DVD Reviews for 5/9: "The Car Is In The DVD Player!"
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 05/09/08 13:03:20
If you are somehow able to tear yourself away from the glories of "Gossip Girl"--somehow, the fact that Serena apparently killed someone makes me like her all the more--there are a ton of DVDs to check out in this week's list, including more than a few that I never dreamed would ever be released. (By the way, if any of you out there even vaguely know Liv Tyler, I beseech you to put in a good word for me.)
Although the sheer number of DVDs hitting the American marketplace every week is probably enough to make the casual observer think that practically every movie ever made has found its way onto a small, shiny disc, the reality of the matter is that there are thousands of films in existence that have yet to come out--in many cases, they have never been released in any home video format. Some are languishing because they need serious restoration to be suitable for today’s more demanding marketplace. Some of them have yet to appear because of complications involving things as simple yet expensive as music clearance and as complex and arcane as trying to unravel who actually owns the rights to a given title . In many cases, the reality is much simpler and much more brutal--the people who own the rights have determined that the potential market for such a release is so negligible that it wouldn’t be in their financial interest to put them of disc since they would be virtually no chance of making a profit off of them. From a business standpoint, this obviously makes sense--why press a disc that few people are ever going to buy when you can spend that same time, money and effort on something that will appeal to a broader audience. However, if you happen to be one of those few people who would have bought such a disc, it can be a frustrating and excruciating experience.
Although every major studio in the American home video game has plenty of these lesser-known films languishing on their shelves while contemporary crap are granted the kind of bonus-laden special editions that one used to only associate with companies like Criterion, Paramount Home Video has received an enormous amount of criticism in the DVD era for their handling, or lack of it, of these catalogue tales. Oh sure, they have been known to occasionally dig into the archives and come out with an impressive release of an older title, such as their “Ten Commandments” package (which included both the 1956 Cecil B DeMille epic as well as DeMille’s 1923 silent take on the same material) or some of their Billy Wilder titles, the standard rap against the studio has been that unless a non-contemporary film had the words “Star Trek” included somewhere in the title, they had no real interest in doing anything with it. Happily, Paramount seems to have listened to these complaints and have begun to license some of the more obscure titles in their possession to other DVD manufacturers so that they could release the films themselves. Last summer, for example, Criterion gave Billy Wilder’s infamously acidic 1950 drama “Ace in the Hole” its first-ever home video release in an excellent two-disc version that was jam-packed with extras and came up with a near-definitive special edition of Terrence Malick’s 1978 masterpiece “Days of Heaven.” Obviously, these were titles that weren’t destined to shoot up to the top of the sales charts and by allowing another company to handle them, Paramount was able to avoid shouldering the cost of a marginal release while still getting essential films into the hands of cineastes everywhere.
In an even-more startling development earlier this year, Paramount reached a licensing agreement with video company Legend Films (best known in home video circles for putting out cleaned-up versions of such public-domain titles as “Reefer Madness” and “Little Shop of Horrors”) to release a number of titles that might not have otherwise been released. Since some of the titles included in the deal have been among those most wanted by film buffs, and inexpensively priced at $14.95 a pop to boot, some people feared at first that they were grey-market releases of questionable legality and when they were assured that they were on the up-and-up, they assumed that the discs would involve shoddy transfers that were left over from their long-ago VHS incarnations and no bonus features to speak of. While it is true that the there are no special features to speak of--a couple of titles included the original trailers and that is about it--they are, for the most part, not the types of films that one might expect to see extensive supplementary materials on in the first place. More importantly, the films themselves look surprising good, especially when you consider that their preservation was presumably not a high priority and especially when you consider the price being charged for them. Hell, in terms of presentation, I would take almost any of the titles in the wave of releases over the slipshod treatment that George Lucas afforded to the DVD debuts of the original theatrical versions of the first “Star Wars” trilogy.
Below are my observations on a number of the films being released as part of the Paramount/Legend partnership. Some of them are great, some of them are awful and some of them are guilty pleasures to be certain. That said, fans of these titles will want to snap them up as soon as possible and with an asking price of under $15, they are cheap enough to possibly inspire people who have never heard of them before to take a chance on them. With a roster including horror, comedy, drama, romance, cult oddities, a couple of highly controversial titles and one of the finest films of this decade, there is sure to be something for everyone here. More importantly, if this wave of films does well enough with consumers, it stands to reason that Paramount might consider extending the arrangement and sending more titles their way--maybe after all these years, I will finally be able to include the likes of “Deep End,” “Bugsy Malone,” “Little Darlings” and “The Keep” into my personal collection at last.
