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DVD Reviews for 9/4: Now With A Public Option
by Peter Sobczynski

As I am currently in training for my annual Labor Day tradition of watching every single moment of the Jerry Lewis telethon, there will be no extended review this week. To help me in this regard, the video companies have thoughtfully kept their big releases to a minimum this week, though there are still a couple of interesting titles worth checking out.


BAD RONALD/DON”T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (Warner Home Video. $14.95 each Following the success of such items as “Trilogy of Terror” and “Duel” (which first put an emerging young filmmaker by the name of Steven Spielberg on the map), there was a brief vogue in the early/mid-Seventies for made-for-TV horror movies and these two titles, both available directly through Warner Home Video as part of their Warner Archive project, were two reasonably intriguing entries in this particular genre. “Bad Ronald” (1974) tells the story of a weird kid (Scott Jacoby) who accidentally kills a young girl and is hidden in a secret room by his overprotective mother--unfortunately, she dies and the house is quickly sold to another family that doesn’t realize that he is still lurking about and growing crazier by the minute. Household traumas are also at the center of 1973’s “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” which features Kim Darby and Jim Hutton as a young couple who move into a creepy old mansion that they have inherited without realizing that it also contains a number of creepy little creatures who have their eye on Darby. While both are somewhat restricted by the limitations of what could be shown on network TV at the time, they are still reasonably effective thrillers with the power to provide the occasional jolt or two.

BRING IT ON: FIGHT TO THE FINISH (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Following in the footsteps of Kirsten Dunst, Hayden Panettiere and the sisters of Ashley Tisdale and Beyonce Knowles, Christina Milan stars in the latest installment of the direct-to-video cheerleader franchise in which she plays a high school girl from the streets who is transported to a life of luxury and discovers that there is no problem in life that cannot be overcome with a well-executed cheer. Well, I suppose that if you can accept the 28-year-old Milan as a high schooler, you can accept practically anything else that this film has to offer.

EARTH (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.99): In what comes across as a throwback to the old “True-Life Adventures” wildlife documentaries that they used to release in the Fifties, Walt Disney Studios presents a condensed 90-minute version of the acclaimed BBC nature series “Planet Earth” that focuses on the trials and tribulations faced by three different animal families--polar bears, elephants and humpback whales--over the course of a year as they face everything from predators to the effects of global warming. Although this version, complete with folksy narration from James Earl Jones, is perfectly suitable for younger viewers, those who have actually seen the entire “Planet Earth” series are likely to find it to be fairly superfluous.

HEROES--SEASON THREE (Universal Home Entertainment. $59.98): Although certainly better than its relatively dismal second season, this third season of the popular NBC fantasy series about a group of seemingly ordinary people with amazing superpowers still hasn’t lived up to the enormous promise of its celebrated earlier episodes. That said, it did begin to improve in quality in the second half (mostly due to the return of original show runner Bryan Fuller after the cancellation of “Pushing Daises”) to such a degree that some have suggested that it will finally return to form in its upcoming season. (Of course, the rumors that the college-bound cheerleader played by Hayden Panettiere will be indulging in her Sapphic side smacks of utter desperation.) Other TV-related DVDs appearing this week include “Brothers and Sisters: The Complete Third Season” (ABC Video. $59.99), “C.S.I. Crime Scene Investigation: The Complete Ninth Season” (CBS DVD. $98.18), “Desperate Housewives: The Complete Fifth Season” (ABC Video. $59.99), “The Game: The First Season” (CBS DVD. $36.98), “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?: Season One, Volume Three--Hello Mummy” (Warner Home Video. $14.98), “Supernatural: The Complete Fourth Season” (Warner Home Video. $59.98) and “Two and a Half Men: The Complete Sixth Season” (Warner Home Video. $44.98).

IMPACT (Sony Home Entertainment. $20.95): In this 2009 made-for-TV extravaganza, a ginormous asteroid slams into the moon and sends it on a potential collision course with Earth and only the guy from “JAG” and the babe from “Species” can possibly save the day. If that doesn’t satisfy your taste for such things, this week also sees the release of “Meteor” (Genius Products. $19.95), a 2009 made-for-TV extravaganza in which a ginormous asteroid is headed on a potential collision course with Earth and George Costanza, Doc Brown and the black ghostbuster are among those trying to save the planet from going up in a hail of cheap special effects.

