|DVD Reviews For 8/8/11: “A Fine Magician You Are! Go Back To Juggling Apples.”
|by Peter Sobczynski
I could prattle on and on about the sights to be seen in this week’s round-up of titles new to DVD and/or Blu-ray but really, it boils down to two things--a box set of MSTified Gamera films and the Blu-ray debut of the vehicular adventures of the show band of Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues. After that, everything else is just gravy.
NEW AND NOTABLE
AMERICAN GRINDHOUSE (Lorber Films. $19.95): Sleazy movies trafficking in the things that the major studios couldn’t or wouldn’t dare touch have been around practically since the advent of cinema and this documentary traces that history via loads and loads of jaw-dropping clips and commentary from the likes of John Landis, Joe Dante, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson and Herschell Gordon Lewis (who essentially invented the gore film with the immortal “Blood Feast”). While students of the genre may come away feeling a little disappointed by its lack of any significant depth (it apparently began as a film about grind house auteur Jack Hill and mutated from there), it is still reasonably informative and newcomers to the field should find it an entertaining entrance into some of the film world’s stranger byways.
THE CONQUEROR (E1 Entertainment. $24.98): No, this is not the legendary Howard Hughes production featuring John Wayne as Genghis Kahn that went into infamy when it was revealed that it was shot in the desert near where the U.S. government had been conducting A-bomb tests, a move that was suspected as the chief cause of the abnormally high rate of cancer diagnosis among the cast and crew. This actually a lavishly produced Russian adaptation of the Nikolai Gogol historical epic in which an ordinary Cossack discovers that Poles have destroyed his farm, killed his wife and kidnapped his older son and begins an elaborate campaign of revenge that is almost derailed by the activities of his other son. This is essentially 133 minutes of straightforward propaganda extolling the virtues of Mother Russia and the evil that is Poland but as these things go, it is reasonably well-made.
DYLAN DOG: DEAD OF NIGHT (Fox Home Entertainment. $22.98): Having failed to conquer American multiplexes fifteen years ago with the weirdo Italian gore epic “Cemetery Man,” the hero of the long-running European horror comic returns to the screen in the form of Brandon Routh as he does battle with zombies, vampires, werewolves and other supernatural forces lurking in the bayous of Louisiana. Unlike “Cemetery Man,” which had the charismatic Rupert Everett in the lead, the gorgeous Anna Falchi at his side (and sometimes underneath) and plenty of creative bloodletting), this is pretty much a bore in every possible department that even the most undiscriminating genre fans will find difficult to sit through from start to finish.
THE ISLAND (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.95): In the wake of the mammoth box-office success of the screen adaptations of his novels “Jaws” and “The Deep” (though the former pretty much ignored the book entirely and the popularity of the latter was due largely to an ad campaign centered on the sight of Jacqueline Bisset in a wet T-shirt), Universal Studios paid Peter Benchley an enormous amount of money for the screen rights to his then-unpublished novel about a reporter (Michael Caine) who goes off to the Caribbean to investigate a tip that bloodthirsty pirates are the real cause behind the Bermuda Triangle and is kidnapped by them in the hopes that he will help shore up their currently inbred gene pool. Weirdly miscast (would you immediately think of the always-gaunt David Warner as a lusty pirate king), indifferently directed by Michael Ritchie (whose gift for social satire is completely squandered here) and repellently violent to boot, this was a massive flop when it was released and time has not been kind to it--no doubt why Universal is only releasing it through their on-demand manufacturing system and no doubt why you probably thought I was talking about the Michael Bay craptacular when you saw the title.
