|by Peter Sobczynski
Lots of titles in this round-up of new DVD/Blu-Ray releases--some of them good, some of them great, some of them classics and, alas, one of them "Whitney". . .
NEW AND NOTABLE
CINDERELLA (Walt Disney Home Video. $29.99): Although it rarely gets the same kind of praise afforded to the likes of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" or "Pinocchio," Walt Disney's animated adaptation of the beloved fairy tale about a poor-but-cheerful lass forced to work as a scullery maid for her hated stepmother and stepsisters whose life is changed forever with the help of her fairy godmother and the mice she has befriended is still a perfectly charming work in its own right. Bright, colorful, funny, sweet and filled with catchy tunes, big laughs, a couple of sad/scary moments and the happiest possible ending, it still has the power to enchant viewers young and old alike. The only real flaw, as far as I can tell, is the film's rather blatant anti-cat agenda that depicts the evil stepmom's cat as some kind of monster when he is just a misunderstood feline who is constantly being taunted by those meanie mice. For a more balanced portrayal of animated cats, please consult the new release "A Cat in Paris" (Cinedigm. $29.95), a short-but-sweet entry from France (a surprise nominee for this year's Best Animated Feature Oscar) about a seemingly unassuming pet whose double life as a literal cat burglar winds up getting the little girl who has befriended him in trouble with thieves that he works with
DARK SHADOWS (Warner Home Video. $28.98): After making over a billion dollars or so off of his production of "Alice in Wonderland," Tim Burton was finally able to produce his long-planned screen version of the legendarily bizarre soap opera, in which Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) returns to his ancestral home after having been transformed into a vampire and buried alive two centuries earlier by a former flame (Eva Green) only to discover that times have changed but his family is still being tormented by the same one-time lover. Although the ads promised a wacky comedy in the manner of "Beetlejuice," the film as a whole is darker and gloomier than one might have been otherwise led to suspect, no doubt a reason why the film failed to find favor with audiences after its heavily hyped opening weekend. No, it is nowhere nearly Burton's best work but it looks great, it has a few moments of nicely played dark comedy and Eva Green pretty much steals every scene she is in as the time-spanning villainess
DIAL M FOR MURDER (Warner Home Video. $35.99): In 1953, after the stalling of one project (the never-produced "The Bramble bus") and the ongoing development of two others (that would become "Rear Window" and "To Catch a Thief"), Alfred Hitchcock acquiesced to the wishes of Warner Brothers that he produce a film in the then-new 3-D format and chose a popular play by Frederick Knott--telling the tale of a man whose seemingly foolproof plan to murder his socialite wife and inherit her fortune comes asunder when she winds up killing her attacker--as the ideal vehicle for such a venture. In later years, he would pretty much dismiss the movie as little more than a filmed record of a well-done play (although all the intrigue involving hidden keys and whatnot continues to baffle me to this very day) to which he was unable to contribute much of anything of value. While it is true that this is pretty much second-tier Hitchcock, it does deserve a place in his personal pantheon for marking his first collaboration with Grace Kelly, arguably his most fruitful artistic partnership with an actress, and for the legendary sequence in which Kelly is attacked by her would-be killer and, in the one overt use of the 3-D gimmick in a film that otherwise uses it sparingly, reaches out into the audience for help before grabbing the scissors that will save her life. Warner is also releasing another Hitchcock favorite on Blu-Ray, the infinitely superior and highly influential 1951 classic "Strangers on a Train" (Warner Home Video. $19.99).
E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98): You know it. You love it and now that the insipid 2002 alterations (replacing the guns carried by the government agents with telephones and the like) are apparently a thing of the past, it can be properly enjoyed once again. That said, with all the Spielberg Blu-Rays hitting the market in the last few weeks, can a remastered and restored version of the 1979 classic "1941" be close behind? Please say yes. . .
