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DVD Reviews For 5/21: “Here Comes The Pain!”
by Peter Sobczynski

Sex, violence, slapstick, giant turtles, aborigines, multiple appearances by George Lopez and guys who are already working around the clock are just a few of the sights on display in this week’s roundup of new DVDs and Blu-rays. Enjoy.


9 SONGS (Palisades Tartan. $24.97): Unless it was his sole intention to make a pornographic film for people too chicken to go into the back room of their local video store, I have no idea what Michael Winterbottom’s intentions could have been in making this film charting the relationship of a young couple entirely through their sexual encounters and the concerts that they attend. If he wanted to tell a story about two people who are only able to communicate through their sexuality, this is a conceit that a.) has been done before more successfully in films such as “Last Tango in Paris” and “Damage” and b.) tends to work better when the characters have some actual on-screen chemistry–relative newcomers Kieran O’Brien and Margo Stilley couldn’t strike sparks if they were both armed with blowtorches. If his intention was to use the musical interludes to comment on their relationship, that aspect doesn’t come off because the songs seem to have no evident connection to anything that is going on. Anyway, it is now available on Blu-ray for your consideration, among other things, and while it is better than your average porn spectacular, it isn’t significantly better.

CARLITO’S WAY (Universal Home Entertainment. $26.98): As longtime readers may have surmised by now, Brian De Palma is my favorite living filmmaker but even I was a bit perplexed when the esteemed French film journal “Cahiers du Cinema” named his 1993 crime drama, in which a once-feared gangster (Al Pacino) returns to the streets after a prison stretch with the desire to go straight only to find that everyone else either wants him to return to his former pastime or wants him dead, as the finest film of the 1990’s. However, I would argue that this severely underrated work was his best work of that decade thanks to a compelling storyline that was more than the “Scarface“ redo that many assumed it to be, a surprisingly subtle performance from Pacino, a downright brilliant one from Penn (I would take it over either of his Oscar-winning turns in a heartbeat) and a final half-hour set-piece that is one of the astonishing examples of pure cinematic storytelling that De Palma, or anyone else for that matter, has ever put on the screen.

CRACKING UP (Warner Archives. $19.98): This fairly obscure 1983 film marks the last big-screen directorial effort to date from one of the most formally inventive of American comedic filmmakers, the one and only Jerry Lewis. In this scattershot black comedy, Lewis plays Warren Nefron, an incredibly unlucky klutz who can’t even succeed at killing himself. In desperation, he decides to visit a psychiatrist as the film turns into a series of scattershot vignettes that allow Lewis to portray several different characters from Nefron’s life. Although nowhere near as consistently funny or inventive as such certified Lewis masterpieces as “The Nutty Professor” and “The Bellboy” and clearly a victim of some studio meddling (before refusing to release it theatrically, Warner Brothers replaced the original title, “Smorgasbord,”–a moniker that more closely suggest the film’s free-form atmosphere–with the blander “Cracking Up” so late in the game that a scene in which some characters supposedly begin watching this very film–a typically surreal Lewis gambit–in a theater that still has the original title on the marquee), it is much funnier than his previous effort, the 1981 surprise hit comeback vehicle “Hardly Working” and contains at least one sequence, a brilliant extended gag in which Lewis tries to navigate the highly polished floor of his shrink’s office, that ranks among the funniest things that he has ever done on the big screen. This title is being made available through Warner Home Video’s Warner Archives program dedicated to releasing their lesser-known titles on made-to-order DVDs and among the other selections being offered for the first time this week include Lewis’ bizarre 1970 WW II farce “Which Way to the Front?,” the 1978 basketball comedy “The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh” and “The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu,” a generally woeful 1980 spoof that features a ghastly-looking Peter Sellers in what would prove to be his final performance (he died a couple of months before the film was released) and a gorgeous-looking Helen Mirren as a bit of fun.

ECLIPSE 21: OSHIMA’S OUTLAW SERIES (The Criterion Collection. $69.95): Long before he turned the international film scene upside down with such controversial works as “In the Realm of the Senses” and “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” Japanese director Nagisa Oshima was already well-known in his home country for making a number of low-budget films filled with sex, violence, weirdo humor and energy to spare and this collection, part of Criterion’s series dedicated to highlighting lesser-known works from world-renowned filmmakers, brings together five of them for the first time in America. The films included here are 1965’s “Pleasures of the Flesh,” 1966’s “Violence at Noon,” 1967’s “Sing a Song of Sex” and “Japanese Summer: Double Suicide” and 1968’s “Three Resurrected Drunkards.”

EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.95): On the one hand, this mawkish medical melodrama in which Brendan Fraser and Harrison Ford work around the clock to find a cure for the rare disease afflicting the former’s children is as ghastly as can be--little more than an uninspired disease-of-the-week TV movie that somehow made it to the big leagues. On the other hand, having sat through the nightmare that is “Furry Vengeance,” I can assure you that this film is Fraser’s artistic high-water mark of the year to date.

