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DVD Reviews For 7/30: “This Is Hell And I’m Going To Give You The Guided Tour.”
by Peter Sobczynski

Although big-name titles may be in short supply this week (especially if you are looking for big-name titles that are worth watching), there are quite a few interesting items appearing this week that are coming in under the radar including a couple of cult favorites, entries from Europe ranging from the sublime to the sleazy and the long-awaited debut of one of the all-time classic TV sitcoms.


THE ART OF THE STEAL (MPI Home Video. $24.98): If I told you that this was a film about an art heist involving the works of many of the world’s most renowned painters (including 181 Renoirs and 46 Picassos for starters), you would probably assume that it was a slick and highly commercial thriller in the vein of “The Thomas Crown Affair” or “Ocean’s Eleven.” In fact, it is a documentary but the story it tells is so twisty, bizarre and utterly unlikely that if someone proposed it as a fiction film, it would likely be rejected for being too good to possibly be true. After amassing a massive personal fortune from developing a treatment for VD, Philadelphian Albert Barnes developed one of the largest private art collections of all time, built a personal museum for their permanent housing outside of the city where serious students of art could study them in a non-commercial environment and created a foundation to ensure that this arrangement would continue after his death (which came in 1951). Of course, with a collection that valuable, commerce has a tendency to rear its ugly head and a couple of years ago, the city made a series of quasi-legal moves to condemn Barnes’ museum and shift the collection to a new commercial institution in express violation of his wishes. While the film as a whole may not exactly reinvent the documentary format and director Don Argott’s attempts to seem shocked by the idea of people regarding artwork strictly in commercial terms is about as convincing as Captain Renault’s horror at discovering that there was gambling going on at Rick’s, the story it tells is so compelling that few are likely to notice.

ARTOIS THE GOAT (Indiepix. $24.95): In this decidedly odd indie romantic comedy, a lab technician responds to the trauma of the love of his life being transferred to a new job in Detroit in a somewhat atypical manner--he, along with his beloved pet goat, sets out to create the greatest goat cheese ever produced. At this time, I would like to offer up yet another reminder that I don’t actually make up the plots of these films--I merely report on them.

CLASH OF THE TITANS (Warner Home Video. $28.98): The good news is that this remake of the 1981 Ray Harryhausen fantasy semi-classic, in which part-god/part-mortal Sam Worthington goes on an epic quest to prevent Hades (Ralph Fiennes) from overthrowing Zeus (Liam Neeson) and destroying humanity, is not being presented here in the eye-straining 3D conversion process that it was subjected to after filming was already completed (arguably the worst example of that to come along until the recent debacle of “The Last Airbender”). The bad news is that even though it can finally be seen properly, it is still, with the singular exception of Gemma Arterton, pretty much unwatchable--a big, lumbering bore that contains none of the fun or imagination of the original. The best thing that can be said about it is that it is better than that “Percy Jackson” nonsense, but not by much.

CRACK IN THE WORLD (Olive Films. $24.95): In this sadly underrated 1965 sci-fi/disaster hybrid that would prove to be an influence on such films as “Deep Impact” and “Armageddon,” ace scientist Dana Andrews hits upon the brilliant idea of setting off a nuclear bomb deep beneath the earth’s surface in order to harness all the geothermal energy contained within--as expected, the whole experiment goes gunny and he instead creates a rift in the crust that could split the entire planet apart. Originally produced by Paramount, this is making its DVD debut through Olive Films, a company that I have not heard of before now but which is offering up an admittedly interesting slew of cult favorites this week including the film noirs “Appointment with Danger,” “Dark City” and “Union Station” and the Raquel Welch western “Hannie Caulder.”

DON’T LOOK UP (E1 Entertainment. $24.98): Based on a story co-written by Hideo Nakata, the creator of “The Ring,” and directed by Fruit Chan, the man responsible for the decidedly twisted cult favorite “Dumplings,” this horror film tells the tale of a film crew in Transylvania that uncovers some mysterious film footage of a woman being murdered and winds up unleashing evil spirits in the process. Alas, the film as a whole is too slow and confusing and the most frightening thing about it is the fact that the redoubtable Eli Roth is one of the co-stars.

ECLIPSE 22: PRESENTING SACHA GUITRY (The Criterion Collection. $59.95): The latest offering from the Criterion Collection label focusing on lesser-known films and filmmakers focuses on the cinematic output of the man once considered to be the French equivalent of Noel Coward. An acclaimed playwright, director and actor, Guitry turned to film as a way of getting his work seen by a larger audience and proved to be as innovative behind the camera as he was in front of the footlights and his films, at least the four collected here, are still sprightly, engaging and a lot of fun to watch decades after their initial release. The films found here include 1936’s “The Story of a Cheat” (an examination of the life of a charming petty thief that is told in a manner that uncannily anticipates what Orson Welles would do a few years later with “Citizen Kane”), 1937’s “The Pearls of the Crown” (a humorous historical epic spanning four centuries and following the story of seven pearls, four of which made it onto the crown of England and three which didn’t) and “Desire” (in which Guitry plays a valet caught in a romantic triangle involving his new employer and the politician that she is involved with--as a bonus, cult favorite Arletty turns up as a chambermaid) and 1938’s “Quadrille” (a romantic rhombus involving a magazine editor, his girlfriend, the movie star that she has eyes for and a roving reporter).

