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.
BANGKOK NIGHTS (Vivid Interactive) This adult title stars Asia Carrera, Marc Wallice, Steven St. Croix, Cuminsha Amado, Alex Sane and Jasmine Aloha. Shot in a new 3D format which does not require the use of special glasses, this also has digital stereo sound and multiple angles which let the viewer select how they wish to see the action. The plot involves a brothel called the Bangkok Inn which offers patrons spiritual enlightenment along with sexual services. The DVD version offers interactive menus, no regional coding, previews of other titles, live footage from the AVN Awards show, a link to Vivid's web site at www.vividdvd.com, and screens with stills, live action and bios of the Vivid girls. There's also a paper poster inside the box as well as a paper catalog of other Vivid titles. This is a very well done title which is sure to please fans of adult films, and especially those who enjoy Asian women. Highly recommended.
THE BASKETBALL DIARIES (Palm Pictures, Inc., 102 minutes) Based on the real life story of Jim Carroll, this drama stars Leonardo DiCaprio who plays a high school bastketball player struggling with the experiences and hard choices of being a teenager today. Unable to cope with pressure he turns instead to the streets where he gets involved with cocaine and heroin, and starts committing crimes in order to support his growing habit. The VHS copies I had seen of this film all suffered from poor audio, making it unbearable to try to watch, but this is thankfully not the case with the DVD version and I was finally able to enjoy the film. The DVD features a superb soundtrack, an opportunity to gawk at Leonardo for all the women who are so interested just because he played a role in Titanic, and a great plot and performance. The DVD version offers a digitally remastered widescreen copy of the film with 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound, interactive menus, chapter search, interviews and SDH which is the use of subtitles for those who are deaf or hard of hearing. There's even an anti-drug public sercice announcement. This is a very impressive package and well worth having if you like DiCaprio, or the bands on the soundtrack, or films about teens in crisis.
B.B. KING LIVE IN AFRICA (Pioneer Artists, 48 minutes) Blues legend B.B. King performs here from a 1974 concert at a three-day music festival in Africa, held to celebrate a boxing match involving George Forman and Muhummad Ali which was also taking place in Kinshasa, Zaire that week. Ali is in the audience at this show and songs include "The Thrill Is Gone," "To Know You Is To Love You," "Sweet Sixteen" and "Why I Sing The Blues." Presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound, this disc also has chapter search, and is a credit to the growing Pioneer Artists collection of DVD music discs. Well worth having if you like the blues at all.
CHAPLIN (Live Entertainment, Inc., 135 minutes) An all-star cast including Robert Downey, Jr., Dan Akyroyd, Anthony Hopkins, Kevin Kline, James Woods and Marisa Tomei star in this drama about actor Charlie Chaplin. Focusing mostly on his life rather than just his films, this film addresses his many wives and affairs as well as J. Edgar Hoover's pursuit of him. The DVD version includes a digitally mastered widescreen version of the film with 2.0 Dolby Surround sound, interactive menus, chapter search, Spanish subtitles, production notes, a featurette about the making of the film, cast and crew information, theatrical trailer and easter eggs if you explore the biographies of Robert Downey Jr., Kevin Kline and Anthony Hopkins. This is a fascinating film and a well made DVD disc not to be missed if you liked Chaplin's films and, like me, knew nothing about his personal life, or if you like the many actors and acresses who star in this drama.
DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (Anchor Bay Entertainment, Inc., 100 minutes) This classic cult movie is about vampires and stars some wild characters. The lead character bathed in the blood of 300 virgins to maintain her youth. When the film was originally released in 1971, over 12 minutes of footage had to be cut. The unrated director's cut presented on the DVD version restores that footage and offers a widescreen presentation (1.66:1) as well as an audio commentary with actor John Karlen and journalist David Del Valle. The disc also offers Dolby Digital sound and chapter search. It's full of blood, of course, but presented in an artful way making this much more interesting than most vampire films which just become a twist on slasher movies. This is well worth having if you like erotic films, cult films, and/or the vampire genre.
