DVD Reviews for 2/18ish: “Just. . .Follow The Money”
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 02/22/11 06:44:22
I apologize for this column appearing a little bit later than I had planned. In my defense, I was somewhat distracted by something else. To be more specific, that “something else” was page 138 of the new Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. This is an incredibly tacky excuse, I admit, but if you take a glimpse for yourself, I’d like to think that some of you will at least see where I am coming from on this.
NEW AND NOTABLEALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (Warner Home Video. $34.99): Still gripping and fascinating after all these years, Alan Pakula’s 1976 hit drama follows Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward (Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford) as they pursue the Watergate story from its humble beginnings as a bungled break-in to the scandal that would topple the Nixon presidency. With its skillful, detail-obsessed screenplay by William Goldman and taut direction from Pakula, this is a film that works as both a docudrama and as an uncommonly effective thriller and at a time when the entire profession of journalism appears to be on the ropes, watching it now serves as a wistful reminder of a better time.
AMERICA, AMERICA (Warner Home Video. $19.98): After directing such acclaimed works as “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “On the Waterfront” and “Splendor in the Grass,” noted filmmaker/squealer Elia Kazan went personal with this 1963 epic based on the experiences of his uncle following a young Greek man making his way from a small village in Turkey to Ellis Island. Possibly because it hasn’t been seen as much in recent years as some of his more famous works, this actually feels like a fresher and more vital experience today and demonstrates that Kazan was just as skilled at working with unknown actors as he was with the likes of Marlon Brando.
BEAUTY AND THE BRIEFCASE (Image Entertainment. $27.97): In a movie that was deemed so absolutely entertaining that it bypassed theaters entirely in order to premiere on the ABC Family cable channel, Hilary Duff stars as an aspiring writer who goes undercover while working on a story for Cosmopolitan about finding love in the workplace and unexpectedly finds romance herself. Unless you are still at the age where slumber parties are appropriate, you can easily skip over this one--if you need a fix of Hilary Duff, I once again implore you to check out the awesome and underrated “War Inc."
FOR COLORED GIRLS (LionsGate Home Entertainment. $29.95): After making a series of junky crowd-pleasers mixing his own unique blend of ham-fisted melodrama and wildly inappropriate slapstick comedy, the immensely successful Tyler Perry decided to swing for the Oscar fences with this adaptation of Ntozake Shange’s acclaimed Seventies-era stage piece, originally presented as a series of poems depicting the struggles of black women, featuring an all-star cast including Whoopi Goldberg, Janet Jackson, Thandie Newton and Kerry Washington. Although Perry deserves credit for trying something a little more ambitious instead of simply cranking out another Madea epic (the next of which will be hitting theaters in a few weeks), the end result is pretty much a botch as the material just doesn’t survive the translation from the stage to the screen and the juxtaposition between Shange’s original words and Perry’s additional material is so jarring that it is impossible to ever really get absorbed in the various stories.
I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $29.97)[/.i]: In an apparent bid to prove that virtually every movie with a reasonably well-known title will one day find itself being remade, we now have a second version of the infamous 1978 grindhouse classic in which a woman (Sarah Butler) who was brutally raped and left for dead by a group of backwoods hicks goes after her assailants and kills them in an equally savage manner. While one could make the argument that the original film (also being issued on DVD and Blu-ray) worked to a certain degree as a kind of feminist revenge fantasy, this take on the material is lurid slop made by people who were only interested in exploiting an infamous property in the hopes of scoring a few quick bucks from jaded gorehounds.
LAST TANGO IN PARIS (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.99): In a morbid bit of unplanned synchronicity, Bernardo Bertolucci’s landmark 1973 film following the strange, erotic and emotionally brutal relationship that develops between an American in Paris (Marlon Brando) still in shock over his wife’s suicide and a much younger woman (Maria Schneider) is making its Blu-ray debut only a couple of weeks after the death of Schneider. Although the film has inevitably lost some of the impact that it had on viewers when it was first released, it is still a fascinating and decidedly adult drama and Brando’s performance remains one for the ages. Alas, the people putting together this disc must have felt otherwise because there are absolutely no bonus materials to be had outside of a trailer--a bit shocking for a title as famous as this one.
