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DVD Reviews For 5/7: “Who Are You To Refuse My Sugar?”
by Peter Sobczynski

This week’s round-up of new DVDs is a virtual cinematic travelogue that takes us from Russia with Julie Christie to Argentina with Francis Ford Coppola to Italy with several of the most beautiful women in the world to Ireland with Amy Adams to Elm Street with Freddy Krueger to the Chelsea Hotel with Abel Ferrara to the foulest depths of Hell with The Rock and Julie Andrews. All this and Dick Miller too!


BOOGIE MAN: THE LEE ATWATER STORY (Passion River. $24.95): Although he has been dead since 1991, the legacy of the late Republican political strategist Lee Atwater--the man responsible for the belief that the best way to get a candidate elected to public office was to drive up the opposing candidate’s negative numbers by any means necessary--is still going strong today thanks to the efforts of such disciples as Karl Rove and his ilk. This fascinating documentary takes a look at Atwater’s life and career through startling archive footage and new interviews with friends, colleagues and even Michael Dukakis, whose presidential campaign was essentially skewered thanks to Atwater’s tactics.

CHELSEA ON THE ROCKS (Hannover House. $19.95): Since it was converted from an apartment building into a residential hotel in 1905, New York City’s Chelsea Hotel has been a haven for hipsters and artists alike for more than a century--among those who have lived and created there during that time are Eugene O’Neill, Bob Dylan, Charles Bukowski, Patti Smith, Robert Mapplethorpe, Leonard Cohen, Sid Vicious (who killed girlfriend Nancy Spungen in their room), Dennis Hopper, Tom Waits and Ethan Hawke. In this documentary, the always-interesting Abel Ferrara pays tribute to the place by mixing together archival footage (including one fascinating, though maddeningly brief clip featuring Andy Warhol and William Burroughs), interviews with many of its past and present residents and recountings of some of the more interesting events to have occurred behind its walls.

DOCTOR. ZHIVAGO: 45th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Warner Home Video. $35.99): For his follow-up to his Oscar-winning 1962 epic “Lawrence of Arabia,” director David Lean embarked on an equally massive undertaking with this sprawling adaptation of the Boris Pasternak novel about a dedicated Russian doctor (Omar Sharif) torn between his wife (Geraldine Chaplin) and mistress (Julie Christie) set amidst the tumult of World War I and the Russian revolution. While the end result may not quite hit the heights of such previous Lean works as “Lawrence” or “The Bridge Over the River Kwai”--the story tends to get a little too soapy at times for its own good and at 200 minutes, it does eventually begin to wear out its welcome--but it has so many things in it that do work (the performances from Sharif, Christie and a supporting cast including Rod Steiger, Tom Courtney and Alec Guinness, Freddie Young’s jaw-dropping cinematography and a score by Maurice Jarre that launched a million music boxes) that it is pretty much impossible to resist. Although this is a film best appreciated on the big screen, this Blu-ray edition looks and sounds beautiful and comes with all the bonus features from the earlier DVD (including a commentary featuring Sharif, Steiger and Lean’s daughter, Sandra, vintage featurettes and a making-of documentary) with a new two-part retrospective documentary and a CD featuring eight cuts from the celebrated soundtrack.

THE DUKES (E1 Entertainment. $19.98): Robert Davi, whose impassive mug has graced the screen in films running the gamut from “Die Hard” and “License to Kill” to “An American Carol,” makes his directorial debut with this musical drama about the members of a once-popular doo-wop group struggling to keep afloat in an industry that no longer has much use for their sound. To revive their careers, they hit upon the idea of trying to steal 35 pounds of gold but quickly discover that cracking a safe is almost as difficult as cracking the charts.

EVIL TOONS (Infinity Releasing. $14.98): In this micro-budgeted 1990 attempt to cash in on the success of “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” by adding a lot of T&A to the mix, the ever-prolific Fred Olen Ray presented this stirring tale of a quartet of barely clad college girls whose weekend job cleaning out an allegedly haunted house takes a terrifying and frequently naked turn when they are confronted by an evil cartoon that has escaped from a magical book and is wreaking low-budget havoc. Yes, it is terrible but the sheer ambitiousness of the project is somewhat intriguing and B-movie buffs will appreciate the appearances from such legendary stars as David Carradine and the immortal Dick Miller.

