DVD Reviews For 1/28: "And Introducing Katherine McPhee"
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 01/29/12 14:32:36
Okay, I must confess that this article is actually 100% McPhee-free. However, since ever seems to be introducing her even though we have already see her place in a nationally televised talent show, get knocked up in an Anna Faris joint and get eaten by CGI-sharks, why can't I? Besides, if it lures a few more eyes to this column--which features a couple of all-time classics (featuring stars ranging from Catherine Deneuve to Godzilla) to a couple of the most hateful so-called comedies ever perpetrated, so much the better. . .
NEW AND NOTABLE50/50 (Summit Entertainment. $26.99): Presumably because it deals with the subject of a young man dealing with the recent revelation that he has cancer--and has the temerity do so in a comedic light to boot--this film pretty much dropped dead in theaters when it appeared last fall and, despite numerous rave reviews, failed to gain much traction with the end-of-year awards either. This is a shame because while it may not be the flat-out masterpiece that some have claimed, this is a very funny and often touching work that takes a familiar subject and approaches it in an offbeat manner that turns out to be far more intelligent and thought-provoking than it would have been if it had been just another medical tearjerker thanks to the funny and incisive screenplay by Will Reiser (based on his own experiences) and smart performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the stricken hero, Seth Rogen as the best pal who helps him see the brighter aspects of an unspeakably bleak situation and Anna Kendrick as the neophyte shrink trying to help him cope with the unthinkable. Again, "cancer comedy" may not sound like much of a lure but trust me, this one really works.
ABDUCTION (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $29.95): When this attempt to create a star vehicle for hunk du jour Taylor Lautner outside of the "Twilight" franchise was released last fall to massive critical and commercial indifference, those who actually made it to the end wondered why anyone would name a film "Abduction" when it didn't actually contain any abducting. A bigger question might be why something as dumb and dully predictable as this--Lautner plays an ordinary high-schooler who discovers his visage on a missing persons website and finds himself trapped in a seemingly endless game of cat-and-mouse that climaxes at a Pittsburgh Pirates game--would attract the likes of Alfred Molina, Maria Bello and Sigourney Weaver (all of whom turn up in supporting roles) in the first place, a mystery more intriguing than anything to be found in the proceedings that have been leadenly handled by the once-promising director John Singleton.
ANNIE HALL/MANHATTAN (MGM Home Video. $24.99 each): Presumably designed to tie in with the recent home video release of the surprise critical and commercial success "Midnight in Paris," two of Woody Allen's most popular most films make their Blu-ray debuts. If you are familiar with them--the former centered on a neurotic comic looking back on his life and his most significant romantic relationship and the latter dealing with a neurotic writer and the relationships he is juggling with both an equally self-absorbed pseudo-intellectual and a sweet-natured high-school senior (an element that doesn't play as skeevy as it sounds, thanks mostly to the touching performance by Mariel Hemingway, but one which would never have gotten into a commercial American film today)--then you know how wonderful they are and that they still seem as fresh, funny and relevant today as they did when they premiered in the 1970's. Alas, as per normal for virtually all Woody Allen home video releases, there are no bonus features to speak of but the front cover notations that they are part of "The Woody Allen Collection" at least suggest that other classics like "Bananas," "Stardust Memories" and "The Purple Rose of Cairo" are on the way soon.
BELLE DU JOUR (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): At an age (67) when most filmmakers are either contemplating retirement or content to merely spin out comfortable variations on familiar themes, the always-rebellious Luis Bunuel went in a different direction (quel suprise!) in 1967 with this audacious blend of kinky sex and surrealism centered on a bored and frigid housewife (Catherine Deneuve in arguably the finest performance of her career) who secretly lets her freak flag fly (among other things) when she goes to work in the afternoons at a high-end brothel with an equally quirky clientele. What sounds like the recipe for either a smutty comedy/melodrama or one of those things that plays on Skinemax for perverted insomniacs is, in the masterful grip of Bunuel, one of the great films of all time--a powerfully evocative examination of sex, class and society that is equal parts daring, enlightening, darkly hilarious, strangely moving and yes, sexy as all get out. Making its long-awaited debut in Blu-ray, this set offers a new transfer of the film, a commentary from critic Michael Wood and interviews with erotica experts Susie Bright and Linda Williams, co-writer Jean-Claude Carriere and Deneuve. A must-own.
BUCKY LARSON: BORN TO BE A STAR (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): Yes, it really is as mind-roastingly awful as you have heard. What say we just leave it at that and move on to other things, okay?
