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DVD Reviews for 9/19: Not A Waste Of Time

by Peter Sobczynski

There are a lot of DVDs out this week--recent hits (and misses), special editions of all-time favorites and a slew of television series to boot--but all bow down to the long-awaited home video debut of one of the great rock-and-roll movies that you have probably never heard of.

For years now, the punk rock satire “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains” has been one of those movies that many people in certain subcultures have heard about over the years but which few have actually had the opportunity to see. Produced in 1981, the project was a hot property at the time--it was directed by Lou Adler, who had just had a hit with “Up In Smoke,” it was written by Nancy Dowd, who had just scored an Oscar for “Coming Home” and it featured a cast including up-and-coming starlet Diane Lane, then-unknowns Ray Winstone and Laura Dern and musicians such as Fee Waybill and Vince Welnick from the Tubes, Paul Simonon of The Clash and Paul Cook and Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols--but somewhere along the way, something went wrong; Dowd disowned the project and used the assumed name of Rob Morton for her screenplay credit and after a disastrous test run in Denver, Paramount Pictures decided to cut their losses and stuck the film on a shelf. Outside of a couple of rare revival screenings over the years and a few underpromoted airings on the old USA Network music series “Night Flight,” it stayed on that shelf to such a degree that it was never officially released on any home video format. Despite its near-total unavailability, it has developed a fervent cult following that has included such notables as the late underground filmmaker Sarah Jacobsen, who made a documentary about the film and the cult that it spawned, Courtney Love and any number of the bands to emerge from the riot grrl subculture of the 1990’s and its infrequent revival screenings would often attract large crowds consisting of the converted and the curious. Now, in one of the most unexpected home video surprises of the year, Rhino Home Video has somehow managed to convince Paramount to let them license it for its DVD debut as the inaugural title of their “Rock ’n’ Roll Cinema” series. Of course, in many cases, one of the worst things that can possibly happen to a film whose popularity is based in part on how difficult it is to see is to finally make it widely available so that it can finally be judged on its own merits--now that Alejandro Jodorowsky’s long-unseen “El Topo” is on DVD for anyone to see, you don’t hear quite as many people calling it a masterpiece anymore--but in the case of “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains,” not only has it held up quite well as a film of its time, its keenly felt observations regarding the music industry and how media manipulation can transform someone without any discernible talent into an overnight sensation make it just as relevant today as it was when it was made, if not more so.

Lane stars as Corrine Burns, a nihilistic 15-year-old girl who has just lost her mother to lung cancer (though she continues to smoke anyway), has just lost the latest in what is presumably a long string of minimum-wage jobs and is the laughing stock of the grim Rust Belt suburb that she is currently rotting in. With her sister Tracy (Marin Kanter) and cousin Jessica (Dern), Corrine, who now calls herself “Third Degree,” forms a punk rock band called the Stains and despite the lack of any discernible talent--not surprising since they have only held three rehearsals (“But they were long ones”), she manages to score them a booking as the opening act for a grim concert tour featuring The Metal Corpses, an over-the-hill metal band (including Waybill and Welnick) and the rising British punk band The Looters (including Simonon, Jones and Cook). Their first performance goes terribly--the Stains don’t even make it through what may be their only song--but Corrine’s hectoring of the audience only earns her further scorn. However, her look (punked-out hair, tights and see-through blouses) and attitude (her mantra is “We Don’t Put Out”) have a certain appeal and when Corrine involves herself in the story when one of the Metal Corpses OD’s, an ambitious news reporter (Cynthia Sykes) puts her on television and she becomes an instant idol for disaffected young women everywhere. Before long, the Stains become an overnight sensation and every stop on the tour is filled with girls paying good money to look and sound just like their heroine, even though they have never even recorded a single song. Naturally, their instant transformation from a talentless trio into a viable commercial product doesn’t set well with the leader of the Looters (Winstone) and it leads to a climax in which h faces down a theater filled with Stains fanatics and denounces them for being just another group of suckers who have bought into just another bunch of hype before storming away. What happens when the Stains then take the stage (for they are now the main act on the bill), I will leave for you to discover.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains” is such a hugely entertaining movie to watch today that it seems absolutely bewildering that Paramount Pictures refused to even give it a chance to succeed or fail on its own merits by shelving it for so long. Perhaps the problem is that they were hoping to get a simple-minded piece of product that they could foist upon easily manipulated teenagers and instead received a film that served as an indictment against the entire process of foisting simple-minded product onto easily manipulated teenagers. However, it is the fact that this is an rock-exploitation film that actually has something to say that makes it more fascinating to watch today than the bubble-headed silliness that the studio presumably wished for and the fact that its central subject is still pretty relevant today only adds to the interest. What is equally interesting is that it indicts the manipulators as well as the manipulated. The reporter whose coverage brings the Stains to prominence clearly has no use for them either as people or as musicians--to her, they are just another freak show that she use to move up the career ladder herself and who she abandons once she achieves her own dreams (a network slot) and no longer has any use for them. It is also interesting to note that while every interview with Corrine allows her to go on and on with one inane utterance after another as long as she looks and sounds freakish enough to attract viewers but the one time when she actually has something quiet and thoughtful to say (“I think that every citizen should be given a guitar on their 16th birthday”), she is curtly informed that she is out of time and hustled out of the studio.

