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Gray Areas Magazine


GRAY AREAS MAGAZINE DVD REVIEWS JULY 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.

AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS (Hollywood Pictures Home Video, 98 minutes) On vacation in Paris, an American meets a suicidal woman and falls in love with her. As he gets to know her he discovers she's a werewolf and that she's turned him into one too! Starring Tom Everett Scott and Julie Delpy, this sequel has superb special effects which surpass the original film. However, the plot might disappoint those who compare it with the original film and might have fared better if it had a different title. The DVD version contains a digitally mastered widescreen version of the film with 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio, French subtitles, chapter search and the original theatrical trailer.

BAD WIVES (Vivid Interactive) Known for some of the highest quality adult titles, this particular disc has gotten the highest ratings possible from both Hustler and Adult Video News. This disc opens with a promotional short about the Vivid girls. Then a menu comes up offering access to the film and numerous extras. The film itself has lots of sex scenes and the plot involves several adulterous husbands and wives. One character likes to eat cookies from her local supermarket while shopping, and when she gets caught she trades sex for her freedom. The storyline is original, and this title offers the responsible use of condoms in some scenes. Expect sex scenes with lesbian sex, three ways, anal sex and solo sex. Nothing here should offend those who like adult films. The camera work is superb and you can see the action better than in most adult films. Only attractive actors and actresses are featured, such as Dyanna Lauren, Melissa Hill, Tricia Deveraux, Missy, Stephanie Swift, John Dough and Steven St. Croix. The DVD offers a director's cut of the film, with multiple camera angles, selectable by the viewer. Those with DVD computer access can make their own custom edits. On the disc in addition to chapter search, interactive menus and a link to Vivid's web site, are previews of other Vivid titles, footage from the AVN Awards show, and an interactive game room. There is no regional coding and the disc also has stills, live action footage and bios of each of the Vivid girls, a director's chat with Paul Thomas and, inside the box, a paper poster of Vivid's girls and a catalog of other titles available on DVD, VCD and CD-ROM. Needless to say this title has far more extras than most mainstream titles provide and Bad Wives is an excellent value for the money.

CAUGHT UP (Artisan Entertainment, 98 minutes) This action-thriller stars Bokeem Woodbine and Cynda Williams, with cameos by Snoop Doggy Dogg and LL Cool J, and an all-star hip-hop soundtrack. The plot involves an ex-con who struggles to go legit until a woman gets him involved with some stolen diamonds, corrupt police officers, a trail of gunfire and a Jamaican mobster. The DVD features a choice of a digitally mastered 16:9 widescreen version or 4:3 standard version, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, director commentary, story boards, interactive menus, chapter search, Spanish subtitles, theatrical trailer, production notes, cast and crew information and music videos. While clearly written for a Black audience, this is a superb film for anyone who likes mystery and action films. Great plot, picture quality, and extras.

CHINESE BOX (Trimark Home Video, 99 minutes) Jeremy Irons and Gong Li star in this romantic drama about Hong Kong returning to Chinese rulership. Irons falls in love with Li, who is dating another man whom she hopes to marry. She ends up becoming involved with Irons and this obviously complicates all of their lives. The DVD version offers a digitally mastered letterboxed version of the film with interactive menus, dolby surround sound, foreign subtitles, cast information, and the original theatrical trailer as well. This is a great treat for those curious to see glimpses of Hong Kong, as well as fans of Jeremy Irons. Well done.

CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH (Troma Entertainment, Inc.) Combining comedy and gore, this cult film is about a high school where the students are literally glowing from a leak in the nearby nuclear power plant. The DVD version offers an unrated director's cut of the film, as well as a slew of extras including an interactive tour of Troma Studios, movie stills, theatrical trailer, deleted scenes, a commentary by co-director Lloyd Kaufman and Theo Pingarelli who did the special effects. This film was successful enough to spawn two different sequels, and will appeal to fans of high school films, splatter and gore collectors and those who enjoy offbeat and cult films.

