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DVD Reviews for 6/10: "Go, And Never Darken My Towels Again!"

by Peter Sobczynski

In which your humble narrator goes over a bunch of esteemed classics debuting on Blu-ray, a smattering of new releases ranging from the brilliant to the absurd and finally admits his general loathing for a title generaly considered to be a masterpiece.

This week sees the Blu-ray debut of a 40th anniversary edition of Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 cult classic “A Clockwork Orange” as a separate two-disc package and as part of “Stanley Kubrick: The Essential Collection,” a jumbo-sized set that brings together every film that he made between the time of 1960’s “Spartacus” and his last masterwork, 1999’s “Eyes Wide Shut” and which also includes the Blu-ray debuts of his screen adaptations of “Lolita” (1962) and “Barry Lyndon” (1975) as well. (For those who only want to purchase the two newcomers, they are currently only available as stand-alone titles through Amazon for $19.99 each.). By most critical standards, this is indeed a fabulous package--the transfer is beautiful, all the bonus features from the previous DVD/Blu-ray edition have been ported over--an insightful and entertaining commentary from actor Malcolm McDowell and film historian Nick Redman and documentaries on the film’s making and its controversial post-release existence--and they have been joined by new featurettes featuring McDowell’s recollections of the film and an examination of the widespread cultural impact that it demonstrated from virtually the moment it hit theaters. If that wasn’t enough, the second disc contains two more full-length documentaries directed by Jan Harlan (Kubrick’s brother-in-law and a key behind-the-scenes figure on his later films) making their respective Blu-ray debuts: the compelling 2001 career overview “Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures” and “O Lucky Malcolm!,” a retrospective that looks at McDowell and his fascinating filmography. In fact, I would normally suggest that you drop everything and rush out and get a copy of this new edition of “A Clockwork Orange”--even if you don’t yet own a Blu-ray player--if it weren’t for one teeny little problem, one slight bump in the road, one modest lump in the oatmeal, as it were.

“A Clockwork Orange” sucks. Big time.

I realize that for some of you, this statement may come as a form of cinematic heresy because of Kubrick’s reputation as one of the all-time great filmmakers and its longtime standing as a cult classic of the first order. I am one of those who wholeheartedly believes in Kubrick’s filmmaking genius and consider several of his movies (including “Dr. Strangelove,” “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “The Shining”) to be among the greatest films ever made. In addition, I have always had a fondness for more outré forms of filmmaking and has never been put off by radical stylistic choices or heavy amounts of sex, violence or other weirdness as long as they make sense within the context of the story. And yet, no matter how many times I have seen “A Clockwork Orange” over the years--and I have probably seen it more than most movies that I actually like--there is something about that keeps me at such a distance that I can only regard it as a beautifully made film that comes across as a cold and chilly warning about the perils of dehumanization made in a way that feels as it itself had never been touched with human hands.

For the uninitiated, the film, based on the book by Anthony Burgess, is set in the vague near-future (some have suggested that it shows what was happening on Earth during the same time frame as the happenings of “2001“) and centers on Alex (McDowell), a smart, cultured (he digs the Beethoven) and sadistic thug who, along with his fellow “droogs,” spends his evenings beating, raping, stealing and generally raising all sorts of hell, mostly just for kicks and for lack of anything better to do with his otherwise humdrum existence. One night, however, the “ultra-violence” goes too far during a home invasion and Alex kills a woman and winds up getting thrown in prison. While there, he volunteers to participate in a government-sponsored experiment in behavior modification designed to quell his sadistic urges through a form of brainwashing that leaves him sick and to the point of suicide if he even thinks about doing something violent. Seemingly rehabilitated, Alex is released from prison and now finds himself being brutalized and rejected by the very same people whom he abused earlier on. Half-dead from a brutal beating at the hands of his former associates (now working as cops), he turns up at an isolated house and throws himself on the mercy of the owner (Patrick Magee). Alas, this is the same house where, earlier in the film, he beat and crippled the owner and violently raped his wife (now deceased) before her eyes. The man doesn’t recognize Alex at first but when he finally does, the former liberal attempts to drive Alex to suicide by exploiting a side effect of the treatment--thanks to the judicious use of Beethoven’s Ninth as a soundtrack during the treatment, Alex has the same nauseated reaction whenever he hears it. It all ends on a suitably cynical note, of course, in which our anti-hero pronounces himself “cured” at last.

