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DVD Reviews for 9/1: Where TV's Brightest Come Out To Shine

by Peter Sobczynski

In which your faithful critic, having survived his East Coast sojurn with only minor emotional scars, confronts a pile of releases that is more eclectic than usual--plenty of TV season sets, a few reissues with new bells and whistles, a couple of worthy titles you may have missed in theaters, more Eva Longoria than a year's subscription to "Maxim" and even a bit of primo nunsploitation for those so inclined.

In recent weeks, the shelves have been staggering under the weight of all the box sets of classic and current television shows now making their way onto DVD. Some of these are essential (such as the latest “Simpsons” collection and the wild second season of “Veronica Mars”) while others are more than a little questionable (exactly how much of a market is out there for “Blue Thunder: The Complete Series”) and others still haven’t appeared at all (I can’t be the only one who would kill for “The Untouchables”). This week of DVD releases is especially heavy on TV sets and while I would normally list them all under the “New and Notable” section, it just so happens that three of the funniest shows of all time are among them and so I thought I would shine a light on them.

Easily the best sitcom of the decade to date–hell, quite possibly the best show period–“Arrested Development” was one of those shows that required the full attention of its audience in order to catch every laugh and nuance from the densely layered plots, out-of-left-field plot turns and a barrage of jokes that ranged from silly sight gags to the kind of nimble wordplay that would have made Oscar Wilde weep green tears of envy. Unfortunately, most audiences simply didn’t have the time or patience for its antics and after three increasingly surreal seasons, Fox finally cancelled it for good (after numerous time changes) earlier this year after first cutting its show order from a full 22 episodes to only 13. Those final episodes can now be gobbled up by the faithful in “Arrested Development: The Complete Third Season” and while it may only have half as many episodes as the previous sets, it may actually contain more laughs.

Apparently realizing that they were on the cusp on cancellation anyway, the writers apparently decided to throw caution to the wind and came up with some of their most outlandish story ideas to date–one episode, written after the cancellation was announced, actually comments on both its own imminent demise and the possibility that another network might somehow swoop in and rescue it from oblivion. While this set may not be the best introduction to the show for newcomers, any fan of the show should rush out and pick it up immediately. One question for Fox–while the box makes sure to highlight the appearances from Scott Baio and Justine Bateman, why no mention of the multi-episode guest shot by Charlize Theron, whose bit as a strange love interest for star Jason Bateman provided some of its funniest moments?

Just as jam-packed with silly jokes, arcane references and goofy good humor as “Arrested Development,” “Mystery Science Theater 3000" has continued to nurture a strong and devoted fan base who continue to laugh at the denizens of the Satellite of Love–humans Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgson) and, later, Mike Nelson (Mike Nelso) and wisecracking robots Crow and Tom Servo–as they barrage silly B-movies with an endless supply of snarky quips (despite being off the air for over seven years). Although full-season release of the long-running show are pretty much an impossibility due to rights issues, Rhino Home Video has been putting out four-episode sets of some of the more popular episodes on a fairly regular basis to satisfy the continuing demand and their tenth such collection, imaginatively titled “Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection: Volume 10" is by far the most consistently funny to date.

The titles featured this time around are “Swamp Diamonds” (in which dopey Touch Connors is forced by a trio of babelicious prison escapees–including B-movie staple Beverly Garland–to help them find the titular treasure), “Teen-Age Strangler” (in which some of the oldest high-schoolers ever caught on film try to figure out who is strangling half of the student body–gosh, it couldn’t be that creepy janitor, could it?), “The Giant Spider Invasion” (featuring Barbara Hale, Alan Hale Jr. and a bunch of unpleasant Wisconsinites as they do battle with a Volkswagen dressed up to look like an enormous arachnid) and the classic “Godzilla Vs. Megalon” (which includes two of the funniest skits of the entire run of the show–a hilariously unfair portrayal of Orville Reddenbocker and the glory that is “Rex Dart: Eskimo Spy”). If that weren’t enough for the fans, the set also includes a photo gallery, an amusing blooper reel and, best of all, the “MST3K Video Jukebox,” a collection of 15 musical segments taken from other episodes in which they croon about such subjects as waffles, the destruction of Canada and Kathy Ireland.

