DVD Reviews For 4/22: “Hubcaps, Corn Dogs, Soul!”
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 04/24/11 05:30:46
This week’s column isn’t just strong--hell, it is always “strong” but this particular edition is even stronger than that. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that it might actually be in the realm of being country strong. Read on and tell me if I am wrong and if I am, I assure you that next weeks will be even stronger and countryer than this one.
NEW AND NOTABLECHICAGO OVERCOAT (MTI Entertainment. $24.95): Veteran mob-movie second banana Frank Vincent (the guy who told Joe Pesci to go home and get his shinebox in “Goodfellas”) gets the rare chance to play a lead role in--surprise--a locally-made gangster drama about an aging hitman for the Chicago mob who hasn’t whacked a guy for over two decades. When his jailed boss (Armand Assante) needs a bunch of people who know too much whacked, he sees the job as a way of simultaneously reliving the good old days and earning enough money to finance his retirement--of course, the good old days are long gone and in carrying out his assignments, he steps on enough toes to make himself the target of both the cops and his fellow mobsters. Not a single cliché of the genre has been left behind here and the only remotely surprising thing about it is that it somehow required four screenwriters to compose a script that contains not a single original thought. What little pleasure that there is to be derived from this otherwise forgettable work is Vincent, who somehow manages to bring a certain quiet authenticity to a film that otherwise seems to have been made by and for people who consider “The Boondock Saints” to be one of the crowing glories of the American cinema experience.
COUNTRY STRONG (Sony Home Entertainment. $29.95): Gwyneth Paltrow tried to stagger in Jeff Bridges’ cowboy boots with this bit of Oscar bait in which she plays a troubled country singer fresh out of rehab who tries to straighten herself out while on a tour with her husband/manager (Tim McGraw), an aspiring singer-songwriter (Garrett Hedlund) with whom she had an affair with when he was the orderly at the hospital where she was staying and an ambitious beauty queen-turned-songbird (Leighton Meester). For the most par, the film is a failure--little more than a compendium of soap opera clichés and mediocre music--though McGraw and Meester both acquit themselves far better than the putative leads do.
DALLAS: THE MOVIE COLLECTION (Warner Home Video. $29.98): With every season of the long-running soap opera now available on DVD, the various TV movie spin-off that it has engendered over the years are now making their DVD debuts. While two of them (“J.R. Returns” and “War of the Ewings”) are standard-issue reunion movies, “The Early Years” is, as the title suggests, a prequel with a new and presumably cheaper cast playing the familiar roles to show how they came to become the two-timing, backstabbing, bolo tie-wearing greedheads that millions loved to hate. The set also includes “Dallas Reunion: Return to Southfork,” a retrospective of the show’s entire history hosted by J.R. himself, Larry (“Son of Blob”) Hagman.
GULLIVER’S TRAVELS (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): In this modern-day adaptation of the Jonathan Swift classic that bears about as much resemblance to the original that I do to Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jack Black plays a blowhard mailroom employee who, through complications not worth delving into here, finds himself on the island of Liliput where his tall tales and taller stature amongst the tiny inhabitants make him an instant hit amongst his newfound friends until he inadvertently puts them in the kind of danger that can only be resolved with expensive special effects and heartfelt lessons about the importance of being yourself. Frankly, the funniest thing about this loser, which bombed so badly when it was released last Christmas that not even the box-office bump provided by the more expensive 3-D tickets helped much, is that this was the film that Emily Blunt was forced to do instead of “Iron Man 2” due to contractual obligations.
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART 1 (Warner Home Video. $28.98): Rather than try to cram an enormous amount of narrative into the framework of a single feature film, the producers of the adaptation of the final book in the enormously popular fantasy series elected to split it up into two parts with the first half coming out last winter and the grand finale due this July. (Of course, I am sure that the lure of two box-office juggernauts instead of one had nothing to do with that decision/) This approach makes sense, I suppose, but the trouble with this film is that since it necessarily spends its time setting up things that will only pay off in the next installment, it lacks the satisfying narrative drive of the previous films. That said, it is still an impeccably produced film sure to charm audiences young and old and I suspect that when seen together, this one will wind up looking better in retrospect.
H.R. PUFNSTUF: THE COMPLETE SERIES (Vivendi. $34.97): At long last, every episode of the beloved Sid & Marty Krofft Saturday morning TV show about a little boy who is stranded on Living Island with his magic flute and is befriended by the title character, a talking dragon or something like that, who helps him evade the clutches of the evil Witchiepoo has arrived on DVD and yes, it is just as baffling and bizarre today as it was back in the day. Other TV-related DVDs now available include “American Dad: Volume 6” (Fox Home Entertainment. $39.98), “Car 54, Where Are You?: The Complete First Season” (Shanachie DVD. $39.98), “Dragnet 1970” (Shout! Factory. $34.93), “The Ernie Kovacs Collection” (Shout! Factory. $69.97) and “Glee: Encore” (Fox Home Entertainment. $26.98).
THE INCREDIBLES (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $45.99): Pixar’s 2004 instant classic about a family of superheroes forced to go through their lives pretending to be “normal” until a threat from a new and powerful super villain brings them together again in order to save the world makes its long-awaited Blu-ray debut. Even though it isn’t based on an existing superhero franchise (though it does pay homage to many classic characters throughout), it remains one of the such movies ever made. Then again, you already know this, right?
