|by Peter Sobczynski
In which your faithful critic, too logy from Thanksgiving dinner to come up with a full-length review, offers up a wide variety of DVDs--art-house classics, cult favorites, musical performances, old TV shows and double-dips ranging from the essential to the useless--that should entertain you when you arise from your own tryptophan-induced slumbers.
NEW AND NOTABLE
ANGEL-A (Sony Home Entertainment. $29.95): Best-known for such high-octane action hits as “La Femme Nikita,” “Leon” and “The Fifth Element,” famed French filmmaker Luc Besson returned to his low-budget roots with this utterly enchanting fantasy about a down-and-out loser (Jamel Debbouze) whose suicide attempt is interrupted by a two-fisted goddess (Rie Rasmussen) who helps him turn his luck around in surprising ways. Funny, touching and gorgeously filmed in black-and-white, this is one of Besson’s best films and if it turns out to be his last film as a director, as he has publicly stated, he couldn’t possibly go out on a higher note than this one.
THE BEYONCE EXPERIENCE–LIVE(Sony Music. $14.98): Everyone’s favorite musical diva performs selections from her two solo albums before an adoring crowd in this concert performance filmed during a recent show at the Staples Center. Alas, those hoping that the “Experience” will include footage of her well-publicized on-stage stumble or her equally infamous on-stage wardrobe malfunction will have to stick to the grainy YouTube videos.
BROKEN (First Look Films.$26.98): In this agonizingly pretentious indie drama, Heather Graham (who really deserves a better career than she has had of late) as an aspiring singer who escapes from an abusive boyfriend and encounters her own version of the Seven Deadly Sins embodied in the customers of the seedy diner she waitresses at over the course of one long night. If that description alone doesn’t put you off, consider the fact that her character is actually named Hope and the evil ex is named Will, as in “Where there’s a. . .” Yeah, you get to see Graham kiss another girl (Jessica Stroup) but I would like to point out that a.) that isn’t exactly something that we haven’t seen before and b.) it didn’t exactly help “Grey Matters” that much (even with Bridget Moynahan on the other end of it) and it doesn’t really add much here either.
CHAPPELLE’S SHOW–THE SERIES COLLECTION (Paramount Home Video. $49.99): Perhaps finally resigning themselves to the fact that Dave Chappelle isn’t coming back, Paramount and Comedy Central attempt one last exploitation of his often-brilliant sketch show by repackaging the previously-released editions of its two complete seasons as well as the “Lost Episodes” disc comprised of sketches that he shot before flying the coop. In other words, if you never got around to picking them up before, this collection is essential (the first two seasons are as funny as anything that has appeared on television and even the third set of scraps has some funny bits as well) but if you already own these, there is no reason to repurchase them unless you want to spend $50 for the cardboard box that holds them together.
CHARLES IN CHARGE–THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (Hart Sharp Video. $29.98): Until that glorious day arrives when “Zapped,” that classic 1982 piece of teensploitation that plays like a mash-up of “Porky’s” and “Carrie,” finally arrives on DVD, those of you in desperate need of the comedy stylings of Scott Baio and Willie Aames, the 1980's version of Franco Franchi & Ciccio Ingrassia, will have to make do with this second season of this vaguely popular sitcom. If it helps, this is the season when future “Baywatch” babe Nicole Eggert joined the cast and this set does include commentaries from Baio and Aames themselves.
CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION–THE COMPLETE SEVENTH SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $89.99): What happens in Vegas leaves an exceptionally icky-looking corpse in Vegas in this latest collection of episodes from the TV series that single-handedly launched the current wave of gross-out police procedurals currently glutting the airwaves in the form of a seemingly endless number of spin-offs and rip-offs.
DR. KATZ: PROFESSIONAL THERAPIST–THE COMPLETE SERIES (Paramount Home Video. $139.99): Although it tends to be overlooked today, this long-running animated comedy show was actually one of the first major successes to emerge from Comedy Central, predating “South Park” by a couple of years. In this 13-disc behemoth, comprising all 60 episodes of TV’s favorite squiggly shrink (voiced by creator Jonathan Katz) analyzes a number of famous patients. Considering that some of the people who turn up on the couch include Dave Chappelle, Winona Ryder and Richard Jeni, I suppose you might question his effectiveness as a therapist but we also get to see him with such better-grounded clients as Conan O’Brien, Sarah Silverman and David Mamet.
