DVD This Week: June 4 - Mania.com



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DVD This Week: June 4

There's a couple of fantastic film genre goodies this week, but the real standout releases are the furthest thing from high tech sci-fi - they're Westerns!

By John Thonen     June 04, 2002

VIDEO NEWS


There's not much on the video news front this week, so your old pal the Vidiot thought he'd share with you (direct from the American Film Market) some titles which will likely be going the direct-to-video (DTV) route in the near future.


RUTGER HAUER should have been a major star, but instead he became a DTV star, and a welcome presence in almost every quickie production he does. Watch for him to hit your local video-plex soon in DRACULA: ASCENSION and DRACULA: RESURRECTION (both sequels to DRACULA 2000). Rutger will also be dealing with killer bees aboard a military plane in FLYING VIRUS. Then, in SCORCHER, he'll be caught up in another disaster, this time one where the Earth is knocked off its axis by nuclear tests. The only way to save the planet? Knocking Earth back into place by detonating another nuclear device. This time, in Los Angeles. IN THE SHADOW OF THE COBRA finds Rutger joining Sean Young as a distaff Indiana Jones searching for a rare artifact in India.


Speaking of actors who were almost stars: Steve Railsback's psychotic routine will likely get another workout in SLASH, which is about a haunted farm and a visiting rock band. THE CRAWL features Mickey Rourke as an Army ranger involved with killer cockroaches. Lance Henriksen joins a search for a plane carrying DNA equipment which has crashed in Bigfoot territory in THE UNTOLD. But, in THE LOST VOYAGE, Henriksen finds a cruise ship missing more than 20 years in the Bermuda Triangle. Corey Haim wonders where his promising career went while being caught up in THE BACK LOT MURDERS, while his buddy Corey Feldman knows where his career went. He's appearing in the "supporting" cast of MAXIMUM JUSTICE, a movie toplined by such superstars as Scott Valentine, Martin Kove and Timothy Bottoms. And, just for laughs, I don't want to forget Malcolm McDowell as THE BARBER, the latest of the zillion-and-one serial killer movies which have followed SEVEN.


Of course, there's also actors who never would have been stars, but who latched onto fifteen minutes of fame in some movie or TV series and are still milking it. These would include Dean Cain in the self-explanatory DRAGON FIGHTER, and PHASE IV, which involves an experimental drug-testing facility and murders. There's also Daniel Baldwin fighting criminals and ghostly spirits in ANCIENT WARRIORS, as well as Richard Grieco, Andrew "Dice" Clay, Zach Galligan and Ice-T in POINT DOOM, which pretty well describes all their careers. Dolph Lundgren who recently announced his retirement, making this perhaps the last year the Academy can honor him plays an alien cop trying to stop alien bad guys from building a portal between galaxies. Which I could swear was the plot of Dolph's MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE fifteen years ago. Of course, what's a "still-a-nobody" actor review without Brian "The Boz" Bosworthy, who pops up in THE OPERATIVE and the previously mentioned PHASE IV. Also still working is Sam J. Jones - the good-looking, bad-acting hunk whose sole legitimate claim to fame was FLASH GORDON - who pops up in PSYCHOTIC and in REDEMPTION, while his recent day counterpart, Casper Van Dien, will be seen again in WINDFALL.


Then there's [IMG2R]the big, CGI rendered monster craze, which continues unabated with the 60 foot long, prehistoric shark known as MEGALODON, which is uncovered by an off-shore oil rig. Then, in SABRETOOTH, a scientist putzing around with prehistoric DNA and modern day mountain lions ends up with the worst nightmare a veterinarian dentist ever imagined. Last but not least, the mother of all big monsters, "Nessie" herself, rears her head in BENEATH LOCH NESS. So start saving your money now. I know I am, because with a crop of DTV films like the above titles looming in my future, I think it's time I find a real life and quit watching this crap.


THIS WEEK'S NOTEWORTHY NEW RELEASES


THE ART OF WAR [IMG3L]was positively vilified by critics when it opened theatrically, but this Wesley Snipes spy thriller is a perfectly adequate action film enlivened by some slick directorial flourishes and well executed action sequences. It's all very familiar, and the plot hardly bears, nor warrants, real scrutiny, but you could do a lot worse and this budget priced re-release of the film should be worth checking out for all those who miss the big, dumb action films of the '80s.


