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DVD Reviews for 3/21: All These Things That I've Seen On DVD

by Peter Sobczynski

In honor of the passing of such greats as Arthur C. Clarke, Anthony Minghella, Paul Scofield and Ivan Dixon, you should probably spend your DVD time reacquainting yourself with such films as “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Truly Madly Deeply,” “The Train” (sorry, I just prefer it to “A Man For All Seasons”) and, if you can somehow track down a copy, the audacious satire “The Spook Who Sat By the Door” (or the blaxsploitation classic “Trouble Man” if you can’t). When you are through with those, check out this week’s eclectic collection of releases–a trio of baseball-related favorites, a recently uncovered landmark of Asian-American filmmaking, a future cult classic and even a couple of things for the kids to watch while crashing from their all-but-inevitable chocolate bunny-induced sugar highs.

Springtime is upon us and as such, it is the time when a young man’s fancy turns to one thing–the upcoming baseball season. (This pseudo-aphorism does not apply to residents of Kansas City or Tampa Bay.) In anticipation of the return of America’s Pastime, MGM Home Entertainment has dug into their vault and released three of the most notable baseball-themed movies in their catalogue of titles. Okay, they didn’t exactly dig too deeply–all three merely repromotions of previously-issued discs but if you are a sports fan (or just a fan of quality cinema) and have yet to add these particular titles to your collection, there is no reason for you not to pick them up as soon as possible.

1942's “The Pride of the Yankees,” the popular biopic of the life and career of the legendary Lou Gehrig, is probably the most famous of the three titles on display, although its luster has dimmed in recent years because of the relatively square nature of the storytelling (this was made in the days when biopics went out of their way to show their subjects in the best possible light) and the lack of particularly inspiring sports footage despite the presence of several actual Yankees in the cast, including a prospect by the name of Babe Ruth. While he may have been many things, Cooper wasn’t exactly the most convincing athletic type and since he was a right-hander playing a southpaw, all the baseball scenes had to be filmed with everything done backwards–the uniforms were made with reversed type and batters would run to third base–and the footage was later printed in reverse. And yet, none of that really matters because while it may not exactly be electrifying as a sports movie, it definitely works as an inspirational biography of a man who faced the unthinkable–a brilliant career cut short by an especially cruel and rare disease–and even the most dedicated Yankees hater will find themselves getting choked up by the big finale in which Gehrig delivers his farewell speech in which he claims to be “the luckiest man alive.” Although one might have hoped that a title this well-known might have gotten the full-blown special edition treatment, the bonus features here only included a handful of short featurettes about the making of the film, Gehrig’s life and career (including an appreciation from Curt Schilling) and a look at the disease that took his life.

For much of the early part of his career as a filmmaker, indie icon John Sayles had struggled to mount an adaptation of “Eight Men Out,” Eliot Asinof’s 1963 book chronicling the 1919 Black Sox scandal, in which the underappreciated and underpaid members of the Chicago White Sox were paid by gamblers to throw the World Series for more money than they would have received by cheapo owner Charles Comiskey if they had won–they successfully lost the Series but the conspiracy was soon uncovered and the players, including such greats as Shoeless Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte and Buck Weaver (who was drummed out of baseball even though he was never proven to have accepted a payoff). He finally got the money to make the film in 1988 and even though it would prove to be the closest thing in his career to a full-scale studio project, the focus on character development over cheap theatrics and the keen eye for period detail makes it virtually indistinguishable from his more independent projects. Although it obviously lacks the immediacy of his more contemporary works, the way that it evokes the look and feel of a long-bygone era without making the entire project seem like a museum piece is something to behold. The star-studded cast (including John Cusack, Charlie Sheen, John Mahoney, Christopher Lloyd, David Strathairn, Studs Turkel and Sayles himself as sportswriter Ring Lardner) is universally excellent and the ones playing the ballplayers are just as convincing on the field as they are off of it. Plus, if you are a Cubs man like myself, there is an undeniable satisfaction to be had from watching the hated White Sox going down in defeat and humiliation.