CLOSE TO YOU: REMEMBERING THE CARPENTERS (MPI Home Video, 100 minutes) This superb documentary is ideal for both fans of the musical group as well as those even slightly curious about the band. The picture quality is absolutely amazing, much better than I would have expected considering the age of the clips used, and the disc is full of rare clips of the early days, unreleased songs, interviews with people in the music business such as Herb Alpert, Burt Bacharach, Les Paul and Petulia Clark and, of course, with Richard and Karen Carpenter. Alas most of the songs are not complete, but this is to be expected in a documentary. The DVD (which was first aired as a PBS TV special) offers interactive menus, chapter search, foreign subtitles, an exhaustive discography, a moving photo gallery, previously unreleased TV ads and radio jingles and a featurette about the band performing at the White House and their experiences with Richard Nixon. The disc is recorded in Dolby Digital Stereo as well. Do not miss this if you like even one of their tunes. It's a masterpiece which focuses on the music and not on Karen's death from anorexia (which is only mentioned at the end of the program and alas does not explain much about what anorexia is). Highly recommended.

CRITICAL CARE (Live Entertainment, 109 minutes) An intern at a hospital faces an enormous moral decision when a comatose patient is survived by two daughters one of whom wants him to be kept alive and one of whom wants his life terminated. Starring James Spader, Kyra Sedgwick, Anne Bancroft and Albert Brooks, this superb film is also directed by Sidney Lumet. The DVD version has a choice of a digitally mastered 16:9 widescreen version or a 4:3 standard version, 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, chapter search, interactive menus, Spanish subtitles, theatrical trailer, production notes and cast and crew information. If the right to die interests you, or you like films with strong plots involving ethical dilemmas, this is a winner.

ENTER THE DRAGON: SPECIAL EDITION (Warner Home Video, 102 minutes) Released for the 25th anniversary of the film, the ultimate martial arts film has been fully restored, and is presented in stereo with three minutes of footage added which was not formerly available. Bruce Lee stars in this entertaining and action-packed film, which is offered here with an array of special features. The DVD version includes a documentary called Location: Hong Kong with Enter the Dragon, a second documentary called Bruce Lee: In His Own Words, audio commentary by the producer and screenwriter, an all new introduction, an interview with Linda Lee Cadwell, Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, seven TV spots, interactive menus, chapter search, foreign subtitles, production notes and four theatrical trailers. Definitely an impressive collection for those who already love the kung-fu genre as well as those who are intrigued about how such films are made.

THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS (Live Entertainment, 116 minutes) Jeff Bridges, Beau Bridges and Michelle Pfeiffer star in this film about three musicians who make beautiful music together. Each of them has their own goals and dreams, and eventually two of them fall in love. This is an uplifting film with plenty of great music as well. The DVD version offers a choice of digitally mastered widescreen and standard versions, 2.0 Dolby Surround sound, interactive menus, chapter search, Spanish subtitles, theatrical trailer, production notes and cast and crew information. Well worth having if you like jazz music and/or love stories.

HELP! (MPI Home Video, 90 minutes) The second Beatles film offers eight minutes of rare bonus footage as well as a fully restored print made from the film's original negative. The plot concerns a ring a fan sends to Ringo which causes him to be chased by various people who want the ring. The Beatles travel around the world avoiding those pursuing them, singing songs and having fun. The DVD version includes the original theatrical trailer, two newsreels, footage of the film's set and premiere (which is silent but self-explanatory) and a radio interview with the Beatles from that time period. I am not sure if the VHS version is out-of-print or not, but the DVD is better quality, and offers Dolby Digital Sound, foreign subtitles, interactive menus chapter search and biographies. Well worth having if you like the Beatles.

IMAGE OF AN ASSASSINATION: A NEW LOOK AT THE ZAPRUDER FILM (MPI Home Video, 88 minutes) While I admit to having no real interest in the Kennedy assassination, this disc absolutely captivated me. First of all, it explains how the original film got made and interviews the man who filmed it. Secondly, it offers four different versions of the film for you to analyze. The quality is as good as can be expected given the cameras available to consumers at the time. The quality of the interviews is superb and they thoroughly engross you. The Secret Service's interest in the film is discussed at length, as well as the media who hounded Zapruder. The man's ability to realize what he was sitting on in the heat of the moment is impressive, as well as his memory of what happened then all these years later. For Kennedy fans as well as conspiracy theorists this is a treat, but the real value of this disc is to people like me who can finally understand what all the hoopla is about once they see this. The disc offers interactive menus, chapter search, a chronology of events, foreign subtitles, biographies, and Dolby Digital Stereo sound. I cannot recommend this highly enough even if, like me, you don't think you care about the subject matter.

