Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Kiss of the Dragon

The Dragon Roars

by Rusty White

Director: Chris Nahon
Starring: Jet Li, Bridget Fonda, Tcheky Karyo
Length: 1 hour 40 minutes
Rated: R
Rating: 4 STARS

"Kiss of the Dragon" is a taut, action packed, brutal, gritty crime drama. It is also the best film I've seen this year. With an excellent storyline, incredible (and believable) fight sequences and an Oscar caliber performance by Bridget Fonda, "Kiss of the Dragon" is a powerhouse of entertainment. Do not miss this one.

To make a great film you have to start with a great script. Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen's screenplay adapted from an original story by Jet Li tells the story of Lia Jian (Jet Li), a policeman from Beijing on assignment in France. The Chinese have discovered the Chinese side of the China to France heroin pipeline. The French have been informed of his identity in order to discover who the French connection is. Lia Jian has been sent to aid in the investigation. Inspector Richard (Tcheky Karyo) heads the investigation in Paris.

Lia meets Richard in the kitchen of the hotel where the Chinese drug dealer is staying. The bigoted French cop, tells Lia that he doesn't have time to learn some gook name, he will call Lia "Johnny" from now on. The surveillance begins. The drug dealer is waiting for his connection when a large thug and two prostitutes approach him The girls quickly divert the dealer to more earthy thoughts. One of the hookers, Jessica (Bridget Fonda) seems highly uncomfortable. He partner keeps trying to encourage her. The group go upstairs to the dealer's suite. While the enthusiastic hooker starts to entertain Mr. Big, Jessica runs to the bathroom and gets sick. In the next suite, Richard, Lia and the other cops watch on video screens as the hooker takes out spikes from her hair and starts to murder the dealer. Lia runs to the suite, fights his way through the dealer's bodyguards positioned in the hall and saves the dealer from further stab wounds. Richard follows. He puts on gloves, radios his men to turn off the surveillance tape and then kills the dealer and hooker with Lia's gun. Turns out that Richard is the French connection. And incredible fight ensues in which Lia escapes with the tape of Richard shooting the drug dealer. The remainder of the movie is a taut man-on-the-run film. Lia must get to the Chinese embassy with the tape before Richard's army gets to him. Through a turn of events Lia and Jessica meet up and must run together.

First time director Chris Nahon has put together an intelligent, exciting adult action drama. The innocent man wrongly accused theme is reminiscent of Hitchcock's work. I don't know if Nahon is a student of the master's work, but he keeps you on the edge of your seat. The film's pacing is relentless. Even though you know that the hero has to win in the end, you doubt very seriously that he will. That is an accomplishment in itself. This isn't the only thing Nahon has going for him. The fight sequences are expertly filmed. Of course it helped that Corey Yuen choreographed the fights. Nahon has taken the great martial arts talents of Jet Li and Mr. Yuen and filmed them expertly. The violence is brutal. The fights exhilarating. There is also a subtle element of humor in this film. Lia is an expert acupuncturist and uses the little needles in some very ingenious ways. One thing that stands out about all the action in this movie is that it is believable. There is none of the cartoon violence and superhuman feats found in so many action films today. I thought for a moment that the film was bout to make this mistake. In one scene, Lia enters a room full of police men practicing martial arts. He takes on the whole room and wins. Missing are the usual shots of people waiting in the wings to attack while the hero dispatches one or two opponents. These guys all attack at the same time. I've always felt that these type of scenes were hokey because no one could repel an onslaught of 20 attackers. Lia does. It is one of many amazing scenes.

The acting is superb. Jet Li brings a silent, moral dignity to the role of Lia Jian. Lia has never married. He is dedicated to his job. All of his being is focused on being a good policeman. I was reminded of Bruce Lee's performance in "Enter the Dragon." I almost feel like I'm committing blasphemy, but Jet Li surpasses Bruce Lee in the acting and fighting departments in this film. I went into this film with doubts as I've never really enjoyed Mr. Li's work before. I may have to revisit his other films. Tcheky Karyo (the French general from "The Patriot") is evil personified as Inspector Richard. He does not hesitate to shoot innocent bystanders, his own men or anyone else who gets between Lia and himself. When he menaces a small child with a gun you squirm wondering if he will pull the trigger. He is a powerful opponent for Lia. The film would fail without this monstrosity of evil to counterbalance Li's paragon of virtue.