AUDITION is supposed to be a new release this week, but some Blockbuster locations already have this Asian made, semi-arthouse horror film on their shelves. The story involves a middle-aged widower who holds an audition for a non-existent film in order to meet women. The result is a romance with a beautiful former ballerina who ultimately turns out to be anything but the classic shy, submissive Japanese woman. Besides being a painfully effective tale of mental dementia, this is also a commentary on male attitudes towards women. It may also prove too shocking and gruesome for some to tolerate, though those with the stomach and taste for it will find a remarkable tale of darkness and horror in the human mind.


BLUE VELVET [IMG4R]remains the most accessible of director David Lynch's psychedelic noir tales, which include TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME, WILD AT HEART and the recent MULLHOLLAND DRIVE. Kyle McLachlan and Laura Dern are excellent in the lead roles of two young people whose curiosity draws them into the dark and perverse underbelly of the seemingly perfect town they life in. However, it's Dennis Hopper and Dean Stockwell whose performances will be hard to erase from your memory. Visually stunning and complex, without being as deliberately obtuse as some of Lynch's work, this is the place to start if you've thought of checking out this director's work, but were scared by their reputations.



CHEECH AND CHONG'S THE CORSICAN BROTHERS is pretty much all that's needed to convince anyone who thinks Cheech and Chong should reunite of the error of their ways. This is a period retelling of Alexander Dumas' oft-told tale of Siamese twins who are separated, yet each continues to experience the sensations the other experiences. With their modern day drug comedies beginning to wear out their welcome, the comedy duo took a shot at taking their mindless antics to revolutionary era France. It was a big mistake, but not as big as the one you'll make if you watch this disaster.


THE GREAT RACE [IMG5L]is a great example of a kind of moviemaking we will probably never see again; a studio produced, star-studded, goofball comedy complete with musical numbers and even a pie fight which the whole family can watch. It's no classic, and the loss of this type of film may not be all that great a one, but it won't kill you to check it out. From the perfectly cast Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Natalie Wood, and Peter Falk to the scores of wonderful character actors and on to the musical moments, this is just unassuming fun. Plus, it contains what I still insist is the single funniest line ever spoken in a movie, uttered by Lemmon when Falk tells him of Curtis' escape from a castle dungeon.


HERO AND THE TERROR is basically a combination of an episode of WALKER: TEXAS RANGER and one of DARK SHADOWS. Sound dumb? Well, this tale of cop Chuck Norris battling it out with a Frankenstein-like killer (actually, he's more like that old Lon Chaney turkey, THE INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN, but who remembers that one?) is dumb and then some. For Chuck Norris completists only.


HIGH SPIRITS takes us back to the days in the justly forgotten '80s when a respected director (Neil Jordan) could make an expensive comedy featuring the likes of Peter O'Toole on screen with the likes of Jennifer Tilly, Daryl Hannah and Steve Guttenberg. There are a few laughs and some OK effects, of their era anyway. O'Toole and co-star Beverly D'Angelo are fine, but this Ireland set tale of old castles and not so spooky ghosts is such a misfire that you'll find yourself staring, gape-jawed, at the screen in amazement that it ever got made.


HOCUS POCUS is the '90s equivalent of HIGH SPIRITS. It's got witches instead of ghosts and wastes Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker in the company of Kathy Najimy and Charles Rocket. Otherwise, just reread the comments above.


MCCABE AND MRS MILLER is one of several great westerns being released this week, though this was one of the films from the 1960s which helped to sound the death knell for that genre. Directed by the iconoclastic Robert Altman and starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie (then at the height of their cinematic fame) the film is, visually, magnificent to look at, and filled with memorable performances. It is also probably a more accurate depiction of the "real" American west than most films ever made. But it is so far removed from the heroism, majesty and optimism of most westerns that it is every bit the anti-western Sergio Leone's A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS was. The DVD features a commentary track with Altman and producer David Foster as well as a documentary on the film, which was much under-appreciated by audiences and critics at the time of its release in 1971.


THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES [IMG6R]is basically a well above average feature length X-FILES episode which manages to sustain audience interest almost entirely through atmosphere and fine acting. The story involves a journalist (Richard Gere) whose young wife unexpectedly dies not long after experiencing an otherworldly vision. Obsessed by his loss, Gere loses a large portion of time one night and finds himself in a small town where some of the locals are suffering experiences similar to those of his wife. The film does such a great job of maintaining, and building, tension that the undeniably impressive climax of the film is an unavoidable let down. Still, this is about 80% of a great horror film, which relies on neither effects nor gore for its effectiveness. And that's a rare and admirable achievement, all on its own.


SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON comes from the heyday of the western movie, the 1940s, and features the genre's greatest star, John Wayne, under the guidance of its greatest director, John Ford. Most interestingly, while it certainly celebrates the simple values and patriotic tones of most westerns, the film is also one of the first westerns to feel as if it is an ode to a dying breed of men, rather than a salute to their continuation in modern America. Wayne, a much underrated actor, is simply superb as a career Calvary officer nearing the end of his final tour of duty and the rest of the cast, most of whom are Ford regulars, match him every step of the way.


UHF is [IMG7L]the "Special Edition" re-release of a movie that few saw when released in 1989, and even fewer liked. Somehow though the passage of time has brought the film a cult of admirers, many of whom first became aware of the film when its co-star, Michael Richards, found fame on the SEINFELD TV series. This is sort of the 2001 of dumb, geeky comedies. It's the kind of film, which might actually decrease your IQ just by watching it. It's also pretty funny. Pop music satirist Weird Al Yankovich stars as the new owner of a nearly bankrupt UHF TV station, who decides to just let anything go on his station in the hope that something will catch an audience. It does, and so has this film, which ranks high as one of the goofiest, stupidest films ever made. The DVD on this one includes a commentary with Weird Al and director Jay Levey as well as deleted scenes.


THE VERDICT is one of the great courtroom dramas ever offering Paul Newman in a remarkable performance as an alcoholic lawyer who gets one last chance to redeem himself. Charlotte Rampling and James Mason lead a fine cast under director Sidney Lumet's solid directorial hand. Suspenseful, exciting and emotionally enriching, this is a film well worthy of rediscovery. The DVD offers a commentary from Newman.


WILL PENNY is another outstanding example of the American western. Star Charlton Heston is generally regarded today as being the William Shatner of his day. I'd rarely argue with that, but he's superb in this small and moving portrayal of an aging cowboy who gets in trouble with a murderous family of criminals while trying to help a widow and her son during one Montana winter. Easily one of the best westerns ever made.


Sorry, no Easter egg to report this week, but I will treat you all to word of some buys in bargain DVDs which might be of interest to you in a section I like to call...


BARGAIN BASEMENT BUYS


Fans of the innovative TV series 24 may recognize Stephen Hopkins as one of the show's executive producers, and also as the director of a number of the thriller's most outstanding episodes. Others may know him for NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREE 5: THE DREAM CHILD or PREDATOR 2 or even GHOST IN THE DARKNESS. If any of these impressed you, it's worth knowing that his career began with a 1987 Australian film, DANGEROUS GAME, which can be found at most retailers, net or mortar based, in a no-frills DVD for as low As $5.99. The movie has been described as "Die Hard in a department store" and that's not a bad summation. This is high octane, non-stop action about a group of young people who break into a department store to party and steal, but who find themselves the targets of a maniacal security guard who wants to see them make the ultimate payment for their crimes. Worth checking out, and at this price, just buy the damn thing.


While it doesn't feature a little-known-gem like DANGEROUS GAME, Brentwood Home Video's "Hotter Than Hell" four-movie, two-disc package is available for under $10.00. It features two movies I've never even heard of (and folks, that's saying something) plus two bad entries from a bad DTV franchise, so it's a good buy even if you only enjoy one of the flicks. Disc one contains WITCHCRAFT X and WITCHCRAFT XI, both of which continue the zero-budget adventures of reformed warlock Will Spanner and his battles against silicone supplanted succubus (or is that succubi?). They aren't good, but they do have a beginning, middle and end and are in focus, so they do qualify as movies. Now there's a recommendation. Disc two offers SORE LOSERS and THE STRANGERS. The former is a very out-there, latter day punk tale filled with great music, frequently dubbed sound, several different image formats (16mm, Super 8, video) and a story about an alien whose flying saucer transforms into a '57 Chevy. One-of-a-kind, and a lot of fun. The flip side of disc two is a shot-on-video tale from the people behind the WITCHCRAFT series, and is little better than those stinkers. But it's got a great looking chick, a werewolf and an ancient curse, so how bad can it be?


COMING ATTRACTIONS


Next week: two genuinely great films, a couple of good ones, a couple of fun ones and John Travolta and Kirstie Alley in one of those damn, talking baby movies. You know, the success of these films are to blame for crap like BABY GENIUSES. And don't get me started on that.



Vidiocy is our weekly Video & DVD column.



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