Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show The Complete Series
Warner Home Video
Form of a box set! Shape of a bonus feature! This isn't the original early-'70s Super Friends show, but the later 1984 incarnation created to tie in with the Super Powers Collection line of action figures (thanks, Reagan-era FCC deregulation of children's television!). The box boasts "The Complete Series" but that's less impressive once you realize that each episode tracking the innocuous adventures of perennials like Superman and Wonder Woman (joined by Super-token-minorities El Dorado, Samurai and Black Vulcan) is only 11 minutes long. The on-the-cheap animation isn't much fun to look at one of the show's writers interviewed in one of two featurettes accurately describes the format as "illustrated radio" but the sound effects recycled from every Hanna-Barbera production inspire a certain unconscious Proustian reverie for now-adult veterans of the Saturday-morning cartoon experience. For the full effect, save this DVD for a day when you can wake up early, leave your pajamas on and eat sugar cereal until you're jumping off the couch. Violet Glaze
Kon Ichikawa's 47 Ronin
I can't fathom a less exciting samurai film than what Kon Ichikawa has given us, a stilted and talky derivation of one of the most famous, near-mythical stories in Japanese folklore. Like Jean Renoir's Le Marseillaise and Ken Loach's The Wind that Shakes the Barley, this attempted re-creation is so grounded in historical fidelity that the drama is lost in a plodding series of dull and uninvolving conversations. The plot is thrilling in theory the ronin of the title seeking to avenge the death of the master, who is forced to commit ritual suicide after striking a court official but Ichikawa's vision amounts to watching a bunch of executive board meetings by rival firms and knowing next to nothing about what they're talking about. Ichikawa gives us a lot of information, but unless you majored in Japanese history you're out of luck following the convoluted plot. AnimEigo's release doesn't help: The multicolored subtitles are distracting, and a second batch of subtitles, which appear sporadically at the top of the frame to provide cultural context about certain phrases used in the film, only confuse matters further. I don't want my art cinema looking like an episode of Pop-Up Video. John Thomason
The Page Turner
When Mélanie was a child she had hopes of being a great musician. During a big audition she gets distracted. One judge, famous pianist Ariane Fouchétcourt (Catherine Frot), disrespectfully gives an autograph to a fan while Mélanie's playing. Her performance falls apart and her dream comes to an abrupt end. A decade later, Mélanie (Déborah François, L'Enfant) is out of high school and an intern at a law firm where Ariane's husband works. She ingratiates herself to him at work, which leads him to hire her as a nanny for his son. She assimilates into their family, eventually becoming a page-turner for Ariane, who's not the haughty star Mélanie first met. Is quiet unassuming Mélanie planning revenge or is she just infatuated with her enemy? Director Denis Dercourt's The Page Turner is an amazingly simple and eerily silent film. By underplaying the drama and keeping Mélanie's real intentions a secret, Dercourt gets maximum tension from the script he co-wrote. The Page Turner is also bolstered by the smart performances of Frot and François, whose characters are deceptively complex. (Tartan Video has released The Page Turner in a standard-screen format instead of the superior-anamorphic widescreen and several of Dercourt's meticulously framed scenes are cut off. This is simply inexcusable.) Paul Knoll
This Is Tom Jones
Had this been the entire first season of Tom Jones' ITV show, which ran in England and America from 1969 to 1971, you'd see the best musical variety show TV ever produced. Instead, this three-disc hatchet job presents truncated half-hour versions of shows with the opening credits intact, so you see exactly what you're missing. To wit: Jones' premiere broadcast excises Joey Heatherton, the Stevie Wonder one omits the Hollies, and the show with Little Richard removes any trace of future ski instructor-shootist Claudine Longet. Don't you want to see lady-killer Tom with manslaughterer Claudine, singing "MacArthur Park"? 'Cause we'll never have that recipe again. Oh no!
Despite Neil Young refusing to allow the show where Tom sings "Long Time Gone" with CSN&Y to be used, there are still enough compelling duets here. (Jones holds his own with Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Little Richard and Joe Cocker.)
Non-dueting guests include the Who doing a spectacular "Pinball Wizard" and the Moody Blues (who resemble Hair Club for Men members here) performing "Departure/Ride My See Saw," with Tom's cameraman staying fixed on Graham Edge because he recited the stupid poem at the beginning.
But ultimately you're frustrated whenever you discover that Aretha singing "Call Me" is missing or Jones singing a Richard Harris song with Joplin is gone. Fred Willard fans will rejoice, though: Every single Ace Trucking Company appearance is left in, but not the sketch where Jones played a cop busting up an elderly pot party thrown by aging hippie Bob Hope which actually predicted where the legalize pot movement was really heading!
Even Jones' concert segment at the end (which was like an Altamont for middle-aged housewives each week when they'd take turns trying to drag him into the mom pit) is reduced to one number, but the guest accommodations and plugs for long-defunct Pan Am airlines are kept in. At best, this set is a sampler you should rent once, not something you'd want forever. Serene Dominic
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