DVD Reviews for 1/30: Coming Soon To A DVD Column Near You!
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 01/30/09 06:58:17
Pink panthers, brutalized bowlers and several generations of naked starlets--these are some of the items on display in this week’s column. Join us--that is, if you dare!
A long time ago, back in those long-ago days when VHS still ruled the land, some enterprising video companies put out programs that consisted entirely of vintage movie trailers that were produced back in the days before that particular art form devolved into an assemblage of clips that told you the entire story of what they were promoting in under two minutes. Although some of the tapes had higher aspirations and production values than others (Universal Studios hired director John Landis and hostess Jamie Lee Curtis for “Coming Soon,” a show dedicated to the previews for their classic horror films and legendary horror host Zacherley also had one that featured his shtick in between the clips), most of these collections were nothing more than an hour or two of trailers, usually grouped together by some kind of overriding theme. In recent years, however, such collections have fallen by the wayside thanks to their marginal commercial appeal and the fact that many of them can now easily be found either on DVD (the late, great Something Weird label used to load up their releases with such things) or on YouTube. However, the good folks at Synapse Films have continued to keep this tradition going with their “42nd Street Forever” series, a collection of DVDs that have compiled the coming attraction previews for some of the strangest and sleaziest films to hit grind houses from the Sixties through the Eighties--previews that, in many cases, were far superior to the films that they were flogging in the first place. Having already released three programs of trailers in the last few years (not to mention an additional one devoted entirely to previews of vintage porno films), they have returned with “42nd Street Forever Volume 4: Cooled By Refrigeration,” another two hours of movie madness that is sure to warm the cockles of any devotee of trash cinema.
Like the other DVDs in the series, “42nd Street Forever Volume 4” covers the waterfront in terms of subject matter with most of the different subgenres of grindhouse cinema being represented. It kicks off with a couple of crime dramas (“The Syndicate: A Death in the Family” and “Combat Cops”) and then segues into a selection of horror films (“It Came Without Warning,” “The Psychic,” the Klaus Kinski-starrer “Schizoid,” the Laurence Harvey swan song “Tender Flesh,” “Silent Scream” and the immortal “New Year’s Evil”). There are sections devoted to crappy comedies (including the likes of “Americathon,” “In God We Trust,” “Hog Wild,” “The Chicken Chronicles” and the Peter Sellers obscurity “Undercover Hero”), cut-rate action epics (such as Jonathan Demme’s “Fighting Mad,” “Walking Tall Part 2,” “Moving Violation” and the jaw-dropping Lee Marvin/Richard Burton/O.J. Simpson epic “The Klansman”) and concludes with such sports-themed titles as “Our Winning Season,” “Coach” and “Goldengirl.” At the center of the set is a mini-tribute to Southern-based exploitation filmmaker that features the previews for “The Legend of Boggy Creek,” “The Town That Dreaded Sundown” and “Gray Eagle.” If that isn’t enough for you, the disc also includes a commentary track from “Fangoria” managing editor Michael Gingold, AV Maniacs editor Edwin Samuelson and film historian Chris Poggiali and a few bonus TV commercials.
