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Gray Areas Magazine


GRAY AREAS MAGAZINE DVD REVIEWS JUNE 1998


REVIEWS BY NETTA GILBOA & CHRISTOPHER SCHANOT

 

DVD titles are reviewed using a Creative Labs Encore PC-DVD (using the latest drivers) which is installed in a Pentium II 300 mhz with 64mb RAM running Windows98. All titles are recent releases, even though some are of the films are years old. Because DVD is a new medium, older titles are being released as new product. This will be true for some time to come.

ANGEL HEART (Live Entertainment, 112 minutes) Mickey Rourke, Robert DeNiro and Lisa Bonet star in this Alan Parker film about a private investigator searching for the truth about whether a man is dead or alive. He is forced to travel from the streets of Harlem to the jazz clubs of New Orleans to the voodoo rituals of the swamps of Louisiana to find the answer. Billed as a "truly unsettling film experience," this raises lots of gray areas about the extent to which people go to find each other and to avoid being found, as well as the tactics used by private eyes. This film marks Bonet's feature film debut, and offers excellent performances by each of the film's stars. I don't recall this film from when it appeared in theatres or on video, so this was my first time seeing it. The DVD format offers a 16:9 digitally mastered widescreen version of the film, with 2.0 Dolby surround sound, interactive menus, chapter search, foreign subtitles, production notes, cast and crew information, the theatrical trailer and a featurette too! Needless to say great care was taken to be sure DVD fanatics would be happy with this, and to prove it Live has packaged a DVD survey form inside the box which asks consumers what they want to see most in future titles (even down to packaging preferences!). An impressive DVD effort with no attempt to cut corners, and a good film to boot.

BEATLES: THE FIRST U.S. TOUR (MPI Home Video, 83 minutes) This title contains 13 song performances which have been digitally restored and digitally remastered. Filmed by the Maysles, this full- length film traces the Beatles' arrival in the U.S. day-by-day and includes the legendary Ed Sullivan appearances. There is much previously unseen footage here, as well as all the Beatles early song hits. The DVD contains all sorts of additions such as a chronology, a trivia quiz, foreign subtitles, a list of Beatles singles, albums, grammy awards and films, a section of record-breaking statistics by the Beatles, and a section on the Maysles who made this documentary. Well worth having, both for those who remember the time period and those who missed it as a way to catch up.

BEATLES: THE MAKING OF A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (MPI Home Video, 60 minutes) The perfect compliment to A Hard Day's Night, which is also on DVD from MPI Home Video, this documentary offers behind-the-scenes footage and commentary from those involved in the film including the Beatles, the writer, producer, director and cast members. Hosted by Phil Collins, this also offers interviews with Roger Ebert, Peter Noone, Roger McGuinn and Mickey Dolenz. The DVD also contains a biography and discography of Phil Collins, profiles of cast members, a trivia quiz, a look at the producer director, writer and musical director for the film, and foreign subtitles. If you are a fan of the Beatles, A Hard Day's Night or the creative process in making films, this will not disappoint.

BLOODSUCKING FREAKS (Troma Entertainment, Inc.) Considered one of the sickest movies ever made, this title has a large cult following. For those who have never seen this but only heard rumors, this Director's Cut edition manages to deliver even more blood, guts, violence, gross and disgusting scenes, and shocking plot than is promised on the box or from legend. The plot involves a theatre group run by a sadist and a midget who delight in torturing women both on and off stage. The torture includes removing and eating their eyeballs, sucking a woman's brains out with a straw, etc. There's lots of nudity, of course. The DVD version contains a digitally mastered copy of the film, audio commentary by Eli Roth, the original theatrical trailer as well trailers for other Troma releases, an introduction to the film by Lloyd Kaufman, a humorous interactive tour of Troma, an interactive Troma intelligent test, and a link to the Troma website. Not for everyone by any means, but if you are horror or gore fan, or a feminist, this is a must see.

COPLAND (Miramax Home Entertainment, 105 minutes) Corrupt police officers are the theme of this action-thriller which stars Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta and Robert DeNiro. Stallone plays the sheriff of a small town in New Jersey which consists of mostly New York City cops who are on the take and involved in all sorts of other corruption. Internal Affairs gets involved and Stallone's character is forced to choose between his cushy position or doing the right thing and exposing the bad guys. While it's depressing to think that this sort of thing can and does happen, this is a superb, totally believable film that sticks with you long after most other films are forgotten. The DVD version offers a digitally mastered widescreen copy of the film, chapter search, French subtitles and the original theatrical trailer. Well done and recommended to anyone who likes films about cops, moral decisions, or these particular stars.

