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DVD Reviews For 4/20 (Heh heh): "If He Starts To Levitate, Don't Panic; It's Just A Side Effect"
by Peter Sobczynski

Sex! Now that I have your attention, I can tell you that this column is practically dripping with the stuff--everything from Japanese perversity to Mary Poppins' chest to Michael Fassbender's nether regions. Don't worry--if things get too overheated, I have included some baseball for you to think about and if that doesn't help, there is always Margaret Thatcher.


AMERICAN DAD: VOLUME 7/BOB'S BURGERS: SEASON ONE (Fox Home Entertainment. $39.98/$29.98): Two of Fox's never-ending attempts to replicate the success of their long-running animated television hits "The Simpsons" hit DVD this week in sets featuring the usual array of commentaries, deleted scenes and the like. The former, the production from the seemingly inexhaustible Seth McFarlane about the wacky misadventures of a gung-ho and ultra-conservative CIA agent is the same as it ever was--that is to say, not especially funny and with the only real surprise on display being that it is still on the air. The latter, an oddball combination of the sweet and strange about a man trying to maintain order over his wacky family and a burger joint from the people behind such cult favorites as "Dr. Katz" and "Home Movies," is infinitely more interesting and entertaining, largely because, unlike seemingly every other Fox animated series other than "The Simpsons," Seth McFarlane has absolutely nothing to do with it. Other TV-related titles now available include "Adam-12: The Final Season" (Shout! Factory. $34.93), "Eight is Enough: The Complete First Season" (Warner Home Video. $24.98), "Ernie Kovacs: The ABC Specials" (Shout! Factory. $14.97), "Ice Road Truckers: Season Five" (A&E Home Entertainment. $29.95), "Laverne & Shirley: The 5th Season" (Paramount Home Video. $39.98), "Logan's Run: The Complete Series" (Warner Home Video. $39.98), "One Tree Hill: The Complete 9th And Final Season" (Warner Home Video. $39.98), "Top Shot: The Complete Season Three" (A&E Home Entertainment. $24.95) and "Treme: The Complete Second Season" (HBO Home Entertainment. $59.99).

BASEBALL'S GREATEST GAMES: ST. LOUIS CARDINALS 2011 WORLD SERIES GAME 6 (A&E Home Entertainment. $24.95): As a loyal fan of the Chicago Cubs through thick and thin (especially thin), my hatred of the entity known as the St. Louis Cardinals knows absolutely no bounds. That said, I have to admit that this thriller of a game--an extra-innings affair against the Texas Rangers that saw them return from five score deficits and two points in which they were down to their final strike with a number of comebacks topped by David Freese's game-tying and game-winning home runs--was pretty much one for the ages and most definitely worthy of the titular hyperbole.

CHARLOTTE RAMPLING: THE LOOK (Kino Video. $29.95): Cult favorite actress Rampling, along with filmmaker Angelina Maccarone, takes a guided tour through her life and work through interviews, conversations with close friends, colleagues and family members and discussions of some of the key films in her often startling oeuvre. On the one hand, Rampling is as mesmerizing an on-screen presence as herself as she is as the provocative characters she has played in such films as "The Night Porter," "Stardust Memories" and many, many more. On the other hand, by focusing only on a handful of her films, too many others are left unmentioned (I can forgive no mention of "Orca" but how the hell can you do a film about her without mentioning the delirious fantasy freakout "Zardoz"?) and the film as a whole doesn't really have much to say other than the obvious points about Rampling's all-encompassing awesomeness but anyone watching this film in the first place is presumably already aware of that

DARK SHADOWS: FAN FAVORITES/DARK SHADOWS: BEST OF BARNABAS (MPI Home Entertainment. $9.99 each): Considering that it racked up over 1200+ episodes during its five-year run, it would be nearly impossible for anyone to watch every single episode of this supernatural soap opera that became a cult sensation during its original 1966-1971 run in order to prepare for the upcoming big-screen version from Tim Burton and Johnny Depp (both avowed fans of the show). To that end, MPI has issued these two samplers featuring several key episodes to give newcomers a taste of the weirdness that used to arrive in homes every single afternoon back in the day. (For those with plenty of free time, MPI has also produced a limited-edition box--well, coffin--set of the entire series as well but it sold out just through pre-orders and is already fetching high prices in the secondary markets.