MIDDLE MEN (Paramount Home Video. $29.98): Squandering whatever lingering goodwill that he may have maintained over the years for his brilliant screenplay for “Midnight Run,” writer-director George Gallo presents us with this insipid “Boogie Nights”-wannabe that tells the less-than-scintillating true-life story of a couple of obnoxious cokeheads and would-be pornographers (Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht) who figure out a way to bill people by credit card over the Internet and the smart, stable businessman (Luke Wilson) who makes them all millionaires as a result and winds up getting caught between his family, mobsters and the FBI. Smug, obnoxious and thoroughly unbelievable from start to finish, watching this film was one of the most excruciating experiences I had in a theatre last year and I can’t imagine that watching it at home could make the experience even slightly more palatable.
MY SOUL TO TAKE (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): After a surprisingly long absence, horror icon Wes Craven returned to the director’s chair for this effort in which yet another serial killer seemingly returns from beyond the grave to terrorize a group of good-looking but inexpensive teen actors in gruesome ways. Like much of America, I didn’t actually see this one during its brief theatrical run but from what I have heard from those who did, the thing is apparently a mess that works better as unintentional comedy than as intentional horror. In other words, if you were wonder why Craven was doing the upcoming “Scream 4” after vowing for years that he wouldn’t, this may answer your question.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 (Paramount Home Video. $29.98): In this prequel to the 2009 low-budget horror hit, another family (one related to the couple from the first installment) find themselves under siege from unknown forces whose activities are glimpsed from a series of well-placed surveillance cameras. Although moderately better than the wildly overrated original, this is still a whole lot of tedious nonsense that proves definitively that with enough hype, audiences will buy anything--or in this case, next to nothing. If you actually liked the film--such people do apparently exist--you will be giddy to know that this DVD includes both the theatrical version and an extended version with footage that was apparently too intense to experience in the multiplex (perhaps something actually happened in them).
REPO CHICK (Industrial Entertainment. $24.95): Despite the title and presence of writer-director Alex Cox, this is not the long-awaited sequel to his 1984 cult classic “Repo Man.“ Instead, it is a low-budget bit of weirdness that tells the story of a spoiled heiress (Jaclyn Jonet) who, after being cut off from her fortune, goes to work for a couple of repo men and gets involved in the search for some missing railroad cars to be used by a terrorist organization to blow up L.A. if their demands (such as the criminalization of golf) aren’t met. Although visually interesting at times, this is just a tired and stale satire that never comes together and considering that it was made by Cox, the man who gave us such incisive works as “Sid & Nancy” and “Walker,” it cannot go down as anything other than a massive disappointment.
THE ROMANTICS (Paramount Home Video. $22.98): No, this is not the long-awaited biopic chronicling the meteoric rise and fall of the guys that gave us “What I Like About You” and “Talking in Your Sleep”--it is actually a romantic comedy-drama about a group of college friends who get together for the wedding of two of their number and get involved in any number of emotional complications before the ceremony. Actually, we all would have been better off with the biopic than with this meandering mess that not even a cast including the likes of Katie Holmes, Anna Paquin, Adam Brody, Elijah Wood, Diana Agron, Candice Bergen and Elijah Wood can quite manage to save from terminal mediocrity.
THE STRANGER (HD Cinema Classics. $15.99): After the scandal of “Citizen Kane” and the financial failure of “The Magnificent Ambersons,” Orson Welles needed to prove to Hollywood that he could indeed make a conventional film on time and on budget and proceeded to do so with this 1946 effort in which he plays a Nazi war criminal who manages to escape to small-town America and set up a new life for himself until Nazi hunter Edward G. Robinson begins snooping around. Although by far the most impersonal of Welles’ directorial efforts, this is still a reasonably effective thriller with good performances from Welles, Robinson and Loretta Young, occasionally intriguing visuals and a fairly strong finale. Alas, the visual quality of this presentation isn’t that great but considering the quality of some of the prints that have been floating around in the last few years, I suppose it is a bit of an improvement.
SUNDAY IN NEW YORK (Warner Archive. $19.95): Long before she became the Oscar-winning actress and feminist icon that we know her as today, Jane Fonda was making her cinematic bones by starring in a series of extremely silly sex comedies--ones that were rarely sexy and rarely funny--and this 1963 effort was one of the dippiest of the bunch. In it, she plays a young woman who comes to New York after breaking up with her fiancee and fears that she may be the only 22-year-old virgin in the world--lucky for her, there are plenty of guys out there willing to relieve her of that particular burden.
