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DVD Reviews for 10/5: We Lose A Good One

by Peter Sobczynski

In this week's offering of shiny silver discs, you will find one of the best vampire movies ever made, one of the worst superhero movies ever made and one of the strangest pornographic movies ever conceived in the whole of human history. Enjoy!

Unless you live or work in the Chicago-Northwest Indiana area, there is a very good possibility that you never heard of Jim Gordon. For 23 years, he was the film critic for the “Post-Tribune” in Gary and recently began contributing to another paper in nearby Munster. At the screening room in Chicago where the critics gather to see the new movies, he was a regular fixture despite his hefty commute and I never saw him at a time when he wasn’t in less than a chipper mode and engaged in friendly conversation with anyone who happened by. This is significant because most film critics tend to be a surly and socially awkward lot who are more comfortably in spitting out bitter bon mots than in simply reaching out to one another Not Jim–he went so far as to help me get a job as the second-string critic at the “Post-Tribune” and even came out to pick me up at the train station and drive me to the interview and back. He was a true gentleman and wit and he may have been the only critic in my neck of the woods about whom I have never an ill word spoken about for as long as I know him. I mention all of this because Jim Gordon passed away last Friday at the age of 60 from a cardiac episode and I just wanted to take this time to briefly and inadequately mention how much I admired him as a friend and colleague. To put it simply, he was one of the good ones and he will be sorely missed. (Here's a far more eloquently-written tribute to Gordon by Roger Ebert.


1408 (The Weinstein Company. $32.95): Based on a short story from Stephen King, this sleeper hit from last summer stars John Cusack, turning in one of his best performances in what is essentially a one-man show, as an author who specializes in debunking allegedly haunted tourist traps who meets his match in an especially malevolent New York City hotel room that knows how to use his own fears against him. Although the trailers didn’t suggest that it would be anything much, this was actually one of the happier surprises of last summer–a smart and genuinely tense genre film that is more interested in unnerving viewers with gradually increasing tension than in grossing them out with gallons of gore.

BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95): Francis Ford Coppola’s near-operatic rendition of the horror classic–one of the best screen versions of the tale to date and one of the most visually stunning films of any sort ever made–finally gets the special edition DVD that it has long deserved. The first part of this two-disc set features a brand-new transfer of the film along with an introduction and audio commentary from Coppola while the second includes a collection of documentaries focusing on the overall making of the film, the creation of Eiko Ishioka’s Oscar-winning costumes, the surprisingly low-tech special effects and the overall visual style as well as a half-hour of deleted scenes, extended versions of sequences still in the film and even alternate versions of the prologue and the finale.

CALIGULA–IMPERIAL EDITION (Image Entertainment. $39.99): When it was released amidst a storm of controversy in 1980, “Penthouse” publisher Bob Guccione’s lavish-yet-tacky take on the life, death and sexual kinks of the infamous Roman emperor startled viewers with its bizarre cross of hard-core pornography, stomach-churning violence, a screenplay by renowned author Gore Vidal (who quickly had his name removed from the credits) and a cast that mixed together Penthouse Pets, porn stars and such luminaries as Malcolm McDowell (in the title role), Helen Mirren, John Gielgud and Peter O’Toole. Yeah, it is a pretty bad movie but the mix of high art and low smut is admittedly intriguing and the lavish sets are pretty amazing to behold, even if it quickly becomes clear that director Tinto Brass has no idea of how to shoot them to make them seem at all impressive. Although this is being released in both a film-only version and a completely useless R-rated cut that Guccione put together when the film began facing censorship problems upon its original release, fans and curiosity seekers will want to splurge for this three-disc version containing the uncut 156-minute theatrical edition, a pre-release version of the film featuring additional footage, a different structure and none of the hard-core scenes that Guccione added in at the last second over the objections of Brass and a disc containing two Penthouse-produced documentaries on the making of the film, deleted scenes, hundreds of still photos and DVD-ROM versions of Vidal’s original screenplay, the original press kit and articles about the film written for “Penthouse.” And if you are curious as to why actors of the caliber of McDowell and Mirren would want to appear in a film like this, they each contribute an audio commentary (along with a third from set historian Ernest Volkman) for the pre-release version that should answer those questions for good.

