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DVD Reviews For 3/18: “Remember, There Is Always Something Cleverer Than Yourself”
by Peter Sobczynski

Thanks to a couple of March Madness-related breakdowns (thanks a lot, Vanderbilt), this column is later than usual. However, here it is at last with the usual potpourri of weirdness including real documentaries, fake documentaries, a real documentary about a fake documentary and the further adventures of Jennifer Aniston and Sharktopus--though not together, sad to say.


APHRODISIAC! THE SEXUAL SECRET OF MARIJUANA (Impulse Pictures. $24.95): If you ever wanted to see a pro-pot documentary, for lack of a better word, featuring lessons on how to roll joints, a recipe for pot brownies, a bunch of graphic sex scenes designed to illustrate the erotic benefits of weed and appearances from the likes of the then-unknown John Holmes and famed midget actor Billy Curtis, your wish has been granted by Impulse Pictures with the DVD release of this extremely odd 1971 epic. Of course, the whole thing is gibberish and the sex scenes aren’t particularly erotic--you are more likely to notice the gauche décor than the people grinding away in front of and atop of it--but as instant camp items go, it does make for an effective bit of silliness for people looking for another “Reefer Madness” to goof on.

BMX BANDITS (Severin Films. $19.98): Why would anyone have any interest whatsoever in a barely remembered 1983 exploitation film from Australia about a trio of bike-riding kids who run afoul of a group of bank robbers and wind up evading them via one bike stunt after another? Well, possibly because one of the kids was played by a 16-year-old Nicole Kidman making her screen debut underneath one of the largest heads of hair you will ever see. The movie is dumb and while I can’t imagine that anyone who saw it back then would have predicted big things for Kidman on the basis of her performance here, she is the only person in the cast to possess any real screen charisma. That said, unless you are David Thomson or are obsessed with early-80’s camp items or Ozploitation films, you can easily skip over this one.

THE FERNANDO DI LEO CRIME COLLECTION (Raro Video. $39.98): Raro Video makes its debut on the home video market with this impressive collection of obscure thrillers from Italian filmmaker di Leo that have been restored in connection with the Venice Film Festival. The titles on display here include “Caliber 9” (in which a recently released ex-con is caught between the cops and his psychotic former employer, both of whom believe he has hidden $300,000 in missing drug money), “The Italian Connection” (in which a small-time pimp is framed for the theft of a shipment of heroin and finds himself being pursued by the people it was intended for and the ones who actually did steal it), “The Boss” (in which the lone survivor of a mob-ordered bombing that killed the rest of his family sets off on a path of revenge that may lead to him becoming the new crime boss) and “Rulers of the City” (also known as “Mr. Scarface” and featuring Jack Palance as a mob boss who goes up against a couple of ambitious underlings who covet his wealth and power for themselves). If you prefer your quirky Italian-based entertainment to be a little more sophisticated, Raro is also releasing “The Clowns” (Raro Video. $29.98), Federico Fellini’s interesting 1970 semi-documentary in which he explores his lifelong fascination with clowns and the circus

THE FIGHTER (Paramount Home Video. $29.99): True, this biopic charting the troubled relationship between middling boxer Mickey Ward and his brother Dicky, a former boxer who is now a screwed-up crackhead convinced that he still has a comeback in him contains very little from a narrative standpoint that hasn’t been seen in some form in any number of other boxing movies over the years. However, this one does rise above most of the pack thanks to director David O Russell’s ability to breath new life and energy into the material and impressive performances from Christian Bale (who won an Oscar for playing Dicky), Melssa Leo (who won an Oscar for playing the smothering mom/manager who would rather see Mickey fail under her than succeed with someone else) and Mark Wahlberg (who didn’t even rate a nomination for playing Mickey even though his understated and nuanced performance may have actually been the best of the bunch).

A FILM UNFINISHED (Oscilloscope Films. $29.99): There have been countless documentaries made on the subject of the Holocaust but few have had the quiet and horrifying power maintained by this one. In 1942, the Nazis began shooting a propaganda film in the Warsaw ghetto meant to show the world how wonderfully the Jews were being treated by featuring scenes involving lavish dinner parties and women preparing for a night out on the town. The film was never finished and this documentary consists of those scenes along with the addition of a long-lost reel of outtakes showing just how the scenes were staged and what the real conditions were like. The DVD also includes interviews with author Adrian Wood and scholar Michael Berenbaum and “Death Mills,” a 1945 short by Billy Wilder that included some of the first film footage of the concentration camps shot in the wake of their liberation.