COLD SWEAT (MPI Home Entertainment. $24.98): Proving that torture porn knows no boundaries, this charming little entry from Argentina follows a couple of aging right-wing revolutionaries who have decided to update their rage against what they perceive to be the decay of decent society by luring young women to their improbably spacious residence under the ruse of answering an online dating ad, only to chain them up and brutalize them with their long-held supplies of dangerously unstable nitroglycerin and dynamite. As a horror film, it is tasteless and sadistic without ever coming close to generating anything resembling suspense and its ham-fisted attempts to inject politics into the proceedings at certain points in a desperate attempt to give them a patina of self-importance merely come across as downright tacky.
DIRTY GIRL (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $29.98): Upon hearing the combination of that title and the name of the one and only Milla Jovovich, my mind fairly reeled at the possibilities. Alas, she merely plays the mother of the title character (Juno Temple, Jovovich's co-star in that weirdo remake of "The Three Musketeers") in this 80's-set comedy-drama in which her impending remarriage to family man William H. Macy sends the kid off on a journey to California to find the father she never knew with a fellow outcast classmate (Jeremy Dozier) along for the ride. I like the actors and Temple is certainly some kind of find but the movie as a whole is kind of a mess--a pseudo-John Waters film that is more concerned with jamming the soundtrack with one 80's tune after another than in coming up with anything resembling a convincing story or biting satire. Then again, the film, which premiered at the 2010 Toronto film festival, was reportedly recut by its distributor just before its aborted theatrical release last fall so perhaps that may be more responsible for the uneven tone of the piece than the efforts of debuting writer-director Abe Sylvia.
GODZILLA (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): There have been rumors for a long time that the 1954 debut of one of Japan's most enduring cinematic icons was going to join the esteemed ranks of the Criterion Collection (at one point, it was going to come out of DVD and laserdisc to tie in with the hideous 1998 remake) and now that it has finally arrived,I cannot imagine any of the film's legion of fans not thinking it to have been worth the wait. Besides a full hi-def transfer of the original film, the disc also includes such bonus features as the version prepared for American release featuring redubbed dialogue, re-edited sequences and new scenes featuring Raymond Burr as intrepid journalist Steve Martin, commentaries on both versions and new interviews with participants from the original film, including the guy in the Godzilla suit himself.
THE IDES OF MARCH (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): On the off-chance that you aren't getting enough political infighting during the brutal primary process via the news, perhaps the latest directorial effort from George Clooney may help sate you. Set during the all-important Ohio Democratic presidential primary, the film stars Ryan Gosling as a slick but impossibly idealistic operative working for a governor (Clooney) who could sew up the nomination if he can secure a key endorsement. During the struggle to make that happen, complications arise that force Gosling to question his loyalties and consider going over to the opposing side. The film would seem to have everything going in its favor--a timely premise, a knockout cast (that also includes the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Wright, Evan Rachel Wood and the increasingly indispensable Marisa Tomei), a number of impressive individual scenes and slick, skillful direction from Clooney but it mysteriously never quite comes together into a compelling whole. The problem is that it wants to be a cynical look at the dark side of the contemporary political process but it has been made by someone who genuinely believes in it despite its flaws and those two conceits keep butting heads throughout to the point of distraction.
THE MOMENT OF TRUTH (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Considering that this 1964 effort from Francisco Rosi chronicles the rise and fall of an enormously popular bullfighter (portrayed by real-life torero Miguel Mateo) in a manner that mixes great aesthetic beauty with the inescapable nastiness that is part and parcel with the milieu, there is an excellent chance that many viewers--especially the ones who are currently up in arms over the scandalous suggestion in "The Grey" that wolves might indeed attack unfamiliar interlopers who have turned up inside their hunting area--will simply refuse to even contemplate watching this particular item. I can't say that I really blame them--I certainly isn't the kind of thing that most people would want to pop into the Blu-ray player on a relaxing Saturday night--but even though it deals with a world I have no particular interest in, I must admit that it is a compelling drama about the nature of competition and the drive to be the best. I may never watch it again but I am glad that I did at least once.
