|by Peter Sobczynski
An odd batch of new releases on DVD/Blu-Ray this time around--a few cult favorites get the hi-def treatment, a master filmmaker returns to his low-budget horror roots and fans of celebrity nudity will find reason to stand up and cheer, though it may take some of them a few minutes to do so. All this and "The Incredible Melting Man". . .
NEW AND NOTABLE
ASSAULT ON WALL STREET (Phase 4. $21.99): The indefatigable Uwe Boll tackles the subject of the current economic crisis with the same kind of quiet dignity and thoughtful reflection that has been a long-standing hallmark of his entire career. This time around, Dominic Purcell stars as a well-meaning and law-abiding dope who, through no fault of his own, winds up losing his job, savings, house and wife thanks to the financial depravations of unscrupulous bankers, businessmen and the like. (To be fair, the wife's cancer at least deserves partial credit in her case.) With nothing left to lose, our hero. . .well, between the title and the DVD box art, I am pretty certain you can figure it out for yourself. While it still seems unlikely that Boll will ever get around to making a genuinely good movie, this one comes a little closer than most--although the screenplay is ridiculously melodramatic in the first half and ridiculously violent in the second, he does treat the material a little more seriously than usual and there are even times when you suspect that he actually took the time for more than one take.
BABETTE'S FEAST (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): After years of working for a pair of deeply religious sisters who forsook love and excitement in order to stay with their father and the other members of the overly pious village where they lived their entire lives, a loyal housekeeper hits the lottery and uses part of her winnings to prepare a massive French feast for them and a few of the villagers. Based on a story by Isak Dinesen and the winner of the 1987 Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film, director Gabriel Axel's film is a fascinating blend of character study and food porn that stirs the mind and the appetite in equal measure. Seriously--do not attempt to watch this film on an empty stomach or you will be sorry. Among the special features included are interviews with Axel and lead actress Stephane Audran, a visual essay by Michael Almereyda, a documentary on Dinesen, the pen name of Karen Blixen, and, perhaps the least necessary bonus feature ever, an interview with a sociologist discussing the importance of food to French culture.
BANSHEE: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (HBO Home Video. $39.98): In the wild-and-wooly first season of this Cinemax series, an ex-con leaves jail after 15 years and returns to the Amish-area town of Banshee to look up the woman he loved, a former partner in crime whom he took the rap for following a jewel heist gone bust. Not only does he find her, living under a new name and married to the local DA, he inexplicably winds up becoming the town sheriff--a gig that sounds easy enough except for the depravations of a local Amish crime overlord building an organization based more on drugs and gambling than on barn raisings and butter churns. The whole thing is as nutty as can be and may not be the most plausible drama out currently out there. That said, if you are looking for mindlessly sexy and violent fun at the end of a long day, this does a better-than-average job of getting the job done. Other TV-realted titles now available include "The Jack Benny Program (Lost Episodes)" (Shout! Factory. $29.95) and "Mystery Science Theater 3000--Volume XXVII (Shout! Factory. $59.97).
BLACK ROCK (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.98): If this horror thriller had been made by a man, it would almost certainly be dismissed as tacky, exploitative and borderline sexist junk. In fact, it is the brainchild of a woman--Katie Aselton, who both came up with the story and directed the film--and it is still tacky, exploitative and borderline sexist junk. In what has been described in some quarters as "Deliverance" for women (and doesn't that sound enticing?), the story opens as three childhood friends (Aselton, Kate Bosworth and Lake Bell) who reunite after a long estrangement for a weekend of bonding on an empty island off the coast of Maine. While there, they encounter a trio of recently returned war veterans and while the two groups hit it off at first, things quickly take a turn for the worse and our unarmed heroines are forced into a desperate fight for survival. In theory, the idea of a story of this type being told from a female perspective sounds interesting but in practice, it is a real mess--the story is one of those mind-numbing contraptions where everyone is required to act like an idiot in order to keep things going, all the characters are resoundingly unlikable and the psychology on display, in which the vets are depicted with all the subtlety that used to be deployed when presenting crazed Vietnam vets in exploitation films back in the day, is kind of offensive. Aselton is talented and I admire the fact that she took a chance on doing a project that few might have expected from her but as "Black Rock" unfortunately proves, just because you do something unexpected does not necessarily make it any good.
