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DVD Reviews For 6/4: "Second-Best Wine. No, The Best, But Small Goblets!"
by Peter Sobczynski

As you may have noticed (or not), there was no column last week due to a lack of time and a general lack of stuff to write about. Instead, I have decided to combine last week’s releases and this week’s in one sem-super-column that will hopefully send you into paroxysms of joy and rapture beyond your wildest dreams. Oh yeah, there are some icky parts too.


ALICE IN WONDERLAND (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $29.99): If virtually any other member of the DGA had directed this riff on the Lewis Carroll classic, in which an older Alice (Mia Wasikowska) returns to the fantasy world of her childhood to meet up with old friends like the Mad Hatter (a surprisingly dull Johnny Depp) and wage war against the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), I probably wouldn’t have been quite as offended by its garish and ugly nature and its willingness to transform Carroll’s trippy tale into just another bland quest tale. However, considering the fact that it was made by Tim Burton, one of the few filmmakers out there who could actually do justice to Carroll if given the chance, this has to go down as one of the major disappointments of the year. Of course, it literally wound up making a billion dollars around the world, so I suppose I am in the minority on this one.

ALL MY FRIENDS ARE FUNERAL SINGERS (Indiepix. $24.95): If you have been wondering whatever happened to actress Angela Bettis after turning in her alternately horrifying and heartbreaking performance in the 2003 cult classic “May,” you will be happy to know that she is once again front and center in this oddball indie film in which she plays a fortune teller who is aided in her work by a group of ghosts that live amongst her. The film is nowhere near as good as “May”--then again, few are--but it is a reasonably well-done and nicely low-key film and Bettis’ performance is strong enough to make you wish that some producer out there would give her a shot in something that will be seen by more than just genre obsessives.

CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD: SPECIAL EDITION (Blue Underground. $19.95): One of the stranger pop culture events of the year has to be the Windows 7 commercial that includes footage from Italian goremeister Lucio Fulci’s 1979 horror epic “Zombie” featuring a battle between a man-eating shark and a man-eating zombie. That said, it is highly unlikely that any company will build an ad campaign around scenes from this 1980 gross-out in which a priest’s suicide opens up one of the seven gateways to Hell and inspires plenty of gruesome events, including one infamous showstopper in which an unfortunate young woman winds up vomiting up her own intestines. Buffy--you may want to skip this one.

DAVID CROSS: BIGGER AND BLACKER (SubPop. $14.98): The cult comedian goes off on many strange and depraved tangents in this live performance film directed by Lance Bangs, who recently directed the excellent Maurice Sendak documentary “Tell Them Anything You Want.” Cross is pretty funny, of course, but this does not in any way make up for his appearances in the “Alvin & the Chipmunks” films.

DEAR JOHN (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.95): In the latest film version of one of Nicholas Sparks’ amazingly mawkish best-sellers, a soldier (Channing Tatum) and a college student (Amanda Seyfried) find their perfect love, which they maintain via the mail, torn asunder when he continues to reenlist in the wake of 9/11 and she decides to marry somebody else. The film is complete crap, of course, but to be fair, I will admit that if you can look beyond all the bad stuff (such as the incredibly cheesy narrative and what would prove to be the first of many terrible performances from Seyfried in 2010), Tatum does enough with his badly-written character to suggest that he may one day turn out to be more than just another pretty face after all.

THE EASTWOOD FACTOR--EXTENDED EDITION (Warner Home Video. $14.98): Already released in excerpted form as part of the giant Clint Eastwood DVD set that came out last winter to tie in with the theatrical release of “Invictus,” this documentary from film critic Richard Schickel (narrated by Morgan Freeman--who else?) offers up a breezy if unsurprising look at Eastwood’s life and work through interviews, film clips and scenes of him wandering the backlot at Warner Brothers and encountering props and costumes from his best-known films. This week also sees the Blu-ray premieres of a number of Eastwood’s films, including the legendary “Man With No Name Trilogy” (MGM Home Entertainment. $69.98), and to that end, I would like it if someone from Warners could contact me and explain why it is that I can now own “The Rookie” on Blu-ray but not “Bronco Billy,” “Firefox” or “Tightrope.”

LIFE (BBC Warner. $59.98): The acclaimed 10-part BBC documentary series that takes viewers around the world to show the elaborate length that living creatures will go to in order to survive and develop premieres on DVD and Blu-ray in two different editions for you to choose from. Although both contain the same footage, the British version features narration from celebrated naturalist David Attenborough--about as strong of an authority as you could hope for in regards to a project like this--while the American version replaces his dulcet tones with those belonging to none other than noted naturalist Oprah Winfrey.

