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DVD Reviews For 11/26ish: “Salvation Is A Last-Minute Business, Boy.”
by Peter Sobczynski

Yes, this is really late but I figure that since it contains some of the greatest movies of all time, it would be worth the wait.


AMERICA LOST AND FOUND: THE BBS STORY (The Criterion Collection. $124.95): During the late Sixties, producers Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider and Steve Blauner suspected that the time was right for an artistic revolution in Hollywood that would parallel the social revolution that was going on in America at the time and, using the profits that they made from developing the hit TV series “The Monkees,” produced a series of seven films over the years that did just that. This box set collects all seven films, including landmark works like “Easy Rider,” “The Last Picture Show,” “Five Easy Pieces” and “The King of Marvin Gardens” and obscurities like “Head” (a surreal effort that marked the beginning and end of the Monkees screen career), “Drive, He Said” (which marked the directorial debut of Jack Nicholson) and “A Safe Place” (the directorial debut of the always-annoying Henry Jaglom), as well as plenty of commentaries, documentaries and archival materials. While some of the films themselves may not have stood the test of time--“Easy Rider” remains one of the most overrated movies ever made and “A Safe Place” proves that Jaglom was just as insufferable at the beginning of his career as he is today--this set offers a fascinating glimpse at a pivotal moment in film history.

ANTICHRIST (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): In the latest cinematic provocation from Lars von Trier, Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg play a grieving couple who go off to a remote cabin in the woods to recuperate after the death of their infant son--needless to say, things quickly go bad and they both descend into a madness that involves heavy psychobabble, talking woodland creatures and mutual genital mutilation. Whether you find it to be a brilliant psychodrama or ludicrously overheated nonsense (the way that I lean), one has to give it some praise for the film’s visual beauty (the opening sequence is especially stunning) and the admittedly strong performances from the leads.[br]

AVATAR: THREE-DISC EXTENDED COLLECTOR’S EDITION (Fox Home Entertainment. $34.98): Good, because the one thing that this film needed to be was longer.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $29.99): “A Christmas Carol” is a film about a man who has deliberately cast away all vestiges of his humanity in his never-ending pursuit of wealth until he is shown the error of his ways via a trio of spirits representing his past, present and future. Unfortunately, it is a film that has been made by a man, director Robert Zemeckis, who has deliberately cast away all vestiges of his humanity in his never-ending pursuit of wealth but who apparently has not yet had his encounters from his supernatural visitors. The result isn’t so much an instant holiday classic to be treasure for years and years to come as it is the cinematic equivalent of the ugliest, gaudiest and most uncomfortable Christmas sweater ever gifted--the difference, of course, is that while the sweater will only make one’s skin itch for as long as it is kept on, this film will make one’s skin crawl long after it has ended.

THE COMPLETE METROPOLIS (Kino Video. $29.99): Almost from the time of its original release in 1927, Fritz Lang’s sci-fi epic “Metropolis” has been considered one of the landmark works in the history of cinema and one of the most influential films ever made--traces of its visually flamboyant styles have turned up in so many subsequent genre films that it would almost be easier to list the ones that don’t demonstrate any obvious influence than the ones that do. This is an impressive enough achievement for any movie to attain but in the case of “Metropolis,” its lasting impact is all the more extraordinary because it has been virtually impossible to see it as it was originally intended since the time of its initial German premiere despite any number of attempts at restoring it to something resembling its former glory. Then in 2008, the seemingly impossible occurred as a couple of film historians in Buenos Aires stumbled upon what turned out to be a 16mm duplicate print of virtually all of Lang’s original version of the film and that rediscovered print has formed the basis for the film’s latest and most significant restoration to date. Granted, there are still a few pieces of the puzzle that are still missing--those moments are papered over with title cards containing information gleaned from the novelization of the film published during its initial release in Germany-- and the new footage is of considerably lower quality than the surrounding material but for anyone even vaguely interested in the history of film, these are flaws that can be easily overlooked because they help to provide us with the clearest look yet at the astonishments that it provided its earliest audiences and also reconfirm its stature as one of the towering landmarks of the cinema in general and the science-fiction genre in particular. This was arguably the key cinematic event of 2010 and this DVD is a must-own as well for anyone vaguely interested in one of the great works in the history of film.

THE EXPENDABLES (Liongate Home Entertainment. $29.95): Sylvester Stallone brings together a large group of past and present action movie stars (including Jason Statham, Jet Li, Steve Austin, Dolph Lundgren, Mickey Rourke and, in brief cameos, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger) for this appealingly retro extravaganza in which he leads a group of highly skilled mercenaries on a mission to overthrow a brutal South American dictator. The result is junk, to be sure, but it is undeniably entertaining junk, especially if you have a taste for the 80’s-era action films that it is clearly trying to emulate.

