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DVD Reviews For 6/22: Sweet Movies!
by Peter Sobczynski

Once again, your faithful critic apologizes for not getting his stuff together in enough time to put together a proper column with a proper lead review this week. That said, there are enough oddball titles on display in the following column that you should have more than enough DVDs to keep you busy until next week, when your critic should hopefully be back on top of things.


THE ABANDONED (Lionsgate. $28.98): In this odd horror exercise (part of that After Dark package of low-budget genre films and the only one to get full, if brief, theatrical distribution), an American woman journeys off to Russia to claim a remote house in the forest that she has inherited, meets a guy who may or may not be her heretofore unknown twin sibling and discovers secrets about the domicile even more terrifying that its lack of resale value.

AUTHOR! AUTHOR!/THE PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK (Fox Home Entertainment. $14.98 each): No doubt to tie in with the hype surrounding his funny turn in “Ocean’s Thirteen,” Fox offers up a couple of lesser-known and largely forgotten Al Pacino titles from their archives. The former is a misfired 1982 comedy in which he is hideously miscast as a happy-go-lucky Broadway playwright trying to juggle relationships with his estranged wife (Tuesday Weld), the five precocious kids that she has just stuck him with, his flighty lead actress (Dyan Cannon) and his neurotic producer (Alan King) in a film that only comes alive during the brief appearance from the legendary Bob Elliot and Ray Goulding. The latter, on the other hand, is a searing 1971 drama in which he and Kitty Winn play a couple of junkies trying to keep it together while looking out for the next fix. Although not many turned out to see the film, which contained Pacino’s first lead performance, one who did was Francis Ford Coppola, who was impressed enough with his work to offer him the central role in a little thing he was putting together called “The Godfather.”

BEYONCE: B’DAY ANTHOLOGY VIDEO ALBUM (Sony Home Entertainment. $14.98): In this compilation of music videos taking from Beyonce’s second solo album, you will find “Beautiful Liar,” her duet with Shakira, “Beautiful Liar,” her duet with Shakira and “Beautiful Liar,” her duet with Shakira. Sorry if it seems like I am obsessing, but have you seen that video? Words fail me–though “Hobbledegah-gah!” comes pretty close to saying it all.

THE BIG NOTHING (First Look Pictures. $24.98): Have you been sitting around wondering what professional mope David Schwimmer has been up to lately? Well, he has apparently been hanging out in England making direct-to-video films in which he and Simon Pegg team up to run a blackmail scheme against a reverend with a penchant for visiting adult websites that goes bad when they inadvertently cause their mark’s death.

GINOSTRA (Lionsgate. $14.98): After sitting on a shelf for several years, this thriller, in which a FBI agent (Harvey Keitel) who is sent to Sicily with his wife (Andie MacDowell) and child to investigate the mob-ordered killing of a family and protect the young boy who was the only survivor/witness, makes its debut as a direct-to-video title. I haven’t seen it and the comments from those who have aren’t exactly encouraging but the presence of the sexy and exceedingly polite Asia Argento as “The Nun” may well be enough to pique some interest.

GRAY MATTERS (Fox Home Entertainment. $27.98): In this whimsical sex comedy that could have used less of the whimsy and more of the sex and comedy, Heather Graham plays a flighty young woman who begins to suspect that she is a lesbian after falling for her brother’s fiancee–since she is played by Bridget Moynahan, can you really blame her? Trust me, whatever movie you have just conjured up in your head based solely on the above description is probably a lot smarter, funnier and sexier than what is (and isn’t) on display here.

IF. . . (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): In one of the most electrifying screen debuts of all time, Malcolm McDowell plays a disaffected student at a stuffy private school who leads a small band of like-minded kids in increasingly open and violent confrontation against his oppressors in Lindsay Anderson’s still-powerful and darkly funny 1969 film (part of an informal Anderson-McDowell trilogy that would include 1971's “O Lucky Man” and 1983's “Britannia Hospital”). Fans of this cult classic have been waiting for years for it to appear on DVD and this set should more than satisfy them–the two-disc set includes a commentary featuring McDowell and critic David Robinson, a 2003 TV documentary on the film and its impact and, most significantly, Anderson’s 1954 Oscar-nominated documentary “Thursday’s Children.”

IN A DARK PLACE (First Look Pictures. $26.99): Have you been sitting around wondering what professional Helen Hunt clone Leelee Sobieski has been up to lately? Well, she has apparently been hanging out in England making direct-to-video films in which she plays a young woman whose seemingly idyllic job minding two children while their uncle is away slowly begins to turn into a nightmare after she makes certain discoveries about the kids and what may or may not have happened to her predecessor.

THE LUCILLE BALL FILM COLLECTION (Warner Home Video. $49.98): Everyone’s favorite redhead gets the box set treatment with a collection of five films spanning her entire career. Of them, the three pre-“I Love Lucy” titles–the 1940 proto-feminist musical “Dance, Girl, Dance,” the 1942 Damon Runyon adaptation “The Big Street” (in which she co-stars with Henry Fonda) and the 1943 romp “Du Barry Was A Lady”–are the pick hits of the set. As for the other two, “Critics Choice,” in which she plays a playwright married to acerbic theater critic Bob Hope, is short on the big laughs you would expect from such a pairing while “Mame,” her 1974 comeback vehicle, is a film that is generally regarded as one of the worst movie musicals ever made (mostly because of the wildly miscast Ball herself) for reasons that will become evidently clear the moment she tries to sing and dance.

