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DVD Reviews For 3/26: “God Was Wrong!”
by Peter Sobczynski

In a week that film fanatics often dream of and rarely get to experience, three classic films make their long-awaited DVD debuts--two of them are actually appearing on home video for the first time in any format. Throw in one of last year’s best films and one of last year’s best TV shows and you can almost overlook the fact that the nonsense known as “New Moon” has hit the stores as well.


THE AFRICAN QUEEN (Paramount Home Video. $25.99): After years and years of waiting, the 1951 Humphrey Bogart-Katherine Hepburn classic, in which they play a boozy boat captain and a prim missionary who feud and fall in love while traveling a dangerous river in an attempt to take out a German gunboat, has finally arrived on DVD and Blu-ray. If you have seen it before--and what true film fan hasn’t--this is the perfect time to reacquaint yourself with one of the all-time classics and if you haven’t, this is the perfect time to rectify that mistake.

BIGGER THAN LIFE (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): I first became aware of this Nicholas Ray drama about a decade or so ago when Martin Scorsese waxed ecstatic over it in his documentary “A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies” and when I came across it a couple of years later, I was thrilled to discover that it not only lived up to expectations–it exceeded them. James Mason stars as an ordinary American husband and father knocking himself out to provide his wife and child with the trappings of the American dream until he is diagnosed with a rare and potentially fatal arterial disease. He undergoes an experimental treatment involving the then-new wonder drug cortisone and while he is cured, his continual use of the medication sends him on a series of wild moods swings that sees him lambasting the PTA one moment and haranguing his kid for not learning his math homework the next. Wildly radical for its time (major American films of the time did not blatantly criticize traditional American values and they certainly didn’t deal with drug dependency) it still packs a considerable punch today for its unflinching depiction of one man succumbing to the horrors of addiction (thanks to one of James Mason’s best performances) and its climax, in which a now manic Mason calmly cites the Biblical story of Abraham and Isaac to wife Barbara Rush to justify why he must kill his son, remains one of the most terrifying and intense things I have ever seen in a film. Finally available on home video in this country for the first time (it has appeared overseas where Ray is suitably lionized), this DVD includes an audio commentary from critic Geoff Andrew that is a bit of a drag at times, a 30-minute television interview with Ray from 1977, a new interview with Ray’s daughter Susan and a booklet featuring an essay on the film and Ray by B.Kite.

THE BLIND SIDE (Warner Home Video. $28.98): Based largely on the cringe-inducing trailer that had seemingly been running in front of every film to come out in the months prior to its release, I went into this surprise hit melodrama expecting to see something along the lines of “Precious” with linebackers. For the most part, that is exactly what the film, which tells the true story of Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), a homeless kid from a broken home in Tennessee whose life is changed forever when he is taken in by a rich, white family, led by flamboyant matriarch Leigh Anne Touhy (Sandra Bullock), who help him develop both academically and athletically, is and while it may not be the most outstanding example of the true-life sports story subgenre, it is nowhere near as bad as the previews suggest. The basic story is a little more interesting than most films of this type--the climax is blessedly not centered around the result of a big game--and it has a strong and affecting performance from newcomer Aaron as Oher that is convincing both on and off the gridiron. Unfortunately, writer-director John Lee Hancock has a tendency to let things get a little too melodramatic at some times--the sequence in which Michael plays his first game against what appears to be the high school where the hillbillies from “Deliverance” dropped out of is a definite low point--and his decision to tell this story largely through the viewpoint of Leigh Anne instead of Michael seems both odd and a little condescending to boot. Matters aren’t helped by Bullock’s fingernails-on-the-blackboard performance--her attempts to be colorful are so cringe-inducing that she overwhelms virtually every scene she is in, though it is easy to see how she was rewarded for such blatant scenery-chewing with an Oscar--and a turn by Jae Head as her allegedly adorable young son that may be the most repulsive performance by a kid actor to come along in a long time. Despite these flaws, this is surprisingly not-entirely-unbearable and if you are in the mood for a safe and non-threatening inspirational drama about overcoming adversity, you could do a lot worse than this.

DAMAGE (Fox Home Entertainment. $22.98): In this direct-to-video epic mixing scenes of tear-jerking with scenes of clean-and-jerking, Stone Cold Steve Austin plays an ex-con who, after serving time in jail for manslaughter, enters the seedy world of underground cage fighting in order to raise enough money to pay for a life-saving operation for the daughter of the man he killed. The best thing about this is that you just know that someone out there is going to try to rent the Louis Malle erotic melodrama of the same name and will get this one instead.

