DVD Reviews For 2/5: “Go Now--And Heaven Help You!”
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 02/05/10 09:54:06
Zombies, wolf men, Satanists and Jennifer Aniston--these are just a few of the horror that you will encounter in this week’s column.
NEW AND NOTABLEADAM (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): Yet another quirky rom-com about an adorably mismatched pair who manage to find each other in a cold, cruel world; this time around, the couple in question consists of Hugh Dancy as a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome whose sheltered existence comes to an abrupt end when he loses both his father and his job within the space of a few days, and Rose Byrne as a wannabe children’s book author on the rebound from the breakup of a bad relationship. The two are both appealing enough performers and I can see how they might have clicked in a romantic comedy with a strong screenplay and tight direction but writer-director Max Mayer has neglected to supply them with either one. The screenplay is a mess that includes any number of unnecessary subplots--one involving Peter Gallagher as Byrne’s potentially shady and definitely disapproving father is pointless even by the standards of subplots involving Peter Gallagher while neglecting to pay off what should have been key story points.
AMELIA (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): Not so much a film as it is the world’s dullest diorama brought to semi-life, this biopic on the life of Amelia Earhart is a prime example of what can go wrong when a group of talented people get together to make a movie solely in the hopes of earning a bunch of Oscar nominations. You would think that such a thing would provide the basis for a juicily entertaining film but in the hands of director Mira Nair, it has been transformed in a blandly stolid and depressingly straightforward work that pretty much could have been made shot-for-shot 50-odd years ago without any significant changes and the elements that are actually intriguing (such as the stuff involving Earhart and publisher husband George Putnam shamelessly milking her celebrity status through commercial endorsements as a way of earning money for her flights) are quickly dashed aside in favor of thoroughly uninteresting romantic misadventures. The film has a talented and game cast, including Hilary Swank as Earhart, Richard Gere as her dutiful husband and Ewan McGregor as her even-more-dutiful lover but even their contributions are a bit of a letdown--instead of giving us performances that convince us that they are playing flesh-and-blood people, they only offer up stilted turns that make it seem as they are portraying actors appearing in a second-rate biopic.
HITLER’S BODYGUARD (Acorn Media. $79.99): Now that Adolph Hitler is back in the news thanks to the multiple Oscar nominations for “Inglourious Basterds,” it is the perfect time to check out this 13-part documentary, originally aired on the Military Channel, that examines, via archival footage, computer graphics and dramatic reenactments, the massive security measures that he utilized in order to ensure his safety and how he managed to repeatedly escape death thanks to a combination of meticulous planning and blind luck. Other TV-related DVDs appearing this week include “Beverly Hills 90210: Season 9” (CBS DVD. $59.98), “Dynasty: Season 4, Volume 2” (CBS DVD. $36.98), “Head Case: The Complete Series” (Starz/Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $24.97), “The Mary Tyler Moore Show: The Complete Sixth Season” (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98), “Mr. Ed: Season 2” (Shout! Factory. $39.95) and “Murder She Wrote: The Complete Eleventh Season” (Universal Home Entertainment. $49.98).
HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (IFC Films. $29.98): In desperate need on money and with nowhere else to go, a sweet college girl (Jocelin Donahue) answers an ad for a babysitting gig in a remote house in the woods on the night of a lunar eclipse. Even after she discovers that the couple hiring her is played by Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov and that there isn’t actually a baby, she still agrees to stay and needless to say, the evening doesn’t go quite as planned. (Without going into detail, consider the title to be a spoiler.) Although described by most people as a throwback to the horror films of the 1980’s, the latest work from up-and-coming filmmaker Ti West is actually closer in spirit to the genre films from the Seventies. Alas, while the film does have its assets--a nicely unsettling turn by Noonan, a spunky performance from Donahue as the heroine and the greatest scene to ever feature mumblecore queen Greta Gerwig--West’s slow-burn approach to building suspense eventually flames out by taking too long to reach a conclusion that isn’t really worth it in the end. If you are feeling exceptionally retro, there is a limited edition package available that offers the film both on DVD and VHS for your convenience.
LOVE HAPPENS (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Not if Jennifer Aniston is involved, it probably doesn’t.
THE MUSIC MAN (Warner Home Video. $28.99): The enormously popular 1962 screen adaptation of Meredith Wilson’s Broadway hit about a con man (Robert Preston recreating the role he played on stage) who arrives in a small Iowa town, ostensibly to start up a boys band, arrives on Blu-ray with an introduction from co-star Shirley Jones (who plays the prim and disapproving librarian who falls under Preston’s spell) and a making-of featurette. Truth be told, it isn’t the greatest movie in the world--like too many musicals from this period, it goes on a little too long for its own good--but Preston’s performance is so irresistible that even those with a pronounced distaste for the genre will come away from it feeling entertained.
