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DVD Reviews for 9/23: How Does It Feel?

By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 09/23/05 13:19:57

In which your faithful critic would like to take this opportunity to announce that he is completely 100% behind Kate Moss in her time of need and would have no problem with her modelling for this column whenever it is convenient.

I can understand why “Bob Dylan-No Direction Home” is basically bypassing theatrical distribution altogether (aside from a few festival appearances) and is making its debut instead on DVD and public television (where it will appear next week) despite the subject matter and the presence of Martin Scorsese as its director. The simple reality is that there isn’t really a viable theatrical market for four-hour long documentaries outside of the art-house market (as Scorsese learned with both “A Personal Journey through American Film” and “My Voyage to Italy,” his previous excursions into the form) while home video provides a more comfortable atmosphere for such a behemoth. It is kind of a shame, though, that most won’t get the chance to see it on the big screen because if it were to get theatrical distribution, it would likely rank high on every Ten Best Films list published this year. This is not just one of the year’s best films but one of the greatest rock films in the history of the cinema–I would rank it right up there with the likes of “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Pink Floyd The Wall,” “Chuck Berry: Hail Hail Rock and Roll” and Scorsese’s own “The Last Waltz.”

Utilizing a collection of incredible archival footage (much of which will be new to even the most ardent Dylan buff), contemporary interviews with friends and associates and an extensive 2001 interview with the man himself (speaking in a far more lucid and eloquent manner than many may be expecting), the film chronicles the life and career of Dylan from his humble Minnesota beginnings to his days on the folk music circuit to the period in which he outraged many devoted fans by allegedly forsaking folk by “going electric” and playing his increasingly hallucinatory compositions with a loud backing band. The first half looks at his ascension and gives a fascinating look at his early days in Hibbing, his worship of Woody Guthrie and his adventures as one of the bright lights of the folk scene. This is not a hagiography by any means–there are some grumbles about his attitude, his relentless to exaggerate and build up his own myth and his occasional tendency to pinch musical ideas (among other things) from his contemporaries. (Dave Von Ronk’s hilarious story of the controversy surrounding a version of “House of the Risisng Sun” that he arranged and which Dylan used is worth the purchase price by itself.)

The second half of the film is dedicated to his decision to move away from pure folk music into a more contemporary approach that stressed the personal over the political and was backed by an electrified rock band instead of just an acoustic guitar and harmonica. While many were inspired by Dylan’s new sound, just has many felt that he was betraying the cause and selling out to be just another pop star and did not hesitate to say so to anyone who would listen–there are numerous interviews with “fans” who deride his new approach and sound as if they would have been perfectly happy to keep him in a corner singing “Copper Kettle” and “What Side Are You One?” over and over again. Between those fans, one of whom infamously screams “Judas!” during a concert performance (Dylan’s response was an especially powerful rendition of “Like a Rolling Stone”), and the increasingly idiotic treatment that he gets from the press (some of the press conference questions that he is expected to answer are mind-boggling even by today’s dumbed-down journalistic standards), it is no wonder that Dylan would use his still-disputed 1966 motorcycle accident as an excuse to evade them entirely for several years.

As the American director who has done the most to fuse the worlds of rock music and cinema together over the years, Scorsese was a natural to helm the project and the resulting film, despite consisting almost entirely of found footage, is a work just as compelling and personal as anything he has done before. In a strange way, the film also works as an interesting companion piece to his recent Howard Hughes biopic “The Aviator.” Both dealt with small-town boys who literally revolutionized their fields in such a profound way that anyone who followed in their footsteps would be influenced by them to one degree or another. Both found themselves targets of those who found themselves threatened by the very changes that they wanted–needed in order to do what they did. Both also watched helpless as their lives became overwhelmed by the myths that surrounded them and discovered that when they tried to withdraw from the spotlight for good, those myths only grew stronger and stronger.

Of course, the difference between the two is that Howard Hughes never demonstrated any particular affinity with a six-string and a harmonica brace and one of the greatest joys of “Bob Dylan-No Direction Home” is to once again be immersed in some of the greatest music written and performed in the 20th century. Many of the songs here are heard in versions other than the famous ones that have been heard a million times before–we hear demo versions of songs like “Highway 61" with different arrangements and there is also a wealth of killer performance footage as well. (Several of these songs are seen in their entirety in a bonus section on the second disc.)

“Bob Dylan-No Direction Home” is a masterful film that works both as an informative look at both the life of a genuine American icon and the evolution of contemporary music. No matter whether you are the kind of stone Dylan fanatic who has followed him through questionable forays into the worlds of evangelical Christianity, Vegas-style pop and the Grateful Dead or you are the kind of novice who vaguely recognizes “All Along the Watchtower” because U2 recorded a version of it, this film is a fascinating document that is one of the essential DVDs of this or any other year.

Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Dave Von Ronk and Allen Ginsburg. 2005. 224 minutes. Unrated. A Paramount Home Entertainment release. $29.95




NEW AND NOTABLE

THE ADVENTURES OF SHARK BOY AND LAVA GIRL IN 3-D (Miramax Home Entertainment. $29.99): Seeing as how the three-dimensional effects in this kiddie film from Robert Rodriguez–a sub-“Spy Kids” romp in which a young kid helps a pair of pre-teen superheroes save the world–were hailed as the least-effective use of the process since “Disco Dolls in Hot Pants,” Miramax has thoughtfully included both the 3-D version (with glasses included) and a flat 2-D edition on the same disc–now those of us who suffered through it in the theater will finally be able to really see it for the first time.

AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): In between making waves in the art-house world for her 1989 black comedy “Sweetie” and striking Oscar gold with “The Piano,” Jane Campion made this undeniably effective epic-length biopic (originally a three-part miniseries) on the life of Janet Frame (played by three actresses, most notably by Kerry Fox), a woman who became New Zealand’s most celebrated author despite enduring eight years of commitment and over 200 bouts of electroshock after being misdiagnosed as schizophrenic as a child.

CARLITO’S WAY: ULTIMATE EDITION (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.95): I would certainly hope so since this is no less than the third version of Brian De Palma’s highly impressive 1993 gangster epic (which reunited him with “Scarface” star Al Pacino) that Universal has foisted on the public–this one clearly designed to hype the upcoming De Palma-free direct-to-video sequel coming out in a couple of weeks.

COWARDS BEND THE KNEE (Zeitgeist Video. $29.99): Another unclassifiable and unmissable oddity from Canadian surrealist Guy Maddin, this was a film was commissioned as part of an art installation and tells, in a style reminiscent of a silent movie, a convoluted story involving abortion, ghosts, unrequited love and hockey. Even stranger than the film itself are the claims that Maddin has made suggesting that this is his most autobiographical work to date.

CRIME STORY-SEASON TWO (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment.$39.98): The second and final season of Michael Mann’s brilliant and sadly short-lived Sixties-set cop show continues the obsessive efforts of a dedicated cop (Dennis Farina) out to bring down a top gangster (Anthony Denison) no matter what the personal or professional cost. Arguably the greatest cop show to ever appear on television.

DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Touchstone Home Entertainment. $59.99): You know, if you want to get technical, the gals on this jaw-droppingly popular soap aren’t really all that desperate. Skanky? Yes. Bitchy? Occasionally. Drunken and/or slutty? Enough to keep things interesting but “desperate”? I dunno. Of course, there are millions of fans who have no interest in such questions of semantics and they will thrill to this six-disc set containing every first-season episode, commentaries, interviews and even a bit on that infamous “Monday Night Football” controversy.

DOLLS (MGM Entertainment. $14.95): For anyone who has ever looked at an ordinary doll sitting on a shelf and gotten an inexplicable chill, this entertaining little horror film from Stuart Gordon (revered for “Re-Animator” and “From Beyond”) will prove once and for all that your fears are anything but unfounded.

INSIDE DEEP THROAT (Universal Home Entertainment. $27.98): For those who have no working general knowledge of the history of either the adult-film industry or the genre’s most (in)famous title, this documentary should prove to be an eye-opener. For those that do (and cultural/historical analyses of porn have become a popular study in recent years), the film will come off as a glib and shallow look at a subject that deserves an approach that is a little more penetrating–pun slightly intended.

THE LADY IN WHITE (MGM Home Entertainment. $14.95): One of those neat little horror gems that didn’t make a lot of noise in theaters but went on to become a cult favorite when it hit video and cable, this featured Lukas Haas as a young boy who sees a ghostly apparition while locked in a school cloakroom on Halloween and tries to uncover who she is and how she is connected to a mysterious string of local murders. Not gory, just creepy and atmospheric and a perfect Halloween treat a few weeks early.

THE LONGEST YARD (Paramount Home Entertainment. $29.95): I can think of only two funny things about this dismal remake of the 1974 Robert Aldrich semi-classic. The first is the idea of Adam Sandler playing a rough-and-tough NFL quarterback. The second is the review that Roger Ebert wrote where he tortured himself into giving it three stars because he already recommended it in an early review on his television show.

MAJOR DUNDEE: THE EXTENDED EDITION (Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment. $19.95):Not quite a director’s cut of Sam Peckinpah’s mutilated 1965 Western epic (since Peckinpah died in 1984, how could it be otherwise?), this version restores material to the central section of the story, in which an Army major (Charlton Heston) going slightly nuts while obsessively pursuing a band of Apaches, and comes closer to what the director originally intended before studio heads took it away from him and recut it on their own.

