By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrap, A Single Man & others…

A Single Man
If Tom Ford’s freshman film, A Single Man, had failed both critically and commercially, it might have been dismissed as a vanity project and forgotten by everyone who didn’t have a vested interest in flattering the famed fashion designer. After all, his name appears on the credits as director, writer and producer. (Arianne Phillips designed the costumes, but it’s safe to assume Ford retained veto power there, as well.)Instead, his and David Scearce’s adaptation of the Christopher Isherwood novel not only pleased the critics, but it also made up its budget nut at the box-office. The latter was no small task, considering the number of academy members who saw the niche movie for free and festival goers who benefitted from discounted tickets. As such, Ford hit the cinematic equivalent of a home run in his first turn at bat in the big leagues. That’s not to say, he didn’t have some help along the way.

As the single man of the title, Colin Firth turned in a performance, which, in the absence of Jeff Bridges, might very well have been rewarded with a Best Actor Oscar. As it is, he took home the top prize at the BAFTAs and several prestigious festivals. Julianne Moore, who plays the tipsy confidante of Firth’s George Falconer, delivered the kind of smashing performance audiences and casting directors take almost for granted from her.

Set in the early 1960s, Falconer is forced to cope with the accidental death of his lover, Jim (Matthew Goode), while also teaching English literature to college students interested mostly in themselves. As a gay man in an oppressively heterosexual world, Falconer was only too aware of the fact he would be turned away from Jim’s funeral and refused even the inheritance of their pet dog. Moore’s Charley opens her liquor cabinet to Falconer, but it isn’t until he risks opening up to an emotionally sympathetic student that he finds a way to make it through his dark night.

Ford’s film harkens back to a time, when, as the dialogue suggests, unattached gay men could live “invisibly,” among straight friends, neighbors and colleagues, but only if they allowed themselves to be treated as dedicated “bachelors.” In Ford’s hands, Falconer is an impeccably turned out middle-class academic, who fits within the academic milieu like a calf-skin glove. Every detail of his life is considered and hardly anything is left to chance.

It is telling, however, that Falconer’s stealth sexuality isn’t invisible to the “gaydar” of the attentive student or one smoker among many standing outside an otherwise hetero bar. Only a few years later, the walls of self-imposed isolation would begin to tumble and the love that dared not speak its name would finally find its voice. At the time, however, such a breakthrough must have seemed a pipedream.The Blu-ray package includes a making-of featurette and commentary with Ford. – Gary Dretzka

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Although many American fans of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (a.k.a., Men Who Hate Women) will wait for the inevitable English-language version of the story to emerge from Hollywood, there are several very good reasons to brave the subtitles and sample the Swedish original. First, of course, is the likelihood that any American version would be spoiled by casting decisions based exclusively on perceived box-office clout. Secondarily, certain Nordic sensibilities and historically significant plot twists might be lost in the translation. Let’s cross that bridge when Hollywood builds it, though.

The first installment of the so-called Millennium Trilogy has arrived in DVD, days ahead of the theatrical release of The Girl Who Played with Fire and months ahead of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, both of which have already enjoyed successful runs in Scandinavia. In Dragon Tattoo, we’re introduced to the disgraced investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and goth computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), an unlikely pair of crime-fighters enlisted by a manufacturing mogul to discover the truth in the disappearance of a beloved niece several decades earlier.

Blomkvist welcomes the opportunity to work and make money while his lawyers appeal a ruling against him in a libel case. Using her own investigative skills, Salander was able to discover evidence of a conspiracy against the reporter, even his lawyers overlooked. Together, they might be able to break down the wall of secrecy preventing the police from making arrests in the kidnapping and a possibly related series of killings of young women in the Swedish countryside.

Despite their intellectual compatibility, Blomkvist and Salander would never be mistaken for Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. At best, the 40ish Nyqvist could be considered ruggedly handsome, while Rapace looks as if she was taking fashion tips from Sid Vicious. Never mind … their appearances only add to the film’s gritty appeal. Salander has another reason to join the reporter in the search for a murderer of women. All her life, she’s been brutalized and abused by male authority figures, and, now that she’s in a position to redress her grievances, she shows no mercy.

