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DVD Reviews For 3/12: “Remember What We Did to Jello Biafra?”
by Peter Sobczynski

A couple of recent Oscar contenders, a couple of cult classics and one of the least necessary sequels ever made--these are some of the sights to be seen in this week’s column.


THE BROTHERS WARNER (Warner Home Video. $19.98): Sorry kids, this has absolutely nothing to do with the Animaniacs, so just keep all your comments about the Warner sister, Dot, to yourselves. This is a fairly interesting documentary about the four Warner brothers and how they came to form the entertainment conglomerate that continues to bear their name to this day. Wisely, this film doesn’t focus solely on their cinematic output as that is material that has been covered in countless other films--some of the most interesting passages deal with the years before they formed their studio--and while producer/director Cass Warner is indeed a member of the family, she does take time to mention some of the professional and personal bumps in the road faced by her relatives back in the day.

THE BOONDOCK SAINTS II: ALL SAINTS DAY (Sony Home Entertainment. $27.96): Although it barely made a cent during its extremely brief theatrical release in 1999, “The Boondock Saints,” writer-director Troy Duffy’s crypto-fascist craptacular about a couple of Irish Catholic brothers from Boston who go on a religiously inspired vigilante spree to clean up the city, allegedly went on to become some kind of a cult item on DVD over the ensuing decade and as a result, we now have this film, perhaps one of the more unlikely sequels to come along in recent memory and certainly one of the most unnecessary. As the film opens, our anti-heroes (Sean Patrick Flannery and Norman Reedus) are hiding out in Ireland with their father (Billy Connolly) when they get word that someone back home has murdered a beloved local priest in a manner designed to suggest that they were responsible. Naturally, they return to America to get to the bottom of things and, with the aid of a wacky Mexican sidekick (Clifton Collins Jr.) and a sexy FBI agent with a secret agenda (Julie Benz), they mow their way through the local underworld in order to get at the mob kingpin (Judd Nelson. . .yes, Judd Nelson) responsible. Duffy hasn’t made a film since the original “Saints” and it quickly becomes apparent that he didn’t spend any part of the fallow last decade at remedial film school because this movie is terrible--with its combination of broad overacting, gratuitous bloodshed and a screenplay that eschews any semblance of coherence, brevity or wit in order to jam in as many borderline racist/homophobic comments as possible, it often feels like the world’s longest and goriest light beer commercial. The only good thing to say about this brutal and brutally boring bit of blarney is that it is so relentlessly unpleasant and unappealing that we may never have to endure the likes of “The Boondock Saints III: Get Boondockier."

CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $29.98): While I have been an enormous fan of Michael Moore’s rabble-rousing documentaries over the years and while I agree philosophically with pretty much every point made in this latest effort, an examination of the history of the American version of capitalism and how it has taken this country to the brink of a moral and economic apocalypse, I cannot in good conscience recommend it because it is a completely scattershot mess. Essentially, Moore takes what should have been a slam-dunk topic and presents it with all the élan and grace of a gifted-but-undisciplined high school student who has put off working on his big presentation for his current events class and who just slaps a bunch of random stuff together at the last second, most of it being little more than slight variations of stuff he has already done in the past, in the hopes that he can coast by on the strength of his name and reputation. The result is an utterly frustrating work that contains a few genuinely affecting moments that wind getting lost amidst so much tired and fairly patronizing nonsense that it often feels like a parody of his earlier films produced by right-wingers as a way to discredit him. If you feel differently about the film than I do, you will be happy to know that the DVD contains approximately 90 minutes of deleted scenes and additional material.

FIX (E1 Entertainment. $24.98): No, not the Rod Blagojevich story. This one tells the story of a documentary filmmaker (Tao Ruspoli, who also directed) and his girlfriend (Olivia Wilde) as they frantically race around Los Angeles over the course of one long day trying raise the $5,000 required to place his druggie brother (Shawn Andrews) in rehab and keep him out of jail. The movie is kind of silly and senseless--it tries and fails to recreate the heady spirit of “Go” and the conceit that the ne’er-do-well brother is filming all the proceedings from the back seat becomes more illogical as the events grow more sordid--but as an excuse to gaze at Olivia Wilde for 90-odd minutes, it is certainly less painful that that “Turistas” nonsense.

NINE DEAD (Image Entertainment. $27.98): Under normal circumstance, I wouldn’t even bother mentioning this direct-to-video “Saw” knock-off in which a group of strangers are kidnapped, handcuffed together and bumped off one every ten minutes until they can figure out who is behind it and why they have been chosen. However, one of the potential victims is played by none other than column crush object Melissa Joan Hart and I just wanted to proclaim my absolute mystification that no one out there in Hollywood can think of a better way of utilizing her talents than junk like this. Jeez, even Salem the Cat must be getting better roles these days.

OLD DOGS (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $29.99): Robin Williams is an aging bachelor who suddenly discovers that he has two kids as the result of a long-ago one-night stand, John Travolta is the friend/business partner who “helps” him out when he is forced to care for the little boogers for a couple of weeks and amazingly, the end result is actually worse than it sounds. Seriously, if you had to choose between this hideous family comedy and a double-bill of “Patch Adams” and “Wild Hogs,” you would actually have to sit down and think about it for a few minutes.

PARIS (E1 Entertainment. $19.98): The latest film from acclaimed French director Cedric Klapisch (whose previous efforts include “When the Cat’s Away,” “L’Auberge Espagnole” and “Russian Dolls”) is a sprawling multi-character drama in which a number of Parisians bump in and out of each others lives with unexpected results for all. I’ve liked most of Klapisch’s previous films and this one certainly has a large and game cast (including the likes of Juliette Binoche, Romain Duris and Melanie Laurent) but the stories and the characters just aren’t especially compelling and the efforts by the screenplay to tie then together eventually grow a bit wearisome.

