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DVD Reviews For 4/6: Now With Non-Gratuitous Sherilyn Fenn References

by Peter Sobczynski

In which your faithful reviewer, after a slice of pie and a cup of joe, offers up some retro sleaze, a couple of long-awaited obscurities, one less-than-welcome remake, spy movies both serious and silly and a couple of examples of good old fashioned man-in-suit goodness.

The second and final season (1990-1991) of “Twin Peaks” is often dismissed as one of the great disasters in the history of television and trotted out as a stark lesson as to just how quickly a pop culture sensation can enthrall the public as well as how quickly they can abandon it for the next big thing. When the show premiered in the spring of 1990, critics raved over the mixture of old-fashioned soap opera, oddball humor and general weirdness while audiences were captivated by the mystery surrounding the death of Laura Palmer, a seemingly perfect high-school girl whose life, like the town of Twin Peaks itself, was nowhere near as innocent or idyllic as it seemed on the surface. By the end of its initial eight-episode season, audiences were on the edge of their seats–thanks to a cliffhanger that left the identity of Laura’s killer still in doubt, heroically square FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) with a severe gunshot wound and local sexpot Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) on the verge of encountering her own father (Richard Beymer) under the worst possible circumstances while going undercover at the local brothel–and co-creators David Lynch (whose “Blue Velvet” was one of the most celebrated and talked-about movies of the era) and Mark Frost (a former writer for the equally celebrated TV series “Hill Street Blues”) were being described as the saviors of network television.

And yet, when what turned out to be the final episode aired only one year later, nearly all of the viewers that had originally tuned in had long since abandoned the show and many of those who stuck it out to the end were enraged by the way that it ended in a manner that was inexplicable even by Lynch’s often-bewildering standards. What happened? For starters, the premiere episode of that second season, despite hints to the contrary, did not answer the question of who killed Laura Palmer. In fact, more than half the season would elapse before the mystery was finally solved and by that time, many viewers had gotten tired of what they perceived to be Lynch and Frost simply jerking them around in an effort to drag out the story and bailed out. (The fact that ABC kept changing the time slot for the show certainly didn’t help out those who were trying to keep up either.) Another problem was the inescapable fact that once viewers discovered who the killer was, the show lost the hook that had brought people in from the very beginning and needed to find something new to keep people tuned in. After some unfortunate stumblings (including some UFO-related nonsense), the show did perk up in its final episodes with the introduction of Windom Earle, Agent Cooper’s vile former partner and current arch-nemesis, but by that point, no one really cared and the show was tossed into the pop-culture ashcan along with Gerardo CD’s and Andrew Dice Clay films.

The irony is that a glance through “Twin Peaks: The Second Season,” the long-awaited DVD set of those final 22 installments, is that these episodes, when seen devoid of the hype and controversy surrounding them at the time, are much better than their reputation might suggest. For starters, even detractors will have to admit that the show did pretty much revolutionize notions of what an hour-long network TV show could be–without it as an example (cautionary and otherwise), such shows as “The X-Files,” “Northern Exposure,” “Picket Fences,” “Ally McBeal,” “Alias” and “Lost” might never have come to be. Trivia buffs who like seeing future stars in early roles will catch glimpses of the pre-fame likes of Molly Shannon, Heather Graham (as Agent Cooper’s ill-fated love interest Annie Blackburn) and David Duchovny (as the cross-dressing DEA agent Dennis/Denise Bryson). As for the show itself, while the sheer inventiveness of the first season is obviously a thing of the past, Lynch and Frost (along with such episode directors as Caleb Deschanel, Stephen Gyllenhaal, Tim Hunter and Diane Keaton) still gave viewers a refreshingly strange (and often surprisingly bleak) series of shows that managed to work both as a deadpan spoof of the lurid soap operas that were all the rage at the time and as a superior example of the genre itself. Although the episodes involving the UFO stuff were clearly the low point of the series, this particular strand didn’t go on long enough to get that annoying and the introduction of the Windom Earle plotline soon pushed them by the wayside. Unsurprisingly, the most intriguing episodes of the bunch are the four directed by Lynch himself–the opening two that attempt to resolve some of the previous season’s plot threads while introducing many new ones, the long-awaited installment that finally revealed the identity of Laura Palmer’s killer and the grand finale. Of them, the much-maligned final episode is actually the most intriguing–as a conventional wrap-up, it is pretty useless (at the time, there was talk of a series of feature films that fizzled out after the unsuccessful release of Lynch’s haunting “Fire Walk With Me”) but looked at strictly as 48 minutes of sheer Lynchian strangeness, it can’t be beat and the dark, demented and deliberately inconclusive climax now stands as a fascinating precursor to such later films as “Lost Highway,” “Mulholland Drive” and “Inland Empire.”