NOTORIOUS/REBECCA/SPELLBOUND (MGM Home Entertainment. $24.99 each): The number of Alfred Hitchcock films now on Blu-ray more than doubles with the release of these three classics from his early years working in Hollywood. Of the three, "Notorious" is the best of the bunch--a gripping romantic thriller in which party girl Ingrid Bergman is recruited by American spy Cary Grant to infiltrate a Nazi spy ring in Brazil and make time with besotted leader Claude Rains, a job that threatens both her life and the love she feels for Grant. "Rebecca," his 1940 American debut (and the winner of that year's Best Picture Oscar, the only one of his films honored thusly) is the lavishly appointed and suspenseful drama about an anonymous young woman (Joan Fontaine, not playing the title role) who impulsively marries a brooding widower (Laurence Olivier) only to discover that the spirit--and maybe more--of his first wife continues to haunt them. The 1945 psychodrama "Spellbound"--in which Bergman plays a psychiatrist at a mental hospital who falls in love with new colleague Gregory Peck, only to discover that he is an imposter, an amnesiac and possibly a murderer--is a more problematic work but if you can ignore the screwy plotting, it has its charms, such as a dream sequence designed in part by none other than Salvador Dali. All three films look and sound as good as I can remember experiencing them before and each contain enough bonus features--commentaries, documentaries, archival interviews, radio shows and the like--to make them among the best Blu-ray bargains of recent memory.
THE NUDE VAMPIRE (Redemption Films. $24.95): In this seriously strange effort from the late Eurosleaze auteur Jean Rollin, a guy searching for the secret to eternal life comes across a beautiful woman who appears to be immortal and only belatedly begins to realize that she may be. . .well, you saw the title. Although Rollin is revered in some circles for his dreamy visuals and hallucinatory storytelling style, I have to confess that I have never quite managed to get on board with that particular group--his work generally suggests nothing more than what Jess Franco might have achieved with a little more core competence--and am of the opinion that if you have seen one of his films, you have seen them all. However, if you can't get enough of his stuff, a number of his other efforts are also making their hi-def debuts, including "Fascination," "Shiver of the Vampires," "The Iron Rose" and "Lips of Blood" (Redemption Films. $24.95 each).
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 (Paramount Home Video. $26.99): In the third installment of the found-footage fear franchise that has been terrorizing the easily frightened and boring everyone else for the last couple of years, viewers are taken back to the late 1980s and, via the magic of videotape, get to witness the original hauntings of the sisters who were featured in the previous films. Although there is one intriguing visual gimmick (a camera mounted on an oscillating fan) and one fairly effective scare moment (I won't reveal it but you will know it when you see it), the gimmick is beginning to get a little long in the tooth and the end results are getting more and more ridiculous. Nevertheless, enough people bought tickets to make it a huge success in theaters last fall (especially since it cost virtually nothing to make) and as a result, "Paranormal Activity 4" is scheduled for this Halloween, presumably consisting entirely of footage captured in utero.
REAL STEEL (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $29.99): You know, I could describe this dopey rip-off of practically every boxing movie ever made--one featuring a washed-up boxer (Hugh Jackman), the loathsome son he never knew he had and the pugilist robot that brings them together--as everyone else did by dismissing it as nothing more than "Rock-em Sock-em Robot! The Movie." However, I won't because I see no good reason to besmirch the good and proud name of Rock-em Sock-em Robots. . .
RESTLESS (Sony Home Entertainment. $45.99): There is no arguing the fact that Gus van Sant is a brilliant filmmaker but every once in a while, he seemingly takes leave of his senses and conjures up the kind of unmitigated disaster that only a truly talented person would have the nerve to perpetrate--things such as "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues," "Finding Forrester" and his infamous remake of "Psycho." However, this ridiculously melodramatic tale of the tentative romance between two death-obsessed teen--a twerp (Henry Hopper) who crashes funerals as a response to a certain past trauma involving his loved ones and an adorable pixie (Mia Wiaskowska) who is dying of cancer (and did I mention that the twerp pals around with the ghost of a WW II kamikaze pilot who somehow never learned how the war turned out?)--is so awful that it makes the "Psycho" redux seem plausible by comparison. On the Blu-ray, Van Sant has added a second version of the film sans dialogue--considering the quality of said dialogue, it would almost have to be an improvement over the theatrical version but probably not much of one.
SID & NANCY (MGM Home Entertainment. $24.99): As welcome as it was to see Gary Oldman receiving a well-deserved Best Actor nomination for his mesmerizing work in the current "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," it only highlighted the utterly inexplicable fact that, despite a long list of great performances in his filmography, it was somehow only the first nomination of his entire career. Even his incredible turn as punk rocker Sid Vicious in this dark and strangely romantic drama charting the relationship between the Sex Pistols bassist and groupie/fellow junkie Nancy Spungen (a heartbreaking Chloe Webb) was somehow overlooked by the tastemakers but one look at it today reveals it to be just as much of a knockout as it was back in 1986. The film (directed by Alex Cox at the height of his frustratingly uneven career) is still a masterpiece and the only disappointment to be had is the relative lack of supplementary materials--those of you who still have the long-out-of-print Criterion DVD should continue to hold onto it like grim death.
