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Moriarty's DVD Shelf! Two Tons Of Reviews!

Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

August is almost here, and I’m just now finishing my second DVD column for the month. Part of the problem is that I don’t want to just knock these reviews out and give terse little three line reactions to things. Another part of the problem is that I am overwhelmed by the landslide of titles that seems to hit each week. As I prepare my list for August, it looks like a great month, but a potentially expensive month. Keep in mind... I’m not trying to put together a comprehensive list of everything that’s coming out. I’m just trying to figure out what I’m going to pick up. As always, it’s a mix of stuff I’ve seen and really like, nostalgia moviated purchases, things I think belong in my collection or that I’m giving a second chance, stuff I haven’t seen and am willing to take a chance on out of curiosity, and even things I think my wife might want for her shelf. To that end, this is what August looks like so far:

August 3

13 GOING ON 30


















August 10










August 17













August 24



FUTURAMA: Volume Four










August 31










One of the things I love about a month like this is the variety. There are classics next to total guilty pleasure trash next to TV collections next to new releases, and it’s that dizzying mix of stuff that really keeps me going. I mean... look at August 31st alone. THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST and VIDEODROME on the same day as FORBIDDEN ZONE and STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES? Now there’s an afternoon that would leave anyone feeling punch-drunk.

As I said last time, I’ve got my entire DVD collection set up at DVD Aficionado, a great site that I’ve enjoyed working with. With very few exceptions, I’ve been able to find all my titles in their archives. You can check it out right here if you’re curious, and I’ve made sure to point out what was purchased, what was sent as a screener, and what was a gift, since so many of your e-mails seemed to think that was so urgently important.

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It’s strange that Ralph Bakshi’s animated fantasy epic is tied in to STAR WARS in my mind, because listening to Bakshi speak on the audio commentary on this disc, they’re obviously linked in his mind as well. I just remember seeing the one-sheet for WIZARDS everytime I went to the Clearwater Six to see STAR WARS over the summer of ’77. I also remember asking my parents if we could go see it, intrigued by that start image of Peace, the red-clad assassin on the back of that strange beast. “No,” they said every time. “That’s a dirty film.”

Such is the reputation Bakshi developed for himself with controversial features like FRITZ THE CAT, COONSKIN, and HEAVY TRAFFIC. Even though the posters for WIZARDS clearly said that the film was rated PG, his name had already become synonymous with adult animation, and my folks wouldn’t even entertain the thought of taking me to see it. I didn’t catch up with the film until it hit laserdisc, and now Fox has put together a fairly nice (and nicely priced) special edition of the animated oddity.

The first thing I learned while watching the disc was that 20th Century Fox released WIZARDS a mere three weeks before STAR WARS, and when it became clear that the George Lucas-directed space opera was an instant phenomenon, Fox yanked WIZARDS and gave its screens to their new hit in order to build even more momentum. They promised to bring Bakshi’s film back later in the summer, but never got around to it. Bakshi’s one of those guys whose work has never pulled any punches, and his commentary certainly holds true to that tradition. As a result, this is a bracingly honest track, and enormously entertaining. It helps that he seems to love WIZARDS deeply, going so far as to say this is the only one of his movies for which he ever wants to do a commentary. He waxes on about the various artists who worked with him on his films, why he chose the various filmmaking techniques that he combined to such striking effect, and his feelings about the state of the art of animation now and when he made the film.

There’s also a featurette called “Ralph Bakshi: The Wizard Of Animation,” a half-hour look at Bakshi’s evolution as an artist that goes all the way back to his days at Terrytoons. Even though I’ve been fascinated by him for a while, there was a lot of material covered here that I’d never heard or read before, and it should prove inspirational to anyone who wants to work in animation or, indeed, any creative medium. Bakshi bullied his way into any opportunities he ever had, and I think balls counted as much as ability in his case. He doesn’t seem to have ever waited for anyone to give him anything, a valuable lesson that can still work today if you can back up your bluster.