GAMERA: THE GIANT MONSTER (Shout! Factory. $19.97): Produced by Japan’s Daei Studios in 1965 in response to the success that rival studio Toho had with the “Godzilla” films, the monster movie classic centers on a giant turtle-like creature that is woken from its slumber as the result of a atomic explosion and flies around Tokyo wreaking havoc. However, he isn’t a completely terrifying terrapin--he saves the life of a short-panted little boy and the two wind up sharing a bond amidst all the ensuing chaos. Although silly as can be, this is still pretty entertaining--especially if you first saw it as a little kid--and the DVD provides not only the full and uncut version of the film but such extras as a commentary track and a short history of the entire Gamera series. Arguably the most turtle-related fun you are liable to have this year and you don’t even have to worry about coming down with salmonella afterwards.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (Strand Releasing. $27.99): In the latest effort from Andre Techine (“Strayed,” “The Witnesses”), Emilie Dequenne (who is also serving as a member of the Main Competition jury at this year’s festival) stars as a flighty young woman who responds to the unfortunate end to her relationship with a somewhat shady guy by telling a story that sets the entire country on edge and forces her mother (Catherine Deneuve) to reunite with an old friend (Michel Blanc) to help set things right. Although it isn’t one of Techine’s best films, it is a fairly engrossing drama that is aided immensely by the strong central performances from the two lead actresses.

INVICTUS (Warner Home Video. $28.98): In an attempt to unite a country torn for decades by racial strife and on the verge of civil way, newly-elected South African president Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) encourages the country’s fairly decrepit rugby team (led by Matt Damon) to win the 1995World Cup in order to give all of the country’s citizens something that they can all get behind regardless of skin color. Directed by Clint Eastwood, this true-life sports melodrama doesn’t exactly rewrite the rulebook for the genre but it is still a fairly strong effort thanks to Eastwood’s lean and unfussy directorial style (a blessed relief after the hard-sell tactics of many of his recent efforts) and strong performances from Freeman and Damon, both of whom were nominated for Oscars for their efforts.

THE MESSENGER (Oscilloscope. $29.99): After returning from Iraq as a hero and with three months left to serve on his tour of duty, a tightly wound soldier (Ben Foster) is paired up with an older by-the-book type (Woody Harrelson, in a bit of decidedly off-beat casting) to perform the wrenching job of informing total strangers that their loved ones have died in combat. The performances by Foster and Harrelson are quite good but the rest of Oren Moverman’s directorial debut is a little too familiar for its own good, right down to the last detail, and the subplot in which Foster’s character finds himself gradually growing attracted to a new widow (a wildly miscast Samantha Morton) while trying to get over his old girlfriend (Jena Malone) belongs in a soap opera instead of an ostensibly serious film of this type.

THE NEW DAUGHTER (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $29.98): In this barely-release supernatural thriller, Kevin Costner stars as a recently divorced man who moves with his two children to a remote house located on sacred grounds and when his teenage daughter (Ivana Baquero, best known as the girl from “Pan’s Labyrinth”) begins acting strangely, he gradually realizes that she is the victim of an ancient curse instead of a combination of teen angst and sloppy parenting. Ironically, while Costner has made plenty of films over the years deserving of being dumped on video after token theatrical runs (“3000 Miles to Graceland,” anyone?) but this actually isn’t one of them--it is a modest and low-key thriller with good performances and a reasonably interesting story and while it is no one’s idea of a classic, it is still a pretty satisfactory B-movie that is worth a look.

SOUTHERN GOTHIC (MPI Home Video. $24.98): In this direct-to-video bit of weirdness, a bouncer at a redneck strip club gets a new lease on life when he strikes up a friendship with the daughter of the club’s new dancer. Unfortunately, the arrival of a vampire preacher (William Forsythe) means that the area is filled with more red necks than usual and when he makes the mistake of snatching the girl, our hero battles legions of bloodsuckers in an effort to get her back. There is nothing on display here that you haven’t seen before but to its credit, it has been made with a certain sense of style and Forsythe’s freakish performance is certainly worth a look.

THE SPY NEXT DOOR (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $29.99): Jackie Chan stars in this fairly blatant knock-off of “The Pacifier” in which he plays an undercover agent who finds himself trying to crack a big case while simultaneously taking care of his girlfriend’s three kids after an emergency sends her out of town for a few days. Obviously the film is no “Supercop” or “Drunken Master 2” but as a bit of fluff aimed squarely at the little ones, it isn’t too bad--Chan is as genial and charming as ever and the kids aren’t that annoying. More importantly, if your little ones like this one, it could lay the groundwork for a greater appreciation of his more notable cinematic efforts when they get a little older.

VALENTINE’S DAY (Warner Home Video. $28.98): Yes, it is silly, shameless, sentimental and stuffed with enough characters and subplots to fill at least six different films. That said, I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed Garry Marshall’s omnibus epic chronicling the romantic misadventures of a wide group of people (seemingly played by roughly half the dues-paying membership of the Screen Actors Guild) over the course of the title holiday and that is due in large part because it is so cheerfully and unabashedly silly, shameless and sentimental. I am not going to try to justify my fondness for it here--I am not sure that I could even if I wanted to--but I will say that if you are looking for a corny romantic comedy that doesn’t hurt too much to watch, I assure you that this beats the hell out of the likes of gibberish like “Leap Year” and “The Back-Up Plan.”

WALKABOUT (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): In this hypnotic 1971 film from Nicholas Roeg, an adolescent British girl (Jenny Agutter) and her younger brother (Luc Roeg) find themselves abandoned in the middle of the Australian outback and find themselves joining forces with an aborigine boy who is traversing the area by himself as part of a ritual designed to initiate him into manhood. Far from the simple-minded Disney-style adventure suggested by the description, this is a visually stunning and thoughtful meditation on nature, civilization and sexuality that is simple enough for younger viewers to grasp and complex enough to give older viewers food for thought for a long time after watching it.

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originally posted: 05/21/10 02:53:30
last updated: 05/21/10 03:13:22
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