|by Peter Sobczynski
No time for pithy opening commentary--March Madness about to begin! Go Kansas!
The full quote I tried to use for the headline, by the way, is "But what's the point of breathing if somebody already tells you the difference between an apple and a bicycle? If I bite a bicycle and ride an apple, then I'll know the difference."
NEW AND NOTABLE
AMERICA’S SWEETHEART--GALE STORM (Infinity Releasing. $19.98): The former Josephine Cottle, who made it big as a star of stage, screen, records, radio and television before passing away in 2009, gets her DVD due with this three-disc collection that brings together eight of her movies--including “Tom Brown’s School Days” (her 1940 debut), “Uncle Joe,” “Jesse James at Bay,” “City of Missing Girls,” “Let’s Go Collegiate,” “Gambling Daughters” (all 1941), “Lure of the Islands” and “Rhythm Parade” (both 1942)--along with selected episodes from her two hit television shows, “My Little Margie” and “The Gale Storm Show.”
ARIZONA DREAM (Warner Archives. $19.98): After striking it big on the international cinema scene during the 1980s with such films as “While Father was Away on Business” and “Time of the Gypsies,” Sarajevo-born filmmaker Emir Kusturica was invited by fellow émigré Milos Forman to come to America to teach at Columbia University and while he was there, he began conceiving an American-themed project to make and somehow convinced Warner Brothers to pony up the money to finance it and an eclectic group of actors, including Johnny Depp, Jerry Lewis, Lili Taylor, Faye Dunaway and Vincent Gallo, to appear in it. The film told the story of an aimless fish and game warden from New York (Depp) who is summoned to Arizona by his boisterous uncle (Lewis) to come to Arizona to attend his wedding to a much-younger woman (Paulina Porizkova) and to work at his car lot. Upon arriving, he becomes romantically involved with both a oddball widow (Dunaway) and her equally unstable stepdaughter (Taylor). Alas, the production didn’t go smoothly--the entire thing was shut down in mid-filming for nearly three months while Kusturica either recovered from a nervous collapse (allegedly brought on by difficulties he had with Lewis and Dunaway) or tried to slim down a screenplay said to be 265 pages at the time (according to Lewis, Kusturica returned with a script that had inflated to 294 pages in the interim)--and the studio eventually pulled the plug once enough footage had been shot to ensure that it could be completed and then stuck it on a shelf for more than a year before dumping it on video in a drastically recut edition. It’s a shame because while this visually audacious and decidedly eccentric film is definitely uneven and presumably only a fraction of what Kusturica had originally intended (his first cut allegedly lasted over four hours), it contains any number of glories that fans of offbeat filmmaking would surely savor--the chief among them being the entirely winning on-screen relationship created between Depp and Lewis, who is quite good in a relatively serious role.
ARMORED (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.96): This thriller, in which the seemingly foolproof plan by a group of armored car drivers (including Matt Dillon, Laurence Fishbone and Jean Reno) to hijack one of their own deliveries worth $42 million goes haywire when one of the plotters (Columbus Short) grows a conscience, made few waves at the box-office when it came out last December after a couple of delays. This was too bad because while it is certainly no masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, it is a lean and efficiently made B-level thriller of the kind that simply doesn’t get made anymore. The screenplay by James V. Simpson is simple and straightforward without pushing the bounds of credulity too far, the actors throw themselves into their frankly caricatured characters without ever appearing to condescend to the material and director Nimrod Natal keeps things humming along nicely enough (although one wonders what a truly inspired action filmmaker--say Walter Hill at his peak--might have done with the material). “Armored” isn’t perfect by any means--there are a few gaping plot holes here and there and a subplot involving Short’s troubled younger brother seems to have been shoehorned in solely to get it up to feature length--but it is a film that knows exactly what it wants to do and does it with a minimum of muss and fuss and that is more than I can say most current genre efforts these days.
ASTRO BOY (Summit Releasing. $26.99): Based on the famous Japanese manga/animated series, this CGI epic brings together an all-star cast (including Nicolas Cage, Donald Sutherland, Freddie Highmore, Kristen Bell, Eugene Levy, Samuel L. Jackson, Nathan Lane and, delivering maybe one paragraph of narration right at the top, Charlize Theron) to tell the story of a highly advanced robot boy (Highmore), designed by a mad genius (Cage) to serve as a duplicate of his late son, who learns what it means to be human when it falls upon him to save the people of Metro City from destruction at the hands of its own overly ambitious leader (Sutherland). While I cannot vouch for how faithful it is to the original source material (not very much is my guess), I have to admit that I was reasonably entertained by its fast pace, bright colors and goofy sense of humor--for the first two-thirds, it actually plays like a sly parody of “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence,” of all things--and while you shouldn’t break any plans to rent “Where the Wild Things Are” or “Ponyo” in order to catch it, it should provide a decent night’s entertainment for audiences of all ages. One question--considering how little she actually does here, who thinks that the filmmakers hired Theron to do the ultra-brief opening narration simply as an excuse to watch her rock the mike?