And... oh, yeah... there’s a movie on the DVD, too. Even Bakshi sounds surprised by the quality of the visual transfer here. It’s as good as I imagine WIZARDS is ever going to look, and the stereo track’s been faithfully reproduced. This isn’t a particularly subtle film, but it’s a lot of fun, a post-apocalyptic fantasy film set long after the destruction of Earth. Good and evil are represented by two brothers. Avatar is like a miniature version of Gandalf, but with a perpetual hard-on and the soul of Groucho Marx. He rules Montagar with absolute benevolence, enjoying a relaxed life surrounded by elves and fairies. Meanwhile, Blackwolf is the opposite of his brother, tall and skeletal and completely consumed with power for its own sake. His minions in Scortch are twisted and mutated, awful mindless creatures. The two brothers have fought before, but years of uneasy peace come to an end when Blackwolf finds some old Nazi propaganda films, the secret he needs to whip his mindless masses into a frenzy so they can defeat Montagar.

What unfolds won’t really surprise any fan of the genre or the director. There’s a preposterously hot Princess, an elf warrior, a mysterious assassin, and a healthy dose of the absurd, vaguely raunchy sense of humor that marks all of Bakshi’s work. The scenes where Bakshi uses real Nazi films as a backdrop for his fantasy war are chilling, and he does make the points he tries to make about technology versus nature, obvious as they are. There’s not a moment of blatant symbolism that Bakshi is willing to skip, but by jampacking the film, he keeps it all so interesting that it remains fun even in its heaviest moments. For fans of animations that doesn’t have the name “Disney” stamped across it, WIZARDS is a sure bet.



If you want to fully appreciate the precision of Charlize Theron’s ferocious Academy Award-winning performance in MONSTER, then make sure you watch Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill’s documentary that’s being sold bundled with it. This was actually the second time Broomfield made a film about Aileen Wuronos, and it’s a tough movie to watch. Made during the last days of her life, as the demands of death row pushed her further and further into madness, the film is a haunting portrait of desperation and resignation. Wuronos, of course, was convicted on multiple counts of murder and sentenced to death in Florida, and the media made quite a bit out of her being the first female serial killer. By the strictest definition, that may be true, but she was hardly what you think of when you hear the term. I don’t get the feeling that she killed for thrills or to satisfy some bizarre sexual pathology. Instead, she seems like someone who turned to the sex trade early in life, someone who never felt like she was connected socially, someone who felt both victimized and empowered by working as a hooker. When she turned to violence, it was like her final rejection of the basic moral contract that holds us all together, a near-primal expression of rage that simply accelerated beyond her control.

For whatever reason, Wuronos trusted Broomfield above any other reporter, and that trust translated into access. Even in the worst moments of her dementia, she was willing to sit and speak to the cameras, slingshotting between absolute assertations of innocence and cold-blooded confirmations of guilt. Her final interview, granted just hours before her death, is grim and unforgettable, and even if Broomfield’s movie isn’t a great film, Wuronos herself is nothing less than mesmerizing.

If MONSTER was only about Charlize Theron’s impossibly precise recreation of Wuronos, that might be reason enough to see the movie. Writer/director Patty Jenkins reached deeper, though, and created something quite affecting. She chose to hang her film on the relationship between Aileen and “Selby Wall,” played by Christina Ricci. Wall’s a fictionalized version of the real woman Aileen was seeing when she was arrested, and I have a feeling Jenkins has romanticized the events between the women in order to show how heartbreaking Wuronos’s ultimate fate is, but that’s fine. The film’s got a serious emotional weight to it, and Jenkins never softpedals the awful nature of Wuronos’s crimes. She also doesn’t make the mistake of trying to justify the crimes or excuse them. The film’s not an apology. It’s just an unblinking look into the face of someone society never saw until it was too late. It’ll stick with you, and it’s a major announcement for Jenkins as a talent, and for Theron as an actress truly worthy of respect.


Anyone who listens to Howard Stern’s show on a regular basis has heard the song that has become the theme for Robin’s news segments every day, an exuberant falsetto off-key voice singing, “Hey, how’s your news?/Would you like to sing our tune?/Would you like to chase your blues away?” Or maybe you’ve heard the equally sincere song memorializing Las Vegas and someone named Jennifer Halliwell. Although I thought Stern still seemed to know the music, but not the movie, the TalkBackers assure me that he's familiar with it. Now, finally, those of us who didn't get to see it at a festival can become familiar with it, too.

