Grosse Pointe Blank (George Armitage)
On one hand a frivolous comedy, on another a sharp satire, this film has actually improved with age.
For one thing, an element of the film that is barely touched upon but is omnipresent is that there is a clear class distinction between John Cusack's slick Blank and Dan Aykroyd's blue-collar Grocer. Their clothing, manner and attitude are all different. It is Aykroyd's work-a-day approach that makes him want to form a union, and Cusack's more philosophical bend that keeps him from wanting to join... yet they are both in the same profession.
The film is full of witty self-conscious references, including an assassination attempt straight out of the Bond movie You Only Live Twice, Cusak is shown attempting to kill a bike messenger, which alludes to Better Off Dead, Hank Azaria's character makes a prank call to a radio station, mirroring all the times his Moe got pranked by Bart Simpson... the list goes on.
The DVD is pretty basic. The sound is in 5.1 (only 384 kbps, though), but rear channel activity is limited to the occasional ricochet, which is a shame given how important the music is to the film (Cusak, upon seeing his old house converted into an Ultimart, hears the Guns N' Roses cover of "Live and Let Die;" upon entering the store, the music stops abruptly, but a muzak version is still heard faintly). It would have been nice had the music enveloped the listener (as it does in Rushmore, where even songs that are monaural are given a spread across the soundfield). The picture is pretty blah, and not anamorphic. Given that this is a bare-bones DVD from the dawn of the format, it may behoove Buena Vista/Hollywood to revisit this one and throw a couple of special features on it, as they have several other movies of this vintage.
The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (Joseph Sargent)
This film never takes itself too seriously, which is interesting given how much time and effort is put into characterizations here. No backstory is ever given for any of the characters except for Martin Balsam's, and that is intergral to the plot... nevertheless, one always feels when watching this film that the characters are fully fleshed out, complicated and colorful. These characters are being pushed to their limits, often refusing to admit that they're wrong, often in conflict with each other over petty details.
From the first strident notes of David Shire's pounding score (itself a masterpiece combining funk with very modern atonal writing) to the final freeze-frame on Walter Matthau's bloodhound face, this movie is a great romp. Told almost in real time (except for the very beginning and end) and with fantastic performances from Matthau, Robert Shaw and Jerry Stiller, the film manages to keep itself fresh and fun despite the unsettling events of recent history.
A gritty realism overlays all the events unfolding on the screen, which lends the humorous element of the film a striking urgency, with an interesting spin on the beauracracy that is being shaken to the ground by the actions of the terrorists.
The DVD is pretty anemic, with a non-anamorphic letterboxed transfer, although the mono sound is pretty strong. A trailer is included, but it would have been nice to see more.
Liebestraum (Mike Figgis)
This is one of my favorite films of all time, a hypnotic and haunting story about a two people with a magnetic attraction to one another who can not avoid the pull of what the film might call... fate. The film is erotic without showing any skin, generating its heat purely from the chemistry between Kevin Anderson and Pamela Gidley, Juan Ruiz Anchia's expressionistic photography (light and shadow have rarely been such a window into character's souls) and Figgis' own obsessive music score.
The DVD looks great, and the Dolby Surround soundtrack is surprisingly enveloping. Although only the R-rated edition is presented, the deleted brothel scene (which is essential to the film) is provided, so it isn't so difficult to switch to watching it in context of the rest of the picture. This sequence, in which Anderson's character is taken by Graham Beckel to a whorehouse, is very unsettling
Alicia Roan Witt... she of the Sopranos and Alia in David Lynch's Dune is shown here... playing the title music on piano.