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DVD Reviews for 12/15: This One's For You, Balloon Guy!

by Peter Sobczynski

In which your faithful critic, while wondering why the tributes to the late Peter Boyle (to whom this week's installment is dedicated) all seem to overlook his star-making role as the hard-hat hippie killer in "Joe," finds time to look at a couple of long-awaited classics, tries to pick another fight with the Libertarians and asks for your help in filling up an upcoming column.

The first couple of weeks of the new year are always a fairly dead time for DVD releases–any big titles were issued weeks earlier for the holiday rush and things don’t really pick up again for most of the month. For those of you trying to save a few bucks after the holidays, this lull can be a godsend but for those of us striving to put out a weekly DVD column, it makes trying to fill up the appropriate amount of white space a pain in the hinder. In the last couple of years, I have attempted to combat this problem by dedicating the central portion of the first column of the year to a wish list of films that have yet to be released on DVD for one reason or another.

This year, I will be doing it once again but this time, I am asking for your help in coming up with some of the ten titles. Don’t worry–this isn’t going to be one of those cut-and-paste screw jobs where people write in stuff and I just jam it all together into an instant article for which I take all the credit. I still plan on doing the writing–I am just looking for some suggestions of possible titles that will hopefully spark something or other and at the end of the piece, I will probably list all the titles that were suggested. I am open to virtually any kind of film as long as it hasn’t been released on DVD in the U.S., it hasn’t been announced for a future release and that it is a film that actually exists–things like fully restored versions of “The Magnificent Ambersons” or “Return to the Blue Lagoon” that exist only in the minds of devoted fans. If you have any suggestions to offer, you can do so by clicking on the comments section at the bottom of this piece and posting them there or by sending them to me at by January 2.

What makes this exercise a little easier is that even though the DVD format has been around for almost a decade now, there are still many notable films that are only now finally being released. It was only last week, in fact, that two of the most notable works of acclaimed Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci finally made their long-awaited debuts. The first is “The Conformist,” his beautiful and baffling 1970 political drama in which Marcello (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a young man in 1938 Italy goes to work for Mussolini, in order to give himself and his fiancee an easy life, only to discover that his first assignment is to assassinate an old professor of his whose courage of convictions has led him to become a political dissident. Although this may make it sound like a straightforward thriller, it is more of a dreamy mood piece in which the past and present merge as Marcello is forced to reconcile who he was with what he has become as the fateful moment draws closer. Long regarded as one of the most beautifully photographed films ever made, it is stunning to realize that this DVD marks the first time that the film has been released on video in America in the manner in which it was meant to be seen. While previous editions have featured ugly pan-and-scan transfers and atrocious dubbing, this edition restores the proper screen ratio to fully appreciate Vittorio Storaro’s haunting photography and includes the original soundtrack as well.

The other Bertolucci title is “1900,” the impossibly ambitious 1977 epic that was his follow-up to the international stir that he caused with “Last Tango in Paris.” The film tells the story of two Italian men–one the son of aristocrats (Robert De Niro) and the other the bastard son of peasants (Gerard Depardieu)–who are both born in 1900 and start off as friends living on the same estate (where Depardieu’s parents work for De Niro’s) until they are driven apart by class differences. Spanning 45 years, Bertolucci follows them as their lives take wildly different paths–one embraces fascism while the other leans towards socialism–before coming together in a final clash of ideologies. Like “The Conformist,” “1900" is another film that has suffered over the years from inadequate presentations–originally nearly six hours in length, the film was cut down to a still-hefty 245 minutes that unfortunately made hash of many of the complex rhythms that Bertolucci had set up. Restored by Bertolucci to 315 minutes (yeah, you read that right), it is still an uneven and ungainly film–at such a length, how could it not be?–and some of the imagery may be too much for some viewers (Donald Sutherland is especially monstrous in his role) but it is one of those grand and majestic cinematic follies that provides viewers with the kind of experience that is impossible to shake from memory once it is seen.

THE CONFORMIST: Written and directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. Starring Jean-Louis Trintignant, Stefania Sandrelli, Gastone Moschin and Dominique Sanda. 1970. Rated R. 120 minutes. A Paramount Home Video release. $14.95.

