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DVD Reviews For 12/29: "That Son-Of-A-Bitch WILL Fly!"
by Peter Sobczynski

What better way to bring 2011 to an end than with a final burst of new releases that include a couple of the year's better films, several of its biggest bombs and some of the strangest crime movies that you have ever laid your eyes on? Anyway, enjoy and see you in 2012.


99 AND 44/100% DEAD/THE NICKEL RIDE (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $19.93): Two oddball crime films produced in 1974 by 20th Century Fox finally hit DVD on this double-feature disc. The former, an effort from the legendary John Frankenheimer, is essentially a futuristic live-action comic strip in which hit man Richard Harris is recruited by mob boss Edmond O'Brien to do battle against rival kingpin Bradford Dillman and fearsome killer Chuck Conners, an amputee whose arm stump plays host to an increasingly strange array of gadgets and weaponry. The latter, directed by Robert Mulligan, is a more straightforward neo-noir starring Jason Miller as a mid-level crime figure struggling to close an important deal that could mean his life if he fails. Both are strong, underrated films worthy of discovery but if I had to pick one over the other, I would probably go with "99 and 44/100% Dead" just for the sheer strangeness of it all.

APOLLO 18 (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $29.98): An unfortunately perfect example of a nifty idea done in by slipshod execution, this latest entry in the faux-found-footage horror sub-genre depicts what allegedly occurred during a top-secret NASA mission to the moon and explains why we never went back there. The premise is inspired but little else is as the film bogs down into a series of endless shakycam scenes of a couple of bland guys killing time until the "shocking" (and by "shocking," I mean "barely coherent") conclusion finally brings things to a merciful if overdue close. One question--if the mission is supposed to be so damned top secret, why did NASA have special commemorative patches made for the uniforms?

BRANDED TO KILL/TOKYO DRIFTER (The Criterion Collection. $39.95 each): During the 1960's, when gangster movies were on the rise in Japan, filmmaker Seijun Suzuki was hired to make a series of straightforward genre exercises that would do nothing more than fill seats. Needless to say, he didn't quite do that and while the premises of these two films may sound familiar on the surface (1966's "Tokyo Drifter" features a retired gangster who is pulled back into the fray when his old mob goes to war with their hated rivals while 1967's "Branded to Kill" has a top assassin who becomes a target himself following a botched hit), his deliriously demented approach to the material--ranging from a wild and deliberately cartoonish visual style reminiscent of the increasingly crazed works of Russ Meyer to weird touches like having the hero of "Branded to Kill" repeatedly indulge in his fetish for the smell of cooked rice--resulted in crime movies of the sort that no one had ever seen before or since as well as the termination of Suzuki's contract the minute that his higher-ups got a load of "Branded to Kill." Suzuki would continue to work in the ensuing years (with the certifiably insane 2001 epic "Pistol Opera" being the best of the bunch) but he would never top these two films. Even today, they are still pretty jaw-dropping (especially in their presentations here) and for most of you, I can pretty much guarantee that, love them or hate them, you have most likely never seen anything like these two films and most likely never will again.

BURKE & HARE (MPI Home Video. $24.98): Returning to the kind of horror-comedy hybrid that he mined so successfully with the classic "An American Werewolf in London," the brilliant prologue to "Twilight Zone--The Movie" and the underrated "Innocent Blood," John Landis offers up the latest screen incarnation of the grisly real-life exploits of William Burke and William Hare (Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis), a pair of grave robbers in 1820's London whose get-rich-quick scheme of selling fresh cadavers to local medical colleges for "research" turns even more unsavory when their need for a continuous stream of product inspires them to murderous ends. Although no masterpiece by any means, this is a nicely done stab at black comedy with inspired performances from the two leads and some nice bits of nastiness here and there. As for Landis, who has spent the last decade or so working on documentaries and on television, the film may not hit the heights of his best-loved work but it stands heads and shoulders above the likes of "Beverly Hills Cop 3" or, God help us for even mentioning it, "Blues Brothers 2000."

COLOMBIANA (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): A reject from the Luc Besson film factory that unfortunately made it out into the marketplace, this action-filled loser stars Zoe Saldana as a lightly-clad babe who works as a high-paid assassin while quietly hunting down the people responsible for killing her parents when she was just a child. If this sounds like a half-assed retread of Besson's sublime "Leon," it is rumored that the screenplay was originally developed as a sequel to that film and later mutated into this listless and unlikable disaster, a mess that not even Besson's most ardent fans will be able to get behind without feeling foolish in the process.

DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME (Indomina. $19.95): The dependably deranged Hong Kong filmmaker Tsui Hark returns with yet another crazy-ass effort, this one an effects-laden historical mystery set in 690 AD in which the upcoming coronation of China's first empress is interrupted by the spontaneous combustion of two high-ranking officials and the country's most brilliant detective tries to uncover the answers to the case, despite having just been released from prison after having been arrested years earlier for protesting the new empress' ascendancy. Like much of Hark's work, the story is equal parts crazy and convoluted but it is so cheerfully strange (it even includes a talking deer) that viewers with a taste for the offbeat will get a big kick out of it.

DOLPHIN TALE (Warner Home Video. $28.98): In this family-oriented film based on a true story, a troubled young boy finds and befriends a dolphin after the creature gets stuck in a fishing trap and when it eventually loses its tail as the result of its injuries, he recruits an avuncular prosthetics designer (Morgan Freeman) to design an artificial tail that will save its life. Despite a better-than-average cast that also includes the likes of Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr. and Kris Kristofferson, this is pretty much the standard cute kind/cuter animal malarkey that you have seen a hundred times before and with most of them better than this. That said, I will admit that it is at least a little more tolerable than the likes of "War Horse."

DRAGON TATTOO TRILOGY: EXTENDED EDITIONS (Music Box Films. $59.95): On the off-chance that you somehow haven't yet gotten your fill of "Millennium Trilogy"-related material this holiday season, you will probably want to pick up this box set containing the extended versions of the Swedish screen adaptations that became international hits and made the then-unknown Noomi Rapace into a star with her indelible portrayal of fierce computer hacker Lisbeth Salander, along with interviews with the cast and an hour-long documentary on the entire phenomenon. Although each film has been lengthened by maybe a half-hour or so on average, the new material doesn't really alter the material as much as fill in the blanks regarding some of the subplots and supporting characters. As a result, the movies are pretty much the same in the end--"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is fairly engrossing with a knockout performance by Rapace, "The Girl who Played with Fire" is a bit of a drag that comes to life when Rapace is front and center and "The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" is a drag that inexplicably takes its fascinating central character and then muzzles her by keeping her in a hospital for the first half and putting her on trial in the second.

FINAL DESTINATION 5 (Warner Home Video. $28.98): The fifth verse is the same as the first in the latest installment in the inexplicably resilient horror franchise that offers up yet another group of obnoxious clods who inexplicably are spared from dying gruesomely in a major disaster (a bridge collapse this time around) and wind up getting smooshed, pierced or otherwise dismantled in increasingly elaborate ways. That said, this one is a little more entertaining than the others, mostly because the filmmakers finally seem to realize just how absurd the entire premise is and treat this almost as self-parody. That said, if you are like me and have an unnatural fear of bridges, this may not be your cup of tea after all.

FRIGHT NIGHT (Dreamworks Video. $29.99): As unnecessary remakes from 2011 go, this new iteration of the 1985 cult horror classic, which tells the story of a dorky teen (Anton Yelchin) who becomes convinced that his suave new neighbor (Colin Farrell) is actually a vampire and tries to stop him from draining his mother (Toni Collette) and inexplicably hot girlfriend (the wonderfully named Imogen Poots), was actually one of the better ones thanks to a reasonably imaginative screenplay, a couple of ingenious set-pieces and a funny and clever performance from Farrell. Alas, it tanked in theaters, most likely due to it being released in terrible post-conversion 3D at the precise moment when audience apathy towards the process hit a new high, but now that it is on home video (and where it can actually be seen without the picture-dimming 3D, kind of a problem when most of your film already takes place at night), it will hopefully get discovered by genre fans who skipped over it at the multiplex because it is worth a look.

GLEE: THE CONCERT MOVIE (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): One of last summer's biggest box-office bombs, this film chronicling a performance from the cast members of the popular Fox TV series during their recent concert tour suffered from the aforementioned apathy towards 3D and the growing backlash towards the phenomenon as a whole. On the big screen, the whole thing had the patina of a quickie cash-in designed to make as much money as possible (especially at the inflated 3D premium prices) from fans as possible before they finally moved on to something else. At home, however, it plays just like an ordinary souvenir concert video and on that level, it is perfectly adequate, though nothing much to write home about in the long run.

