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Gray Areas Magazine


GRAY AREAS MAGAZINE DVD REVIEWS SEPTEMBER 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.

THE ARRIVAL (Live Entertainment, Inc. (now Artisan Entertainment Inc.), 109 minutes) Charlie Sheen stars in this sci-fi thriller about a radio astronomer who stumbles onto alien life and runs off in search of it. This has a superb plot that will keep you at the edge of your seat, as well as great acting by Sheen. The DVD version contains your choice of digitally mastered widescreen and standard mode presentations, with 5.1 Dolby Digital audio, foreign subtitles, interactive menus, chapter search, production notes, theatrical teaser and trailer, and cast and crew bios. This is a terrific conversion of a superb film, which is highly recommended even for those who have no interest in the subject of UFOs and alien phenomenon.

BODY OF INFLUENCE 2 (Simitar Entertainment, Inc., 90 minutes) Jodie Fisher and Daniel Anderson star in this erotic thriller in which a psychiatrist becomes involved with a patient who has a jealous husband. Originally an A-Pix film, this has been licensed to Simitar for the DVD version. The DVD includes an unrated version of the film with AC-3 stereo sound, parental lock option, interactive menus, chapter search and movie factoids. This will appeal to those who like thrillers, as well as to those who like the growing revenge film genre.

BREEDERS (Simitar Entertainment, Inc., 93 minutes) In this horror film, originally from A-Pix but licensed to Simitar for its DVD release, a meteorite lands and releases an alien monster onto an all girls college campus. The female students are stalked and only one man understands the monster is simply trying to mate. The DVD version offers a choice of 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround sound or AC-3 2.0 stereo sound, as well as interactive menus, chapter search and movie factoids. A-Pix is well known for their horror film titles, and this does not disappoint, offering their many loyal fans (or anyone who enjoys either horror and/or stalking films) lots of special effects and violence, as well as some scary moments and good use of explosives. Well done for its genre.

THE CHOSEN ONE: LEGEND OF THE RAVEN (Troma Entertainment, Inc.) Carmen Electra stars in this film about a battle between good and evil forces. A woman whose sister has been murdered revisits a world she left long ago and sets out to destroy evil with the help of her sister's spirit and her shaman father. Full of action and special effects, this will appeal to those who enjoyed The Crow as well as to fans of Electra who has starred on Baywatch and MTV's Singled Out. The DVD offers a director's cut of the film, director's commentary track, the theatrical trailer, an introduction by Lloyd Kaufman, interactive menus, chapter search, a Troma trivia test, an interactive tour of Troma studios, sexy stills, an interview with editor Thomas Teltser, observations by both producer India Allen and star Shauna Sand, a Zebra woman publicity stunt and previews of other Troma titles. Troma is one studio that doesn't short change viewers when it comes to putting extras on their titles, and like the rest of their line this will not disappoint. Well done.

CRIMES OF PASSION (Anchor Bay Entertainment, Inc., 107 minutes) Ken Russell directed this gray film about a woman who works as a fashion designer by day and as a prostitute by night. Kathleen Turner and Anthony Perkins star as the prostitute and a street-corner preacher she interacts with. The DVD version offers a widescreen presentation (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital Hi-Fi mono sound and chapter search. Not a lot of extras here, but the subject matter is self-explanatory and compelling without any fluff. There aren't a whole lot of movies about prositutes in the first place, but this is surely once of the best. It's also well worth having if you like the actors, or are a fan of Ken Russell's work in general.

DANCEHALL QUEEN (Palm Pictures, 96 minutes) The largest grossing film to ever come out of Jamaica, this is full of shots of Kingston, Jamaica and has a superb reggae soundtrack. The plot involves a single mother who dreams of a better life. She spends her nights in a dancehall, where she hopes to win a contest which will give her the money to get out of the ghetto and away from the men who oppress her. The DVD offers a digitally remastered standard version of the film with Dolby Digital Stereo sound, interactive menus, chapter search, theatrical trailer, and subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. This is an engrossing film which will appeal to anyone who has ever been to Jamaica or enjoys reggae, as well as to feminists and those who seek to realize their dreams. It's one of the few films aimed at black people which is not made in Hollywood by white men interpreting their idea of black life. Well done!