Someone needs to send him a copy of Shout! Factory’s new release of this remarkable documentary by Arthur Bradford. It’s a subversive and smart celebration of humanity in all its forms, and I would imagine it’s unlike any other film you’ve ever seen. What began as a project at Camp Jabberwocky, a summer camp for disabled adults, became a life-changing experience for five lucky campers. Bradford, who comes across as this impossibly nice guy in an excerpt from SPLIT SCREEN (John Pierson’s IFC show about indie cinema), defends his film quite eloquently in this special feature.

”People want to look at people who are different. That’s a natural urge. This film invites you to not only look closely at them, but to get to know them as people.” You’d have to be a hard-hearted jackass to not respond to the exuberance of these folks as they take a road trip from New England to Los Angeles. The reporters are Susan, Ronnie, Larry, Bobby, and Sean, and they’re all very different from one another, each with varying degrees of physical or mental disabilities. Susan seems to be the most outgoing member of the team, willing to talk to anyone about anything and utterly unflappable, no matter how foul the mood of the person she’s trying to talk to. Ronnie deserves a job with E! Channel or ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT, where he could do interviews with cult TV figures like his idol, Chad Everett, or where he could randomly act out TV scenes with people on the street. He’s hilariously sweet-natured, as exuberant as Sean is shy. Bobby speaks in an impossible to decipher stream of babble that elicits some wonderful reactions from people. And then there’s Larry. I’m sorry I didn’t think to ask Matt and Trey if Larry was the inspiration for SOUTH PARK’s Timmah, because I think one could make that case pretty easily. He can’t talk, and he can barely control his body, but there’s something immediately appealing about the way he confronts people, determined to make contact with them on his own terms.

Some people might see the names Trey Parker and Matt Stone on this film (they executive produced it) and automatically think that there’s some sort of ridicule going on here. Not true at all. The extras on this disc are amazingly extensive, and show where the idea began, how it evolved, and just what effect the project has had on the lives of its stars. You’ll see footage of the cast appearing at film festivals around the world, and at a live HOW’S YOUR NEWS? concert. The entire cast takes part in a one-of-a-kind audio commentary during the film. The original pilot, turned down by many festivals because they weren’t sure if they were allowed to laugh or not, is also included, as well as that episode of John Pierson’s SPLIT SCREEN I mentioned earlier.

Best of all are the two extra features interviews. Susan and Sean interview Matt and Trey, and the guys can barely contain their delight at finally being able to interact with the reporters. Then there’s the footage of Ronnie finally meeting Chad Everett. You might laugh at first about that particular choice of celebrity to obsess over, but Ronnie spent most of his childhood in hospitals, and watching TV shows about doctors was one of the primary ways he coped with the loneliness and the fear. MEDICAL CENTER was pivotal for him, and he’s remained a fan of Everett’s all these years. They’re finally brought together on a beach in California, and it’s both deeply moving and uproariously funny at the same time. HOW’S YOUR NEWS? is a minor landmark and another triumphant DVD release for the team at Shout! Factory.



Both of these titles picked up a fair amount of buzz on the festival circuit, and I understand to some extent. STEP INTO LIQUID has some amazing visual moments, surf footage from around the world that can be quite compelling at times. And THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND does its best to illuminate a particular part of recent radical American history in a fresh way. In both cases, though, the films ultimately come up short, and that may be because the filmmakers were content to skim the surface of their subjects.

Artisan’s DVD for STEP INTO LIQUID is a knockout in terms of sound and picture, and any fan of the surfing documentary subgenre defined a quarter of a century ago by THE ENDLESS SUMMER will find something to like here, no doubt. Overall, though, the film feels aimless, amiable without really saying anything new about the subject. Dana Brown’s managed to capture some incredible moments, and maybe that’s apt. Surfers seem to spend their lives pursuing those perfect moments, willing to put up with any amount of tedium or hardship in-between, so maybe that’s enough for a film like this. There’s a commentary, a ton of deleted scenes, a featurette about the making of a surfboard, another featurette about the way some of those amazing moments were filmed, and then the biggest and the best special feature of all... a second disc featuring a high-definition transfer of the film, which you can play on your PC in Microsoft Windows Media High-Def. It’s a pretty amazing transfer, and even if you don’t buy the film, it’s worth a rental so you can take a peek.

