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Doogan's Views at The Digital Bits
page added: 8/1/06

Jumping Head First into the Sweaty Masses

Doogan's Views - Main Page

I don't have a whole lot of time for commentary. Winding down after the Con is a lot of work: house cleaning, laundry, errands... all that stuff. But in-between chores and trying to tweak my internal clock after living three-hours behind for a week, I still managed to squeeze out three reviews for you. Yes, I listened to all the fans that approached me after the panel. I'm going to be more visible around the site, don't worry.

Oh, and for those of you out there who think I don't review movies I don't like, I have a present for you: Two movies I didn't like on DVD. But since I can't help myself, let's start with one I did...

A Very Long Engagement

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A Very Long Engagement
2005 (2005) - Warner Independent Pictures (Warner)

I remember really wanting to see this film in theaters. And I really meant to... but the reviews from friends who saw it weren't great. So it kinda fell off my radar. Then the DVD came out, and once again, it was on my list. And yet again, people I trusted said it wasn't all that great.

So the other day I had a gift certificate for the local Tower Records, and I was picking out discs that I needed for my collection. The first section I headed to was the International Films section. And lo and behold, the first disc that stared me in the face was this one (the second, by the way, was The School of the Holy Beast, but that, my friends, will be reviewed on another day). And guess what? My friends are goofy. This is a bad ass flick. But I think I understand what's going on. A Very Long Engagement is NOT Amélie: Part Two. It's certainly shot in the same fashion. It's quirky, but not as much. This a love story, pure and simple - a romance tale that rings with so much truth, that even a grown man will tear up by the end. It's about loving someone so much that you know everything about them, to the point that if they were to be hurt or even die, somehow you'd know it.

Now, I don't want to give too much away here. A Very Long Engagement is a mystery story. It features Audrey Tautou as Mathilde, a young French woman stricken with polio as a child. Her childhood sweetheart, Manech, is summoned to the trenches during World War I and is court martialed for a self-inflicted wound. Instead of the firing line, Manech and a group of other similarly charged "criminals" are ordered into the no-man's land in front of the German trench, to be killed by the enemy for sport. Mathilde hears the news of her beloved's death... and instantly doesn't believe it. She sits and waits to hear from him, believing he isn't dead.

Years go by.

And then something happens. Out of no where, a former comrade of Manech summons Mathilde to confirm his death... and to give her a collection of objects owned by all of the fallen men who died with Manech. And it's through these objects that Mathilde finds hope and a series of clues.

That's where I'll stop. Just know that this is a really well done story, and even though it's not as whimsical as Amélie, it's just as good. Maybe it's because I went in not thinking the film was going to be good that I liked it so much. Maybe it's because I'm a huge Jean-Pierre Jeunet fan. Or maybe it's because this is a really good film. Either way, I loved it and I hope that everyone out there who didn't give it a shot because they heard bad things tries it out and loves it as much as me.

This DVD looks really good considering the fact it's a standard DVD presentation. You get solid and colorful anamorphic widescreen video. Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 French and sounds very nice. The bonus features are also good, and there are a bunch. On Disc One, Jeunet provides an audio commentary in French, with English subtitles. Disc Two features a couple of really long, detailed and well-produced documentaries. The first is a "making of" piece, very much like the one with Amélie, which follows the filmmakers through all the various facets of the filmmaking process. The second is a documentary on the process of making Paris take a trip back to the early 1920s. There's also a piece on how they blew up a zeppelin hanger. Oh... and there's a selection of deleted sequences as well (not really scenes, because mostly they are extensions of scenes in the film), with commentary by Jeunet.

For a film that no one wanted me to see, A Very Long Engagement turned out to be one of my favorite films from the 2005 season. I'm happy to say that this DVD serves the film quite well, enough that I'm very glad I bought it. So nah-nah to all you haters out there.

Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare

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Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare
Special Edition - 1987 (2006) - Amsell Entertainment (Synapse Films)

Don May, Jr. and his Synapse team put another dime in the jukebox... but sadly, I don't love Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare. Maybe it's because I never saw the film back in its heyday, so I don't have any sort of nostalgic appreciation for the film. Or maybe it's because the film sucks. I'm leaning towards the latter. Don't misunderstand me: Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare is a pretty kick ass DVD. The film looks and sounds fantastic here. And the special features are also well done and fun. No, I'm saying the film itself is a pile of dung: Bad acting, bad dialogue, bad set-ups and direction, and horrible, horrible special effects. But damn... a bunch of you out there enjoy this crap, so God bless ya. If you saw this flick in the 1980s and loved it... well, you'll absolutely love this disc.

