DVD Reviews For 7/4/11: “You Don’t Taste Like Anyone I Know.”
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 07/05/11 07:19:10
Yes, I realize that even by the somewhat lax standards under which this column has been produced as of late, this particular edition is pathetically overdue. In response, all I can do is beg your forgiveness and hope that you can find something worthwhile amidst the following collection of titles that I have finally managed to accumulate. Beyond that, all I can do is suggest that you look around this way in the next couple of days--I have been working on something of a surprise that helped cause the delay but when it does appear, I think that at least 37% of you will concede that it was worth both the effort and the postponement.
NEW AND NOTABLETHE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Matt Damon stars in this reinvention of a Phillip K. Dick short story as a political candidate who unexpectedly meets the girl of his dreams (Emily Blunt at her Emily Bluntest) and unexpectedly discovers the existence of a shadowy group determined to do whatever is takes to keep the two of them apart. Like too many other attempts to bring Dick’s mind-bending brand of science-fiction to the screen, the storytelling is far too formulaic to work in conjunction with his audacious conceits. Still, while this one doesn’t really pull itself together into a cohesive whole, it does have some things going for it, such as a nifty visual style and the genuine chemistry between the two leads.
AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MARPLE: SERIES 5 (Acorn Media. $69.99): Julia McKenzie, the latest incarnation of Christie’s beloved sleuth, stars in these three feature-length adaptations produced for British television; “the Secret of Chimneys,“ “The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side” and “The Blue Geranium. In addition, this set included an earlier adaptation of Christie’s “The Pale Horse,” co-starring the man who would be Kong, Andy Serkis. Other TV-related DVDs now available include “The Closer: The Complete Sixth Season” (Warner Home Video. $39.98), “The Glades” The Complete First Season” (Fox Home Entertainment. $39.98), “Haven: The Complete First Season” (E1Entertainment. $44.98), “Law & Order: Criminal Intent: The 6th Year” (Universal Home Entertainment. $59.98), “Louie: Season One” (Fox Home Entertainment. $39.99), “Medium: The Final Season” (Paramount Home Video. $39.98), “Music Video Exposed: The Collection” (E1 Entertainment. $39.99), “Rizzoli & Isles: The Complete First Season” (Warner Home Video. $39.98) and “William & Kate” (A&E Home Entertainment. $19.95)
BATTLE LOS ANGELES (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.95): In this big, noisy and aggressively dumb example of contemporary blockbuster filmmaking at its most completely soulless, a worldwide alien invasion is seen entirely through the eyes of a group of Marines stationed in L.A. and the civilians that they pick up along the way amidst the rubble and explosions. Imagine “Independence Day” without the depth, humanity or character development and you’ll have a pretty good idea of the utter uselessness of this entire enterprise. Yes, it made money but if you are one of those who caught it during its theatrical run, is there really anything about it that you can remember with feelings other than mild-to-severe derision? I thought not.
BEASTLY (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.95): In this utterly absurd take on the “Beauty and the Beast” fairy tale, relocated to a contemporary high school populated almost entirely by rich and vain snots, the richest, vainest and snottiest kid on the block (Alex Pettyfer) upsets the token teen witch (Mary-Kate Olsen) so much that she curses him so that he becomes ugly (actually, he winds up looking like the lead singer from Midnight Oil) and will be doomed to remain that way forever unless someone proclaims to love him for who he is in one year’s time--enter winsome-but-unpopular scholarship student Vanessa Hudgens as the girl he essentially buys and imprisons in order to make it happen for him. Aside from a couple of droll line readings from the always-reliable Neil Patrick Harris as the twerp’s blind tutor, the film is brain-dead gibberish from start to finish and the nicest thing that I can think of to say about it is that of the two Vanessa Hudgens epics to quickly open and close last spring, it was the slightly better of the two. (Don’t worry--we’ll be getting to the other one in a bit.)
BORN INNOCENT (Hen’s Tooth. $19.95): After shooting to stardom as an adorable pre-teen abused by no less of a tormentor than Satan himself, Linda Blair went on to appear in this notorious 1978 made-for-television exploitation epic in which she plays a 14-year-old runaway who is thrown into the waking nightmare that is the State Home for Girls. If you haven’t seen it yet, I won’t spoil things for you but I will note that after watching it, you will never look at your toilet plunger the same way again. (And yes, trash film freak, that particular scene--often excised from the prints that have played in syndication since the original broadcast--is there in all its notorious glory.)
