Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A new Jackie Chan film, an old fashioned comic romance and an AIDS benefit are among this week's DVD offerings.

Red Hot + Blue
In 1990 attorney and art teacher John Carlin came up with an idea of having contemporary artists record their versions of Cole Porter songs for a CD that would both raise awareness and money for AIDS research and treatment.

At the time AIDS was still quite new to many people and the CD was accompanied by a television special designed to address issues about the disease.

Shout Factory has released a combination DVD and CD of Red Hot + Blue that has the original CD featuring artists such as U2, Sinead O'Connor, the Neville Brothers, Debbie Harry, Iggy Pop, Annie Lennox, and David Byrne as well as the television special, which features videos of many of these artists.

It's interesting to view this special now over a decade from its creation as some of the performances and videos still pack a punch, while others seem like artifacts from the late 1980s.

Annie Lennox had the pipes to do Cole Porter justice, as did Jody Watley and k.d. lang. Sinead O' Connor, on the other hand, seemed to be straining to fit into a non-rock tune and Kirsty MacColl & The Pogues murdered "Miss Otis Regrets/ Just One of Those Things."

Some of the artists were people whose names and careers have faded a bit since 1990 - who remembers Erasure, Les Negresses Vertes or Aztec Camera?

The videos themselves reflect their time. Some are gimmicky (Erasure's "Too Darn Hot") and some are playful ("Don't' Fence Me In" by David Byrne). The best focus on the performance as opposed to video effects.

Proceeds from the sale of this new collection will benefit AIDS programs.

Last Holiday

This re-make of a 1950 Alec Guinness comedy is a sweet old-fashioned romantic comedy. Queen Latifah stars as Georgia Byrd, a quiet hard-working department store clerk who leads a life of unfilled dreams. She catalogs them in a "possibilities" book, which includes photos of a co-worker with whom she's in love (LL Cool J) and places she would like to visit - including an Austrian resort where one of her favorite chefs works.

A trip to the doctor after an accident at work supposedly reveals she has three weeks to live. Her reaction? Take all of her savings and inheritance and, in her words, "Blow it!"

So, she takes off to Austria and the resort she has dreamed about. There her entrance - via helicopter - and her willingness to spend money catches the eyes of a crooked industrialist (Timothy Hutton) and a senator from her home state (Giancarlo Esposito).

The knowledge that she is going to die frees Byrd from her inhibitions.

Now, we know she isn't going to die. There is no suspense about her condition. Director Wayne Wang doesn't care about reality. He just wants his audience to have a good time with this love story.

Queen Latifah is in almost every scene in the film and she ably carries the film. The transformation from a timid shop clerk to a woman willing to jump off of a dam is one she makes with ease.

Aside from several muted sexual references, this film could have been made 50 years ago.

And that is not a bad thing.

Patton Oswalt: No Reason to Complain Uncensored

I've seen Patton Oswalt in acting gigs on sit-coms, but I had never seen his stand-up comedy until I watched this DVD. If you like the cynical urban musings of Dave Attell, then you'll probably enjoy Oswalt's brand of comedy.

Since I'm a huge Attell fan, I have to give a big "thumbs up" to Oswalt.

This DVD has the uncensored version of this Comedy Central special and the censored version that was on the cable channel. You can pick the one that is right for you. Like Attell, Oswalt has the ability of using some language that some might find funny, while others will find offensive.

The other special feature on this disc is a series of comedy shorts called Food for Thought. Oswalt co-stars as one of two over-night clerks in a 24-hour grocery store. I had never seen these before and I was reduced to tears by some of them.

The Myth

It's taken about two years for Jackie Chan's last film (New Police Story, 2004) to make its way to American video stores - it has been available in Asian video outlets for over a year. I imagine it might take an equally long time for Chan's newest film, The Myth, to get into your local Blockbuster or Hollywood Video.

Chan has made statements that he doesn't care as much about the American market as he once did largely because of how his Asian-made films have been re-cut and dubbed. Apparently that is why there was no theatrical release for New Police Story and probably won't be one for The Myth.

However, Chan's fans will have no problem securing a DVD of The Myth from online retailers that has English sub-titles.

Is it worth the effort? Absolutely.

Chan made his name with many audiences in two films in the 1980s in which he played a dashing archeologist. Here he reprises that kind of character in a much more serious way. He plays Jack Lee, an archeologist who won't raid tombs and won't take artifacts out of their country of origin - someone quite different than his character in The Armor of God and Operation Condor.

He is also plagued with vivid re-occurring dreams of a possible past life when he was a general in the Qin Dynasty. He is approached by a friend William (Tony Leung), a physicist, about searching for an anti-gravity artifact from the Qin Dynasty and Lee's past and present lives collide.

While there is a little of the patented Chan comic action, most of the film is played very straight and Chan does very well in the flashback sequences to ancient China. The action sequences are impressive, as are the epic war scenes.

It would seem that when one considers this film and New Police Story, it's not hard to imagine that the 52-year-old star is commenting on his past successes, not unlike what Clint Eastwood did with his definitive western The Unforgiven.

It's a fun film and one that fans of Asian cinema - and Jackie Chan - should enjoy.

© 2006 Gordon Michael Dobbs. You should know the drill by now: these are my words alone.

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