IN THE NAME OF THE KING 2: TWO WORLDS (Fox Home Entertainment. $22.98): The legendary Z-movie maven Uwe Boll returns with his latest cut-rate epic, an in-name only to his 2007 fantasy flop that features Dolph Lundgren as a modern-day warrior who, following an attack by mysterious ninjas, is sucked into a time vortex and deposited into medieval times. To answer you obvious questions: No, I haven't seen it yet since Fox didn't see fit to send me a copy and yes, anything featuring a combination of Uwe Boll, Dolph Lundgren, ninjas and time vortexes is something that I cannot wait to check out for myself.

INTRUDER: DIRECTOR'S CUT (Synapse Films. $29.95): 80's-era gorehounds will no doubt have fond memories of this amusing 1987 bloodbath in which the overnight crew at a grocery store find themselves locked inside with a maniacal killer who is picking them off one by one. Director/co-writer Scott Spiegel was an associate of Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell from the very beginning of their careers and both make appearances here as a result. A victim of an overzealous MPAA, which removed most of the blood and guts, the film has been restored here to its full strength and includes such bonus features as a commentary by Spiegel, interviews, outtakes, audition footage and a few glimpses of the now-lost 8mm short film version of the story that Spiegel shot as a teenager.

KUNG-FU PANDA 2 (Dreamworks Video. $29.99): I'll be honest--I have watched this sequel to the 2008 animated hit twice know and I still cannot remember anything about it to save my life other than the fact that Jack Black once again voices the role of a roly-poly panda too busy displaying his martial arts prowess to bother with propagating his species. Somewhat of a non-starter at the box-office this past summer (possibly because of parents unwilling to pay the 3D surcharge at the box-office), little kids will probably enjoy it for all of the bright colors and slapstick and grown-ups will be satisfied with the fact that it isn't actively annoying--as far as I can recall, of course.

MARGIN CALL (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.98): In this modern-day version of a disaster movie, an all-star cast (including Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Penn Badgely, Stanley Tucci and Demi Moore among others) goes through their paces in this drama, set during the early days of the 2008 financial meltdown in which the key members of a high-powered investment company (with a striking similarity to the once-vaunted firm of Lehman Brothers) discover that they are about to go under and have to decide whether they will come clean or pass their now-toxic assets on to unsuspecting investors knowing full well that they are worthless. Although not nearly as good as "Too Big to Fail," the year's other major film about the economic collapse (mostly because it is heavily fictionalized and contains too many examples of characters who should be in the know having things explained to them at length in order to help viewers follow along), this is still an interesting and reasonably well-done take on a complicated subject that is helped along by nice work from the entire cast as well as first-time writer/director J.C. Chandor.

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): Woody Allen scored his biggest critical and commercial hit in years with this delightful fantasy about a contemporary screenwriter (Owen Wilson), vacationing in Paris with his fiancee (Rachel McAdams), who finds himself whisked back to the glory days of the 1920's and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Hemingway, Dali, Fitzgerald (Scott and Zelda) and other literary heroes of the day. It is a nifty premise and one that is perfectly executed with a lot of wit, ingenuity and intelligence going for it, not to mention a typically strong cast that also includes Marion Cotillard as the muse of Picasso and Hemingway who takes an instant liking to Wilson as well. Outside of the comparatively weak character that McAdams has been given and a couple of exceptionally leaden quips about the Tea Party, this is an absolute charmer from start to finish and one of the very best films of 2010.

THE MOON IN THE GUTTER (Cinema Libre. $29.95): Blu-Ray Nastassja Kinski--do I need to say anything more other than the fact that this moody and visually ravishing 1983 neo-noir drama from Jean-Jacques Beineix,made between his hugely popular debut "Diva" and the controversial "Betty Blue" and dismissed by many at the time as an overly stylized bore, is actually one of the more tragically underrated films of its decade and one that plays just as beautifully now as it did back in the day for those who were paying attention.

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): When word leaked that Fox was attempting to relaunch the "Planet of the Apes" franchise a decade after Tim Burton's largely disdained misfire, most genre fans were expecting just another drab rehash and dialed down whatever expectations that might have held towards such a thing. Imagine their surprise when the film, not so much a remake as a prequel that more or less fits into the canon of the earlier titles, turned out to be not only one of the best big-budget enterprises of last summer but far and away the best "Apes" movie since the original--a smart, entertaining and provocative work that balanced elaborate special effects with thoughtful human drama in ways that satisfied fans and newcomers alike. And while the campaign to get Andy Serkis a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his motion-capture performance as Caesar, the seemingly ordinary ape that grows up to lead a rebellion against mankind, seems to have largely fizzled out by now, I will say that if ever there was a mo-cap performance deserving of such an honor, this is the one.

