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DVD Reviews for 3/7: He's Coming To Get You, Barbara!
by Peter Sobczynski

Column called on account of matrimony. Details within.

No, neither Milla Jovovich nor Emily Blunt have suddenly decided to ignore the advice of their lawyers and handlers and make an honest man out of me. As it turns out, on the afternoon of March 7–just about the time that some of you may be reading this–the younger brother, known as Michael or "The Cuter One," will be pledging his troth to one Barbara Zaucha before the eyes of God, a harp player and a list of invited guests so limited and exclusive that the entire gathering would be outnumbered by the typical second-weekend turnout for virtually every post-"Hairspray" release from the Studio Formerly Known as New Line. Despite the pressure of an interfaith relationship (he’s a "Star Wars" acolyte while she kneels at the altar of "Star Trek"), I am certain that he and Barbara, a lovely and intelligent girl (and kudos to the first person to write in and tell me where that line comes from), will carve out a long and happy life for themselves and I certainly hope that you will all join in with best wishes for the couple. (And yes, I will do everything I can in my power to get her to hyphenate.)

The only drawback, at least for you, gentle reader, is that I sort of agreed to be the best man and, as a result, am charged with delivering a toast to the happy couple–you know, because it is all about them, I guess. Alas, I misunderstood the instructions and instead of writing a pity and heartwarming toast, I spent the last two weeks putting together a brilliantly barbed roast that would have done Slappy White proud. As a result, I have spent the last couple of days trying to come up with something a little more appropriate–including such rejected concepts as off-color limericks, hard-core profanity and a parable about marriage that was essentially an excuse for ten minutes of "I Drink Your Milkshake" jokes–and in the struggle to come up with something acceptable, I have once again run out of time to supply an in-depth DVD review for this week. All I can offer is my heartfelt apologies and a vow to do better by you next week.


101 DALMATIANS: TWO-DISC PLATINUM EDITION (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.95): Although this 1961 animated film was rumored to have not been a particular favorite of producer Walt Disney (supposedly he disliked the more modern visual style utilized by the animators), I can think of at least three reasons why it deserves to be listed as one of the all-time Disney classics–the Midnight Bark (and if you look very closely during the end of this sequence, you can apparently see Lady and the Tramp participating), the presence of Cruella De Vil, one of the all-time great movie villains (and one of the most fashionable to boot) and Cruella De Vil’s theme song, one of the best songs in the history of Disney movies. (However, would it have killed the studio to include the rambunctious cover of the tune recorded by The Replacements for the "Stay Awake" tribute album?)

12 ANGRY MEN: 50th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.98): Yes, this old warhorse about the American judicial system and the importance of granting even the most guilty-looking criminal defendant a fair trial and jury deliberation is an important dramatic work that made the transition from the stage to the big screen with most of its intensity intact, mostly thanks to a powerhouse cast led by Henry Fonda. That said, it has always kind of rubbed me a little the wrong way that the key revelation that finally turns the case around–I won’t spoil it for those of you who haven’t seen it–isn’t even brought up until the story is almost over. Then again, if it had come up earlier, it would have all been over in about fifteen minutes and everyone in the jury room could have rendered the correct verdict and still gone off to their lives a lot quicker.

ARCHIE’S FUNHOUSE: THE COMPLETE SERIES (Classic Media. $29.95): Blending traditional cheapo TV animation with a live-action audience, this third Saturday morning iteration of the long-running comic-book favorite aped the style of the then-popular show "Laigh-In" with a fast-paced blend of cornball gags and musical numbers that taught valuable lessons about subjects like ecology (for it) and racism (against it).

AWAKE (The Weinstein Company. $28.95): In this long-delayed thriller, insanely rich kid Hayden Christensen goes under the knife for a much-needed heart transplant, a necessity seeing as how he has just married poor-but-hot secretary Jessica Alba, and discovers that a.) the anesthetic has failed in such a way that he can hear, see and feel everything but cannot communicate his plight to anyone and b.) that his anesthetic troubles are the least of his worries. In news that will presumably surprise no one, the results aren’t very good but the film isn’t quite as bad as its rapid arrival/departure from theaters a couple of months ago might suggest–if you can ignore the increasingly ludicrous plot developments, the film has a few reasonably tense moments of medical squirmage that might have played better as an episode of "Tales From the Crypt" or "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and the final twist is actually pretty clever, all things considered.

BILLY WILDER GIFT SET (MGM Home Entertainment. $39.98) Four of the funniest comedies from one of Hollywood’s finest directors–"Some Like It Hot" (1959), "The Apartment" (1960), "Kiss Me Stupid" (1964) and "The Fortune Cookie" (1965)–are collected in this box set. Of course, if you have even the slightest love for film comedy, you presumably already own these titles but if they have somehow managed to elude your grasp to this point, now would be the perfect time to fill in that gaping hole in your DVD collection. Besides, if enough people pick this set up, it might encourage someone to finally go ahead with that special edition disc of "Buddy Buddy" that I have patiently been waiting for.

HUMAN GIANT: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $26.98): The quote on the front of the box for this collection of episodes from the first season of the new MTV sketch comedy show boldly compares it to such unquestioned masterpieces of the form as "Monty Python’s Flying Circus" and "SCTV." Needless to say, it doesn’t quite hit those heights (then again, name another program that could) but as contemporary sketch comedy shows go, the bits of pure weirdness contained within certainly beats out the likes of the current iteration of "Saturday Night Live" and deserves comparison to such worthy predecessors as "The State" and "Mr. Show." This two-disc set includes 90 minutes of deleted scenes and commentary from the performers and such guest stars as Bill Hader, Patton Oswalt and moonlighting "24" tech tease Mary Lynn Rajskub.

