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DVD Reviews for 10/6: The Stuff DVD Dreams Are Made Of

by Peter Sobczynski

In which your faithful critic finds himself engrossed in a collection honoring one of the all-time great movie stars, yet still finds the time to check out the latest releases from De Palma, Godard and Ratner.

Although I have had virtually no use whatsoever for those increasingly insipid Top 100 lists put out each year by the American Film Institute–they are little more than publicity gimmicks done to raise the profile of the AFI (via the 3-hour network specials of familiar clips and inane commentary) and increase demand for studio catalogue product–it is impossible to disagree with their naming of Humphrey Bogart as the top male movie star of all time. More than a half-century after his death, he still lives on the consciousness of moviegoers around the world as the smart, tough and funny voice of reason who specialized in outwardly cynical characters whose innate sense of right and wrong would invariably kick in when the chips were down. If you desire further proof of this–and if you do, what is your problem?–you should immediately avail yourself of the indispensable “Humphrey Bogart: The Signature Collection Volume 2,” a seven disc set containing one undisputed classic and four other titles which, although perhaps not as familiar as “Casablanca” or “The African Queen,” still provide more excitement and entertainment than virtually anything else currently playing.

The centerpiece of the set–and the only one that is also available separately–is “The Maltese Falcon,” the 1941 film that made Bogart a top-level star, launched the career of debuting director John Huston and became an instant classic of the mystery genre. As perfect as Bogart seems in the role of private eye Sam Spade, who is hot on the trail of a mysterious statue that many are willing to do anything for (including Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Elisha Cook Jr.), it is strange to realize that he only got the role when George Raft, a more popular actor at the time, turned it down. This is but one of the many nuggets of information to be had on the three discs dedicated to the film. The first contains an informative commentary track from Bogart biographer Eric Lax and a collection of short subjects (including a Porky Pig cartoon that appears to have been weirdly remixed into 5.1 stereo). Disc 2 features two earlier film versions of the same story–1931's “The Maltese Falcon” (a relatively serious effort with Ricardo Cortez and Bebe Daniels in the Bogart/Astor roles) and 1936's “Satan Met a Lady” (a more comedic spin with Warren William being blown off the screen by Bette Davis). Disc 3 finds a documentary on the making of the film, a second documentary that charts Bogart’s pre–“Maltese Falcon” career through the trailers of his early films, a Warner Brothers blooper reel from 1941 that shows that even the biggest stars back then flubbed things up from time to time and no less than 3 radio adaptations of the film, including one starring Edward G. Robinson.

Most of the key players from “The Maltese Falcon”–Bogart, Huston, Astor, Greenstreet–reunited a year later for the wartime thriller “Across the Pacific.” In this modestly entertaining film, Bogart plays a spy trying to protect the Panama Canal from sabotage while making time to flirt with Astor. The bonus features here include another collection of short subjects that might have been seen in 1942, another blooper reel and a short featurette on how Hollywood pitched in with the war effort in the early days of the U.S. participation in WW II.

Perhaps my favorite non-“Falcon” film in this set, 1942's “All Through The Night” is an atypical Bogart effort that mixes the crime and war genres with a heady dash of screwball comedy. Here, Bogart plays a Damon Runyonesque fight promoter whose investigation into the murder of the man who made his favorite cheesecake leads him and his cohorts (including Jackie Gleason, Phil Silvers and William Demarest) into a plot involving Nazi spies in New York. Silly and inconsequential but completely entertaining, this film allows us to see a lighter side of Bogart’s persona that wasn’t always evident in his other films. This disc features a commentary that includes the film’s director, the recently deceased Vincent Sherman, and Eric Lax, more newsreels, cartoons and shorts (including a hilarious one about trying to quit smoking) and a new documentary short on the Warner Brothers stable of character actors, many of who pop up in the film.

1943's “Action in the North Atlantic” is probably the least consequential title in the set because the film itself was little more than propaganda for the Merchant Marines–they even reportedly used it as a training film for a time–in which Bogart and captain Raymond Massey spend a couple of hours matching wits with the German war machine. The extras here include another collection of shorts and a radio adaptation–ironically, while Massey still plays his part, the Bogart role is portrayed by none other than George Raft.

As “Across the Pacific” was an attempt to replicate the magic of “The Maltese Falcon,” 1944's “Passage to Marseilles” tried to do the same to the previous year’s “Casablanca” by reuniting director Michael Curtiz and stars Bogart, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Claude Rains for a film in which Bogart portrayed real-life French patriot Jean Matrac, who escaped from the infamous Devil’s Island prison and became a hero in the French Air Corps. Perhaps the most famous thing about the film is the controversy that erupted regarding a still-startling scene in which Matrac gets bloody revenge on the relatively helpless of a German plane that crashed while attacking the freighter he was riding on–censor groups protested that it made soldiers look bad but it is a moment of genuine power that feels far more realistic than anything else on display. This disc compiles some more short subjects, a short documentary on the Free French movement that Matrac was a part of and the 1944 Warner Brothers blooper reel.

