|by Peter Sobczynski
Normally, the headline for this column tries to make some reference, punning or otherwise, to one of the titles listed below. This week’s selection, on the other hand, has absolutely nothing to do with anything--it is merely a reference to the new song by Mandy Moore, a tune so catchy that it deserves to be the big hit of Summer 2009. Then again, since a shift in locale this week to the wilds of Urbana, Illinois means that I am once again shirking my duties in regards to providing an extended DVD review, I guess it could be said that I could be breaking your hearts as a result. Okay, probably not but by engaging in such speculation, I was able to fill up enough white space for this introductory paragraph. (I promise that everything will be more or less back to normal next week.)
NEW AND NOTABLE
DANTE 01 (The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment. $19.97): In his first effort as a solo filmmaker since ending his partnership with Jean-Pierre Jeunet, with whom he worked on the cult classics “Delicatessen” and “City of Lost Children,” Marc Caro tells the story of a psychiatric facility located in deep space populated by a few death-row prisoners who have agreed to participate in some behavior-modification experiments in order to extend their lives. Things are inevitably turned upside down with the arrival of a new prisoner (Lambert Wilson) who is, inevitably, not quite what he seems to be. By the way, it would appear that as part of their split, Jeunet and Caro agreed to joint custody of Dominique Pinon as he turns up here in a supporting role.
FROST/NIXON (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98):Okay, perhaps screenwriter Peter (adapting his own hit stage play) fudged some historical details in this docudrama about the infamous series of interviews that British journalist David Frost conducted with ex-President Richard Nixon about his involvement with the Watergate scandal that rocked the world when they were aired in 1977 and perhaps director Ron Howard leaned a little too much towards simplifying things for viewers not up on their history than in really delving into the details of what went on both in front of and behind the cameras. That said, this was still both Howard’s best film by far since “Apollo 13” (he seems to do well with historical stories of potential disasters playing out before the media) and a reasonably gripping drama fueled by excellent performances from Frank Langella as Nixon (whose work here rivals that on Philip Baker Hall’s in Robert Altman’s extraordinary Watergate meditation “Secret Honor” ) and Michael Sheen as Frost.
INTO THE BLUE 2: THE REEF (MGM Home Entertainment. $26.98): Alas, neither Jessica Alba nor Paul Walker could be lured into strapping on their swimsuits for an actual sequel to their semi-immortal 2005 jiggle-fest that felt like what might have resulted if Russ Meyer had been hired to direct “Thunderball.” Instead, we have a brand-new story--cough, cough--featuring a brand-new pair of good-looking dopes (Chris Carmack and Laura Vandervoort) who run a failing diving business who are hired by a rich couple (Marsha Thomason and David Anders) to find something hidden beneath the waves--I won’t tell what it is except to note that it strikes me as a little too heavy of a MacGuffin for what is essentially a live-action “Maxim” photo shoot. For those of you interested in such things, it should be noted that reality starlet Audrina Patridge, a girl who haunts my dreams as her last name haunts my spell-check function, makes an appearance here--whether it is as shark bait or bikini filler is something I will leave for you to discover.
THE LAST PICTURE SHOW/NICKELODEON (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.96): After a string of critical and commercial hits that included the likes of “The Last Picture Show,” “What’s Up Doc?” and “Paper Moon” in the early 1970’s, director Peter Bogdanovich embarked on a series of expensive box-office disasters that essentially destroyed his Hollywood career by the end of the decade. Of those films, the most intriguing was “Nickelodeon,” his 1976 homage to the early and hardscrabble days of Hollywood featuring Ryan O’Neal as a filmmaker loosely inspired by Allan Dwan, Burt Reynolds as a goof who becomes a movie star and Tatum O’Neal as a 12-year-old screenwriter. It isn’t a great movie by any means but it does convey Bogdanovich’s love for the days of silent film and there are some wonderful moments scattered here and there--the best being the one where O’Neal sees “The Birth of a Nation” for the first time and realizes that the movie industry is about to change forever. For this DVD release, Bogdanovich has recut the film slightly and, more significantly, reprinted the film from its original color version into a black-and-white edition that seems more in tune with the material. (Both versions are available in this set, along with a remastered version of “The Last Picture Show” that has presumably been included as an extra lure.)
THE LAST WORD (Image Entertainment. $27.98): Although my interest in the new “Star Trek” movie is marginal at best, there is a part of me that hopes that it is a big success at the box-office so that co-star Winona Ryder (who plays Spock’s mom or something like that) can restart her once-promising career and get out of her current rut of doing lousy-sounding films that go direct to video (if they are lucky). On a completely unrelated note, this direct-to-video quirkfest stars Wes “P2” Bentley as a guy who somehow makes a living by freelancing suicide notes for people who just can’t be bothered to write them for themselves and who begins a romantic relationship with the sister of a recent client (guess who?) without telling her the truth about what he does. For comic relief, Ray “Welcome to Mooseport” Romano turns up now and then as Bentley’s newest customer.