CIVIC DUTY (Fox Home Entertainment. $27.98): In this reasonably gripping examination of post-9/11 paranoia, Peter Krause stars as a recently unemployed man who spends his downtime becoming obsessed with the notion that his new neighbor, a Muslim grad student, is really a terrorist planning some unspeakable act.

CRIMINAL MINDS–SEASON 2 (Paramount Home Video. $64.99): For fans of this CBS crime drama who are inconsolable over the departure of star Mandy Patinkin over those pesky “creative differences”–I believe they had has his crime-fighting character removed from duty after subduing a suspect with a Sondheim medley without benefit of counsel–perhaps this set containing his last full season with the show will soften the blow just a bit. For the rest of us, it is just another run-of-the-mill crime show that consists of bits and pieces of other, more successful shows (especially “CSI” and “Without A Trace”) tossed together into the kind of program that kills an hour easily enough but which instantly evaporates from the mind the minute the credits roll.

DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT (IFC Films. $19.95): In this austere debut from writer-director Julia Loktev, an unnamed young woman (a striking performance from newcomer Luisa Williams) in virtual isolation goes through her preparations for becoming a suicide bomber before setting off for her target–Times Square. Conceptually intriguing for the first half (we are deliberate kept in the dark regarding her nationality or her reasons for agreeing to participate in such a monstrous act), it loses steam once she hits Times Square and turns into an extended round of will-she-or-won’t-she? that is nowhere near as compelling as the earlier material.

ELF BOWLING: THE MOVIE (Universal Home Entertainment. $14.98): I know nothing about this animated film or the game that it is apparently based on–I’d never even heard of either one until I began putting this week’s list together. That said, the title alone has made me curious enough to want to seek it out and I am willing to bet that a good number of you are probably feeling the same way.

EVIL ALIENS (Image Entertainment. $22.98): In this desperately forced and unfunny attempt to ape the spirit of the early splatter comedies of Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson, this British horror-comedy tells the tale of a tabloid TV team who travel to a remote village to interview a woman who claims she was impregnated by aliens and to recreate her attack–turns out that she was telling the truth as the aliens return and begin picking everyone off one by one in a series of amateurish gore effects. Only worth watching if you absolutely must see every zombie-related goof ever made, no matter how dreadful.

FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER (Fox Home Entertainment. $34.98): Speaking of dreadful, this second screen adventure of the fabled Marvel Comics quartet somehow managed to be an even worse film that the not-exactly-beloved 2005 original thanks to its combination of awful performances, shabby screenwriting and the utter waste of the iconic Silver Surfer in a film in which he essentially plays a second banana. By far the worst comic-book adaptation of 2007 to date and bear in mind, I have seen “Ghost Rider.”

FLIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: OUTBREAK ON A PLANE (New Line Home Entertainment. $19.98): No doubt put into production by New Line back in those heady days when everyone was under the mistaken assumption that “Snakes On A Plane” was going to be the greatest thing ever, this is a cheerfully over-the-top horror extravaganza about a transatlantic flight that goes out of control when a genetically engineered virus is released onboard that transforms most of the passengers into flesh-eating zombies who decide to skip the kosher meal and chomp on their seatmates instead.

FUNNY FACE–50th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Paramount Home Video. $14.99): If you can somehow forget the way that some of Audrey Hepburn’s exuberant dance moves from this film were co-opted for a Gap ad, it is still easy to fall for the deceptively simple charms of this 1957 musical in which she plays a Greenwich Village store clerk who captures the eye of a fashion photographer (Fred Astaire in a role loosely based on Richard Avedon) who whisks her off to Paris to become a model.

HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER: SEASON 2 (Fox Home Entertainment. $39.98): I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, any time I get a chance to drop the name “Cobie Smulders,” I will take it without hesitation. The fact that this romantic sitcom is actually pretty amusing only makes it all the better.