Viewers with an aversion to graphic depictions of violence may want to place a pillow in a convenient location, so they can grab it when things start to get rough. Most of it is essential to the story – and trilogy, at large – so don’t automatically dismiss her actions as being gratuitous. At nearly 2½ hours, Dragon Tattoo will test the endurance of inattentive audiences. Be aware, though, that novel was 600-plus pages to begin with and director Niels Arden Opley maintained only the narrative conceits that would advance the story. Having already seen The Girl Who Played With Fire (directed by Daniel Alfredson), I can say that the economical editing helps put viewers in the cat-bird seat from minute-one. The DVD adds an English-language dub track for subtitle-phobic viewers, an interview with Rapace and a family tree of the mogul’s demented family. – Gary Dretzka

Brooklyn’s Finest: Blu-ray
Employing a conceit by now all too familiar to fans of Robert Altman and Paul Haggis’ Academy Award-winning Crash, Antoine Fuqua’s Brooklyn’s Finest describes a week in the lives of three seemingly unrelated cops in a dangerous Brooklyn precinct. Richard Gere, who’s played more than his fair share of police officers in his long career, is sweating out the last week of a career undistinguished by acts of heroism; Don Cheadle is an officer who’s burrowed so far undercover that he’s more fearful of racist cops and his power-hunger bosses than the guys he’s trying to bust; and Ethan Hawke, as a cop whose level of corruption hardly matches the meager rewards he seeks.

Of the three, Gere’s character is the most interesting. Somewhere along the way, Eddie has lost the will to put his life on the line in defense of citizens who don’t appreciate his courage, expertise or what his uniform represents. His superiors consider Eddie to be a coward and make his last week miserable by assigning wet-behind-the-ears rookies to ride along with him on his beat.

He isn’t entirely without compassion, however, or nuances. His girlfriend is a black hooker with a soft heart and a nose for cocaine, and he wants nothing more than to spend his retirement on a lake, fishing pole in hand. Cheadle’s Tango is intent on putting a veteran drug dealer (Wesley Snipes) behind bars, but, ultimately, decides the criminal is several times more honorable than anyone to whom he reports. Hawkes’ Sal simply is the polar opposite of the rookie he played in Fuqua’s Training Day. Fuqua has no problem creating a sinister backdrop for evil and ratcheting up the tension as the parallel stories reach their conclusions.

Unfortunately, we’re given little reason to care more about these cops than the hundreds of others we’ve seen in similar situations over the past few decades. We wonder if one, two or all three of the protagonists will die – or, for that matter, survive – but have little else invested in the arc of their stories. That said, Fuqua keeps things moving in a satisfactory manner and the actors’ charisma holds our attention. Brooklyn, or the part not inhabited by yuppie scum, is as much of a character as any of the cops. So, Brooklyn’s Finest is never boring, at least. The Blu-ray adds Fuqua’s commentary; deleted scenes; character profiles; and the featurettes, Chaos and Conflict: The Life of a New York Cop, Boyz in the Real Hood, A Eye for Detail and a piece on writer Michael C. Martin, who was a New York transit worker before having the movie green-lit. – Gary Dretzka

Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics, Vol. 2
I continue to be amazed at just how entertaining movies made 50-plus years ago still are, even when judged by the same standards used to measure contemporary pictures. While the word, “classic,” has been de-valued to the point of irrelevance by Internet pundits for whom anything they’ve watched more than once is considered worthy of the term, some golden-oldies fit the bill better than others. The argument made in such DVD packages as the Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics is that movies relegated to the B-side of a twin bill in their original incarnations can teach many of the same lessons as The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep, Double Indemnity and Out of the Past.