LEAP YEAR (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): In one of the most grating would-be romantic comedies in recent memory--and believe me, there have been more than a few--Amy Adams stars as a dingbat who flies to Ireland to propose to her boyfriend on Leap Day as per local custom, lands on the wrong side of the island and travels across the country with the aid of a local lunk (Matthew Goode) who just might turn out to be the perfect guy for her after all. Under normal circumstances, watching the normally delightful Adams for a couple of hours would be a perfectly pleasant way to pass the time but, like the film as a whole, she is so obnoxious and unlikable here that after watching it, you may never want to see her again for as long as you live.

MARCUS WELBY M.D.: SEASON ONE (Shout! Factory. $49.97): The classic medical drama, featuring Robert Young as the venerable doctor with an unorthodox approach to healing and a pre-“Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” James Brolin as his younger, hunkier and more straitlaced colleague, makes its DVD debut with a set containing every episode from the first of its seven seasons, including one directed by a then-unknown by the name of Steven Spielberg, as well as “A Matter of Humanities,” the 1969 TV movie that served as the show’s pilot.

If you are interested in what became of that Spielberg kid, this week also marks the Blu-ray debut of his Oscar-winning 1998 film “Saving Private Ryan” (Paramount Home Video. $39.98)--as I am not the biggest fan of the film (not only is it not the greatest film about the Great War ever made, it wasn‘t even the best film on the subject made that year--Terrence Malick‘s “The Thin Red Line“ still beats it like a gong), I will merely state that if I had to choose which of his numerous WW II-related projects I would like to see appear on Blu-ray, it would be “1941” by a mile. Other TV-related DVDs appearing this wee include “According to Jim: The Complete Second Season” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $29.98), “Dirt: The Complete Second Season” (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $29.98), “The Facts of Life: The Complete Fourth Season” (Shout! Factory. $39.99), “Hamlet” (BBC. $19.98), “The Honeymooners: The Second Honeymoon” (MPI Home Video. $14.98), “The Honeymooners: Valentine’s Day” (MPI Home Video. $14.98), “Iron Man: The Complete Animated Series” (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. $29.99), “Murdoch Mysteries: Season Two” (Acorn Media. $59.99) and “X-Men, Volume 5” (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. $23.99).

NEVER SLEEP AGAIN: THE ELM STREET LEGACY (CAV. $24.99): Running over four hours in length (and no, that is not a misprint), this jumbo-sized documentary takes a long and detailed look at the history of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise as it grew from a low-budget horror film into a worldwide cultural phenomenon through film clips, behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with virtually every key participant in the series not named Johnny Depp or Patricia Arquette. Although this might sound like overkill to anyone who doesn’t possess a lifetime subscription to “Fangoria,” it is actually a fairly engrossing look back at the series--far more interesting than most of the actual films being covered, in fact--and it thankfully doesn’t make the mistake of gloss over the low points; some of the most entertaining moments come from Wes Craven decrying what became of his creation over the course of the sequels (not to mention the stupid finale he added on to his original). And if that isn’t enough Freddy-related goodness (or badness, depending on your position) for you, this set includes a second disc containing a few more hours of bonus material for your perusal. Not for everyone, of course, but for those of you with an interest in this particular subject are likely to find it indispensable.

NINE (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.95): Despite the presence of a high-powered cast in front of the camera (including the likes of Daniel Day Lewis, Penelope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Nicole Kidman, Kate Hudson, Fergie, Judi Dench and Sophia Loren), the director of the Oscar-winning “Chicago” behind it and an avalanche of hype and publicity, this long-gestating big-screen version of the award-winning 1982 stage adaptation of Federico Fellini’s “8 ½” about an acclaimed filmmaker (Lewis) struggling to get his latest project to come together while coming to terms with the various women in his life (everyone else) was a huge flop when it came out last Christmas and got swamped by a little thing called “Avatar.” This was a shame because while not without its flaws, this was arguably the best stage-to-screen musical adaptation to come along in a long time--an enormously entertaining and energetic work filled with spirited performances, good music and a lot of style. Okay, there may be a slight possibility that my enthusiasm for the film may have something to do with the comeliness of the cast but if I have to choose between watching blue-skinned freaks running around like dopes or watching Penelope Cruz singing, dancing and rope-twirling in extra saucy lingerie, I will cheerfully select the latter every time.

