DVD Reviews – December 2007

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The Briefs: The Greatest Story Ever Told
BYO Records
Street: 10.23
It's been two years since The Briefs released their last full-length album, Steal Yer Heart, and I know I've been getting anxious for a new release to be announced. While this cd/dvd combo isn't a new record, it will still hold fans over. The 90-minute documentary takes an in-depth look at the band's history. There is extensive tour footage and quirky interviews from band members. The band's story probably won't appeal to people unfamiliar with them, but long time fans will love it. It clearly wasn't created to recruit new friends, but rather to give existing fans something new. The CD section features live recordings of many of the songs highlighted on the documentary. "Gary Glitter's Eyes" was my favorite. I can't wait till the next full-length album is released. Jeanette Moses

The Case of Howard Phillips Lovecraft
Arte Video
Street: 10.23
This 45-minute documentary covers the life of the popular horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. The film is an assortment of old film footage and arts and crafts wherein a narrator talks throughout about H.P.'s life, from his birth to his death. The strange thing is that the narrator addresses Lovecraft as "you." He says, "You are a man that despises the real world and only deals in the imaginative. You are a racist and a conservative..." I'm sure this little twist was some artsy slip to induce fear, but neither this nor the cardboard cutout of H.P. that wanders throughout the film is horrifying or provocative. The only thing I learned of Lovecraft is that he hated immigrants and didn't care much for life; I was more interested in reading his work prior to watching this movie. Oh, and the clip of the breast being cut open was really annoying. Spanther

The Comedians of Comedy
Live at The Troubadour
Riot Act
Street: 10.02
This Comedians of Comedy release is pretty much the Woodstock of comedy for this year. Not only was it the standard Comedy Central group consisting of Patton Oswalt, Zach Galifianakis, Maria Bamford and Brian Posehn but many others such as Eugene Mirman, Sarah Silverman, David Cross, Jasper Redd, etc. Here are two solid hours of intelligently delivered gut laughter from some of the best comedians in the business right now. It is efforts like these that keep comedy interesting by amusing casually, then challenging perspectives and even offending the viewer, rather than spoon feeding them the demographical quota of generic laughs. Look at this release as not only a DVD full of funny jokes, but also as a potential landmark in flipping up the skirt of acceptable humor. Good comedy may never be popular at the family dinner table, but it can challenge your conceptions if you let it. Conor Dow

The Dresden Dolls:
Live at the Roundhouse London
Eagle Vision
Street: 07.10
The Roundhouse was host to a bunch of art parties and rock shows in the 60s and 70s. It shut down in the early 80s, but reopened in 2006. The Dresden Dolls recorded this show over a two-day span the year after. It's more like a party than a show, with people walking on hoops and stilts, art exhibits and Cirque de Soleil-like dancing on hanging strips of cloth. I usually hate DVDs of showssuch watered-down, secondhand experiences; But this DVD captures the Dolls' explosive energy and shockingly good musicianship admiringly. There's a drum solo in here that, by itself, will singe your skin off. DVD advantages: close-ups of Amanda's expressive face, which usually either contains the baleful look of Annie's Miss Hannnigan or joyful amusement, and the whimsical performances by cabaret dancers and actors invited by the Dolls that punctuate the songs. Here in full effect is the Dolls' trademark eroticism, mixed with bruised innnocence, their fluffy punk bloomers and pearly skin against black backdrops. Overall, the whole scene seems like an orphanage for a bunch of misplaced, sexy lepers where everyone finally fits in. Appearances by Legendary Pink Dots' Edward Ka-Spel and Lene Lovich are on the bonus tracks, along with an intense cover of "Mad World," which shouldn't be missed. Rebecca Vernon

Endgame: Blue Print for Global Domination
Street: 11.13
Director Alex Jones takes you on a look into the world of global domination conspiracies. He travels the world trying to get a closer look at the infamous Bilderberg group. A group claimed to be comprised of the world elite that gathers once a year to work on a global government plans. He rants about the end of the United States, Mexico, and Canada for the creation of the North American Union. Some of his few sources are kind of questionable. One is an 80-year-old WWII vet who is angry that we allow foreigners to own business and land in our country. The overly intense Jaws-like music that plays consistent through the entire film help to question the aspect of reliability. The overall concept of the film is both intriguing and slightly disturbing at the same time. If political conspiracies, global enslavement, and plots of world domination tickle your fancy than Endgame is well worth the time. If you're not much for conspiracies than you can throw this one with your JFK theories. Michael Reff

