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DVD Reviews For 4/9: “You Don’t Have A Lucky Crack Pipe?”

by Peter Sobczynski

Madonna singing, Nicolas Cage ranting and a bunch of Hungarians doing things that are rarely discussed in polite company--these are a few of the unique sights and sounds on display amongst this week's new releases. Oh yeah, there is that whole "Lord of the Rings" thing as well. . .

Before we get started with the usual nonsense, a brief treat for you. To promote this week’s release of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy on Blu-ray, Richard Taylor, the creative director of WETA, the New Zealand-based visual effects outfit that helped Peter Jackson bring J.R.R. Tolkein’s stories to life and who also contributed to such other films as “King Kong,” “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and “Avatar,” got on the phone to briefly look back on the achievements of the “Rings” films and to look ahead to what the future of visual effects may have in store. Alas, due to time constraints, we were unable to discuss what the company is doing in regards to “The Hobbit,” or “Tin-Tin,” so don’t get grouchy with me in that regard.

Strictly from a technical perspective, how do you feel that the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy holds up today. When they were released nearly a decade ago, they were obviously hailed for their state-of-the-art effects but with the technological leaps and bounds that have occurred since then, are there any aspects where you look at the film and wish that you could go back and improve things somehow?

We haven’t seen the Blu-ray version yet, so I can’t speak specifically to that--we are all keenly waiting here in New Zealand to see it. With respect to the imagery, we appreciate that we made the film to the absolute best of our ability at that time in our careers and with the best of the technology. It would disingenuous on some level to not appreciate them for what they are. I also still feel, from the bits that I have managed to see, that they hold up and people still enjoy them. Ultimately, the story is so riveting that it carries you through if there are areas that come across as less as they might have been today.

Over the course of the three films, what was the biggest personal challenge for you?

The endurance is up there with the major challenges but I think the challenge that we were most proud to rise up to was really just putting together that young team of mostly inexperienced Kiwis. We ourselves were fairly inexperienced--we had never worked on a massive scale like this before--and going forward with that team and the certainty that we could do something of worth that the world’s audience would appreciate really empowered us. That has been a big part of what we consider to be the major success of the film and something that I reflect on from time to time.

In terms of the design, is it easier or more difficult to work from a property as well-known as the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, something that generations of readers have already more or less designed in their minds, as opposed to something like “Avatar,” where there are no preconceived notions and you are pretty much working from scratch?

That is a very good question because “Avatar” was equally challenging and as dramatically challenging as “Lord of the Rings” and vice-versa. On a psychological level, when you are doing something like “Lord of the Rings” or “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” there is already an embedded fan base with a deep sense of ownership and love and trust and involvement in those stories and who have their own ideas of what those worlds look should look like. “Avatar” is all a surprise and all visionary and unique and new but “Lord of the Rings,” people had a blueprint of how they should be translated into film and you go forward with the responsibility of having to fulfill those expectations on some level.

In the time since the making of “Lord of the Rings,” the world of visual effects has grown considerably with the latest breakthroughs in motion capture, 3-D and the like. In the effects world, what is the next big breakthrough that people in the field are hoping to achieve or has such a thing even been considered yet?

That is a level of future thinking that is in some ways quite dangerous to put out there. If “Avatar” was a mostly passive and partially immersive experience where you felt like you were living in the film, I think we are going to go very shortly into a fully immersive and fully involving 3-D environment where you are actually in the film thanks to the 3-D technology and the incredibly immersive nature of the film. That is incredibly exciting because an audience doesn’t want to be a passive onlooker--they want to be an immersive part of the evolution of the story. James Cameron has moved filmmaking so far towards that that people felt as though they were living in his film and it is amazingly exciting to consider the near future.


BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS (First Look Films. $28.98): When it was announced that maverick filmmaker Werner Herzog was going to do a remake/reboot of the infamous 1992 Abel Ferrara cult classic about a strung-out cop wrestling with his considerable demons with Nicolas Cage stepping into the formidable shoes of Harvey Keitel in the lead role, it seemed like a project headed for disaster, though at least an interesting one considering the participants. Instead, the film And yet, the result is not only not a disaster, it is one of the most audacious and fascinating films to come along in a while. Over the years, I have seen more than my fair share of cop movies--ones with good cops and ones with bad cops--and I can say with full confidence that I have never seen one that is even remotely like the one that Herzog has presented us with here. The secret, I think, is that he has absolutely no interest in giving viewers a standard-issue police procedural. Instead, he uses the premise as a jumping-off point to present us with another bizarre portrait of a man helplessly caught in the grips of his own obsessions and struggling to maintain some semblance of control over a world that is gradually slipping away from him by meeting insanity with insanity. He achieves this by presenting us with a scenario in which the tone is constantly shifting from dark drama to darker comedy to moments so singularly strange--such as the occasional appearances of hallucinatory iguanas that only Terrence can see and an extended sequence see entirely from the point-of-view of an alligator--that if I had to explain what all of it means, I couldn’t and if you tried to button down Herzog for an explanation, he couldn’t do it either. And yet, as the film lurches from one unexpected place to another, it becomes apparent that while it may seem as though it is completely insane, Herzog actually has complete control over the material at every moment and knows exactly what he is doing. At times, the film is absolutely hilarious but just when you are ready to peg the film as a weirdo comedy, he comes up with scenes that are as dramatically sound and effective as anyone could hope. Although Herzog has become better known in recent years for his documentaries than for his fiction films, his work here reminds us that he hasn’t lost his touch in that regard as this is a work that can proudly stand alongside the likes of such masterpieces as “Aguirre, The Wrath of God” or “Fitzcarraldo.” In other words, you must see this movie and you must see it now.

DOLAN’S CADILLAC (E1 Entertainment. $19.98): In the direct-to-video item based on a short story by Stephen King, Wes Bentley--remember him?--stars as an ordinary man who becomes consumed with getting revenge on the powerful mob boss who murdered his beloved wife. Since the mob boss in question is played by Christian Slater, my guess is that the revenge involves hiring him to star in a television show, promoting it for months on end and then cancelling it after three or four episodes.

ICONS OF SUSPENSE--THE HAMMER FILMS COLLECTION (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95): For the latest entry in their “Icons” collection, Sony has brought together six thrillers in their possession, all making their DVD debuts, that were produced by the British studio best known for their trend-setting horror films. All of the films included here are worth checking out but the highlight by far is the restored version of Joseph Loesey’s 1962 cult favorite “They Are The Damned,” a truly weird and fascinating work that combines such seemingly disparate elements as a romance between a middle-aged American and a young English woman, a fearsome biker gang led by the woman’s extra-creepy and quasi-incestuous brother (Oliver Reed) and a remote military base containing a group of children who share a shocking secret.

KHLOE AND KOURTNEY TAKE MIAMI (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.98): And if they were dressed like that, my guess is that Miami didn’t put up much of a fight. Other TV-related DVDs appearing this week include “Ally McBeal: The Complete Second Season” (Fox Home Entertainment. $39.98), “Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Series” (Universal Home Entertainment. $199.98), “Lucy Calls the President” (MPI Home Video. $14.98), “Party Down: Season One” (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $29.97) and “Simon & Simon: Season Four” (Shout! Factory. $49.97).

THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY (New Line Home Entertainment. $99.95): Although one would assume that the fan boy contingent would be jumping for joy at the prospect of Peter Jackson’s enormously popular adaptations of the J.R.R. Tolkein novels finally arriving on Blu-ray, there has been some grumbling over the quality of the transfers (with “The Fellowship of the Ring” taking the hardest knocks) and by New Line’s decision to release only the theatrical versions at this time and to save the extended editions (not to mention all the bells and whistles they came with) for a double-dip down the line. Yes, the transfers are slightly dodgy here and there, especially in “Fellowship,” but not enough to be deal-breakers. As for the double-dipping, all I can say is that no one is forcing anyone to buy them twice and besides, if they only released the longer versions, you know that someone would complain about not having the theatrical versions available. This week also sees the Blu-ray debut of “The Lord of the Rings” (Warner Home Video. $29.98), Ralph Bakshi’s deeply flawed but interesting 1978 animated version that boldly (if foolishly) tried to cover the first two parts of the trilogy in one 135-minute film (the rest was meant to be told in a follow-up film that was never produced due to the poor critical and public reception to this one). While it inevitably pales in comparison to Jackson’s effort, this one does have its share of striking visual elements and if you look closely, you can even see a couple of moments that seem to have had a little influence on the later version.

