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DVD Reviews for 5/27: "Shucks. An' We Thought It Was White Folks!"
by Peter Sobczynski

Gangsters, racers, dictators, demons and Piper Perabo undercover--just some of the sights to behold in this latest roundup of titles new to DVD and Blu-ray. Enjoy and happy Memorial Day to one and all


THE BEAUTIFUL PERSON (MPI Home Video. $24.98): Lea Seydoux, now being seen to great advantage in a small role in Woody Allen's delightful "Midnight in Paris," stars in this oh-so-French drama about a bored 16-year-old girl who enrolls in a new school and immediately sets her sights on the hunky Italian teacher while simultaneously attracting the attentions of another student. If you are a student of French literature and are thinking that you have heard this one before, that is because this latest effort from acclaimed director Cristophe Honore is loosely based on the Mademoiselle de Chartres novel "The Princess of Cleves."

BEVERLY HILLS COP (Paramount Home Video. $24.99): Although his first two films, "48 Hrs" and "Trading Places" have more or less managed to stand the test of time, Eddie Murphy's 1984 blockbuster about a streetwise Detroit cop wreaking havoc in the posh environs of Beverly Hills has aged horribly over time--the story is just as stupid as ever and the mix of comedy and violence remains a little too jarring for its own good (especially when compared to a film like "48 Hrs" in which the combination is handled beautifully) but even Murphy's once-celebrated improvs now come across as obnoxious and abrasive and generally bring the entire film to a halt. On the other hand, it is still infinitely better than the two sequels that it spawned, films that weren't even particularly amusing the first time around.

COVERT AFFAIRS: SEASON ONE (Universal Home Entertainment. $59.98): Perennial column crush object Piper Perabo stars in this series about a CIA trainee who is called up for active duty before completing her training and finds herself being sent out into the field on mysterious and dangerous adventures--is it because of her unique skill set or is it because her higher-ups are using her as bait to flush out a bigger fish with whom she may have an unknowing connection. Essentially a retread of "Alias" without the cleverness or dramatic heft, the show (which returns to USA for its second season in June) isn't a masterpiece by any means but as mindless entertainment, it isn't too painful to contemplate and the sight of Perabo saving the world in an array of sexy outfits is certainly nothing to sneeze at either. Other TV-related DVDs now available include "All In the Family: The Complete 9th Season" (Shout! Factory. $29.93), "The Bionic Woman: Season 2" (Universal Home Entertainment. $39.98), "Challenge of the GoBots: The Original Miniseries" (Warner Archives. $19.95), "ESPN Films: 30 By 30: Volume 2" (ESPN. $74.95), "Flashpoint: The Complete Third Season" (CBS DVD. $42.99), "The Kids In the Hall: The Complete Series DVD Megaset" (A&E Home Entertainment. $99.95), "Royal Pains: Season Two" (Universal Home Entertainment. $39.98) and "The Royal Wedding: William and Catherine" (BBC America. $9.98).

HURRY SUNDOWN/SUCH GOOD FRIENDS (Olive Films. $24.95 each): Long forgotten by all but a few auteurists and fans of oddball cinema, these two late-period efforts from celebrated filmmaker Otto Preminger are finally making their home video debuts in America. The former, based on the 1946 best-seller from K B Gilden, tells a decidedly overheated tale of racial tension in a small Georgia town with a soon-to-be-all-star cast including Michael Caine, Jane Fonda, Faye Dunaway, Robert Hooks, John Philip Law and Burgess Meredith. The latter, based on a screenplay by Elaine May (who had her name removed and replaced with "Esther Dale"), is a dark comedy that tells the story of a pampered New York housewife whose perfect life is shattered when she discovers that her husband, currently in a coma after a surgical mishap, has been cheating on her and features a cast including Dyan Cannon, James Coco, Jennifer O'Neill, Ken Howard and Burgess Meredith, the latter of whom performs a nude scene that is either the film's highlight or low point depending on your point-of-view. Both film are deeply flawed, occasionally quite awful and not the best way for newcomers to begin to investigate Preminger's filmography (they would be better off starting with the likes of "Laura" or "Anatomy of a Murder") but those with a keen working knowledge of Preminger and his work may find them to be of interest.

GRAND PRIX (Warner Home Video. $19.98 ): John Frankenheimer directed an all-star cast (including James Garner, Eva Marie Saint, Yves Montand, Toshiro Mifune and Antonio Sabato following the personal and professional lives of a group of drivers racing through Europe in pursuit of the Formula One World Championship. Although the film is too long (clocking in at nearly three hours) and is jam-packed with unnecessary subplots presumably designed to lure in viewers with no working interest in race cars, the racing footage captured by Frankenheimer and his crew is so spectacular (even when reduced from its original 70mm dimensions) that it is still worth a look.For those of you who just can't get enough of racing right now, this week also sees the release of "Le Mans" (Paramount Home Video. $24.99), the 1970 Steve McQueen drama in which he plays a driver striving to win the famous 24-hour-long race--although it avoids the mistakes of "Grand Prix" by keeping the non-racing elements to a minimum, the complete focus on racing will probably drive away casual viewers.

