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DVD Reviews For 2/12: “Accept The Mystery”
by Peter Sobczynski

I know that I am supposed to kick off this week’s column with a pithy opening statement or two. However, I am just so flabbergasted by the fact that someone actually felt the need to remake “Ice Castles” that I am pretty much at a loss for words. About all I can offer you is that amongst this week’s titles, you will discover one of last year’s very best films, several of the very worst and a couple of fascinating bits of long-unseen television history.


ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (Infinity Films. $19.99): In the first of a slew of “Alice in Wonderland”-related titles set to hit shelves in the weeks leading up to the release of the highly anticipated Tim Burton effort, this 1966 made-for-television version features the largely forgotten Judi Rolin in the title role (of Alice, not the Looking Glass) and a supporting cast including such luminaries as Jimmy Durante as Humpty Dumpty, Nanette Fabray and Ricardo Montalban as the White Queen and King, Agnes Moorehead as the Red Queen, Jack Palance as Jabberwock and the Smothers Brothers as Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

BIKINI ROYALE 2 (Retromedia. $14.99): As you can probably surmise from the title, this direct-to-video effort is a soft-core spy spoof featuring people whose faces (among other body parts) will no doubt be familiar to anyone who watches Cinemax after midnight. No, it isn’t very good but to be fair, I must admit that I never saw the original “Bikini Royale” and that may have skewed my opinion slightly. That said, I wonder when someone will just dispense with plot altogether and present a documentary that is just about breasts and nothing else.

BOOBS: AN AMERICAN OBSESSION (Cinema Epoch. $19.98): Wow, that was quick.

COUPLES RETREAT (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): In what could go down as one of the most expensive vacation films ever produced, Vince Vaughn and a bunch of his buddies went down to the South Seas on Universal Pictures’ dime to screw around for a couple of months and came back with this astonishingly lame comedy about a group of friends whose tropical vacation is rudely interrupted when they realize that they are at a resort devoted to intensive-yet-wacky forms of couples therapy. The film does have a large cast of familiar faces who were presumably lured by the idea of getting paid to spend time in paradise (including Jon Favreau, Kristen Bell, Jason Bateman and Jean Reno) but my guess is that after a day or so of shooting, most of them would have rather spent their time in Chicago in the middle of January instead of listening to Vaughn doing his increasingly tiresome fast-talking hipster shtick in virtually every damn scene.

DARE (Image Entertainment. $27.98): In this barely-released drama, Emmy Rossum plays a straight-laced high school drama student who takes a visiting actor’s advice to live a little to heart in ways that involve both her gay best friend (Ashley Springer) and the school bad boy (Zack Gilford) in surprising and sordid (though not too sordid) ways. Of course, none of this happened to me when I was a high school drama student--I was too busy being enmeshed in one of the more misbegotten productions of “Sabrina Fair” ever produced--and all I can surmise from that is that I was clearly in the wrong theater program.

EMMA (BBC Warner. $34.98): Recently broadcast in the U.S. on PBS, this entertaining new adaptation of the Jane Austen classic features Romola Garai in the title role of the cheerful matchmaker who is nevertheless unable to recognize her own romantic problems and Johnny Lee Miller as the man that she finds herself strangely attracted to even though he seems completely wrong for her. While I have to admit that “Clueless” remains my favorite take on this material, this is still a pretty good version and definitely superior to the overrated edition with Gwyneth Paltrow in the lead.

FREE STYLE (Fox Home Entertainment. $22.97): Hoping to further extend his time as a tween icon, “High School Musical” supporting player Corbin Bleu appears in this utterly forgettable family film about a teenage motocross racer yearning to earn a spot on the national team, score with the cutest girl in his new hometown and to reunite with his estranged father. Perhaps realizing that most viewers will have a fairly good idea of how things will turn out even before watching, the film offers up one huge distraction by casting the role of Bleu’s mother with none other than Penelope Ann Miller.

HURRICANE SEASON (The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment. $19.97): In this inspirational true-life sports melodrama set in post-Katrina Louisiana, Forest Whitaker stars as a high-school basketball coach who assembles a team consisting of players from once-rival schools and takes them all the way to the state championship. Alas, this film was produced by the equally disaster-prone Weinstein Company and that is why it is debuting on DVD instead of getting a theatrical run, a bit of information that the filmmakers themselves were apparently not privy to until the announcement was made public.

I HATE VALENTINE’S DAY (IFC Films. $19.98): No, this isn’t a documentary about the nation’s movie critics ganging up on the new Garry Marshall joint. Instead, it is the latest attempt by Nia Vardalos to transform the fluke success of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” into a viable screen career with this wacky romantic comedy in which she plays a cynical florist who believes that all relationships should end after five dates to prevent her from getting hurt--naturally, this goofball position comes into question when she meets up with hunky guy-next-door John Corbett. Alas, Vardalos (who also wrote the screenplay and made her directorial debut here) is so stridently unpleasant throughout that you can’t imagine any potential suitor sticking through dessert, let alone five dates with her and the film as a whole is so stupid that you can’t imagine any potential viewer sticking with it until the end credits.

ICE CASTLES (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.96): Wait a second--someone made a remake of “Ice Castles”? That thing with the spunky skater who doesn’t let a little thing like blindness get in the way of triumphing on the rink or in love? Someone out there actually decided that it required a fresh new take to attract kids busy with the texting and the whatnot? Fine, whatever--you guys are on your own with this one.