However, if the film consisted solely of 90 minutes of hectoring audiences by showing them how easily they have allowed themselves to be co-opted over the years with every new music trend, it would probably grown kind of wearisome after a while. What saves “Ladies and Gentleman, the Fabulous Stains” from that fate is how entertaining it truly is. The observations that it makes about life on the road for musicians are keen enough to earn it a place on the list of great rock band movies alongside the likes of “A Hard Day’s Night,” “This is Spinal Tap” and “Almost Famous.” The music is really good (where oh where is the soundtrack album) and the way that Adler, who first made his bones as a concert promoter, does a very good job of capturing the atmosphere of a grubby rock club where the bands are playing their hearts out for audiences who could hardly care less. Best of all, the main performances from Diane Lane and Ray Winstone are pretty extraordinary. As the leader of the Looters, Winstone is the one actor amongst a bunch of actual musicians but he manages to bring an extraordinary amount of realism to his performance--so much so, in fact, that if you didn’t know who he was, you would most likely assume that he was an authentic punk rocker himself. As for Lane, this could actually be the best performance of her entire career--she is so filled with raw charisma that you can’t help but be mesmerized by her whenever she takes center stage and when she is allowed a rare moment of quiet reflection, she is able to pull those off as well. If you only know her from such blandly formulaic works as “Must Love Dogs,” “Untraceable” and the fairly unspeakable “Nights in Rodanthe,” you owe it to yourself to check her out her and see what she is capable of doing when given a chance to do something a little riskier. With any luck, Lane herself will do the same. (And yeah, now that you mention it, her work here as a rocker-in-training does make the film seems like an unintentional prequel to the 1984 Walter Hill classic “Streets of Fire.”)

After years of making do with rare theatrical screenings and duped videotape recordings of those long-ago “Night Flight” broadcasts, it is likely that fans of “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains” would have been delirious with joy just to have a decent copy of the film. However, Rhino Home Video has gone to some extra lengths to provide fans with a decent array of bonus features. Sadly, Sarah Jacobsen’s documentary short, “The Making of ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains,’” is not part of the package--those who are curious to see it can find it on a DVD compilation entitled “The Rainbow Man/John 3:16” or on YouTube. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I can be briefly seen in this film as part of the audience that attended its screening at the 1998 Chicago Underground Film Festival.) To make up for that omission, Rhino has given us a nicely restored version of the film that looks and sounds better than it probably every has before, a photo gallery and two fascinating audio commentaries--one featuring Lou Adler and the other featuring none other than Diane Lane and Laura Dern. Although “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains” may center on a group whose biggest song is entitled “Waste of Time,” this DVD is anything but.