For “Twin Peaks” fans, the last few years have given rise to a question even more tantalizing and frustrating than “Who Killed Laura Palmer?”: “Where The Hell Are The ‘Twin Peaks’ Second Season DVDs?” Back in late 2001, Artisan Entertainment released the first season of the show to much acclaim and it was presumed that the remaining episodes would be released within the following year or so. Alas, that never happened and outside of the occasional rumor, there would be no more “Peaks” on DVD (outside of the release of “Fire Walk With Me”) for the next five years. Eventually, Paramount wound up with the rights and Lynch himself came in to supervise the transfers. For fans of the series, it was definitely worth the wait–although the set is somewhat light on extras (there are interviews with many of the cast members and episode directors, though the complete absence of Lynch and Frost will no doubt frustrate fanatics), the episodes themselves have never looked or sounded better and for those reasons alone, it is a must-own that will finally fill that empty hole on the shelf next to the Season One set. If you are a newcomer to the series, however, the problem is that this set is pretty much useless unless you have seen the Season One episodes and that set is currently out-of-print and fetching premium prices in the secondary marketplace. There is talk that Paramount is currently planning a mega-set that will contain this set, a remastered edition of Season One, the original Lynch-directed pilot that has yet to be officially released on DVD in America and extras a-plenty. However, anyone planning on waiting for this behemoth (and yes, I am among them) should probably settle in with plenty of pie and coffee because if there is one thing that you can most assuredly count on regarding any and all aspects of “Twin Peaks,” it is that the wait for concrete answers can be a long one indeed.

Starring Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Ontkean, Madchen Amick, Sherilyn Fenn, Lara Flynn Boyle, Ray Wise, Joan Chen, Jack Nance, James Marshall, Richard Beymer and Piper Laurie. 1990-1991. Unrated. A Paramount Home Video release. $54.99


3 NEEDLES (Wolfe Video. $24.95): Thom Fitzgerald, who made the wonderful and woefully little-seen “The Hanging Tree” a few years ago, returns with this three-part film on the worldwide AIDS epidemic. In the first, set in China, Lucy Liu plays a black-market blood trafficker whose tainted wares cause an epidemic in a small village. The second has Shawn Ashmore as a porn star whose need for money drives him to conceal his HIV-positive status. Finally, Chloe Sevigny, Sandra Oh and Olympia Dukakis are missionaries in Africa trying desperately to educate the locals on the facts about the disease. A noble and well-meaning effort with some good performances that is hampered to a degree by a somewhat preachy tone.

ALL THAT JAZZ: THE MUSIC EDITION (Fox Home Entertainment. $19.98): Bob Fosse’s 1979 masterpiece, a haunting musical semi-biography about a hard-living choreographer/director (Roy Scheider) trying and failing to juggle his equally intense personal and professional lives, returns to DVD in a new edition featuring enough new material (including a commentary from editor Alan Heim and behind-the-scenes footage) to ensure that fans will have to go out and purchase it again.

BACKSTAGE (Strand Releasing. $24.99): This French melodrama squanders a promising premise–the bizarre and ever-shifting relationship between a Madonna-esque musical superstar and the obsessed fan who winds up inside her orbit–and a strong performance from Isild Le Besco thanks to the painful miscasting of Emmanuelle Seigner as the least convincing diva in recent memory.