Obviously, everyone watching this compilation are likely to come away from it with their own personal favorites. Mine include the previews for the post-apocalyptic likes of Cornel Wilde’s “No Blade of Grass” and the immortal “Yor: Hunter of the Future,” sleazy horror efforts like “Mortuary” and “The Boogeyman” and the classic girl-gang epic “Switchblade Sisters” (billed here under the alternate title “The Jezebels”). I loved being able to experience the singularly bizarre sight of Yaphet Kotto and Rudy Ray Moore sharing the screen in “Monkey Hustle.” I was thrilled to discover that I wasn’t hallucinating and that one-time teen idol Robby Benson really did star in a faux-Hitchcockian comedy in which he played a struggling musician/cab drive on the run from the diabolical Bud Cort over a monkey with mysterious powers. (That would be “Die Laughing.”) I was titillated by the preview for “Bonnie’s Kids” that offered up generous and extended glimpses of starlet Tiffany Bolling’s assets. I was shocked to discover that even though I have seen such craptaculars as “Americathon” and “The Soldier” and know how bad they are, the trailers are intriguing enough to make me want to go and seek them out again. I found myself fascinated by the trailer for the ultra-obscure “Best Friends” (not the Burt Reynolds-Goldie Hawn vehicle) and wondered how it must have gone over with grindhouse audiences back in the day. Finally, I was delighted in the knowledge that, as their title suggests, Synapse could keep unearthing and releasing these Grade-Z treasures for years to come if they wanted to. If they do proceed along those lines, I can only hope and pray that they will eventually include the preview for the semi-immortal “Jailbait Babysitter” and truly make my day
A Synapse Films release. $19.95
NEW AND NOTABLE
CANNERY ROW (Warner Home Video. $19.97): Perhaps best remembered today for the behind-the-scenes battle that erupted between MGM and original star Raquel Welch when she was fired after five days of shooting for allegedly taking too long to show up on the set (for which she sued in retaliation and won a multi-million dollar settlement), this attempt to combine the John Steinbeck stories “Cannery Row” and “Sweet Thursday” into a romantic drama set amidst the Skid Row area of Monterey, California during World War II pretty much fails as romance, drama and literary adaptation thanks to the lackluster efforts of writer-debuting director David S. Ward, who had made his bones as the writer of “The Sting” and who would go on to make “The Sting II” and “Major League.” However, there are some pleasures to be had from the performances from Nick Nolte as a quirky marine biologist and Debra Winger as the novice hooker that he falls for.
CLOSING THE RING (The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment. $19.98): Sir Richard Attenborough returns to the director’s chair for the first time since the 1999 direct-to-DVD dud “The Grey Owl” for this drama about a young Irish man during WW II who promises a dying American pilot that he will get a precious ring to his girlfriend in the U.S. and what happens when another man tries to uphold that promise a half-century later. Alas, despite co-star Mischa Barton winning the Mr. Skin.com award for the Best Celebrity Nude Scene of 2008 and a relatively decent (and clothed) cast including Shirley MacLaine, Christopher Plummer, Pete Postelthwaite and Neve Campbell, this one went straight to DVD as well.
COLLEGE (MGM Home Entertainment. $29.99): I don’t want to say that this campus comedy about a couple of schmucky high schoolers being ritually abused by a slob fraternity over the course of a weekend campus visit is crude, stupid and without any redeeming value whatsoever. However, I will note that even though I try to make it a point to sit through every movie I watch until the bitter end, even I gave up on this one during the toilet cleaning montage.
DEEP WINTER (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.96): If you have been breathlessly waiting for a meta-movie about the thrilling world of high-stakes snowboarding, perhaps you will enjoy this tale of a couple of handsome young dopes (Eric Lively and Kellan Lutz) who reunite after a long separation in order to film themselves snowboarding down one of the world’s most dangerous mountains. If not, perhaps you will be distracted by the presence of Michael Madsen as their grizzled pilot.
FAR FROM THE MADDENING CROWD (Warner Home Video. $19.97): After scoring an international success with the 1965 hit “Darling,” Julie Christie reteamed with director John Schlesinger for this epic-length 1967 adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel in which she plays a free-spirited woman who inherits a farm and decides to work it herself while dealing with the advances of three very different suitors played by Terrence Stamp, Alan Bates and Peter Finch. Although Roman Polanski’s “Tess” remains the definitive screen adaptation of Thomas Hardy, this often-overlooked film is still a fascinating watch thanks to the sumptuous production values and the exquisite central performance from Christie.
FIREPROOF (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.96): You know, you can laugh at this Christian-themed melodrama featuring Kirk Cameron as a firefighter struggling to keep his marriage afloat with the help of God and a mysterious book that challenges him to take The Love Dare--many people did when it hit theaters last fall. However, you should bear in mind that enough people wound up flocking to it despite the absence of mainstream publicity to make it one of last year’s most successful independent films and to make a best-seller out of the Love Dare book that was published in its wake. In other words, don’t mess with the intrinsic appeal of Kirk Cameron. (Does this mean that someone is finally going to get around to releasing his unintentionally hilarious debate team melodrama “Listen to Me” sometime soon?)