THE CHARLIE CHAN COLLECTION (Warner Home Video. $39.92): After years of serving 20th Century Fox well, the long-running series featuring the celebrated Chinese detective solving the most perplexing mysteries imaginable shifted over to the decidedly lower-budget Monogram Studios and this box set consists of four films from that era featuring Sidney Toler and Roland Winters as Chan, Victor Sen Young as Number Two Son and the legendary Mantan Moreland as loyal manservant Birmingham. The films include "Shadows Over Chinatown" (1946), "Docks of New York (1948), "Shanghai Chest" (1948) and "The Golden Eye" (1948). By most legitimate critical standards, these films aren't very good--the plots are as threadbare as the sets and the actors are pretty much on autopilot throughout (though Moreland is still good for a few laughs here and there). However, my dad used to love these movies and I remember watching them with him on the Saturday afternoon movie on WGN when I was a wee lad, thereby destroying whatever critical perspective I might have once had regarding them.
THE FOG (Shout! Factory. $29.93): For his follow-up to his revolutionary 1978 horror hit "Halloween," John Carpenter came up with this spook story about a seaside town that is enshrouded by a mysterious fog containing the ghosts who have returned to get revenge upon the descendants of the people who wronged them a century earlier. When it came out, the people who turned out in droves for the jangling shocks of his previous film did not respond particularly well to the overly atmospheric tale Carpenter had to offer (then again, neither did Carpenter because he wound up reshooting roughly a third of it at the last minute in order to provide more jolts) and spent their time and money on going to see "Friday the 13th" over and over again that summer. While it is not one of Carpenter's best--it is kind of difficult to make a mere fog into something truly menacing--but it has the same kind of dumb fundamental appeal of a well-told campfire story and, with the exception of "The Shining" (which also opened around the same time), it is one of the best-looking horror films of the era. This special edition includes the bonus features from its previous DVD incarnation--a Carpenter commentary being the most significant of the bunch--with some new tidbits, including an all-new commentary including co-star Adrienne Barbeau and a new interview with Jamie Lee Curtis, who turns up as a sexy hitchhiker who gets involved with the terrifying goings-on.
GINGER & ROSA (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.98): The latest work from filmmaker Sally Potter is a coming-of-age tale featuring Elle Fanning and Alice Englert as two teenagers and lifelong pals in London circa 1962 who begin to drift apart when the former gets involved in the burgeoning anti-nuclear movement while that latter gets caught up in a whirlwind of sexual experimentation that eventually lands her in the bed of her best friend's father (Alessandro Nivola). Although fans of Potter's more experimental films, such as "Orlando" and "Yes," may find this semi-autobiographical tale to be a little too conventional for their tastes, the simple and direct approach that she utilizes here is a better fit in that it allows the feelings and emotions generated by the material itself to come through without being tricked up with narrative gimmickry. Although the cast is filled with strong performances from veteran actors like Annette Bening, Christina Hendricks, Oliver Platt and Timothy Spall, the two young actresses at its center are the ones who make the strongest impressions--Englert (the daughter of Jane Campion) gets a far better vehicle with which to demonstrate her off-beat personality than she did with that "Beautiful Creatures" boondoggle and with her heartbreaking turn here, coming on the heels of equally impressive appearances in films such as "Somewhere" and "Super 8," Elle Fanning demonstrates conclusively that she is without a doubt the money Fanning of the moment.
