|by Peter Sobczynski
Face it, between Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Inauguration Day, Sundance and an entire day dedicated to wondering how “The Dark Knight” got screwed on Best Picture, Bruce Springsteen got screwed on Best Song and “The Reader” was suddenly elevated from being “Summer of 42” with jackboots to a Best Picture contender, nobody got any real work done this week. In order to avoid showing everyone up with an ostentatious display of initiative, I have chosen to forgo the long review for this week’s column. Then again, considering that the majority of this week’s releases consist of straight-to-video movies, straight-to-video sequels to movies that you have most likely forgotten about and films so awful that they probably should have gone straight to video if there was any justice in the world of cinema and as fans of “The Dark Knight” and Bruce Springsteen can tell, that simply isn’t the case.
That said, I would like to dedicate this week’s column to the memory of the late, great Ricardo Montalban, who passed away last week. And if you are wondering why I didn’t do this last week, it is because the announcement of his passing occurred approximately ten minutes after I posted it. I realize that I am somewhat late to the party on this, but I would just like to offer up one more “KHAAAAANNNNNNN!” into the wilds of cyberspace.
NEW AND NOTABLE
AMUSEMENT (New Line Home Entertainment. $27.98): Having already desecrated the memories of such perfectly good horror films as “When a Stranger Calls” and “The Hitcher” by penning the scripts for their utterly unnecessary remakes, screenwriter Jake Wade Wall returns with an “original” screenplay that tells the story of a trio of young women who are each stalked by some maniac that they teased as schoolchildren in a triptych of tales that appear to borrow elements from the likes of “Halloween,” “Saw,” “Joyride” and many, many more.
BOOGEYMAN 3 (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.96): All together now: “There was a ‘Boogeyman 2’?”
CENTER STAGE 2: TURN IT UP (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.96): In this direct-to-video sequel to the surprisingly entertaining 2000 dance movie about an aspiring dancer trying to make it in the prestigious American Ballet Academy, another aspiring dancer tries and fails to make it into the same academy but finds herself newly inspired thanks to her visits to a hip-hop club and a relationship with a hockey-player-turned-dancer. In other words, some things never change, a fact underscored by the brief appearances of two veterans from the original film, Peter Gallagher and dancer Ethan Stiefel.
CHILDREN OF THE STONES (Acorn Media. $24.99): In this British television serial for children, an astrophysicist and his young son travel to a remote town that is encircled by a mysterious Stonehenge-like circle of stones and discover that strange things are afoot. Although only broadcast twice in its home country (in 1977 and 1978) and once in the States (on Nickelodeon in the early 1980s), it remains a cult favorite to this day and it is easy to see why--although it is technically a bit dodgy and it includes at least one gaping logical error, this is an uncommonly smart and at times unnerving work that still has the power to creep out kids (not to mention a few adults) without resorting to overt gore or brutality.
CITY OF EMBER (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): In the latest failed attempt by Hollywood to replicate the success of the “Harry Potter” series by producing an expensive adaptation of a kid-lit fantasy favorite, a couple of kids living in a vast underground city that is rapidly decaying struggle to unlock the secrets that will allow everyone to return to the surface before the whole place goes gunny. Not even the presence of Bill Murray as the greedy and self-centered mayor of the town is enough to save the enterprise from terminal boredom
THE EXPRESS (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Yet another inspirational true-life sports drama, this one chronicling the short life and stunning achievements of Ernie Davis (Rob Brown), the Syracuse University running back who became the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy (even though he wasn’t allowed to attend the victory banquet because it was held in a whites-only establishment) and found his pro career cut short by the leukemia that would take his life at the age of 23. Veteran inspirational true-life sports drama performer Dennis Quaid also turns up as Davis’ tough-but-loyal coach.
FRONTRUNNERS (Oscilloscope. $29.95): Those of you who have been suffering from withdrawal symptoms after the conclusion of our recent electoral cycle are advised to immediately check out this funny and provocative documentary following four teenagers as they run for the student council presidency of New York’s prestigious Stuyvesant High School. This is as entertaining as “Election,” as riveting as any grown-up election and the kids involved are essentially the polar opposites of the boneheads at the center of that “American Teen” monstrosity.
