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DVD Reviews For 1/15: “Was My Peter-San Brave?”
by Peter Sobczynski

Sex, violence and politics--these are just a few of the things available in abundance in this week’s crop of new DVD releases. If that is a little too much for you, this week also sees the debuts of three of the best films of 2009 that you most likely never got around to seeing.


10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU: 10th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $19.99): This surprisingly amusing teen-oriented riff on Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew,” which provided both Julia Stiles and the late Heath Ledger with their breakthrough roles, returns to DVD in an anniversary edition (can it really be 10 years old?) featuring deleted scenes, an audio commentary and, perhaps most of interest, footage of the audition process. This week also sees the release of the TV spin-off “10 Things I Hate About You, Volume 1” (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.99), which features the same basic premise as the film as well as Larry Miller as the amusingly overbearing dad.

50 DEAD MEN WALKING (Phase 4. $29.99): Inspired by true events, this drama tells the tale of a young Irishman (Jim Sturgess) recruited by a British secret service agent (Ben Kingsley) to join up with the IRA and provide reports on their activities--a job that becomes increasingly dangerous for him when he learns that other informers are being discovered and brutally murdered. This film came and went so quickly from theaters that I have yet to actually see it myself, though I understand that the Irish accent sported by co-star Rose McGowan is one for the books.

A L’AVENTURE (IFC Films. $24.98): IMDB sums up the plot for the latest film from French provocateur Jean-Claude Brisseau (the man behind the controversial dramas “Secret Things” and “Exterminating Angels”) thusly: “A sexually unsatisfied young woman decides to pursue various sexual experiments and scenarios.” To that I can only add two thoughts: “Boy, does she ever!” and “Sometimes I really love my job.”

THE BATTLE OF CHILE (Icarus Films. $44.98): Difficult to see in any form for years, this fascinating three-part documentary from Patricio Guzman began as a chronicle of the 1973 socialist revolution in Chile that culminated with the election of Salvador Allende to the presidency and took on added relevance when it captured Allende’s overthrow and death as the result of a CIA-backed coup led by the army led by General Augusto Pinochet. Not surprisingly, the film was banned in Chile until 1997 and this set also includes “Obstinate Memory,” a second documentary from Guzman in which he chronicles bringing the film to be seen in its home for the first time.

THE BROTHERS BLOOM (Summit Entertainment. $19.99): In his follow-up to his electrifying debut film “Brick,” writer-director Rian Johnson tells the wacky and whimsical story of a couple of con artists brothers--moody Adrien Brody and manic Mark Ruffalo--who, along with their ever-present, ever-sexy and ever-silent Asian assistant (“Babel” starlet Rinko Kikuchi), try to swindle a rich-but-lonely heiress (Rachel Weisz) with a grift that takes them around the world. The whimsy is a little forced at times--it feels as if Johnson has collapsed Wes Anderson’s entire career arc in just two films--but the charm of the actors keeps it from going completely off the rails.

BY THE PEOPLE: THE ELECTION OF BARACK OBAMA (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.96): Timed to coincide with the first anniversary of his historic ascendancy to the presidency, this fascinating documentary from filmmakers Amy Rice & Alicia Sams and producer Edward Norton chronicles the presidential run of Barack Obama from Election Day 2006 to the day when he officially became president. Although this may not be the great and sweeping documentary that will hopefully one day be made about this particular election cycle, it does offer an interesting behind-the-scenes look at what goes into a modern-day campaign and is therefore a must-see for any political junkies out there.

COCKHAMMER (Tempe Video. $19.99): I know absolutely nothing about this film and I am not entirely certain that I want to know anything about it. However, when you are cranking out a DVD column and you have the chance to include something entitled “Cockhammer,” you take it.

DEPARTURES (E1 Entertainment. $26.98): Most people first heard about this quiet Japanese drama about a recently unemployed cellist who takes a job assisting in preparing the recently deceased for their funerals when it unexpectedly won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film last year over such better-known entries as “The Class” and “Waltz with Bashir.” As it turns out, that surprise victory is the most interesting thing about it--although well-made and well-meaning, it is far too sentimental for its own good and so relentlessly low-key that most viewers will find it a struggle to make it to the end without drifting off to sleep.