JACOB'S LADDER (Artisan Entertainment, 116 minutes) From the director of Fatal Attraction comes this psychological thriller starring Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Pena and Danny Aiello. It's about a Vietname vet who is filled with nightmares and slowly loses touch with reality. The DVD version offers a digitally mastered 16:9 widescreen print of the film, 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, interactive menus, chapter search, Spanish subtitles, production notes, theatrical trailer and cast and crew information.

THE LIE (Vivid Interactive, 70 minutes) Kobe Tai, Maya, Leanna Heart, Mark Davis, and Vince Voyeur star in this adult film produced by Paul Thomas. The plot concerns an office where everyone is having lots of sex. There is anignored wife whose husband is too busy having sex with other people to pay proper attention to her. So she has lesbian sex with one of his co-workers, and so on. There's lots of sex on desks and couches here. This is a good choice for couples and, as usual, the disc contains many of the extras Vivid is famous for. There are multiple camera angles you can choose from as you watch the sex scenes, interactive menus, chapter search, footage of the AVN awards show, no regional coding and previews of other Vivid titles. The disc also has an interactive game room, access to Vivid's web page and, inside the box, there is a paper poster of the Vivid girls as well as a paper catalog of other Vivid titles on DVD, VCD and CD-ROM. Well done.

THE MAFIA: AN EXPOSE (Madacy Entertainment Group, Inc., 7 hours 30 minutes) This five part boxed collection is ideal for those of us who are only familiar with the Mafia through movies and the occasional news story. Included here is information on everyone from Al Capone and Jimmy Hoffa, to John Gotti and the Colombo and Genovese families. The Italian Mafia's beginnings in American in the 19th century are detailed here, as well as the influence of the Mafia in Hollywood, Las Vegas, and other major cities such as Chicago, New York and Philadelphia. The FBI's Witness Protection Program is exposed, as are the ties between the Mafia and the Kennedy Assassination. Needless to say this is an eye-opening collection which will keep you transfixed whether watching bloody bombings and shootings, or candid interviews or gripping news footage. It's all here, in one place, along with 25 trivia questions and answers, 15 crime biographies, five Crime Family Biographies, and chapter search to enable you to find what you wish to access with ease. I was blown away by how much I learned from watching this and how many pieces of history I was able to fill in the gaps of. Highly recommended for those with even a passing interest in crime or the Mafia.

MANIAC (Elite Entertainment, Inc., 85 minutes) Starring Joe Spinell and Caroline Munro, this slasher film is still as shocking and brutal today as when it first appeared in 1980. It's about a child abuse victim who grows up to be a killer who scalps his victims and puts their heads on mannequins which he displays in his apartment. The violence and special effects are superb although the plot and concept are truly sickening. A note inside the flyer in the box indicates the plot was researched through studying newspaper clippings about serial killers. The Maniac Special Edition DVD offers a letterboxed edition Director's Cut print of the film with 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, audio commentary by William Lustig and Tom Savini, both the unrated and R-rated theatrical trailers, TV spots, theatrical trailers from the Italian, French and German editions of the film, a deleted "date" scene and promo footage from the never produced sequel Maniac II. If you're interested in this title either to add to a horror collection or for its potential value as a collector's item, don't hesitate to grab a copy.

THE NIGHT STALKER and THE NIGHT STRANGLER (Anchor Bay Entertainment, Inc., 164 minutes) Darren McGavin stars in both of these TV movies which have been released together on one DVD disc. McGavin plays crusading reporter Carl Kolchak who hunts killers with little help from the police. Although these are 1970s TV movies, both are well respected classics which do not air often enough. The Night Stalker set ratings records for a TV movie when it first aired and was developed into a TV series as well. The DVD version offers state-of-the-art picture and sound as well as chapter search. It also includes 16 minutes of extra footage which has been added to The Night Strangler and which has never been shown on TV. I had never seen either of these films before so this disc was a treat after years of hearing about this character and show. Well worth having both for old fans and those who like detective stories, and police dramas in general.

