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DVD Reviews for 5/26: Dance Dance Revolution!

by Peter Sobczynski

In which your faithful critic examines the latest Uwe Boll joint, tries to see if there is indeed a difference between “Cheaper By the Dozen” and “The Dirty Dozen,” points out a couple of cool movies that most of you have probably never heard of, makes another cheap joke at the expense of the DTV industry and takes the time to mention that he will be dealing with Ridley Scott’s extended version of “Kingdom of Heaven” next week, after he has had some time to check it out more fully.

Since I am neither 12 years old nor do I own a 12-year-old nor am I someone with an unhealthy fascination with 12-year-olds, I must herewith admit that the Disney Channel is not one of the stations that I often linger upon while channel-hopping unless they are showing “Tron” or “The Black Hole.” Therefore, I never got around to watching “High School Musical,” a low-profile made-for-cable movie that became a massively popular hit with viewers since it premiered last winter. However, the film (whose soundtrack CD, despite its lack of any known artists, shocked industry experts by rocketing to the top of the charts) has now come to DVD in a so-called “Encore Edition” and I guess now is as good of a time as any to check it out and see what the teeners today are getting all worked up over without feeling too creepy about it.

The film opens on New Year’s Eve at a resort lodge where two teens–hunky jock Troy (Zac Efron) and pretty braniac Gabriella (Vanessa Anne Hudgens) meet cute when they are forced to sing a karaoke duet together. Amazingly, they make beautiful music together (only in the literal sense–this is a Disney Channel film, after all) but wind up separating the next day when their families head home. In a shocking turn of events, it turns out that Gabriella is the new girl at Troy’s high school but tragically, he is the star of the basketball team, she is being groomed for the academic team (this is the rare school where academics and athletics seems to be on even ground) and it seems that they will never be together. However, they both themselves strangely drawn to the auditions for the upcoming school musical and wind up auditioning together for the leads.

When they make call backs, it causes a school-wide outrage–Troy’s teammates worry that being in a musical will cost them the basketball championship, Gabriella’s academic bowl teammate worry that being in a musical will cost them the academic decathlon and Sharpay and Ryan (Ashley Tisdale and Lucas Grabeel) the evil-but-popular brother-sister duo who have starred in every one of the school’s past productions worry that they may be usurped by the newcomers. It all leads, inevitably, to cruel tricks, heart-to-heart talks about following your dreams and being yourself and plenty of gratuitous musical numbers–it all concludes with a finale in which everyone gets exactly what they deserve, everyone lives happily ever after and the social order of high school is changed forever.

The film is, of course, silly and innocuous beyond words–imagine a cross between “Dirty Dancing” and “Saved By the Bell”–and the high school it depicts resembles no such place that you or I ever went to in our lives–since when were the theater people the most popular kids on campus? And yet, compared to such lugubrious recent musicals as “Rent” and “The Producers,” “High School Musical” does have a certain slight charm to it. Unlike those films, it actually feels like a truly cinematic musical–choreographer Kenny Ortega understands that screen choreography is a different animal than stage choreography–and the musical numbers have a ragged energy to them that is reminiscent of some of the old B-level musical that Hollywood used to crank out in the 1940's. While none of the songs are particularly memorable–I just saw the film yesterday and they have already evaporated from my mind–they aren’t particularly awful or off-putting either. Helping things along are the likable lead performances from Efron and Hudgens and the very funny turn from Ashley Tisdale as the mean girl.

“High School Musical” is no great shakes–it makes “Grease 2" look profound and substantial by comparison and the notice inside the DVD case informing me that the rights to perform the show in high schools are available makes me once again happy that I graduated long ago. Nevertheless, as teen fads go, it is a harmless bit of fluff that is a little more entertaining than the pop-culture flotsam and jetsam that are usually forced upon the kids today. I can’t say in all honesty that I will ever spin the DVD again in my player or linger upon it if I come across it on cable but I don’t regret having spent 98 minutes of my life watching it, which is more than I can say about any recent Hilary Duff vehicle.

Written by Peter Barsocchini. Directed by Kenny Ortega. Starring Zac Efron, Vanessa Anne Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel and Alyson Reed. 2006. 98 minutes. Unrated. A Buena Vista Home Entertainment release. $26.99


100 RIFLES (Fox Home Entertainment. $14.98): In this 1969 western, Burt Reynolds (yes, Burt Reynolds) plays an honest Injun who robs a bank in order to buy guns for his people to defend themselves from government goons and Jim Brown plays the lawman who pursues him to Mexico and eventually teams up with him to fight off whitey. In a casting stroke that was either inspired or inevitable, Raquel Welch plays the idealistic babe who comes between them.

