DVD Reviews for 5/11: Special Scurvy Rat Edition

By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 05/11/07 14:16:47

The good news is that this week's releases include films featuring the undeniably appealing likes of Piper Perabo, Mandy Moore, Juliette Binoche, Jennifer Garner, Nicole Kidman, Drew Barrymore, Naomi Watts and Madeline Stowe--the bad news is that only one of them is even remotely worth your time. On the bright side, there are also some choice titles from such revered auteurs as Hitchcock, Chabrol and Hanks to otherwise occupy your time and a quartet of pirate extravaganzas to help pass the time before the release of "POTC 3"

As you may or may not have heard by now, the low-budget art film “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” will be popping up in theaters in a couple of weeks. As it is the concluding chapter of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy, this means that unless Disney is willing to pony up the jillions of dollars necessary to produce a fourth installment, this will be the last opportunity for audiences to see Johnny Depp channeling his inner Keith Richards, Keira Knightley looking fetching in a tri-cornered hat and Orlando Bloom doing whatever the hell he was doing in the previous films. It also means that this is the last opportunity for other studios to attempt to cash in on the promotional juggernaut surrounding the film by scouring their shelves for any pirate-related material that they can quickly issue on DVD. Last week for example, saw the release of Fox’s “Tyrone Power: The Swashbuckler Box Set” and this week, Universal Home Entertainment is unleashing “Pirates of the Golden Age Movie Collection,” a two disc set that unearths four pirate-themed epics from their vaults. (And yet, no one has yet gotten around to putting out a DVD of Roman Polanski’s singularly bizarre stab at the genre, the Walter Matthau vehicle “Pirates.”)

The set kicks off with 1952's “Against All Flags,” a vehicle for one of the most notable names in the history of the pirate genre, Errol Flynn. In this one, he plays an officer of the Royal Navy who fakes his dismissal from the service in order to infiltrate the piratical ranks of the dastardly Captain Roc Brasiliano (Anthony Quinn) and bring him to justice–complications ensue and his cover is nearly blown when he falls for piratess Spitfire Stevens (Maureen O’Hara) and later rescues the fair Princess Patma (Alice Kelly) from a fate considerably worse than death, according to the standards of 1952. Next up is 1950's “Buccaneer’s Girl,” in which Yvonne De Carlo plays a singer who discovers that a suave aristocrat (Philip Friend) that she has fallen for has a secret double life as a Robin Hood-like pirate. 1952's “Yankee Buccaneer” tells yet another tale of high seas deception as dashing U.S. naval officer Jeff Chandler and his men are ordered by their superiors to disguise themselves as pirates in order to put a halt to attacks on American ships in the seas off of North Africa. And yes, posing as a pirate figures in the last title, the goofy 1951 musical-comedy “Double Crossbones,” as well. In that one, Donald O’Connor plays a bumbling young man who is falsely accused of a crime and, through circumstances too unlikely to get into here, joins up with a band of misfit pirates and sails the high seas while wooing the lovely Helena Carter.

For most people, I suspect that “Against All Flags” will be the main drawing point for this collection simply because of the presence of Errol Flynn–even though it is clear that the glory days of “The Sea Hawk” and “Captain Blood” are long behind him, he still throws himself into the proceedings with a seemingly limitless amount of energy and good cheer. “Buccaneer’s Girl” and “Yankee Buccaneer” each have their moments but it must be said that a lot of the entertainment value comes from spotting the famous faces who pop up in the various supporting roles–the former features Elsa Lanchester and Norman Lloyd while the latter includes appearances from Jay “Tonto” Silverheels and the then-unknown David Janssen. As for “Double Crossbones,” the title gives a pretty clear indication as to the general level of wit and sophistication and the film as a whole serves as a reminder that Donald O’Connor was one of those screen personalities best experienced in smaller doses.

Although newcomers to the pirate genre would be better off seeking off such classics of the genre as “The Crimson Pirate” or “The Black Pirate,” hard-core swashbuckler fans will probably have fun with this set–even if “Against All Flags” is the only one that they will presumably revisit, it still offers four full-length films for the price of one. Alas, the set contains no extras to speak of other than a collection of the original coming attractions previews–those trailers are kind of fun to watch but anyone hoping for any other bonus features is likely to take one look and let out an especially pained “Arrrrrrgggggghhhhh!”

A Universal Home Entertainment release. $26.98.