DOWNLOADING NANCY (Strand Releasing. $27.99): If you are suffering from an overabundance of joy and good cheer in your life, you might want to check out this grim item in which emotionally disturbed housewife Maria Bello leaves her home and family to begin a sadomasochistic relationship with a man she met on the Internet (Jason Patric) that she hopes will culminate with him killing her and thereby releasing her from all her pain. While Bello does deliver a brave and effective performance under the circumstances, the rest of the film is so relentlessly dour and unpleasant that it makes “Anitchrist” seem like the pinnacle of whimsy by comparison

FAME (MGM Home Entertainment. $29.99): Although the original 1980 Alan Parker film following a group of students making their way through the New York School of the Performing Arts was hardly a great movie by any means, it was certainly far more effective than this brainless, soulless remake featuring uninteresting characters (the only people who make any impact are the veteran performers like Kelsey Grammer and Bebe Neuwirth who turn up briefly as instructors), a screenplay filled with plot lines that are abandoned rather than resolved and haphazardly staged musical numbers that show off the talents of the editing team to greater effect than the performers. You are better off sticking with the original, which, by an amazing coincidence, just happens to be making its Blu-ray debut this week. (Warner Home Video. $19.95)

THE FINAL DESTINATION/HALLOWEEN II (New Line Home Entertainment/Sony Home Entertainment. $28.98/$28.96): In one of the strangest box-office battles of 2009, these two ultra-violent horror sequels opened up against each other on the very same late August weekend despite the fact that they were going after the exact same audience. Although the insultingly awful and lazy “The Final Destination” proved to be the bigger financial success (largely because of its deployment of the increasingly tiresome 3-D gimmick), I would have to say that Rob Zombie’s sequel to his 2007 remake of the John Carpenter classic is the marginally better film--both are gross, stupid and low points of their respective franchises but at least Zombie seems to have put a little bit of effort into making his while “The Final Destination” couldn’t be more tired and slapdash if it tried.

THE GREEN BERETS (Warner Home Video. $28.99): The only major American studio film about the Vietnam War to be produced and released during the time of the actual conflict was this insanely bad pro-war effort from John Wayne in which he plays a Green Beret who shows namby-pamby journalist David Janssen all the things about the war that the hippie atheist media were allegedly suppressing in order to promote their commie-loving anti-war agenda--he does this so successfully that by the end, Janssen is inspired to pick up a gun and join in the fun himself. The problem isn’t the fact that the film is nothing more than blatant propaganda--the problem is that it is badly made propaganda that is so sloppily made that it actually ends with the sun setting in the east. No, it doesn’t even work as camp, though it is amusing to see the likes of George Takei (whose commitment to this film kept him out of the famous “The Trouble with Tribbles” episode of “Star Trek”) and Jack Soo turn up. (However, despite reports to the contrary, the Richard Pryor listed in the credits is not the legendary comedian.)

THE HURT LOCKER (Summit Entertainment. $26.99): Having spent most of the decade in movie jail after the back-to-back failures of the not-entirely-uninteresting “The Weight of Water” (2000) and the not-at-all-interesting “K-19: The Widowmaker”--a sentence only broken up by the occasional bit of television work and a Lamborghini promotional short featuring Uma Thurman--Kathryn Bigelow decisively reinstated herself as a major filmmaker with this gripping account of a bomb disposal unit in Iraq thrown into turmoil when they receive a new leader (Jeremy Renner) whose risky approach to his job, while apparently successful, threatens all of their lives. Whether viewed as a powerful drama observing the ways that people cope (or not) in the face of unimaginable pressure or as an exciting war film filled with expertly directed sequences of white-knuckle suspense, this film delivers the goods and then some. One of the best films of 2009.

IN PRAISE OF OLDER WOMEN (E1 Entertainment. $14.98): During that famous episode of “The Simpsons” in which Principal Skinner took Mrs. Krabapple on a date to a movie featuring Tom Berenger, do you suppose it might have been this infamous 1977 soft-core epic in which he plays a young man who bounces from one erotic encounter to another with such proto-cougars as Karen Black, Susan Strasberg and Helen Shaver? It isn’t the greatest skin flick ever made--it isn’t even the greatest skin flick covered in this week’s column--but if you are looking for something to help warm up a cold January night, you could do far worse than this one.