THE DARKEST HOUR (Summit Films. $26.99): The final major release of 2011 was one of its dumbest--a silly sci-fi/horror enterprise in which a quartet of dumb-but-attractive Americans traveling in Moscow are forced to fight for their lives when invisible aliens invade the city (and presumably the rest of the world) and ravage everything while eating up all the available electricity in the process. In theaters, the film was a complete wash due to the decision to film it in 3-D--a somewhat questionable choice for a film in which the action takes place largely at night and features invisible baddies. At home, it is much easier to see but no less difficult to watch and while the whole thing ends with an exceptionally blatant setup for a sequel, the widespread sense of international indifference it received suggests that this is something we won't have to worry about seeing (or not) anytime soon.

DEBAUCHERY/THE STORY OF A WOMAN IN JAIL (Impulse Pictures. $24.95 each): For fans of ultra-kinky sexploitation films from Japan, these two fairly nasty items should more than fit the bill. In the former, a bored housewife decides to join a secret sex club in the hopes of spicing up her marriage and discovers that the more she tries to get, the more they try to pull her back in, so to speak. The latter disposes of the complex plot and nuanced characterizations of the former film by simply offering up the sight of a bunch of new inmates arriving at a nasty women's prison and undergoing the usual (though somewhat nastier in tone than normal) array of strip searches, communal showers, catfights and the like. For most decent and God-fearing viewers, these two films are nothing more than a vile cesspool of debauchery that should be avoided at all costs. For everyone else, the previous sentence should come across as more of a recommendation for this double shot of depravity than anything else I could possibly muster.

DOMAIN (Strand Releasing. $24.95): Beatrice Dalle, best known in these parts for her iconic performance in the title role of "Betty Blue," stars in this odd drama from Patric Chiha in which she plays an alcoholic mathematician who takes her gay teenage nephew (Isaie Sultan) under her wing to help him make the final transition to adulthood, only to sink further into drunken depression when he does exactly that. As coming-of-age dramas go, this one is only okay at best--the nephew's difficulties turn out to be nothing much an the notion of Dalle as a math genius is almost as difficult to comprehend as her theorems--but Dalle is still such a forceful and compelling presence that she single-handedly makes it come alive whenever she is on the screen by virtue of her still-magnetic personality.

INTO THE ABYSS (MPI Home Entertainment. $24.98): For his latest work,the prolific and always-fascinating Werner Herzog takes his cameras to a Texas prison to explore the case of two young men--one on death row and the other facing a life sentence--whose initial plan to steal a car from an acquaintance led to them murdering three people. Although Herzog makes no bones about the fact that he is against the death penalty in any form, this is not some cinematic mea culpa designed to convince viewers that his subjects are innocent angels. Instead, by talking to all the people involved--including the investigators and the loved ones of the victims and perpetrators alike--Herzog paints an indelible portrait of lives shattered forever while quietly demonstrating the horror of one person taking the life of another, whether as the bloody result of a stupid and poorly planned criminal act over a car or as the bloodless and calmly execution of an act performed in the name of justice. No matter where you stand on the issue of the death penalty, Herzog presents you with something to think about and while some of his questions may seem bizarre at first (as when he interrupts a pastor's homilies to ask him a question about squirrels), they more often than not yield memorable and often moving results.

THE IRON LADY (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $29.98): For this look at the life of Margaret Thatcher, England's first female Prime Minister, Meryl Streep reunited with "Mama Mia" director Phyllida Lloyd and the end result is exactly the kind of political biopic that one might expect from the auteur of "Mama Mia"--a seriously confused mess that, in the words of another dramatic work about another politically powerful woman, doesn't say much but it says it loud. Even the much-hyped Streep performance fails to help matters much--it is nothing more than an okay impression that offers no real insight into what made Thatcher tick and pales in comparison to such comparatively complex portrayals of real-life people as Michelle Williams' work as Marilyn Monroe in "My Week with Marilyn" or even Streep's turn as Julia Child in "Julie & Julia."

