DVD Reviews For 8/22/11: "You've Got A Great Big Dollar Sign There Where Most Women Have A Heart."
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 08/23/11 06:11:02
Hard-core auteurists are likely to be jumping for joy with the latest batch of DVD/Blu-ray releases covered in the latest installment of this ever-popular and ever-tardy column, featuring works from the likes of Stanley Kubrick, Roman Polanski, John Carpenter, David Gordon Green and the Coen Brothers. And for those whose interests are somewhat less elevated, there is also a bit of fun to be had courtesy of our friends from Sweden as well.
NEW AND NOTABLETHE BIG LEBOWSKI (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): In the wake of their critical and commercial breakthrough with "Fargo," the oddball crime comedy-drama that earned them their best reviews and biggest box-office receipts to date, not to mention a slew of awards culminating with the Oscar for Original Screenplay, many observers wondered what the perpetually peculiar Joel & Ethan Coen would do for an encore. It is probably safe to say that few of those observers could have guessed that said follow-up would be a shambling stoner-centric mystery goof involving bowling, crazed Vietnam vets, nihilists, White Russians, pornographers, an amiable narrator, marmots, Saddam Hussein, missing toes, performance art and a soiled rug that were all tossed together into a narrative that made the infamously perplexing "The Big Sleep" look lucid and straightforward by comparison. Perhaps inevitably, it was met with confusion and general indifference when released in early 1998 but it would eventually become one of the most beloved cult films of our time. Now it is making its Blu-ray debut in a collection filled with extras commemorating both the film and its ever-growing audience and for hard-core fans and newcomers alike, this is a disc that will truly tie your collection together.
THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK (Olive Films. $24.95): In this often-overlooked sci-fi effort from 1958, Ross Martin plays a brilliant scientist who, after being killed in a traffic accident, has his brain removed by his equally brilliant father and placed inside of a robot. Needless to say, things don't go entirely as planned and the new creation runs amok through the streets of the city that never sleeps and even fries up the United Nations in the process. Not a great movie by any means, this is nevertheless a fun B-movie and fans of cinematic robots will definitely want to check out the one here--imagine Gort from "The Day the Earth Stood Still" with a higher body count.
THE CONSPIRATOR (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $29.95): Robert Redford directs this docudrama about the trial of a woman convicted and executed for her alleged part in the conspiracy to assassinate Abraham Lincoln despite doubts that she had any prior knowledge of the plot. Alas, what could have been a fascinating look at a little-known piece of American history is done in by a screenplay that tries too hard to point out the parallels between this incident and similar acts of questionable legal merit in post-9/11 America, direction that is poky even by Redford's notoriously logy standards (it gets off to such a slow start that the film is practically dead before Lincoln is) and bizarre bits of miscasting--while Robin Wright Penn is good in the central role, James McAvoy struggles as her legal counsel and Justin Long offers up what must be the single least convincing depiction of a Civil War veteran in the history of cinema.
CUL-DE-SAC (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Initially conceived by filmmaker Roman Polanski as a follow-up to "Knife in the Water" and put into production after the worldwide success of "Repulsion" gave him the ability to do whatever he wanted for his next project, this 1966 oddity features Donald Pleasance and Francois Dorleac as a decidedly unhappy married couple whose isolated home is invaded by an American gangster (Lionel Stander) who is on the run after a job gone sour. For Polanski students, this decidedly dark comedy-drama about shifting identities and psychosexual struggles will feel like a direct precursor to such later works as "Bitter Moon" and "Death and the Maiden" while newcomers will simply be knocked out by the weirdo humor, the excellent performances from the three leads and Polanski's stunning control of the material and its tricky tonal shifts. A must-see.
DAVID HOLZMAN'S DIARY (Kino Video. $29.95): Jim McBride, who would later go on to direct the likes of "The Big Easy," "Great Balls of Fire" and the great, if sadly overlooked, 1983 remake of "Breathless," first made his name with this still-fascinating 1967 faux-documentary purporting to be the work of an aspiring filmmaker (L. M. Kit Carson, himself a cult figure thanks to his contributions to the likes of "Paris Texas" and "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2") attempting to chronicle the day-to-day existence of the "common man" with disastrous results. Originally designed as a satire of the then-burgeoning "cinema verite" movement, it plays just as well today as a poke at the equally self-absorbed mumblecore movement and the mockumentary conceit, which predates the likes of "Spinal Tap" by a good fifteen years, makes it feel surprisingly fresh for a 44-year-old film. This deluxe edition also includes such earlier McBride efforts as "My Son's Wedding to My Sister-In-Law," "Pictures from Life's Other Side" and "My Girlfriend's Wedding," a previous feature that McBride always intended to be shown in conjunction with "David Holzman's Diary" and which is finally being presented as its companion film for the first time.
