(Criterion/Morningstar, 1983) D: David Cronenberg, w/ James Woods, Deborah Harry. Rating: NNNNN two decades after it was made , Videodrome remains one of the weirdest movies ever released by a major studio. It was the first of David Cronenberg's films in which the main character is trapped in his own paranoid inventiveness, and thus leads directly to Naked Lunch and eXistenZ. And coming from the time before the reality of hundreds of TV channels, it looks increasingly prescient.
James Woods plays Max Renn, the owner of CIVIC-TV in Toronto, and if anyone perceives references to a certain Queen West institution, well, why not? Renn becomes obsessed with a mind-altering television signal that offers torture and violence, a signal he may buy. If it doesn't kill him first.
Aside from Videodrome's singular conceit, it has tremendous art direction and effects, by Carol Spier and Rick Baker respectively, and a withering dark wit. It was the first of Cronenberg's films you needed to see twice to appreciate the blackness of the comedy.
Cronenberg's third Criterion, it's up to standard, with two extremely smart, informative commentaries. Ever wondered, "What the hell was he thinking here?" Cronenberg tells you, in detail. And a load of extras are devoted to the film's unprecedented effects. Baker's comment on first seeing the script was "This can't be filmed."
EXTRAS Director/cinematographer commentary; stars commentary; theatrical trailers; TV spots; documentaries on the creation of the film's effects; audio interview with Rick Baker; complete versions of the videodrome footage and Samurai Dreams; Fear On Film, 1982 round table on horror with Cronenberg, John Carpenter and John Landis; massive stills gallery; booklet essays by Carrie Rickey, Tim Lucas and Gary Indiana. English subtitles.
(Microfilms, 1996) D: Peter Lynch, w/ Troy Hurtubise. Rating: NNNN obsession is a strange thing. Troy Hurtubise has devoted his life to constructing a suit that will allow him to confront a grizzly bear. Peter Lynch's Project Grizzly, one of the oddest documentaries to come out of the NFB, is his story. The film treats its subject with fascination and affection, when the easiest thing to do with such an oddball would be to condescend. Lynch never does, preferring to place his hero in mythic western settings and letting us infer his view from the images.
Microfilms has done an excellent job on the DVD, providing a very sharp transfer and two commentaries, one by director Lynch and the other by local critics Geoff Pevere and Richard Crouse. Now, if we can just get the NFB to license out some of their other great documentaries to outfits that will do something with them.
EXTRAS Director commentary, critical commentary, deleted scenes with commentary, booklet notes by the director. English.
The Boston Strangler
(20th Century Fox, 1968) D: Richard Fleischer, w/ Tony Curtis, Henry Fonda. Rating: NNN though this dvd is not part of Fox's Studio Classics series, it certainly seems to be, down to the inclusion of AMC's (American Movie Classics) Backstory episode devoted to the film. What's remarkable about The Boston Strangler is that it has maintained its reputation despite years of television screenings; it can't be watched on TV. Director Richard Fleischer's radical (and very late-60s) technique of telling the story via multiple "panels" within the image means that if it can't be seen wide-screen, it verges on the incomprehensible.
I've never liked The Boston Strangler, but it's now in the right format for those who do, with a very sharp transfer. Still, because of its multi-image approach, you may want to upgrade to a really big TV.
EXTRAS AMC Backstory, theatrical teaser and trailer, Fox Movietone Newsreel. (They were still making newsreels in 1968? Wow.) English, French, Spanish versions; English, Spanish subtitles. Original mono soundtrack included.
The Passion Of The Christ
(Warner, 2004) D: Mel Gibson, w/ Jim Caviezel. Rating: NN
The Passion Of The Jew
(Comedy Central/Paramount) D: Trey Parker, w/ Parker, Matt Stone. Rating: NNNN this is interesting. mel gibson's labour of love, the film he backed with his own money to spread the word, is now out on DVD. And there are no extras - no theatrical trailer, no making-of, no interview with Mel explaining how much he loves Jesus. We all know what that means. Mel and Warner are going to milk the faithful twice, because when a movie grosses hundreds of millions of dollars, the two-disc special edition is somewhere down the road. Good transfer, though.
The three-episode disc from the South Park boys is a necessary corrective to Gibson's renegade Catholic fundamentalism. In The Passion Of The Jew, Kyle is traumatized by the portrayal of the Jews in The Passion, while Cartman, who has seen the film 38 times, decides to become Hitler.
Funnier still is Red Hot Catholic Love, Parker and Stone's unquestionably tasteless treatment of clerical sexual abuse. Give it to someone you love. Especially people who love the Gibson film.
Coming, Tuesday, September 7
The Alfred Hitchcock Signature Collection
(Warner) The extant versions of Strangers On A Train and North By Northwest, plus DVD debuts for I Confess, Stage Fright, Mr. And Mrs. Smith, Foreign Correspondent, The Wrong Man, Suspicion and Dial M For Murder. Bad news? No 3-D Dial M.
(Buena Vista) Tom Hanks in the Coens' remake of the Ealing Studios classic.
Clerks: 10th Anniversary Edition
(Miramax/Alliance Atlantis) Three-disc SE, which should distract people from the simultaneous release of Jersey Girl.
Dawn Of The Dead: Ultimate Edition
(Anchor Bay) Three different cuts of Dawn Of The Dead. Guess Anchor Bay's run out of ways to repackage the Evil Dead films.
(MGM) Starring Tom Arnold. No, really - Arnold has top billing in Soul Plane. Go figure.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb