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DVD Reviews for 5/23: Delia's Come!
by Peter Sobczynski

In which your faithful correspondent whiffs it in regards to presenting a long-form review but supplies such joyous news that few of you will even notice.

Between staying atop of all the “Indiana Jones” pre-release hoopla, dealing with accusations of being an embargo breaker, getting involved in a minor flame war with a gossip website of some renown, attempting to secure a screener of the latest Uwe Boll masterpiece, tending to my back 40 and undergoing the mental and physical preparations necessary to make it through the “Sex and the City” screening (this consists of having myself water boarded with Cosmopolitans while being forced to listen to the music channel that they play in my health club), I haven’t even gotten a chance to watch the season finale of “Gossip Girl,” let alone peck out a long DVD review for this week’s column. However, I’m not too concerned because I can fill up the white space with some personal business of note. You may recall a few weeks ago that I made reference to one of my closest friends, Paula Mathieu, was great with her first child with husband Alex Tsouvalas. (If you don’t recall this, that is what the “search” function is for.) Anyway, on May 20, no doubt eager to see for herself what all the “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” fuss was about, Delia Alexandra made her entrance into the world. All are well and young Delia, according to reports, is already demonstrating levels of earnestness normally seen in a six-month-old child. I am sure that you will join me in wishing mother, father and child all the health and happiness in the world and deep down, isn’t that just a little more important than a silly DVD review? I am also sure that years from now, Delia will re-read this particular column and find herself asking "Wait a second--President Johansson recorded a CD?"

Author’s Note #1: No, she is not named after the classic folk song that was made popular in 1994 by the legendary Johnny Cash. However, I like to think that she was--after all, what could be cooler than being named after a Johnny Cash song? (Although the content is admittedly wildly inappropriate in the context of a birth, I cannot help but link you to the video for the song at YouTube

Author’s Note #2: Please do not write in and tell me what happened on “Gossip Girl” as I plan to sit down and watch it over the weekend. That said, let me just say “Team Georgina Forever!”

Author’s Note #3: Yeah, I have a back 40 of vegetables (granted, it is closer to 40 inches) and I belong to a health club--wanna make something of it?


THE AIR I BREATHE (Velocity/Thinkfilm. $27.98): In a decidedly odd-sounding drama that wound up largely bypassing theaters despite its high-profile cast, a businessman (Forest Whittaker), a doctor (Kevin Bacon, a gangster (Brendan Fraser) and a pop star (Sarah Michelle Gellar) all find their otherwise disparate lives colliding with one another thanks to their shared connection with crime boss Andy Garcia.

ANYWHERE I LAY MY HEAD (Atco Records. $18.98): Yes, Scarlett Johansson has released her first CD and yes, it consists of her warbling ten tunes from the vast songbook of the legendary Tom Waits (along with one new song that she co-wrote with her producer, TV on the Radio’s David Andrew Sitek) with none other than David Bowie contributing backup vocals on two of the cuts. Alas, while I am a huge fan of Johansson the actress, Johansson the singer is pretty much a bust (pun possibly intended). While you can’t argue with her taste in selecting material--Waits is one of the finest American composers of the post-1960’s era--but the vocal stylings that were appealing enough when she was crooning “Brass in Pocket” in the karaoke scene in “Lost in Translation” quickly grow wearisome after a while; perhaps realizing this, her vocal have been buried so far into the mix that they can hardly be heard at times through the instrumental din. Less a stunning work of hubris than a sincere effort gone wrong, this album is not good enough for anyone to listen to seriously (unless they are the kind of Johansson obsessives who constantly rewatch “Home Alone 3”) and not inadvertently funny enough to work on the level of those “Golden Throats” compilations. [br]

DIARY OF THE DEAD (The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment. $29.95): Admittedly, the idea of George A. Romero rebooting his landmark series of zombie films with a faux-documentary format in which the initial outbreak is seen through the eyes of a group of student filmmakers sounds like a desperate attempt to stay relevant to a generation of MySpace users who couldn’t be bothered to watch his original works. Instead, he wound up making one of the year’s best films and arguably his most consistent and compelling work since 1979’s “Dawn of the Dead,” a fairly stunning example of powerhouse pop cinema that is as formally dazzling, thematically resonant and darkly funny as anything that he has ever done before and yes, there are even plenty of satisfyingly icky moments to behold as well. The DVD includes a commentary from Romero, a full-length documentary chronicling the film’s production, a featurette involving the famous names heard throughout the film as news announcers (no fair watching this until after you’ve seen the film) and five zombie-related shorts that were produced as part of a MySpace contest.