THE MANHATTAN PROJECT(Lionsgate. $19.98): Made during the brief mid-80's vogue for films involving science projects gone wackily awry (which also included “Real Genius,” “Weird Science” and “My Science Project”), this 1986 film was a surprisingly effective thriller about a teenage kid (Christopher Collet) who steals some plutonium from a clandenstine weapons lab run by his mom’s new boyfriend (John Lithgow) to build his own atomic bomb in order to expose the secret–the plan goes slightly awry when the completed bomb is accidentally triggered to go off. Although not a comedy, the film was co-written and directed by Marshall Brickman, perhaps best known for collaborating with Woody Allen on the screenplays for “Sleeper,” “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan.”

MISS POTTER (The Weinstein Group. $28.98): In a fairly transparent attempt on the part of the Weinstein Company to replicate the success of “Finding Neverland,” this lackluster biopic tells the not-particularly interesting life story of children’s author Beatrix Potter (Renee Zellweger), centering on her struggles to get “Peter Rabbit” published, to marry her ill-fated suitor (Ewan McGregor) and to preserve local farms from greedy developers.

THE NIGHTCOMERS (Lionsgate. $19.98): Usually dismissed as one of those oddball films that Marlon Brando did in the years before “The Godfather” reaffirmed his critical and commercial standing, this is actually a fairly interesting and reasonably creepy rendition of Henry James’ “Turn of the Screw” in which he plays a rough-hewn gardener who has a powerful impact on the lives of a governess (Stephanie Beacham) and the two orphans in her care.

PICKET FENCES–SEASON ONE (Fox Home Entertainment. $59.98): As someone who has never quite taken to the self-consciously quirky offerings from TV stalwart David E. Kelly (including “Ally McBeal,” “The Practice” and “Boston Legal”), I have no particular enthusiasm for this set collecting the first season of his weirdo 1992-96 “Twin Peaks” knock-off chronicling the strange goings-on in an oddball Wisconsin town beset with hot-button topics, bizarre murders and other such nonsense. However, there are many out there who feel differently (and in a cruel twist of fate, I am actually related to one of them) and so this set should be like a dream come true for all you Fyvush Finkel groupies out there.

THE POWERPUFF GIRLS–THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Warner Home Video. $26.98): After several best-of compilations, the hilarious Cartoon Network series about the astounding adventures of pint-sized heroines Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup finally gets the full-season set that fans have been clamoring for. Who knows–if this sells well enough, perhaps Warners will finally get around to re-releasing the brilliant “The Powerpuff Girls–The Movie” in its original aspect ratio.

RENO 911!–MIAMI (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): Having never really watched more than an episode or two of the Comedy Central show chronicling the misadventures of a bumbling police force, I can really say how well the show held up in its transfer to the big screen. However, the film–in which the dolts wind up patrolling all of Miami for reasons too silly to get into here–is so painfully and gruesomely unfunny that I can’t imagine how the show could have been any worse.

THE SECRET OF NIMH: FAMILY FUN EDITION (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.98): It is kind of ironic that this re-release of Don Bluth’s 1982 animated film has been labeled as a “Family Fun Edition” since a lot of the criticism that surrounded the film when it first hit theaters was that it was too grim and dour for a film being presented as a happy-go-lucky fantasy. Seen today, the film–an adaptation of the Robert C. O’Brien book about a mother mouse struggling to move her family home from the path of a farmer’s plow–plays as a fairly smart and sophisticated work that is a lot more effective than most of the animated dreck coming out these days. Featuring the voices of Dom DeLuise, Elizabeth Hartman and a young Shannen Doherty.

SILVER SPOONS–THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Sony Home Entertainment. $29.95): 1980's sitcoms didn’t get more sugary than this concoction in which Ricky Schroeder played a precocious 12-year-old who was wise beyond his years, Joel Higgins played his millionaire goof of a father and Erin Gray played the foxy secretary whom viewers of a certain age remembered fondly from the short-lived “Buck Rogers” series. For those looking for celebrities in embarrassing early appearances, this collection features Jason Bateman in a recurring role and guest shots from the likes of Mr. T and Sharon Stone.

SWEET MOVIE/WR: MYSTERIES OF THE ORGANISM (The Criterion Collection. $29.95/$39.95): Although he is more or less forgotten today outside of cineaste circles, Yugoslavian director Dusan Makavejev was one of the more notorious enfant terribles on the world film scene in the 1970's and with the DVD debut of these two features, it is easy to understand why his bizarre confections of graphic sexuality, political commentary and flat-out weirdness caught on with viewers back then. “WR” (1971) is a heady mixture of documentary and fiction that combines an examination of the life and work of philosopher Wilhelm Reich with a look at the sexual liberation of a young Yugoslavian woman. If that sounds a little too staid for you, perhaps “Sweet Movie,” his 1974 follow-up, will be more up your alley–it intercuts the tale of a young woman who wins a Miss Virginity contest and unhappily marries a billionaire with a golden penis with the story of a sexy revolutionary with a penchant for seducing and killing men in a giant pile of sugar that she keeps aboard her floating candy factory. You may love these movies or you may hate them (and there is no middle ground to be had here) but unless you have actually seen them before (which has been difficult in recent years), I can most definitely assure you that no matter how many movies you have seen over the years, you have never seen anything like these particular titles.

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originally posted: 06/22/07 14:30:37
last updated: 06/23/07 00:38:56
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