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DVD Reviews for 1/28: "I Hate The Movies Like A Poison, But I Get A Bang Imitating Them."
by Peter Sobczynski

Lovesick poets, cannibalistic pioneers, fathers both vengeful and bereaved, classic comedians, Swedish smut, psycho killers and one of the best movies ever made--even Holden Caulfield himself might have found something worth checking out among this week’s DVD and Blu-ray releases.

NEW AND NOTABLE

THE BOYS ARE BACK (Miramax Home Entertainment. $29.99): Clive Owen stars in this dramedy about a recently widowed sportswriter who devises some interesting methods of living up to the challenges of raising both his six-year-old son and a older child from a previous marriage. No, this isn’t a sequel to “Shoot ‘Em Up” but after watching this sincere but painfully earnest effort from the once-interesting Scott Hicks, you may find yourself wishing Owen goes crazy with a carrot once again just to liven things up.

BRIGHT STAR (Sony Home Entertainment. $27.96): Although I have been a huge fan of the previous films of Jane Campion (even such underrated efforts as “Holy Smoke” and “In the Cut”), I couldn’t work up much enthusiasm for this beautifully photographed but deadly dull drama focusing on the relationship that developed between poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and neighbor Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) over what would be the last few years of his life. The movie isn’t a total washout--Cornish’s performance is pretty spectacular and deserving of most of the awards currently being tossed at Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock--but for the most part, it is the kind of standard-issue biopic that any semi-competent filmmaker could have cranked out and I frankly expected something a little more daring and challenging from someone as talented as Campion.

COPYRIGHT CRIMINALS (Indiepix. $24.95): Featuring interviews with the likes of George Clinton, Chuck D and Steve Albini, this fascinating documentary from Benjamin Franzen examines the idea of hip-hop artists sampling sounds from previously recorded material into otherwise new works and where lies the line separating fair use and copyright infringement.

THE DONNER PARTY (First Look Films. $24.98): The sad-but-true saga of America’s most infamous (not to mention tastiest) traveling party is retold in this direct-to-video effort starring none other than the one and only Crispin Glover. Although his presence might indicate a campy approach to the material, this film is a surprisingly straightforward and dramatic take and while it may be too grim and low-key for those hoping for a gory good time, those looking for a serious version of the story should find it intriguing.





EDGE OF DARKNESS (BBC America. $34.95): If you don’t feel like trudging out into the cold and snow this weekend to see the new Mel Gibson film in which he plays a police detective whose private investigation of the killing of his daughter uncovers a massive international corporate conspiracy, you might want to consider watch the acclaimed 1985 British television miniseries that it was based on instead. Featuring strong performances from a cast including Bob Peck as the father, the immortal Joe Don Baker as a mysterious CIA agent helping him along while maintaining his own agenda and then-unknown Joanne Whalley as the daughter, taut direction from Martin Campbell (who would also helm the remake) and a knockout score from Michael Kamen and Eric Clapton, this is a smart and exciting political thriller and while some aspects may seem a little dated today, it still packs a considerable punch.

THE ESCAPIST (IFC Films. $19.98): After receiving word that his daughter is terminally ill, imprisoned convict Brian Cox assembles a crew of fellow jailbirds to pull off an elaborate escape while trying to avoid detection from both the jailers and the brutish prison kingpin who really runs things from behind bars. Since it didn’t get much of a theatrical release, the assumption might be that this isn’t very good but it is actually a pretty impressive genre entertainment featuring strong performances and a sure directorial style from debuting filmmaker Rupert Wyatt. Of course, it also features a theme song from Coldplay, but you can’t have everything, can you?

FRONTIER OF DAWN (IFC Films. $24.98): In this surreal and slightly supernatural love story from acclaimed French director Philippe Garrel, a photographer (Louis Garrel, Philippe’s son and one of France’s rising young stars) has a passionate affair with a movie star (Laura Smet) that ends abruptly with her suicide. Later on, he begins a new romance with another woman but finds himself haunted by what he believes to be messages from his former love.




GIVE ‘EM HELL, MALONE (National Entertainment Media. $24.98): In yet another highly stylized attempt to recreate the classic look and feel of film noir a la “Sin City” and “The Spirit,” Thomas Jane as a two-fisted detective who is hired to retrieve a briefcase from a sleazy hotel and finds himself mixed up with mobsters (led by Ving Rhames) and a moll (Elsa Pataky) who want it for their own reasons. The real mystery, however, is how once-popular filmmaker Russell Mulcahy, the man behind the likes of “Highlander” and “Ricochet,” wound up directing direct-to-video nonsense like this.


