Where nothing is as it seems
Three great examples of post-World War I German Expressionist cinema are out today from Kino on Video: “Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler” ($40), “Warning Shadows” and “Asphalt” (both $30).
The two-disc “Dr. Mabuse” is the authorized version of Fritz Lang’s 1922 masterwork that was restored in 2000 using two existing camera negatives. It’s not only the longest version available -- clocking in at 4 1/2 hours -- it also comes closest to Lang’s original vision.
The influential crime thriller revolves around the evil Dr. Mabuse (a wonderful Rudolf Klein-Rogge), a gambler, hypnotist, master of disguise and criminal mastermind. Aljoscha Zimmermann supplied the heart-pounding score. The set includes a German documentary on “The Story of Dr. Mabuse,” a Lang biography and filmography and a stills gallery.
“Warning Shadows: A Nocturnal Hallucination” from 1923 is a mesmerizing psychological thriller directed by Arthur Robison. What makes “Shadows” so unusual, even for the silent era, is that Robison made a truly visual film -- there were no inter-titles, save for the opening credits, explaining the action.
It revolves around a mysterious traveler, an illusionist, who arrives at a wealthy man’s home during a mundane dinner party. When the illusionist starts to perform his shadowy puppetry, passions arise and reality isn’t what it appears. The film is brought vividly to life by the cinematography of Fritz Arno Wagner, who worked with Lang on “Spies” and “M,” as well as with F.W. Murnau on “Nosferatu.”
Rounding out the trio is 1929’s “Asphalt,” directed by Joe May, a leading German filmmaker of the 1910s and ‘20s who is best known for his two-part thriller “The Indian Tomb.”
Gustav Froelich stars as an incorruptible traffic cop who is given the task of escorting a beautiful diamond thief (Betty Amann) to a police station. But the assignment isn’t as simple as he thought. Erich Kettelhut of “Metropolis” fame designed the striking sets.
“Tsotsi” (Miramax, $30): The gripping South African drama won the 2005 best foreign-language film Oscar. The DVD includes deleted scenes and alternate endings, a thoughtful “making of” documentary and clear-eyed commentary from writer-director Gavin Hood.
“Road House” (MGM, $20): Though this 1989 action-drama was lambasted by the critics and took in a modest $30 million at the box office, it’s had a blockbuster afterlife, becoming one of the most popular movies in rotation on cable TV. And for good reason -- it’s campy, silly and addictively fun.
Patrick Swayze plays Dalton, a Zen-like bar bouncer with a perfectly coiffed mullet and a degree in philosophy, who finds himself going mano a mano with sadistic mobster Ben Gazzara. Extras include “What Would Dalton Do?,” a featurette on real bouncers; a kicky retrospective documentary; a tongue-in-cheek trivia track; and ribald commentary from “Clerks II” director Kevin Smith and producer Scott Mosier, who are die-hard fans of the movie. Rounding out the disc is straightforward commentary with director Rowdy Harrington.
“Road House 2" (MGM, $25): Lame sequel makes the original look like “Citizen Kane.”
“Some Like It Hot: Collector’s Edition” (Sony, $25): This two-disc set of the 1959 comedy classic starring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe and co-written and directed by Billy Wilder includes a lot of the same extras that were on a previous DVD. What’s new are a retrospective documentary that includes vintage interviews (Curtis, Wilder, Lemmon and co-writer I.A.L. Diamond), another documentary on the legacy of the film (featuring a tour of the old Goldwyn studio where “Hot” was made, led by director Curtis Hanson), and a fact-filled, fast-paced commentary with Diamond’s son, Paul, and the screenwriting team of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, which is interspersed with thoughts from Curtis and an archival interview with Lemmon.
“An Early Frost” (Wolfe, $20): Groundbreaking NBC TV movie from 1985 -- it received 14 Emmy nominations and won four -- that introduced America to the reality of AIDS. Aidan Quinn, Gena Rowlands, Ben Gazzara, Sylvia Sidney and John Glover star. Extras include a documentary, “Living With AIDS,” and poignant commentary from writers Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman, and Quinn.
“Sybil” (Warner, $25): Sally Field won an Emmy for her career-changing performance in this 1976 fact-based TV movie about a young woman who developed 16 personalities to cope and escape from the memories of her abusive mother. Joanne Woodward plays her psychiatrist. Daniel Petrie directed from Stewart Stern’s smart script. Extras include examples of Sybil’s artwork, a retrospective documentary and a candid interview with screenwriter Stern.
“Edison Force” (Sony, $25): Despite a cast that includes Oscar winners Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey (in a really bad wig), this overheated political corruption drama didn’t make it into theaters. Justin Timberlake, LL Cool J, Dylan McDermott, Cary Elwes and John Heard also star. The extra is a by-the-book “making of” featurette.
“Amazing Stories -- The Complete First Season” (Universal, $50): Steven Spielberg and NBC teamed in 1985 for this lushly produced anthology series. Though there were some great episodes in the mix, the series was a disappointment and ran only two seasons. In retrospect, though, “Amazing Stories” gives viewers a great opportunity to see up-and-comers such as Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins, Charlie Sheen and Kiefer Sutherland early in their careers, as well as established performers James Cromwell, John Lithgow (who won an Emmy for his installment, “The Doll”), Sam Waterston, Harvey Keitel and Gregory Hines. The four-disc set also includes deleted scenes.
“The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.: The Complete Series” (Warner Bros., $100): Inventive 1993-94 Fox TV series that was a western comedy with sci-fi elements. “Evil Dead” star Bruce Campbell was perfectly cast as Brisco County Jr., a tough hombre with a Harvard education who was out to capture the men who killed his father. The eight-disc DVD set includes amusing commentary on the pilot episode with co-creator Carlton Cuse and Campbell, a retrospective documentary and a laid-back round-table with Cuse and his writing staff.