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DVD Reviews for 11/2: My So-Called DVD Column

by Peter Sobczynski

If you like TV--and I mean really like TV--you are going to love this week's column as some of the greatest things to ever hit the small screen are making long-awaited appearances.

Although I generally try to cover most of the TV shows that are released on DVD each week–often a major task in its own right because of the sheer volume of titles–I rarely highlight any of them in the main review portion of this column.. There are a couple of reasons for this. For one, for every significant TV title that arrives each week, there is usually an equally important or meaningful film title to cover as well. More importantly, I will admit that I have a bias for film over television–in my eyes, even the silliest movie can offer something of value for the true film fanatic while the vast majority of television, past and present, tends to do little more than reconfirm the words of the late, great Michael O’Donoghue, who once opined that TV was little more than a lava lamp with sound. This week, however, sees the week of a quintet of TV-related titles (okay, two of them aren’t technically TV shows but I suspect that the vast majority of the people reading these words were first exposed to them via the tube) that are worth highlighting in detail, both for the quality of the shows themselves as well as for their presentations.

Last spring saw the long-awaited release of “Twin Peaks: The Complete Second Season,” a set that collected the second and final season of the legendarily weird mystery series from co-creator David Lynch that briefly had the entire country asking “Who killed Laura Palmer?,”the cheerleader-with-a-dark-side whose murder helped uncover the strange secrets of a seemingly ordinary Pacific Northwest town. Now, only a few months later, we have “Twin Peaks–The Definitive Gold Box Edition,” a 10-disc set that includes all of those episodes along with the seven Season One installments that were issued in 2001 in a long-out-of-print collection. For those of you who don’t own these previous editions, the set is a no-brained since the show remains one of the greatest in the history of the medium–an alternately funny, scary, touching, twisted and inscrutable work that succeeded both as a deadpan spoof of TV cliches as well as a compelling work of straightforward narrative on its own–as well as one of the most influential. (It is impossible to imagine such complex and convoluted shows as “The X-Files,” “Lost” or “Veronica Mars,” to name just a couple, ever existing without the example it set years earlier.) However, if you are one of those hard-core fanatics (and when it comes to “Twin Peaks,” there are hardly any other kind) who presumably already owns all of these episodes, is there any burning reason as to why you should go out and repurchase them a second time, especially if you just bought the Season 2 set last spring?

Well, it turns out that yeah, you pretty much have to pick them all up again because as good as those earlier sets were, this new collection is one of the best DVD packages of the year. Granted, most of the bonus features found on those earlier editions have not been ported over but in terms of both quantity and quality, the news extras found here are worth the purchase price all by themselves. First, and perhaps most significantly, the set includes, for the first time on domestic DVD, the feature-length pilot episode that got people talking in the first place–not only that, it includes both the broadcast version and the one prepared for European theatrical release with a different resolution to the central mystery. That would be enough for most fans but the set also includes a small-but-tasty collection of deleted scenes, a feature-length three-part documentary on the show charting its history from its inception to its meteoric rise to its just-as-rapid fall and a roundtable discussion in which Lynch, post-production coordinator John Wentworth and co-stars Kyle MacLachlan and Madchen Amick dishing out additional stories. If that weren’t enough, the set also includes the “Falling” music video from Julee Cruise, a video gallery collecting all of the “Twin Peaks” trading cards, a series of “Peaks”-themed commercials shot for a Japanese coffee company that include many of the cast members and the hilarious “Peaks”-based sketch from the “Saturday Night Live” hosted by Kyle MacLachlan in the fall of 1990. In other words, this set includes everything but a slice of cherry pie and a damn fine cup of coffee.

