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DVD Reviews For 3/5: “I Didn’t Want To Wake You Up, But I Really Wanted To Show You Something.”
by Peter Sobczynski

If you are a parent looking for a movie to watch with your entire brood, you are in luck as this week includes a number of masterpieces sure to be loved by family members both young and old. Suffice it to say, “Bitchslap” is not one of them.


2012 (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.96): Under normal circumstances, the prospect of sitting through Roland Emmerich’s monumentally stupid disaster epic, in which the entire planet goes gunny in alleged accordance with the Mayan calendar and only a few embarrassed-looking familiar faces (including John Cusack, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, Amanda Peet, Oliver Platt and Chiwetel Ejiofor) are left to struggle to survive, for a second time would strike me as almost as appealing as a repeat viewing the likes of “Transformers 2” However, I most say that my interest is slightly piqued by the promise of an alternate ending being included among the bonus features. My hope is that either everyone gets wiped out (with the possible exception of the sleazy Russian) or that the prophecies don’t come true and everyone just stands around looking a little more foolish than before.

ALICE IN WONDERLAND (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98): Although I admittedly have yet to see Tim Burton’s version of the Lewis Carroll fantasy classic as I write these words, my pick for the trippiest cinematic take on the material remains this bizarre star-studded 1933 version directed by Norman Z. McLeod (who directed such comedy classics as “Horse Feathers,” “It’s a Gift” and “Topper”), a screenplay co-written by Joseph L. Mankewicz and William Cameron Menzies and a cast consisting of most of the actors then under contract to Paramount Pictures hidden under elaborate costumes, including Gary Cooper as the White Knight, Cary Grant as the Mock Turtle and W.C. Fields as Humpty Dumpty. A notorious flop in its day--the studio nearly went out of business before being saved from bankruptcy by a pair of Mae West hits--and rarely seen since (it has had only sporadic TV airings and has never been available on home video until now), it probably won’t appeal to most children but those with a taste for weirdness from the Golden Age of Hollywood should find it fascinating.

Among the other “Alice”-related DVDs appearing this week are “Alice in Wonderland” (BBC. $28.99), a 1966 version made for British television featuring the likes of Peter Sellers and John Gielgud and “Alice” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.98), a modernized miniseries made for the SyFy Channel featuring the likes of Kathy Bates and Matt Frewer.

BITCHSLAP (Fox Home Entertainment. $22.97): No, this is not the long-awaited documentary chronicling the tumultuous and scandal-ridden rise of this very website. Instead, this barely-released item is a spoof/homage to the classic exploitation films of Russ Meyer, complete with mock-poetic dialogue, catfights and heaving bosoms a-plenty. The plot, should you require one, involves three bad girls (America Olivo, Erin Cummings and Julia Voth) attempting to extort a crime kingpin using the assets that God (or at least their plastic surgeons) gave them.

CLASH OF THE TITANS (Warner Home Video. $34.98): How can one film be so awesome and so stupid at the same time? Watch this 1981 fantasy epic, hitting Blu-ray in anticipation for the release of next month’s remake, and you’ll find out. On the one hand, the stop-motion animation effects from the legendary Ray Harryhausen are as trippy as ever (Medusa and the Kraken are among the finest creations of his career) and the sight of Judi Bowker emerging from her bath has been helping to jump-start puberties for nearly three decades now. On the other hand, the stuff that doesn’t involve special effects is amazingly draggy and the performances range from the wildly hammy (especially Laurence Olivier’s work as Zeus) to the barely conscious (as the heroic Perseus, Harry Hamlin essentially lets his loincloth do the acting for him). Of course, if you were a kid when this first came out during the glorious summer of 1981 (right between “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and “Superman II,“ if I recall), you presumably have a soft spot for it that no amount of sober-minded critical commentary could possibly overrule. Those with a taste for goofy 80’s era fantasy and hi-def video playback will no doubt be delighted to know that this week also sees the release of the misleadingly titled 1984 classic “The Neverending Story” (Warner Home Video. $28.99).

COLD SOULS (Fox Home Entertainment. $19.98): In this mind-bender of a comedy, actor Paul Giamatti (played, in a bit of pinpoint casting, by Paul Giamatti) is so emotionally burdened by the heaviness of playing the lead in a new production of “Uncle Vanya” that he goes to a fantastic new clinic to have his soul extracted and stored so that he can have a more giddy and carefree existence. Of course, those qualities don’t make for a particularly good Vanya but when he wants to have it returned, he discovers it has been stolen and hits the Russian black market in order to retrieve it. While it sounds like a potentially intolerable knock-off of the works of Charlie Kaufman, Sophie Barthes’ debut as a writer/director is pretty much an original in its own right--the screenplay is clever, thoughtful and often hilarious and Giamatti’s self-spoofing turn is possibly the funniest such thing to be seen in a film since John Malkovich graced “Being John Malkovich.”

CURIOUS GEORGE 2: FOLLOW THAT MONKEY (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98): In this direct-to-video sequel to the 2006 big-screen adventure of everyone’s favorite overly inquisitive monkey, which is perfectly acceptable for anyone whose age is still in the single digits, he teams up with the Man in the Yellow Hat on a cross-country trip to reunite a lonely elephant with her family. Since this one was obviously done on a lower budget, the producers evidently couldn’t afford to have Will Ferrell and Drew Barrymore to reprise their roles but they have instead included the legendary likes of Clint Howard and Jerry Lewis--a more-than-fair trade in my book.

