|DVD Reviews For 4/9: "You Can't Eat The Venetian Blinds. I Just Had Them Installed On Wednesday!"
|by Peter Sobczynski
Quite a range of titles in this round-up of the latest DVD/Blu-Ray releases--everything from the hi-def debut of one of the greatest films ever made to one of last year's best films to one of the very worst things, movie or otherwise, to ever be created by human hands. Not only that, it also includes one of the few films that I have never been able to sit all the way through until the bitter end. Enjoy.
NEW AND NOTABLE
ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS: CHIPWRECKED (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): Everyone's favorite musically-inclined trio of vermin and their girlfriends get stranded on a desert island and get involved in all sorts of silliness involving slams to the crotch and musical numbers (both equally painful, if you ask me) before learning valuable lessons about some damn thing or another. Like its big-screen predecessors, the film is pretty much unendurable for anyone over the age of 8 or so but in the interest of fairness and full disclosure, I must confess that I did laugh at one thing (a sight gag involving erstwhile supporting player David Cross tucking himself in for a good night's sleep), which is more than I can say for the other films. That said, this is crap through and through and any parent dumb enough to get it for their kids deserves to be forced to watch it over and over again with them.
BREAKING WIND (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $26.98): Really? Has it come to this--a film that appears to be a knockoff of "Vampires Suck," sans the subtle titling? You know, I will sit through most anything at least once (as this column frequently proves) but even I have certain lines that I will not cross. If you decide to seek this one out, you are completely on your own--don't come crying to me if it turns out to be surprisingly substandard.
CHASING MADOFF (MPI Home Entertainment. $24.98): The new documentary is the first one to tackle the story of the stunning financial crimes of money manager Bernie Madoff story head-on and does so by looking at it largely through the eyes of Harry Markopolos, an ordinary financial analyst who crunched the numbers Madoff was generating more than ten years ago and almost immediately discerned that something fishy was going on. Unfortunately, his allegations were ignored, mostly because Madoff was making so much money for so many people at the time that the authorities were willing to turn a blind eye even in the face of Markopolos' compelling evidence that Madoff was running nothing more than an enormous Ponzi scheme. Alas, while Jeff Presserman's film is the first on the subject, it is nowhere near the great one that the material deserves. At best, it plays like a cinematic version of a reasonably compelling "Vanity Fair" article--it gathers together all the essential details of the story and presents them in a manner lucid and cogent enough so that even complete novices can understand what happened. The trouble with that approach is that it doesn't dig much further than the basics of the story and those viewers who know those elements and who are looking for a more in-depth look at Madoff's crimes are likely to come away slightly disappointed. Combine that with a rudimentary cinematic approach--the usual style featuring talking head interviews, archival footage and pseudo-arty cutaways--and the result is a movie that will leave viewers feeling angry, just not angry enough. AMong the bonus features on the DVD is an "alternate ending"--sadly, not alternate enough for Madoff's numerous victims.
CHINATOWN (Paramount Home Video. $26.98): I am just going to assume that if you have even a mild interest in the history of film--why else would you be visiting this site in the first place?--you are already intimately familiar with Roman Polanski's masterful 1974 neo-noir nightmare of murder, corruption and secrets that still hold the power to shock after all these years. Instead, I will simply note that the film is now making its long-awaited Blu-Ray debut and contains all the bonus features originally found on the DVD special edition that was briefly available a few years ago--a multi-part documentary on the history of the film ranging from its tumultuous production to its continued impact on filmmakers today, a three-part examination of the creation of the Los Angeles Aqueduct that plays such a central role in the story and an entertaining commentary track featuring writer Robert Towne being grilled by David Fincher. Yeah, I would have preferred newer features as well--perhaps exploration of the underrated sequel "The Two Jakes" and a never-produced third chapter that supposedly would have used mass transportation as its hook (which would later occur in a little thing called "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?")--but this is nevertheless a must-own Blu-Ray for all true film fans.
CORMAN'S WORLD (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $26.98): This 2011 documentary traces the life and career of legendary low-budget filmmaker Roger Corman--the man behind such classics as "A Bucket of Blood," "The Little Shop of Horrors," "The Pit & the Pendulum," "The Wild Angels," "Caged Heat" and "Piranha" to name only a few--through interviews with the man, testimonials from some of the hundreds of now-famous personalities that he gave a start to over the years and, of course, any number of clips for his weird and wild oeuvre. Highly amusing, occasionally touching (even a cat as cool as Jack Nicholson gets a little misty-eyed at one point) and with one of the most joyful finales imaginable (in which he is finally feted by his peers with a Lifetime Achievement Oscar), this is an enormously entertaining look at the work of one of Hollywood's true mavericks and if there is little here that will strike longtime students of B-movie history as especially fresh, it has been put together in a manner that should amuse enlighten fans and newcomers alike.