The real surprise of "Kiss of the Dragon" is the Oscar caliber performance by an unrecognizable Bridget Fonda. Jessica is a farm girl from North Dakota who fell for a fast talking Frenchman. He impregnated her, took he to Paris and turned her out. Jessica's daughter is held captive at an orphanage by Richard. She does whatever degrading acts he commands for fear that her daughter will be killed. Ms. Fonda foregoes any makeup in this heart-wrenching performance. She looks as if she has been turning tricks for several years. The toil of shooting heroin and being abuse in horrible ways shows on her face. As with the other main characters, Jessica is well written and fully developed. Any you woman thinking about running away from home should see this performance. If Bridget Fonda isn't nominated for an Oscar for this performance I will boycott the Oscars.

"Kiss of the Dragon" is so much more than a martial arts movie. Maybe after the critical and artistic success of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" the genre will be taken more seriously. This is a great movie. Not only is it a rousing action film perfect for the summer movie season, it is also a well written, intelligent adult crime drama.



by Rusty White

Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Giancarlo Giannini, Ray Liotta, Gary Oldman
Length: 2 hours 15 minutes
Rated: R
Rating: 2&1/2 STARS

I've got some good news and some bad news, Julianne Moore inhabits the role of Clarice Starling as if she were born to play the part. She seems totally natural in the part. I thought Jody Foster was great in the part, but after seeing "Hannibal," Ms. Foster's acting seems to be just that, acting. The bad news is that the story falls short of the glory of its predecessor. Though full of great performances, "Hannibal" deliberate pace, one or two major unbelievable plot devices and repulsive gore left this viewer sadly unsatisfied.

Julianne Moore is perfect as an older more mature Clarice. Thomas Harris created such a strong, well-defined character in Clarice. Some may say that Ms. Moore plagiarizes Ms. Foster's performance at times, but that would not be telling the truth. Ms. Moore portrays Clarice with the dew off of the Lilly. Clarice has grown and matured. She is one tough cop. She is the second most pleasant surprise in this film.

Anthony Hopkins expands Dr. Lector as the good Doctor is walking among his prey. Dr. Lector has settled in Florence Italy where he has procured a job as the curator of the Cappone Library. The Doctor's manners and sophistication allow him to mix into the upper crust of Florence society. While Lector's humor is on display during the mayhem, there are no quotable lines in the script by David Mamet and Steven Zaillian. The intelligence and deviance with which Lector plays his game of cat and mouse with Clarice and the mercenary Italian cop, Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini) is fun and terrifying to watch. When "Goodfellas" came out, criticism was raised that the film glorified the Mob. I disagreed with that point concerning "Goodfellas," however, I felt that "Hannibal" glorifies serial killers. This was not the case in the previous two films featuring Lector. In both of those films, the killers on the loose and the confined Dr. Lector overwhelmed the audience with a sense of dread. Here, Lector becomes a James Bondesque character. Hopkins is smooth as silk. There is no doubt that he will prevail against those who come to stop him. He comes across as cool. I was conflicted by the fact that I was rooting for him. Unlike Dracula, who is a damned other worldly creature of the night, Lector is a human being who enjoys killing others. I have a big problem that Lector is presented as an anti-hero ala "Cool Hand Luke."

The true horror of this film is the character Mason Verger (Gary Oldman). Verger is the only person who survived an attack by Lector. Confined to a wheelchair, with a scar covered face (it was ripped off and fed to a dog), Verger manipulates the highest levels of the US government to find Lector. Operating from his lavish estate (filmed at the Biltmore outside of Asheville, NC), Verger is a vengeful pedophile who dreams of a slow torturous revenge on Lector. With a strong voice which belies the weakness of his body, Verger offers a 3 million dollar reward for information leading him to Lector. Verger comes across as the character to fear in this film. The magnificent make-up (by Greg Cannom) creates a monster whose black soul is truly reflected in his face. I was disappointed by the writers falling back on the easy stereotype of equating Christians with child molesters. Verger informs Clarice at their first meeting that he became Dr. Lector's patient after he had got in trouble for molesting boys at his father's Christian summer camp. I understood Verger's desire for revenge, and the revenge he plans for Lector is truly original and chilling. What disappointed me, was that in creating such an originally evil character, Lector seems likable by comparison. Don't get me wrong, I've rooted for bad guys in the movies before: "Bonnie and Clyde," "White Heat" and the list goes on, but I felt a bit sick to find myself rooting for Lector. Then again, Verger is a great character, and another wonderful performance by Gary Oldman. I loved hating him!

Another treat was seeing Giancarlo Giannini on screen again. He is great as Inspector Pazzi of the Florence police department. He is married to a ravishing younger woman, Allegra (Francesca Neri) with expensive tastes. He discovers Lector while investigating the disappearance Lector's predecessor at the library. His desire to please his trophy wife leads him to seek the reward posted by Verger. The scenes in Florence are the best of the movie. There is a tense under current which keeps you on the edge of your seat. The movie's most chilling scene takes place as Pazzi and Verger's henchmen move in to capture Lector.