Although one could write thousands and thousands of words on this film, as with any Kubrick experience, I will save the long-winded ranting for another day and briefly zero in on the three key elements of “A Clockwork Orange” that prevent it from working for me in the way that it evidently does for the legions of fans that it has cultivated over the years. For starters, because the story is told entirely through Alex’s perspective, we are given a perspective of the events that is so ridiculously skewed that it becomes impossible to take seriously after a while--while all the brutality that Alex inflicts on others is done with a maximum of slick stylistic moves and a minimum of the things that might turn audiences against him, such as sympathetic victims or vast amounts of blood and gore (the murder of the woman that lands him in jail is staged in such a way that the death blow is replaced with a cartoon flash reminiscent of the old “Batman” show), every cruelty that befalls him is depicted in the most brutal manner imaginable. In Burgess’ book, he was able to avoid this problem by writing it in such an arch and stylized manner--chock-full of a Russian-based slang that he invented--that readers were able to maintain a certain distance from their humble narrator. Kubrick deploys the slanguage as well but isn’t able to maintain that distance and as a result, there is the niggling feeling throughout that he actually does sympathize with the psycho at the center of his film and wants viewers to do the same.

The second problem is that while Burgess’ original version of the novel included a final chapter in which an older Alex was contemplating settling down and personally rejecting the life of violence that he has known as opposed to having it taken from him by equally brutal measures, this chapter was deleted from the American editions for many years and it was the American edition that Kubrick read and based his screenplay upon. However, by deleting this postscript and ending it where it does, the film just concludes on an ironic and nihilistic point and while this is an approach that Kubrick has utilized to great effect in the past (this is the guy who milked laughs out of the world being blown up at the end of “Dr. Strangelove”), it only leaves a hollow taste in the mouth while divesting the story of the moral that would have given it some much-needed dramatic heft. The final problem is more basic, though a surprise coming from the likes of Kubrick, and that is the inescapable fact that while the opening third of the story is incredibly exciting and moves like a shot fired from a high-caliber weapon of the deadliest force, it comes to a sharp stop once Alex lands in prison and the rest of the film becomes an agonizingly tedious collection of extended scenes of Alex signing forms or bemoaning his fate. I have no problems with films that are methodically paced--Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon” is a slowly paced story but it is absolutely spellbinding nevertheless--but for most of its last 90 minutes or so, “A Clockwork Orange” feels like a machine desperately in need of winding.

And yet, even though I do not like “A Clockwork Orange” at all, I have to admit that over the years, I have probably seen it more times than most movies that I flat-out revere? Why would I choose to repeatedly subject myself to a film that I essentially loathe? Well, even though it is a bad movie, it is a stylishly-made bad movie and Kubrick does an extraordinary job of positioning a future at once bizarre and instantly recognizable without allowing special effects and art direction to overwhelm the proceedings. Then there is the one undeniable asset that the film has to offer that even naysayers like myself have to give it up for and that is the knockout performance by Malcolm McDowell in the role of Alex. Although known at the time in film circles thanks to his two collaborations with Lindsay Anderson, “If. . .” and “O Lucky Man,” his turn as Alex made him a star and even 40 years later, it is easy to see why. Arguably the most compelling and charismatic performance turned in by a human being in a Kubrick film, McDowell grabs viewers right from the start and utterly mesmerizes them from that point right until the bitter end and even those viewers who are appalled by his actions will be amazed to find themselves willingly following him around in spite of what he does to others in the name of instant gratification. Most of all, I keep coming back to it because while I dislike the film, I do not harbor a disinterest in it and as a result, every time I watch it, I keep hoping that whatever it is that holds me back will finally click into place and I will be able to embrace it in the same way that its fans have done for over 40 years. Alas, it still hasn’t happened--a viewing of this new Blu-ray still left me cold from a dramatic standpoint--but I know that I will continue to seek it out in the hopes that all will finally be revealed to me and that I will be cured at last.