Most of the films are currently scheduled to hit store shelves on June 3rd (a few more are due a few weeks after that) but if you simply cannot wait that long--and really, who could blame you if there is a personal favorite in the bunch?--you can go to the Legend Films website, [site]www.legendfilms.com[/site], and order them directly from the company right now. In addition, I understand that some of these titles can currently be found on the shelves of some Target stores, but I have no idea where the stores included in that arrangement can be found.
ALMOST AN ANGEL: After suffering an accident, amiable burglar Paul Hogan is convinced that he has been sent back to Earth from Heaven in order to serve as a guardian angel to help those in need. Alas, he wasn’t even able to help himself with this 1990 misfire, a film which tanked so completely at the box-office that it pretty much killed the “Crocodile Dundee” star’s big-screen career in one fell swoop.
BABY IT’S YOU In the wake of his self-financed triumphs “Return of the Secaucus 7” and “Lianna,” indie icon John Sayles made this 1983 film about the relationship between a prototypical good girl (Rosanna Arquette) and a greaser (Vincent Spano) in the early 1960’s for a major studio. Although the experience was rough enough to sour Sayles on ever directing a film for one of the majors again, the film--while not on a par with the likes of “Brother from Another Planet,” “City of Hope” or “Lone Star”)--is not a bad film by any means, aided immeasurably by Sayles’ refusal to give in to cheap feel-good nostalgia and by the wonderful performance from Rosanna Arquette. Because of difficulties involving the explosion in the cost of music rights, this title has been difficult to find on video over the years and some of the original songs have been replaced on this DVD, though the Bruce Springsteen cues appear to still be there.
BLUE CITY: In one of the films that helped to kill the whole Brat Pack phenomenon of the mid-1980’s in its tracks, Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy star in this absolutely ridiculous 1986 adaptation of the Ross Macdonald novel about a troubled young man (guess who?) who returns to his seedy Florida hometown to investigate and avenge the murder of his corrupt politician father. Really bad (essentially it is a middling revenge drama with John Bender at its center) and really forgettable, the only really worthwhile element on display is a pretty good soundtrack from the great Ry Cooder.
THE BUSY BODY: In an attempt to breakout of the gimmick movie ghetto that he had put himself in with such classics as “The Tingler” and “The House on Haunted Hill,” the great William Castle tried this change-of-pace comedy about a low-level mobster (Sid Caesar) who is charged with removing a huge amount of money that has been hidden in suit currently being sported by a corpse. Although hardly a classic by any means, it does have its fair share of laughs and an eclectic cast, including Robert Ryan, Anne Baxter, Dom DeLuise, Godfrey Cambridge, Bill Dana, Marty Ingels, Arlene Golonka and a young man making his big-screen debut by the name of Richard Pryor.
DANIEL: In this acclaimed adaptation of the E.L. Doctrow best-seller loosely inspired by the lives and deaths of alleged Soviet spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (penned by Doctrow himself), Sidney Lumet direct a cast including Timothy Hutton, Ed Asner and then-unknowns Mandy Patankin and Ellen Barkin in this drama about an anti-war protestor from the 1960’s (Hutton) who begins exploring the lives of his late parents, who were executed for allegedly passing atomic secrets on to the Russians.
FRENCH POSTCARDS: Like “Baby It’s You,” this is another film in which some of the songs from the original soundtrack have been replaced due to the prohibitively high cost of music clearance. Also like “Baby It’s You,” this is another charming film about young people in the eternal pursuit of love and sex, this time as exchange students in Paris. And like “Baby It’s You,” the film features a winning early performance from an actress who would go on to become a huge star in the 1980’s and then virtually disappear from movie screens--a then-unknown starlet by the name of Debra Winger, fresh from her appearances in “Wonder Woman” and the immortal “Slumber Party ‘57.”