Ray Liotta does another good turn as a slimy creep, Paul Krender of the US Justice Department. His political incorrectness is refreshing in a twisted sort of way. His crude sexual remarks to Clarice are disgusting and not really funny, but in our politically correct society, it's nice to see someone not afraid to speak their mind. Liotta is a flunky who is used by Verger to put Clarice in peril in order to flush out Lector. It is this plot device which rings false.

The film opens with Clarice leading the combined forces of the FBI, DEA and Washington, DC police force on a raid on a crystal-meth lab. The lab is run by a woman. The team surrounds the lab, hidden in a busy fish market. The king pin emerges from her stronghold with her infant on her chest in a child carrier. Clarice calls off the raid. The DEA leader concurs, but a testosterone driven Washington PD officer starts shooting anyway. The resulting carnage is blamed on Clarice, despite the fact that 40 other officers witnessed the fact that someone else was responsible for the carnage. The "Waco" like TV coverage brings Clarice to the attention of both Lector and Verger. Lector uses the opportunity to drop Clarice a disturbing reminder that he is still free, while Verger begins plotting a way to use Clarice as bait for his revenge fantasy. Verger's plotting is far-fetched and nearly sinks the movie.

The real iceberg that sinks this movie is the repulsive violence. I am no prude. I enjoy action movies, slasher films, shoot em ups. It takes a lot to make me turn away, and I turned away several times during "Hannibal." Why is the violence repulsive? I think because of the technical flare with which it is portrayed. When blood gushes from open wounds, the Dolby speakers in the theater are awash with the splattering in surroundsound. The sound of a dog chewing on Verger's face, or another character's intestines splashing out in a wet heap on the ground were far from necessary. These and other scenes border on pornographic for the simple reason that they are performed by a character whom the audience roots for. I didn't read the book, so I don't know if the movie ends the same way. Even though the violence occupies relatively small amount of screen time, it is of such a disturbing nature that it is hard to shake the images. I once made the mistake of watching one of those "Faces of Death" movies with a friend. He said, "Watch this guy blow his brains out!" To my shame I watched it. To my regret I watched it because I cannot shake those images from my mind. That was real, this was Hollywood. I know the difference. This was as close as Hollywood has ever come to leaving me with unwanted nightmares. Those wet sounds still ring in my ears.

Alien Vs. Predator

Dumb and Dumber

by Rusty White

reviewed: 2004-08-16

Director: Paul Anderson
Starring: Sanaa Lathan, Lance Henriksen, Raoul Bova
Length: 100 minutes
Rated: PG-13
Rating: 1/2 STAR

I can't emphasize enough how bad "Alien vs. Predator" is. It is a shoo-in to sweep the Razzie Awards. Writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson proves once again that a mediocre director can make money. This is without a doubt the worst script he has ever written. The movie might have been fun if it had been directed by Ed Wood with a budget of $1.95. Instead, Anderson has taken two successful film franchises and breathed atrophy into both.

I can't stand when a writer includes a know-it-all character that explains every illogical twist in order to movie the story. Raoul Bova plays an Italian archeologist who predicts every event before it happens. This twenty-something scientist is fluent in Egyptian, Incan and Cambodian hieroglyphics. Taking a huge page from "Stargate" and "Chariots of the Gods director Anderson has the Predators setting up civilizations as hunting preserves. The Predators teach primitive people to build pyramids. Every one hundred years, the intergalactic hunters show up to hunt. Hunt what you ask? Hunt Aliens. It seems that the predators have captured Alien queens. Every hundred years the Predators show up, the primitive people willingly let themselves be impregnated by the Aliens and the Predators enter the labyrinth to hunt the acid-blooded critters. This is a right of passage for the space hunters.

Anderson's script is populated by the most annoying collection of characters featured in either of the popular franchises. Lead actress Sanaa Lathan is no Ripley. She is a hottie, but she is no Ripley. Lathan's Alexa Woods is a twenty-something arctic explorer. She is the best in the world. It's funny that all of these experts are so young. What about years of college and fieldwork to achieve their reputation as an expert? Anyway, Alexa and the other experts have been gathered by the sickly Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henrikson), a wealthy corporate giant. Weyland has discovered a pyramid buried 3000 feet below the Antarctic ice cap. He plans on drilling to the pyramid and preserving his place in history. Little does he know that he and his crew are being drawn in as bait by the Predators. As Weyland's icebreaker nears the site, a Laser blast from outer space drills a tunnel to the pyramid. This saves a lot of drilling time. Of course, no one sees the deathray from above. Did I forget to mentioned that the scene takes place at night! I really hated this movie.

