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Home Video and DVD Releases for August 2001
Compiled by Eddie Cockrell,  1 August 2001
Written by Eddie Cockrell

Nitrate Online explores a sampling of the most noteworthy, provocative and satisfying video and/or DVD releases for the month of August 2001 (give or take a few weeks). Titles are followed by original country and year of release, as well as release date (if known). All reviewed DVDís are Region 1 unless otherwise indicated. Street dates change constantly and often differ from format to format, so check with your favorite click or brick supplier for up-to-date information.


Blow Dry

Germany/UK/USA, 2001, Released 8.14.01
review by Eddie Cockrell

"Few Highlights at Hair 2000" screams a newspaper headline in the midst of the formulaic and unabashedly sentimental Blow Dry, but the filmís schematic nature actually works in its favor after awhile. A small-town saga of redemption in which the English burg of Keighley (actually West Yorkshire) and those who live there are inspired by the annual hairdressersí convention and competition, this campy trifle from the pen of The Full Monty creator Simon Beaufoy relies on some skillful acting by the likes of Alan Rickman, Miranda Richardson, Rachel Griffiths, Bill Nighy and Warren Clarke to sell its proud but threadbare idea of "dignity, always dignity." Josh Hartnett sounds a bit like Ringo Starr as the son of the separated Rickman and Richardson characters, and Rachel Leigh Cookís Christina continues her saucer-eyed, waifish approach to acting. Be sure and stick around for the howlingly funny closing credit Karaoke rendition of Elvis Presleyís cover of the Mann-Weil chestnut "I Just Canít Help Believing" by hard-working vet Clarke, who played Malcolm McDowellís droog Dim in Stanley Kubrickís A Clockwork Orange three decades ago. More Strictly Ballroom than The Full Monty, Blow Dry can be filed under "Guilty Pleasure." The Miramax DVD has no extras. 


The Dish

Australia, 2000, Released 8.28.01
review by Eddie Cockrell

 

In the remote Australian town of Parkes, the 1969 American moon launch is set to be broadcast to the world via the local radio telescope, known to the locals as The Dish. Yet the quartet of capable eccentrics that man the huge device must stave off all manner of catastrophes both natural and man-made, even as one of their number falls in love and the opportunistic mayor welcomes the American ambassador to town. This crowd-pleasing new Australian comedy from the director of The Castle spurns that filmís low-brow humor in favor of a warm sentimental bath of gung-ho spirit, and does so with such obvious skill that only the most stone-hearted of cynics wonít be rooting for the team by the fade (even though history tells us how it all came out). Sam Neill looks relieved to back in his neck of the woods after international fame via Jurassic Park and The Piano, and Patrick Warburton (Puddy on "Seinfeld" and star of Foxís upcoming superhero show "The Tick") steals the film as the deadpan American representative. This may not be exactly the way things happened, but The Dish does a good job of displaying a whimsical, can-do spirit. Warnerís bare-bones DVD has no extras of distinction. 


Enemy at the Gates

Germany/USA, 2000, Released 8.14.01
review by Eddie Cockrell

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Thereís a moment during the later reels of Jean-Jacques Annaudís risible Enemy at the Gates when one third of a love triangle set during World War Twoís Battle of Stalingrad approaches another third of the love triangle during a particularly fierce skirmish and says something to the effect of "can I talk to you outside?," after which they proceed to walk into the middle of the siege and discuss their complicated emotional relationship. Enemy at the Gates is that kind of movie, a richly designed but patently absurd blending of Saving Private Ryan-type ultra-realistic war movie with a melodrama that might appear simplistic on your average soap opera. As the two Russians vying for the attentions of Tania (Rachel Weisz), Jude Law and Joseph Fiennes seem uncomfortable in their roles, while Ed Harris as the Bavarian aristocrat brought in to match wits with Lawís skillful yet nervous sharpshooter succeeds through sheer force of personal charisma to sell a central conflict that relies as much on coincidence as skill. Paramountís DVD edition offers a production featurette as well as some deleted footage and interviews. 