PLATOON (Live Entertainment, 120 minutes) Charlie Sheen, William Dafoe and Tom Berenger star in this intense film about the Vietnam War. Written and directed by Oliver Stone, based on his own experiences in combat, this is about conflicts and friction, including internal ones, against peers and, of course, against the enemy being fought. This film has a superb soundtrack which does justice to the times being portrayed, and the DVD version offers all of the extras of the much more expensive Laserdisc release. It's a digitally mastered, THX approved, director approved transfer of a widescreen version of the film, with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track and Dolby Stereo 2.0 audio track. Audio commentaries are offered by Oliver Stone and by Captain Dale Dye. In addition to chapter search, and English captioning, there is also a bonus documentary called A Tour of the Inferno. This is a landmark film about both war and human relations and is not to be missed by fans of Stone, Sheen, war films, action-dramas, or DVD extras.

PLAYING GOD (Touchstone Home Video, 94 minutes) David Duchovny and Timothy Hutton star in this action-packed thriller about a surgeon who has lost his medical license but finds himself practicing medicine for a mobster. It starts off accidentally and then becomes a conscious choice. Needless to say, the film explores many gray areas and it's one of those rare films which combine great plot, casting and acting, and holds your interest even after repeated viewings. The DVD version includes a digitally mastered widescreen print of the film, chapter search and the theatrical trailer. While not a lot of extras, this film is quite self-explanatory and doesn't really need them. Highly recommended.

POINT OF NO RETURN (Warner Home Video, 109 minutes) Bridget Fonda stars as a woman given a choice by the government of either death or becoming an assassin. Sentenced to death by lethal injection after being convicted of murder, she understandably chooses the latter and is forced to become a programmed assassin who kills at will. The film's plot is believable, engrossing and fairly unique. Fonda is absolutely terrific in it too and the DVD version offers a soundtack remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1 so this film has never looked and sounded better! The DVD disc also contains interactive menus, production notes, chapter search, foreign subtitles and the original theatrical trailer. Inside the box is a flyer and coupon for Warner's awesome "Buy 4 Get 1 Free" offer, making this disc an incredible value if you take advantage of the offer.

PRIME SUSPECT 1 (Anchor Bay Entertainment, Inc., 230 minutes) This lengthy drama was created for Mobil Masterpiece Theatre and offers something for everyone. It's a strong whodunit mystery, a feminist classic about a woman who must struggle in a male-dominated London police department, amd it offers a plot about a dead prostitute and a serial killer. Starring Helen Mirren, Tom Bell, John Benfield and John Bowe, the DVD version offers a full-frame (1.33:1) print of the film as well as Dolby Digital soundtrack. The film was so successful it inspired a sequel which is reviewed below. This is not to be missed by those interested in dramas, films with a strong female lead, police films and mysteries.

PRIME SUSPECT 2 (Anchor Bay Entertainment, Inc., 230 minutes) This sequel was also produced for Mobil Masterpiece Theatre and brings back Helen Mirrin as Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison. The plot involves the murder of a young black woman which leads to charges of racism within the police force, and bosses who push Tennison for a quick close to the case. It's as good as the original film and the quality of the DVD is superb as well. The DVD version includes a full-frame (1.33:1) print of the film along with Dolby Digital sound. Well worth buying along with the original film, which is reviewed above.

SCREAM 2 (Dimension Home Video, 120 minutes) Rarely is a sequel as good as the original, but Scream 2 is the rare exception. From the opening sequence this film grabs you and leaves you at the edge of your seat until it ends. The film reunites the original writer, director and stars. The plot involves a film that has been made about the murders, and upon its release a copycat killer starts a killing spree . The Scream cast survivors find themselves suspects and several of them are killed as well. Courteney Cox, David Arquette and Neve Campbell are all terrific and the plot is easily as scary as the original. The DVD version offers a digitally remastered widescreen version of the film with 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track, chapter search and the original theatrical trailer. Sound and video are perfect and this is not to be missed by horror fans.