In the second volume of the series, the titles restored and remastered by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and the Film Foundation include Fritz Lang’s Human Desire (1954), with Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame; Phil Karlson’s The Brothers Rico (1957), with Richard Conte; Jacques Tourneur’s Nightfall (1957), with Aldo Ray and Anne Bancroft; Irving Lerner’s City of Fear (1959), with Vince Edwards; and Richard Quine’s Pushover (1954), starring Fred MacMurray, Kim Novak and Dorothy Malone.

It can safely be argued that none of the pictures represents the best work by the directors or actors represented here, and that something other than art was the driving force behind their production. Indeed, in one of the interviews included in the package, the point is made that many of the elements now considered to be “noir” staples actually resulted from budgetary constraints — color film, for example — and that heavily contrasted black-and-white images would read better on televisions of the day.

Obviously, Lang and Tourneur were conversant with the German Expressionist style, but they had to work within the limitations of the system, too. I watched all five of the movies in a single setting and never felt bored or less than amused. Knowing that the filmmakers were required to work within blue-nose restrictions of Production Code made the sexual innuendo and impact of unseen violence that much more impressive. – Gary Dretzka

Sex Stories (Histoires de Sexe(s))
It says a lot about America’s uneasiness with overt sexuality that so much was made of the conversations in HBO’s Sex and the City, which included a working knowledge of fellatio, cunnilingous, trick-fucking and the esthetics of pubic hair. No matter that only one of the women seemed to enjoy sex enough to risk messing up her hair or sweating profusely, their opinions and risqué commentary was deemed noteworthy by an army of pundits and talk-show hosts. Even on premium cable, a little skin still goes a long way.

Things are different in France, of course, where Sex Stories debuted on the country’s sex-education channel, French Lover TV. In the new DVD from Breaking Glass Pictures, separate groups of men and women chat over food and wine about their latest sexual encounters – as opposed to boasting about their sexual conquests – and how their less experienced friends might benefit from their knowledge. The women range from the late teens to middle age, while the men are firmly in the thirtysomething range … attractive, but not oppressively so.

Video vignettes accompany each new dinner topic, one hotter than the other. Unlike most of soft-core movies shown on cable, the actors aren’t required to hide their genitals from the audience or substitute moans and groans for true exhilaration. The sex is equally balanced between men and women characters, as well. Sex Stories won’t inspire anyone to toss out their Seka or John Holmes cassettes, but watching Sex and the City will never be the same. – Gary Dretzka

Eyeborgs: Blu-ray
Gamera vs. Barugon

Unless large American cities go completely bankrupt, it’s likely that a network of surveillance cameras will be in place within the not so distant future, allowing police to track the movements of citizens – er, criminals — from the suburbs to downtown, whether they’re on foot or in the subway. Such a system already exists in London and the continued threat of terrorism and street crime has ensured that few Americans will object to the imposition of such police-state tactics here.

The makers of Eyeborgs have extended the metaphor by adding mechanical legs to the robotic cameras, thereby allowing them to follow individuals and take better vantage points from which to spy. If that weren’t sinister enough, the “eyeborgs” are built with protective mechanisms and weaponry. Intended as a commentary on Bush-administration policies, Richard Clabaugh also envisions a scenario in which the cameras are used to relay images that have been manipulated to represent a separate reality, altogether. Because the public believes what it sees, the chicanery gives the government license to take action against threats that don’t actually exist. That’s not a bad concept for a movie.

Sadly, the CGI eyeborgs are far more interesting to watch than any of the actors, whose dialogue could have been lifted from a mid-century B-movie. I wouldn’t mind seeing them, again, this time in a better story. The Blu-ray set adds deleted scenes and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

The second installment in Shout! Factory’s truly wacked-out Gamera series has arrived, this time in color and with even greater threats to mankind. As you might recall, Gamera is the giant fire-breathing turtle freed from imprisonment under an Alaskan ice floe by an accidentally dropped atomic bomb. After nearly destroying Japan, Gamera was trapped in a Z Plan capsule and blasted off into space. It took the turtle all of about 20 minutes to escape the rocket ship and return to Earth, where, in the sequel, it immediately destroys a giant hydro-electric dam.

