The DVD Report #14

The story of the 300 Spartans fighting to the death against the Persian army has been told for 2500 years. The CGI effects-heavy film made from Frank Miller’s (Sin City) graphic novel doesn’t have anything in it likely to stay with you more than 2500 minutes (that’s less than 2 days).

Miller, who never lets the truth get in the way of his narrative, begins his story with two fictitious, larger-than-life events that are dramatized in the film. In the first instance, Leonidas becomes the king of Sparta by besting a wolf in keeping with the dark tone of the piece. In real life, he was born into the monarchy.

In the second, Leonidas throws thirty messengers from King Xerses of Persia into a well. In real life, this occurred ten years earlier under another king.

In the real Sparta, young men were honed into sleek fighting machines, but they were also schooled in the arts, and went off into battle singing. None of this, which would have brought much needed levity to the narrative, is part of either the graphic novel or the film.

The film, which was directed by Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead), is at least visually stunning and is guaranteed to keep you awake unlike the previous film of the Battle of Thermopylae, 1962’s 300 Spartans. Gerard Butler (The Phantom of the Opera) and Lena Headey (The Brothers Grimm) star.

More absorbing is HBO’s Rome: The Second Season, a full-bodied, bloody epic of a television series if there ever was one. Polly Walker (Patriot Games, Curtain Call), Kevin McKidd (Kingdom of Heaven, Hannibal Rising), Ray Stevenson (TV’s The Return of the Native, King Arthur) and James Purefoy (A Knight’s Tale, Vanity Fair) head the strong cast under various directors.

Not to be outdone, that other cable TV pay network, Showtime, has released Weeds: Season Two. Normally one wouldn’t expect a series with a drug pusher for a heroine to offer more than passing interest, but this series is still going strong in its third season and has been a constant source of wonder from the start. There is no better comic ensemble on TV.

The always delightful Mary-Louise Parker (Fried Green Tomatoes, Saved!) is a suburban widow who makes a modest side income growing and selling marijuana while her clueless friend, the hilarious Elizabeth Perkins (About Last Night…; Finding Nemo) suffers one malady after another. Romany Malco (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Blades of Glory), Kevin Nealon (Daddy Day Care, Grandma’s Boy), Hunter Parrish (RV, Freedom Writers) and Justin Kirk (TV’s Angels in America, Flannel Pajamas) are all part of the mirth.

Also from TV, and released now to coincide with the big screen release of Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Ultimatum, is the first dramatization of one of the author’s works, 1977’s The Rhinemann Exchange.

This rather dull mini-series from director Burt Kennedy (Support Your Local Sheriff, Support Your Local Gunfighter) is not the worst Ludlum adaptation let loose on the world. That distinction would be a toss-up between 1983’s The Osterman Weekend and 1985’s The Holcroft Covenenant, but it’s not particularly good either.

The best thing that can be said about this World War II suspense melodrama set in Argentina, is that is gives us a cast we’ll never see together again. Stephen Collins (TV’s 7th Heaven, Blood Diamond) is the hero, and the supporting cast includes Lauren Hutton (American Gigolo, 54), Jose Ferrer (Cyrano de Bergerac, The Caine Mutiny), John Huston (The Cardinal, Chinatown), Roddy McDowall (Fright Night, A Bug’s Life) and Rene Auberjonois (M*A*S*H, TV’s Boston Legal and Benson).

Also coinciding with the release of The Bourne Ultimatum is the re-issue of star Matt Damon’s The Rainmaker.

Released in a bare bones DVD edition in the early days of the format, this new collector’s edition comes with all kinds of bells and whistles including a documentary on the making of the film in which the actors talk about director Francis Ford Coppola’s (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now) improvisational coaching.

Released in 1997, The Rainmaker was Coppola’s last commercial film, easily the best film made from a John Grisham novel. In addition to Damon (Good Will Hunting, The Talented Mr. Ripley), ideally cast as a novice lawyer, stand-outs include Danny De Vito (Living Out Loud, Big Fish), Claire Danes (Stage Beauty, Shopgirl), Jon Voight (Midnight Cowboy, Coming Home), Dean Stockwell (Kim, Compulsion), Danny Glover (Places in the Heart, The Color Purple), Mary Kay Place (The Big Chill, Nine Lives), Virginia Madsen (Sideways, The Astronaut Farmer) and the great Teresa Wright (Shadow of a Doubt, The Best Years of Our Lives). Coppola and De Vito provide commentary.

Being given its first U.S. DVD release is a curious 1930 film called The Lottery Bride. The film, directed by the long forgotten Paul L. Stein featured Jeanette MacDonald (Love Me Tonight, San Francisco) as a woman torn between two brothers, John Garrick (Chu Chin Chow) and Robert Chisholm. Joe E. Brown (Show Boat, Some Like It Hot) and ZaSu Pitts (Greed, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) offer comic relief, but the comedy is as forced as the songs are forgettable.