GIRL ON THE BRIDGE: In this charming and utterly mesmerizing 2000 romantic fable from French filmmaker Leconte, a down-on-his-luck knife thrower (Daniel Auteuil) comes across a beautiful young woman (Vanessa Paradis) who is about to throw herself into the Seine and talks her down by offering her a job as the assistant/human target for his low-rent act. She agrees–what does she have to lose?–and as they work their act throughout the region, the two are suddenly struck with a run of good fortune. Eventually, the two, who have maintained a non-sexual relationship, split up when she impulsively runs off with a newly-married man and they soon discover that their luck only works when they are together. This is a great film on virtually every level–the story is charming without succumbing to mushiness, the cinematography is exquisite, Auteuil and Paradis have great chemistry together and the scene in which they sublimate their mutual desire through a knife-throwing rehearsal to the strains of Marianne Faithful is one of the most incredibly erotic things that I have ever seen in a movie. Easily the best of this wave of releases, you need to see this film and you need to see it right the hell now.
HITLER--THE LAST 10 DAYS:: I presume that no further explanation is required, except to note that Alec Guinness plays the lead role. He is good but while the movie isn’t too bad, it pales in comparison to the flat-out brilliance of the similar “Downfall” from a few years ago.
HOUDINI: George Pal produced this 1953 biopic on the life and work of the world-famous illusionist with the then-married Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh in the roles of Houdini and his wife. Like most biopics from this era, it bears only a vague resemblance to the facts and like most of his performances from this time, Curtis does get a little hammy here and there. However, that doesn’t make the film any less entertaining, especially if you already have a fondness for the subject matter.
HURRICANE: In one of the silliest of the would-be epics that erstwhile producer Dino De Laurentis put together in the 1970’s, a remote South Seas island is the setting for a tempestuous affair between a native (Dayton Ka’ne) and the privileged daughter (Mia Farrow) of the island’s governor (Jason Robards) that culminates with a giant hurricane hitting the island. To be fair, the grand finale is reasonably impressive but the rest of it is so bad--thanks in large part to the utter lack of chemistry between Ka’ne and the ridiculously miscast Farrow (who was way too old to be playing the dewey-eyed ingénue role that she has here) and the scenery-devouring overacting from Robards and a clearly hammered Trevor Howard. Interestingly, Roman Polanski was slated to direct this film at one time until he was forced to leave the project because of his legal problems.
JEKYLL & HYDE--TOGETHER AGAIN:: In this bizarre (and not in a good way) 1982 spoof of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic, the good and decent doctor (Mark Blankfield) inadvertently snorts a mysterious white powder (don’t ask) and transforms into a bejeweled disco monster who wreaks havoc on the ladies with his untamed chest hair and untenable flights of improv fancy. Essentially one very long and not very funny drug joke, this film has exactly one amusing moment (in which we literally see the skeleton of Stevenson turning over in his grave), although those of you with a taste for truly awful comedies from this era may find it to be endlessly fascinating.
KING OF THE GYPSIES: Fans of “The Riches” might be intrigued by this modern-day gypsy saga from 1978 in which then-unknown Eric Robert plays a young man who is named by his dying grandfather to be the new head of their tribe, a move that enrages his ne’er-do-well father (Judd Hirsch) and causes a conflict between his desire to live his own life with his need to please his family. Among the other actors who turn up here are Shelley Winters, Annette O’Toole, Sterling Hayden, Susan Sarandon and Brooke Shields, the latter two reprising their mother-daughter act from the highly controversial “Pretty Baby.”
MANDINGO: In a move that many thought would never happen in this enlightened era that has denied movie lovers a legitimate American release of “Song of the South,” this jaw-dropping look at the seamy side of life on a Southern plantation in the pre-Civil Way era has not only made it to DVD, it has made it with every bit of bloodshed, nudity and casual racism left intact. Although it is difficult to conceptualize just how perverse and beyond the pale this film is even within the confines of a column in which the moral standards are admittedly on the lax side, I will highlight only one element to give you an idea of what you are in for. Evil plantation owner James Mason is diagnosed with rheumatism and is informed by his doctor that the best way to draw it out of his system is to rest his feet on a black person--as a result, whenever Mason sits down from that point on, he has a couple of young black children that he utilizes as footstools! Not for everyone--hell, not for many--but those with a taste for exploitation filmmaking at its sleaziest (though with a lavish budget) will think they have died and gone to heaven.