THE LAST AIRBENDER (Paramount Home Video. $29.99): When M. Night Shyamalan’s adaptation of the popular animated TV series debuted last summer, it was lambasted by virtually everyone who saw it because of an exceptionally awful 3D conversion that rendered most of it virtually unwatchable. Now presented in conventional 2D, it turns out that the film is still unwatchable for different reasons--it is a badly staged, indifferently directed and barely comprehensible mess will leave fans of the series angry and newcomers completely baffled. Yes, as improbable as it may seem, Shyamalan has actually managed to make a film worse than “The Village” or “The Happening.“

MODERN TIMES (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Charlie Chaplin bid adieu to both his beloved Little Tramp character and the world of silent cinema with this 1936 masterpiece in which he plays a factory worker struggling to cope with an increasingly mechanized nature of the workplace while falling in love with beautiful young runaway Paulette Goddard. With the exception of his brilliant black comedy “Monsieur Verdoux,” this is arguably the best of Chaplin’s features because it is the one that best balances his unquestioned comedic genius with the pathos that had increasingly begun to dominate his work. This excellent disc from Criterion includes a commentary from Chaplin biographer David Robinson, visual essays from Jeffrey Vance and John Bengston, footage from two deleted sequences, the 1916 Chaplin short “The Rink,” a 1933 home movie from Alistair Cooker featuring Chaplin and “For the First Time,” a fascinating 1967 short showing Cuban audiences being exposed to the film and Chaplin for the very first time. Needless to say, this is pretty much essential viewing.

THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Robert Mitchum turned in one of the most terrifying and memorable performances in screen history in this 1955 masterpiece, which marked the beginning and the end of the directorial career of Charles Laughton, in which he plays a creepy traveling preacher who relentlessly pursues a couple of young children, even going so far as to marry their widowed mother (Shelly Winters), because he is convinced they know when their late father hid a fortune in stolen money. Part grim fairy tale, part stalker movie and part expressionistic nightmare, this is one of those movies that grabs a hold of you the minute you see it for the first time and never, ever lets you go.

THE PROMISE: THE DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN STORY (Sony Music. $119.98): While recording his landmark “Darkness on the Edge of Town” album in 1978 following a legal tussle with his former manager that kept him out of the studio for two years, Bruce Springsteen allowed cameras to capturing the process and that footage forms the basis of this fascinating documentary that tells the whole story of how that album came to be and the dozens of additional songs that were recorded but never used. This documentary comes as part of a massive box set that includes a remastered version of the original album, a 2-CD collection of previously unreleased songs written and recorded during this period and two additional DVDs including a 2010 live performance of the entire album, several video clips of performances from around this period and a full-length 3-hour 1978 concert filmed in Houston.

SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE UNIVERSE (Universal Home Entertainment.$29.98): In one of the most flat-out irritating movies to come along in a long, long time, Michael Cera plays a self-absorbed slacker who meets the girl of his dreams in Mary Elizabeth Winstead and learns that he must battle her seven angry exes in videogame-style battles in order to win her for himself. Director Edgar Wright, who previously scored with “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” tries to pump things up by ladling on the visual pyrotechnics but can’t overcome the fact that his film is filled with unlikable characters doing unintelligible things for two solid hours. Yes, some people have praised this movie to the skies as some kind of revolutionary work that would change cinema forever but believe me, I wouldn’t want to spend time riding on a bus next to any of them anytime soon.

SHERLOCK: SEASON ONE ($34.98): The latest reimagining of Arthur Conan Doyle’s eternally popular detective character, this time done as a series for the BBC, is a modern-day take in which Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a borderline sociopath who helps out Scotland Yard on their most baffling cases and Watson (Martin Freeman) is a traumatized war veteran who winds up moving in with Holmes and assisting him on his cases. The premise sounds dodgy, I realize, but it is a little better than it may seem and it certainly beats the likes of “Young Sherlock Holmes” like a gong. Other TV-related DVDs now available include “7th Heaven: The Final Season” (CBS DVD. $49.98), “The Boondocks: The Complete Third Season” (Sony Home Entertainment. $49.95), “Californication: The Third Season” (Showtime. $42.99), "The Chronicles of Narnia" (BBC Warner. $34.98)[/b[, “Deadwood: The Complete Series” (HBO Home Video. $209.98), “Doctor Who: The Complete Fifth Series” (Warner Home Video. $79.98), “Hannah Montana: Who Is Hannah Montana?” (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $19.99), “Lie To Me: Season Two” (Fox Home Entertainment. $59.98), “Murder She Wrote: The Complete Twelfth Season” (Universal Home Entertainment. $49.98), “Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XIX” (Shout! Factory. $69.97), “The Pillars of the Earth” (Sony Home Entertainment. $59.99) and “The World at War” (A&E Home Entertainment. $99.95).

THE SIX-MILLION-DOLLAR MAN: THE COMPLETE SERIES (Time-Life Video. $239.95): You practically have to be a bionic person yourself in order to handle what may well go down as the over-the-top DVD box set of the season--a 40-disc behemoth that contains all five seasons of the Seventies-era favorite in which injured astronaut Lee Majors is rebuilt using robotic technology and uses his powers to serve the government by fighting crime and occasionally rassling Bigfoot, all three of the pilot episodes, the three post-series reunion movies (one of which features the presence of the then-unknown Sandra Bullock), the various cross-over episodes that it shared with the companion show “The Bionic Women,” interviews with key members of the cast and crew and the proverbial much, much more. This may be a little much for the casual observer but for the show’s still devoted fan base, this set (currently available only through the Time-Life website) is worth every penny of its admittedly hefty price tag.


MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (Warner Home Video. $34.99)

OCEAN’S 11 (Warner Home Video. $24.95)

TREMORS (Universal Home Entertainment. $26.95)

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originally posted: 11/30/10 07:57:12
last updated: 12/02/10 13:19:52
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