THE GREAT DICTATOR (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): In arguably the most audacious move of his celebrated filmmaking career, Charlie Chaplin decided to take on no less of a figure than Adolph Hitler with this 1940 satire in which he abandons his beloved Little Tramp character to play both power-mad tyrant Adenoid Hynkel and a meek Jewish barber who happens to be his lookalike. Although not my favorite Chaplin film--the controversial six-minute-long speech in which the barber makes an impassioned plea for world peace is a little too heavy-handed and stops the proceedings dead in their tracks--it is a fascinating and impeccably crafted work and it does contain a couple of classic bits of comedy to boot. This presentation from Criterion features a brand-new hi-def transfer, a commentary track from Chaplin historians Dan Kamin and Hooman Mehran, the 2001 feature-length documentary "The Tramp and the Dictator," color behind-the-scenes production footage shot by Sydney Chaplin (Charlie's half-brother) and a scene deleted from Chaplin's 1919 film "Sunnyside." With this coming on the heels of their excellent take on "Modern Times," here is hoping that Criterion is able to get their hands on other selections from the Chaplin filmography--what I wouldn't do for a full-blown special edition of "Monsieur Verdoux."

I AM NUMBER FOUR (Walt Disney Home Entertainment.$29.95): Closer to Number Two, if you ask me, this sci-fi flop tells the story of a kid from another world (Alex "Beastly" Pettyfer) hiding out in a typical American town from fellow aliens who want him and his kind exterminated. Aside from the welcome visual presence of megababes Dianna Agron and Teresa Palmer, this is just another tired attempt to launch a "Harry Potter"-esque franchise whose abundance of explosions and chase scenes fails to mask the utter lack of magic or originality at its core.

THE OTHER WOMAN (MPI Home Entertainment. $24.98): Another week, another Natalie Portman movie. In this long-delayed effort from Don Roos (whose previous films have included "The Opposite of Sex" and "Bounce") features her as a law-school grad, now married to the professor that she was having an affair with while he was married, struggling to pick up the pieces of her life and to form a bond with her reluctant stepson following the tragic death of her infant daughter. It sounds like prime tear-jerking material but all of the characters are so cold, unpleasant and uninteresting that it becomes virtually impossible to care about what happens to any of them.

PALE FLOWER (The Criterion Collection. $29.95): In this 1964 drama from Masahiro Shinoda, one of the forerunners of the yakuza subgenre that would become a popular favorite in its native Japan, a tough-as-nails gangster who has recently been sprung from prison attempts to deal with the changes that have occurred in the underworld during his imprisonment while befriending a young woman from the right side of the tracks with a taste for excitement bordering on the self-destructive, all of it set to the always distinctive scoring of Toru Yakemitsu. Available on DVD for the first time in America, this Criterion edition features a brand-new interview with Shinoda and a commentary track by Takemitsu scholar Peter Grilli.

THE RITE (Warner Home Video. $28.98): In yet another attempt to replicate the mammoth box-office success of "The Exorcist,: Anthony Hopkins stars as a veteran priest and exorcist who takes a disbelieving novice under his wing and the two find themselves involved in a case with a pregnant woman who may also be carrying the Devil inside her. Not so much bad as terminally boring, there is nothing here that even the most casual horror fan hasn't seen before and done better and not even Hopkins' over-the-top scenery chewing is able to liven things up.

THE ROOMMATE (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.95): Having previously given today's audiences a teen version of "Showgirls" with the immortal "Burlesque," Screen Gems tried the same basic formula again by ripping off "Single White Female" with this spectacularly silly would-be thriller involving a comely-but-stupid co-ed (Minka Kelly) and the comely-but-psychotic roommate (Leighton Meester) who will go to any lengths to make sure that no one--not even an adorable little kitten--comes between them. Too silly to work as suspense and too dull to work as camp, the entire thing is a non-starter and those hoping for something lurid will be disappointed to note that all the sex and violence is safely within the bounds of the PG-13 rating. Frankly, the only thing that it is good for is simply to gawk at Kelly and Meester for 90 minutes but you would be better off just staring at the DVD cover instead--there are far more surprises and the performances aren't as flat as in the film proper.

SOPHIA LOREN: AWARD COLLECTION (Kino Video. $59.95 ): The beloved international sex symbol get her Blu-ray due with the long-awaited hi-def debuts of three of her more notable screen efforts--the 1964 comedy "Marriage Italian Style" (for which she received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress), the 1970 romantic melodrama "Sunflower" and, most notable of all, the 1964 sex comedy anthology "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" (in which she performs a striptease for co-star Marcello Mastroianni that is still regarded as one of the sexiest things to ever appear on the silver screen). All three of these films were directed by Vittorio De Sica and he is the subject of "Vittorio D," a feature-length documentary that is included with "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow."


DEEP RED (Blue Underground. $29.98)

GETTYSBURG (Warner Home Video. $34.98)

GODS & GENERALS (Warner Home Video. $34.98)

THE HUSTLER (Fox Home Entertainment. $34.98)

JAGGED EDGE (Image Entertainment. $17.97)

MONEY TRAIN (Image Entertainment. $17.97)

PAPILLON (Warner Home Video. $34.99)

PLATOON (MGM Home Entertainment. $29.99 )

SOLARIS (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)

TIGERLAND (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99 )

THE TWILIGHT ZONE: SEASON 4 (Image Entertainment. $99.98)

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originally posted: 05/30/11 04:57:39
last updated: 05/30/11 08:40:06
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