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DVD & VHS This Week: April 16

The return of the Toxic Avenger, yet another return for Duncan McLeod and the return of John Travolta just keeps on not happening - this and more this week in Vidiocy-land

By John Thonen     April 16, 2002


John Travolta as Frank Morrison in DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE
© Universal Studios

VIDEO NEWS


Scrappy independent [IMG4R]video distributor Synapse recently announced two upcoming titles which, while lacking in cinematic "name" value, give evidence why the label needs to be paid attention to. INVASION USA is a 1953 no-budgeter wherein the patrons of a bar are regaled by a mysterious stranger's vivid description of the events that would follow an attack on the U.S. Laden with stock footage, the film is nonetheless effective in its depiction of '50s nuclear war paranoia. It's also bolstered by an effective cast headed by Dan (HALLOWEEN 3) O'Herlihy as the soothsayer of the L.A dive most of the film takes place in. Synapse will round out the DVD release of INVASION USA with audio recordings of a pair of '50s era Civil Defense informational programs about nuclear attack and "Red Scare," an infamous paranoid short from the film's era. Also included are recent interviews with cast members O'Herlihy, William (MATINEE) Schallert and Noel (Lois Lane on TV's ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN series) Neill. Also [IMG5L]coming from Synapse is CASTLE OF BLOOD, a somewhat forgotten Italian gem from Anthony (Antonio Margheriti) Dawson, who remade the 1964 film in 1972 as WEB OF THE SPIDER, with far less effective results. The original film features Euro-horror icon Barbara Steele as one of the residents of a haunted house which a man is challenged to spend a night in. Don't miss the ending of this one. Synapse's DVD features the uncensored, international cut of the film as well as a trailer, stills and liner notes from VIDEO WATCHDOG's Tim Lucas.


The word leaking out on the upcoming "Limited Edition" DVD re-release of MEMENTO is unusually intriguing. It seems the film will be laden with special features, including the option to watch the film in proper chronological order, rather than the reverse order depiction that helped make the film famous. The trick to all this is many of these features will not be accessible through a conventional menu screen. Instead, they can only be viewed by passing various "tests," or within well-concealed Easter eggs. Apparently it is director Christopher Nolan's conceit that these challenging extras will help the viewer to experience the mental confusion of the film's troubled lead, Leonard Shelby. It sounds to me like it will probably just piss a lot of people off, but time will tell.


THIS WEEK'S NOTEWORTHY NEW RELEASES


THE ACCUSED stars Jodie Foster, who is back is back on top again thanks to David Fincher's PANIC ROOM. This would be a powerful indictment of rape even without Foster, but it's her Academy Award winning performance as a rather slutty woman - who is a far cry from the actress' reserved and highly intelligent self which propels the film into near-classic territory. Foster is always convincing as a woman who may have put herself in a situation where sexual assault was almost unavoidable, but who still didn't deserve to be gang-raped. Pretty powerful stuff, this film helped signal the end of the days when rapes were generally depicted exploitively, even entertainingly, in films.


BLACK NIGHT is the latest from Martin Lawrence, the poor-man's Eddie Murphy, whose previous film, BIG MOMMA'S HOUSE, had been a huge hit. This one takes viewers back in time, not only to the medieval era, but also to a time when it was OK to depict black people as funny-looking, -acting and -sounding cretins. I truly don't understand Martin's appeal beyond a sick resonance with the racist in all of us. Skip this one and rent JUST VISITING. It's no good either, but at least it makes fun of the French, and they deserve it.


CARNIVAL OF BLOOD/CURSE OF THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN is a double feature DVD of two little known items from the early 1970s. Up first is CARNIVAL which features future ROCKY co-star Burt Young in a tale of a serial killer menacing a carnival. Fans of H.G. (BLOOD FEAST) Lewis may want to check this out for its graphic, but silly-looking, murders. Next on the disc is HORSEMAN, a cheesy, semi-pro offering about the title spook, who is haunting the Wild West attraction inherited by a young college student. Neither film is all that watchable, but Image does enhance the duo with extras, including: a collection of trailers, a short on Carnival sideshows, a pair of amateur shorts entitled THE HUNCHBACK OF MASSAPEQUA PARK and HANDS OF JUSTICE plus an assortment of exploitation film artwork and radio spots.