Written by Rob Morton. Directed by Lou Adler. Starring Diane Lane, Ray Winstone, Christine Lahti, Marin Kanter and Laura Dern. 1981. Rated R 87 minutes. A Rhino Home Video release. $19.95


88 MINUTES (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.96): In what may very well be the single lamest film of his entire career (at least previous misfires like “Bobby Deerfield” and “Revolution” had a certain amount of ambition to them), Al Pacino huffs and puffs through this increasingly ludicrous thriller in which he plays a forensic psychologist simultaneously trying to track down who is trying to frame him for a series of murders person peppering him with phone calls informing him that he will die in slightly less than 90 minutes. Of course, the only real mystery is the question of why, having seen how badly this film turned out (it sat on a shelf for a couple of years before finally dribbling out earlier this year), Pacino would voluntarily team up with hack director Jon Avnet again for the current catastrophe “Righteous Kill.”

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE ALVINNN!!! COLLECTION (Paramount Home Video. $26.98): In their latest attempt to milk the latest commercial resurrection of the eternally popular trio of caterwauling rodents, Paramount offers up a 2-disc compilation of episodes from their long-running 1980’s Saturday morning TV series. If that isn’t enough Chipmunk-related entertainment for you (and Lord only knows that it should be), you can also pick up the “Alvin and the Chipmunks Holiday Gift Set” (Paramount Home Video. $35.98), a three-disc set consisting of episodes involving Christmas, Thanksgiving and Halloween, and “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Daytona Jones and the Pearl of Wisdom” (Paramount Home Video. $16.99), a trio of movie-related episodes in which they parody “Indiana Jones,” “Batman” and, most inexplicably, “Robocop.”

AN AMERICAN IN PARIS: SPECIAL EDITION/GIGI: SPECIAL EDITION (Warner Home Video. $20.98 each): Two of the most celebrated movie musicals of all time finally get the special edition treatment with these long-overdue two-disc sets. The former, in which Gene Kelly stars as an American expatriate who struggles to make it as a painter in Paris and who falls in love with young shopgirl Leslie Caron, features a commentary track consisting of vintage interviews with such long-deceased participants Kelly, director Vincente Minnelli and writer Alan Jay Lerner and new comments from co-stars Caron and Nin Foch, full-length documentaries on the making of the film and on Kelly’s illustrious career, old radio interviews and a two-minute outtake of the song “Love Walked In.” The latter, in which Caron plays a young girl who is raised by her family to become a courtesan and who catches the eye of the much older Louis Jourdan, contains a commentary featuring Caron and film historian Jeanine Basinger, a new documentary on the making of the film and, best of all, a French-made 1949 non-musical feature film version of the story that is, perhaps not surprisingly, a lot more upfront about the sexual aspects of the story than the glossy Hollywood version that would emerge a decade later.

AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER--THE COMPLETE BOOK 3 COLLECTION (Nickelodeon Home Video. $79.99): Having never watched books 1 or 2 of this popular Nickelodeon anime series, I can’t begin to explain to you what happens in this set other than to quote from the back of the box and say “In the spectacular four-part conclusion, Aang must fulfill his destiny and become a fully realized Avatar, or watch the world go up in smoke.” However, since it appears that M. Night Shyamalan will be doing a live-action version of the saga for his next film, those of you who have likewise never heard of the show but who want to sound all smart and learned in the summer of 2010 may want to start brushing up now while you have a chance.

BEETLEJUICE: 20th ANNIVERSARY DELUXE EDITION (Warner Home Video. $19.98): Oh Beetlejuice, you old trickster. Only you would offer up the promise of a long-awaited special edition of Tim Burton’s brilliant 1988 horror comedy about your misadventures in helping a newlydead couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) to rid their home of some unwanted humans (including Winona Ryder in her first big role) and then give us a “Deluxe Edition” DVD that eschews the commentaries, deletes scenes and other things that fans would give anything to see and hear for little more than a music-only track and a couple of episodes of the Saturday-morning animated spin-off. God only knows what mischief you have in store for the 25th anniversary.