I know THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, and I certainly wanted to like it. The Weathermen are a fascinating footnote in the turbulent story of the ‘60’s and the ‘70’s, a radical student militant group that bombed government and commercial targets all over the U.S. in a concentrated effort to overthrow what they saw as institutionalized American injustice. Using new interviews with many of the Weathermen as well as a ton of rare archival footage, directors Sam Green and Bill Siegel have done an impressive job of piecing together a timeline, but I can’t help but feel that the film as a whole is too detached, too hands-off. These crimes were shocking, even in the context of the times, but Green and Siegel seem perfectly happy to let the Weathermen justify their behavior while doing their best to demonize the law enforcement officers who tried to stop them. Yes... there were some ghastly mistakes made in the pursuit of justice, but that hardly makes the Weathermen romantic or heroic. They were domestic terrorists, and their tactics seem deplorable, no matter what the rationale behind them. I haven’t had the stomach to listen to the commentary by Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers, both former members of the Weathermen. There’s also a commentary by the filmmakers as well as a second short documentary about David Gilbert, another former member of the group, and an excerpt from UNDERGROUND, a vintage documentary about them. The disc is certainly up to the high standards established by Docurama on all their discs, even if the film itself is one-sided and frustrating.


Funniest movie this year. That’s probably not the reaction Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber were trying to elicit with this story of fate and its fickle nature, but something about the over-the-top darkness of the film set me off, and I wasn’t able to take it seriously after a certain point. Which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it. I did... just in a different way than was probably intended.

I’ll say this about the film: it’s ambitious. Bress and Gruber are the guys who wrote FINAL DESTINATION 2, and they seem to really enjoy writing movies where you don’t have a conventional bad guy. In this film, Ashton Kutcher plays Evan, a young man with a history of trouble. The film opens with him in a mental hospital, locking himself into an office and opening a notebook. As he frantically reads from it, the text begins to shake, and we’re transported back to his childhood, where the film begins.

It’s not fair to really get into the way the plot works, because the effectiveness of a film like this largely depends largely upon the kick of discovery. The short version is that Evan learns he has the ability to change his own past using the journals he’s kept since childhood. Comes in kind of handy, too, since pretty much every tragedy that could befall someone happens to him. Child molestation, burnt dogs, exploding babies, missing limbs, catatonic teenagers, violent stalker brothers and more all stack up against him and his friends, and every time Evan travels back to try and fix things, they just seem to get worse. There’s one moment where he appears to have landed on the Planet of the Hot Sorority Girls, but he even manages to fuck that one up. By the end of the film, Bress and Gruber have one final nasty trick up their sleeves... or, at least, they do in the director’s cut, which is the one I watched. It’s a bleak conclusion, but it makes perfect sense after everything that’s come before, and I admire the writer/directors for the courage of their convictions.

I’ll also say that Ashton Kutcher does a better job than most people would want to admit. I don’t know what sort of range he has, but he does a good job here. Amy Smart tries her best with a role that asks a lot of her, but the darkest aspects of her character never quite ring true. On the other hand, Melora Walters, Eldon Henson, and Ethan Suplee all do solid work. Eric Stoltz plays the film’s scummiest role, and he almost seems to relish being a total prick.

New Line’s done a tremendous job putting together this Infinifilm edition of the movie, and it never fails to amaze me how they routinely create better DVDs for their most forgettable releases than other studios do for their very best films. Sound and picture quality is superb. In addition to two versions of the film (the original theatrical cut is definitely the weaker of the two), there’s a commentary by the filmmakers, featurettes about the science and psychology of the chaos theory and time travel, the special effects of the film, and the making of the movie. There’s also a ton of DVD-ROM content, and for any fan of the movie, it’s a tremendous overall package.


Sometimes, simplicity can be more powerful than anything else. Such is the case with this remarkable film by the brother team, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. I can understand why Olivier Gourmet won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival in 2002, but this is really a duet between Gourmet and Morgan Marinne, a young actor who does exceptional work as well. One of the most striking choices in the film is the way no score was used. Instead, a completely naturalistic soundtrack was constructed by Jean-Pierre Duret, Benoit de Clerck, and Thomas Gauder, and it’s beautifully reproduced on this New Yorker Video release, as is the confident, controlled cinematography of Alain Marcoen. Being so stripped down works to really focus you on what matters: the characters.

