DVD Reviews for 4/17: Heil Kate!
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 04/17/09 03:48:49
Unless you are my sainted mother or have a pronounced fetish for seeing hot actresses portraying Nazis (and I must stress that those two groups could not be more exclusive and separate if they tried), this is a pretty weak week for DVD releases. Let us just slog through this one as quickly as possible with the assurance that things will be more interesting next week.
NEW AND NOTABLEAMERICAN SWING (Magnolia Home Entertainment. $26.98): During the Seventies, one of the most infamous offshoots of the sexual revolution that was still going strong at the time was Plato’s Retreat, a swingers club located in New York’s Upper West Side where, for a $35 admission fee, couples could explore their sexual horizons with hundreds of like-minded people on any given night. This slight-but-entertaining documentary chronicles the history of the club and its creator, the colorful Larry Levenson, from their heady early days (including discussions of the famous people who occasionally dropped by and the infamous buffet that few ever dared to sample) until the bitter end when changing mores, legal troubles and the arrival of the AIDS epidemic sealed their collective fates for good. Perhaps not surprisingly, Ron Jeremy is one of the many talking heads on display here. Perhaps a little more surprisingly, another one is Fred Lincoln, perhaps best known to some of you from his performance as Weasel in the original “Last House on the Left.”
DARK MATTER (Universal Home Entertainment. $24.98): Despite the presence of such well-known stars as Meryl Streep and Aidan Quinn, this 2007 film sat on a shelf for a long time before getting a token theatrical release and after only a few minutes of watching it, you will quickly understand why. Loosely based on a real-life incident that happened at the University of Iowa in 1991, it tells the story of a brilliant Chinese physics student who comes to America to study under a famous cosmologist and whose inability to adjust to his new surroundings or campus politics leads to tragedy. Unfortunately, the story is a drag from start to finish and doesn’t say anything that hasn’t been said in a dozen other and better films. Furthermore, while I won’t mention what happens at the end, I will say that Universal’s decision to release it at this particular time is of extremely questionable taste.
IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $14.98): This week sees the release of “The Lost Collection,” a group of eight Eighties-era films that have until recently been hard to find on video because of various rights issues and of the group, the best is easily this surprisingly funny and inspired film about a poor little rich girl (Drew Barrymore in one of her first major post-“E.T.” roles) who sues to be emancipated from her self-involved parents (Ryan O’Neal and Shelly Long, the former doing a pretty hilarious take-off of former collaborator Peter Bogdanovich). Look closely and you’ll spot a young Sharon Stone in the cast. The other “Lost Collection” titles, all of which retail for $14.98 as well, include the fairly uninspiring likes of “Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home,” “The Night Before,” “Repossessed,” “Hiding Out,” “Slaughter High,” “My Best Friend is a Vampire” and the infamous Jim Belushi-Whoopi Goldberg pairing “Homer & Eddie.”
LOST IN AUSTEN (Image Entertainment. $27.98): Simultaneously exploiting the eternal fascination with Jane Austen’s warhorse “Pride and Prejudice” and ripping off Woody Allen’s genius short story “The Kugelmass Episode,” this British miniseries tells the story of an Austen fanatic (the wonderfully named Jemima Rooper) who discovers a mysterious portal in her bathroom that transports here into her favorite book while simultaneously sending that tomes heroine, Elizabeth Bennet (Gemma Arterton, more familiar to many of you as the secondary Bond Girl who temporarily perked up “Quantum of Solace”) into the modern world.
THE READER (The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment. $29.95): In what the box description calls “a haunting story about truth and reconciliation” (though the phrase “ ‘Summer of 42’ with swastikas” would be a little more apt), a teenage boy (David Kross) in post-war Germany stumbles into a passionate affair with an older woman (Kate Winslet) that involves him reading to her before they hit the sheets--after a while, she disappears and when they cross paths again several years later, he is a law student and she is revealed to be a former Nazi on trial for participating in various atrocities who possesses a secret so shameful that she would rather assume all the blame than reveal it. Some of the early scenes between the two main characters work and Lena Olin offers up a memorable cameo towards the end but for the most part, this is a borderline sickening mess that pats itself on the back for being about Important Subjects without having anything of interest to say about them. Yes, Winslet is pretty brilliant here and more or less earned the long-deserved Oscar that she snared for the role. However, my guess is that when future scholars discover realize that she got the prize for this and not for the likes of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” or “Little Children,” they are going to wonder what the hell we could have been thinking and I can’t say that I blame them.
THE SPIRIT (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $34.98): Frank Miller’s adaptation of the legendary Will Eisner comic book was one of last winter’s more highly anticipated films, but once you get past the stylized look (cribbed entirely from the big-screen version of “Sin City” that he “co-directed” with Robert Rodriguez) and the equally stylized lookers (including Eva Mendes, Scarlett Johansson, Paz Vega and others decked out in various fetish outfits) , all you are left with is a terrible, terrible film that squanders its impressive source material by transforming it into a action spectacle so incoherent and annoying that it almost makes “Speed Racer” seem staid and watchable by comparison. In other words, unless you have a desire to see Johansson inexplicably decked out like Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS, there is absolutely no reason to watch this and quite frankly, even that doesn’t really help matters much.
SPLINTER (Magnolia Home Entertainment. $26.98): In this low-budget horror film that picked up some good word-of-mouth from many of those who saw (though evidently not enough to warrant a full-scale release), a couple celebrating their honeymoon (Paulo Costanzo and Jill Wagner) are being carjacked by an escaped convict (Shea Whigham) and his girlfriend (Rachel Kerbs) when they hit something with their car. When they pull into a remote filling station, they discover that they actually hit a deadly alien parasite that kills anything it touches. As cheap, icky and blatantly derivative monster movies go, this is actually a pretty good one, even though it may not be the masterpiece that some gorehounds are claiming it to be.
TEEN BOXER (Infinity Entertainment. $14.98): Cinematic skeletons in the closet don’t come much ickier than this 1997 dud featuring future “Grey’s Anatomy” starlet Chyler Leigh as one of a group of young kickboxing students trying to save their school from the clutches of a rival academy. What--that doesn’t sound particularly upsetting to you? Well, what if I mention the fact that the fellow student that she strikes up a romance with (including a few makeout scenes) is played by one Christopher Khayman Lee, an actor better known for playing the Red Space Ranger in “Power Rangers in Space” on television and for being the real-life brother of Chyler Leigh? Yeah, I figured that might do it.
WINGS: THE FINAL SEASON (CBS DVD. $39.98): You know, I never liked this inexplicably long-running attempt to clone the spirit of “Cheers” by transferring its workplace sitcom clichés from a quaint New England bar to a quaint New England airport--as far as I can tell, the biggest laugh it ever got was as the punch line of a throwaway gag on “The Simpsons.” (“Tonight on ‘Wings’. . .ah, who cares?”) However, I choose to highlight it here for two very good reasons. For one, since this is the last season of episodes, I presumably will never have to write about it again. More importantly, my sainted mother, whose views regarding comedy are admittedly questionable, always liked this show and, as I have said many times, if she is happy, I’m happy. Other TV-related DVDs being released this week include “House of Saddam” (HBO Home Entertainment. $29.98), “Intelligence: Season 2” (Acorn Media. $59.99), “Knots Landing: The Complete Second Season” (Warner Home Video. $39.98), “The Ruth Rendell Mysteries, Set 4” (Acorn Media. $39.99), “She Fell Amongst Thieves” (Acorn Media. $24.99) and “Skins, Volume 2” (BBC Warner. $39.98).