CEDAR RAPIDS (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): In the latest entry in the nerd-runs-wild comedy subgenre, Ed Helms plays an impossibly sweet and naïve small-town insurance salesman who is sent to the bustling metropolis of Cedar Rapids, Iowa to represent his firm at a convention and falls under the party-hearty spell of fellow conventioneers John C. Reilly and Anne Heche. There is nothing here that you haven’t seen before but the byplay of the actors is amusing enough to keep things interesting--Heche winds up stealing the show with a turn so simultaneously sexy and endearing that I didn’t actually realize it was her until the film was nearly half-over.
CEREMONY (Magnolia Home Entertainment. $26.98): Uma Thurman hasn’t had too much luck with her choices in screenplays over the last couple of years--apparently the movie gods decided to curse her in response to that “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” nonsense--and as a result, one might expect this barely-released effort in which she plays a woman whose impending marriage to a rich but obnoxious twerp is in danger of being thwarted by a struggling young writer (Michael Angarano) who just happens to be her ex to be more of the same. While it is no masterpiece by any means--writer-director Max Winkler (son of the Fonz, for those of you playing at home) tries a little too hard to approximate the mannered whimsy of Wes Anderson--but it has some charms to it, Thurman the chief one among them, and is entertaining enough for the curious to warrant a look.
HALL PASS (New Line Home Entertainment. $28.98): The Farrelly Brothers try and fail miserably to recreate the success of their landmark gross-out comedy hit “There’s Something About Mary” with this half-formed and half-assed effort featuring Owen Wilson and Jason Sudekis as a couple of married dullards with wandering eyes who are both granted a week’s reprieve from their wedding vows from their wives (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate) so that they can sow their wild oats. Although most failed comedies bomb for a number of complicated reasons, the reasons for the failures of this one are fairly simple--the basic premise is not especially funny, the main characters are not especially funny or interesting and the Farrellys’ insistence on shoehorning in depraved sight gags to boost interest among the more easily bored viewers are not especially funny and are more disgusting than amusing. Outside of an amusing supporting turn in the late innings by the always reliable Richard Jenkins as an aging Lothario offering pointers to the guys, this is the kind of disaster that is so complete that it will have most viewers questioning whether the Farrellys were ever funny at all. (Answer: They were but they frankly peaked with the brilliant and underrated near-classic “Kingpin.”)
HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX/HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE (Warner Home Video. $49.95 each): In their continuing efforts to squeeze every possible dime out of the “Harry Potter” film franchise before it comes to its inevitable conclusion with the release of the final installment in a couple of weeks--I will merely assume that if you are reading these words, you have probably heard of it--Warner Brothers is continuing with their plan to reissue each of the previous episodes in lavish special editions jam-packed with all the behind-the-scenes details that any mere muggle could possibly hope for--this time around, the increasingly dark and despairing fifth and sixth chapters get their multi-disc due. For newcomers to the series--can such people actually exist at this point?--it may seem like a prime example of information overload but for devotees of the films and the characters, these are both pretty much must-own packages and will serve as an excellent way of brushing up on past events before seeing how everything finally plays out in the end.
INSIGNIFICANCE (The Criterion Collection. $29.95): Although lacking the raw intensity of such previous efforts as “Don’t Look Now,” “The Man Who Fell to Earth” and “Bad Timing,” cult filmmaker Nicolas Roeg’s 1985 drama (based on the play by Terry Johnson) centered on one long night in a New York hotel featuring characters meant to suggest Marilyn Monroe (Theresa Russell), Albert Einstein (Michael Emil), Joe DiMaggio (Gary Busey) and Joseph McCarthy (Tony Curtis) was just as audacious and fascinating as any of those earlier films. Although Roeg’s inventive visualization of the material helps a lot, what really puts the film over the top and makes it a must-see undeserving of the obscurity it has fallen into in recent years are the amazing performances from the central quartet of actors--the perpetually underrated Russell has never been better than she was here and Busey and Curtis both turned in arguably the last significant turns of their careers as well.
THE ISLAND (Paramount Home Video. $24.99): Before setting off on his noble artistic quest to bring the Transformers to the screen with all the dignity and restraint that is synonymous with his name, Michael Bay directed this 2005 epic in which Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson portray a couple of sexy young residents of a mysterious island who gradually discover that they are clones designed solely to be utilized as spare parts for their originals when the need arises. I won’t go into the accusations suggesting that the premise was essentially stolen outright from a half-remembered Seventies-era B-movie entitled “Parts: The Clonus Horror.“ However, I will note that until the review copy of the Blu-ray arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago, I had pretty much forgotten that it had even existed--considering its well-publicized failure at the box office, my guess is that Bay would prefer it that way.
