Home Video Releases for June 1999
Nitrate Online explores a sampling of the most noteworthy, provocative and satisfying video and/or DVD releases for the month of June. Titles are followed by original country and year of release. Street dates change constantly and often differ from format to format, so check with your favorite online or brick-and-mortar supplier for up-to-date information.
Dancing at Lughnasa (USA, 1998, June 15)
This quiet, affecting drama is based on a successful Irish stage play, and at first the shadow of the proscenium looms large in the story of five sisters in 1936 Donegal and how one summer changes their lives. As one of the reclusive brood, Meryl Streep is in perfect sync with the ensemble as a sister who enforces decency in the family and is reluctant to embrace change. The central metaphor of the title is the pagan god of the harvest festival, and it is a joyous dance that unites the sisters after uncertainties brought by two men: returning missionary brother Jack (Michael Gambon) and the father of one of the sisters only boy (Rhys Ifans, so funny as Hugh Grants spacy roommate in Notting Hill). One of those movies that requires a half-hour or so to really get into, Dancing at Lughnasa yields modest but satisfying dramatic rewards to the patient viewer. The DVD features a theatrical trailer.
Enemy of the State (USA, 1998, June 15)
"Not too stupid after all," Gene Hackmans technospook Brill says of innocent and inventive lawyer-turned-fugitive Robert Clayton Dean (Will Smith) between action set-pieces, and its a sentiment that serves to sum up this overblown but surprisingly good thriller as well. Nothing less than an unofficial sequel to Francis Ford Coppolas seminal 1974 paranoia drama The Conversation, Enemy of the State continues that trajectory by presenting the great Hackman as the reluctant savior of Smiths plucky everyman as he becomes the unwitting recipient of photographic proof of the murder of a senator (Jason Robards, unbilled). This is the latest highly tuned and high-decibel thrill machine from producer Jerry Bruckheimer and the most recent collaboration among Bruckheimer, director Tony Scott and star Gene Hackman following Crimson Tide. Smith proves a fine addition to the team, doing a pleasing update of the hapless hero minted by Cary Grant in North By Northwest. With little reference to race and a pace timed to sweep plot implausibilities out of sight before they can be detected, much less digested, this is as good as a socially conscious popcorn movie gets and is strongly reminiscent of such similar 1970s fare as Three Days of the Condor and The Parallax View -- not at all stupid company from a crowd not known for their smart fare. The DVD edition of the film includes production and filmmaker featurettes.
The Faculty (USA, 1998, June 15)
While the Scream template is starting to show its age after only three years, the hormonal horror The Faculty, with its possessed title teachers and the disparate, intrepid students who thwart them, is much more entertaining than it has any right to be. This is due in large part to Kevin Williamsons clichéd yet genuinely quirky script, which presents the strange doings at decrepit Herrington High as sort of a cross between Up the Down Staircase and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (which gets mentioned repeatedly by the pop culture-saturated teens). The large cast is up to the mix, with Elijah Wood a standout as the picked upon yet plucky intellectual who leads the charge and Famke Janssen nearly unrecognizable as one of the teachers who make startling transformations (theyre all played by TV and genre vets). Part of the problem here is that most of the kids talk like we all wish wed talked in high school ("Im not an alien, Im discontent"), and the resulting glibness contributes to a sense of superficial choppiness enhanced by the fluid yet mannered camera of director Robert Rodriguez. On the cool scale, there are a couple of pointed references to Robert A. Heinlein and thats Harry "Aint It Cool News" Knowles glimpsed briefly servicing the cooler in the teachers lounge (they drink a lot of water). "Youre not buying this, are you?" one student says to another at a key moment. "No, Im not," is the comeback, "but its kinda cool." In its own derivative way, so is The Faculty. The DVD includes theatrical trailers from the film.
