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Black RainBlack Rain on DVD

If you love Blade Runner, and/or Ridley Scott, then this movie is a must for you.

Scott’s movies always look terrific, and Black Rain is no exception. It also, in some ways, feels like Blade Runner feel, but in a decidedly non-sci fi manner.

The story revolves around a pair of New York Cops (Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia) who get involved in a "fish out of water" situation when they're sent on a mission to Japan and are drawn into the Japanese way of doing things, discovering along the way that the "Ugly American" methodology isn’t necessarily the best way to get things done.

The movie also touches upon issues of honor, of right and wrong, of loyalty, but never does it beat you over the head with it. It’s basically a character film with great action scenes and a fantastic look, sound and overall feel. Yet it’s also a buddy cop film, “East vs. West” film, and more. And it all works.

Douglas is excellent as the good, but somewhat on the take cop (who feels justified considering his income and his outgo) who with his partner (Garcia) is given an apparently easy assignment to return a captured Japanese mafia-type to the authorities in Tokyo. But as a stranger in a strange land, he mistakenly turns over his human package to the bad guy’s people instead of the legitimate authorities, which leads him to spend the rest of the movie tracking him down so he can finish his assignment and erase the stain of incompetence he has unwittingly put on himself and, through him, his country.

Garcia is likeable and personable in his role, and when an evil befalls him later in the film we are nearly as affected by it as Douglas’ character.

Kate Capshaw is along for the ride as a character that, fortunately, is a far cry from her Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom character, who assaulted our ears with high pitched screaming and whining for the duration of the film. Here she’s a much more secure woman who, like Douglas’ cop, eventually is forced to choose sides in the war between right and wrong.

There’s one other apparent “Indiana Jones” connection. The Indy films all dissolved from the Paramount logo to an onscreen mountain (either real or as embossed artwork on a big gong); here, the title logo dissolves to a metal globe of the earth that this reviewer seems to remember as being an relic of the 1964 New York Worlds Fair. It’s a great segue, though I'm surprised Paramount allowed it since it's a little more “Universal” than “Paramount”.

The Big Apple cops are assisted, reluctantly at first, by local police officer Ken Takakura, in another excellent performance. He and Nick (Douglas) personify the East vs. West conflicts and are at each other’s throats, at least figuratively, for a good part of the film.

The bad guy is a Japanese Mafiosa named Sato (deliciously played by Yusaku Matsuda), who combines an attractive physical persona with a ruthlessly deadly presence that makes him a really great movie villain.

 The original DVD release of Black Rain wasn’t very good. Oh, the audio was okay, but the picture wasn’t in anamorphic widescreen, and so it only worked well for people with old fashioned 4x3 TV sets.

This new release corrects that. There’s still some grain in places, but overall the new anamorphic widescreen DVD looks great, with the rich colors and detail and great contrast a Scott movie demands.

Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX, and it’s also first rate. It fills the room beautifully, and the percussion-heavy score shines.

You get some decent extras, too, including a very interesting commentary by Ridley Scott, as well as a series of “making of” featurettes. 

Black Rain, from Paramount Home Entertainment
125 min. anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround EX
Starring Michael Douglas, Andy Garcia, Ken Takakura, Yusaku Matsuda, Kate Capshaw
Produced by Stanley R. Jaffee and Sherry Lansing
Written by Craig Bolotin & Warren Lewis, directed by Ridley Scott

Talladega NightsTalladega Nights, the Ballad of Ricky Bobby

by Jim Bray

Where's John Frankenheimer when you need him?

Okay, I know he's dead, but within only a few minutes of watching Ricky Bobby, I was ready to put in my copy of his masterful Grand Prix again. If you want to watch a racing movie, that's the one.

Talladega Nights is stupid, mean, dirty - but its worst sin is that it isn't funny. I laughed twice during the movie's two hour ordeal (and I was ready to chuck it before it was half over) and had figured out in advance how the climactic race was going to finish.

The script, co-written by star Will Ferrell and director Adam McKay, follows the life of Mr. Bobby, from his childhood to his starring on the NASCAR circuit. He and his best friend Cal Naughton, Jr. (John C. Reilly) - who Bobby always keeps as second banana - become racing legends.

They're also immature boors; if I were a NASCAR fan I'd be pretty disgusted with how this movie portrays the sport and its people.

I don't know why I had assumed there'd be some nifty racing footage (maybe 'cause it's supposedly a racing comedy), but if you're looking for some good NASCAR action, forget it. What there is is contrived and silly and unbelievable. Think "Driven" but worse.

Here's how the box describes the plot: The fastest man on four wheels Ricky Bobby is one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history. A big, hairy American winning machine, Ricky has everything a dimwitted daredevil could want: a luxurious mansion, a smokin' hot wife and all the fast food he can eat. But Ricky's turbocharged lifestyle hits an unexpected speed bump when he's bested by flamboyant Euro idiot Jean Girard and reduced to a fear-ridden wreck. Losing his wife and job to best bud and fellow fool Cal Naughton, Jr., Ricky must kick some serious asphalt if he's to get his career back on track, beat Girard and reclaim his fame and fortune. 'Cause as Ricky Bobby always says: if you ain't first, you're last!

There. I saved you from having to see it.

The DVD (we got the unrated and uncut version) is presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, and the picture quality is okay. The image is kind of soft, undoubtedly the filmmakers' choice of look, but the colors are good. Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and it's fine.

If you can stand them, there are plenty of extras, including some deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel, alternate lines not used in film, interviews with Ricky, Cal and Carley, Bonus Race Footage, "Will Ferrell Returns To Talladega", NASCSAR spots, an audio commentary with the director and his little friends, a DVD-ROM link to, interviews, Ricky and Cal's Commercials and PSA's and more.

Talladega Nights: the Ballad of Ricky Bobby, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
121 minutes, anamorphic widescreen (2.40:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Will Ferrell, John. C. Reilly, Sacha Baron Cohen, Gary Cole, Michael Clarke Duncan,
Produced by Jimmy Miller, Judd Apatow,
Written by Will Ferrell & Adam McKay, directed by Adam McKay

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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