HEREAFTER (Warner Home Video. $28.98): In what has to go down as one of the most unintentionally ill-timed DVD releases in recent memory, Clint Eastwood’s drama about three disparate people whose lives are touched by the afterlife--a genuine psychic (Matt Damon) whose powers are ruining his hopes for a normal life, a reporter (Cecile de France) whose life is turned upside down after a near-death experience and a young boy (Frankie McLaren) who becomes obsesses with contacting the other side after the accidental death of his twin brother--has hit shelves at just the precise moment when potential viewers might not want to sit through a film that opens with a horrifying and extended recreation of the 2004 tsunami that killed thousands of people. For those who can get beyond that, this is one of the more interesting of Eastwood’s recent projects and while it isn’t a total success (like too many of his films, it goes on a little too long for its own good), it has some surprisingly powerful moments and is well worth checking out.

INSIDE JOB (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.95): The last year or so has seen a number of documentaries delving into the current economic collapse but none of them has come close to working as well as this one, the winner of this year’s Best Documentary Oscar. As he did in depicting the ongoing folly of the war in Iraq in his equally acclaimed film “No End in Sight,” director Charles Ferguson charts the recent history of economic deregulation in America and its cataclysmic results through interviews with many of the very people who were at least partly responsible for the results (though he does make sure to note those who refused to talk to him on camera). Without ever resorting to the cheap shots or dramatic histrionics that can sometimes undercut this kind of filmmaking, Ferguson does a devastating job of laying out what happened in ways that will surely make most viewers mad as hell and ready for change.

JACKASS 3 (Paramount Home Video. $34.98): If there was ever such a thing as a critic-proof movie, it would be this latest big-screen version of the MTV program in which Johnny Knoxville and the usual gang of idiots indulge in a series of stunts veering between the scatological to the stupid to the extremely painful with something resembling heedless abandon. As someone who never watched the TV series, hated the first movie and laughed himself silly at the second, I will state that this installment is better than the first but not as good as the second--some of the gags wheeze of desperation or are too gross to be funny but some of them are absolutely inspired.

MORNING GLORY (Paramount Home Video. $29.98): Although this workplace comedy, featuring Rachel McAdams as an ambitious network morning show producer who has to convince a rigid former anchorman (Harrison Ford) to work with the giddy current co-host (Diane Keaton) in order to save the program from cancellation, never quite rises to the hallowed heights of the great “Broadcast News,” it certainly deserved a better reception than it received during its release last winter. The script is relatively amusing and incisive about contemporary network journalism, the direction from Roger Michell is smooth and efficient and the cast is clearly having a good time, especially Ford, who turns in his most likable performance in a long time here as the crusty Rather-esque anchor appalled with what his once-proud profession has devolved into over the years.

NFL SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS: GREEN BAY PACKERS (Warner Home Video, $24.98): EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to the unbelievably foul language and near-pornographic invective deployed by the author, this entry will not be seen here because if even part of what was originally written were to get out into the general populace, we would all be in jail by nightfall. Please, continue on--I believe there is a listing for a Jennifer Aniston movie coming up and there is no way anyone could possibly say anything nasty about something like that.

NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT PERSIAN CATS (MPI Entertainment. $24.98): In one of the best films of 2010 that you most likely never even heard of, let alone didn’t see, Iranian filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi follows around a couple of underground musicians as they attempt to secure passports, travel documents and additional band members for an upcoming gig in London without getting arrested by the authorities for their crimes. Shot on the sly with the same kind of stealthiest employed by its characters, all played by real players on the Iranian underground music scene, this is a powerful docudrama showing how art can still flourish even under the most oppressive of circumstances and is filled with a lot of good music to boot. Trust me, this is one to watch.

SHARKTOPUS (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $19.98): In this Roger Corman-produced cut-rate epic that originally premiered on the Syfy Channel, Eric Roberts plays a mad scientist hired by the military to come up with a new super-weapon and devises a half-shark, half-octopus combo that predictably wreaks all sorts of bloody havoc. It is all supposed to be goofy fun, I realize, but like most self-conscious stabs at camp, it quickly grows tiresome and unless you are obsessed with chintzy CGI effects or Eric Roberts (neither of which I would exactly brag about if I were you), you are probably better off just finding the trailer somewhere online--it contains all the entertainment value of the film proper and it is done in under two minutes.

