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DVD Reviews for 6/13: From Catherine To Larry.

by Peter Sobczynski

Based on this week's list of releases, it seems as if this whole idea of putting TV shows on DVD might just take off after all.

Over the past few years of deals and mergers, Lionsgate Home Entertainment has acquired quite the hefty catalogue of films, including many foreign titles featuring well-known international celebrities. The only problem is that while the names may be familiar to most moviegoers, the titles of the films, more often than not, aren’t--they tend to be, for the most part, lesser-known items that are today virtually unknown to all but the most devoted fans and even they might have trouble placing some of them. Instead of simply letting these properties languish in the vaults on the assumption that there wouldn’t be enough interest in any of them to make a DVD release commercially viable, Lionsgate has hit upon the ingenious idea of taking several of these obscurities featuring the presence of one well-known icon and releasing them in reasonably-priced multi-disc collections on the assumption that the name on the package will lure in devotees and the relatively cheap price (around $8 or so per film) might inspire a few purchases from curiosity seekers as well. Having done this in the past with such famous faces as Brigitte Bardot, Alain Delon and Jean-Luc Godard, the studio has this week released two new collections devoted to two of the most famous sex symbols in the history of world cinema with “Sophia Loren 4-Film Collection” and “Catherine Deneuve Collection.” Obviously, these sets do not contain the absolute highlights of their respective careers--the likes of “Two Women” or “Belle du Jour” do not crop up--but they do provide intriguing cross-sections of their respective careers that will be much appreciated by their fans. Besides, can you think of a better way of killing a few hours than watching two of the most beautiful women to ever set foot in front of a movie camera? I thought not.

The Loren set kicks off with 1954’s “Neapolitan Carnival” and to say that it is stretching it to call the film a Sophia Loren vehicle is a gross understatement--she only appears in one segment in this revue chronicling the history of Naples. She is a little more front-and-center in the 1954 period epic “Attilia,” a biopic on the life and times of Attilia the Hun (Anthony Quinn) that sees her as Honoria, a member of Roman royalty who wishes to marry her honey-Hun against the wishes of her family. The idea of placing Loren in a historically-based romance returns in 1964’s “Madame Sans-Gene”--in this film (which she made after winning an Oscar the previous year for her work in Vittorio de Sica’s “Two Women”), she portrays a Frenchwoman (?) who works as the personal laundress of Napoleon Bonaparte and who falls in love with one of his soldiers (Robert Hossein). The set concludes with the 1970 film “Sunflower,” a drama that reteamed her with Marcello Mastroianni (for whom she did that memorable striptease in 1963’s “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” a moment that she would recreate with surprising effectiveness 30-odd years down the line in Robert Altman’s “Ready to Wear”) in which they play a married couple who are separated by World War I when he is called to the Russian front and goes missing--when she still hasn’t heard from him after the war has ended, she journeys to Russian herself to find out what happened to him and makes some very surprising discoveries.

As for the Deneuve collection, it starts off with 1968’s “Manon 70,” a modernized version of the Abbe Prevost novel in which she portrays a young woman who is torn between her love for a poor reporter (Sami Frey) and her love of money that constantly sends her into the arms of other men with bigger checkbooks. 1975’s “Le Sauvage” is a screwball comedy from director Jean-Paul Rappeneau (who would go on to make such epics of the French cinema as the Depardieu version of “Cyrano de Bergerac,” “The Horseman on the Roof” and “Bon Voyage”) in which she plays a young woman who flees after becoming engaged to her boyfriend in Venezuela and who becomes attached to the reclusive middle-aged Frenchman who offers her some assistance. In the 1981 drama “Hotel des Amerique” (the first of several collaborations that she would embark upon with director Andre Techine), she plays a woman still reeling from the death of her lover, a brilliant architect, who finds herself slowly drawn into a strange and unexpected relationship with a man (Patrick Dewaere) whom she meets when she nearly runs him down in the street. 1982’s “Le Choc” is a violent spy thriller in which Alain Delon plays a secret agent type who, naturally, falls in love with Denueve while carrying out his work. The set concludes with 1984’s “Fort Saganne,” a war epic in which Deneuve plays Madeline, the daughter of the chief administrator of a French outpost in the Sahara who falls in love with a celebrate soldier (Gerard Depardieu), a relationship that is put at risk by the outbreak of World War I.

