It used to be you could keep up with the latest home video releases. During the VHS era, new titles were released either as “rental” (titles were sold to rental stores only for an exuberantly high $80+ a cassette!) or “sell-through” (wherein the public could buy the title in stores for under $30 a pop). The only alternative to purchasing costly analog video cassettes was the whole LaserDisc movement of the time.
LaserDiscs were definitely the DVD of their day, as they offered better quality (even if you did have to flip them over mid-movie) and even a few special features here and there — all that for just a few dollars more than a video tape. But, as some of you may recall, LaserDiscs seemed to remain the "niche" thing to do: they weren't picked up by most of the general public (who probably just didn't "get" it), and you usually had to go to specialty stores to find the latest releases.
And then came DVD (and later Blu-ray). Suddenly, we had anamorphic widescreen pictures, dynamic DTS surround sound, and, once again, bonus materials. The difference between DVD and LD, though? People actually "got" it this time (and it may be due to the whole "compact size" thing). Finally, videophiles were able to buy the latest release for a decent price…without having to wait for a "sell-through" re-release.
DVDs also offered us more — and, by more, I primarily mean more to choose from. Obscure titles began to crawl out of the woodwork (or was it plastic?), making the weekly odyssey to keep up at the video store that much more of a chore. Nowadays, it’s practically impossible for even a full-time couch potato to keep up with all of the new releases (from both major and independent distributors alike) that seem to pile up on rental and retail shelves every week. And so, it is with bloodshot eyes and a thorough lack of sleep that I bring to you a list of titles you may have missed (and may possibly want to add to your rental queues)…
Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait Of Maurice Sendak (Oscilloscope Laboratories) – Timed to coincide with the home video release of Where The Wild Things Are, Lance Bangs and Spike Jonze’s documentary Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait Of Maurice Sendak pays homage to the elderly writer/illustrator that entertained and inspired at least two generations (to date). A fun look at one of America’s most underrated talents — with a couple of appearances by Hollywood celebrities James Gandolfini, Meryl Streep, and Catherine Keener to boot.
According To Greta (Anchor Bay Entertainment) – There aren’t a whole lot of singers that can act these days. Sure, many of them try, but the end-result is usually something worthy of a Razzie Award at best. In According To Greta though, singer Hilary Duff gives an attention-worthy performance in this coming-of-age drama that she also co-produced. Greta (Duff) is an unhappy 17-year-old girl who is forced to live with her grandparents (Ellen Burstyn and Michael Murphy) for the summer. At first, Great is determined to kill herself before she reaches 18. But before she can do so, the lessons of life, learning, and love start to emerge. Also available on Blu-ray.
The September Issue (Lionsgate Home Entertainment) – Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue is shown in all of her glitzy glory in this acclaimed documentary, which successfully sheds her of the unjust Devil Wears Prada label she has picked up over the years. The docu takes us into the hectic struggle Anna and her fashion consultant Grace Coddington face every year to create what is called Vogue’s bible of fashion: The September Issue. While it’s a great pick, it probably isn’t something lovers of guns and guts would take a liking to.
Ghost Machine (Anchor Bay Entertainment) – You had better suspend your disbelief for the next couple of films, folks — starting with this one. The story here involves a small band of military technicians who steal a high-tech AI simulator with the intent of being nerdy all weekend (what, they’re not content with boozing it up and starting fights like the other kids their age?). Unfortunately, the angry spirit of a deceased U.S. torture victim has integrated itself into the simulator — and starts killing off the young dumb-asses one by one. And you thought Windows Vista sucked. Nothing new or interesting here, really, but you might be able to get a few laughs out of it.
InAlienable (Anchor Bay Entertainment) – Star Trek (1966) alumni Walter Koenig wrote, co-produced, and co-starred in this low-budget science fiction thriller, in which Richard Hatch (Battlestar Galactica) gives birth to a half-alien baby (er, what?). Soon, every evil goon the world over is after him and his child because of its unique DNA. A venerable assortment of familiar faces (Courtney Peldon, Marina Sirtis, Erick Avari, Richard Herd) from sci-fi TV shows old and new makes you wonder if Walter didn’t make this less-than-interesting social commentary just so a few of his fellow out-of-work actors could get some work. Also featuring Walter’s son, the late Andrew Koenig, in one of his final performances.
XIII: The Conspiracy (Phase 4 Films) – As Val Kilmer’s face seems to grow wider and wider, his résumé of new and original works grows narrower and narrower. Despite the fact that it may look like a theatrical film based on the XIII video game, XIII: The Conspiracy is actually just a two-part Canadian TV mini-series that has slipped onto home video (but it’s still based on the video game, if that counts). Either way, Kilmer is really just a co-star here: Stephen Dorff gets the top-billing honors as an amnesiac assassin who tries to figure out his identity while being chased by the government. It’s really not as bad as it looks, but chances are you’ve seen a similar story somewhere before. Also available on Blu-ray.
Happy viewing, kids!