ANOTHER YEAR (Sony Home Entertainment. $38.96): Celebrated British filmmaker Mike Leigh came up with another winner with this relatively plotless but endlessly fascinating drama loosely charting a year in the lives of a long-married couple (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) and their longtime friend (Lesley Manville), a needy and clingy type whose delusions of a possible romance with their grown son are eventually shattered when he comes home with a new girlfriend. Although it may lack the heft and weight of such previous efforts as “Naked” or “Secrets and Lies,” this is yet another thoughtful and touching addition to Leigh’s filmography anchored by an absolutely heart-rending performance by Leigh regular Manville as a type that all of us either know or fear becoming one day--the single person in a world where everyone else seems to be in love.

BIUTIFUL (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $27.98): In the latest film from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, the acclaimed Mexican director whose previous films (in descending order of quality) were “Amores Perros,” “21 Grams” and “Babel,” returns to put Javier Bardem through his paces as a mid-level criminal who is diagnosed with terminal cancer and who struggles to do something to allow him to leave his beloved children in a better place after he passes away. Although the plot is a little more straightforward than his previous efforts, the whole thing is an unbelievably dreary and depressing slog and not even a good Bardem performance (for which he received an Oscar nomination earlier this year) or the occasional oddball touch (such as Bardem’s ability to communicate with the recently deceased) are able to make it even the slightest bit tolerable to all but the most ardent masochists.

BLUE CRUSH 2 (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Frankly, I am as stunned as you are, though somewhat less so after discovering that this is a direct-to-video outing with no connection to the deathless “Blue Crush” other than a plethora of surfing babes.

DRIVE ANGRY (Summit Entertainment. $26.99): Nicholas Cage--really, who else--stars in this ultra-violent and ultra-strange effort in which he plays a recently deceased criminal who escapes from the bowels of Hell and grabs both a gorgeous and cherry muscle car and its equally gorgeous though presumably slightly less cherry owner (Amber Heard) in order to go into battle with a cult of Satanists who have killed his daughter and plan on sacrificing his infant granddaughter as a part of a rite that may bring about the end of the world. Make no mistake about it, the film is loud, gory and stupid beyond belief but it is loud, gory and stupid beyond belief in all the right ways--a testament to the glories of garish overkill that will leave some viewers with silly grins on their faces and others scrambling from the room in disgust. Though I cannot defend it by any rational critical standard, I must admit that I had a blast watching it and is you are receptive to its deliriously dopey charms, you may as well.

DUCK SOUP (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98 ): The single funniest movie ever made--the brilliant 1933 political satire from the Marx Brothers featuring Groucho as a semi-benevolent dictator, Chico as a spy who tends to do more damage to the countries that he is working for rather than against, Harpo as another bizarre flight of fancy in somewhat human form and Zeppo as Zeppo--returns to DVD along with four other early classics from the boys--“The Cocoanuts” (1929), “Animal Crackers” (1930), “Monkey Business” (1931) and “Horse Feathers” (1932). If you haven’t seen them before, go out and watch them right now and if you don’t think they are among the greatest comedies ever made, I may be forced to bar you from ever reading this column again.

