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Best DefenceBest Defense on DVD

Here’s a real stinker that the world would be better off never having to see on DVD.

The movie is the brainchild, if that can be said, of Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, the team who nearly ruined Indiana Jones thanks to their story for “Temple of Doom” and who brought us the mega flop (though not nearly as bad as some people made out) Howard the Duck.

The story, such as it is, concerns Wylie Cooper (Dudley Moore) – a down on his luck engineer working for a down on its luck company looking to get some lucrative defense contracts. He comes into possession of a nifty piece of technology that allows his company to snag just such a contract.

Then all hell breaks loose in a story that combines marital infidelity (well, an attempt at such, anyway), spy intrigue and some supposed slapstick with some truly embarrasing writing.

Meanwhile, in an series of cuts that make it appear as if this part was added later as an afterthought to pad the movie out to feature length, we jump ahead a couple of years to where Eddie Murphy is in Kuwait to test the military tank that results from the Dudley Moore part of the movie. All hell breaks loose as the tank runs amok just as Iraq invades Kuwait and Murphy gets to mug for the camera along with his Kuwaiti people of hench.

Forget it. This is Hollywood military-and-U.S. bashing at its worst and while the performances are all fine (these actors were obviously pros, despite the lines they were given), they certainly didn’t do their careers any good by appearing in it.

It’s nice to see Canadian actress Helen Shaver again, though.

Also along for the non-yukfest is Kate Capshaw, who also bears much of the blame for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. This time she plays Moore’s wife. In one of the film’s more subtle moments (sarcasm is indicated here), she’s sitting in her car humming the theme from Indiana Jones. A real gut buster, that – yet probably the funniest part of the movie.

The DVD’s okay. At least it’s presented in anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible). Colors are good, though we noticed plenty of grain in places. Audio is Dolby Digital mono and it’s about as remarkable as the screenplay. There are no extras, so once the movie’s over you can safely and quickly take the disc out of your player, throw it away, and then hose down your DVD player.

Just make sure it’s turned off first so you don’t short it out.

Best Defense, from Paramount Home Video
94 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital mono
Starring Dudley Moore, Eddie Murphy, Kate Capshaw, Helen Shaver
Produced by Gloria Katz
Written by Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, directed by Willard Huyck

Vanishing Point

Vanishing Point on DVD

This cult classic was never a great flick, and it certainly hasn’t aged well – but on the other hand it was good to see it again if only to take a wander down memory lane.

Vanishing Point is the tale of a guy named Kowalski (Barry Newman), a former cop and racer who delivers cars to faraway cities. He bets a friend from whom he gets some speed capsules that he can deliver a 1970 Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco in 15 hours – and we have ourselves a movie.

Naturally, in order to pull off his amazing feat he has to drive like a man possessed, and this almost immediately runs him afoul of the law. But this is basically the Sixties (the decade of love and counterculture, which spilled over into the Seventies) and so the poor misunderstood misfit is the good guy and the cops are not only bad guys, but they’re evil idiots and buffoons.

Kowalski drives not only like a man possessed, but like a madman, a selfish road hog who treats other motorists as mere obstacles. Oh, he isn’t out to get anyone killed – he even stops every time he runs someone off the road to make sure they aren’t hurt.

The guy’s a bleedin’ saint!

His case, which stretches out from state to state, comes to the attention of a blind radio DJ (Cleavon Little) thanks to a police scanner, and he immediately makes Kowalski his cause du jour, singing his praises as the last free man on the planet and coaching him in his journey by warning him of impending doom in the form of black and white cruisers.

It’s all rather silly in 2004, but the Challenger is really nice and there are a few decent driving scenes. And if you want a time capsule of the type of counterculture hit that the youth of the era (including this reviewer) were flocking to, this one probably ranks up there with such other minor hits as Billy Jack.

There’s a little bit of nudity, in a free spirited girl, some drugs, the standard stuff of the genre.

It’s worth a look, if only for the Dodge.

The DVD is actually pretty good. Presented in anamorphic widescreen, the colors are really nice, though we noticed some grain at different places throughout the film. Overall, however, it’s fine, and showcases the excellent cinematography very well. Audio is Dolby Digital stereo and it won’t give your home theater much of a workout. But the Challenger still sounds good….