MURDER.COM (E1 Entertainment. $24.98): In what feels like a combination of those silly direct-to-video erotic thrillers from the early 1990’s and the silly direct-to-video techno-thrillers from about a decade ago, a big-city lawyer (Alexandra Paul) returns to her hometown after the murder of her estranged sister, is shocked to discover that she was a member of a kinky Internet sex club and goes undercover--nudge, nudge--to find the real killer. Between the dated plot and the presence of no less than two former ‘Baywatch” cast members (David Chokachi appears as the heroine’s old boyfriend, now the cop in charge of her sister’s case), this film is essentially a hot tub time machine all by itself and you don’t have to deal at all with Rob Coddry. Alas, that is pretty much the only thing about this time-waster that is worth recommending.

PLUNDER: THE CRIME OF OUR TIME (Disinformation. $19.98):A few years ago, journalist-filmmaker Danny Schechter made a film, “In Debt We Trust,” that suggested that America was heading for an economic crisis thank to financial institutions that were willing and eager to lend huge sums of money to people even when it was apparent that they had no means of repaying those debts and for his troubles, he was dismissed by many observers as an alarmist crank. I suspect that many of those commentators may find themselves paying a little more attention to his latest film, in which he calmly and carefully explains how the combination of predatory lending practices of our nation’s financial institutions and the absurdly overstated housing market helped to create the economic catastrophe that we now find ourselves mired in. Think of it as what Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” might have been like if it were good.

STICKY AND SWEET TOUR (Warner Home Video. $24.98): Although she may now be duking it out on the charts with people who were still wearing their swaddling clothes during the days when she was topping the charts with the likes of “True Blue” and “Express Yourself” (and still wearing them in the case of Lady Gaga), Madonna still trumps them all when it comes to putting on multi-media extravaganzas as she demonstrates in this concert video from her recent tour promoting the “Hard Candy” album. This was filmed during the tour’s stop in Argentina, which explains the mid-show inclusion of tunes from “Evita,” including the inevitable “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.”

TAXIDERMIA (E1 Entertainment. $24.98): For the 2006 follow-up to his acclaimed debut feature “Hukkle,” Hungarian filmmaker Gyorgy Palfi offered up this surrealistic black comedy about three generations of one family living in the thrall of their own peculiar obsessions, including kinky sexual fantasies, overeating and taxidermy. Trust me, this is most decidedly not for everyone but those with a taste for the stranger stuff may get a kick out of the outrageousness that Palfi has in store for them. That said, do not make the same mistake I made the first time I tried watching it and attempt to view it at 9:00 in the morning, a time that is just a little too early to deal with masturbating Hungarians--unless you yourself are Hungarian, I suppose.

YES MEN FIX THE WORLD (Docurama. $26.95): The politically-oriented prankster duo return with another feature film in which they offer “solutions” to the problems of the world that are designed to highlight the ridiculous ways in which they are actually being handled by the powers-that-be but done in such subtle ways that it is often difficult to separate the joke from reality. This time around, they dupe political leaders in Louisiana regarding Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, convince a businessman to don an anti-terrorist suit from “Halliburton” that looks suspiciously like a giant cockroach and pose as a pair of DOW Chemical employees who announce on the BBC that the company is offering a $12 billion relief fund for victims of the 1984 Bhopal chemical plant disaster. It may not sound funny on the surface but trust me, it is.


COCOON (Fox Home Entertainment. $24.99)

DREAMSCAPE (Image Entertainment. $24.98)

FLIGHT OF THE INTRUDER (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.99)

JADE (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.99)

THE NATURAL (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95)

POSEIDON (Warner Home Video. $24.98)

THE RELIC (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.99)

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originally posted: 04/09/10 02:52:00
last updated: 04/09/10 03:10:53
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