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DVD Reviews for 11/30: We Salute You, Glorious Robot Hand!
by Peter Sobczynski

In which your faithful critic offers up glimpses at obscurities from all over the world, enough TV DVDs to keep you from going into strike-related withdrawl and last summer's other virtually unwatchable toy-based entertainment featuring the sight of Jon Voight embarrassing himself.

The first couple of weeks of the new year are always a fairly dead time for DVD releases–any big titles were issued weeks earlier for the holiday rush and things don’t really pick up again for most of the month. For those of you trying to save a few bucks after the holidays, this lull can be a godsend but for those of us striving to put out a weekly DVD column, it makes trying to fill up the appropriate amount of white space a pain in the hinder. In the last couple of years, I have attempted to combat this problem by dedicating the central portion of the first column of the year to a wish list of films that have yet to be released on DVD for one reason or another. Perhaps it has even had some tiny effect–previously discussed titles such as “Quintet,” “Police Squad,” “The Silent Partner” and “Walker” have all either been released by now or are currently scheduled. (Although it has yet to be released on DVD, I should also mention that another previously cited title, Otto Preminger's psychedelic freak-out "Skidoo," will be getting a rare airing on Turner Classic Movies on January 4th.)

This year, I will be doing it once again and once again, I am asking for your help in coming up with some of the ten titles. Don’t worry–this isn’t going to be one of those cut-and-paste screw jobs where people write in stuff and I just jam it all together into an instant article for which I take all the credit. I still plan on doing the writing–I am just looking for some suggestions of possible titles that will hopefully spark something or other and at the end of the piece, I will probably list all the titles that were suggested. I am open to virtually any kind of film as long as it hasn’t been previously released on DVD in the U.S., it hasn’t been announced for a future release and that it is a film that actually exists–things like fully restored versions of “Greed” or “Two Moon Junction” that exist only in the minds of devoted fans. If you have any suggestions to offer, you can do so by clicking on the comments section at the bottom of this piece and posting them there or by sending them to me at by December 30.


BRATZ (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $28.98): Man, who would have ever thought that “Transformers” would turn out to be the superior toy-based film featuring an embarrassing supporting turn from Jon Voight to come out this year? And yet, that movie was a minor masterpiece of the cinema when compared to this shrill, dreadful and deeply disturbing feature-length commercial that tried to suggest to young girls everywhere that the best way to go through life and be happy is to act like bubbleheads and dress like tramps.

DRUNKEN ANGEL (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): In what was perhaps the most significant of their pre-“Rashomon” collaborations, Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune teamed up for this story of a minor-league level who is facing both the loss of his professional face (when his boss is released from prison and takes over the gang that he has been running during his absence) and his personal health when an alcoholic doctor diagnoses his tuberculosis. This latest Kurosawa title to be offered by Criterion includes a commentary from Japanese film expert Donald Richie, a documentary made for Japanese television on the film’s production and excerpts from Kurosawa’s autobiography centering on its making.

FIRST SNOW (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.96): Good performances (from the likes of Guy Pearce, J.K. Simmons, William Fichtner and the ever-fetching Piper Perabo) and an intriguing premise (hot-shot salesman Pearce is driven to distraction when fortune-teller Simmons informs him that he will have “no more tomorrows” after the first snow of the year) keep this low-key drama alive for a while but it eventually becomes bogged down with too many subplots and a not-entirely-satisfying conclusion. That said, it is much better than the similarly plotted “Premonition” and I suspect that its modest charms will come across better in the more intimate confines of your living room.

FREE CINEMA (Facets Video. $69.95): “Free Cinema” was a cinematic movement that occurred in England in the 1950's when a new group of young filmmakers, including such soon-to-be-famous names as Tony Richardson, Lindsay Anderson and Karel Reisz, came onto the scene and created stark and realistic works that revolutionized the world of documentary filmmaking and helped pave the way for the socially committed feature films that would emerge from that country over the next decade. This 3-disc set collects 11 of the key works from the movement along with an additional five shorts that weren’t actually a part of the “Free Cinema” movement but which were clearly influenced by it.

FUTURAMA: BENDER’S BIG SCORE (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): Following in the footsteps of “Family Guy,” another animated series that was cancelled and later revived after cable reruns proved to be surprisingly popular, Matt Groening’s often-brilliant sci-fi spoof gets its own second chance with the first of four direct-to-DVD movies (which will soon be cut down into individual episodes to run on Comedy Central in the future. In this installment, Bender, the show’s beloved misanthropic robot, causes all sorts of problems (no big surprise) when he becomes the unwitting pawn of a group of scam-artist aliens intent on conquering Earth.