I give the movie a half a star for the few scenes in which the Predators and Aliens fight each other. They are kind of cool. However, when the humans enter the picture, the film grinds to a halt. I would have to provide more spoilers than I have already given in order to go into more detail about why this film sucks so badly. Compared to "Alien vs. Predator" both "Alien Resurrection" and "Predator 2" are cinema classics.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Deep In The Woods

Deep In The Woods (2000)
Movie rating: 5/10
DVD rating: 7/10
Release Date: March 26, 2002
Running Time: 1 hour 27 minutes
Rating: R
Distributor: Artisan Entertainment
List Price: $14.98
Disc Details
Special Features:  Widescreen and full frame formats.
Animated chapter selection.
Commentary track by horror film expert Brian Yuzma.
Theatrical trailers.
Photo gallery.
Cast bios and filmographies.
Video Format: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)
Languages: English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
French (Dolby Digital 5.1)

Subtitles: English, French.
Captions: Yes
Casing: 1-Disc Keep Case

Dario Argento became the master of style over substance. He was able to strip a story down to the bare minimum and then manipulate the audience with masterful scenes of suspense and terror. French director Lionel Delplanque has attempted to follow in Argento's footsteps In his debut film. "Promenons Nous Dans Les Bois" (Deep In The Woods) is stylish, erotic but an ultimately disappointing horror film.

Five actors are hired by millionaire Alex de Fersen (Francois Berland from the outstanding urban cop thriller "La Balance") to perform the play "Little Red Riding Hood" for his grandson's 12th birthday. Nicolas (Thibault Truffert) is a strange child who never speaks. When he was a small child, he watched as his mother was brutally murdered on the eve of his birthday while she read him the story of "Little Red Riding Hood." The child has good cause to be disturbed.

The acting troop consists of Sophie (Clotilde Courau) and her mute lesbian lover Jeanne (Alexia Stresi). Mathilde (the sexy Maud Buquet) and Wilfried (Vincent Lecoeur) are lovers also. The egotistical Matthieu (Clement Sibony) rounds out the troop. As the group approaches Alex's country estate, they hear on the radio about a serial rapist and murderer loose on the countryside. The young actors are met at the estate's gate by the creepy game warden Stephane (Denis Lavant). They are shown into the mansion to await the arrival of their host. Alex proves to be a very strange and creepy host. The wheelchair bound eccentric takes an immediate liking to Matthieu who he calls Cedrick.

The actors are shown to their rooms. Sophie and Jeanne make love. Someone watches from a hidden port and photographs the two women. That night, the cast performs a stylized version of "Little Red Riding Hood." Nicolas stares at the play as if he is frozen in terror. At the dinner party afterwards, Nicolas drives a fork into his hand when asked what he thought of the play. "Don't worry about him, he does that all the time" is Alex's response. Alex convinces Matthieu to put him to bed. With Alex safely tucked in, the others begin to get high, dance and explore the mansion and grounds. Death comes a calling for most of the cast. What follows are a series of stylish and suspenseful slasher scenes.

"Deep in the Woods" comes close to recapturing the glory of Argento's best work. What causes this film to crash and burn is the denouement. Even though Argento stripped his story to the bare bones, his best stories always had a satisfactory explanation in the end. "Deep in the Woods" builds to a crescendo of terror that falls apart due to the film's totally illogical and nonsensical explanation of who the killer is and why the mayhem occurs.

The movie is full of stunning visuals. The death of one of the characters in a steam filled bathroom is one standout. The French have a franker way of dealing with sex. The film doesn't shy away from full-frontal nudity or lesbian sex. The violence is comparable to what you would see in an Argento film. The photography is crisp and lush. The nighttime scenes are outstanding. The acting is quite good. Several of the actors have been nominated for French Oscars. Be forewarned: this movie is best seen in the original French language with English subtitles. The dubbed version is badly done. Director Delplanque shows great style as a director. The problem lies with his screenplay. Hopefully this gifted filmmaker will be able to work with better material in the further.

The Disc
Fair movie. Great picture and sound. Good extras.

Picture Quality: 10/10
This is a beautiful movie. It is far superior in looks to a majority of its American cousins. The scene in which several of the characters frolic in the woods at night is outstanding. Great flesh tones. Lots of flesh.

Sound Quality: 10/10
Excellent sound. No distortion or loss of dialogue. Again, I emphasize that the French version with English subtitles is the best way to watch this DVD.

Menu: 8/10
Good use of images from the film. Easy to navigate. Nice animation.

Extra Features: 7/10
The bios are hard to read as they are in a funky 'artsy-fartsy' script.