MONEY FROM HOME: In this 1953 adaptation of a story by Damon Runyon, Dean Martin plays a degenerate gambler who is forced to arrange for the fixing of an upcoming race in order to pay off his debts and calls in his cousin, a goofy vet played by Jerry Lewis, to help him pull it off without letting on about the full details. Complications ensue, of course, when Dean winds up falling for the woman who owns the horse in question. Although not the best of the Martin-Lewis team-ups (that would be “Hollywood or Bust”), it does have a lot of truly funny moments and the fact that it has been so difficult to see in recent years makes its release even more valuable. This was the only Martin-Lewis effort to be shot in 3-D, though the version presented here is obviously the flat one.
THE ONE AND ONLY: In this odd 1978 comedy, Henry Winkler (in one of his unsuccessful efforts to translate his “Happy Days” stardom to the big screen) stars as a brash actor who, failing to find any acting jobs, decides to enter the world of professional wrestling in order to make some money and becomes a star thanks to his flamboyant antics. Although largely forgotten today, the film does have its moments and served as a meeting of the minds between two comedy icons--director Carl Reiner (whose credits need not be elaborated here) and debuting screenwriter Steve Gordon (who would go on to write only one more script before his untimely death in 1982, a little thing called “Arthur.”)
THE OPTIMISTS: In one of the many barely-released films that Peter Sellers made in the early 1970’s before making his comeback with “The Return of the Pink Panther,” he plays a lonely street performer who befriends a pair of adorable urchins and they wind up changing each others lives for the better. Not a great movie by any stretch but the relatively restrained and straightforward performance from Sellers does stand as a reminded that he didn’t need elaborate disguises and accents to be compelling as an actor.
PARTNERS: If you ever wondered what “Cruising” might have been like if it had been staged as an over-the-top sitcom, you have your chance with this weirdly unpleasant 1982 comedy in which manly-man cop Ryan O’Neal is forced to go undercover as a swishy homosexual alongside gay John Hurt in order to track down a murderer. Just as tacky and offensive as it sounds--imagine “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” without the subtlety--the oddest thing about it is that it was directed by James Burrows, who later that year went on to create a little TV show by the name of “Cheers.”
THE PIED PIPER: Although the packaging makes it look like a simple kid-oriented film version of the famous fairy tale, this live-action recounting of “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” from acclaimed director Jacques Demy (the man behind such classics as “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and “The Young Girls of Rochefort”) is actually a darker and more realistic take on the tale that, while still suitable for family audiences, may be a bit too creepy for younger viewers. Of course, older viewers might be equally wigged out by the sight of pop star Donovan in the title role, part of a cast that also includes Donald Pleasance, John Hurt and Diana Dors.
THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY: A socialite (Shirley MacLaine) with an unusually close relationship with her younger brother (Perry King) begins to notice some strange changes in his behavior and her investigation leads her to believe that his body has been taken over by the spirit of a Hispanic killer. Fans of today’s sensation-filled horror films may find this slower-paced item to be draggy in spots but those with the patience for it may find themselves taken in by its subtle yet creepy nature and taken aback by a couple of exceptionally twisted moments.
RHUBARB: Having already explored the cinematic potential of wacky animal stories with the “Francis the Talking Mule” series, director Arthur Rubin switched his focus to cats for this 1951 family comedy about a feral cat that is adopted by an oddball billionaire--when he dies, he leaves the cat nearly all of his money as well as ownership of a professional baseball team. Being the curmudgeonly type, I should probably not like this film but since I am the owner of a formerly feral cat myself--you may know him as The Best Cat Currently Walking the Earth--I cannot bring myself to say anything negative about it at all.
SERIAL: Martin Mull and Tuesday Weld play a relatively normal Marin County couple who find themselves caught up in the various nutty personal growth trends that were all the rage in the late 1970’s. It sounds like an amusing idea for a satire on political correctness but this adaptation of the Cyra McFadden novel is so coarse, smug and filled with distaste for anyone who falls outside the most conservative notions of societal norms that it was probably the featured entertainment at many a Republican Party gathering when it was released in 1980--at one particular low point, a young boy receives a “Gay Bruce” doll (complete with a closet to put him in) as a gift and towards the end, he claims that “I killed it because it was a faggot.” Only worth watching if you have a bizarre desire to see Christopher Lee as a member of a gay biker gang.