ERIC CLAPTON–CROSSROADS GUITAR FESTIVAL 2007 (Rhino Home Entertainment. $29.99): In what was essentially last summer’s Lollapalooza for audience members too old for multiple piercings and self-consciously edgy music presented by an enormous array of corporate sponsors, the guitar legend brought a bunch of his pals (including Sheryl Crow, Jimmie Vaughn, Robert Cray, John Mayer, Jeff Beck, Steve Winwood, Buddy Guy and Robbie Robertson with Bill Murray serving as emcee) to Chicago for a day-long benefit concert to raise money for the Crossroads Centre in Antigua. This 2-disc set doesn’t include every bit of music heard that day but there are more than enough highlights (including the requisite performance of “Sweet Home Chicago” as the finale) to make it worth your while.
FEED (First Run Pictures. $24.95): In a quaint reminder of what political gaffes looked like in the pre-YouTube era, this shallow-but-funny 1992 documentary that follows the candidates in the 1992 presidential election through a number of off-the-cuff moments from the New Hampshire primary, mostly taken from satellite feed footage that was never intended for broadcast.
THE GAY DECEIVERS (Dark Sky Films. $19.98): In this Vietnam-era version of “I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry,” a couple of young dopes decide to pretend to be gay in order to evade the draft with predictably wacky results. Although the film is pretty bad by most any standards, it actually comes across today as slightly more progressive and less offensive than the celluloid gay-bashing that was “Chuck and Larry.”
HAIRSPRAY (New Line Home Entertainment . $34.98): Although it bogged down a bit in the middle and lacked the biting satire that was present in the original 1988 version by John Waters, this adaptation of the hit Broadway musical version Waters’ cult classic was still the best of the recent string of stage-to-screen musical adaptations thanks to some catchy tune and the high energy of a cast led by winning newcomer Nikki Blonsky and including the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, James Marsden, Amanda Bynes (whose declaration of being “a checkerboard chick” is the film’s highest high point), Queen Latifah and a dragged-out John Travolta.
HEARTS OF DARKNESS–A FILMMAKER’S APOCALYPSE (Paramount Home Video. $24.99): After years of waiting, this fascinating 1991 documentary on the infamously difficult production of Francis Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” finally comes to DVD and even after all these years, it remains one of the most penetrating films on the making of another film ever made. Although no additional footage has been included here (in other words, there is still nothing to be seen of Harvey Keitel’s brief stint as Willard before he was replaced by Martin Sheen), the DVD does feature a commentary track with Coppola and his wife, Eleanor (who shot most of the location footage seen in the film) as well as “Coda,” a new 60-minute documentary following the production of Coppola’s first film in ten years, the eagerly-awaited “Youth Without Youth.”
HUDSON HAWK–SPECIAL EDITION (Sony Home Entertainment. $19.95): Like “Ishtar” a few years earlier, this expensive comedy extravaganza was so excoriated by the press during its production as being an over-budget vanity exercise for star/co-creator Bruce Willis that when it finally premiered in 1991, the few people who saw it seemed to be in competition with each other to write the most poisonously destructive review possible. Also like “Ishtar,” the film–a cheerfully goofy “Bullwinkle”-influenced comedy about a recently paroled cat burglar (Willis) who is forced to take up his former ways as part of a bizarre plot by super-villains Richard E. Grant and Sandra Bernhard to take over the world–turned out to be an absolutely hilarious romp that was completely undeserving of the pasting it took from critics and audiences. Filled with in-jokes, dumb puns and numerous homages to the “Our Man Flint” films (another stylistic forebearer, and not just because Flint himself, James Coburn, turns up as another villain), this was a post-modern spin on big-budget Hollywood blockbusters that was simply too far ahead of its time. Actually, since most of the plot revolves around the code books of Leonardo Da Vinci, it actually plays better today as a merciless spoof of “The Da Vinci Code” that came out years before anyone has ever heard of Dan Brown.