Finally, we come to 1988's “Bull Durham,” an uproarious comedy that is not only arguably the greatest baseball movies ever made (to my mind, only the original “Bad News Bears” comes close to that title) but one of the greatest sports-related movies of all time. The odd thing about that is that while the film is set amongst the world of minor-league baseball, the sport isn’t really the focus of the film–this isn’t one of those movies in which everything comes down to the Big Game that will resolve everything for everyone. Instead, it focuses on the decidedly oddball relationship that develops between a burnt-out catcher (Kevin Costner) on the last stop of a long and fairly undistinguished career, an immensely talented-but-wild pitcher (Tim Robbins) whom he is asked to mentor and the acolyte of the sport (Susan Sarandon) who picks one member of their team each season to serve as a lover/teacher/muse. In his rookie effort behind the camera, writer-director Ron Shelton hit one out of the park with a film that is alternately hilarious, thoughtful, seriously sexy and filled with endlessly quotable lines of dialogue.(“Throw some ground balls–it’s more democratic.”) that are delivered by a trio of performers throwing the acting equivalents of perfect games–Costner and Robbins have never been better than they were here and Sarandon should have won her Oscar for her work here instead of for “Dead Man Walking.” This is one of the best comedies of the 1980's, an early not exactly renowned for the sparkling wit displayed in its filmed entertainment, and if for some reason you haven’t yet experienced it for yourself, stop reading this column and watch it right this minute.

PRIDE OF THE YANKEES: Written by Jo Sweling and Herman J. Mankiewicz. Directed by Sam Wood. Starring Gary Cooper, Theresa Wright, Walter Brennan, Dan Duryea and Babe Ruth. 1942. Unrated. 128 minutes. A MGM Home Entertainment release. $14.98.

EIGHT MEN OUT: Written and directed by John Sayles. Starring John Cusack, Charlie Sheen, David Strathairn, Michael Lerner, Michael Rooker, D.B. Sweeney, John Mahoney, Christopher Lloyd, John Sayles and Studs Turkel. 1988. Rated PG. 119 minutes. A MGM Home Entertainment release. $14.98

BULL DURHAM: Written and directed by Ron Shelton. Starring Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Trey Wilson and Robert Wuhl. 1988. Rated R. 108 minutes. A MGM Home Entertainment release. $14.98.

NEW AND NOTABLE

ANTONIO GAUDI (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): A master of one artistic discipline, Japanese filmmaker Hiroshi Teshigahara (whose “Woman in the Dunes” is generally regarded as one of the all-time great films), trains his camera on the work of another, Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi (whose Art Nouveau stylings were hailed for his ability to incorporate shapes found in nature into his designs) in a 1986 not-quite-a-documentary that is a must-see for anyone interested in the artistic process.

ATONEMENT (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Three things that I learned while watching this acclaimed adaptation of the Ian McEwan novel about a pair of young lovers whose lives are undone by a bratty little girl with an overactive imagination. 1.) Always proofread your mash notes before sending them off to ensure that you aren’t passing along the extra-dirty first draft. 2.) Keira Knightley really rocks the wet look. 3.) While there are many tricks that a director can deploy to show that three different actresses are supposed to be playing the same character at different stages of life, few are goofier than having all three of them sporting the exact same hairdo.

BET HIP-HOP AWARDS (Paramount Home Video. $19.99): Although the notion of award shows being made available for sale on DVD is frankly too terrifying to contemplate, hip-hop fanatics will presumably want to pick up this commercial-free version of BET’s 2007 ceremony for the performances from Wyclef Jean, Busta Rhymes and Ludacris and behind-the-scenes footage of TI rehearsing his portion of the show. And if you are one of those people who actually enjoy award shows, you can rewatch the likes of Jay-Z and Chamillionaire picking up their prizes to your heart’s content.

THE BIONIC WOMAN–VOLUME ONE (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Like most of America, I didn’t quite make it past the pilot episode of this hi-tech revamp of the semi-beloved 1970's cheesefest and I suspect that the combination of poor ratings for the subsequent episodes and the interruption brought on by the writers strike means that the “Volume One” label may be wishful thinking at best. That said, I may still have to pick this collection of eight episodes for one simple, shameful reason–I somehow suspect that deep down, I have this bizarre desire to be beaten up by Michelle Ryan, the British soap opera starlet hired to serve as the nouveau Lindsay Wagner.

