Special Features D+
DVD Geek Factor 5 (out of 10)
Right before he made the American remake of his own Ju-on: The Grudge, Takashi Shimizu filmed this disturbing movie in about eight days on a miniscule budget. Shinya Tsukamoto plays Masuoka, a TV cameraman who videotapes a man killing himself in a Tokyo subway. Masuoka obsesses over the footage, certain that he sees the victim staring at something in fear before stabbing himself in the eye. He gets some sort of bizarre craving to experience and understand fear as the man in the subway did.
One thing leads to another, and Masuoka ends up in some sort of subway netherworld overrun with alien-type creatures. He finds a naked girl with fangs chained to some rocks, brings her home, names her F and eventually feeds her human blood.
Twists reveal that there is much more to Masuoka's sickness than simply craving fear. It is with this plot twist that Shimizu turns his movie into a depraved examination of psychotic behavior. Fans of Japanese horror flicks like Ju-on and Ringu might find this one a bit perplexing, but there's no denying its ability to give one the creeps.
Some critics have called Shimizu a misogynist for this film. I beg to differ. I see it as a testament to losing one's mind and bad parenting. Nobody--man or woman--is portrayed in a positive or superior light in this film. It is a universally bleak look at humanity, male and female.
The film doesn't go out of its way to spell everything out for you, and some might find its lack of clarity frustrating. I thought the murkiness of the film contributed to its eeriness.
Special Features: The extras are surprisingly weak, considering this is a Tartan release, and their releases tend to be packed. There are a couple of interesting interviews with the director and his star, and little more.
Network: Two-Disc Special EditionWarner Home Video
Special Features A-
DVD Geek Factor 6.75 (out of 10)
This is part of Warner Home Video's ongoing, beautiful treatment of some of the more hallowed films of the '70s. Director Sidney Lumet followed up his excellent Dog Day Afternoon with another scathing indictment of television media. This one tells the story of a network news anchor (Peter Finch) who goes a little nutty in the head, and his bosses' willingness to exploit that fact.
Finch won an Oscar posthumously for his role, which featured the infamous "mad as hell" speech. Faye Dunaway also took home an Oscar for Best Actress, although it can be observed 30 years later that she perhaps overacted a bit as an evil network programmer. Her character's love affair with a network honcho (played by William Holden) actually constitutes the film's biggest flaw.
The film was intended as a comedy, but stuff that was outrageous in 1976 has actually happened by 2006, so some of the humor is a bit dated. Still, the film represented American filmmaking at its most ballsy, warts and all.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Some good documentaries featuring, among others, Dunaway and Lumet discussing the production. Lumet provides a full commentary. The movie can be bought on its own or as part of the Controversial Classics, Vol. 2 package with All the President's Men and Dog Day Afternoon.
Jarhead: Collector's EditionUniversal Home Video
Special Features A-
DVD Geek Factor 8.5 (out of 10)
One of last year's most underrated films will hopefully get some love on DVD. Based on Anthony Swofford's memoir chronicling his time in the first Gulf War, this is a war movie where an actual battle never really happens.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Swofford, a Marine who finds himself unraveling a bit as he's forced to sit in the desert, hydrate and do nothing. A supporting cast that includes Jamie Foxx, Peter Sarsgaard and Lucas Black give the movie one of 2005's best ensemble casts, and they are all excellent.
Memorable images include soldiers covered in oil after Iraqis set the oil fields on fire. And the only real battles that take place in the film are between a couple of scorpions.
Director Sam Mendes made a movie that will probably find its place somewhere in the future. In many ways, the film is as good as Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket and Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now. It's a dark comedy about war while the country is at war. Moviegoers weren't ready for it last year.
Special Features: Pony up the extra couple of bucks for the excellent two-disc collector's edition (Jarhead can also be purchased as a single disc with minimal special features). Mendes and Swofford offer commentaries on two separate tracks, and both are worth your time, if the film interests you. Disc One is full of deleted scenes, and one contains an alternate opening that would've given the great Sam Rockwell some screen time (it was his only scene, and it was cut). Disc Two contains three excellent documentaries dealing with the main actors, the extras and actual Marines returning from war and discussing their experiences.