MALLRATS: 10TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION(Universal Home Entertainment. $26.98): Sure, I may be a Kevin Smith apologist (hell, I can even think of nice things to say about “Jersey Girl”)but I have always had a soft spot for his critically lambasted 1995 follow-up to “Clerks”–an unapologetically silly homage to old John Landis movies in which a group of slackers (including a debuting Jason Lee, a sleazy Ben Affleck and Shannen Doherty, whom I also have a soft spot for) raising hell in a mall over the course of one day. Anyone who complains about it being stupid can take this DVD (which features both the original cut, a 30-minute-longer version and the assortment of bells and whistles that fans of Smith’s films have come to expect) and stick it in a really uncomfortable place–not the back of a Volkswagen.

MASCULIN FEMININ (The Criterion Collection. $29.95): Although this 1966 effort from Jean-Luc Godard has not dated as well over time as many of the other masterworks (such as “Breathless,” “My Life to Live” and “Contempt”) that he cranked out with an astonishing regularity during the 1959-1967 period that marked the first section of his long and varied career, this ode to “the children of Marx and Coca-Cola” (following the turbulent relationship between a would-be radical journalist and a rising pop star) still has moments (particularly the scene in which the journalist cruelly “interviews” a beauty-pageant contestant) that are as memorable as anything that he has ever done. An interesting bridge between his early genre explorations and his later overtly political works, Criterion has put out a nice package that includes a restored print of the film, interviews (archival and contemporary) with many of those who worked on it and some fascinating behind-the-scenes footage of Godard in action culled from a Swedish television broadcast.

MINDHUNTERS (Dimension Home Video. $29.99): This convoluted serial-killer thriller may not be the stupidest film that Renny Harlin has ever been involved with but it sure comes close to scoring that booby prize. If you are planning to rent it because you are an obsessive Val Kilmer fanatic, let me gently say that you might want to skip over this one and save your money to go see “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” instead.

NAKED (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Although Mike Leigh would score far more popular triumphs with films like “Secrets and Lies” and “Topsy-Turvy,”this corrosive 1993 black comedy, in which David Thewlis dominates as an angry young drifter who cruelly mistreats and rejects all who cross his path during a long night on the streets of London, remains the best and bleakest work of his career. This two-disc set features a commentary track from Leigh, Thewlis and the late Katrin Cartlidge ported over from the laserdisc, an interview with Leigh, an interview with Neil LaBute discussing his admiration for the film and “The Short and Curlies,” an intriguing short that marked an earlier collaboration between Leigh and Thewlis.

THE OUTSIDERS (Warner Home Video. $26.99): Following in the heels of the “Godfather” films, “Apocalypse Now” and “One From the Heart,” Francis Coppola’s operatic 1983 adaptation of the beloved S.E. Hinton youth classic gets its own special edition with a new version adding 22 minutes of previously deleted scenes. Copppla also kicks in a commentary, as do many of the stars who got a big break from its success–Matt Dillon, C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio, Diane Lane and others.

OVER THE EDGE (Warner Home Video. $19.99): Of course, if you want to see a really good youth-gone-wild film with Matt Dillon (his debut performance in fact), you should check out this powerful 1979 rabble-rouser (which never got the distribution it deserved) about a planned community that has no idea what to do with its teenagers and the trouble that ensues when they finally rebel after their local hangout is shut down.

PANIC IN THE YEAR ZERO/THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (MGM Home Entertainment. $14.95): It’s the end of the world as we know it, two times over and for under $15 with this double-feature disc from the back catalogue of American-International Pictures. The former stars Ray Milland (who also directed) as an ordinary family man who tries to protect his family (including son Frankie Avalon) from the panic that strikes after a nuclear war. The latter is an adaptation of Richard Matheson’s classic story “I Am Legend” (which was later remade as “The Omega Man,” neither version to the author’s liking) starring Vincent Price as a survivor of a devastating plague who discovers that he may not be as alone as he thinks.

SCARY MOVIE 3.5 (Dimension Home Entertainment. $19.95): Another shameless attempt by Miramax to squeeze a few more bucks by releasing an “Unrated” edition of a movie that was already given a perfectly adequate DVD a year or so ago. If you haven’t picked it up already, however, you might want to give it a shot because it is by far the funniest of the “Scary Movie” franchise (not saying a lot) since it traffics more in silly “Airplane!”-style humor (courtesy of director David Zucker) than the coarse sex jokes of the previous installments. However, this is apparently a minority opinion so if you are planning to plagiarize a review of this film (as some guy at Brandeis University apparently did with my original review), you might want to cover your tracks by stealing from someone whose views fell in line with the majority of critics instead.

SPECIES COLLECTION (MGM Home Entertainment. $35.95):By “collection,” they really mean “one film that isn’t half-bad (the 1995 original, a charmingly cheesy B-movie romp with plenty of sex, blood and scenery-chewing from Ben “A Sound of Thunder” Kingsley and Forest Whitaker), one film that flat-out sucks (the useless 1998 “Species 2"), one film that no one saw because it went straight-to-video (2003's “Species 3") and a bonus disc that no one is likely to get around to in this lifetime”.

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