THE BUSBY BERKLEY COLLECTION, VOLUME 2 (Warner Home Video. $39.98): Following on the spangled heels of the previous highly acclaimed box set dedicated to the films featuring the still-astonishing musical set-piece staged by the legendary choreographer, this new collection brings together four more of his eye-popping spectacles: 1936’s “Gold Diggers of 1937,” 1937’s “Hollywood Hotel” and “Varsity Show” and 1938’s “Gold Diggers in Paris.” If this set gets as much attention as the first one, maybe it will inspire someone to finally restore and release the surreal (and okay, vaguely racist) 1934 Al Jolson epic “Wonder Bar,” which featured some of Berkley’s all-time wildest tableaus.

THE CHARLIE CHAN COLLECTION, VOLUME 5 (Fox Home Entertainment. $49.98): In what is the fifth and final collection of B-movie favorites from the wily Asian sleuth contained in the Fox vaults, Sidney Toler saves the day no less than seven times in “Murder Over New York” (1940), “Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum” (1940), “Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise” (1940), “Charlie Chan in Panama” (1940), “Dead Men Tell” (1941), “Charlie Chan in Rio” (1941) and “Castle in the Desert” (1942). All but “Castle in the Desert” come with their original trailers and stills galleries and the set also includes a new featurette on the final years of the Chan series. As an extra bonus, fans of a certain slapstick comedy trio will be amused to discover the one and only Shemp Howard among the characters on display in “Murder Over New York.”

DIRTY SEXY MONEY: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $39.99) Although blessed with a memorable title and a top-notch cast (including the like of Donald Sutherland, Jill Clayburgh, Peter Krause, Blair Underwood and William Baldwin), this over-the-top soap opera about an ordinary lawyer who finds himself entangled in the wheelings and dealings of an immensely rich and powerful New York family never really came together during its first season--for the most part, it felt like what “Gossip Girl” might be like if all the characters were twice as old and half as interesting. However, it did just well enough in the rating for ABC to give it another shot and in anticipation of the premiere of its new season, this 3-DVD set has arrived containing all ten episodes of its strike-shortened first season and enough featurettes, audio commentaries and deleted scenes to get you up to speed. Other current TV shows hitting DVD this week include “Chuck: Season One" (Warner Home Video. $39.98):, “Criminal Minds: Season 3” (CBS DVD. $59.98), “Private Practice: The Complete First Season” (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $39.99) and “Pushing Daisies: The Complete First Season” (Warner Home Video. $29.98).

DUCKMAN: SEASONS ONE AND TWO (CBS DVD. $49.98): In one of the better shows to emerge from the deluge of television animation that hit the airwaves after the initial success of “The Simpsons,” this frequently hilarious series, based on the cult comic book and made for the USA network (in the days before they became known for showing crap like “Monk” and “Obnoxious Asshead Who Comes On After ‘Monk’”), followed the misadventures of the sarcastic and hot-tempered Duckman (brilliantly voiced by Jason Alexander) as tried to juggle running a down-and-out detective agency with raising his three goofy sons. If you never saw the show during its original run in the mid-1990’s. you owe it to yourself to check this 3-disc set, which also includes a couple of featurettes and commentaries from Alexander and creator Everett Peck. If you are a fan, you can finally get rid of those worn-through videotapes that you have been obsessively hoarding for the last decade or so.

THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE. . . /LA PLASIR/LA RONDE(The Criterion Collection. $39.95 each): Fans of French filmmaker Max Ophuls will certainly rejoice as three of his greatest works get the full bells-and-whistles treatment from the good folks at Criterion. Based on a play by Arthur Schnitzler (whose work would also inspire Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut”), “La Ronde” (1950) follows a wide group of characters (portrayed by the likes of Simone Simon, Simone Signoret and Anton Walbrook) through one long night of sexual shenanigans. “Le Plasir” (1952) takes a similar look at French aristocracy by adapting three stories by Guy de Maupassant and with a cast including Simon, Danielle Darrieux and Jean Gabin. Finally, in “The Earrings of Madame de. . .” (1953), a woman of some means (Darrieux) sells her earrings in order to cover some debts without alerting her husband (Charles Boyer), an act that sets off a strange and potentially tragic change of events.