THE SKULL: Based on a short story from noted author Robert Bloch, this 1965 horror effort stars Peter Cushing as a collector of occult materials who purchases the Marquis de Sade’s skull from fellow collector Christopher Lee and discovers why he was so eager to sell it--it possesses mysterious powers that compel anyone who owns it to kill. Amusingly, the Marquis’ descendants sued the French distributors of the film and insisted that they remove any mention of his name from the advertising because it demeaned his name.
SOME KIND OF HERO: At the time when he was arguably the most popular comic actor in America, Richard Pryor tried to stretch his wings by appearing in this relatively serious-minded tale of a Vietnam vet who comes home after five years as a P.O.W. and is driving to desperate measures when he discovers that his wife has left him, he is virtually bankrupt and his mother is in dire need of medical assistance. This 1982 effort is wildly uneven in spots (especially when the film shoehorns in some blatantly comedic material into the proceedings) but Pryor’s performance is so good that it makes you wish that he had tackled more dramatic roles instead of drifting towards career-destroying crap like “The Toy” and “Superman III.”
STUDENT BODIES: Made in 1981, during the height of the slasher movie boom, this spoof of the likes of “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th” and the like is one of the most relentlessly silly and juvenile films ever made and nowhere near as amusing as such later genre deconstructions as the “Scream” films. That said, there is something about it that cracks me up every time I see it (just the phrase “horse-head bookends” is enough to set me off) and the goofy innocence of its humor (despite the “R” rating, there is no blood or nudity to be had) make it far more appealing than that “Scary Movie” nonsense. More importantly, I can now finally retire another laserdisc from my collection of titles that haven’t yet appeared on DVD--yes, I am looking at you, whomever is responsible for the delay in releasing “Lisztomania.”
THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES: In yet another one of those overstuffed action comedies centering on a frantic race that were briefly popular in the 1960’s (following “The Great Race“ and “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines), this 1969 epic from Ken Annakin, the auteur of “The Pirate Movie,” Tony Curtis leads an international cast of zanies (including Terry-Thomas, Gert Frobe, Jack Hawkins and the comedy team of Dudley Moore and Peter Cook) as they race across Europe to win the 1924 Monte Carlo Grand Prix. Like most of the films in this particular subgenre, it isn’t particularly funny--the sheer scale winds up working against it--but Cook & Moore pretty much steal the entire thing with their hilarious supporting turns as a pair of competitors who try to win the race with a series of seemingly brilliant inventions that inevitably blow up in their faces.
WON TON TON, THE DOG WHO SAVED HOLLYWOOD: If you didn’t get your fill of adorable animal movies with “Rhubarb,” you might want to check out this silly family film who follows his owner (Madeline Kahn) when she sets off for Hollywood to be a star, only to become an enormously popular movie star himself. This 1976 film (made during the same period of New Hollywood nostalgia for Old Hollywood that also inspired “W.C. Fields and Me,” “Gable & Lombard” and “Nickelodeon”) is not very good but film buffs will certainly get a kick seeing the numerous cameo appearances by virtually every old-time movie star who was still breathing at the time, including the likes of Edgar Bergen, John Carradine, Cyd Charisse, Alice Faye, Stephen Fetchit, Huntz Hall, Victor Mature, Ricardo Montalban, Rudy Vallee and the Ritz Brothers to name only a few.
NEW AND NOTABLE
THE 4400: THE FOURTH SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $39.98): Considering that I managed to miss the first three seasons of this sci-fi series involving the eerie goings-on involving 4400 people who mysteriously vanished and then later returned bearing unusual powers, I am probably not the best person to judge the inherent artistic quality of its fourth and final season. However, for those of you who have been paying attention since the beginning, this four-disc set includes audio commentaries, deleted scenes, a blooper reel and a director’s cut of the series finale.
