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DVD Reviews for 12/14: The Happiest DVD Column On Earth

by Peter Sobczynski

Once again, I am asking for your help in coming up with potential titles to cover in my annual “DVD-M.I.A.” column focusing on titles that have yet to appear on DVD in any form in America. If you have some suggestions on a favorite obscurity, please pass them on either by clicking on the “Comments” section at the end of this article or by contacting me at I will be accepting suggestions until December 30 and the column will run on January 4.

Since 2001, Walt Disney Studios has celebrated the December 5 birthday of founder Walt Disney, who was born on December 5, 1901, by going into their vaults and releasing “Walt Disney Treasures,” limited-edition 2-disc collections of classic cartoons, archival material and obscurities to the delight of film buffs and collectors alike. Earlier this year, there was a rumor that the studio was considering dropping the line and the news created such an outcry in the DVD community that the studio quickly reassured everyone that the series would be continuing. As promised, the seventh wave of “Treasures” has emerged and fans will be pleased to discover that the three titles offered up this time around once again offer a sterling collection of rare material spanning the entire history of the studio.

Although his creation of Mickey Mouse in 1928 would almost immediately revolutionize the world of animated film, it was hardly the first character that he worked on. After having some success with the “Alice” series of live-action/animation hybrids (which were previously covered on the “Treasures” set “Disney Rarities–Celebrated Shorts, 1920's-1960's”), Disney created the character of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit for a series of cartoons that were distributed by Universal Studios. Although the cartoons were a success, Disney and distributor Charles Mintz didn’t see eye-to-eye and after making 26 cartoons with the character, Mintz took the character away from Disney and gave it to another young animator by the name of Walter Lantz (whose efforts with Oswald can be seen as a bonus feature on the recently-released “Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection” set), a move that inspired Disney to finally strike out on his own. Difficult to see for decades, Disney finally bought back these films from Universal in 2006 (as part of a deal that also involved sportscaster Al Michaels going from Disney-owned ABC to Universal-owned NBC) and have issued them for the first time as “The Adventures of Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” The first disc of this set contains the 13 Disney Oswald cartoons that have survived to this day, newly commissioned scores for each short written by silent-film composer Robert Israel, audio commentaries on several of the cartoons from a number of experts and numerous still-frame galleries. Disc 2 includes the full-length documentary “The Hand Behind the Mouse: The Ub Iwerks Story,” a film that tells the story of the largely unsung animator who was a key figure in the development of both Oswald and Mickey Mouse, and a selection of Iwerks shorts from the period immediately before the Oswald films (three of the “Alice” shorts) and the period immediately after (three early Mickey Mouse shorts, including “Steamboat Willie”) that illustrate just how much the earlier shorts would go on to influence the later and far more famous titles. Although this set might not appeal too much to the casual consumer–the cartoons themselves are kind of poky and more interesting as historical artifacts than as vehicles for entertainment–any serious animation buff will find it virtually indispensable.

Far more appealing to the casual consumer is “The Chronological Donald Volume 3: 1947-1950,” a set that collects the 30 cartoons made during the period when it was the irascible duck, and not Mickey Mouse, who was the studio’s most popular character. Among the sights to be seen here include Donald’s battles with the wacky rodents Chip and Dale (“Chip An’ Dale” and “Toy Tinkers”), a trouble-making bee and the Bootle Beetle, his attempts to properly rear nephews Huey, Dewy and Louie (none too successfully–“Donald’s Happy Birthday” offers the sight of them smoking) and finds himself assuming the characteristics of Frank Sinatra ( after a bump on the head turns him into a crooner in “Donald’s Dilemma”) and Ronald Colman (after swallowing a voice pill in “Donald’s Dream Voice”). While a lot of the old Disney cartoons haven’t really aged very well as entertainment–have you ever genuinely laughed at a Mickey Mouse cartoon?–the shorts seen here are, for the most part, exceptions to that rule as the combination of inspired sight gags and Donald’s explosive temper are just as amusing to observe today as they were 60-odd years ago. Beyond the shorts, the bonus features on this set include featurettes about Donald’s creation (“Sculpting Donald”) and his occasional appearances on “The Mickey Mouse Club.”