The commentary track will be interesting to horror movie fans. While Mr. Yuzma makes some interesting observations, I don't agree with all of them. It is an interesting, and refreshing change as far as commentary tracks are concerned.

The Final Word:
Hard core fans will like it. I was ready to give this movie a rave review until the final 10 minutes. To me, the movie is a house of cards that collapsed under the lack of weight at the end.

Sisters: The Criterion Collection

Sisters (1973)
Movie rating: 7/10
DVD rating: 8/10
Release Date: 1973
Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes
Rating: R
Distributor: Criterion
List Price: $29.95
Disc Details
Special Features:  Chapter Selection.
Interactive menu.
Text interview with Brian De Palma about the making of Sisters.
Reprint of Life Magazine article: "Rare Study of Siamese Twins in Soviet Union."
Gallery of production and publicity stills.
Original 1973 pressbook.
Video Format: Anamorphic Widescreen
Languages: English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Captions: none
Casing: 1-Disc Keep Case

Brian De Palma labored (unfairly in my eyes) under the shadow of Alfred Hitchcock for years. As part of the renaissance which energized and revitalized Hollywood in the early 70s, De Palma along with Scorsese, Coppola, Lucas and Spielberg emerged as a powerful and original group of new directors. Due to his choice of subject matter, De Palma didn't receive the critical accolades as his contemporaries. De Palma, like Hitchcock has spent most of his career exploring the dark side of human nature. While he took cinematic techniques from Hitchcock and incorporated them into his work, so too did his contemporaries borrow from other masters. My belief is that because De Palma was primarily a horror movie (the bastard stepchild genre of respectable Hollywood) director, his talent was overlooked or dismissed as plagiarism by critics early in his career. This is sad because some of his most vital work was from this period. You may judge for yourself in a wonderful new DVD from Criterion of De Palma's second foray into the dark side, "Sisters."

"Sisters" tells the story of Danielle Breten and Dominique Blanchion (Margot Kidder), French Canadian Siamese twins separated rather late in life. Danielle is a model and aspiring actress. In the opening scene she appears in a candid-camera type TV show called "Peeping Toms." Phillip Wood (Lisle Wilson) is in a gymnasium dressing room. Danielle comes in pretending to be a blind woman. She starts to undress. Suddenly the film stops and the TV show host asks the contestants to guess what Phil will do. Will he watch or turn his back. After the question is answered Danielle and Phil are brought out. Phil is introduced to the TV audience. He is an advertizing manager. Danielle is awarded a set of cutlery while Phil wins dinner for to at Manhattan's famous African Room. Outside the studio, Danielle approaches Phil and invites herself to share his dinner for two. They go to the restaurant. As the get to know each other Emile Breton (William Finney) interrupts their dinner. He is Danielle's ex-husband. He tries to drag her from the place but is ousted by the bouncers. Phil and Danielle end up at her place for the night. As they make love, the camera pans to the small of her back which reveals a huge scar.

The next morning Danielle awakens in a fit. See runs to the bathroom to take some medication. She stops in her tracks as she reaches the doorway of the second bedroom. Her sister Dominque has snuck in during the night and slept there. Phil wakes up and goes to the bathroom. He hears the two sisters talking in French. Phil also accidentally knocks Danielle's pills down the sink drain. Danielle asks him if he will go the drug store to refill her prescription as she only has two pills left. Phil does this gladly. While Phil is out also stops to pick up a birthday cake for the sisters having learned that it is their birthday. (Look for a young Olympia Dukakis as one of the bakery clerks!) Danielle goes to the restroom to find that her pills are gone. She calls someone and asks them to come immediately as she is in trouble. Danielle goes into a fit and passes out on the bathroom floor. Meanwhile Phil returns with the medicine and cake. He takes a large carving knife out of Danielle's new set and takes her the cake as she lays in bed. A hand grasps the knife and plunges it into Phil's crotch. The covers are thrown off to reveal the disturbed Dominique. She stabs Phil over and over. He crawls to the apartment window and writes help on the pane in blood. Across the way, Grace Collier (Jennifer Salt) watches the attack through the window. Grace is a reporter for the Staten Island newspaper. She has done several exposes on police corruption and brutality. The cops aren't real happy to respond to her call.

De Palma uses very effective split screen at this point. As Grace calls the police, Emile shows up at his ex-wifes door. She heard the knocking from the bathroom and answers. Emile see's Phil's body as Danielle opens the door. She tells him that Dominque was there. The two of them go about cleaning up the crime scene as Grace deals with Detective Kelly (Dolph Sweet). There is great animosity between the cops and Ms. Collier due to her anit-police articles. By the time they reach the apartment, Emile and Danielle have cleaned up the scene and hidden the body and Emile has left to dispose of the knife. The cops write off Grace as a nut and leave. Grace decides to take things into her own hands. She hires private eye Joseph Larch (Charles Durning) to assist her. The two of them then try to get to the bottom of the mystery. I'll leave the rest for you to discover.