LEGENDS OF LAUGHTER: ABBOTT & COSTELLO (Infinity Releasing. $29.98): This 6-disc celebration of the classic comedy duo includes 2 feature films (“Africa Screams” and “Jack and the Beanstalk”), trailers from 20 of their other films, 17 episodes of their radio show, 14 episodes of the “Colgate Comedy Hour” TV show that they hosted in the early 1950’s and numerous celebrity cameos, including 3 Andrews Sisters, 2 Stooges and one Bela Lugosi. The material as a whole is a bit of a mixed bag (the movies are among their lesser cinematic excursions and are presumably included here only because they are in the public domain) but fans of their particular brand of comedy will find this package hard to resist.

LITTLE ASHES (E1 Entertainment. $26.98): Tween fans of “Twilight” hunk Robert Pattinson may be a bit shocked and scandalized to see him essaying the role of famed surrealist Salvador Dali in this biopic that chronicles his controversial professional relationship with filmmaker Luis Bunuel (Matthew McNulty) and even-more-controversial personal relationship with poet Federico Garcia Lorca (Javier Beltran). Alas, since most of the film is based on speculation on what went on between these people, the story isn’t very gripping or interesting and while Pattinson is miscast as Dali, he looks far less ridiculous sporting his infamous mustache than he does when he runs around sparkling from head to toe as Bob Mackie’s version of a vampire.

MERMAID (IFC Films. $19.98): Russia’s entry for the 2008 Best Foreign-Language film Oscar, this is an exuberant fairy tale about a young girl who vows at the age of five to never speak again--when she turns 18, she moves to Moscow and meets an oddball salesman who inspires her to both speak again and to do anything in her power to win his heart. The film is a bit reminiscent of “Amelie,” though without the bold visual strokes, so fans of that one might want to check it out.

MICHAEL JACKSON--THIS IS IT (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.96): Put together from over one hundred hours of behind-the-scenes footage, this smash-hit documentary offers viewers a fly-on-the-wall view of the musical legend in the middle of rehearsals for a series of comeback concerts in London that he sadly would not live to perform. Although the very existence of the film, which was quickly slapped together in the weeks after Jackson’s death and consisting of material that the notorious perfectionist probably would have never released on his own, is a bit questionable and the lack of full-out performances (many of the segments are spliced together from several different versions and often feature Jackson holding back vocally) is a bit frustrating, the energy that Jackson displays in these rehearsals is often stunning to behold. Both the DVD and Blu-ray editions feature several behind-the-scenes documentaries and featurette and the Blu-ray also includes full recreations of what the performances of “Thriller” and “Smooth Criminal” would have looked like.


PARIS, TEXAS (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Wim Wenders and Sam Shepard teamed up for this 1984 masterpiece about a mysterious drifter (Harry Dean Stanton in the performance of his career) who returns after a long and unexplained absence and tries to reunite with the wife (Nastassja Kinski) and young son (Hunter Carson). Following in the footsteps of their standout special edition of Wenders’ “Wings of Desire,” Criterion gives this beautiful and haunting work the deluxe treatment is deserves with a package that includes a commentary from Wenders, deleted scenes, excerpts from a 1990 documentary on Wenders and a 1984 piece for French television showing Ry Cooder composing the magnificent score, new interviews with filmmakers Claire Denis and Alison Anders (both of whom worked on the film behind-the-scenes) and a booklet featuring interviews with Wenders, Shepard and Kinski. Let me put it this way--you may, if you are very lucky, see a film this year that is as good as this one but I seriously doubt you will see one that is better.


PIE IN THE SKY: SERIES 2 (Acorn Media. $49.99): Utilizing a premise that had previously inspired an especially hilarious bit on “SCTV” once upon a time, this British mystery series stars Richard Griffiths as a brilliant cop who has more or less retired in order to indulge his passion for cooking by opening a restaurant. Of course, he is too good to stay completely retired and at this point, I will let you indulge in the food-related pun of your choice. Other TV-related DVDs arriving this week include “Bonekickers” (Acorn Media. $39.99), “Bridget’s Sexiest Beaches” (Image Entertainment. $19.98), “Callan: Set 2” (Acorn Media. $59.99), “Cowboys & Outlaws” (A&E Home Entertainment. $19.99), “I Heart Jonas” (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $19.99), “JFK: 3 Shots That Changed The World” (A&E Home Entertainment. $19.95), “The Kennedy Assassination: 24 Hours After” (A&E Home Entertainment. $19.95) “Leonard Bernstein: Omnibus--The Historic TV Broadcasts” (E1 Entertainment. $49.98), “Parker Lewis Can’t Lose: Season 2” (Shout! Factory. $49.99), “Pawn Stars: The Complete Season 1” (A&E Home Entertainment. $19.99), “Southland: The Complete First Season” (Warner Home Video. $29.98), “The Waltons Movie Collection” (Warner Home Video. $39.98) and “The Whitest Kids U Know: The Complete Second Season” (E1 Entertainment. $24.98).





