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Headsup: Engineering Disasters, Elusive Cryptids, and More

An ongoing attempt to make sense of the onslaught of new swag that people want you to buy. Should you? I’ll try and help.

Hiroshima Mon Amour DVD Cover Art
Modern Marvels: Engineering Disasters
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly DVD Cover Art

Hiroshima Mon Amour is a film I reviewed in its capacity as a Region 1 Criterion release. And it’s really quite excellent. The story of a Japanese man and a French woman who meet in Hiroshima and have a love affair, while haunted by the past. Excellent film with excellent performances. If you haven’t seen it, do so no matter what the region. What I find interesting about this particular release, Region 4 from Umbrella Entertainment, is that it has a featurette that was not on the Criterion release, “A Brilliant Career: The films of Alain Resnais.” It’s a fifty minute convo with film tutor Peter Hourigan. And you know I’m a sucker for features on DVDs. So if you’re a Region 4 user, at least rent this. It’s worthwhile for the film. (Click here to buy it from Umbrella.)

For you belated Father’s Day gifters, there’s something very dadly about mechanical stuff. Top Gear, you know. Or any of those reality shows where they have to build things in very little time. But perhaps there’s something to be said for armchair quarterbacking the work of engineers over the years. And even if they’re not like that, the Modern Marvel: Engineering Disasters set is positively fascinating. The two incidents on the cover are probably the most infamous of the titular incidents in modern memory: the Exxon Valdez and Katrina. But this isn’t just a parade of shit breaking where we’re just revisiting an array of Bad Events. No, there’s some crazy bits like a fire in an abandoned mine, a fascinating look at Skylab, and some smaller problems like vehicles rolling over. Not small to the people who rolled over in them, I’m sure, but you know what I mean. And there’s a crapload of content here: five discs, fourteen hours, eighteen episodes. If there’s a downside, besides the lack of additional content (surely there must have been some additional footage or something that could have been tapped), it’s the fact that you’re just scratching the surface of each incident. But if you understand this truly is a running overview of the events, then I think you’ll have the right attitude for it. Again, probably a good gift for a Dad or anyone who finds the subject of interest. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

[ad#longpost]Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is an amazing story before you even get to the film. You might know the gist: a man suffers a stroke and retains nothing afterwards but control over his left eye. He dictated the book the film is based on by blinking. When I heard that, I thought there might be so me sort of…I don’t know, morse code or something that he used in blinking, much like POWs have tried to get word out on video. But no, someone read off the alphabet and he blinked when they reached the letter he wanted next. Amazing. The DVD is out from Miramax and comes with a director’s commentary, making-of featurette, an interview with the director and more. Good for a rental from anyone who enjoyed the likes of My Left Foot and, as we’ve mentioned before, the lead in this is the new Bond villain. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

How to Read Buildings Cover Art
In the Realm of the Senses DVD Cover Art
Monster Quest: The Complete Season One DVD cover art

Are you one of those people who can look at a building and say, “Ah yes, of course that’s a 18th Century Mason Hoobah,” or some such something? I am not. But How to Read Buildings, the subtitle of which is A Crash Course in Architectural Styles, will definitely let you fake it. It’s divided into sections like Styles, Vaults, Windows and the like. And each two page spread has five illustrations on it, each with a brief paragraph giving you an overview. There’s also a glossary in back for when you have no idea what anyone’s talking about. Some of the names, it turns out, are obvious. That giant Hill House-esque fireplace with the ornate chimneypiece? It’s called an “ornate chimneypiece.” Go figure. If you’re planning on going among great architecture, and you want to speak building-ese, this book (which is also fairly compact and portable) from Rizzoli would be a good pick. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)

In the Realm of the Senses is supposed to be an erotic film, and really, what some people find erotic, other people find senseless and still other people find boring. There’s a lot of sex in this film, but for the most part it’s not anything that would, in a pseudo-literal sense, crank my tractor. And really, I can’t decide if this is a film that is designed to crank or a film that is designed to be, you know, one of Those Art Films. So I pretty much leave it up to you to decide, if you choose to do so. Suffice to say that some of the sexy bits involve bits, knives, blood and strangulation. So if that’s your idea of a happening Friday night, more power to you. This version is out from Umbrella Entertainment and is a Region 4 release. It comes with a featurette regarding filmmaker Nagisa Oshima and is widescreen, whereas I believe the original Fox Lorber release here, Region 1, was bare bones. The one thing is that the reported running time on that previous R1 release is about six minutes longer than this, so I wonder if some bits were cut off. Wow. Seriously: no pun intended. (Click here to buy it from Umbrella.)

The History Channel is a bit of an odd place. They’ve gone from being about history to their new tagline, “History Made Every Day,” which to me is a bit strange. That implies that they’re either doing such great programming that they are literally making history, or they’re fabricating it. At least with something like The Food Network, you see a lot of food being prepared and that doesn’t rub you the wrong way. Regardless, they are prone to jumping on board to superstition in order to get ratings, and I suppose I can’t fault them for that. That’s why Monster Quest leaves me with such mixed feelings. I was a middle school cryptozoologist in that I found myself riveted to every single book that Daniel Cohen published. They were books with titles like MONSTERS! and GHOSTS! and whatnot. And I read them all. Then I had to grow up and learn some science and reason and critical thinking and all that rot and now I’m forced just to write fiction about them–because a lot of them are just that: fiction. So watching a breeze of a show about Nessie or Bigfoot or the like is okay, I suppose. There’s a few reservations, though: one, if you know the subject matter, you’re not going to be blown away with a lot of new information. Two, it’s not as in depth as you would like, but hey, it’s a forty-five minute show. Three, by lumping the giant squid in with mythological beasts–I mean, they’re not in the same neighborhood of say, reality. And it’s unfair to the squid, which as you know, we dig the hell out of around here. Still, if you’re looking to snag something from Border’s today or the like for your Dad, or you dig this stuff yourself, you could do a lot worse than buying or renting this. Four discs, thirteen episodes, plus a behind the scenes featurette. (Click here to buy it from Amazon.)