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Home Video Releases for December 1999 - Nitrate Online Store

Home Video Releases for January 2000
Posted 21 January 2000

by Eddie Cockrell

Nitrate Online explores a sampling of the most noteworthy, provocative and satisfying video and/or DVD releases for the month of January. Titles are followed by original country and year of release, as well as release date (if known). Street dates change constantly and often differ from format to format, so check with your favorite online or brick-and-mortar supplier for up-to-date information.


Big Brass Ring (USA, 1999, January 11)

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Bowfinger (USA, 1999, January 18) Bowfinger - Nitrate Online Store
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Forces of Nature (USA, 1999, January 25) Forces of Nature - Nitrate Online Store
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An Ideal Husband (UK/USA, 1999, January 1 8) An Ideal Husband - Nitrate Online Store
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Lake Placid (USA, 1999, January 11)

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Mystery Men (USA, 1999, January 11)

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Runaway Bride (USA, 1999, January 25)

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The 13th Warrior (USA, 1999, January 18)

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The Thomas Crown Affair (USA, 1999, January 4)

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The Wood (USA, 1999, January 18)

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Beyond the A-list:

Black Cat, White Cat (France/Germany/Serbo-Croatia, 1998, January 11)

"Story is not the most important thing in this movie," concludes an Internet Movie Database user's comment on Emir Kusturica's first film since the magnificent, controversial, Palm d'Or-winning Underground, and the amateur's nailed it (hey, these days everyone's a critic): seeking to avoid the fuss and frustration of his recent work -- remember Arizona Dream? -- the filmmaker has returned to the subject of his 1989 Time of the Gypsies with a fast-paced comedy/thriller about feuding families that Kusturica describes as being more "from the earth." That it certainly is, as rival patriarchs Grga and Zarije try to stay one step ahead of their scheming offspring but find themselves presiding over a boisterous arranged marriage. "I wanted someone who could bring a certain softness into a film," explained the director to the British film journal Sight and Sound of his decision to hire Luc Besson's cinematographer to shoot the movie. "People have a prejudice about the gypsies, that they're nasty, awful killers, but I wanted to emphasize their tenderness, their spiritualism and their softness." It is, in fact, Kusturica's zany blend of sentiment and energy that is for many the most important thing about his movies -- and is the rapidly beating heart of Black Cat, White Cat.

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B.U.S.T.E.D. (aka Everybody Loves Sunshine) (United Kingdom, 1999, January 25)

In addition to his music and webwork, David Bowie’s still making movies -- they’re just not as high-profile as his provocative early-career choices like The Man Who Fell to Earth, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and The Hunger. In this stylish yet incomprehensible British gangster movie, shot and played in the vein of such recent U.K. fare as Trainspotting and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (but without the urgency and originality of either -- which may account for its extremely limited and spotty theatrical window), Bowie pops up occasionally as Bernie, the fastidious, bespectacled underworld boss who’s kept the gang belonging to Terry (British music star Goldie, also in The World is Not Enough) and Ray (writer-director Andrew Goth, sort of a cross between George Clooney and Ainsley Harriott) together while the cousins were in prison. Now that they’re out, the bloodthirsty Terry looks to consolidate his power while Ray tries to break into the techno scene (the film was shot on location in Liverpool and on the Isle of Man). Oddly enough, much of the extended family antics of the thugs is played for awkward and often naïve laughs (particularly the showbiz subplot), punctuated by bursts of illogical violence against the Chinese gang that threatens them. “Let’s fuck the gangster shit,” Terry says not far into the movie, and it’s a sentiment most audiences will share by the fade. 

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Hellhounds on My Trail: The Afterlife of Robert Johnson (USA, 1999)
Deep Blues
(USA, 1991) (January 25)

A tireless champion of regional American music, Robert Mugge has been making feature documentaries on important musicians (Al Green, Ruben Blades, Sun Ra) and musical movements (blues, reggae, zydeco) since 1976. His most recent feature, Hellhounds on My Trail: The Afterlife of Robert Johnson, stitches together performance footage from a 1998 tribute to the legendary bluesman in and around Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (part of their ongoing American Music Masters series) with interview and seminar footage in which the rocky road to posthumous legitimacy -- and profitability -- for Johnson’s music is explained. The extensive roster of performers range from the famous to the not-so-well-known, with guitarists such as Guy Davis, Rory Block (who does a fierce version of “If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day”) and even Gov’t Mule more than holding their own against Bob Weir, Keb’ Mo’, Robert Lockwood Jr. and the like. Subtitled “A Musical Pilgrimage to the Crossroads,” Deep Blues is one of Mugge’s best single works, a genial journey through the musical meccas and juke joints of Tennessee and Mississippi in the company of writer, musical producer and blues historian Robert Palmer and, in the early reels, Eurythmics co-founder Dave Stewart (then between solo tourdates). Performers include R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and Roosevelt “Booba” Barnes (who plays a number of guitar solos with his teeth). The DVD’s of each title are recommended, both for the numerous extras and the extraordinary sound quality common to all of Mugge’s films.