THE HOLE (Big Air. $14.99): Made in 2009 by the great Joe Dante and unaccountably denied a theatrical release in America even as it played throughout the rest of the world, this film is about a pair of brothers (Chris Massoglia and Nathan Gamble) who move into a new neighborhood along with their single mother (Teri Polo). One day, while screwing around in the basement, they, along with the cute neighbor girl (Haley Williams), uncover a heavily padlocked door in the floor that opens up to reveal a seemingly bottomless hole that appears to have nothing in it. It turns out that there is something down there after all that begins to attack them by using their greatest fears against them. While it may lack the punch of Dante's best work, such as the "Gremlins" films, "Small Soldiers" and "Looney Tunes: Back in Action," this low-budget and low-key work has much to recommend. Although it is mostly aimed at younger audiences, this is not a kiddie movie in the traditional sense. The fears that the mysterious entity are dark and creepy enough for older audiences but basic enough so that younger viewers can easily grasp and understand them. As for the weirdo humor and in-jokes that he has previously reveled in, Dante has admittedly toned them down this time around but eagle-eyed viewers will still spot tributes to any number of horror classics here and there. Throw in some nice performances from the three young leads and a brief cameo from Dick Miller for good measure and the end result is a film that finds Dante returning to the rigors of feature filmmaking, even under obviously reduced circumstances, firing on all cylinders, which is more than one can say about the recent returns by such contemporaries as John Landis and John Carpenter.
IRON SKY (EL Entertainment. $19.98): In news that will no doubt come as a surprise to history buffs and astronomers alike, the Nazis developed a space program during WWII and as the Third Reich was falling, they managed a launch to the dark side of the moon where they have been repopulating their ranks and preparing for an all-out invasion of the entire planet. That is the premise of this particular hunk of cheesebucket sci-fi nonsense and while the premise is undeniably amusing in the same way that those movies about mega-piranhas always sound fun in theory, the joke quickly wears thin and not even the redoubtable presence of Udo Kier as the Fuhrer is able to help matters much.
THE LADY (E1 Entertainment. $24.98): Marking a distinct break from the ultra-stylish and ultra-violent action confections that he has been cranking out like clockwork over the past couple of decades, Luc Besson got serious for this subdued and straightforward biopic examining the true story of activist Aung San Suu Kyi (Michelle Yeoh) and how she returned to her homeland of Burma and helped galvanize the burgeoning movement for democracy in ways that landed her under house arrest by the government and earned her the Nobel Peace Prize. This is a powerful story but it appears that Besson was so taken with it that he didn't want to do anything that might smack of disrespect and the result is borderline hagiography that is far too earnest for its own good, though he does get a strong and extremely convincing performance by Yeoh as Kyi--one that deserves a slightly better film than this one.
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (Warner Home Video. $34.99): When Frank Oz made this delightful 1986 screen adaptation of the off-Broadway musical based on the 1960 Roger Corman classic about a schnook flower-shop employee who raises a talking plant with a taste for human blood, he included the original and somewhat darker ending that worked perfectly well on the stage. Alas, test audiences were dismayed by this finale and Oz went back to reshoot a happier conclusion at the last second. For years, that original ending has been a sort of Holy Grail for fans of the film----it was included on the original DVD release as a bonus feature but because of legal reasons, that DVD was recalled after less than a week and reissued without it--and for the first time since those initial previews, the film can now be seen as originally intended along with the more familiar theatrical version. While I enjoy both endings, I must say I prefer the original--it provides the film with a shot of pure monster-movie lunacy that fits better with the rest of the proceedings.
MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR (Capitol Records. $19.98): Generally regarded as the first unmitigated failure perpetrated by the Beatles, this plotless, formless and senseless work of self-indulgent tripe found the group directing themselves in a series of loosely-connected vignettes that introduced six new songs (the title tune, "The Fool on the Hill," "Flying," "I am the Walrus," Blue Jay Way" and "Your Mother Should Know") and was unleashed on unsuspecting TV audiences in England on Boxing Day, 1967 to near-universal disdain. Rarely seen since then, the film is now getting its official DVD release in a set that includes a new restoration, a commentary track from Paul McCartney, new interviews with McCartney and Ringo Starr and deleted scenes. Although the end result looks and sounds better than ever, it is still virtually unwatchable for anyone other than the most indulgent fans of the Fab Four and even they may find themselves reaching for the remote after a while.