BACKSLASH: THE ULTIMATE INTERNET PREDATOR (Central Park Media. $19.98): Anyone hoping for this to be a collection of especially outrageous “Dateline” episodes will no doubt be disappointed to discover that this is merely a direct-to-video slasher film about a couple of college girls who find themselves the targets of a psycho trying to stage his own real-life torture-porn epic. As grotesquely clever ideas involving internet predators go, that is somewhat inspired but not as inspired as my own sure-fire ratings bonanza, “Celebrity Dateline–To Catch A Predator.”

BECAUSE I SAID SO (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Not even the considerable sight of Piper Perabo in a thong is enough to warrant a look at this spectacularly creepy and decidedly unpleasant romantic comedy about a meddling mother (Diane Keaton in perhaps the least amusing performance of her entire career–she was funnier in “The Little Drummer Girl”) trying to find a suitable man for her youngest daughter (Mandy Moore in the least interesting performance of her career). If you are wondering just how bad it is, bear in mind that the film features both Mandy Moore and a bethonged Piper Perabo–as sisters, no less, with Lauren Graham completing the trio–and even I wouldn’t sit through it again if you paid me.

BIG–THE DIRECTOR’S CUT/THAT THING YOU DO–THE DIRECTOR’S CUT (Fox Home Entertainment. $19.98 each): Fox Home Entertainment gives us all the Tom Hanks we can handle with extended versions of the 1988 fantasy that earned him his first Oscar nomination and his charming 1996 directorial debut about the rise and fall of a fictional 1960's rock band.

BREAKING AND ENTERING (The Weinstein Company. $28.95): Considering the fact that Anthony Minghella’s last three films (“The English Patient,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Cold Mountain”) each made millions of dollars and snared any number of awards, many of you may be wondering why you have never heard of his latest film, a contemporary drama about the relationship that develops between a well-to-do architect (Jude Law) and a Bosnian refugee (Juliette Binoche) after the former catches the latter’s son robbing his office. Well, for starters, it isn’t a very good film–Law and Binoche are individually okay but their on-screen relationship is never convincing and the only truly lively character in the whole thing, a brash prostitute played by Vera Farmiga, just vanishes completely from view after about an hour. Even if it was a good movie, it was released by The Weinstein Company–part of the same Oscar-begging slate as “Bobby” and “Factory Girl”–and they now seem constitutionally incapable of opening a movie these days.

CATCH AND RELEASE (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.95): Not even the considerable charms of star Jennifer Garner are enough to help salvage this meandering comedy-drama about a young woman trying to pick up the pieces of her life after her fiancee is killed in a freak accident right before their wedding. There are a few laughs here and there from co-star Kevin Smith, as one of Garner’s pals, but only the most devoted Silent Bob fanatics will want to slog through the rest of the material to get to them.

COMEDY OF POWER (Koch Lorber. $29.95): Claude Chabrol and Isabelle Huppert, who have developed into one of the strongest director-actor duos working in film today, collaborate for the fifth time in this blackly funny and hugely entertaining film about a crusading judge who becomes famous after locking up an embezzling CEO and goes on an obsessive and possibly dangerous quest to prosecute and persecute white-collar criminals who have bilked the public trust. Although the film drags a little during the scenes involving the judge’s home life, it is mostly a bitter and biting look at someone who gets an opportunity to put the screws to those who have been doing the screwing for too long and who takes to it with glee. And once again, Huppert turns in a mesmerizing performance–there is a brief scene in which she orders a pizza over the phone and even that manages to be incredibly compelling.

DAVID AND LISA (Homevision. $24.99): A surprise hit when it premiered in 1962, this low-budget drama from writer-director Frank Perry stars Keir Dullea and Janet Margolin as a pair of emotionally disturbed teenagers who meet and fall in love while living as patients in a mental institution under the care of the infinitely patient Howard Da Silva. Though I must admit that I haven’t seen this weepie in years, I somehow suspect that this is one of those “classic” films that hasn’t quite withstood the test of time.

DELIVER US FROM EVIL (Lionsgate. $29.98): Inspired by stories that she worked on as a producer for “60 Minutes”and CNN about the ever-growing scandal involving pedophile priests in the Catholic church, Berg gives us the heartbreaking and horrifying story of Father Oliver O’Grady, a California priest who used his position of trust to abuse children for over three decades, the church hierarchy who, knowing of his proclivities, decided to simply shuttle him from parish to parish in order to prevent scandal and a few of the families whose lives were destroyed along the way. that came at the expense of those they were supposed to be serving. The resulting film is not an easy one to watch by any means but those willing to stomach it will be rewarded with one of the most harrowing and unforgettable documentaries in recent years

DIRTY DANCING–20th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Lionsgate. $19.98): All I am going to say is that if you are eager to drop your hard-earned money on a two-disc reissue of a 1980's classic featuring Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey and Jennifer Grey’s original nose, you should wait a couple of months for the long-awaited special edition release of John Milius’s immortal “Red Dawn.”