Extras? Well, the DVD contains both the US and British releases (we watched the US one, ‘cause that’s the one we remembered) and there’s a full length commentary by director Richard C. Serafian. You also get the trailer and some TV spots.

Vanishing Point, from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
98 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), Dolby Digital stereo
Starring Barry Newman, Dean Jagger, Cleavon Little
Produced by Norman Spencer
Written by Guillermo Cain, directed by Richard C. Serafian

Allan Quatermain

Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold on DVD

Can you say “Indiana Jones wannabe?”

If you can, and you still have a good taste in your mouth, perhaps you’ll enjoy Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold.

Okay, we'll admit that Allan Quatermain is a literary hero whereas the abovementioned Dr. Jones is a tribute to such heroes. But Indiana Jones, at least in his first and third outings, made for a great movie experience, while Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold is a mere pretender to movie greatness.

Richard Chamberlain stars as the title character, rejoined in this sequel to King Solomon’s Mines by Sharon Stone as his fiancee – a woman determined to take him back to America and make an honest man out of him.

But that wouldn’t make much of a movie, would it? So we have Allan heading off across the dark continent in search of his brother who is apparently being held in some legendary lost city of gold populated by a lost tribe of white Africans. He’s accompanied by his main squeeze, who is always decorative at worst, some strange religious figure who’s actually the film’s comedy relief, and James Earl Jones as a larger than life African whose role is to wield his weapons and whine about the religious guy for the length of the film.

They're kind of the R2D2 and C2PO combination, though Jones is a better actor than R2D2.

They face dangers on their way, including some cheesy special effects and just as cheesy enemies. In the end they discover the tribe, the lost city, and the brother, but have to defeat an evil dictator (Henry Silva) and his people of hench who include Cassandra Peterson, better known as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.

It’s all pretty silly and you never really get drawn in or start to actually care about the characters, but if for some reason you can’t find Raiders of the Lost Ark you could watch this to find out, at the very least, how not to do it.

The DVD’s okay. The picture is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and the picture quality is fine. Audio is Dolby Digital stereo surround and it’s okay.

Extras are limited to the theatrical trailer.

Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold
100 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital stereo surround
Starring Richard Chamberlain, Sharon Stone, James Earl Jones, Henry Silva
Produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus
Written by Gene Quintano, directed by Gary Nelson

One Milllion Years BC

One Million Years B.C.

Forget Raquel, this is a Ray Harryhausen movie!

Besides, if you’re talking about cast members, this is really more a John Richardson movie than a Raquel Welch one. She basically plays his main squeeze, a lady he meets while cruising the prehistoric landscape that just happens to, rather unscientifically, have dinosaurs sharing the planet with human beings.

It may not be scientific, but it’s the real reason to watch this movie: Harryhausen!

Richardson is a member of the rock people (before there were electric guitars), but he’s banished thanks to some intra-tribe politics and finds himself wandering around the landscape on his own.

Fortunately, he comes across Raquel and her entourage, members of the Shell people. This is a more advanced tribe than his own, and he learns enough from them to take some new technology back to his own people and snuggle up to them again – now accompanied by his woman, the marquee star of the movie.

Forget the story. It’s silly and seems only there to give moviegoers/DVD viewers a chance to see Ray Harryhausen’s always wonderful work, as well as to ogle Ms. Welch at the height of her star power (this, along with Fantastic Voyage, is the role that put her on the map) – and she does fill the skin bikini quite nicely.

Harryhausen fans will enjoy watching the master at work with his dinosaur models (including a neat battle between two of the giant beasts) as well as with real, living beasties he manages to make look huge.

Welch fans will enjoy watching Welch strain not to fall out of the skin bikini. And, alas, she never does.

It’s a minor entry in the sci-fi movie catalog, and though it definitely isn’t one of Harryhausen’s best, his work is definitely the highlight of the movie.

The DVD, part of a series of Welch features that includes Bandolero, Myra Breckinridge, and Mother, Jugs and Speed, is pretty grainy. Fortunately, it’s also anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, which is the way it should be. It’s watchable, and much of the grain is undoubtedly due to the extra layers of film required to overlap the special effects elements. A good remastering’s probably in order, though we can think of other Harryhausen titles we’d rather see restored before they get around to this one.

Audio, Dolby Digital stereo, is also nothing to write home about.

But give us an opportunity to watch Harryhausen any time and we’re there….

