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DVD Reviews For 7/25/11: “The Results Of Our Anti-Ugliness Drive Were Less Than Satisfactory”
by Peter Sobczynski

Due to massive technological and meteorological complications, this column has been off for a couple of weeks and is desperately playing catch-up this week. Luckily, those past couple of weeks have been pretty slow in terms of major releases--most of the stuff you avoided in theaters a few months ago is now arriving in stores--but there are still a couple of gems here and there and if you are a fan of the awe-inspiring Sybil Danning, this should feel like a holiday for you.


2011 NBA CHAMPIONS: DALLAS MAVERICKS (Image Entertainment. $19.95): Relive the moment when the Dallas Mavericks inadvertently became America’s most universally beloved basketball team since the Jordan-era Bulls by trouncing LeBron James and the Miami Heat, the team whose dominance was a foregone conclusion until they choked like Isadora Duncan when it mattered most. Proof positive that Miami really is a great big you-know-what waiting to get you-know-what after all. Other TV-related DVDs now available include “Agatha Christie’s Poirot Movie Collection Set 6 (Acorn Media. $49.99), “Entourage: The Complete Seventh Season” (HBO Home Entertainment. $39.95), "ER: The Complete Fifteenth and Final Season” (Warner Home Video. $49.95), “The Girls Next Door: Season Six” (MPI Home Video. $24.98), “Melrose Place: Season 6, Part 2” (CBS Home Video. $39.98), “Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III” (Warner Home Video. $14.98) and “Torchwood: The Complete Original U.K. Series” (BBC. $119.98).

ARTHUR (Warner Home Video. $28.98): Gee, Russell Brand, to judge from the anemic critical and commercial response to this tepid and utterly unnecessary remake of the reasonably beloved 1981 screwball comedy about a rich lush who is threatened with disinheritance when he falls in love with a poor-but-honest girl (the insufferable Greta Gerwig) instead of his rich-but-bitchy fiancee (the painfully miscast Jennifer Garner), it appears that no one in the multiplexes were attracted to you either. The closest thing this clunker has to a good idea is filling the acerbic butler role once essayed by the late John Gielgud (who won an Oscar for his efforts) with Helen Mirren but like every other aspect of the film, nothing much comes of it. Not only this fail to compare with the original, it barely manages to compare with the infamous “Arthur 2: On the Rocks.“

BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (Shout! Factory. $26.97): Like everyone else in Hollywood at the time, the legendary Roger Corman took a look at the astronomical grosses earned by “Star Wars” and decided to shoot the moon with his own sci-fi epic, albeit one with a much lower budget that the competition. However, what the film, essentially a loose remake of “The Seven Samurai” set in outer space, may have lacked in money, it more than made up for in low-priced talent with a screenplay by John Sayles (who used the proceeds to help launch his own directorial career and, by extension, the American independent film movement), an eclectic cast featuring the likes of Richard Thomas (the stalwart hero), John Saxon (the hissable villain), George Peppard (the last cowboy in the universe), Robert Vaughn (playing virtually the exact same role he had in a previous “Seven Samurai” revision, a little thing called “The Magnificent Seven”) and Sybil Danning (the sexy warrior whose ultra-skimpy outfit presumably jump-started many a puberty back in the day) and art direction from an unknown Canadian by the name of James Cameron. (When I interviewed Corman around the time of “Titanic,” he assured me that back then, Cameron was always on time and on budget with his work.) The film itself is goofy as all get out, of course, but as such things go, it remains a lot of fun to watch today (the resolutely low-fi effects have far more charm than any of the soulless CGI offerings on display this summer) and this Blu-Ray contains all the features from the previously issued DVD (the most entertaining being the commentary track from Corman and Sayles) as well as a nifty-looking new transfer that makes it look better than it probably has in its entire existence.

DAMNATION ALLEY (Shout! Factory. $19.93): Originally planned to be 20th Century Fox’s big blockbuster for the summer of 1977, this loose adaptation of Roger Zelazny’s acclaimed sci-fi story, in which a small group of survivors of World War III (including George Peppard, Jan-Michael Vincent, Dominique Sanda and Jackie Earle Haley) driving through a bombed-out U.S.A. and battling psycho survivalists and giant mutant cockroaches in search of the source of a mysterious radio transmission, was beset by script and production problems to such a degree that its release was delayed and another sci-fi property, albeit a far-less promising one, was called upon to pick up the slack. . .a little thing known as “Star Wars.” Out of print since its appearance on VHS back in 1985, this is making its DVD/Blu-Ray debut and to be honest, it still doesn’t quite work--too silly to work as a thriller and too dull to work as camp--but the tricked-out super-truck that the heroes journey in is kind of badass and the stuff with the cockroaches is gloriously goofy.

