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Alien Quadrilogy
20th Century Fox DVD box set

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This isn’t the first deluxe, tricked-out box set collecting the enormously successful sci-fi franchise begun with Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien, but it’s probably the ultimate - at least so far.

Fox’s Alien Quadrilogy box sets a new standard for both quality and quantity. Each of the four Alien films are represented by their original theatrical release and an expanded cut, either approved or assembled by the director. Each film has an accompanying disc that features a feature-length “making of”, and a ninth disc collects all of the leftovers from previous DVD and laserdisc releases. There are commentary tracks and galleries of the film’s groundbreaking production design – an enormous package that would take a week to watch and absorb thoroughly.

The expanded cuts of each film are major features, but hardly essential. Ridley Scott and James Cameron’s new cuts of the first two films aren’t major re-workings, which is good, because they’re easily the most satisfying in the series.

David Fincher’s troubled Alien³ isn’t improved at all by restoring an approximation of the director’s cut, and the director is conspicuously absent from the set, providing no commentary track, or onscreen interview to the “making of”.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s much-maligned Alien Resurrection had a weak ending, which isn’t improved at all by restoring an extra scene. The film’s spectacular visual style is also the biggest clue as to how Jeunet turned the franchise into just another big-budget sci-fi thriller. Comparing it to Ridley Scott’s stark, lonely, beautifully-cast original is truly sobering – a testament as to how little real writing or acting we see in films these days.

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To Live And Die In L.A.
MGM DVD

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William Friedkin’s 1985 film, starring William L. Petersen as a reckless Secret Service agent and Willem Dafoe as the murderous counterfeiter he’s trying to take down, is a favorite for action film aficionados. For less partisan viewers, it comes across as a particularly violent episode of Miami Vice, and it’s not just because of Wang Chung’s infamous soundtrack.

This special edition features a worshipful “making of”, and a truly dismal alternate ending that Friedkin shot under studio duress. The dialogue is often dismal and the film looks pitifully dated, but the story has a cruel energy, thanks to Petersen’s performance as a hotshot lawman with as little moral sense as Dafoe’s villain.

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Hud
Paramount DVD

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Paul Newman’s title role in 1963’s Hud, along with his performance in Cool Hand Luke four years later, helped define the American badass for a generation of men. Cynical and cruel, he was also honest and undeniably sexy, as Patricia Neal’s character admits, even after Hud’s drunken, attempted rape near the end of this spare but epic film.

It’s a shame that Paramount’s reissue is so no-frills; Hud would benefit from a documentary putting it into the context of Newman’s swaggering persona, or other contemporary, modern-day Westerns like Giant, or hypermasculine melodramas like A Streetcar Named Desire and Picnic. As it stands, Newman’s charisma is the sole bonus feature – it burns off the screen like some kind of unholy special effect.

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Ship Of Fools
Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment DVD

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This star-studded film is typical of the agonized soul-searching that went on for decades after the end of World War 2. The ship in question – an ocean liner making the trip from Mexico to Germany in 1933, the year Hitler took power, is populated with a cast of clichés and metaphors, like the budding Nazi and the charming, idealistic Jew who are forced to share a cabin.

If the film is unsatisfying, it’s not only because its cast (Lee Marvin, Vivian Leigh, Simone Signoret, George Segal, Jose Ferrer) never really seem human. Director Stanley Kramer’s earnest attempt to ask “Why did this happen?” was always doomed by using archetypes, not people, to get an answer. No special features.

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Lone Wolf And Cub:
Sword Of Vengeance
Animeigo/Koch DVD

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Pale Flower
Home Vision Entertainment DVD

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Two major genres in Japanese film – the samurai and gangster flick – are represented by these fascinating if offbeat examples, both carefully reissued for what’s probably an audience of die-hard fans. The informative essay booklets included with both films are probably essential, even to fanatics.

Wakayama Tomisaburo made six films in the Lone Wolf And Cub series between 1972 and 1974, playing Ogami Itto, a rogue samurai wandering Japan’s dusty country roads, pushing his adorable toddler son in a pram. Sword Of Vengeance was the first film in the series, and set in motion the story of Itto’s quest to revenge the murder of his wife. It’s a tense, mannered film ruptured with scenes of wild swordplay – geysers of blood that viewers of Kill Bill Vol. 1 will recognize.

Pale Flower is another creature entirely, the story of a despair-filled yakuza hit man, just paroled from prison, who falls in love with a reckless young woman gambler. The existential criminal, disillusioned with life, also featured in French New Wave films like Godard’s Breathless and Melville’s Bob Le Flambeur, though Masahiro Shinoda’s film was both influenced by, and ultimately influenced, any number of anguished gangster stories.

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How To Get Ahead In Advertising
MGM DVD

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Bruce Robinson’s 1989 follow-up to Withnail And I roared off the screen drunk on its own invective. Richard E. Grant plays a successful advertising executive whose emotional breakdown may have been caused by a talking boil on his neck, a repulsive eruption of his dark side that takes over his life. It’s Kafka as sketch comedy, and it inevitably runs out of steam before it ends, coasting to a rolling finish on the fading power of Grant’s outraged, polemical ranting, which somehow never seems to make a conspiracy of rampant consumerism seem all that demonic.

©2003 rick mcginnis all rights reserved.