JACKASS 3.5 (Paramount Home Video. $22.99): What better way to commemorate the passing of celebrated drunken drive Ryan Dunn than with this direct-to-video feature comprised of bits and pieces originally shot for “Jackass 3” but not included in the final film? Like all of the previous “Jackass” enterprises, some of the bits are truly inspired, some are truly stupid and some are truly repulsive--your mileage will depend to a large degree for your basic tolerance for the enterprise as a whole to date because this is certainly not going to win over any new converts. Arguably the most interesting thing on the disc is “Jackass: The Beginning,” a documentary interview featuring co-creators Johnny Knoxville, Jeff Tremaine and Spike Jonze (yes, Spike Jonze) talking about the origins of the whole sordid enterprise.
KISS ME DEADLY (The Criterion Collection. $29.95): American filmmaking in the 1950’s never got freakier than in this 1955 adaptation of the Mickey Spillane best-seller in which two-fisted private eye Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) picks up a frightened woman (Cloris Leachman in one of her earliest roles) running down the highway late at night and becomes embroiled in a mystery involving a missing scientist and a briefcase containing something of immense and dangerous power. Less a film noir than a film noir’s wet dream of itself in which all of the standard elements--the tough hero, the sexy dames, the nasty bad guys, the brutal tortures, the cool cars and the like--are taken to such extremes that they would almost seem like parodies of themselves if not for director Robert Aldrich’s masterful control of the increasingly loopy material, things keep getting nuttier and nuttier until it seems that the whole thing would practically have to conclude with the apocalypse in order to live up to everything that preceded it and then. . .well, look for yourself and be prepared to peel your jaw off the floor afterwards.
THE MAKIOKA SISTERS (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): The last great film from famed Japanese filmmaker Kon Ichikawa), adapted from the Junichiro Tanizaki novel, tells the story of four close-knit sisters who run their family’s kimono factory in the years leading up to wartime--conflict arises when the youngest sister wants to wed but, according to tradition, cannot until her next-oldest sibling, a desperately shy and retiring type, does so beforehand. Between its relatively straightforward narrative (the kind one might find in the works of Jane Austen and her ilk) and gorgeous visual style, this beautiful if underrated film is a nice entrance point into the works of Ichikawa and the presentation found on this disc is as lovely as one could hope for.
MEGA-PYTHON VS. GATOROID (Image Entertainment. $27.97): Sure, sure, the title of this DTV (by way of the SyFy network) item highlights the central battle involving two ridiculously unconvincing CGI monsters dueling for supremacy of the world or some such nonsense like that. However, the real battle of note is the catfight that occurs between the characters portrayed by former 80’s-era rival pop princesses Tiffany and Debbie Gibson, whose careers have both journeyed from music chart supremacy to displaying their naughty bits in “Playboy” to appearing in cheapo silliness like this. Makes you think, doesn’t it?
PEOPLE ON SUNDAY (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): In what would eventually come to be like pre-war Germany’s cinematic equivalent of the Traveling Wilburys, future filmmaking legends Billy Wilder, Fred Zinneman, Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer collaborated on this 1930 silent film that combined narrative and documentary devices to follow a group of city folk on a weekend jaunt to the country. The film itself is a little silly and somewhat slight but it is fascinating to watch today, both for the extraordinary convergence of talented individuals who would soon go on to careers in America and as a document of a reasonably peaceful and content Germany captured only a few years before the rise of Adolph Hitler would change the fate of the country and the world forever.
POISON (Zeitgeist Films. $29.99): If you know some irritating aging hipster that you would dearly like to frighten and depress in equal measure, just sidle up to him or her and ask if they have seen Todd Haynes’ highly controversial feature film debut that utilized the writings of Jean Genet as a springboard for a trio of increasingly transgressive tales involving sex, violence, body horror and the human condition. When they sneeringly say “Trust me, I saw it long before you ever heard of it,” take that opportunity to remind them that it is now 20 years old. To celebrate the anniversary of one of the key early releases of the then-blooming American independent film movement, this disc includes such bonuses as a anniversary Q&A involving Haynes, producer Christine Vachon and executive producer James Schamus and the commentary track recorded for the film’s 1999 DVD release featuring Haynes, Vachon and co-star James Lyons.
RED RIDING HOOD (Warner Home Video. $28.98): Although the year isn’t even half over as I write these words, there is still a very good chance that 2011 will not see a film nearly as silly as this laughable take on the legendary fairy tale as envisioned by hack filmmaker extraordinaire Catherine Hardwicke (apparently still smarting from getting booted from the equally ludicrous “Twilight” franchise) and enacted by the likes of Amanda Seyfried (presumably cast because of her big eyes since she demonstrate no discernible acting talent here) and Gary Oldman (whose scenery-chewing turn is the closest thing to actual entertainment on display). Unless you are a 12-year-old girl with a limited imagination, there is no reason to check this disaster out unless you in the mood for inadvertent hilarity, in which case you are probably going to love it.