NEW GIRL: THE COMPLETE SEASON ONE (Fox Home Entertainment. $39.98): Last fall, I watched the premiere episode of this highly promoted sitcom vehicle for the relentlessly quirky Zooey Deschanel in which she plays a relentlessly quirky young woman bouncing back from a busted relation ship with the aid of her three relentlessly quirky male roommates and while I have admired Deschanel in the past, I have to admit that she was so off-puttingly off-beat that I found myself hoping that it would end with her character being locked inside an industrial-sized kiln and baked to death. With the advent of this set, featuring all 24 Season One episodes, commentary tracks, deleted scenes, gag reels and the like, I have now seen a few more episodes and while I suppose that my virulent initial reaction has mellowed a little bit, the show is often a little too cutesy for its own good at times. Other TV-related titles now available include "Bonanza: The Official Complete Fourth Season" (Paramount Home Video. $59.98), "Bones: Season Seven" (Fox Home Entertainment. $49.98), "Downton Abbey: Seasons 1 & 2" (PBS Home Video. $59.99), "Hart of Dixie: The Complete First Season" (Warner Home Video. $59.98), "How I Met Your Mother: The Complete Seventh Season" (Fox Home Entertainment. $39.98), "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Season 7" (Fox Home Entertainment. $39.98), "The League: Season three" (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98), "The Lucy Show: The Sixth and Final Season" (Paramount Home Video. $39.98), "Magic City: The Complete First Season" (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $49.98), "Nikita: The Complete Second Season" (Warner Home Video. $59.98), "Whitney:Season One" (Universal Home Entertainment. $39.98) and "The World Series: History of the Fall Classic. (A&E Home Entertainment. $).
PROMETHEUS (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): In the months preceding its release last summer, Ridley Scott's long-awaited return to the sci-fi genre that he reinvented with the back-to-back classics "Alien" and "Blade Runner" was one of the most eagerly anticipated films in recent memory but when it finally emerged, critics and audiences were split between those who found it a visionary epic and those who found it to be a muddled mess riding on the coattails of a true masterpiece. I was solidly in the former camp but I was curious to see it again to see if I still liked it as much as I did or if I was swept up by the hype. Turns out that I was right all along--despite a few rough spots here and there, this is a brilliant piece of stylish and wildly ambitious filmmaking that deserves comparison to "Alien" (which it does connect with in some ways, though perhaps not as solidly as some might have hoped) and one that I suspect is going to see its reputation soar in a few years. As with most Scott films of late, this set comes fully loaded with 2 audio commentaries (featuring Scott and the screenwriters), numerous deleted scenes (which suggest interesting ways in which the story might have deviated) and a 3 1/2-hour documentary chronicling its production.
THE RAVEN (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): Over the last few years, the usually reliable John Cusack has made a number of unaccountably awful movies and while this one may not be the worst of the lot, it is certainly among the stupidest listings in his filmography. In it, he plays Edgar Allan Poe and during what would prove to be the last few days of his life, he sets off in pursuit of a crazed serial killer who is basing their murders on the macabre scenes from Poe's own literary creations. The film, needless to say, is complete nonsense--never more so than in its attempts to tie its own lunacies with the still-unsolved (except for being mostly solved) mysteries surrounding Poe's death--and while Cusack does get a couple of moments to shine, the whole thing, despite its literary pretensions, is just another crappy "Seven" knockoff that even Donald Kaufman would find to be trite and ridiculous.