15 Minutes

USA, 2001,  Released 8.14.01
review by Eddie Cockrell

 

In a media-saturated New York City, celebrity homicide cop Robert De Niro hooks up with arson investigator Edward Burns to track newly-arrived Eastern European psychos Karel Roden (a Czech named "Slovak") and Oleg Taktarov. At once a big, brawny 1970s-style Gotham cop movie and a darkly comic send-up of same, writer-director John Herzfeldís 15 Minutes audaciously mixes slam-bang buddy bonding action with a witheringly funny critique of modern fascination with the technology of fame: Rodenís cloddish Russian sidekick tapes everything on a camera he boosts from a Times Square electronics store, while De Niro himself manipulates the media via a hard-charging public persona that masks his weary, cynical approach to the job. In fact, the very preposterousness of the action film conventions laced throughout the plot is a satire in and of itself (underscored perhaps to heavily by Anthony Marinelli and J. Peter Robinsonís whimsical score). The New Line Studios DVD edition is among the first of their "Infinifilm" releases, which seems to mean that the menus are more animated than usual. Extras include a half-dozen deleted scenes with Herzfeldís commentary (including a terrific four-minute foot chase with Burns and Taktarov cut because Herzfeld "didnít want to numb the audience with too much action"); the God Lives Underwater music video for their cover version of David Bowieís "Fame"; a pair of documentaries on tabloid subjects; interviews and some of Taktarovís video footage taken during two pivotal action scenes.


Get Over It

USA, 2001, Released 8.14.01
review by Eddie Cockrell

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In a typical American suburb, the mounting of a Shakespeare play modified as "A Midsummer Nightís Rockiní Eve" by prissy drama coach Dr. Desmond Forrest-Oates (Martin Short, mugging incessantly) plays nicely into the social machinations of a clutch of teens (played by such flavors-of-the-moment as Kirsten Dunst, Ben Foster, Melissa Sagemiller, Sisqo, Shane West, Colin Hanks, Zoe Saldana and "That 70s Show"ís Mila Kunis). Coming at what is hoped to be the tail end of the most recent teen-movie craze, the determindedly chipper Get Over It barely registered at the box office and has now taken itís place alongside the innumerable Freddie Prinze Jr. movies on video store shelves. Director Tommy OíHaver (Billyís Hollywood Screen Kiss) brings an inoffensive verve to the visualization of R. Lee Fleming Jr.ís breezy script, and if the results are pleasantly engaging, well, theyíre also almost instantly forgettable. The Miramax DVD pressing offers a commentary track with the director and writer, make-up tests and outtakes from the always-bubbly Short, a couple of music videos and a production featurette. 


The Gift

USA, 2001, Released 7.17.01
review by Eddie Cockrell

 

In 1998, director Sam Raimi (whose upcoming Spider-Man is one of the most hotly-anticipated films of the 2002 summer season) stepped in towards the end of preproduction for John Boorman to assume the reigns of A Simple Plan, Scott B. Smithís fine adaptation of his affecting thriller. Not only is the finished product one of Raimiís best films (although the director credits Boormanís prep for the filmís creepy ambience), but itís undoubtedly where co-star Billy Bob Thornton (soon to be seen in the terrific new Coen Brothers film, The Man Who Wasnít There) gave him the script for The Gift, which was co-written by One False Move collaborator Tom Epperson. Unfortunately, the finished film, starring Cate Blanchett as a rural Georgia psychic who tangles with the likes of Hilary Swank, Keanu Reeves and Giovanni Ribisi in the course of her readings, never really gels either as slice-of-life drama or provocative thriller. By the time the groundwork for the interesting final third is laid, audiences may be forgiven their wandering attentions. Paramountís DVD pressing is a little on the expensive side considering the paucity of extras, which include cast/crew interviews and Niko Caseís music video for "Furnace Room Lullaby."

 


Hannibal

UK, 2000, Released 7.3.01
review by Eddie Cockrell

 

A decade after brilliant yet psychotic maniac Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins) first terrorized rookie FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster then, Julianne Moore now), the two are thrown together once again in an international game of cat-and-mouse instigated by Dr. Lectorís horribly disfigured former victim Mason Verger (Gary Oldman) and scoffed at by Starlingís corrupt superior Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta). As is usual for a Ridley Scott-directed film, Hannibal looks great (John Mathieson shot it), but also par for Scottís course is a certain fundamental coldness, with little of the visceral thrills to be found in Jonathan Demmeís Silence of the Lambs (or Hannibal the Cannibalís cinematic debut, Michael Mannís soon-to-be-remade Manhunter, for that matter). Still, MGM/UAís richly-appointed 2-disc DVD set is one of the yearís most eye-catching to date; stylish interactive menus branch off to the film itself and such supplements as a commentary track from Scott, over a half-hour of deleted scenes, no less than five production featurettes, three interactive multi-angle featurettes and a handful of trailers and promotional materials. 


