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DVD Reviews For 1/15: Get Well, Mamie!!! (And Don't Watch "Contagion"!)
by Peter Sobczynski

For the first DVD column of the new year, we unfortunately have a lot of crap to deal with but there are a few gems on display as well--the latest works from a couple of masters, one of the best movies to hit the big screen in 2011 and one of the best films to hit the small screen as well.


THE CAPE: THE COMPLETE SERIES (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): So much for six seasons and a movie. . . Other TV-related DVDs now available include "Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Season Five" (Universal Home Entertainment. $39.98), "Boardwalk Empire: Season One" (HBO Home Video. $59.99), "Hawaii Five-O: The Final Season" (CBS Home Video. $49.99), "An Idiot Abroad" (BBC. $34.98), "Justified: The Complete Second Season" (Fox Home Entertainment. $39.95), "Primeval: Volume Three" (BBC. $49.98) and "Royal Pains: Season Three, Volume One" (Universal Home Entertainment. $26.98).

CONTAGION (Warner Home Video. $28.98): Perhaps in an effort to boost the price of any Purell stock that they may own, Steven Soderbergh and an all-star cast (including the likes of Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard and Jude Law) offer up this smart and disturbing thriller following the spread of a worldwide pandemic and the increasingly frantic efforts of a group of people trying t get to the bottom of the sickness and find a cure before billions of people succumb to it. Essentially an intelligent version of the old Irwin Allen disaster movies, the film has a couple of weak spots (the subplot involving the misadventures of the Cotillard character in China don't really fit in with everything else) but for the most part, this is a sensationally effective film that doesn't require overt melodrama are unnecessary action sequences to grab viewers and keep them riveted for two hours. BTW--if you aren't much of a fan of Gwyneth Paltrow, let me just say that you are going to love this one. On the other hand, if you want to see more of Winslet than you get here--and what sane, sober-minded person wouldn't--this week also sees the release of "Mildred Pierce" (HBO Home Video. $39.98), the five-part adaptation of the James M. Cain melodrama about the struggles of a working-class woman to make something of the lives of her and her monstrous daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) in which she and director Todd Haynes combined to flat-out obliterate all memories of the 1946 iteration that won Joan Crawford her Best Actress Oscar.

DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): Guillermo de Toro produced and co-wrote this remake of the 1973 TV movie that has gone on to become a cult favorite, especially among people like del Toro who first saw it when they were young kids. In it, a troubled young girl (Bailee Madison) goes to live with her dad (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend (Katie Holmes) in the spooky old mansion they are restoring and discovers a secret basement that seems to contain. . .something. . .in the fireplace that is up to no good. Although the film is no masterpiece--del Toro's efforts to transform the original's junky-fun premise into something like a contemporary American variation of "Pan's Labyrinth" does it no favors and it gets a little silly towards the end--there are a sufficient number of effective "BOO!" moments and strong performances to make it worth a look for genre fans and newcomers alike.

FILM SOCIALISME (Kino Video. $29.95): In what has been rumored to be his final cinematic statement (though I would take such pronouncements with several grains of salt), the legendarily cranky Jean-Luc Godard offers up this formally beautiful and thematically challenging work that deals, however obliquely, with Europe's war-torn past and its unsteady unification-driven future using a visual smorgasbord ranging from gorgeously ripe digital video to the kind of degraded imagery commonly found in defective cell phones. Like most late-period Godard, much of what is on display here is pretty inscrutable and anyone hoping for a last-minute return to conventional filmmaking--or at least as conventional as he is capable of being--will no doubt go away disappointed but those admirers of his who celebrate his willingness to challenge the conventions of cinema even at his ripe old age may well find much to celebrate here.

THE HELLSTROM CHRONICLE (Olive Films. $24.95): Directed by Walon Green (who worked on the screenplays for such cult classics as "The Wild Bunch" and "Sorcerer"), this 1971 documentary/horror film used then-cutting-edge photographic techniques to back up its assertion that mankind is but a temporary inhabitant of this planet and that it is the bugs, plants and animals that will truly inherit Earth when all is said and done. Long unavailable until it finally fell into the hands of the increasingly valuable distributor Olive Films, the film may be a bit dated in some regards but it remains an intriguing curiosity that is still reasonably relevant 40 years down the road.

HIGHER GROUND (Sony Home Entertainment. $45.99): Acclaimed actress Vera Farmiga made her directorial debut with this quirky drama in which she plays a member of a small religious community whose entire existence is thrown into upheaval wwhen she finds herself beginning to question her faith. The film as a whole is kind of uneven and goes on a little too long for its own good but Farmiga is to be commended for tackling such an ambitious subject for her first project as a director, her keen eye for detail and her ability to get strong performances from her cast, which also includes the likes of John Hawkes, Joshua Leonard and her younger sister Tessia (the daughter from "American Horror Story") as the younger version of her character. This film may not be perfect but it is interesting enough to make one curious to see what Farmiga comes up with next.