Although “Twin Peaks” died far too soon, at least ABC gave it 29 episodes before pulling the plug, which is more than one can say for what they did with “My So-Called Life,” the brilliant and groundbreaking 1994 series that, despite critical hosannas and multiple awards, was unceremoniously yanked from the air after only 19 episodes. No doubt put on the air by the network in the hopes of scoring their own version of “90210,” what ABC actually got was a touching and penetrating examination of teen angist that is perhaps the closest thing that the television medium has ever come to producing the likes of “The Catcher In the Rye.” The only difference is that, unlike that book, the show doesn’t come across as embarrassingly overwrought when you revisit it a few years down the line, mostly thanks to the soulful lead performance from Claire Danes as Everyteen Angela Chase–a piece of acting so strong, sure and nuanced that she gets a lifetime pass as far as I’m concerned. Previously issued in a set that was both difficult to find for sale and wildly overpriced (especially on the secondary market once it went out of print) if you were lucky enough to find it, it has now been reissued in a 6-disc collection that includes all 19 episodes, commentaries featuring Danes, show creator Winnie Holzman, co-producer Marshall Herskowitz and others, a behind-the-scenes history of the show, a new interview with Danes, highlights from a 1995 panel discussion on the show at the Museum of Television & Radio featuring most of the cast and the key creative personnel and a 36-page booklet featuring testimonials from Holzman (who reveals plot details that would have occurred had the show lived on a little longer) and such famous fans as Janeane Garofalo and Joss Whedon.

This week also sees the release of “Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Volume 12,” the latest collection of episodes from the beloved cult show in which some of the silliest movies ever made are brutally and hilariously mocked by an amiable human dope and a pair of wisecracking robots who are trapped in space and forced to watch them as part of a bizarre interstellar experiment. (If you need the premise explained to you at this late date, you are definitely reading the wrong DVD column.) This set includes “The Rebel Set” (in which a pseudo-hipster, who is probably not played by Merritt Stone, cons a group of fairly unconvincing beatniks into helping him pull off the most convoluted robbery imaginable), “Secret Agent Super Dragon” (a silly 60's-era Bond rip-off filled with beautiful women, inscrutable plotting, lame double-entendres and a theme song that will stick in your mind for weeks afterwards), “The Starfighters” (essentially a feature-length training film extolling the virtues of the Air Force that is notable only for featuring future loathsome right-wing-congressman Bob Dornan as one of the leads) and “Parts: The Clonus Horror” (in which a dope from a mysterious land discovers that he is actually a clone that has been developed to serve as future spare parts for his owner–a plot that was ripped off decades later for Michael Bay’s “The Island”). These four episodes are among the best of the series–I would have to give the nod to “The Rebel Set” because of the skit in which our heroes discuss what they would do during a one-hour layover in Chicago–and if you don’t crack a grin while watching them, there must be something wrong with you.

Over the past few years, one of the brightest lights on the DVD horizon has been the annual packages from Warner Brothers celebrating their theatrical cartoon heritage. This week sees the release of the latest instalment of the series, “Looney Tunes Golden Collection: Volume 5,” and it lives up to the high standards of the previous editions. Once again, the set includes 60 shorts spread out over 4 separately themed discs–Disc One offers up some classics featuring Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, both separately and together (as in the all-time great “Ali Baba Bunny”), Disc Two gives us a feast of fairy tale spoofs, Disc Three highlights the career of director Bob Clampett and Disc Four takes a look back at some of the earliest cartoons produced by the studio. As with previous sets, this collection includes numerous commentary tracks from animation historians, a few music-and-effects tracks that allow you to rediscover just how important sound was to these shorts and a series of historical featurettes. In addition, fans will also get “Chuck Jones: Extremes and In-Betweens,” a feature-length documentary on the life and work of one of the most famous of all animation directors, three complete television specials and even a few of the rare “Private SNAFU” shorts made by WB for the military during World War II.

Over the years, Sony Home Entertainment has put out numerous DVDs of Three Stooges shorts but the results have been so dismal that most fans have wondered why they even bothered–the shorts themselves looked as though they were taken from dull and worn-out prints and the studio merely slapped them together in vague theme collections that had no rhyme or reason behind them and often repeated previously-issued titles ad nauseum. For years, fans have been begging the studio to make an effort towards restoring them and releasing them in chronological sets that would allow them to one day collect all 190 films. Finally, Sony has seen the light and we now have “The Three Stooges Collection, Volume One: 1934-1936,” a two-disc collection offering up the legendary comedy trio’s first 19 shorts, including such classics as “Punch Drunks,” “Three Little Pigskins” (featuring a then-unknown Lucille Ball) and the immortal hospital spoof “Men In Black” (“For Duty And Humanity!”) The shorts have never looked better on video than they do here but alas, there are no extras to speak off–presumably they are being held off for future installments to lure those who might not otherwise be inclined to buy the ones in which Curly was replaced by utility Stooge Shemp Howard or, God help us, the tragically irrepressible Joe Besser.