ECLIPSE SERIES 9: THE DELIRIOUS FICTIONS OF WILLIAM KLEIN (The Criterion Collection. $44.95): Although better known for his acclaimed fashion photography and for his documentaries on such famous figures as Muhammad Ali and Eldridge Cleaver and Little Richard, American expatriate William Klein made three fiction films in France between 1966 and 1977. While they have been fairly difficult to see over the last couple of decades, they have been brought together as part of the latest collection from Criterion’s Eclipse line (dedicated to unearthing lesser-known films from obscurity) and somehow feel just as timely and relevant today as they did when they first came out. 1966’s “Who Are You, Polly Magoo?” saw Klein skewering his former profession with a pseudo-documentary look at the life of an American model who becomes a media sensation when she hits the streets of Paris. 1969’s “Mister Freedom” is even more daring--it is a brilliant and savagely funny spoof of American foreign policy that focuses on a superhero whose efforts to spread American-style democracy across the globe (whether the people he helps want it or not) see him arriving in France to prevent an invasion of left-leaning commies from Switzerland and China. The last selection is 1977’s “The Model Couple,” a frighteningly prescient precursor to today’s craze for reality television in which a couple agree to take part in a government experiment that finds them confined to a state-of-the-art apartment for six months while under constant media surveillance without realizing that there is more to what is happening than they understand.

EXES AND OHS--THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $19.99): Originally shown of the Logo cable network, this is a comedy series focusing on the lives and loves of a group of lesbian friends in L.A. While it may sound a little bit like “The L Word,” the characters here are more sympathetic and the show as a whole feels as if it actually were being made for a gay/lesbian audience instead of aiming for guys who simply want to get an eyeful of half-naked babes making out with each other (not that there is anything wrong with that). As an added bonus, the ever-delightful Heather Matarazzo plays one of the characters and it is always nice to see here in anything, especially when it doesn’t involve her being strung up naked and upside-down while being gruesomely slashed to ribbons.

FINISHING THE GAME (Genius Products. $19.95): When Bruce Lee mysteriously passed away in 1973, he had only shot a few scenes for his next film, “Game of Death,” and this mockumentary from director Justin Lin follows five struggling actors as they vie for the job of serving as his stand-in so that the producers can complete the film and cash in. The result is a fairly amusing film, though nowhere near as amusing as the actual “Game of Death.”

THE FLOCK (The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment. $24.95): In a film so powerful and gripping that it could only go straight to DVD, Richard Gere stars as a violent cop obsessed with tracking down sex offenders who scours the S&M underworld with new partner Claire Danes while hunting for a former convict and an abducted girl. In other words, if you have been yearning to see a cross between “Training Day” and “8mm” starring King David and Angela Chase, your prayers have been answered.

HAMBURGER HILL--20th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.98): One of the bloodier battles of the Vietnam war--a ten-day skirmish between 14 American soldiers and numerous North Vietnamese for possession of a heavily protected hill--is reenacted in this 1987 film. Although nowhere near as good as such contemporaries as “Platoon” or “Full Metal Jacket,” this is still a pretty decent war film in the Sam Fuller tradition that eschews grand statements about the horrors of warfare in order to present an idea of what the conflict was like through the eyes of the soldiers doing the fighting.

IF IT’S TUESDAY, IT MUST BE BELGIUM (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.98): A all-star cast (provided that you are willing to stretch the definition of “star”), including Suzanne Pleshette, Ian McShane, Norman Fell, Robert Vaughn, Murray Hamilton and Marty Ingalls (not to mention briefer appearances from the likes of Joan Collins, John Casssavetes, and Donovan) is featured in this strained 1969 farce about a group of disparate people thrown together for a whirlwind package tour of Europe.

INGLORIOUS BASTARDS (Severin Films. $29.95): No, you did not slip into a wormhole into the future and emerge just in time for the DVD release of Quentin Tarantino’s long-gestating WW II epic. This is actually a fairly kick-ass 1977 Italian WW II epic in which cult icons Fred “The Hammer” Williamson and Bo Svenson lead a group of depraved criminals out of a prison camp and into a deadly mission into Nazi-occupied France. Once again, the good folk at Severin have gone all out to present another lavish edition of a once-obscure Eurosleaze classic--this three-disc set includes a commentary from director Enzo Castellari, a retrospective documentary featuring interviews with Castellari, Williamson and Svenson and a CD of the soundtrack.

MAGGIE SMITH AT THE BBC (BBC Warner. $39.98): The BBC digs into their archives and comes up with four plays staged for television featuring the acclaimed actress that aired between 1972 and 1993--Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” George Bernard Shaw’s “The Millionairess,” Alan Bennett’s “A Bed Among the Lentils” and Tennessee Williams’ “Suddenly Last Summer” (opposite none other than Rob Lowe).

MEETING RESISTANCE(First Run Pictures. $24.95): This is yet another documentary on the subject on the war in Iraq, albeit with one key difference--this one is told from the point-of-view of several insurgents fighting against the American occupation of Baghdad. Obviously, this is a touchy subject for a movie and filmmakers Steve Connors and Molly Bingham (who spent ten months in Baghdad getting the footage) will no doubt be vilified in many quarters for giving a voice to the enemy. That said, it certainly offers up a unique perspective on the subject that may challenge the views of those who watch it, regardless of their current position on the war.