Of the two sets, I would probably have to give the edge to the Catherine Deneuve collection. For one thing, there is one more film in that one than in the Loren set--two if you discount “Neapolitan Holiday.” For another, the films in the Deneuve set are a more eclectic bunch that do a better job of showing off her talents. Finally, and I will admit that this is a purely personal bias on my part, I just prefer Deneuve over Loren--I will almost always take cool, sophisticated sensuality over the earthier and more brazen form of sexuality represented by Loren. Feel free to disagree with me on that last point if you will. However, if you have no opinion one way or another but are eager to do the research that will allow you to finally form one, these two sets will serve nicely.

A Lionsgate Home Entertainment release. $39.95 each.


AMERICAN GANGSTER--THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $35.98): In this latest collection of episodes from the popular BET series tracking the rises and falls of the most notorious African-American criminals of the 20th century, narrator Ving Rhames gives us the dirt on the likes of Chicago gang leaders Larry Hoover and Jeff Fort, Baltimore drug pusher Melvin Williams (whose exploits helped inspire the acclaimed series “The Wire”), the snipers that terrorized the Washington D.C. area and Frank Lucas, the drug dealer whose life was the basis for the other “American Gangster” that you may have heard of.

ARMY WIVES--THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $35.99): This three-disc set includes the first 13 episodes of the popular Lifetime soap opera following the lives of a group of military spouses (including Catherine Bell and Kim Delaney) struggling to keep their lives going on the home front while their significant others are off fighting in Iraq. It all leads up to a cliffhanger involving a mad bomber and while I wouldn’t dream of suggesting how it may end for those of you who haven’t seen it, I will simply note that the show begins its second season this month.

THE BOONDOCKS--THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (Sony Home Entertainment. 49.95): Huey, Riley, Granddad and the rest return in the second season of the Cartoon Network version of Aaron Magruder’s hilarious and controversial comic strip. Even better, the set features all 15 episodes in their uncut versions, including the two that were never broadcast in America, supposedly because BET objected to the numerous potshots taken at them.

THE BUCKET LIST (Warner Home Video. $28.98): Dubbed by one wag “The Grumpy Old Men and the Big C” (okay, it was me--can’t I quote myself once in a while), this icky and deeply unpleasant stab at inspirational comedy-drama features Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as a couple of terminally ill men who decide to use their remaining time on Earth to turn their backs on family and friends in order to go globe-hopping so that they can find true happiness or some junk like that. Mawkish to the extreme and completely bereft of any point other than to show that even terminal cancer can be fun if you have a billion dollars to throw away on impulsive trips to the Himalayas, the most depressing thing about this film is the fact that it confounded most expectations and turned out to be a substantial box-office hit last winter.

COMEDY CENTRAL HOME GROWN (Paramount Home Video. $19.99): In one of the more gratuitous repackaging of previously-released material to come along in a while, Comedy Central has dug up a number of pot-related episodes and skits from some of their most popular programs (including “The Sarah Silverman Show,” “Reno 911!,” “Strangers With Candy” and “Chappelle’s Show”) and compiled them into one three-hour disc aimed squarely at audiences that are presumably too stoned to realize that they probably already own most of the material seen here.

DA VINCI’S INQUEST--SEASON 3 (Acorn Media. $59.95): If you like all the various permutations of “CSI” and its ilk clogging up the airwaves these days, you will probably get a kick out of this Canadian take on the formula in which hunky and crusading Vancouver coroner Dominic Da Vinci (Nicholas Campbell) tries to solve any number of bizarre, yet strangely low-key deaths.

FUNNY GAMES (Warner Home Video. $27.98): Proof positive that you should never trust any male over the age of 10 who wears shorts in public.

THE FUGITIVE: SEASON 2, VOLUME 1 (Paramount Home Video. $39.98): In these 15 episodes comprising the first half of the landmark adventure series’ second season, Richard Kimble (David Janssen) and his obsessive pursuit of the one-armed man he claims murdered his wife leads him to inadvertently help a woman who is on the run for kidnapping a child, inadvertently kidnap the young son of his chief pursuer, Lt. Gerard (Barry Morse), become trapped in an underground shaft with a congresswoman and meet with a popular singer who bears a striking resemblance to his late mate.