THE TOY (Sony Home Entertainment. $17.97): Although his reputation as one of the all-time great and innovative comedians is forever secure, it is no secret that the late, great Richard Pryor rarely found big-screen vehicles that made proper use of his talents (outside of his landmark concert films). Perhaps the lowest point of his professional career came with this jaw-droppingly unfunny and distasteful comedy in which he plays a struggling writer who allows wealthy boor Jackie Gleason to buy him as a plaything for his equally obnoxious child, who proceeds to torture him for about an hour of running time before learning the valuable lesson that Buying People--Especially Black People--Is Wrong in time for the two of them to bond and bust up a Klan fundraiser that the old man is holding. (Did I mention that this film was made and set in 1982?) In the hands of a gifted satirist--maybe Robert Downey Sr. back in the day--this might have led to incisive satire but in the meaty paws of Richard Donner (not having one of his better days), the end result is a monstrosity that is only worth watching just so that you can consider that theoretically sane people once considered this to be an idea worth producing, releasing and watching. Other dismal Pryor vehicles making their Blu-ray debuts are two of the projects that saw him teaming up with Gene Wilder--"Stir Crazy" (Sony Home Entertainment. $17.97), the 1980 prison comedy hit that has not stood the test of time, and "See No Evil, Hear No Evil" (Sony Home Entertainment. $17.97) a 1989 failure that is only of interest because of an early appearance by Kevin Spacey as the bad guy and the giggity-worthy sight of Joan Severance as the femme fatale.
THE WHISTLEBLOWER (Fox Home Entertainment. $22.98): Rachel Weisz stars in this brutal and horrifying tale--all the more so for having been based on true events--as a midwestern cop who takes a short-term, high-paying job in the Balkans observing and advising the Bosnian police on proper procedure and uncovers a massive human trafficking scheme--when she tries to blow the whistle on her findings, she discovers that many of her co-workers, not to mention people connected to American corporations and the U.N., are involved as well. Although its grim subject matter and lack of anything resembling a happy ending
WINGS (Paramount Home Video. $29.99): With all the hype surrounding "The Artist," a contemporary attempt to recreate the magic of silent filmmaking that seems destined to take home this year's Academy Award for Best Picture, it makes sense that Paramount would dust off, restore and release on DVD/Blu-ray the 1927 silent film that won the very first Best Picture award. For those who haven't seen it, it tells the simple-yet-long story of two guys (Clarence "Buddy" Rogers and Richard Arlen) who go off to war and the girl (Clara Bow, the so-called "It" girl) that they both love and leave behind. To be honest, the film has dated somewhat and at 144 minutes, it definitely drags in places and probably could have been much shorter without sacrificing much in the way of quality. On the other hand, the restoration on display here is pretty impressive, the air combat scenes that grabbed viewers in the first place are still a sight to behold (these were the scenes that inspired Howard Hughes to greater and more dangerous lengths in his airborne epic "Hell's Angels") and it is fun to see a brief appearance by a then-unknown actor by the name of Gary Cooper.
THE WOMAN (Bloody Disgusting. $19.97): In this controversial offering from Lucky McKee, known to horror buffs as the guy behind the genuinely creepy cult favorite "May," a young feral woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) is discovered by a seemingly normal family man who chains her up in his basement and takes it upon himself to brutally "civilize" her with the assistance of his physically and mentally abused family. (Spoiler Alert! It doesn't end well.) Trust me when I tell you that this is not one of those fun little genre efforts that you and your pals can giggle over while munching Doritos--this is a deeply dark and disturbing work that gruesomely touches on perhaps every major taboo that one could possibly think of and perhaps even a few extra for good measure. That said, unlike the gratuitously ghastly likes of the "Saw" and "Hostel" films, this one is more than just the mere exploitation item that its cover makes it look like--this is the kind of serious-minded horror film that rarely sees the light of day these days and if you have the stomach to watch it, you will have a hard time forgetting it for a long time afterwards.
THE ADVENTURES OF MILO AND OTIS (Sony Home Entertainment. $19.99)
THE APARTMENT (MGM Home Entertainment. $24.99)
BAD GIRLS (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $17.98)
DEAD POETS SOCIETY (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $20.00)
DRIVE ME CRAZY (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $17.98)
DUTCH (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $17.98)
GOOD MORNING VIETNAM (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $20.00)
THE JOSEPHINE BAKER STORY (HBO Home Video. $14.98)
LICENSE TO DRIVE (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $17.98)
PROJECT X (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $17.98)
STRIPES (Sony Home Entertainment. $19.99)
TRAFFIC (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)