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DVD Reviews For 6/25: “Save It For The French!"
by Peter Sobczynski

Maids, music, murder and mayhem--those are just a few of the sights and sounds on display in this week’s collection of new DVD releases.


BLUEBEARD (Strand Releasing. $27.99): Catherine Breillat, the always-audacious French filmmaker responsible for such controversial works as “Romance,” “Fat Girl” and “Anatomy of Hell,” returns with this fascinating work that combines an intriguing feminist-slanted take on the classic tale of a rich man, his new young wife and his dark past with a present-day subplot about a little girl torturing her slightly older sibling by reading the story to her when they are left alone one afternoon. Yes, the film is pretentious but in a good way and the combination of Breillat’s directorial skill, her keen visual eye and the performances from all the key players definitely make it worth checking out if you get the chance.

LE COMBAT DANS L’ILE (Zeitgeist Video. $29.99): Although one usually thinks of such well-known filmmakers as Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut and Louis Malle when they think of the French New Wave movement of the late 1950’s--people do still think of it on a regular basis, don’t they?--there was an enormous number of films from lesser-known directors to emerge during that time and this 1961 merging of film noir and contemporary politics from Alain Cavalier is a prime example. On the run after a botched assassination attempt on a leading politician, a member of a right-leaning extremist group (Jean-Louis Trintignant) flees Paris with his wife (Romy Schneider) to the country home of a longtime friend and current pacifist (Henri Serre) and complications arise when a romantic triangle develops between them.

DEATH RACE 2000 (Shout! Factory. $19.95): Paul Bartel’s brilliant 1975 sci-fi satire about a future America (okay, the year 2000) in which the new national pastime is a three-day transcontinental road race where the participants score extra points for running over pedestrians returns to DVD and makes its Blu-ray debut and as a longtime fan of this cult classic, I couldn’t be happier. (Mmmm. . .Blu-ray Simone Griffith.) Although it would have been nice to see some of the more overtly comedic footage that producer Roger Corman apparently insisted that Bartel delete (supposedly because he didn’t think that action and comedy went together well), this disc does include a plethora of bonus materials both old and new that include a pair of commentary tracks (including an old one with Corman and co-star Mary Woronov and a new one with assistant (and future) director Lewis Teague and editor Tina Hirsch), numerous behind-the-scenes featurettes, a copy of the original trailer with commentary from John Landis and an interview with the film’s star, the late, great David Carradine.

GREEN ZONE (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): After watching this politically-minded action thriller in which Matt Damon plays an Army officer in Iraq just after the 2003 invasion trying to get to the bottom of why all the intel regarding alleged stashes of chemical weapons have turned up nothing and crossing paths with a smarmy government official (Greg Kinnear), a duped journalist (Amy Ryan) and a shadowy CIA operative who knows what is really going on (Brendan Gleeson), I felt more divided in my reactions than with any other movie in recent memory. On the one hand, I found myself resenting the ways in which screenwriter Brian Helgeland, in adapting Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s best-selling non-fiction book “Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone,” took a fascinating and complex true story and reduces it into an overly simplified and fictionalized tale in which no real names or countries are indicted for their misdeeds and all the blame for the entire Iraq War is calmly and coolly placed on the shoulders of Greg Kinnear. On the other, while his film may be fairly bankrupt and rather cowardly from an intellectual and historical perspective, director Paul Greengrass more than delivers the goods in terms of sheer visceral filmmaking. As he demonstrated with the last two Jason Bourne films, he knows how to shoot long, involved and highly detailed action set-pieces that provide any number of eye-popping thrills and “how’d-they-do-that?” moments without going too far over the top into ridiculous excess. As a straightforward action film, it does work but anyone going into it expecting anything more is bound to come away from it feeling mighty disappointed.

THE LAST STATION (Sony Home Entertainment. $27.96): In this historical docudrama, the dying Leo Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) decides to make one final altruistic gesture by announcing that once he dies, his money and the copyrights to his work will go to the people of Russia. Understandably, his wife (Helen Mirren)--the one who transcribed every page of “War and Peace” by hand--is more than a bit miffed by this announcement and tries to bring her well-meaning husband to his senses. As a whole, the film itself is only slightly better than average--the stuff involving James McAvoy as Tolstoy’s assistant generally goes nowhere--but the Oscar-nominated performances from Plummer (amazingly, it was his first nomination) and Mirren are enough to make it worth a look.

LONDON CALLING: LIVE IN HYDE PARK (Sony Home Entertainment. $17.98): Filmed during the London stop of their 2009 “Working on a Dream” tour, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band blast their way through a three-hour, 27-song set featuring recent tracks like “Outlaw Pete” and “Radio Nowhere,” old favorites too numerous to list here ranging from “Jungleland” to “Dancing in the Dark” to “The Rising” and covers of The Clash’s “London Calling,” Jimmy Cliff’s “Trapped,” The Rascals’ “Good Lovin” and Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times (Come Again No More).” If that isn’t enough for you, the disc also includes additional performances of “The River” (from the 2009 Glastonbury festival) and “Wrecking Ball” (written to commemorate the closing of Giants Stadium.)

