When it comes to titles, film producers often don’t mind if we get confused. In fact, there are times it seems to be their intent.
For example, one of the lesser-known films available on video this week is something called “Dead Man’s Walk.” Now, it’s important to recognize that we’re not talking about “Dead Man,” the Jim Jarmusch film starring Johnny Depp, nor “Dead Man Walking,” the Tim Robbins film starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn.
No, we’re talking about a little film put out by Cabin Fever Video, a company that specializes in cheapie, sometimes exploitative and often straight-to-video efforts.
Confusion works in other ways, too. Ron Howard’s “Ransom” (see capsule review below) ended up being one of the top-grossing films of 1996. Starring Mel Gibson as the owner of an airline company whose son is kidnapped, the movie grossed $136 million in the United States and $165 overseas (for a grand total, so far, of $301 milllion).
Not a bad take, even for a film that cost $80 million to make.
But if you’re looking for a copy of “Ransom,” make sure you don’t get confused by the 1977 film of the same name. The 1977 “Ransom,” directed by Richard Compton, stars Oliver Reed, Stuart Whitman, Deborah Raffin and John Ireland and involves a serial killer who threatens to keep murdering people unless he is paid $4 million.
And then there’s the 1956 “Ransom.” Directed by Alex Segal and starring Glenn Ford, it follows the storyline that Howard essentially updated: Instead of giving into the kidnappers of his son, Ford pledges the ransom money as a reward for information leading to the bad guys’ arrest.
Of course, the ‘56 version is not yet available on video, so it might not pose much of a problem.
But speaking of problems with titles, consider the many films that carry more than one title. Some of these films are changed for foreign release. Others are changed because the producers actually want to distinguish their movie from something they consider to be of less quality.
Whatever the reason, though, some of these name changes are a bit bizarre. For example, Zoltan Korda’s 1951 film version of Alan Paton’s novel “Cry, the Beloved Country” is also known as “African Fury.” (Don’t confuse this version with Darrell James Roodt’s 1995 remake, which stars James Earl Jones and Richard Harris).
Little chance we’re going to confuse those two titles, eh?
Ron Howard directs this remake of the 1956 Glenn Ford feature about a businessman who turns the tables on the men who have kidnapped his son. Mel Gibson takes over for Ford, and the role has been suitably updated to fit the Gibson persona - maverick millionaire who buckles under to no one.
When Gibson’s character takes the $2 million demanded as ransom and pledges it as a bounty on the kidnappers’ heads, he goes against not only the FBI but also his wife (played by the ubiquitous Rene Russo). Gibson, always forceful in action parts that call for displays of emotion, carries half the film, while Gary Sinise handles the rest. Sinise, an Oscar nominee for “Forrest Gump,” makes a superbly slimy bad guy.
The main drawback is a lukewarm script that can’t ever decide whether to lionize or to damn Gibson’s character (he admits, at one point, to having committed a felony, but the film never gives evidence that he will be held responsible. Then, too, there are the occasional directorial lapses (slo-mo, a fade to black-and-white) by Howard that suggests he’s trying to be a kind of Opie Antonioni.
Otherwise, the film boasts a few moments of excitement, and some of the dialogue, especially lines spoken by the obligatory computer expert, are hilarious. Rated R
In the summer of 1969, a riot between New York police officers and the patrons of a Manhattan gay bar made headlines. It also made history, being the first big step in the struggle for gay men and lesbians to demand equal rights. “Stonewall,” the film, uses that incident as a backdrop to follow the stories of several characters, led by a drag queen and his/her country-boy lover.
What the low-budget movie loses in visual quality it makes up for in powerful performances.
It ends up being a moving examination of people grasping for their place in a just society. Rated R
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