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DVD Reviews for 8/15: Love--Exciting And New/Old And Occasionally Creepy
by Peter Sobczynski

On the surface, this week's collection may look like a rag-tag group of bum movies and banal TV shows that is being foisted onto the marketplace while most people are distracted by the Olympics. Okay, it is pretty much just that even below the surface, but no week featuring a Guy Maddin epic, a pair of documentaries involving two of the more notable figures on the cultural landscape of the 1960's and vehicles featuring the always-delightful likes of Eliza Dushku and Olivia Thirlby can be completely useless, can it? Well, keep reading and find out.

Due to a lack of both time and a worthwhile subject, there will be no long review in this week’s column. However, I can assure you that next week will be a doozy indeed as I publicly and unashamedly declare my love for what may be the guiltiest pop-culture pleasure around these days and explain why I feel such complete, sincere and unironic affection for it. See, now you are already so intrigued with trying to figure out what I could possibly be talking about that even if I did manage to pound out a long review, you probably wouldn’t have even noticed it.


THE AMERICAN MALL (Paramount Home Video. $24.99): The executive producers of “High School Musical” attempt to get lightning to strike again with this made-for-MTV-musical (which is hitting stores just after its broadcast premiere) about a poor-but-honest girl with musical dreams (Nina Dobrev) who falls in love with a hunky janitor with similar interests ( Rob Mayes) and finds her happiness threatened by the evil and spoiled daughter of the mall’s owner (“The O.C.” temptress Autumn Reeser). Alas, though the hunky janitor croons many a non-threatening tune, he does not perform a cover of the greatest janitor-related song of all time, “The Janitor Song” from the “MST3K” presentation of “Teenage Strangler.” (“I’m a janitor, a janitor/I clean up the puke at your school/A large fistful of sawdust/is my essential tool.”

THE ART OF WAR II BETRAYAL (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95): I have to admit, when I saw that Wesley Snipes was appearing in this direct-to-video sequel to the totally anonymous 2000 action epic, I was completely surprised--granted, it was mostly because I though at first that the original was a Steven Seagal vehicle. If this doesn’t satisfy your craving for direct-to-video sequels to totally anonymous action epics that you haven’t given a single thought to since they originally came out, this week also sees the release of “Belly 2: Millionaire Boyz Club” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $24.95). Enjoy

BRAND UPON THE BRAIN (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): So how do you present a silent film that was designed to be presented is special screenings featuring live accompaniment from a live orchestra, a castrato, a group of foley artists and a celebrity narrator on DVD in a way that even begins to approximate those exclusive showings? Well, in presenting Guy Maddin’s ultra-bizarre 2007 film fantasia--a work that pretty much defies description, though recognizing it as a surreal and psycho-sexual take on “The Bobbsey Twins” is a pretty good start--the Criterion Collection has come pretty close to doing just that by giving viewers eight different options for the narration--recordings of live performances by Crispin Glover, Eli Wallach, Laurie Anderson and poet John Ashbery, studio versions by Maddin and Louis Negrin and two different takes by Isabella Rossellini (one from a live performance and one recorded for screenings of the film that didn’t include the live show). After plowing through all of those, the second disc yields more treasures in the form of a trippy deleted scene, an hour-long documentary about the making of the film and its unusual release (including footage of additional narrators such as the immortal Udo Kier) and two head-spinning Maddin shorts that offer up intriguing looks at the castrato and the Foley artists. One of the most unusual and fascinating films of 2007 has become one of the most unusual and fascinating films of 2008.

CAROLINE IN THE CITY--THE FIRST SEASON/DAVE’S WORLD--THE FIRST SEASON (CBS DVD. $44.99 each): If you are a fan of blandly inoffensive sitcoms from the mid-90’s that are loosely inspired by the work of reasonably well-known media figures, this is definitely your week. The former featured Lea Thompson as a vaguely Cathy Guisewhite-like cartoonist who looks to her own life, not to mention those of her commitment-shy boyfriend (Eric Lutes), her wacky best pal (Amy Pietz) and the co-worker who is not-so-secretly in love with her (Malcolm Gets), for fodder for her hugely popular comic strip. The latter featured Harry Anderson as a not-so-vaguely Dave Barry-like columnist (named Dave Barry to make things easier) who looks to his own life, not to mention those of his adorable wife (DeLane Matthews), his adorable best pal (Shadoe Stevens) and his adorable recently divorced neighbor (Meshach Taylor) , for fodder for his hugely popular column.