Into the Arms of Strangers
Stories of the Kindertransport

USA, 2001, Released 8.28.01
review by Eddie Cockrell

 

Winner of the 2000 Best Feature Documentary Oscar and an Eddie for the Best Edited Documentary Feature from the organization of American cinema editors, Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport tells a half dozen or so of the thousands of stories of children from German, Austrian and Czech families who were relocated to England in the days leading up to World War II. Director Mark Jonathan Harris and his research staff have assembled a diverse group of people whose memories are lucid and emotional. And the archive footage has been skillfully assembled to almost constantly narrate these remembrances, resulting in a film at once illuminating and discreet (Dame Judi Dench narrates), dignified and as absorbing as any thriller. The Warners DVD includes two director commentary tracks with branching video segments, interviews with Lord Richard Attenborough (who does not appear in the film itself) and other transport participants, coverage of the premieres in London and Berlin, artifacts, photo galleries and biographies. 


Time and Tide
Seunlau ngaklau

Hong Kong, 2000, Released 8.7.01

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In contemporary Kowloon, sullenly earnest young security guard Tyler (singer Nicholas Tse) becomes caught in the crossfire of rival drug cartels even as heís offering awkward support to lesbian policewoman Ah Jo (Cathy Chui), whoís pregnant with his baby. After finding moderate success at the helm of the Jean-Claude van Damme vehicles Double Team (1997) and Knock Off (1998), Vietnamese-born Hong Kong action vet Tsui Hark (itís pronounced "choy huck") makes a triumphant return to freewheeling form with Time and Tide, a relentlessly inventive B movie elevated to dazzlingly kinetic heights by an almost complete disdain for detailed, logical narrative and a judicious blend of wildly imaginative CGI with good old-fashioned sweat-stained stuntwork. Donít worry that the first hour isnít adding up, by the time the chase through a huge, crumbling apartment block segues into the climactic showdown in Kowloonís cavernous train station and the adjacent arena in the midst of a rock concert (highlighted by some gunplay from Ah Jo during her delivery), you wonít care. Columbia TriStarís DVD edition has no extras, but that hardly matters: with its widescreen Panavision presentation and breathless, propulsive movement (note the sly spoofing of various John Woo films), Time and Tide just plain rocks. 


Beyond the A List



A Better Place

USA, 1997, Released 8.7.01
review by Eddie Cockrell

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On the New Jersey shore, young transfer student Barret (Robert DiPatri) is saved from a fight in his new high school locker room by angry loner Ryan (Eion Bailey). As the two become friends, Barret learns the true extent of Ryanís anger and depth of his despair, even as he searches for A Better Place. Writer-director-editor Vincent Pereira shares some creative traits with his co-executive producer Kevin Smith, the celebrated director of Clerks and Dogma. Chiefly, Pereiraís a good writer who canít yet coax natural performances from actors. Yet Bailey brings an undeniably affecting intensity to Ryan, and if the film as a whole is reminiscent of such sensationalist teen angst movies as Over the Edge, well, thatís not such a bad thing. The Synapse Films DVD has a raft of extras, including three separate introductions by Smith and his producer Scott Mosier; a fine Datacine transfer of the 16mm film elements themselves (slightly letterboxed); a commentary track from Pereira and his cast, and a handful of deleted scenes. 


Don's Party

Australia, 1976, Released 8.14.01
review by Eddie Cockrell

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As Australians headed to the polls for pivotal federal elections in 1969, Don Harrison (John Hargreaves) and his wife Kath (Jeanie Drynan) host a party for their friends. As most of them are on the losing side, Donís Party turns into an inebriated sexual free-for-all during which Johnís inebriated friends unwittingly play into the least flattering elements of the Australian character. The fourth film by director Bruce Beresford (Tender Mercies, Driving Miss Daisy), Donís Party is adapted from the play by acclaimed writer David Williamson. It won six of the eight Australian Film Institute Awards for which it was nominated, and is acted to the hilt by its large cast. The WinStar DVD edition is fullframe, with a clean print that shows some color fading. There are no extras on the disc. 


Eternity and a Day
Mia aiwniothta kai mia mera

Greece, 1998, Released 8.14.01
review by Eddie Cockrell

 

Terminally ill Greek writer Alexandre (Bruno Ganz, stepping in for Marcello Mastroianni after the actorís death) embarks on a metaphysical journey, during which he revisits an afternoon with his long-dead wife and assists a young Albanian orphan. The work of Greek auteur Theo Angelopoulos is much celebrated in Europe, but few of his stately, intricately-staged films have been embraced in America (some research might yield VHS tapes of his 1975 work The Travelling Players or 1988ís Landscape in the Mist, and thereís a DVD of his award-winning 1995 film Ulyssesí Gaze, starring Harvey Keitel). Eternity and a Day has reminded more than one viewer and critic of Ingmar Bergmanís Wild Strawberries, and for those willing to invest the time and energy in them his movies can be absorbing, emotional experiences. This New Yorker Video release is exclusive to a clean, letterboxed VHS edition for now, and priced to rent. 