Gods and Monsters (USA, 1998, June 8)
A modest, dignified film that might very well have appeared in the "Beyond the A-list" section below, this gentle yet shrewd look at the later years of director James Whale sparked the imagination of moviegoers and earned Oscar nominations for Ian McKellen and Bill Condons perfectly calibrated screenplay (which won). Sly, deliberate and provocative, the film speculates on what might have happened to Whale, the gay Hollywood director of The Invisible Man and Bride of Frankenstein, who was found floating in the pool he only installed as a social attraction (he couldnt swim) on May 29, 1957. In many ways this is the movie McKellen has been searching for his entire career: like Whale, McKellen is gay, began on the stage and is even from the same region of England. Thus, it isnt too much of a stretch to imagine the veracity of the lazy insolence the great actor brings to the reclusive Whale and his complicated, ultimately tender relationship with handsome ex-Marine and current drifting gardener Clayton Boone (Brendan Fraser). Although downplayed from the book in favor of Whale, Boone is in many ways the more sympathetic character and is played to befuddled perfection by Fraser, whose career moves between the commercial and challenging are as exquisite as the compassion he shows for his unlikely friend. The Special Edition DVD includes commentary from Condon as well as the half-hour featurette "The World of Gods and Monsters: A Journey with James Whale."
Little Voice (United Kingdom, 1998, June 15)
Shrill and cramped, this overly praised stage adaptation about a mute and mousy young woman (Jane Horrocks) who escapes the blue bluster of her loud mother (Brenda Blethyn) through spot-on impersonations of such famous divas as Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe shouldve stayed in the wings. Director Mark Herman, following up his engaging Brassed Off, claims that this material offered him the same "mixture of humor, tragedy and music." That may well be, yet apart from Horrocks uncanny mimicry (her performance scenes were all filmed live in front of an audience), the only likable character here is the positively chameleon-like Ewan McGregors meek Billy, and he doesnt get nearly enough screen time to counteract the gross posturings of Blethyn and the slimy bonhomie of Michael Caines opportunistic yet morally impaired agent Ray Say. Perhaps, in much the same way Dustin Hoffmans Lenny is a distinctly American creation, this kind of thing plays better in Britain. Then again, perhaps it doesnt. The DVD is due to be released July 13.
My Name is Joe (United Kingdom, 1998, June 15)
After a two-film excursion into international politics (1995s Land and Freedom, followed the next year by Carlas Song), socially conscious and politically fuelled British filmmaker Ken Loach is back to doing what he does best. Headstrong and magnetic Peter Mullan, who won the Best Actor honors at the Cannes festival last year, dominates the proceedings as the title character, a recovering alcoholic in modern-day Glasgow whose modest life is upset when he becomes involved with health worker Sarah (Louise Goodall) as well as a struggling couple whove run afoul the local toughs. Filmed sequentially over a period of six weeks, the movie is as much about the daily struggles of life in the depressed Scottish city as it is a love story or genre exercise. While he is typically critical of a social service system stretched beyond all reasonable limits, Loach can still make time for the small joys and triumphs of his working class protagonists, and the poignant yet problematic affection that grows between Joe and Sarah is among the most believable love affairs in recent cinema. No DVD has yet been announced for this title.
