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DVD Reviews For 1/14: “Machete Don’t Text”
by Peter Sobczynski

After a few weeks off, this column was planning on getting back to business with a long piece devoted to the Blu-ray release of the woefully underrated comedy classic “Ishtar.” Alas, it was pulled from the release schedule at the very last second, though it apparently did hit some store shelves in Canada. Instead, please enjoy this overview of the week’s big DVD/Blu-ray releases and a catch-up (or “catsup,” if Uma Thurman is reading) of a couple of titles that came out in the last couple of weeks that slipped through the cracks. Of course, if you are Canadian and can get your hands on a copy of “Ishtar” for me, drop me a line in care of the site and we can see if we can come to some agreement


THE AMERICAN (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Continuing his tendency to utilize his considerable star power in the service of offbeat movie projects instead of simply coasting from one blockbuster to the next, George Clooney stars in this moody European-style drama about a hired killer whose attempts to lay low from enemies in a small Italian village while constructing a weapon for a mysterious client may lead to his undoing. Those expecting the kind of straightforward action film promised by the ads are going to be disappointed but those looking for something a little more quiet and introspective should find it fascinating.

CASE 39 (Paramount Home Entertainment. $29.98): If you have ever wondered what it is like to be an executive at a big movie studio, here is your chance. Buy a copy of this lame and long-delayed thriller, in which Renee Zellweger and Bradley Cooper trying to get to the bottom of mysterious goings-on involving a strange little girl, and then immediately stick it on a shelf for three years before watching it.

DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS (Paramount Home Entertainment. $29.98): In this lame remake of the equally lame French comedy “The Dinner Game,“ Paul Rudd plays a rising young executive whose nasty boss invites him to a dinner party where each guest is bring along a perfect idiot as part of a cruel game and Steve Carell plays the schnook who proceeds to undo Rudd’s entire life within the space of a single day. Carell has one or two funny moments and it is always a treat to see Rudd in a lead role but for the most part, this is just a failed farce that goes on far too long for its own good.

HEARTBREAKER (MPI Home Video. $24.98): In this cheerfully mindless French romantic comedy, Romain Duris plays a guy who hires himself out to people who feel that their female acquaintances are falling in love with the wrong person--he sweeps them off their feet, gets them to break up with the other guy and dumps her himself. The only rule is that he can never actually fall in love with any of the women he is wooing, a credo that is put to the test when his next conquest turns out to be a babe played by the drool-worth Vanessa Paradis.

HOWL (Oscilloscope. $29.98): This deeply flawed but highly ambitious celebration of the groundbreaking poem by Allen Ginsberg and its cultural impact combines scenes of Ginsberg (played by a highly convincing James Franco) debuting the epic before a stunned crowd in 1955, a recreation of an interview he gave in 1957 discussing his life and work, a staging of the famous obscenity trial it inspired that year based on the actual court transcripts and featuring the likes of Jon Hamm, David Straithairn and Mary-Louise Parker and an animated depiction of the poem itself. It doesn’t really work as a whole--the animated stuff is especially unnecessary--but those with a strong interest in Ginsberg and his work may find it of interest.

HOW TO GET AHEAD IN ADVERTISING (Image Entertainment.$14.98): Bruce Robinson followed up his cult hit “Withnail & I” with this little-seen 1989 satire starring Richard E. Grant as a cynical ad man who becomes so consumed with the pressure to come up with a winning campaign for a new pimple cream that he seems to develop a boil on his shoulder that eventually transforms into a second head with a mind of its own. Although not nearly as good as “Withnail & I,” the film holds up pretty well today as a savage commentary on our consumerist culture and Grant’s performance is a keeper as well.

MACHETE (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): Inspired by the goofy trailer that he composed as part of the trash epic “Grindhouse,” Robert Rodriguez co-directed this ultra-violent bit of Mexploitation starring Danny Trejo as a former Federale who goes against a cabal of bad guys (including Robert DeNiro, Steven Seagal and Don Johnson) who set him up and left him for dead as part of a plot to close the U.S.-Mexico border. There is plenty of blood and eye candy on display here (the latter supplied by the likes of Jessica Alba, Michelle Rodriguez and Lindsay Lohan) and it is fun for a little while (the sequence in which Machete escapes from a hospital is a doozy) but after a while, it begins to wear out its welcome.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (Warner Home Video. $24.98): Although justifiably famous for his jumbo-sized Westerns, the late director Sergio Leone’s finest work might well have been his 1984 swan song, a sprawling, decades-spanning mobster epic featuring Robert DeNiro and James as two friends who fall into a life of crime while kids in turn-of-the-century New York and wind up taking wildly different paths in life. Running nearly four hours and featuring an intricate story structure that effortlessly slips back and forth between the decades, this is a film that does require a certain investment from viewers but those who make the effort will be rewarded with one of the very best films of the Eighties.

PIRANHA 3D (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.95): In remaking Joe Dante’s beloved 1978 “Jaws” knock-off, director Alexandre Aja decided to eschew the B-movie homages and social satire that made the original more than just another rubber fish movie in favor of trying to cram in as much gore and nudity as an “R”-rating can handle. The result is pretty stupid and takes a while to get started but the central attack by the titular fish is certainly one for the books and there are fun appearances from the likes of Richard Dreyfuss, Christopher Lloyd and Kelly Brook, whose extended underwater naked lesbian ballet sequence with Riley Steele is likely to single-handedly keep Mr. Skin in business for years to come.

RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.95): Bouncing back after the relatively lackluster “Resident Evil: Extinction,“ Milla Jovovich returns as the ass-kicking Alice and this time finds herself holed up in an abandoned prison with a handful of uninfected survivors on the inside and lots and lots of zombie on the outside trying to get in. This is, of course, the cinematic equivalent of junk food but as junk food goes, it is pretty tasty indeed--the action scenes are pretty effective (though more so in the theaters where they were shown in 3D) and Jovovich is pretty convincing, not to mention just plain pretty, as our seemingly indestructible heroine.

THE RICKY GERVAIS SHOW: THE COMPLETE 1ST SEASON (Warner Home Video. $29.98): Apparently hell-bent on proving that he could get anything with his name on it produced if he wanted, Ricky Gervais got HBO to sign off on the idea of taking old podcasts that he did with partner Stephen Merchant and perpetually goofy guest Karl Pilkington were set to animation and turned them into a regular series, one which is just about to begin its second season. Under normal circumstances, this might seem like an especially egregious example of someone trying to cash in while the getting is good but the show does have one saving grace in that it is frequently hilarious, though to actually try to describe the wry and oddball humor on display would only do it a disservice. Just trust me and watch for yourself. Other recently released TV-related DVDs include “All in the Family: The Complete Eighth Season” (Shout! Factory. $29.93), “Archer: Season One” (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98), “Big Love: The Complete Fourth Season” (HBO Home Entertainment. $59.99), “E.R.: The Complete Fourteenth Season” (Warner Home Video. $49.98), “Greek: Chapter Five--The Complete Third Season” (Shout! Factory. $49.99), “Hot In Cleveland: Season One” (TV Land. $26.98), “Jersey Shore: Season Two” (Paramount Home Video. $29.99), “Mannix: The Fourth Season” (Paramount Home Video. $54.99), “Rules of Engagement: The Complete Fourth Season” (Sony Home Entertainment. $29.95), “The Secret Life of the American Teenager: Volume Five” (ABC Family. $39.99), “Skins: Volume 4” (BBC Warner. $39.98) and “The United States of Tara: The Second Season” (Showtime/Paramount Home Entertainment. $49.99).

SALT (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.95): In one of the few blockbusters from last summer that actually delivered the goods, Angelina Jolie plays a CIA analyst who finds herself on the run when she is identified by a Russian defector as a deep cover spy who is planning to assassinate the Russian president during his visit to the U.S. The film is utterly preposterous from beginning to end but it works sensationally thanks to Phillip Noyce’s strong and sturdy direction, action sequences that seem less reliant on digital trickery than usual and the endlessly charismatic Jolie burning up the screen with her every appearance. The DVD and Blu-ray feature three different versions of the film--the theatrical cut, an extended version and a director’s cut that offers up several intriguing changes, most significantly during the ending.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.96): Who would have dreamed that a film about a socially maladjusted computer whiz writing code for a website and being sued for millions by his former colleagues when that website turns out to be the enormously popular website Facebook could have possibly become an engrossing film, let alone the single best film of 2010. And yet, that is exactly what happened thanks to brilliant performances across the board from a cast including Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield and Justin Timberlake, a killer screenplay from Aaron Sorkin and hypnotic direction from David Fincher, who with this film demonstrates once again that he is among the very best filmmakers working today.

STEP UP 3 (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.99): The plot of this latest exercise in the lucrative dance movie franchise is as silly as it can be, the acting is fairly laughable and the whole thing is as substantial as defective cotton candy and yet, I have to admit that when I saw it in the theater last summer, I had a remarkably good time watching it. Of course most of that was because of the impressive dance numbers that were further juiced up by being presented in better-than-usual 3D. Alas, unless you have one of those fancy-lad 3D televisions and whatnot, you are now stuck watching the film in the miracle of 2D. Good luck with that.

THERE’S NOTHING OUT THERE: 20th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Troma Entertainment. $14.95): Several years before “Scream” made millions by offering viewers a post-ironic and self-aware horror film in which the characters themselves knew the rules of the genre and commented on them throughout, this low-budget 1990 film from Rolfe Kanefsky did more or less the same thing with this tale about a bunch of friends who go off to a cabin in the woods and discover that there is something else out there with them that is bumping them off one by one. Granted, “Scream” is still the more effective film by far but this one certainly has its grubby charms as well and horror buffs are especially likely to get a kick out of it.


ARMY OF SHADOWS (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)

BACKDRAFT (Universal Home Entertainment. $26.98)

DANCES WITH WOLVES (MGM Home Entertainment. $29.99)

EVER AFTER (Fox Home Entertainment. $24.99)

HOPE FLOATS (Fox Home Entertainment. $24.99)

LOST IN TRANSLATION (Universal Home Entertainment. $26.98)

MY DOG SKIP (Warner Home Video.$19.98)

RAGING BULL (MGM Home Entertainment. $29.99)

ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)

ROB ROY (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.99)

A WALK IN THE CLOUDS (Fox Home Entertainment. $24.99)

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originally posted: 01/15/11 09:36:18
last updated: 01/15/11 10:59:11
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