STARBUCK (eOne Entertainment. $24.98): An enormous success in its native land, this French-Canadian comedy tells the story of David Wozniak (Patrick Huard), a goofy slacker who is making his first long-delayed steps into adulthood when his girlfriend announces that she is pregnant. Right around this time, however, he gets word from the sperm bank that he donated to quite frequently back in the day that of the 533 people that he unknowingly fathered, 142 of them are filing a class-action suit demanding to know his identity. As a result, he begins to look up some of his "kids" and tries to find ways of helping them with their own personal problems without revealing his true identity to them. The film tries to negotiate a tricky tightrope between outrageousness and sentiment and while it isn't especially awful by any stretch, it never really catches fire either as a flat-out comedy or as something more heartwarming. In other words, when the inevitable American remake comes along--and when I say "when," I mean "in a few months with Vince Vaughn in the lead--my guess is that outside of the change in language, there will be hardly any difference between the two.
TEEN BEACH MOVIE (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $26.99): In Disney's latest attempt to generate another cash cow along the lines of the "High School Musical" franchise, a couple of fresh-faced teens are magically zapped into an old "Beach Blanket Bingo"-style movie involving a clash between fresh-faced surfers and fresh-faced bikers and, after screwing up the film's plot with their presence, struggle to fix everything so that they can return home before it was too late. Say what you will about the "HSM" movies, they were reasonably fun and entertaining even if you weren't in its key demographic and that was largely because they were innocent and cheerfully silly. Here, the premise sounds goofy enough but the filmmakers screw things up by trying to be too clever for their own good--a Disney Channel film can be many things but meta should never be one of them.
TRANCE (Fox Home Entertainment. $22.98): Returning to the kind of twisty crime thriller that he kicked his career off with nearly two decades earlier with the cult favorite "Shallow Grave," director Danny Boyle presents this twisty tale of an auction-house employee (James McAvoy) who secretly teams up with a slick thief (Vincent Cassel) to steal a painting worth $27 million. During the heist, alas, he gets conked on the head and when the painting turns up missing, he cannot remember what he did with it. As a last-ditch effort, he agrees to visit a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) in the hopes of jogging his memory and then things get really complicated. Basically a Brian De Palma film without De Palma's cheerfully audacious attitude, this film is utterly preposterous from start to finish but if you can figure out a way to forget about all of that, it is a reasonably entertaining ride, though perhaps not one that quite stands up to the scrutiny of a second viewing, though there are certain parts that will inspire heavy usage of the pause button.
TWIXT (Fox Home Entertainment. $22.98): Francis Ford Coppola returns to the horror genre, one that he previously explored in such films as "Dementia 13," "Bram Stoker's Dracula" and "Jack," for this odd Gothic tale about a low-rent pulp fiction novelist (Val Kilmer) who arrives in a small town for a book signing and stumbles across an old mystery that finds him interacting with the weirdo sheriff (Bruce Dern), a young girl (Elle Fanning) who may or may not be alive, dead, a vampire, a witch or some combination thereof and, perhaps inevitably, the ghost of Edgar Allan Poe (Ben Chaplin). Of the low-budget films that Coppola has been making during the last few years (including "Youth Without Youth" and "Tetro"), this is the least of the bunch--the story is perhaps a little too convoluted for its own good and Coppola's use of a particularly tragic episode in his own life as part of a dramatic twist in what is essentially a silly genre piece feels a bit unseemly. Still, Coppola conjures up a spooky atmosphere that will remind some of the works of Mario Bava and the performances by Kilmer and Fanning are both eminently watchable--the former gets a drunken monologue that is the funniest thing that he has done since "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang."
THE BRONTE SISTERS (Cohen Media Group. $24.98)
BUS STOP (Fox Home Entertainment. $24.99)
THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)
THE DRIVER (Twilight Time. $29.95)
FERNANDO DI LEO CRIME COLLECTION 2 (Kino Video. $49.95)
HARLOW (Olive Films. $24.95)
THE ICE STORM (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)
THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN (Shout! Factory. $19.97)
LOVE ME TENDER (Fox Home Entertainment. $19.99)
NIAGARA (Fox Home Entertainment. $24.99)
ONCE IS NOT ENOUGH (Olive Films. $24.95)
PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED (Image Entertainment. $17.97)
WUSA (Olive Films. $24.95)
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originally posted: 08/05/13 02:34:38
last updated: 08/05/13 08:50:28