THE SINS OF MADAME BOVARY (Impulse Pictures. $24.95): Kids, if you are planning to cheat on your high school book report of “Madame Bovary” by renting the movie instead of reading the book, do not select this 1969 Eurosleaze take on the material that is as loose in regards to its source as the title character, embodied here by the immortal Edwige Fenech in her first lead role, demonstrates herself to be throughout. However, if you have a taste for sexploitation with oddball literary pretensions or are a charter member of the Edwige Fenech fan club, you should get a kick out of this agreeably trashy item making its DVD debut.

SUGAR BOXX (E1 Entertainment. $24.98): In yet another self-consciously campy homage to the exploitation films of yesteryear, primarily the women-in-prison genre and the oeuvre of the late, great Russ Meyer, an intrepid reporter goes undercover at a women’s prison to expose a prostitution ring and gets into all sorts of trouble as a result. Frankly, you are better off sticking with one of Meyer’s actual films--which managed to be campy and genuinely entertaining at the same time--or something like the immortal “Chained Heat” than with this nonsense that starts off okay and quickly grows tiresome. Two things I should note before moving on. The first is that this would prove to be the last film of the late cult icon Tura Satana, who achieved screen immortality in Meyer’s 1965 classic “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” (in which she played virtually all of the title roles, including the exclamation points). The second is that in sending me a review copy of this DVD, the good folks at E1 Entertainment were kind enough to send me a pair of faux-fur-line handcuffs to boot--looks like my Mother’s Day shopping is done!

THE SWITCH (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $29.95): In this adaptation of a short story by Jeffrey Eugenides, the author of the great “The Virgin Suicides,” single woman Jennifer Aniston (who else) decides to have a baby on her own and throws a party to commemorate her fertilization, her lovelorn and neurotic best pal (Jason Bateman) accidentally ruins the sperm sample donated by a charming hunk (Patrick Wilson) and substitutes it with his own--seven years later, she comes back into his life and he is shocked to find her with a son carrying as many neuroses and tics as he does. Although not a great film by any means, this is slightly better than the usual Jennifer Aniston joint, mostly because of the amusing performances from Bateman, Thomas Robinson as the kid and Jeff Goldblum as Bateman’s best pal.

THE TWO MRS CAROLLS (Warner Archives. $19.98): In this underrated 1947 suspense drama, one of the latest releases from the Warner Archives program of making lesser-known titles from the Warner Brothers vaults available on DVD (and often on home video) for the first time through their website, screen legends Humphrey Bogart and Barbara Stanwyck, in their only on-screen teaming, star as, respectively, an insane painter who marries beautiful women to give him artistic inspiration only to kill them and move on to the next when said inspiration dries up and the current wife who begins to suspect that something nasty is afoot. The film isn’t that great--sort of like a weird combination of “Pollack” and “The Stepfather”--but it chugs along effectively enough and it is interesting to see Bogart deploying his famous anti-hero persona in the service of a bad guy role. Other recent releases of note from Warner Archives include “The Learning Tree” (Warner Archives. $19.95), Gordon Parks’ celebrated 1969 film chronicling an eventful year in the life of a black teenager growing up in Kansas in the 1920’s, and “Wild Rovers” (Warner Archives. $19.95), an oddball 1971 Western from Blake Edwards, of all people, starring William Holden and Ryan O’Neal that is making its DVD debut in its original full-length version after having been cut before its original release by MGM over Edwards’ objections.

THE WALKING DEAD: SEASON ONE (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $39.98): In one of the more surprising television success to come along in recent years, the graphic novels by Robert Kirkman chronicling a zombie outbreak and the efforts of a few survivors in Atlanta to survive both attacks from the walking dead as well as the mounting tensions developing amongst themselves have been transformed by AMC and Frank Darabont into one of the few truly successful attempts to do small-screen horror on a weekly basis. Gory, creepy and surprisingly incisive, this may not be for the faint-of-heart or weak-of-stomach but at a time when even George Romero’s zombie epics seem to be running on fumes, this show proves that there is still life in the dead after all. Other TV-related DVDs now in stores include “Coach: The Fourth Year” (Universal Home Entertainment. $24.98), “Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XX” (Shout! Factory. $59.97) and “Who Do You Think You Are? Season One (Acorn Media. $39.99).


AU REVOIR LES ENFANTS (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)

EXCALIBUR (Warner Home Video. $19.98)

EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP (Oscilloscope. $39.99)

NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $39.99)

TALES FROM EARTHSEA (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $39.99)

YI YI (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)

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originally posted: 03/22/11 07:04:24
last updated: 03/27/11 09:38:55
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