Olivier is a carpentry master at a vocational training center, and at the start of the film, he’s freaking out. Something’s got him distracted, and it takes a while before the directors clue us in about what’s going on. There’s a kid who has applied to the school, a 16-year-old named Francis (played by Marinne), who seems to have some kind of connection to Olivier. Olivier’s drawn to the boy, but he’s also obviously filled with rage and self-loathing, and when he tells his ex-wife Magali (Isabella Soupart) about encountering the boy, she practically implodes. This film is all about the slow burn, and the way it finally reveals all of its secrets is just masterful.

Ultimately, the film is about coping with sorrow and trying to figure out how to continue after being dealt a crippling emotional blow. Gourmet’s performance is a masterful example of how to simmer. What’s most impressive about his work with Marinne is the way neither of them ever goes over the top, which would be very easy with this sort of emotional material. Marinne’s role is largely reactive, but he delivers on every moment he has to. The Dardenne Brothers are incredibly controlled as filmmakers, and there are moments in the film that are crushingly difficult to watch. That’s because they drop you right into the middle of the events. They make this a deeply personal experience, one that anyone should be able to relate to on a human level. The disc isn’t exactly packed with extras, but there’s an interview with Gourmet, and another with the Dardennes, and both are worth checking out. This is one of those DVDs where the extras aren’t the point, and it’s plenty rewarding for the film itself.


What a gem. This is a title I’ve always been aware of as a footnote in the film career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and when it came out a few weeks ago, I picked it up out of idle curiosity. Turns out, this is one of the most charming films in the career of Bob Rafelson, jam-packed with great character performances by Jeff Bridges, Sally Field, Robert Englund, R.G. Armstrong, Joe Spinell, and the Governator himself. This is one of those movies people mean when they talk about how the ‘70’s were generally better for character-driven cinema, and discovering it, even at this late date, is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

Based on a novel by Charles Gaines, who also co-wrote the screenplay, the film is set in Birmingham, Alabama, but it’s not what you’d think of as a typical Southern story. Craig Blake (Bridges) is a slightly spoiled son from an extended wealthy family, and as the film begins, he’s working with a group of other wealthy young men to buy up a parcel of real estate as part of a development scheme designed to make them even wealthier. They’re soft, smarmy, pampered, and Jeff Bridges is great at this kind of role. He’s the only one who hasn’t closed his part of the deal yet, and his partners pressure him to hurry up. His target: Thor Erickson (Armstrong), owner of a low-rent gym right in the middle of the parcel of land they’re snapping up. What begins as a business deal turns into an eye-opening experience for Bridges as he’s introduced to a whole sub-culture of people who form a sort of ramshackle family around the gym. There’s a hopeful Mr. Universe named Joe Santo (Schwarzenegger) who’s training at the gym. Fans of Robert Englund’s horror films should be both surprised and delighted by his work here as Franklin, the gym’s main trainer. Anyone who grew up watching MAGNUM P.I. is going to love Roger E. Mosley’s hilarious work as Newton, the gym’s masseur. There’s Armstrong himself, sleazy on a level you can’t help but be entertained by as he wrestles with a miserable hairpiece and his fading dignity.

And then there’s the relationship that has the most direct impact on Craig, the one he strikes up with Mary Tate Farnsworth (Field in one of her first adult roles), a gymnast who occasionally dates Joe. She’s unlike any of the society girls he’s ever met, brimming over with a brash energy that he’s immediately attracted to. Their relationship is an immediate scandal, and even his family’s longtime butler William (played memorably by the always-great Scatman Crothers) quits in disgust. Craig doesn’t care, though. He starts to become his own person for the first time in his life, and ultimately, he’s faced with some hard choices about who he wants to be.