A COLLECTION OF 2007 ACADEMY AWARD-NOMINATED SHORT FILMS (Magnolia Home Video. $29.98): Although this collection doesn’t contain all of the nominated short films, it does include all five candidates in the live-action category--Denmark’s “At Night,” Italy’s “The Substitute,” Belgium’s “Tanghi Argentini,” England’s “The Tonto Woman” and the French winner “The Mozart of Pickpockets”--and three of the animated entries--France’s “Even Pigeons Go to Heaven” (the best film of the set), Canada’s “Madame Tutli-Putli” and the winner, a British-Polish take on “Peter and the Wolf.”
THE BUSINESS OF BEING BORN (New Line Home Entertainment. $27.98): This documentary from filmmaker Abby Epstein takes a look at the maternity care system in America today with an emphasis on those who have decided to turn their back on the standard hospital experience in order to give birth in the environment and circumstances of their own choosing. Yes, there are several actual births captured here, including a special delivery from hostess Ricki Lake herself.
THE CAR (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98): In a film that tries (and largely fails) to rip off such earlier horror classics as “Jaws,” “The Exorcist” and “Killdozer,” a remote desert town is set upon by a demonically possessed Lincoln Continental and only hunky sheriff James Brolin can save the day. Obviously, it fails as horror but as an inadvertent camp classic, it is well worth watching, especially for the sequence in which the car attacks the school’s marching band practice.
DELIRIOUS (Genius Products. $19.95): Buscemi) who takes in an amiable homeless kid (Michael Pitt) and exploits his eager-to-please nature by utilizing him as his assistant. When the kid, through a series of flukes, becomes a famous actor and the boyfriend of a Britney-esque pop idol (Allison Lohman), he tries to extend a hand to his former employer but when it goes bad, the shutterbug becomes gripped with jealously and begins planning revenge. It goes off the rails in the last third but watching it again recently at Ebertfest, it played better the second time around--possibly because I was able to anticipate the late-inning missteps--and the central Buscemi performance is worthwhile no matter how many times you see it.
FIRST SUNDAY (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.95): No doubt fearing that he still had a little bit of authentic street credibility left after such abominations as “Are We There Yet?” and “Torque,” Ice Cube quickly signed on to this faux-Tyler Perry extravaganza in which he and Tracy Morgan play a couple of desperate dopes whose plot to rob a neighborhood church (don’t worry--it is for perfectly noble reasons) goes haywire with wacky and uplifting results for one and all. According to IMDB, the prints of this film were shipped in canisters bearing the fake title “Bad to Worse” and I will just let you insert your own joke here.
THE HOTTIE AND THE NOTTIE (Genius Products. $24.95): Paris Hilton Audio Commentary Alert!
I’M NOT THERE (The Weinstein Company. $29.95): Almost from the moment that he first appeared on the music scene in the early 1960's, people have been attempting to explain Bob Dylan–both his work and the personas that he has regularly adopted and abandoned over the years–but I can’t recall any that has done a better job of understanding the man, the myth and the music than Todd Haynes’ take on the subject, a film that works as historical fiction, cultural analysis and as a formal experiment (starting with the decision to have Dylan portrayed by six different actors of different ages, races and genders, including Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, Christian Bale and the electrifying Cate Blanchett) as poetic, hypnotic and audacious as an actual Dylan song. This overstuffed two-disc set includes a commentary from Haynes, an interview with the filmmaker, a smattering of deleted and extended scenes, a tribute to Heath Ledger and a copy of the proposal that Haynes sent to Dylan to get his blessing for the project. One of the best films of 2007 and not to be missed.
I REALLY HATE MY JOB (Magnolia Video. $26.98): In what looks and sounds like a British variation of the deathless “Waiting,” this film follows five women (including Neve Campbell and Shirley Henderson) as they try to stave off the boredom of working in a London restaurant over the course of one long night through wackiness, bitterness, self-loathing and just a hint of gratuitous nudity.
LA ROUE (Flicker Alley. $39.95): Utilizing many of the bold cinematic techniques that he would deploy more famously in his 1927 epic “Napoleon,” French filmmaker Abel Gance astounded moviegoers from 1923 with this romantic melodrama about the tragic complications that develop when a railway worker and his son both fall in love with the same woman--to make matters even more complex, she is an orphan that the man raised since infancy after rescuing her from a train wreck. While the 4 ½ hour running time may put some potential viewers off, I can assure you that it is such a fascinating and exciting work that you won’t even notice the time passing by. (Besides, it could have been worse--it has been reported that when Gance premiered the film, it ran nearly three hours longer.)