DIARY OF A SERIAL KILLER (Simitar Entertainment, Inc., 92 minutes) Gary Busey, Arnold Vosloo and Michael Madsen star in this thriller about a journalist who witnesses a murder in a dark alley. He begins a relationship with the killer who grants him an exclusive interview while continuing to roam the streets killing. The DVD version includes 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround and AC-3 stereo prologic sound, interactive menus, chapter search, movie factoids, and biography/filmography. One of those rare films that has a plot to go along with the violent scenes, this is ideal for those who are interested in why people commit the crimes they do. Well done.

DIRTY DANCING (Live Entertainment Inc. (now Artisan Entertainment Inc.), 105 minutes) Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey star in this terrific love story which is full of superb dancing scenes. It's about a teenager who is vacationing with her parents and falls in love with the hotel dance instructor. The DVD version offers a choice of digitally mastered widescreen or standard formats, with 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround sound, foreign subtitles, interactive menus, chapter search, production notes, cast and crew bios and the theatrical trailer. This is a must for dance lovers, as well as anyone who enjoys romance films in general. Well done.

THE DOORS ARE OPEN (Pioneer Artists, 56 minutes) Originally filmed and released as a PBS Television broadcast, this documentary about rock group The Doors was filmed in London's The Roundhouse in September 1968. It's in black and white with lots of interview footage intermixed with songs, but shows the band at a prime time in their careers. Songs include "When The Music's Over," "Five To One," "Spanish Caravan," "Hello, I Love You," "Back Door Man," "Light My Fire" and "Unknown Soldier." The DVD version included 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track and chapter search, as well as an uncut version of the film. Well worth having for any Doors fan, as well as those interested in the music from the 1960s era in general.

EARTH, WIND & FIRE LIVE IN JAPAN (Pioneer Artists, 90 minutes) Filmed in 1990 at the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan this superb concert tape features the 14 member R&B band performing a dozen songs. The DVD features 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, chapter search, and a biography of the band. This is universal music with rich sax, trombone and trumpet sounds. Highly recommended for those new to Earth, Wind and Fire (like me!), for those who are already fans, or for those disappointed with other music DVDs who want to see one done right.

GIRL SCHOOL SCREAMERS (Troma Entertainment, Inc.) This horror film is set in a religious girl's school. Someone has willed his art collection to the school and after his death, while in the process of cataloging the art collection, the girls start to become victims of a stalker. Lots of fear, blood, gore and special effects. The DVD version offers production stills, public service announcements, theatrical trailer, an interactive tour of Troma studios, previews of other Troma titles and a Troma trivia intelligence test. A must for horror fans.

HALLOWEEN (Anchor Bay Entertainment, Inc., 90 minutes) Jamie Lee Curtis got her big break in this horror film directed by John Carpenter. Spawning countless sequels, as well as a slew of other horror films which tried to duplicate its commercial success, this film has a simple plot about a man who killed his sister one Halloween night, was safely locked away in a mental hospital for many years, and has now come back. The DVD version offers a choice of widescreen (2:35.1) and standard presentations of the film, with Hi-Fi mono sound, chapter search and the original theatrical trailer. No horror collection can be truly complete without this title, and while it would have been nice to see some extras included here which detail the film's impact on the media and the horror genre, Jamie Lee's screams can be universally understood with no additional explanations required.

THE HEARTBREAK KID (Anchor Bay Entertainment, Inc., 106 minutes) Cybill Shepherd, Charles Grodin, Eddie Albert and Jeannie Berlin star in this comedy about a newlywed who falls in love with someone else while on his honeymoon. Directed by Elaine May, from a screenplay by Neil Simon, this classic film is one of the few comedies to be offered on DVD so far. The DVD offers a full-frame (1.33:1) presentaion of the film, with Dolby Digital Hi-Fi mono sound and chapter search. Well done.

IGOR AND THE LUNATICS (Troma Entertainment, Inc.) 16 years ago, a crazed religious hippie sex cult, in the Manson family vein, slaughtered many townspeople in Tromaville. Igor and his gang were finally caught and locked up. Now they're out on probation and out to seek revenge on the town that locked them up. This horror film is full of blood, gore, violence and scary scenes which will delight those who love the genre. The DVD version offers a director's cut of the film, production stills from the film, public service announcements, an interactive tour of Troma studios, the theatrical trailer, previews of other Troma titles, a link to Troma's web site and a Troma trivia intelligence test. I found this to be one of Troma's best films and recommend it to anyone interested in horror, gore, Manson and other cult figures and even hippie culture. Highly recommended!