THE EXTERMINATOR (Anchor Bay Entertainment, Inc., 104 minutes) Christopher George, Robert Ginty and Samantha Eggar star in this film about a vigilante who goes around killing members of the New York underworld. While the public is thrilled with his exploits, law officials believe him to be a dangerous psycho and seek to capture him. The DVD version offers an unrated director's cut of the film presented in widescreen format (1.85:1) as well as chapter search. Not a lot of extras but this film is quite self-explanatory. Recorded in Dolby Digital mono sound, this has good picture and sound and will surely delight people who love the revenge movie genre.
GHOST IN THE SHELL (Manga Video/Palm Pictures, Inc., 82 minutes) This popular Anime title is a sci-fi thriller which combines traditional cel animation (such as was used by Disney, Warner Bros. and Hanna-Barbera in their older works) with the latest computer graphic imagery. This award-winning film looks great on DVD with many bonus features. These include a digitally remastered version of the film which is presented in widescreen, Dolby Pro Logic 5.1 Surround Sound, a "Making of Ghost In The Shell" short, interactive menus, foreign subtitles, chapter search and a movie production report. This is a very well put together package of one one the most desired Anime titles, and is well worth having if you enjoy animation or are curious as to what the appeal of the genre is.
GRAVESEND (Palm Pictures, Inc., 85 minutes) This drama is presented by Oliver Stone and focuses on four friends who become involved in an accidental shooting that results in a death. Although the actors are unknowns, this is superbly written and well worth seeking out. The director, Salvatore Stabile, landed a two picture deal from Steven Spielberg based on the promise of this film. The DVD version includes Dolby Digital sound, close captioning and chapter search. It's a film that speaks strongly for itself so nothing more is really needed. Recommended for drama fans, and for those who like films about the gray areas of crime.
JUDGE DREDD (Hollywood Picture Home Video, 96 minutes) Sylvester Stallone stars in this action film, set in the future, about a judge who is the most feared law enforcer of his time. Armand Assante stats as a former judge who sets Stallone's character up in an attempt to destroy the current legal system. Lots of special effects, good acting and an interesting plot. The DVD version offers a digitally mastered widescreen print of the film, with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, chapter search, French subtitles and the original theatrical trailer. Well done.
MOBY DICK (Artisan Entertainment, Inc., 145 minutes) Patrick Stewart, Henry Thomas and Gregory Peck star in this adventure film based on the classic book and produced by Francis Ford Coppola. Full of action, special effects and good acting, this is a pleasure to watch. The DVD version offers a digitally mastered standard version of the film with 2.0 Dolby Surround Sound Audio track, interactive menus, chapter search, Spanish subtitles, production notes, cast and crew information and the "Making of Moby Dick" too. Very well done!
MR. MAGOO (Walt Disney Home Video, 88 minutes) Leslie Nielson gives one of his best performances ever in this surprisingly good comedy which brings the cartoon character Mr. Magoo to life. It's full of slapstick humor which is true to the memory most of us have of the animated cartoons. The plot involves jewel thieves, and an attempt to steal a rare gem from Mr. Magoo and the museum the gem is housed in. The DVD version includes a digitally mastered widescreen version of the film, along with chapter search, Spanish subtitles and the original theatrical trailer. This film is well done for what it sets out to do, and is much better than expected.
MUDDY WATERS LIVE AT THE CHICAGO BLUES FESTIVAL (Pioneer Artists, 56 minutes) Blues legend Muddy Waters is filmed in concert performing a dozen songs. These include: "I'm A King Bee," "Mojo Working," "Mannish Boy," and "Baby Please Don't Go." The Dolby Ditigal soundtrack is amazing to hear even with lousy PC speakers and the video quality is superb as well. This is by far one of the best music DVDs, even though this is not by any means one of my favorite musicians. Highly recommended if you even barely like the blues.