THE BLUE IGUANA (Paramount Home Video. $14.99): I haven’t seen this truly obscure B-movie since it came out in 1988 but I seem to recall it being a pretty entertaining goof on film noir conventions. In it, Dylan McDermott is blackmailed by a pair of sleazy IRS agents to go to a run-down Mexican town, currently under the thumb of crime boss Jessica Harper, in order to prevent millions in ill-gotten gains from getting transferred back into the U.S.

BLOODRAYNE (Visual Entertainment. $26.99): Uwe Boll’s already-infamous vampire babe boondoggle–in which a decidedly eclectic cast (including Kristanna Loken, Michelle Rodriguez, Meat Loaf, Billy Zane, a visibly hammered Michael Madsen and Sir Ben “A Sound of Thunder” Kingsley) stumbled through some of the most awkwardly choreographed fight scenes in recent film history–becomes one of the must-own DVDs of the year, at least for a certain segment of the population. Included in the package are a copy of the “Bloodrayne 2" video game (and if someone can explain to me how to get it up and working, I would be grateful), a pretty hilarious commentary track featuring Boll, Loken and others and, best of all, the self-explanatory feature “Dinner With Boll”–an hour-long piece in which Boll tucks into some Thai food while being grilled by a pair of fawning interviewers from IGN. Imagine the Hitchcock-Truffaut interviews, only with a weird German guy talking about his plans for “Postal” while talking smack about Harry Knowles and Tara Reid–absolutely priceless!

BOONDOCK SAINTS (Fox Home Entertainment. $26.98): Although it never received much of a theatrical release, legend-in-his-own-mind Troy Duffy’s silly little crime film–in which a couple of Boston brothers believe they have been ordered by a higher power to rid their town of bad guys by any mean necessary–has apparently developed enough of a cult following to inspire this special edition re-release with all sorts of new bonus features–sadly, the hilarious and jaw-dropping documentary “Overnight” is not among them.

BOSTON LEGAL-SEASON ONE (Fox Home Entertainment. $49.98): Well, if they get arrested, perhaps they can always call on blowhard attorney Denny Crane (blowhard actor William Shatner) for a Very Special Episode of David Kelley’s latest TV series about wacky lawyers and their controversial cases.

BRILLIANT BUT CANCELLED: CRIME DRAMAS/EZ STREETS (Universal Home Entertainment. $14.99 each): Of course, not all television shows last long enough to earn a DVD box set–even if they deserve it–and these two collections highlight some intriguing shows that never quite made it. “Crime Dramas” features one episode apiece from four short-lived crime shows–“Touching Evil,” “Gideon Oliver” (in which an anthropology professor uses his skills to help solve crimes), “Delvecchio” (with Judd Hirsch as a dogged cop studying to be a lawyer) and “Johnny Staccato” (a series starring none other than John Cassavetes)–while “EZ Streets” complies a few episodes of the innovative crime drama–which told a story of the ongoing battle between the cops and organized crime through the point-of-views of the police, the top mobsters and the lowly foot soldiers on both sides–that was created by future Oscar-winning hack Paul Haggis. If these two discs, which are inspired by the Trio cable special of the same name, sell well enough, I can only hope that Universal will get around to releasing the hilarious “Heat Vision and Jack” from its grey-market purgatory.

CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN 2 (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): How bad is this utterly unfunny and useless (though tragically successful) sequel to the equally unfunny and useless 2003 remake? It was so bad that it combined the talents of Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt and Eugene Levy and yet the only person that scored any laughs was Carmen Electra. It was so bad that it meant that “The Cave” was Piper Perabo’s high-water artistic mark for 2005. It was so bad that you almost felt sorry for Hilary Duff as she went through her contractually obligated paces.

THE DIRTY DOZEN (Warner Home Video. $26.98): Robert Aldrich’s classic 1967 war film about a group of violent psychos sent on a suicide mission behind Nazi lines–hailed in “Sleepless in Seattle” as the anti-“An Affair to Remember”–finally gets the special edition DVD that it deserves in this two-disc set. Among the features are a commentary track with co-stars Jim Brown and Trini Lopez, film scholar David Schow and others, an introduction from Ernest Borgnine, a couple of new documentaries as well as a vintage recruitment film starring Lee Marvin himself. If all that wasn’t enough, it also contains the 1985 TV sequel “The Dirty Dozen: Next Mission” as well.