Engineering an Empire: The Complete Series
The History Channel
Street: 09.25
What is not to love about History Channel documentaries? The 14 episodes that make up Engineering an Empire are all great. They give you a higher than eighth grade understanding of ancient architecture and are visually stunning. However, there is still something about it that if I were watching them on television, would make me want to change the channel during commercials. Half of it is the CGI (which is a double-edged sword) and the other half is the sometimes hokey and half-assed coverage of some aspects of the subject of ancient architecture, like Napoleon, in favor of a totalizing, over-arching picture. Why breeze through Byzantine and Aztec architecture in favor of concentrating on Egypt and Rome ... that is like talking about the history of rock music, breezing through R&B and soul to focus on the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. But minor squabbling aside, if you have an interest in ancient architecture or are looking for something interesting to watch sans commercials, I HIGHLY recommend this box set. Plus, and this is worth the purchase price alone, the host, Peter Weller, played the original Robocop! Erik Lopez

Experiments in Terror Two
Other Cinema
Street: 09.25
A proposition: narrative filmmaking is not the best medium for horror. There's something about a narrative, especially an instantly-recognizable one (as is the case with most genre horror) that tends to take the edge off of the fear factor, relaxes you a bit and lets you know that not everything is spiraling out of control. Take away the structure and you have groundless, random phenomena that you don't understand, some confusing, some threatening, producing a feeling of genuine dread and unease. This collection of short experimental features doesn't fully realize my premise, but it does take several steps in the right direction, presenting images ranging from ghostly to graphic, horrible to humorous. While not completely mind-blowing or essential, it's interesting viewing for bored horror fans or blooming auteurs looking to take a stagnating genre into new directions. Jona Gerlach

Fantastic Planet (La Planete Sauvage)
Rene Laloux
Accent Cinema
Street: 10.23
This movie is based on a novel by Stefan Wul about the "Oms" and the "Draags" on a planet far from here, but yet somewhere still in the galaxy. The Oms are a human-like species that live among the Draags, as pets for the amusement and enjoyment of their blue alien species. It's a pretty fuckin' rad show, with a totally psychedelic undertone throughout the movie. The landscapes on this imagined planet are so visually vivid and beautiful, it makes you wonder if there really are planets that look like this in space. I don't want to give the whole story away but, a young Draag stumbles upon an orphaned Om, whom she takes as her own and names him Terr. Terr actually narrates the story as he grows up in the Draag society and then eventually escapes to lead the Oms in a revolution for equal rights. This, of course, is a revised summary of what the movie entails and there are plenty more twists and turns and other happenings that I don't want to disclose, so as to not ruin the movie for you. I highly recommend watching this movie, and I wouldn't doubt that you could find it at the library. adam dorobiala

The Film Crew: The Giant of Marathon
Shout! Factory
Street: 10.09
With The Film Crew, Mike Nelson's Rifftrax, and Joel Hodgson's upcoming Cinematic Titanic, it's a very good time to be an old Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan. Are your hard traded bootleg tapes worn out like mine? Are you unable to track down divx copies of your favorite MST3k episodes? Well, The Film Crew is an excellent alternative, casting Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett to thrash awful movies. The Giant of Marathon sees no mercy as Steve "greased pig" Reeves does his do-gooder duty of rasslin' the bad guys into submission! The 90 minute viewing even has a short skit in the middle, to add a little panache from the old days, and to give your mind a break from the deep hurting. Speaking as a long time MST3k fan, these releases are by no means disappointing, and I will gleefully add them to my already vast collection. Conor Dow

A History of DJ Krush
Red Ink
Street: 09.18
Split into three discs, A History of DJ Krush encompasses the previously-only-on-VHS 1996 documentary of his first CD release party through all of 1996 (disc one), interviews and performances (including a "specially-constructed" rooftop DJ set) from 1995 to 2000 (disc two) and all his videos (disc three). Though the non-linear, "watch every move" style of half of this work will appeal only to the type of music nerds that can name ten brands of microphones, cameos from DJ Shadow, Sly & Robbie, Mr. Lif and Aesop Rock (everyone wants to work with Krush) provide a more immediate reach for the casual listener before he acclimates to Krush's style. The shithot, multistylistic videos for "Tragicomic (featuring ACO and the Japanese equivalent of Eazy-E, Twigy)" and "Toki no Tabiji (featuring Inden)", all slightly recalling the psychological tension of Japanese flicks such as Audition and Suicide Club, alone justify the $22 price. Dave Madden

Lene Lovich: Live from New York at Studio 54
MVD Video
Street: 09.04
I was incredibly shocked by the superior audio quality of this concert DVD. Sadly, while it surpassed the audio quality of other concert DVDs, the visual footage was so cheesy it detracted my attention from the music. The performance was filmed on December 4, 1981 and, according to the credits, the original recording was released some time later that month. This release looks more like a "make your own music video" than a performance by Lene Lovich. The transition shots are cheesy and numerous. There are swirling patterns, fade-ins to twinkling stars, transitions that spin in and out and odd pixilation effects. It looks like it was made by a 12-year-old using Windows Movie Maker. The editing is awful, but luckily there is an audio only option, which I'd highly recommend using. With the video portion off, Lovich's voice is an immense force. One moment her voice is opera-like, seconds later it's infused with a frantic new wave sound and topped off with some odd sounding birdcalls. The music is great; I wish I could listen to this DVD in my car's CD player. Jeanette Moses