Time has been kinder to the films of Myrna Loy and William Powell. He continues to find new fans with the perennially successful My Man Godfrey, Life with Father and Mister Roberts. She continues to enthrall generations with her various incarnations from temptress in The Mask of Fu Manchu to perfect wife in The Best Years of Our Lives to alcoholic mother in From the Terrace to Henry Fonda’s last co-star in TV’s Summer Solstice. Together they had The Thin Man and its sequels, Libeled Lady and The Great Ziegfeld, all of which have been available on DVD for some time. Now, Warner Bros. has released a set of their other film together, calling it The Myrna Loy and William Powell Collection.

The most famous film in the collection is their first collaboration, 1934’s Manhattan Melodrama in which Clark Gable (It Happened One Night, The Misfits) gets top billing. It’s an engrossing tale of boyhood pals who grow up on opposite sides of the law, both falling in love with the same woman. The film, which won a screenplay Oscar, is well directed by W.S. Van Dyke (Tarzan the Ape Man, Journey for Margaret) in his usual fast-paced style. It is most famous, however, as the film that lured public enemy number one, John Dillinger, to his death. Dillinger, whose favorite actress was Loy, went to see the film and emerged into the waiting arms of the F.B.I.

Less memorable, but still highly watchable, is 1934’s Evelyn Prentice, directed by William K. Howard (Fire Over England, Back Door to Heaven). Employing courtroom theatrics that would make Perry Mason proud, Powell is a highly successful criminal lawyer who is clueless about wife Loy’s involvement with a murdered blackmailer. Complicating matters is Rosalind Russell (His Girl Friday, Auntie Mame) in her film debut as a former client with designs on Powell. Una Merkel (Destry Rides Again, The Parent Trap) as Loy’s friend, Isabel Jewell (A Tale of Two Cities, The Seventh Victim) as an accused murderess and Jessie Ralph (David Copperfield, San Francisco) as a cleaning lady all have their moments.

The farcical Double Wedding (1937), directed by Richard Thorpe (Ivanhoe, Knights of the Round Table) finds Powell playing a Bohemian artist at war with uptight businesswoman Loy over the future of her sister Florence Rice (At the Circus, Broadway Melody of 1940) and her fiancé John Beal (TV’s Family, The Firm). Sidney Toler (Charlie Chan in the Secret Service, The Chinese Cat) is a delight as a butler-turned-sleuth, Mary Gordon (The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) is his wife and the cook, and the always-nice-to-see Jessie Ralph making her third appearance in a Loy-Powell film (following Evelyn Prentice and After the Thin Man) as a wealthy and wise old lady.

Loy has little to do in 1940’s I Love You Again, directed by W.S. Van Dyke, but the film is a showcase for Powell as an amnesiac con man. The plot is all over the place, the gags as predictable as they are silly, and the outcome obvious from the start, but some people consider this the best of the team’s non-Thin Man films. I’ve never understood why.

Featured prominently in the cast are Frank McHugh (The Roaring Twenties, Going My Way), Edmund Lowe (Dinner at Eight, Around the World in 80 Days) and Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer (The Awful Truth, The Defiant Ones).

Much better in my opinion is 1941’s Love Crazy, a screwball comedy directed by Jack Conway (Viva Villa!, Boom Town) in a deft style uncharacteristic of the action director.

Misunderstandings, mistaken identities, pending divorces, lunatic asylums where the doctors are crazier than the patients and Powell in drag all figure in the delightful complications involving the stars also including Gail Patrick (Stage Door, My Favorite Wife), Jack Carson (A Star Is Born, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof), Florence Bates (I Remember Mama, Lullaby of Broadway), Sig Ruman (To Be or Not to Be, Stalag 17) and Vladimir Sokoloff (For Whom the Bell Tolls, Mr. Sardonicus). All this, and Powell shaves off his moustache.

Next week: Fox releases The Charlie Chan Collection – Volume 3 and Warner Bros. releases The Shakespeare Collection including Max Reinhardt’s fabled version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, George Cukor’s version of Romeo and Juliet, Laurence Olivier’s version of Othello and Kenneth Branagh’s version of Hamlet.

Peter J. Patrick (August 7, 2007)

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Top 10 Rentals of the Week

(July 29)

  1. The Number 23
              $6.94 M ($6.94 M)
  2. Zodiac
              $6.69 M ($6.69 M)
  3. Premonition
              $6.34 M ($13.6 M)
  4. The Hills Have Eyes II
              $4.07 M ($8.74 M)
  5. The Contract
              $3.98 M ($3.98 M)
  6. Shooter
              $3.64 M ($27.6 M)
  7. Slow Burn
              $3.01 M ($3.01 M)
  8. Black Snake Moan
              $2.84 M ($21.2M)
  9. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
              $2.4 M ($2.4 M)
  10. The Last Mimzy
              $2.2 M ($8.88 M)

Top 10 Sales of the Week

(July 22)

  1. Premonition
  2. The Hills Have Eyes 2
  3. The Last Mimzy
  4. Shooter
  5. Bridge to Terabithia
  6. Ghost Rider
  7. The Astronaut Farmer
  8. Hannah Montana: Pop Star Profile
  9. Night at the Museum
  10. Perfect Creature

New Releases

(August 7)

Coming Soon

(August 14)

(August 21)

(August 28)

(September 4)

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