NICO ICON (Fox Lorber Home Video, 67 minutes) Pop singer Nico had a fascinating career as a German model who later appeared appeared in films by Warhol and Fellini as well as becoming a singer in the cult band Velvet Underground. This documentary details her life and includes interviews with people who knew her and past boyfriends such as Jackson Browne, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, Viva, etc. Also interviewed is Nico's son who was introduced to heroin by his mother. A very gray lady who is treated quite fairly here. The DVD also offers interactive menus, chapter search, the theatrical trailer, and production notes. Well done and a must for fans of the Warhol scene and/or Velvet Underground.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (Madacy Entertainment Group, Inc., 96 minutes) This horror classic, directed by George A. Romero, has no less than three different DVD versions. While this one doesn't offer the most extras, it is budget priced and you should be able to get a copy for less than $10 retail. Included are the original lobby poster, a biography, chapter search and interactive trivia questions and answers. The film is black and white, and has Dolby Digital sound. While not as scary as some more recent horror films, this was plenty scary for its time and is well worth seeing and having.
NINJA SCROLL (Manga Video/Palm Pictures, Inc., 94 minutes) A Japanese Anime film, this is set in Feudal Japan and stars a Ninja who offers his services to either those with the money or those who have a worthy cause. Full of action and really excellent animation, this film has been lovingly converted to DVD on a disc that has many features. The film has been digitally remastered, has 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound, interactive menus, foreign subtitles, key character artwork, a complete movie synopsis, and text files about the characters. This is one of the most popular Anime titles, and the DVD version does not disappoint. The sound is dubbed into English and it's easy to follow and understand. Well worth having either as an introduction to Anime, or if you have already seen it and long to own this movie.
OTIS REDDING: REMEMBERING OTIS (Pioneer Artists, 48 minutes) This D.A. Pennebaker film includes concert footage of R&B musician Otis Redding on the Stax-Volt tour and at Monterey Pop. Songs include "Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay," "Satisfaction," "Respect," "Green Onions" and "Try a Little Tenderness."The DVD version includes 5.1 Dolby Digital Sound as well as chapter search. Pioneer has been releasing consistently great DVDs of musical artists and this disc is no exception. Well worth having!
PHANTOMS (Dimension Home Video, 96 minutes) Ben Affleck and Peter O'Toole star in this adaptation of a Dean Koontz book about a town in which almost everyone has mysteriously died at once. Only five survivors exist and they band together to try to figure out what caused the deaths, and ultimately to stop the source. Lots of action, scares and special effects in this far better than average horror film. The DVD version offers a digitally mastered widescreen version of the film with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track and chapter search. Definitely worth having if you are a fan of either the horror genre or Dean Koontz's books.
Q: THE WINGED SERPENT (Anchor Bay Entertainment, Inc.) Michael Moriarty and David Carradine star in this horror film about a dragonlike monster which invades New York City. The monsters full name is Quetzalcoatl, but the box and advertising warns you to "just call it "Q," because that's all you'll have time to say before it tears you apart." It's worth noting that this film appeared long before the recent Godzilla, and that it has superb special effects done with a much smaller budget. Directed by Larry Cohen this has good writing and should appeal to both fans of horror and sci-fi. The DVD version offers a widescreen presentation of the film as well as Dolby Digital sound and chapter search. Highly recommended for fans of monster films.
RAW DEAL (Anchor Bay Entertainment, Inc., 97 minutes) Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as a former FBI agent who is forced to resign from the bureau due to politics and becomes a small town sheriff instead. The FBI chief approaches him with an offer that if he can catch the head of organized crime in Chicago, the FBI will reinstate him. He then infiltrates the Chicago mafia without the help, knowledge or protection of any law enforcement agency. Also stats Darren McGavin, Sam Wanamaker and Kathryn Harrold. The DVD version offers a widescreen presentation (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital stereo sound and chapter search. Not a lot of extras, but this is a straighforward action film that doesn't really need them. Well done.