FIRST AMONG EQUALS (Acorn Media. $49.95): The great Tom Wilkinson stars in this 10-part 1986 adaptation of the Jeffrey Archer best-seller that follows four members of Parliament over 20 years of friendships, betrayals and backstabbings as they each strive to one day become Prime Minister of England.

FOX HORROR CLASSICS VOLUME 2 (Fox Home Entertainment. $19.95): Although only one of the three titles from the Fox vaults collected in this 3-disc set is even remotely close to what one might consider to be a “horror film,” they are so entertaining that it is unlikely that too many people will come away from it feeling that disappointed. 1932’s “Chandau the Magician” is a wild adventure in the “Indiana Jones” mode in which the title adventurer (Edmund Lowe) journeys to Egypt to save his kidnapped scientist brother-in-law and to prevent his newest invention, a terrifying death ray, from falling into the hands of the evil Roxor (Bela Lugosi). “Dragonwyck” (1946), which marked the directorial debut of Joseph L. Mankewicz, is a weird Gothic soap opera (which at times feels like a precursor to “Dark Shadows”) in which simple country lass Gene Tierney goes to work as a nanny for her oddball citified cousin (Vincent Price), marries him despite his eccentricities and then finds her life in danger when she uncovers some shocking secrets. “Dr Renault’s Secret” (1942) is the one straightforward horror of the set, a lurid and fast-paced (it runs only 58 minutes) fever dream featuring George Zucco as a mad scientist who dreams of proving that man evolved from apes by transforming an ape into a human being and J. Carrol Naish as the lab assistant who--Spoiler Alert--turns out to be one of the doctor’s own experiments.

HAROLD (City Light Home Entertainment. $24.98): In this coming-of-age comedy from former “SNL” writer T. Sean Shannon, Spencer Breslin plays a 13-year-old whose traumas over being the new kid in school are exacerbated by the fact that he is going bald as well. Nikki Blonsky and Cuba Gooding Jr co-star as, respectively, a classmate and a janitor who help him overcome the taunts of “Baldy,” “Cueball” and “Mackey” and other small role are filled by the likes of Chris Parnell, Ally Sheedy and the always-reliable Fred Willard.

HIGH SCHOOL FLASHBACK COLLECTION (Universal Home Entertainment. $39.98): Once again, the John Hughes teen classics “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Weird Science” are being re-released on DVD for people who never got around to purchasing the previous editions. The good news is that for once, the discs have actual bonus features to speak of--documentaries on all three films, a commentary on “The Breakfast Club” with Judd Nelson and Anthony Michael Hall and the pilot for the TV version of “Weird Science.” The bad news is that none of those features include any input from the two people that most fans would want to hear from the most, Molly Ringwald and Hughes himself. Oh well, better luck next time and besides, at least the whole thing comes housed in a lunchbox-like tin for you to play with to your heart’s content--that has to be worth something, right?

J’ACCUSE (Flicker Alley. $39.95): Following on the heels of their acclaimed DVD of Abel Gance’s 1923 epic “La Roue,” the folks at Flicker Alley now offer up his equally impressive 1919 indictment of the follies and brutality of war, a masterpiece of the silent French cinema that builds to one of the most unforgettable climaxes of all time. In addition to the film, this 2-disc set also includes a couple of short films, one a look at the French war effort from 1916, and a booklet featuring essays on the film and Gance.

THE LOVE GURU (Paramount Home Video. $34.99): Considering the fact that American movie audiences totally rejected this smutty and deeply unfunny farce from the mind of Mike Myers, in which he plays a shady self-help guru hired by the comely leader of the Toronto Maple Leafs (Jessica Alba) to snap her distracted star player back into shape so that they can win the Stanley Cup, there may be some brave viewers out there thinking about checking it out on DVD just to see if it really is as bad as everyone has said. Let me put it this way--this film is easily the 2008 career low point for co-star Verne Troyer and bear in mind, his other cinematic contributions have included a sex tape and an appearance in “Postal.”