THE GENE GENERATION (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $26.98): No, this is not a documentary about the organization of people that formed behind Eugene McCarthy during his initial presidential campaign in 1968. Instead, it is some piece of direct-to-video sci-fi claptrap in which the always-alluring Bai Ling plays a sexy and occasionally naked futuristic assassin who finds herself caught up in plot to use a device that can manipulate human DNA for nefarious purposes. At least I think that is what is going on--one’s mind tends to wander when Bai Ling is involved.
GOODBYE MR. CHIPS (Warner Home Video. $19.97): It is hard to know what was the bigger mistake involved with this 1969 remake of the classic 1939 film about the aging headmaster of a British boarding school looking back on his life--the idea of transforming such a low-key and gentle story into a big-budget musical extravaganza or the idea of casting the decidedly non-musical Peter O’Toole in the lead role. Needless to say, the result was one of the bigger bombs of its time (one that helped kill off the musical as a viable screen genre) and one not necessarily ripe for rediscovery.
[b[GUTTERBALLS (TLA Releasing. $19.99): No, this is not the long-awaited DVD release of the porno film inspired by a hallucination from the one and only Jeff Lebowski. This is some slasher film in which two rival bowling teams are picked off one by one during an all-night tournament that kicks off with a gang rape and goes on from there. Although I haven’t actually gotten my hands on this one yet, my guess is that if you are in the mood for bowling-related entertainment, you might want to stick with the quiet and solemn dignity of “Kingpin” instead.
HULK VS. (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $24.98): The latest direct-to-video cartoons featuring characters from the Marvel Comics empire places everyone’s favorite green-skinned rageaholic in all-out battles against Wolverine and Thor. Neither of these two animated featurettes are especially good but Hulk fans may want to check this out since it would seem to be very unlikely that the character will be appearing on the big screen again anytime soon.
THE INVADERS: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (CBS DVD. $36.98): Roy Thinnes continues in his desperate attempt to convince people that aliens in human form have arrived on Earth with plans of leading a full-scale invasion in the second and final season of the cult classic Sixties TV show from the mind of the always-intriguing Larry Cohen. Although it may seem like “The Fugitive” with aliens on the circus, the show’s marvelously paranoid tone has held up pretty well over the ensuing decades and anyone who has been into shows like “The X-Files” and “Lost” is likely to find it worth watching. Other TV-related DVDs being released this week include “The Biederbecke Affair” (Acorn Media. $39.99), “Blossom: Seasons 1 & 2” (Shout! Factory. $49.99), “Cheers--The Final Season” (CBS DVD. $39.98), “The Love Boat--Season 2, Volume 1” (CBS DVD. $36.98) and “M.A.N.T.I.S.: The Complete Series” (Image Entertainment. $49.98).
LAKEVIEW TERRACE (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.96): Samuel L. Jackson does a whole lot of screaming in this wobbly drama about an interracial couple (Kerry Washington and Patrick Wilson) who move into a new neighborhood and who run afoul of their new neighbor, a cop-on-the-edge (guess who?) with a thing about such couplings. Essentially a watered-down version of a Neil LaBute film (which is surprising since it was directed by LaBute himself in what is clearly the first straight paycheck job of his entire career as a filmmaker), it does start off intriguingly enough as the new neighbors keeps making mistakes that Jackson cleverly exploits but after a while, it just becomes too silly to be believed.
LISTEN UP: THE LIVES OF QUINCY JONES (Warner Home Video. $24.98): The life and work of the legendary music arranger is chronicled in this 1990 documentary that admittedly lacks much in the way of critical perspective but which makes up for it with a lot of great music. Speaking of music-related documentaries, this week also sees the DVD debuts of a pair of excellent films from director Robert Mugge, 1984’s “Gospel According to Al Green” and 1986’s “Sonny Rollins: Saxophone Colossus” (Acorn Media. $24.99 each).
MARY POPPINS : 45th ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL EDITION (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.99): Actually, this new DVD version of the 1965 live-action/animation classic is essentially the same thing that they released five years ago to cash in on its 40th anniversary--the only real difference appears to be a couple of short informercial-type features hyping the upcoming Broadway version of the show. If you have yet to pick up a copy of the film, you might as well get this one--the movie itself is still a delight after all these years--but if you already own it, there is no burning reason to pick up this version.