THE GRAND (Starz/Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $29.98): Even if you know practically nothing about the art of poker, you should still be able to find a few laughs in this surprisingly engaging and largely improvised comedy following a group of oddballs (including Woody Harrelson, Chris Parnell, David Cross, Cheryl Hines and Dennis Farina) competing in a $10,000,000 winner-take-all tournament. If nothing else, this may be your only chance to ever see a film in which the supporting cast includes the likes of both Werner Herzog and Shannon Elizabeth, arguably the greatest auteur-babe matchup since the time that Abbas Kiarostami and Milla Jovovich co-presented an award at the Cannes Film Festival a few years ago.

THE HARLOT’S PROGRESS (Koch Vision. $29.95): Seriously with a title like that, do you really need me to go any further? All right, this 2006 docudrama about 19th-century painter William Hogarth and the creation of his most famous work stars Zoe Tapper as. . .look, with a title like that and an actress with a name like that, I see no reason to continue because most of you have probably already dumped this article in order to seek out a copy for yourselves.

HAWAII FIVE-O--THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $49.99): Worshippers of the Church of the Jack Lord will be shaking their grass skirts with joy over this latest release of episodes from the classic crime drama. This time around, Steve McGarrett and his men solve the usual array of murders, robberies and acts of ecological terrorism, wage an eternal battle against the evil Red Chinese agent Wo Fat and play host to such guest stars as Herbert Lom, Vic Morrow, France Nuyen, Hume Cronyn and a young-and-sassy Annette O’Toole.

HIGH NOON (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.98): Call me a revisionist and send me to hell--this 1951 western about a retiring sheriff (Gary Cooper) who must face down a notorious gunslinger all by himself when his fellow townspeople refuse to help him has never really been one of my favorite films. I will elaborate only by saying that I vastly prefer “Rio Bravo,” the John Wayne classic that director Howard Hawks made largely as a response to this one. However, if you are one of the many who does adore (and my guess is that if you are, you probably haven’t watched it in a while), this two-disc set offers remastered audio and video and a collection of old and new bonus features, including an audio commentary featuring the children of Cooper, screenwriter Carl Foreman, director Fred Zinneman and singer Tex Ritter (you might know him as the late John Ritter), a couple of making-of documentaries and an old radio interview with Tex Ritter talking about the theme song he performed for the film, “Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling”

HOME IMPROVEMENT--THE COMPLETE EIGHTH SEASON (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $23.99): Oprah Winfrey, Morgan Fairchild, Penn & Teller and perennial column crush object Jenny McCarthy are among those helping to send off Tim Allen and his brood in this final season of the long-running sitcom. In addition to the 28 episodes (which include slapstick comedy, heartfelt drama and even the occasional musical number), the set also includes a blooper reel and a reunion special.

I BET YOU (Liberation Entertainment. $29.99): Degenerate gamblers (and I mean that in the nicest way) Phil “The Unabomber” Laak and Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari journey across America on a never-ending quest to bet as much money as they can on such arcane events as paintball and roller derby. If that doesn’t excite you, perhaps you will be more impressed with the section in which they teach a group of strippers how to play poker--a decision that seems strangely counter-intuitive, now that I think about it.

ICONS OF ADVENTURE (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95): Although England’s Hammer Studios was best known for producing a string of grisly and gaudy horror films from the 1950’s through the 1970’s, they produced other types of films and the collection brings together four of them from the action-adventure genre--1960’s “The Stranglers of Bombay,” 1961’s “The Terror of the Tongs,” 1962’s “Pirates of Blood River” and 1964’s “The Devil-Ship Pirates.” Having not actually seen any of these films, I can’t really vouch for their quality but based on the combination of the cheerfully lurid titles and the presence of such hammer stars as Christopher Lee and Oliver Reed, I suspect that a pretty good time can be had with this particular quartet.

JOHN ADAMS (HBO Home Video. $59.99): If you were one of the many people who ate up every minute of this surprisingly engrossing seven-part miniseries about the life and work of the man who helped form a little thing that I like to call the United States of America when it aired this past spring on HBO, you will definitely want to pick up this three-disc set--not only will you be able to once again savor the fine performances by Paul Giamatti as Adams, Laura Linney as wife Abigail and Tom Wilkinson as Ben Franklin, you will also get such bonus features as a historical timeline, a behind-the-scenes making-of featurette and a documentary on David McCullough, the historian whose best-selling book on Adams was the basis for this film.