When a show takes most of its comedic material from current events, you might rightly expect the humor to seem kind of dated when seen a couple of years later outside of its immediate context. The odd thing about “South Park: The Complete Eighth Season” is that the episodes that deal with the hot-button issues of the time when they were produced (spring and fall of 2004) are the smartest and funniest of the fourteen collected here. While part of that may be because some of the topics at hand–the foolish nationwide tizzy over the Janet Jackson Super Bowl incident (the clever “Good Times With Weapons”), the never-ending expansion of Wal-Mart (“Something Wall Mart This Way Comes”) and Mel Gibson’s questionable feelings towards those of Jewish descent (the instant classic “The Passion of the Jew”)–have remained fixtures in the public consciousness since they were originally broadcast, a bigger part of it seems to be that these were the ones in which creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone really had something to say and took the time to make them work. On the other hand, the less topical episodes–especially “You Got F’d In the A” (an extended spoof of “You Got Served,” of all things) and “Awesom-O” (Cartman disguises himself as a robot for no apparent reason)–seem kind of tired and pointless. That said, even the weaker episodes usually have a few solid laughs and when Parker and Stone are firing on all cylinders (as with the amazing “Woodland Critter Christmas” and the aforementioned “The Passion of the Jew”), the results are as simultaneously hysterical and thought-provoking as any seen in the long run of the show.

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON: A Fox Home Entertainment Release. $29.95

MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 COLLECTION: VOLUME 10: Rhino Home Video. $59.95.

SOUTH PARK: THE COMPLETE EIGHTH SEASON: Paramount Home Video. $39.95.


NEW AND NOTABLE

AKEELAH & THE BEE (Lion’s Gate Home Entertainment. $29.99): Whether it was because of a reaction to the overwhelming Starbucks promotional tie-in or an unquenchable desire to see “Stick It,” most of you apparently skipped out on this impressive movie, about a young inner-city schoolgirl (Keke Palmer) overcoming enormous odds to compete in a national spelling bee, when it debuted last April. Whatever the reason, don’t make the same mistake a second time.

BROTHER BEAR 2 (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.99): Oh good, now Disney is making direct-to-video sequels to animated titles that audiences didn’t especially go for the first time around. Does this mean “Treasure Planet 2" is right around the corner?

THE CASTLE OF CAGLIOSTRO (Manga Video. $24.95): If you must drop money on an animated DVD title this week, it should definitely go to this exciting 1979 film that marked the directorial debut of the legendary Hayao Miyazaki. Although less thoughtful and contemplative than “Spirited Away” or “Howl’s Moving Castle,” this one, in which a rouge thief becomes involved with a fortune in counterfeit printing plates and a princess in distress while in the country of Cagliostro, is perhaps the most giddily entertaining of all his works.

DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES–THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON ($59.99): Pretty much the textbook definition of a sophomore slump, the second season of the wildly popular “satire” annoyed even its more fervent fans with too many characters and too many half-baked subplots for its own good–at times, the behind-the-scenes scandals involving the cast members were more intriguing than the ones they were enacting before the cameras. Those still devoted to the show, however, will want to pick this set up for the deleted scenes, cast and creator interviews and additional bric and/or brac.

DUCK SEASON (Warner Home Video. $27.95): In this charming comedy-drama from Mexico, two fourteen-year-old pals while away a long and lazy Sunday afternoon at home with the aid of a neighbor girl, a pizza deliveryman, Nintendo games, some sexual tension and some enhanced brownies. Not especially profound or meaningful, but a hugely entertaining slice-of-life nevertheless.

LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (Paramount Home Video. $14.95): In this effectively creepy 1971 horror film, a young woman, fresh from a stay in a mental institution, goes off for some rest and relaxation in a remote New England town and becomes entangled in supernatural goings-on that include buried secrets from the pasts, several disappearing bodies and perhaps a vampire or two. Check it out now before some dimwit gets the bright idea of remaking it.

LONESOME JIM (IFC Video. $24.95): Steve Buscemi’s third effort as a director was this mopey affair about a mopey young man (Casey Affleck) who returns to his mopey hometown and mopey family, mopes around for a while and still somehow manages to catch the eye of the relentlessly life-affirming Liv Tyler.

LOOKING FOR COMEDY IN THE MUSLIM WORLD (Warner Home Video. $27.95): Still the funniest American film released this year, Albert Brooks’s latest work finds him being sent to India and Pakistan as part of a government project to discover what makes Muslims laugh in order to better understand them–although the bombing at first is limited to his hilariously disastrous stand-up routine before a singularly confused audience, Brooks’s blunderings eventually come close to precipitating an international incident. The lone extras on the disc are a few brief deleted scenes that are actually worth watching–one involves Brooks meeting a New Yorker who, upset over Indians taking all the cabbie jobs in the Big Apple, decided to go to India and do the opposite and another features Brooks on a fruitless quest to find copies of his films in Indian video stores.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING/THE TWO TOWERS/THE RETURN OF THE KING–THEATRICAL AND EXTENDED LIMITED EDITION (New Line Home Entertainment. $28.98 each): Apparently taking a page from the George Lucas handbook, New Line attempts to lure Tolkien fanatics into buying Peter Jackson’s epic trilogy for a third time with new 2-disc editions that combine the previously-released theatrical and extended editions (lacking all the commentaries and extras that came with them) with some never-before-seen behind-the-scenes documentaries from Jackson colleague Costa Botes.

