Armchair Cinephile 

 
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Macho, macho man

Soldiers, cowboys, pirates, and treasure hunters - just another month in the video biz, until a copy of the John Holmes' biopic Wonderland shows up in the mail, bringing the testosterone level coursing through my television to dangerous levels. I'm already on record as being underwhelmed by Val Kilmer's sordid descent into the porn star's criminal exploits, but I was intrigued by the second disc in the package, which presents the documentary Wadd. I've been curious about Holmes' true story since Boogie Nights, and now I know all I need to.

Contemporary filmmakers don't get much more manly than Walter Hill, whose Trespass just arrived. Dispensing with women altogether, Bill Paxton and pal are trapped in a cat-and-mouse game with the Ice brothers, Mr. Cube and Mr. T. You would never guess Ice Cube had a lick of charm from this bluntly angry performance, but then nobody is at his most subtle here. Nor was Stephen Hopkins subtle the next year, when he swiped Trespass' dynamic (minus the race card) for the Emilio Estevez thriller Judgment Night, another manly urban survival tale.

Happily, Universal offers a cheekier performance from Estevez in Repo Man, Alex Cox's punk sci-fi comedy. Nothing puts a fella's mettle to the test like asking him to go into a bad neighborhood and take a deadbeat's car with little nourishment besides generic beer. Did I mention the government agents and nuclear scientists? The only thing missing is Lee Marvin.

Marvin may not be the star of Ship of Fools, a '60s ensemble piece that often feels like a reasonably brainy, socially conscious Love Boat. But he does have the most enjoyable role, as a retired baseball player who spends much of his time drunk and hitting on a flamenco dancer. It's a capsule version of some of his most memorable performances, with Marvin demanding again and again that buying her a bottle of champagne entitles him to a little action. She is a hooker, actually; he just has the wrong price.

Visiting a whore is a rite of passage in Neil Simon's Biloxi Blues, a movie you might avoid if you read the promotional blurb: "Biloxi Blues wins a 21-fun salute!" The film's actually a whole lot better than that horrible Gene Shalit line; Christopher Walken reigns himself way back and is still frightening as a World War II drill sergeant, and you would be hard pressed to find a better "the artist as a sensitive young man" stand-in than Matthew Broderick. After the remakes and sequels of the '90s, I had forgotten why people like Neil Simon; now I remember.

Wonderland (Lions Gate)

Trespass, Judgment Night, Repo Man, Biloxi Blues (Universal)

Ship of Fools (Columbia/TriStar)

The Postman Always Rings Twice, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Thorn Birds (Warner Brothers)

Open Range, Pirates of the Caribbean (Buena Vista)
Armchair Cinephile


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John
DeFore

on
DVD
A different kind of WWII-era man features in the original The Postman Always Rings Twice. In one of the most memorable noirs ever, a morally flexible drifter is manipulated into murder by his boss' bombshell wife. John Garfield and Lana Turner are perfect - they're just shallow and greedy enough to be believable - but you have to feel for poor Cecil Kellaway, the deluded immigrant husband who, unless penny-pinching is a sin, doesn't deserve what's coming his way.

The Postman remake has been on disc for ages, so packaging it with the original would be redundant, but buffs will appreciate what Warner has done with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (whose relevance here is obvious) putting both the 1932 Fredric March version and the 1941 one with Spencer Tracy on the same disc. If that's not enough of a value for you, you greedy pig, the disc also features a Bugs Bunny Jekyll/Hyde spoof. (Postman and Jekyll, by the way, are part of a beautiful Warner Brothers promotion, called "DVD Decision," in which movie buffs were allowed to vote for five new reissues out of 20 candidates. Here's hoping more studios follow suit.)

Where there are men, there will be Westerns, and video store denizens now have a shot at Open Range. Those who feared the Kevin Costner film were misguided; while imperfect, Range is thoughtful and stately without being overblown. Likewise, Pirates of the Caribbean can now be seen in the safety of your home, and would be worth your time even if Johnny Depp were its only asset (he's not): His Hunter Thompson-meets-Keith Richards pirate is a delightful creation.

He's also, according to an informal survey, one of the most lady-pleasing characters in this long lineup. For one from a different era, see Richard Chamberlain's priest-who-needs-love-too in the blockbuster miniseries The Thorn Birds, out just in time for Valentine's-Day pining. And, given ol' RC's famous heart-throbby sensitivity, just in time to purge some of the more male-chauvinist vibes found in so many other titles this month. •


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