One Million Years B.C. from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
91 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital stereo
Starring John Richardson, Raquel Welch,
Produced by Michael Carreras,
Written by Michael Carreras, Directed by Don Chaffey

The Alamo

The Alamo on DVD

John Wayne starred in, produced and directed this epic look at the famed battle between Mexican forces and a wildly overmatched collection of freedom fighters.

He plays Davy Crockett, folk hero and ex-politician who arrives in Mexican-owned Texas with a group of fellow Tennesseeans who find themselves front row center at a time in history that still echoes today. Richard Widmark is Jim Bowie and Laurence Harvey is Col. Travis, the regular army officer who’s the bane of the “irregulars” who are a lot looser with their discipline.

This Alamo is epic in look and feel, and according to the box was shot entirely in Texas within miles of the actual Alamo mission. It’s a huge movie with hundreds of extras and the climactic hopeless battle is well staged without being unduly graphic – the way they used to make movies when they didn’t need to show the gore in order to make their point.

Wayne’s directorial debut is sprawling and patriotic and over its 162 minute running time we get a highly entertaining western/war epic that’s well worth seeing. Wayne’s Crockett is a straight talking, fun loving, larger than life frontiersman who bonds with the inscrutable Bowie like a couple of brothers. The two are a marked contrast to the “by the book” Colonel Travis.

In the end, of course, their stand is futile as a couple of hundred men try to defend the mission from an army of several thousand…

And the DVD features a nice anamorphic widescreen transfer that, overall, is sharp and clean and which offers good color. Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, supposedly, and the audio quality is good. The music stretches across the front channels very nicely, with the dialogue limited to the center (which is fine), though its quality isn’t as good as the music’s.

Extras include the interesting documentary “John Wayne’s The Alamo,” as well as the original theatrical trailer.

The Alamo, from MGM Home Entertainment
162 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1 surround audio
Starring John Wayne, Richard Widmark, Laurence Harvey, Frankie Avalon, Richard Boone
Written by James Edward Grant
Produced and Directed by John Wayne

Shoot or be Shot

Shoot or be Shot on DVD

Now here’s a guilty pleasure if we ever saw one!

William Shatner chews the scenery in his typical manner in this tale of a writer trying to get his script produced, a producer trying to get anything produced, and a director trying to make a film without any script at all.

Sound like a dog’s breakfast? Indeed it does, and it’s one that had us laughing out loud more than once!

Shatner’s overacting actually works to make this film better. He’s a mental patient with a script who escapes from the looney bin and heads toward Hollywood determined to get his script made.

Harry Hamlin is also very good as the coiffed, cigar chewing producer looking for a film that’ll enhance his ultra low reputation. Most of his titles have been B-type exploitation flicks, but then he meets an up and coming director (Scott Rinker) who eschews scripts in favor of setting up bizarre situations and then just shooting until something interesting happens.

Well wouldn’t you know Hamlin, Rinker and their tiny cast and crew are out in the sticks trying to make film when Shatner shows up and, at gunpoint, forces them to shoot his script instead of making the mess that was in progress.

There isn’t really anything new or groundbreaking here, but the film never takes itself too seriously and writers will undoubtedly get a kick out of it as for once they’re actually taken seriously – or as seriously as anything in this ultimately silly film is taken.

Worth one viewing, anyway.

The DVD is actually excellent. The picture is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, as well as Pan&Scan on opposite sides of the same disc (the way it should be). The picture quality is outstanding, with lovely color and excellent detail.

Audio is Dolby stereo and despite that modest technology, it’s also very good.

Forget about any extras, though.

Shoot or be Shot, from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
90 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1, 16x9 TV compatible)/Pan&Scan, Dolby Digital stereo
Starring William Shatner, Harry Hamlin, Julieanne Christie, Scott Rinker
Produced by Ralph Winter
Written by Alastair Salton, Steven Catanzaro and J. Randall Argue, directed by J. Randall Argue

The President's Analyst

The President's Analyst

It’s a blast from the past, a 60’s –era comedy that’s so 60’s, and so silly, that you have to watch it just once.

It’s a cold war comedy of spies and paranoia, delightfully offbeat and with some good skewering of liberals and their hypocrisy in it as well.