A DANGEROUS METHOD (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): Throughout his entire career, David Cronenberg has long demonstrated a fascination with stories involving complex psychological behavior and a not-entirely-unsympathetic depiction of behavior deemed perverse by conventional society, especially in regards to sexual matters of the kinky kind. Therefore, who better to direct this absolutely engrossing and often very funny true-life look at the birth of modern psychology through the eyes of Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), Karl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), the young woman who first comes into the picture as a patient of Jung's cured by a process conceived by his mentor Freud and who then becomes a more complicated part of their lives and and their work. On the surface, it may sound like a pretentious piece of Oscar bait but if only even came close to approximating this one in terms of its dazzling if unflashy direction from Cronenberg, its witty and erudite screenplay by Christopher Hampton and the strong performances from its leads, especially Knightley, who turns in what is arguably the year's best work by an actress with her nervy and risky turn as Spielrein that, even at its most seemingly over-the-top, is as beautifully controlled and nuanced as anyone could possibly hope to see. (In other words, anyone who slams her for overacting clearly does not know what that hell they are talking about.)
EAGLEHEART: SEASON ONE (Warner Home Video. $19.97) Having already revolutionized the institution of television forever with his now-legendary appearances on "Late Night with David Letterman" and the Peabody-adjacent sitcom classic "Get a Life" (and where in blue filthy hell is that complete series Blu-Ray collection), American icon Chris Elliott returned to the medium with this powerful series (produced for the Adult Swim network) in which he plays a two-fisted, gun-toting Texas Ranger (one manly enough to make Walker look like a big, dumb jerk) who spends his days busting heads and breaking hearts in the interest of truth, justice and the American way. Needless to say, this show is genius--so much so that each episode only runs for about 15 minutes because most audiences simply couldn't too much more sheer awesomeness at one sitting. Remember, if you don't buy at least one copy of this set, the bad guys win and that simply doesn't happen in Eagleheart's world. Other TV-related releases now in stores include "Bob: The Complete Series" (Paramount Home Video. $39.98), "Eureka: Season 4.5" (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98), "I Claudius: 35th Anniversary Edition" (Acorn Media. $59.98), "Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XXIII" (Shout! Factory. $59.97), "South Park: The Complete 15th Season" (Paramount Home Video. $44.99) and "Torchwood: Miracle Day" (BBC. $49.98).
EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE (Warner Home Video. $28.98): As I have said before, this smarmy and sickening gibberish about a deeply annoying child trying to make sense of his father's death on 9/11 was not the single worst film of 2011, it was one of the very worst movies ever made by semi-human hands. In fact, it is such a rotten piece of crap that I don't even feel like kicking it around again. If you search the sight, you will find my full-length review of it somewhere and that contains everything that could possibly have to say about such a worthless chunk of crap. Enjoy.
THE HEIR APPARENT: LARGO WINCH (Music Box Films. $29.98): is a thriller that is so ridiculous and ungainly in every regard that its title is actually one of the less awkward things about it. This unspeakably stupid saga of corporate intrigue begins when the billionaire head of a multi-national corporation is murdered (in one of the silliest assassinations in screen history), the future of his company is thrown into upheaval when it is discovered that he has a secret adopted son (Tomer Sisley) who stands to inherit control of the firm, though there are any number of people ranging from garden-variety thugs to corporate rivals to the requisite clothing-optional minx with constantly shifting loyalties (Melanie Thierry) doing their best to prevent that from happening. Between the clumsy plotting reminiscent of the kind of books that people only read on airplanes to keep their minds off of the crash potential, the preponderance of hoary cliches (even going so far as to include an unironic moment of slow clapping following a surprising public announcement) and a deeply unlikable central character (even more so thanks to the irritating performance by Sisley , who appears to be the tragic end result of a monstrous French plot to clone Bradley Cooper), this is preposterous junk from start to finish and the fact that it became a huge hit in its native land when it was released there in 2008 (it has already spawned a sequel, co-starring Sharon Stone) only goes to prove that the French can make so-called thrillers just as brainless and derivative as they do in the U.S.
IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY (Sony Home Entertainment. $40.99): Stop me if you've heard this one before. A pretty Muslim artist and a hunky Serbian cop walk into a bar in Sarajevo circa 1992 but before much of anything can happen, it blows up. They survive but are reunited a few months later when she and the other women from her village are rounded up and thrown into a prison camp where he is one of the leaders and by protecting her from the regular gang rapes, the two appear to forge a powerful but clandestine relationship. The question--is it love, lust or are they simply using each other for their own personal reasons? In making her directorial debut, Angelina Jolie has presented viewers with what may be the single least-effective first date movie to come along since the release of "Hardcore" but while her sincere desire to provide viewers with a searing and unflinching look at the atrocities that occurred while the rest of the world essentially looked the other war cannot be questioned, the film itself is unfortunately not that great--the central dramatic conflict is nothing particularly new or interesting and the the combination of cool-yet-graphic sexuality with the horrors of war comes off here as if Jolie is staging a Vanity Fair photo shoot inspired by "The Night Porter." That said, this is a noble effort with some good performances and if nothing else, it should have viewers--at least those who stick it out to the extremely bitter end--at least slightly curious as to what Jolie might do for her follow-up film.