The Man Who Souled The World
Whyte House
Street: 11.01
This is a deep look into the life of Steve Rocco and his marketing of World Industries that changed the business side of skateboarding forever. It was really interesting to hear all that happened from day 1, from money problems to the media war he started, up until now. Filled with loads of historical events in the skateboard world and even more commentary from the people who were there, there is no way that you won't learn at least one thing. Although I am not usually a fan of documentaries, this one didn't seem to bother me as much as others have. Each interview was highly edited which made me wonder how credible the story was, because it seemed like they spliced the footage up so much that they could have changed the words drastically, which was quite odd for such a subject. Check it out if you want to see what the skateboarding industry was like before there was one. adam dorobiala

Nirvana: Unplugged In New York
Universal Music Group
Street: 11.20
Probably one of the best of all the Nirvana albums, Unplugged In New York has finally made it to DVD for your viewing pleasure. 14 years after Kurt Cobain's legendary performance in New York, you are finally able to see what it was really like to be there. The DVD includes some rehearsal footage as well as never before seen footage from the concert. When MTV aired the concert, they cut a few of the songs out but now the complete unedited concert can be watched, along with all of the chit chat among the members between songs. I found it to be proof that even with only a few notes, one can leave a lasting impression on the ages. Very simply put, Kurt's last song, (a cover of Leadbelly's In the Pines) showed how he played with such emotion and heart in his songs. You can almost picture him yelling the lyrics of the song to Courtney Love as the camera shines the spotlight on him. I am quite sure that this was his last concert before his suicide, and you can see his plans for death in his eyes and tone of voice as he is on stage. All things aside, this DVD is worth the 66 minutes of your time, to enjoy the music or at the least to see one of the last great music makers of our time in his final act. adam dorobiala

Nothing But The Truth
Studio 411
Street: 10.30
Nike SB has put together one of the most dazzling skateboard movies of our time. I found the skits in between the actual skateboarding to be a tad over-thought and gimmicky, but the actual footage compiled by the team blew my socks off. Most of the movie had to have been filmed in HD or 16mm, based on the range of tones and colors, and it almost puts anyone else trying to make a skate video to shame for even trying. That's Nike for you; they have to have the best team, best filming, and best equipment. On a serious note, their team has some fucking talent for sure. Lewis Marnell, Stefan Janoski, Clark Hassler (not a full part but still fucking amazing), Daniel Shimizu, Brian Anderson and Wieger Van Wageningen all have parts that are so amazing that you just might get the sudden urge to go learn a new trick or two, if you can handle pressing pause and missing the next part of the movie. I didn't even mention the rest of the team, who also have parts that stun and shock. Go get this and watch it, or have your friend buy it and watch it at his house, or go sit in the shop and ask the nearest employee to put it on for you, but seriously you need to see this any way you can. And that's nothing but the truth. (insert pun comment here) adam dorobiala

The Other Side of Rick Wakeman
Street: 08.28
Rick Wakeman has turned the tables on me yet again! Instead of being funny (or made fun of) as the front-man of the classic prog rock band Yes, Wakeman has decided to step from the limelight to the lounge light as he keeps it real, comedy style, on this DVD of stand-up and solo piano performances. You may be wondering what Wakeman's comedic stylings are like ... picture amateur comedy night at Mo's Neighboorhood Bar and Grill and you would be in the right ballpark. At its most painful, it's Rick talking about boobs, tits and ass like an oversexed eighth grader and at its best, it's hilarious anecdotal stories about being in Yes. YES! Entertainingly enough, I am a big fan of Wakeman playing classic Yes songs on the piano unplugged and unabashed. Contrary to my last Yes DVD review, this is definitely worth renting for a fun night alone. Erik Lopez

Plagues & Pleasures on the Salton Sea
A Metzler/Springer Film
Docurama Films
Street: 09.25
The Salton Sea: A man-made 40-mile wide cesspool of a sea, located smack in the middle of the deserts of Southern California. Right next to the water sits Salton City, an area with some of the lowest valued and least desirable property in the entire state. This documentary delves into the history behind how the water got there (it wasn't entirely intentional), and supplements the well-presented information with interviews from some of the nuttiest characters in this country. The entire documentary eminates of strange humor and creepy folks, making for a very worthy and informative look at such an interesting and unknown festering ass-lake, surrounded only by the looniest people in California. Most certainly, this is a worthy watch for the curious. Ross Solomon