1900: Written by Franco Arcalli, Bernardo Bertolucci and Giuseppe Bertolucci. Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. Starring Robert De Niro, Gerard Depardieu, Dominique Sanda, Donald Sutherland and Burt Lancaster. 1977. Rated X. 315 minutes. A Paramount Home Video release. $19.95


AIR BUDDIES (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.95): Another direct-to-video Disney family film in which an adorable group of talking animals (one featuring the voice of the late, great Don Knotts) get into adorable scrapes before an adorable finale. Look, if you must spend your money on talking animal-related entertainment, just trust me and go see “Charlotte’s Web.” You’ll be glad you did.

AMERICAN–FREEDOM TO FASCISM (Cinema Libre. $19.95): I only mention this crackpot documentary screed, in which onetime political candidate/Better Midler manager Aaron Russo blows the lid off the scam that is America’s taxation system using specious arguments, suspiciously edited interview footage and rambling about bar-coding humans, because when I reviewed it unfavorably earlier this year, I got all sorts of hate mail from those agreeing with his viewpoint and I just wanted to see if they were still listening. (BTW–am I allowed to write off the cost of this DVD on my tax returns?)

BARNYARD (Paramount Home Video. $29.99): So you largely ignored the reasonably delightful likes of “Monster House,” “The Ant Bully” and “Flushed Away” for this crude and obnoxious animated comedy involving gender-confused cows getting drunk on their own milk? I can only hope that when they are old enough to understand, you will offer your doubtlessly traumatized children a heartfelt apology for your monstrous actions.

BUGSY (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95): This 1991 biopic of the gangster who staked his entire life on the idea of bringing lavish casinos to the Nevada desert in the 1940's was one of the best and most underrated films of that decade, thanks to the combination of a powerhouse screenplay by James Toback (of which “Why don’t you go outside and jerk yourself a soda” is perhaps the most endlessly quotable of highly quotable lines), sure-footed direction from Barry Levinson (then at the height of his filmmaking powers) and great performances from Warren Beatty and Annette Bening as mobster Bugsy Siegel and moll Virginia Hill. This extended version is longer than the theatrical cut and is said to more closely resemble the version that Levinson turned in before studio heads made cuts just before it went into release.

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $42.99): Those of you who shelled out money earlier this year for the two-disc version of the hit live-action adaptation of C.S. Lewis children’s book–a lavish fantasy involving talking beavers, Santa Claus distributing weapons to children and the Lion King of Kings–may well find themselves dipping into the well again for this four-disc edition that repeats all the previously-issued extras and adds on a longer cut of the film, numerous behind-the-scenes featurettes and a feature-length documentary of Lewis and his work that even detractors of the film may find interesting.

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): Actually, everyone wears Prada here, guys, but I’m sorry to report that none of the comely cast–including Anne Hathaway, Emily Blunt, Giselle Bundchen and a gaggle of gorgeous gals–never quite get around to taking them off in this adaptation of the chick-lit best-seller about a would-be journalist (Hathaway) working as an intern/slave to the cutthroat editrix of not-quite-“Vogue,” played to perfection by Meryl Streep.

THE FOX AND THE HOUND 2 (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.99): I haven’t seen this direct-to-video sequel to the 1981 Disney charmer but I can almost guarantee that it is better than that “Barnyard” nonsense.

GOMER PYLE–THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $39.99): Boy I hope this set includes the episode where Gomer annoys Sgt. Carter.