PONTYPOOL (IFC Films. $19.98): A once-popular radio shock jock, now reduced to broadcasting for a low-rent station out of a basement studio, begins receiving and broadcasting reports of inexplicable outbursts of violence in the area, only to discover that they caused by a virus that travels from victim to victim through language. As horror movie premises go, this is a reasonably ingenious one and while Bruce McDonald’s film may not be the instant classic that some have touted it as being, it comes a lot closer to hitting that mark than most other recent genre efforts I could mention. You know, things like. . .

SAW VI (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $29.95): After having dominated the Halloween box-office period for the last few years, the latest installment of the mysteriously popular horror franchise failed to arouse much interest when it came out last fall, mostly because its target audience was busy watching “Paranormal Activity” instead. They were missing much because this was just another 90-odd minutes of mind-numbing brutality and mind-scrambling incoherence whose sole redeeming value was that it wasn’t quite as contemptuous of its audience as the last couple entries. Of course, this coming Halloween will see “Saw 7” (in 3-D) going up against “Paranormal Activity 2,” so in a way, we all lose.


SCHOOLGIRL REPORT VOL. 6: WHAT PARENTS WOULD GLADLY HUSH UP (Impulse Pictures. $24.95): In this sixth installment of the sleazy/silly Seventies-style Swedish sexploitation series, a couple of crazy kids are caught have far more fun than they are supposed to be having on school grounds (especially in an abandoned classroom) and are sent to the student council to defend themselves, which they do by squealing on other sordid goings-on in vignettes involving horny students and hornier teachers. Those looking for mindless nudie-cutie trash may find themselves a bit put off by the somewhat sordid nature of some of the tales (especially the one involving the father cheerfully pimping out his own daughter) but those with a taste for Euro sleaze (and that definitely includes yours truly) should put on your raincoat and run out to get a copy in order to experience it in all its twisted and uncensored glory.

ST. TRINIANS (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.96): If you prefer your schoolgirl escapades to be a little less perverted, on the other hand, you might enjoy this broad British comedy about the students at a boarding school for troubled girls trying to save the place from being shut down by any means necessary. However, if you prefer your schoolgirl escapades to be entertaining, you might want to give this a wide berth--despite the high-powered cast (including Colin Firth, Lena Headey, Mischa Barton, Russell Brand, the incredibly fetching Gemma Arterton and Rupert Everett as, God help us, the school’s headmistress), the would-be comedy is a pretty-but-pretty-painful slog from beginning to end.

SURROGATES (Touchstone Home Entertainment. $29.99): When this expensive and incoherent sci-fi thriller set in a future where mankind largely stays inside and lets robotic surrogates do their day-to-day living for them (at least until someone starts murdering the robots and their controllers) premiered last fall, I suggested that it might have been the single dumbest movie that Bruce Willis (who stars as the cop in charge of getting to the bottom of both the killings and the vast and inexplicable conspiracy surrounding them) had ever been involved with in his entire career. In hindsight, I may have been overstating my case a little bit (I had drawn a blank on the likes of “The Story of Us” when I was making such statements) but that said, this is still a frustrating mess of a movie that has a few good ideas going for it that are sadly buried in a story that appears to have been hacked to pieces in the editing.


WHIP IT (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): The always-endearing Drew Barrymore made her directorial debut with this winning comedy about a misfit Texas girl (Ellen Page) whose life is changed forever when she impulsively joins a local roller-derby team. From a dramatic standpoint, it may not be the most devastatingly original narrative that you will encounter in your lifetime but Barrymore (along with a killer supporting cast including Barrymore herself, Juliette Lewis, Zoe Bell, Marcia Gay Harden and a scene-stealing Daniel Stern) delivers the familiar goods in such an infectiously entertaining manner that the whole thing is nearly impossible to resist.


WWII IN HD (A&E Home Entertainment. $29.95): Culled from nearly 3,000 hours of footage, most of which has been unseen for the last 70 years, this 7 ½ documentary on the history of World War II tells its story through authentic color film footage that has been converted into high-definition. The end result may seem a bit disconcerting at first but once you get used to, it becomes a reasonably engrossing effort that looks at an all-too-familiar subject through an unfamiliar perspective.



ALSO ON



ATONEMENT (Universal Home Entertainment. $26.98)

FAME (Warner Home Video. $28.99)



PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (Universal Home Entertainment. $26.98)

THE TOOLBOX MURDERS (Blue Underground. $29.95)


link directly to this feature at https://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=2932
originally posted: 01/29/10 17:43:33
last updated: 01/30/10 02:01:14
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