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DVD Reviews For 10/30: "Walkin' Down The Hall By Myself, Smokin' A J With Fifty Elves."
by Peter Sobczynski

Psycho Santas, rampaging Rexs and more Milla than you can shake a stick at (provided that is your idea of a good time), these are just a few of the sights to experience in this latest round-up of new DVD/Blu-Ray releases.


ATTACK THE BLOCK[Sony Home Entertainment. $29.98): In this low-budget cult favorite from England, a group of young punks preparing to spend the night terrorizing the denizens of their housing development find their plans changed considerably when they are forced to stave off an invasion of nasty aliens that have crash-landed from the skies. The film is reasonably fun for a while and debuting writer-director Joe Cornish demonstrates enough flash and talent to overcome what must have been a puny budget but after a while, it becomes apparent that he is more interested in paying homage to the works of his cinematic heroes (especially John Carpenter and Walter Hill) than in branching off to demonstrate his own particular vision. While I can't quite recommend it to anyone other than hardcore genre fanboys, it does make me a little curious to see what Cornish (who is one of the screenwriters of "The Adventures of Tin-Tin") will do with his next project.

CAPTAIN AMERICA (Paramount Home Video. $29.99): In the annals of big-budget comic-book adaptations from the summer of 2011--with the nifty "X-Men: First Class" and the execrable "Green Lantern" at the opposite ends of the spectrum--this big-screen adventure chronicling the origins of the durable Marvel Comics character falls smack dab in the middle. The first half, illustrating how scrawny runt Chris Evans becomes a super-soldier as part of an experiment designed to help fight the Nazis, is pretty fun and director Joe Johnston (who previously did the shoulda-been-a-hit "The Rocketeer") has a lot of fun with the film's retro style. Alas, the second half, in which our hero battles the standard vile madman before plunging into an extended set-up for next year's all-star superhero epic "The Avengers," is kind of boring and offers up nothing beyond the usual array of fistfights and flashy special effects. To be fair, it does play a little better on home video, if only because it has been stripped of the otherwise useless 3D, and though it doesn't quite work in total, there is enough going on with it to suggest that a sequel, shorn of all the origin nonsense, might be something special.

FACES IN THE CROWD (Millennium Media. $28.99): All-time column object of worship Milla Jovovich stars as an ordinary woman who is attacked one night by a serial killer and barely manages to escape with her life. The bad news is that the killer apparently grabbed her purse and knows who she is, where she lives, etc. . . The really bad news is that, as the result of injuries sustained during the attack, she now has a condition where she no longer recognizes people's faces and anyone around her could theoretically be the killer. The premise is reasonably ingenious and Milla is, as always, eminently watchable, but the execution of the material is just a little too haphazard--imagine this conceit in the hands of a supreme visual stylist like Dario Argento or Brian De Palma and you can begin to understand what is missing here.

If you still crave more hi-def Milla after this film--and I cannot imagine any circumstance in which one wouldn't--this week also sees the arrival of the Blu-ray version of Criterion's lavish special edition of Richard Linklater's 1993 masterpiece "Dazed and Confused" (The Criterion Collection. $39.95) in which she co-stars with a virtual Who's-Who? of future stars (including Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck and Parker Posey) in the hilarious and occasionally profound look at a bunch of Texas teenagers on the night after the last day of the 1976 school year.

JURASSIC PARK ULTIMATE TRILOGY (Universal Home Entertainment. $79.98): The box-office behemoths that revolutionized the film industry through cutting-edge (and still impressive) visual effects that made dinosaurs (or at least their CGI equivalents) walk again make their Blu-ray debuts and after watching them again, I find that my opinions regarding them have not changed after all these years. "Jurassic Park" (1993) is an okay-at-best epic that mixes astonishing special effects with a singularly lame story and a distinct lack of Richard Attenborough being eaten by dinosaurs. "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" (1997) is a strangely underrated work that replaces the solemnities of its predecessor with a cheerfully cheesy monster movie aesthetic climaxing with a hugely amusing (if wildly implausible even by these standards) rampage on San Diego. "Jurassic Park III" (2000) is still kind of a bore that seems to have been made solely as a money-spinning endeavor, though I probably would have felt a little kinder towards it if the filmmakers had devised a way so that deeply annoying co-star Tea Leoni could have been eaten in every single scene.

THE PEOPLE VS. GEORGE LUCAS (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $27.98): Utilizing interviews, fan testimonials and bizarre ephemera, debuting filmmaker Alexandre Philippe tackles the subject of Lucas, his cinematic legacy and whether he has the moral right to continually muck around with said legacy via dreadful prequels and unneeded/unwanted touch-ups to the films that won him such a fervent fan base in the first place. As a decidedly pro-fan rant, though one that takes some pains to be fair and respectful to Lucas as well, it is funny and amusing for about an hour or so but the last 40 minutes or so are pretty much overkill that will exhaust the patience of even the most passionate members of the anti-Lucas brigade.

RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE (Oscilloscope Laboratories. $29.99): In this weird, dark and funny Finnish film that is likely to become a holiday perennial in the same households that similarly worship the likes of "Gremlins" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas," an excavation outside of a remote Finnish town on Christmas Eve uncovers what appears to be the evil version of Santa Claus. After wreaking some havoc with the local kids and reindeer, he is captured but his equally deranged elves arrive to rescue him and that is about all I will say in regards to that except to note that the film takes what could have been just a dumb, one-joke affair and transforms it into something that is borderline spectacular, even if (or especially if) you tend to shy away from most standard holiday titles. Even better, the blu-ray edition of this title also includes as a special bonus the infamous 1964 classic "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians," featuring shabby special effects, Whamm-o Air Blasters and the big-screen debut of Pia Zadora in an epic that every man, woman and child needs to see at least once in their lifetimes (and for most, once will be more than enough).

A SERBIAN FILM (Invincible Pictures. $19.95): For those of you who came away from "The Human Centipede II" thinking that it drank just a little too deeply from the milk of human kindness for its own good, this notoriously nasty item about a retired Serbian porn star who is called out of retirement for one more project that proves to be more and more depraved with each successive scene. I'd love to offer some informed critique of the film but alas, after promising to send me a review copy, the company releasing it never bothered to actually follow through. That said, I have been made to understand that the version being offered has had a couple of crucial scenes cut (no doubt including the notorious "newborn porn" bit--don't ask) which means that this particular version will pretty much satisfy nobody--it will still be too much for more sensitive viewers while gorehounds will complain about it being gutted, no pun intended.

TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (Acorn Media. $49.99): If you want to brush up on the particulars of John Le Carre's acclaimed best-seller about an aging British Intelligence agent covertly trying to uncover which high-ranking agent is actually a mole before the release of the feature film version starring Gary Oldman without having to do anything as tacky as reading the book, you can now look up this six-part adaptation made for British television in 1979 with Alec Guinness in the central role. If that meets with your approval, you can also look up the equally celebrated follow-up "Smiley's People" (Acorn Media. $49.99) as well. Other TV-related DVDs available this week include "Barney Miller: The Complete Series" (Shout! Factory. $159.99), "Luther: Season 2" (BBC Warner. $34.95), "Marvel's Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes--Volume 3 & Volume 4" (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $19.99 each), "Robot Chicken: Season 5" (The Cartoon Network. $29.98) and "Survivor: Season 5--Thailand" (Paramount Home Video. $34.95).

TOM & JERRY GOLDEN COLLECTION: VOLUME ONE (Warner Home Video. $34.99): The legendary animated cat & mouse duo make their hi-def debut in the 2-disc set featuring 37 cartoons that still hold up fabulously well after all these years in all their uncut, cruel, violent and hilarious glory. For viewers young and old alike, this package, which also includes commentaries from animations experts, behind-the-scens featurettes and the scene from "Anchors Aweigh" in which Jerry dances with some hoofer by the name of Gene Kelly, is an absolute must.Somewhat less impressive is {b}"Tom and Jerry: Fur-Flying Adventures Vol. 3" {i}(Warner Home Video. $14.95), a rag-tag collection of cartoons produced between the 1960's and today, none of which happen to display them at their entertaining best. However, if you prefer your T&J cartoons to be without any of that pesky humor, violence or top-notch animation, this set should be right up your alley.

Another vintage comedy team finally gets their DVD due with "Laurel & Hardy The Essential Collection" (Rhi Entertainment. $99.98), a 10-disc behemoth that includes most of the short subjects they made between 1928-1940 (including some done for foreign markets in which they reshot the original films and spoke the dialogue phonetically), a few of their features and a grab-bag of extras including trailers, guest appearances in other films and testimonials from such fans as Dick Van Dyke and Jerry Lewis.

WELCOME TO L.A. (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.98): Among the latest titles to be released by MGM as part of their DVD-on-demand service is this 1978 effort that marked the official (as long as you ignore the little-remembered horror epic "Barn of the Naked Dead") directorial debut of cult filmmaker Alan Rudolph that takes a "Nashville"-like look (not surprising since Rudolph had worked for Robert Altman on several films and Altman produced this one as well) at the lives of a dozen or so characters (including Harvey Keitel, Sissy Spacek, Geraldine Chaplin and Lauren Hutton) drifting through their lives a quiet but well-appointed desperation in the City of Angels. Whether or not you like this long-unavailable item will depend to a large extent on your thoughts on Rudolph and his oeuvre (including the likes of "Choose Me," "Trouble in Mind" and "The Moderns") as a whole. If you respond to his trippy shaggy-dog stories filled with oddball character reciting even odder dialogue, you will love this one but if you don't, this is certainly going to drive you up the proverbial wall and then some. Personally, I adore it and am thrilled to see it finally available on home video for the first time since a long-forgotten VHS release decades ago and I think that those looking for something determinedly offbeat will get a real kick out of it.

WINNIE THE POOH (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $29.99): After decades of squandering one of their most cherished properties with a series of uninspired television cartoons and weak big-screen adventures, Disney finally did right by A.A. Milne's beloved character by giving him and the other denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood a vehicle as sweet, charming and delicately funny as the original stories. Alas, having done that, the studio then decided to ensure that practically no one would see it by releasing it last summer on the same weekend as the final Harry Potter extravaganza. As a result, most families probably wound up missing it during its inevitably brief theatrical run but now they can all enjoy it at home, where I suspect its gentle charms will play even better now that the soundtrack won't be drowned out by the sounds of Hogwarts getting trashed drifting in from the theater next door.

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originally posted: 10/31/11 07:57:53
last updated: 12/08/11 13:19:20
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