PLANET 51 (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.96): In one of those strange coincidences that demonstrate that great minds (for lack of a better term) think alike, 2009 saw the arrival of no fewer than three films (two in 3-D, no less) in which people land on Earth from a distant planet and wind up bonding with the natives and saving them from the ensuing invading force. Even stranger, this particular version of the tale turned out to be the most entertaining of the bunch--unlike the lugubrious likes of “Battle for Terra” and “Avatar,” this one has a sense of humor and its vision of an alien world as designed by Ed Debevic offers up some nice visuals as well. Not a great movie by any means--don’t even think of watching it if you haven’t already seen the likes of “Ponyo,” “Up” or “Coraline”--but as amiable time-wasters that can be viewed by the entire family go, this one more or less gets the job done.

PRECIOUS--BASED ON THE NOVEL “PUSH” BY SAPPHIRE (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $29.98): Arguably the year’s single most overrated movie, this melodrama follows the life of a 16-year-old girl (Gabourey Sidibe) who is offered a respite miserable and hopeless existence--she is essentially illiterate, is pregnant for the second time courtesy of her own father and is the focus of a torrent of physical and emotional abuse from her mother (Mo’nique in an embarrassingly hammy performance that inevitably earned her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar)--when she is admitted into a special class dedicated to helping girls like her turn their lives around. While watching its combination of overwrought drama, awkward performances, bizarre cameos (Lenny Kravitz and Mariah Carey pop up as, respectively, a hunky nurse and a dowdy social worker) and self-consciously lurid tone (right down to a big scene in which our heroine steals and scarfs down an entire bucket of fried chicken), all I could think of was the decidedly outré films that John Waters used to make in the 1970’s before becoming respectable. Of course, those films at least knew that they were ridiculous--this one is so solemn and self-important as its heroine overcomes her obstacles that it is no surprise that both Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry bravely signed on as co-producers after it was already made and showered with praise at its Sundance premiere.

THE SENSEI (Echo Bridge. $9.99): If you ever wondered what an old-school “After School Special” might have been like with more ass-kicking, you may get a kick out of this indie drama about a bullied gay teen who is schooled in the world of martial arts by a local woman who harbors both the secrets of kung-fu and a tragic secret that inevitably comes out at the worst possible time. Yes, this is earnest and well-meaning and filled with good intentions but then again, you know what they say about the road to Hell.

TAPEHEADS (MGM Home Entertainment. $14.98): Although most films that try to market themselves as instant cult movies tend to be awfully irritating, I have always had a soft spot for this charmingly deranged 1998 comedy about two would-be music video makers (John Cusack and Tim Robbins) struggling to revive the career of a long-forgotten Sixties soul duo (Sam Moore & Junior Walker as the Swanky Modes) and avoid the numerous people who are coming after them when they fall into possession of an incriminating videotape involving the sexual peccadilloes of a conservative politician. The film pretty much has it all--wild humor, nifty music, chicken & waffles and Don Cornelius expounding on the virtues of working on spec. Fun fact #!: The woman in the aforementioned incriminating tape is played by the then-unknown (unless you saw the equally awesome “Straight to Hell”) Courtney Love. Fun fact #2: While promoting this film, as I recall, Robbins and Cusack went on “Good Morning America” and goofed off so thoroughly that they were allegedly barred from the show for several years afterwards.

TEN-SPEED & BROWNSHOE (Mill Creek. $14.98): In this short-lived but fondly remembered 1980 TV series from producer Stephen J. Cannell, Jeff Goldblum plays a bored stockbroker who decides to chuck the safe life and open up a detective agency and Ben Vereen is the slick hustler who winds up being his partner. As someone who actually watched this show during its brief run, I couldn’t be happier to have a chance to revisit it in order to see if it holds up. However, I couldn’t be more bummed to learn that, due to some rights issue, the show’s pilot episode has not been included here. Other TV-related DVDs appearing this week include “The 39 Steps” (BBC. $19.98), “Greek: Chapter Four” (ABC Studios. $39.99), “Hannah Montana: Miley Says Goodbye” (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $19.99), “In Plain Sight: Season Two” (Universal Home Entertainment. $39.98), “Matt Houston: The First Season” (CBS DVD. $49.98), “NFL Super Bowl XLIV” (Warner Home Video. $24.98), “Scarecrow & Mrs King: The Complete First Season” (Warner Home Video. $39.98), “Tremors: The Complete Series” (Universal Home Entertainment)[/ii] and “Walker--Texas Ranger: The Seventh Season” (CBS DVD. $49.99).

UP IN THE AIR (Paramount Home Video. $29.98): Although his first two films, “Thank You for Smoking” and “Juno,” indicated that Jason Reitman was one of the more promising of the new American directors, this beautifully realized comedy-drama, about a corporate downsizer (George Clooney in one of his best performances) whose hermetically sealed world, in which frequent-flyer miles and hotel minibars take precedence over emotional ties, is shaken up by two women, a fellow traveler (Vera Farmiga) who is pretty much him in a skirt and a younger work colleague (Anna Kendrick) whose new innovation ironically puts his own comfortable job (and its accoutrements) in jeopardy, effective launched him into the ranks of the top filmmakers working today. Based on the success of his previous films, the fact that Reitman is able to wring enormous laughs from such theoretically unpalatable material isn’t especially surprising but this is much more than just a comedy--it is a snapshot of a certain point in time in American history that is as finely detailed as any documentary, a subtle and nuanced character study of a person who finds himself unexpectedly reacquainted with his basic humanity long after he thought he had shut it away and a top-notch social satire that is both cutting and surprisingly humane.

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originally posted: 03/12/10 01:40:04
last updated: 03/12/10 02:27:22
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