HAPPY DAYS–THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON/LAVERNE & SHIRLEY–THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON/MORK & MINDY–THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $38.99 each): Seeing as how new episodes of your favorite television shows are about to become a scarce commodity, thanks to the ongoing writers strike, you can always pass the time by reacquainting yourself with three of the more popular sitcoms of the 1970's in these three Season Three sets. In “Happy Days,” you can see Mr. Cunningham going through a mid-life crisis, Joanie developing a crush on Potsie, Ralph Malph trying to join the Marines, Richie stirring up trouble when he invites a black kid to a local luau and Fonzie jumping over 14 garbage can on his motorcycle in an warm-up for his famous shark-jumping trick. “Laverne & Shirley” sees the girls trying to land an airplane after the pilot passes out, trying to woo a mortician by pretending that one of them is dying, trying to win the brewery talent show (where it turns out that the boss is played by none other than Harry Shearer) and trying to meet Fabian. On “Mork & Mindy,” everyone’s favorite fast-talking TV alien (or second-favorite, depending on your views towards Alf) introduces Mindy to Peter Pan, kidnaps a chimpanzee, fights off muggers and finds himself mistaken for his Earthling lookalike, well-known comedian Robin Williams.

HEIMAT III–A CHRONICLE OF ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS (Facets Video. $79.99): If your taste for extraordinarily long German cinema was not satisfied by the recent release of “Our Hitler,” perhaps this 680-minute continuation of Edgar Reitz’s extended examination of 20th century Germany (which previously included 1984's 925-minute “Heimat–Chronicle of Germany” and 1992's 1580-minute “Heimat II–A Chronicle Of A Generation”) will give you what you are looking for. This time around, the separated lovers at the center of part II reunite after two decades on the same night that the fall of the Berlin Wall reunites their country. Obviously, if you haven’t seen the first two parts, this is not really the place to suddenly pick it up but those who have been following the story for nearly 25 years will delight in seeing the concluding chapters of Reitz’s epic.

HOT FUZZ (Universal Home Entertainment. $34.98): Yes, it is kind of a bum move on Universal’s part to put out a three-disc super-special edition of this hilarious riff on overheated cop movies from director Edgar Wright and co-stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the guys behind the equally funny “Shaun of the Dead.” That said, if you are a fan of the film and already purchased the previously released DVD (which wasn’t too shabby itself), you are pretty much going to have to pick it up again because the new additions (including 4 additional commentary tracks, extra featurettes and “Dead Right,” a 1993 short made by Wright, Pegg and Frost) are more than worth the additional purchase price. If you didn’t pick it up before, this set is a no-brainer because not only are you getting a ton of extras, you are also getting what is easily one of the funniest films of 2007.

HOT ROD (Paramount Home Video. $29.99): Much further down from “Hot Fuzz” on the list of the funniest films of 2007 (unless said list is alphabetical) is this fairly lame attempt by Andy Samberg to translate his success with those digital shorts on “Saturday Night Live” (including such instant hits as “Lazy Sunday,” “D— In A Box” and the Natalie Portman gangsta-rap video) to the big screen with this limp comedy about a klutzy would-be daredevil who wants to pull off a difficult stunt in order to raise money for a life-saving operation for his hated stepfather (Ian McShane). Although there are a couple of funny moments here and there, there just aren’t enough of them to justify the feature-length running time and the film compounds its problems by bringing in such reliable players as Sissy Spacek (as Samberg’s dutiful mom), Isla Fisher (as his would-be sweetheart) and Will Arnett (as his rival for Fisher’s affections) and then failing to give them anything amusing to do.

I KNOW WHO KILLED ME (Sony Home Entertainment. $26.96): Yes, this ludicrous thriller received many of the worst reviews of the year and deserved virtually all of them. Yes, the fact that Lindsay Lohan actually chose to do this project was a obvious indication of her increasingly impaired judgement. Yes, the film is little more than a Skinemax version of “The Corsican Brothers” with plenty of scenes of grisly violence and torture but virtually no nudity to speak of (not even during the heavily promoted scenes involving Lohan working as a stripper). And yet, I still have a certain fondness for this film because while it is a disaster through and through, it is so completely bonkers in virtually every aspect (most notably in the robot hand that Lohan acquires halfway through that winds up saving the day in the end) that it becomes one of the great inadvertent comedies of recent years.

MR. BEAN’S HOLIDAY (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): While I have never been the hugest fan of Rowan Atkinson’s internationally popular bumbling Everyman–the various television incarnations never struck me as particularly funny and “Bean,” the 1997 effort to translate his appeal to the big screen, was just flat-out horrendous–I must admit that I found myself laughing quite frequently during this cheerfully light-hearted romp in which he blunders his way through a European vacation that sees him wrestling with shellfish, mistaken for a kidnapper and laying waste to the Cannes Film Festival premiere of the latest film from pretentious filmmaker Willem Dafoe (doing what appears to be a spot-on parody of Abel Ferrara). Look, no one will mistake it for “Mr. Hulot’s Holiday” anytime soon but the combination of cheerful slapstick and the lack of gross-out humor (save for some oyster-based ickiness) makes it an ideal film for kids and adults alike.

THE NAMESAKE (Fox Home Entertainment. $27.98): After the critical and financial failure of her highly questionable you-go-girl recasting of “Vanity Fair,” Mira Nair returned to her roots for this decent-though-unsurprising adaptation of the Jhumpa Lahiri best-seller chronicling two generations of an Indian family living in America and centering on a son (Kal Penn) who is torn between the traditions of his parents and his desire to become a fully assimilated American.