NO TIME FOR SERGEANTS (Warner Home Video. $19.98): In the performance that first made him a household name, Andy Griffith stars in this genial 1957 adaptation of the hit Broadway comedy as an amiable country bumpkin who is drafted into the Air Force and drives everyone to distraction with his homespun ways. The film is obviously a little dated but its essential corniness is one of the things that makes it so engaging, along with the hilarious performances from Griffith, Myron McCormick and Don Knotts (all of who appeared in the original stage production) and the smooth direction from Mervyn LeRoy. If you want to see what Griffith is up to these days, this week also sees the release of “Play the Game” (Phase 4 Films. $29.99), in which he plays a randy nursing home resident who winds up doing things that would have made even Otis the drunk blush with embarrassment.

TETRO (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $27.98): Continuing in the frankly experimental and anti-commercial path that he embarked upon when he returned to the director’s chair a couple of years ago with the woefully underrated “Youth Without Youth,” Francis Ford Coppola gives us one of the boldest works of a career filled with them--a gorgeously realized meditation on family ties and artistic temperaments about two long-separated brothers (Vincent Gallo and newcomer Alden Ehrenreich) struggling to come to terms with their pasts and futures when one unexpectedly drops in on the other in Argentina during his self-imposed exile from their family. Combining the naked emotionalism and enthusiasm of an ambitious young artist struggling to get everything out at once in case they never get a second chance with the sheer mastery of a veteran in full control of his considerable gifts, this is one of Coppola’s grand achievements and while it may not have caught on with the public during its brief release last year, where it was ignored by audiences and largely mocked by critics who would rather see him do “Godfather IV“ than anything new, I am confident that as more people become exposed to it, as they hopefully will on this DVD featuring commentary from the man himself, it will be regarded as one of the great films from one of the all-time great filmmakers

TOKYO SONATA (E1 Entertainment. $26.98): Best known for such celebrated creepfests as “Séance,” “Pulse” and “Doppelganger,” Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa trades in supernatural terrors for social-economic ones in this drama which follows the changes undergone by a seemingly normal family when the father (Teruyuki Kagawa) unexpectedly loses his administrative position at a large medical supply firm. During its first half, the film is a strong and sensitive drama that is all the more surprising because it is most assuredly not the kind of thing that those familiar with Kurosawa’s work might be expecting. However, the second half takes a turn for the bizarre with a number of strange plot twists that don’t really work as well as they should and which distract at times from the strong performances from the cast. That said, these moves don’t completely destroy the film and while it is unlikely that many people will want to escape from the grim economic news of the day by popping it into the DVD player, those that do should find it a fairly engrossing (if fairly perplexing work) on how the cratering economy is affecting those from different cultures.

THE TOOTH FAIRY (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): Already a leading candidate for the title of Worst Film of 2010, this appalling family comedy stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as an over-the-hill hockey goon who, through reasons too convoluted and idiotic to get into here, is forced to serve as a substitute tooth fairy for a couple of weeks and, through reasons too convoluted and idiotic to get into here, winds up becoming a better person as a result. No matter how old you are, this monstrosity will insult your intelligence and the only vaguely surprising thing about it is that so many ostensibly intelligent and talented performers (including Ashley Judd, Billy Crystal, Stephen Merchant and Julie Andrews) were apparently willing and eager to sign on for something so terrible.


ELEKTRA: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99)

ESCAPE FROM L.A. (Paramount Home Video. $29.99)

K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER (Paramount Home Video. $29.99)

THE NOTEBOOK (New Line Home Entertainment. $19.98)

ROCK & ROLL HIGH SCHOOL (Shout! Factory. $19.97)

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originally posted: 05/06/10 11:35:18
last updated: 05/06/10 12:04:25
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