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Sunday, May 31, 2009

May DVD Roundup: Falling Down, Taken, Old-School Star Trek.

Posted by Erik Henriksen on Sun, May 31, 2009 at 11:22 PM

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A bunch of DVDs came out over the past few weeks, and because I'm super-busy and popular*, I just barely got around to checking out a few of the more interesting ones. Hit the jump for some thoughts on recent releases of Falling Down, Taken, and a couple of greatest hits-style collections of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

*Shut up. Totally true.

Taken came out on DVD on May 12, though if you hurry, you can still catch it at some of Portland's cheap theaters—and if you dig action flicks at all, you owe it to yourself to do so. I can't add much to what Ezra wrote in his review of the film, but I will note that the DVD cover art is fucking badass:

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I kind of want that tagline superimposed on everything:

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Alas, that cover art is from the two-disc edition, and Fox just sent me the single-disc edition, which is pretty limited in terms of special features: While the movie's a violent, sharp genre film that knows exactly what it's doing (and both versions of the DVD come with the theatrical cut and the "unrated" cut, which boasts a few extra minutes of Liam Neeson beating up bad guys), the single-disc edition isn't as robust as one would hope. Once the film's over, you're left with little more than a couple of fluffy PR pieces that look like they were made for French TV, plus some not-very-illuminating featurettes about the film's action sequences.

Both The Best of Star Trek: The Original Series and The Best of Star Trek: The Next Generation also came out on May 12, just in time to cash in on the release of J.J. Abrams' Trek reboot. The chief selling point on both of these DVDs is that they're super cheap—you should be able to track 'em down for $10 or less—and each offers four popular episodes of the series.

These discs are pretty clearly targeted at non-Trekkies who might want to dip their toes into the greater Trek universe after seeing Abrams' movie, and the episodes here work pretty well towards that end. The original series' disc offers the time-travel classic "The City on the Edge of Forever," the comedic "The Trouble with Tribbles," the Enterprise vs. the Romulans ep "Balance of Terror" (which I'm guessing was picked because of the Romulans' appearance in Abrams' Trek), and "Amok Time," that one episode where Spock and Kirk were forced to fight to the death on Vulcan. Meanwhile, The Next Generation's DVD offers the Borg-fest two-parter "The Best of Both Worlds," the alternate reality mindfuck "Yesterday's Enterprise" (Tasha Yar's back! And she's makin' eyes at that dude who played Shooter McGavin! Umm... yay?) and "The Measure of a Man," where Picard goes all Perry Mason in order to prove that Data is something more than just a collection of positronic circuitry and jaundiced rubber.

(It's worth noting here that the original series' episodes are the versions that have been remastered in the past few years—with snazzy CG effects and great picture quality—while The Next Generation's episodes are the same unimpressive transfers that've been used for other TNG collections, their quality roughly that of a good VHS recording.)

Despite these discs' lack of special features, the episodes here are quite solid—if you're somebody who liked Abrams' Star Trek but has avoided the actual TV shows thanks to the geekery stigma, pick these up. They're cheap, and accessible, and you can sneak 'em out of the store underneath your shirt or something if you're that worried about getting a wedgie or having your lunch money stolen.

Last but not least, 1993's Falling Down, the story of an everyday dude going batshit crazy, was released on May 26 in a "deluxe edition" that's been digitally remastered and boasts "new bonus features!" The "new bonus features!" refers to a commentary track by Michael Douglas and director Joel Schumacher, an annoyingly edited interview with Douglas in which he looks back on the film, and ye olde theatrical trailer. But the real draw here is the film itself, which still stands as one of the best films to come out of the '90s—and one of my favorite films, period. Loath as I am to admit it, hack director Schumacher's anvil-subtle style is a perfect match for Ebbe Roe Smith's tense, dramatic, and anvil-subtle script, and Douglas and co-star Robert Duvall are both in amazing form. As a whole, this sometimes-formal, sometimes-unpredictable film does a couple of things: First, it captures the nerve-wracking tension, both racial and otherwise, of early-'90s Los Angeles, but second, it also deals in general with the soul-strangling, infuriating bullshittiness that's frequently American life. Sometimes Falling Down feels a bit dated (whoa, are those MC Hammer posters on that wall?!), but most of the time, the things that made it so controversial at the time of its release still feel edgy and daring and darkly hilarious today. Check it:

Goddamn. I'm still astonished Falling Down was financed and released by major studio; as Douglas points out in his interview, there's no way such a film would be put out by a big studio today. As rooted as it is in the '90s, Falling Down feels kind of like one of the brave, bold studio films from the '70s, the last time that studios' deep pockets were consistently and generously open to daring, auteur filmmakers. The sort of vicious, smart commentary and balls-out creative freedom that's embodied in Falling Down just wouldn't happen in a mainstream film today, which makes this film all the more valuable. That's not to say none of the ideas in Falling Down aren't still out there in other ways and mediums—some parts of the Grand Theft Auto series seem to embody the film's mentality pretty well—but there are few experiences, cinematic or otherwise, that can equal watching them unfold here.

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