KIDS (Pioneer Entertainment/Trimark Home Video, 102 minutes) An honest and refreshing look at teenagers in this documentary that focuses on one small group of them. They believe they are invincible, as all kids do, and they discuss sex, love, the opposite sex, drugs, school, violence and more freely. The DVD offers a chice between unrated widescreen and standard versions of the film, with Dolby Digital Surround sound, and chapter search. This got a lot of attention when it was in theatres for its use of curse words, and uncensored chat and behavior, such as making out and pot smoking, that might potentially corrupt teenage viewers. If anything such criticism undermines one of the points of the film, which is that kids already know curse words, and how to have sex, and how to find pot, and trying to shield them from such things only makes problems like teenage pregnancy worse. Worth seeing though no matter what points of view you support, or to help you determine where you stand on many teen issues.

LAST BREATH (Simitar Entertainment, Inc., 90 minutes) Luke Perry, Francie Swift and Gia Carides star in this superb thriller about a man whose wife needs an organ transplant which they cannot seem to find a donor for. She suspects her husband is having an affair and intends to murder the woman for her organ. The film then starts to have countless plot twists and turns as well as raising many gray issues about what you would do under these same circumstances. The DVD version includes both AC-3 stereo sound and 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround sound, interactive menus, chapter search, movie factoids, a biography and a filmography. Highly recommended to those who like to think about the movies they watch.

LOGAN'S RUN (MGM Home Entertainment, 119 minutes) Michael York, Peter Ustinov and Farrah Fawcett-Majors star in this sci-film set in the 23rd century. It's about a utopian society where life is perfect until one hits age 30 at which point they must die in a public arena. Those who choose to flee are hunted down by sandmen whose job it is to find and kill them. The plot concerns a sandman sent to find where those who have fled successfully end up. The DVD version offers a widescreen version of the film with 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track, audio commentary by Michael York, director Michael Anderson and Bill Thomas, a featurette, and eight page booklet about the film, chapter search and a copy of the original theatrical trailer. This is one of my favorite sci-fi films because it's captivating even though it has a very simple plot. The transfer is superb, as are the extras. Highly recommended!

MERLIN (Artisan Entertainment, Inc., 182 minutes) Featuring special effects from Jim Henson's Creature Shop, as well as acting talents such as Martin Short and James Earl Jones, this epic adventure is based on the legend of Merlin the Wizard and King Arthur. The DVD version contains the same full-length version which was originally broadcast on TV, now digitally mastered with 2.0 Dolby Surround sound, and includes interactive menus, Spanish subtitles, chapter search, production notes, cast and crew information and a short called "The Making of Merlin." Great plot, great acting and well crafted special effects combine to make this a delight for all ages and tastes. Highly recommended as one of the best releases of the year. This is one of those rare titles that will keep you hanging on until the very end, and will be just as good the second time you watch it!

THE MESSAGE (Anchor Bay Entertainment, Inc., 220 minutes) Anthony Quinn and Irene Papas star in this epic drama about Islam set in the 7th century in Mecca. Mohammad asks the people of Mecca to worship only one God and the Moslems are forced to move to Medina. They then battle with the people of Mecca to convert them, and Mohammad becomes the Prophet he is now known as. The film took six years to prepare for and an entire year to film. The DVD version offers a widescreen presentation (2.35:1), a documentary called The Making of an Epic, a still gallery, chapter search and both English and Arabic theatrical trailers. While not of interest to everyone, this is extremely well done for its genre and will appeal to those interested in history, war, religion, and the epic genre in general.

METROPOLIS (Madacy Entertainment Group, Inc., 115 minutes) This classic black and white silent sci-fi film has become a cult classic in recent years due to its biting social criticism. Directed by Fritz Lang, the plot involves a futuristic city which projects an image of respectability, while in reality the city is kept going by a group of workers who live in a much darker city underground. The DVD version offers trivia questions and answers, a biography, chapter search, and a copy of the original lobby poster. Priced at under $10 retail, this disc is one of the few silent films to be available on DVD yet, and is recommended for classic film buffs as well as those who operate within gray areas of the law and are attracted to films about alienation, hypocrisy, and rebellion.