De Palma did borrow heavily from the cinematic themes of Hitchcock in his script. Parallels can be drawn between this film and "Psycho" and "Rear Window." The film also benefits from a powerful score by Hitchcock's long time collaborator Bernard Herrmann. Yes, you have a likable character killed in the first third of the film. Yes you have a voyeuristic neighbor who thinks she saw a murder. Yes you have a deranged relative you likes to use cu-cu-cuttlery! However, "Sisters" is far more than a rip-off of Hitchcock. De Palma has developed a distinct style over the years. His use of split screen, tracking shots and interesting 'point of view' shots have led to a hardcore following of fans. De Palma uses split screen as more than a novelty. The audience is teased, led and misled by his clever camera angles and editing. De Palma wrote the screipt for "Sisters." He avoids one of Hitchcock's major shortcomings in this script. I won't discuss it as it deals with the denouement of the film. You will realize what I'm talking about when you see the movie. The ending also includes one of the most creepy and disturbing sequences De Palma has ever filmed. There is a long drug induced fantasy sequence which was shot in color and black and white using several grades of film. This use of various film stocks predated Oliver Stone's revolutionary use of similar techniques in "Natural Born Killers" by two decades.

Another criticism often thrown De Palma's way are what some term his misogynist leanings. The female characters in "Sisters" are stereotypical in some ways. Danielle states that she isn't one of those "American women's libbers, who hate men all the time." She also uses her sexuality to throw the police off of her sister's trail. Grace on the other hand, is a feminists who wishes her mother would give up on the idea of her marrying. De Palma writes Grace as an enthusiastic yet naive reporter who has seen to many movies. She is patronized by the police and the detective she hires. She makes a few ridiculous suggestions to Larch concerning how to do his job. He puts her in her place. Obviously the audience is supposed to agree with Larch because Grace's suggestions were so dingy. This split personality with which De Palma imbued Grace is problematic because the viewer finds her annoying and she is the heroine! I have to believe that this was deliberate on De Palma's part because he has so many great women characters in his other movies.

While "Sisters" isn't De Palma's best film, I rank it along with "Carrie," "Dressed to Kill," "The Untouchables," and "Obsession" as one of his five best films. I'm working on a retrospective of De Palm's films similar to the one I did on Sam Peckinpah. I jumped the gun after seeing this DVD because I enjoyed it so much.

The Disc
An OK disc. I love the film. There aren't a lot of extras, but the interview provides great insights for fans of Mr. De Palma.

Picture Quality: 10/10
This was a fairly low budget film. The look is great considering the limitations Mr. De Palma labored under. Nice transfer.

Sound Quality: 10/10
Good job. Wonderful to hear Bernard Herrmann's chilling score. He sure is missed!

Menu: 6/10
So so menu. Not a lot of effort went into it. It gets the job done and is easy to navigate but there's not much there.

Extra Features: 5/10
I enjoyed reading the interview with the director. I'm a big fan. He talks film technique and defends himself against the Hitchcock detractors.

The Final Word:
I like the movie. I'd be more inclined to buy this disc if there were more extras. De Palma is a director with a long track record. Criterion wouldn't have had to stretch their imagination or budget to put more effort into this disc.

The Brood

The Brood (1979)
Movie rating: 5/10
DVD rating: 6/10
Release Date: August 26, 2003
Running Time: 1 hour 32 minutes
Rating: R
Distributor: MGM
List Price: $14.95
Disc Details
Special Features: Widescreen anamorphic format
Chapter selection
Theatrical trailer
Video Format: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
Languages: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French.
Captions: Yes
Casing: 1-Disc Keep Case

David Cronenberg has long been obsessed with the battle between the Flesh and the Spirit. His horror films (and some others) have explored a primal fear of flesh in revolt. "The Brood" was an early look at Cronenberg's peculiar fears. Filmed in 1979, "The Brood" involves a metaphysical psychiatrist treatment that causes the patient expunge their issues through physical mutation. Oliver Reed and Samantha Eggar star in this interesting, if not completely successful sci-fi/horror outing.

Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed) is a psychiatrist who has created a therapy called 'psychoplasmics.' Thirty or so patients live in isolation at his country retreat/research facility: Somafield. Dr. Raglan is treating Nola (Samantha Eggar: The Collector), a woman in the verge of divorce. During therapy sessions, Dr. Raglan becomes the person who has scarred the patient. The patient can then act through their problems. Nola has much anger; her mother physically abused her while her father ignored what went on.