James Coburn is Dr. Sidney Schaefer, a New York shrink who’s so good he’s tapped to become the official shrink of the president of the United States. But first he’s tested by one of his clients (Godfrey Cambridge), an American spy who’s also one of the good doctor’s patients.

So Schaefer gets the gig and moves to Washington with his live in girlfriend – who becomes his live-out girlfriend when it’s discovered that the good doctor talks in his sleep and could be revealing state secrets.

It all gets to be too much for Schaefer, who starts seeing enemies all around him, spies who want to either kill him or kidnap him and flush the secrets out of his brain. Except that it isn’t paranoia: everyone is trying to either kill him or kidnap him and flush the secrets from his brain.

So he bugs out, disappearing into the American landscape and for a while taking up with a hippie rock band to hide out. But you can’t evade professional spies that easily, and the next thing you know he’s heading back to shore from the Great Lakes in an Amphicar, on his way back to Washington to take up his duties again thanks to a kindly Soviet spy (Severn Darden) who now wants to be one of the good doctor’s clients.

Other than an emotionally gripping opening scene in which Cambridge’s character recounts a childhood incident – which totally changes the mood of the film from comedy to drama - silliness reigns supreme here. Schaefer is even accosted by the Canadian Secret Service, as represented by a Cockney-sounding git.

The movie looks and acts almost like a 60’s vintage spy thriller, except that the characters and situations are ‘way over the top. In the process, the filmmakers send up the cold war, psycho-babble, political correctness, hippies, bureaucrats, corporate domination, and, well, you name it. This is good stuff.

Coburn, like his costars here, is wonderful. He’s at his suave, Derek Flint-like best.

The DVD is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and the picture quality is first rate. The image is sharp, colors are bright and there’s good detail. It looks like a quintessential 1960’s flick.

The 60’s feel splashes over to the audio as well. It’s Dolby Digital mono and is unremarkable, though clean and basically distortion free. It won’t give your home theater a workout, however.

And there are no extras, unfortunately.

The President’s Analyst, from Paramount Home Entertainment
102 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital mono
Starring James Coburn, Godfrey Cambridge, Severn Darden, Joan Delaney
Produced by Stanley Rubin,
Written and directed by Theodore J. Flicker

Barbershop 2

Barbershop 2: Back in Business on DVD

Talk about a bunch of cutups!

Ice Cube returns in his role of Calvin Palmer, owner of a neighborhood barbershop – which probably doesn’t surprise anyone considering the name of the movie.

The first movie was a hit and before reviewing 2 we must admit that we never saw it, so that may color our comments.

The plot isn't particularly exciting and it’s pretty predictable, but in the end we suppose it’s enjoyable enough.

The barbershop is doing business as usual, but an evil corporation (aren’t they all evil to Hollywood?) is putting a hair cutting chain outlet across the street and this promises to put the friendly neighborhood barbershop owned by Palmer out of business. After all, all Palmer offers is haircuts and camaraderie, while the interloper appears to be a full service salon that provides just about everything short of hookers.

Maybe they'll add the hookers for Barbershop 3…

Anyway, we get the usual small business and neighborhood values collision with the Soulless Big Guys, interspersed with flashbacks to when Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer), the shop's oldest and most opinionated barber, came to work for Calvin's dad years ago.

The original cast is back again and this time they’re joined by Queen Latifah, as the owner of a nearby barbershop.

The performances are pretty good, though we had the dickens of a time understanding half of what Cedric the Entertainer was saying.

The DVD is very good. The picture is presented in anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible) and the picture quality is excellent. Colors are rich and deep and the image is sharp and bright. Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and it’s also very good, though it won’t really give the home theater a workout.

Extras include commentaries, one by Cedric the Entertainer, Sean Patrick Thomas, Troy Garity, and Jazsmin Lewis and the other featuring director Kevin Rodney Sullivan and producers Robert Teitel and George Tillman Jr.. You also get some deleted scenes, outtakes, music videos, a photo gallery and trailers.

Barbershop 2 Back in Business, from MGM Home Entertainment
106 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Ice Cube, Cedric the Entertainer, Sean Patrick Thomas, Eve, Queen Latifah
Produced by Robert Teitel, George Tillman, Jr. Alex Gartner,
Written by Don D. Scott, Directed by Kevin Rodney Sullivan

Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge on DVD

If you’ve only seen the Baz Luhrman version of Moulin Rouge you’re really missing a treat and owe it to yourself to pick up this John Huston/Jose Ferrer version.

