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DVD Reviews for 4/15: Hi Bob, Bosoms and Boo-Boo!

by Peter Sobczynski

When filmmaker Louis Malle passed away in 1995 at the age of the age of 63, he left behind a legacy of work that comprised one of the more intriguing careers in the history of post-war cinema. In France, he caused a sensation with such controversial works as “The Lovers,” “Le Voleur,” “Murmur of the Heart” and “Lancombe, Lucien.” He relocated in the United States in the mid-1970's and created an equally impressive series of films about his new home–“Pretty Baby,” “Atlantic City” and the legendary “My Dinner With Andre” before returning to France to make his last masterwork, the autobiographical “Au revoir, les enfants.” Not every film was a masterpiece but even the weaker ones were fascinating and displayed a genuine passion for filmmaking that has become increasingly rare over time.

One film of Malle’s that tends to get overlooked in discussions of his work is perhaps the most sheerly entertaining of the bunch, his wild and sexy 1965 romp “Viva Maria.” Anticipating such female-driven action comedies as the “Charlie’s Angels” films and “D.E.B.S.,” though infinitely superior to them, the film tells the crackpot tale of two gorgeous women, both named Maria–the first (Jeanne Moreau) is a member of a performing duo in a traveling caravan and the second (Brigitte Bardot) an Irish revolutionary who travels with her father to blow up British soldiers in the colonies. In Central America, the two Marias meet up after their respective partners die and Maria II decides to join the act in order to hide. After the duo inadvertently invent the fine art of stripteasing on stage one evening (a not-inconsiderable development when it involves the likes of Bardot and Moreau), they become overnight sensations. When the two become aware of the oppression of the local military dictatorship, they use Bardot’s bomb-making skills to lead a peasant revolt (imagine the Wild Bunch as made over by Max Factor)–they become so beloved that the local Catholic priests contrive to have them arrested and put before the Inquisition. Will the Marias be rescued in the nick of time? Will Bardot find true love with revolutionary leader George Hamilton? Will the evil priests, having dusted off their old torture implements in order to deal with their prisoners, ever figure out how to get the machines to work properly?

As you can probably guess, “Viva Maria” is not a film that is meant to be taking too seriously. Although Malle was never particularly known for making broad comedies (“Crackers,” his lame remake of “Big Deal on Madonna Street,” is one of the worst films ever made by a world-renowned director), he and co-writer Jean-Claude Carriere managed to find the proper silly tone here. At times, the proceedings get so cheerfully goofy–one scene features a striptease crowd getting so excited that they doff their clothes as well and another features a gun designed specifically to fire blindly around corners–that it comes close to resembling one of those great Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker satires like “Top Secret.” Adding considerably to the appeal of the film is the presence of Moreau and Bardot in the leads. While Moreau is better known as a serious actress and Bardot has almost always (with the exception of Godard’s “Contempt”) been more successful as a presence than as a performer. Nevertheless, both are funny and charming and have great on-screen chemistry with each other. (Of course, the fact that they are two of the most beautiful women to ever walk the planet also helps just a bit.) “Viva Maria” is bubblegum-fluff at its best and it is difficult to imagine anyone coming away from seeing it without grinning from ear to ear.

Written by Louis Malle & Jean-Claude Carriere. Directed by Louis Malle. Starring Brigitte Bardot, Jeanne Moreau, Paulette Dubost, Gregor Von Rezzori and George Hamilton. 1965. 117 minutes. Unrated. An MGM Home Entertainment release. $14.95.


THE BOB NEWHART SHOW: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.95): Although just having the first season of this classic TV series available without edits or commercial interruptions is more than enough reason to pick up this set, there is a part of me that wishes that the producers had taken a cue from last year’s deluxe “Showgirls” set and included a couple of official “Hi Bob!” shot glasses.

C.H.O.M.P.S. (MGM Home Entertainment. $14.95): What do you get when you add Conrad Bain, Valerie Bertinelli and a robot dog designed to fight crime in the wackiest manner possible? Absolute proof that the 1970's were pretty much the bottom-of-the-barrel when it came to films aimed squarely at younger audiences.

HARVEY BIRDMAN: ATTORNEY-AT-LAW (Warner Home Video. $39.95): With all apologies to “Space Ghost: Coast-to-Coast” (which also has a new set of episodes being released this week) and the possible exception of “The Powerpuff Girls,”, this show, in which the title character defends various Saturday-morning animated favorites in court, is quite possibly the funniest show ever created by the Cartoon Network. The episode in which he goes to work for a Tony Soprano-esque Fred Flintstone is worth the purchase price all by itself.

MAC AND ME (MGM Home Entertainment. $14.95): Many films in the 1980's attempted to mimic the success of Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.,” but few were as shameless about that fact as this astounding 1988 rip-off in which an adorable alien (and by “adorable alien,” I mean “ugly, barely articulated lump of foam rubber that wouldn’t be convincing to even the most gullible and/or near-sighted of children) comes to Earth, helps a little boy with his personal problems and discovers the joys of Coca-Cola and McDonalds. Purists, or at least bad-film fanatics, will be outraged to learn that this disc is only being offered in the dreaded pan-and-scan format that cuts off significant portions of the picture in order to fill up a television screen without those pesky black bars, though I can’t really find an upside to the possibility of seeing any more of this film than is absolutely necessary.

OCEAN’S TWELVE (Warner Home Video $29.95): Although dismissed by many as an exercise in naked greed in which audiences were asked to watch director Steven Soderbergh and a gaggle of highly-paid stars take a luxury vacation in Europe while making up a storyline that gave new meaning to the term “flimsy,” I personally got a kick out of it and enjoyed it even more than the not-too-shabby 2001 original. It is essentially a goof, but a good-natured one that is willing to mock itself, its stars and the very notion of cash-in sequels. Oh, and that Catherine Zeta Jones is easy on the eyes as well.

SUSPECT ZERO (Paramount Home Video. $29.95): Admittedly one of the stupidest serial killer movies ever produced–another bit of gibberish about a dedicated cop (Aaron Eckhart) on the trail of a devious killer who seems to be communicating with him through his grisly crimes–but this flop is almost worth watching simply for the sheer beauty of the cinematography by legendary cameraman Michael Chapman. It may be a piece of junk but it is an uncommonly good-looking piece of junk.

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originally posted: 04/15/05 14:49:29
last updated: 04/16/05 05:45:38
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