TWIN PEAKS: THE DEFINITIVE GOLD BOX EDITION: A Paramount Home Video release. $99.99

MY SO-CALLED LIFE: THE COMPLETE SERIES: A Shout! Factory release. $69.99

MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATRE 3000: VOLUME 12: A Rhino Home Video release. $59.95

LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION: VOLUME 5: A Warner Home Video release. $64.99

THE THREE STOOGES COLLECTION, VOLUME ONE: 1934-1936: A Sony Home Entertainment release. $24.95.


THE AMAZING MRS PRITCHARD (Acorn Media. $39.99): In this low-key and highly entertaining political satire made for British television, a ordinary supermarket manager (the always wonderful Jane Horrocks) becomes so annoyed with a couple of politicians campaigning outside of her store that she decides to run for election herself to that she could do a better job of it than the so-called professional candidates–the country evidentially feels the same way and the novice is unexpectedly elected Prime Minister.

THE AMICUS COLLECTION (Dark Sky Films. $29.98): Although the horror films produced by this British film studio in the 1960's and 70's were generally regarded as markedly inferior to those of their rivals at Hammer, they still came up with some interesting titles and this box set collects three of them, all of which feature genre icon Peter Cushing. “Asylum” is an anthology film in which the residents of an asylum (including Barbara Parkins, Herbert Lom and Charlotte Rampling) recount how they wound up there in the first place. “And Now The Screaming Starts” tells the story of a newly wed lass who is raped on her wedding night by an especially nasty spirit and is subsequently haunted by a series of depraved visions involving her new husband’s family. In “The Beast Must Die,” a big-game hunter invites five people, one of whom is a werewolf, to his isolated island compound so that he can track and hunt the beast–inevitably, he blows it and the monster begins picking off the other members of the cast one by one.

THE BARBARA STANWYCK SIGNATURE COLLECTION (Warner Home Video. $49.98): Another week, another legendary movie star gets their due via a snazzy collection of films from Warner Home Video. This time, the classy and brassy Stanwyck gets the treatment with this box set of six titles from her long and revered filmography. “Annie Oakley” (1935) is a biopic on the famous woman of the Old West and while the film (directed by George Stevens) bears little relation to reality, it is still a lot of fun to watch. “My Reputation” (1946) finds her in a more vulnerable role as a war widow with two teen sons who causes a minor scandal when she begins dating Army officer and all-around Lothario George Brent. “East Side, West Side” (1949) is a noirish melodrama in which she portrays one-third of a love triangle that also includes philanderer husband James Mason and an old mistress played by Ava Gardner. In “To Please A Lady” (1950), she plays a hard-bitten reporter out to expose a race car driver whose dangerous track exploits caused the death of one of his competitors–since said driver is played by Clark Gable, it is no doubt inevitable what happens next between them. “Jeopardy” (1953) is a weird thriller in which she plays a woman whose husband gets his leg caught under the water outside their beach vacation home at low tide–alas, the man she finds to help her free him before the high tide can arrive turns out to be an escaped killer (Ralph Meeker) who has an unusual asking price for his services. Finally, “Executive Suite” (1954) finds her and William Holden as two of the players in a power struggle at a large corporation when its founder dies suddenly.

BASKET CASE 2 (Synapse Films. $19.99): Although they were presumed to have perished in the fall that ended the 1982 original cult classic, the once-conjoined brothers Duane (the normal one) and Belial (the malformed and murderous mutant) survive and make their way to a secluded mansion populated by an array of similarly bizarre and misunderstood freaks and join together with their new-found friends when a tabloid reporter threatens to blow the lid on their whereabouts. While this is nowhere near as entertaining as the original film, Frank Henenlotter’s follow-up to his debut is an entertaining work with enough weirdo humor and gross-out moments to satisfy genre buffs.