THE PINK PANTHER COLLECTION (MGM Home Entertainment, $199.98): In order to tie in with the upcoming “Pink Panther 2” (and you can pretty much feel the anticipation for that one in your bones), MGM brings together all the “Pink Panther” properties that they own into one mammoth 18-disc box consisting of 2 comedy classics (“The Pink Panther” and “A Shot in the Dark”), two relatively lame sequels that nevertheless contain at least a few moments of comedic brilliance (“The Pink Panther Strikes Again” and “Revenge of the Pink Panther”), several increasingly awful attempts to keep the series going without the inimitable presence of Peter Sellers by utilizing the likes of Alan Arkin (“Inspector Clouseau”), outtakes strung together a la “Plan 9 from Outer Space” (“Trail of the Pink Panther”), Ted Wass (“Curse of the Pink Panther”) and Roberto Benigni (“Son of the Pink Panther”), the fitfully amusing yet fairly pointless 2006 Steve Martin remake and 190 cartoons whose continued comedic value depends largely on your feelings towards the comic stylings of Pat Harrington Jr. And yet, despite all of the material on display here, this cannot be considered a complete collection due to the absence of “The Return of the Pink Panther,” to which Universal owns the home video rights.
PRIDE AND GLORY (New Line Home Entertainment. $28.98): Gavin O’Connor, who managed to transcend clichés with his previous film, the genuinely uplifting sports drama “Miracle,” winds up becoming consumed by them with this completely predictable and fairly wretched cop film in which New York detective Edward Norton is ordered by his Chief of Police father (Jon Voight) to investigate the murders of four cops and discovers that they are related to the dirty dealing of his mildly volatile cop brother (Noah Emmerich) and his completely volatile cop brother-in-law (Colin Farrell). In other words, it is pretty much like a lesser episode of “Hunter,” though that show usually had better acting that anything on display here (Voight is especially wretched) and it rarely dragged on past the two-hour mark.
THE ROCKER (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): In this unsuccessful attempt to launch Rainn Wilson as a movie star, the key supporting player from “The Office” plays a musician-turned-middle-aged doofus whose youthful dreams of rock god glory are reignited when he becomes the drummer for his nephew’s band and they unexpectedly become a national sensation. There are some scattered laughs here and there (mostly at the beginning) but there is nothing here that you didn’t see done better in the likes of “School of Rock” or “Almost Famous” and the film’s waste of the delightful Emma Stone in a role in which she is barely allowed to crack a smile is almost criminal.
ROCKNROLLA (Warner Home Video. $34.99): Guy Ritchie attempted to recapture the glory of “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch” with this utterly incoherent crime thriller about a bunch of hoodlums on varying levels of the crime industry (including Tom Wilkinson, Gerard Butler and Thandie Newton) who find themselves in an increasingly convoluted plot involving real estate, a missing painting and a burned-out rock star. From start to finish, this film is a complete shambles that manages the impossible--it almost makes Ritchie’s previous films, “Swept Away” and “Revolver,” seem coherent and watchable by comparison.
ROMAN POLANSKI: WANTED AND DESIRED (Thinkfilm.$27.98): Using a combination of new interviews, archival footage and judiciously chosen film clips, director Marina Zenovich manages to pull off the seemingly impossible task of creating a fresh and fascinating look at Roman Polanski’s 1977 arrest for having sex with a drugged 13-year-old girl. Instead of merely rehashing the same old salacious details, Zenovich is more interested in how the case devolved into the kind of media circus that guaranteed that neither Polanski nor his victim would receive justice thanks to the machinations of a rabid press corps and a judge who was more interested in looking good for the press than in doing his job. Regardless of your feelings towards Polanski, both the man and the artist, this is a deeply impressive bit of cinematic journalism that will leave you spellbound from beginning to end.