Meanwhile, the evil lizard Barugon emerges from a giant opal, hidden in a New Guinea cave years before by a Japanese POW. Unlike Gamera, who digs intense heat, Barugon is intent on bringing about a new Ice Age. A battle royal ensues. If anything, Gamera vs. Barugon is even more ridiculous than the first entry in the Daiei Studios series, also directed by Shigeo Tanaka. But, then, that’s what makes it worth watching. The set includes commentary, publicity galleries and an original movie program. – Gary Dretzka

So few westerns are made these days, even those delivered straight to the DVD arena are worth a look. The amateur quality of Sixgun made me wonder, though, if this western weren’t produced by a community theater company – Waiting for Guffman came to mind — to celebrate an event in the history of a once lawless town. Ostensibly, Sixgun is about a bounty hunter who comes out of retirement to stop a killer and use the ransom money to keep his ranch from being foreclosed.

Along the way, several more people are shot; a cowboy antagonizes a rattlesnake with an ill-timed fart; prostitutes wander the prairie in their Victoria’s Secret corsets; and a bullet hits a guitar, causing it to catch fire. Things like this happen for no perceptible reason and in no particular order. Worse, the actors looked as if they’d never fired a gun before in their careers. That said, however, the costumes were OK. – Gary Dretzka

Bitten: Unrated
The cavalcade of dopey vampire movies continues apace with the unrated edition of Bitten, which, at least, boasts the presence of Jason Mewes, the thinking slacker’s Matthew McConaughey. Here, the vocal half of the comedy team of Jay and Silent Bob, plays a graveyard-shift paramedic, Jack, who brings home a pretty young waif suspected of being a heroin addict, based on the track marks on her neck.

Instead of jones-ing for junk, however, Danika (Erica Cox) has an insatiable appetite for fresh blood. At first, Jack’s attraction to Danika puts him in the position of being an enabler for her addiction. It isn’t until Danika starts bringing home her prey and feasting on the victims in bed that Jack begins to see her as something other than a quirky antidote to his shrewish ex-girlfriend.

Thanks to Mewes’ slightly-off-kilter personality, director Harvey Glazer (Van Wilder: Freshman Year) is able to maintain a decent balance of murder and mirth in this straight-to-video thriller. The sexy Cox adds to the fun with her split-second transitions from kitten-ish to cold-blooded, while fellow EMT Richard Fitzpatrick delivers a running commentary on his bowel movements. Fans of Kevin Smith’s raunchier comedies are the natural audience for Bitten, which arrives without the benefit of bonus features. – Gary Dretzka

UFC Rampage: Greatest Hits
Very few video franchises have been as successful as one ruled by the WWE’s McMahon family. Its vast library of catalogue titles is as valuable as those belonging to several movie studios. For the folks at Ultimate Fighting Championships — the leading promoter of mixed-martial-arts events – the decision to follow suit must have seemed like the no-brainer of all time. Its latest video product, UFC Rampage honors the pugilistic achievements of Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, from his rise in Japan’s Pride Fighting Championships and through his canvas-pounding bouts against such MMA stalwarts as Chuck Lidell, Wanderlei Silva and Kevin Randleman. Jackson would go on to star in the theatrical version of The A-Team, as the Mr. T surrogate. – Gary Dretzka

Bottom Land
What’s Underground About Marshmallows?

Facets’ newly launched Limited Edition Series is comprised of catalogue rarities that deserve being reprised in DVD, but whose source material may not facilitate a complete digital rejuvenation. Released after a six-year gestation period in 1992, Ed Radtke’s micro-budget indie Bottom Land describes how three generations of males from rural Ohio family — a grandfather, father and son – cope with the death of the boy’s mother in a traffic accident.