DEEP THROAT(VCA Pictures, 60 minutes) For those interested, this DVD offers the original adult film starring Linda Lovelace and Harry Reems. It should be noted that Lovelace deeply regrets making this film, and that feminists hate the film for its central premise that a woman who doesn't enjoy sex can find happiness through performing oral sex on men. The film transfer is superb, but while the box claims to offer never seen before footage, I didn't notice any in two viewings of this. It's got a digitally remastered version of the film and interactive menus. One can only hope this release marks the beginning of hundreds of DVD's to be released from the golden age of adult films which resulted from the commercial success of this particular film. Most of the adult films of the 70s are long out of print, and many fans (myself included) long for copies of certain titles. VCA owns the rights to most of these, so perhaps if this one does well more will start to appear. Deep Throat spawned several sequels, and a new film in progress celebrating the film's 25th anniversary has already been heavily promoted. If you're a potential candidate for this title you already know it, and although you will probably have to special order it, it's worth having in any collection of adult DVD's. We also recommend Lovelace's book, Ordeal, which discusses her objection to the film at length. Having met Linda I can relate to why she doesn't want this available, but alas when one participates in the making of movies they films live on forever and there is not much an actor can do about it other than express their point of view which Linda Lovelace Marchiano has done rather well.

FLUBBER (Walt Disney Home Video, 94 minutes) Robin Williams stars in this remake of an older film about an absent minded professor who can't even remember his own wedding date. In this comedy he discovers Flubber goo which has all sorts of scientific and fun potential, but he must also stop those who want to own it for the wrong reasons. He also has to try to convince his jilted bride that the discovery is so impressive she should forgive him yet again for not showing up on the appointed date. The DVD version contains a digitally mastered widescreen version of the film, foreign subtitles, chapter search and the theatrical trailer. Not one of Williams' funniest films, but he does justice to the script he was handed. Suitable for all ages, and if you hunt it down you can probably still find specially made Flubber goo to play with while you watch the film. The goo was sold in both toy and video stores as a promotional vehicle for the film when it was released on home video.

FROM DUSK TILL DAWN (Dimension Home Video, 108 minutes) Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, Quentin Tarantino and Juliette Lewis star in this Quentin Tarantino film about two outlaws who stop at a Mexican bar which turns out to be a haven for vampires. Great special effects, lots of action, and a classic cult film sure to please those who love vampire films. The DVD version contains a digitally mastered widescreen version of the film, Spanish subtitles, chapter search and both the theatrical and the teaser versions of the trailer. Highly recommended to Tarantino fans, vampire lovers and horror fans of all ages.

HELLRAISER (Anchor Bay Entertainment, 118 minutes) Clive Barker's classic cult horror film took special effects makeup, plot, monsters and deeds to new heights for its time. The film offers an original plot about a box which, if used correctly, sends the person holding it to a nightmarish Hell. It's a simple concept and one that has held up to the test of time well. Barker himself supervised the release on DVD and offers his thoughts in a booklet that accompanies the disc. The DVD offers a widescreen copy of the film, with Dolby Digital Hi-Fi stereo sound, and theatrical trailer. It's a shame there is no "making of" type documentary, but Barker's introduction makes it quite clear no one thought to make one at the time the film was originally done. He does say he is very happy with the film transfer used for the DVD, and ultimately that is surely the most important thing.

HIGHLANDER: THE FINAL DIMENSION (Miramax Home Entertainment, 99 minutes) The third film in this series, this stars Christopher Lambert and Mario Van Peebles. It's an action movie about a man who protects all good things who is forced to battle an evil enemy who has travelled through time to destroy him and the world. The DVD version offers a digitally mastered widescreen print of the film, taken from the director's cut with additional footage not shown in theatres. The theatrical trailer is here too as well as chapter search. The first two films in the series are considered to be among the absolute worst transfers released on DVD so far. This one is much better and so it's a pleasure to recommend it.

ALFRED HITCHCOCK COLLECTION (Madacy Entertainment Group Ltd., approximately 7 hours!) Fans of Alfred Hitchcock should rejoice at being able to own five more of his films on DVD, and at a great price too. The five disc collection comes as a boxed set with a list price of just under $50. Hitchcock made 73 films, of which he directed 56. The five included here are: The Man Who Knew Too Much, Murder, Number 17, Sabotage and Secret Agent. The set also contains a total of 50 trivia questions and answers (10 per disc), a complete interactive filmography, chapter search, an interactive guide to Hitchcock's creative and technical innovations, and a five part in- depth interactive biography. While some DVD enthusiasts argue the quality of these discs is not up to par with Criterion releases of Hitchcock's films, this is absurd since Criterion doesn't have these titles available in the first place. Criterion discs also cost $40 or so each, discounted, which means such a collection would be hundreds of dollars and out of the reach of most people. Accepting this collection for what it is, it is WELL worth the money and offers collectors the opportunity to own some of Hitchcock's lesser known and harder to find titles. Here's hoping a second and third collection follow.

