Unconventional Gems

To mark the 15th year of the Hubble Space Telescope’s active service, ESA scientist Lars Lindberg Christensen shepherded the creation of a surprisingly engaging documentary, Hubble: 15 Years of Discovery. SPV’s Region 0 DVD contains the feature-length doc plus some solid extras that include a bonus soundtrack CD by movetwo (musicians Axel Kornmesser and Markus Loffler), and some seriously trippy animation montages that capture the elegance of the various phenomena in the universe.

Uploaded this past Friday are a pair of DVDs from MVD Visual, covering two slices of arts and rebellion.

Hubert Selby Jr: It/ll Be Better Tomorrow is a sharply edited documentary from 2005, and contains one of Selby’s final interviews before his death in 2004. Best known for the brutal and bleak novels Last Exit to Brooklyn and Requiem for a Dream, the documentary has clips with colleagues, actors, associates, and filmmakers who knew and worked with him, and offers an edifying portrait of a man who never gave up when his health was withering away.

Also from MVD is Einstuerzende Neubauten: Palast der Republik, which has the cheeky performance art/industrial band playing works at East Germany’s derelict parliament building before the skeletal edifice was ordered demolished in 2006. The DVD features the 82 min. concert plus a full running commentary by the group, and bonus encore sets. Those curious about the old building and the controversial decision to raze another symbol of the GDR will find additional links in our review, which places the concert and the group’s songs in some historical context.

Coming up: horror to die for from Maple/Lions Gate, and Cinema of Death from Cult Epics, plus more soundtrack reviews, another book review, and some smut.


Technorati Tags: DVD Reviews

Yo Little Mah-ree

Although I had no intention of watching Rocky Balboa, I was curious whether he’d end up sacrificing his life for the end of the franchise (i.e. getting a terminal knockout) or winning the bout with his arrogant opponent, and starting a new geriatric series of boxing films about a part-time boxer who regales his customers with slightly newer stories of combat from the ring.

Fans of the series who liked the action won’t like the long drama leading up to the fight, but those looking for closure after Stallone took his character through some weird turns will find the film quite pleasing. Even Bill Conti’s retro score works, although one wishes Stallone would allow the veteran composer to do more that restate the famous theme, because apparently any other music slapped against Rocky’s scenes would confuse audiences and make them catatonic.

In any event, the review’s up, meaning the batch of originally slated documentary reviews should be up by the end of the week.

Also added are soundtrack reviews of David C. Williams’ The Prophecy and The Prophecy II from Perseverance Records, plus Stelvio Cipriani’s Death Walks in High Heels / La Morte cammina con i tacchi alti, Bruno Nicolai’s Tutti I colori del buio / All the Colors of the Dark, and Ennio Morricone’s What Have They Done to Solange? / Cosa avete fatto a Solange? and Who Saw Her Die? / Chi l'ha vista morire? (all from DigitMovies, and new to our archive).

Lastly, we’ve got a meaty interview with Anthony Lledo, an up-and-coming composer whose gorgeous score for Sweden’s first vampire film, Frostbiten (Frostbite) premiered at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival, and won Best Score at the 2006 Screamfest Horror Film Festival in Los Angeles, California.


Technorati Tags: DVD Reviews

Large hairy beasts

I admit I chose to watch Borat with low expectations. Maybe because the original TV skits seemed too bizarre, and maybe because the whole film was a strategic tease to place offensive behaviour front and center of those people comedian Sacha Baron Cohen knew would be appalled and horrified, but it managed to elicit more than a few laughs (and some wincing).

Designed to be uncomfortable (why hairy face-sitting?) and ridiculous (“that’s cheese”), Borat also transcended the worn road movie format, and Cohen’s tactic of elevating his behaviour from odd to offensive at just the right moment unearthed a bit of unflinching ugliness among some victims who clearly didn’t realize what the camera captures and what’s selectively edited can form some potent social commentary. It’s all still a gimmick film, but part of the cleverness also stemmed from Erran Baron Cohen’s insane musical pastiche of kitsch and the fusing of wildly different music cultures. Read our review of Borat for more on Fox’ release that’ll inevitably become a special edition before Xmas.

Also new to DVD is William Girdler’s cinematic swan song, The Manitou, which has Susan Strasberg shrieking like a loon because a fetal medicine man decided the best way to exact revenge for being slighted was to grow on a woman’s neck. The idea is ridiculous – epidermal elasticity can’t house a four-foot human prune – but watching an all-star cast deal with Girdler’s goofball adaptation of Graham Masterton’s novel is kind of fun.

Like Grizzly, the idea sounds grand, but the final results fall far short of the good-bad film most hope it would be, after being unavailable on DVD for so long. Anchor Bay’s pretty DVD lacks any bio material on Girdler, but fans of his best-known work – Sheba, Baby and Abby – should check out the affectionate tribute site HERE, which contains lots of related interviews as well.

I just want to know why Lalo Schifrin made The Manitou is *second* scoring assignment for Girdler. Was Day of the Animals really a worthwhile experience?

