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DVD Reviews For 6/26: “Things Just Very Rarely Go Haywire Now”
by Peter Sobczynski

Though it is too damn hot to delve into anything at length this week, there are a lot of interesting titles being released--films ranging from aggressively cheesy slasher nonsense to hard-hitting documentaries to a couple of the greatest films ever made.


ALICE’S HOUSE (IndiePix. $24.95): This internationally acclaimed drama from Brazil tells the story of an ordinary wife and mother who finds herself reevaluating every aspect of her life in the wake of a chance encounter with a long-lost boyfriend. While there isn’t really anything here that is particularly innovative from a narrative standpoint, the film is elevated considerably by the performance from Carla Ribas in the central role. Ribas also appears in an interview in the bonus features section, along with an interview with co-writer/director Cicho Teixeira and a making-of featurette.

AT THE DEATH HOUSE DOOR (Facets Video. $29.95): Peter Gilbert and Steve James, the duo behind the landmark documentary “Hoop Dreams” return with this wrenching documentary focusing on Carroll Pickett, a pastor who found himself reevaluating 15 years spent ministering to death row inmates at a Huntsville, Texas prison after encountering a prisoner who was executed despite possibly being innocent of the crime that he was accused of. Granted, this may be slightly heavier viewing than you might be in the mood for but if you can get beyond that, this is a searing indictment of both the death penalty in general and, more specifically, the deep flaws inherent in the version found in Texas.

BOB FUNK (Magnolia Home Entertainment. $26.98): If you have been sitting in your home, apartment or fortified bunker thinking to yourself “Hey, whatever happened to Rachael Leigh Cook?” your question has been answered. It turns out that she is one of the stars of this barely released indie comedy about a drunken failure of a futon salesman who tries to pull himself together in order to impress his overbearing mom/boss (Grace Zabriskie) and the new girl in the office. It isn’t a very good movie by any means but the presence of such reliable supporting players as Cook, Stephen Root and Amy Ryan help keep it from sinking into total uselessness.

BURN NOTICE: SEASON TWO (Fox Home Entertainment. $39.95): Of all of the TV shows on the USA network featuring quirky characters solving quirky crimes in their own quirky manner, this romp about a former CIA operative (Jeffrey Donovan) solving cases in Miami while trying to figure out who was responsible for getting him kicked out of the agency is the only one that I can watch without wanting to poke my eyes out from all the quirkiness. Most of that is due to the fun byplay between Donovan and co-stars Bruce Campbell and Gabrielle Anwar--speaking of the latter, the sight of her in full Blu-ray glory is enough to inspire a format change all by herself. Other TV-related DVDs arriving in stores this week include “The Girls Next Door: Season Five” (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98) and “Reba: The Complete Sixth Season” (Fox Home Entertainment. $24.98).

(First Look Films. $28.98): Morgan Freeman, Antonio Banderas and director Mimi Leder (the auteur of “Deep Impact,” “Pay It Forward” and a lot of television episodes) team up for this action drama about a pair of mismatched jewel thieves who team up to steal a couple of priceless Faberge eggs while avoiding the cops, the Feds and the KGB, who kidnap Freeman’s goddaughter (Radha Mitchell) to ensure that the job goes off without a hitch. If you are wondering how a film with a cast like this could possibly have gone direct to DVD instead of appearing in theaters, let me just say that the answer to that question will be fairly obvious to anyone who tries to make it to the end of this listless misfire.

CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.99):Based on a couple of popular chick-lit novels by Sophie Kinsella, this largely misfired comedy stars Isla Fisher as a degenerate shopaholic whose struggles to avoid her creditors become extra-ironic when she inexplicably lands a job writing a personal finance column for a business magazine run by the hunky Hugh Dancy. Fisher is charming as all get out--which is a help since her character is basically a self-absorbed junkie who is forever betraying friends and family to feed her addiction--but even she is unable to overcome the overly familiar rom-com nonsense on display here.

HIGH HOPES (BFS Entertainment. $24.98): British director Mike Leigh has made some of the best films of the last few decades (including “Secrets and Lies,” “Topsy-Turvy” and “Happy Go Lucky”) but this 1988 effort is still among the finest works--a hilarious dark comedy that looks at life in London during Margaret Thatcher’s third term through the eyes of an earnestly socialist couple, a pair of selfish yuppies and the sweet old lady who links them together. Although some of the more barbed political jokes and comments may not play very well these days, this is more of a human comedy and on that level, it succeeds mightily.

INKHEART (New Line Home Entertainment. $28.98): In Hollywood’s latest attempt to cash in on the popularity of the Harry Potter franchise by bringing another acclaimed children’s book to the big screen with a lavish adaptation (a process that has already given us such classics as “The Golden Compass,” “The Seeker” and “City of Ember”), Brendan Fraser stars as a guy with the magical ability to bring the characters of any story to life simply by reading it aloud. Alas, instead of holing up with copies of “The Story of O” and those Sleeping Beauty books by Anne Rice, he does it with some fantasy novel and, with the aid of Helen Mirren, he has to return the escaped characters to their world lest ours be destroyed. Well, if you see only one molasses-slow fantasy that seems to suggest that literacy is something to fear this year, you might as well make it this one instead of “Transformers Deux.”

LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): When French filmmaker Alain Resnais debuted this surrealist puzzle of a film, in which a mysterious and impossibly glamorous man and woman (Giorgio Albertazzi and Delphine Seyrig) wander the deserted halls of a lavish house while trying to determine if they met and arranged the meeting a year earlier or not, in 1961, it caused a worldwide sensation as arguments sprung as to whether it was a profound meditation on the human condition, a numbingly boring art-house wank (it would eventually wind up being one of the titles examined in the celebrated book “The Fifty Worst Films of All Time”) or a droll cinematic prank pulled by Resnais and screenwriter Alain Robbe-Grillet on pretentious artistes and their often inexplicable efforts. Nearly 50 years later, it remains as fascinating, beautiful and oblique as ever and its long-awaited arrival on DVD is a cause for celebration for art film fanatics everywhere. Besides a gorgeous transfer of the film, this two-disc set also includes two short documentaries from Resnais that predate this film (1956’s “Toute la memoire de monde” and 1958’s “Le chant da styrene”), a new audio interview with the director (whose career is still going strong today), a documentary on the making of the film and an interview on its history and the controversies surrounding it with scholar Ginette Vincendeau. A must-own and a clear contender for the title of DVD of the Year.

MY DNNER WITH ANDRE (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): No doubt coming out now in order to capitalize on last week’s release of the immortal “My Breakfast with Blassie” (which we discussed at length in last week’s column), Criterion has finally release Louis Malle’s spellbinding 1981 film about a pair of old acquaintances (Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory) who reunite after several years apart for a dinner that is the setting for a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion of topics ranging from the meaning of life to the small comforts held by an electric blanket and a copy of the New York Times. Yes, I know it sounds dull and achingly pretentious but you have to trust me on this one--this is one of the most spellbinding and thought-provoking films that I have ever seen and it still holds up today as a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. In addition to the long-awaited DVD release of the film, this set also includes new interviews with Gregory and Shawn as they discuss the evolution of the project and a vintage interview for the British TV show “Arena” in which the late Malle is interviewed by Shawn. Essential viewing.

THE PINK PANTHER 2 (MGM Home Entertainment. $29.98): Even though I was one of the few people who didn’t look upon the previous attempt to revive the classic Inspector Clouseau character as a bad thing--it had a few amusing moments here and there--even I couldn’t get behind this slapdash sequel in which Clouseau (Steve Martin) bumbles his way through an international investigation surround the theft of some world-renowned treasures. However, while the movie itself may be more or less worthless on its own, it may still be worth picking up on DVD for some people because of the generous inclusion of over 3 hours of old “Pink Panther” cartoons on a second disc.

SIMON SAYS (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $26.98): While co-star Leighton Meester seems content to put her best foot forward into the twin worlds of dance music and ultra-low-budget erotica, “Gossip Girl” figurehead Blake Lively is spending her summer making a cameo appearance (despite what the box art might suggest) in this silly slasher movie (produced by her father and featuring other family members in the cast) about a bunch of dumb college kids whose camping trip is interrupted by a pair of twin psychos who proceed to pick them off in various creative ways involving pickaxes and ginormous joints. Not interested at all, you say. What if I told you that it was at least better than the likes of the recent “Friday the 13th” reboot. No--well, what if I mention that it was directed by William Dear, the auteur of such 80’s-era classics as “Timerider” and “Harry and the Hendersons”? Still nothing. Okay, what if I told you that the twin psychos were played by none other than Crispin Glover? You know, I thought that would get your attention.

TOM & JERRY--THE CHUCK JONES COLLECTION (Warner Home Video. $26.98): After Warner Brothers fired the most famous and celebrated member of their animation unit in 1963 (just before shutting down the entire department for good within a few months), he, along with most of his staff, went over to MGM and was giving the job of reviving the studio’s famous cat & mouse team for a new series of theatrical cartoons. Although the 34 shorts collected aren’t very good by the previous high standards of either Jones or the T&J series, there are some amusing moments here and there and the cartoons themselves are among the most visually striking animated shorts produced during the Sixties. Students of Jones’ work will want to will want to check out the two excellent documentary featurettes included in this two-disc set--one a general overview of his entire career and the other focusing on the period in which he worked on these particular films.


AMERICAN GANGSTER (Universal Home Entertainment. $34.98)

CASINO (Universal Home Entertainment. $34.98)

EASTERN PROMISES (Universal Home Entertainment. $34.98)

THE PIANIST (Universal Home Entertainment. $34.98)

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originally posted: 06/26/09 01:29:32
last updated: 06/26/09 11:17:32
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