INTO THE WILD (Paramount Home Video. $35.98): A lot of people admired Sean Penn’s adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s book about an idealistic youth, played here by Emile Hirsch, whose dissatisfaction with the world around set him on an odyssey of self-discovery that ended with him starving to death in an abandoned bus in the frozen wilds of Alaska. Alas, I wasn’t one of them–outside of some stunning cinematography and a nice supporting turn from Hal Holbrook (who received a richly deserved Oscar nomination for his efforts), I found the film to be an aggravating bore that transformed Krakauer’s more measured approach to its central character into an embarrassing hagiography that felt to me like what a Terrence Malick film must feel like to someone who hates his work.

THE LOVE BOAT: SEASON ONE, VOLUME ONE (Paramount Home Video. $36.98): The very epitome of 1970's TV cheese–the anthology show where practically everyone who worked in television during that decade either began or ended their careers–finally makes it to DVD in one of those half-season sets that seem designed solely to annoy fans who would have happily shelled out an extra $20 or so for a full season. Of course, you don’t care about that–you want to known which up-and-coming/down-and-out celebrities you can spot on the 12 episodes collected here. Well, the guest roster includes Jimmy Walker, Bonnie Franklin (as Captain Stubing’s ex-wife), Suzanne Somers, Meredith Baxter Birney, John Ritter (who has to dress up in drag to share the ship’s only remaining cabin with a woman), Jaclyn Smith, Sherman Hemsley, Robert Reed, Loretta Swit, Kristy McNichol (Yay!), Scott Baio, Richard Mulligan, Milton Berle, Charo (who comes with her own flotation devices), Bill Bixby, Jim Nabors, Robert Hegyes (as a frat guy looking to lose his virginity), Maureen McCormick (as his target), Ruth Gordon, Patty Duke, Tab Hunter, Ray Bolger, Steve Allen, Sandy Duncan, Loni Anderson, Phil Silvers, Jane Curtin, Eva Gabor (as an advice columnist whose attention to her work is causing her husband to stray), Leslie Nielsen (as said husband), Robert Urich (as the guy who would later star in an ill-advised and poorly rated revival of the series two decades on), Florence Henderson, Shecky Greene, Arte Johnson, Anson Williams and, inevitably, Pat Morita.

MEGASNAKE (First Look Films. $19.98): Look, I don’t actually have to write another word about this particular film–you have either looked at the title with disgust and moved on to the next film or you have looked at the title with delight and have gone to order your own copy.

MR. MAGORIUM’S WONDER EMPORIUM (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): Perhaps the most disastrous blend of failed fantasy and hard-sell whimsy since Barry Levinson’s infamous "Toys" (and at least that film offered viewers some astonishing production design and a lovely opening 10 minutes before plunging them into the chaos), this would-be kiddie klassic features Dustin Hoffman as the wacky 243-year-old proprietor of a magical toy shop, Natalie Portman as the adorably neurotic assistant that he plans to turn the store over to now that he plans on dying and Jason Bateman as the nerdy straight man who knows that no one will remember his presence in this turkey once "Juno" is released. As a wise critic (okay, it was me) remarked upon its initial release last fall, if you took "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," "Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure" and a gallon of super-sweet cake frosting and put them in a giant industrial blender set to "suck," this is exactly the kind of bile-inducing bon-bon that might have resulted.

THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL (BBC Warner. $19.98): Before Philippa Gregory’s lurid best-seller about the competition between Anne Boleyn and her lesser-known sister Mary for the favors of King Henry VIII was adapted into the dreadful Natalie Portman-Scarlett Johansson film currently creaking away in your local multiplex, it was the subject of a 2003 BBC adaptation with Jared Harris as Henry, Natascha McElhone as Mary and Jodhi May as Anne. I haven’t seen this myself yet but from what I can gather from the comments that I have found, it contains all the flaws of the current version, chiefly a screenplay that favors lurid soap opera hysterics over historical fact, and none of its virtues–lacking the production budget that the film had, the sets and costumes for this version are apparently on the cheapo side.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: LOST & FOUND–SNL IN THE 1980'S (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98): This second feature-length documentary on the long and strange history of the long-running late-night series (following "Saturday Night Live: The First Five Years") charts its admittedly wobbly second decade of existence–a period that saw quite a few high points of its existence (the explosion of Eddie Murphy, the 1984 Dream Team season featuring Billy Crystal, Martin Short and Christopher Guest and the guiding presence of perennial MVP Phil Hartman) and some of its lowest (the 1980 cast of near-nobodies that had the impossible task of following in the immediate footsteps of the original cast and a 1985-1986 season that, despite the presence of Robert Downey Jr, Randy Quaid and Joan Cusack, remains arguably the single most disastrous in its history).

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE: THE BEST OF ‘06/’07 (Universal Home Entertainment. $14.98): Insert joke about obvious brevity of this collection here.

THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE (Dreamworks Home Entertainment. $29.98): In one of those films that was endlessly hyped as a sure-fire Oscar contender right up to the moment when people actually got to see it, Halle Berry plays a recent widow who decides that the best way for her and her children to process their grief is to invite her late husband’s junkie best friend (Benicio del Toro) to stay in their guest house. A first-rate performance from del Toro collides uneasily with a third-rate screenplay and the result is a second-rate soap opera that is too mawkish and melodramatic for its own good.

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originally posted: 03/07/08 04:40:20
last updated: 03/11/08 05:36:05
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