I LOVE NEW YORK (Paramount Home Video. $38.99): Having failed to successfully prostitute herself on the VH-1 reality show “Flavor Of Love,” a fairly unspeakable person by the name of New York gets her own show in which she puts a group of 20 suitors through various tasks in order to choose the one who comes closest to winning her heart for as long as the cameras are running. If you plan on asking what her mother would think of such a sordid idea, it would appear that she is cool with it since Mom pops up to help her on the judging. Although it may not be the DVD equivalent of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, it will serve quite well in that position until “Kid Nation” makes its debut.

JERICHO–THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $49.99): Although this 2006 drama about a small town coping in the face of an apparent nuclear attack was cancelled at the end of its first season due to low ratings, it developed enough of a loyal fan base to spur the network to giving the show a second season after all. For those of you who want to brush up on the program before it returns later this fall, this set includes all of the Season One episodes, commentaries from the creators and cast members, background information on the creation of the show and a bunch of deleted scenes.

JINDABYNE (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95): In this Australian-made drama from director Ray Lawrence (whose previous film was the acclaimed “Lantana), Gabriel Byrne stars as a man who discovers the dead body of a young woman while on a fishing trip with some friends but doesn’t report it until the trip is over and Laura Linney is the wife who is so horrified by his actions that she upends her own life in an effort to make things right with the victim’s family. If this sounds similar to one of the plot threads from Robert Altman’s brilliant 1993 film “Short Cuts,” it is because both were inspired by the same Raymond Carver short story, “So Much Water So Close To Home.”

JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL (Paramount Home Video. $14.99): Once upon a time, a writer named Richard Bach wrote an allegorical novel about a seemingly ordinary seagull who decided that there was more to life than picking through garbage with his brethren and broke away from the pack to become his own bird.. It was a terrible book–the same kind of psuedo-literary glob that would resurface a couple of decades later in “The Bridges of Madison Country”–but it sold so many copies that someone had the bright idea of bringing it to the screen in 1973 in a film version that would combine real flocks of seagulls, the vocal talents of Richard Crenna, Hal Holbrook and Juliet Mills and a soundtrack of songs written and performed by Neil Diamond at his gloppiest. The result was a box-office disaster that was hailed by the Medved Brothers in their famous book “The Fifty Worst Films Of All Time” and even though nearly 35 years have passed since its original list, I suspect that it would comfortably find a place on anyone’s updated version of that list.

THE JUNGLE BOOK–40th ANNIVERSARY PLATINUM EDITION (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.95): The last animated feature to be personally supervised by Walt Disney himself, this adaptation of the Kipling classic gets the special edition treatment in a reasonably lavish two-disc set that includes such fascinating special features as a recreation of a deleted sequence involving the otherwise unseen character Rocky the Rhino and a commentary track that combines archival interviews with the film’s original creators with new comments on its influence from such contemporary animation giants as Glenn Keane and Brad Bird.

MISERY: COLLECTOR’S EDITION (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.98): If you are nostalgic for the days when a new Rob Reiner film was something to be anticipated instead of feared, try picking up this new, feature-laden edition of his monstrously effective 1990 adaptation of the Stephen King bestseller about a crippled author (James Caan) who finds himself under the “care” of a deeply psychotic fan (Kathy Bates in her Oscar-winning role) who has a few problems with his latest book.

THE PAUL LYNDE HALLOWEEN SPECIAL (S’More Entertainment. $14.99): In one of those bizarro combinations of talent that could have only occurred in a mid-1970's variety special, the cheerfully snarky Lynde hosts a holiday get-together including appearances from Donny and Marie, Margaret Hamilton (in full Wicked Witch regalia), Tim Conway, Witchie Poo and KISS, whose on-stage banter with Lynde and Hamilton is worth the price of the disc all by itself.

