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DVD Reviews for 7/4: Barracuda!

by Peter Sobczynski

In which your faithful critic takes a look at one of the best TV shows of 2007 and 2008, examines the homicidal rampages enacted by a ventriloquist’s dummy and Winona Ryder and revels in the glory that is Chuck Norris beating the crap out of people in the name of duty and humanity.

Because of holiday-inspired laziness, there will be no long review this week. Instead, I will be kicking back and celebrating the Fourth of July the same way that I do every year--another viewing of “Jaws” (hands down the greatest July 4 film ever made--anyone who writes in suggesting the superiority of either “Independence Day” or “1776” will be mocked relentlessly) while placing prank calls to everyone I know of British descent--while racking my brain to recall if I know anyone who knows anyone who can out in a good word for me with Rose McGowan. (Actually, there will be an additional DVD-related surprise later this weekend, so be sure to come back here at some point.) On the bright side, it would seem that the DVD companies have decided to follow my lead, at least regarding the whole kicking-back thing, because this week’s pickings are kind of slim. However, if you look closely enough, there are a couple of gems here that are well worth checking out once the scent of cordite has faded into memory.


ANGLO SAXON ATTITUDES (Acorn Media. $39.99): The 1992 adaptation of the acclaimed satirical novel by Angus Wilson stars Richard Johnson as a retired and deeply unhappy historian taking stock of the mistakes that he made in both his professional life (when he took part in the unearthing of a rare fertility idol that helped to make his career but which was really a hoax) as well as his personal (as when he began an affair with the fiancée of his best friend, the very same man responsible for the aforementioned fraud). Perhaps fittingly for a story about a historian, this very funny British TV miniseries features appearances from then-unknowns Daniel Craig and Kate Winslet in small supporting roles.

CITY OF MEN (Miramax Home Entertainment. $29.99): Although the packaging might lead you to believe that this is a sequel to Fernando Merielles’ “City of God,” this is actually a feature-film version of the spin-off series that was produced for Brazilian television from 2002 to 2005 and tells the story of two young friends (Douglas Silva and Darlan Cunha) struggling to live their lives on the streets of Rio de Janeiro when a brewing gang war and a shocking secret from their pasts threatens to tear them apart for good.

DRILLBIT TAYLOR (Paramount Home Video. $34.99): It was probably inevitable that the Judd Apatow comedy factory that has been cranking out such popular and critical favorites as “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Superbad” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” over the last couple of years would eventually come up with a faulty product--to cleanse the artistic palate, if nothing else--but I doubt that anyone expected anything as flat-out awful as this flop about a homeless drifter (Owen Wilson) who hires himself out as a pseudo-bodyguard to a trio of freshmen geeks who are being harassed by a pair of school bullies. Strangely unfunny and weirdly unpleasant--the bullies are actually vicious psychopaths whose cruelties are far too sadistic for what is supposed to be a light comedy--this is one of the biggest artistic misfires of the year to date.

GET SMART’S BRUCE AND LLOYD OUT OF CONTROL (Warner Home Video. $27.98): Of all the supporting characters in the current “Get Smart” movie, which ones would you most like to see as the focus of their very own spin-off movie? If, like most people, you said Anne Hathaway (sigh) or Alan Arkin or even The Rock, you will be sadly disappointed to learn that only one of the people that I have mentioned makes even a token cameo appearance in this bit of direct-to-video junk. If, on the other hand, you were hoping that it would highlight the two tech geeks played by Masi Oka and Nate Torrance who were arguably the most irritating people in “Get Smart,” this is your lucky day. I hope you sleep well tonight, you big, selfish dope.

MAD MEN: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $49.98): The highly acclaimed AMC series about the lives and loves and dark secrets of the employees of a Madison Avenue advertising firm in the early 1960’s makes its DVD debut just in time for viewers to refresh their memories (or catch up with it for the first time) before it returns for its second season later this month. If you pick this up--and you most certainly should--make sure that you have plenty of time on your hands when you put it on because once you start watching it, you won’t want to stop until you have seen every episode.

MY BLUEBERRY NIGHTS (Miramax Home Entertainment. $19.98): When this wonderfully titled film from acclaimed Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai--an American-set road movie in which a lovelorn waitress (Norah Jones in her acting debut) goes on a cross-country odyssey of self-discovery that finds her interacting with a sweet-natured restaurant owner (Jude Law), a deeply unhappy couple (David Strathairn and Rachel Weisz) going through the painful final steps of their relationship and a professional gambler (Natalie Portman) with some emotional problems of her own--premiered as the opening night film of the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, it was widely criticized for being a disappointing comedown from such instant masterpieces as “In the Mood for Love” and “2046.” Don’t believe the anti-hype--while it may not be as drop-dead perfect as those earlier films, it is easily the most deliriously charming and entertaining film he has made since the equally rapturous “Chungking Express,” it is absolutely gorgeous to look at (partly because of the stunning cinematography from Darius Khondji and partly because it features three of the world’s most beautiful women in Jones, Weisz and Portman) and it is even reasonably touching to boot. If you missed it during its brief theatrical release earlier this year, be sure to catch up with it now because it is an absolute must-see. The only disappointing note with the DVD is that while the package includes a nice selection of bonus features (including a making-of documentary, a still gallery and a lengthy interview with the director), it doesn’t include any of the over 20 minutes of footage that Wong removed from the film after its Cannes premiere.

