Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel Criticize This! Pick of the Week – Brigitte Berman’s documentary on Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, one of the most iconic men in the world, touches on the beginnings and history of the magazine before shifting its focus to the role he played in breaking down barriers for women and African Americans and his ongoing fight for freedom of speech. Featuring interviews with Gene Simmons, Dick Gregory, Jesse Jackson, Jenny McCarthy, George Lucas, Joan Baez, and Hefner himself, as well as detractors like writer and feminist Susan Brownmiller, the film tells both sides of how Hef is perceived and shows the good and bad of his Playboy empire.
I’m a huge admirer of Hefner and think Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel is a very well made doc that is equally educational as it is entertaining. Unfortunately there are no special features on the DVD except for the trailer. Film **** DVD * (out of 5 stars).
Videodrome (Criterion Blu-ray) – Long live the new flesh! David Cronenberg’s twisted 1983 masterpiece about a local Toronto TV station manager (played by James Woods) who enters an unknown world when he becomes obsessed with a pirated video signal for a reality show called “Videodrome” lands on Criterion Blu-ray in an amazing set that should please fans and earn new ones.
Although the clothing, set pieces, and background shots of Toronto look dated, the story of Videodrome is more relevant nowadays than it was back in 1983. If TV was going to take over our brains and turn us into corporate puppets it is not far off, especially since every network wants to push the boundaries and reality television is the king of the airwaves. Maybe Cronenberg’s vision of what television was back in 1983 inadvertently helped shape the current state of things. Maybe I’m reading into too much instead of enjoying it for what it is — a kick-ass sci-fi thriller.
When Criterion releases a film you know you are getting the best of the best and Videodrome on Criterion Blu-ray is no exception. The transfer is stunning and the image and sound just blew me away (for someone who has seen the film numerous times I was quite surprised by the quality). It should be noted this is the unrated version of the film and Cronenberg and cinematographer Mark Irwin both gave their seal of approval for the release. Besides very cool packaging that looks like an old videotape, and a 36-page booklet of essays on the film, special features are plenty and include an audio commentary with Cronenberg and Irwin, an audio commentary with actors James Woods and Deborah Harry, Cronenberg’s short film Camera (2000), a half-hour documentary on the visual effects of the film, copies of the “Videodrome” recordings seen in the movie, a roundtable from 1982 with Cronenberg, John Carpenter, John Landis, and Mick Garris, and more. Film **** Criterion Blu-ray ***** (out of 5 stars).
Passenger Side – Passenger Side is a hysterically funny indie comedy that follows a day in the life of two Canadian brothers dealing with a lot of personal and family issues while living in L.A. As the day progresses, they keep meeting weirder and weirder characters, such as a transvestite and an adult filmmaker. Starring Adam Scott and Joel Bissonnette, and directed by Joel’s brother Matt, the film is refreshingly intelligent while channeling the same vibe as independent films from the early careers of Richard Linklater (Slacker, SubUrbia) and Doug Liman (Swingers, Go).
Special features on the DVD include audio commentary with Matt and Joel Bissonnette and Adam Scott, a making-of featurette, the theatrical trailer, and more. Film **** DVD *** (out of 5 stars).
Also available on DVD and Blu-ray this week:
Shrek Forever After (DVD/Blu-ray)
Big Bad Mama 1 & 2 (DVD)
Yogi Bear’s All-Star Comedy Christmas Caper (DVD)
Soul Kitchen (DVD)
The Dog Who Saved Christmas Vacation (DVD)