New on DVD: Selkies, Flying Turtles and Not-So-Merry Men
Neil Jordan’s ‘Ondine’ Tops My List
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
This week Neil Jordan’s “Ondine” goes to Blu-ray, Ridley Scott releases a director’s cut of “Robin Hood,” and Godzilla’s studio rival Gamera gets some DVD double features.
New on Blu-ray is Neil Jordan’s sweet romance “Ondine” and it tops my list of new releases this week. Colin Farrell plays Syracuse, a fisherman who finds a woman in his net one morning. He thinks she’s dead but it turns out she is quite alive. This makes his daughter believe that the beautiful young woman (Alicja Bachleda) is a selkie. In Irish folklore, selkies are seals that can shed their skins and become human. Jordan has a gift for presenting fairy tales that somehow manage to be rooted in a very gritty real world. He makes us believe in the possibility of something we know to be impossible. In his world there is the potential for magic and that’s what makes his films so irresistibly enchanting. Farrell has never been more charming, Stephen Rea has a small role as a sympathetic and down-to-earth priest, and Bachleda makes us think selkies might actually exist. This one is definitely worth owning and I recommend pairing it up with John Sayles equally beguiling “The Secret of Roan Inish.”
No matter how much deleted footage you restore, unrated scenes you add back in, and recutting Ridley Scott does, you cannot make this “Robin Hood” a good film. The premise has potential. Ridley Scott and actor Russell Crowe wanted to go back and dig up as much historical information about the legendary Robin Hood as they could in order to provide viewers with something of a backstory or “60 Minutes” investigative story. So Scott tries to separate truth from myth about the bandit who supposedly stole form the rich to give to the poor during the reign of Richard the Lionheart in ancient England. Unfortunately the Robin Hood we get from Scott and Crowe is neither rollicking fun nor clever re-imagining. If you want the legend and the swashbuckling fun, then go see Errol Flynn in “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” If you want to see a clever re-imagining, go see Richard Lester’s “Robin and Marion” with Sean Connery and Audrey as the aging versions of the title characters. Lester, a history buff, actually put quite a bit of effort of bringing historical accuracy to the story. But pretty much any version of Robin Hood would be better than this one.
Much more fun, however, is Shout! Factory’s re-issuing of a series of Gamera double features. If you don’t know Gamera… Shame on you! Gamera is Godzilla’s box office rival in Japan. The two have never met on screen because Godzilla hails from Toho Studios and Gamera is from Daiei Studios. Getting them together is like trying to get Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, and Ash all in the same film. Anyway, Gamera is another giant monster in Japan kaiju pantheon. He’s a giant flying turtle who can tuck inside his shell and then have jets blast out of the openings where his legs were. As with Godzilla, he has fought a host of monster enemies. His early films, which are the ones Shout! is releasing, serve up the most delightfully cheesy special effects and plenty of kaiju battles. These early films are especially derivative of Godzilla since Daiei was trying to cash in on Godzilla’s popularity. So in the double bill pairing “Gamera vs. Gyaos” and “Gamera vs. Viras,” you will notice that Gyaos looks a bit like Toho’s Rodan. A second double bill DVD serves up “Gamera vs. Guiron” and “Gamera vs Jiger.” If you have never seen a Gamera film before, you might wait to wait until next month and check out the Blu-ray release of “Gamera: Guardian of the Universe” and “Gamera” The Assault of Legion.” The transfers should be better and the films were both made in the 90s when the studio was able to spend more time and money creating these marvelous films. And just a side note, I want to send kudos and thanks to Shout! for also releasing my beloved TV series “Max Headroom” for the first time EVER!
Also new on Blu-ray is “American Beauty: Sapphire Edition” (they have to keep coming up with new editions to make consumers keep buying new versions of their favorite films). Paramount's Sapphire Series offers Oscar-winning and nominated films on specialty Blu-ray releases. This particular Sapphire edition offers an audio commentary with director Sam Mendes and screenwriter Alan Ball and a behind the scenes featurette. The film is a razor sharp black comedy with stellar performances by Kevin Spacey (his firing/quitting scene is brilliant) and Annette Bening. But the film falls apart at the very end and goes soft, resisting the darker ending that the film demands.
Another new Blu-ray offers a classic pairing. The 1963 film Charade pairs the delightful Audrey Hepburn with the ever debonair Cary Grant. She plays a woman in Paris and she’s pursued by a trio of crooks that want what her late husband stole from them. The only person who seems able to help her is a mysterious stranger played by Cary Grant. These two charming performers pair up marvelously and are simply a joy to watch.