DVD Reviews for 12/12: In Which “The Dark Knight” Will Be Represented By The Oboe.

By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 12/13/08 04:00:30

This week’s column features another plea for M.I.A. titles, a brief tribute to three icons who passed away in the last few weeks and a few more words in praise of the glory that is “The Dark Knight.”

First up I would once again like to remind you that I am once again soliciting title suggestions for my annual “M.I.A. on DVD” column, a yearly piece in which I take a look at some of the more notable titles that have yet to make any sort of legitimate appearance on DVD in America. If you have any suggestions to offer, and the more obscure the better, you can do so by clicking on the comments section at the bottom of this piece and posting them there or by sending them to me at by December 26. I will look over the suggestions, see which ones seem most intriguing (and yes, I already have a couple of my own that should be of vague interest as well) and make my final selections for the column, which will appear in this space on January 2, 2009. For further details, as well as links to the earlier M.I.A. columns, please consult last week’s DVD column.

Secondly, I would just like to make mention of the fact that for a certain portion of the movie-watching audience--the one with a taste for the stranger and sleazier films to emerge during the exploitation boom of the 1950s--this past week has been a bummer as three of the most iconic figures of the era have passed away. Forrest J. Ackerman (1916-2008) was the ultimate sci-fi fan boy and used that energy and enthusiasm to found the magazine “Famous Monsters of Filmland” in 1958, a move that would expose the genre to new audiences throughout the world and which would influence a whole new generation of storytellers, including Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, John Landis and Joe Dante. Beverly Garland (1926-2008) was certainly a familiar face to readers of “Famous Monsters of Filmland”--as a member of Roger Corman’s acting stable, she would appear in such genre classics as “Swamp Women,” “Gunslinger,” “It Conquered the World,” “Not of this Earth” and “The Alligator People” and no doubt served as the first crush of many of the little boys who eagerly watched those films.
When those boys got a little older, though, they might have switched to the notorious Bettie Page (1923-2008), the small-town girl who became an international sex symbol thanks to the impact of her nicely naughty pin-up pictures had on people both in the 1950s, when they were originally taken (and occasionally taken off the market during those more prudish times), as well as in recent years when she was rediscovered and transformed into a cult favorite. All three of these people were true originals who will be truly missed and this week’s column is dedicated to each of them.


ANAMORPH (IFC Films. $19.95): In this bizarre and fairly inexplicable “Seven“ knockoff, Willem Dafoe plays a hard-bitten cop in pursuit of an artistically inclined serial killer. Trust me, there is nothing particularly new or inspired about this one and as it went on, even I had trouble trying to figure out what the hell was going on.

THE DARK KNIGHT (Warner Home Video. $34.98): Although watching Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster continuation of the “Batman” saga at home doesn’t begin to compare to the experience of seeing it in its full-on IMAX glory, the compelling story and gripping performances across the board allow it to come off pretty well on the small screen as well. True, the bonus features aren’t that spectacular but the movie itself is so impressive that you will hardly notice.

DR. SUESS’ HORTON HEARS A WHO (Fox Home Entertainment. $34.98): In this animated adaptation of the Dr. Suess classic, a friendly elephant (Jim Carrey) discovers that a tiny civilization known as the Whos (led by Steve Carell) is inhabiting a speck of dust resting upon a flower and does everything in his power to protect them from danger, even though none of his friends believe his claims. Although this isn’t a great film by any means, it is fairly harmless fun for the most part and it is certainly better than the other recent attempts to bring Suess’ work to the big screen.

FLOW: FOR LOVE OF WATER (Oscilloscope. $29.95): The attempts by some giant conglomerates to privatize the Earth’s rapidly shrinking supply of fresh water is the subject of Irene Salina’s angry and passionate documentary about the crisis and the steps that are being taken in an attempt to stop it as well as an examination of the new technologies being developed in order to help stave off the impending water crisis.

GREAT DIRECTORS: VOLUME ONE (Kino International. $79.95): Well, you certainly can’t argue with Kino regarding truth in advertising on this five-disc package--it does indeed include films from five of the world’s most highly acclaimed filmmakers, including Akira Kurosawa (1975’s “Dersu Uzala”), Andrei Tarkovsky’s (1974’s “The Mirror”), Claude Chabrol (1960’s “Les Bonnes Femmes”), Michelangelo Antonioni (1957’s “Il Grido”) and Volker Schlondorff (1981’s “Circle of Deceit”). Of the five, the Kurosawa is by far the best of the bunch but while the others may not be nearly as well-known as other works by their respective directors, they are nothing to sneeze at either.