IN THE LOOP (IFC Films. $19.98): Playing like a cross between “Dr. Strangelove” and “The Office,” this dark and corrosive work about the leadup to the current war in Iraq was easily one of the funniest films of 2009 and the most incisive political satire to come along since Joe Dante‘s “Homecoming.”. As the film opens, a mid-level British official (Tom Hollander) stumbling through a radio interview makes the claim that “war is unforeseeable,” a comment that may seem incoherent enough on the surface but which could have major repercussions for a government that is trying to simultaneously downplay the possibility of conflict while quietly preparing to support the U.S. in the event of invasion. When he continues to say the wrong thing in public, the Prime Minister’s vicious director of communications (Peter Capaldi) ships him and a meek new assistant (Chris Addison) off to Washington on a fact-finding mission designed to keep him out of trouble. There, the two find themselves caught in a power struggle between a hawkish government official pushing hard for war (David Rasche) and a general (James Gandolfini) who has actually seen combat and who is not eager to repeat the experience. Spun off from the British TV series “The Thick of It” (which I have never seen but am now very eager to catch), the film’s combination of hilarious dialogue, distinctive performances (Capaldi’s outrageously foul-mouthed turn is one for the ages) and palpable sense of anger about how easily people can be manipulated into going to war for no real reason at all makes for a bracing and refreshingly adult night at the movies that should have most viewers shaking in their seats both from laughter and from rage.

MOON (Sony Home Entertainment. $27.96): Since this sci-fi drama from debuting director Duncan Jones is one of those films that works better when you watch it knowing as little about it as possible, I will not share any of the plot particulars. What I will say is that Sam Rockwell delivers the best performance of his career in what is more or less a one-man show, Jones makes one of the more striking directorial debuts in recent genre film history (if Ridley Scott doesn’t do that proposed “Alien” prequel, Jones’ work here suggests that he would be an excellent alternate choice) and that all of you who geeked out over “Star Trek” and “Avatar” owe it to yourself to check this film out and see what a truly intelligent and original sci-fi film looks like.

PASSING STRANGE (IFC Films. $24.98): Because it received only a token theatrical release last summer, some may have the impression that Spike Lee’s film version of the acclaimed stage musical, featuring the original cast, about a young man who takes off for Europe to experience sex, drugs and rock & roll in all of its ‘70’s-style glory. In fact, it is one of the more energetic and entertaining things that he has done in years--it single-handedly makes up for the nightmare that was “Miracle at St. Anna”--and is definitely worth checking out.

ROBIN HOOD: SEASON THREE (BBC America. $59.95): While waiting for the upcoming release of the new Robin Hood film from Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe, fans of the eternally popular character will probably get a kick out of this recent incarnation made for British television. In the third and final season collected here, Robin (Jonas Armstrong), still reeling from the death of his beloved Marian, attempts to raise an people’s army with the help of Friar Tuck (David Harewood) to make one final stand against the evil Prince John (Toby Stephens) to prevent him from usurping the king for good. Other TV-related DVDs available this week include “Becker: The Third Season” (CBS DVD. $36.95), “Big Love: The Complete Third Season” (HBO Home Entertainment. $59.99), “Chuck: The Complete Second Season” (Warner Home Video. $59.98), “E.R.: The Complete Twelfth Season” (Warner Home Video. $49.98), “Kendra: The Complete First Season” (Fox Home Entertainment. $22.98), “Make It or Break It: Volume One Extended Edition” (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.99), “Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures--The Complete Series” (Paramount Home Video. $28.99) and “The Philanthropist: The Complete Series” (Universal Home Entertainment. $26.98).

URBAN ACTION COLLECTION: 4 FILM FAVORITES (Warner Home Video. $14.99): Four blaxploitation classics make their long-awaited DVD debuts in this collection that is low in price and high on flashily dressed kitsch. The titles include “Black Samson,” “Three the Hard Way,” “Hot Potato” and the immortal kung-fu classic “Black Belt Jones”--if you have never experienced the trailer for the latter title, I advise you to get over to YouTube as quickly as possible and have your life changed forever.


8 ½ (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA--SEASON ONE (Universal Home Entertainment. $89.98)

CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN 2 (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99)

CLIFFHANGER (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95)

DOGTOWN AND Z BOYS (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.99)

LAST ACTION HERO (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95)

RIDING GIANTS (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95)

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originally posted: 01/15/10 15:18:06
last updated: 01/16/10 01:18:18
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