CJ7 (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.96): In the latest attempt by a cheerfully rambunctious comedic filmmaker to broaden his appeal by making a more sentimental film featuring an adorable young tyke, Stephen Chow (the guy behind the brilliant “Shaolin Soccer” and “Kung Fu Hustle”) tells the story of a poor-but-noble man who surprises his poor-but-noble son with a “toy” that he uncovers in a garbage dump--it turns out that the plaything is actually an alien who the kid proceeds to befriend even as he ritually abuses the thing every chance he gets. I think that the intention was to do a satire/homage to Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.” but this strange blend of sticky sentimentality and weirdly savage slapstick would barely cut it as a tribute to “Mac & Me.”

I GOT THE FEELING--JAMES BROWN IN THE ‘60’s (Shout! Factory. $39.98): If the sum total of your knowledge of the late, great James Brown consists of the theme song from “Rocky IV” and his appearance on “The Simpsons’ in which he decried the lack of double-bolting on a faulty grandstand, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of this three-disc set chronicling his importance as both a musician and as a important figure in the history of American race relations during the turbulent times of the 1960’s. Disc One features “The Night James Brown Saved Boston,” a fascinating and enlightening 2007 documentary (which played the festival circuit before landing on VH-1) chronicling the landmark 1968 concert that Brown gave in Boston the night after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in which he managed to raise the roof off of the joint in tribute to the slain leaser while calming down the audiences enough to prevent an outbreak of the violence that had overtaken other cities at the same time. Disc Two is a video of that landmark concert as it was broadcast that night on television in the area and shows that the hype about the performance in the documentary was entirely justified. The final disc contains a video of a March, 1968 performance at the Apollo Theater that he did for the television special “Man to Man” and a clip of his blistering performance of “Out of Sight” that was a highlight of the 1964 concert film “The T.A.M.I. Show.” For anyone even remotely interested in the popular music of the latter half of the 20th century, this set is essential.

IRINA PALM (Strand Releasing. $27.99): In what is no doubt someone’s idea of a feel-good film, actress/singer/Mars Bar enthusiast Marianne Faithful stars as a fifty-something woman who goes to work in a sex club (where she is known as the “wanking widow”) in order to raise much-needed money for medical treatment for her grandson. No truth to the rumor that this DVD includes a deleted scene in which the grandson says “But Granny, all I wanted was some chicken soup.” (Sorry--there is a funny joke somewhere in there but I clearly missed it with that attempt. If you can twist it around into something better, please do so and let me know what you came up with.)

KENNY VS. SPENNY UNCENSORED: VOLUME ONE (Paramount Home Video. $26.98): Executive produced by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, this extremely goofball reality series (for lack of a better term) follows two longtime friends--the noble and straightforward Spenny and the win-at-any-cost Kenny--as they go head-to-head in challenges designed to see who handle to most torture, who can sing the longest, who can commit the most crimes, who can get aroused the quickest and, perhaps inevitably, who can offer up the biggest fart. Gross, stupid and juvenile? Of course. That said, I would still take this over any non-McPhee “American Idol” any time

THE KILLING GENE (The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment. $19.98): No, this is not a depraved horror film involving a maniacal game-show host impaling his victims upon his absurdly thin and elongated microphone for failing to fill in their “BLANKS” properly. Instead, it is a depraved horror film in which Stellan Skarsgard and Melissa George play a couple of cops investigating a series of brutal murders in which it appears that the victims were forced to choose between saving their own skin or saving the life of a loved one and Selma Blair appears as a recovering rape victim who may or may not be tied into the case. In other words, it is yet another knock-off of the likes of “Seven” and “Saw” that somehow missed getting a theatrical release in these parts, though the DVD does thoughtfully provide viewers with a “Torture Featurette” to savor after watching the main feature.