GEORGE WALLACE (Warner Home Video. $24.98): On the one hand, I am glad to see this riveting miniseries on the life and times of the ambitious Southern politician whose lust for power led him to embrace racism and become one of the most polarizing American figures of his time--it contains great performances from Gary Sinise as Wallace and Mare Winningham and a then-unknown Angelina Jolie as his two wives and brilliant direction from veteran filmmaker John Frankenheimer. On the other hand, don’t you think that Warner Home Video could have found a slightly better date to release it than on the day of President Obama’s inauguration?
IGOR (MGM Home Entertainment. $29.99): Although it came and went through theaters fairly quickly last fall, this animated effort about a mad scientist’s apprentice (John Cusack) who wants to demonstrate his own creative abilities by constructing his own monster was actually one of the charming cartoon films to come out in 2008. It is wildly uneven and it kind of falls apart at the end but the combination of gleefully creepy visuals and a game vocal cast (including Molly Shannon, John Cleese, Steve Buscemi, Sean Hayes, Eddie Izzard and James Lipton) are enough to make it worth a look for kids and parents alike.
MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): In this deliriously overblown 1954 tear-jerker from the late Douglas Sirk, a heedless playboy (Rock Hudson in his star-making role) inadvertently causes the death of a selfless and dedicated doctor and later, while trying to befriend the man’s widow (Jane Wyman), inadvertently causes her to go blind. In response, he decides to go back medical school and when she becomes terminally ill, he winds up being the only person capable of performing the surgery that could possibly save her life. Melodramatic to the extreme, of course, and while it may not quite hit the heights of such Sirk masterworks as “All That Heaven Allows” or “Imitation of Life,” fans of either the genre or the filmmaker will love it. As an added bonus, the good folks at Criterion have also included the original 1934 film version, a less melodramatic take on the material with Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor in the leads, along with a commentary from scholar Thomas Doherty and “Douglas Sirk: From UFA to Hollywood,” a 1991 feature-length documentary tracing Sirk’s entire career.
MAX PAYNE (Fox Home Entertainment. $34.95): You know, I have seen a lot of overly stylized dumb-ass action films over the years, but this big-screen adaptation of the popular video game may well take the cake--it has been less than 24 hours since I have seen it and I have absolutely no idea what the hell it was supposed to be about. As far as I can tell, it has something to do with Mark Wahlberg as a cop-on-the-edge whose search for the killer of his wife and child three years earlier leads him on a confusing trail that involves illicit drugs, business conspiracies and Norse mythology before abandoning even its vague stabs at plotting for an endless series of gun battles that make the ones in “The Spirit” look coherent by comparison. Not even the presence of such fabulous-looking babes as Mila Kunis (woefully miscast as a tough-as-nails assassin, I think, who looks as though the recoil from her weapon would crack her in two after one shot), Olga Kurylenko (who shows more skin here than she did in “Quantum of Solace,” though to little effect) and Nelly Furtado (in the biggest “WTF?” cameo in recent memory) is enough to make this turkey watchable, let alone tolerable.
MGM: WHEN THE LION ROARS (Warner Home Video. $29.98): Originally produced for TNT back in 1992, this three-part, six-hour documentary covers the history of what is arguably still the most famous movie studio of all (with the possible exception of Disney) from its inception in the 1920’s to its heyday during the Thirties through the Fifties, the period when they boasted as having “more stars than in heaven” to the long, slow and sad decline that still continues to this day. With its collection of familiar clips, rare behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with those who toiled on those fabled soundstages, this two-disc set is pretty much an essential purchase for any true film fan.
NATIONAL LAMPOON’S THE STONED AGE (Paramount Home Video. $29.98): In this caveman comedy that used to be called “Homo Erectus” before video distributors demanded a new title, an ambitious young caveman (Adam Rifkin, who also wrote and directed) yearns to both advance mankind with a series of inventions (such as the sun visor) and advance his chances with the cave girl cutie Ali Larter despite her belonging to his more traditionally Neanderthal brother. As you can probably guess, the resulting film is pretty stupid but to give it a little bit of credit, it is slightly funnier than those horrible ‘(Blank) Movie” parodies (mostly because it largely avoids pop-culture references) and the cast, which includes Talia Shire, Gary Busey and “David Carradine as Mookoo,” is a little more eclectic than what is normally found in a film of this caliber. Oddly enough, the film was made in conjunction with the in-house film production company at the University of Texas--judging from the quality of the finished product, I’m guessing that most of the people involved took it pass/fail.
