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Winning on DVD Winning a DVD Loser

Race Film Crashes and Burns

We can understand why Paul Newman would want to make Winning. After all, he's been known as a racing nut for decades and is now co-owner of a top CART team, employing Michael Andretti as his number one driver.

So it's a natural that the actor would jump at the chance to play Frank Capua, a hotshot race car driver obsessed with winning. He gets to drive, and pretend to drive, racing cars from stock models to IndyCars. We'd have jumped, too.

The racing isn't Winning's problem; it's the script. Howard Rodman's screenplay focuses on the mess that is Frank's life, a life that literally falls apart when he catches his wife (Joanne Woodward) in bed with his chief racing rival (Robert Wagner).

Yet even that traumatic event doesn't really pluck at your heartstrings, because Frank's been so absorbed getting his car ready for the Indianapolis 500 that he's been ignoring his wife - virtually driving her into another man's arms.

About the only character for whom you can really care is Woodward's son, played by Richard Thomas, the only major character in the film whose life is together - despite being bounced around from parent to step-parent.

There are some nice racing scenes, especially from the 1968 Indy 500, though some of the necessary faking shows. But this is more a movie for soap opera fans than racing buffs - and that's a shame. Watch closely, however, and you'll see a very young Bobby Unser (3 time Indy 500 winner) in a short or two; this is nice, but not worth the price of admission.

As a DVD, the 2.35:1 widescreen image is fine and the audio has been remixed into "4.0 Surround." There's no pan and scan version offered on this disc, and extras are pretty sparse as well: some production notes, cast/crew bios, web links, and the theatrical trailer. The package lists "film highlights," though we didn't see them.

Liner notes are also virtually non-existent, confined to the blurb on the back of the box and a chapter list on the inner liner insert.

So while Winning tries, it's no winner - either as a movie or as an example of DVD technology.

Winning, 123 minutes, from Universal Home Video
Starring Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Robert Wagner, and Richard Thomas
Written by Howard Rodman, Directed by James Goldstone

Jesus Christ SuperstarJesus Christ Superstar a Rock Pile

Performances Pale Compared to Album

Hot on the heels of his success with Fiddler on the Roof, Canadian director Norman Jewison dove head first into the cinematic retelling of the rock Opera "Jesus Christ Superstar," Andrew Lloyd Webber's first major hit. This was back in the days when Webber was partnered with lyricist Tim (The Lion King) Rice.

Originally a 2 record album (remember them?) set, "Superstar" tells the story of Jesus' last few days of life, including the Last Supper, his betrayal at the hands of Judas, his trial before Pontius Pilate, and his crucifixion. The original album was great: great music and great performances, particularly by Ian Gillan (of Deep Purple fame) as Jesus and Murray Head as Judas. Yvonne Elliman also turned in a fine performance as Mary Magdalene - but unfortunately she's the only one of the three whom Jewison chose to include in the movie.

A shame. Instead, he cast then-and-still-unknown Ted Neeley as Jesus and Carl Anderson as a politically correct Judas. Still, it's the music that's the most important and it has been translated fairly faithfully to the screen.

The problem is that, with a couple of exceptions (including Elliman), these people can't sing as well as the stars of the original album, either. Oh well, such is Hollywood - which chose to focus on the movie's being shot "entirely on location in Israel" instead of the actual quality of the film - as if the form is more important than the substance.

This 2.35:1 widescreen DVD (and only widescreen) is mixed into 5.0 surround sound on the English track and Dolby Pro Logic surround on the French track. Extras include cast/filmmakers' bios and a reasonable selection of production notes. There's also the theatrical trailer, of course, and Universal Web links. Once again the package announced "Film Highlights," but unless they mean chapter stops there are no highlights to be found.

Picture and sound quality are fine, but definitely not in the "special edition" class of DVD title. "Superstar" is a journeyman DVD that breaks no boundaries; if you're a fan of Norman Jewison, the film or the music, you'll probably enjoy it - but it can't be considered an incentive to jump on the DVD bandwagon.

Jesus Christ Superstar, 107 minutes, from Universal Home Video
Starring Ted Neeley, Carl Anderson, Yvonne Elliman, Barry Dennen
from the Rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice,
Produced by Norman Jewison and Robert Stigwood, Directed by Norman Jewison


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Updated May 13, 2006