BASEBALL DOUBLE FEATURE (Sony Home Entertainment. $19.95): Just in time for Opening Day, Sony raids their vaults for this offbeat double-bill of old baseball-related films. 1950's “Kill The Umpire” features William Bendix as a former ball player whose efforts as an umpire nearly cause a riot during a championship game. On the other hand, 1962's “Safe At Home” features a couple of real-life baseball legends–Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris–in a family-oriented film about a little kid who gets himself into trouble when he brags to his pals that his father knows Mantle and Maris and is then forced to prove it. (If that isn't enough baseball-related cinema for you, Sony is also releasing "The Natural: The Director's Cut," an extended version of the wildly overrated 1984 Robert Redford vehicle that first proved what an uneven filmmaker Barry Levinson could be.)

BEDAZZLED (Fox Home Entertainment. $19.98): After years of inexplicable delays, Stanley Donen’s 1967 absurdist classic about a meek short-order cook (Dudley Moore) who sells his soul to The Devil, a.k.a. George Spiggot (Peter Cook), for seven ill-advised wishes finally materializes on DVD. Of course, you probably aren’t even reading this right now because your eyes are drawn to that cover photo of Raquel Welch in her scene-stealing bit as “Lust.” Frankly, I can’t say that I blame you.

BLACK CHRISTMAS (The Weinstein Company. $29.95): The good name of the late Bob Clark’s fiendishly inventive and fairly nerve-wracking 1974 slasher classic, in which a group of snowbound co-eds found themselves at the mercy of an unknown killer, was thoroughly debased with this gross and grossly inept remake that even the least discerning horror buff will find virtually impossible to sit through without feeling utterly ripped off.

CHARLOTTE’S WEB (Paramount Home Video. $29.99): I know that the idea of an expensive and star-studded live-action adaptation of the immortal E.B. White classic sounds like a terrible idea but this take on the material was a triumph that managed to translate the story from the page to the screen with all the wit and emotion still in place. And if you can somehow get through the entire thing without shedding even one tear, then you are either a stronger man than I or simply a monster devoid of even the slightest trace of human feeling.

COPYING BEETHOVEN (MGM Home Entertainment. $27.98): Having launched a thousand ships in “Troy” and driven Josh Hartnett to distraction in “Wicker Park,” Diane Kruger now plays a young woman whose ambitions to one day be a musical composer are stoked when she takes a job transcribing music for good old Ludwig Van. Since I didn’t see this during its very brief theatrical release, I’m not sure how it turns out but since Beethoven is played by none other than Ed Harris, I suspect that much scenery will be chewed with the Ninth Symphony serving as the dinner music.

DEATH OF A PRESIDENT (Lionsgate Home Video. $27.98): Although this Canadian faux-documentary about the fictional assassination of George W. Bush and its aftermath inspired much controversy when it was announced last fall, most viewers were disappointed to discover that it was actually a technically audacious but earnestly dull misfire that raised provocative issues about the potential social and political impact of such an event and then ignored them in order to solve the less-than-interesting question of who did it.

GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN/MOTHRA VS. GODZILLA (Sony Wonder. $19.98 each): Following on the heels of their acclaimed release of the original “Gojira” last year, Sony Wonder offers up two more Godzilla classics in 2-disc sets containing both the original Japanese editions as well as the recut and redubbed American versions. “Godzilla Raids Again” (1955), the first sequel, straddles between the relatively serious tone of the original with the campier aspects of later entries with a tale of a Godzilla-like monster (since the original was so thoroughly destroyed in the first film) whose battle with the dinosaur-like Angurius winds up spilling over into mainland Japan. “Mothra Vs. Godzilla” (1964), on the other hand, is pretty much self-explanatory and is as ridiculous as it is entertaining.

THE GOOD SHEPHERD (Universal Home Video. $29.98): Although it wound up getting somewhat lost in the rush of holiday films last December, Robert De Niro’s epic-length examination of the early days of the C.I.A. through the eyes of one of its founding members is worth checking out on DVD for its ambitious scope (though the narrative does at times become a little too sprawling for its own good) and a gallery of strong performances from the likes of Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, John Turturro, William Hurt and De Niro himself. There is no commentary track to be had on the DVD (and if you have heard De Niro’s half-hearted contributions to other commentaries in the past, you won’t exactly weep for its absence) but it does include 16 minutes of deleted scenes that help flesh out a couple of subplots left dangling in the theatrical version.