Patch Adams (USA, 1998, June 22)
When not being sublime and suitably praised for it in such films as Dead Poets Society, The Fisher King and Good Will Hunting (for which he won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar), Robin Williams has an alarmingly undiscerning propensity to the treacly. In a career that already includes Being Human, Fathers Day and the recent, uncategorizable What Dreams May Come, the profoundly maudlin low point might well be this forced, hollow parable, based on the true story of mental patient-turned-alternative healer Hunter Doherty "Patch" Adams. An unrelentingly cheerful nonconformist, the questioning medical student can never figure why the Deans got it in for him and many of his fellow students cant stand him. "I wanna help, I wanna connect with people," he keeps saying, so the disconnected and predictable script (by cable sensation Steve Oedekerk, who hopefully got a bigger house out of the films success) features Williams riffing at a meat packers convention, a ward full of sick but still cute children and anywhere else where people are too incapacitated to get out of his way. "Smart clown, eh?" someone says at about the midway point, but manipulative is more like it, a strategy underscored by Marc Shaimans preposterously syrupy score. The best performers dont need to scream "look at me!" -- a subtlety that Williams often loses sight of as he mocks the very pompousness in the medical profession that he often brings to his hyperactive form of comedy. Nothing but warmed-over cuckoos nest claptrap, Patch Adams is one of those successfully marketed Hollywood movies that are looked back on with a sense of wonder: you mean the public actually bought that? There are standard and a feature-laden Collectors Edition DVD releases of the film, with a widescreen DVD due July 20. On tape the movie is available in both English and Spanish subtitled versions.
Psycho (USA, 1998, June 8)
Ironically, the proliferation of pop songs remade by currently hip bands for movie soundtracks is a marketing tool that hasnt extended to the films themselves. If that were so, Gus Van Sants tantalizingly inscrutable remake of Alfred Hitchcocks groundbreaking, low-budget horror masterpiece would be an exciting template for a new kind of movie revisionism instead of the critically reviled failure it didnt take long to become. Thats not to say even the most sympathetic viewer can glean the point of the exercise, but still, really, this isnt nearly as empty an hommage as the vicious reviews might lead one to believe. Anne Heche brings a dispassionate but somehow appropriate vacuity to the doomed Marion Crane (at once more carnal and colder than Janet Leighs, if such a thing is possible), and Vince Vaughns genuinely subversive reading of the profoundly disturbed Norman Bates mixes a dead-on impersonation of Anthony Perkins magnificent creation with a kind of spoofy hunkiness that serves to send up every young stud Hollywoods minted over the last few years (effectively sending Dawson up his own creek without a paddle). But it is Van Sants own layering of the story with sonic whooshes (he did the same thing in Good Will Hunting) and unexplained imagery during the films key moments that make this exquisitely art directed and reverently imitative movie a true curiosity. The DVD includes commentary from Van Sant, Heche and Vaughn, as well as a half-hour featurette called, perhaps inevitably, "Psycho Path." While the extras might help the skeptical viewer learn what motivated Van Sant to embark on such a singular enterprise, nothing can explain why the same critical corps which has embraced his unique brand of moviemaking didnt even give him a sporting chance with this brave oddity.
A Simple Plan (USA, 1998, June 22)
"Do you ever feel evil?," one brother asks another at a key moment in this snowbound and defiantly leisurely new rural thriller, and the question will resonate with anyone whose ever been tempted by the lure of easy money and the false promise of security it can represent. Anchored by the perfectly meshed and calibrated performances of Bill Paxton as a priggish accountant and Billy Bob Thornton (Oscar nominated) as his deceptively feeble younger brother, A Simple Plan rises above a troubled production history to emerge as an atmospheric triumph for director Sam Raimi. On a cold and snowy New Years Eve in rural Minnesota, returning from a holiday visit to the graves of their deceased parents, Hank Mitchell (Paxton), his brother Jacob (Thornton) and the latters boorish drinking buddy Lou (Brent Briscoe) discover a downed plane with a dead pilot and a duffle bag with $4.4 million in neatly banded, used hundred dollar bills inside. Goaded by Hanks pregnant wife Sarah (Bridget Fonda) and shadowed by town constable Carl Jenkins (Chelcie Ross), each mans will dissolves into suspicion as their simple plan to keep the money hidden until the plane is discovered, then split it up three ways and leave town, slowly and inevitably breaks down. With the arrival of FBI agent Baxter (Gary Cole), events take a decisive and disastrous turn. Scott Smiths Oscar nominated screenplay, from his popular novel, is another high-profile example of less is more school of adaptation, a disciplined and compassionate reworking of his book that displays an innate understanding of what works on film and what doesnt. This timely, terrifying film seems to be a pointed warning of the horrible ease with which decent people whove never felt particularly evil can be seduced into desperately simple plans that result not in deliverance, but blood.