THE LADY VANISHES (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Arguably the most entertaining of the films he made in England before setting off to Hollywood in 1940, Alfred Hitchcock directed this 1938 gem in which a young socialite (Margaret Lockwood) befriends a kindly old woman while on a trans-continental train ride, only to wake up from a nap to discover that the woman has not only vanished but that no one else on the train remembers seeing her in the first place. Yeah, the story was later ripped off for the fairly atrocious Jodie Foster vehicle “Flightplan” but Hitchcock handles it with such style and grace that you don’t even notice the plot implausibilities. Besides offering a beautifully restored version of the film, this 2-disc set from Criterion also gives fans a second film, the rarely-screened 1941 romp “Crooks Tour,” that features the further adventures of a couple of the supporting characters from the earlier movie, a video essay on “The Lady Vanishes” from scholar Leonard Leff and audio recordings of some of the famous interviews that Hitchcock did with French filmmaker Francois Truffaut.
LISBON STORY (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.98): After making the back-to-back international epics “Until the End of the World” and “Faraway, So Close!,” Wim Wenders went in a different direction with this intriguing little sketch of a film in which a sound engineer is summond to Lisbon by a director friend to help him complete a movie about the country–when he arrives, the friend has disappeared but he decides to stay and finish the movie on his own.
LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (Fox Home Entertainment. $34.99): When the long-awaited fourth installment of the traditionally bloody and foul-mouthed “Die Hard” franchise finally hit theaters last summer, many fans were dismayed to see that Fox decided (apparently at the last minute, judging from the sometimes obvious editing choices) to limit the bloodshed and profanity in order to score a more commercially viable PG-13 rating. In a completely shocking and unexpected move, Fox has now reinstated the gore and the bad words for a wholly unexpected “Unrated” DVD release. While the film isn’t markedly improved by these additions–it is still crippled by a weak villain, silly plotting and the lack of any sort of on-screen chemistry between uberhero Bruce Willis and ubernerd Justin Long–it at least now feels more like a real “Die Hard” movie instead of the edited-for-television version of one.
LOVE AMERICAN STYLE–THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $31.99): The somewhat beloved comedy anthology series about the trials and tribulations of romance, early Seventies-style, comes to DVD with more crazy misunderstandings and borderline sexual harassment cases than you can shake a stick at. Among the performers that can be seen here are such staples of the era as Arte Johnson, Flip Wilson, Bill Bixby, Robert Reed, Bob Crane, Norman Fell, Regis Philbin and some nobody by the name of Harrison Ford.
MAX MON AMOUR (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.98): In one of the oddest movie romances that you will ever see, the always-compelling Charlotte Rampling stars as the bored wife of a British diplomat who decides to alleviate said boredom by taking on a lover, much to the consternation of her husband. Sounds ordinary enough, but your opinion may change once I tell you that said lover, the “Max” seen in the title, is actually a chimpanzee that she has liberated from a nearby zoo.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE–THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $49.99): A thrilling reminder to the good old days when American interventions in foreign countries managed to wrap themselves up neatly in just about an hour each week and were the stuff of prime-time entertainment. This seven-disc set, should you choose to accept it (I apologize but I think that I am legally obligated to make such a hackneyed reference when writing about the show), features the Impossible Missions gang (Peter Graves, Martin Landau, Peter Lupus, Greg Morris and Barbara Bain as Cinnamon Carter) stopping fixed boxing matches, halting military coups and conning captured enemies into giving up vital information, all in the name of democracy.
MONSIEUR HIRE (Kino Video. $29.95): Fans of acclaimed French director Patrice Leconte have been waiting patiently for the DVD debut of his haunting 1989 erotic drama about a mild-mannered middle-aged man (Michel Blanc) whose voyeuristic appreciation of his sexy neighbor (Sandrine Bonnaire) is threatened when the two of them find themselves under investigation for the murder of another young woman whose body was found nearby. Now that it has finally be released, perhaps the fates will be kind to us and Leconte’s two finest films, “The Hairdresser’s Husband” and the ravishing “The Girl on the Bridge,” will finally make it to Region 1 DVD as well.
RESCUE DAWN (MGM Home Entertainment. $29.99): Having already told the amazing story of Dieter Dengler and his harrowing escape from a Viet Cong prison and the surrounding jungle during the early days of the Vietnam war in the 1998 documentary “Little Dieter Needs To Fly,” filmmaker Werner Herzog decided to restage it as a dramatic film and the result was a work just as gripping and powerful as the original. Between Herzog’s always-amazing ability to stage and execute scenes of beauty, mystery and horror–often at the same time–and Christian Bale’s mesmerizing performance as Dengler, what could have easily been a simple-minded action movie was transformed into one of the must-see films of 2007.