GI JOE: THE MOVIE (Shout! Factory. $16.97): Produced in 1987 as a spin-off of the animated TV series and originally designed to be a theatrical release (those plans were scuttled after the box-office failures of the film versions of “Transformers” and “My Little Pony”), this film features everyone’s favorite paramilitary toy line once going into battle against the evil COBRA organization as well as an evil alien race hell-bent on mutating the people of Earth. Yes, this is really dumb, fairly boring and cheaply animated but, ironically enough, it is actually slightly less cartoonish than the live-action “GI Joe” boondoggle that came out last year.

HOME (Kino Video. $29.95): The always-reliable Isabelle Huppert stars in this strange but fascinating tale about a close-knit family that lives in virtual isolation in a home that sits alongside an abandoned highway. Alas, their idyllic existence is threatened when construction crews arrive to finally finish the road and they go to extreme lengths to regain their cherished solitude.

JOY (Severin Films. $29.95): Severin Films, those connoisseurs of cinematic sleaze, return with another prime slice of Euro-sexploitation in this 1983 epic, purportedly based on the scandalous memoirs of a French-American supermodel, in which the drop-dead gorgeous Claudia Udy gets herself in and out of any number of sexy predicaments and sexier outfits. If that isn’t enough for you--and if you have a taste for this kind of stuff, it probably isn’t--this week also sees the release of the quasi-sequel “Joy & Joan” (Severin Films. $29.95), in which our heroine (now played by Brigitte Lahie) decides to give up on men and has a bit of fun with a sexy tour guide (Isabelle Solar).

THE MOTHERS-IN-LAW: THE COMPLETE SERIES (MPI Home Video. $39.98): Produced by Desi Arnaz and running from 1967-1969, this long-forgotten sitcom featured Eve Arden and Kaye Ballard as a pair of hilariously mismatched neighbors--one is staid, conservative and WASPy while the other is wild, flamboyant and ethnic--whose lives are permanently intertwined when their respective kids decide to get married. Filled with timeworn plots, cringe-worthy attempts at humor, broad mugging from all the actors and some of the most hideous examples of wardrobe and facial hair to ever hit the small screen, this is a pretty terrible show but as a time capsule of what passed for entertainment on network television during one of the more tumultuous periods in recent history, it does hold a certain fascination, though it is doubtful that many will make it through all 55 episodes without screaming. For those that do, this set includes a surprisingly hefty collection of bonus features that include archival interviews, a new talk with Kaye Ballard, the original version of the pilot that was never aired, commercials and promo spots and the unaired pilots for two other Desi Arnaz productions that never made it to the networks, “Land’s End” and “The Carol Channing Show.” Other TV-related DVDs appearing this week include “Life After People: The Complete Season Two” (A&E Home Entertainment. $29.95), “The New Adventures of Old Christine: Season Three” (Warner Archives. $24.95), “Poirot Classic Collection Set 4” (Acorn Media. $49.95), “Poirot Movie Collection Set 5” (Acorn Media. $49.95), “Sabrina The Teenage Witch--The Final Season” (CBS DVD. $39.98) and, finally, “Sgt. Bilko: The Phil Silvers Show--The First Season” (CBS DVD. $39.98).

REPO MEN (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Sorry, this is not the 1984 Alex Cox classic that remains one of the all-time great cult films. This is instead a misfired stab at blending sci-fi and black comedy in which Jude Law stars as a repo man for a corporation specializing in organ replacement--if you can’t pay your bill, he comes in and takes back the machinery in spectacularly gory fashion. Of course, once he gets an organ implant of his own that he cannot afford, he begins to suspect that there is a downside to what he has been doing with his life and goes on the run with his former colleagues in pursuit. Yes, this is pretty much the same basic premise as the would-be cult film “Repo: The Genetic Opera” but even that admittedly uneven film was more interesting and coherent than this mess that wants to remind people of “Robocop” with its blend of gore, action and dark humor but barely lives up to the cherished ideals of “Robocop 3.”

VINCERE (MPI Home Video. $24.98): “Bombastic” doesn’t even begin to describe Marco Bellocchio’s account of the life of Ida Dalser (Giovanno Mezzogiorno in a strong and fearless performance) Benito Mussolini’s secret lover and the mother of his son, and of Il Douchebag’s cruel attempts to deny their existences by first ignoring them and then throwing them into separate asylums--the film is so noisy and over-the-top that it makes “Pink Floyd the Wall” seem like mumblecore by comparison. The movie isn’t completely successful by any means--Bellocchio’s touch is so heavy-handed here that it makes one long for the comparatively restrained biopics that Ken Russell used to make back in the day. On the other hand, if you do watch it, I can pretty much guarantee that you won’t fall asleep during it.


BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: SEASON THREE (Universal Home Entertainment. $89.98)

CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95)

FANBOYS (Vivendi Entertainment. $19.97)

JOHNNY HANDSOME (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.99)

LOCK-UP (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.99)

THE PROWLER (Blue Underground. $29.98)

RAMBO: EXTENDED CUT (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.99)

RAMBO: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $54.99)

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originally posted: 07/30/10 05:29:53
last updated: 07/30/10 06:30:45
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