THE OUR GANG COLLECTION (Warner Home Video. $34.95 In 1938, producer Hal Roach realized that the market for short subjects such as his long-running series about the antics of a group of little kids who were constantly getting into mischief, was fading away and he planned to phase them out for good in order to concentrate on feature film production. MGM, who had been distributing the shorts, felt that there was still some life to the series and bought Roach out and produced another 52 of them over the next six years, all of which can be found on this 5-disc set being sold directly by Warner Home Video through their Warner Archives line. Unfortunately, Roach was right and while there are a few inspired titles to be found here that capture the charm of the Roach shorts, most of them veer between knockoffs of earlier classics, ridiculously elaborate musical revues or ham-fisted morality tales reminding kids not to play in traffic and the like. However, cineastes might be intrigued by some of the famous names and face that turn up here and there in early gigs--filmmakers Gordon Douglas and Cy Enfield began their long directing careers here, the movie theater ticket taker in “Mighty Lak a Goat” is a young Lana Turner and Mickey Gubitosi, whose cloying persona helped kill the humor of many of the shorts seen here, would eventually grow up and achieve some degree of fame and infamy under the name of Robert Blake.

SIN NOMBRE (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Ever since it premiered earlier this year at Sundance, this debut film from writer-director Cary Joji Fukunaga, has been receiving rapturous reviews and for the life of me, I can’t understand why. It tells the story of Casper (Edgar Flores), a young member of a brutal Mexican gang run who is, of course, the kind of soulful and sensitive type (right down to his teardrop tattoo) that people love to center cockeyed redemptive melodramas around. After his girlfriend is raped and murdered by an especially depraved fellow gang member, it begins to dawn on Casper that this may not be the life for him and when the other guy interrupts the robbery of a train bearing immigrants hoping to sneak into America to try to rape Honduran teenager Sayra (Paulina Gaitan), Casper kills him and accompanies Sayra and her father and their journey while the rest of the gang, including the young friend (Kristian Ferrer), follows in hot and vengeful pursuit. Borrowing bits and pieces from many other films of its type (especially the similarly overrated “City of God”), this just plods along and the fact that neither of the two leads are particularly interesting or charismatic doesn’t exactly help matters much either. Despite his coincidence-filled screenplay (at one point, a character who has just run into someone else in a highly unlikely manner actually says “Hey, I can’t believe you are here too!”), Fukunaga does show a certain flair for filmmaking style that suggests that he will one day direct a great movie--unfortunately, despite what you may have heard, this film isn’t it.

STATE OF PLAY (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): The worlds of politics and the press collide when an intrepid journalist (Russell Crowe) begins to investigate the death of an aide of a congressman (Ben Affleck), who just happens to be his old college roommate, and uncovers any number of secrets, lies and conspiracies along the way. This was based on a six-hour-long British miniseries and the attempt to telescope the entire story into one-third of its original running time is its biggest problem--everything feels too rushed for its own good--but if you can put that aside, it does contain some nice performances from a cast that also includes Helen Mirren, Rachel McAdams and Jeff Daniels and a lot of impressive individual scenes.

SUGAR (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.96): This film, following the ups and down endured by a hot young baseball player from the Dominican Republic as he tries to navigate the world of minor-league baseball in America, a set-up that is perfectly equipped to exploit his athletic abilities but which has little to offer him in regards to fitting in off the field, was written and directed by the team of Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, whose previous effort was the overrated 2006 sleeper hit “Half Nelson.” This time around, they have taken a storyline that could have easily been made into a simple-minded sports movie and have instead transformed it into something far deeper and more meaningful. Instead of trying to goose the story with silly plot twists and a storyline in which, yes, everything hinges on the final game of the season, they have instead chosen a low-key and realistic approach in depicting the realities faced by countless sports hopefuls in Sugar’s situation that is so effective that when I saw the film for the first time, I was actually convinced for the first 10 minutes or so that I was watching an actual documentary. This effect has been aided considerably by their decision to hire an actual baseball player for the central role of Sugar and teach him how to act instead of the other way around--lucky for them, it turns out that Algenis Perez Soto is such a natural in front of the camera that there is never a moment where you might suspect that he was anything other than a gifted actor.

TCM GREATEST CLASSIC FILMS COLLECTION (Warner Home Video. $27.98 each): TCM and Warner bring together some of the best-known titles from their respective collections for these three bargain-priced 4-film sets. ”Murder Mysteries” includes “The Maltese Falcon” (1941), “The Big Sleep” (1946), “The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946) and ’Dial M For Murder” (1953). “Science-Fiction” features “Forbidden Planet” (1956), “The Time Machine” (1960), “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) and “Soylent Green” (1973). Finally, “Horror” collects “Freaks” (1932), “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde” (1941), “House of Wax” (1953) and “The Haunting” (1963). All of these films are great, of course, but since they have all been released on DVD before, often in elaborate special editions with bonus features not included here, there is no compelling reason to acquire these particular sets if you already own them. Of course, if you don’t own any of them and have no real use for bonus features, you can hardly do worse than pick up a quartet of legitimate classics for that kind of price.


BRAVEHEART (Paramount Home Entertainment. $39.99)

THE GIRL NEXT DOOR (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99)

GLADIATOR (Paramount Home Entertainment. $39.99)

HIGH CRIMES (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99)

M*A*S*H (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99)

MONSTER (First Look Pictures. $19.98)

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originally posted: 09/04/09 03:42:35
last updated: 09/04/09 07:24:12
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