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DVD/Blu-Ray Reviews For 6/2: "People Just Don't Like Teachers Blowing Up Their Kids!"

By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 06/03/14 01:37:50

This roundup of recently released home video titles includes a slew of remakes--one of them even watchable--and the Blu-Ray debut of one of the landmark American screen comedies of all time. Enjoy.

NEW AND NOTABLE


ABOUT LAST NIGHT (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): Having already inspired one watered-down film version that largely eschewed its corrosive humor in exchange for something presumably more audience-friendly, David Mamet's wonderful play "Sexual Perversity in Chicago" is once again put through the wringer in a version that makes the Rob Lowe-Demi Moore iteration look hard-hitting by comparison. Its depiction of the contemporary singles scene is absurdly dated (with the attempts to make it seem relevant by dropping in references to Facebook and whatnot only underscoring the dated nature of the material) and the two couples (Michael Ealy and Joy Bryant, Kevin Hart and Regina Hall) demonstrate zero on-screen chemistry. On the bright side, it now takes place in Los Angeles, so Chicagoans can breathe a slight sigh of relief that they can't be tagged with this disaster in any way.


ENDLESS LOVE (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Poor Scott Spencer--after seeing his brilliant novel about the tempestuous romance between two teenagers that goes spectacularly wrong for all involved transformed into one of the shittiest movies ever made in the form of Franco Zeffirelli's infamously botched adaptation, he now has to sit and watch it return to the screen in a version that is even worst than the first take, thanks to wild miscasting (Alex Pettyfer is way too old to be convincing as a teenager and Gabriella Wilde is way too wooden to be convincing as a human being) and plot changes so severe that they make the Demi Moore version of "The Scarlet Letter" seems scrupulously faithful to the source material by comparison. Despite stiff competition, this is still a leading contender for the title of worst film of 2014 because it should have been so much better than it is.
For gluttons for punishment, the Zeffirelli "Endless Love" (Universal Home Video. $14.98) is now available as well and just as bad today as it was back in the day.


GAMBIT (Sony Home Entertainment. $26.99): So how bad could a movie be with a cast that includes the likes of Cameron Diaz, Colin Firth and Alan Rickman and a screenplay written by none other than Joel & Ethan Coen? Based on the results of this misfired remake of the old Michael Caine-Shirley MacLaine caper comedy of the same name, pretty bad, which explains why it sat on a shelf for a long, long time before trickling into a couple of theaters and VOD before hitting DVD. Frankly, I suspect that the backstory of what happened behind-the-scenes of this one is no doubt infinitely more interesting than the film itself.


HER (Warner Home Video. $28.98): The premise of this film--a romantic comedy-drama in which the lovers in question are a lonely and withdrawn man (Joaquin Phoenix) and his computer's new and highly advanced operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson)--was so inherently odd that it seemed impossible that it could ever work as anything other than an exceptionally absurd "SNL" sketch. However, the end result was absolutely brilliant and always surprising thanks to Jonze's witty, touching and incisive screenplay and direction and the knockout performances from the two leads, who, against all odds, created one of the most fascinating on-screen couples in recent memory in a love story for the ages.


THE MONUMENTS MEN (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): When George Clooney's high-profile WW II film dropped out of the Christmas movie derby at the last second last November, many speculated that it was a complete disaster. When it finally did appear, it was revealed to be worse than that--it was a perfectly mediocre film that squandered a fascinating true-life premise (a group of art historians dropped behind enemy lines to track down priceless artworks stolen by the Nazis and threatened with destruction if the Third Reich falls) and an awesome cast (including Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, Bob Balaban, Jean Dujardin and Bill Freaking Murray) via an execution that just never quite clicked for some reason. That said, the best parts are the moments featuring Murray and Balaban, whose running Mutt & Jeff routine does inspire some big laughs, with Murray's reaction at the climax after seeing what is behind the seemingly ordinary door that he has opened is almost, though not quite, worth the rental price by itself.