JAMES BOND ULTIMATE COLLECTION–VOLUME 3/VOLUME 4 (MGM Home Entertainment. $89.98 each): Much like the two previous volumes issued last months, these two sets of Bond films–five per package and not sold separately–have been divided in such a way so that each has one or two must-haves surrounded by several lesser titles. To be fair, Volume 3 is probably the most consistent of the four sets as it contains one unassailable classic (1963's “From Russia With Love”), two underrated but top-notch entries (1969's “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” the George Lazenby effort that may be the best of them all, and 1981's “For Your Eyes Only,” the best of the Roger Moores), the best of the Pierce Brosnan films (1995's “Goldeneye”) and another adequate Moore title (1973's “Live and Let Die,” his debut in the role. Volume 4, by comparison, contains one great film in the 1962 series kickoff “Dr. No,” the silly 1967 entry “You Only Live Twice” (which at least had the cool volcano lair and the reliable Donald Pleasance as the bad guy), 1979's utterly idiotic “Moonraker” (in which Bond goes into space in a desperate bid to stay in competition with the “Star Wars” series), 1983's slightly-less-idiotic “Octopussy” (which at least had the grace to include Maud Adams leading an all-babe army of thieves) and 1997's silly “Tomorrow Never Dies” (which at least had the decency to give us the sight of Michelle Yeoh as one of the most ass-kicking babes of the entire series).

MATERIAL GIRLS (MGM Home Entertainment. $29.99): In what appears to have been a direct-to-video project that inexplicably wound up getting a theatrical releases, Hilary and Hayley Duff play a couple of spoiled rich girls who learns valuable lessons about something or other when something happens to cause them to lose all their money–I know I actually saw this one but I must admit that some of the details are a tad hazy. Thanks to this DVD, though, I know that somewhere out there, Balloon Guy is smiling.

MY GEISHA (Paramount Home Video. $14.99): Shirley MacLaine is turning Japanese–I really think so–for this silly 1962 comedy in which she plays an actress who schemes to get the lead role in her husband’s upcoming film version of “Madame Butterfly” by disguising herself as a geisha. If you think this sounds more like the premise for a below-average “I Love Lucy” episode, your fears will not be assuaged by the fact that MacLaine’s character is actually named Lucy.

STACKED–THE COMPLETE SERIES (Fox Home Video. $29.98): The complete run of the Pamela Anderson sitcom whose run was presumably cut short when it finally dawned on viewers that she wouldn’t actually be getting naked within the confines of conventional television. The extras promise hot and outrageous fun with Anderson and guest stars Carmen Electra and Jenny McCarthy but I am going to go out on a limb and guess that it probably isn’t that hot after all. (That said, the extras are probably still better than “Barnyard.”)

TALLADEGA NIGHTS (Sony Home Entertainment. $29.98): If you yearn to see what Sacha Baron Cohen looks like without the Borat stache, he pops up here as the oddball French driver giving Will Ferrell a run for his money in this attempt to recreate the success of “Anchorman” by setting it in the world of NASCAR.

A TOUT DE SUITE (Homevision. $29.99): Rising star Isild Le Besco stars in this intriguing French drama about a schoolgirl who discovers that her boyfriend was involved in a bank robbery gone violently wrong and impulsively decides to join him when he goes on the lam.

WALT DISNEY LEGACY COLLECTION–TRUE LIFE ADVENTURES VOL. 1-4 (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.95 each): Once a staple of Disney’s long-running television show, these immensely popular wildlife documentaries educated generations of children about the wonders of nature. Volume 1, “Wonders of the World,” contains the Oscar-winning feature “White Wilderness,” the award-winning shorts “Water Birds” and “Beaver Valley,” “Prowlers of the Everglades” and a second disc of bonus shorts and other material. Volume 2, “Lands of Exploration,” includes the Oscar-winning features “The Living Desert” and “The Vanishing Prairie” and “Seal Island,” the 1948 short that kicked off the entire series. Volume 3, “Creatures of the Wild,” has Oscar-winner “Bear Country” along with “The African Lion” and “Jungle Cat” while Volume 4, “Nature’s Mysteries,” features “Secrets of Life,” “Perri” and the Oscar-winning short “Nature’s Half-Acre.”

WORLD TRADE CENTER (Paramount Home Video. $29.99): Although the pairing of 9/11 and Oliver Stone sounded like an incendiary combination in theory, the resulting film–recounting the story of two Port Authority cops (Nicholas Cage and Michael Pena) who were among the last people to emerge alive from the WTC wreckage–was a noble-but-soft effort that felt more like an extremely elaborate TV movie-of-the-week.

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originally posted: 12/15/06 15:56:03
last updated: 12/15/06 16:54:07
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