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DVD Reviews For 5/22: SANDSTORM!
by Peter Sobczynski

Gangsters, gladiators, Nazis, cowboys, fanboys, vampires and Steven Seagal--there is a little bit of everything to be found in this week’s column.


BILLY JACK (Warner Home Video. $12.98): “Go ahead and hate your neighbor./Go ahead and cheat a friend./Do it in the name of Heaven, you can justify it in the end./There won’t be any trumpet blowing/ come the judgment day/On the bloody morning after one tin soldier rides away.” If these immortal words send a chill up your spine or a gorge up your throat, you are clearly familiar with Tom Laughlin’s enormously popular 1971 cult film about a peace-loving ass-kicker who preaches love and tolerance while pounding the crap out of any doughy redneck that doesn’t see things his way. If not, you should probably check it out (and also look up the increasingly ludicrous sequels “The Trial of Billy Jack” and “Billy Jack Goes to Washington”) but be warned--that theme song is going to stick in your head for days after you hear it.

DR DOLITTLE: MILLION DOLLAR MUTTS (Fox Home Entertainment. $22.98): In the latest direct-to-video spin-off featuring tween star Kyla Pratt as the daughter of the unseen Eddie Murphy who carries on the family trade of talking to animals (voiced by actors a lot cheaper than those used when these film were designed for theatrical release), our heroine goes off to L.A. to help a spoiled heiress with her Chihuahuas and winds up becoming the host of an animal-related talk show. Will she stay with the show and become wealthy and famous or will she give up the glitz in order to go to college and achieve her dream of being a humble vet? No, it isn’t very good but I am going to give it a pass anyways because it displays enough wit to give one of its supporting characters the name “Paul Furhooven.”

DRIVEN TO KILL (Fox Home Entertainment. $22.98): Oh good, I was wondering when we were going to be getting another direct-to-video action extravaganza from Steven Seagal. This time around, he plays a former Russian gangster who dropped out of the mob in order to become a novelist. (I would like to take this opportunity to remind you that I only report the plots--I don’t write them.) He returns home for his daughter’s wedding and discovers that her betrothed is the estranged son of his one-time gangland rival--when his daughter and ex-wife are attacked by the goon, he is, you know, driven to kill and enlists the aid of the son in order to bring all the bad guys down and to fetch him snacks during the downtime. Recommended for hard-core Seagologists and, dare I say, no one else.

EL DORADO/THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (Paramount Home Video. $16.99 each): For the latest releases in their “Centennial Collection,” Paramount gives he deluxe treatment to two late-period westerns from two of America’s most revered filmmakers. “El Dorado” (1967) finds director Howard Hawks reuniting with John Wayne for a loose riff on their earlier classic “Rio Bravo” with Robert Mitchum taking over the Dean Martin role. Wayne also stars in John Ford’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” as a rough & tumble type who quietly helps bumbling lawyer James Stewart in his efforts to rid their town of the monstrous Valance (played to malevolent perfection by Lee Marvin). If you don’t already own these classics and have even a slight interest in the western genre, these two titles are essential. If you already own them, I am afraid that the supplements on these two-disc sets--including commentaries, documentaries, trailers, lobby cards and production photos--are impressive enough that you pretty much have to go out and buy them again.

FANBOYS (The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment. $19.98): After years of reshoots, reedits and reshuffled release dates, this comedy, in which a group of “Star Wars” geeks take a cross-country trip in order to break into Skywalker Ranch so that the one afflicted with terminal cancer can see “The Phantom Menace” before dying, was finally released to near-universal indifference and when you watch it (which is not recommended), you will wonder why so many people spent so much time on trying to “improve” it when the whole thing was clearly pretty useless from the get-go. Although the disc contains the usual assortment of special features, the only potentially interesting one--the studio recut of the film that completely eliminated the cancer element--is nowhere to be seen.

THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE (The Criterion Collection. $29.99): In one of the very best performances of his entire career, Robert Mitchum stars in this underrated 1973 as a small-time criminal in Boston who is facing another stretch in prison--long enough to potentially be his last--and trying to decide between doing his time or betraying his colleagues by giving them up to the cops in exchange for his freedom. Hard to find on video for many years, this powerful work makes its long-awaited DVD debut in a package that includes a commentary track from director Peter Yates, a still gallery and a booklet including a new essay on the film from critic Kent Jones and an interview that Mitchum did with “Rolling Stone” to promote it back in 1973.