SHORT CINEMA JOURNAL 1:2 (2014 Corporation) This DVD only magazine offers many short films which star such well known actors as Malcolm McDowell, Fred Savage, and Nicole Kidman. The films included are quite varied with something for everyone and hold up well to repeat viewings. Of particular note in this issue is a film that was the inspiration for the movie 12 Monkeys, a film about the life of an addict, and several films which deal directly with this issues theme of dreams and dreaming. The packaging is superb including an outer case, inner case with descriptions, and the disc itself packaged like a CD. Dolby Digital sound is used, which along with the video quality is superb. This is an interesting and inexpensive concept from a company which also produces several other DVD magazine collections. There are a total of 12 films in this issue which features Nicole Kidman on the cover. The entire series offers films that you would probably never see otherwise, and lends itself well to film collectors who already know many of these actors and directors. There is no fluff here although not everyone will react the same to each particular short film. Well worth having as a nice change from movies which you already know every line of dialogue in, as well as having something to show to people who want to see what DVD offers that VHS can't provide them. You can subscribe to the whole series for under $10 a disc, including issues already published, by checking the web site at: www.dvdmags.com Also available are DVD magazines called Young Cinematographer, Architect's Journal and International Release which you can find out more about on the web page and which we hope to review in the future. Highly recommended for those who like films that make them think, and which aren't predictable from the plot descriptions, as well as those who enjoy magazines in general and seeing what sorts of unique things the DVD can offer.

FRANK SINATRA: HIS LIFE AND TIMES (Madacy Entertainment, Group, Inc., 8 hours) This five volume set offers a complete biography on Sinatra's lengthy career as an actor and singer. Offering insight into his early years and the radio days, the series also moves on to motion pictures, television, Sinatra's rise as a singer and entertainer, his involvement in the Rat Pack, and highlights his most memorable moments. The discs offer 10 features which run about 45-50 minutes each, chapter search, 15 biographies, 25 trivia questions and answers, and a complete filmography and discography. The selected footage shows Sinatra with everyone from Elvis Presley and Bob Hope to Dean Martin, Jack Benny and Johnny Carson. Sinatra's life is fascinating to behold. The man starred in over 60 movies, had personal friendships with everyone from the Raegans, Nixons and Roosevelts to Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart and Gene Kelly. He also recorded well over 1000 songs , cracked many jokes on The Tonight Show, and had extensive involvement in charitable causes. I learned lots from watching this, and it's impossible not to come away from this epic documentary without increasing your respect for the man. Whether you are a music lover, movie buff, or have an interest in history and politics, there is something here for everyone regardless of age. The collection is budget priced as well so it won't break your wallet even though it has five discs and a wealth of included material. Highly recommended both as a way to learn about Sinatra, and as a stellar tribute for his many fans.

SWINGERS (Miramax Home Entertainment, 96 minutes) A lighthearted comedy about a group of friends who hang out in cocktail bars and search for babes, this film stars Jon Favreau, Vince Vaughn, Ron Livingston and Patrick Van Horn. The DVD version contains a digitally mastered widescreen version of the film as well as chapter search, Spanish subtitles and the theatrical trailer. There aren't that many comedies on DVD yet so this is a welcome addition, although it will probably appeal more to the dating crowd than to senior citizens.

THE THREE STOOGES (Madacy Entertainment Group, Inc., 45 minutes) Offering two features, "Sing A Song of Six Pants" and "Brideless Groom," this black and white disc has some classic laughs. Brideless Groom stars Shemp as a man who stands to inherit $500,000 if he can get married within seven hours. It's quite clear watching this that many later films got the idea for their plots from this. In Sing A Song of Six Pants the three comedians try to save their tailor shop by pursuing a notorious burglar in order to be able to pay back past due notes. Ideal for all ages, this disc also features chapter search, the original lobby poster, a biography, and interactive trivia questions and answers. This is timeless slapstick comedy, priced attractively, that is sure to entertain.

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