THE ROAD (Sony Home Entertainment. $29.98): In this long-delayed and wildly misbegotten adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s best-seller set years after an unexplained event has left much of the world in ruins, the story follows a father (Viggo Mortensen) and son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as they trudge the bombed-out Eastern seaboard towards the south in the hopes of escaping the increasingly cold weather while avoiding the roving packs of people who will do (or eat) anything in order to survive. The trouble here is that the novel worked not because of the story that was being told but because of the way that McCarthy told it and in bringing it to the screen, neither director John Hillcoat nor screenwriter Joe Penhall have figured out how to successfully translate his particular brand of prose into cinematic terms in the way that the Coen Brothers did with their adaptation of “No Country for Old Men” and as a result, all we are left with is a bleak, unpleasant and utterly familiar story that offers viewers nothing that they haven’t seen before and its attempts to make things a little more palatable (such as an expansion of the role of Mortensen’s wife to accommodate an appearance by Charlize Theron) never ring true. Everyone involved has clearly tried to make something powerful and important here--this isn’t the kind of material that one just coasts through as a goof--but no matter how noble their intentions may have been, it doesn’t change the fact that this is a “Road” that is best left untaken.

SPARTACUS (Universal Home Entertainment. $26.98): At once the least essential film in the career of Stanley Kubrick (who was brought on after original director Anthony Mann was canned after a week of shooting and who wasn’t allowed the degree of control that he had on his other works) and arguably the best of the jumbo-sized historical epics that were made in the Fifties and Sixties (thanks to Kubrick’s consummate filmmaking skills despite the circumstances and fun, full-blooded performances from the likes of Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton and an Oscar-winning bit of scene stealing from Peter Ustinov), this 1960 classic finally hits Blu-ray in an edition that contains some, if not all, of the bonus features previously found on the Criterion Collection DVD--mostly deleted scenes and archival interviews with the cast. Alas, as some of you may have heard, in remastering the film for Blu-ray, Universal went a little too far in trying to give the picture a modern look by going a little overboard in cleaning up the grain that was always a part of the picture--while the result isn’t as awful as some have suggested, purists will find it to be a bit disconcerting and they may want to hold on to their Criterion DVDs for a more accurate representation of how it is supposed to look.

STAGECOACH (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): One of the all-time great westerns, John Ford’s 1939 classic about a group of disparate individuals (including John Wayne in the performance that made him a star) thrown together on a dangerous trip from Arizona to New Mexico is still as exhilarating and exciting after more than 70 years than nearly any current blockbuster that you could and will most likely remain so for another 70 or so. Although the presentation of the film is about as good as one could hope for a movie as old as this, the print does demonstrate a little wear and tear, though not nearly as much as some whiners would have you believe. To make up for that, however, Criterion has included a nifty set of bonus features including a commentary track from western expert Jim Kitses, an extended 1968 interview with Ford, new interviews with Ford’s grandson, Dan, and biographer/filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, tributes to stuntman Yakima Canutt and the legendary Monument Valley location where Ford would shoot many of his subsequent westerns, a 1949 radio adaptation of the story featuring Wayne and, best of all, “Bucking Broadway,” a complete silent feature film directed by Ford in 1917.

If you are still in the mood for more western-themed material after this disc, this week also sees the release of “The Virginian: The Complete First Season” (Timeless Media Group. $79.98), an 10-disc set featuring every 90-minute episode of the first season of the long-running series featuring James Drury, Lee J. Cobb and Doug McClure, and “Django” (Blue Underground. $14.95), a cheerfully violent 1966 spaghetti western starring Franco Nero as a mercenary who stages a giant gold heist and then works out a plan to double-cross his even sleazier partners out of their share of the loot.

THE THREE STOOGES COLLECTION, VOLUME 8: 1955-1959 (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.96): With the release of this three-disc set, all of the theatrical shorts made by the legendary slapstick comedy trio are now available on DVD in chronological order, a monumental event for which Sony deserves some acclaim, especially when you consider that sales no presumably dropped off once they got through the ones starring Curly. Unfortunately, the final 32 films collected here are among their weakest due to budget cuts, familiar material (not only did many of the films utilize scripts from earlier shorts, they often included large hunks of footage from them haphazardly inserted amongst the new stuff) and the combination of the passing of Shemp Howard and the hiring of Joe Besser, a decent comedian who never quite fit in as a Stooge. Still, if you are a fan of the Stooges, this collection is a must-own and to tell the truth, watching two straight hours of Joe Besser shorts can be a bit of a rush after a while.