ROCK OF AGES (Warner Home Video. $28.98): While watching this garishly awful adaptation of the unaccountably popular jukebox musical featuring the hair-metal hits and power ballads of the 1980's performed by the likes of Tom Cruise (who is actually the best thing here), Julianne Hough, Russell Brandt, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Alec Baldwin, I came to the conclusion that the only way that it could have possibly be worse would have been if it had been longer. Lo and behold, despite its massive failure at the box-office this summer, it now arrives on DVD in a version that is 13 minutes longer and containing enough naughty bits to bump it up from a "PG-13" to an "R" but not enough to make it worth watching under any conceivable circumstances. I am not saying that this is the worst major film of 2012 but I assure you that it is definitely a part of that particular discussion.
SOMETHING BIG (Paramount Home Video. $19.99): To quote from the package of this 1971 comedy-western that is only now getting a belated DVD release, "All Joe Baker ever wanted was to do "Something Big," really big. But in order to accomplish it, he has to hold up a stagecoach, kidnap a beautiful woman, trade her to a shady racketeer for a Gatling gun, and try to outrun his fiancé whose come to reclaim her man." Under normal circumstances, the resulting film would probably come across as coarse, stupid and borderline offensive and indeed, those words could be used to describe this one fairly accurately. However, what I failed to mention was that Joe Baker is played by none other than Dean Martin--then at his most elegantly lackadaisical--and to watch him go through his paces without even pretending to turn in something that could be considered a performance evokes the kind of strange fascination that makes it sort of worth seeing after all. Adding to the appeal is an eclectic supporting cast--including Honor Blackman, Brian Keith, Denver Pyle, Merlin Olsen and Joyce Van Patten--and music from the late, great Marvin Hamlisch.
SOUND OF MY VOICE (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): The second of the two films by actress-screenwriter Britt Marling that made her the It Girl of the 2001 Sundance Film Festival (along with the acclaimed "Another Earth"), this drama features here as the mysterious and beautiful leader of a cult who also claims to be from the future as well. A couple of cynical young journalists go undercover in an attempt to infiltrate the cult and expose her as a fraud only to discover. . .well, you'll just have to find out for yourself, won't you. It is worth it though--imagine a slightly trippier take on last year's cult favorite "Martha Marcy May Marlene" anchored by strong writing and performances from the entire cast.
WEREWOLF: THE BEAST AMONG US (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): In the wake off the massive critical and commercial failure of their attempt to jump-start a franchise that served them well decades earlier with "The Wolfman," Universal Studios decided to try again on a much smaller scale with this low-budget European production--a direct-to-video title in these parts--about a hunting party (including Steven Rea and Steven Bauer) who are tracking down the beast responsible for violent attacks on a nearby village who gradually begin to realize that, well, the beast may be among them after all. Not surprisingly, the movie is bad and boring but in its defense, it isn't nearly as bad, boring or disappointing as "The Wolfman."
That said, any horror buff would be much better off with "Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection" (Universal Home Entertainment. $159.98), a 8-disc set containing the Blu-Ray debuts of the original "Dracula," "Frankenstein," "The Mummy," "The Invisible Man," "The Bride of Frankenstein," "The Wolf Man," "The Phantom of the Opera" and "The Creature from the Black Lagoon."
DEAD RINGER (Warner Home Video. $19.98)
FIND ME GUILTY (MGM Home Entertainment. $16.99)
HOSTEL/HOSTEL II (Mill Creek. $9.98)
ICE STATION ZEBRA (Warner Home Video. $19.98)
IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)
MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE: 25th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Warner Home Video. $19.98)
PEACE, LOVE AND MISUNDERSTANDING (MPI Home Entertainment. $24.98)
PET SEMATARY (Paramount Home Video. $22.98)
THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (Fox Home Entertainment. $19.99)
THE PRINCESS BRIDE: 25TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.99)
RED DAWN (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.99)
SHUT UP AND PLAY THE HITS (Oscilloscope. $34.99
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (Warner Home Video. $34.99)
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originally posted: 10/15/12 08:28:19
last updated: 10/15/12 09:20:04