SPINE TINGLER!: THE WILLIAM CASTLE STORY (Automat. $19.95): The life and work of Castle, the film producer and shameless huckster best known for a series of lurid B-grade horror movies, such as “The House on Haunted Hill,” “Homicidal” and the immortal “The Tingler,” that he promoted to high heaven via a series of increasingly outlandish gimmicks devised to lure patrons into the theater that included the Punishment Poll (in which the audience voted on whether the villain lived or died at the end--the rumor is that Castle was so sure of the bloodthirstiness of his audiences that he never even bothered to film a more benevolent conclusion), Emergo (an inflatable skeleton would be yanked on a pulley over the audience at a key moment, unless some smart-ass kid with a slingshot got to it first) and Percepto (a joy buzzer-like contraption strapped to certain theater seats to create the sensation of being attacked by The Tingler during a sequence in which it supposedly attacked your theater), is brought to life through numerous juicy clips from his oeuvre (which also extended to producing, of all things, the classic “Rosemary’s Baby”) and testimonials from the likes of Roger Corman, Joe Dante, John Landis and John Waters, who would pay tribute to the man and his work with the immortal “Odorama” gimmick that he utilized in “Polyester.”
SUCKER PUNCH: EXTENDED CUT (Warner Home Video. $35.99): Despite having lost millions of dollars on his misfired adaptation of the classic graphic novel “Watchmen,” Warner Brothers decided to double down on the bet that onetime “visionary filmmaker” Zack Snyder would once again bring them a box-office hit on the magnitude of his earlier “300.” In response, Snyder presented them with this inexplicable and inexcusable stab at action fantasy in which sexy young asylum newcomer Emily Browning copes with the news of her impending lobotomy by imagining herself and her fellow inmates (Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Jamie Chung and yes, Vanessa Hudgens) as ass-kicking babes attempting to break free of their increasingly fantastical surroundings via superpowers, sex appeal and the occasional production number or two--don’t ask. This extended cut adds 17 minutes to the original theatrical proceedings but the additions don’t add up to much--a musical number originally played over the end credits is restored to its proper place in the narrative and a previously deleted scene featuring Jon Hamm increases his screen time from “fleeting” to “brief.” A huge flop in theaters, this film did manage to generate a tiny cult following and they will no doubt appreciate all the bells and whistles on display here but alas, the most promising bonus feature is nowhere to be found--the WB board meeting the Monday after it stiffed in theaters when all the executives realize to their horror that they just entrusted the dope responsible for this mess with the keys to the “Superman” franchise.
UNKNOWN (Warner Home Video. $28.98): Liam Neeson once again finds himself beating the crap out of half of Europe in this action thriller in which he plays a renowned doctor who gets into a car accident after arriving in Berlin for a conference and wakes up after a four-day coma with fractured memories, a wife (January Jones) who claims not to know him, another man (Aidan Quinn) claiming to be him and a whole host of people trying to kill him for mysterious reasons. Although the thrill of seeing Neeson kicking ass that drove the 2009 surprise hit “Taken” is still there, this one fails to live up to its predecessor due to a relatively lackluster script filled with increasingly silly twists and turns and a hypnotically awful performance from Jones that is bad enough to make you wonder how the same person can be so good on “Mad Men.” For less discriminating action fans only.
ZAZIE DANS LE METRO (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): After making his initial marking on the French New Wave filmmaking scene with the decidedly adult “Elevator to the Gallows” and “The Lovers,” director Louis Malle switched gears considerably with this contemporary fairy tale about a spunky 12-year-old girl who is sent by her mother to stay with her uncle in Paris for a couple of days so that she may have an assignation with a lover--of course, no sooner has Zazie arrived, she escapes her uncle’s apartment in order to see the city (currently brought to a standstill by a transit strike) for herself with her relative in hot and generally confused pursuit. It sounds potentially unbearable, something along the lines of the French equivalent of “Judy Moody,” but it really works wonderfully thanks to Malle’s energetic direction, the spirited lead performance from Catherine Demongeot and, of course, the gorgeous Parisian scenery. In addition to this title, Criterion is also issuing another Malle fairy tale, though one decidedly more adult in nature, in “Black Moon” (The Criterion Collection. $39.95), a free-form fantasy involving a teenage girl who stumbles into the middle of what appears to be an all-out (un)civil war between the sexes. This was one of the weirder efforts from the normally straitlaced Malle and while it isn’t exactly what one might call a success, it is so peculiar that viewers with a taste for the oddball stuff may find themselves getting a kick out of it after all.