JUST GO WITH IT (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.95): Having previously run roughshod on the memories of “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” and “The Longest Yard,” Adam Sandler returns to the land of unnecessary remakes with this hideous take on the Sixties comedy “Cactus Flower” in which he plays an unmarried jerk who pretends to be married in order to score women (don’t ask)--when he meets the girl of his dreams (swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker in the role that once won Goldie Hawn an Oscar) and she insists on meeting his ex before marrying him, he enlists co-worker Jennifer Aniston in a ruse that eventually mushrooms to include a Hawaiian vacation, a hula contest, Nick Swarsdon with an inexplicable German accent and an unbilled Nicole Kidman, who appears to have wandered in from another, funnier movie--something like “Rabbit Hole,” for example. Dumb, dated and contrived beyond belief, this is an embarrassment for all concerned and unless you just can’t get enough of the sight of Brooklyn Decker in tiny swimsuits, there is absolutely no reason to subject yourself to an Adam Sandler vehicle so bad that it almost makes “Grown Ups” seem like a model of committed cinema by comparison.

KABOOM (MPI Home Video. $24.98): Gregg Araki, the controversial filmmaker whose career has ranged from the highs of the powerful “Mysterious Skin” to the depths of “The Doom Generation” (not to mention practically every other entry in his filmography) returns with another whacked-out epic combining beautiful young people, all the colors of the erotic rainbow and some wild plot twists with this story about a college freshman (Thomas Dekker) who is trying to decide whether he likes girls or boys when he stumbles upon the existence of what may be a doomsday cult. Although a little less obnoxious than some of Araki’s earlier efforts, this is just another disjointed mess and while the finale is certainly audacious, it doesn’t quite warrant recommending it to anyone other than hardcore Araki cultists--such people do still exist, don’t they?

THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING (Warner Home Video. $34.99): Having struggled to get it produced for nearly 20 years--at various points, he had planned to feature the likes of Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart in the leads--John Huston finally got to fulfill a lifelong dream in 1975 when he directed this epic adventure about a couple of British fortune-seekers (Sean Connery and Michael Caine) who decide to follow in the footsteps of Alexander the Great by journeying to a remote area of India and establishing themselves as kings, a ruse that actually works for a while but then falls apart in spectacular fashion. With a lot of long-cherished pet projects, there is a certain sense of exhaustion--it often feels as if the filmmakers had made it so often in their heads that they had nothing left to give by the time they were able to actually put it up on its feet--but that is not the case here. Simply put, this is one of the great adventure films of all time thanks to Huston’s stylish direction and witty script and the incredibly entertaining lead performances from Connery and Caine. Making its long-awaited Blu-ray debut, the film is somewhat lax in the special features department but that is the only flaw here to speak of--this is a top-to-bottom classic that belongs on the shelf of all true film fanatics.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.99): Despite the reteaming of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, hot off the heels of their “Taxi Driver” triumph, and the inclusion of Liza Minnelli in the kind of role that would have once been filled by her mother, this elaborate musical charting the bumpy relationship between a star-struck singer and a borderline-crazy saxophonist was a major flop when it was released in the summer of 1977. At the time, some felt that it flopped because the De Niro character was so amazingly crass and abrasive that it was impossible to viewers to follow him around or believe that Minnelli would put up with him for as long as she did. Others felt that Scorsese’s bold attempt to blend the loose, improvisational style he had established in his previous films with the bold stylization of the 1940’s musicals he was trying to evoke just did not work at all. (Of course, the fact that it opened at just about the same time as a little thing as “Star Wars” didn’t help much either.) However, the film has aged beautifully and what once came across as odd and off-putting plays a lot better on a second viewing, especially De Niro’s complex and surprisingly touching performance. Although this isn’t top-shelf Scorsese, it is still a beautiful and compelling work that is well worth watching and definitely worthy of a reappraisal.