I DON'T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT (The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment. $29.98): Essentially a "Sex and the City" clone reconceived as a solo vehicle for Sarah Jessica Parker, the film features the thoroughbred actress as a woman struggling to balance her professional and personal lives with nothing but her pluck, her determination, her incessant voiceovers, a high-paying job as a hedge-fund manager, an architect husband (Greg Kinnear), an apartment approximately the size of an airport hangar, a perky au pair and a group of loyal friends who constantly break frame to remind us what a wonderful and noble creature she is for the way she has been able to overcome her seemingly complete lack of adversity. As it turns out, few viewers particularly care how she did it and the film went on to become one of 2011's biggest flops with even those squarely in its target audience appalled by its smug tone, complete lack of dramatic conflict and the obnoxious lead performance from Parker.

KILLER ELITE (Universal Home Video. $29.98): No, this is not a remake of the barely passable 1975 thriller that proved to be one of the lesser entries in the filmography of director Sam Peckinpah but that film looks like "The Wild Bunch" and "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" combine when compared to this lifeless thriller in which retired mercenary Jason Statham is forced to go back to work in order to free imprisoned mentor Robert DeNiro and former tough guy Clive Owen is out to stop him before anything exciting or interesting can happen. Lacking even the slightest trace of the grubby excitement that one might conceivably hope for from such a film, this is an absolute bore from start to finish and to judge from the dialogue they are reciting (with all the passion and excitement of hostages forced to read statements extolling the virtues of their captors), it would appear that the three leads were each paid by the cliche.

MONEYBALL (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): For most people, the notion of sitting through a film consisting of equal parts baseball inside baseball and statistical analysis might seem to hold all the appeal of being trapped inside a bad sports bar on a slow night but in the hands of screenwriters Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, the minutiae that made up Michael Lewis' best-seller of how the Oakland A's were able to put together a championship ball team relying less on superstar talent than on lesser-regarded players whose particular gifts had been overlooked or misused in the past. Featuring stellar performances by Brad Pitt as A's general manager Billy Beane, Jonah Hill as the statistics geek who helps him see the light and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as old-school manager team manager Art Howe, this is a hugely entertaining film regardless of whether you are into sports or not--so good, in fact, that even the fact that aging Internet hack Jeff Wells has anointed it as the single greatest thing since sliced mulligatawny is enough to tarnish its achievements.

SHARK NIGHT (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): In what is little more than a slightly more expensive version of those idiotic genre exercises that are cranked out like clockwork for the SyFy Channel, a group of lightly-clad dopes (including Sara Paxton and, oddly enough, singer Katherine McPhee) head off to a remote lake house for a weekend of sun and fun only to discover that the water is inexplicably teeming with indifferently rendered CGI sharks ready to chomp them up, albeit in the most discreet PG-13-friendly manner possible. It sounds like irresistible camp but it turns out to be an entirely resistible bore that almost makes "Jaws 3-D" seem plausible and entertaining by comparison. If common sense does take leave long enough for you to choose to pick this up after all, be sure to stick through to the end for a post-credit shark-related rap number that needs to be seen to be believed. . .or maybe not.

WHAT'S YOUR NUMBER? (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): Presumably annoyed with the way that Hollywood has consistently misused her combination of off-beat beauty and crack comedic timing (with the exception of the relentlessly delightful "The House Bunny," a film that you should go out and watch right now, regardless of whether you have seen it before or not), Anna Faris decided to take the bull by the horns by co-producing this flagrant waste of said talents in which she plays an unpleasant ditz who, inspired by a dippy magazine article stating that a woman who has slept with over twenty different men has virtually no chance of ever getting married, checks in with one of her previous score of scores to see if one of them has miraculously morphed into Mr. Right. Little more than an exceptionally smutty episode of "Love, American Style" sans the quiet dignity and restraint, it is only funny during the occasional moments of pseudo sincerity and is otherwise a depressing waste of time and of Faris, the kind of all-out disaster that could send an actress to the depths of despair or, even worse, "Scary Movie 5."


JOHN TUCKER MUST DIE (Fox Home Entertainment. $19.99)

JUST MARRIED (Fox Home Entertainment. $19.99)

JUST MY LUCK (Fox Home Entertainment. $19.99

NEVER BEEN KISSED (Fox Home Entertainment. $19.99)

PEARL JAM 20 (Columbia Records. $29.99)

PROOF (Miramax/Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.99)

SERENDIPITY (Miramax/Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $14.99)

SHALLOW HAL (Fox Home Entertainment. $19.99)

SHE'S ALL THAT (Miramax/Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $14.99)

UNLEASHED (Universal Home Entertainment. $14.98)

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originally posted: 01/16/12 07:02:28
last updated: 01/16/12 07:22:09
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