THE DEEP END earned a lot of critical praise recently during its art house oriented theatrical run. Unlike many such favorites of the major print film critics, this film actually deserves its praise. The film's story deals with a mother who mistakenly tries to cover up her gay son's murder of his lover, since her offspring is innocent of any wrongdoing in the death. The film is a highly effective, modern day take on the "film noir" genre and also a commentary on motherly denial, dysfunctional families and on the "other" person who dwells within the deep end of each of us. The film's DVD features a commentary track from David Siegel and Scott McGehee, who jointly wrote, produced and directed the film, plus the theatrical trailer, stills, a featurette and one of the Sundance Channel's intriguing "Anatomy of a Scene" shorts.


DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE is

John Travolta as Frank Morrison in DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE

a non-comeback, non-thriller, John Travolta vehicle which seems to have a workable enough premise a divorced father who at first doubts his son's story that his new step-father (Vince Vaughn in another irritating performance) is a brutal killer. This premise could have worked quite well, and director Harold (SEA OF LOVE) Becker has the cinematic chops to have pulled it off, but the film too quickly lets the audience know that the boy is telling the truth, too quickly lets Travolta believe in his son's story and then relies far too much on stock characters and situations and people doing stupid things to drive the increasingly illogical and unbelievable storyline. The DVD offers directorial commentary, trailers, storyboards and six deleted scenes, also with director's commentary.


FATAL ATTRACTION is the forerunner of many later domestic based thrillers such as DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE, and this re-release of the influential 1987 film serves as a reminder of how this sub-genre should be done. Michael Douglas is a happily married man who, nonetheless, indulges in a brief fling with colleague Glenn Close and then finds himself, and his wife and family, the terrorized target of her jealous rage when what he saw as a weekend "quickie" turns out to be her idea of true, if quite obsessive love. The DVD features a commentary from director Adrian Lyne, plus featurettes of cast and crew interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and a look at the cultural nerve the film struck when original released. Also featured on the disc is rehearsal footage and a director's introduction of the film's original ending, which was changed after hostile audience reactions during pre-release previews.


Highlander: The Immortal Edition is roughly the umpteen-three gazzilionith re-release of the cult film which was a theatrical flop when released in 1986, yet later spawned three sequels (so far), a long-running TV series and even an animated version. Now, I'm a genuine fan of the original film, but enough is enough. Quit repackaging and re-releasing this thing. If there is anybody out there who doesn't know by now, this is the story of an immortal warrior, Christopher Lambert, who must engage in swordplay with competing immortals over the course of several hundred years of his life, since there can ultimately "be only one." Jeez, how I wish there had been only one of these. The main attraction this time around is that the rather poor, digital transfer of the film on the earlier editions has finally been corrected. This is the director's cut of the film and the DVD also features his commentary track, music videos from rock group Queen, who wrote and performed the film's music, and a CD of that  bombastic musical score.


HORROR 2-PACK is a delayed release already discussed in an earlier column. To summarize: first movie, SLEEPY HOLLOW HIGH bad. Second movie, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD - still damn good, but catch the recent Elite "Millennium" re-release of it instead.


INDECENT PROPOSAL is yet another re-release of a film that was something of a sensation in the 1980s. Unlike FATAL ATTRACTION, this one didn't deserve the attention then, and deserves it even less now. Hearken back to the days when lightweights like Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore could star with a legend like Robert Redford in a film about the moral issues of a newly wed woman whose husband goes along with her spending the night with billionaire Redford in exchange for a million bucks. Now folks, I never understood the dilemma here. For God's sakes, I'd sleep with Redford for a million smackers. Hell, I'd even sleep with Harrelson for that kind of cash. Though I would draw the line at his CHEERS co-star Kirstie Alley, who these days looks like a drag version of Monica Lewinsky.