The movie’s overstuffed with great moments, funny and sexy and completely in love with every oddball character it throws at us. In particular, I’m impressed by Schwarzenegger’s work here as Joe Santo, and it makes me wonder what his career could have been if he’d been offered more character work instead of action leads. He’s got a centered, charismatic presence here, and you could argue that he’s the soul of the film. Special mention’s also got to be made again of Armstrong, who goes shithouse rat crazy in the film’s most memorable sequence, a night of debauchery that leads to one hell of a fight scene between him and Bridges. Rafelson makes it all look effortless, too, which is what made all the great ‘70’s films so great. You feel like what you’re watching is just happening, unfolding naturally without being overthought or manufactured. Rafelson does a great introduction on the disc where he talks about how he first found the Gaines novel and what his feelings were that led him to make the movie. I’m looking forward to watching the film again so I can listen to the audio commentary with Bridges, Field, and Rafelson together. MGM/UA did a nice job on the anamorphic transfer, and even though the film was made in 1975, it looks brand new. This one was under my radar. I’m betting it’s been under yours, as well. Fix that and check out STAY HUNGRY. It’s guaranteed to fully satisfy.


Another of the recent film noir releases from Warner Bros., this is probably the most atypical of the bunch, and it may have the coolest commentary track out of all five of the titles. THE SET-UP unfolds in real time on a Wednesday night in New York. Fight Night. Stoker Thompson (Robert Ryan) is a career boxer who should have been counted out a long time ago. Trouble is, his heart hasn’t gotten the message yet, even if his body has. His wife, played by Audrey Totter, can barely watch him when he gets in the ring at this point, and she’s putting every bit of pressure on him she can to stop.

Over the course of the 72 minutes of the film, a stark morality tale plays out. Stoker’s cornermen have promised the local mob boss that he’ll take a dive, but no one bothers to tell Stoker. One by one, the fights on the card ahead of him unfold, and we meet a rich parade of characters, both in and out of the ring. Director Robert Wise handles the dramatic material just as well as he handles the fights themselves, and it’s easy to see the influence that this film has had on boxing films in the decades since. The way the film ultimately wraps up is surprising and powerful, and the screenplay by Art Cohn (based on, of all things, a poem by Joseph Moncure March) carefully walks the line between realism and melodrama.

One of the films most obviously influenced by THE SET-UP in terms of how to shoot a fight scene is Martin Scorsese’s classic RAGING BULL, so it’s wonderful to be able to listen to both Scorsese and Wise on the commentary track. There are very few people I enjoy listening to talk about film more than Scorcese. His love of cinema is absolutely infectious, and when he talks about screening a 35mm print of this film for the cast and crew of THE AVIATOR, his genuine enthusiasm for the film is clear. It doesn’t sound like Wise and Scorsese were recorded together, so they just alternate, with Scorsese getting the lion’s share of the running time. As much as I admire and respect Wise, most of his commentary is taken up with griping about how modern movies are no good and how miserable RKO was to work for. Scorsese’s comments are much more incisive about the film, its portrayal of New York, and film theory in general.

The disc looks and sounds as good as any presentation of the film could hope for, and it goes a long way towards proving THE SET-UP’s place as a minor classic.


”Buy the ticket. Take the ride.” That’s the quote across the front of this independently released DVD documentary about the legendary father of gonzo journalism, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, and if there’s any lesson you’ll learn from director Wayne Ewing’s film, it’s that every single day with Thompson is indeed a ride. Age hasn’t mellowed him one little bit, and I’m not sure how Ewing ever talked his way into this kind of access. It’s like asking a hungry grizzly bear to let you get close to it while smeared in bacon fat; you know you’re going to get mauled, but you’re just not sure when.

The film covers several years in the life of Thompson, and Ewing’s not interested in telling one chronological story. Instead, he hops forward and backward in time, creating a portrait by showing how the world at large reacts to this oversized personality that still knows no fear about anything. Check out that picture above, where Hunter’s driving down Sunset Blvd., just a few blocks from my house, swilling bourbon the entire time. The opening scene features Hunter at an appearance he made at the Viper Room. As soon as he starts talking to the audience, a question irritates him so much that he orders the person who asked it (who turns out to be Mark Ebner, one of the co-authors of Harry’s book) be thrown out of the club. Hunter have much patience with anyone, and it seems that people break down into two groups around him. There are those who are entertained by Hunter, and those who run screaming because they just can’t handle it. Anyone who followed the development of the film version of FEAR & LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS remembers all the false starts that plagued the process. Wanna know why it was so tough? Take a look at the scenes where Alex Cox and his co-writer show up at Owl Farm, Thompson’s home in Aspen, to discuss their plans for the film with him. One mention of the possibility of using animation to bring Ralph Steadman’s classic illustrations to life and Hunter turns on them like a cornered animal. He reduces both of them to tears before throwing them out of his house and off the film. Even once Terry Gilliam’s actually shooting the film, he looks nervous as hell when Hunter comes to visit.