THE LOVE BOAT--SEASON ONE, VOLUME TWO (CBS DVD. $36.98): I know, I know. You have absolutely no interest in my thoughtful analysis of this ever-popular bit of 70’s-era kitsch--you just want to know who the guest stars are who appear on the 12 episodes and the 1977 Movie of the Week pilot that are collected here. Okay, in order, some of the luminaries along for the ride this time around include, in broadcast order, Pat Harrington Jr., Audra Lindley, Phil Silvers, Stella Stevens, Kathy Bates, Bob Crame, Robert Hays, Don Adams, Pearl Bailey, Nanette Fabray, Desi Arnaz Jr., Adrienne Barbeau, Fernando Lamas, Michelle Lee, Dan Rowan, John Schuck, Larry Storch, Karen Valentine (woo-hoo), Stephanie Zimbalist, Scatman Crothers, Vicki Lawrence, Maureen McCormick, Bobby Sherman, Dick Van Patten, Marion Ross, Jim Backus, Frankie Avalon, Barbi Benton, Patti Duke Astin, Jamie Farr, Shelley Long, Robert Urich (who would star in a later attempt to revive the series), Audrey Meadows, Harry Morgan, Monty Hall, Leslie Nielsen, Joe E. Ross, Dick Gautier, Michelle Lee again, Paul Williams, Jayne Meadows, Morey Amsterdam, Annette Funicello, Rose Marie, Gary Collins, Antonio “Huggy Bear” Vargas, Eve “Jan Brady” Plumb and Noriyuki “Pat” Morita. You’re welcome.

MUHAMMAD ALI: MADE IN MIAMI (Paramount Home Video. $19.99): Originally produced for PBS, this informative documentary utilizes new interviews and archival footage to illustrate the important part that Miami, Florida played in the formation of Muhammed Ali’s life, career and legend through incidents ranging from his defeat of Sonny Liston to the beginnings of his friendship with Malcolm X to his controversial refusal to fight in Vietnam. Even if you have no real interest in boxing, this is still a fascinating look at a key chapter in the life of one of the great historical figures of our time.

PRISON BREAK--THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON (Fox Home Entertainment. $49.98): Don’t look at me for an opinion of the third season of this absurdly implausible action series that seems to feature heavily-tattooed hunks breaking in and out of theoretically impregnable prisons on a weekly basis--I pretty much washed my hands of the whole thing once they callously disposed of the lovely and talented Robin Tunney back at the beginning of the second season.

THE SECRET (Image Entertainment. $27.98): In a direct-to-video title that has “ick” written all over it, David Duchovny and Lili Taylor play a married couple that is so strong that not even Taylor’s untimely death is enough to separate it--unfortunately, it seems that she is attempting to continue it by possessing the body of their teenage daughter. Then again, since the daughter is played by none other than perennial column crush object Olivia Thirlby, there is always the possibility that Duchovny is just using the spirit possession thing as an excuse. (Okay, even I am a little creeped out by what I just wrote--what say we just move on and pretend that none of this ever happened?)

SOUTH PARK: THE COMPLETE ELEVENTH SEASON (Paramount Home Video. $49.99): The latest collection of episodes from the still-funny butcher of any and all sacred cows, the town is rocked when on of its citizens uses the “N” word on live television, Cartman gets in touch with his inner Jack Bauer when he suspects that a new Muslin classmate is a terrorist, Stan and Kyle become obsessed with “Guitar Hero,“ Butters gets sent off to a gayhab camp after being the unknowing butt of one of Cartman’s practical jokes, Jesus gets a hold of the Glaive from “Krull” and films as varied as “The Da Vinci Code” and “King of Kong” get parodied. All this and the “Imaginationland” trilogy (which already received its own separate DVD a few months ago) too. As Cartman so eloquently put it in “Le Petit Tourette”. . .actually, I don’t think that I am allowed to use such words in a humble DVD column such as this.

TRU CALLING--THE COMPLETE SERIES (Fox Home Entertainment. $59.98): Although it isn’t appearing on their schedule until January, Fox has apparently decided to hype the upcoming premiere of “Dollhouse,” a new action series starring the always-delightful Eliza Dushku, by offering up a complete series set of their previous Dushku series, a fairly lame supernatural series in which she played a morgue worker who gained the mysterious ability to communicate with the various corpses that came in and travel back in time in order to help prevent their untimely demises. As it was when it first aired, this short-lived series (only one full season and a six-episode follow-up) is pretty lame and confused as to what it is trying to be. On the other hand, the set does offer over 1100 minutes of Eliza Dushku and that is always a good thing in my book. That book, by the way, is titled “Man Oh Man, That Eliza Dushku is Sure Easy on the Eyes!”

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originally posted: 08/15/08 13:51:59
last updated: 08/16/08 00:39:14
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