THE SECRET OF THE MAGIC GOURD (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.99): For their first feature-length animated Chinese co-production, Disney Studios offers up this adaptation of that country’s popular children’s story about a young boy who discovers a magical gourd that can grant his every wish and all the trouble that occurs as a result. In an effort to ensure that American youngsters would still want to watch the film despite its foreign nature, the studio recruited “High School Musical” co-star Corbin Blu to supply the voice of the titular gourd.
THE SECRET POLICEMAN’S BALL (Shout! Factory. $39.99): Back in 1976, John Cleese was asked to help organize a benefit performance involving various members of the Monty Python and Beyond the Fringe comedy troupes to raise money for Amnesty International. It proved to be such a success that it went on to be an annual event combing the cream of British comedy and music and this 3-disc set combine material from that first show as well as the installments from 1979, 1981, 1987 and 1989. Among the performers on display are the Pythons, Peter Cook. Dudley Moore, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Pete Townsend, Lou Reed, David Gilmour, Bob Geldof, Kate Bush and Sting.
SHARKS IN VENICE (First Look Films. $17.99): Yes, it is yet another bit of direct-to-video crap featuring poorly rendered sharks attacking a bunch of dopes (including Stephen Baldwin and Vanessa Johansson--yes, the sister of you-know-who). However, I can’t be the only person who wants to own a copy of it simply for the title and the cover art, can I?
THE SIDNEY POITIER COLLECTION (Warner Home Video. $39.98): The legendary movie star gets his box-set due with this collection featuring four of his mostly lesser-known but still interesting films. The titles include 1957’s “Edge of the City” (in which he and John Cassavetes play a pair of longshoremen whose friendship is threatened by hate-filled superior Jack Warden) and “Something of Value” (with he and Rock Hudson as a pair of longtime friends who are pulled apart by the fight for independence in Kenya ), 196’s “A Patch of Blue” (the popular tear-jerker in which he befriends the blind Elizabeth Hartman and tries to rescue her from abusive mother Shelley Winters) and 1974’s “A Warm December” (a Poitier-directed vehicle in which he portrays an American doctor who goes to England on vacation and falls in love with the daughter of an African diplomat.).
THE STEWARDESS 3-D: 40th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Shout! Factory. $24.99): The good news--the infamous 1969 3-D soft-porn classic about a group of high-flying harlots is hitting DVD in both 2-D and 3-D versions. The bad news, at least for you pervs out there, is that the film is fairly tame by today’s standards and the 3-D technology is the red-blue version that barely works on television. (That said, Shout! Factory has provided the 3-D iteration in both color and black-and-white with the proclamation that the b&w version is a little more effective.) However, the presence of B-movie goddess Monica Gayle (best remembered as “Patch” in the immortal “Switchblade Sisters” should be enough to distract from the film’s other faults.
VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA (The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment. $29.95): In Woody Allen‘s most completely satisfying comedy since the tragically underrated “Deconstructing Harry,” a pair of American girls (Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall) on an extended holiday in Spain find themselves involved in the lives of a free-spirited and erotically inclined artist (Javier Bardem) and his tempestuous ex-wife (Penelope Cruz in the role that may well win her this year’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar). Alas, like the DVDs of Allen’s other films, this disc has absolutely no bonus features to speak of--those of you hoping for extended outtakes of the infamous moment featuring Cruz and Johansson kissing will just have to go back to the images conjured by your dirty minds.
WARNER BROTHERS ROMANCE CLASSICS COLLECTION (Warner Home Video. $39.98): While the word “classics” might be a bit of a stretch, this box set does ring together four vintage romance-related titles featuring venerable heartthrob Troy Donahue that are making their DVD debuts. The films found here include 1961’s “Parrish” (in which he finds himself caught both in a conflict between two tobacco growers and a few clinches with Connie Stevens) and “Susan Slade” (in which he knocks up Stevens, leading her mother to pretend the infant is hers), 1962’s “Rome Adventure” (in which he romances scandalized teacher Suzanne Pleshette when the two of them meet while on holiday in Rome) and 1963’s “Palm Springs Weekend” (in which Donohue, Stevens, Stefanie Powers, Robert Conrad and Jerry Van Dyke are among a group of college kids fooling around with each other during Spring Break).