The disc does more than play up Hunter’s crazy side, though. It also celebrates how enduring his abilities as a writer truly are. P.J. O’Rourke serves as a major presence in the extra features, another ROLLING STONE survivor, and he makes an excellent foil for Hunter as they read from his work and discuss the origins of it. There are also a number of other recognizable faces who show up to pay homage, like Johnny Depp, John Cusack, Don Johnson, Benecio Del Toro, and the late, great Warren Zevon. Bottom line: if you count yourself among Hunter’s legion of fans, this belongs on your shelf right next to the Criterion DVD release of FEAR & LOATHING. You can order it directly from the producers at their website.


Another outstanding Blue Underground release, this is a picture I’ve heard about over the years, but which I’d never had the opportunity to see until now. Made right after CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS, this was a step up for producer/director Bob Clark and screenwriter Alan Ormsby. It also deserves a place in the cult movie pantheon because it was the first film to feature make-up effects by the great Tom Savini. Basically, it’s a clever riff on Kipling’s “The Monkey’s Paw,” and it must have felt particularly timely when it was released in 1974. Andy (Richard Backus) is killed in combat in Vietnam, and when his family gets the news, his mother (Lynn Carlin) takes it particularly hard. She refuses to accept it, and her sheer force of will drags Andy out of his shallow Asian grave, calling him home. His arrival is a mixed blessing, though, since Andy doesn’t seem quite right. For a while, the film plays as a metaphor for how disconnected veterans felt when they got home, how changed they were by what they’d seen and experienced.

And then Andy starts drinking blood.

The last third of the film is pretty much an overt horror movie, and in a way, it loses power as a result. The fact that it’s as effective as it is seems to almost come as a surprise to Ormsby as he rewatches the film during his audio commentary. I got a chance to know Alan during my days at Dave’s Video, and he always struck me as incredibly self-aware and intelligent, harboring no illusions about his work. He comes across the same way here, proud of the things that work, but unafraid to discuss the things he thinks are wrong with it. He’s willing to hand out compliments to everyone, but he takes some sharp, sarcastic jabs at the film’s cinematographer, Jack McGowan, as well as at his own acting during his brief cameo. Probably the most fun stuff on the commentary involves his memories of working with Tom Savini. Ormsby shared make-up duties with Savini on the film, and they were obviously kindred spirits, delighted to be able to figure out the various gore gags, two monster kids geeking out on all the fun they were having. The Bob Clark commentary, sorry to say, isn’t half as much fun. He just doesn’t seem to have much to talk about. There are a couple of cool featurettes, including one about Savini’s early work, and a smattering of other extras, all presented with the same aplomb that Blue Underground seems to bring to every one of their releases. They’re rapidly becoming one of the best cult labels around, challenging Anchor Bay’s one-time dominance on the market...


... and this disc is a perfect example of that. Lucio Fulci, like many Italian genre filmmakers, tried his hand at a number of filmic styles over the course of his career, including spaghetti westerns, giallo thrillers, and gangster films. Today, though, he’s probably best known for his gore films like HOUSE BY THE CEMETARY, GATES OF HELL, THE BEYOND, and, of course, 1979’s ZOMBIE, which made his reputation. Personally, I think his best film is THE PSYCHIC, one hell of a good suspense piece, and I hope Blue Underground turns their attention to that title soon since they seem to be on a Fulci kick right now. I’ll give them this... ZOMBIE has never looked this good before.

Many people label this film a knock-off of George Romero’s DEAD series, but that’s really not fair. This has more in common with the traditional voodoo origin of zombies than with Romero’s world. There are some great ideas here, and even if the film is marred by a number of lousy performances in pretty much every major role (including wooden work by Tisa Farrow, Mia’s look-alike sister), horror fans will appreciate...

