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by Peter Sobczynski

Can’t write pithy opening. . .too busy rewatching Emily Blunt’s scene in “Charlie Wilson’s War.”

I am out of town and away from the home office this week and as a result, I will not be supplying the usual long and pithy feature review this week. Try to contain your emotions and everything will be back to normal next week.


CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Despite featuring a screenplay from the insanely overrated Aaron Sorkin, direction from Mike Nichols (a usually uneven filmmaker who has been on a roll in the last few years with “Wit,” “Angels in America” and “Closer”) and a cast including the likes of Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and perennial column crush object Emily Blunt, this serio-comic look at the true-life tale of how an easygoing congressman (Hanks), a wealthy socialite (Roberts) and a rouge C.I.A. agent (Hoffman) helped to covertly fund Afghanistan rebels in their fight against Soviet invasion in the 1980’s (a triumph that helped to stop the spread of communism but which also sowed the seeds that would eventually inspire the rise of al Qaeda and the current War on Terror) was neither the box-office success or award magnet (only Hoffman received a much-deserved Oscar nomination for Supporting Actor) that many expected it to be. Hopefully it will find its audience on DVD because while the film isn’t perfect (at a relatively paltry 102 minutes, it occasionally feels a little too rushed for its own good and it seems to be building to a grand conclusion that it never quite gets around to), it is an often-effective bit of political satire and it is a relief to see Hanks cutting loose again after his relatively constrained turns in “Road to Perdition,” “The Terminal” and “The Da Vinci Code.”

CLOVERFIELD (Paramount Home Video. $29.99): Okay, so this heavily-hyped monster mash that offered us a camcorder-eye view of New York City being attacked by a giant monster that resembled the love child of Godzilla and Gollum didn’t quite live up to that brilliant teaser trailer that thrilled viewers when it unexpectedly showed up before “Transformers” last summer. That said, it was still a better-than-average sci-fi thriller with a gimmick that didn’t quite wear out its welcome and more than a few sensationally effective jolts (especially the moment when our heroes are walking through a subway tunnel and find themselves being overtaken by. . .something). The DVD contains the usual array of bonus features--deleted scenes, slightly alternate endings, commentary from director Matt Reeves and making-of futurities but most viewers will want to pay closer attention to the final scene, a Coney Island flashback in which something very interesting can be spotted in the background of one of the shots overlooking the ocean.

EASY LIVING (Universal Home Entertainment. $14.98): In one of the all-time great screwball comedy classics (written by none other than Preston Sturges), Jean Arthur stars as a working-class secretary whose entire life instantly changes when a fur coat thrown out of a window by a millionaire (Edward Arnold) lands on her shoulders and causes people to assume that she is his mistress, an assumption that turns her life from rags to riches but which also threatens her budding relationship with Ray Milland, who just happens to be. . .well, I’ll let you discover that for yourself. Although Sturges would later complain that director Mitchell Leisen botched his screenplay unforgivably (which eventually led to his decision to take up directing himself a couple of years later), this is one of the all-time great screen farces and, interestingly enough (and perhaps the real reason behind Sturges’ objections), the most famous scene in the film--a free-for-all that erupts at the Automat that Milland works at--was said to have been added to the screenplay by Leisen himself.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS--THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Although the second season of this highly-regarded but poorly-watched drama about the trials and tribulations surrounding the members of a Texas high school football team had some embarrassingly melodramatic subplots shoehorned into the proceedings in an effort to goose ratings, the show remains one of the better programs on television. Despite low ratings, the show is apparently being renewed for a third season, so you should pick up this collection (along with the even-better first season) to either refresh you memories before it returns or to find out what you’ve been missing in the first place.

HANNAH TAKES THE STAIRS (IFC Films. $19.95): In this acclaimed and largely improvised effort from mumblecore auteur Joe Swanberg, a young woman (Greta Gerwig) takes a job at a production house and begins a friendship with a couple of co-workers (Kent Osborne and Andrew Bujalski, himself the acclaimed director of “Mutual Appreciation”) that is threatened when she finds herself developing romantic feelings for both of them.

THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR (Universal Home Entertainment. $14.98): Fairly scandalous when it was released in 1942 and still fairly eyebrow-raising today, this earlier directorial effort from Billy Wilder stars Ginger Rogers as a young woman who, lacking the funds for a train ride home, disguises herself as a 12-year-old in order to score a half-price fare. Complications arise when she is forced to hide out in the compartment of a slightly myopic military school instructor (Ray Milland) who is unable to see through her disguise--he lets her stay and when the train breaks down, he brings her back to the military school with him, much to the consternation of his fiancée and her 12-year-old sister.