DINOCROC VS. SUPERGATOR (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $19.98): I trust nothing more needs to be said, except to note that David Carradine is in it despite having been dead for quite a while now.

INSIDIOUS (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): James Wan and Leigh Whannel, the duo who struck gold with their first film, the franchise-launching horror smash “Saw,” returned with a refreshingly gore-free and pretty damn effective ghost story along the lines of “Poltergeist” in which a seemingly ordinary family (headed by Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) are seemingly beset by a demonic spirit soon after moving into a new house. Unlike most people in the same situation, they finally give up and move to another house but soon discover (in a twist that every commercial and trailer seemed to go great lengths to spoil) that there is more to their haunting than meets the eye. Gorehounds may come away disappointed but other should get a kick out of it for its low-key approach, the surprisingly strong performances (including the late-inning appearance by Lin Shaye as the psychic who gets to the bottom of everything in the most cheerful manner possible) and any number of impressively staged “Boo!” moments. Incidentally, if you are one of those who are gaga over Rose Byrne, who is having a hell of a year between her appearances in this, “Bridesmaids” and “X-Men: First Class,” let it be known that “Damages: The Complete Third Season” (Sony Home Entertainment. $49.95), the complex FX legal drama in which she co-stars with Glenn Close, is also available for your viewing pleasure/worship as well.

LIMITLESS (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): A sad-sack loser comes across a stash of mysterious pills that, once ingested, allow him to tap the unused portions of his mind and become a super genius as a result. While this change makes him smart and successful beyond his wildest dreams but also puts him in the sights of low-life thugs and high-class financiers who want to know his secret. Despite an intriguing premise and a surprisingly strong supporting performance from Robert DeNiro as a Trump-like business tycoon, the film is eventually done by an overblown visual style, a screenplay that eventually peters out into a series of chases and fights and a monumentally unpleasant lead performance from the monumentally unpleasant Bradley Cooper.

THE LINCOLN LAWYER (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $29.95): In this dumb and resolutely predictable legal thriller, Matthew McConaughey plays a slick and borderline sleazy lawyer who cheerfully takes on the case of a rich kid (Ryan Philippe) accused of brutally beating a woman and finds himself caught up in a tangled web of this, that and the other thing as he strongly begins to believe that his client may not be as innocent as he claims. If you have even the slightest interest in the genre, you have seen this thing done a million times before, most times better than this, and the waste of Marisa Tomei in a nothing supporting role in which she essentially serves as the film’s designated driver, is borderline criminal. On the other hand, it does feature Michael Pare in a supporting role so I guess it does have something going for it.

MY OWN LOVE SONG (Inception Media. $29.95): In his follow-up to his award-winning hit “La Vie en Rose,“ writer-director Olivier Dahan managed to not only lure a cast including the likes of Renee Zellweger, Forest Whittaker, and Nick Nolte to enact his story about a paralyzed singer (Zellweger) and her schizophrenic best friend (Whittaker) going on a road trip to see her son and his adoptive parents in Louisiana, he got no less of a figure than Bob Dylan to contribute a brand-new song, “Life is Hard,” to the soundtrack. Alas, that song (which appears on his “Together Through Life” album) is the best thing about the film, a fairly mawkish and meandering affair that, despite the talent involved, has been sitting on a shelf for a few years and with good reason.

POTICHE (Music Box Films. $29.95): Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardieu, those two titans of contemporary French cinema, reunite under the direction of Francois Ozon (who memorably worked with Deneuve on “8 Women”) for this comedy about in which a trophy wife unexpectedly becomes the head of the family business when her husband is taken hostage by striking workers--a move that pays off when she proves to be an effective leader and which become more complicated when she is reunited with a former lover, now a leader of the workers union. It is a trifle to be sure but a fairly funny one that is given a further boost by the considerable star wattage provided by Deneuve and Depardieu.

RANGO (Paramount Home Video. $29.99): In one of the most unexpectedly entertaining animated films to come around in a while, Johnny Depp lends his voice to the story of a chameleon with identity problems who stumbles into a dusty town by the name of Dirt and assumes the role of sheriff to go up against the water-hogging goon in charge. Merging together elements from Sergio Leone westerns and “Chinatown,” lots of weirdo humor and Depp’s most endearingly eccentric performance in a while, this is a real charmer and while some of it may be a little too weird or creepy for very young children, most viewers, young and old alike, should enjoy it in equal measure.