POISON IVY 4: THE SECRET SOCIETY (New Line Home Entertainment. $27.98): In the latest in the mostly direct-to-video series of films that has single-handedly helped sustain Mr. Skin over the years, a nubile young thing from the sticks attends a prestigious university and is asked to join a super-secret sorority of girls with a history of seducing and killing people for some damn reason or another. In other words, it is kind of like “The Skulls” with partial nudity and really, who could possibly argue with that?
THE POWERPUFF GIRLS: THE COMPLETE SERIES--10th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Warner Home Video. $59.98): Admittedly, I haven’t watched the adventures of everyone’s favorite trio of genetically engineered crime-fighting cutie-pies in a long time but when I did, I thought its combination of highly stylized animation, breathless pacing and hilarious writing made it one of the most entertaining shows on the air. Hopefully this set, which contains all 78 episodes and bonus features, won’t disappoint in that regard. More importantly, I can only hope that if this set does well enough, it might inspire Warner Hone Video to put out the equally hilarious “The Powerpuff Girls Movie” in its proper screen ratio some day. Other TV-related DVDs coming out this week include "Emergency! Season Five" (Universal Home Entertainment. $39.98), "The Last Detective: Complete Collection" (Acorn Media. $99.99), "Moonlight--The Complete Series" (Warner Home Video. $39.98), "My Three Sons--Season One, Volume 2" (CBS DVD. $39.98), "The Rockford Files--Season Six" (Universal Home Entertainment. $39.98) and "This American Life--Season Two" (Showtime/CBS DVD. $19.98).
REPO! THE GENETIC OPERA (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.98): The director of “Saw II-IV” and a cast including the highly eclectic likes of Anthony Stewart Head, Paul Sorvino, Alexa Vega, Sarah Brightman and Paris Hilton teamed up for this gory rock opera about a future world in which plastic surgery is all the rage and in which repo men exist to take back your new organs if you fall behind on the payments. The film is obviously trying to follow in the footsteps of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” but like too many would-be instant cult movies, it tries a little too hard for its own good. That said, fans of oddball cinema may find warm to its weirdo blend of music and bloodshed and the performances (yes, even Paris Hilton’s) are certainly energetic enough to keep things moving along.
SAW V (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $29.95): Although you have to give the producers of this franchise some credit for having the stones to stretch the series out to a fifth installment (so far) despite having definitively bumped off its chief maniac two films ago, you have to take all of it back and then some for doing so in such a convoluted and ugly manner. Between the unpleasantly grisly gore moments, the key plot developments based entirely on barely remembered elements from the earlier films and the scenes that serve no other point than to set up further sequels, this was one of the most hateful films of 2008--at the very least, it was one that displayed the most contempt for its audience.
SESAME STREET: ELMO LOVES YOU (Genius Products. $14.95): Well, it is nice to see that somebody does. In this adventure, the lovable Muppet is making a Valentine’s Day card for a special someone when it is blown away by a gust of wind and he, along with Rosita and Super Grover, set off in a pursuit that leads to encounters with the likes of John Legend, Trisha Yearwood and R.E.M. If you think I am going to come down on anything as sweet as the denizens of Sesame Street trying to teach toddlers about love, you are sorely mistaken--even I am not that much of a tool.
VACANCY 2: THE FIRST CUT (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.96): If your taste for prequels to lousy Kate Beckinsale movies wasn’t slaked by this weekend’s release of “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans,” perhaps you will be in the mood for this direct-to-video stinker in which a trio of dumb young things (including Agnes Bruckner, who almost had a career once) who stumble upon an out-of-the-way motel and finds themselves the initial subjects of a start-up snuff-film empire. I understand that it would make no logical sense for Beckinsale to appear in this film but don’t you think the producers could have made a little bit of effort to get Frank Whalley
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originally posted: 01/23/09 15:19:22
last updated: 01/24/09 02:41:39