MERRILL’S MARAUDERS (Warner Home Video. $19.98): In this 1962 war drama from B-movie legend Sam Fuller, based on real events, Jeff Chandler (in his last film) leads his band of weary soldiers (including Claude Akins) into battle against the Japanese in the jungles of Burma. Although it lacks the poetic grandeur of his 1980 masterpiece “The Big Red One,” this is nevertheless a prime piece of pulp from Fuller that even contains a few surprisingly emotional moments amidst the typical tough-guy antics.

MIDNIGHT (Universal Home Entertainment. $14.98): Just as future filmmaker Preston Sturges objected to the way that director Mitchell Leisen handled his screenplay for “Easy Living,” future filmmaker Billy Wilder objected to the way that Leisen handled his screenplay for this 1934 farce about a penniless chorus girl (Claudette Colbert) who encounters the wife of a millionaire (Mary Astor) and her gigolo lover (Francis Lederer) at a party--when the gigolo makes a play for her, the millionaire (John Barrymore) hires her to use her wiles to split the couple up. The plan works perfectly except for one little hitch--Colbert finds herself falling for penniless cabbie Don Ameche. And just as with “Easy Living,” the results are so sprightly, funny and beautiful to look at that you may find it impossible to believe that anyone could have possibly objected to it.

ONE MISSED CALL (Warner Home Video. $29.98): Unless you have been patiently waiting for years to see a film featuring an on-screen exorcism of a cell phone, there is no reason to watch this quarter-assed (it can’t even work up the energy to make it to half-assed) remake of the Takashi Miike horror film about a group of people who begin receiving voice mail messages from two days in the future capturing the sounds of the grisly demises they will be facing in 48 hours. This was the first major studio film to be released in 2008 and I suspect that come December, it will still go down as one of the stupidest.

THE ORPHANAGE (New Line Home Entertainment. $27.98): Now if you are in the market for a horror film that could be described with words such as “creepy” and “effective” instead of “painfully boring” and “borderline retarded”), you should skip “One Missed Call” and check out this impressive Spanish offering that is being presented by Guillermo del Toro and which has some of the same power as his instant classic “Pan’s Labyrinth.” In it, Belen Rueda plays a woman who, along with her husband and child, returns to the abandoned orphanage where she spent part of her childhood in order to reopen it as a home for disabled children--needless to say, this good deed does not go unpunished as the arrival of some invisible friends and a creepy social worker serve as hints to unspeakable secrets from the past that threaten her and her family. I wouldn’t dream of revealing any of those secrets but I can confidently assure that once you see this film, it will be a long time before you can look at a simple burlap bag without shuddering in fear.

ROMULUS, MY FATHER (Magnolia Home Video. $26.98): Based on the memoir by Raimond Gaita about his childhood in Australia in the early 1960‘s, this film chronicles the struggle of an immigrant couple (Eric Bana and Franka Potenta) struggling to raise their son in the face of their attempts to build a new life in a strange country and her difficulties with mental illness.

THE SAVAGES (Fox Home Entertainment. $27.98): Nearly a decade after the release of her first film, “Slum of Beverly Hills,” writer-director Tamara Jenkins returned with this highly acclaimed comedy-drama featuring Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman as a pair of emotionally damaged siblings who find themselves forced to take care of the father that they have been estranged from for the past couple of decades. Both Linney and Jenkins received Oscar nominations for their work here and it is entirely possible that if he hadn’t been competing against himself with “Charlie Wilson’s War,” Hoffman might have scored one as well.

SÉANCE (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $26.98): Light as a feather, stiff as a low-budget direct-to-video horror programmer. This time around, a group of college kids inhabiting a dorm that is said to be haunted by the spirit of a murdered girl hold a séance in order to contact the ghost--unfortunately, they manage to revive the girl’s killer as well and he repays the favor by picking them off.

SHE DONE HIM WRONG (Universal Home Entertainment. $14.98): In what is generally considered the best film of her screen career, Mae West had her first starring role (following a supporting turn a year earlier in “Night After Night”) in this 1933 adaptation of her play “Diamond Lil” in which she plays a saloon singer who, in between songs (including “Frankie and Johnny” and “Easy Rider”) and double-entendres (including the immortal lines “Why don’t you come up and see me sometime?,” “Is that a pistol in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?” and, in reference to a racy portrait of her that is prominently displayed in the bar, “”I gotta admit that is a flash, but I do wish Gus hadn’t hung it over the free lunch”), tries to juggle the impending return of a nasty ex-lover with the attentions she has been receiving from missionary Cary Grant.

SICK NURSES (Magnolia Home Video. $26.98): No doubt satisfying an especially outré fetish or two held by someone out there, this fairly predictable Thai horror film in which the ghost of a murdered nurse returns after a week to wreak bloody revenge on the doctor and six fellow nurses who killed her when she discovered some shocking secrets about them.

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originally posted: 04/25/08 14:31:05
last updated: 04/25/08 14:48:18
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