NIGHT FLIGHT (Warner Home Video. $19.98): An all-star cast--including the likes of John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore, Helen Hayes, Clark Gable, Myrna Loy and Robert Montgomery came together for this 1933 epic based on the novel about the lives and loves of airmail pilots working in South America during the early days of aviation. Removed from circulation in 1942 due to legal complications, this rarity is finally making its official home video debut and while the film itself is kind of a mess (it was cut by more than 30 minutes after its initial previews), it is still kind of fun and it is nice to see familiar faces in a relatively unfamiliar film.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (Paramount Home Video. $24.99): Sergio Leone’s 1969 Western masterpiece, a epic-length saga featuring Henry Fonda at his nastiest, Claudia Cardinale at her sultriest, Jason Robards at his skuzziest and Charles Bronson at his tersest, makes its long-awaited Blu-ray debut in an edition that includes all the features from the DVD (including a commentary track featuring contributions from filmmakers/Leone buffs John Carpenter, John Milius and Alex Cox) and two different versions of the film--the familiar 165-minute theatrical version and a restored version that is a minute longer. Either way, this film is a classic and must-own for any serious film fan.

THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (Warner Home Video. $34.98): Although “Unforgiven” is generally considered to be his crowning effort in the Western genre that made him an international star, it could also be argued that Clint Eastwood’s masterful 1976 effort is equally deserving of such accolades. In it, he plays a Civil War veteran hoping to put his past behind him and start a new life with a wife and family. When those dreams are shattered when an attack by former enemies leaves his loved ones dead, he gets revenge upon them and then finds himself on the lam from the law and attracting a group of fellow outcasts (including Sondra Locke and Chief Dan George) who begin to form a surrogate family for him to protect. Although the production was filled with strife (Eastwood fired original director Phillip Kaufman and took over the project himself) but the end result is a masterful work filled with humor, heart and plenty of action to spare as well. Other Eastwood films newly available on double-feature Blu-ray sets are “Firefox”/”Heartbreak Ridge” and “Every Which Way But Loose”/”Any Which Way You Can.” (Warner Home Video. $19.98 each).

PASSION PLAY (Image Entertainment. $27.97): With a cast featuring the likes of Mickey Rourke, Bill Murray and Megan Fox, how could a movie possibly go wrong? Quite easily, as you will quickly discover while watching this misbegotten mess featuring Rourke as a down-and-out jazz musician, Murray as a tough-talking gangster and Fox as the angelic carnival performer who comes between them. Murray does what he can to liven things up with a performance reminiscent of his stellar and sadly underseen work in “Mad Dog and Glory” but aside from him, this barely-released bomb is a total whiff.

RUBBER (Magnolia Home Entertainment. $26.98): In this surreal blend of comedy, horror and outright weirdness, a seemingly ordinary rubber tire abandoned in the desert is somehow brought to life and granted the power to destroy anything in its path and, naturally, begins roaming around killing everyone and everything that may have wronged it in the past. While it is certainly an oddball idea that writer-director Quentin Depieux has presented us with, it kind of grows tiresome after a while and the bizarre meta-movie commentary from a group of spectators that are observing the proceedings never quite clicks. That said, it is amusing in short bursts and you have to admire Depieux for getting something so strange produced in the first place--though this effort ultimately doesn’t work, I am curious to see what he comes up with yet.

SANCTUM (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): James Cameron joins the likes of Sam Raimi and Wes Craven by appending his name (and his 3D camera rig) to a lousy programmer that he probably wouldn’t have even bothered seeing if he wasn’t essentially being paid to do so. In this colossal bore, a group of cave divers exploring a remote underwater system are plunged into danger when a sudden storm cuts off their only known exit and they have to band together in order to find their way to freedom. Alas, the characters are paper-thin, the script is even more so and while the body count is high and occasionally quite nasty, it is still a drag and while I have only seen it in 2D, I cannot imagine how murky it must have looked in theaters with the 3D glasses cutting down on the already limited illumination. On the bright side, the film tanked at the box-office and kicked off speculation that continues today that the bloom might finally be off the ugly rose that is 3D.