THE MUPPET SHOW-THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $39.99): As great as these old episodes of the immensely popular TV series are to watch again--they feel fresher and funnier than pretty much anything else being aimed at family audiences these days--it must be noted that the guest hosts that the show rounded up for these 24 episodes were arguably the oddest collection of celebrities you could imagine--Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge, Leo Sayer, Roy Clark, Gilda Radner, Pearl Bailey, Jean Stapleton, Alice Cooper, Loretta Lynn, Liberace, Marisa Berenson, Raquel Welch, James Coco, Helen Reddy, Harry Belafonte, Lesley Ann Warren, Danny Kaye, Spike Milligan, Leslie Uggams, Elke Sommers, Sylvester Stallone, Roger Miller, Roy Rogers & Dale Evans, Lynn Redgrave and Cheryl Ladd. After plowing through each of the shows, fans will want to check out such choice bonus features as “Muppets on Puppets,” a one-hour television special from 1969 in which host Jim Henson offers a look at the early history of the Muppets, and a collection of vintage ads for Purina Dog Show featuring the characters.

NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $34.99): If you are in the mood for a globe-trotting cinematic adventure this weekend but are worried that the new Indiana Jones movie might contain too much clever writing, too many amusing performances and an overabundance of excitement, perhaps you will more comfortable with this idiotic sequel to the equally idiotic 2004 smash hit in which Nicolas Cage runs around like a schmuck in an effort to clear his family’s good name when an ancestor is accused of masterminding the plot to kill Abraham Lincoln. Actually, the only real mystery here is why Helen Mirren would choose this particular project, somewhat lower on the artistic scale than the likes of “Teaching Mrs. Tingle” or even “Caligula,” as her first film since winning the Oscar for “The Queen.”

THE NIGHT THEY RAIDED MINSKY’S (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.98): Whatever his gifts as a filmmaker, William Friedkin has never been known for his deft comedic touch and this fairly unsuccessful 1968 entry demonstrates why. In this strained farce about the early days of vaudeville, Britt Ekland stars as a sweet and innocent Amish girl who catches the eye of New York City in general and comedian Jason Robards in particular when she inadvertently invents the striptease.

SIGHT (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $26.98): In this direct-to-video horror item, a quiet loner who keeps his ability to see terrifying ghosts a secret to avoid be labeled a lunatic is thrilled to meet a lovely young woman with the exact same gift. Alas, his joy is short-lived when she disappears and he is forced to confront his visions in order to find out what happened to her.

SQUARE PEGS-THE COMPLETE SERIES (Sony Home Entertainment. $29.95): Perhaps the only good side to the impending apocalypse that is the “Sex and the City” movie is that it has finally inspired Sony to dig into their vaults and release the good TV series that she appeared in at the start of her career--a hilarious (if tragically short-lived) 1982 sitcom in which she and Amy Linker played a couple of nerdy freshman girls struggling to achieve some level of popularity in the halls of Weemawee High. Sort of the “Freaks & Geeks” of its day (though without that show’s more serious-minded leanings), this show barely lasted one season but it has lived on in the hearts of anyone who caught it back in the day. Those fans will be relieved to know that all of the original music has apparently been included--even the appearances from New Wave icons Devo and The Waitresses--and the set even includes new interviews with the surviving cast members.

STRANGE WILDERNESS (Paramount Home Video. $29.99): Having missed this Happy Madison production about the adventures of the misfit production staff of a low-rent nature show (including Steve Zahn, Jonah Hill, Justin Long and Ashley Scott) trying to locate Bigfoot during its extremely brief theatrical run earlier this year, I sat down the other day to watch it. Alas, I only made it about halfway through--long enough to witness a gratuitous shark attack, a bit in which Zahn’s genitalia is attacked by an amorous turkey and another bit in which Robert Patrick shows the results of a grisly injury to his own nether regions--before I found myself throwing in the towel. If you are made of sterner stuff than I, please feel free to write in and let us know how it turns out--in the miserable annals of the Earth, those that do this will be duly enshrined. (Note: Co-star Harry Hamlin is disqualified from any enshrining.)

WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE WAR, DADDY? (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.98): In one of those strenuously wacky wartime farces that occasionally cropped up in the pre- “M*A*S*H” era, this 1966 effort from a post-“Pink Panther” Blake Edwards and a pre-“Exorcist” William Peter Blatty features James Coburn as a lieutenant in a regiment that arrives in a strategically important Italian village with plans of taking it over and discovers that the villagers are perfectly willing to surrender on the condition that they are allowed to celebrate their annual wine festival first. Naturally, complications ensue when the soldiers and townspeople are forced to stage fake battles in order to convince the air reconnaissance people that everything is normal and when the two are forced to come together when less-playful Germans arrive to take the town for themselves.

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originally posted: 05/23/08 11:38:00
last updated: 05/23/08 12:02:06
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