Kippur

Isreal, 2000, Released 8.24.01
review by Eddie Cockrell

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Israel, 1973: Weinraub (Liron Levo) and his buddy Ruso (Tomer Ruso) are soldiers caught up in the Yom Kippur war, in which Egypt and Syria launched attacks in Sinai and the Golan Heights. Nearly nine minutes go by at the beginning of Kippur, director Amos Gitaiís acclaimed follow-up to 1999ís Kadosh, before a word is spoken, and his strategy of long takes and an unblinking camera eye mark this as an audacious blend of art film and war epic. And be warned: once it gets going, Kippur is every bit as harrowing as Full Metal Jacket, the first forty minutes or so of Saving Private Ryan and even the most fearsome moments in the otherwise tepid Pearl Harbor. In truth, the emotional effect is a cross between hyper-realism and dislocation, as if the whole conflict were nothing but a huge, bloody, bad dream. This is accomplished in part through the aforementioned long takes, combined with a blocking technique that only hints at the larger war, focusing instead on the individual heroics and Herculean efforts of the medical squad to which Weinraub and Ruso become attached. Although there are no extras on the Kino on Video DVD edition of the film, the letterboxed transfer, complete with English subtitles for the Hebrew dialogue, is spotless. 


The Last of the Blue Devils

USA, 1979, Released 8.14.01
review by Eddie Cockrell

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Under the auspices of Clint Eastwood, director Bruce Ricker in the mid-1970s filmed a number of surviving members of The Oklahoma City Blue Devils in Kansas City, including Jay McShann, Big Joe Turner, Jesse Price, Ernie Williams and, of course, Count Basie. The exuberant The Last of the Blue Devils makes a welcome return to home video courtesy of Kino; their DVD edition includes a new, fact-packed commentary track from Ricker, 19 minutes of outtake footage of Turner and McShann in performance, and a single-sheet insert listing the chapter stops by song title. Also available from Kino as part of this "Music Legends on DVD" release (but sold separately) is the DVD issue of their recent VHS Carnegie Hall, director Edgar G. Ulmerís star-packed 1947 musical love story set against the backdrop of the New York performance hall. 


Live Nude Girls Unite!

USA, 2000, Released 8.21.01
review by Eddie Cockrell

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Not long ago, comedian and social activist Julia Query took a job stripping at the Lusty Lady, a San Francisco club. Although she and her co-workers had a healthy humorous attitude towards their work ("itís like a weird pajama party," says one), the conditions under which they had to dance were so restrictive that Query organized the crew into a union -- but not without a fight from the mostly female management (after all, itís called the sex "industry"). The struggle resulted in the Exotic Dancers Union, a chapter of Service Employees International 790. The primitive technical nature of Live Nude Girls Unite!, which was shot by Query, co-director Vicky Funari and a few others, actually helps sell the point, as does the obvious score and Queryís chipper and intimate first-person narration (concurrent with these events, she was coming out to her Jewish mother as both a lesbian and an exotic dancer -- who, despite six years of ballet, isnít much of a dancer). The First Run Features DVD edition of Live Nude Girls Unite! includes a trailer, photo gallery, and barely six minutes of whatís billed as "never-before-seen bonus footage" -- but not, alas, a booklet. 


Melvin Van Peeblesí Classified X 

USA, 1998, Released 8.14.01
review by Eddie Cockrell

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Director Melvin Van Peebles (Sweet Sweetbackís Baad Asssss Song) is angry at the way blacks have been treated in American movies, and so he penned this 50-minute documentary for television to tell us how and why. Under the direction of cinematographer Mark Daniels, Van Peebles presents demeaning clips and offers reasons and possible solutions for the offensive racial stereotyping that existed in even the most mainstream and respectable of Hollywood movies. As provocative and useful as the film is, there are two glaring problems: Van Peebles, though eloquent, has never had a problem with humility; and the subject deserves a longer, more reflective and perhaps less self-serving treatment. The WinStar DVD edition offers no extras. 


