How to Spend $20
By David Mumpower
July 12, 2006

These BBC thugs are gigantic!

For the four remaining people who haven't seen Sharon Stone uncross her legs: Basic Instinct 2 (Unrated Widescreen) (2006)

This is the movie equivalent of releasing an 8-track tape player... and I don't mean good 8-track tape player, either. I mean one that would have made everyone in 1977 say, "Gee, what's the big deal about this 8-track-tape player? My Pablo Cruise music doesn't sound particularly good on this." Sure, blaming the recording device for the musical shortcomings of Pablo Cruise is a bit unfair but the point stands. A sequel to Basic Instinct might have made sense in 1995, maybe even 1997. In 2006, audiences are resolute about the fact that they have no interest in watching a 48-year-old Catwoman co-star go on a sexual vision quest. Give the masses credit. They were right for a change.

For people who haven't gotten enough of Pirates this week: The Black Swan (1942)

The only way this title could be a more blatant attempt to capitalize upon the success of a certain Johnny Depp project would be if it had been re-named The Curse of the Black Swan for this DVD release. That doesn't mean it's not worth a look, though. For those of you who have had never had the opportunity to do so, you should definitely embrace this classic Hollywood staple. Tyrone Power is exactly the sort of swashbuckling avenger whom Depp used as an antithesis for his Jack Sparrow. The romance between Power and Maureen O'Hara is as smoldering as Hollywood had in its golden era. And future Academy Award winner George Sanders is pure evil as the nefarious Captain Billy Leech. If you want to see the face of movie pirate-dom in the 1940s, Errol Flynn is not the way to go (as the 1930s were his staple). The Black Swan is better.

For people who haven't gotten enough of nekkid Pirates this week: Pirates (2005)

And if you want to go an entirely different way with it, there is a Pirates of the Caribbean porno spoof on the market this week. It stars Janine, Jesse Jane, Carmen Luvana, Teagan Presley, Devon and Ashton Moore. And in case my family ever reads my column, I want to say that I have *ahem* no idea who any of these actresses are. In case long time readers of the site are wondering why we are discussing a porn release, this one is a bit different. Adam & Eve and Digital Playground, the distributors of this title, have cleaned it up enough that it's going to be available for rental at some Blockbusters across the country. Since this is the most expensive porno ever made (reported budget in excess of $1.2 million), the unusual marketing angle seems like a financially astute one. Whether it pays dividends or not depends on just how many late night Skinemax fans are willing to pick up an R-rated version of their late night guilty pleasure.

For people who love that ESPN is trying to show fewer sports these days: Code Breakers (2005)

Right after Reggie Bush was handed the Heisman Trophy back in December, ESPN cut to...a movie. No, I don't understand it, either. The cable standard appears dead set upon enhancing its Hollywood profile no matter the number of loyal consumers alienated in the process. The movie in question, Code Breakers, did abysmal ratings and proved yet again that people turn on ESPN to watch sports (and poker if you don't consider that a sport). All of the marketing attempts in the world are not going to change that one universality of their customer base. Code Breakers tells the story of a West Point cheating scandal in 1951 involving numerous high profile players. The most famous of them was the football coach's son. Needless to say, it was a black mark in the legendary institution's history. Most of the people who watched it agree the movie is worthwhile, just on the wrong channel.

For fans of the show that (perhaps ironically) will not die: ER: The Complete Fifth Season (6-DVD Set) (1998)

I recognize that the early seasons all run together now. For this reason, you are probably wondering what is so special about season five. Surprisingly enough, I can answer this from memory. Highlights from season five are: Romano gets promoted, Lucy has her first days on the job, and the entire cast braces for the inevitable departure of George Clooney. That's right. This is the year where Clooney's character, Doug Ross, was written out in order that he might head off to conquer Hollywood. Everyone mocked him for this decision, particularly since his most noteworthy role at the time had been in the epic failure that was Batman & Robin. No one is laughing now, though, as Clooney's most recent year saw him nominated for Academy Awards in the writing and directing fields while winning as Best Supporting Actor. The season five discs take us back to the time when the ER writing staff scrambled to write a story arc to explain his vanishing act while securing enough storylines to strengthen the stability of the rest of the cast. As such, this is a nice little time capsule of crisis management.

For people who giggle at dirty-sounding movie titles: Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2006)

Michael Winterbottom is currently at the center of a media maelstrom over his latest title, Road to Guantanamo. His project prior to that controversial work was much lighter. Starring English Steve Coogan (of Around the World in 80 Days infamy), this movie faces the same difficulty we have seen in recent years with projects such as Breakfast of Champions, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Adaptation. All had brilliant novel source material which created all but impossible obstacles in translating the subject matter to the big screen. Winterbottom followed the Charlie Kaufman route and took the shortcut by creating a play-within-a-play storyline. The movie is a comical look at the impossibilities a production faces in attempting to adapt quirky source material. Reviews and word-of-mouth have been generally kind on Tristam Shandy, particularly from those like myself who enjoy understated English wit.

For people who worry that James Bond films just don't have enough violence: The Matador (Widescreen) (2005)

Faced with life without 007, Pierce Brosnan went dark. Very dark. He chose an ultra-violent role as a ruthless albeit charismatic assassin in The Matador. The result is a critically hailed but audience-ignored project with only $12.7 million in domestic receipts. Those who saw the movie did enjoy it, though. For myself, I am a huge Brosnan fan but when I discovered my cut-off date for 2005 titles, this project just missed the deadline. I saw 166 movies last year while this was slotted as 167. Based on what I have heard, it's high up on my Will Watch list, but I cannot speak to its actual quality.

For people who want to see Johnny Depp in his comfort zone: The Libertine (2005)

While Depp has been destroying box office records in theaters over the past week, his oft-delayed, generally ignored most recent non-Pirates project has quietly shipped into shores. This title is much more in keeping with the spirit of Depp's eclectic career choices. He portrays the debauched poet John Wilmot aka the Earl of Rochester in what is certain to be at least as shocking a role for his new-found fan-base as Secret Window had been.

The Libertine was the source of budgetary issues, re-shoots, and almost 18 months of film delays. That alone tells you how much the distributor, The Weinsteins Company (and formerly Miramax), struggled in figuring out how to sell this one to the masses. In the end, they simply gave up the battle. The Libertine was finally given a token release in March, earning $4.8 million without ever going as wide as even 850 venues. The studio opinion is that this movie is simply too off-putting for Depp's diehards. If you love him as a talent rather than as Jack Sparrow, though, you will definitely want to check this out.

For who? You, that's who. Doctor Who - The Complete First Series (2005)

I never watched the first dozen or so incarnations of Great Britain's longest lasting contribution to science fiction, Doctor Who. Back in the day when cable options were limited, I do recall Nickelodeon airing this as part of their afternoon package. Oddly, it was presented in tandem with Mr. Wizard, making me wonder if the programming department knew anything about either show save the titles. Since the production values were so *ahem* understated, it just never appealed to me.

When my wife saw the commercials for the new update that were cleverly exhibited during Battlestar Galactica episodes in the spring, she insisted we watch. She considered it to be among the best television shows of the 2005-2006 campaign. I am not quite as high as the program as her, but I do confess to being gradually won over by its charms. Doctor Who as portrayed by (the already departed) Christopher Eccleston is a nerdy brainiac with a long history of heartache that makes him quite winning.

Eccleston, whom North American audiences know best as Major Henry West in 28 Days Later, strikes just the right note of confident bordering on arrogant. There are also times when he somehow manages to achieve believability as a Time Lord who is hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years old. His looks of frustration over the way history repeats itself no matter the race nor the planet displays the sort of otherworldly wisdom science fiction acting universally lacks. Even better, his chemistry with reformed Brit-pop teen sensation Billie Piper creates an asexual romance that few true rom-coms have managed. I was heartbroken to hear that Eccleston begged off after only one season as Who. His performance is so good that he could have been the Jean-Luc Picard of the early 21st century had he embraced the role. In a thin two week period, Doctor Who is the easy choice for the DVD of the week(s).

DVD releases for the week of July 11, 2006:

July 11, 2006

17000 Block (2005)
After Sundown (2006)
Basic Instinct 2 (Rated R Full Frame) (2006)
Basic Instinct 2 (Unrated Widescreen) (2006)
The Black Swan (1942)
The Butcher (2006)
Code Breakers (2005)
Cop Killers (1973)
The Damned (2006)
Dennis Miller: All In (2006)
ER: The Complete Fifth Season (6-DVD Set) (1998)
Fish Hawk (1979)
The Garden (2006)
Goodnight Joseph Parker (2003)
Grand Prix (Special Edition) (1966)
Grilled (2006)
The Keys of the Kingdom (1944)
Koko: A Talking Gorilla (Criterion Collection) (1978)
Little Boy Blue (1998)
Masters of Horror: Homecoming (2006)
Negadon: The Monster from Mars (2005)
One Last Ride (2003)
Patriot Act: A Jeffrey Ross Home Movie (2005)
Pink Floyd: Pulse (1994)
Pirates (2005)
Protocols of Zion (2005)
The Rage in Placid Lake (2003)
Shagoun Assassin (1980)
Soundless (2003)
The Talent Given Us (2005)
Tiresia (2003)
Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story (2006)
Weeds: Season One (2-DVD Set) (2005)
Yi Yi (Criterion Collection) (2000)

DVD releases for the week of July 4th, 2006

In the Gloaming (1997)
Last Quarter (2004)
The Libertine (2005)
Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School (2005)
The Matador (Full Frame) (2005)
The Matador (Widescreen) (2005)
Mr. 305: The Pitbull Story (2006)
Pirates of Treasure Island (2006)
Santeria: The Soul Possessed (2005)
Speed Grapher (Vol. 1) (2005)
Stoned (Rated R) (2005)
Stoned (Unrated) (2005)
Tetsujin 28 (2005)