Waking Ned Devine (Ireland, 1998, June 1)
Debuting writer-director Kirk Jones spent the years since his 1986 graduation from film school making television commercials for a living, and theres a pleasing slickness to Waking Ned Devine that meshes perfectly with the benevolent Irish blarney of the story (which came about when Jones read a press cutting about a furtive Irish postmistress who may or may not have won the lottery and was actually shot on the Isle of Man filling in for Ireland). Ian Bannen and David Kelly bring a lifetime of skilled character work as well as an exquisite chemistry to their mischievous leading roles as two of the 50 or so people who live in rural Tully More and the only pair who know that their pal Ned holds the winning National Lottery ticket in his newly dead hand. Much has been made of the similarities between this appealing farce and such vintage Ealing Studios comedies as Whisky Galore (aka Tight Little Island), and its true that the template of a community banding together to pull a good-natured swindle on the authorities is a strong theme in both movies. Where Jones finds his greatest success is in the widescreen realization of this caper, a perfectly timed marriage of metronome-like set-pieces and ensemble acting that culminates in a Rube Goldberg-like stunt that is as brash as it is funny. "I wanted to make a feel-good movie in every sense," Jones confessed to one journalist, and it is to his eternal credit that hes managed to make one that revels in its own cheeky craftiness. Theres a Spanish subtitled tape available, as well as a DVD with theatrical trailers.
Beyond the A-list
Heres a cross-section of fare for the more adventurous viewer. Remember that the VHS versions of many of these titles may be priced for rental only, which means a hefty price tag for purchase (some eventually come down, others dont). Others may require a little sleuthing to find. Happy hunting.
Alien Legacy 20th anniversary re-release (USA, 1979-1997, June 1)
"Was it everything you hoped for?" the newly constituted Lieutenant First Class Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) asks a stunned group of hardcases who've just had a harrowing firsthand encounter with one of the hydroponic aliens she's been fighting on and off throughout the galaxy in frenzied bursts for in excess of two and a half centuries in Alien-Resurrection, the fourth and most recent film in this endurable franchise. In truth it is: the Alien Legacy DVD box set of all four titles is among the best collections yet released in the format. There are a multitude of ways to own this epochal series, both in the impressive box set and as individual videocassettes and DVDs. Generally speaking, the DVD editions have more features but the tapes are no slouch either. Herewith is a rundown of the series so far:
Ridley Scott's surprising, smoke-filled scare fest is the Old Dark House of space movies -- more horror than sci-fi, really -- in which big-haired Weaver (billed just below Tom Skerritt's doomed Captain Dallas) first battles the "perfect organism" that methodically picks off everyone on the earth-bound mineral tanker Nostromo after bursting through John Hurt's chest (Veronica Cartwright's split-second reaction of sheer terror was achieved by springing the now-legendary special effect on the clueless actors). The seeds of then-Chief Warrant Officer Ripley's series-long mistrust of treacherous androids is planted when the synthetic Ash (Ian Holm) disobeys her direct order and perhaps unwittingly allows the beast on board, the all-encompassing twin themes of imperialism and greed via the Nostromo's pre-programmed orders to investigate potential mining (colonization?) opportunities and Ash's recognition that the things might actually have some biological (read: monetary) value. H.R. Giger's Lovecraftian designs remain unsettlingly memorable today, as does the eerie beauty of Jerry Goldsmith's languid score. "What are my chances?" Ripley types in to the computer mainframe, dubbed "Mother" (the Auriga's is called "Father"). "Does not compute," the machine replies with ominous serenity. "Crew expendable." "You bitch!" Ripley calls it later, prefiguring one of the more enduring motifs of the whole series. And how's this for verisimilitude? Alien was filmed at Bray Studios, the same British soundstages that hosed the classic Hammer horror films.