SPORTS ILLUSRATED SWIMSUIT 2011: THE 3D EXPERIENCE (Sony Home Entertainment. $19.95){/i}: Some things just don’t need any explanation. Admittedly, I haven’t seen this yet but I am almost certain that as bikini-fueled entertainment goes, it probably beats the pants (among other things) off of “Just Go With It.”

TRUE BLOOD: THE COMPLETE 3rd SEASON (HBO Home Entertainment. $59.99)
: Just in time for the debut of the fourth season of the hugely popular HBO vampire series, this set comprising all the episodes of Season 3 will allow you to brush up on all the secrets, betrayals and shocking revelations beforehand. Then again, you may just want to check out the Good Parts again and really, who could blame you? Other TV-related DVDs now available include “Ben Bailey: Road Rage. . .And Accidental Ornithology” (E1 Entertainment. $19.98), “Breaking Bad: The Complete Third Season” (Sony Home Entertainment. $39.95), “Burn Notice: Season Four” (Fox Home Entertainment. $49.98), “Leverage: Third Season” (Paramount Home Video. $39.99), “Pretty Little Liars: The Complete First Season“ (Warner Home Video. $59.98), “Psych: Season Five” (Universal Home Entertainment. $59.98), “Rookie Blue: The Complete First Season” (E1 Entertainment. $44.98), “Swamp People: Season One” (A&E Home Entertainment. $24.95) and “White Collar: Season Two” (Fox Home Entertainment. $49.98).

TRUE GRIT (Paramount Home Video. $29.99): When it was announced that the Coen Brothers were going to remake the 1968 Western best known for giving John Wayne the role that won him his sole Best Actor Oscar, it raised the eyebrows of many who wondered how they would pull such a thing off, especially since their previous stab at a remake--2004’s “The Ladykillers”--was so poorly received. As we all know by now, it turned out beautifully and became a box-office smash and a multiple Oscar nominee to boot. The secret is that in telling the story of a young girl who hires a drunken and aging U.S. marshal to help hunt down the man who killed her beloved father, the Coens went back to the original Charles Portis novel and made the girl the focus of the story instead of the lawman, as was the case in the previous adaptation. Additionally, Portis’ formal and loquacious use of language (not a contraction to be found) fits perfectly with their own flair for dialogue (“Raising Arizona” could have been from a Portis book as well) and helped make the combination even more satisfying. Best of all, they managed to get extraordinary performances from Jeff Bridges as the marshal (in a turn that would have won him the Best Actor award himself if he hadn’t already snagged it the previous year for “Crazy Heart”), Matt Damon as a Texas Ranger who tags along on the hunt and 12-year-old Hailee Steinfeld in one of the best debut performances in recent memory as the girl at the center of the tale. One of the very best films of 2010 and even if you love the original film (which isn’t really that good outside of the agreeably outsized Wayne performance), this one is a must-see. Other westerns hitting DVD shelves include “Big Jake” (Paramount Home Video. $24.99), “The Long Riders” (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.98), [“A Man Called Horse” (Paramount Home Video. $24.99)and “Rio Lobo” (Paramount Home Video. $24.99).


61* (HBO Home Video. $14.98)


AMERICAN GRAFFITI (Universal Home Entertainment. $26.98)

APT PUPIL (Image Entertainment. $17.97 )

BILLY MADISON (Universal Home Entertainment. $26.98)

THE CAT O’NINE TAILS (Blue Underground. $29.98)

DIABOLIQUE (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)

HAIR (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.98 )

LEGEND: ULTIMATE EDITION (Universal Home Entertainment. $26.98)

THE STUNT MAN (Severin Films. $29.98)

SUPERMAN: THE MOTION PICTURE ANTHOLOGY 1978--2006 (Warner Home Video. $129.98 )

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originally posted: 06/13/11 08:04:08
last updated: 06/13/11 09:47:02
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