THE ROCKETEER (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $28.50): 1991-era Jennifer Connelly in the miracle of Blu-Ray. . .do I need to say anything more? Okay, I will simply note that while this adaptation of the graphic novel cult favorite, the first in what was hoped to be a new film franchise for Disney, wound up tanking at the box-office and scotching plans for a series, I would still take its cheerful silliness and high spirits over most of the recent wave of comic book movies in a heartbeat.

SHAMELESS: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Warner Home Video. $39.98): There are any number of reasons to go to bat for the first season of this Showtime comedy-drama following the misadventures of a lower-class Chicago family led by drunken patriarch trying to eke out a living that have nothing to do with the frequently unclothed state of Emmy Rossum, who plays the eldest child and the closest thing to a responsible adult. Oddly enough, I can't think of any right at this moment but I am sure they will come to me before long. Other TV-related DVDs now in release include "Archer: The Complete Season Two." (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98), "The Borgias: The First Season" (Paramount Home Video. $49.99) "Family Guy: Volume 9" (Fox Home Entertainment. $39.98), "Futurama: Volume 6" (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98), "Gunsmoke: Season 5, Volume 2" (Paramount Home Video. $36.95), "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret: Season 1." (MPI Home Video. $24.98), "One tree Hill: The Complete Eighth Season" (Warner Home Video. $59.98), "The Ricky Gervais Show: The Complete Second Season" (Warner Home Video. $39.95) and "Switched at Birth: Volume One" (ABC Studios. $29.99).

SHERLOCK HOLMES (Kino Video. $34.95): If you find yourself emerging from the fairly ghastly "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" with the urge to see an actual Sherlock Holmes movie bereft of the high-tech nonsense that has defined the recent takes on the material featuring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, you might want to take a look at this 1922 item, a silent film once thought to be lost forever featuring John Barrymore in the title role and William Powell, who would achieve fame playing another noted detective 12 years later in "The Thin Man," making his screen debut in a supporting role

STRAW DOGS (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): As unnecessary remakes from 2011 go, this insipid and utterly pointless take on the legendarily brutal 1971 Sam Peckinpah drama about a meek man forced to tap into his savage side in order to protect his wife and home (not necessarily in that order) from local thugs may have been the most completely useless of the bunch. Even if you weren't that big of a fan of the original, it had a point and a brutal power to it that was undeniable even to its detractors but Rod Lurie completely misses that and without getting too cruel about it, let it be said that James Marsden and Kate Bosworth are no Dustin Hoffman and Susan George, not even if they switched roles. However, bad movie fans might want to look it up in order to check out James Woods delivering one of the most insanely hammy performances of his entire career and believe me, that is saying something.

UNDERWORLD TRILOGY (Sony Home Entertainment. $45.99): Just in time for the release of the upcoming "Underworld: Awakening"--already a front-runner for the title of Most Unnecessary Sequel of 2012, Sony is offering up this box set of the three previous entries in the vampires vs. werewolves franchise ("Underworld," "Underworld: Evolution" and "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans") that includes all the numerous bonus features from the previous editions, never-before-seen anime shorts designed to fill in some of the numerous blanks in the history of the franchise and a free ticket to the new film. On the bright side, Kate Beckinsale cuts a nifty leather-clad figure in the first two films and the series as a whole is at least slightly better than "Twilight." However, consider the seemingly foolproof combination of Vampires, werewolves and babes, it is still kind of amazing how boring these films are as a whole.

WARRIOR (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $29.95): The newest sports-related film from director Gavin O'Connor, who made the wonderful "Miracle," charts the lives of two estranged brothers--a former soldier with a dark past (Tom Hardy) and a family man facing financial catastrophe (Joel Edgerton) as they fight their way towards an upcoming MMA championship with a payoff that both could use desperately. Although the film is not quite as good as its most ardent supporters have suggested, it is still a well-crafted entertainment with strong and charismatic performances from both of its stars and from Nick Nolte as the once-drunken father trying to reconnect with his sons.


CITY OF GOD (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.99)

A FAREWELL TO ARMS (Kino Video. $29.95)

HEAVENLY CREATURES (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.99)

MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (Warner Home Video. $35.99)

NOTHING SACRED (Kino Video. $29.95)

SEVEN CHANCES (Kino Video. $34.95)

VELVET GOLDMINE (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.99)

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originally posted: 12/30/11 03:51:04
last updated: 12/30/11 06:24:54
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