L.A. STORY (Live Entertainment, 98 minutes) Steve Martin, Sarah Jessica Parker and Marilu Henner star in this comedy about a weatherman whose life seems perfect until he reads an electronic freeway sign one day and feels transformed by it. He then begins a romance with a new woman, and ultimately gets lucky enough to find the woman of his dreams. Filmed in Los Angeles, this is one of the few romantic comedies available on DVD so far, and is also one of Steve Martin's best films. The DVD is full of extras including a digitally mastered widescreen version of the film with 2.0 Dolby Surround sound, interactive menus, chapter search, a featurette about the film, easter eggs (hidden menus), cast and crew information, production notes, the theatrical trailer and Spanish subtitles. Highly recommended as a nice change from all of the action films, thrillers and sci-fi epics which comprise the bulk of DVD releases.

THE LAST BOYSCOUT (Warner Home Video, 105 minutes) Bruce Willis and Damon Wayans star in this action movie set in the world of professional football. Full of special effects and funny dialogue, the plot involves a quarterback and a detective who team up with a score to settle against the gambling syndicate in professional sports. One of those rare films which combines a great plot with good casting and great acting. The DVD version contains a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, interactive menus, chapter search, foreign subtitles, production notes and five different theatrical trailers. Warner is by far the biggest movie studio to embrace DVD, offering the most titles released, fair pricing and a promotional program which gives consumers one free DVD for every four they purchase! This title has a brochure which accepts Warner, New Line and HBO Video titles and offers dozens of appealing selections as the free one. Warner goes so far as to allow consumers to get an unlimited amount of free selections, and the DVD newsgroups reflect that many enthusiasts have already gotten over a dozen free titles. This film is highly recommended, as is Warner's "Buy Four, Get One Free" offer. Of the almost 200 titles in their DVD catalog to date, not one is a bad choice. Warner also rated very well in the AFI's choices for the top 100 films of all time, getting 33 of the top 100 slots. While not all of these titles are on DVD yet, they probably all will be eventually. Warner is a friend to the DVD industry, and any title released by them is generally well worth noting. The Last Boyscout is no exception.

LOCK UP (Live Entertainment, 115 minutes) Sylvester Stallone stars in this thriller about a convict who has lots of problems with the warden (played by Donald Sutherland) at the prison he is sent to. Both performances are superb, and this is a well done DVD disc as well. It features a 16:9 digitally mastered widescreen version of the film, with 2.0 Dolby Surround sound, interactive menus, Spanish subtitles, chapter search, production notes, cast and crew information, a copy of the theatrical trailer and (as if that weren't enough!) a featurette about the film as well. A treat for fans of Stallone and Sutherland, as well as fans of thrillers in general, and also of interest to those concerned with the gray areas of prison brutality. This is well worth the money.

MANDELA (Palm Pictures, Inc., 118 minutes) Jonathan Demme produced this documentary about the life of freedom fighter Nelson Mandela. Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years and later won the Nobel Peace Prize and became the President of his country. The film traces his childhood, marriage and divorce, his associations with ANC and Oliver Tambo, and his lifetime struggles against an oppresive regime. This is an uplifting film which shows that one man can make a difference, that small changes make a major difference in the long run, and that good work does get recognized eventually. The DVD offers a digitally remastered copy of the film in Dolby Digital stereo, with chapter search, interactive menus and closed captioning. The film is in English, and has so much information about Mandela that nothing more is needed in the way of special features. Mandela cooperated with the film, and allowed cameras into both his office and his home. While not a film full of top stars, or a recent Hollywood hit, this is still highly recommended for its educational value and ability to make you feel overjoyed at Mandela's ultimate victory.

NASA 25 YEARS OF GLORY: TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDIES (Madacy Entertainment Group, Inc., over 10 hours long!) Sold as a boxed five DVD disc set, this marathon of NASA footage will delight fans of outer space travel and information. There's material here on Alan Shepherd and Freedom 7, John Glenn and Friendship 7, the Gemini VII crew, Apollo 11 (when man actually set foot on the moon), Apollo 13 (which offers never before seen footage), Lunar Rover, Skylab, Discovery, the explosion of the Challenger shuttle and tons more. The DVDs contain a total of 15 mission synopses, five space vehicles, chapter search, 20 biographies, and 25 trivia questions and answers. The entire package is budget priced with a list of just under $50 for all five discs! If you enjoy space exploration, this is a collection you won't want to live without.

PROM NIGHT (Anchor Bay Entertainment, 91 minutes) This highly regarded horror film stats Jamie Lee Curtis as a teenager about to be crowned Prom Queen who finds that all of her friends are suddenly being killed. The DVD version features a widescreen presentation of the film in Dolby Digital Hi-Fi Mono, as well as the theatrical trailer for the film. No other extras are needed as the film is quite self-explanatory. It's well worth having if you like the horror genre, or are a fan of Jamie Lee's.

