DVD Reviews for 4/3: Jellyfish & Me
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 04/03/09 06:37:32
Due to a minor glitch--the discs that I had planned to write about this week haven’t arrived as of yet--there will be no long review this week. However, between the Oscar-winning epics, the quirky foreign thrillers and the incredibly degenerate examples of Eurosleaze on display in this week’s column, I doubt that many of you will notice.
NEW AND NOTABLEAFTER DARK HORRORFEST, VOL. 3 (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $159.98): For the third year in a row, a collection of eight low-budget horror films that failed to find any distribution have been brought together under the After Dark Horrorfest label and released upon an unsuspecting public that will theoretically rent or buy any horror film (even the likes of “The Butterfly Effect 3”) as long as it is new and cheap. This isn’t to insinuate that all of these films are garbage--I haven’t actually seen any of this particular crop--but if they were any good, it is more than likely that someone else would have picked them up and put them out before now.
DANTON (The Criterion Collection. $39.98): In one of the most dynamic and passionate performances of his entire career, the legendary Gerard Depardieu stars in this lavish biopic chronicling the last week in the life of Georges Danton, a one-time friend of French Revolution hero Maximillien Robespierre (Wojciech Pszoniak) who is now leading the people of France in rebellion against his former colleague on the basis that he and his fellow leaders have grown as lazy and power-mad as the people they overthrew only a few years earlier. When it was originally released in 1983, many commented on the parallels that Polish co-writer/director Andrzej Wajda drew between those past events and what was going on in his native country at that time and while watching it today may not inspire the same kind of resonance that it did back then, this is still an incredibly absorbing historical epic that remains one of the best screen depictions of the French Revolution ever produced.
EXPOSED (Synapse Films. $24.95): In this Seventies-era Swedish sexploitation masterpiece, an innocent-but-dippy teen girl (gorgeous cult icon Christina Lindberg, star of the immortal “They Call Her One-Eye”) is conned into allowing a perv she meets at a party to take some racy photos of her and in order to get them back and protect her good name, she is forced to reunite with the guy for an exceptionally kinky encounter to ensure their return. Completely shameful and sleazy, of course, but for those with a taste for such things (or a taste for Christina Lindberg) will want to get their grubby hands on this as soon as possible. Presented uncut and in its original language and aspect ratio for the first time, this special edition also includes such choice bonus features as a short featurette on the history of the film including a new interview with Lindberg herself, the hilariously smutty trailers for both the Swedish and American releases (the latter selling it under the title of “The Depraved”), a photo gallery (with several selections of the “good” kind, if you know what I mean) and vintage recordings of two pop songs recorded by Lindberg back in the day.
HANNAH MONTANA: KEEPING IT REAL (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $19.99): Tweeners will no doubt be delighted with the opportunity to own five more episodes of their favorite TV show (featuring guest appearances from the likes of Dwayne Johnson and Corbin Bleu) to obsessively rewatch during the countdown for the upcoming “Hannah Montana” movie. Parents will no doubt be delighted with the fact that the package also includes a coupon for $7.50 off the price of a ticket for said movie. Ain’t synergy grand? Other TV-related DVDs hitting stores this week include “California Dreams--Seasons 1 & 2” (Shout! Factory. $44.99), “The Fugitive: Season Two, Volume One” (CBS DVD. $39.98), “Hope & Faith: Season 1” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $29.98), “In Plain Sight: Season One” (Universal Home Entertainment. $59.98), “The IT Crowd: The Complete Season One” (MPI Home Video. $24.98) and “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: Season 4, Vol. 1” (Fox Home Entertainment. $39.98).
LEONARD COHEN: LIVE IN LONDON (Sony Home Entertainment. $21.98): After more than 15 years since his previous concert tour, the celebrated Canadian singer/songwriter hit the road again in 2008 and while the motivation for his return to the stage may have been inspired mostly by a desire to make some money after a former business manager made off with most of his asset a couple of years ago, you wouldn’t know it from sometimes hilarious, sometimes horrifying and always passionate manner in which he performs the 26 career-spanning tunes captured here. While this may not be the flashiest concert video that you will see in your life, the 74-year-old troubadour is such a mesmerizing presence that you will hardly notice the lack of glitz. Other live concert DVDs appearing this week, albeit of the stand-up comedy variety, include “Jim Gaffigan: King Baby” (Paramount Home Video. $16.99) and “Ricky Gervais: Out of England” (HBO Home Entertainment. $19.98).
MARLEY & ME (Fox Home Entertainment. $34.98): Because of my well-known antipathy towards films featuring adorable dogs and/or Jennifer Aniston, I will withhold any further judgment on this cloying adaptation of the equally cloying best-seller and merely point out that this two-disc edition includes 19 deleted scenes and numerous behind-the-scenes featurettes about the various dogs used in the movie, a PSA about the importance of adopting pets from shelters and a blooper reel. See--I’m not even going to make any jokes about putting the dog to sleep by locking him in a room with Jennifer Aniston.