INVASION IOWA (Echo Bridge. $19.99): A few years ago, William Shatner and a bunch of goofballs invaded the small town of Riverside, Iowa (which long claimed to be the birthplace of James T. Kirk--at least they did before J.J. Abrams got a say in the matter) in order to make a low-budget sci-fi film and perplex the locals with their weird Hollywood ways. As it turns out, the whole thing was just a big practical joke on the citizens of Riverside that would be turned into this 2005 reality TV series broadcast on Spike TV. Classy, Shatner, classy. . .too bad the results weren’t as funny as “Star Trek V.”

MAN HUNT (Fox Home Entertainment. $14.98): In the first of this week’s releases featuring failed plots to kill Adolph Hitler, this 1941 cult favorite from Fritz Lang stars Walter Pidgeon as a big-game hunter on vacation in Bavaria who has Hitler in his sights when he is caught by German authorities--he escapes and makes his way back to London with tenacious Nazi George Sanders hot on his heels. Rarely shown on television and never before released on video, this thriller holds up pretty well today and should satisfy both film scholars and casual viewers in equal measure.

MASARU KONUMA: DEBAUCHED DESIRES (Kino International. $49.95): During the Sixties and Seventies, Japan’s Nikkatsu Studios made some of the wildest and weirdest exploitation movies around and this set collects four of the looniest examples, all from the twisted mind of director Masaru Konuma. The titles include “Cloistered Nun: Runa’s Confession,” “Erotic Diary of an Office Lady,” “Tattooed Flower Vase” and “Wife to Be Sacrificed.” If that isn’t enough Japanese exploitation weirdness to satisfy you, Kino International is also releasing a pair of equally deranged gangster films from Nikkatsu as well this week-- “Detective Bureau 2-3: Go To Hell Bastards!” (from the always inventive filmmaker Seijun Suzuki) and “3 Seconds Before Explosion.”

MUSCLE MADNESS (Infinity Entertainment. $24.95): Say, do you like movies about gladiators? If so, you are going to go nuts for this 5-film set that is just chock-full of oily, muscle-bound guys doing oily, muscle-bound things while prancing around in togas and less. The films included here are “Goliath and the Sins of Babylon”, “The Giant of Marathon,” “War of the Trojans,” “Colossus and the Amazon Queen” and the immortal “Hercules Vs. the Moon Men” and each one of them is all but guaranteed to provide viewers with hours of deep hurting.

MY BLOODY VALENTINE 3-D (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $34.98): Gory and goofy in equal measure, this remake of the 1981 mad slasher semi-classic was actually more entertaining than it had any right to be. Of course, that was due in large part to the fairly inspired 3-D sight gags that tossed blood and guts (among other body parts) off the screen and into viewers laps with cheerful abandon and while this DVD does include both the 2-D and 3-D versions, it is highly unlikely that the multi-dimensional aspect is going to be anywhere near as impressive at home as it was in the theater.

NIGHTMARE CASTLE (Severin Video. $19.95): In this classic Sixties-era example of the Italian gothic horror film, cult icon Barbara Steele plays the dual role of an unfortunate woman who is tortured to death by her extra-sadistic husband--a man of science, no less--and, oddly enough, as the woman’s mentally-ill stepsister whose fate isn’t looking too promising either. Although the box quote asserting its superiority to the works of Mario Bava is definitely overselling things, this is still a reasonably creepy and effective thriller and fans of Steele are sure to love it. They will presumably also love this disc--not only does it include an uncut version of the often-censored film, it also includes a new interview with Steele herself among the bonus features.

OUTLANDER (The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment. $19.98): In what can only be described as this generation’s “Yor: Hunter of the Future,” alien being Jim Caviezel crash-lands his spacecraft in a mysterious land, allowing the fearsome creature that is his prisoner to escape and destroying his hi-tech weapon in the process. Eventually, he discovers that he has somehow landed in Viking times and attempts to unite two warring tribes (including the likes of Sophia Myles, Ron Perlman and John Hurt) to stop the creature before it destroys them all. As you can probably guess, this is absolutely preposterous from start to finish but it has been done in such a cheerfully goof manner that anyone with a taste for unabashed cheesiness is likely to have a good time with this one.