KING LEAR (E1 Entertainment. $29.98): Produced in 1953 as part of the CBS cultural affairs program “Omnibus” and rarely seen in the ensuing decades, this adaptation of the classic Shakespeare drama was by the then up-and-coming director Peter Brook and featured none other than Orson Welles in the title role. While this may not be the definitive “Lear” by any means--if only because virtually all the subplots were dropped in order for the show to fit a 90-minute timeslot--but the sight and sound of Welles as Lear is more than enough to make this a must-see. The DVD also includes bonus features taken from other “Omnibus” broadcasts related to Shakespeare, including a history of the Globe Theater, an extended glimpse of the 1954 Yale Shakespeare festival and a discussion of his plays with drama critic Walter Kerr. Other TV-related DVDs appearing this week include “Army Wives: The Complete Third Season” (ABC Studios. $45.99), “Gary Unmarried: The Complete First Season” (ABC Studios. $39.99), “JAG: The Final Season” (CBS DVD. $55.98), “Lincoln Heights: The Complete First Season” (Shout! Factory. $34.97), “The Sarah Silverman Program: Season 2, Volume 2” (Paramount Home Video. $26.98) and “Vega$: The First Season, Volume 2” (CBS DVD. $36.98).

THE PEOPLE SPEAK (A&E Home Video. $19.95): In 1980, Howard Zinn more or less rewrote the history books with “A People’s History of the United States,” a chronicle of the rebels, outcasts, visionaries and dissenters who helped shape our country but who often found themselves left out of the official histories of the events that they were involved in. Before passing away recently, he co-directed, along with Chris Moore, this excellent film version of that book featuring readings and performances from a large list of luminaries including Matt Damon (who memorably plugged the book in “Good Will Hunting”), Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Viggo Mortensen, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Morgan Freeman and, of course, Pink.

THE PLEASURE OF BEING ROBBED (IFC Films. $24.98): The only American film invited to play at the prestigious Director’s Fortnight at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, this entertaining debut feature from Joshua Safdie follows a young thief (Eleonore Hendricks, who also co-wrote the screenplay) as she serenely goes about lifting purses and wallets from unsuspecting people on the streets of New York.

A SERIOUS MAN (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Capping off a decade that solidified their position on the list of top American filmmakers, the Coen Brothers give us this mesmerizing work about a Jewish academic (Michael Stuhlbarg in a brilliant performance) in a humdrum Minnesota suburb circa 1967 who is inexplicably beset with an astonishing array of personal and professional traumas and struggles to understand why he has been chosen to receive such hardship despite having adhered to strong moral and ethical standards for his entire life. Not strictly a comedy (though it contains any number of huge laughs) and not strictly a drama (though it was far more profound and thought-provoking than most serious-minded films I could name), this is the kind of singular work that only the Coens would have contemplated in the first place and that only the Coens could have possibly pulled off. One of the best films of 2009.

SERIOUS MOONLIGHT (Magnolia Home Entertainment. $26.98): Based on a screenplay by the late actress/filmmaker Adrienne Shelly, this aggressively wacky comedy stars Meg Ryan as a woman who responds to the news that her husband (Timothy Hutton) is leaving her for a younger woman (Kristen Bell) in a decidedly unusual manner--she takes him hostage in a desperate attempt for them to work out their marital problems. Directed by Cheryl Hines, who worked with Shelly on “Waitress,” this film was presumably intended to serve as a tribute to Shelly’s life and art but the end result is so strident, unpleasant and unfunny that it might have been better for her reputation if it had simply stayed unproduced in a drawer somewhere.

THE STEPFATHER (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.96): The original 1987 film about a mild-mannered psychopath who marries women with children in the hopes of forming the perfect family, murders them when they fail to live up to expectations and then moves on to the next one is often regarded as one of the best genre films of Eighties thanks to its clever script, suspenseful direction and the brilliant central performance in the title role by Terry O’Quinn. Needless to say, none of those attributes are on display in this unbelievably vapid, pointless and idiotic remake and not even the frequent display of co-star Amber Heard’s attributes in a series of ever-shrinking bikinis is enough to make up the difference. There have been countless remakes of 80’s horror movies over the last few years, most of them based on films that weren’t that great to begin with, but when you consider just how far this one falls from the original, there is a good chance that this one may be the very worst of the bunch.

THE TIME TRAVELERS WIFE (New Line Home Entertainment. $28.98): He (Eric Bana) is a man who suffers from a condition that allows him to spontaneously travel through time. She (Rachel McAdams) is the woman who falls in love with him at first sight (even though it is at a time when she is a young girl and he is quite naked), marries him and struggles to make their relationship work despite his frequent and unstoppable absences. Can this marriage be saved? Alas, the film as a whole is so silly and incoherent--imagine a hellish fusion of “Slaughterhouse-Five” and “Somewhere in Time” as written by Nicholas Sparks--that most viewers will find themselves wishing that they suffered from the same condition as the hero so that they could disappear as well and not have to sit through the damned thing.


DROP ZONE (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.99)

HARD RAIN (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.99)

THE PHANTOM (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.99)

THE RUNNING MAN (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.99)

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originally posted: 02/12/10 08:18:08
last updated: 02/12/10 09:02:17
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