THE MAN

Billy Bob Thornton and James Gandolfini star in THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE

WHO WASN'T THERE is a cold-around-the-heart bit of noir from the amazing Coen brothers, whose previous offering was the endearingly goofy O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?. While mesmerizing on its own, the film is catapulted to near brilliance by star Billy Bob Thornton, who here gives one of his two recent performances which deserved Oscar attention, but which were passed over due to his, admittedly, often freakish personal lifestyle. Thornton plays a mild-mannered barber whose efforts to make his wife, and the world in general, actually recognize that he exists, ultimately lead him to murder. I'm not sure if any film has ever better captured the angst of the modern man; the honest, hard working, loyal guy who made this country what it is, and is now forgotten as it becomes what it will be. Stunning stuff. The DVD features a commentary track from the Coens and Thornton, deleted scenes, stills, trailers, an interview with the film's cinematographer and a featurette on the film's production.


NOMADS is an almost unknown gem from 1985 and director John McTiernan, most recently to blame for the ROLLERBALL remake, but also notable as the man behind DIE HARD and THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. Lovely Leslie Anne Downe portrays a doctor who is bitten by a crazed patient (Pierce Brosnan) and begins to then experience flashbacks of the events that led to his current state. The film then unfolds in a series of flashbacks even as events also progress in the present day life of Downe's character and we learn that Brosnan was an anthropologist who learned of an immortal sub-species which exists within the human race, one of a band of wandering, human-like beings, who are actually Eskimo spirits, and who will go to any end to keep their existence a secret. The cast is excellent, the story chilling, the Nomads memorable and the ending while obvious is pretty unforgettable. This highly recommended title is a budget price, no-frills offering featuring only a trailer as an extra. I'd have loved to hear a McTiernan commentary on  this one, but am so thrilled to have a quality presentation of the film that I won't gripe about its absence.


THE TEMP was generally slammed by critics when released in 1993, but it's really a pretty effective thriller/dark comedy, effectively bolstered by an excellent cast. Lara Flynn Boyle is the title psycho, a seemingly perfect temporary employee brought in to help out overworked businessman Timothy Hutton and boss Faye Dunaway. It turns out Boyle is willing to do anything to hang on to this job, and we mean anything, as the office body count starts to rise. If you don't take this too seriously office equipment is involved in most of the killings this one can be a real good time, and it's nice to see Boyle from back in the days when she weighed more than a postage stamp.


THE TOXIC AVENGER PART III: THE LAST TEMPTATION OF TOXIE (DVD special edition) is not a particularly surprising re-release from the always dubious Troma Video. Badly in danger of just fading away as a nostalgic, bad taste fad after their abysmal last few releases (TERROR FIRMER anyone?), the studio has actually had some positive reviews for the latest in the Avenger series, TOXIC AVENGER 4: CITIZEN TOXIE, so the time was right to try and milk some more money out of the lesser entries between the entertaining first film, and the similarly enjoyable fourth one.  Toxie, the nerd turned superhero by an encounter with nuclear pollutants in his home town of Tromaville, is back in this one, but cheesy make-up on the title character and abundant bad taste sequences without the sick-as-hell humor that leavened the first film, makes this entry a temptation for no one.


EASTER EGG HUNT


I'm sad to say, but for the first time since this column began, I don't have a new Easter egg to share with all you loyal Vidiots out there. There is someone out there reading, isn't there? So, here're a few hidden goodies which I would like to see:


RAPTOR with hidden footage of director Jim Wynorski and star Melissa Brasselle getting drunk while recording the DVD commentary.


DVDs of the four Full Moon produced SUBSPECIES films, with commentary from director Ted Nicolaou, where he shares what it's really like to work for Charles Band.


MULLHOLLAND DRIVE with commentary by director David Lynch where he explains what the hell it's about, and admits that even he doesn't know what FIRE WALK WITH ME was about.


Last, but far from least, EYES WIDE SHUT, with the original footage of the optically censored sequences plus a lost commentary by Kubrick himself, found shoved up the rear of Steven Spielberg after Kubrick's ghost caught a screening of A.I.


COMING ATTRACTIONS


Next week: Disaster movies which suck, a vampire movie that doesn't and the South Park gang make a Mormon porn movie.




Vidiocy is our weekly Video & DVD column.

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jnager 3/13/2012 7:41:01 PM

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