NOTORIOUS (Fox Home Entertainment. $34.98): The story of Biggie Smalls (a.k.a. Notorious B.I.G.), who started off as just another drug dealer on the streets of New York before becoming an acclaimed rap superstar whose career and life were cut short with his still-unsolved murder, has all the makings for a fascinating film but this 2009 biopic isn’t it--although newcomer Jamal Woolard is pretty good in the central role, the whole thing has the feel of a whitewashed hagiography instead of a truly penetrating look at the man and his life and art. (The fact that his mother was one of the co-producers may have had something to do with that.) For those who don’t want to wait until that hypothetical better screen version comes along, this 3-disc set includes both the theatrical version of the film as well as an extended cut, two commentary tracks (one featuring the director, screenwriter and editor and the other featuring Biggie’s mother and former managers), various behind-the-scenes featurettes and an interactive feature that goes into Oliver Stone-like detail about the circumstances surrounding Biggie’s death.
THE POKER CLUB (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.96): Combining those two time-honored rites of male bonding--poker night and inadvertently killing someone, covering up the crime and turning on each other when the seemingly foolproof cover-up goes gunny--this direct-to-video thriller tells the story of, well, a group of guys who meet for a poker game, kill an intruder who has broken into the house, cover up the crime and turn on each other as the seemingly foolproof cover-up goes gunny. For those of you still feigning interest, this film features appearances from the likes of Jonathan Schaech and Loren Dean and a trip to a strip club.
SESAME STREET: ELMO AND THE BOOKANEERS (Genius Entertainment. $14.98): In this special episode of the long-running children’s program designed to promote literacy, Elmo is visited by a group of pirates, led by none other than Tina Fey, and when he discovers that they are less interested in pillaging and plundering than they are in reading, he decides to become a “bookaneer” himself. Okay, perhaps now isn’t the best time for pirate-themed whimsy and maybe the claymation versions of Bert and Ernie seen here in an added short are an abomination to those of us old enough to remember the good old days of the show. That said, the DVD has its heart in the right place, it manages to be both charming and educational and by putting Tina Fey in pirate garb, it has provided me with a new fetish image that I shall treasure for years to come. ): Other TV-related DVDs available this week include “Caprica” (Universal Home Entertainment. $26.98), “Dallas: The Complete Eleventh Season” (Warner Home Video. $39.98), “Hawaii Five-O: The Sixth Season (CBS DVD. $49.99), “iCarly: Season 1, Volume 2” (Paramount Home Video. $26.98), “My Own Worst Enemy: The Complete Series” (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98) and “Rhoda: Season One” (Shout! Factory. $39.99).
VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $14.98): If you are suffering from excessive cheerfulness this weekend and need something to bring you down , perhaps this true story of 900+ German Jews who are offered the chance by the Third Reich to sail off to Cuba to begin a new life, only to discover that the entire trip is merely a Nazi propaganda stunt and that they will soon be heading right back to Germany and certain death. Well, if nothing else, the large cast will allow you to play a game of Spot the Suffering Star--among the players on display here are Faye Dunaway, Malcolm McDowell, Max von Sydow, Julie Harris, James Mason, Katherine Ross, Jose Ferrer, Ben Gazzara and Orson Welles.
THE WRESTLER (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): Having given us such visionaries mind-benders as “Pi,” “Requiem for a Dream” and “The Fountain,” Darren Aronofsky demonstrates that he is equally adept at handling more down-to-earth matters with this haunting and heartbreaking examination of an over-the-hill wrestler trying to reconnect with the life he tossed away in the search for fame and fortune when he is forced to retire from the ring. Of course, a enormous portion of the credit also goes to Mickey Rourke, whose performance in the title role was not only the single best acting job of 2008 (and I bet that if you put the screws to Sean Penn, who beat him out for the Best Actor Oscar for his admittedly impressive turn in “Milk) but arguably the best work of his entire career--a soulful and beautifully modulated performance that is so complete stripped of any artifice that it almost becomes too much to bear at certain points. Even if you have no interest in wrestling whatsoever, you are going to be spellbound by this powerful and deeply moving film, which also features lovely work from Marisa Tomei (who also received an Oscar nomination) and Evan Rachel Wood.
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originally posted: 04/24/09 22:52:22
last updated: 04/25/09 01:01:40