HARLAN COUNTY U.S.A. (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Before coaxing Anne Hathaway into shedding her clothes for the fairly unspeakable “Havoc,” Barbara Kopple was an acclaimed documentary filmmaker and this 1976 award-winning work, chronicling a year-long coal miners strike in Harlan County, Kentucky and its effect on the local community, is generally regarded as her best work–a stirring piece of social commentary that makes its points effectively without beating viewers over the head in order to make an impact and which, sadly, remains fairly relevant three decades down the road.

HOLLOW MAN 2 (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95): Oh come on, this direct-to-video sequel to Paul Verhoeven’s fairly disappointing 2000 invisible man film–this time starring Christian Slater’s voice–can’t be any worse than “Robocop 2,” “Basic Instinct 2" or “Starship Troopers 2,” can it?

JULIE JOHNSON (Liberation Entertainment. $24.98): One of those titles that plays a lot of film festivals without ever managing to garner a real theatrical release, despite the presence of a couple of reasonably well-known names, this drama stars Lili Taylor as a bored housewife who leaves her husband and finds herself exploring the mysteries of the love that dare not speak its name with best pal Courtney Love.

LONDON (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95): I don’t care how desperate you are to see Jessica Biel in her underwear–even that considerable sight doesn’t make it worth sitting through this interminable snoozer in which the world’s most obnoxious and self-absorbed jackass (Chris Evans) holes up in the bathroom at a going-away party for his ex-girlfriend (Biel), snorts more cocaine than Pacino in “Scarface” and whines to anyone unlucky to fall into his orbit (including friendly drug dealer Jason Statham) about how no one understands him.

ONE LAST THING (Magnolia Video. $29.98): A kid dying of a terminal disease gets approached by one of those make-a-wish groups and announces that his dream is to spend the weekend with a hot supermodel. Meanwhile, terminally ill boys all over are slapping their heads and saying “Man, I’m dying and all I got was a meeting with Terry Bradshaw!”

PATTON (Fox Home Entertainment. $19.98): Even if you still own the out-of-print double-disc edition of the 1970 Best Picture winner, one of the all-time great war films, you still might find this edition worth the double-dip even though all the features on that one have been ported over. Since director Franklin Schaffner and star George C. Scott are both dead, Fox was only able to get one of the two screenwriters to offer a new commentary track–some little-known kid by the name of Francis Ford Coppola. (This week, war fans will be thrilled to see that Fox is also releasing special edition reissues of “The Longest Day” and “Tora Tora Tora” and the DVD debut of Monte Hellman’s “Back Door to Hell.”)

PINK-LIVE IN EUROPE (La Face. $19.98): Everyone’s favorite social pundit is seen here in a 2004 concert appearance that sees her writhing in cages, prancing about in scandalous outfits and even singing the occasional hit or two. The mid-show medley of Janis Joplin tunes may seem odd to some but it must have impressed somebody–she is reportedly set to star in the long-planned biopic on the life and times of the later singer. Be sure to check out the bonus behind-the-scenes documentary with a Very Special Moment in which Pink gets her nipple pierced in front of her nonplussed mother.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE-BEST COMMERCIAL PARODIES (Lion’s Gate Home Entertainment. $19.98): Because there just weren’t enough opportunities over the past year to see that “Taco Town” ad.

THE SEVEN-UPS (Fox Home Entertainment. $14.98): As I recall, this 1973 cop thriller was a reasonably gripping entertainment in the gritty mold of “The French Connection”–like that film, this also features both a laconic performance from Roy Scheider and a pretty impressive car chase among its highlights. For crime buffs, this week also sees Fox releasing such catalogue gems as “Compulsion” (inspired by the Leopold-Loeb case and featuring one of Orson Welles’s better performances as an impassioned defense attorney), “Murder Inc.” and “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.”

WARNING SIGN (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $14.98): In a remote lab, a disease that turns its victims into violent madmen is let loose and infects many of the workers. Sheriff Sam Waterston has to contain the outbreak while trying to figure out a way to rescue wife Kathleen Quinlan, the plant security chief who was trapped inside when the place goes into lockdown. A low-key but reasonably effective riff on the zombie genre that now plays as a precursor to films like “28 Days Later” and “Resident Evil.”

WINGS-THE COMPLETE FIRST AND SECOND SEASONS (Paramount Home Video. $39.99): To steal a quote from “The Simpsons,” “Ahh, who cares?”

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originally posted: 05/26/06 14:06:22
last updated: 06/03/06 02:02:42
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