Helpless shock gives way to swaggering optimism in director James Cameron's titanic, gizmo-crazed sequel, which devotes over two hours to the medium-haired Ripley's reluctant return to the now-colonized LV 426 -- planet of the eggs -- 57 years after the events of Alien, the reluctant adviser to a cocksure group of starship troopers (complete with cute chick pilot) on a "bug hunt" that goes horribly awry. Skeptical of her story (the vaporized M-Class freighter Nostromo was apparently worth some $42 million "adjusted" dollars -- less than a quarter of the cost of Cameron's upcoming movie) the centralized Company offers her a reinstatement of flight status in the form of corporate weasel chaperone Burke (Paul Reiser doing a prototype Paul Buckman), whose nefarious scheme to smuggle the alien through galactic customs attached to Ripley's face prefigures the cryotube piracy of Alien Resurrection. Our heroine's also saddled with another creepy android, Bishop (Lance Henriksen), who prefers the term "artificial person" and turns out to be OK -- for the moment. Maybe the most Freudian film of the bunch, as Ripley protects the resourceful young lone survivor Rebecca "Newt" Jordan (Carrie Henn), flirts over heavy weaponry with Corporal Dwayne Hicks (Michael Biehn) and squares off against the Queen for the first time in the bowels of the massive Atmosphere Processor. Aliens marks the series debut of Alien Effects Designers Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, who built beasts for all subsequent films ("Tom in fact is often the guy in the suit," Weaver told an interviewer recently), while James Horner's memorable score is a clangy, militaristic industrial symphony.
Alien 3 (1992)
Ripley is engulfed by darkness and despair in director David Fincher's claustrophobic and underrated big-screen debut (which looks a lot better in light of Seven -- photographed by Alien Resurrection cinematographer Darius Khondji -- and The Game), as she crash lands on Fiorina "Fury" 161, a remote, nearly deserted, Class C Prison, maximum security, Double Y Chromosome-Work Correctional Facility after drifting in space -- again -- for an unspecified time. Shorn of her hair, Ripley is grief-stricken over the loss of Newt and Hicks ("they have been released from all darkness and pain," says Warden Andrews [Brian Glover] almost wistfully) but manages to salvage enough of Bishop to verify what's been killing the weaponless inmates of this bleak futuristic big house, all of whom appear to be British -- one of them sings a snatch of the 1969 Zager & Evans chestnut, "In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus)", before being ground into chow. "Do you have any faith, sister?" asks the lone Yank, Dillon (Charles S. Dutton). "Not much," says Ripley, who promptly loses the only lover she's had during the entire ordeal (Charles Dance's unexpectedly tender and dignified Clemens -- clemency?) to the marauding alien. High points include the implanted Ripley's recitation of the line "somebody's got to kill me" directly into the camera and the most genuinely unsettling finale of the series -- an unrelentingly tragic denouement (featuring Bishop's return, sort of) which is redeemed spectacularly by the principal plot twist of Alien Resurrection.