REDNECK ZOMBIES (Troma Entertainment, Inc.) The director's cut of this cult film is fully restored and a pleasure to watch. It's a gore film which is intended to be humorous about some hicks who mistake toxic waste for moonshine and end up becoming cannibals. All of Troma's DVDs are loaded with extras and this one is no exception. It includes an introduction by Lloyd Kaufman, an interview with producer and editor Ed Bishop, the original theatrical trailer for the film, an interview with the film's director Pericles Lewnes, interactive menus, chapter search, a tour of Troma studios, a Troma intelligence test and, of particular note for adult film fans, a segement with Ron Jeremy and Charisma. Good special effects and a campy movie that's well above average for its genre.
REEFER MADNESS (Madacy Entertainment Group, Inc., 67 minutes) This 1930s classic anti-drug film is now so dated it's become a comedy. Still it's well worth seeing, and is surely a cult classic for those who have ever used drugs. The DVD version is budget priced, and includes the original lobby poster, chapter search, a biography and interactive trivia questions and answers. One can't expect much more given the age of the film as well as a retail selling price of under $10. I used to have a copy of this on CD-ROM and the quality of the DVD is as good or better, and costs far less. Don't miss this if you like cult films or drug films.
SHORT CINEMA JOURNAL 1:1 (2014 Corporation) This premiere issue of the DVD-only magazine focuses on invention. There are 13 films here including a film called Some Folks Call It A Sling Blade which stars Billy Bob Thornton and Molly Ringwald and was later expanded into a full-length movie. Also noteable is a film about musician Henry Rollins and one on John Lee Hooker. Other films include one on what it was like to be a Polish Jew during World War II and two animated pieces, as well as an interview with Michael Apted who has directed such films as Nell and Gorillas In The Mist. The disc is very well packaged with a box within a box and a cd style case and offers interactive menus and chapter search too. Highly recommended, with a subscription price of under $10 per issue (back issues can be included). See the next review for ordering information.
SHORT CINEMA JOURNAL 1:3 (2014 Corporation) The third issue of this DVD-only magazine has as its theme authority. Included are seven films from all over the world. The plots involve everything from the Holocaust to insanity to the daily rituals of life. One of the films is even animated. This is a complex anthology which will be thought-provoking and which has more depth than most magazines full of fluff. The DVD includes Dolby Digital sound, interviews with the directors of most of the films, chapter search, and superb packaging which includes a box within a box as well as the disc in a CD case. Those curious about the series will find more about it at the companys web site at www.dvdmags.com and it can be subscribed to for under $10 an issue. This makes it an incredible bargain even if only some of the material interests you and you can get back issues included in your subscription at that price as well! While this is intended for a specialized audience that is probably well-educated, loves movies and philosophy, and wants to show off rare film in their collection which are uniqie to DVD or improved in this format, the bulk of DVD enthusiasts so far can be said to fit that profile. Well done and worth having even if you buy it for significantly more money at a retail store.
SOPHIE'S CHOICE (Live Entertainment, Inc., 150 minutes) Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline star in this drama about a woman who is a Holocaust survivor. The DVD version offers a digitally mastered widescreen format of the film with 2.0 Dolby Surround sound, director's commentary track, a documentary about the making of the film, interactive menus, chapter search, Spanish subtitles, production notes, cast and crew information and the theatrical trailer for the film. Well done.
THE SUBSTITUTE 2 (Artisan Entertainment, Inc., 90 minutes) Treat Williams stars as the brother of the teacher who was murdered in the original film. In this sequel he returns to the high school where his brother was murdered and becomes a substitute teacher so he can begin to investigate the death from within school walls. Lots of violence and drama, and one of those rare films where the sequel is actually worth seeing. The DVD version contains digitally mastered widescreen and standard versions, 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio track, interactive menus, chapter search, Spanish subtitles, production notes, theatrical trailer, and cast and crew information. Don't miss this if you saw the original film, like Treat Williams or have an interest in violence interfering with education.