The focus shifts from Disney’s screen achievements to his equally successful work as a theme park creator on “Disneyland: Secrets, Stories and Magic,” a set that offers up a behind-the-scenes look at the history of his enormously popular amusement park and how it has evolved over the years. The main feature on display is “Disneyland: Secrets, Stories and Magic,” an updated version of a feature-length documentary on the history of the park that was originally produced in 2005 to commemorate its 50th anniversary. This is a highly informative film that interviews many of the key surviving behind-the-scenes players and serves as a reminder of just how big of a risk Disney was taking when he decided to build the park in the first place. As impressive as this film is, however, it is nothing compared to the rare archival films and television episodes that appear here as supplemental materials. The best of the bunch is “People and Places: Disneyland U.S.A.,” a 42-minute theatrical short from 1956 (filmed in glorious CinemaScope) that offered viewers a full guided tour of the park and while it may strike some viewers as nothing more than an especially shameless infomercial, that feeling is outweighed by the chance to get a detailed glimpse at what the place looked like back in its infancy. Among the other treats on display are some amazing time-lapse footage of the park’s construction, a behind-the-scenes look at the preparations that went into the ABC television broadcast of the park’s opening day, rarely-seen TV episodes of Disney’s long-running TV show focusing on The Golden Horseshoe Revue (complete with appearances from Ed Wynn and Annette Funicello) and the creation and installation of some of the attractions, such as the “It’s A Small World” ride. Finally, there is a reasonably tricky trivia game that rewards winners with extra bonus footage. If that weren’t enough, the set also includes a replica of one of the old ticket booklets that the park used to utilize–an appropriate gesture since this title, like all the others in the collection, is a pure E-ticket ride all the way.

A Buena Vista Home Entertainment release. $32.99 each


BEVERLY HILLS 90210–THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $54.99): Romantic triangles, diet pill addictions, privileged white guys trying to jump-start rap careers, a Burt Reynolds cameo and Tori Spelling getting expelled after showing up drunk at the prom–this season of the long-running teen soap opera pretty much had everything that one could possibly ask for in cheesy 90's-era melodrama.

BIG LOVE–THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (HBO Home Video. $59.99): Insert crashingly obvious joke speculating about whether this latest set of episodes from the popular HBO series about a polygamist family is on Mitt Romney’s Netflix list here.

THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (Universal Home Video. $29.98): While the multiplexes were fairly well jammed with threequels (such as the third installments of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Shrek,” “Spider Man” and “Ocean’s 11"), this action-packed continuation of the Jason Bourne franchise was the only one to actually improve on its predecessors. Once again, director Paul Greengrass showed a deft ability to effectively juggle slam-bang action sequences, a dizzyingly intricate plot and intelligently-drawn characters and once again, Matt Damon demonstrates that despite his lack of obvious brawn, he truly is a big-screen hero for the ages.

DECEMBER BOYS (Warner Home Video. $27.98): If you have been waiting for “Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe to go a little further on the big screen than just a simple kiss, this Australian melodrama is just what you’ve been waiting for–in it, he plays one of a group of orphan boys who gets to spend a holiday at the seashore and winds up getting intimate (well, PG-13 intimate) with a local girl. Made in 2005, this was only given a token release last summer in order to cash in on the hype surrounding “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” so I suppose it isn’t too surprising to discover that it is hitting DVD the same week as that film as well.