IRMA VEP: ESSENTIAL EDITION (Zeitgeist Films. $29.99): Olivier Assayas’ brilliant 1997 satire of the French film industry--a behind-the-scenes expose that follows Hong Kong movie star Maggie Cheung as she is cast in a lavish-but-disorganized remake of the famous silent serial “Les Vampires” despite not knowing a word of French--finally get the special edition treatment that it deserves with a new disc that includes a commentary/discussion between Assayas and critic Jean-Michel Frodon, a half-hour of behind-the-scenes footage and a short from Assayas about Cheung. For fans of films about the craziness of moviemaking, this is an absolute must.

KIDULTHOOD (Image Entertainment. $27.98): In what plays at times like a British variation on such youth-gone-wild epics as “Kids” and “Over the Edge,” this 2005 film follows a group of troubled teens who are let out of school early one day after a classmate hangs herself and embark on a harrowing journey involving copious amounts of sex, drugs and violence.

MAN ON WIRE (Magnolia Home Entertainment. $26.98): This hugely acclaimed documentary (it recently topped “Toy Story 2” as the highest-rated film on Rotten Tomatoes) tells the amazing but true story of Philippe Petit, a French high-wire walker who woke up on the morning of August 7, 1974 and walked a tightrope that he had illegally hooked up between the two as-yet-uncompleted World Trade Center towers. As fascinating as the act itself was (though it is represented in the film only through still photos, they alone are enough to send chills down your spine), what is even more fascinating about James Marsh’s film is the way that he takes us through all the steps that Petit and his accomplices undertook during the years of planning required for the stunt. Easily one of the best documentaries of the year and a must-see.

MURNAU, BORZAGE AND FOX BOX SET (Fox Home Entertainment. $239.98): This week’s mammoth box set is pretty much the perfect gift for any true film buff--a 12-disc exploration of the films that acclaimed auteur F.W. Murnau and Frank Borzage made at Fox from the tail end of the silent era through the early days of the talkies that includes such masterpieces as Murnau’s “Sunrise” (the only film ever awarded a special Oscar for its artistry) and Borzage’s “Seventh Heaven” as well as a full-length documentary on their respective careers and two coffee table books of photographs from their films.

OPEN WINDOW (Image Entertainment. $27.98): Longtime column crush object Robin Tunney stars in this harrowing drama in which she and Joel Edgerton play a newly engaged couple whose seemingly idyllic existence is utterly demolished when she is the victim of a brutal sexual assault. Although the film met with some acclaim on the festival circuit, it never got a wide distribution and I suspect that Tunney’s presence on the hit show “The Mentalist” may have a good deal to do with why it is finally getting released.

PASSION AND POWER: THE TECHNOLOGY OF ORGASM (First Run Films. $24.95): This acclaimed documentary from Wendy Slick and Emiko Omori takes a look at the long and strange history of the vibrator (and, by extension, the entire concept of female sexual gratification) from the early days when they were prescribed by doctors to cure “hysteria” and were manufactured by such companies as General Electric and Sears to the long period when such things were hidden from view and simply not discussed in polite society to their reemergence in the 1970’s during the sexual revolution to today, where a court case in a small Texas town shows us that while some things have definitely changed over the years, others have clearly stayed the same. This is a pretty entertaining and intriguing documentary but I will admit that it might rub some people the wrong way.

PETER AND THE WOLF (Magnolia Home Entertainment. $19.98): The winner of this year’s Oscar for Best Animated Short Subject, this Russian-made production retells the classic story of a young boy out to capture a hungry and dangerous wolf utilizing digital animation and a new recording of the classic score from Sergei Prokofiev. Personally, I found it to be a bit of a drag, though I suspect that little kids might get a kick out of it.

RAWHIDE: SEASON 3, VOLUME 2 (CBS DVD. $40.99): The latest collection of episodes of the classic Western series in which Clint Eastwood tells any number of punks, rustlers and no-goodniks to get the hell off of his prairie. Other TV shows appearing on DVD this week include “The Best of Dr. Katz” (Paramount Home Video. $19.99), “Deadwood: The Complete Series” (HBO Home Entertainment. $179.97), “Gunsmoke--Season 3, Volume 1 (CBS DVD. $37.99), “Happy Days--The Fourth Season” (CBS DVD. $40.99), “Lost: Season Four” (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $59.99), “Swingtown--The First Season” (CBS DVD. $40.99) and “The Wire: The Complete Series” (HBO Home Entertainment. $249.99).

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