SUITE 18 (Vivid Interactive) Janine, Asia Carrera, Kaitlyn Ashley, PJ Sparxxx, Tony Tedeschi and Marc Wallice star in this adult film about a hotel room suite in which the guests have lots and lots of sex. Directed by Bud Lee, this multiple angle title is also shot in 3D and requires no glasses to view the film. In addition to interactive menus and chapter search, as well as a paper poster of the Vivid girls and a paper catalog of other Vivid titles, the DVD offers no regional coding, previews of other Vivid titles, live footage from the AVN Video Awards show, interactive 3D fantasy rooms, interactive phone sex and multiple screens of stills, live actions and bios of the Vivid girls. Lots of star power in this title making this an excellent choice for those who like adult films.
SURF NAZIS MUST DIE (Troma Entertainment, Inc.) Set in the future, this cult film is set in California after the coastline has been destroyed by an earthquake. All of the beaches have been taken over by gangs and only one person has the guts to stand up to them. The DVD version of the film is the director's cut which has been digitally mastered. The quality is superb and the title includes many extra features such as an introduction by Lloyd Kaufman, lost scenes for those who love outtakes, comments by both the director and the producer of the film, the theatrical trailer as well as trailers for other Troma releases available on DVD, scenes from the Tromaville Cafe TV show, interactive menus, chapter search, an interactive tour of Troma studios, and an intelligence test. Sure to appeal to those who like fight scenes, violence, cult films and gore, this is well worth having as all of Troma's titles released to date are. Great care has been taken to assure the discs play flawlessly, offer great value for the money, and are as perfect as possible for the critical DVD enthusiasts who complain about the shortcomings of almost everything released. There is nothing to complain about here, and everything to enjoy, if you like this kind of movie.
TITANICA (Miramax Home Entertainment, 67 minutes) Narrated by Leonard Nimoy, this film about the sinking of the Titanic cruise ship was filmed in IMAX. It includes interviews with two survivors of the wreck, as well as lots of footage of the ship before and after its maiden voyage. The DVD version offers Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track as well as chapter search. While not a lot of extras, this title is pretty much self-explanatory. Well worth seeing if you like cruise ships, or IMAX films, or are a fan on the current Titanic craze.
TOTAL RECALL (Live Entertainment, 113 minutes) Arnold Schwartzenegger and Sharon Stone star in this sci-fi thriller full of battles, action, special effects and romance. The DVD version offers both widescreen and standard format, is digitally mastered with Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, and includes foreign trailers, interactive menus, chapter search, production notes, cast and crew bios and the original theatrical teaser and trailer. The disc does justice to one of Schwartzenegger's best loved films and is a recommended addition to your collection.
TOXIC AVENGER PART II (Troma Entertainment, Inc.) This sequel to the cult film (which is favorably reviewed elsewhere on this site) has more special effects, fight scenes and comedy than the original. In the last film a 98 pound weakling fell into a vat of toxic waste and became a powerful superhero. In this film he travels to Tokyo where they have never seen anything like him. The DVD version includes a digitally mastered copy of the film, which is an unrated director's cut, as well as an introduction by Lloyd Kaufman, comments by people who work for Fangoria magazine and VideoHound, a directors commentary which runs the full length of the film, interactive menus, chapter search, theatrical trailers for this film as well as other Troma titles also available on DVD, production stills and quite a bit more as well. Although there is a good deal of violence here it's not the type that will alienate or offend, and it's definitely humorous, campy and well done for its genre. All of Tromas DVD releases we have seen are superbly done and this one is no exception. If only some of the major studios would put this much care into what they release! Highly recommended if you like cult, gore, special effects and oddball humor.
TRUCKS (Trimark Home Video) Based on a short story by Stephen King, this horror film stars Timothy Busfield and is about intelligent trucks that attack people and property. Needless to say, there's lots of destruction in this film. The DVD version offers a 4:3 widescreen transfer of the film with 2.0 Dolby Surround Sound audio, interactive menus, chapter search, foreign subtitles and trailer.