PROM NIGHT (Echo Bridge. $6.99):In her first post-“Halloween” horror film, Jamie Lee Curtis starred in the 1980 knock-off as one of a group of high school friends being bumped off one by one because of a dark secret from their pasts. Despite the blood and guts on display, the most terrifying thing in the film by far is the sight of Leslie Nielsen (who plays Curtis’ father and the school principal) disco dancing.

PUMPKINHEAD 4–BLOOD FEUD (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95): Seriously, they made a fourth “Pumpkinhead” movie? I remember the first one and have vague recollections of a second one but seriously, a fourth one? Anyway, this one apparently adds a “Romeo & Juliet” edge to the proceedings by giving us the touching story of two feuding families who wind up joining forces when one of them makes the ill-advised decision to revive Pumpkinhead to avenge the death of his sister.

THE RAMONES: IT’S ALIVE 1974-1996 [i(Rhino Home Entertainment. $19.98): The seminal punk band condenses their ]22-year performance history into 4+ hours of head-banging greatness with this two-disc set of live concert appearances ranging from their early days at clubs like CBGB’s to headlining international music festivals.

THE SARAH SILVERMAN PROGRAM–SEASON ONE (Paramount Home Video. $22.95): Perhaps the most gleefully offensive show to hit television since the early days of “South Park,” this Comedy Central show features everyone’s favorite shock comedienne convincing herself that she is dying of AIDS, taking in a homeless man, flirting with lesbianism and having a memorable one-night stand with. . .well, I’ll let you discover that one for yourself. Oh yeah, there are musical numbers to boot. Although clearly not for everyone, fans of Silverman will want to get their hands on this as soon as possible (especially now that the second season has just premiered) and those with a taste for edgy, taboo-busting humor may also want to give it a shot.

THE SECRET WORLD OF ALEX MACK–SEASON ONE (Genius Products. $22.95): Under normal circumstances, a junior-high-school girl who accidentally gets doused with a strange radioactive waste would either die instantly or eventually succumb to any number of painful ailments. In this Nickelodeon series, one of the shows that first put the network on the map, our heroine manages to dodge radiation poisoning and instead develops magical powers that she tries to hide put invariably deploys at least once per episode. Although the packaging hypes the presence of future starlet Jessica Alba in her first role, she is not the star (that is Larisa Oleynik) but only a supporting character who appears in a few of the episodes.

SHARK–SEASON ONE (Fox Home Entertainment. $59.98)i]: James Woods isn’t just a lawyer, he’s a lawyer on the edge in the courtroom series about a crack defense attorney who tires of his sleazo clientele and goes to work for the D.A.’s office in order to show them how to put away the very same people he used to get off scot-free. On its own merits, this CBS series (which recently began its second season) isn’t much different from any other show of its type but the endlessly watchable Woods is enough of a curveball on his own to make it worth a look.

SPECIES–COLLECTOR’S EDITION (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.98): Everyone’s favorite naked-alien-invades-Earth-to-mate-and-kill extravaganza (unless you are partial to “Mars Needs Women”) returns to home video in yet another special edition, this time including commentary tracks from director Roger Donaldson and co-stars Natasha Henstridge and Michael Madsen (what, no Sir Ben “Bloodrayne” Kingsley?), various documentaries, deleted scenes and an alternate ending. If that isn’t enough for you, this week also sees the release of the direct-to-video title “Species IV–The Awakening (MGM Home Entertainment. $26.98), in which yet another blonde babe (Helena Mattsson) finds herself doing the whole disrobing-mating-killing thing.

THE WAR (Paramount Home Video. $129.99):Although Ken Burns’ latest epic-length documentary–a seven-part, 15-hour-long look at how World War II affected our nation by looking at it through the eyes of four individuals from four different communities–was as heavily hyped as any Hollywood blockbuster in recent memory, this was the rare film that actually lived up to all of the advanced word. In fact, not only is it as good as any of Burns’ other achievements, it will go down as one of the great cinematic treatments on the subject of WW II. Even if you caught it during its recent PBS run, you’ll want to check out this set for its large collection of deleted scenes and audio commentaries.

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originally posted: 10/05/07 14:08:13
last updated: 10/05/07 14:49:06
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