THIS IS SPINAL TAP
(dir. Rob Reiner, 1984)
Top-notch comedies capitalize on the painful recognition of human frailty, and nowhere is that more apparent than in Spinal Tap. Everything about the self-delusion of the has-been arena-rockers Spinal Tap, in the face of harsh reality, is fascinating to watch. And believable. And hilarious. This state-of-the-art mock rockumentary has inspired innumerable pale imitations, and will continue to do so for years to come. DVD Extras: Actors Harry Shearer, Michael McKeon, and Christopher Guest do a hilarious commentary track, proving once again their chemistry together. If that wasn't enough, there are two different versions of the "cheese rolling" trailer, the 20-minute proto-film they made when they were trying to raise money for the project, a decidedly less interesting commentary track from sad-sack Rob Reiner, Spinal Tap music videos, and more than an hour of out-takes and dropped storylines. A must-own disc.
DEE SNYDER'S STRANGELAND
(dir. John Pieplow, 1998)
Captain Howdy (Dee Snyder) is a tattooed and pierced killer who seduces young girls through the Internet. When they come to his house "to party," he ties them up in his dungeon and sews their lips shut. When Howdy abducts the daughter of a cop, the (ineptly paced) chase is on! Howdy is eventually captured, rehabilitated, then chased down by an angry mob of ultra-religious parents. Snyder, the former frontman for Twisted Sister, decided we needed a new horror franchise. This is not it. DVD Extras: Included is an amazingly egotistical yet cinematically naïve commentary from Dee Snyder, in which he brags about the movie (mentioning over and over again how he wrote, co-produced, and starred in it), while at the same time picking apart every little continuity error. There's also some "awesome" and "heavy" music videos, introduced by Snyder, including the unasked-for return of Twisted Sister for a song.
(dir. David Veloz, 1998)
Based on the true story of Jerry Stahl, the comedy writer who juggled a career writing for sitcoms like Alf and Moonlighting while struggling with heroin addiction, Permanent Midnight is a mixed bag. The biography part of the film is fantastic, unapologetically funny even in the most harrowing situations, and Ben Stiller is great in the lead. The framing story, in which he falls in love with another former addict and relentlessly tells her his story in a hotel room, is horrible. Might be a good disc to try out your player's fast-forward functions. DVD Extras: Normally I like the director's commentary track, but here it's obvious that Veloz was asked to record his track too soon after finishing the film. He doesn't have enough distance from the film to be even a little self-critical. Also included are some deleted scenes, the trailer, and standard filmographies for the cast and crew.
THE WEDDING SINGER
(dir. Frank Coraci, 1998)
Though either one can invoke good feelings, nostalgia is easy and comedy is difficult. More often than not, The Wedding Singer falls down on the side of nostalgia. Nothing wrong with that, if you don't mind the empty calories. Adam Sandler is a wedding singer who gets jilted and then falls in love with Drew Barrymore, but the real focus of the film is the period setting: 1985. Sandler is funny, Barrymore is saccharine, fashion mistakes are abundant, cameos are plentiful, and the plot is forgettable. Steve Buscemi is brilliant, however, as a drunken "best man." DVD Extras: Is anybody with a DVD player going to opt for the full-screen version over the letterboxed? I didn't think so. More fun is the fact that you can watch it dubbed into French, with French, Spanish, or English subtitles. The most interactive and inventive aspect of this DVD (not the incredibly stupid trivia game) is the low-tech karaoke, where you can sing songs of Billy Idol, Culture Club, Thompson Twins, and more, all in the comfort of your living room.
SANDS OF IWO JIMA
(dir. Allan Dwan, 1949)
John Wayne plays a sergeant in the Marine Corps, a father figure for a ragtag group of cadets during World War II, who shows his love for them by running them ragged in hopes that they won't get killed in the war. Nice battle scenes include actual war footage. Some of the comic relief scenes have homoerotic undertones. The Japanese enemy is constantly referred to as "the Nips," and once as "those little lemon-colored characters." DVD Extras: A "making-of" documentary hosted by Leonard Maltin, the original trailer, plus the option of listening to it in Spanish or English, with the option of French or Spanish or English subtitles.
(dir. John Ford, 1950)
John Wayne plays the leader of a U.S. Cavalry unit, unable--because of international law--to cross the Rio Grande and take care of some marauding Indians. When his estranged son joins his ranks, his ex-wife shows up to take their child back, and their love blooms once more. Once again, Wayne's a father figure who prefers to hide his love rather than express it. The ex-wife says it best when she describes him as a great soldier, but a very lonely man. DVD Extras: Same as Sands of Iwo Jima, with the added bonus of a French-language track.
THE LAST EMPEROR
(dir. Bernardo Bertolucci, 1987/1998)
I didn't plan on watching this again, as I just saw this--the four-hour director's cut of Bertolucci's 1987 film--in the theater, but I popped it in to see how the transfer looked. The colors are gorgeous, though some of the lines and edges tend to vibrate on the screen, but that's secondary to the fact that the movie started sucking me in once again. Pu Yi is the last emperor of China before the changes caused by Mao's Cultural Revolution, but instead of a tragedy, it's actually an empowering tale of how a godlike man is made into a common and respectable citizen. Don't let the length turn you off, it's as seductive as opium. DVD Extras: Not much besides the trailer for the director's cut, but you can watch the whole thing without having to flip the disc.
April DVD Releases
4/6: American History X, Dentist 2, Hard Times, Howard's End, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, La Bamba, Meet Joe Black, Vengeance of She
4/13: Amistad, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Apt Pupil, The Doors, Gorillas in the Mist, One Tough Cop, Paulie, Pillow Talk, Savior, Shadowlands, The War, The Wiz
4/20: Beautiful Girls, Belly, Big Doll House, A Bug's Life, Bullets Over Broadway, Father of the Bride, Four Rooms, Humanoids from the Deep, The Jazz Singer, Millennium, A Night at the Roxbury, Punisher, The Relic, The Siege, Star Trek V, War of the Worlds, White Man's Burden, X Files
An American in Paris, At First Sight, Away All Boats, Badlands, The Big Red One, Boys on the Side, Brigadoon, Carousel, The Conqueror, Creator, Fiddler on the Roof, Gigi, Hair, Happiness, The King and I, Money Kings, Mr. Baseball, Oklahoma, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Showboat, Somebody Has to Shoot the Picture, South Pacific, Space Truckers, State Fair, Stepmom