ELVIS (Shout! Factory. $19.99): In a move sure to please the ardent fans of both Elvis Presley and director John Carpenter, this acclaimed 1979 TV miniseries charting the life of the legendary singer, made by Carpenter as a follow-up to his breakthrough film “Halloween.” is making its home video debut at long last. The movie is good, if a little too sanitized at times, but the lead performance from Kurt Russell (in the first of what would be several collaborations with Carpenter over the years) remains one of the highlights of his career. Alas, neither Carpenter nor Russell have much of a presence on this DVD--instead of one of their traditionally hilarious and informative commentary collaborations, we get a commentary featuring Ronnie McDowell, who did all of the singing in the film, and author Edie Hand. The two do appear in archival interviews from 1979 and the disc also includes some clips from a 1962 episode of “American Bandstand” (whose host, Dick Clark, was the executive producer on the film) celebrating “Elvis Day.”

GENTLEMEN BRONCOS (Fox Home Entertainment. $27.98): Considering the fact that I found his first two film, “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Nacho Libre,” to be among the most obnoxious and least amusing comedies that I have ever had the misfortune to sit through in my career as a film critic, I have not yet gotten around to see the latest effort from director Jared Hess about a young misfit writer (Michael Angarano) who pens a sci-fi epic entitled “Yeast Lords” and discovers that his idol (Jermaine Clement) has stolen it and passed it off as his own work. Apparently many of you felt the same way because unlike Hess’ previous efforts, this one bombed with critics and audiences alike and was quickly yanked from theaters last fall before hitting DVD. Based on the excruciatingly painful trailer, it would seem that we all made the right call in this case.

NINJA (First Look Films. $24.98): In this direct-to-video martial arts semi-epic, an American ninja student studying in Japan is inexplicably entrusted with an ancient ninja sword of unimaginable power and must fend off hordes of killers single-handedly in order to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Although it has enough crazy action to satisfy those whose expectations aren’t that high, most longtime ninja observers will come away from this one thinking that it needs a little more Vincent Van Patten, a lot more Lee Van Cleef and an exclamation point in the title.

PONYO (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $29.99): In the latest animated epic from the revered Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, a loose riff on “The Little Mermaid,” a young goldfish uses the magic of her sorcerer father to become human and reunite with a young boy who previously rescued her--in doing so, however, she unwittingly upends the delicate balance of man and nature and threatens to destroy them both. Although this film is frankly aimed at a younger audience than the likes of “Princess Mononoke” or “Spirited Away,” that doesn’t make it any less impressive--this is a gorgeous and hugely entertaining fantasy that will captivate audiences of all ages. If you finish this film and want to see more of Miyazaki’s works (and I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t), this week also sees the DVD-only re-releases the earlier masterpieces “Castle in the Sky,” “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and “My Neighbor Totoro” (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $29.98 each).

THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE (Screen Media. $27.98): Rebecca Miller wrote and directed this adaptation of her own novel about a middle-aged woman (Robin Wright Penn) who finds herself hurtling towards a nervous breakdown when her much older husband (Alan Arkin) decides to move into a retirement community and begins to take up with a much younger woman, which is the same way that she came to be with him in the first place. Since it never opened in my neck of the woods, I have yet to see this movie and since I haven’t exactly been enamored with Miller’s overly pretentious previous efforts (including “Personal Velocity” and “The Ballad of Jack and Rose”), I haven’t exactly busted my hump to try to get my hands on it. However, with a supporting cast that includes the likes of Julianne Moore, Winona Ryder, Monica Bellucci, Maria Bello, Zoe Kazan and Blake Lively, it may be many things but unwatchable hardly seems to be one of them.

WE LIVE IN PUBLIC (Indiepix. $24.98): Ondi Timoner, who made a splash on the indie film circuit a few years ago with the award-winning documentary “Dig!” returns with this look at the work of Josh Harris, a futurist who has spent years studying the culture of the Internet and how it is already permanently affecting our lives. This is a sometimes funny, sometimes frightening and always fascinating look at the ways in which people are voluntarily giving up their privacy and personal identities in order to become a part of the ever-expanding online community and the price that they sometimes pay for doing so and is pretty much a must-see even vaguely interested in where society may be heading in the not-too-distant future.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (Warner Home Video. $28.98): 2009 saw the arrival of an unusually strong crop of films aimed at family audiences but the best of the bunch was Spike Jonze’ singular take on the Maurice Sendak children’s classic about a young boy (Max Records in one of the great kid performances of recent years) who, following a spell of brattiness, finds himself on a island populated by wild beasts who turn out to be slaves to the same inexplicable emotions that he is going through. Yes, Jonze captures Sendak’s story perfectly from a visual perspective but that was the easy part. What is more impressive is the way that he and co-writer Dave Eggers manage to expand and enhance the admittedly slight narrative in ways that feel perfectly in tune with the original source material. This week also sees the release of “Tell Them Anything You Want,” a fascinating documentary on the life and work of Sendak co-directed by Jonze and Lance Bangs and featuring a behind-the-scenes view of the making of the film and comments from the likes of James Gandolfini, Catherine Keener and Meryl Streep.

THE WRAITH: SPECIAL EDITION (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.98): Fans of 80’s-era cheese will no doubt have fond memories of this sci-fi/action/revenge film in which Charlie Sheen plays a nice young man who is killed by the leader of the local hot rod gang (Nick Cassavettes) for flirting with his woman (Sherilyn Fenn) and comes back to life with a souped-up racer that he uses to wipe out enemies one by one. Actually, this film may be too stupid and slight even for them but I guarantee that fans of perennial column crush object Fenn no doubt have fond memories of this one--Lord knows I do.

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originally posted: 03/05/10 08:15:17
last updated: 03/05/10 08:21:58
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