NOSTRADAMUS: A VOICE FROM THE PAST (Madacy Entertainment Group, Inc., 60 minutes) Michel de Nostradame lived over 400 years ago, but his predictions are still revered by new age and occult devotees. The DVD offers the film in Dolby Digital sound, five trivia questions and answers, a Nostradamus time-line biography, and chapter search. An excellent resource for those who wish to know more about the man and his many controversial predictions. I found his medical career even more fascinating than his predictions and recommend the DVD highly.

PHOENIX (Trimark Home Video, 107 minutes) Ray Liotta, Anthony LaPaglia and Anjelica Houston star in this crime thriller about a police detective who is heavily addicted to gambling. Finding himself caught between a bookie, loan shark, and murderous heist, he decides to settle his debts once and for all at any cost. The DVD version includes a digitally mastered widescreen copy of the film, with 2.0 Dolby Surround sound, interactive menus, chapter search, foreign subtitles and cast and crew information. Full of action, brutal violence, great actors and stunning location shots, this title is a natural for those who like cop films, and gambling films as well as those intrigued by the nature of addictions.

RICHARD PRYOR LIVE IN CONCERT (MPI Home Video, 78 minutes) Recorded live in 1979 in Long Beach, California, this comedy film contains an entire standup set from Pryor in his prime. Included are bits about Pryor shooting his automobile, his heart attack, his grandmother's disciplinary measures, and his dealings with his children. Pryor, who was raised in a brothel, and has had a colorful gray life which included being a drug addict who set himself on fire after freebasing, uses much profanity here as well as harsh, graphic descriptions of sex and violence. This is highly recommended for fans of his as well as fans of comedians such as Lenny Bruce, Howard Stern, Eddie Murphy, Andrew Dice Clay and Sam Kinison. The DVD contains Dolby Digital stereo sounds, interactive menus, chapter search, foreign subtitles, discography, biography and a list of Richard Pryors many movie and TV credits. This is one of the few standup titles available so far on DVD and is well worth having if it won't offend you. Highly recommended.

QUEEN: WE WILL ROCK YOU (Pioneer Artists, 90 minutes) Featuring almost two dozen songs, and all of their greatest hits, rock band Queen was recorded at their prime for this title. Songs include "We Are The Champions," "Keep Yourself Alive," "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," "We Will Rock You," "Under Pressure," "Tie Your Mother Down," and "Bohemian Rhasody." The DVD contains 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, and chapter search. This is another quality disc from Pioneer, which is highly recommended if you like Queen at all, or just want to show off your home theatre system.

THE REGGAE MOVIE (Pioneer Artists, 100 minutes) Filmed at several music festivals, this documentary explores the reggae music genre and sample many top acts. Included are performance clips of Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, Steel Pulse, Burning Spear, Maxi Priest, Yami Bolo and Inner Circle. The DVD features Dolby Digital sound and chapter search. Although each band only gets a song or two, this is worth having to any fan of reggae music and/or culture. Well done.

SCORNED 2 (Simitar Entertainment, Inc., 95 minutes) Wendy Schumacher and Tane McClure star in this erotic thriller about a woman who suspects her husband is having an affair. She decides to take matters into her own hands, creating a bloody mess. Sure to delight those who love revenge films, this is easy to understand even if you have never seen the original film this sequel is based on. The DVD includes an unrated version of the film, AC-3 2.0 stereo sound, chapter search, interactive menus, movie factoids, and a biography and filmography.

THE SECRET ADVENTURES OF TOM THUMB (Palm Pictures, 70 minutes) Combining horror and animation, this amazingly gray cult film shows the classic character Tom Thumb snatched from his parents to be used for evil experiments in a lab full of mutant creatures. Thumb escapes and begins to battle giants, along with his new pal, Jack the Giant Killer. What makes this film special is the animation of the film's characters which is the work of Dave Borthwick. The film has won well over a dozen awards, with good reason, and challenges everything you assumed animated films to be. Featuring a theme done by John Paul Jones of Led Zep fame, the DVD version offers a digitally remastered standard print of the film, as well as a bonus short film called The Saint Inspector, which is also features Borthwick's unusual work. There is also a biography, interactive menus, theatrical trailer, chapter search and subtitle for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. If you love horror, animation, cult movies or anything that falls into the "weird" or "gonzo" classification, don't miss this highly recommended film!