This is one incredible film!

It’s the story of the great artist-caricaturist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and this film’s superb quality comes from excellence on the part of both John Huston and José Ferrer.

Huston was an extraordinary filmmaker and Ferrer’s portrayal of the artist is unbelievable. He becomes the tormented, self-absorbed misfit who managed to be loved platonically by most, but who could never really find love himself despite many attempts.

Toulouse-Lautrec was a diminutive child of privilege whose legs were permanently damaged due to a childhood accident that left him short and in pain for the rest of his life. Lautrec leaves his easy life behind him to become an artist in the rollicking Paris of the late 19th century. Ferrer’s performance as the cognac-laced artist is Oscar-worthy; you really do forget it’s Jose Ferrer and believe its Lautrec. Not only that, but in the longer shots where you can see just how short the man was we found ourselves wondering how they did that in the days before digital effects.

Huston does such a great job of creating the era and the locale that you almost think this is a documentary – except of course for the fact that the technology to make such a record didn’t exist at the time.

And if you’ve only known Zsa Zsa Gabor for either being Eva’s sister or a cop-slapping socialite, you’re in for a surprise here as she turns up as a Moulin Rouge entertainer and friend of Lautrec. She's very good.

How good is this movie? We didn’t even really want to see it, since the Lurhman version spoiled the subject for us (though it's a great DVD!), but almost immediately upon starting the movie we found ourselves drawn in and ended up being riveted to the screen (which really hurt!).

The DVD leaves a bit to be desired, though. It’s presented in its original full frame aspect ratio, which is fine even though it isn’t 16x9 TV compatible, but while in places the picture looks terrific, at other points it looks to be crying out for a nice digital remastering. The color production design and the costumes (Both of which won Oscars) really cries out for a high quality DVD, and this one isn’t quite up to snuff.

Oh well.

Audio is Dolby Digital mono and it’s unremarkable.

The only extra is the theatrical trailer.

Still, this is a movie tour de force and we recommend it highly.

Moulin Rouge, from MGM Home Entertainment
119 min. full frame (1.33:1, not 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital mono
Starring Jose Ferrer, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Suzanne Flon, Colette Marchand
Written by Anthony Veiller and John Huston, directed by John Huston

Charlie Chan Chanthology

Charlie Chan “Chanthology” on DVD

Okay, so he may not be in the class of Sam Spade – or at least the movies aren’t in the same class – but Charlie Chan is one of Hollywood’s legendary sleuths and this collection brings together six of his adventures in one boxed set.

It’s an interesting blast from the past. How can you lose?

Sidney Toler stars as Chan; he starred in 11 Chan pictures before apparently buying the rights to the character and taking his ball to another studio. Toler died in 1947 and was replaced by Roland Winters.

Anyway, the six films collected here are apparently the first six Chan titles after Toler got control of the character, and all but five are directed by Phil Rosen. The six are pretty interchangeable as long as you don’t mind learning new names for characters and methods of committing murder. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing; James Bond movies are much the same in their formula, and they’re one of the most respected and lucrative series in movie history.

Of course these are no Bond movies....

Here are the titles in this collection:

Charlie Chan in The Secret Service: Chan investigates the death of a wartime inventor
The Chinese Cat: a San Francisco socialite croaks
Meeting at Midnight (originally titled Black Magic): Chan’s daughter Frances is suspected in the murder of a supposed psychic
The Jade Mask: features “number four son” along for the ride as a much hated government scientist is killed
The Scarlet Clue: features death by remote control and top secret radar technology
The Shanghai Cobra: drags number three son into the action as Chan is called upon to investigate a series of mysterious murders by the use of cobra venom.

The Chan series is interesting for its blend of murder mystery and humor, and of course Chan is always ready to utter one pithy proverb or another.

Each film in this boxed set comes in its own case and includes a “fact from the vault” on the rear panel. Other than that you can forget about any extras.

All the movies, not surprisingly, are presented in the 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio, which means that owners of 16x9 TV’s may want to stretch and/or zoom the picture to fill their screens if their particular TV’s are prone to burn in. Picture quality is pretty good for low budget old black and white fare.

Audio is Dolby Digital mono and is unremarkable but okay.

