DVD Reviews For 10/9: “This Business Requires A Certain Amount Of Finesse.”

By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 10/09/09 04:35:49

Metal, mayhem, Miike, Mischa, Munchkins and McBeal, not to mention a couple of beloved family classics, are among the subjects covered in this week’s column of new DVD releases.


ALLY MCBEAL: THE COMPLETE SERIES (Fox Home Entertainment. $199.98): Because of legal issues regarding the countless musical cues that it employed over its five seasons, this quirky David E. Kelly comedy-drama about the world’s spunkiest and skinniest lawyer has been kept off of the DVD market outside of a couple of compilations. Those complications have finally been resolved and fans of the show--such people do exist--will no doubt be thrilled with this 32-disc behemoth that includes every single episode, numerous futurities, a crossover episode of “The Practice” featuring members of the cast and a soundtrack CD. For those who are unsure of fully committing to Ally, Fox is also offering “Ally McBeal: The Complete First Season” (Fox Home Entertainment. $39.98) as well. Other DVD releases appearing this week include “Blood Ties--Season Two” (Eagle Vision. $26.99), “Bones: The Complete Fourth Season” (Fox Home Entertainment. $59.98), “Get Smart: Season 4” (HBO Home Entertainment. $24.98), “The Hills: Season 5, Part 1” (Paramount Home Video. $26.98), “Ken Burns: National Parks--America’s Best Idea” (Paramount Home Video. $99.95), “The Mary Tyler Moore Show--The Complete Fifth Season” (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98), “Medium: The Complete Fifth Season” (CBS DVD. $60.99), “Mister Ed: The Complete First Season” (MGM Home Entertainment. $39.99), “Red Dwarf: Back To Earth” (BBC America. $24.98) and “Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Series” (MGM Home Video. $259.98).

ANVIL: THE STORY OF ANVIL (VH-1 Films. $24.98): Thanks to its deliberately goofy title and the fact that one of its main characters is named Robb Reiner, it is likely that many people will pick up this title assuming that it is another heavy metal documentary following in the metal-studded footsteps of the immortal “This is Spinal Tap.” In fact, this is an actual documentary about an actual Canadian metal band that was formed decades ago by childhood pals Reiner and Steve “Lips” Kudlow, influenced any number of popular hard rock groups (Lemmy Caution, Lars Ulrich and Slash are among those offering testimonials) without ever achieving any real success on their own and who continue to pound out their music while working day jobs to pay the bills. As it follows them from a fairly disastrous tour of Eastern Europe to their attempts to record their new album, director Sacha Gervasi captures any number of hilariously awkward moments that could have easily fit into “Spinal Tap” without anyone noticing the difference. At the same time, however, he takes care to present Reiner and Lips not as doofus has-beens but as likable guys who pretty much realize that their hopes for stardom have passed but who are determined to keep plugging away. Although my fondness for heavy metal music knows many bounds, this is still a charming and enormously entertaining film and even though I will probably never add one of their albums to my collection, I will definitely see their movie again, if only to once again experience its deliriously happy ending.

ASSASSINATION OF A HIGH SCHOOL PRESIDENT (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.96): In this tepid high-school satire, a gawky sophomore (Reece Daniel Thompson) writes an article for the student newspaper suggesting that the BMOC may have been responsible for the theft of SAT tests from the office the principal (Bruce Willis) and when he suddenly becomes a big deal among the popular kids--even with the accuser’s girlfriend (Mischa Barton)--he begins to suspect that something is amiss. Although slightly more ambitious than most high school movies, this attempt to fuse together the likes of “Election” and “Brick” never quite works unless you are simply in it to see Barton in and out of her school uniform.

AUDITION (Shout! Factory. $29.99): Still the best film to date from the insanely prolific and relatively overrated Takashi Miike, this grueling and gruesome 1999 psychodrama tells the story of a mild-mannered widower who, at the urging of a friend, holds a fake audition in the hopes of finding a new wife. Amazingly, he finds a seemingly sweet and mild-mannered young woman but soon finds that she has both a dark and twisted past and a way with a cheese saw. It is a brilliant, powerful and incredibly creepy work and if you haven’t seen it (and possess a strong stomach), you need to check this one out immediately--perhaps not as a first date movie, however.

