How to Spend $20
By David Mumpower
August 25, 2005
Taking a look ahead at the week's DVD releases is always dicey for your wallet. Nearly every week, there's a disc that would fit nicely into any size collection. When it comes time to decide what to buy, there are really two determining factors: how much you love the content and the quality of the extra features on the disc. The massive unreleased studio (film and television) back-catalogue means that every week there's likely something for you.
For aspiring producers seeking to the learn the downside of the casting couch: Audition (1999)
Kli kli kli. This is the sound that has haunted my feverish dreams since the night I made the mistake of watching Takashi Miike's terrifying movie. The plot is a simple game of cat and mouse between a wealthy older man auditioning new brides and a doe-eyed beauty auditioning new gimps. It is a treatise on the way men misuse and abuse pretty young things as well as a demonstration of what the more fair-minded youths should do to balance the scales. Suffice it to say, this is a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of May/December romance.
For the mortal enemies of Kevin Bacon who seek to see him hit rock bottom: Beauty Shop (2005)
Kevin Bacon lowers his standards just long enough to portray a flamboyant hairstylist who talks with an affected accent. Just in case that does not make audiences hate him enough, he also takes credit for all the accomplishments of working girl Queen Latifah. It's a foolproof plan for him as long as our heroine does not have the gumption to go off on her and start a new business. But what are the odds of that happening? As a hidden bonus, Beauty Shop somehow manages to be even worse than it sounds.
For people who still hold out hope for Jack & Jill: the Movie: A Lot Like Love (Full Frame) (2005)
Amanda Peet has been on the verge of breaking out for what seems like forever now. Ever since the Melrose Place rip-off Central Park West hit CBS in 1995, Peet has consistently worked in television and movies but never quite managed to find that one role that makes her a superstar. Her best chance in film was in The Whole Nine Yards, a part that saw her romance Bruce Willis while finding time to work as a contract killer. It's her work on a television series that first made me a fan. Jack & Jill only ran for two seasons with a total of 32 episodes. It was one of the best shows on television during its airing, though, and Peet was one of the key reasons. Her ability to play a romantic lead was evident then and it's equally evident in a film where she is forced to pretend to be attracted to Ashton Kutcher. A Lot Like Love is a straightforward albeit unconventional romantic comedy that exceeds genre standards thanks to an eccentric streak permeating throughout the proceedings. It is the rarest of rare 2005 release that meets and exceeds expectations and as such, it is one of the few pleasant surprises thus far. Had there not been a great television box set this week, it would have been my DVD choice of the week. To date, it is one of the ten best films of the year.
For people wanting to help buy Adam Sandler a new plane, a good one and not that crummy six passenger piece of crap he's been stuck with: Billy Madison (Full Frame Special ED-ition) (1999), Happy Gilmore (Full Frame Special Edition) (1996)
See, these are two films you already own on DVD but now they have deleted scenes and outtakes. Effectively, it's like your hero, Adam Sandler, has released two entirely new movies! Surely, you must rush out and purchase them at earliest opportunity. What's that, you say? The special features are not that good? Look, I'm going to be honest here. A couple of Sandler's flunkies, Allen Covert and Frank Coraci, are doing their own movie under the Happy Madison Productions umbrella. The project, Grandma's Boy, is going to lose pretty much all of its $15 million budget. The money to recoup those losses has to come from somewhere; therefore, you have two options as a consumer. You can either go see two hangers on from the Sandler entourage pretend to be movie stars for a while or you can pay the $12 a pop for these two discs of films you actually enjoy. The choice is clear.
For people who love that nice young Russell Crowe...and for those who don't want to be on the receiving end of a thrown telephone: Gladiator (3-Disc Extended Edition) (2000)
2000 was only five years ago, but it was a simpler time. An Australian sensation named Russell Crowe was riding the critical high from his scintillating performance in The Insider. He had chosen a perfect follow-up project in the titular Gladiator, and he was poised to follow that project up by co-starring with Meg Ryan in Taylor Hackford's next movie, Proof of Life. Gladiator earned $187 million in domestic receipts and won five Academy Awards including Best Actor for Crowe as well as Best Picture. Things were going great. Then, he couldn't keep his hands off a married woman, and the rest is tabloid history. Ryan wound up divorced, discredited by previously adoring fans and disfigured by lip surgery gone horribly, horribly wrong. Hackford was ostracized for four years until Ray resurrected his career. And international audiences came to realize what a miserable bastard Crowe is. Since then, he has gotten in more drunken fistfights than anybody this side of Vinnie Jones. The movie is overrated to boot. But here it is anyway in 3-Disc Extended Edition form. Go nuts.
For the titular character in the 40 Year-Old Virgin: I Love You, Don't Touch Me (1998)
Before working on Amy's Orgasm and the Showtime late-night original series Black Tie Nights, director Julie Davis worked on two projects. Her debut was the cheap franchise rip-off Witchboard 6: the Devil's Mistress. The fact that it is considered to be the worst of the series is no small accomplishment. At this point, Davis recognized her strengths and moved into the field of romance and sexuality. I Love You, Don't Touch Me was the first attempt at romantic comedy, but it doesn't have quite the sensual tingling of her later work. Even so, fans of the Showtime series might enjoy seeing the genesis for her later evolution.