Alien Resurrection (USA, 1997)
Two hundred years after Ripley's unfortunate fate on Fiorina 161, a team of scientists circling Pluto on the top-secret United Systems Military research station Auriga have successfully cloned her (after seven false starts) in order to birth a baby Queen for study and eventual domestication of the species. Following that successful procedure, the new Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), whose DNA is entwined with that of her enemy, becomes a disposable commodity to corrupt General Perez (Dan Hedaya) and surgical team leaders Wren (J.E. Freeman) and Gediman (Brad Dourif). Into this already-tense mix sails the Betty, a dilapidated freighter manned by a scruffy group of mercenaries, prominent among whom are leader Elgyn (Michael Wincott), wise-cracking goon Johner (Ron Perlman), paralyzed mechanic Vriess (Dominique Pinon) and spooky, waif-like mechanic Annalee Call (Winona Ryder). After conducting their nefarious business of selling warm, presumably pilfered bodies to Perez for alien research, all hell breaks loose as the aliens escape their pens, the pirates commandeer the Auriga, and a mad scramble is on to reach the dubious safety of the Betty -- every thing for itself -- as the conjoined vessels approach earth on a pre-programmed distress course. In the end, Alien Resurrection works both as a stand-alone action extravaganza with strong nods to other genre faves including The Poseidon Adventure and Day of the Dead, and as a continuation of perhaps the strongest female character in contemporary cinema. "What happens now?" Call asks, in a final grace note that gives nothing away in the enjoyment of the film. "I don't know," answers Ellen Ripley the survivor, irrevocably changed but somehow wiser and certainly stronger for her ordeal -- which may not yet be over, "I'm a stranger here myself." Such a weary redemption is indeed all one could hope for.
The Base (USA, 1998, June 1)
Cheesy and jingoistic, The Base is a by-the-numbers programmer that serves to showcase the martial arts skills of one Mark Dacascos (toplining "A Tough and Deadly Cast") as a straight-arrow army major sent by the Pentagon to stop a renegade army within the army dealing drugs. Peppered with enough action to satisfy the undiscerning genre fan ("Military Hardware Always Maximizes your Rentals," points out the glowing copy on the screener copy furnished for review), the film suffers enormously from Dacascos wooden style and a script thats more lame-brained and disjointed than is usual for this type of thing. Is it really possible that a full-pitched firefight could rage on a military base without anyone seeming to notice? Its that kind of movie. The DVD features audio commentary by veteran low-budget director Mark L. Lester (who uses the middle initial to avoid confusion with the 1960s British child star who gained fame in Oliver!).
Gabbeh (Iran/France, 1996, June 8)
Long revered as one of the best filmmakers not only in contemporary Iran but all the world, writer-director-editor Mohsen Makhmalbaf had originally set out to make a documentary about the Gashgai nomadic tribe in southeastern Iran and the titular patterned carpets that reflect the events in their lives. But as he edited the footage shot during his travels through over a hundred villages, a story began to form in his mind and he returned to shoot additional scenes. The finished film is a serene, visually stunning story that mixes fantasy and rich rural imagery into the story of a mysterious young woman, also named Gabbeh, and the elderly couple she befriends. "When you bring a gabbeh home," Makhmalbaf explained at the 1996 London Film Festival, "you feel like youve brought nature with it. Natures at your feet! Im quite convinced that the gabbeh has much in common with any good Iranian film. That is to say they are both simple, tender, close to nature and to daily reality." With that in mind, Gabbeh is a refreshing and beautiful break from Hollywood fare. New Yorker Films has done their usual superb job on the videocassette mastering and packaging, with a widescreen video transfer housed in a colorful box that reflects the spirit of this short (75 minutes) yet memorable film.
Ghostbusters (USA, 1984, June 29)
The absolutely gorgeous DVD transfer of this landmark American special effects comedy is the big news here, an extras-laden item that enhances the films special effects without losing the 1980s spirit of the movie. For its fifteenth anniversary, Columbia Pictures has released a disc that features a generous handful of deleted scenes, "Tricks & Trivia" listed below the image (did you know the slime was actually methylcellulose ether and that the movie was almost called Ghoststoppers?), a nifty section that allows the viewer to use the angles button to actually jump back and forth in a scene between the original footage and the special effects version in the final print (the sfx can also be compared in shots from original and 1999 featurettes), and even a Mystery Science Theater-type effect that has the silhouettes of director Ivan Reitman and others in the lower corner of the screen during their commentary. Originally envisioned by Dan Aykroyd as Ghost Smashers, an outer space fantasy pairing him with pal John Belushi, the retooled Ghostbusters made a star of Bill Murray as the wisecracking cynic who teams with his university colleagues to rid New York City of ghosts and created a template for success that has influenced big-budget American comedy ever since. Also available in a widescreen VHS version minus many of the bonuses, this is the latest in a long line of reasons to make the jump to DVD.