THE CHILDREN (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.98): In the latest example of the twisted horror subgenre involving killer children, this British entry tells the tale of a family whose Christmas holiday at their secluded vacation home is ruined when the kids fall victim to a mysterious virus that turns them into murderous lunatics. For those of you who can’t get enough of little kids racking up body counts, this week also sees the release of “It’s Alive” (First Look Pictures. $24.98), a dull and fairly pointless remake of the 1974 cult classic in which Bijou Philips gives birth to a mutant baby that gives new meaning to the phrase “crib death”

CHINATOWN (Paramount Home Video. $16.99): Talk about awesome timing, Roman Polanski’s 1974 film noir masterpiece, about which nothing more presumably needs to be said, returns to DVD in a new edition that includes a commentary track featuring screenwriter Robert Towne (who won the film’s only Oscar) and noted fan David Fincher. Maybe one of them can explain why Paramount isn’t releasing this on Blu-ray as well.

DARK COUNTRY (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.96): While waiting for the long-awaited “Homeless Dad” feature film to get a green light from the studio, Thomas Jane directs and stars in this direct-to-video item in which he and Laura German play a married couple who rescue a car-crash victim (Ron Perlman) in the Vegas desert one night. Unfortunately, this isn’t a remake of “Melvin and Howard” and they wind up spending the rest of the film paying and paying for their good deed in the nastiest ways possible.

THE GATE: MONSTROUS SPECIAL EDITION (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.98): Here are a couple of fun facts about this monster movie cult favorite that is finally getting the special edition treatment that its fans have been clamoring for. First, that really is a young and then-unknown Stephen Dorff as one of the pair of nerdy kids who accidentally open up a gateway to Hell in their backyard and have to fix things before the world is destroyed. Second, when this film was released in theaters in May of 1987, it was the only competition against the highly publicized comedy “Ishtar” and stunned Hollywood by beating it at the box-office that weekend.

HOW TO BE A MAN/HOW TO BE A WOMAN (Kino Video. $19.99 each): In the good old days before they were simply brainwashed via in-school speeches from the president (whoops, gave it away), those hoping to indoctrinate American schoolchildren into following a particular kind of groupthink used to achieve their goals through the use of short social engineering films that taught the boys to bring home the bacon, drive big cars and eat lots of red meat, instructed the girls that all they needed to do to achieve happiness is take Home Economics, land a feller and keep the house clean and reminded both to be suspicious of anyone bold enough to exercise independent thought. These two DVD compilations bring together some of the campiest films of this type including “Am I Trustworthy?,” “Dance Little Children,” “The Wonders of Reproduction” and “Let’s Make A Sandwich.”

KARLOFF AND LUGOSI HORROR CLASSICS (Warner Home Video. $26.98): Okay, perhaps the word “classics” is being stretched a bit in describing this quartet of lesser films featuring the legendary horror icons. “The Walking Dead” (1936) has Karloff as an ex-con who is framed for murder, sent to the electric chair and is brought back to life so that he can get his hideous revenge on those who wronged him. “You’ll Find Out” (1940) brings together Karloff, Lugosi and Peter Lorre as a trio of no-goodniks out to scare a young woman out of her inheritance, though not if bandleader Kay Kyser has anything to say about it. “Zombies on Broadway” (1945). . .do you really need to know anything about this Lugosi vehicle that isn’t conveyed in the title? Finally, “Frankenstein 1970” finds Karloff playing a descendant of the original Dr. Frankenstein whose financial situation forces him to rent out the family castle to a film crew shooting a horror movie with the inevitable gruesome results.

MARLENE (Kino Video. $29.95): In 1982, actor Maximilian Schell traveled to Paris to interview his “Judgment at Nuremberg” co-star Marlene Dietrich for a documentary that he was making about her life and career. At the last second, the reclusive screen legend threw a monkey wrench into the works by changing her mind and refusing to let him film her but instead of scrapping the project, Schell took the 40-odd hours of audiotapes of their talks and laid them over old film clips of Dietrich on and off the screen. The result may sound like a mess but it is actually one of the best documentaries on a movie star that I have ever seen--a work as mysterious and enigmatic as its subject.

MIRAGEMAN (Magnolia Home Entertainment. $26.98): In what appears to be a south-of-the-border riff on the old John Ritter vehicle “Hero at Large,” this Mexican action film tells the story of a mild-mannered nightclub security guard who prevents a comely news reporter from a violent attack while wearing a ski mask. When she reports on her unknown defender, the news proves to be so inspirational to the guy’s institutionalized brother that he decides to don the mask again in order to fight crime for good. Meanwhile, all sorts of unattractive people are getting into that nightclub without anyone being around to stop them. . .then again, I guess that they needed to leave something for the sequel.