BANDSLAM (Summit Releasing. $25.99): When this film, about a gawky high-school student who helps to put together a band to win a local battle of the bands, was released at the tail end of last summer, it was largely sold as a “High School Musical” knockoff (it even features Vanessa Hudgens as the troubled loner with a great voice) and disappeared so quickly from theaters that the filmmakers publicly complained about how it was sold to the public. This may sound like sour grapes on their part but they actually had a bit of a point--although the film isn’t that great, it has a nice spirit, a soundtrack chock-full of classic tunes from the likes of David Bowie and the Velvet Underground and some nice performances from its young cast. It is no masterpiece to be sure but it is not just the slumber party fodder that you might think it to be.
BREAKING BAD--THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (Sony Home Entertainment. $39.95): As impressive as the first season of this acclaimed AMC drama, about a terminally ill chemistry teacher (Bryan Cranston) who uses his way around a lab to become a methamphetamine dealer in order to pay for his treatments and to support his family, was in the eyes of most people, the follow-up season compiled on this four-disc set was even better--a dark, brutal and morbidly funny exploration of the grim side of the American dream with enough compelling stories, brilliant performances and unexpected twists and turns to make anyone who encounters it into an instant addict. Appearing just in time to coincide with the premiere of the show’s third season, this set also includes cast and crew commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurette, webisodes, deleted scenes, bloopers and much, much more. Other TV-related DVDs appearing this week include “Clash of the Gods: The Complete Season One” (A&E Home Video. $29.95), “Hawaii Five-O: Eighth Season” (CBS DVD. $49.99), “Monk: Season Eight” (Universal Home Entertainment. $59.98), “Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XVII” (Shout! Factory. $59.97), “The Real Wolfman” (A&E Home Video. $19.95), “The Ruth Rendell Mysteries Collection” (Acorn Media. $99.99) and “South Park: The Complete 13th Season” (Paramount Home Video. $49.99).
BRIEF INTERVIEWS WITH HIDEOUS MEN (IFC Films. $19.98): In between spending his days working as the co-star of the hugely popular TV series “The Office” and his nights wooing Emily Blunt, John Krazinski somehow managed to carve out enough time to write, direct and co-star in this adaptation of the David Foster Wallace work in which a recently dumped grad student (Julianne Nicholson) decides to interview a string of men (including Will Arnett, Will Forte, Christopher Meloni and Timothy Hutton) in an attempt to understand the workings of the male mind and why they insist on behaving so badly. Although not a complete success, it does have its moments and suggests that Krazinski might have a future behind the camera if he would stop trying to juggle so many things and concentrate solely on that. If it helps, I would be perfectly willing to take Emily Blunt off of his hands--that is just the kind of guy I am.
BROKEN EMBRACES (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.96): Pedro Almodovar’s latest film--a convoluted tale in which a once-successful filmmaker (Lluis Homar) reflects back on the production of his last movie and how it went tragically awry when he began a passionate affair with his leading lady (Penelope Cruz) despite her being the mistress of the powerful businessman (Jose Luis Gomex) funding the project--is as self-consciously stylized as his earlier work but the end result is infinitely more interesting and entertaining here than it has been in the past. For one thing, he has finally figured out a way to deploy his more audacious stylistic flourishes--the dual timeline structure, its tendency to veer wildly from comedy to melodrama (sometimes in the same scene) and in-your-face homages to his own films--in ways that accentuate the main story instead of burying it completely. For another, even though the basic plot will seem fairly familiar to most viewers, he invests the material with enough genuine human emotions to serve as an effective counterpoint to the more flamboyant elements on display. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the film once again proves that the combination of Almodovar and Penelope Cruz is one of the most inspired and effective filmmaker-star collaborations in recent memory. Each one seems to bring out the best in the other and while their work here may not quite hit the peaks that they achieved with “Volver,” the results are nevertheless pretty spectacular and serve as a reminder (if one is still necessary) that Cruz, in the right hands, can be one of the most powerful actresses around as well as one of the most beautiful. Hilarious and heartbreaking in equal measure, this was one of the 10 best films of 2009 and is most definitely a must-see.
DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE MORGANS? (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.95): They were the focus of one of the crappiest romantic comedies of 2009 (a year that featured a bumper crop of such things), a monstrosity in which a recently separated big-city couple (a bored Hugh Grant and an exceptionally shrill Sarah Jessica Parker) are forced back into each others lives when they witness a murder and are relocated to a small Wyoming town as part of the Witness Relocation program with predictable results. The jokes are stale, the stars have zero chemistry and the storyline is so predictable that only masochists or those with professional obligations will want to stick it out to the very end. In others, words, there is a very good chance that this could turn out to be last year’s “The Bounty Hunter.”
THE FOURTH KIND (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): As even the most casual observers of this column have no doubt noticed over the years, I usually fawn over anything featuring the ultimate crush object that is Milla Jovovich. That said, even I can’t quite muster up any enthusiasm for this batshit-crazy bit of allegedly true sci-fi tomfoolery in which she plays a shrink (and a terrible one at that) whose patients are all convinced that they are being abducted by aliens--in an exceptionally odd decision, the film often splits the screen between allegedly authentic visual and audio recordings meant to prove such claims and incredibly awkward dramatic recreations of that same material. The real footage is clearly a hoax, the reel footage is clearly gibberish (all of the actors look absolutely embarrassed throughout) and the whole thing makes those old Sunn Classics schlock-a-thons look staid and scrupulously researched by comparison.
For those with a taste for entertainment that uneasily walks the line between truth and bullshit, this week also sees the release of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not!: The Complete Vitaphone Shorts Collection” (Warner Archives. $24.98), a two-disc collection consisting of bizarre 24 shorts subjects made by Warner Brothers in the 1930’s based on the amazing discoveries of Robert L. Ripley, including everything from the world’s smallest book to a two-headed turtle.
MEAN JOHNNY BARROWS (Code Red. $19.98): In this 1976 blaxploitation classic, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson (who also directed) plays a dishonorably discharged soldier who winds up being hired as a hitman by a local mob boss and finds himself caught in the middle of a gangland war that he pretty much settles single-handedly. Trash, to be sure, but fun trash regardless and how can you possibly resist any movie that includes Stuart Whitman and Roddy McDowall as rival gangsters?
NINJA ASSASSIN (Warner Home Video. $28.98): Although this film was produced by the Wachowski Brothers and directed by their right-hand man, James McTiegue, don’t expect any of the narrative complexities of “The Matrix” or “V for Vendetta.” This is a straightforward and super-violent marital arts extravaganza starring Korean pop star Rain as a man trained since childhood to be a ruthless ninja assassin who rebels against his leader (the legendary Sho Kosugi) and winds up doing bloody battle with dozens of other ninja assassins as a result. Yes, the movie is pretty silly but as mindless and ultra-gory action movies go, this one is undeniably entertaining for those with a eye that enjoys stylish visuals and a stomach that can handle gallons and gallons of spurting CGI gore.
SUICIDEGIRLS GUIDE TO LIVING (First Look Films. $19.99): If your life is so confused and messed up that you are reduced to picking up this DVD in order to receive life lessons from a group of heavily pierced, heavily tattooed and barely dressed goth gals, I daresay that you require more serious and intensive help than can be found on this disc. If, on the other hand, you just want to gawk at a bunch of heavily pierced, heavily tattooed and barely dressed goth gals (and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is not playing at a theater near you), this should do just fine. And if it turns out that this DVD doesn’t fully satisfy your need to gawk at heavily pierced, heavily tattooed and barely dressed goth gals, this week also sees the release of “SuicideGirls: Italian Villa” (First Look Films. $19.99) and that should hopefully do the trick--unless you are Jesse James, of course.
VENGEANCE TRILOGY (Palisades Tartan.$49.99):The decidedly dark and twisted trio of revenge-films by acclaimed Korean director Park Chan-Wook--“Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance,” “Oldboy” and “Lady Vengeance”--return to DVD in this lavish 8-disc set that includes numerous commentaries, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes documentaries, interviews, an alternate cut of “Lady Vengeance” and a booklet featuring testimonials from people such as Eli Roth. As complete of a set as any fan of these films could possibly hope for, the only flaw with this collection is that it isn’t currently available on Blu-ray--those of the higher-def persuasion will have to wait until June 15 for that version to hit the marketplace.
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2998
originally posted: 03/19/10 03:21:11
last updated: 03/20/10 04:59:00