DVD Reviews – March 2008

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Rai Trade
Street: 2008
There's been a serious trend over the last decade of making bio-pics about artists. The last few years have produced biographies about Frida Kahlo, Artemisia Gentileschi, Gustave Klimt and Jackson Pollock. Sometimes the films have been wonderful, but often the result has been completely half-assed. Thankfully, the Italians understood the importance of 17th-century painter Michelangelo Merisi Caravaggio enough to make the film themselves. The result is a charming Italian-language period piece spanning the life of Caravaggio as he pushed the envelope of art and proper society—using prostitutes as models for the Virgin Mary, painting flesh and death realistically and murdering people who looked at him funny. Add in the depth of story created by award-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and you end up with a film that is as beautiful as it is gritty. –James Bennett

d'Annunzios Höhle
(d'Annunzio's Cave)
Heinz Emigholz
Filmgalerie 451
Street: 1.29
Remember the movie Ghost World? You know the part where the art teacher shows off her ridiculous video that keeps repeating the line, "Mirror, father, mirror"? Imagine that, but about an hour longer, with your Macintosh computer from 5th-grade narrating and you've got d'Annunzios Höhle. The film is a documentary (take that term lightly) about Italian architect and artist Gabriele d'Annunzio's mansion. It takes you through 15 rooms of the mansion and talks a little bit about each room, as-well-as showing off the decorations in the room. Sounds neat, huh? I thought so, too. It's not. This film suffers technical problems that turn out to be its ultimate downfall. First of all, the narration is done by computer programs (one of which, on room 11, gets really angry with the viewer and starts name calling) that are almost always hard to understand. Often, the voice shifts from the left to right speaker or back behind your TV into the wall or just gets quieter altogether. I don't know what they were trying to achieve here, but if they were trying to frustrate the viewer, they managed nicely. Secondly, in direct contradiction to the info the studio has publicly released, there are no subtitles on this DVD. You're stuck with the difficult-to-understand cyborgs. If you just want to see pretty things in a mansion, sure, check it out. Otherwise, move on. You'll find little else here. –Aaron Day

Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox
Ghost Robot
Street: 11.20
Like all religious fanatics, I receive my scriptures from fortune cookies and product labels, and Dr. Emmanuel Brunner's legendary soap bottles satisfy the latter. Wrapped in Bronner's manifesto, the Moral ABC's, the bottles display the doctor's principles of a unified planet and an eco-friendly lifestyle. Wonder Hippie Powers Activate! First-time director Sara Lamm attempts to capture not only the life and death tale of Dr. Bronner, but parallels the film with his son, Ralph, as he transports his father's legacy to an off-off-Broadway production. Did you know that not only can you wash your hands with this soap, but you can also use it for cleaning grease stains and performing enemas? Send me an entire case! While both narratives are undeniably amusing, neither is capable of preserving the viewer's attention for the full 90 minutes. Each account would be better off in separate 30-minute shorts. Now, where's that case of soap? –Jimmy Martin

Koch Vision
Street: 02.05
While a romance between a German nurse and a British bomber pilot set in the days surrounding the infamous World War II decimation of the German city by British and U.S. forces might seem problematic and contrived, in this case it works. Not so much for the love story, which is rather simple, but because of the atmosphere that surrounds it. This German-produced Television Mini-Series (think HBO rather than NBC) presents an unflinching look into the psyche of the German people (rich, poor, corrupt and somewhere in between) as the war they were destined to win lunges towards defeat. There is anti-Semitism, paranoia, brutality, betrayal, kindness, love and just enough CGI battle sequences spliced with archived footage to keep the 3 hour running time paced perfectly. For someone like me, who is obsessed not so much with the statistics but the sociological element of World War II, Dresden proved quite enlightening. The fact that it is also the most-watched German program of all time also says volumes about a culture trying to come to terms with itself. ~ryan michael painter

Home For Life
Kartemquin Films
Street: 02.26
Films about everyday life are fascinating. This is especially true when the details are completely foreign to average people, but common in the lives of others. Home For Life is the kind of documentary that reveals how much life can change for the aged members of society. Originally shot in 1966, and completely restored last year, this film follows two new residents of a nursing home. One is an elderly woman who has become a burden to her kids. The second is a man who has come to the difficult conclusion that he can no longer care for himself. Cameras are present as they meet residents and staff in the home, are visited by family, and try to remain optimistic as their options become more and more limited. This is a sometimes coarse look at one's golden years, and it spotlights an industry that continues to work in much the same way—allowing the maximum amount of independence and dignity to those who are slowly losing both. –James Bennett

Koch Lorber Films
Street: 01.08
Where biography films about artists can sometimes be fantastic, they can also try too hard—especially when the painter is nothing more than a man who gets off on drawing pictures of naked women. This is a great example of a film whose ambition is a little larger than the person being represented. There's no denying that Gustav Klimt is an exceptional artist, but his life story lacks the drama needed to make an interesting film. The movie starts with Klimt (John Malkovich) dying of syphilis and flashing back on his life. And where mental illness, optical brilliance and a mess-load of nude artist's models would seem to be the makings of a great film, it ends up being pretentious, light on substance and heavy on the sounds of screaming women and breaking glass. The wooden acting of Malkovich and co-star Saffron Burrows only add to the film's unpleasantness—an uneasy look into the life of an uncommonly good painter. –James Bennett