DIRT–THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $59.99): When it was announced that Courtney Cox’s first post-“Friends” TV series would be a edgy show for FX in which she played the ruthless editor of a sleazy tabloid who would do anything to make (or make up) a good story, the idea of someone who has long been in the paparazzi’s turning the tables sounded promising enough. Alas, despite a few nice moments (mostly courtesy of co-star Ian Hart as a schizo shutterbug), it turned out to be much ado about virtually nothing and towards the end of the season, the show was reduced to hyping an on-screen kiss between Cox and one-time co-star Jennifer Aniston in a last-ditch effort to attract interest.

EVIL DEAD TRAP 2 (TLA Releasing. $19.99): I could try to explain the plot of this 1991 sequel to the legendarily brutal and gory Japanese horror film but I can pretty much guarantee that it wouldn’t make a lick of sense–suffice it to say, if you are even momentarily intrigued by the words “Evil Dead Trap 2,” you will probably get a kick out of the blood-soaked weirdness contained within and if you aren’t, you should give it the widest possible berth.

FRASIER–THE COMPLETE 10TH SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $38.99): With the release of this penultimate season of the long-running and ever-erudite sitcom, hard-core fans will now finally be able to own each and every episode of the entire series. (The final season was released a few years ago right after the show went off the air.) In this particular collection, Frasier (Kelsey Grammar) fights and flirts with Felicity Huffman, lovebirds Niles (David Hyde Pierce) and Daphne (Jane Leeves) find themselves marrying each other no fewer than three times and Frasier and Niles’ attempts to put on airs wind up backfiring on them at least one time in each of the 22 episodes found here.

GOMER PYLE U.S.M.C.–THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $38.99): In these 30 episodes of the popular cornpone sitcom, which originally aired during the 1966-1967 season, everyone’s favorite hayseed Marine (Jim Nabors) gets involved in wacky scrapes (such as getting engaged, getting kidnapped by smugglers, exposing crooked gamblers and encountering made-for-TV hippies), annoys Sgt Carter (Frank Sutton) to no end and somehow avoids getting shipped off to Vietnam.

HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX (Warner Home Video. $34.99): In the fifth installment of the hugely popular franchise, teen angst hits Hogwarts with a vengeance as Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his pals are forced to depend on each other in order to do battle with the fearsome Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and a ministry-installed teacher (Imelda Staunton) who is determined to maintain the status quo at all costs. Even though you might expect this franchise to be running out of steam at this point, it is still going strong thanks to the smart decision on the part of the filmmakers to rely less on the eye-popping special effects that dominated the first couple of films and more on J.K. Rowling’s surprisingly complex and thoughtful plots and intricately drawn characters.

HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 2: EXTENDED EDITION (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.99): Although the original “High School Musical” has been referred to in many quarters as “Grease” for the current younger generation, this follow-up (which may have actually been the most anticipated sequel of last summer, even if it did premiere on cable instead of at the multiplex) is by no means this generation’s “Grease 2.” Although it lacks the freshness of the first, this continuation–in which well-scrubbed and fully-clothed sweethearts Troy (Zac Efron) and Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) and their pals score summer jobs at the country club run by the family of arch-rivals Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale, sporting her original nose) and Ryan (Lucas Grabeel)–is reasonably charming and jam-packed with songs that don’t hurt too much when you hear them. This DVD includes a previously unseen musical number, bloopers, rehearsal footage and a karaoke function that allows you to sing along with the characters.

INTERVIEW (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95): In remaking the late Theo Van Gogh’s 2003 film about the meeting of the minds between a popular actress and a burned-out political journalist over the course of one long night, Steve Buscemi (who also portrayed the journalist in addition to directing) gives us a movie that works as a sincere tribute to Van Gogh’s original but never quite stands alone as its own film. That said, it does have a few nice moments here and there and contains Miller’s best on-screen performance to date.

LOST–THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $59.99): Well, if there is a bright side to the ongoing Writers Guild strike that has essentially crippled network television for the time being, it is that it gives fans of this endlessly puzzling and perplexing series more time to rewatch all 23 episodes and explore all the numerous bonus features (including audio commentaries, deleted scenes, additional character flashbacks, behind-the-scenes featurettes focusing on the production of the show and a look at some of the various literary references that are liberally dropped into each instalment) in an effort get fully up to speed before the fourth season finally premieres.