on my Trail
Deep Blues

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Dr. Akagi (Kanzo Sensei, Japan, 1998, November 16, 1999)

From 72-year-old Shohei Imamura, the director of the magnificent Vengeance is Mine (1979) and the 1997 Cannes grand prize-winner The Eel (both available and well worth a look), comes a sly wartime comedy about dedication and nationalism. Nicknamed “Dr. Liver” for his fierce war on hepatitis (that’s also the name of the movie’s source novel), the dapper Akagi is first seen running from house call to house call, and it soon becomes apparent that this is his normal state. And no wonder, since the wretched conditions under which he works during the last days of World War II have resulted in unsanitary conditions and an outbreak of hepatitis that goes largely ignored by his superiors, who complain that he’s using too much glucose. Determined to fight the epidemic at all costs, the doctor engages in some unusual practices, including plundering a movie projector’s lamp for a high-powered microscope and digging up a newly-buried corpse to get a fresh liver for research. Along the way, he gradually acquires the dedicated support of a merry band of local outcasts, including a young prostitute, a drug-addicted doctor, a secular monk and a Dutch prisoner of war. As in all of Imamura’s recent films, the story is played with a broad yet straight-faced streak of black humor, informed by a serene wisdom that comes only from age. Yet there’s also the touch of dirty old man in many of the sexually-oriented sequences here (“I am interested in the relationship between the lower part of the human body and the lower part of the social structure,” he once said), reminiscent of the mischievous, self-conscious smuttiness of Frenzy-era Hitchcock. The cumulative effect is most rewarding, as Imamura balances conflicting elements of comedy and drama with supreme confidence. As usual, Kino Video’s letterboxed transfer is spectacular, with a crisp print, easy-to-read subtitles and appealing packaging.

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Lord Love a Duck (USA, 1966, January 4)

“American Beauty,” says the protagonist of Lord Love a Duck, describing an inkblot during a psychiatric examination. A huge coincidence, to be sure, but the scabrously funny hijinks of this visionary, low-budget teenage comedy are certainly in the same satiric ballpark of the odds-on favorite for 1999’s Best Picture Oscar. Misunderstood non-conformists everywhere will embrace Alan “Mollymauk” Musgrave (Roddy McDowall), the cocky boy genius of this one-of-a-kind directing debut from George Axelrod, who wrote The Seven Year Itch (both play and film) and adapted The Manchurian Candidate for director John Frankenheimer. Told in flashback from the psych ward to which he’s been banished, the film is the bizarre and freewheeling saga of this odd free spirit, who refers to himself in the third person with a nickname taken from “a bird thought to be extinct” and has a seismic, guru-like effect on the life of recent, insecure transfer student Barbara Ann Greene (Tuesday Weld) at the hideous, spanking new Consolidated High School in southern California by making it possible for Barbara Ann to realize whatever she wants -- from cashmere sweaters to Hollywood stardom. The supporing cast includes Harvey Korman as fussy principal Weldon Emmett, Lola (“Peter Gunn”) Albright as Barbara Ann’s cocktail waitress Mom and the one and only Ruth Gordon as Mrs. Barnard, who moves from yogurt to booze under Mollymauk’s tutelage. Relentlessly leering in that 1960s Hollywood way (check out the scene where Weld models the sweaters for guffawing dad Max Showalter) and so primitively filmed that the sets look about to fall over and the booms and lights can be seen swinging crazily above many of the performers, this is nevertheless a remarkably original and undisciplined movie.