HOODWINKED TOO! HOOD VS. EVIL (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $29.98): Just when you had pretty much forgotten all about the lame"Shrek" knockoff that made a few bucks in early 2005 thanks largely to a lull in family films at the time, this not-exactly-long-awaited sequel finds Red Riding Hood (now voiced by Hayden Panettierre since original voice Anne Hathaway presumably had better things to do) hot on the trail of a wicked witch (Joan Cusack) who has kidnapped Hansel & Gretel (Bill Hader and Amy Poehler). In case you are thinking that six years seems like a long time to come up with a sequel to a film that wasn't exactly an overwhelming triumph in the first place, that is because it was hung up for a while in the midst of a legal battle between the filmmakers and the producers that, in all honest, was far more interesting than the film that it spawned, an animated mess that should be brought home to the kids only if "Doogal" is otherwise unavailable.
IDIOTS AND ANGELS (Passion River. $19.98): In the latest effort from cult animator Bill Plympton, a selfish jerk awakens one morning to discover that he has sprouted a pair of angel wings and finds to his horror that they are compelling him to perform the kind of good and selfless deeds that are completely out of his nature. While it may lack the kind of gut-busting laughs found in his shorts or previous features like "I Married a Strange Person," it is easily Plympton's most cohesive work to date and fans of off-beat and decidedly adult-oriented animation will want to give it a try.
JANE EYRE (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): The Charlotte Bronte warhorse gets yet another theatrical outing, this time courtesy of "Sin Nombre" director Cary Fukunaga and an acclaimed cast including current It Girl Mia Wasikowska in the title role, Michael Fassbender as the ever-brooding Rochester and supporting players Judi Dench, Jamie Bell, Sally Hawkins and the wonderfully named Imogen Poots. Obviously, there are no real surprises here but it is well done and Wasikowska once again gets a chance to prove that she is one of the more formidable young talents working today.
THE KILLING (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): After the relative failure of his first two directorial efforts, the flawed-but-interesting dramas "Fear and Desire" and "Killer's Kiss," Stanley Kubrick came up with his first flat-out masterpiece with this 1956 crime film classic about a seemingly foolproof racetrack robbery that, in the quintessential Kubrick manner, falls apart thanks to such unpredictable elements as greed, lust, jealousy and simple bad luck. This is perhaps the one Kubrick film that all audiences can agree on as being a hugely entertaining classic and its combination of terse dialogue and fractured narrative structure would prove to be a huge influence on later films in the genre, the most obvious one being "Reservoir Dogs." For its Blu-ray debut, Criterion has not only pulled out all the stops to present an immaculate transfer and several informative extras, including an archival interview with star Sterling Hayden and a new talk with producer and frequent Kubrick collaborator James B. Harris, they have even included the aforementioned "Killer's Kiss" as a bonus feature. For those of you scoring at home, that leaves only "Fear and Desire," an arty 1953 war film that has more or less been suppressed by Kubrick and his estate for decades, as the only film by the late master currently unavailable on Blu-ray.
PAUL (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): SImon Pegg and Nick Frost, the co-stars of such instant classics as "Spaced," "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz," reteamed for this weirdo road comedy about two British sci-fi fanatics who take a post-ComiCon trip across the U.S. to visit sites of famous UFO sightings and come across a foul-mouthed alien (voiced by Seth Rogen) who needs their help in his bid to escape the authorities and return home. It goes on for a little too long and the material involving the bumbling federal agents pursuing the extremely illegal alien grows tiresome after a while but the byplay between Pegg and Frost is still amusing enough to make it worth a look, especially if you are the kind of genre buff who will pick up on the countless in-jokes crammed into virtually every scene.
PRIEST (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): Having presumably missed it in theaters during its brief run during the early days of this year's summer movie derby, you can now skip over it again during its waning days from the privacy of your own home. In this adaptation of a graphic novel that few of you have probably heard of, Paul Bettany stars as a renegade priest in a future world largely destroyed by a vampire plague who goes on a quest to rescue his niece from the clutches of the biggest, baddest bloodsucker of them all. In other words, this has nothing to do with the pseudo-controversial 1995 melodrama about gay Catholic priests, though as I recall, the fight choreography in that one was far more fluid and coherent than anything on display in this mess.