... aw, hell, I’m working really hard to sound serious about this, when all I really want to say is ZOMBIE VERSUS SHARK! ZOMBIE VERSUS SHARK! ZOMBIE VERSUS SHARK! ZOMBIE VERSUS SHARK!

Yes, there are some great scenes in New York onboard a boat that make the most of a brief location shoot, and there’s some gnarly gore on the island that serves as the setting for most of the movie, and there’s even a bit of nudity that feels like a calculated game of one-upsmanship in response to Jaqueline Bisset’s iconic appearance in THE DEEP. But above and beyond any of that... ZOMBIE VERSUS SHARK! ZOMBIE VERSUS SHARK! ZOMBIE VERSUS SHARK! ZOMBIE VERSUS SHARK!

What more reason to buy a DVD could anyone need?


I’m a fan of espionage fiction, whether it be realistic or pulpy, and I was raised on a steady diet of spy cinema by my father. He introduced me to the particular pleasures of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels (those new Penguin paperback reissues are f’ing awesome), and as much as I admire the Connery run of the films, they still don’t quite match the hard, brutal edge of the books. Oddly, Doug Liman managed to make a film that finally captures the aesthetic I’ve always wanted from the Bond series by largely ignoring the Robert Ludlum book it was based on. Tony Gilroy’s screenplay is a smart, taut piece of writing that gives the entire cast great material to play. Matt Damon is the perfect lead for the film, a thinking-man’s action hero struggling to be a good man despite being hard-wired as a cold-blooded killer. Franka Potente is equally well-cast as his unlikely love interest, injecting some recognizable humanity into the action genre and grounding things in a flesh-and-blood reality. Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, and Clive Owen all make strong impressions in their roles, maximizing their screen time with precise character work. OZ fans have got to love seeing Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as the diplomat who may be Bourne’s forgotten target. Even Julia Stiles, who normally sends me running for the door, gives a solid performance as the Paris liason for Treadstone, the covert op that created Bourne in the first place.

What distinguishes this from most action films is the way the action all seems to be an extension of the characters instead of just an excuse for explosions and stunts. The fights are fast, bone-crunching, and Bourne seems as surprised by these blistering bursts of violence as we are. The mini-Cooper chase is a classic, impeccably shot and edited. Even a simple scene like Bourne facing Clive Owen in the field outside an isolated farmhouse has more impact than the most grandly-staged Bruckheimer extravaganza because of how invested we are in what’s going on. I can’t believe it’s taken Liman so long to get another action film off the ground (MR. AND MRS. SMITH is due out next year, I believe), based on how good this film is.

Then again, Liman is noticeably absent from all of this disc’s extra features, and there’s no commentary here for him to talk about the various difficulties during production. He clashed famously with Universal over the movie, and despite being listed as an executive producer on the sequel, there’s not even a mention of him in the numerous features on this new “Explosive Extended Edition” DVD. This is certainly a double-dip, and if you’ve got Universal’s original release of the film, there was nothing wrong with that disc. Still, the new anamorphic transfer here is crisp and the Dolby 5.1 mix is impressive. The production featurettes are entertaining, but maddeningly brief. I don’t think one of them times out over five minutes. Probably the most interesting thing included is the presentation of the alternate opening and ending for the film, along with the explanation about why they were created in the first place. Frank Marshall speaks frankly about the chilling effect of 9/11 on Hollywood, and Tony Gilroy describes the fear that set in as people became sure they would have to stop making conventional action films altogether. I’m glad they didn’t use the opening and closing they shot, but they show some serious thought on the part of the filmmakers. That same level of care and consideration obviously went into every aspect of the movie, making THE BOURNE IDENTITY a welcome addition to any action fan’s collection.

And that’s it for me this time. I’m still just chipping away at the stack of stuff I want to write about. I’m going to do one column just about TV shows on DVD in the next couple of weeks, another about some essential titles that belong on any shelf, and I’ll also try to keep up with the tidal wave of new and catalog releases that continues to pour into stores every week. Right now, I’m going to get my MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE review ready and then head off for a midnight show of M. Night Shyamalan’s THE VILLAGE, which I’ll review first thing in the morning. Until then...

"Moriarty" out.

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