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Marius and Jeannette (France, 1998, January 4)  

Talk about meeting cute: in a port somewhere near Marseilles, loudmouthed single mom Jeanette is prevented from lifting a few gallons of paint from a decrepit cement factory by guard Marius, who later brings her the cans as a peace offering. Their working-class romance blossoms from there, aided and abetted by their supportive neighbors in this genial slice-of-life comedy/drama from writer-director Robert Guiediguian (who dedicates the film to workers everywhere). He’s obviously inspired by Marcel Pagnol’s trilogy about the simple people of Marseilles, Marius (1931), Fanny (1932) and César (1934). In fact, with another twenty or thirty years this movie’s Marius could almost be the title character of the middle film, who ached to go to sea but ended up working at his father’s bar. Ariane Asciride is terrific as the opinionated yet sensible Jeanette, with Gerard Meylan’s weary nobility also reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Leaud. Subjects ripe for discussion during the many comical bull sessions that punctuate the film include he socioeconomic perils of drinking imported beer, the differences among major religions and the danger of throwing stones at National Front posters. There’s even a good old-fashioned bar fight, complete with the patrons chucking raw squid at each other. In the end, however, Marius and Jeannette is about being brave enough to love, embracing what’s good in life, enduring what’s bad and having strong opinions about everything. New Yorker’s tape is letterboxed with easy-to-read English subtitles.

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The Night of the Hunter (USA, 1955, January 18)

A review of the 1995 restoration of this classic chiller referred to the film as a “horror fable,” and that’s as good a two-word description as any for this one-of-a-kind movie, remembered for Robert Mitchum as the demented preacher with L-O-V-E” and H-A-T-E tattooed on his knuckles but cherished for its expressionistic visual and verbal mix of sentiment and sadism. As he moseys through Depression-era West Virginia leaving dead widows in his wake, “Reverend” Harry Powell discovers the promise of a missing $10,000, zeroing in on the two small children who hold the secret. He completely fools their weak mother (Shelley Winters), but finds a more formidable opponent in saintly but steely Lillian Gish, whose presence underscores the movie’s debt to D.W. Griffith. The sole directing credit of actor Charles Laughton, the film’s much-disputed script is credited to critic James Agee; a failure in its day, the picture remains startlingly fresh and unusually frank for its era on the subjects of sex and sexual hysteria, repression  and childrearing (or lack thereof). The much-anticipated DVD debut of The Night of the Hunter is a bare-bones affair, with only a theatrical trailer and a perfunctory booklet (four pages, not the eight usually advertised) in addition to the film itself. Thankfully, the picture quality is fine, highlighting Stanley Cortez’ remarkable photography (he also shot Orson Welles’ Magnificent Ambersons). Although the print bears that “this film has been reformatted to fit your screen” card at the beginning, it looks to be fairly close to the 1:33 format in which it was shot.

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Peter Pan (USA, 1924, November 30, 1999)

This whimsical silent film, restored using the original nitrate material and tintings, charmed a new generation of children of all ages recently on the regional film festival circuit in the USA, with many of the dates featuring live music by Philip C. Carli and the Flower City Orchestra. Now, the good folks at Kino Video have preserved this remarkable silent film presentation on video and a feature-laden DVD, part of their “Premiere Silents” series, which also includes Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1927) and The Vanishing American (1925). The story is, of course, J.M. Barrie’s 1904 play about a boy who refuses to grow up. But while Disney’s 1953 animated musical version, that 1955 “Producer’s Showcase” kinescope with Mary Martin (also new in stores) and Steven Spielberg’s confused 1991 extravaganza Hook are the better-known versions, director Herbert Brenon’s simple, charming approach to the material gives it instant appeal. Betty Bronson is fine in the title role, matched by the robust Ernest Torrence as Captain Hook. Ironically, it was only through the neglect of this long-forgotten film that the print is in such remarkably good shape. Unlike such acknowledged silent masterpieces as Nosferatu and the like, since Peter Pan was never shown the print remained in pristine condition. As a result, this is one of the cleanest silent films likely to be unearthed, and this enhances not only the fresh, beguiling nature of the production but the spectacular cinematography of James Wong Howe, who went on to photograph such Hollywood classics as The Thin Man and Hangmen Also Die! (another new title from Kino). The DVD features a revealing print essay on the film and its fate by historian Frederick C. Szebin, a gallery of production still and promotional material, and a half-hour interview with Esther Ralston, who plays Mrs. Darling.