MODERN TIMES (Sony Music. $18.98): Those of you who purchase the expanded edition of Bob Dylan’s latest CD (another collection of compellingly apocalyptic tunes in the mode of “Time Out of Mind” and “Love and Theft”) will find a DVD containing four bits of prime latter-day Dylan ephemera–the videos for “Blood in My Eyes” and the Oscar-winning “Things Have Changed,” the full rendition of “Cold Irons Bound” shot for his brilliant 2003 film “Masked and Anonymous” and the performance of “Love Sick” that he did at the 1998 Grammy Awards before taking home Album of the Year for “Time Out of Mind.” (Although this was the performance infamously crashed by that Soy Bomb ass, he is mysteriously nowhere to be seen in the footage shown here.)

PRETTY IN PINK–EVERYTHING’S DUCKY EDITION (Paramount Home Video. $14.95): Although it was rumored that this reissue of the 1986 John Hughes production–in which poor girl Molly Ringwald and rich hunk Andrew McCarthy upend the social order of their school by falling in love–would contain the original ending, in which Ringwald rejects McCarthy for good and dances the night away with lovelorn pal Jon Cryer to the tune of “Heroes,” that hadn’t been seen since is tested badly in front of a focus group of apparent dullards, the disc doesn’t actually contain the sequence–only interviews with people talking about the original ending, some behind-the-scenes footage of it being shot and a couple of brief glimpses of the final product. (This week also sees the release of a special edition of “Some Kind of Wonderful,” another mid-1980's Hughes production and no, it doesn’t contain the original ending of “Pretty in Pink” either.)

ROMANCING THE STONE/JEWEL OF THE NILE (Fox Home Entertainment. $19.98 each): Anyone who wants to see the difference between a charming and original movie idea and a filmed deal should watch these two films back to back. The former, the 1984 smash that proved to be Robert Zemeckis’s first big hit, remains a hilarious and thrilling entertainment about a repressed author (a never-better Kathleen Turner) a swashbuckling adventurer (Michael Douglas) and a sleazy con man (Danny DeVito) roaming through Colombia in search of a precious jewel. The latter, a 1985 contractual obligation, reunites them in Morocco for some reason or another in a desperate and failed attempt to recapture the spirit of the original.

THE SENTINEL (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): Even the commercials for “24" are far more exciting than this exceptionally dreary game of cat-and-mouse in which Secret Service agent Michael Douglas is suspected of plotting against the president and fellow agents Keifer Sutherland and Eva Longoria are charged with bringing him down.

SHOCK (Fox Home Entertainment. $14.99): In this nifty 1946 thriller, a young woman (Anabel Shaw) is put under the care of a psychiatrist when she goes into extreme shock after witnessing a man murdering his wife. Two problems–her shrink is a.) none other than Vincent Price and b.) the actual killer. Part of Fox’s recent series of film noir titles, this week also sees the release of 1951's “Fourteen Hours” (in which tortured Richard Basehart spends the titular amount of time on a ledge contemplating suicide) and 1953's “Vicki” (a “Laura” riff in which obsessed cop Richard Boone tries to solve the murder of fashion model Jean Peters.)

STORY OF A CLOISTERED NUN (NoShame Video. $19.95): Mid-Seventies nunsploitation at its best or worst, depending on your point of view, the tells the shocking and allegedly true story of the kinky degradations that befall a young woman after being sent off to a nunnery apparently populated entirely by repressed lesbians. Not for everyone but you know who you are.

TAKE THE LEAD (New Line Home Entertainment. $28.95): In a fictionalized version of the story behind the charming documentary “Mad Hot Ballroom,” Antonio Banderas stars as a ballroom dancing instructor who uses his gifts to inspire a group of troubled inner-city high school punks. It is really quite silly but the dancing is pretty good, Banderas is as charismatic as ever and for all its flaws, it isn’t half as stupid as the current “Step Up.”

TRILOGY OF TERROR (Dark Sky Video. $19.98): Although this 1975 made-for-TV movie from produced Dan Curtis, best known for creating the cult shows “Dark Shadows” and “The Night Stalker,” actually tells three short and scary stories, people tend to only recall the still-harrowing final section in which Karen Black battles for her life against a Zuni fetish doll come to murderous life.[br]


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=1930
originally posted: 09/01/06 15:04:20
last updated: 09/16/06 05:20:49
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