FANTASTIC MR. FOX (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): “Fantastic” is just one of the many words that could be used to describe this utterly delightful stop-motion animation adaptation of the classic Roald Dahl story from Wes Anderson. The look of the film is beautiful, the voice cast (including George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Willem Dafoe and Bill Murray) is impeccable and Anderson manages to beautifully blend his unique sensibility with Dahl’s into a surprisingly graceful whole. 2009 saw the release of a lot of really impressive family-oriented films and this was one of the best.

HITLER MEETS CHRIST (Pathfinder Video. $24.98): I know nothing about this particular title and am pretty sure that I don’t want to know anything about it. That said, how could I possibly resist including something with a title like that in this column.

MAD MEN: SEASON 3 (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $49.98): From power grabs to power cleavage to power motors, this third season of the hugely acclaimed AMC series about the goings-on within a Sixties-era ad agency was just as bold and brilliant as the previous installments. This set includes commentaries on every episode and documentaries on the history of cigarette advertising and Medger Evers, both of whom figure into some of the plots. Best of all--not a trace of co-star January Jones’ now-infamous appearance on “Saturday Night Live.”

Other TV-related DVDs appearing this week include “7th Heaven: The Complete Tenth Season” (CBS DVD. $49.98), “Father Knows Best: Season 4” (Shout! Factory. $34.99), “The Prisoner” (Warner Home Video. $29.98) and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch: The Complete Sixth Season” (CBS DVD. $39.98).

THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $29.98): Inspired by a true story, this madcap military satire stars Ewan McGregor as an intrepid journalist who stumbles upon a story involving a secret division of so-called psychic soldiers (including Jeff Bridges as the leader, George Clooney as a top prospect and Kevin Spacey as the bad apple in the bunch) trying to develop their powers for military purposes. The performances are good and there are enough very funny moments here and there to sort of warrant a rental--the trouble is that the film wants to evokes the wild spirit of Robert Altman and the brainy absurdity of the Coen Brothers but is too silly and scattered to achieve either of those goals in the end.

THE PRINCE AND ME 4: THE ELEPHANT ADVENTURE (First Look Films. $24.98): Wait a second--that eminently forgettable Julia Stiles vehicle about an ordinary Wisconsin college girl who winds up marrying a prince has inspired no less than three sequels and this one somehow involves elephants? Wow, I guess you learn something new every day.

SERAPHINE (Music Box Films. $25.95): This French-made biopic tells the story Seraphine de Senlis, a self-taught outsider artist who claimed that her artistic inspiration was due to a guardian angel. After years of spending her days working as a cleaning woman and creating her artwork at night, her life changes forever when her creations catch the eye of a famous German art critic. The film swept last year’s Cesars (the French equivalent of the Oscars) and is worth watching for the impressive performance from Yolande Moreau (who also won the Best Actress award from the L.A. Film Critic Association) in the title role.

THE T.A.M.I. SHOW (Shout! Factory. $19.98): Rarely seen since its 1964 release and never before released on home video, this concert film has finally reached DVD in its complete form and more than lives up to its reputation as one of the greats of its genre. A filmed record of the first (and only) of what was meant to be a series of yearly concerts designed to benefit music programs for teenagers around the world and to be broadcast in theaters through a closed-circuit process known as “Electronovision,” the movie offers up killer performances from a lineup including Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys (who successfully sued to have their segment removed from all prints after its original release), Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, Lesley Gore, Smokey Robinson, James Brown and an impossibly young-looking Rolling Stones (looking a bit nervous at the prospect of having to follow Brown‘s incendiary turn). Although not extensive, the bonus features include such choice material as a commentary from director Steve Binder (who would be at Ground Zero of another pivotal moment in rock history when he directed Elvis Presley’s 1968 comeback special), the original radio ads for the film and the original trailer featuring commentary from filmmaker John Landis, who was actually at the concert and who points out that one of the go-go dancers appearing throughout the show was none other than Teri Garr. Whether you are a serious student of the history of popular music or just a fan of golden oldies, this DVD is a must-own.

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON (Summit Entertainment. $32.99): Trust me, you have much better selections to check out this week than this absurdly over-hyped nonsense. Let us just leave it at that, okay?



DAYS OF HEAVEN (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)

SANJURO (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)

TOY STORY (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $39.99

TOY STORY 2 (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $39.99)

YOJIMBO (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)

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originally posted: 03/26/10 04:40:02
last updated: 03/26/10 04:55:13
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