The Great Muppet Caper (USA, 1981, June 1)
"Boy, I wish I was you people seeing this for the first time," says Kermit the Frog to the camera during the opening musical number of this second Muppet feature (one of three released by Columbia TriStar Home Video and Jim Henson Home Entertainment to celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Muppet Movie -- the third being The Muppets Take Manhattan). In this installment, the relentlessly cheerful and wisecracking beasts (including Rowlf, Animal, Scooter, Oscar the Grouch, The Great Gonzo, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and the effervescent Fozzie Bear) solve a jewel robbery in Merrie Olde England. The long roster of celebrity cameos include a hirsute Charles Grodin (lovestruck over Miss Piggy), Diana Rigg, Jack Warden, Robert Morley, John Cleese (who calls his wife "my little armada"), the Peters Falk and Ustinov, and even the bearded Henson himself in the nightclub scene. "Is there any way to stop it?" some, uh, thing yells near the end of the first tune. Thankfully, no, there isnt -- the Muppets will live forever thanks to successive generations of children of all ages. This re-release is exclusive to tape.
Gunshy (USA, 1997, June 1)
In much the same way Enemy of the State is an unofficial continuation of Gene Hackmans shadowy Harry Caul from The Conversation, this quirky but ultimately static thriller might be seen as the further adventures of the cocky, swaggering and intense men of action -- one on each side of the law -- played by William L. Petersen in William Friedkins To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) and Michael Manns Manhunter (1986). Here hes Jake Bridges, a washed-up writer befriended by Atlantic City enforcer Frankie McGregor (gravelly-voiced Michael Wincott). They make a deal of sorts: Frankie teaches Jake about life on the streets, and Jake walks Frankie through great literature, beginning with "Moby Dick" ("Good chapter, that one there with Ishmael and the cannibal, I like that"). Wincott (Alien: Resurrection) brings a loopy tenderness to his fundamentally unbelievable character, though Diane Lane is largely a cipher as his live-in love, slowly seduced by Jakes attentions. Gray-templed and a bit fleshy, Petersen still has flashes of the charisma that made him a star. So too the faded charms of Atlantic City provide a distinctive if underused backdrop for the often-cliched action of Larry Gross script (many moons ago he wrote 48 Hrs. and more recently authored the Clint Eastwood vehicle True Crime). Former drill sergeant R. Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket) and rock singer Meat Loaf have single-scene cameos in the first few minutes. The DVD features commentary from Gross and director Jeff Celentano, production notes, theatrical trailers and Spanish subtitles.
Insomnia (Norway, 1997, May 25)
"When youve been a policeman long enough, nothins weird," says Swedish police inspector Jonas Engstrom (Stellan Skarsgaard) to his partner as the two investigate a murder in northern Norway where the sun shines 24 hours a day. Yet this illumination also reveals a nearly debilitating streak of weirdness in the detective himself, as he matches wits with a cold-blooded killer while struggling to cover up a tragic mistake. Its likely few Americans whove seen the 48-year-old Skarsgaard in his most high-profile Hollywood movies, including Good Will Hunting and the shamefully underrated Ronin, realize that this compulsively watchable actor was actually born in Sweden, began acting as a teenager and made his first international splash in 1982 in the title role of the foreign film The Simple-Minded Murderer. Since then hes proven adept at historical drama (The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Good Evening, Mr. Wallenberg, Amistad), sexually charged stories (Breaking the Waves) and even TV serials and family fare (nothing thats available stateside). With Insomnia, the directorial debut of 31-year-old Erik Skjoldbjaerg, Skarsgaard continues to mine an oddly appealing weariness that imbues even his most flawed characters with a frayed dignity. As an added bonus to the purist the Home Vision Cinema rental VHS is available in the letterboxed format; the DVD is set to street July 27.