Frank (Art Hindle) is Nola's husband. He goes to Somafield to pick up his daughter. As part of Nola's therapy, her daughter Candice (Cindy Hinds) is allowed to visit on weekends. Frank is not allowed to talk to his wife. Frank notices that Candice has been beaten. Frank begins to look deeper into just what̢۪s going on at Somafield. As Nola's therapy intensified, people who have hurt her begin to die at the hands of a mallet-wielding midget. I'll tell no more.

"The Brood" has some interesting parts, but the movie as a whole doesn't rank among Cronenberg's best. The therapy sessions are intense. Oliver Reed makes for a very menacing heavy. Art Hindle is too much of a lightweight to carry the film. Unfortunately, it is Hindle who gets most of the screen time. I also was disturbed by the scene in which Candice's teacher was murdered. Two of the murderous midgets bludgeon her to death with hammers in front of her students. I have a problem with the fact that very small children were expose to the filming of that scene. We're talking preschool kids watching a brutal beating. Enough of my editorial. The film is very slow. I was ready for the finale 20-minutes before it happened. Speaking of the finale, it is very gross. Effective, but very gross.

The Disc
Fair movie. Ok picture and sound. No real extras but priced to reflect the lack of extras.

Picture Quality: 7/10
There are several artifacts. There are also some major delineation problems. Loss of detail in the shadows. The flesh tones are a bit pink.

Sound Quality: 6/10
The mono soundtrack is flat. This was the first movie on which Howard Shore collaborated with director Cronenberg. His score isn't bad, but this mono track leaves much to be desired.

Easter Eggs:
No Easter Eggs found during review.

Extra Features: 2/10
There are no extras except for the original theatrical trailer. As I said before, the price reflects the lack of extras.

The Final Word:
Cronenberg fans will want this. It's worth the price of a rental.

The Boys from Brazil

The Boys from Brazil (1978)
Movie rating: 7/10
DVD rating: 8/10
Release Date: April 23, 2002
Running Time: 2 hours 7 minutes
Rating: R
Distributor: Artisan Entertainment
List Price: $14.98
Disc Details
Special Features:  Widescreen letterbox format.
Chapter selection.
Production notes.
Cast and crew bio and filmography.
Theatrical trailers
Video Format: Widescreen (2.35:1)
Languages: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
Subtitles: None.
Captions: Yes
Casing: 1-Disc Keep Case

Based on Ira Levin's best selling sci/fi-horror-thriller "The Boys From Brazil" deals with the plot to clone Adolph Hitler. This film is a campy thrill ride with two of the greatest actors of all time hamming it up to beat the band.

Dr. Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck) is living in South America. His scientific experiments begun at Auschwitz are still going on. Apprentice Nazi hunter Barry Kohler (Steve Guttenberg) discovers several high ranking Nazi officials. He reports his discover to the famed Nazi Hunter Ezra Liebman (Laurence Olivier) who greets the reports with skepticism. After Kohler ends up murdered, Liebman picks up the trail. He discovers that Kohler has uncovered a cell of Nazis led by the highest ranking Nazi still unaccounted for: Mengele.

Liebman also discovers that Mengele has clones 50 copies of Hitler. What follows is a globe trotting thrill ride which leads to the confrontation between these representatives of Good and Evil.

The film was directed by Franklin J, Schaffner (Patton, Planet of the Apes). His direction is a bit stodgy this go around. It is reminiscent of the plodding straightforward direction of his epic "Papillion." What makes this movie a joy to watch are the great over-the-top performances by Mr. Peck and Olivier. There is a great supporting cast also: the always wonderful James Mason, Lilli Palmer, Uta Hagen, Denholm Elliot, John Dehner, Anna Meara (Ben Stiller's mom), horror film vet Michael Gough and Bruno Ganz round out the great cast. There is an especially fine performance by Jeremy Black as the many teenage clones of Hitler. He is appropriately eerie. This one is a lot of fun.

The Disc
Good campy movie. Great picture. Fair sound. No extras to speak of. Nice vanilla DVD price!

Picture Quality: 9/10
Nice picture. No artifacts, pixilation or film scratches present. Good delineation of colors. Great flesh tones.

Sound Quality: 7/10
The mono sound isn't really that bad. There is no loss of dialogue. The only thing missing is the stereo effect. This isn't a sound effects intensive film. There is a great score by Jerry Goldsmith which would have sounded better in stereo.

Menu: 10/10
Nice design. Excellent use of images and rousing Jerry Goldsmith score. Easy to navigate.

