Knight at HOME at the Movies
Playing Catch Up
While I was busy making all those great Halloween DVD recommendations last month (check out the DVD archives for
complete list), a lot of other great DVDs were being released. Here are three that you gotta pick up.
I’ve always felt that The Little Mermaid, which has been given the 2-disc
Platinum Edition treatment by Disney Home Entertainment, is the greatest of the
crop of original musicals responsible for returning the Mouse House to its original
glory. Not just because there’s not a bad song in it (though that certainly helps) but
because it remains true to the Hans Christian Anderson classic fairy tale while adding
elements – both earnest and comic in tone – that are incredibly winning for both
children and adults. It’s a beautifully paced movie that doesn’t waste a moment.
And the entire thing is infused with the gay sensibility that lyricist, writer and theatre
director Howard Ashman helped bring to the project.
That is made abundantly clear in the excellent 45 minute making of documentary
that is the highlight of the special features disc of the set. The documentary details
(via new interviews and vintage footage) the changing of the executive guard at
Disney in the mid 1980s that ushered in an era that would spell either the end of the
animation division (which was actually moved off the Disney lot to a parking lot
across the street) or its creative revival. The dramatic story of the animation
department’s renaissance – which began with the release of The Little Mermaid in
1989 – is vividly recalled by many of the participants. Unfortunately, Ashman, who
died from AIDS in the early 90s, isn’t among them. But his unique talents and
sensibilities – so evident in the final picture – are detailed. Among those recalling
Ashman’s creativity is John Waters (and how ironic is it to find Waters as part of a
Disney documentary?), Nora Ephron, Ashman’s partner, his sister, and of course, his
musical partner Alan Menken and the rest of the Disney Little Mermaid team. Just
one of Ashman’s inspirations was suggesting that Divine be the model for the
movie's villainess, Ursula the Sea Witch, a suggestion that Pat Carroll who sublimely
voiced the character, made so memorable.
There are oodles of other special features – including a beautiful, heartbreaking
short – an animated version of another Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale – “The
Little Match Girl” – plenty of stuff (and the usual games for the kiddies) to keep one
busy for hours. The movie itself is beautifully restored – it looks and sounds
terrific. A highly entertaining, informative release.
My love affair with the X Men series reached its climax (sorry) with the release of the
third installment in the series, X Men: The Last Stand. Often, summer
blockbusters are best left alone after one screening but such is not the case with this
third (and in many ways, best) installment of the mutants vs. the non-mutants
a/k/a Everyone Else which came to DVD last month courtesy of 20th Century Fox. As
I noted in my review of the film, while many of these based on a comic book
blockbusters always have a bit of homoeroticism, X Men has them all beat in spades
– and repeated viewings of the disc allows one to ferret out even more gay subtext
(why does that not surprise?).
The movie’s certainly an enjoyable, effects laden spectacle, as ordered up, and can
be read without the queer underscoring – though that’s not nearly as fun – and has
the usual battery of special effects and action to please the genre’s hardcore fans.
However, while the plethora of new male mutants (especially WW III with his angel
wings) and emphasis on the returning ones certainly pleased my gay predilections, it
probably wasn’t a thrilling development for those testosterone packed teenage boys
angling for more screen time for Mystique, the blue tinged shape shifter. As played
by the spectacularly shaped Rebbecca Romjin, who can blame them? Mystique was
the series best villain and with her less is definitely less as it is here. Also, the
movie doesn’t fall victim to the dreaded Blockbuster Bloat that has slowly taken hold
of these action pictures. It’s just the right length. A brainless, not terribly taxing
diversion that ends exactly when it should.
The disc contains the usual assortment of enjoyable but standard special features –
commentaries, a making of documentary, several deleted or extended sequences,
art and photo galleries, and something on Marvel Comics itself. Naturally, to be
expected, there’s an emphasis on how the special effects were achieved.
One of the year’s bitterest, funniest black comedies was Thank You For
Smoking, also out last month on DVD from 20th Century Fox. The subject of an
intense bidding war when it tested well at the Toronto Film Festival, the movie is
endless clever and funny and features a solid performance by Aaron Eckhart as Nick
Naylor, a lobbyist for Big Tobacco. The subject is so rich for parody that even the
title sequence is the height of clever. That the film somehow doesn’t stick in the
brain, the way other parodies of this type have (like Network) has less to do with the
construction of the movie but more, it’s bitter conclusions – offered without more
than a modicum of hope.
But that’s quibbling and the disc’s release – which includes a whopping assortment of
deleted scenes (one must be ruthless confides the director), an entertaining
segment with Eckhart, his director and producers on the “Charlie Rose Show” among
others – is sure to have already built up a rabid following. It’s always fun to see at
least some of what ended up on the cutting floor and as dark and funny morality
play like this one has more than the usual assortment to enjoy.
This black culture comedy centered on the way in which anything negative can be
spun (and I loved the little featurette on the topic that includes multiple examples
of our President doing just that) perfectly taps into the current hip idea that the
savvy shamelessness and huckstering will find a much more receptive audience than
true sincerity. Oh, and the mutant kid from X Men plays the kid here – how’s that for
an interesting tie-in?