MYSTIC RIVER (Warner Home Video. $28.99): A couple of weeks ago, I had the occasion to talk to noted film critic Richard Schickel about the works of Clint Eastwood and shocked him when I opined that I found his earlier directorial efforts, such as “The Outlaw Josey Wales” and the great “Bronco Billy” to be far more interesting and entertaining than many of his recent works. I suspect that his head might have exploded if I had told him that I think this 2003 adaptation of the Dennis Lehane best-seller, in which three estranged childhood friends (Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon) whose lives come together again when one’s daughter is murdered, another is charged with investigating the crime and the third emerges as a prime suspect, is by far the most overrated of the bunch. Like most of Eastwood’s attempts to make a Great Film, the results are turgid and slow-moving and while the performances from the three leads are individually interesting (and would earn Penn and Robbins Oscars), the performance styles are wildly incongruous (Penn is all Method histrionics, Bacon is relentlessly down-to-earth and Robbins seems to be coming in from another planet at times), Eastwood never figures out a way to mesh them together. It does have some good elements--the opening half-hour or so is a masterpiece of slowly building tension and the final shot of a forlorn little boy is pretty devastating--but truth be told, I’d rather watch “Space Cowboys” again. For those who disagree, this Blu-ray debut includes a commentary with Robbins and Bacon, a “Charlie Rose Show” segment with the two actors and Eastwood and a guide to the South Boston neighborhoods seen in the film conducted be Lehane.
NEW YORK, I LOVE YOU (Vivendi Entertainment. $24.98): Hoping to recapture the success of the omnibus film “Paris, Je t’aime,” in which a number of internationally acclaimed filmmakers were hired to make short films about love set amidst the various neighborhoods of the City of Lights, the producers rounded up another group of directors (including Fatih Atkin, Yvan Attal, Mira Nair and Natalie Portman, making her debut behind the camera) to do the same thing for the Big Apple. I don’t want to say that the result is a misfire but when the best segment is the one turned in by uber-hack Brett Ratner (following geeky teen Anton Yelchin being coerced into taking wheelchair-bound Olivia Thirlby to the prom with surprising results), you know that something clearly went wrong along the way.
ONG-BAK 2 (Magnolia Home Entertainment. $29.98): This sequel to the hit Thai martial arts epic “Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior” (which also hits Blu-ray this week) tells the familiar-yet-incoherent story of a young man (Tony Jaa, who also directed), the son of the commander of the royal army who is rescued from slave traders and a crocodile pit by a clan of bandits who teach him their ways so he can find the people who murdered his parents and avenge their deaths in a finale that involves maybe 40-odd minutes of relentless beating topped off by a blatant set-up for another sequel. This is pretty standard plotting for a film of this type but stretched to nearly two full hours and deploying a seemingly endless array of flashbacks sequences, it becomes almost impossible to follow for more than a few minutes at a time and Jaa’s utterly charm-free performance doesn’t make things any easier. Even the fight scenes leave a lot to be desired for the most part--most of them are presented in the most cinematically graceless manner imaginable and only a couple of sequences involving elephants have any real juice to them.
PLANET HULK (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $24.98): Banished from Earth for being too powerful and too dangerous (not to mention an iffy prospect at the box-office), everyone’s favorite green-skinned rageholic lands on a distant planet ruled by a cruel despot and is quickly sold into slavery and turned into a gladiator. Luckily, he managed to catch “Spartacus” before his exile and winds up uniting with his fellow captives in a plan to free both themselves and the entire planet. If this sounds familiar, it is because this animated project is an adaptation of the acclaimed Marvel Comics storyline devised by Greg Pak.
TRIANGLE (First Look Films. $29.98): In this direct-to-video horror item, a group of people (led by Melissa George) traveling the high seas encounter boat trouble and take shelter on a largely abandoned ocean liner that they come across, only to discover that it contains more terrors than your average vacation cruise. (Note to Beth: That was a joke). To say more would give away too much but I will note that while the movie as a whole isn’t a masterpiece, it does contain a few tense moments here and there and whatever its flaws, it is certainly more ambitious than your typical DTV genre effort.
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.96): Dolph Lundgren commentary track--do I have to say anything else?
THE WOLF MAN--UNIVERSAL LEGACY SERIES (Universal Home Entertainment. $26.98): Reissued just in time to capitalize on the hype surrounding the release of the long-delayed remake with Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt, the 1941 Universal horror classic returns to DVD in a two-disc set that includes the features from the previous editions (a highly informative commentary from Tom Weaver, a documentary on the film’s history featuring commentary from John Landis and assorted bric-a-brac) and a second disc containing documentaries on the classic Universal horror films (previously seen on the reissues of “Dracula,” “Frankenstein” and “The Mummy”) and the careers of star Lon Chaney Jr. and makeup man Jack Pierce. Of course, the film is the main attraction here--generally considered to be the last great monster movie of its era, it is easily one of the most entertaining of the bunch and still holds up fabulously well today.
ZOMBIELAND (Sony Home Entertainment. $29.98): If you saw “The Road” during its brief theatrical run last fall (somebody must have) and wondered what it would have been like if the filmmakers had decided to abandon the relentlessly self-serious tone of the material for a goofier approach, it might have resembled this hilarious horror-comedy about a quartet of mismatched people (Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin and a scene-stealing Woody Harrelson) making their way across a zombified America and killing off the undead in creative ways. The combination of gore and giggles is perfectly balanced, the performances from the leads are all bright and amusing and it even contains the single funniest moment of any film from 2009 in the final line from its super-secret (though probably not-so-secret anymore) celebrity cameo.
FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (Universal Home Entertainment. $26.98)
GANGS OF NEW YORK (Miramax Home Entertainment. $39.99)
THE GODFATHER (Paramount Home Video. $39.99)
THE GODFATHER PART II (Paramount Home Video. $39.99)
THE GODFATHER PART III (Paramount Home Video. $39.99)
THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99)
MAID IN MANHATTAN (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95)
WALK THE LINE (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99)