NOSFERATU (Shout! Factory. $24.97): Serving as a sample for their upcoming Werner Herzog Blu-Ray set later this summer, Shout! Factory offers up the Blu debut of Herzog's 1979 remake of the 1920 horror classic with Klaus Kinski as an especially vile vampire (nothing sparkly about his rat-like demeanor) and Isabelle Adjani as the innocent woman whose purity and beauty may be the only things capable of stopping the monster. Although it is usually folly to remake a masterpiece, Herzog's take, which owes a lot to F.W. Murnau's original, is pretty brilliant itself thanks to Herzog's expertise at creating an unsettling mood and Kinski's extraordinary performance in the title role. This Blu-Ray includes both the original German version and an English-language dub--stick with the former as the English version is a notorious botch--as well as a very entertaining commentary from Herzog and a vintage making-of documentary.


THE NUTTY PROFESSOR 50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Warner Home Video. $49.99): Jerry Lewis's 1964 masterpiece makes its Blu-Ray debut in a massive special edition set with all the bells, whistles and mahoyvenn that one could ask for. The set includes the Blu-Ray of the film (with its notoriously gaudy color scheme popping more brightly than ever), previous-released DVDs of Lewis's "The Errand Boy" (a hilarious behind-the-scenes Hollywood spoof) and "Cinderfella" (a jape on the fairy tale that, while opulent as can be, is a little lacking in the laugh department), a CD of prank phone calls that he made between 1959-1972, booklets, a copy of the screenplay and the proverbial much, much more. Here's hoping that this sells enough to inspire Lewis and Warners to give the similar treatment to his even better 1960 directorial debut, the staggeringly funny "The Bellboy."


POMPEII (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): The volcano isn't the only thing that blows in this ridiculous melodrama set just before the devastating eruption that wiped out the titular Roman city back in the day and centering on the travails of a feisty princess (Emily Browning), the hunky slave (Kit Harrington) that loves her and the nasty Roman senator (Keifer Sutherland) that wants to marry one and destroy the other--I'll let you figure out which one is which--that continue on even after the fireballs start flying in earnest. Like most of the non-"Resident Evil" films of director Paul W.S. Anderson, this is frankly terrible stuff but the cheesy carnage in the last 30 minutes is not without its amusements and Sutherland's scenery-chewing turn almost has to be seen to be believed.


RAZE (IFC FIlms. $24.95): A group of women (including Zoe Bell, the bad-ass breakout star of "Death Proof") find themselves unwilling participants in an all-female underground fight club where they are forced to beat each other to death in a winner-take-all competition for an audience of rich misanthropes. I have no problem with sleazo exploitation films but this grindhouse throwback is a vile and brutally unpleasant work of cinematic sadism that even fans of hard-core screen brutality will most likely find to be too much to take. Of course, I am sure that there is someone out there who will construct some tortured defense for this film by claiming it as some form of feminist statement but trust me, they would be wrong.

3 DAYS TO KILL (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): Although uber-hack McG is the credited director, the creative fingerprints of co-writer/producer Luc Besson are all over this amped up action spectacle about a terminally ill CIA agent (Kevin Costner) trying to connect with his estranged daughter (Hailee Steinfeld) while secretly tracking down and eliminating some very bad guys in exchange for a million-dollar insurance policy and doses of a top-secret medicine offering a miracle cure. Even by Besson's standards, the story is pretty much nuts (especially everything involving Amber Heard as Costner's tough-talking, fetish-clad contact) but unlike a lot of the bad action films of late, this one at least has a personality to it and a strong and effective central performance from Costner that once again serves to remind viewers of why he became a star in the first place.


WEEKEND OF A CHAMPION (MPI Home Video. $24.98): Back in 1971, champion race car driver Jackie Stewart set out to win the Monaco Grand Prix and following him around during that time was none other than friend and celebrated filmmaker Roman Polanski. The result was this rarely-screened curio in which Polanski captures Stewart on and off the track and while the end result is little more than a glorified home movie, it does inspire a certain amount of fascination, especially if you have a vested interest in auto racing or Polanski. The disc also includes a new postscript in which Polanski and Stewart reunite forty years after the filming to look back at the movie and their own lives back then.


ALSO ON




EVILSPEAK (Shout! Factory. $24.97)

THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)

LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)



RED RIVER (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)

SLEEPAWAY CAMP (Shout! Factory. $29.97)

THAT AWKWARD MOMENT (Sony Home Entertainment. $35.99)

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