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THE BLACK HOLE (1979). The Black Hole was a big deal for Disney back in 1979: It was the studio's first movie to receive a PG rating; it was an attempt to rake in the dough still being handed over by filmgoers eager to catch more of those Star Wars vibes; it was released in tandem with the requisite (and ubiquitous) merchandise tie-ins; and it even opened with a musical overture (included on the DVD), as if the company believed it had the Lawrence of Arabia of space flicks on its hands. But even as a fantasy-lovin' boy of 14, I was bored silly by this movie, and a repeat viewing just last week revealed that the film has, if anything, gotten worse over time. Maximilian Schell plays the villain of the piece, a Nemo-esque megalomaniac with grand ambitions to fly his spacecraft straight into the title phenomenon to discover its secrets. Perceiving a group of visiting astronauts (among them Anthony Perkins, Robert Forster and Yvette Mimieux) as a threat, he orders his monolithic robot sidekick Maximilian (the coolest character in the film) to exterminate them. With a normally accomplished cast delivering stiff performances in cardboard roles (if you buy Ernest Borgnine as a journalist, you'll swallow anything), clunky dialogue that barely advances the plot, and the presence of two annoying robots voiced by Roddy McDowall and Slim Pickens, The Black Hole quickly joined Battlestar Galactica as one of the low points of the late-70s sci-fi boom. The real stars of the film are Peter Ellenshaw, who performed double duty as production designer and miniature effects supervisor, and his son Harrison Ellenshaw, who created the superb matte backdrops seen throughout the picture. The only extras on the DVD are a short making-of feature and the theatrical trailer.
Movie: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

JERSEY GIRL (2004). Where are Jay and Silent Bob when we really need them? Jersey Girl was promoted upon its theatrical release as writer-director Kevin Smith's first "adult" film, the one in which he's finally dropped his juvenile antics and made a story that involves real-world characters and real-life situations. That's all well and good, but it doesn't change the fact that this plodding drama could benefit immeasurably from cameo appearances by the foul-mouthed stoner and his "tubby bitch" sidekick. Besides, Smith did make a movie that featured more than pot and dick jokes: Chasing Amy, which managed to mix the serious and the silly in a wholly ingratiating manner. By contrast, most of Jersey Girl's stabs at humor are ham-fisted at best, and the sentimental moments recall John Hughes at his worst. Ben Affleck stars as Ollie Trinke, a New York music biz publicist whose life is shattered when his wife (Jennifer Lopez) dies during childbirth and a subsequent temper tantrum causes him to lose his job. He heads back to his modest Jersey hometown to raise his daughter (Raquel Castro) with the help of his dad (George Carlin), and in the process finds himself attracted to a forthright video store clerk (Liv Tyler, appealing in a role that's pure male fantasy). The earnestness of the actors helps -- and young Castro really looks like she could be Lopez's daughter -- but a repeat viewing of Smith's debut feature Clerks will be needed to wash away the taste of mediocrity left by this film. Speaking of which: Miramax has just released a three-disc 10th anniversary edition of that important (and hilarious) indie hit, crammed with hours of bonus material. The extras on Jersey Girl aren't as extensive, but what's here isn't bad: audio commentaries by Smith, Affleck and "special guest" Jason Mewes, a joint interview with Smith and Affleck, and Smith's Tonight Show appearances.
Movie:
Extras: 1/2

VIDEODROME (1983). When analyzing David Cronenberg's earlier pictures, it's important to separate the ideas from the execution. As a movie, Videodrome is rough and rushed, displaying little of the sense of style that the auteur would master in such later films as The Fly and Spider. But thematically, it connects easily with most other titles in the Cronenberg oeuvre, with the added treat of having been released far ahead of its time. James Woods stars as Max Renn, who's always on the lookout for controversial, cutting-edge material he can air on his underground cable TV channel. Stumbling across a pirated show called Videodrome, he's mesmerized by the fact that its content -- masked folks involved in torture and murder -- seems so real; confiding his findings to a radio show host (Deborah Harry) with a penchant for S&M, Max proceeds to learn more about the program, in the process becoming engulfed in a conspiracy that messes with the very fabric of his mind. Cronenberg's usual themes are all present and accounted for -- the melding of man and machine, the allure of sexual perversities, the manner in which our own bodies can betray us without a moment's notice -- yet the movie's most fascinating element is the uncanny way in which it has predicted the current cycle in the infotainment age. Predating The Matrix in its exploration of our flesh-and-blood world merging with cyberspace, the plot also touches upon the machinations of a ruthless individual who plans to control the country's collective outlook via the television set (no, his name isn't Rupert Murdoch), as well as depicting an era in which audiences have become so desensitized to fictional fare that they find themselves drawn to "reality shows" -- the character Brian O'Blivion, who's only seen on TV monitors, even delivers a prescient monologue that concludes, "Television is reality, and reality is less than television." DVD extras on the two-disc Criterion edition include audio commentaries by Cronenberg, Woods, Harry and cinematographer Mark Irwin, Cronenberg's short film Camera, two features on the film's special effects, a 1982 roundtable discussion with Cronenberg, John Landis and John Carpenter, and a 40-page booklet featuring essays by critics Carrie Rickey, Tim Lucas and Gary Indiana.
Movie:
Extras: 1/2
-- Matt Brunson

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