DVD REVIEW – April 10, 2008

THIS WEEK IN DVD’S – April 10, 2008


Carver: Unrated (Allumination FilmWorks)
There Will Be Blood (Paramount)


Hey kids – wanna watch some teenagers get gored and gutted for about an hour-and-a-half? Well, who doesn’t?

This writer has no problem with gore – I really can’t go for more than a month or two without watching Evil Dead II or Dead-Alive – but the nastiness in Carver is just pointless. Teens hike into the woods, stumble across some Mongoloid maniacs: THE END. Boooo-ring.

What isn’t boring is the grisliness of There Will Be Blood. Sure, it’s an Oscar winner and a legitimate ‘film’, but P.T. Anderson’s latest foray into the lunacy of the human mind is one of the more engaging and riveting pictures of the last few years. No, it’s not as grotesque as its title might make it seem, but between Daniel Day-Lewis’ glacial performance and Jonny Greenwood’s exceptional score, you’ll be too wrapped up in it to care.


Outlaw (Magnolia)
Walk the Line: Extended Cut (Fox)


Sometimes bad things happen to great casts – just look at Outlaw. You’d think that putting Sean Bean, Bob Hoskins and Danny Dyer in the same movie would be a recipe for a taut, finessed actioner, but in this case, the movie simply doesn’t gel. It attempts to engage themes involving the war in Iraq into its cynical frame (which is, of course, wildly admirable), but its final twenty minutes are beyond ridiculous – Outlaw’s coda is so painfully odious that it all but undoes the noble work done by its performers.

And even though it won Reese Witherspoon an Oscar and jump-kicked a resurgence of Johnny Cash CD compilations, the newly-released Walk The Line: Extended Cut still doesn’t quite add up. The singer’s life was a brilliant one, with ups and downs the likes of which most people never know, but Walk the Line walks on eggshells around Cash’s drug use and the infidelity that led to his monumental personal and musical collaborations with June Carter. This writer had hopes that this newer, longer cut would beef up the dark underbelly of Cash’s career, but it doesn’t – it’s basically the same movie with longer musical sequences. I mean, come on – when Cash’s own autobiography is tougher and grittier than a movie biopic about the legend, you know you’re in trouble.


John From Cincinnati: The Complete First Season (HBO)
Five Days (HBO)


Leave it to HBO to throw a show like John From Cincinnati at us – this saga of a surfing family dealing with rough-and-tumble life lessons is definitely not the kind of thing you’d see on network TV. We have professional surfers whose careers have been halted by injury (Bruce Greenwood), drugged-out sons (Brian Van Holt) and deranged local cops (Ed O’Neill) among others who contribute to the show’s out-of-left-field scope.

The trouble is that the show never really connects. Where HBO shows like Deadwood and The Sopranos were able to give us elements of both the super-familiar and the crazy, Cincinnati in its first season never quite finds its own voice. Perhaps future seasons will help give the show an emotional face, but as it stands, this is o

ver-emphasized melodrama that doesn’t really have a center.

Far more intriguing is Five Days, the kind of miniseries that will have you staying up for hours on end trying to get through it as quickly as possible. It all starts with a woman literally disappearing at the drop of a hat, and the world of the lady’s vanishing starts up a dramatic vortex that does not let up. We get conflicts between kids, between the family and the authorities – nothing is easy in Five Days and nothing is what it seems. And Janet McTeer turns in a powerfully memorable performance as Sergeant Foster, an authority figure with the kind of emotional framework TV doesn’t see very often. It’s exceptional entertainment.


Pride of the Yankees (Fox)
Eight Men Out (Fox)
Bull Durham (Fox)


Thank God for baseball season. And thank you, Fox, for the release of these three notable re-releases. You’d have to be either a robot or a communist to not have at least a moderate emotional response to Pride of the Yankees, with Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig – the film may not be the most beautifully-made thing out there, but Cooper’s stoic yet vulnerable performance is one for the ages.

And Eight Men Out has actually become a better film in hindsight. I remember finding the movie about the 1919 Chicago White Sox scandal a bit dry upon first viewing, but this John Sayles movie ages like a fine wine – what I missed at first glance I relished in this time around. John Cusack has never been better, and even Charlie Sheen puts in a commendable performance in this movie that balances a love for the game with the sometimes out-of-control competitive desire for money and fame baseball often entails.

Also, let’s just say it: Bull Durham’s a great movie. It may have a few late-80s clichés that haven’t aged all that well within its scope, but this comedy with Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins remains Ron Shelton’s greatest work, a movie with as much heart, soul and libido-inducing sensuality as any sports movie: It’s a home run if there ever was one.


The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (Sony)
A Passage to India (Sony)


Both of these films are esteemed titles from exceptional directors – Passage to India (DVD | Blu-Ray) was David Lean’s final full work, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (DVD | Blu-Ray) was Terry Gilliam’s outrageous follow-up to the wildly successful Brazil. And Sony has re-released both of these films in standard DVD and Blu-ray formats – but which should you check out?

Well, there is definitely a noticeable bump in quality when comparing the high-def to standard presentations – the fact remains that even a crappy Blu-ray disc looks a hair better than fantastic DVDs. But neither of these films really stun on Blu-ray: Definition is increased, to be sure, but both fail to be presented in eye-popping, reference-quality beauty. The high-def experience both these discs present is impressive, but you’re not going to miss a hell of a lot if you stick to the new DVD incarnations of the films.