The Patriot (USA, 1998, June 15)
This isnt a bad Steven Seagal film, as Steven Seagal films go, typically strident in that idealistic, Billy Jack kind of way yet shunned by the Seagal faithful, who complained of a lack of action (which says more about his audience than it does about the movie). Hes Dr. Wesley McClaren, a world-class immunologist whos decamped for rural Montana and a quiet life healing animals and townspeople with eastern medicine when not imparting earth-friendly wisdom to his daughter Holly (Camilla Belle) and trading jibes with grizzled farmhand Frank (L.Q. Jones, eternally famous for appearances in Sam Peckinpah films and the creation of the legendary Don Johnson genre film A Boy and His Dog). When a local freedom fighter (character vet Gailard Sartain) infects the town with a purloined government virus, its up to the self-described "pathogen posse" to find a cure (Holly being immune helps) and thwart the threat to national security and that feel-good vibe. Seagals films play handily into the both the pride and fears of his target audience, which undercuts the somewhat mawkish sincerity he brings to even his most preposterous vehicles. More fascinating than off-putting to the average viewer, this is perhaps a good introduction to a guy whos often thought of as the Vanilla Ice of movie stars. The no-nonsense DVD is presented in the widescreen format, which highlights the open-air locations selected by director Dean Semler.
A Soldiers Sweetheart (USA, 1998, June 15)
One of the tangible benefits of those ubiquitous made-for-cable movies is that a pleasing percentage of them are quite good. A Soldiers Sweetheart is better than most, a tough, moody and altogether original spin on the Vietnam war movie (this explains the pictures screenings at last years Seattle and Toronto film festivals prior to its December debut on Showtime). Adapted from the Tim OBrien short story "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong" and filmed with serene authority by adapter-director Thomas Michael Donnelly on atmospheric locations in and around Auckland, New Zealand, the film tells of bored medic Mark Fossie (Skeet Ulrich), who spices up his life at a remote surgical unit by scheming to fly his girlfriend Marianne Bell (Georgina Cates) in from America for a visit. At first fascinated by her new and exotic surroundings -- and welcomed by the other medics (including cynical narrator Rat Kiley, played by Kiefer Sutherland) -- Marianne is soon affected by the menace around her and becomes increasingly fascinated with the secretive Green Beret special forces unit, the "Greenies," bivouacked next door. Year by year, young Sutherland is building a fine career on pungent character turns -- much as his father did a generation ago. Ulrich too seems focused on the nuances of his character, and the late-arriving Cates helps to sustain the eerie tone. "Everything I want is right here," Marianne tells Mark as things start to get really weird, and adventurous moviegoers who give this title a shot will find the film absorbing, disquieting and provocative. To date this title is exclusive to videocassette.
Some Nudity Required (USA, 1997)
In the early 1990s, classically trained musician Odette Springer came to Hollywood and got a job as a music supervisor for Roger Corman. "How did I go from Beethoven to B movies?" she asked herself. "I never admitted it to myself, but stories about women in jeopardy were beginning to inspire me." This film is her revealing journey to an answer, with observations from genre mainstays Sam Arkoff, Fred Olen Ray and Corman (who says his films have a "liberal humanitarian viewpoint buried somewhere beneath some wild exploitation subjects") as well as younger directors Catherine Cyran, Jim Wynorski ("I have no desire to go and make an art fart film"), Chuck Moore, Nancy Zala and others. Clips from films with titles like The Sorceress, Midnight Tease and Angel of Destruction are interspersed with profiles of actresses Maria Ford, Julie Strain (1993 "Penthouse" Pet of the Year) and interviews with story editors, other cast members and crew. Ultimately, Springer finds a disturbing yet apparently liberating truth in this unique film, part B movie primer, part biography and part confessional. Tape only to date.
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