My Man Godfrey

USA, 1936, Released 7.31.01
review by Eddie Cockrell

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At the height of the Great Depression, intellectual tramp Godfrey (William Powell) is fetched by ditzy socialite Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard) as part of a high society scavenger hunt. Back at her lavish home, Godfrey becomes the butler and shows the imbecilic family up for the superficial twits they are. Available for years only in a dupey, fuzzy and altogether dismal form (the result of a lapsed copyright that put the film in the public domain), director Gregory La Cavaís My Man Godfrey has been given new life in a DVD pressing from The Criterion Collection that must be counted among the yearís best releases. Working from a duplicate negative, the picture and sound quality are first-rate here, yielding details previously unseen and restoring an early, influential and still important screwball comedy (from the pen of Marx Brothers collaborator Morrie Ryskind) to a high, studio-era gloss. The discís extras include a fine essay from Preston Sturges biographer Diane Jacobs (Criterion has pressings of the Sturges titles Sullivanís Travels and The Lady Eve in the works); an audio commentary track from film historian Bob Gilpin; the 1938 "Lux Radio Theatre" broadcast in which Powell and Lombard recreated their roles; a production stills archive and original theatrical trailer. But the most provocative segment of the disc is a brief and expletive-laden selection of outtakes in which the principals flub their lines and swear a blue streak. Like this important new transfer of My Man Godfrey itself, the effect is refreshing and more than a little revelatory. 


The Neon Bible

USA, 1996, Released 8.14.01
review by Eddie Cockrell

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In 1940s rural Georgia, young David (Jacob Tierney) is forever changed by the arrival of his Aunt Mae (Gena Rowlands) and the death of his hot-headed father (Denis Leary) in World War Two. Among the most meticulous of living filmmakers, director Terence Davies had, prior to The Neon Bible, made just three shorts and two features in some 18 years of work. His two features, Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) and The Long Day Closes (1992) are about growing up Catholic in working-class Liverpool -- a theme picked up and transferred to the American south with hypnotic perception in The Neon Bible. With stunning wide-screen photography by Mick Coulter and an absorbing approach to period detail, the stately, stylized and challenging The Neon Bible pays off with an emotional intensity all too rare in contemporary art films. WinStarís DVD pressing has no significant extras or even a printed booklet, but preserves the craftsmanlike presentation with a clean, crisp print. 


The Seduction of Mimi
Mimž mettalurgico ferito nellí onore

Italy, 1972, Released 8.14.01
review by Eddie Cockrell

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Sicilian laborer Mimi (Giancarlo Giannini) refuses to vote for the Mafiaís candidate in a local election, and loses everything through his political bullheadedness. The Seduction of Mimi is the first in a remarkable string of sociosexual comedies written and directed in the 1970s by Italian auteur Lina WertmŁller, who had cut her teeth as assistant director to Fellini on such landmark films as 8 Ĺ (at this writing Guy Ritchie and Madonna are remaking one of these, 1974ís Swept Away). As carnivalesque as Fellini but much more socially of the moment, WertmŁllerís movies are loud, merry affairs, featuring the distinctive set and costume design of husband Enrico Job. Mariangela Melato, who costars as Mimiís mistress Fiore, appeared in three of these movies: Mimi, 1973ís Love and Anarchy and Swept Away. WinStarís DVD pressing of The Seduction of Mimi preserves the letterboxed format, although the print is a bit faded. The rounded yellow English subtitles are distinctive and easy to read. 


Sullivan's Travels

USA, 1942, Released 8.21.01
review by Eddie Cockrell

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Vowing to ditch such frivolous Hollywood fare as Hey, Hey in the Hayloft, idealistic young filmmaker John L. "Sully" Sullivan (Joel McCrea) ditches his entourage and embarks on an incognito tour of 1940s America, accompanied only by "The Girl" (Veronica Lake), better to soak up the ambience for his planned magnum opus O Brother, Where Art Thou? (yes, thatís where the Coen Brothers got the title). Sullivanís Travels is the first of legendarily eccentric writer-director Preston Sturgesí 11 transcendent American comedies to receive the DVD treatment, and the Criterion Collection pressing contains a generous complement of extras, including an interview with Sturgesí widow Sandy; a dupey but still clever original trailer; brief audio recordings of the director himself; and galleries of storyboards, blueprints, production stills (including five photos from excised sequences) and publicity material. And what should be the crown jewel of this collection is actually the setís single biggest drawback: the commentary track by director Noah Baumbach (Kicking & Screaming), Bowser, Best in Show director Christopher Guest and writer-actor Michael McKean. McKean is erudite and Bowser informative, but Baumbach hardly registers and Guestís deadpan absurdities are downright annoying. Still, this ranks as one of the yearís DVD keepers, an invaluable addition to any DVD collection. Criterion also promises Sturgesí third film, The Lady Eve, in mid-October. 


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