The Charlie Chan Chanthology, from MGM Home Entertainment

Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express on DVD

Here’s an oldie but a goodie, a classic Agatha Christie whodunit with an all star cast and a nifty twist ending.

And what a cast! Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave and Lauren Bacall are some of the big names on board, with Albert Finney as Dame Agatha Christie's famed Belgian sleuth, Hercule Poirot.

The crime? Well, murder obviously: someone has done in Richard Widmark, a really nasty piece of work as it turns out, while he and a zillion other people are riding the Orient Express. The weird thing that Poirot discovers is that everyone has a motive of one type or other, which adds a lot of confusion but a lot of opportunity for a fun whodunit.

And that's what we get. It’s a fun ensemble piece, in which each of the stars has enough meat in his role to make it interesting without taking over the whole show and director Sidney Lumet does a nice job of stringing the story along. The performances, not surprisingly, are excellent – and Ingrid Bergman was awarded an Oscar for her role.

But it’s Finney who really steals the show as the intrepid sleuth who takes the case basically because it interests him. We don’t think he’s as good a Poirot as Peter Ustinov, but he’s still very good.

The film is an exquisitely crafted period piece and mystery rolled into one. And the revelation of the identity of “whodunit” is delicious. There’s also some great dialog.

The DVD’s pretty good, though it also comes in the annoying type of box Paramount has been using recently that has two little locking tabs that make getting it open even more annoying than usual. Presented in anamorphic widescreen, the picture quality is first rate, with a sharp image, good detail and rich color. Audio has been remixed into Dolby Digital 5.1 and restored mono; it’s fine, though nothing remarkable.

For extras, you get a 4 part "making of" documentary which would probably have worked better as one feature, but at least it’s relatively substantial. There’s also a nice look at Agatha Christie, the author, and the theatrical trailer.

Murder on the Orient Express, from Paramount Home Entertainment
127 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Martin Balsam, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Widmark, Michael York
Produced by John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin
Written by Paul Dehn, directed by Sidney Lumet

How to Steal a Million

How to Steal a Million on DVD

Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole were at their most glamorous in this comedy from master director William Wyler.

She’s the daughter of an art collector (Hugh Griffith) who’s an artist in his own right – except that his main talent seems to be for reproducing the work of other artists. This could come back to bite him, of course, and that’s what his loving daughter is doing her best to prevent.

So she hires crack art thief O’Toole to steal the masterpiece her dad has on display in a Paris museum because that supposed masterpiece is a phony.

As it turns out, so’s O’Toole, though it takes quite a bit of the movie for Hepburn to discover that.

And of course there ends up being more to their relationship than employer and employee….

Hepburn and O’Toole make a charming couple and if you’ve only seen O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia you may be surprised to see just how good a comedic actor he is. If you’ve seen My Favorite Year you won’t be surprised, but this movie – made in the mid 1960’s when O’Toole was still making his name for himself “post Lawrence” - predates that one by nearly two decades

Anyway, O’Toole and Hepburn need to steal the statue from a high security – nearly impregnable for the day – museum, a highly imaginative caper fit for such movies as both Ocean’s 11’s, Entrapment and so many more that have come before and since. It’s a grand scheme – but does it work?

Besides the stars and Griffith, the cast is rounded out by Eli Wallach as an art collector whose sights are set on the statue in question – and who wants it regardless of what it takes or whether he could even display it. Also on hand is Charles Boyer, providing the French atmosphere that doesn’t come already from the sets and locations.

The DVD is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and the picture is very good. It’s colorful and bright and sharp and about as good as you could expect from this vintage of film. The high resolution DVD format does justice to the marvelous art design and cinematography.

Audio is Dolby Digital stereo and it's okay.

Extras include a running commentary by Eli Wallach and Catherine Wyler, a Biography of Audrey Hepburn, and the theatrical trailer.

How to Steal A Million, from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
123 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1/16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital stereo
Starring Audrey Hepburn, Peter O'Toole, Eli Wallach, Hugh Griffith
Produced by Fred Kohlmar
Written by Harry Kurnitz, directed by William Wyler

Festival Express

Festival Express on DVD

Imagine the party it must have been!

A collection of rock, blues and folk legends at the height of their popularity gets onto a private train for the trip across Canada from Toronto to Calgary, stopping along the way to mount a festival concert in Winnipeg. Between festivals they hung out together, played music, and generally had a ripping good time – so good that they ran out of booze between Winnipeg and Calgary and had to re-stock at a whistle stop.