The complicating factors include the emotional breakdown suffered by the husband/father, which caused him to agree to voluntary commitment in a mental hospital, and the older man’s belittlement of the emotionally fragile young man. The hard-scrabble portrayal of their relationship parallels that of the struggle to keep the family farm alive in era of Farm Aid concerts. The primary conflict, though, involves a custody battle between the tough-as-nails grandfather and the more affluent parents of the dead woman. It is a war that the depressed father, at first, seems perfectly willing to lose. Questions about manhood, compassion and traditional values naturally are raised.

What’s Underground About Marshmallows? is the second part of Ron Vawter’s theater piece Roy Cohn/Jack Smith, first staged in 1989 and re-released in DVD last month. In Vawter’s hands, the pioneer underground filmmaker and campy performance artist Smith practically defined the term “flamboyant,” as it pertained to gays in the 1960s. Here, Vawter, who died in 1994 of AIDS, re-creates one of Smith’s multi-faceted performances. – Gary Dretzka

Touching Evil: Complete Collection
Life on Mars: The Complete Collection
Dragnet 1968: Season Two
Plain Truth
Return to Lonesome Dove

If I sound like a broken record when it comes to the supremacy of British crime series, over our on homegrown shows, it’s only because they’re so much more varied and intelligently written. I’m a big fan of “CSI” and “L&O,” but there’s so only so much that can be done with the same formula. Neither is it helpful that the networks have turned over so much of their inventory to reality-based shows, which play to the lowest common denominator of the American audience.

If it weren’t for HBO and Showtime, Emmy voters could ignore the dramatic categories completely. Touching Evil and Life on Mars provide perfect examples of the diversity of programming available to Brits and Americans willing to make the journey to PBS and BBCAmerica. Touching Evil stars Robson Green as special-unit detective willing to believe there are forces in the universe more foreboding than the numbers counters at A.C. Nielsen. Although the key characters aren’t devoid of senses of humor, the series’ overall tone is dark, dark, dark.

This befits the nature of the cases, which tend to run on the disturbing side. Moreover, the acting top-down is splendid, as is the direction. Here, executive-producers get all the credit for a show’s success, leaving some fine directors to labor in anonymity. Seemingly, in Britain, there’s plenty of spotlight to share.

On the other hand, when ABC adapted the Life on Mars for American audiences, viewers refused to invest the precious time on a concept that combined urban crime-fighting and time-travel, despite the estimable presence of Harvey Keitel, Gretchen Mol and Anthony Imperioli. In the original series, a modern police detective – seriously injured in an automobile accident – wakes up in 1976, an era before DNA analysis and civil-liberties lawsuits.

Almost impossibly, the conceit works. The “Complete Collection” adds commentaries for all Series 1 episodes; outtakes, behind-the-scenes footage and a set tour; an interview with director Bharat Nalluri; and featurettes on the production design, incorporation of period music and the finale. The sequel, Ashes to Ashes, in which a woman detective experiences the same sort of trauma, currently is winding to a close on BBCAmerica.

Before the novels of Joseph Wambaugh re-defined what most of America knew about the Los Angeles Police Department, most of the evidence was supplied Jack Webb and Dragnet. The landmark police-procedural, which first surfaced on radio in 1949 and moved to television two years later, was revived by Universal in 1967. Episodes were inspired by actual LAPD cases — names changed to protect both the innocent and NBC’s legal department — reflected the no-nonsense personality of the department, which, at the time, bordered on the para-military. This time around Sergeant Joe Friday’s partner, detective Bill Gannon, was played by Harry Morgan (M*A*S*H).

Together, they were as dry as yesterday’s toast and as wooden as a Pacific redwood grove … which, of course, was part of the show’s charm. The new series also struck an abashedly moralistic tone when it came to crimes attributed to the emerging counterculture. (The infamous anti-LSD episode, Blue Boy, was included in the first-season compilation.) The bonus features add Jack Webb: The Man Behind Badge 714; the 1966 pilot movie; a vintage trailer; and commemorative booklet.

