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DVD Reviews for 5/12: "Did You Leave a Cigarette Burning?"

by Peter Sobczynski

In which your faithful critic pretty much covers the entire spectrum of the cinema experience by going from Yasujiro Ozu and Terrence Malick to Martin Lawrence and Nick Swardson while shaking, baking and soaking with a collection of newly released disaster epics.

Disaster films–no, not the kind featuring the words “Larry the Cable Guy” in the title– are all the rage this week on DVD. In order to tie in with the publicity surrounding “Poseidon,” the mega-budget remake of the semi-immortal “The Poseidon Adventure,” several of the genre’s best-known titles have returned to shelves in brand-new editions. Since they are all essentially the same movie–when a massive disaster strikes, thousands of faceless extras die indiscriminately while a group of highly-paid stars and familiar character actors struggle to survive against any number of goofy special effects–I shall ignore the intellectual commentary (always a good idea when Irwin Allen is involved) and cut directly to the good stuff.

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972): Disaster In Question: A ocean liner flips over and a group of survivors must climb up through the wreckage to the now-upended bottom of the ship to escape before it completely sinks. Your Survivors: Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Carol Lynley, Roddy McDowall, Stella Stevens and, of course, Shelly Winters. The Weirdest Cast Member: Leslie Nielsen as the ship’s captain. The Eye Candy: Pamela Sue Martin in hot pants. Best Death: Most would cite Winters’ death scene as the key moment, I always liked the moment in which some unlucky schlub plummets to his death through the boat’s stained-glass ceiling. The Bonus Features: 2 commentary tracks (one with director Ronald Neame and the other featuring Martin, Lynley and Stevens), several documentaries on the making of the film (one originally produced for AMC back in the day when it was worth watching), storyboards, a reprint of a 1972 “American Cinematographer” article and a schematic of the ship that allows you to monitor where the characters are at various points during the film.

THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974): Disaster In Question: The world’s tallest skyscraper (in San Francisco, no less) has its dedication ceremony marred when the shoddy electrical wiring sparks a massive fire. Your Survivors: Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Fred Astaire, Susan Blakely, Richard Chamberlain, Jennifer Jones and Robert Wagner. The Weirdest Cast Member: O.J. Simpson as the heroic security guard who manages to save an adorable kitty cat. The Eye Candy: I may be wrong, but I don’t think that Faye Dunaway ever looked hotter (no pun intended) than she did here as Newman’s girlfriend. Best Death: When Chamberlain, the man responsible for the faulty wiring, gets his just desserts in the end. The Bonus Features: 2 commentary tracks (one with critic F.X. Feeney and the other featuring a couple of current effects wizards, Mike Vezina and Branko Racki, talking about the film’s influence in their chosen field), several documentaries (including another AMC special), numerous extended/deleted scenes (some of which were used to flesh the film out further for network television airings) and a vintage 1977 interview with the Master of Disaster himself, producer Irwin Allen.

EARTHQUAKE (1974): Disaster In Question: The big one finally hits Los Angeles and various survivors try to escape both the quake and its equally devastating aftershocks. Your Survivors: Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, Lorne Greene (as Gardner’s father–look up their ages to see why that is funny), Genevieve Bujold, Richard Roundtree, Lloyd Nolan and Marjoe Gortner. The Weirdest Cast Member: While I could have easily gone for the “Naked Gun” trifecta and said George Kennedy, the oddest inclusion has to be Walter Matthau, who turns in a strange, unbilled supporting role as a drunk in a bar. The Eye Candy. Victoria Principal as the babe in a small T-shirt who finds herself stalked through the wreckage by deranged grocer Gortner. Best Death: The PETA bigwig I know is gonna kick my ass for this, but I get a kick out of the part where the fully loaded cattle truck flies off the freeway. The Bonus Features: Virtually non-existent–no commentaries, documentaries or deleted scenes. However, those with high-end audio systems will be delighted to see that Universal thoughtfully included an audio track featuring the infamous “Sensurround”–a bass-heavy sound system that, when played loudly enough, caused audience members to vibrate in their seats while plaster from the ceiling crumbled around them.

THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE: Written by Stirling Silliphant. Directed by Ronald Neame. Starring Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Carol Lynley, Roddy McDowall, Stella Stevens and Shelly Winters. 1972. Rated PG. 117 minutes. A Fox Home Entertainment release. $19.95.

THE TOWERING INFERNO: Written by Stirling Silliphant. Directed by John Guillerman. Starring Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Fred Astaire, Susan Blakely, Richard Chamberlain, Jennifer Jones, Robert Vaughn and Robert Wagner. 1974. Rated PG. 164 minutes. A Fox Home Entertainment release. $19.95

EARTHQUAKE: Written by George Fox and Mario Puzo. Directed by Mark Robson. Starring Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, George Kennedy, Lorne Greene, Genevieve Bujold, Richard Roundtree, Victoria Principal and Marjoe Gortner. 1974. Rated PG. 123 minutes. A Universal Home Entertainment release. $14.98.


THE 400 BLOWS (The Criterion Collection. $29.95): For those who wanted to own Francois Truffaut’s 1959 debut film–one of the most famous coming-of-age films of all time–without having to shell out for Criterion’s box set of the entire Antoine Doinel saga (a character that Truffaut would return to several times throughout his career), this stand-alone disc is the answer to your prayers. It offers all the extras featured in that version (including two commentary tracks, old audition footage of the principal actors and interviews with Truffaut about the film, its connection to his own life and the worldwide acclaim it inspired) without forcing people to purchase the other, somewhat lesser films.

BATTLE IN HEAVEN (Tartan Home Video. $24.99): A.K.A “The 2 Blows.” Although this film from acclaimed Mexican director Carlos Reygada became notorious on the art-house circuit for a couple of graphic sex scenes, it is actually a compelling and thoughtful drama about a chauffeur for a Mexican general who commits a crime that goes horribly wrong and who seeks redemption through his friendship with the general’s sexy daughter who is carrying her own load of secrets.

BIG MOMMA’S HOUSE 2 (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): Frighteningly, this is only the second-worst film I will be dealing with this week.

THE FACTS OF LIFE-THE COMPLETE FIRST AND SECOND SEASONS (Sony Home Entertainment. $39.95): You know, looking over the episode descriptions for the shows included in this first DVD set of the freakishly long-running sitcom, the show actually deserves credit for tackling issues that weren’t exactly sitcom staples back when it premiered in 1979–just the 20 episodes here deal with anorexia, suicide, shoplifting, homophobia, sex education, divorce, drugs, adoption, date rape and child pornography. Unfortunately, it did so in such a ham-handed and simplistic manner that it hardly comes as a surprise that Paul Haggis used to write for the show before going on to write and direct “Crash.” However, the availability of the early episodes, which featured a much larger cast, will finally allow me to prove to doubters once and for all that Molly Ringwald really did once co-star on the show.

GRANDMA’S BOY (Fox Home Entertainment. $27.98): Needless to say, this is the worst film that I will be dealing with this week–an indefensibly lame vanity project for the third-tier members of the Happy Madison empire that was so puerile and idiotic that even the expected base audience of 14-year-old dimwits rejected it in droves. There may be some brave souls out there who want to check this out–if only to look at the deleted scenes section to experience how bad something has to be in order to be deleted from “Grandma’s Boy”–but if they are lucky, Netflix will screw up and send them the infinitely superior Harold Lloyd film of the same title by mistake. (Yes, I am eagerly awaiting a flame message from Nick “Who the Fuck is Nick Swardson?” Swardson, the surly co-star who apparently spends a lot of time reading reviews of his own work–perhaps to see the efforts of people who have put more thought into his work than he clearly has.)