Extra Features: 4/10
Vanilla extras are good. Just not enough of them. There are trailers, production notes and the bios. The price reflects the lack of extras.

The Final Word:
One of my favorite films. Worth the price of admission.

West Side Story: Special Limited Edition

West Side Story: Special Limited Edition (1961)
Movie rating: 10/10
DVD rating: 10/10
Release Date: April 1, 2003
Running Time: 2 hours 32 minutes
Rating: NR
Distributor: MGM
List Price: $39.98
Disc Details
Special Features:  Widescreen anamorphic format
Chapter selection
2 disk set
Option to play feature with or without intermission
DOCUMENTARY: 'West Side Memories'
Original film intermission music, restored and remixed in 5.1 surround
Storyboard-to-film comparison
Behind-the-scenes photos
Production design
MGM sneak peeks
175 page collectible scrapbook:
Ernest Lehman introduction
Complete copy of the working film script
Reproduction of the original lobby brochure
Behind-the-scenes memos plus film reviews from 1961
Video Format: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.20:1)
Languages: English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
French (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)

Subtitles: English, Spanish, French.
Captions: Yes
Casing: 2-Disc Collector's Boxed Set

"West Side Story" is my all time favorite musical. "West Side Story" updates William Shakespeare̢۪s "Romeo and Juliet" to New York City in the late 1950s. The Jets (Whites) and the Sharks (Puerto Ricans) are two youth gangs fighting over their little piece of turf in the concrete jungle. Love blossoms between Maria (Natalie Wood) and Tony (Richard Beymer). Maria is the sister of Bernardo (George Chakiris), the leader of the Sharks. Tony is the leader of the Jets.

"West Side Story" won 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture in 1961. The film is a magical journey of music, dance and surprisingly frank humor. The Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim music and lyrics are brought to life by a wonderful cast and crew. It took two directors to bring this wonderful film to the screen. Both Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins won the Oscar for Best Director.

Over the years, some critics have complained that the lead actors (Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer) hurt the film. While they don't bring the charisma to the screen as their co-stars Rita Moreno, Russ Tamblyn and George Chakiris, both leads deliver good performances.

For me, the real star of this movie is Stephen Sondheim. His smart, funny lyrics remain fresh after years of listening. "America" and "Officer Krupke" are standouts. "West Side Story" is one of the best movies ever made. This is a must have DVD.

The Disc
Outstanding movie, picture, sound, menu and extras. Do not let this one slip by you.

Picture Quality: 10/10
MGM did a wonderful job restoring and transferring this classic film. The colors are vivid. With the rich colors found in "West Side Story," the chances for bleeding and delineation problems are great. There are no such problems on the DVD. Excellent flesh tones.

Sound Quality: 10/10
The soundtrack was remastered in 5.1. When my screener came in the mail, I cranked up the home theater system full blast to listen to my favorite song: "America." Full, rich highs and lows. Excellent balance between the ranges. No distortion. The 5.1 track make full use of the front and back channels.

Menu: 10/10
One of the best menus I've ever seen. A wonderful combination of music and images from the movie. Each menu has its own design based on one of the movies big musical numbers. Nice animation. Easy to navigate. No Easter Eggs found.

Extra Features: 10/10
"West Side Memories" is a one-hour retrospective documentary covering the origins, casting, rehearsals, production, release and response to "West Side Story." The film contains interviews with almost every surviving member of the film. The biggest treat for me was the inclusion of the original vocal recordings of Natalie Wood. While, Ms. Wood does not have the range of Marni Nixon who did her singing voice in the final film, Ms. Wood\'s rendition of "I'm So Pretty" and "Tonight" are quite good. I didn't know that Russ Tamblyn's voice was also dubbed in the "Jets" song. The documentary includes a comparison of his version and the version in the final film.

Another high point of the documentary is lyricist Stephen Sondheim's the various comments on the film. For me, Sondheim is the best there ever was. I enjoyed getting his insights into the creative process that went on during the making of "West Side Story."

The Storyboard comparison is a four-minute montage set to music. These storyboards are works of art. Full-color drawings which encompass not only the image composition, but also the colors and thematic designs of the shot also.

There are four trailers: Original Theatrical Release, Original Issue, Reissue and Animated. They give you insight into film promotion from a by gone era. There are three galleries covering production and concept design drawings, storyboards and behind the scenes stills. The galleries are extensive with nearly 100 photos.

The set comes with a 175-page book filled with great memorabilia. There is a complete script, a reproduction of the original theatrical program, reprints of reviews and an introduction by screenwriter Ernest Lehman. There are tons of photos also.

The Final Word:
One of my Top Ten all time best DVDs. Fans of movie musicals will love this set. A must have. A bargain at the price.