SKIDOO (Olive Films. $24.95): During the latter part of his career, Otto Preminger, the man behind such classics as “Laura” and “Anatomy of a Murder,” made a bunch of odd-to-awful films (including the likes of “Hurry Sundown,” “Such Good Friends” and “Rosebud”) in an attempt to stay relevant in an industry that was undergoing massive changes during the late 1960’s but none of them were as screw-loose as this 1968 effort that saw him simultaneously embracing and satirizing the clash between the hippie and square lifestyles and the joys of LSD. Jackie Gleason stars as a gangster charged by a mob boss known as God (Groucho Marx in his final film appearance) to enter a prison and kill a former associate (Mickey Rooney) before he can testify in court against him--alas, Gleason can’t do it and after accidentally a load of LSD, he begins to question his entire life while plotting his escape from jail. Featuring a cast that also includes the likes of Carol Channing, Frankie Avalon, Frank Gorshin, George Raft, Peter Lawford and Austin Pendleton (in his screen debut), a score by Harry Nilsson, wild visuals and a finale in which the end credits are sung, this is one of the strangest things I have ever seen and while I suppose it is technically a failure on every possible artistic level, there is something about the screwiness invoked by an infamous autocrat like Preminger trying to loosen up and let it all hang out that is both mystifying and strangely endearing. Never before available commercially on home video and difficult to see for years, this is a buried treasure that all film fanatics should be sure to seek out--love it or hate it, it is not one that will be easily forgotten once it is seen.

TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): In this 80’s flashback comedy, Topher Grace plays a proto-slacker who tries to win the girl of his dreams (Teresa Palmer) over the course of one long night featuring a wild party, plenty of jokes involving sex, drugs and property damage and a soundtrack featuring all the songs of the era that you had thought (or at least hoped) had been long forgotten. This film was sitting on the shelf for years (supposedly because studios had trouble with the jokey drug content) before finally emerging for a brief theatrical run this spring but most viewers will wonder why anyone bothered--it isn’t funny, its attempts to copy the spirit of the films of John Hughes is exceptionally grating and the utter waste of Anna Faris in a meaningless supporting role as Grace’s twin sister (while expending too much time on the always-irritating Dan Fogler in what he clearly thinks is the Belushi role) is enraging. Let me put it this way--I saw “That 80’s Show” during the week that it was on and this is no “That 80’s Show.”

WOMEN IN PRISON TRIPLE FEATURE (Panik House. $29.95): Presented under the auspices of none other than Mr. Skin himself, this set is notable for offering up the long-awaited debut of arguably the most infamous entry in the beloved women-in-prison genre, none other than 1983’s “Chained Heat,” a lurid epic in which good girl Linda Blair is unjustly thrown in the slammer and runs afoul of corrupt officials (led by John Vernon, a warden whose office comes complete with hot tub) and vicious felons (led by Sybil Danning, whose frequent nudity made it a late-night cable staple back in the day) alike. Jam packed with gratuitous levels of nudity, violence and John Vernon, this is a sleaze masterpiece of the highest order and while it may be too much for those with more refined cinematic palates but for the rest of us, it is a campy and kinky blast from start to finish that you will love watching even if you hate yourself for doing so afterwards. As for the other two films included here, 1985’s “Red Heat” (no relation to the Walter Hill film of the same name) is pretty much the same thing as “Chained Heat,” right down to having Blair play virtually the same role as before, with the differences being that the prison is located in East Germany and Blair’s arch-nemesis is played by sexploitation queen Sylvia Kristel, and “Jungle Warriors” isn’t really a WIP film per se (it features a bunch of fashion models on a jungle shoot who are captured and tortured by a drug lord) but it does have the messy death of Marjoe Gortner going for it, which is good.


AMELIE (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.99)

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)

BOYZ N THE HOOD (Sony Home Entertainment. $19.95)

BRAZIL (Universal Home Video. $26.98)

BRIDGET JONES’ DIARY (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.99)

CHOCOLAT (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.99)

NAKED (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)

NOWHERE TO RUN (Sony Home Entertainment. $17.97)

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originally posted: 07/26/11 03:06:48
last updated: 07/29/11 07:02:36
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