MACON COUNTY LINE (Warner Home Video. $12.98): In this 19775 drive-in standard from writer-producer-star Max Baer Jr. (yes, Jethro Bodine became an exploitation auteur), a pair of brothers (real-life brothers Alan and Jesse Vint) and a sexy hitchhiker (Cheryl Waters) drift into a rural Southern town and run afoul of the deputy (Baer) who advises them to get out as soon as possible. Unfortunately for them, while the deputy is away on a fishing trip with his son (teen heartthrob Leif Garrett), his wife is murdered by a couple of intruders and when he discovers the outsiders’ broken-down car near his house, he assumes they are responsible and goes after them with vengeance in his heart. While it isn’t especially sophisticated, this Southern-fried grind house item does have its gripping moments and the surprise ending still has a fairly strong impact. By the way, the opening claim that the film is based on real events is complete hooey--Baer reportedly added that after early audiences mocked some of the more heavy-handed plot contrivances.
MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: THE MOVIE (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98): Although this big-screen version of the beloved cable-TV classic, in which an amiable dope (Mike Nelson) and his robot pals Crow, Gypsy and Tom Servo pass the time while trapped in space snarking on crappy old movies, isn’t quite as good as the best episodes of the original show--the jokes are a little broader, the pacing is a little slower and the film they are skewering, 1954’s “This Island Earth,” isn’t that bad--it still contains more big laughs than anything that you have watched lately. While it is nice to see it back on store shelves after being out of print for years, the utter lack of any bonus materials is kind of a bummer--what about some of the deleted scenes that have made their way onto the bootleg market or even a version of “This Island Earth” without the commentary?
OVER HER DEAD BODY (New Line Home Entertainment. $27.98): If you ever wondered what Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit” might have been like if it had been written by and for slack-jawed idiots, then by all means check out this utterly useless farce in which Eva Longoria plays the ghost of a recently deceased bitch who goes about trying to scotch the developing relationship between her former fiancée (a slumming Paul Rudd) and a kooky amateur psychic (Lake Bell) for reasons that continue to elude. If any of this sounds funny to you, you will no doubt eat up every excruciating moment, especially the bit in which a character begins farting endless for no particular reason.
P.S. I LOVE YOU (Warner Home Video. $28.98): After practically shutting down her entire life in the wake of the sudden death of her husband (Gerard Butler), a young woman begins receiving letters from beyond the grave that send her on a journey of self-discovery that will allow her to finally get on with her life. After winning two Oscars for portraying characters who challenged traditional gender roles and wound up getting beaten to death for their troubles, I can understand why Swank might want to do a more traditional chick flick but what I can’t understand is why she didn’t hold out for a better one than this fairly pedestrian effort that feels like a cross between a Lifetime Original Movie and the kind of project that Meg Ryan would have turned down back in the 90's for being just a little too hackneyed and clichéd for its own good.
SERIAL MOM (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98): In perhaps the last consistently funny John Waters film to date, Kathleen Turner is a scream as a seemingly perfect housewife whose kills anyone who offends her delicate sensibilities by committing atrocities along the lines of wearing white shoes after Labor Day. While it lacks the sheer outrageousness of his earlier films, it remains a very amusing work that also has some interesting things about how murder has become a viable path to instant celebrity, a conceit that becomes even more interesting when you realize that it was actually released a few months before O.J. Simpson took his infamous Bronco ride.
TEETH (The Weinstein Company. $24.95): In this low-budget horror satire, a pure and chaste high school girl (Jess Weixler in an extremely winning debut) discovers that she has a full set of razor-sharp teeth hiding inside her lady parts that spring into action (you know what I mean) as a self-defense mechanism to protect her purity. The idea of tackling a modern-day exploration of the age-old vagina dentate myth sounds intriguing enough but debuting director Mitchell Lichtenstein doesn’t really know what to do with it and the film winds up playing like the world’s dullest Troma production.
TWISTER (Warner Home Video. $20.98): Yes, the 1996 Michael Crichton/Jan De Bont craptacular about a group of dopey storm chasers hunting down enormous tornados in the name of barely-defined science has finally received the two-disc special edition treatment. And yes, like the storms featured throughout, the movie still blows.