EL CANTANTE (New Line Home Entertainment. $27.98): Arguably the worst of the recent glut of biopics of musical stars, this chronicle of the tragic rise and fall of salsa star Hector Lavoe (Marc Anthony) is undone by poor writing, utter predictability and the strange decision to frame the entire story as a flashback in order to expand the role of Lavoe’s wife, portrayed here by Jennifer Lopez in an epic bit of miscasting (Although the film spans decades, she actually starts looking the more her character ages.) You would be much better off getting CD’s of Lavoe’s actual music and ignoring this mess of a movie.

CAPTIVITY (Lionsgate Entertainment. $28.98): Unless you have a desire to see how low the career of a once-promising filmmaker (Roland Joffe, the man behind “The Killing Fields” and “The Mission”) can sink or to see a once-promising starlet (Elisha Cuthbert) reduced to appearing in films where she is strapped to a table and forced to drink a smoothie made of human organs, there is no reason for you to check out this miserable horror film in which a famous model (Cuthbert) is kidnapped by a sadistic stranger and forced to endure any number of grotesque cruelties in an effort to out-grue the “Saw” and “Hostel” franchises. Even by the not-exactly-sparkling standards of the torture-porn subgenre, this film is both pointless and terrible and should be avoided by one and all.

THE CHURCH/STAGEFRIGHT (Blue Underground. $14.95 each): If you are in a mood to see a gross horror movie or two, may I instead point you in the direction of these two stylishly made Italian gore epics from onetime Dario Argento protégé Michele Soavi? 1989's “The Church,” originally designed as a second sequel to the zombie hit “Demons,” tells the story of a church built upon the site of a village populated by Satan worshippers who were massacred hundreds of years earlier–needless to say, the vengeful spirits of the dead are freed and wreak havoc on the poor dopes trapped inside (including a young Asia Argento in one of her earliest appearances). As for “Stagefright” (1986), it tells the “Ten Little Indians”-inspired story of a group of actors whose all-night rehearsal of a musical about a mass murderer is interrupted by the arrival of a genuine escaped lunatic who begins to pick them off in spectacularly gory fashion.

CSI: MIAMI–THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $64.99): Once again, David Caruso solves some of Miami’s ickiest and least-dressed crimes with nothing more than keen investigative work, a gravelly monotone and an extra-pithy quote to close each episode.

DAYWATCH (Fox Home Entertainment. $27.98): As deliriously insane as the recent Russian vampire epic “Nightwatch” was, it seems positively staid in comparison to this sequel–a film that starts off over-the-top and proceeds to get even wilder and woollier as it goes on. Clearly not for everyone, but those of you with a taste for weirdo plots and stylish eye candy should definitely check this out–even if you can’t figure out what the hell is going on, you will likely be having too much fun watching it to even notice.

IN THE LAND OF WOMEN (Warner Home Video. $27.98): Still a leading contender for the title of Worst Film of 2007, this is an absolutely excruciating “Garden State” knock-off about a boring and self-absorbed mope (Adam Brody) who visits his dying grandmother in the suburbs of Michigan and becomes involved with both the cancer-ridden mother (Meg Ryan) and the angst-ridden daughter (Kristen Stewart) across the street. Seriously, if I ever see writer-director Jonathan Kasdan (son of the infinitely more talented Lawrence and brother of the infinitely more talented Jake) in public, I might actually have to slap him around a little bit.

THE INITIATION OF SARAH (MGM Home Entertainment. $22.97): In this remake of the 1978 made-for-TV camp classic, a girl with supernatural powers (Mika Boorem) joins a sorority and discovers that she must use her gifts to do battle with an evil rival sorority–the very same one that her normal twin sister (Summer Glau) has just joined. Those of you who are old enough to remember the original will be amused to discover that one of that film’s stars, Morgan Fairchild, turns up in a supporting role here.

