Stephen King DVD Collector's Set
Rating: NNNN DVD package: NNN
(1976) D: Brian De Palma, w/ Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie. Rating: NNNNN DVD package:NNNN
(1990) D: Rob Reiner, w/ James Caan, Kathy Bates. Rating: NNNN DVD package: NN
The Dark Half
(1993) D: George Romero, w/ Timothy Hutton, Amy Madigan. Rating: NNN DVD package: NN
(1993) D: Fraser Clarke Heston, w/ Max von Sydow, Ed Harris. Rating: NNN DVD package: n/a
This box may be a reissue from 04 and a shameless shot at cashing in on the theatrical release of the film adaptation of Stephen King's 1408, but one of the movies is an all-time classic, another's a great suspenser and the other two are pretty damn good stories. That's good value for $39.98 on amazon.ca.
The classic is, of course, Carrie, a flat-out masterpiece of visual storytelling, design, acting and pacing that delivers high terror the first time around and strong emotion on later viewings, thanks to a powerful, heartfelt tale.
Carrie White (Sissy Spacek, equally beautiful and eerie) is abused at home by her religious loony mother (Piper Laurie, channelling Christians from Mars) and at school by the normal kids. When Carrie hits puberty, the abuse worsens and tragedy ensues. Yep, actual tragedy. That's the genre that horror is emotionally closest to and that the best examples aspire to yet almost never achieve. Carrie does.
Historically, it's enormously important. It launched the Stephen King juggernaut and the careers of Brian De Palma, Spacek, John Travolta and a string of others. It set the bar for horror for years to come and introduced the now clichéd final shock sequence.
A pair of retrospective making-ofs, one focusing on acting, the other on filmmaking, document how all this was achieved. Most of the participants, including Spacek and De Palma, are on hand and insightful.
These two docs and a few text essays are it for the box's extras. The rest are bare-bones packages, which is too bad, because The Dark Half has enough clues in it to kill the myth of the author writing about himself.
Thad Beaumont (Timothy Hutton) is a nice-guy author of literary novels who uses alter ego George Stark to pen bestselling hardboiled thrillers. The murders start when the former kills off the latter.
It's easy to see how this might be taken as metaphor for King's own psyche. But the name Stark and the fiction he writes points directly to another author, Donald Westlake, who pens ultra-violent thrillers under the name Richard Stark and has said that writing them involves adopting the Stark persona.
A decent making-of might have explored that further and added to the fun.
Not that there's a shortage of fun here. Hutton is great as both halves of the equation, and the story is sufficiently engaging so we don't mind George Romero's clunky direction or the fact that this is a full-frame version.
Needful Things is another fun entry. The Devil (Max von Sydow) tries to destroy a small town by pitting the citizens against each other. Von Sydow and Ed Harris, as the sheriff who opposes him, are very good, but Amanda Plummer as an eccentric steals the show in the movie's best suspense sequence.
Like Carrie, Misery is highly rewatchable. The tale of a famed author (James Caan) held prisoner by a crazy fan (Kathy Bates) is purely character-driven and beautifully acted (Bates won an Oscar), which only gives the suspense sequences more bite.
EXTRAS Carrie: two extensive making-of docs, doc on musical stage version, essay on King, booklet. Wide-screen. English, French, Spanish audio. French, Spanish subtitles. Misery: booklet. Wide-screen and full-frame versions. French, Spanish subtitles. The Dark Half: booklet. Full-frame. English, French subtitles. Needful Things: wide-screen. English, French, Spanish, Portuguese subtitles.
Ghost In The Shell: Solid State Society
three-disc special edition. (Bandai/Manga, 2006) D: Kenji Kamiyama, w/ voices of Bob Buchholz, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn. Rating: NNN , DVD package: NNN
Science fiction is a literature of ideas, but it's a cinema of effects. You can watch intergalactic spaceships blow each other to smithereens for years and never find two thoughts to rub together.
This third instalment of the Ghost In The Shell series bucks the trend with a complex plot that begins with the suicides of potential terrorists loyal to an exiled dictator, then segues into mass child kidnappings and bureaucratic muddle.
All this is set in a well-animated, noirish future where most people have artificial brains. You need to know that and a few other things if you're new to the series. You can get it all from the World Work File on disc two, but backstory segues without warning into plot summary.
Disc two also offers a pair of highly unusual docs. In the first, a robotics engineer builds a working model of one of the film's robots and discusses, among other things, the problems of designing in cuteness. The second takes a similar approach to outline a collaboration with Nissan cars. They make an interesting change from the usual making-of docs.
EXTRAS Disc one: comedy short, storyboard insert option. Wide-screen. Japanese, English audio. English subtitles. English signage available. Disc two: backstory, robot, cars docs, Japanese and English production interviews. Disc three: soundtrack, no images.
(Anchor Bay, 2006) D: Craig Serling, w/ William Forsythe, Amanda Detmer. Rating: NNN , DVD package: NNN
An accident on a country road and some downed power lines create a traffic jam that sets up this low-budget ensemble movie exploring themes of birth, marriage, death and fatherhood.
Standouts among the storylines involve a lesbian couple giving birth with a pair of dumb crooks in their stolen RV, and a bride-to-be, her sister and her friend. Acting is uniformly convincing, and the bridal party trio - Elizabeth Bogush, Amanda Detmer and Amanda Foreman - play off one another as if they've been doing it for years.
The commentary offers some useful insights about how to do it on Super 16 in 15 days with no money. Clue: one actor got paid in cello lessons.
EXTRAS : Director, cinematographer, composer, producer commentary, making-of doc. Wide-screen.
(Alliance Atlantis, 2006) D: Sue Kramer, w/ Heather Graham, Thomas Cavanagh. Rating: NN , DVD package: N
A terrific story idea and talented actors pumping out energy aren't enough to overcome weak dialogue and poor direction by first-time writer/director Sue Kramer, who clearly aspires to Fred-and-Ginger-style froth but gets dragged down by a sitcom sensibility.
Gray (Heather Graham) and Sam (Thomas Cavanagh) are inseparable sister and brother. When he finally gets married, she panics, realizing she's hot for the bride and therefore gay. Going after the bride is, of course, out of the question - these people are just too nice. At which point what might've been a lively exercise in comic intrigue turns into a coming-out story.
Nothing wrong with that, but the sexual tension that's driven the story so far evaporates completely. We're left to watch the actors destroy their considerable charm by trying too hard. Even Alan Cumming and Sissy Spacek in small roles sink when they should shine.
EXTRAS : Three-minute making-of doc. Wide-screen. English, French audio. English subtitles.
Coming Tuesday, July 10
(Mongrel, 2006) Not the Luis Buñuel surrealist classic, but the Jean-Claude Brisseau big fat scandal. A director persuades his actresses to audition by squeezing the weasel, then makes that his movie.
The Astronaut Farmer
(WB, 2006) Billy Bob Thornton and Virginia Madsen in the tale of an astronaut-turned-farmer who builds his own rocket.
The Woman In The Window
(MGM, 1944) Fritz Lang directs Edward G. Robinson in one of the bleakest films noir ever.
The Last Mimzy
(Alliance Atlantis, 2007) Lively kids' adventure featuring children who develop unusual talents.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb