By G. Michael Dobbs
Three quite different DVDs are on the menu of this week's column.
This non-narrative film at first appears to be a travelogue it was shot in 24 nations but I can assure you it's not.
Instead it is a nearly mind-boggling experience. I watched this film on Blu-Ray on my 32-inch flat screen and I'm sure that if I saw it in its original 70mm on a big movie screen, my reactions to it would have been even more profound.
The film joins images of the natural beauty of the world with monuments of ancient civilizations to modern sweeping cityscapes to the ceremonial and everyday events of life.
The film's opening sequence involves a group of I believe Indonesian dancers. Without any context provided, these women with eyes made artificially large with make-up start becoming as unfamiliar as if they were aliens from another world. This is the power of this film.
Linking views from the ruins at Angkor Wat in Cambodia to the production of chickens to feed a modern city seems like quite a leap, but the filmmakers do it in a way that it makes sense.
While the music and the film's imagery and rhythm can put you into a trance of sorts, the movie has moments, such as a performance artist who uses a lump of clay to transform his appearance, which will jar you.
This is a journey well worth seeking out. I just wish I could have seen it at an IMAX theater.
Paul Williams Still Alive
Remember Paul Williams, the prolific singer and songwriter who was a fixture on television in the 1970s and '80s? He co-wrote "Evergreen" with Barbara Streisand, "We've Only Just Begun" for The Carpenters and "The Rainbow Connection" for the Muppets, among many other songs. He won an Oscar, a Grammy and a Golden Globe. He was on the couch with Johnny Carson 50 times. The guy was a big deal.
What ever happened to him? Did he die?
Those are the questions asked by director Stephen Kessler, a man who as a child idolized Williams and who after a career of making commercials and two feature films decided to find out what happened to Williams.
The result is an unconventional documentary that ultimately is as much as about Kessler's expectations and experiences as it is about the life of the performer.
As it turns out, Williams is alive and well, a husband and a father, who has learned some lessons about the price of fame. Although alcohol and drugs caused him to crash and burn, Williams has been sober for years and still performs.
At first there is little rapport between Williams and Kessler as Kessler follows him around, but slowly the two become friends and Kessler begins to realize that Williams doesn't live in the past. He is quite happy with his life now.
Perhaps the best sequence in the film is one in which Kessler accompanies Williams on tour to the Philippines, a journey the filmmaker fears but the singer embraces.
"Still Alive" is a quirky film with a powerful message about fame and life.
Femme Fatales: The Complete First Season
This Cinemax series of half-hour dramas could have only been made possible by the success of films such as "Sin City" or "Pulp Fiction." Those highly stylized film noir adaptations have a lot going for them great casts, stylized looks, narrative twists and turns and, of course, sex and violence.
These shows, however, have sex and violence, and while that may be enough for some, I'm old enough to actually want a bit more substance.
Essentially these shows follow a strict format in which a beautiful woman with her own agenda causes a whole bunch of trouble for other people who don't see her agenda. They see about everything else, but not her agenda.
The trouble with the episodes I watched and I watched enough, folks is they were predictable. The element that makes a movie such as "Sin City" so appealing is its unpredictable story. Only one half-hour was genuinely fun, "Speed Date," which broke with the established formula and was humorous. It also didn't result with a weak man being destroyed by a woman who had stepped out of Playboy.
If I had seen "Femme Fatales" when I was 15 I probably would have thought the show was the greatest thing I had ever seen. Now it's just a bit tedious.