SANTA BABY (Liongate Home Entertainment. $19.98): Yet another whimsical holiday comedy in which a heretofore unknown relative of Santa Claus–this one a daughter who has left the North Pole to become a big-city workaholic–who returns home to save the day when Christmas is threatened. The only saving grace is that the daughter in question is played by none other than the irrepressible Jenny McCarthy, whom I would rather see in a Santa outfit instead of Vince Vaughn in a heartbeat. Throw Elizabeth Banks in her elf outfit into the mix and I might even reconsider my generally held prejudices against most cinematic holiday whimsy.
THE SANTA CLAUSE 3–THE ESCAPE CLAUSE (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.99): Of course, even if the previous film included the sight of Jenny McCarthy and Elizabeth Banks testing generally held notions of naughty and nice, my prejudice against cinematic holiday whimsy would instantly be reinforced with this exceptionally lame attempt to squeeze a second sequel out of a film that hardly warranted a first one in the first place. This time around, Martin Short appears as Jack Frost in a twisted attempt to take over the holiday from Santa Tim Allen for reasons that are hardly worth going in to right now. Aside from a couple of nice moments from the always-reliable Alan Arkin and Ann-Margret, the best thing that you can say about this film is that it isn’t as odious as “Fred Claus.”
SAWDUST AND TINSEL (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): In this key early work from the late Ingmar Bergman, which was dubbed “a piece of vomit” by one dissenting critic when it was released in 1956, a run-down carnival is the setting for a psycho-sexual drama involving the dissolution of an affair between the show’s owner (Ake Gronberg) and his mistress (Harriet Andersson) as each one separately contemplates leaving the show and each other. This latest helping of Bergman from Criterion includes a version of the film with five minutes of additional footage not see in previous American release, a commentary from Bergman expert Peter Cowie and an introduction to the film that Bergman did for a 2003 Swedish television broadcast.
THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME (Warner Home Video. $20.95): Although I am sure that there are plenty of head-bangers out there who would argue otherwise, this 1977 concert film, capturing Led Zeppelin during their three-night 1973 stand at Madison Square Garden, has not stood the test of time very well–it runs way too long at an interminable 137 minutes, it never really captures the excitement of seeing an electrifying band at the peak of their powers and the various fantasy sequences that have been included are the height of self-indulgent nonsense. However, fans of the group are certain to be more than satisfied with this new DVD edition of the film–besides the beautifully cleaned-up sound, the 2-disc set also includes additional performances of “Celebration Day,” “Over the Hills and Far Away,” “Misty Mountain Hop” and “The Ocean,” television reports centering on a daring robbery that was pulled on the group during the Florida portion of the tour and a 1976 radio profile featuring Cameron Crowe.
STIR OF ECHOES 2–THE HOMECOMING (Liongate Home Entertainment. $26.98): Another week, another direct-to-video sequel to a film that hardly seemed to require a continuation. Actually, this is a follow-up in name only–instead of furthering the paranormal adventures of Kevin Bacon and his family, we get Rob Lowe as a soldier who returns home from Iraq and is haunted by the ghosts of the civilians he inadvertently killed while in battle.
TITANIC–10th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Paramount Home Video. $19.99): So what do you do if you want to take advantage of the 10th anniversary of the most popular movie ever made, even though you released a seemingly definitive three-disc version of said film only a year or so ago? Well, in the case of Paramount and “Titanic,” you take that three-disc version, remove the third disc that contained most of the extras and re-release the other two discs in an otherwise identical package with a big “10th Anniversary” notation on the package in the hopes of luring some unsuspecting fans into purchasing the most superfluous reissue to come along since last week’s “new” version of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
THE WILD WILD WEST–THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $49.99): Still one of the strangest shows to ever have an extended network run, this 1960's spectacular blended the western, sci-fi and spy genres into a bizarre campefest in which old-timey Secret Service agents Jim West (Robert Conrad) and Artemis Gordon (Ross Martin) defend President Grant and the country using an array of outrageous gadgets, West’s fists and Gordon’s flair for disguise. (Regarding the latter, I think you are supposed to ignore the fact that virtually all of the supposedly impenetrable disguises simply look like Ross Martin clad in latex and goofy wigs.) Among the famous faces who turn up in these episodes are Pernell Roberts, Ed Asner, Richard Kiel and Robert Duvall.
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originally posted: 11/23/07 11:49:39
last updated: 11/24/07 08:20:21