SOMETHING BORROWED (Warner Home Video. $29.98): In this slightly more terrifying bomb from early summer, Ginnifer Goodwin plays a young woman who, on the eve of the wedding of her best friend (Kate Hudson), sleeps with the groom-to-be (Colin Egglesfield) that she has been crushing on for years--since this is a chick flick of the first order, Goodwin is, of course, the heroine of the piece and not in any way depicted as a home-wrecking shrew. As said heroine, Goodwin demonstrates why she tends to be more effective as a supporting player than as a lead while Hudson adds another nail to the coffin of a career that began so promisingly with the great "Almost Famous" and then quickly devolved into one disastrous rom-com after another and the fact that this isn't even the worst of the bunch (that would still be the loathsome "Bride Wars") is perhaps the most depressing news of all.
SUPER (IFC Films. $24.98): Rainn Wilson stars as an ordinary, self-righteous schnook who, when his former junkie wife (Liv Tyler) runs off with the suave local drug kingpin (Kevin Bacon), decides to fight injustice and win his beloved back by dressing up as a superhero and bringing down the bad guys--sure, he has no superpowers to speak of but he does have a wrench that he wields to mean and messy effect. While certainly better than the similarly plotted "Kick-Ass," mostly due to the contributions of Ellen Page as Wilson's spunky and borderline psychotic sidekick, writer-director James Gunn's film is pretty much a one-joke affair that grows tiresome after a while and the genuinely shocking levels of brutality on display will have even gorehounds squirming in their seats after a while.
THE WARD (Arc Entertainment. $24.99): For his first return to the director's chair since 2001's "Ghosts of Mars," cult favorite John Carpenter made this supernatural thriller about a young woman (Amber Heard) who is tossed into a mental institution after trying to set fire to a mysterious building and discovers that something is coming after her and her fellow patients. Alas, fans of Carpenter who have been waiting all this time for their hero's return will be disappointed to learn that the film is nothing more than a predictable piece of product topped off by the kind of allegedly shocking twist ending that will have even the most lackadaisical viewers figuring things out long before any of the on-screen characters. That said, Carpenter does bring a certain sense of style to the proceedings and if getting back into the saddle again encourages him to start working regularly again instead of simply sitting on the couch while cashing checks for all the remakes of his earlier classics, perhaps he will once again come up with a film worthy of his name.
WIDE OPEN (Synapse Films. $29.98): Cult favorite Christina Lindberg, perhaps best known as the star of the immortal "Thriller: A Cruel Picture" (a.k.a. "They Call Her One-Eye") made her last featured appearance in this 1975 slab of steaming Swedish sexploitation in which a couple whose attempts to straighten out their rocky relationship land them in a series of misadventures involving his drunken father, her sexy sister and the mysterious and dangerous Mr. X. Even more lurid than the above description suggests, this is the kind of film that separates the men from the boys, cinematically speaking--those without a taste for unrepentant sleaze will no doubt give it the widest possible berth (unless they get a load of the DVD cover) while serious grind house aficionados presumably clicked off of this column so as to order their own copies as soon as I mentioned "They Call Her One-Eye."
YOUR HIGHNESS (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Having established himself as one of the most acclaimed new filmmakers of the last decade with such one-of-a-kind critical favorites as "George Washington," "All the Real Girls" and "Snow Angels" and the commercial success of the raucous action-comedy "Pineapple Express," director David Gordon Green decided to practically piss it all away with this baffling collaboration with college pal Danny McBride, a vulgar and idiotic spoof 80's-era medieval fantasy epics like "Dragonslayer" and the immortal "Krull" in which McBride plays a loutish, pot-smoking prince who teams up with his perfect brother (James Franco) and an ass-kicking waif (Natalie Portman) to rescue his brother's fiancee (Zooey Deschanel) from the clutches of a evil wizard (Justin Theroux). While it may not turn out to be the single worst film of 2011, it is difficult to imagine that another one will emerge that is as scandalous of a waste of time, money and genuine talent and if such a thing does come along, I can only hope that I miss it.
ARMED & DANGEROUS (Image Entertainment. $17.97)
ASSASSINS (Warner Home Video. $19.98)
THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS (The Criterion Collection. $49.95)
COBRA (Warner Home Video. $19.98)
DAZED AND CONFUSED (Universal Home Entertainment. $26.98)
DEAD MAN (Echo Bridge. $19.99)
DEMOLITION MAN (Warner Home Video. $19.98)
FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (Universal Home Entertainment. $26.98)
THE FOX & THE HOUND/THE FOX & THE HOUND 2 (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $39.99)
HUSH (Image Entertainment. $17.97)
MUPPETS FROM SPACE (Sony Home Entertainment. $19.99)
MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN (Sony Home Entertainment. $19.99)
THE SPECIALIST (Warner Home Video. $19.98)