KES (The Criterion Collection. $29.95): Now generally regarded as one of the great directors on the world scene today, British filmmaker Ken Loach first made a splash with this powerful 1967 working class drama about a young boy who finds a form of escape from his depressing, dead-end existence in the form of a falcon that he befriends. Named one of the ten best British films of the century by the British Film Institute, this special edition of the film includes a newly made documentary on its production featuring Loach, cinematographer Chris Menges and star David Bradley, a 1993 episode of “The South Bank Show” featuring Loach, “Cathy Come Home,“ a 1966 effort that was one of the television films made for the BBC that helped him build his reputation and an alternate soundtrack to the film with dialogue redubbed in the hopes of making the lines clearer to an international audience.
THE KING’S SPEECH (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $29.98): In this dull-as-dishwater historical drama, Colin Firth stars as Prince Albert, the stuttering member of England’s royal family whose sudden ascendancy to the throne following the death of his father and the abdication of his brother forces him to see colorful speech therapist Geoffrey Rush in the hopes of curing his stammer so that he can lead his country into World War II with an inspirational and stumble-free speech. I will admit that Firth did deserve the Best Actor Oscar that he received for his excellent performance here as well as for his past achievements. However, the rest of the film is a highbrow bore from beginning to end that is so genteel and noble that it practically sucks all the air out of the room while you are watching it. And yet, it somehow won the Best Picture Oscar over the infinitely more exciting “The Social Network,” a hollow triumph that will no doubt be looked at askance in years to come as the now-inexplicable victories of the likes of “Ordinary People” and “Dances with Wolves.”
RABBIT HOLE (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $29.95): In adapting the Tony-winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire, director John Cameron Mitchell eschews the flamboyant provocations of his previous efforts, “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and “Shortbus,” for a wrenchingly sad and occasionally blackly funny look at a married couple (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) struggling in various ways to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives in the wake of the accidental death of their young son. This is a admittedly powerful film with strong performances all around--Kidman certainly deserved the Oscar nomination that she received and the rest of the cast (which also includes Sandra Oh and Dianne Wiest) are equally good--and while I do recommend it highly, I would gently suggest that if you are simply looking for something to pass the time after a long and difficult day, you might want to save it for another time when it can be better appreciated.
RICKY (IFC Films. $24.98): Fans of Francois Ozon’s more overtly stylized films, such as the murder-mystery-musical “8 Women” and the erotically-charged mindbender “Swimming Pool,” may find themselves startled at first by his latest work, which starts off as an uncharacteristically straightforward domestic drama about a single mother (Alexandra Lamy) whose relationships with her new lover (Sergi Lopez) and her adoring young daughter are challenged when she gives birth to a son. However, just at the point when you think that you are in for a slice of kitchen-sink realism in the vein of Ken Loach, it takes a wild turn that I will say nothing about--partly because it would ruin the surprise and partly because you wouldn’t believe me even if I did. Whether you find the shift to be fascinating or ridiculous (I lean towards the former), it reconfirms Ozon’s reputation as one of the most audacious directors working today.
SHARPAY’S FAB ADVENTURE (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $29.99): Taking a brief break from her “Hellcats” duties, Ashley Tisdale returns as the fabulously vain Sharpay in this “High School Musical” spin-off in which she makes her way to the Big Apple to seek fame and fortune and falls under the thrall of a pimp named Sport (Harvey Keitel) until an emotionally damaged cabbie (Robert De Niro) decides to “rescue” her in a scene of unimaginable violence. Oops, it seems that I got my notes on this one and the recent “Taxi Driver” Blu-ray mixed up. In truth, she makes her way to the Big Apple to seek fame and fortune and runs afoul of another starlet even more ruthless, vain and ambitious that she is. Unlike the “High School Musical” films, which provided enough cheerfully cheesy entertainment to make them palatable to viewers outside of the target tween demographic, this is just kind of silly and innocuous and unnecessary for all but the most devoted fans, most of whom have probably outgrown it by this time.
SOMEWHERE (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Returning to some of the motifs that she explored in her 2003 breakthrough “Lost in Translation,“ writer-director Sofia Coppola observes a few days in the life of a dissolute movie actor (Stephen Dorff) who finds himself needing to temporarily care for the young daughter (Elle Fanning) that he loves but hardly knows. Although this perhaps the slightest of Coppola’s films to date, it is nevertheless a beautifully made cinematic tone poem about two people trying to connect featuring some sharp observances about the behind-the-scenes lifestyle of a mid-level celebrity, wonderful performances from Dorff and Fanning and gorgeous cinematography from Harris Savides. One of the 10 best films of 2010.
A SUMMER IN GENOA (E1 Entertainment. $24.98): Michael Winterbottom, a filmmaker so prolific that he makes Steven Soderbergh look like Terrence Malick by comparison, returns with this drama in which Colin Firth plays a man who, following the recent loss of his wife in a car accident, relocates with his two still-grieving daughters to Italy where each one tries to deal with the tragedy in their own way. The film is thoughtful and nicely acted but for the most part, this is second-tier Winterbottom and there isn’t much of anything here that you haven’t seen before in other melodramas about coping with unimaginable loss. (Happily, Winterbottom has already rebounded as his newest film, the upcoming “The Trip,” is one of the funniest things to come around the pike in a long time and is definitely worth checking out if it opens in your area.)
LE CERCLE ROUGE (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)
MORTAL KOMBAT (New Line Home Entertainment. $19.98)
SHORT CIRCUIT 2 (Image Entertainment. $17.97)
SWEETIE (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)