BLACK SUNDAY (1960) / BLACK SABBATH (1963). Just in time for Halloween, Anchor Bay Entertainment has released The Mario Bava Collection – Volume 2, and then as an added attraction also tossed out new single-disc editions (not available in the set) of Bava's early genre classics. Bava made his "official" directorial debut (he had worked uncredited on several earlier titles) with Black Sunday (aka The Mask of Satan), a beautifully composed picture whose moments of genuine shock surely rattled many a patron back in the day (indeed, the film was banned in England for several years). Barbara Steele, in the role that turned her into a horror film icon, plays Asa, a 17th century witch who swears vengeance as she's burned at the stake. Cut to two centuries later, and a revived Asa schemes to gain immortality by drinking the blood of her descendant (also Steele). Bava and his crew's employment of unique camera angles, heavily atmospheric sets and startling moments of violence combined to create a trendsetting picture that influenced generations of filmmakers (including Martin Scorsese and Tim Burton). Black Sabbath (aka The Three Faces of Fear), meanwhile, finds a cheerful Boris Karloff playing host to a trio of thrillers. "The Telephone" stars Michele Mercier as a woman being menaced by calls from a former lover, now out of prison; "The Wurdalak," adapted from Tolstoy, stars Karloff as the patriarch of a clan terrorized by vampires; and "The Drop of Water," based on a Chekhov story, centers on a nurse (Jacqueline Pierreux) whose life turns hellish after she steals a ring off the corpse of a medium. Gruesome makeup and Bava's inspired use of color and sound elevate this satisfying anthology flick.
DVD extras on both titles include audio commentary by author Tim Lucas (Mario Bava: All the Colors of the Dark), international and U.S. trailers, and a photo gallery; the Black Sabbath disc also includes an interview with co-star Mark Damon.
Black Sunday: ***1/2
Black Sabbath: ***
I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK & LARRY (2007). Adam Sandler comedies frequently offer sequences that qualify as case studies in homophobia, so here's a summer box office hit that served as the comedian's mea culpa, his belated realization that, hey, gays are people, too. That's a worthy sentiment, and the screenplay by Barry Fanaro (TV's The Golden Girls) and the Oscar-winning team of Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor (Sideways) often examines that notion rather than just paying lip service to a PC attitude. In short, there's a good movie to be found in the premise of two firemen (Sandler and Kevin James) pretending to be life partners for financial purposes, but it's repeatedly sabotaged by the desire to placate typical Sandler fans who wouldn't want their boy to get too, you know, fruity on them. Thus, the movie opens with the promise of an open-mouth kiss between buxom twin sisters, peaks with the sight of Jessica Biel in a Catwoman outfit, and ends with the protagonists happily paired off in hetero unions. In addition to this confirmation of the movie's straight-man cred, there are also the usual frat-boy gags involving flatulence, obesity and racial stereotypes, as well as the added treat of Dan Aykroyd (as the fire chief) discussing his sole remaining testicle. That's probably too much crassness for one seemingly noble-minded comedy to survive, and this one goes down swinging. But in its best moments, it reveals that the 40-year-old Sandler might finally be growing up. Give him another four decades, and who knows what mature piece he might produce on his way to the cemetery.
DVD extras include audio commentary by Sandler, James and director Dennis Dugan, 10 minutes of deleted scenes, various making-of shorts, and a featurette on the stuntwork.
TALK TO ME (2007). Don Cheadle lets his hair down – or at least his 'fro up – for Talk to Me, an enjoyable screen biopic that nevertheless doesn't quite reach its full potential. Cheadle, so soft-spoken in his Oscar-nominated turn in Hotel Rwanda, gives up the funk with his boisterous performance as Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene Jr., an ex-con who becomes Washington, D.C.'s hottest disc jockey during the second half of the 1960s. His break into show business is aided by Dewey Hughes (solid Chiwetel Ejiofor), a radio program director who understands that, to stay relevant with the changing times, his station must add a new voice to address the hot-button issues of the day. Enter Petey, whose inflammatory words (on his first day on the air, he refers to Berry Gordy as a "pimp") incense the station's owner (Martin Sheen) until the listener response proves overwhelmingly positive. The first part of the picture, which examines the testy relationship between Petey and Dewey as well as the loving one between Petey and his girlfriend Vernell (Taraji P. Henson), makes for wonderful entertainment, culminating in a powerful scene in which Petey attempts (via radio) to calm down a city that's plunged into turmoil following the assassination of Martin Luther King. After this point, the film loses its freshness, as Petey's downfall (fueled by booze, insecurity and illness) can't escape being filtered through the usual movie clichés. Still, Talk to Me takes its cue from its leading character: When it's at the top of its game, it can't be touched.
DVD extras include eight minutes of deleted scenes, a discussion of the real Petey Greene, and a look at the movie's music, fashion and production design.
TRANSFORMERS (2007). I was a fraction too old for the whole Transformers rage when it swept through the nation back in the mid-1980s, though professional dedication did force me to sit through the crappy animated feature that hit theaters in 1986. Yet even folks who wouldn't know a Transformer from a Teletubby can expect to have a reasonably good time renting this summer box office smash. A movie about robots that turn into cars (and trucks and tanks and airplanes) would seem to have a more limited fan base than many other blockbuster wannabes, and the presence of Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor) as director certainly put critics on alert. Yet perhaps the secret ingredient here is in the producing credits. Instead of Bay's usual partner in crime, Jerry Bruckheimer, it's Steven Spielberg who snags an executive producer citation, so it can't be a coincidence that in its finest moments – most contained within the first half of this 145-minute yarn – this picture harkens back to the sort of filmic roller coaster rides that Spielberg often built during the '80s. Bolstered by ample amounts of humor (a popular comedian makes an early appearance as a car salesman) and decidedly more character-driven than expected, Transformers for the most part does a decent job of balancing action with emotion, which makes the final half-hour – wall to wall battles with little to individualize the raging robots on either side – a bit of a slog. The excellent special effects aren't as mesmerizing on home video while the film itself doesn't always retain its appeal on a second viewing, marking this as a rare (very rare) time when I'm adjusting my original theatrical rating, in this case down a half-star.
Extras in the two-disc DVD set include audio commentary by Bay, a pair of multipart making-of features totaling two hours, and a breakdown of the desert attack scene.