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Pink Floyd: The Wall (United Kingdom, 1982, December 2, 1999)

More than the “kinetic sleeve art” sniffed at by British critics, this literal yet lively pre-MTV film version of the Pink Floyd concept album has held up quite well, particularly in the stunning transfer and sleek menu design utilized for the DVD debut (the widescreen VHS tape is due January 25). Boomtown Rat and Live Aid organizer Bob Geldof plays Pink, a beleaguered British rock star crumbling under the pressures of an American tour. Alan Parker’s direction moves the story (on which he collaborated with band founder Roger Waters) deftly from the present into the past and into a possible future, scoring obvious (war is bad!) but still powerful points about how the traumas of the child affect the man. While at least one of the extras (punningly called “a saucerful of features”) is the usual studio-generated “making of” puffery, there’s a new documentary called “Looking Back at the Wall” that includes new and for the most part revealing interviews with a graying Roger Waters (who calls rock and roll “my industry”), Parker, graphic designer Gerald Scarfe, cinematographer Peter Bizou and others. The goodies also include a rough edit of the “Hey You” number, which had been largely truncated prior to the film’s release and the feature itself sports a remastered surround sound/Dolby Digital soundtrack. The downside: there are no printed chapter titles, which makes it difficult to navigate through such a non-linear movie, and the booklet is just a folded collage of Scarfe’s images with precious little useful information.

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The Silent Revolution: What Do Those Old Films Mean? (United Kingdom, 1985, January 25)

While the names Cecil Hepworth, William Haggar, August Blom, Jacques Feyder, Dziga Vertov and Edgar Ulmer may mean little to the average filmgoer, the contributions of these and other early pioneers of moviemaking have had a lasting effect on the formation and identities of national cinemas. This is the legitimate, fascinating argument of Noel Burch in his six-part 1985 British documentary series, newly released on a three-tape box set by the always-dependable Facets Multimedia. Illustrating his theories with little-seen clips from literally dozens of movies from archives around the world, Burch examines the social, political and cinematic development of early motion picture production in the United Kingdom, America, Denmark, France, the USSR and Germany. He’s particularly big on class differences, positing the tensions between the haves with the cameras and the have-nots in the street as a principle cause of both subject and treatment. The measured, almost laconic style of the program is hypnotic, and will leave viewers thinking of these often primitive works in new and rewarding ways. Annick Nozati’s original music, both dreamy and discordant, adds immeasurably to the ethereal tone.

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The Simpsons Go Hollywood (USA, 1992-1995, January 11)

The first of three collections to be released this year as part of the 10th anniversary of this relentlessly funny television institution (the May issue of “Political Party” and the Halloween release of the terrific “Trick or Treehouse” are promised among other events, promotions and “great stuff that doesn’t suck” detailed on the website), the three tapes in this box set include four episodes previously unavailable on VHS. Those are the classic two-part cliffhanger “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” and two Krusty the Klown klass… uh, classics, “Bart Gets Famous” and “Krusty Gets Kancelled” (the one with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Luke Perry and Elizabeth Taylor). The first tape features the Conan O’Brien-scripted disaster film spoof “Marge vs. the Monorail” and “A Streetcar Named Marge” (the only episode in this set on creator Matt Groening’s recent list of ten favorites in “Entertainment Weekly” and an excellent companion piece to Pedro Almodovar’s new movie All About My Mother). Also included at the beginning of each tape is a special edit of all of Bart’s phone pranks on the eternally gullible Moe. Other than being densely packed with movie references and irreverent jibes at just about every social institution held dear in these United States, each of these episodes features the distinctive voice of Phil Hartman, whose presence on the show is sorely missed.  Short of having the entire decade’s worth of shows in chronological order on DVD (are you listening, Matt?), this series is the next best thing.

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Twin Falls Idaho (USA, 1999, January 18)

One of the most satisfying elements of a well-made film is pace, the internal rhythm of a movie that is part story, part performance, part director’s eye and a great deal of luck. While not for all tastes, Twin Falls Idaho is a remarkable example of a movie creating a world very much like our own that is completely different from what the majority of us are used to. Summoned to a fleabag urban hotel, reluctant hooker Penny (Michele Hicks) meets conjoined twins Francis and Blake Falls. A friendship of sorts develops, and they grow even closer after an adventure at a Halloween party. The Falls brothers are played convincingly by twins Michael (Blake) and Mark (Francis) Polish, who aren’t conjoined in real life. The well-handled supporting cast includes TV vets William Katt and Garrett Morris, as well as Lesley Ann Warren and Patrick Bachau. The compassion in brother Michael’s direction, highlighted by a dreamy, intimate, almost slow-motion approach to blocking and movement, may very well be informed by his life as a twin, and the result is a movie of uncommon symbolic depth (yes, there are laughs too) that may or may not be accessible to whoever’s watching. One of the chief strengths of the film is that it doesn’t care if it’s getting through or not -- it is what it is, and that’s that. Visually the film gives distinction to the ordinary (the sets, particularly the hotel, like summon thoughts of Blue Velvet, without any of the menace), and the music of newcomer Stuart Matthewman, augmented by traffic noises and whooshing sounds, is one of the year’s most atmospheric and complex scores.

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