For Alton Brown's next episode of Good Eats: Layer Cake (Full Frame) (2004)
I went into the theater ready to heap lavish praise upon Layer Cake. Slick English crime dramas such as Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch are right down my alley. The first half of Layer Cake, I was thinking "Hell yeah!" It was sleek, it was tight, and it seemed to be building up to something special. Then, the wheels came off. The rest of Layer Cake is self-serving, smug and forced. If you are like me and enjoy crime dramas, you are probably less likely to enjoy this lesser fare than, say, someone who has only a casual interest in the genre. They would probably be less disappointed by the film's undoing than I am.
For people who enjoy the irony of Ice-T playing a cop: New Jack City (Special Edition) (1991)
Ice-T was the subject of a hailstorm of controversy over the song Cop Killer from his metal band, Body Count. So intense was the negative publicity that stock-holders of Warner Bros. threatened to have an enormous sell-off. In addition, executives from the music label received death threats. Eventually, the musician was fired from his label and the existing CD was replaced on store shelves by one without the Cop Killer track. In March of the same year, Ice-T quietly released a buddy cop movie co-starring Judd Nelson. Surprisingly, it did not suck. In fact, it's a decent flick that holds up well today. In addition, it has one of my all-time favorite movie quotes. "I went to shoot you so bad, my dick is hard." You have to be there, I guess.
For film students seeking to prove that all films in foreign languages are better: Ringu 2 and The Ring Two (Full Frame Unrated) (2005)
If you're keeping score at home, the timeline goes something like this. Hideo Nakata created a couple of terrific horror films in Japan called Ringu and Ringu 2. DreamWorks appreciates the genius of the premise and lines up Gore Verbinski to direct the original production. It's a huge hit, a great film, and everybody is excited about the sequel. Then, Verbinski catches lighting in a bottle with Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Suddenly, he is able to demand better projects and more money. DreamWorks turns to a commercial director named Noam Murro to take over The Ring Two. Unfortunately, he has a different vision about the project than the studio, so they ditch him. Under incredible pressure to hit a home run with their third directorial choice, DreamWorks hires none other than Hideo Nakata, the man who started the whole thing. Who would understand the remake of Ringu 2 better than the director of that film, right? The logic is bulletproof. The result is mystifying. The Ring Two fails on pretty much every level. This is in stark contrast to the original production, a harrowing tale of the macabre. This is particularly unexpected when we factor in that both films share the same climax. Film classes over the next decade will expend an endless amount of time debating how exactly this phenomenon came to be, but its existence is undeniable.
For people seeking to learn important life lessons: The O.C.: The Complete Second Season (7-DVD Set) (2004)
The magic of the digital era is that viewers are able to take full control of their viewing habits. A primary example of this is the way I have watched The O.C. After catching two episodes from the middle of season two, I decided the show was enjoyable enough to watch from the beginning. A month later, I was all caught up on the episodes. What I have discovered is that it is inconsistently brilliant, a must-have box set and my choice for DVD of the week.
As a fan of Gilmore Girls, I already loved Adam Brody for his work as Dave Rygalski. To my surprise, there are two other actors on the show who match if not surpass him. Rachel Bilson, Cohen's real life girlfriend, manages the improbable by carrying the magnetism of their off-screen romance over to the show. Somehow, she innately triggers the nebbish charm of Brody in a fashion that makes Seth Cohen seem like a guy that shallow, vein, popular Summer Roberts would pine for. That's no small accomplishment. The real shocker, though, is that Brody's perfect comic foil is the show's other lead, Benjamin McKenzie. The wife beater-clad character he portrays, Ryan Atwood, is a cliché and a bad one at that. In theory, he's little more than a Luke Perry as Dylan McKay update for 2005. Such a talent is McKenzie that he overcomes the predictability of his description and manages to be a winning kid viewers can't help but root for.
The second season of The O.C. has deservedly received criticism for being inferior to the first one. The last several episodes are at times woefully unwatchable due in large part to their focus on Mischa Barton's character. Barton has been working in Hollywood for most of her 19 years, yet she has somehow failed to ever learn how to act. Storylines that concentrate on her are difficult enough but the line of good taste is crossed when she is asked to portray a sexual assault victim and killer. These episodes are bad but then again, season one had Oliver Trask.
Even allowing for this straying from the path, season two still affords innumerable entertaining moments. The highlight of this set of discs is an episode entitled The Rainy Day Women. It finishes with an intersection of story arcs played against a backset of the Oasis song, Champagne Supernova. This three minute soap opera-meets-music video was the highlight of the 2004-2005 television season for me. And on an anecdotal note, my wife and I have been endlessly entertained from the unexpected ill fate of Caleb Nichol. We had thought we heard somewhere that he did not make it out of year two alive, but there he was at the end of the second to last episode of the year. Sure, his soon-to-be ex-wife was trying to spike his drink, but not enough to kill him. And after she changed her mind, Caleb seemed perfectly safe to make it to season three. At this moment, I turned to the missus and said, "See, he's sitting by the side of the pool. What could possibly happen now?" At that moment - I kid you not - Caleb Nichols has a heart attack and plunges into the water where he unsuccessfully struggles not to drown. The moral of the story: never sit by the pool, even if your trophy wife has decided not to drug you.