THE MAID (Oscilloscope. $29.99): In this offbeat and intriguing comedy-drama from Chile, a maid who has spent more than half her life working for the same family and who is beginning to run down physically learns that her well-meaning employers are going to hire a second servant to help her with the chores and reduce the stress that has begun to make her increasingly tense and snappish. Of course, this doesn’t set with her very well and she does her best to drive the interlopers away until one of them inspires profound and unexpected changes in her life.

RED DESERT (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Having revolutionized world cinema with earlier efforts such as “L’avventura,“ “La Notte” and “L’eclisse,“ Michaelangelo Antonioni continued his cinematic exploration of loneliness and ennui with this audacious critique of modern technology (his first in color) seen through the eyes of a bored woman (Monica Vitti) who wanders through a blasted-out industrial landscape while contemplating an affair with her husband’s co-worker (Richard Harris). Although some of Antonioni’s films can feel dated when seen today, such recent events as Hurricane Katrina and the British Petroleum oil rig disaster add an additional layer of resonance to this tale that makes it feel just as relevant today as it did during its original 1964 release.

REMEMBER ME (Summit Entertainment. $26.99): I somehow managed to miss this romantic melodrama involving the up-and-down relationship between star-crossed lovers Robert Pattinson and Emilie de Ravin. However, I have been informed about the contents of its shocking twist ending and without giving anything away, it is apparently so ridiculously over-the-top and borderline tasteless that I fear I may have to go out and get a copy so I can see it for myself.

SHE’S OUT OF MY LEAGUE (Paramount Home Video. $29.98): I won’t make any bones about it--I genuinely loathed this smug, stupid, unnecessarily raunchy and deeply unfunny romantic comedy about an ordinary schlub (Jay Baruchel) who somehow manages to attract the attentions of an uber-hottie (Alice Eve), much to the confusion of both himself and everyone he knows. Sure, some of you may think that I am being a little harsh on what appears on the surface to be a fairly harmless and innocuous bit of fluff. For those of you who feel that way, please acquire a copy of the film, fast-forward to the seemingly endless scene in which our hero is forced to enlist one of his buddies to help him shave his pubes--a scene that goes on so long, by the way, that it feels as if Bela Tarr took over the directorial reins--and then try to make that argument again.

A STAR IS BORN (Warner Home Video. $34.99): After a four-year hiatus from the big screen amidst a host of well-documented personal problems, Judy Garland scored a triumphant comeback with this lavish 1954 version of the old warhorse about the romance between an over-the-hill star (James Mason) and a bright young newcomer (Garland) and how it all falls apart when her stardom begins to eclipse his. The film isn’t perfect--at 176 minutes, it is a little too long for its own good and Garland is perhaps a bit too mature to be playing anyone’s idea of a wide-eyed ingénue--but the combination of her wonderful performance (arguably the apex of her entire screen career) and the shamelessly soapy storyline are more than enough to make it top-notch entertainment.

STONES IN EXILE (Eagle Records. $19.98): One of the surprise musical hits of the summer of 2010 has turned out to be a blast from the past--the re-release of the Rolling Stones’ 1972 masterpiece “Exile on Main Street” with a collection of 10 previously unreleased tracks culled from the sessions that produced it. This documentary looks at the album’s tumultuous production and its lasting impact on both the band and the music world through archival footage (including clips from the infamously suppressed documentary "Cocksucker Blues")and new interviews with the Stones (including former members Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor), others who worked on it and such well-known fans as Jack White, Sheryl Crow and Liz Phair, who infamously designed her “Exile in Guyville” album as a song-by-song response. The film is interesting enough but the whole thing feels like an excerpt from a much bigger and more detailed history of the band that has yet to be made but if you are a fan of the Stones and the album, this is more or less a must-see.

THIRST (First Look Films. $24.98): If you liked “Open Water” but thought that it would have been a lot better without all of that pesky H2O getting in the way, you might get a kick out of this saga about a quartet of good-looking dopes who drive out to into the middle of the desert for a photo shoot and then manage to wreck their car and strand themselves with only a minimum of supplies with which to survive the brutal elements. If not, there is no real reason to pick up this direct-to-video loser unless you have a bizarre compulsion to watch Lacey Chabert slowly bake to death and even as I write these words, I realize that there are probably many of you out there (mostly disgruntled “Party of Five” fans) who would be willing to check it out for precisely that reason. How fetch.

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originally posted: 06/25/10 06:37:21
last updated: 06/25/10 07:15:30
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