PAPRIKA (Sony Home Entertainment. $26.96): Satoshi Kon, the director of such brilliant and genre-busting anime films as “Perfect Blue,” “Millennium Actress” and “Tokyo Godfathers” (all of which you should see right this instant if you haven’t already), returns with this dazzling epic in which the line between reality and dreams begins to disappear when a therapeutic machine that can allow people to enter someone else’s dreams is stolen and used to control minds instead. Unlike most anime films, this particular effort includes mind-blowing imagery (literally at some points) as well as a gripping narrative and the results confirms Kon’s position as one of the brightest and most creative talents in the field of animation working today.

SKINWALKERS (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $28.98): From the studio that brought you such modern classics as “Captivity” and “Dragon Wars” comes this decidedly silly cut-rate monster epic about two rival gangs of werewolves, one nice and one nasty, who find themselves battling over a kid who is about to turn 13 and, unbeknownst to him, will inherit powers that will allow him to remove the shape-shifting curse from all lycanthropes for good for reasons that will most likely escape anyone who actually tries to sit through this thing from beginning to end.

SPICE WORLD–SPECIAL EDITION (Sony Home Entertainment. $14.98): When the first (and only) attempt by the Spice Girls to extend their brief popularity in the music world to the big-screen, it was derided as a soulless rip-off of “A Hard Day’s Night” and, much like the group themselves, quickly disappeared from view. Now that Posh, Ginger, Mel C., Mel B and Baby (and the fact that I remembered all the nicknames without looking them up is too depressing to be believed) have reunited for a comeback tour, Sony has re-released the film on DVD in a so-called “special edition” (that doesn’t appear to be that much different from the original issue) and it turns out that the film has aged about as well as its stars have (though I must still confess a soft spot in my heart for Mel C., for reasons I couldn’t possibly explain). If you want to have some fun while watching this–though I suppose it could only be considered trace levels of fun at best–keep your eyes peeled for appearances from such surely embarrassed famous faces as Elvis Costello, Alan Cumming, Jason Flemyng, Stephen Fry, Bob Geldof, Richard E. Grant, Bob Hoskins, Elton John, Hugh Laurie, Meat Loaf, Roger Moore, Richard O’Brien, Jennifer Saunders and George Wendt.

VITUS (Sony Home Entertainment. $29.95): For roughly its first half, this Swiss film, which tells the story of a brilliant young child who yearns to be a normal kid even as his loving-but-clueless parents make big plans for his future, is a smart and thoughtful look at a kid torn between his extraordinary gifts and his desire to be ordinary. Alas, it pretty much all goes to hell in a second half that is so overstuffed with increasingly unbelievable plot developments and outright nonsense that you can hardly believe that the same people were responsible for both halves.

WAITRESS (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): In what would sadly prove to be the last film from indie-darling-turned-filmmaker Adrienne Shelly (who was stupidly and senselessly murdered just after its completion), Keri Russell plays an unhappily married small-town waitress with a knack for making pies who unexpectedly becomes pregnant and finds herself involved in an affair with her married gynecologist (Nathan Fillion). Although I hate to say it, especially since I have been a fan of Shelly’s since she first burst onto the scene with her scene-stealing appearances in Hal Hartley’s “The Unbelievable Truth” and “Trust,” it seems that most of the rave reviews that the film received when it was released last spring were more inspired by her untimely demise than the relative qualities of the material, which never quite rises above the level of an okay sitcom. That said, it does have its virtues, chiefly the lead performance from Russell and a great, scene-stealing supporting turn from Andy Griffith as the cantankerous owner of the restaurant where Russell works.

WHISPER (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): In this silly-looking direct-to-video thriller (from the producers of “White Noise,” so brags the packaging), an ex-con, his fiancee and a couple of associates kidnap an eight-year-old boy in order to score an easy and hefty ransom–alas, the kid turns out to have supernatural abilities (not to mention an outfit that makes him look like one of the Children From the Corn) that he uses to torment his captors.

WHO’S YOUR CADDY? (The Weinstein Company. $28.95): Okay, I am sure that no one, not even the people behind this African-American-centered rip-off of “Caddyshack,” to be anywhere as funny as that 1980 classic with its tale of a rapper who wants to become a member of a snooty country club. However, you would think that they could have at least made an effort to make it funnier than “Caddyshack II,” wouldn’t you?

WISH GONE AMISS (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $19.99): In this Disney Channel special mashing up three of their biggest current hits–“Cory in the House,” “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” and the omnipresent “Hannah Montana”–a shooting star inspires regular teen/secret pop star Miley Stewart (Miley Cyrus) to wish that she could be a superstar around the clock, Cory (Kyle Massey) to fantasize about being President of the United States and Zach and Cody (Cole and Dylan Sprouse) to dream of being superheroes. No, I haven’t the foggiest idea what any of the above actually means but I am sure that there are plenty of kids out there who would be perfectly willing to explain it all to you in excruciating detail. I have no doubt that they will love this DVD, though anyone hoping to present it as an alternative to Hannah Montana concert tickets should probably be prepared for some disappointed faces.

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originally posted: 11/30/07 16:07:11
last updated: 11/30/07 16:43:33
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