The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen video set at 1.78:1, with remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 mono audio. Extras include a commentary with director John Fasano and writer/star Jon-Mikl Thor, two music videos, two behind-the-scenes featurettes (with archival footage from the original production as well as a history of Jon-Mikl Thor's musical career) and a video intro and outro by Thor himself. See? Not bad. There's even bad ass packaging art by Synapse's resident cover artist, Wes Benscoter. Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare on DVD actually flies in the face of everyone who claims you can't polish up a turd. Apparently, you can.

Bettie Page: Dark Angel - Two Disc Limited Edition

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Bettie Page: Dark Angel
Two-Disc Limited Edition - 2004 (2006) - Cult Epics

I love Bettie Page, and pin-up art (both lite and dark) fascinates me. About two years ago, I decided to plow through the Internet and find what I considered the ultimate Bettie Page piece. I didn't know what it was - it's not like I am a Bettie Page expert and knew all of her images by heart. I just knew there was an image out there that would symbolize all her sexiness and her innocence. For me that's what Bettie Page is: the ultimate girl next door, who knew how to work it. It took about three months, but I stumbled upon a guy who sells rarer images and a select few of them were signed. So I bought what I consider to be the ultimate image of Bettie Page. It's not the most memorable image, but it's one that I feel captures her essence.

Now... this film, Dark Angel, tries hard to capture Bettie. And actress Paige Richards does a pretty damn good job. As a film, though... I dunno. I'm not a fan. It's a really poorly directed, blocked, acted and written film. I don't know... maybe these elements were done on purpose to try and capture the rough and amateurish nature of Bettie's "films," and not necessarily be a true-to-life biography. Maybe the goal was to make the film look more like a it was made then. You be the judge. In any case, I think it didn't work.

Nico B, the director, knows Bettie as an icon better than most anybody, considering that he's built his film distribution company, Cult Epics, on the back of his collection of Bettie films. So maybe this film's badness is on purpose. Who am I to be critical of it? I'm just here to say that 1) I love Bettie, 2) I don't like this film and 3) Paige Richards is fun.

Dark Angel is presented in full frame aspect ratio, as originally shot, and it actually looks damn good. Colors are rich, the black and white sequences are strong and overall, it's a very pleasing picture. The audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 and it sounds good, but has a few problems that pop up here and there. It's nothing to keep you from enjoying it, however, and ultimately it adds only to the film's low budget character.

The extras are quite nice. This is a two-disc set, and it's loaded. Disc One offers a trailer and some behind-the-scenes extended footage from the films within the film (Dressing the Pony Girl, Fighting Girls, Untying the Bound and Gagged Girl, Dominant Bettie and Jungle Girl Untied). There's also a nude photo shoot with Richards doing her adorable thing on a bed. Fans of the music in this film (a trippy jazz score created by Chris Stein, Danny B. Harvey and Zack Ryan), will enjoy going behind-the-scenes of the music recording sessions, as well as seeing the original dream sequence with a deleted score by Zack Ryan. And while it's Zack-less, Disc One rounds out with a music video for Just As I Am, featuring the legendary Clara Ward Singers (as featured in the film).

Disc Two is a fun treat for Bettie-philes, and makes owning this set a no-brainer. In How to Pose Nude by Bunny Yeager, Paige is interviewed by the one and only Bunny Yeager, the famed Playboy photographer (and former model) who shot most (if not all) of Bettie's legendary Florida pictures. Here, Bunny discusses with Paige how similar she is to Bettie, and what shooting Bettie was like. They then go and replicate some of Bettie's shoots from the 1950s. It's very cool and lots of fun. Disc Two also features a pair of photo galleries (one with Bettie and one with Paige), both of which shot by Bunny, as well as a pair of short featurettes. In Date with Paige, Paige discusses her idea of a great date. The Maid has Paige doing her thing as a French maid.

In the end, I can't vouch for Dark Angel as a film. As a Bettie fan, however, I have to say that the supplements here make this a nice DVD to own. Paige Richards is a lot of fun in this, and she truly captures what Bettie Page was all about.

Well... that's it for now. It was a huge pleasure meeting Bits fans at Comic-Con. I'm always energized after coming back from San Diego. Between rubbing elbows with all y'all, taking meeting with studio VIPs and disc producers, and meeting celebrities who somehow know Bill and I and the work we do... it's all pretty fan-tastic and a bit overwhelming. Oh... and big shout out to our partner-in-crime, Adam Jahnke, who always makes my trips to Cali that much more enjoyable. Good luck with your stuff and remember the Monkey my friend. ALWAYS remember the Monkey.

Everyone else, keep spinnin' those discs!

Todd Doogan

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