Robson Arms: Season 2
Street: 2.19
A televison show whose episodes are based around an apartment complex in the West End of Vancouver, BC the second season of the Canadian television show Robson Arms, was a delightful surprise! Every episode tosses the viewer into the lives of a different tenant each week. Behind these doors we find every stereotype one can muster: the gay couple, the pot-smokers, the compulsive liar, the unhappy couple, the pregnant couple, the lonely sex-ridden girl, the Italian super. But every character has their own quirks and nothing here screams of standardized Canadian culture. I found this show to be quite charming and touching at times, by investing the viewer in the character's lives. The series is a dramedy, the storytelling was funny and quirky, but not dramatic enough to label it a drama. The unspoken tie-ins and reoccurrences are apparent to the watchful eye, like the statue that urinates before something sexual happens. Though this is only aired on CTV in Canada, you can purchase this DVD anywhere. –Adam Palcher

Strictly Confidential
Koch Vision
Street: 2.05
It was February 8th. Reviews were due in two days and I hadn't even opened Strictly Confidential because, frankly, it looked retarded. Finally, at 9 p.m. that night, I thought to myself, "I'll skim this thing and just say how bad it sucked and get it over with." This turned into watching the whole thing. All. Five. Hours ... In one sitting. I was absolutely addicted. It was like crack that you ingest with your eyes and ears. Strictly Confidential is a British TV series that tells the story of a cop-turned-sex-therapist who serves as a police consultant on an apparent accidental auto-erotic asphyxiation death. Also, it follows this same therapist through an affair with her husband's brother, who also happens to be a therapist at her establishment (got that?). What makes this series interesting is that it is a rather intelligent story that explores a pretty broad range of human emotions, where most TV shows aren't made to make you think at all. It switches from light-hearted comedy to a story of forbidden love to gritty crime drama in the span of a few scenes fairly frequently. As a result, the show always manages to remain interesting. The quality of the filming and acting is pretty ace as well. Compound that with the fact that this series is more raunchy and risqué than anything on American TV and it feels more like a series of movies with a continuous story than a TV show. I feel like I can safely recommend this and I suggest that you go buy it if you want to see it because I think it's gonna be a while before you can peep this on KUED. –Aaron Day

TAD: Busted Circuits and Ringing Ears
MVD Visual
Street: 02.19
Grunge turned music on its head in the early 90s, fusing standard garage music with 70s hard rock in such a way as to put a glorious end to hair metal. And while many bands came along to reap the monetary benefits associated with grunge stardom, a handful peaked too soon—namely, Mudhoney and TAD. Using archival footage, period interviews and music videos, this DVD recounts the story of TAD, a Seattle-based hard rock band that was releasing records on Sub Pop as early as 1988. This was a full five years before the major-label feeding frenzy that followed the successes of Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. The story is augmented with recent interviews with the band and with fellow Seattle musicians Krist Novoselic (Nirvana), Mark Arm (Mudhoney), Kim Thayil (Soundgarden) and Chad Channing (Nirvana). It is an incredible story, and in its telling, we are exposed to a really HEAVY band—one that really should have made it big. –James Bennett

Thunderbirds 40th Anniversary DVD Megaset
A&E Home Video
Street: 1.20
Possibly the most famous of the puppet-themed TV shows that were made in the 1960s by Gerry Anderson, The Thunderbirds paved the way for puppets in mainstream media. I'm not talking about your run-of-the-mill Sesame Street characters here; I'm talking drama, I'm talking action, I'm talking about sex appeal, damn it! You may have never heard of the Thunderbirds; I used to catch reruns back when it was alright to wear sweat pants in public. You can follow this team of super-elite puppets as they cruise around in spaceships to save the world. This series has inspired several famous movies, such as Team America World Police and ... well, that's about it. Anderson creates amazingly detailed miniature sets for the show, and at times I forget that the slow-moving, stiff characters are even puppets. I can't wait for Thunderbirds: the IMAX experience. –Ben Trentelman

The Wheels on the Bus: Mango's Big Dog Parade
Street: 01.22
Watching television made for a two-year-old is always a painful experience. This is compounded even further in the straight-to-DVD shit that kid-friendly production companies prolifically churn out. And even when a video is lauded by parenting groups and features voiceover work by rock legend Roger Daltrey, it is still impossible for anyone over the age of three to watch. On this half-hour episode (the third in a decidedly evil series) children get to ride a bus, visit a garbage dump and listen to a Puff the Magic Dragon rip-off (Daltrey) sing songs about taking turns and sharing. It is horrible, and it relies far too much on the incorrect notion that kids are reasonable, and not a gang of selfish little slobbery bastards. And while the vocal presence of Roger Daltrey may make you think about The Who, the real question should be WHY? –James Bennett

Zelazowa: What They Want Us to Be, We Can't Always Be
Ship King Media
Street: 10.19
I regret I cannot keep to my typical wit, but this DVD requires brutal bluntness. This is one of the biggest wastes of time I have experienced in my entire life. That includes all of the years I went to church. This fucking DVD even beats church on the boring scale! Although the blurb assures me that Zelazowa is "the only band that matters," a more accurate statement would be "Zelazowa is to music as licking up vomit is to fun." Fortunately, the DVD barely forces me to listen to the pointless racket that is Zelazowa. Instead, the filmmakers opted to show random clips of scenery for nearly five minutes. The people who made this DVD must have taken an intro to abhorrent documentary class. Jon Robertson recently gave Zelazowa's album Polymorph a positive review in this magazine. I am sorry if this caused anyone to give this shit a chance. –Joey Richards