REBUS--SET 3 (Acorn Media. $49.99): Another collection of four films made for British television based on the mystery novels of Scottish author Ian Rankin and featuring Ken Stott as troubled Detective Inspector John Rebus. This set includes adaptations of the very first Rebus novel, “Knots and Crosses” and the award-winning books “Resurrection Men” and “The Naming of the Dead” as well as the original screenplay “The First Stone.”

SEX AND DEATH 101 (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $29.95): Nineteen years after their first collaboration, the seminal youth comedy “Heathers” (which is being re-released this week in a “20th Class Reunion” edition featuring a new documentary along with the wealth of supplemental materials found in previous DVD editions), Winona Ryder and screenwriter Daniel Waters reunited for this dark comedy (which Waters also directed) in which about-to-be-married Simon Baker is presented with a list of all 101 women that he will sleep with in his lifetime in chronological order and discovers that his bride-to-be is only #29. He ditches his fiancée in order to plow through the list (literally) but doesn’t realize that the last name on the list (guess who?) is an avenging angel of sorts who is killing off all of her bedmates as payment for their crimes against womanhood. And yes, now that you mentioned it, the film does feature an appearance from none other than Mindy Cohn, a.k.a. Natalie from “The Facts of Life,” but whether she appears on the list or not is something that I shall leave for you to discover.

SHOTGUN STORIES (Liberation Entertainment. $24.95): Presented by acclaimed filmmaker David Gordon Green, this highly impressive debut from writer-director Jeff Nichols tells the gripping tale of the increasingly violent feud that develops between two sets of half-brothers following the death of the father who abandoned one family in order to start another one. You may think you know how this story will play out but Nichols does an excellent job of keeping the material based in recognizable human emotions instead of letting it become just another depressing tale of mawkish melodrama and violent retribution. Although a favorite on the festival circuit (it even got one of the coveted slots in this year’s Ebertfest), this low-budget indie only received a miniscule art-house release earlier this spring--hopefully it will find its audience on DVD because it is a film that really and truly deserves it.

TRILOQUIST (The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment. $19.98): If you have been wishing and hoping and praying that the auteur of the semi-immortal “Leprechaun” (which remains the high-water mark of Jennifer Aniston’s career in my book) would one day grace the direct-to-video world with an bizarre cross between “Natural Born Killers” and “Magic” involving a psychotic brother-and-sister duo who go on a cross-country killing spree with the help of a ventriloquist’s dummy that appears to be as alive and as homicidal as its owners, all I can say is that your wishes and hopes and prayers have apparently finally been answered. Sure, you could have wished and hoped and prayed, as I often do, for a remake of “The Hunger” that would co-star Milla Jovovich, and Emily Blunt, but no, you chose to go with this instead. I certainly hope that your psychotic puppet extravaganza was worth it, you big, selfish dope.

TYLER PERRY’S MEET THE BROWNS (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $34.98): Having hung up his girdle and wig for his last two directorial efforts, Tyler Perry returns as the inexplicably popular, pistol-packing granny Madea to lend comic relief to the story of a struggling single mother (Angela Bassett???) who uproots her family to go down south to meet the family she never knew she had after the death of her estranged father. If you a fan of Perry’s previous stews of slapstick, salvation and soap-opera histrionics, you are likely to enjoy this one as well. If, on the other hand, you find his work to be borderline insane dreck that is almost literally unwatchable at times, this film (outside of Bassett’s presence) is unlikely to inspire you to change your opinion. If you have never gotten around to experiencing Perry’s work with your own eyes, there is no reason that I can think of for stopping that streak with this one.

VANTAGE POINT (Sony Home Entertainment. $34.95): Imagine a film that tried to combine all of the thrills, chills, outrageous plot twists, visual flourishes and political conspiracies of an entire season of “24” into one 90-minute movie. Sounds pretty great, no? Alas, while the makers of this film (in which an attempt on the life of U.S. President William Hurt during an appearance in Spain is examined from eight different angles that constantly reveal new information) have clearly tried to do just that here, it quickly becomes evident from the ludicrous plotting and tension-free filmmaking that they were using the generally derided sixth season as a template. Unless you are a Dennis Quaid completist (and he is pretty good here, especially when you consider just how silly the whole thing is), there is no reason to sit through this literally repetitive mess.

WALKER: TEXAS RANGER--THE FIFTH SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment. $49.99): Nearly 19 hours of Chuck Norris delivering swift justice through stern moralizing and numerous roundhouse kicks to the head--can you think of a better way to celebrate the Fourth of July (assuming, of course, that you have already watched “Jaws”)? In the 25 episodes collected here, our hero uncovers secret experiments in which nursing home residents are being used as guinea pigs (possibly in homage to the pure awesomeness that was Norris’ 1982 epic “Silent Rage”), aids a brilliant young man who escapes from a scientific institute where he is being subjected to other dangerous tests (who knew that the scientific community in Texas--at least outside of Austin--was so dedicated?), takes a bunch of young punks through boot camp, protects a couple of orphans who witness a murder, defends a pal who accidentally shoot a six-year-old kid during a pursuit, tries to rescue scientist who is being forced by his captors to help them create an army of super-strong Universal Soldier-like thugs and goes undercover as a schoolteacher to bring a punk gang leader.

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originally posted: 07/04/08 00:19:46
last updated: 07/04/08 00:48:01
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