DON’T DRINK THE WATER (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.98): Based on the hit stage comedy by Woody Allen (who disowned it as soon as it was released and later remade it for television in 1994), this limp 1969 Cold War satire features Jackie Gleason and Estelle Parsons as the heads of a family of Ugly American tourists whose European vacation lands them behind the Iron Curtain and forces them into the nearest American embassy for safety. I don’t want to say that the results are as bad as the notoriously finicky Allen has indicated but by comparison, “Casino Royale” is a model of narrative cohesion and subtle wit.

THE DRAGON PAINTER (Milestone Film & Video. $29.95): Arguably the first key work of Asian-American filmmaking, this 1919 drama (long thought to be lost until a print was recently found in France and restored) stars Sessue Hayakawa (now best remembered for his portrayal of Col. Saito in “The Bridge on the River Kwai”) as a brilliant but eccentric painter who unexpectedly finds the love of his life and winds up losing his artistic touch in the process. For film buffs, the mere existence of this film on DVD would be enough of a cause for celebration but this DVD also include a couple of additional works featuring Hayakawa–a second feature film, 1914's “The Wrath of the Gods” and the 1921 short subject “Screen Snapshots”–a copy of the screenplay for “The Wrath of the Gods” and a guide for recreating the volcanic climax of that film in the comfort of your own living room.

ENCHANTED (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.99): Although the premise of this Disney family comedy–a princess from a standard-issue animated fairytale land is cast into the big, bad (though only to acceptable PG-rated levels) and thoroughly three-dimensional levels of contemporary Manhattan–sounds inviting enough, the result is just another fish-out-of-water family comedy that is only enlivened by the fully committed and completely charming central performance from Amy Adams as the princess. The DVD contains plenty of extras, though none of them quite manage to explain why the film lurches into action mode in the final reels as our heroine does battle with a giant talking dragon while dangling from a skyscraper.

GREEK–CHAPTER ONE (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.99):In this first season of the ABC Family sitcom–an odd home, considering some of the goings-on to be found on the three discs contained here–the halls of Cyprus Rhodes University are rocked when a hugely popular junior babe (Spencer Grammar) is mortified to discover that her socially awkward younger brother (Jacob Zachar) has just arrived on campus to begin his own college experience. Although this show won’t make anyone forget “Animal House” anytime soon, it does have its share of laughs and agreeable moments and it is nice to see a show in which the life lessons are gratifyingly painted in shade of grey instead of black and white.

I AM LEGEND (Warner Home Video. $34.99): The third time was definitely not the charm with this latest and least adaptation of the classic Richard Matheson story about the lone human survivor of a worldwide plague (Will Smith) who fends off attacks from mutated victims while frantically searching for both a cure and other non-infected people. Among the extras on this two-disc set is an alternate ending (which already leaked on-line a couple of weeks ago) which was marginally less stupid than the one that appeared in the theatrical release, though certainly not good enough to make it worth wasting your time on this mess featuring zero tension, painful miscasting and some of the shabbiest-looking special effects in recent blockbuster history.

THE ICE STORM (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Ang Lee’s highly acclaimed look at a couple of emotionally and sexually frustrated suburban families–portrayed by an canny cast of reliable veterans (Kevin Kline, Joan Allen and Sigourney Weaver) and then-up-and-comers (including a pre-“Spider Man” Tobey Maguire, a pre-“Speed Racer” Christina Ricci,” a pre-“Lord of the Rings” Elijah Wood” and a pre-“Mad Money” Katie Holmes–coming apart over the long 1973 Thanksgiving weekend gets the full Criterion treatment with a two-disc set including a commentary from Lee and longtime collaborator James Schamus, a new documentary on the making of the film, an interview with Rick Moody (author of the novel the film was based on), deleted scenes and video of a Museum of the Moving Image event in which Lee and Schamus discuss all the films they have done together (including “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Brokeback Mountain”).

JOHNNY AND THE SPRITES–MEET THE SPRITES (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $19.99): As someone who possesses neither children of his own or the ironic capacity to watch kid-oriented TV on his own (the ship sailed once for me once they started airing the Three Stooges at the same time as Teletubbies), I can’t really vouch for the entertainment value of this disc consisting of several episodes of the Disney Channel series about a young man and his friendly sprite buddies who learn valuable life lessons about sharing and problem-solving while busting out with the occasional tune. Of course, if you do possess children who are in the demographic range for this DVD, my guess is that you not only know more about it than I do, you most likely already own it.

LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA (New Line Home Entertainment. $27.95): I really did try to sit through this critically panned adaptation of the Gabriel Garcia Marquez best-seller about a young man (Javier Bardem) who meets the love of his life (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), is forbidden to marry her by her nasty father (John Leguizamo) and spends the next half-century pining for her and waiting out her marriage to a hunky-but-noble doctor (Benjamin Bratt) while nailing every hottie who comes across his path–if nothing else, the promise of frequent nudity and Shakira on the soundtrack promised two hours of eye-and-ear candy. Alas, I only lasted about 15 minutes before bolting from the theater–long enough to discover that the film was inexplicably in English, the opening frame required the stars to wear the kind of cheesy old-age makeup that makes them look like the spawn of Yoda and that Leguizamo was sporting the exact same hairdo he wore in “Carlito’s Way.” Now that this box-office disaster (one of the many factors that contributed to the recent collapse of New Line) has hit DVD, maybe I will try again to make it to the end–at least the fast-forward button will make it a little easier.

MAFIOSO (The Criterion Collection. $29.95): In this acclaimed 1962 dark comedy from Alberto Lattuada (which received a successful theatrical reissue last year that exposed it to a new generation of moviegoers), the head of a thoroughly modernized Italian family (Alberto Sordi) takes his entire brood back to Sicily to get in touch with his family history and makes some surprising and unpleasant discoveries about both his ancestors and himself. The disc includes a 1996 interview with Lattuada and trailers from both the original release and the reissue.

REVOLVER (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95): One of the most inexplicably bad movies to come from a theoretically talented director (Guy Ritchie, the man who made the hugely entertaining British crime capers “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch” before gaining notoriety as Mr. Madonna), this mishmash of sloppy plotting, sloppier filmmaking and muddle-headed philosophy stranded a group of usually reliable actors (including Jason Statham and Ray Liotta, both of whom were presumably nostalgic for the comparatively lucid “In the Name of the King”) in one of the most baffling films ever made that never makes a lick of sense. The only possible way to explain this disaster is that Ritchie wanted to prove that yes, he could make a film even more ill-advised and unwatchable than his remake of “Swept Away.”

THE SEEKER: THE DARK IS RISING (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): Although Fox clearly produced this adaptation of the youth fantasy novel from Susan Cooper (which has apparently been much altered from the original source)–something about an ordinary kid (Alexander Ludwig) who discovers that he is the last of an ancient line of warriors charged with protecting the world from the forces of darkness and such things–in the hopes of launching a film franchise of “Harry Potter” proportions, the complete disinterest that it inspired from audiences would seem to indicate that we will be seeing a follow-up just as soon as “Eragon 2" hits the multiplex.[br]

THE SICKHOUSE (New Line Home Entertainment. $19.98): Hmm. . .a hot archaeologist, a group of troublesome teen punks and the spirit of a murderous 17th-century doctor all cross paths in the ruins of an old hospital–I am going to go out on a limb here and guess that this is not going to turn out to be an Edwardian comedy of manners in the end.

SOUTHLAND TALES (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95): Following its disastrous premiere at Cannes in 2006 and a year of post-production fixes and reediting that culminated in a brief theatrical release that was marked by generally awful reviews and mass audience indifference, you might be working under the assumption that Richard Kelly’s follow-up to his cult favorite “Donnie Darko” really is as bad is the rumors have made it seem. Don’t believe the anti-hype–while decidedly bizarre and occasionally uneven, Kelly’s sprawling saga of an increasingly fascistic America teetering on the verge of apocalypse is a cheerfully surreal Pynchonesque mind-bender filled with “Strangelove”-style shots of jet-black political satire, moments of truly hallucinatory beauty and one of the most eclectic casts in recent memory (including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Sean William Scott, Mandy Moore, Kevin Smith, Justin Timberlake and numerous past and present “SNL” players). Oh yeah, it even has a few musical numbers as well–Timberlake’s lip-sync to The Killers’ “All The Things That I’ve Done” is a work of demented genius. You may love it, you may hate it (there will be no middle ground here) but if you take my advice and check this one out, you will never, ever forget it.


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2450
originally posted: 03/21/08 14:30:18
last updated: 03/22/08 00:05:59
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