FLORIDA GATORS–BACK 2 BACK NATIONAL CHAMPIONS 2006-2007 (Hart Sharp Video. $24.95): If you listen very carefully towards the end of this program celebrating the back-to-back NCAA championship titles won by the Florida Gators, I think you can actually hear the anguished screams of a bewhiskered film critic as his surprisingly durable brackets collapse because of his ill-advised belief that they would be soundly thrashed in the final round by Ohio State.

FUR–AN IMAGINARY PORTRAIT OF DIANE ARBUS (New Line Home Video. $27.98): Not even the collective star power of Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey Jr is enough to salvage this spectacularly bizarre and surprisingly boring pseudo-biopic of the famed photographer that offers up the theory that her transformation from stifled housewife to respected artist and chronicler of the more freakish members of society was inspired by her relationship with an upstairs neighbor whose entire body is covered with fur. I’ll give it points for ambition but I will then take away those points for completely failing as both a portrait (imaginary or otherwise) of an emerging audience or as a simple character study.

MUSIC AND LYRICS (Warner Home Video. $28.98): Even though there isn’t a single original moment in this bit of romantic comedy nonsense–to call it “fluff” would be giving it too much credit–about a fading pop star and a quirky young woman who fall in love while trying to write a hit song for a pop tartlet, I still found it to be surprisingly entertaining, mostly because of the enormously appealing chemistry generated by co-stars Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore.

THE PAINTED VEIL (Warner Home Video. $27.95): Edward Norton spent years trying to get this adaptation of the W. Somerset Maugham novel about an estranged couple who begin to grow closer to each other while struggling to battle a cholera epidemic in a remote Chinese village. Alas, the film, in which Norton and Naomi Watts play the couple in question and Liev Schreiber briefly appears as the man who comes between them early on, is such a lifeless bore throughout (though an admittedly beautiful-looking bore) that you will probably spend most of the seemingly endless running time wondering why he bothered at all in the first place.

REVENGE–DIRECTOR’S CUT (Sony Home Entertainment. $19.95): Although the phrase “director’s cut” usually indicates that a film is being made longer, Tony Scott’s revamp of his violent 1990 drama about two friends (Kevin Costner and Anthony Quinn) who become bitter enemies when the former has a fling with the latter’s wife (Madeline Stowe) is actually 25 minutes shorter than the theatrical version. In order to boost the appeal of a title that wasn’t particularly well-received 17 years ago, the packaging boasts a quote from Quentin Tarantino proclaiming it to be Tony Scott’s masterpiece–such a bold statement would suggest that Tarantino has yet to catch up with “True Romance,” “Domino” or a certain two-minute chunk of “The Hunger.”

THINGS TO DO (Lifesize Entertainment. $24.95): In this fairly amusing low-key indie comedy, a bored office drone chucks his job and moves back into his childhood home to reassess his life and when he meets up with a similarly disaffected school chum, the two decide to make a list of their unrealized adolescent ambitions and fulfill them one by one

THE TIGER AND THE SNOW (Hart Sharp Video. $24.95): If you thought that Roberto Benigni’s “Life is Beautiful” was a glib, slightly offensive and wildly overrated work that basically served as the feel-good movie of the Holocaust (a comment that got me branded as anti-Semitic by none other than Gene Siskel), you should probably steer clear of this barely-released follow-up in which he plays a romantic Italian poet who slips into Baghdad during the early days of the current war in Iraq when he discovers that the love of his life (Nicoletta Braschi) has been gravely injured in a bombing.

TO CATCH A THIEF: SPECIAL COLLECTOR’S EDITION (Paramount Home Video. $14.99 ): Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 classic, in which a former jewel thief (Cary Grant) whose retirement in the French Riviera is threatened by a wave of copycat crimes and enlivened by sexy socialite Grace Kelly, returns to DVD in a new special edition that rehashes all the behind-the-scenes featurettes from the previous release (including a couple on the making of the film and an appreciation of the career of costume designer Edith Head) while offering up both a greatly improved transfer and a commentary track featuring historian Laurent Bouzreau and filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich.

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