TRUE BLOOD--THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (HBO Home Entertainment. $59.99): When I wrote about the first season of the popular HBO series in which vampires and human beings co-exist very uneasily, I had only seen the first few episodes and wasn’t entirely impressed with what I had seen. However, several people that I knew who had watched the entire run assured me that the quality picked up considerably from that point on and as it turns out, they were right. The second season of thirteen episodes collected here, on the other hand, hits the ground running right from the start and as a result, the show (which returns for a third season later this month) is one of the best things currently on television. Other new TV-related offerings now available include “Aqua Teen Hunger Force Vol. 7” (Warner Home Video. $29.98), “Burn Notice: Season Three” (Fox Home Entertainment. $49.98), “The Cleaner: The Final Season” (CBS DVD. $36.95), “Drop Dead Diva: Season One” (Sony Home Entertainment. $39.95), “Flashpoint: Season Two” (CBS DVD. $39.98), “Foyle’s War: Set 6” (Acorn Media. $49.99), “Hoarders: The Complete Season One” (A&E Home Entertainment. $19.95), “Hope Springs” (Acorn Media. $49.99), “I Know What I Saw” (A&E Home Entertainment. $19.95), “Leverage: Season Two” (CBS DVD. $39.98), “Midsomer Murders: Set 15” (Acorn Media. $39.99), “MLB Bloopers: Baseball’s Best Blunders” (Shout! Factory. $14.98), “Rescue Me: The Complete Fifth Season” (Fox Home Entertainment. $49.95) and “Royal Pains: Season One” (Universal Home Entertainment. $59.98).

UNDISPUTED 3: REDEMPTION (Warner Home Video. $27.98): In the second direct-to-video sequel-in-name-only to the woefully underrated 2002 Walter Hill film, a group of top-notch fighters from prisons around the globe are brought together for a tournament with freedom promised for the last man standing (to reference another woefully underrated Walter Hill film). While those of you who enjoy watching meatheads pounding the crap out of each other may dig this to some degree, most cineastes may find themselves wondering how it is that Hill has not been able to get a theatrical project off the ground in the same time that his last big screen work managed to inspired two follow-ups.

WILD THINGS: FOURSOME (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.96): In the third direct-to-video sequel-in-name-only to the deliriously overripe 1998 erotic thriller from John MacNaughton, a bunch of sexy young things get involved in a steamy tale of revenge, murder, betrayal and sex scenes with just enough nudity to get them excerpted on Fleshbot so that you don’t have to waste your time searching for the Good Parts. (Note: unless he has had a lot of work done, co-star John Schneider--yes, that John Schneider--is not a factor in the Fleshbot-related material.)

THE WOLFMAN (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Considering all of the well-publicized problems that dogged this long-awaited remake/reimagining of the classic 1941 monster movie, since its initial inception--the high-profile departure of its original director, extensive rewrites and reshoots, controversy over whether the much-anticipated transformation sequences would be carried out using traditional make-up effects or if they would be given over entirely to CGI technology, several release-date shifts and last-minute rumors that the studio heads were contemplating cutting way back on the gore in order to score a more commercially viable PG-13 rating--one might expect the final result to be nothing short of an all-out disaster As it turns out, the film isn’t quite that bad but in a weird way, it might have almost been better all around if it had been because then it could have been easily written off as just another flop and quickly forgotten. Instead, it is one of those incredibly frustrating works that has so many things going for it--a strong cast (including Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins and a wasted Emily Blunt), a nice sense of atmosphere and a fair amount of gore for a major studio genre film--that it becomes almost painful to watch as it falls far short of what it might have achieved if it possessed a better screenplay as well. The DVD includes both the original theatrical version and a director’s cut that clocks in at about seventeen minutes longer--while the additional footage doesn’t quite turn a bad movie into something worth watching, the new material--mostly sorely needed character development stuff--is just strong enough to make you wonder why Universal didn’t simply release this cut in theaters in the first place since it hardly could have done worse with critics and audiences than the one they did put out.


BAD BOYS (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95)

CLASS OF NUKE EM HIGH (Troma Entertainment. $24.95)

TROMEO & JULIET (Troma Entertainment. $24.95)

WAR OF THE WORLDS (Paramount Home Video. $29.99)

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originally posted: 06/04/10 04:15:02
last updated: 06/04/10 04:40:42
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