SIZZLE BEACH, U.S.A. (Troma Entertainment, Inc.) Kevin Costner stars in his first film here, about a young rancher who hooks up with three girls new in town. He teaches them about LA's underground in the early 80s, which includes hanging out on Malibu beach by day, cruising the LA clubs by night, and doing drugs and having sex. Costner apparently had some problems doing the love scene and had to be fed some wine. The DVD version inludes a director's cut of the film, a director's commentary by Eric Louzil, an interview with Eric Louzil, "Kevin and Me!" by Lloyd Kaufman, an interactive tour of Troma studios, the theatrical trailer, previews of other Troma titles, a link to Troma's website, a Troma trivia intelligence test, public service announcements, Troma's Edge TV and Troma Tromettes in action. Featuring original music by The Beach Towels, Rick Dunham and Melodye Condos, this is a must for any Kevin Costner fans, as well as fans of beach films in general.

TITANIC: THE MYSTERY AND THE LEGACY (Madacy Entertainment Group, Inc., approx. 4 hours and 40 minutes) With interest in this legendary cruise ship at an all-time high, this budget-priced boxed set offers all of the information you would most want to see gathered together in one place. There are 5 documentaries here: "Echoes of Titanic," "Titanic Remembered," "Edward J. Smith: The Captain of the Titanic," "Titanic: End of an Era," and "The Mystery and the Legacy." Each documentary includes photographs, archival film, and interviews with survivors. Additionally, the set includes Dolby Digital sound, trivia questions and answers, biographies, ship data information pages such as the manifest and a list of famous passengers on board, and chapter search. While lacking the quality of the IMAX film also reviewed this month, this collection is definitely a great place to start for historians, researchers, and those who love disasters.

TROMA'S WAR (Troma Entertainment, Inc.) This unrated, director's cut edition offers the film uncut for the very first time as it was meant to be seen. Full of blood and violence, this title was Troma's answer to "Reagan and Rambo." This title is said to have more squib effects (which is a minor explosive and blood packet used when bullets hit someone in films) than any film in history other than The Wild Bunch and the films of John Woo. The DVD version offers a director's commentary track, interviews with the actors and crew done 10 years later in retrospect, interactive menus, chapter search, an interactive tour of Troma Studios, theatrical trailer, previews of other Troma titles, and more. For those interested in blood and gore, this is a must, but more so than other films of its genre this one explains a lot of the movie making process since it includes comments from the stuntmen and a gun expert. Highly recommended for those who like this type of film, as well as those interested in how special effects in films are made.

TWO WOMEN (Madacy Entertainment Group, Inc., 93 minutes) Sophia Loren won an Oscar for best actress for this film about a woman and her daughter who get raped by Allied Moroccan soldiers during World War II. The DVD version offers the black and white film (Italian, with English subtitles), a biography, trivia questions and answers, chapter search and a copy of the lobby poster for the film. While this is hard to watch, both for its content as well as the lack of color and hassles in watching foreign subtitled films in general, it's well worth the effort for those interested in the realities of war and of rape. Kudos to Loren who tackled this film years before it was socially acceptable to talk about rape, and to Madacy who have made it available with a list price of under $10 so everyone who would be interested can afford to own a copy.

WORLD WAR II BOXED SET (Madacy Entertainment Group, Inc., approximately 10 hours) Featuring 10 documentaries on 5 DVD discs, this budget prices set was directed by Frank Capra. It features segments on "Prelude To War," "Nazi Strike," "Divide and Conquer," "The Battle of Britain," "The Battle of Russia," "War Comes To America," "D-Day: The Normandy Invasion," "The World At War" and "Appointment In Tokyo." Included is war footage from the archives of the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, National Film Board of Canada, British Ministry of Information, etc. In addition to the classic black and white footage, the DVD set also offers 30 biographies, 25 trivia questions and answers, 10 War Propoganda posters, Dolby Digital sound and chapter search. Definitely worth having for those who served and who are interested in war, history, the military, etc.

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