THE OTHER END OF THE LINE (MGM Home Entertainment, $27.98): With the unexpected smash success of “Slumdog Millionaire,” it was probably only a matter of time before other studios began searching in vain for any Indian-themed films that they might have on hand in order to strike while the iron is still hot. In this romantic comedy, Shriya Sarah stars as a India-based call center rep whose falls in love with an American client (Jesse Metcalfe) over the phone and ventures off to California to meet him in person and wouldn’t you know it, complications ensue. Sarah is appealing enough but beyond her presence, there isn’t anything here that you haven’t seen countless times before in other, better films.
SEVEN POUNDS (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.96): An uncommonly wise critic (okay, it was me) described this weird Will Smith tearjerker as “a mawkish melodrama that plays like a year’s worth of “Oprah” episodes crammed into a duck press and garnished with equally indigestible portions of cloying sentimentality and incoherent mysticism and the result is a ludicrous testament to the human condition that never demonstrates a sense of an authentic human touch for a single second.” I stand by each and every one of those words and yet, there is a part of me that wants to recommend that you check this one out simply so that you can enjoy the climax, one of the most unintentionally hilarious things to hit the screen in recent memory and something that will no doubt inspire giggles for years whenever anyone mentions this film in passing.
THE SINFUL DWARF (Severin Films. $29.95): With a title like that, do you really need to know anything else? Well, this ultra-twisted piece of Eurosleaze, in which the title character goes around drugging and kidnapping teenage girls in order to chain them up and utilize them as sex slaves in an operation that he somehow manages to run from the attic of his mother’s boarding house, is so tacky, so gauche and so lurid that even the most hardcore fans of grindhouse fare will feel the need to take a long, hot shower after this one. Needless to say, totally recommended.
SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): In what proved to be one of the most crowd-pleasing film of 2008, to judge by its enormous box-office success and its recent sweep of the Oscars, director Danny Boyle (who has given us films as varied as “Trainspotting,” “28 Days Later” and “Millions”) gave us the story a young man from the slums of Mumbai who is in a position to win the top prize on India’s version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” Unfortunately, he is suspected of cheating--how can an uneducated nobody like him possibly know all of the answers--and as he is being brutally interrogated by local cops trying to extract a confession of guilt, we are treated to flashbacks of his rough life in order to illustrate how he came across the information needed to answer the questions. Sure, it may be a little overrated and the complaints about Boyle’s glossing over the truly horrible conditions of the actual slums of Mumbai do have some merit, but it is so entertaining that it is easy enough to overlook these flaws. The extras on this set include a couple of audio commentaries featuring the cast and crew, a making-of documentary and a half-hour of deleted scenes (which mean more Frieda Pinto to stare at)--alas, due to technical malfunctions, some of these DVDs were released without the inclusion of the features, though Fox, to its credit, is already implementing a return program. You hear that, Magnolia--you with the botched subtitles on “Let the Right One In”? A replacement program--look into it.
SPECIAL (Magnolia Home Entertainment. $26.98): Although the cover makes it look like a flat-out superhero spoof, this is actually a slightly more serious minded comedy-drama in which Michael Rapaport plays a shy and retiring comic-book geek who takes part in a drug test study and when it appears that he may have developed actual super powers as a side effect, he decides to try to put them to good use. It wouldn’t be the first time that Rapaport demonstrated strange and bizarre powers--how else to explain that horrible “The War At Home” TV series lasting as long as it did?
TELL NO ONE (MPI Entertainment. $27.98): Eight years after his wife was murdered, allegedly at the hands of a serial killer who was later captured an executed, a man (Francois Cluzet) stumbles across some information suggesting that she may not be dead after all and he obsessively begins to try to unravel what really happened even as the police begin to suspect that he was responsible for her death all along. This French-made adaptation of the best-selling novel from Harlen Coben is utterly preposterous, of course (the climactic scenes in which all the twists and turns are sort of explained are hilarious because of how convoluted they are) but as innocent-man-on-the-run thrillers go, this surprise box-office hit (it was the highest-grossing foreign-language film released in America in 2008) is pretty good--it is well-made, well-acted and unless you have read the book previously, it is unlikely that you will figure it all out before the finale.
TIMECRIMES (Magnolia Home Entertainment. $26.98): To explain the plot of this acclaimed Spanish genre film would be an exercise in futility that would drive us all mad so I am not even going to attempt it. Suffice it to say, it starts off with a man who spies a beautiful naked woman lying in the woods behind his house and when he goes to investigate, he is attacked by a mysterious person whose head is covered entirely in bandages. The man runs into a nearby laboratory to hide and that is where I am going to stop, except to note that this is an exceptionally well-done thriller that deserves to be seen twice--once for the sheer experience of it and a second time to go back and make sure that the story holds up on a second viewing.