LIFE DURING WARTIME (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Writer-director-mirthmaker Todd Solondz revisits the characters from his 1998 hit “Happiness” (albeit with a new group of actors, including Ciaran Hinds, Shirley Henderson, Allison Janney and Ally Sheedy) and transplants them to Florida for another darkly funny and cringe-inducing commentary on contemporary society. Like all of Solondz’s films, this is a love-it-or-hate-it proposition and those who aren’t in the former category are likely to loathe it for its unremittingly snarky and jaundiced view of everyone in the world who isn’t named Todd Solondz. I am not a fan of Solondz’s work at all and while I wouldn’t exactly recommend this film, it is his best and most focused work since “Happiness,” largely through the performances from Hinds (who is heartbreaking as the former child molester previously portrayed by Dylan Walsh), Charlotte Rampling (as one of the cinema’s grimmest one-night stands) and Paul Reubens (as the ghostly apparition of the suicidal character originally enacted by Jon Lovitz). Just be prepared to hate yourself in the morning, not to mention life itself to boot.
MONAMOUR (Cult Epics. $29.95): Eurosleaze auteur Tinto Brass (perhaps best known in these parts for the Nazi-infused sexploitation classic “Salon Kitty” and for directing most of the infamous pornographic epic “Caligula”) was behind (a pun that will make more sense when you see the film, or even just the DVD cover) this 2005 erotic drama about an unhappily married woman who drifts into the arms of a stranger that she meets one day in a museum. As usual, Brass is less interested in telling a straightforward story than he is in ogling the forms of his female cast and while one might certainly question the artistic motives of such an approach, one must also admit that he accomplished that goal and then some. For Brass fanatics, this 2-disc set also includes a making-off documentary and his 2008 short film “Kick the Cock,” which I will let you discover for yourselves.
MST3K VS. GAMERA: MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, VOL XXI (Shout! Factory. $64.95): Back in 1991 during their third season, the folks at “Mystery Science Theater 3000”--the beloved show in which an amiable dope and his robot friends would crack wise while watching cheerfully terrible movies--set their sights on the screen career of Japan’s most famous giant flying, fire-breathing turtle by hilariously skewering five of his films; “Gamera,” “Gamera Vs. Barugon,” “Gamera Vs. Gaos,” “Gamera Vs. Guiron” and “Gamera Vs. Zigra.” This set, attractively housed in a lovely collector’s tin, brings together all five of those episodes as well as a number of extras including featurettes dedicated to the show’s history involving Gamera and the general history of Japanese films featuring men in cut-rate suits wreaking havoc on model cities, trailers and the wraparound segments used when the films appeared on the syndicated “MST Hour.” Some purists may sniff their noses at the idea of people making fun of something so sacred but they can all go stick--the shows were hysterical then and, with the exception of a few then-topical references that have been lost in the shadows of time, they are just as hysterical nowadays. Other TV-related DVDs now available include "East Bound and Down: The Complete Second Season" (HBO Home Entertainment. $29.98), "Everwood: The Complete Fourth Season" (Warner Home Video. $39.98), "Minnesota Twins 1991 World Series" (A&E Home Entertainment. $69.95) and "United States of Tara: Third Season" (Showtime Entertainment. $49.99).
NIGHTMARES: 30th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Code Red. $29.98): In one of the nastier entries in the mad slasher genre of the early 1980’s, a mental patient who has been plagued throughout his life with nightmares involving a traumatic childhood incident busts out of the hospital and goes on the requisite killing spree that leads him to a family that may hold the key to explaining his troubled past. Largely forgotten today (and with good reason), the Italian production became slightly notorious at the time for a publicity campaign almost entirely dedicated to the grisly contributions of makeup wizard Tom Savini, then on a roll thanks to his groundbreaking work on “Dawn of the Dead” and “Friday the 13th”--this all came as a surprise to Savini, who claimed that he never worked on the project at all and demanded that the producers remove his name from the advertising. (Nevertheless, director Romano Scavollini claimed that Savini really did work on it but was just too modest to take credit; seeing as how Scavollini also claims in interviews that the film was an enormously successful and influential hit in America despite the fact that even gorehounds are hard-placed to remember it, feel free to take that claim with a pinch of oregano.)
RIO (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): Anne Hathaway. Jesse Eisenbeg, Jamie Foxx, Will i am, Jamie Foxx, Wanda Sykes and Jane Lynch are among the big names lending their voices to this animated feature about a thoroughly domesticated macaw that leaves its adopted home Minnesota to return to Rio to help propagate his species when it transpires that he is the last living male. Little kids will probably like it because it is colorful and noisy and silly as all get out while adults will probably come away from it feeling as though they have had their heads jammed in piñatas for 90-odd minutes.