MASTERS OF HORROR–THE V WORD (Starz/Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $14.98): No, the Showtime horror anthology series has not joined forces with the network’s popular lesbian melodrama–this is just some nonsense from director Ernest Dickerson (apparently one can be deemed a “Master of Horror” these days simply on the basis of having made a “Tales From the Crypt” movie and the zombie-pimp extravaganza “Bones”) about a couple of dopes who sneak into a mortuary for some hijinks and wind up running into a vampire.

MOOLAADE (New Yorker Video. $34.95): Even before he passed away last June at the age of 84, Ousmane Sembene was generally regarded as Africa’s most important filmmaker and this 2004 effort, which would sadly turn out to be his last, was considered by those who knew his work to be his crowning achievement. It tells the story of Colle (Fatoumata Coulibaly), a woman who ignites a firestorm of controversy in her isolated village when she offers protection to a group of young girls who have run away rather than submit to the barbarous practice of female circumcision. Granted, a film on this subject may sound like a dour, dreary slog-one of those films that people see because they hear that it is Good For Them–but this is nothing like that. While there are horrific and heart-wrenching moments on display, Sembene also takes care to included lighter moments as well-there are some amusing moments with a neighborhood bounder who becomes unexpectedly heroic-and there is even a musical number or two. More importantly, while he is firmly in the camp of the more progressive villagers, he takes care to portray the traditionalists as three-dimensional characters as well. This is a masterful film from a masterful filmmaker and it will hopefully encourage people to seek out Sembene’s other works as well.

A PERFECT DAY (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95): Alas, this is neither the screen adaptation of the classic Lou Reed song nor is it the long-awaited released of the equally classic Laurel & Hardy short in which the duo struggle with the preparations for a family picnic. Instead, it is some made-for-TV treacle in which a struggling author (Rob Lowe) turns into a self-absorbed jackass when his book becomes a massive best-seller and winds up turning into a better person when he is told that he has 40 days to live.

TWO-LANE BLACKTOP (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): One of the landmark films of the 1970's, Monte Hellman’s 1971 existential road movie features musicians James Taylor and Dennis Wilson as a pair of aimless drifters bombing the roads in a souped-up ‘55 Chevy, Laurie Bird as the cute hitch-hiker who comes between them and Warren Oates as the middle-aged GTO driver who challenges them to a half-hearted cross-country drag race. Previously released on DVD in a long-out-of-print edition by Anchor Bay, Criterion gives this cult favorite the full bells-and-whistles treatment in a two-disc edition featuring a pair of commentaries (featuring Hellman, filmmaker/fan Allison Anders and screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer), new interviews with Hellman and Taylor, outtakes, a copy of Wurlitzer’s screenplay (which was actually published by “Esquire” in advance of the film’s aborted release) and appreciations from fans Richard Linklater and Tom Waits.

UNITED ARTISTS 90TH ANNIVERSARY PRESTIGE COLLECTION (MGM Home Entertainment. $869.98): From its humble beginnings as a joint venture between superstars Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and director D.W. Griffith to its current incarnation under the joint ownership of MGM and producing partners Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner, United Artists has had a long and rich cinematic history that is more than amply covered in this mammoth 110-disc set that includes 5 James Bond films, numerous Best Picture winners (including “The Apartment,” “West Side Story,” “Midnight Cowboy” and “Annie Hall,” a few oddball choices (such as those prime bits of 80's-era cheese “Red Dawn” and “Road House”) and even “Heaven’s Gate,” the wildly expensive and thoroughly underrated Michael Cimino western that essentially killed the studio off as an independent concern in 1980 after its disastrously poor showing at the box-office.

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originally posted: 12/14/07 05:34:36
last updated: 12/14/07 06:07:05
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