TAMARA DREWE (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.95): Based on a graphic novel that was itself loosely inspired by Thomas Hardy’s “Far from the Maddening Crowd,” the always-eclectic Stephen Frears directs this romantic comedy about a former ugly duckling (Gemma Arterton) who, after a successful career as a writer and an even more successful bit of plastic surgery on her once prominent proboscis, returns to the small town where she grew up and drives people to distraction. The whole thing is silly and slight but Arterton, who has lately been wasted in such gibberish as “Clash of the Titans” and “Prince of Persia,” is so winsome and charming that she pretty much carries the entire thing on her extremely attractive shoulders.
UNSTOPPABLE (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): Although I am not normally a fan of the cinematic excesses of director Tony Scott, I have to grudgingly admit that this high-concept thriller, in which Denzel Washington and Chris Pine find themselves trying to stop a runaway and driverless freight train filled with hazardous chemicals from derailing and killing thousands of people, delivers the goods and then some. Lean, effective and undeniably exciting, this was one of the best pure action films of 2010 and while its impact will surely be lessened by watching it at home, it still packs enough of a punch to make it more than worth your while.
WHEELIE AND THE CHOPPER BUNCH: THE COMPLETE SERIES (Warner Archives. $19.95): In one of the weirder concoctions from the Hanna-Barbera animation studio to grace Saturday morning TV lineups during the 1970’s, a stunt car with a shocking resemblance to a certain anthropomorphic Volkswagen of note drives around from place to place with his girlfriend (don’t worry, it is another car) to win races and escape the depravations of an evil group of talking motorcycles known as the Chopper Bunch.
WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS: A MAN WITHN (Oscilloscope. $29.99): The groundbreaking author of the infamous classic novel “Naked Lunch” is the subject of this intriguing documentary from Yony Leyser that mixes together archival materials with new interviews with many of the artists whose own work was influenced by the man, including Patti Smith, John Waters, Iggy Pop, Gus Van Sant and David Cronenberg.
WUSA (Olive Films. $24.95): Paul Newman stars in this relatively obscure 1970 drama about an amoral and apolitical drifter who goes to work for a rabidly right-wing radio station in the South and becomes a sensation by deliberately slanting the news to appeal to the basest instincts of his audience. The film was a flop when it premiered 40 years ago (which would explain why it is only now making its official home video debut) and while it is far from a total success, it is not without interest and when one considers the numerous parallels between its storyline and the media world today, it may actually play better now than it did when it first came out.
YOU AGAIN (Touchstone Home Entertainment. $29.99): Kristen Bell officially squandered whatever lingering goodwill that she maintained from her years as Veronica Mars with this miserable would-be comedy in which she discovers that the girl who tormented her as a kid (comedy, thy name is Odette Yustman) is marrying her brother. Not even the presence of Sigourney Weaver and Jamie Lee Curtis as their mothers (and frenemies in their own right) are able to salvage this turkey, a film so bad that it means that “When in Rome” was only Bell’s second-worst film of 2010.
YOU WILL MEET A TALL DARK STRANGER (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.95): Woody Allen returned to London once again for his annual cinematic contribution effort--this one a comedy-drama involving the romantic entanglements of a group of people played by the high-powered likes of Anthony Hopkins, Antonio Banderas, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Gemma Jones, Lucy Punch and Frieda Pinto. This is at best a mid-level effort from the always-prolific Allen--it is far from awful and the performances are all pretty good but it lacks the sense of dramatic energy and urgency that it so desperately needs. Watching it is like listening to a master pianist play scales for 90 minutes--it is done as well as can be but you know that they are capable of so much more.
ARMACORD (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)
BARB WIRE (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98)
BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $26.50)
CHAPLIN (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.99)
CHICKEN LITTLE (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $26.50)
DINOSAUR (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $26.50)
ENCHANTED (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $26.50)
FIVE CORNERS (Image Entertainment. $17.97)
HOODWINKED (The Weinstein Company. $24.99)
LEGENDS OF THE FALL (Sony Home Entertainment. $19.95)
MEET THE ROBINSONS (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $26.50)
MOONSTRUCK (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.99)
NATIONAL TREASURE (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $26.50)
NATIONAL TREASURE 2: BOOK OF SECRETS (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $26.50)
NETWORK (Warner Home Video. $19.98)
A PRIVATE FUNCTION (Image Entertainment. $17.97)
RAIN MAN (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.99)
THE RIVER WILD (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98)
THELMA & LOUISE: 20th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.99)
UNCLE BUCK (Universal Home Entertainment. $14.98)
WAIST DEEP (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98)
THE WILD (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $26.50)