Schmelvis: Searching for the King's Jewish Roots
Jewish Flicks
Street: 10.09
Schmelvis is a film about a group of Jews from Montreal who travel to Memphis and Israel to try to provoke and put truth to the rumor of Elvis being Jewish. Apparently Elvis' great grandmother was Jewish, which somehow makes Elvis Jewish because of Judaism's rules following matrilineal lineage. The impetus of the film is pretty stupidintentionally sohence, the filmmakers argue amongst themselves throughout in a Seinfeld kind of way with all the self-referencing, but sans the craft and humor. In the end, the directors fail to provoke and put truth, though when all is said and done they don't seem to mind. Spanther

Street: 10.23
When I received this DVD I was curious what kind of antics I was about to experience with the backwoods North Carolina Sheriff Ronald E. Hewett. It's a story about the Sheriff of a small backwoods Carolina town that is run by the local church and the Hewett bloodline. The film is done with many quick cuts between shots that mesmerize you from the beginning. There is no soundtrack to the film just live noise, which present a very eerie aspect to it. Hewett strives to keep order in his rural community that has been visited by murderers, gamblers, and theft of ceramic molds. All he has in order defend his people is a small group of officers, guns, and god. The highlight of the film was when he takes his daughter hunting and he yells, "Look, something interesting! Turkey droppings," than calmly caresses the droppings with his boots. This DVD is simply a hypnotic version of Cops in the boonies. Michael Reff

Since We Last Spoke
Lipstick Films
Street: 11.06
The local telemark crew of Josh Madsen and his minions gave me a chance to check out their new DVD "Since We Last Spoke" with Lipstick films. This is not your average knee dipping tree fairy telemark DVD; oh no this is a tele-park DVD. Most of the film is shot at the Canyons park, slaying all the rails with free heels. I have never been much for telemark park videos but in this you can hardly tell these guys aren't on normal alpine skis. It seemed they tried to take up some time with lengthy interviews scattered throughout the movie. Most of the shots were repeated in the film just with different skiers hitting the same rails and jumps. Probably due to last seasons lack of snow there was not a whole lot of pow shots like you would expect from a tele movie. In the end this movie brings some of the most progressive telemark skiing to the publics view, but more variation in its shots and less talking would really make this DVD a bit more enthralling. Michael Reff

Stranger: Bernie Worrell on Earth
MVD Visual
Street: 10.09
While Dr. Dre sparks his Chronic with hundred-dollar bills, Bernie Worrell, the man undoubtedly responsible for Dre's and scores of producer's motifs, flounders just to get by. Though a Parliament Funkadelic pioneer, child prodigy and brilliant sound architect and arranger, Worrell, as this documentary demonstrates, is a tortured soul and slave to wherever alley the music takes him. The filmmakers narrate via interviews with everyone from members of Talking Heads to Mos Def to P-Funk band mates Bootsy Collins and George Clinton. Though lacking in much verbal communication from Worrell himself, the performance footage speaks volumes, Worrell pounding a Moog's keys like a drum kit, twisting knobs to achieve sweeping wind effects over his sax player's solos, bending notes and tonalities as his band feverishly follows. With the additional 65 minutes of interviews and studio jams, the film is excellent homage and support for the legend of Worrell's tragic genius. Dave Madden

The Treasures of Long Gone John
Get With It Productions
Street: 10.01
This is the long-awaited documentary film that follows Sympathy for the Record Industry founder Long Gone John through his obsession with collecting. By focusing on both John's fascination with music, and on his love for art, the film treats the viewer to history lessons on 70s punk rock, current low-brow art trends and the personal history of the anti-mogul himselfhis troubled childhood, his history of bootlegging live shows and his all out assault on underground music that started in the late 80s. We are led through LGJ's collections of records, trinkets and fine art, all the while getting to know the man and the artistic scenes that he frequents. Some collection highlights include an original Charles Manson family vest, Debbie Harry's prozac bottle, and the jacket Iggy Pop wore on the back cover of Raw Power. A rare glimpse into the life of the industry's strangest record label guru. James Bennett

Twenty To Life: The Life and Times of John Sinclair
MVD Visual
Street: 10.30
John Sinclair is an American institution. From his early work with the White Panther Party, to his years of organizing artists, poets and other left-leaning revolutionaries, Sinclair has always been a cornerstone of activist leadership. He of course went on to mange the Detroit powerhouse, The MC5, and became an early victim in the government's crackdown on drug usebeing sentenced to 20 years in prison for giving two joints to an undercover cop. That itself would make an awesome documentary. Sadly, the second half of Sinclair's life is riddled with lame radio call-in shows and an unhealthy obsession with beat poetry. The film focuses a bit too much on the "bad poetry performed with a second rate jazz band" side of Sinclair's life, and not enough on his early days with the Detroit Artists Workshop. It's like the older he gets, the more he turns into William Shatner. Goddamnit! James Bennett