MADE OF HONOR (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.96): There are probably more depressing things in the movie world than the notion that the late Sydney Pollack’s last cinematic contribution released during his lifetime was a small role in this deeply annoying romantic comedy about a self-absorbed lothario (Patrick Dempsey) who suddenly decides that he is in love with his platonic best friend (Michelle Monaghan) and goes to enormous lengths to prevent her from getting married to another guy. That said, outside of the very existence of “The Love Guru,” I can’t really think of any at the moment. If you do decide to rent this nonsense, do yourself a favor and rent “Michael Clayton” or “Tootsie” at the same time--both feature much better performances from Pollack and doing so will go a long way towards balancing the psychic scales that you will have disrupted.

RISKY BUSINESS: 25th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Warner Home Video. $19.99): In the film that made him a superstar from the moment he began shaking in his underwear to the tune of Bob Seger, Tom Cruise stars as an ambitious high-school student who finds his carefully laid plans to get into Princeton waylaid (emphasis on the second syllable) when he crosses paths with a bewitchingly beautiful prostitute (Rebecca DeMornay in her breakthrough role) and the slightly less attractive (though totally psycho) Guido the Killer Pimp (Joe Pantoliano). Featuring a sleek visual style, great performances and a level of genuine eroticism rarely seen in American films these days (once you see this film, you will never be able to ride the El late at night without thinking about it), this was one of the great teen-themed films to emerge in the 1980’s and its only flaw is the sellout final scene that writer-director Paul Brickman (who would go on to make one more film, the underrated “Men Don’t Leave,” before mysteriously vanishing from Hollywood) was forced to tack on by nervous studio heads. Luckily, the original ending is now available on this DVD along with a commentary track featuring both Cruise and Brickman talking about the film and its impact on their careers.

SNOW ANGELS (Warner Home Video. $27.98): The events leading up to a sudden and shocking bit of small-town violence are seen through the eyes of a number of disparate characters in this absolutely mesmerizing mood piece from David Gordon Green, one of the finest young American filmmakers at work today. Of course, he is now far better known for directing the hit stoner comedy “Pineapple Express” but as good as that movie was, this is the one that does a better job of showing what he is capable of doing. Featuring great performances from the likes of Sam Rockwell, Kate Beckinsale and Olivia Thirlby, a powerful narrative drive and some of the most lyrical and haunting visuals in recent memory, this is easily one of the very best films of 2008 and an absolute must-see.

SPEED RACER (Warner Home Video. $28.98): In one of the biggest cinematic misfires of 2008 (and certainly one of the most expensive), the usually reliable Wachowski Brothers transformed the semi-immortal Japanese animated TV series from the 1960’s into a noisy and deeply annoying live-action mess in which ace driver Emilie Hirsch did battle with a vast and incoherent conspiracy in order to win a big race and save the family business from unscrupulous thugs or something like that. Although the gaudy visuals and frenetic pacing are interesting for a few minutes, they quickly wear out their welcome and viewers are left with an overlong mess that plays like “Rollerball” for four-year-olds with ADD. On the other hand, Christina Ricci has never looked cuter in her entire life than she does here as Hirsch loyal galpal.

STAR TREK: ALTERNATE REALITIES (CBS DVD. $39.98): As you can probably surmise from the title, this latest themed collection of episodes from all of the various live-action “Star Trek” shows is focused on those featuring the characters encountering alternate realities, mirror universes and the like and throws in some new featurettes and commentaries on selected episodes to lure in those who have already purchased every single episode of every single series. Although I am biased by the fact that I am only really a fan of the original series, the pick hit of the bunch is still “Mirror Mirror,” the extra-bizarre episode in which Kirk, McCoy, Scotty and Uhura are accidentally beamed onto an alternate-universe version of the Enterprise in which Sulu is all violent and sexy while Spock is nasty and creepily bearded to boot.

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originally posted: 09/19/08 08:15:19
last updated: 09/19/08 08:54:38
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