PULP FICTION (Miramax Home Entertainment, 154 minutes) Quentin Tarantino's hit film comes to DVD with an amazing cast which includes John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Rosanna Arquette, Christopher Walken and Bruce Willis. This adventure film also features plenty of action and humor as well as superb characters who are written to be very gray indeed. They include hit men, a desperate prizefighter, and a very sexy wife. The DVD version offers a digitally mastered widescreen copy of the film, which has been dual layered, chapter search and Spanish subtitles. It's a shame it didn't include any audio commentaries, or a making of featurette, or any of the stars promoting the film on talk shows. However, it's still nice to have this available and perhaps in the future it can be rereleased as a special edition with more addons.

PURE COUNTRY (Warner Home Video, 113 minutes) George Strait, Lesley Ann Warren and Isabel Glasser star in this romantic film about the country music business. The plot revolves around a superstar who is sick of the road, and the rigors of staying on top. He takes a break from his life to go back to his roots after a fight with his manager. However, the manager doesn't stand by idly, and attempts to sabotage his career and personal life while claiming to be helping him. The DVD version contains a 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, interactive menus, chapter search, four different theatrical trailers, production notes and foreign subtitles. A flyer for the "Buy Four, Get One Free" program described above is included, making this one sweet DVD for sure. Don't miss this if you like country music or romantic films.

THE SCOPE (Vivid Interactive) Madelyn Knight, Nina Hartley, Sharon Kane, Sindee Cox, Kimberly Kummings, Marc Wallace, Steve Drake and Ron Jeremy star in this high budget adult title. Featuring the opportunity to view the sex scenes from multiple angles, as well as new technology which allows 3D viewing without the use of special glasses, this title marks a first in the DVD industry. The girls are stunning, the sex is plentiful and there is also a plot for those of us who prefer one. The story line involves a guy who has an awesome apartment and a telescope which allows him to see neighbors having sex. When his friend borrows his apartment and uses the telescope, he is able to see into the future with it. The DVD disc also a wealth of extras. Inside the box is a paper poster of the Vivid girls, which is different from the posters inside other Vivid titles, and a paper catalog listing other Vivid titles on DVD, CD-ROM, VCD, etc. The disc offers chapter search, interactive menus, no regional coding so it can be viewed by anyone in the world with a player, previews of other Vivid titles, footage from the AVN awards show, bios of all the Vivid girls, the ability to choose the angle you prefer to watch the sex scene from, access to Vivid's web page and an interactive game of telephone sex. A superb value for the money for those who like adult titles with lots of kissing, foreplay and nothing offensive to turn you off.

SLEUTH (Anchor Bay Entertainment, 139 minutes) Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine star in this mystery film about two men who love all sorts of games. Originally a Broadway play, the film is set in a 16th century manor full of games and toys which are a delight to see. The plot takes several unexpected turns and is recommended for fans of mystery and suspense films as well as those into both games that one plays and emotional games. The DVD features a widescreen version of the film, recorded in Dolby Digital Hi-Fi Mono. Alas it is one of those titles which needs to be flipped in the middle. While several people have reported that the ending of the film has a minor glitch in all copies causing the film to lose sound for a few minutes, we found this not to be true. Our copy played fine. It's a superb film and well worth adding to any collection.

TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY (Madacy Entertainment Group, Inc., 135 minutes) Here's a classic musical with an all-star cast including Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Angela Lansbury, June Allyson, Robert Walker, Dinah Shore, Lena Horne, Cyd Charisse, and Tony Martin (among others!). The plot concerns a biography of Jerome Kern's life story. The DVD contains the film, dolby digital sound, chapter search, a copy of the lobby poster for the film, a biography, movie credits, and several interactive trivia questions and answers. Not many musicals are available on DVD yet, much less one with so many stars, so this title is well worth having.

THE TOXIC AVENGER (Troma Entertainment, Inc.) This director's cut of the superb cult horror film is an absolute delight for fans. Featuring Marisa Tormei in her first film, this has a plot, and violent scenes without playing into the pathetic trends of slasher films. There's lots of humor here too, and a disc that has an impressive amount of extra features. The DVD includes seven deleted scenes and outtakes, interactive menus, the original theatrical trailer as well as a few more for other Troma DVDs, director's audio commentary, chapter search, a look at Toxie now vs. then, a tour of Troma's studios, an interactive Troma IQ test, and a link to the Troma website. This title has a truly superb digitally mastered print, which makes watching it a pleasure, and when combined with the extras on the disc rate this particular DVD title a bargain for cult and horror fans of all ages.

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