HUMPHREY BOGART: THE SIGNATURE COLLECTION VOLUME 2: A Warner Home Video release. $59.99.

THE MALTESE FALCON: Written and directed by John Huston. Starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet and Elisha Cooke Jr. 1941. Unrated. 100 Minutes. A Warner Home Video release. $29.99.

NEW AND NOTABLE

ALLEY TRAMP/OVER 18 . . . AND READY (Something Weird Video. $19.99): More 60's-era sleaze from the good folks at Something Weird–if you have to ask, you probably aren’t the right audience.

BODY DOUBLE–SPECIAL EDITION (Sony Home Entertainment. $19.95): In this 1984 thriller from Brian De Palma, made in response to charges from feminist critics that his violent and sexually provocative thrillers were little more than pornography, Craig Wasson stars as a struggling actor who likes spying on the sexy next-door neighbor (Deborah Shelton) while house-sitting for a friend. When she is brutally killed (via the most overtly phallic power drill ever seen in a film), his investigation leads him into the seedy world of the adult film industry and to porn star Melanie Griffith (who turns in a performance second only to he work in “Something Wild.”) While not top-tier De Palma–it pretty much falls apart in the final reels–it is still a far more stylish and entertaining work than its reputation might suggest.

CHANGING TIMES (Koch Lorber. $29.98): Two of France’s most beloved film stars (Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu) and one of its most respected filmmakers (Andre Techine) teamed up for this 2004 drama about a former couple whose reunion in Morocco, three decades after they split up, does not quite go according to plan.

THE DARK BACKWARD (Sony Home Entertainment. $14.95): In this weird, grimy and decidedly surreal comedy (made in the day when such things were usually described as “Lynchian”), Judd Nelson plays a trash collector whose failed career as a stand-up comic gets an unexpected boost when a third arm begins to grow out of his back. Co-starring Bill Paxton as Nelson’s sleazy, necrophiliac, accordion-playing co-worker (I’ll leave you to decide which is more repellent), James Caan as a sleazy doctor, Wayne Newton as a sleazy talent agent and Rob Lowe as a sleazy Hollywood big shot, all of whom are presumably leaving this title off their current resumes. (Okay, maybe not Wayne Newton.)

EDMOND (First Independent. $26.99): Only given a token theatrical release earlier this summer after distributors shied away from it, Stuart Gordon’s alternately hilarious and horrifying adaptation of David Mamet’s controversial 1982 play comes to DVD to shock and polarize a wider audience. As the title character, an ordinary middle-aged man whose lifetime of bottled-up rage and frustration at the world around him explodes during the course of one long evening, William H. Macy has never been better and he is surrounded by a top-flight supporting cast (including Julia Stiles, Joe Mantegna and Mena SuvarI) as the people he encounters along the way on a journey best described as 1/3 “Falling Down,” 1/3 “Eyes Wide Shut” and 1/3 “Fight Club.” Worth watching–just make sure you have time to talk about it afterwards because it will inspire numerous debates and arguments.

EMMANUELLE VS. DRACULA (Peach Video. $19.99): Best Title Ever! Alas, the movie itself sucks, in virtually every sense of the word.


THE GLASS HOUSE 2–THE GOOD MOTHER (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95): Clearly hoping to get as much mileage out of the barely-remembered 2001 thriller, in which a couple of kids move in with some family friends after the sudden deaths of their parents and discover sinister plans afoot, Sony has essentially remade the film for the DTV market with Diane Lane being replaced by Angie Harmon and Leelee Sobieski and Stellan Skarsgard being replaced by no one you’ve ever heard of before.



HAIL MARY (New Yorker Video. $29.95): For daring to present a movie that conceptualized the story of Mary, Joseph and the birth of Jesus in contemporary terms, Jean-Luc Godard’s 1986 film faced angry protestors around the world (including the Pope) who condemned it as being blasphemous and perverted, mostly without actually seeing it. Today, most audiences are likely to protest it for being boring than offensive but more patient viewers (especially those who have actually seen some of Godard’s rigorously structured latter-day films) are likely to be rewarded by this thoughtful and visually stunning examination of faith from the mind of one of the all-time great filmmakers.