In the soundtrack department, we’ve also added new reviews for three DigitMovies releases: Maurizio and Guido De Angelis’ Il soldato di ventura/ Soldier of Fortune (1975), Ennio Morricone’s remastered & expanded Occhio alla Penna / Buddy Goes West (1981), and
Bruno Nicolai’s hugely entertaining The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t. Like the aforementioned Girdler site, there’s an affectionate tribute website for Christmas That Almost Wasn’t, which features some great press and promo material from this little-seen holiday film, which you can jump to HERE.

Also added are reviews for Michael Hoenig’s Dark Skies (1996), with a bonus suite of Mark Snow’s music from the unaired pilot for the short-lived and unceremoniously dumped TV series created by Bryce Zabel. Unlike most early synth scores, Hoenig’s work has aged very well, and remains dramatically satisfying music.

Lastly, we’ve also reviewed Mark Thomas’ music for Back in Business (2007), which apparently came and went real fast in England, and is bound to make its debut on DVD real soon. Thomas’ music is quite fun, and is much lighter in tone than his breakout score for Dog Soldiers.

And finally, we’ve updated the Isolated Scores Index because, well, it really needed it. I posted a small link to the site at Soundtrackcollector’s forum, and was admitted delighted when the index was finally getting some use after debuting months ago. Call it bad publicity from my end, but what’s better are the replies where people have cited more titles MIA in the index. The whole point was to maintain the best index of isolated music tracks and composer commentaries on DVD and laserdisc, and it’s great when people mention more stuff that’s appeared in other countries, or even more laserdiscs with the unique feature.

One problem I’ve encountered in trying to track down the laserdisc info is the gradual disappearance of that format’s existence online; the few lists that once circulated have evaporated, given the format’s obsolescence, and worse, some titles were reissued, and without the catalogue ID numbers, it’s hard to tell what release has the feature. Additionally, laserdiscs as a format died a while ago, and many of the ones people are mentioning are more than 10 years old.

Laser rot is indeed a real factor with these older titles, and it’s a total crapshoot as to whether what you buy plays or plays well. A friend’s Criterion edition of Se7ev went bad on the final disc, making it impossible to play the bonus features left off the New Line DVD, whereas mine still lives (maybe due to cold, dry neglectful storage).

I tracked down a nice copy of Robert Aldrich’s loony Sodom and Gomorrah, and while my player with its ‘learning’ capabilities did play the sides, there was noise, jitter, and some truly ugly sounds coming from inside the player. It did NOT like playing those discs, and shuttling made horrible screeching sounds.

Hitting STOP seemed to cause the player to use brakes normally reserved for horse drawn carriages – you could hear the player scream as the brake shoes tried to stop the unwanted platter. A friend’s player did play the film, but I think his habit of dropping the player an inch or so to snap it into gear might have been the key tactic I just couldn’t do to my Pioneer. She’s old, tired, and was once a prestige gizmo.

Apparently there’s an out of print German DVD of Sodom, and an extant Brazilian DVD with a blah transfer. The epic movie was one of those Titanus/Twentieth Century-Fox films that has fallen through the cracks, and while the NTSC laserdisc came from Fox, that label has yet to touch the film on DVD. Maybe Criterion might be the inevitable label, given they did such a splendid job on Il Gattopardo / The Leopard, which also came from the Fox-Titanus relationship.

(Incidentally, we’ll have a review of the film too, later to be followed by a review of DigitMovies’ new 2-CD set of Miklos Rozsa’s great score. The limited release has more music than the rare 2-LP set from Legend that was released when the first CDs were still made of iron, and had to be played with a really expensive stylus made from virgin copper and bees wax.)

So a special thanks to those who listed more goodies – all of which we’ll incorporate over the next week into the index. I’ve also fixed the email address on the main intro page, so there’s a venue to email further details without leaving the address out there for bot engines to devour and regurgitate with bilious spam.

Check in Thursday for another wave of titles from DigitMovies, MovieScore Media and Perseverance, and some unique DVDs, too.


Technorati Tags: DVD Reviews

A surreal combination

New today is a review of the Dixie Chicks behind-the-scenes concert doc, Shut Up & Sing, which is surprisingly less inflammatory than expected, but has some choice moments of right wing lunacy and wonky logic.

There’s some weird similarities in this doc to the recently released U.S. vs. John Lennon: with Lennon and the Beatles, you had the smashing of vinyl and burning of memorabilia; in Shut Up & Sing, it’s former and conflicted fans dumping CDs into trash bins, plus an excited steamroller driver (though given the flexibility of plastic, I’m sure a few would still play a track or two) - all of it egged on by radio DJs and their publicity-hungry station owners, proving how often history repeats itself.

In the Film Music Dept., we’ve got reviews for two new Victor Young CDs from newcomer Hit Parade Records: a beautifully mastered & expanded edition of Around the World in 80 Days (1956) with its hummable theme, and Cinema Rhapsodies: The Musical Genius of Victor Young, which compiles many of Young’s best-known hits from the forties and fifties from original soundtrack recordings and the composer’s own fifties compilation platters.

Lastly, we’ve a detailed interview with Dante Tomaselli, conducted as production is beginning on his fourth feature film, The Ocean. Best known for the sometimes impenetrable plots of Desecration, Horror, and Satan’s Playground, our interview covers some of the realistic conflicts between maintaining an experimental and surrealist style and the practical and commercial realities of movie making.


Technorati Tags: DVD Reviews
Copyright © mondomark