#069

Once Upon A Time In Mexico
Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment DVD

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There’s a lot to like in Robert Rodriguez’ star-studded epic conclusion to the trilogy he started over a decade ago with his super low budget first feature, El Mariachi, made for the still jaw-dropping price of $7,000 US.

First of all, there’s the cast, which features Rodriguez stalwarts like Danny Trejo and Cheech Marin, as well as Mickey Rourke in another one of his gargoyle cameos and a scene-stealing turn by Johnny Depp as the world’s most sinister but incompetent CIA agent.

Then there’s Rodriguez’ visual fluency, his wildly assured sense of the camera, which should come as no surprise from a man who writes, directs, shoots, edits and scores his films. A series of featurettes packaged with the DVD has the young director bragging modestly as he shows off the digital workshop he’s built in his “garage”, while giving an illustrated lecture on how digital effects allow him to make an epic-looking film for comparative peanuts.

Which begs the question as to why Rodriguez’ films almost inevitably fall flat. The title alone hints that he’s aiming for some of Sergio Leone’s sense of bitter grandeur with his new film, and it’s not like he lacked the skill or cast to bring it off.

But Rodriguez’ films, like too many by a generation of cinematic whiz kids that includes his buddy Quentin Tarantino, is about little more than making and watching films, about the thrill of seeing mayhem and vengeance onscreen, a sensation that barely lasts longer than the next edit. Nothing – no sense of character or history, no deep empathy for his hero or idea of real pain or consequence – resonates beyond the explosive onscreen moment.

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Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete First Season
HBO DVD

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The best sitcom since Seinfeld – starring the man who co-created Seinfeld – is basically a distillation of all the neurotic and misanthropic urges that seethed beneath Seinfeld’s laugh track.

Larry David is a mean-spirited mess. His friends and family – indeed, anyone he meets as he wanders through his lucrative “semi-retirement” in Los Angeles’ celebrity ghetto – aren’t much better. Each half hour of Curb Your Enthusiasm, filmed in a documentary style with handheld cameras and free of a laugh track, is a ritual humiliation of David, as he dutifully follows his least noble urges to their sordid conclusion.

And yet, as if his life is little more than a cosmic etch-a-sketch, each new half hour finds David back at some comfortable plateau, ready for more payback on the dividends of his envy, avarice, insecurity and shame. For the first time ever, a comedy program truly deserves to be called “existential”.

Includes the hour-long HBO special that launched the series, a mordant visual essay on the guilty desire for penitential humiliation that even the wealthy and successful crave.

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The Simple Life
20th Century Fox DVD

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Green Acres: The Complete First Season
MGM DVD

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With The Simple Life, the reality TV vortex has begun sucking up the past and regurgitating it as celebrity freak show. Green Acres was a hit spin-off of the equally popular Petticoat Junction, a relic of the age when country bumpkins and warmed-over vaudeville gags still made for smash TV. It was a victim of the counterculture, cancelled despite high ratings by network execs eager to court younger viewers, sacrificed for All In The Family and Mary Tyler Moore.

Eddie Albert was a New York lawyer who drags his socialite wife (Eva Gabor) off to the country to pursue his dream of farming, while the local yokels confound the city slickers and the laugh track brays and howls. Four decades later, Eddie Albert is nowhere in sight, but Eva Gabor has been replaced by heiress Paris Hilton and Beverly Hills party girl Nicole Richie in The Simple Life, Fox’s hit “fish out of water” reality series.

Green Acres was hackneyed stuff, but it had a gentle humour that’s miles away from the spectacle of Paris and Nicole parading through small-town Arkansas in couture groupie drag, asking if Wal-Mart is a place where you “buy stuff for your wall”. The girls aren’t entirely without charm, but they’re utterly unblessed by any shred of common sense, respect or responsibility.

The first season of Green Acres ran from 1965-66, and all 32 episodes are collected on both sides of two discs, without bonus features. The “first season” of The Simple Life is all of seven episodes long, with a handful of outtakes and a trial episode of the series. That should be just enough.

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Marci X
Paramount DVD

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Damon Wayans plays Doctor $, a controversial hip hop artist modeled after P. Diddy and Snoop Dogg, but don’t mistake Marci X for anything like an “urban” comedy. Written by Paul Rudnick, directed by Richard Benjamin and starring Lisa Kudrow, Marci X is a Jewish comedy from the first scene, set at a United Jewish Appeal-style fundraiser, with Kudrow as the chairwoman and M.C., exhorting the crowd with lines like “Who needs Christmas anyway?”

Kudrow, whose impeccable timing has been Friends’ secret weapon, is always watchable, but Wayans is trapped in a film that gets the salacious bling-bling spectacle of current rap studiously wrong, staging rap concerts like Vegas with beats. No bonus features.

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Marooned
Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment DVD

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This 1969 feature, about a space capsule stranded in orbit, is Apollo 13 a year before it really happened, almost thirty years before the hit Tom Hanks movie. Gene Hackman, Richard Crenna and James Franciscus are marooned in orbit, with only Gregory Peck’s voice as their lifeline to mission control. Like the real space program, the film is impressive, ambitious, intentionally plodding, and more than a little bit boring. No bonus features

©2004 rick mcginnis all rights reserved.