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DVD Reviews for 9/12: “You See What Happens When You Find A Stranger In the Alps?”
by Peter Sobczynski

You know, I really thought about writing a long piece on “The Big Lebowski,” which is getting a 10th Anniversary DVD release this week, in order to grapple with the question of how a film about a bowling stoner trying to solve a mystery that may not even exist could go from being an eccentric box-office flop to one of the most popular cult films of the entire decade. However, I then asked myself, as I often do, “What would The Dude do?” The answer, of course, was “Drink a few White Russians, bowl a few lanes and just let the review slide” and that is what I have decided to do here. Other than that, the column abides with killer dolls, killer pumpkins, tributes to the glories of Cinerama and Elizabeth Berkley and, perhaps inevitably, the return of Uwe Boll.


AVRIL LAVIGNE: BEST DAMN TOUR-LIVE IN TORONTO (RCA. $16.98): Although deemed too sexy for the good people of Malaysia, everyone’s favorite faux-punk pop princess finds a more welcome hometown reception on this stop on her recent “Best Damn “ concert tour, a show that finds the caterwauling Canuck belting out her best-known hits (such as “Complicated” and “Skater Boi”) as well as newer tunes like “Girlfriend.”

BABY MAMA (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): That certainly didn’t take too long--only a couple of weeks after suddenly bursting upon the national scene, someone has quickly slapped together a film about Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and the numerous personal and professional skeletons that are hiding in her presumably roomy closet amidst her moose-gutting tools. What’s that? Nothing to do with the ethically questionable vice-presidential candidate at all? This is actually the recent comedy in which much wackiness occurs after barren yuppie Tina Fey hires wacky dope Amy Poehler to serve as a surrogate mother for her? Wait a second, what about the amusing subplot about the obscenely rich and out-of-touch old businessman with grey hair who unexpectedly takes Fey’s character under his wing? Oh, that isn’t John McCain--that is actually Steve Martin in what the kids today refer to as a “cameo.” Okay, maybe we should just drop this altogether and move along before I get into any more trouble.

THE BIG LEBOWSKI: 10th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98): If you had any doubts that this hilarious 1998 comedy from the Coen Brothers, in which the perpetually stoned Dude (Jeff Bridges in one of his most memorable performances) whose demand for restitution for a soiled carpet leads him into a hazily defined mystery involving pornographers, nihilists, severed toes, marmots, White Russians, pederasts and a Creedence tape, has truly achieved standing as a cult classic over the past decade, consider the fact this this is no less than the third DVD incarnation of this particular title. Although this two-disc version lacks a commentary track from any of the eclectic cast (including the likes of Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, Ben Gazzara, John Goodman, Philip Seymour Hoffman and the irrepressible Tara Reid) or the Coens themselves (who have only officially done one for “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” though I believe that Ethan Coen is the voice behind the joke commentary on the “Blood Simple” disc), it does contain all the extras from the previous versions (including a making-of documentary, a mock introduction talking about the restoration that the film allegedly underwent and a collection of behind-the-scenes photos taken by Bridges) and adds on such new features on the lasting impact of the film and The Dude, the making of the dream sequences and the various “Lebowski Fest” fan conventions that have popped up across the country over the last ten years. If you have a little more coin to spend, there is a deluxe edition selling for $34.98 that houses the two discs in a bowling-ball shaped container that really ties the set together.

CHILD’S PLAY: CHUCKY’S 20th BIRTHDAY EDITION (MGM Home Entertainment. $14.98): Man, has it really been 20 years since the world’s mostly frighteningly resilient plaything, a doll possessed with the murderous spirit of a serial killer and the dulcet tones of Brad Dourif, began a kill spree that would spread out over five increasingly ludicrous movies (though to be fair, the last two were pretty much conceived as weirdo horror-comedy hybrids)? To commemorate that, MGM has thoughtfully reissued the film (which holds up better than most entries in the killer doll subgenre have over the years) in a long-awaited widescreen transfer with features including three commentary tracks (including such participants as writer/producer Don Mancini, FX creator Kevin Yagher, co-stars Catherine Hicks and Alex Vincent and even a few contributions from Chucky himself) and a making-of documentary combining behind-the-scenes footage and newly-shot interviews.

COOL HAND LUKE--DELUXE EDITION (Warner Home Video. $19.98): In one of the most famous and iconic roles of his long and celebrated career, Paul Newman stars as a brash and outspoken member of a Southern chain gang who refuses to allow his indomitable spirit to be broken by either his fellow inmates (led by George Kennedy in his Oscar-winning role) or by the authorities (represented by the sadistic warden played by Strother Martin). Previously released in a fairly uninspired movie-only edition, this 1967 classic has been given a decent upgrade here via a new transfer, a making-of documentary and a commentary track from Newman biographer Eric Lax. Alas, hard-boiled eggs are sold separately.

CSI MIAMI--SEASON 6 (CBS DVD. $79.99): Under normal circumstances, I would give a pass to this latest collection of episodes of the long-running spin-off of the long-running police procedural--I tend to find all of those shows to be vaguely irritating (the dialogue always sounds like what might have resulted if Mickey Spillane tried to write a medical textbook) and the only significant cultural contribution that star David Caruso has made in the last few years has been when he was a key component to one of the funnier one-liners in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” However, that was before I discovered that the one and only Elizabeth Berkley, the star of the immortal classic “Showgirls,” makes a few appearances here as a sociopathic ex-flame of Caruso’s--now I am all over that one like Sarah Palin on a freshly-killed moose or a governmental earmark. Other popular TV shows getting the season-set collection this week in anticipation of their upcoming premieres include “Grey’s Anatomy: Season Four--Expanded (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $59.98), a collection that Katherine Heigel presumably won’t be making the talk show rounds to promote, “Medium--The Fourth Season” (CBS DVD. $59.98), in which maternal psychic Patricia Arquette once again tries to solve mysteries using her extra-sensory gifts, this time with guest star Angelica Huston in tow, and “Ugly Betty: The Complete Second Season” (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $59.98), the soap opera/spoof that keeps threatening to fly off the rails with its increasingly bizarre plot twists but manages to hold on thanks to the delightful central performance from America Ferrara in the title role.

