Review - DVD Roundup (8 Titles-2005)
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DVD Roundup

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DVD Roundup:  Casablanca; House of Wax; Targets; Paper Moon; Daisy Miller; Soylent Green; Solaris (2002); The Thing from Another World (DVD-2005)

Warner Home Video, Paramount Home Video, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

Reviewed by Dennis Kwiatkowski and Larry Jakubecz


By now, you’ve seen the many ubiquitous television ads for the DVD of Casablanca.   This DVD does not have a longer version of this classic film, set in World War II Casablanca, as some might suppose.  What is does have, as supplementals, are outtakes as well as scenes which were deleted.  The sound for the deleted scenes has not survived, so subtitles inform the viewers as to what the actors were saying.  In addition to the outtakes and scenes, there are outstanding film commentary tracks by critic Roger Ebert and film historian Rudy Behlmer, as well as documentaries and reminiscences of Bogart by Lauren Bacall and by Bogart’s children.  A cartoon and a radio production based on the film and original music scoring sessions round out the extras.


But the best reason to get this DVD is the outstanding film transfer. Casablanca now looks and sounds even better than the restored version that came out on DVD a couple of years back.


*                    *                    *


House of Wax was one of the most famous 3-D films ever, and, even though this eagerly-awaited DVD disappointingly does not present the movie in 3-D, it remains a well-told story which, except for one obvious scene, doesn’t rely on the 3-D process at all.


Vincent Price is a talented sculptor and owner of a wax museum. After disappearing in a fire, he rebuilds his life’s work—but this time, the figures seem almost too real.... Might the rash of missing corpses have anything to do with it?


Price has obvious wicked fun with the role, and the transfer is sharp and colorful. The disc also contains a sweet bonus: Mystery of the Wax Museum, the complete 1933 film that inspired the remake.


House of Wax is one of those movies that belongs in every collection—a tight 88 minutes of good, spooky fun. Now, please, let’s get in 3-D!


*                    *                    *


A trio of Peter Bogdanovich films have recently been issued on DVD.


The first film, Targets about a young psychotic who goes on a rampant killing spree, is the first film Bogdanovich directed.  It features a plot literally designed around the availability of Boris Karloff (in one of his last film roles).  Karloff owed a couple days shooting time to the film’s producer, so the story of a killer was interspersed with Karloff’s scenes.  The film violence in Targets is shocking even today.  Bogdanovich provides an excellent introduction to the film and the genesis of the Bogdanovich filmmaking style is evident in the production.


The second film, Paper Moon, finds Bogdanovich at the height of his powers—coming off the heels of his critically acclaimed The Last Picture Show.  In Paper Moon, Ryan O’Neal and real life daughter Tatum O’Neal star as smooth talking con people in a story set in depression-era Kansas.  Nine-year-old Tatum won an Oscar for her performance and the film is shot in the rare deep focus technique—in pristine black and white that was achieved through the use of filters recommended by Orson Welles.  Directorially, Paper Moon features a bravura Kubrick-influenced style—but it is also pure Bogdanovich.  With a splendid film commentary and excellent documentaries as supplementals, Paper Moon is well worth checking out.


The third Bogdanovich film is Daisy Miller—a period film based on the novella by Henry James.  Controversial when it was released due to the casting of Bogdanovich’s real-life girlfriend, Cybil Shepard, Daisy Miller nonetheless features filmmaking integrity and simply splendid production values.  With an audio-commentary track by Bogdanovich and a documentary featurette on the production, one can experience Daisy Miller anew and make up one’s own mind regarding this work from a quality director.  And it must be said that the commentaries by film historian/director Bogdanovich on all three films, are absolutely stellar.


 *                    *                    *


In 1973, movie trailers asked the question, “What is Soylent Green?” By now, of course, the answer is a part of pop culture. But, I will not spoil it for those still in the dark. The answer comes at the end of the film, but the story, set in an overpopulated future where real food is as precious as gold, is compelling, and filled with plenty of fascinating and chilling concepts on the way to its conclusion.


Charlton Heston grimaces and swaggers as a detective who stumbles upon a terrible secret. As his close friend, Edward G. Robinson elevates the film in an understated, masterful performance.


The long-awaited DVD’s Panavision transfer looks so good, it’s like watching the movie for the first time.  The disc contains some very cool (if overly red) of the production, and celebration of Robinson’s 100th (or 101st) film, which turned out to be his last. It also has a commentary by Director Richard Fleischer.


Even if you know its secret, Soylent Green is a DVD to add to your library.


*                    *                    *


Steven Soderbergh’s science fiction opus, Solaris, did not fare well commercially when it was released in theatres in December of 2002.  Based upon the 1970’s Russian science fiction film of the same name, the plot considers the experiences of the inhabitants of a space station orbiting a mysterious planet.  Strange phenomena are indeed occurring which terrifies the crew members.  Intelligent, metaphysical and provocative, Solaris makes for intriguing science fiction.  With absolutely gorgeous cinematography reminiscent of 2001 as well as a similarly evocative musical score, Solaris is worth checking out on DVD.


*                    *                    *


“Who goes there?” That’s one of the questions Arctic researchers asked when they discovered a frozen alien being in a crash-landed UFO, in Joseph Campbell’s short story of the same name. The first film adaptation of that story, 1951’s The Thing from Another World gives us a creature that looks a lot more like a man than a shape-shifting indescribable being, but manages to be scary and quite involving nonetheless.


The black and white photography is sharp and clear, the direction quite economical (modern filmmakers really should take cues from these older movies), and fully evokes the feeling of Arctic cold and isolation. With the exception of some inexplicable splices, the print looks great, and makes watching the film late at night (as we did) all the more of a treat.


It is a simple story, but the interaction between the researchers, led by Kenneth Tobey, keeps things interesting. And, its eerie Dimitri Tiompkin score helps make The Thing from Another World truly a Sci-Fi classic.


2005 Dennis Kwiatkowski, Larry Jakubecz/Celluloid Dreams



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