The titles in the latest wave of Lifetime-to-DVD movies share at least two key selling points. One, each features a highly recognizable star and, two, each was an adapted from a novel by a best-selling author. As formulas goes, it sure beats the network’s old heartbreak-of-the-week strategy. In Plain Truth, Mariska Hargitay plays a former big-city lawyer, now ensconced in rural Pennsylvania, who agrees to defend an Amish teenager accused of killing her own baby. To clear her client, who denies even being pregnant, the lawyer must break down the borders between her view of the world and those of the conservative religious community. It’s based on a book by Jodi Picoult.

In The Dive from Clausen’s Pier, Michelle Trachtenberg makes the opposite transition, from the boonies to Manhattan, where she’s required to decide whether she should commit to her paralyzed fiancé or a mysterious older gent. It was adapted from the novel by Ann Packer. In Joy Fielding’s The Other Woman a pretty news producer (Josie Bisset) finds the tables turned on her when a femme fatale threatens to steal the husband she lured from his first wife. Jason Priestly stars as a friendly reporter determined to find the truth.

Gena Rowlands helps a nurse played by Lacey Chabert comes to grips with great grief, caused by the death of her father, in What If God Were the Sun, inspired by a book from medium John Edward. The Mermaid Chair, from a best-seller by Sue Monk Kidd, stars Kim Basinger as an empty-nester who discovers disturbing information about her family’s secretive past.

The 1989 mini-series Lonesome Dove caused such a sensation that the public cried out for more cowboy melodrama. Although Return to Lonesome Dove featured a very different cast than the original, it was able to replace it with such dependable actors as Jon Voight, Barbara Hershey, Louis Gossett, Jr., William Peterson, Oliver Reed, newcomer Reese Witherspoon and Rick Schroeder, who also played Newt Dobbs in the original. Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Larry McMurtry was credited only with inspiring the characters, but story was similar in its recollection of a difficult 2,500-mile mustang drive from Texas to Montana. A less successful TV series would follow. – Gary Dretzka

Be Sociable, Share!

2 Responses to “The DVD Wrap, A Single Man & others…”

  1. Bardzo fajnie napisane , lubię waszego bloga

  2. Dave Murril says:

    The culmination of over TWENTY years’ clinical practical experience, and containing the knowledge and insight accumulated by more than 15 authors, the new eighth OHCM release continues to be the definitive pocket-sized guidebook to the current clinical medicine.

Leonard Klady's Friday Estimates
Friday Screens % Chg Cume
Title Gross Thtr % Chgn Cume
Venom 33 4250 NEW 33
A Star is Born 15.7 3686 NEW 15.7
Smallfoot 3.5 4131 -46% 31.3
Night School 3.5 3019 -63% 37.9
The House Wirh a Clock in its Walls 1.8 3463 -43% 49.5
A Simple Favor 1 2408 -50% 46.6
The Nun 0.75 2264 -52% 111.5
Hell Fest 0.6 2297 -70% 7.4
Crazy Rich Asians 0.6 1466 -51% 167.6
The Predator 0.25 1643 -77% 49.3
Also Debuting
The Hate U Give 0.17 36
Shine 85,600 609
Exes Baggage 75,900 62
NOTA 71,300 138
96 61,600 62
Andhadhun 55,000 54
Afsar 45,400 33
Project Gutenberg 36,000 17
Love Yatri 22,300 41
Hello, Mrs. Money 22,200 37
Studio 54 5,300 1
Loving Pablo 4,200 15
3-Day Estimates Weekend % Chg Cume
No Good Dead 24.4 (11,230) NEW 24.4
Dolphin Tale 2 16.6 (4,540) NEW 16.6
Guardians of the Galaxy 7.9 (2,550) -23% 305.8
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 4.8 (1,630) -26% 181.1
The Drop 4.4 (5,480) NEW 4.4
Let's Be Cops 4.3 (1,570) -22% 73
If I Stay 4.0 (1,320) -28% 44.9
The November Man 2.8 (1,030) -36% 22.5
The Giver 2.5 (1,120) -26% 41.2
The Hundred-Foot Journey 2.5 (1,270) -21% 49.4