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)…
Astro Boy (Summit Entertainment) – Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later: the animated American equivalent of a cult Japanese manga classic. And, while casting Nicolas Cage’s droning voice as our young hero’s creator, Dr. Tenma, may be questionable in many cultures, Astro Boy actually brightened more eyes than it shut (well, in kids, at least). An all-star cast of voices is provided by the likes of Samuel L. Jackson (who I think should have voiced Astro Boy himself, but…), Charlize Theron, Bill Nighy, Donald Sutherland, Nathan Lane, Eugene Levy, and some of those younger actors I’m still not identifying with. A good pick for families (or perhaps just the kiddies). Also available on Blu-ray.
Banshee!!! (MVD Visual) – A film so good that its makers opted to include not just one exclamation mark, but three in the title. Yes, it’s Banshee!!!, the latest direct-to-video horror release (even if it was made in 2008) wherein some really stupid people are targeted and subsequently eliminated by a mysterious critter-thing. And, though it’s a pity we never get to see this sort of routine slaughter happen to, say, our politicians, Banshee!!! earns a mark or two of respect because of the sheer love its cast and crew share for horror films old and new (and is often noticeable in their film). Plus, there’s enough gore here to keep all of you bloodhounds content for an hour or two.
Good Intentions (Phase 4 Films) – The road to Hell is paved with ‘em. The road to Hell is also paved with low-budget redneck robbery movies, which Good Intentions happens to be one of. Country singer LeAnn Rimes co-stars (although she is prominently featured on the cover art) in this tale of Southern hospitality, wherein mother-and-wife Etta Milford (Elaine Hendrix) devises her very own “get-rich-quick” scheme — which involves armed robbery and blackmail in a small rural town. Luke Perry, Jon Gries, Jimmi Simpson, and the great Gary Grubbs also star.
Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love (Oscilloscope Laboratories) – A documentary about the musical career of Senegalese composer Youssou N’Dour (or, the guy who sang with Peter Gabriel on “In Your Eyes” that one time, if you’re not too terribly up to date on world music). As documentaries go, Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love isn’t the most solidly constructed piece of art, but fans of the famous singer/songwriter should appreciate the generous helpings of musical numbers. A CD with many of the songs contained in the film is also available.
SuperVan (Cheezy Flicks) – Despite the unconditional love that grindhouse and exploitation aficionados alike have for really stupid ‘70s drive-in fare, some movies should simply be forgotten. And that’s about all I am going to say about Cheezy Flicks’ culled-from-a-worn-out-VHS-print release of an incredibly awful (and titty-less) PG-rated monstrosity called SuperVan, other than this: if there was ever a drive-in owner who was dumb enough to have a matinee showing, I hope they chose this film as their feature.
Orlok: The Vampire (Quality Cheese Productions) – F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu is eternal. Especially for Public Domain releases. Sensing that no one would probably want to purchase yet another copy of the famous vampire flick, the folks at Quality Cheese Productions saw fit to add some computer-generated anaglyphic 3D effects to their DVD release (in addition to a standard 2D version). They also added some new title cards (with a cute little bat logo at the bottom of each one), a zany piano music score (?), and some incomprehensible murmuring dialogue that makes you wonder if you haven’t wandered into the dark side of Charlie Brown. The release also contains an introduction by Troma’s own Lloyd Kaufman — which really makes you wonder what the folks at Quality Cheese were thinking.
Happy viewing, kids!