The year was 1970, after the success of Woodstock, promoter Ken Walker dreamed up the idea of a mobile festival where, instead of the audience traveling to the bands, the bands would travel to the audiences. It was an audacious and, as it turned out, expensive prospect that saw such acts as Janis Joplin, The Band, the Grateful Dead, Flying Burrito Brothers, Mashmakan, Ian and Sylvia, Buddy Guy Blues Band and Sha Na Na having the time of their lives while Walker lost his shirt.

Festival Express is a documentary of that series of events and the rockin’ railroad ride that linked them. It’s a marvelous time capsule with surprisingly good audio and video and some excellent performances. There are performances from all of the abovementioned stars, sometimes more than one, as well as impromptu performances performed drunkenly aboard the train.

MGM has put together an excellent two disc set that includes the film of the event as well as enough extras to please anyone for whom the title would be of interest. The movie itself is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and the picture quality is far better than we expected from such an obscure source. Audio is offered in both dts and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and it is also surprisingly good. In fact, the sound on the concert footage is excellent.

The movie is a fitting testament to a forgotten event that appeared to be so much fun for the participants that it makes one wonder just what went on when the cameras weren’t rolling! Some of this is hinted at during present day interviews with some of the survivors.

And there are the extras. Disc One also includes over 50 minutes of footage including some performances not in the main feature as well as some other musical tracks.

Disc Two features extended interviews with Bob Weir, Buddy Guy, Ken Walker, Phil Lesh and others who remember the event fondly. There’s also a “making of” documentary that’s pretty interesting in its own right, as well as a photo gallery and trailer.

If you’re a child – or a student - of the 1960’s, you really ought to see Festival Express!

Festival Express, from MGM Home Entertainment
99 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital and dts 5.1 surround
Starring Janis Joplin, The Band, the Grateful Dead, Flying Burrito Brothers, Mashmakan, Ian and Sylvia, Buddy Guy Blues Band and Sha Na Na
Produced by Gavin Poolman and John Trapman, directed by Bob Smeaton.

Driving LessonsDriving Lessons

It's nice to see Rupert Grint have an acting life beyond his second banana in Harry Potter, but it's too bad it had to be in this movie.

Here's how Sony Pictures describes it: "Oscar nominee Laura Linney (Kinsey) stars as Laura Marshall, an overzealous, evangelical Christian do-gooder who fills her home with down-and-out boarders, including a senile, cross-dressing murderous mute. Desperate to expand his horizons, Laura’s shy teenage son Ben (Rupert Grint, of Harry Potter fame) lands a job tending to self-proclaimed "Dame" Evie Walton (Oscar nominee Julie Walters, Billy Elliot), an over-the-hill actress with the mouth of a drunken sailor and an insatiable lust for life. The battle for Ben’s soul begins as Evie shanghais Ben away from his repressive roots and takes him on an adventure that transforms him from boy to man. A winning entry at the 2006 Moscow International Film Festival, Driving Lessons is an experience Stephen Farber of Movieline calls "a delightful coming-of-age story."

Except that it isn't that delightful. It has its moments, but this is a pretty dark movie and we found it an ordeal to sit through. We had been expecting something lighter, maybe not quite in the vein of "The Full Monty" or those other great British comedies. And perhaps that affected our enjoyment because this movie is definitely not a comedy.

Walters' character isn't likeable. She's a wizened old bag as full of herself as Norma Desmond, and when she ventures out of her safe environment to perform a gig she'd agreed to do, she falls apart in an unbelievable and totally unprofessional way. Yet she's being held up as the role model this kid needs.

Grint is fine, but his character spends a lot of time just reacting to other people and their actions, at least up to the time when he finally takes some control over his life. And Linney is as wild-eyed and stereotyped as you'd expect a Christian in a typical movie to be.

The DVD is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and the picture quality is adequate. Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, and it's also adequate. Not a lot of images or sounds are going to be leaping out of the audio/video equipment with this one, so if you're loooking for a demo disc, this isn't the one.

You do get several extras, including a "making of" feature, some outtakes and a selection of deleted scenes.

Driving Lessons, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
98 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Julie Walters, Rupert Grint, Laura Linney
written and directed by Jeremy Brock


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