#054

Scarface
Universal DVD

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Anyone who watches MTV Cribs can tell you that no respectable hip hop crib can be without two things: a huge saltwater aquarium and a copy of Brian De Palma’s Scarface.

With this in mind, the bonus disc included with this deluxe reissue of the 1983 film includes a DefJam-produced documentary on the abiding influence of Scarface on rap culture. The film was a critical bomb on release, as the whole menu of retrospective documentaries point out, but it found its audience among fans who weren’t remotely appalled by Al Pacino’s hysterical overacting (the actor admits as much), or the garish, skuzzy style of this famously violent tale of a Cuban gangster’s rise and fall. If nothing else, Scarface anticipated the fantastically tacky Roman whorehouse aspect of Versace style.

As a director, De Palma has his supporters, but even the most ardent among them will admit that his virtues don’t include restraint or subtlety. From the first close-up on Pacino, the film does its best to rub our noses in the morally hobbled universe of Tony Montana, his associates and enemies.

Like Tony, a homicidal maniac who imagines himself a man of principles, the film has an unshakeable strength in its conviction that this is a story worth telling, and that Tony is somehow, remotely, worthy of our sympathy. It did its job well, if you believe Snoop Dogg, Fabolous, Sean John, or any of its other hip hop devotees.

A limited edition gift box is available that packages the reissue with a copy of the 1932 Howard Hawks film that inspired it, a film whose manic energy towers above the remake. Avoid the full frame pan-and-scan version of Scarface, though; after all the care that obviously went into presenting it in a new light, it’s a sad travesty of De Palma’s films grotesque grandeur.

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2 Fast 2 Furious
Universal DVD

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The influence of Scarface can be felt in more than the Miami setting of this sequel to the incredibly successful car chase flick.

Apart from nearly every scene establishing itself with a poster-like shot suitable for framing, there’s a gleefully gratuitous scene involving a mob boss, a crooked cop, a garbage can, a blowtorch, and a frightened rat. In the end, though, the film feels more like an unseen Miami Vice episode, with Paul Walker and Tyrese doing Crockett and Stubbs in homeboy drag.

The car chases are the point of the thing, though, and director John Singleton gooses them up with every balletic camera move and CGI assist available, which doesn’t quite shout down a persistent suspicion that movie car chases have never looked better than at the moment of their birth, in films like Bullitt and The French Connection.

In those films, the cars took ferocious batterings, something that Singleton – and the film’s audience – recoil at seeing, if you go by the adoring bonus features on the film’s tricked-out rides that come with the disc.

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Bend It Like Beckham
20th Century Fox DVD

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Gurinder Chadha’s comedy about a soccer-loving Sikh girl’s battles to play the sport she loves relies on modern Britain’s labyrinth of social and class tensions in the same skillful manner we’ve seen in films like Billy Elliot or The Full Monty.

But to call it My Big Fat Sikh Wedding would be only vaguely truthful, and a disservice considering the crudeness of last year’s other hit ethnic comedy. It’s an artless but energetic formula film that hits all of the usual posts along the way – mistaken identity, a lover’s triangle, a wedding, a victorious game, a happy ending, Zohra Sehgal as the inevitable comic Indian granny – with a shameless sense of value.

Comes with the usual menu of director commentary, deleted scenes, “making of” featurette, music video, as well as a short cooking film with the director and the film’s “aunties”.

click here for a longer review of this film

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Dreamcatcher
Warner Bros. DVD

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The persistent myth that Stephen King’s novels make great movies has lived far beyond the scant evidence that supports it.

Dreamcatcher is only the latest glorious tribute to the myth, an absurd story budgeted and cast miles beyond the laughable results onscreen. Scriptwriting legend William Goldman somehow managed to finish more than one draft without returning his fee, and I’d love to know how a reputable director like Lawrence Kasdan was convinced to direct a film that turns on the most repulsive variation on alien rectal probes imaginable.

The myth also roped in decent actors like Morgan Freeman, Damian Lewis and Jason Lee, who manage to keep a straight face, to their credit. The disc, which comes with a full menu of bonus features, includes an interview with King apparently filmed just after he saw a rough cut of the film; his apparent satisfaction with the product says a lot about myth’s devouring power. Walk, run, plunge out your own eyes; anything to escape this unkillable horror.

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The Bedford Incident
Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment DVD

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This little-known Cold War drama has been long overshadowed by films like Fail Safe and Dr. Strangelove, with which it has more than a little in common.

On a sub-hunting American destroyer on patrol in the North Atlantic, captain Richard Widmark’s obsession with humiliating his Soviet quarry takes the ship and its crew to the brink of war. Widmark, who plays the glowering captain like a cross between Sterling Hayden in Strangelove and Humphrey Bogart in The Caine Mutiny, only overacts in every other scene, and seems like he’s on a completely different ship from Sidney Poitier as a journalist on board to observe the ship in action.

The awful twist at the end of the film should be obvious enough to anyone who’s seen Fail Safe or Dr. Strangelove, and says a lot about the wholehearted dread that the Cold War inspired in almost anyone who lived through it. No bonus features.

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The Osbournes: The 2nd Season
Miramax DVD

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The second season of the surprise “reality TV” hit is Sharon and Ozzy’s cancer year, but it’s amazing how little this colours the ten episodes in this modestly enhanced two-disc set.

If any single incident injects a dark moment into the series, it’s Kelly’s brattish meltdown at her Las Vegas birthday party. By now, nobody is going to consider giving Ozzy and Sharon a prize for parenting, but his distraught yet caring response to her illness goes a long way toward enhancing his reputation as a husband.

The show, as everyone likes to point out, is over, both as a series and a cultural moment, but it remains wildly watchable, if only for the spectacle of a family that needs handlers and trainers as well as a nanny for children near the age of majority.

©2003 rick mcginnis all rights reserved.