SOUL SURFER (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): Those of you suffering from Shark Week withdrawal can spend a couple of hours basking in the true-life story of Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb), a young championship surfer who somehow managed to find the courage to hit the waves again even after a horrifying incident in which her arm was bitten off by a shark. Despite the presence of such high-profile supporting players as Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt and Carrie Underwood, the film is basically a slightly more elaborate version of a typical made-for-TV movie and while the strong Christian undertones on display are sincere enough, I suppose, the film does lay them on a little too thick for its own good most of the time.
SOURCE CODE (Summit Entertainment. $26.99): Having impressed many with his 2009 debut “Moon,” director Duncan Jones returns to the mind-bending sci-fi well once again for this twisty and engrossing thriller about a soldier (Jake Gyllenhaal) who finds himself endlessly repeating the last 8 minutes of the life of an unknown Chicago commuter while trying to figure out who is the terrorist responsible for the train bombing that killed hundreds of people including him. On the surface, it sounds like a one-joke movie--something like “Groundhog Day” with a higher body count--but this one manages to buttress its central conceit with a number of impressive variations and as a result, what could have been a tiresome wank remains one of 2011’s happiest cinematic surprises, though those who actually commute into Chicago via train on a regular basis may feel somewhat differently about it.
STAKE LAND (Dark Sky Films. $27.98): After a vampire plague further destroys an America already ravaged by political and economic chaos, a teenager is taken under the wing of an expert vampire killer and the two make their way to the alleged paradise that is Canada while picking up fellow survivors and fending off both the expected bloodsuckers and equally dangerous survivalist cults alike. Yeah, I am as sick and tired of vampire sagas as you are but this low-budget entry is actually pretty good--dark and nasty throughout and filled with enough blood to satisfy the hardcore while still brimming with a certain intelligence that too often gets forgotten in genre work of this type.
STREETWALKIN (Shout! Factory. $14.97): Long before Melissa Leo made a spectacle by essentially prostituting herself in the hopes of winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for “The Fighter” (which she succeeded in doing), she played a genuine prostitute in this 1984 epic from exploitation film legend Roger Corman in which she plays a teen runaway who lands in the Big Apple and winds up working for the requisite nasty pimp (Dale Midkiff) while forming a sort of surrogate family with her fellow hookers. Those looking for 90 minutes of unabashed sleaze will probably be a bit disappointed as co-writer/director Joan Freeman takes a more straightforward approach to the proceedings and while it doesn’t exactly work entirely, it is still a little better than it probably had to be. Although seeing Leo in one of her earliest roles is clearly the main draw here (it is unlikely that Shout! Factory would be reissuing it otherwise), the film does also feature appearances from the likes of Julie Newmar and the inimitable Antonio Fargas.
BETTER OFF DEAD (Paramount Home Video. $22.99)
THE BLUES BROTHERS (Universal Home Entertainment. $26.99)
CONAN THE BARBARIAN (Universal Home Entertainment. $26.98)
CONAN THE DESTROYER (Universal Home Entertainment. $26.98)
COPYCAT (Warner Home Video. $19.98)
DANTE’S PEAK (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98)
A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (MGM Home Entertainment. $16.99)
FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (MGM Home Entertainment. $16.99)
HIGH AND LOW (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)
LEON MORIN, PRIEST (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (MGM Home Entertainment. $16.99)
THE NAME OF THE ROSE (Warner Home Video. $19.98)
NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE (Universal Home Entertainment. $26.98)
RED PLANET (Warner Home Video. $19.98)
SLEEPERS (Warner Home Video. $19.98)
SOLDIER (Warner Home Video. $19.98)
SPY KIDS (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.99)
SPY KIDS 2 (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.99)
SPY KIDS 3 (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.99)
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originally posted: 08/09/11 00:53:19
last updated: 08/09/11 01:41:27