn and sadistic. The struggle is long and hard as they look for water and the final resting place. Various difficulties lie in their path and it is up to the young dinosaur to make peace with the old, save the pack, and bring them to their sanctuary.

Two minutes into this movie and I was already terrified. Everything was peaceful with dinosaurs happily moving around and acting like dinosaurs when all of a sudden there was a huge set of teeth and the terror (Tyrannosaurus) exploded out of the plants and trees chasing the smaller dinosaurs. I watched stunned as his teeth sank into the side of a helpless dinosaur and lunch was served. I can't imagine taking my (or anyone else's) kids to see this film. I thought that perhaps I was overreacting, and I continued to watch. At this point the film seemed to start fall into a nice state throwing out morality and song here and there. That ended quite abruptly when the next disaster struck! More death and destruction ensued, and I had to check the DVD case to make sure this was in fact a Disney film. If you were wondering, the misfortune and suffering did not stop. I suppose the ending could be considered "happy," but after all the death and pain it didn't seem to be very consolatory.

The animation in Dinosaur is terrific, and the sound is fabulous as well. However, these two qualities do not make a good film. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I'm not sure to whom this film will appeal. It surely is not a film for young children, although there are some good lessons mixed in with all the nightmarish visions of death, destruction, and suffering. And of the adults I spoke with, no one really had great things to say either. It is a technical feat, and for that reason it might be worth viewing.

- Brian Bloom

The Fall of the House of Usher (1960)

For those of you not familiar with the Edgar Allen Poe story, a synopsis is in order. A young man has come to the House of Usher to marry a young lady that he had known as a child. The woman's brother has other ideas and at first even refuses to let the man see his sister. He claims that she is very, very ill and that a marriage is out of the question. When pressed harder he finally tells the story of the Ushers's very dark past. His belief is that the house itself holds the evil that many generations of Ushers have committed. If the young man is allowed to have children with his sister, then this evil will spread again. It is his intent to stop the bloodline and await both of their deaths. The young man is unrelenting and who knows to what lengths the brother will try and convince/ stop him in his quest.

When you start with a relatively good plot, it takes a lot to ruin a film. In this case the production values were fairly high for this type of movie and that helped it become one of the top 5 box office hits of 1960! The sets are excellent (for the time) and the story proceeds well with at least a few parts that should make the viewer jump out of his/ her seat. Acting was mostly good with some extra drama added on occasion. At times the sound was muffled and congested, but it did not impair enjoyment of the film. The picture was somewhat dark, but most of this fault helped in setting the tone. The picture also had a tendency to appear a little soft and fuzzy, but not dull. Again, this didn't really create a problem while watching the film. This is one of the better "Midnite Movies" that I have had the chance to view so far, and may even give you a little scare. Check it out if you dare!

- Brian Bloom

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