NETFLIX nets some quick cash as the internet based, DVD rent-by-mail company hits Wall Street in a big way. The Vidiot has often recommended the Netflix program in the past and the company's recent debut as a publicly traded stock showed that Wall Street also recognizes that the company's concept is the wave of the future. Netflix stock garnered a 16% rise in it's cost per share between the opening of their first day of trading and that day's closing price. For those of you unfamiliar with Netflix, they offer DVD rentals-by-mail, thousands of titles including obscure foreign releases and numerous classics all at one low monthly fee. There's no due dates and no late fees. You simply choose movies you're interested in and place them in a queue mine contains 112 titles currently - and they send you your top three titles. Then, as you return each title in the postage paid envelope they provide, they mail you your next title. It's not a perfect system - you can't always count on receiving a title by a particular day, sometimes you can experience long waits for the less popular titles to come back in stock - but I honestly do recommend it, as do their 600,000 other members.
Columbia/TriStar will release a pair of horror classics late this summer when they bring Hammer's REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN and RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE, with Bela Lugosi, to DVD on August 13th. In REVENGE, Peter Cushing again portrays Dr. Frankenstein, this time living under the name of Dr. Stein and posing as doctor who helps the poor. But, of course, he's also helping himself to their body parts. In RETURN, Lugosi portrays a vampire (but not Dracula) who wanders a war torn Europe in the company of a werewolf.
THIS WEEK'S NOTEWORTHY NEW RELEASES
BEN HUR is a "Limited Edition" box set of one of the best of the epic, religious themed, period pieces which were so popular in the 1950s. Stars Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd will never be remembered as acting talents, but both are at the top of their game here and the justly famous chariot race has yet to be topped for excitement.
THE BEYOND/HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY is a 2-DVD set from Anchor Bay which, in my not-so-humble opinion, features the two best films of Italian director Lucio Fulci's notoriously erratic career. The first is a bona fide minor masterpiece of horror about a woman who inherits a hotel located over the gateway to hell. The second title is a very effective ghost story about a family who move into an isolated home and find out they are not alone. Both films offer Fulci's highly lauded penchant for heavy duty gore, but they are also highly atmospheric and often chilling.
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER is a DVD box set of episodes from the popular TV series' second season.
BLACK HAWK DOWN is the latest in the string of ultra-realistic war films to follow the success of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. While not unimpressive, BLACK HAWK generally wastes a talented cast, who are often impossible to differentiate from one another in the film, and a high caliber production. Scott presents us with the horrors of war, but fails to engage us emotionally as all the characters seem like the same guy and we are never involved in the sudden-death world they reside in.
CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD/DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING is another Fulci dual DVD package. This one offers CITY, a solid zombie flick from the heyday of Italian gut-munchers, and the oddly titled DUCKLING, one of Fulci's best, a surprisingly understated tale of a string of child murders near a small Italian village.
HOW TO [IMG3R]MAKE A MONSTER is part of the series of low budget films inspired by titles from American International Pictures releases from the '50s and '60s. The first two of these releases, SHE CREATURE and EARTH VS. THE SPIDER, were surprisingly effective little tales of terror, but this latest in the series involving a video game monster with a life of its own is derivative and unimaginative. The decent Stan Winston created makeup effects are the only above average elements to be found here.
KATE AND [IMG4L]LEOPOLD flopped at the theaters, but this romantic fantasy, starring Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman, is sweet and amusing and likely to entertain all who will give it a chance. Ryan, still cute as can be, is a marketing executive who rebounds from a failed relationship into the arms of a time traveler. Jackman (Wolverine from X-MEN) is very effective as a courtly Duke from the 1800s. The film is at least thirty minutes too long and has more than a few missteps in tone, but it should entertain its target audience (young girls of all ages) and not totally bore their beaus, as most "chick flicks" are wont to do.
KNIGHT CHILLS is an as yet unseen indie effort about a group of role-playing gamesters who find themselves face to face with a murderous killer born of the card game they play. The trailer on the film's website looks a little amateurish, but we'll hold judgment on this one until we've had a chance to see it.
LOOK WHO'S [IMG5R]TALKING NOW was the second sequel to the surprise hit LOOK WHO'S TALKING, a film which started John Travolta's comeback after a string of flops. Like its predecessors, this involves a baby who talks like an adult, but only the audience can hear him. However, it ups the ante a little by also adding a couple of talking dogs (voice by Danny DeVito and Diane Keaton) to the mix. Travolta might want to consider doing another one of these, as his career today is in about the same shape as it was before he made the LOOK WHO'S TALKING series.
MANHATTAN BABY/NEW YORK RIPPER is another twin DVD set of Lucio Fulci titles from Anchor Bay. The first is one of his worst, a deadly dull telling of the oft-filmed (THE AWAKENING, LEGEND OF THE MUMMY, BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY'S TOMB) Bram Stoker tale "Jewel of the Seven Stars." The second film is equally bad, but has found some notoriety for its gruesome and explicit murders, which are so misogynistic as to make Jack the Ripper think they're exploitative.
A MIDNIGHT CLEAR is a far better example of a great war movie than Ridley Scott's BLACK HAWK DOWN. Directed by actor Keith Gordon, this tale of WWII soldiers both German and American - who take a break from battle to celebrate Christmas is one of the most powerful anti-war films ever made. The DVD features a commentary track with Gordon and star Ethan Hawke.
MONSTER'S BALL isn't the genre horror tale its title would seem to suggest, but rather an acting showcase for stars Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton and co-star Peter Boyle. This story of a white prison executioner who finds a kind of love in the arms of the black wife of one of his customers (surprisingly well played by rap star P Diddy) is anything but light going. The film is uncompromising and emotionally wrenching, but its story is effective and its characters challenging and engaging. It's not exactly a good time, but it is a good film. The DVD features commentaries by Billy Bob and Halle Berry along with the film's director & cinematographer.
MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: THE CRAWLING HAND offers the MST3K gang's take on 1963's tale of an astronaut's severed, yet living, hand. Not quite a funny as Bruce Campbell battling his own hand in EVIL DEAD 2, but there's plenty of laughs for diehard MYSTIES.
REAL GENIUS is a delayed release we mentioned before. It's a fun little film, part of the '80s trilogy of "kids and science films" which also included MY SCIENCE PROJECT and WEIRD SCIENCE. It's also a nice reminder of the days when star Val Kilmer didn't take himself quite so seriously.
SHATTER is an obscure, non-horror, Hammer title which seems like it was meant to be a "blaxploitation" concept, but without any major black characters. Instead, we've got Stuart Whitman as an immoral hero and Peter Cushing and Anton Diffring as slightly more immoral villains, battling it out in Hong Kong. This is one of the many titles where Hammer tried to be "hip," but they failed to be that at the time, and now seem little more than quaint. There's a couple of decent action sequence and some cute Asian women, but that's about it.
TOY SOLDIERS is a fun film for teenage males, as a boy's academy is taken over by terrorists and the youths manage to rout the bad guys. ST:TNG's Wil Wheaton and Sean Astin from LORD OF THE RINGS are key players amongst the good guys (er, good kids) and perpetual bad guy Andrew Divoff leads the villains. Good, dumb fun.
VANILLA SKY surprised
Next week: we'll go inside the attic and beneath the loch, as Jim Carrey plays it sad and Sean Penn plays it dumb. Plus, the "R" rated cut of the recent ROLLERBALL remake. Hey, it can only be better.
Vidiocy is our weekly Video & DVD column.