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DVD Reviews for 4/1: Better Late Than Never

by Peter Sobczynski

Yes, I am fully aware that this weeks installment is more blatantly tardy than usual. As alwaysm, there are explanations.

The first is the simple fact that I discovered at the last minute that the DVD release that I had vaguely planned to highlight, Jean-Luc Godard’s controversial “Hail Mary,” was being released by a company-that-shall-remain-nameless whose approaches to quality control and respect for copyright laws have been called into serious question in the past. (While I don’t have a problem with grey-market videos of vague legality and quality, as long as they are low-cost version that are essentially passed around by fans who would doubtlessly rush out and buy legal editions if they existed, I don’t approve of shady companies trying to make a quick buck by passing similar product off as legitimate product. The second is that I found myself leaving the friendly confines of Chicago for the vast hinterlands of Boston, land of freedom, scrod and drivers with skills most kindly described as questionable.

No, I wasn't there to go on the Pope Deathwatch or to mock local sports fans for having Jimmy Fallon as their cinematic representative. The occasion was a party given for a dear friend of mine, Paula Mathieu, on the occasion of the publication of her first book, “Tactics of Hope: The Public Turn in English Composition” (Boynton/Cook Publishers. $21.50). Mathieu, an assistant professor at Boston College, has been involved with creating literacy programs, including street newspapers such as “Streetwise” and “Spare Change News,” and partnerships between colleges and their surrounding communities in an effort to bridge the social and economics gaps in order to bring all types of individuals together. The book chronicles several of those efforts and how they were received by the individuals they were designed to help as well as the surrounding communities.

Therefore, lacking another DVD to write about this week, I would like to take this opportunity to offer a gratuitous plug for her book. It can be ordered through your friendly neighborhood bookstore, at least those that haven’t completely been taken over with coffee bars and spin-offs of “The Da Vinci Code,” and is also available on-line at It’s a good, thoughtful book and she is a good egg, so run right out and grab a copy or two. After all, if you wrote a book, I bet she’d buy one of yours. (In case you were wondering, the only things I received in exchange for this plug were a couple of drinks, some lamb balls and a front seat to some adjacent soap operatics that could have fueled Telemundo for a month.)


APOLLO 13: COLLECTOR’S EDITION (Universal Home Video. $22.90): Houston, we have a double-dip in this re-release of the wildly popular 1995 docudrama, which includes both the original release (as well as all the bonus features from the first edition) and the version reformatted and re-edited for its IMAX reissue.

CLOSER (Columbia/Tri-Star Home Entertainment. $29.95.): One of 2004's best films was this searing dramedy about men (represented here by Jude Law and Clive Owen), women (Julia Roberts and Natalie Portman) and the various ways that the wound each other in the name of personal fulfillment. All four lead actors do some of their finest work to date–Portman and Owen fully deserved to win the Oscars they were nominated for, Roberts is a revelation and even Chris Rock would be hard-pressed to find fault with Law–and Mike Nichols’s direction is the best, most energetic work that he has done in film since “Catch-22". Perhaps not the best first-date movie but otherwise a must-see.

KAGEMUSHA (The Criterion Collection. $39.95):When the legendary Akira Kurosawa found himself unable to raise the financing for his long-planned epic about a dying warlord who is quietly replaced by a lookalike substitute in order to prevent his country from falling into chao, disciples Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas (back in the days when he actually mean it when he claimed that he wanted to fund artier fare with his “Star Wars” zillions) went to bat for him and secured the funds. The result was a breathtakingly vast and complex work that demonstrated that at an age when most filmmakers are usually content to hit the Lifetime Achievement circuit, Kurosawa was capable of coming up with a film that was more than the equal of his earlier masterworks. This two-disc set includes the original full-length presentation of the film (making its first appearance in America) and a slew of bonus features, including a pair of Japanese whisky commericals featuring Kurosawa and Coppola that no doubt sparked the imagination of the latter’s daughter when she sat down to write “Lost in Translation.”

KELLY CLARKSON: BEHIND HAZEL EYES (Ventura Distribution. $14.95): Meanwhile, Justin Guarini wants to know if you are going to finish that sandwich. Seriously, although I would just as soon eat broken glass as watch “American Idol,” I must confess to a certain fondness toward Clarkson–she’s cute as a button and sings the kind of catchy pop tunes that don’t hurt too bad when you hear them for the zillionth time. Both of the qualities are on display on this DVD, featuring some live performances and behind-the-scenes footage attesting to the fabulousness of being Kelly

LADY IN A CAGE (Paramount Home Video. $14.95):Holy crap, this 1964 shocker is a sicko masterpiece that still packs a wallop today. Over one long weekend, a fairly unpleasant paralyzed woman (Olivia de Haviland) is trapped in the malfunction elevator in her palatial house and she finds herself at the mercy of a wide variety of psychos, including James Caan in a memorable debut. A trash masterpiece, this is one of those films where you simply can’t believe that thing could possibly get more nasty–and then they do.

ORGAZMO (Unviersal Home Video. $19.95):This 1998 spoof from “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone–produced between “Cannibal: The Musical” and “South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut”–is a pretty stupid comedy about a dopey Mormon who, through complications too broadly drawn to get into here, finds himself moonlighting as a top-notch porn star. Dumber than dirt, this movie does have its share of laughs and fans will be thrilled with this long-delayed edition, which includes deleted scenes and no fewer than three commentarues (including contributions from the likes of Kevin Smith, Ron Jeremy, Weird Al Yankovic and, inexplicably, John Huston.

THE TOXIC AVENGER: 21st ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Troma Home Video. $24.95 ): Look, if you see only one film from the legendarily schlocky Troma Studios (and if you consider yourslef a film fan, you probably should, if only to say that you have had the experience), it might as well be this goofy gross-out that wound up spinning off a slew a sequels, a cartoon series for kids (?!)and the career of Marisa Tomei, who made her debut here in a bit part.

VERA DRAKE (New Line Home Video. $27.95):I wasn’t the hugest fan of Mike Liegh’s generally well-received drama about a kindly woman in the low-rent arear of 1950's London who helps girls “in trouble”by providing illegal abortions under the noses of her unsuspecting family and neighbors. However, I have no problem with joining in the praise for the exceptional performance in the title role by the Oscar-nominated Imelda Staunton in the title role; no matter which side of the issue that you stand on, there can be no argument that her performance is a deeply touching and haunting bit of work that will resonate long after the rest of the film has faded from memory.

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originally posted: 04/05/05 02:19:51
last updated: 04/05/05 05:55:53
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