PAUL BLART: MALL COP (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.96): Many people were surprised when this decidedly low-brow goof on “Die Hard,” in which genial mall cop Kevin James defends his turf against a group of skateboarding punks out to rob the place on Black Friday, turned out to be one of the biggest surprise hits of the year when it opened last January. Strangely enough, it turns out that it actually deserved its success after all--it contains a few big laughs, a bunch of smaller ones and an enormously engaging and likable performance from James in the lead role. It may not be as edgy or funny as the superficially similar “Observe and Report” but I can see this turning into one of those comfort food movies that always provides a few laughs whenever you stumble upon it on cable.

PUFNSTUF (Universal Home Entertainment. $14.98): One of the strangest kid-oriented shows in the history of television made the leap to the big screen in this 1970 vehicle and the result, perhaps inevitably, was one of the strangest kid-oriented movies ever produced. In it, young Jimmy lands on the shores of Living Island and is relentlessly pursued by the malevolent Witchie-Poo and her friend Witch Hazel (Mama Cass, of all people), both of whom wish to possess his magical flute, while his friend Pufnstuf, a talking dragon, tries to save the day and get him off the island. In other words, it really is exactly as bizarre as you remember it being from the time that you saw it back in the day.

TRUE BLOOD: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (HBO Home Entertainment. $59.99): As I didn’t watch the initial run of this HBO series produced by Alan Ball and based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels from author Charlaine Harris, a combination of horror, satire, drama, erotica and flat-out weirdness set in a world where vampires and humans freely (if uneasily) co-exist and a small-town waitress (Anna Paquin) with the power to read minds falls under the spell of a bloodsucker (Stephen Moyer) who is 173 years old and still hunky, I am only now catching up with the show (which returns for its second season next month) via this 5-disc set that includes all 12 episodes, commentaries from the cast and crew on some installments and faux-ads and documentaries relating to the show’s vampiric elements. At the moment, I am four episodes in and while it is decidedly uneven in spots--the show’s attempts to use vampirism as a metaphor for homosexuality is crashingly obvious and the character of the heroine’s spunky best pal is so annoying that you keep hoping that she will soon encounter a vampire, a speeding car or a land mine--the combination of offbeat humor, a strong atmosphere and the heady mix of sex and gore is intriguing enough to convince me to press on further and I have been assured by fans of the show that it improves significantly in the later episodes.

Other TV-related DVDs being released this week include “8 Simple Rules: The Complete Second Season” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $29.98), “24: Season Seven” (Fox Home Entertainment. $49.98), “Friday Night Lights: The Third Season” (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.95), “Jo Koy: Don’t Make Him Angry” (Paramount Home Video. $16.99):, “Peyton Place: Part One” (Shout! Factory. $39.98), “Russell Brand in New York City” (Paramount Home Video. $16.99) and “Sister, Sister: The Second Season” (CBS DVD. $36.98).

VALKYRIE (MGM Home Entertainment. $34.98): In this week’s other thriller centering on a failed attempt on the life of Hitler, Tom Cruise stars in the real-life story as a high-ranking Nazi (though a progressive one, of course) who becomes involved in an elaborate plot to stage a military coup that is dependent on the successful assassination of the Fuhrer himself. Although nowhere near as bad as the grim advanced word seemed to suggest, this ambitious-but-flawed work from director Bryan Singer has one major obstacle that it is unable to overcome--the woeful miscasting of Cruise in the central role. He isn’t bad, per se, but his movie-star presence throws things out of balance and his attempt to tone this down by donning an eye patch throughout only makes things worse.


BATMAN (Warner Home Video. $34.99)

A BUG’S LIFE (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $39.99)

CHANGING LANES (Paramount Home Video. $29.99)

CIRCLE OF IRON (Blue Underground. $34.95)

ENEMY AT THE GATES (Paramount Home Video. $29.95)

FAST COMPANY (Blue Underground. $34.95)

PAYCHECK (Paramount Home Video. $29.99)

TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY--SKYNET EDITION (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $29.99)

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originally posted: 05/22/09 01:53:43
last updated: 05/22/09 02:18:53
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