KARLA (Monterey Home Video. $24.95): Apparently hoping to get the same kind of career boost that Charlize Theron achieved when she played an emotionally twisted killer in “Monster,” “That 70's Show” star Laura Prepon stars in this docudrama centering on the life and crimes of Karla Homolka, a Canadian woman who, along with her husband, kidnapped, abused and murdered three young girls in 1990. Sadly, the end results weren’t quite the same for Prepon as they were for Theron–after a minor scandal that brewed when the film was announced to play at a Montreal film festival, it is only now appearing in America as a direct-to-video item.

OPAL DREAMS (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Parents who are unable to snag a copy of “Charlotte’s Web” this weekend might want to try this modestly entertaining family film from Australia about a little girl in a remote mining town whose imaginary friend may actually be real after all. Not a masterpiece by any stretch but children and adults alike should find themselves responding favorably to its quirky charms.

PERVERSION STORY (Severin Films. $29.95): Somehow I missed mentioning the first-ever American release of this kinky 1969 riff on “Vertigo” from the late Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci (best known for such splattery zombie films as “Zombie” and “The Beyond”) when it was released a few weeks ago but it is so delightfully sleazy that I must bring it to your attention. Jean Sorel stars as a San Francisco doctor who journeys to a nightclub with his sexy mistress (Elsa Martinelli) and meets a stripper (Marissa Mell, best known as the girlfriend in Mario Bava’s “Danger: Diabolik”) who bears an uncanny resemblance to his recently deceased wife–suffice it to say, his life quickly turns into a mess of sexual perversion, obsession, lies, betrayal, murder and revenge. And thanks to Severin, you can continue feeling the film’s Eurosleaze vibe even after the end credits by playing the included CD of Riz Ortolani’s bad-ass score.

ROYAL FLASH (Fox Home Entertainment. $19.98): In this perfectly hilarious goof on Victorian-era swashbucklers, Malcolm McDowell stars as a penniless and ill-bred coward whose efforts to jump ahead of his place in high society leads him to impersonate a prince at the behest of Otto Von Bismark, marry a duchess and indulge in battlefield cowardice that is somehow mistaken for bravery and heroism. A box-office bomb when it came out in 1975–audiences apparently didn’t quite realize that it was meant to be a satire and couldn’t understand why they were being asked to cheer for such a ignoble rotter–perhaps this long-overdue DVD (featuring a commentary track from McDowell and critic Nick Redman) will give it the exposure it has deserved for so long.

S*P*Y*S (Fox Home Entertainment. $19.98): Of course, not all barely-remembered comedies from the 1970's are ripe for rediscovery as this limp farce painfully proves. Attempting to recapture the magic of their pairing in “M*A*S*H,” Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland star as a pair of bumbling C.I.A. agents who are sent out by their bosses to be murdered by the K.G.B. in an attempt to make up for the accidental killing of a couple of Russian agents in a film that plays like the longest, slowest and dullest “Road” movie ever made.

THE SILENT PARTNER (Lionsgate Home Video. $19.98): However, if you in an unshakable mood for an obscure 1970's film featuring Elliot Gould, you should instead get a hold of this crackerjack 1978 nail-biter based on a screenplay the then-unknown Curtis Hanson. In the film, Gould plays a meek bank clerk who manages to shortchange a thief (Christopher Plummer) out of most of the demanded loot and stows it in a safety-deposit box–a great plan until the violently unhinged Plummer figures out what happened and demands his money just as Gould loses the key to the box. Smart, clever and funny (not to mention surprisingly brutal in a couple of scenes), this is the rare thriller that actually deserves to be compared to the works of Alfred Hitchcock.

VOLVER (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.95): In what is by far the best and most powerful work of his generally overrated career, writer-director Pedro Almodovar offers up a darkly funny and emotionally devastating melodrama about a pair of sisters–headstrong Penelope Cruz (in the performance of her career) and comparatively flighty Lola Duenas–whose lives are changed when it appears that their long-dead mother (longtime Almodovar muse Carmen Maura) has returned from the grave to lend some much-needed assistance. One of the 10 best films of 2006, this DVD includes interviews with the cast members, a short making-of featurette and a hugely entertaining commentary track featuring Almodovar and Cruz.

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originally posted: 04/06/07 14:35:20
last updated: 04/07/07 03:26:04
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