JUMPER (Fox Home Entertainment. $34.98): Annoying jerk Hayden Christensen stars as a seemingly ordinary dope who has the magical power to instantly transport himself to anywhere on Earth that he so desires. Naturally, he decided to use these powers for selfish reasons--mostly involving robbing banks to fund his cushy lifestyle and wooing old sweetie Rachel Bilson--until his activities attract the attention of the oddly coiffed Samuel L. Jackson, who decides that he must destroy the twerp for reasons that I was never quite able to understand amidst the endless chase sequences and poorly stage fight scenes. A lazy and idiotic exercise in sound and fury signifying nada, it of course made a ton of money and I understand that the sequel has already been given the green light. Way to go there, America--good one!

THE ODD COUPLE--THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $39.98): In the 22 episodes collected here of one of the great TV sitcoms, persnickety Felix (Tony Randall) tries to win his ex-wife back, dances in “Swan Lake,” directs a documentary film and tries to rid the air conditioner of the ghost he is convinced it contains, slovenly Oscar (Jack Klugman) loses all of his possessions to Bobby Riggs (ask your parents), winds up in the hospital after OD’ing on junk food and tries to straighten up his lifestyle to impress a girl. Among the guest stars to be found here are Dick Clark, Penny Marshall, Wolfman Jack, Billie Jean King, Monty Hall and Hugh Hefner--sadly, not all at the same time.

THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.98): This soapy historical melodrama about the tragic love triangle involving the sweet and innocent Mary Boleyn (Scarlett Johansson), her cold and calculating sister Anne (Natalie Portman) and the lusty King Henry VIII (Eric Bana) is a throwback to the kind of period filmmaking that hasn’t been seen on movie screens in a long time. Unfortunately, this is not a good thing, unless you have a soft spot for muddled costume dramas in which history is carelessly reduced to the level of insipid soap opera and a bunch of uncomfortable-looking actors stand around reciting virtually unspeakable dialogue while wearing the kind of sheepish expressions that let us know that a.) they realize that they are currently being outacted by their various outfits and b.) that they realize that those outfits aren’t even bringing their A game to the table. Trust me--you are better off just staring at the DVD cover for a couple of hours instead.

OTIS (Warner Home Video. $24.98): When their teenage daughter is kidnapped by a serial killer with a bizarre fetish for using his victims to help recreate the prom experience that he missed out on before slaughtering them and the police seem to be of little help, a suburban family decides to take matters into their own hands in order to find and rescue her before it is too late. If all that sounds too grim or grisly for you, perhaps you will be relieved to know that it is actually supposed to be more comedic in tone than horrific--the box even proclaims that “It’s ’Juno’ For The Horror Set!”

THE SIGNAL (Magnolia Home Entertainment. $26.98): If you see only one film this weekend in which a mysterious and inexplicable force causes ordinary people to become insanely violent, you might as well make it this odd triptych in which such a phenomenon is seen through the eyes of three different characters who wind up crossing paths over the course of one long and bloody night. This isn’t to say that the movie is that good--the truly effective moments are few and far between and it never manages to find a consistent tone for either the horror or the humor--but it is a fricking masterpiece in comparison to “The Happening.”

WHAT’S HAPPENING--THE COMPLETE SERIES (Sony Home Entertainment. $59.98): Despite the superficially similar titles, I sincerely doubt that Sony is re-releasing this 1970’s sitcom perennial--essentially a watered-down weekly version of “Cooley High”--in order to capitalize on the release of “The Happening.” Then again, if they did, it was a particularly brilliant gambit as it turns out that any individual episode his more entertaining and more terrifying (especially the one where Rerun gets busted trying to bootleg a Doobie Brothers concert) than what M. Night Shyamalan has conjured up this time around.

WITLESS PROTECTION (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $29.98): Having already essayed the difficult roles of a dimwit health inspector and a dimwit Army reservist, Larry the Cable Guy tackles his most challenging role to date in this gripping, high-tension thriller in which he plays a dimwit deputy who “rescues” a babe (Ivana Milicevic) from the clutches of some shady characters, not realizing that they are FBI agents charged with protecting her as she travels to Chicago to testify in a high-profile trial. As you can probably guess, wackiness ensues as fluids are squirted, flatulence is expelled and crotches are scratched. If you think that is odd, consider the decidedly eclectic cast that has gathered to support Larry this time around--Eric Roberts, Peter Stormare, Joe Mantegna, Jenny McCarthy and Yaphet Kotto, the latter apparently once again playing Alonzo Mosely, the character that he portrayed in the much-loved “Midnight Run.”

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originally posted: 06/13/08 14:15:09
last updated: 06/14/08 03:00:10
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