JOHN WATERS: THIS FILTHY WORLD (MPI Home Video. $19.98): If you have never been privileged to witness the infamous cult director deliver one of his shocking-yet-hilarious one-man show live performances, now you have your chance courtesy of this concert film directed by comedian Jeff Garlin. Like all of Waters’ films, the subjects discussed will raise the eyebrows of even the most jaded audience members. Unlike most of his recent films, the material is actually quite funny and doesn’t wear out its welcome long before the ending.

LICENSE TO WED (Warner Home Video. $28.98): Once again, the normally delightful Mandy Moore decided to break my heart by appearing in another virtually unwatchable movie–this particular one being a creepy and absolutely mirthless comedy in which she and John Krasinski portray a newly engaged couple forced to endure a pre-marital relationship course led by a demented revered played by Robin Williams in one of the most stridently unfunny turns of his entire career.

NO END IN SIGHT (Magnolia Video. $26.98): Of all the documentaries dealing with the war in Iraq that have appeared in the last few years, this effort from debuting director Charles Ferguson quietly and devastatingly uses facts and calmly irrefutable logic to utterly demolish both the case that was presented to the American people for going to war and the various rationales given for continuing to stay there. To lend an extra bit of credibility to the proceedings, most of the tales are told from former political insiders whose catastrophic predictions continued to be summarily ignored by Bush’s inner circle even as they proved to be frighteningly accurate. If you continue to support the war, you owe it to yourself to check out this film–you may find your views on the subject changed forever by the time the end credits roll.

OCTOBER ROAD–THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Touchstone Home Entertainment. $29.99): Loosely based on the events that transpired in the life of show creator Scott Rosenberg after the release of “Beautiful Girls,”the 1996 film that he wrote based on incidents from his own life, the short-run ABC series from last spring (which will be returning later in the season) stars Bryan Greenberg as a writer who returns home after the success of his first book and discovers that the friends and family he left behind (including high-school girlfriend Laura Prepon) aren’t exactly thrilled about how he utilized their lives for his “fiction.”

THE OTHER SIDE O]F THE MIRROR: LIVE AT THE NEWPORT FOLK FESTIVAL 1963-1965 (Sony Home Entertainment. $19.98): While patiently awaiting the release of Todd Haynes’ eagerly-anticipated “I’m Not There,” Bob Dylan fanatics can pass the time by watching this collection of performances that he gave early in his career at the influential Newport Folk Festival, including his still-controversial 1965 appearance in which he showed up with a rock band (The Hawks, later known as The Band) and kick-started a musical revolution that still reverberates to this day.

PIERREPOINT: THE LAST HANGMAN (IFC Films. $19.95): Although it takes a nosedive in the last half-hour with some melodramatic (and apparently fictional) plot contrivances, the British docudrama about England’s most prolific executioner and the societal changes that inspired him to finally leave his job is still worth watching for Timothy Spall’s quietly effective work in the central role.

SCRUBS–THE COMPLETE SIXTH SEASON (Touchstone Home Entertainment. $39.99): Though the freshness of this oddball hospital-set sitcom has dissipated quite a bit over the course of its long run on NBC (not to mention my tolerance for star Zach Braff), I am still willing to concede that the show does occasionally offer some big laughs here and there, though it now pales in comparison to the likes of “The Office” and “30 Rock.” For those who haven’t yet given up the faith, this three-disc set offers up the usual bounty of special features–commentaries, deleted scenes and behind-the-scenes featurettes, including one devoted to the season’s bizarre all-singing musical episode.

SPIDER-MAN 3 (Sony Home Entertainment. $36.95):In what has to go down as one of the biggest film disappointments of 2007, this follow-up to the thrilling and emotionally satisfying “Spider-Man 2" turned out to be a limp rehash that contained a lot of uninteresting subplots (Mary-Jane’s career struggles, the emergence of the guy who apparently really killed Peter Parker’s uncle after all and some alien gloop that turns our hero into the most awkward screen Lothario since Buddy Love, who was at least supposed to be funny) but no driving central story to speak of to link up the increasingly tiresome special-effects sequences. Not even the requisite (and admittedly quite funny) Bruce Campbell cameo is enough to save the film from near-total uselessness.

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originally posted: 11/02/07 16:08:45
last updated: 11/03/07 02:28:01
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