THE FALL (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.96): Having made a splashy and controversial debut with the visually astonishing and dramatically inert epic “The Cell,” director Tarsem Singh spent the next several years traveling the world making his follow-up film about a badly injured 1920’s stuntman (Lee Pace) who spins out an elaborate fairy tale for a little girl who is a patient at the same hospital so that she will sneak him enough pins to help him end his life. The result, perhaps not surprisingly, is a visually astonishing but dramatically inert epic that is definitely worth watching over and over but which isn’t worth listening to even a single time.

THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $34.98): It is hard to figure out what is the most disappointing aspect of this film, the project that finally brought martial arts legends Jackie Chan and Jet Li together for the first time--the fact that they waited until they were past their respective primes to do it, the fact that they were inexplicably teamed up together as colleagues trying to stop another bad guy instead of doing battle with each other or that both wound up playing second fiddle to a dopey American kid (Michael Angarano) who winds up getting to save the day while the nominal stars just stand around looking vaguely embarrassed?

FOREIGN EXCHANGE (Universal Home Entertainment. $24.98): Oh boy, another raunchy sex comedy about a dorky high-school kid who wants to get with the campus hottie--the difference this time around is that his attempts are both helped and hindered by the arrival of a bunch of foreign-exchange students. Although I can’t say that I have actually watched this yet, I have a sneaky suspicion that you will be better off by just putting this one to the side and firing up “Better Off Dead” for the billionth time.

HOW THE WEST WAS WON (Warner Home Video. $29.98): Although no home theater system can possibly hope to replicate the experience of seeing this 1962 epic, in which the story of a family’s move West throughout the generations is conveyed through three notable directors (Henry Hathaway, John Ford and George Marshall), five separate plot threads and an all-star cast (including, in alphabetical order, Carroll Baker, Lee J. Cobb, Henry Fonda, Carolyn Jones, Karl Malden, Gregory Peck, George Peppard, Debbie Reynolds, James Stewart, Eli Wallach and, inevitably, John Wayne), in the splendor of its original Cinerama presentation (an ultra-widescreen process that involved projecting images captured by three synchronized cameras onto an enormous curved screen), this DVD special edition comes pretty damn close. The picture has been remastered and restored so that the lines separating the three separated pieces that have plagued non-Cinerama screenings have been removed to give the entire image a fairly seamless look, a commentary featuring, among others, film historian Rudy Behlmer and Cinerama Inc. director John Sittig, and a third disc containing “Cinerama Adventure,” a feature-length documentary explaining what all the fuss was about regarding one of the all-time great film presentation gimmicks.

THE LAST DAYS OF LEFT-EYE (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $19.95): This week’s truth in advertising award goes to this controversial 2007 documentary that offers up exactly what it promises, footage of former TLC singer Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes on a 2002 vacation in Honduras in order to take stock of her life with family and friends leading right up to the final moments before the auto accident that would claim her life.

PUMPKINHEAD--20th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.98):That is correct--films like “The African Queen” and “The Magnificent Ambersons” have yet to see the light of day on DVD but this 1988 horror craptacular about some sort of vengeance-seeking pumpkin monster summoned by a grieving farmer (Lance Henriksen) to get back at the punks that accidentally killed his son, gets a double-dip special edition featuring a commentary track from co-writer Gary Gerani and effects creators Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis (who will presumably talk about the late Stan Winston, the effects genius who served as their boss and who made his directorial debut with this film), a few behind-the-scenes featurettes and a gallery of stills. Fans will no doubt love this new edition, especially the fact that it is getting its first widescreen transfer here, but for my money, the most terrifying thing about it is that there are apparently three sequels to this that I somehow never heard about until right now.

SARAH LANDON & THE PARANORMAL HOUR (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.96): If you like your supernatural thrillers to be, you know, not that creepy, scary or tension-filled, you may enjoy this low-budget epic, essentially a big-screen home movie about a spunky teenage girl who goes off to a small town to visit the grandmother of a dead friend and becomes involved in some nonsense involving curses, ghosts and revenge from beyond the grave. If you are looking for something a little more intense with better performances and a more plausible storyline, you would be better off devoting your time and energy to a “Scooby Doo” marathon.

SEED (Vivendi Entertainment. $26.99): The one and only Uwe Boll returns with a gory and sadistic horror film about a sadistic serial killer (we know he is a sadist because he likes watching films of animals being tortured and killed, all of which we get to see) who is such a badass that he even three jolts from the electric chair are unable to kill him. Fearing that this means that he will be set free according to urban legend (which, as we all know, always trumps state and federal law in such cases), the cops decide to just pretend he is dead and simply bury him alive, a move that allows him to crawl out of his grave and go after his tormentors and their families in gruesome fashion (including an extended scene in which a woman has her skull slowly caved in with a hammer). Although gross as can be, the only truly terrifying thing about this enterprise is that it is no less than Boll’s fourth feature film to be released within the last 12 months (following “Bloodrayne 2,” “In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale” and, of course, “Postal”) and if that weren’t enough for you, this week also sees the release of “House of the Dead: Director’s Cut" (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.98) a revision of his 2003 zombie disaster that, from what I understand, has been reedited to make the comedic moments come across as deliberate instead of inadvertent.

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originally posted: 09/12/08 07:16:48
last updated: 09/12/08 08:27:20
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