DVD REVIEW – May 17, 2008

THIS WEEK IN DVD’S – May 17, 2008


Silent Ozu (Criterion)
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Sony)


I bet if you concentrate really hard, you can actually hear the sound of copies of Silent Ozu flying off retail shelves: Mom, can I please have this three-disc box set of silent Japanese films? PLEASE? Not likely.

But ignore these three films at your own peril. Criterion’s Eclipse line of box sets don’t have much in terms of bonus features or pristine visual presentation (they are, after all, 75-year-old movies), this release featuring Tokyo Chorus, I Was Born, But… and Passing Fancy is a must-see. He may not manifest the kind of near-ethereal flair for human interaction that he showed with later work like Late Spring or Good Morning, but in these three early films, you can literally watch the genius of Yasujiro Ozu take root.

And while Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly isn’t exactly the kind of achievement, in a land of dullard corporate filmmaking, it’s nice to see somebody try something different. And Diving Bell is different – I’ll tell you that much. The movie, told almost entirely in first-person from the vantage point of a man crippled by a rare, debilitating disease, is able to mine emotional territory that few films dare to explore, and even if the visual construction of the movie errs toward cliché around half-way through, it’s nevertheless quite easy to recommend a movie that insists upon its audience not getting an easy way out.


The Indiana Jones Adventure Collection (Paramount)
The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles Volume 3 (Paramount)


All right – let’s address the double-dip potential of this new Indiana Jones set (because if you’re a self-respecting DVD aficionado, it goes without saying that you already have the first three IJ movies on your shelf, right? RIGHT?): First and foremost, these are the same transfers and mixes afforded to the first DVD set’s release. And here’s the trade-off – while this set includes none of the bonuses from IJ DVD 1, it does house twelve new featurettes, including new introductions to the film from Steven and George. Your buddy Mike says rent this one to see the new goodies, but save your money if you’ve already got it.

And thankfully now the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles DVD releases are over and done with – and not a moment too soon. This third massive collection houses fantastically detailed and informational documentaries covering the historical plot points that each of these episodes revolve around, but as adventure drama, these suckers are paper-thin. Stick with the movies, folks.


Mission Impossible: The Fourth TV Season (Paramount)
The 4400: Season Four (Paramount)
Joseph Campbell: Mythos 2 (Acorn Media)


Mission Impossible is just a hoot, man. This writer was only introduced to the franchise as a Tom Cruise vehicle, so the act of rediscovering the show that started it all has been wildly exciting. Sure, this fourth season isn’t quite as deliciously rat-a-tat as seasons past, but it’s a helluva good time, nonetheless. And thank God it isn’t as pretentious as The 4400. While this series about a group of people abducted by aliens only to be returned to Earth with zero memory of their time as astro-captives has the kind of concept that Mulder and Scully would no doubt approve of, the execution of the show’s fourth season is way more Smallville than Taken: Imagine all those terrible soap opera amnesia story arcs and just replace cheating trophy wives with aliens and you’ve got it. Pass.

What is fascinating, though – if perhaps a bit straightforward for most audiences – is Joseph Cambpell: Mythos 2. A series of five lectures from the wildly intelligent mythologist and de facto cultural anthropologist, this 2-DVD set is little more than a fantastic seminar on humans and their interactions with stories, myths and religions (again, not for everybody), but for those with a taste for things that may lie beneath the surface of all things, this one might just sweep you away.


Intelligence (Acorn Media)
DNA: The Complete Series (Acorn Media)


These two imports from across the pond are intriguing, if not air-tight entertainments. Actor Tom Conti singlehandedly makes DNA a worthwhile watch – his performance as a criminologist who survives a devastating personal breakdown only to return to the office with a whole new set of concerns (both for himself and the crimes he’s solving) has a lovely nuance and you-are-there immediacy to it. Intelligence is way more Guy Ritchie than Prime Suspect – and its crash-bang pizzazz makes its kinetic style a bit difficult to handle in long doses – but its investigation of seedy folks from all kinds of social positions trying to wriggle their way up the social ladder has moments of wonderfully juicy pull.


Frank Sinatra: The Early Years (Warner)
Saludos Amigos/The Three Caballeros (Buena Vista)


Warner has a big slate of Ol’ Blue Eyes DVD box sets coming out this month, and while The Rat Pack Complete Collection might be the easy recommendation, The Early Years allows for an interesting showcase of Sinatra’s cinematic talents. It Happened in Brooklyn, Step Lively, The Kissing Bandit, Double Dynamite and Higher and Higher may not stand tall against works from his more serious age (From Here to Eternity, The Manchurian Candidate), but it’s apparent from this light, airy fare that this handsome young kid knows how to through his charisma around so that everyone notices.

And speaking of throwbacks, the new Three Caballeros DVD is goofy fun, if not implicitly worth a purchase. Disney/Buena Vista has been so diligent about maintaining high marks for its video and audio presentations of Disney animated material that it’s impossible not to watch these old films on DVD and simply be stunned (just wait until Sleeping Beauty hits Blu-ray this fall!). Yeah, both Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros underwhelm when compared to other Disney output of the age, but it’s proof to the value of DVD as a format that technology can make such one-off material look and sound so wonderful decades after its release.


The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Blu-ray (Buena Vista)
Shall We Dance Blu-ray (Buena Vista)


These two high-def titles look and sound great. That should come as little surprise. Shall We Dance? doesn’t get a grade-A transfer – it’s hampered by a heavy degree of grain in its presentation – but it’s in every way a step up from its DVD manifestation (Lion…Wardrobe, on the other hand, looks absolutely STUNNING). And their sound mixes? Both superb (again, the fantasy epic has more in terms of the WOW factor in its soundscape, but they both get the job done fantastically). And bonuses – I’m glad you asked. Shall We Dance? simply shoehorns over its DVD bonuses (which is fine), but with this Narnia Blu-ray disc, you literally get an ocean of bonus material (much of it exclusive to this high-def edition). Seriously – it’s hours and hours and hours of material.


There’s one snag, though: Neither of these movies are any good. Yeah, yeah – it’s great to see such fantastic high-def tech-beauty, but why does it have to be wasted on ho-hum movies? ARRRGH…