THE LITTLE MERMAID (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.99): The 1989 Disney smash that single-handedly revived the notion of feature-length animation as a commercially viable genre returns to DVD in a 2-disc set that includes a commentary, various featurettes chronicling the long development process (including info on an early attempt to film the Hans Christian Andersen tale by Walt Disney himself), deleted scenes and a visual mock-up of a once-proposed Disney World ride based on the film. However, unlike such recent and highly acclaimed restorations such as “Bambi” and “Lady and the Tramp,” some home-videophiles have raised issues on the Internet regarding the picture quality on this edition.

MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL–EXTRAORDINARILY DELUXE TWO-DISC EDITION (Sony Home Entertainment. $19.95): The perennial comedy classic gets yet another DVD release–this one contains all the features from the previous two-disc edition and throws in some new treats as well, including a featurette on “Spamalot,” a CD of the film’s soundtrack and a new transfer that apparently restores the missing subtitles from the opening credits on the previous version.

ONCE IN A LIFETIME (Miramax Home Entertainment. $29.95): Soccer fanatics will probably enjoy this documentary on the quick rise and fall of the New York Cosmos, the most famous team (thanks to such recruits as Pele and Franz Beckenbauer) to emerge from the doomed effort to bring professional soccer to America in the 1970's.

PLAYBOY’S CELEBRITY CENTERFOLDS (Image Entertainment. $14.99): On that note, has Anna Nicole Smith been up to anything lately?




POINT BREAK (Fox Home Entertainment. $19.98): For some sad reason that I cannot possibly begin to phantom, I have a strange psychological quirk that always confuses the title of this 1991 Kathryn Bigelow action thriller with John Boorman’s great 1967 film “Point Blank.” This is the one where the FBI teaches Lee Marvin to surf so that he can defeat Patrick Sawyze and get the $93,000 he is owed by . . .crap, I did it again.

SCARFACE–PLATINUM EDITION (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Once reviled, Brian De Palma’s operatic 1983 remake of the Howard Hawks gangster classic has become an enormously popular cult favorite in recent years and, in the tradition of other such cult classics, Universal is trying to milk the die-hard fanatics out of more money with this third DVD edition. The hook of this so-called “Producer’s Cut” (i.e. De Palma had nothing to do with it so don’t blame him) is that all of the sound effects have been re-recorded to make everything louder than was possible 23 years ago. As pointless “special features” go, this isn’t quite as asinine as a non-anamorphic version of the original theatrical version of “Star Wars” but it comes pretty close.

SUPER INFRAMAN (Image Entertainment. $19.95): In one of the strangest and most deliriously entertaining movies to emerge from Hong Kong in the 1970's, the evil and powerful Princess Dragon Mom is threatening to conquer the Earth with an army of mutant monsters and it is up to bionic superhero Inframan to save the day. If you doubt my sincerity in recommending this, bear in mind that no less a figure than Roger Ebert once wrote enthusiastically about it as well.

THANK YOU FOR SMOKING (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): Although Jason Reitman’s adaptation of Christopher Buckley’s 1994 novel satirizing both the tobacco industry and political lobbyists wasn’t quite the comedic home run that it should have been–mostly because the revelations on how information can be twisted around by highly-paid spinmeisters aren’t quite as shocking today as they might have been 12 years ago–it is worth watching for the hilarious central performance from Aaron Eckhart as the sliver-tongued tobacco spokesman who is so manipulative that he can appear on a TV show panel with a boy dying of cancer and somehow get the audience on his side.

THE WOODS (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95): Say what you will about the shabby theatrical distribution that Lion’s Gate gave to “May,” Lucky McKee’s incredible 2003 debut film–at least it got a release, which is more than can be said for his follow-up effort, which is being dumped on video after being caught up in the MGM/UA-Sony merger. I haven’t seen it yet but the word from those who have caught the film–a 1960's-style supernatural thriller about weird goings-on at a boarding school–suggests that it is actually pretty good. Combine that with the well-regarded cast (including Agnes Bruckner, Patricia Clarkson and the man-god that is Bruce Campbell) and you have to wonder why Sony didn’t just give this the release slot and promotional budget that they lavished on the recent loser “The Covenant”–it couldn’t have possibly done any worse.

X-MEN–THE LAST STAND (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): In this financially lucrative continuation of the popular superhero saga, uber-hack Brett Ratner does for Wolverine, Jean Grey, Rogue, Kitty Pride and the rest of the mutants what he previously did for Jackie Chan, Hannibal Lecter and a bikini-clad Salma Hayek–virtually nothing.


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=1966
originally posted: 10/06/06 14:21:18
last updated: 11/10/06 01:41:28
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