UFO AND PARANORMAL PHENOMENA (Madacy Entertainment Group, Inc., approx. 5 hours) This budget priced boxed set is a real treat for those into UFOs, conspiracy theories, aliens, and parapsychology. Included here are five features titled "Message From Another Dimension," "Encounters of the Fifth Kind," and "The Mystery of Life and Death." Other features include a comprehensive interactive UFO Resource Guide, five interactive maps, a world map and information on the top 65 UFO incidents, five recently declassified government documents which contain over 30 pages of information, chapter search and 25 trivia questions and answers. While there are many specialized UFO titles available on VHS, there isn't much available on DVD yet and this one is highly recommended if you either study the subject or are merely a novice curiousity seeker.
VIGILANTE (Anchor Bay Entertainment, Inc., 90 minutes) William Lustig directed this revenge thriller about a cop who decides to take the law into his own hands after encountering a street gang. It's very well done for its genre and full of action, violence and damaged property. The DVD version offers an unrated director's cut of the film presented in widescreen (2.35:1), with audio commentary by the director and three of the actors. There is also a behind the scenes still gallery, trailers from four countries as well as TV spots, French subtitles and chapter search. Don't miss this if you are a fan of revenge films, or violence in general. The sound and video are superb and, considering the content, this is a pleasure to watch.
THE JOHN WAYNE COLLECTION (Madacy Entertainment Group, Inc., approx. 10 hours) This five DVD collection of classic John Wayne westerns includes "Winds of the Wasteland," "Lucky Texan," "Lawless Frontier," "Randy Rides Alone," "Dawn Rider," "Trail Beyond," "Riders of Destiny," "The Star Packer," "Man From Utah," and "Sagebrush Trail." In addition to all those films, the boxed set includes 15 biographies, 50 trivia questions and answers, chapter search and a complete filmography. The set is budget priced and some of these films are probably somewhat rare, making this a good value if you like western films and/or early John Wayne.
WISHMASTER (Live Entertainment, Inc., 90 minutes) This horror film is anout an ancient being called the Djinn who can grant people's wishes but in the process seems to unleash thier nightmares as well. Tons of special effects in this scary tale presented by Wes Craven. The DVD version offers an awesome package including choice of digitally mastered widescreen or standard formats, 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio track, a documentary about the making of the film, director's commentary track, behind-the-scenes footage, interactive menus, chapter search, and both the original theatrical trailer and teaser. If only all movies came so loaded on DVD! This is highly recommended as one of the better horror DVDs out so far.
A WOMAN SCORNED (Vivid Interactive) Lexus, Peter North, Katie Gold, Bobbi Bliss, Shawnee and Alexandra Silk star in this adult title about a swingers party where one of the guests ends up dead. It's a whodunit which is rarely found in the adult film genre. Filmed in Vivid's exclusive 3D format with multiple camera angles so you can choose how you would like to see the sex scenes, this title is also loaded with other features. Besides the usual chapter search and interactive menus there is a paper poster of the Vivid girls, a paper catalog of other Vivid titles, previews of other titles, no regional coding and live footage of the AVN video awards show. There are interactive 3D fantasy rooms, interactive telephone sex and multiple screens of stills, live action and bios of all of the Vivid girls. Lots of value for the money here, as is the case with all of Vivid's adult titles. Those who like adult films with tons of action, including more than once couple having sex at a time, will perhaps find this one more entertaining than most.
ZOMBIE (Anchor Bay Entertainment, Inc., 91 minutes) This horror film launched an entire genre of zombie and cannibal films which tried to duplicate its success. Full of special effects and very explicit violence often shown in slow motion, this shows everything from exploding heads to eyes being pulled out to an underwater battle between a zombie and a shark! Definitely a cult film, this is not to be missed by horror and gore fans. The DVD version offers an unrated widescreen presentation (2.35:1) with an audio commentary by actor Ian McCulloch and the editor of Diabolik magazine, Jason J. Slater. Also included are chapter search, the original theatrical trailer and both TV and radio spots. Well done.