LATE SPRING (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Although they aren’t making much of a big deal out of it, this week’s other release from Criterion is actually a double-feature. Disc 1 contains Yasujiro Ozu’s acclaimed 1949 minimalist drama about an elderly widower attempting to marry off his only child, even though she would prefer to stay with him. Disc 2 features “Tokyo-Ga,” Wim Wenders’ 1985 documentary on Ozu and his considerable body of work.

MASTERS OF HORROR-DON COSCARELLI/MICK GARRIS (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $16.98 each): The extremely uneven Showtime horror anthology offers up two more episodes for purchase–strangely, they have chosen to release the contributions from two of the more obscure names involved in this wave. Of the two, Coscarelli’s “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road” is the superior film–a reasonably tense battle of wits between a monstrous serial killer and a victim who refuses to go down without a fight. Garris’ “Chocolate,” on the other hand, is little more than a weak retread of “Eyes of Laura Mars” involving a man (Henry Thomas) who suddenly begins experiencing all the sensations of an unknown woman. Don’t worry, the two best episodes–the contributions from Joe Dante and Dario Argento–are coming soon.

MUNICH (Universal Home Video. $39.98): A provocative subject (the pursuit of those supposedly responsible for those responsible for the massacre at the 1972 Munich Olympics by an Israeli hit squad), a couple of brilliant performances (especially the small ones from Michael Lonsdale and Marie-Josee Cruze) and a few hypnotically conceived and executed (pardon the pun) set-pieces weren’t quite enough to make Steven Spielberg’s 2005 bit of Oscar bait come off as anything more than a deeply flawed work that seemed convinced that it was the first film ever made to contemplate the notion that eye-for-an-eye revenge, no matter how seemingly justified, could do more spiritual and emotional harm to its perpetrators than good.

THE NEW WORLD (New Line Home Entertainment. $27.98): Simply put, Terrence Malick’s epic film, a meditation on Pocahontas (Q’Orianka Kilcher), John Smith and the tragic culture clash that ensued when the first English settles arrive at Jamestown, is one of the single most beautiful films that I have ever seen in my life and the fact that it was almost completely rejected by audiences, critics and award groups is an even bigger blow to the notion that a film can actually be a work of art than the existence of “Grandma’s Boy.” Though there are rumors that Malick is preparing an extended DVD version for release somewhere down the line, this edition contains the theatrical version (approximately 17 shorter than the one that was initially screened for award consideration) and a making-of documentary that is fascinating both for the story it tells and the fact that the notoriously shy Malick is nowhere to be seen in it.

RUMOR HAS IT (Warner Home Video. $29.98): A promising premise–Jennifer Aniston discovers that her family might have been the inspiration for “The Graduate”–and a decent cast (including Kevin Costner and Shirley MacLaine as, respectively, the alleged models for Benjamin Braddock and Mrs Robinson) are utterly squandered in one of last year’s most excruciating films. On the bright side, it is so bad that it is pretty much impossible to believe that the once-promising career of director Rob Reiner could sink any lower than he does here.

SCRUBS-THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON (Touchstone Home Entertainment. $39.95): Another collection of episodes from what may be the best live-action sitcom currently on television–this set includes guest appearances from the likes of Barry Bostwick, Scott Foley, Brendan Fraser, Michael J. Fox and the legendary Tara Reid in a role that probably won’t surprise you much at all.

TAMARA (Lion’s Gate Home Entertainment. $26.98): Yes, it is essentially another low-budget knock-off of “Carrie” in which an cruelly oppressed teen outcast gets revenge on the popular kids after pledging her troth to Satan and his minions. That said, it is a pretty entertaining knock-off, thanks to some creative bits of bloodletting and a sexy, full-throttle lead performance by newcomer Jenna Dewan in the title role.

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originally posted: 05/12/06 14:20:05
last updated: 05/19/06 19:02:26
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