MY LIFE IN RUINS (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.95): You know, if I wanted to be especially cruel, I could have said that based on the universally negative critical and commercial response to Nia Vardalos’ latest attempt to recapture the success of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” this time featuring her as an unlucky-in-love tour guide who winds up falling for some poor dope, by saying that it should have been called “My Career In Ruins.” However, since I haven’t actually seen the movie, much like virtually everyone reading this column, I can’t really make such a statement with a clear conscience. However, since I have no burning urge to ever watch it in my lifetime, one of you brave souls will have to let me know if I had the right instincts or not.

NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD (Magnolia Home Entertainment. $26.98): If your idea of Australian cinema consists entirely of aggressively quirky comedies, painfully earnest dramas and the occasional talking pig extravaganza, you owe it to yourself to check out this fascinating 2008 documentary about the exploitation film industry that cropped up there in the Seventies and Eighties and gave us such classics as “The Cars That Ate Paris,” “Mad Max” and “Road Games.” In between the juicy film clips, the film also gives us fascinating interviews with those who participated in the making of those films as well as testimonials from fans like the inevitable Quentin Tarantino.

SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARVES (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $39.99): While everyone has their own favorite Disney animated film (mine would be “Dumbo” in a heartbeat), my guess is that this 1937 masterpiece is probably near the top of everyone’s lists. Whether you are looking at this particular film from a perspective that focuses on the historical (it was one of the first full-length animated films ever produced and certainly the most elaborate for its time), technical (the intricate animation design is still something to behold) or psychological (one could have a field day dealing with the complexities at the heart of this seemingly simple adaptation of the famous fairy tale) or if you are just a little kid ready to be enchanted, there is sure to be something amongst the enormous array of special features collected here that you will enjoy. Of course, many may find themselves too stunned with the sight of this film in all its Blu-ray glory to even notice.

TCM SPOTLIGHT: ESTHER WILLIAMS, VOLUME 2 (Warner Home Video. $59.98): The popular movie star, best known for the elaborate water ballet sequences that were the signatures of her films, gets the box set treatment for the second time with this collection that includes six of her hits-- “Thrill of a Romance” (1945), “Fiesta” (1947), “This Time For Keeps” (1947), “Pagan Love Song” (1950), “Million Dollar Mermaid” (1952) and “Easy to Love” (1953)--as well as a slew of vintage cartoons and short subjects accompanying each one.

THE WIZARD OF OZ: 70th ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL EDITION (Warner Home Video. $24.98): To celebrate its anniversary, the eternal cinematic chestnut--one of the best fantasy epics ever made as well as one of the best family films--returns to DVD (and enters the world of Blu-ray for the first time) in a new edition that includes all the bonus features from the previous release (commentary, behind-the-scenes documentaries, hours of archival recording sessions, outtakes and more) along with a new sing-a-long subtitle track that will probably prove to be unnecessary as virtually every song on display here is permanently imprinted on the minds of everyone who sees it. Although this blurb is in reference to the standard DVD edition, there are several other versions on the market, both in standard DVD and in Blu-ray, that, depending on which one you buy, include extra extras that range from the valuable (the entire six-hour “MGM: When the Lion Roared” mini-series and a new documentary on director Victor Fleming) to the insignificant (a 1990 TV movie with John Ritter portraying “Oz” creator L. Frank Baum and a short tribute (no pun intended) to the people who played the Munchkins) to the useless (such as a watch and other trinkets).

YEAR ONE (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.96): Despite the presence of the usually reliable Harold Ramis, one of the true architects of contemporary screen comedy, as director and co-writer, this limp, muddled and deeply unfunny Biblical spoof, in which Jack Black and Michael Cera stumble through a bunch of awful Old Testament-inspired jokes, is not only not this generation’s “Life of Brian,” it isn’t even good enough to go down as this generation’s “Wholly Moses.” It may not be the worst comedy of 2009--there is one very funny bit featuring David Cross and Paul Rudd as Cain and Abel--but when you factor in all the talent involved and the low number of actual laughs they generate, it will sure go down as one of the most disappointing.

Also On

A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS (Warner Home Video. $29.99)

CONTACT (Warner Home Video. $28.99)

GHOST SHIP (Warner Home Video. $28.99)

HOME ALONE 2 (Fox Home Entertainment. $34.99)

HORTON HEARS A WHO (Fox Home Entertainment. $34.99)

HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (Warner Home Video. $29.99)

MARY SHELLEY’S FRANKENSTEIN (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95)

MIRACLE ON 34th STREET (Fox Home Entertainment. $34.99)

THE NUMBER 23 (New Line Home Video. $28.99)

WOLF (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95)

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