IT'S ONLY MONEY (Olive Films. $29.95): In this 1962 collaboration between Jerry Lewis and director Frank Tashlin, Lewis plays a goofy TV repairman who dreams of someday being a detective. While helping a private eye friend who has been hired to track down the long-lost relative of a wealthy dowager, it turns out that he himself is the person that he is looking for and that certain nefarious individuals are going to try to kill him before he finds out so that they can nab his inheritance for themselves. Of the eight Lewis-Tashlin collaborations (including two with Dean Martin), this is admittedly one of the lesser ones but there are still enough decent gags here and there to satisfy Lewis fanatics, if few others. This week sees the DVD debut of another Lewis-Tashlin epic, the 1963 effort "Who's Minding the Store? (Olive Films. $29.95), a slapstick farce in which Lewis plays a schnook who is given a series of seemingly impossible jobs at a department store run by wealthy dowager Agnes Moorehead, who is trying to break off his engagement to daughter Jill St. John--this one is also strained in parts but if you ever wanted to see Jerry Lewis eating fried ants, here is your chance.
A NIGHT TO REMEMBER (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Yes, I know that the re-release of James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster "Titanic" is getting all the hype these days and I am perfectly fine with that because it is a tremendously entertaining and well-made epic (though I should note that I am speaking solely in regards to the 2-D iteration and not to the 3-D revamp that it has recently undergone). However, if you want to cinematically commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the disastrous voyage of the seemingly unsinkable vessel, I can think of no better film to do that with than this 1958 adaptation of Walter Lord's chronicle of the tragedy that stresses a documentary-like approach to detail (with the exception of the now-discounted belief that the ship went down in one piece) over turgid melodrama. In addition to the film, which has held up surprisingly well over the years despite the obvious technical limitations of the time, the package (making its Blu-Ray debut) also includes a commentary from a pair of Titanic experts, a 1993 documentary on the film's production and a 1962 Swedish documentary featuring interviews with actual survivors of the tragedy.
WAR HORSE (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $29.99): I don't mind that this film, following the parallel adventures of a young boy and his beloved horse when they are torn apart by the horrors of World War I, is melodramatic and overtly sentimental--that is its entire raison d'ętre, after all. What I do object to is that it is melodramatic and frankly sentimental in the worst possible ways. For starters, even though director Steven Spielberg is obviously no stranger to sentiment, he ladles it on so thickly here (especially with the help of John Williams' unrelenting and obtrusive score) that I found myself resenting his relentless attempts at manipulation after a while--at times it feels as if the film is leaping off the screen to grab you by the lapels in order to throttle you into submission.Then there is the fact that Spielberg is unable to make the horse into a compelling character to hang a narrative around--this is possible, as anyone who has seen the gorgeous "The Black Stallion" can attest, but he can do nothing more with the animal than turn it into a four-legged version of the topcoat in "Tales of Manhattan" that linked all the disparate vignettes together. Admittedly, it is beautifully produced and those who can make it through all the schmaltz may appreciate it on that level but for everyone else, this may prove to be one grim and deadly dull slog.
WE BOUGHT A ZOO (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): Making his first feature film (not counting documentaries on Pearl Jam and a collaboration between Elton John and Leon Russell) since his underrated 2005 effort "Elizabethtown," writer-director Cameron Crowe returns in fine form with this genuinely heartwarming family-oriented comedy-drama featuring Matt Damon as a recently widowed journalist who decides to make a fresh start for himself and his two kids by impulsively purchasing a dilapidate zoo complete with a bunch of adorable animals, a quirky staff (including Scarlett Johansson as the spunky head zookeeper) and a surprisingly (or not--this is a Cameron Crowe film, after all) jukebox in the adjacent restaurant. It sounds kind of icky in theory but even the more curmudgeonly of viewers are likely to fall under its spell--it never pushes the cuteness too far and when it comes to the more frankly sentimental moments, it actually earns them. The disc includes the usual array of bonus features--a commentary featuring Crowe, deleted scenes, bloopers and a look at the real-life story upon which the film was based--but the oddest has to be the "Family-Friendly Audio Track" option. Considering the fact that the original version was a fairly mild PG to begin with, I cannot for the life of me imagine what this one must entail.
ASSAULT ON A QUEEN (Olive Films. $29.95)
THE BODYGUARD (Warner Home Video. $19.98)
CASABLANCA: 70th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Warner Home Video. $64.99)
COME BLOW YOUR HORN (Olive Films. $29.95)
DRAGONHEART (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98)
EQUILIBRIUM/RENAISSANCE (Echo Bridge. $24.99)
GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN (Image Entertainment. $17.97)
MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $14.99)
THE QUEST (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98)
WHO'S GOT THE ACTION? (Olive Films. $29.95)
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originally posted: 04/10/12 00:32:24
last updated: 04/10/12 02:03:14