THE LAST RITES OF JOE MAY (New Video. $26.95): Reliable supporting player Dennis Farina gets a rare chance to play a leading role in a film. In it, he plays an aging failure of a tough guy who emerges from the hospital after a long bout with pneumonia who discovers that he has lost what little street credibility he once had as well as his apartment. While trying to reestablish himself, he finds himself stepping in to rescue the single mother who has taken over his apartment from the fists of her abusive and borderline psychotic cop. Farina is good as always and it is a pleasure to see him in a rare lead performance for the first time since possibly the glory days of the transcendent series "Crime Story." However, the rest of writer-director Joe Maggio's film is little more than a blatant retread of "Sling Blade" that has nothing fresh to offer viewers except for the exceptionally strange sight of Gary Cole essaying the role of an underground kingpin by utilizing virtually the same performance he gave so memorably in "Office Space." The movie as a whole isn't so much bad as it is blah--the kind of thing that one might expect to encounter at a mid-level film festival or one of those cable stations that you don't remember ever actually subscribing to--but outside of residual affection for Farina, there really isn't much to see here.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE--GHOST PROTOCOL (Paramount Home Video. $29.99): In the wake of mildly disappointing sequels and the recent waning of Tom Cruise's career in general, it is unlikely that many people had any real hopes for the latest installment in the action franchise inspired by the Sixties-era spy series. And yet, thanks to witty and exciting direction from Brad Bird (the Pixar stalwart making his live-action debut), one thrilling and brilliantly executed set-piece after another (including one set bot inside and outside Dubai's ) and Cruise's most charismatic and engaging performance in a long time, this turned out to be both the best "M:I" film since the initial 1996 entry from Brian De Palma and one of the most entertaining American action films to come along in a while. Granted, it isn't going to have the same impact on home theaters that it did in its IMAX engagements but unlike too many action films these days, this one never gets around to self-destructing.

SHAME (Fox Home Entertainment. $39.99): Reuniting with director Steve McQueen, with whom he collaborated on the acclaimed drama "Hunger," Michael Fassbender plays a man caught in the throes of sexual addiction whose carefully cultivated and compartmentalized existence is threatened with the unexpected arrival of his equally neurotic sister (Carey Mulligan) and the ensuing clash of personalities threaten to upend both of their lives. Although certainly brave and serious and refreshingly adult in a way that most films today simply aren't, it doesn't really seem to have much to say about the subject of sexual addiction and the final scenes have a melodramatic lurch that is at odds with the rest of the material. However,Fassbender is simply mesmerizing throughout in a performance that has him baring body and soul in ways that most actors today would not even dare to attempt, let alone pull it off as well as he does. This isn't a great film but thanks to Fassbender's work (not to mention an equally strong turn from Mulligan), it is one worth watching, though perhaps not in a first date situation.

SLEEPING BEAUTY (MPI Home Entertainment. $24.98): Anyone daring to make a serious-minded erotic drama runs the risk that the end result will be either achingly pretentious or downright ridiculous but with this weird effort (co-produced by Jane Campion), director Julia Leigh somehow manages to inspire both reactions. Emily Browning, a long way from "Lemony Snicket" (though not as far from "Sucker Punch" as one might otherwise imagine), stars as a perpetually broke college student who, in dire need of extra funds, takes a job in a strange sex club in which she is drugged and placed naked in a luxurious bedroom so that paying customer can do what they like with her with few restrictions other than the rigorously enforced "No penetration." Alas, "no penetration" seems to have been the mantra for Leigh's screenplay as well as what could have potentially been a provocative examination on the nature of sexual fantasies in the hands of the right filmmaker instead turns out to be little more than an excruciatingly slow-paced version of the nonsense that you can usually catch on Cinemax in the wee hours of any given night. Only recommended for people who like to claim to be feminist without having an especially sure grasp on the concept, horndogs with an unhealthy interest in Browining's anatomy and people who think that "Belle du Jour" is actually some kind of perfume.

S.O.B. (Warner Archives. $19.95): After several years marked by indifferently received films and well-reported battles with studio heads, Blake Edwards finally hit upon a hot streak in the late 1970's, thanks to the huge success of several Pink Panther films and "10," and landed in the rarefied position of having the very studios that once rejected him ow fighting for the privilege of letting him do whatever he wanted. Edwards seized upon this opportunity by exorcising his anger at the Hollywood system with this brutal satire (loosely inspired by the reception of his musical flop "Darling Lili") about a suicidal Hollywood producer (Richard Mulligan, never funnier) who hits upon the genius idea of turning his wildly expensive G-rated flop musical into an X-rated bit of erotica featuring his squeaky-clean ex-wife (Julie Andrews) baring her breasts at one key moment. Film buffs will have a field day trying to figure out the real-life analogues of the large cast of characters(played by the likes of Robert Preston, Robert Vaughn, Larry Hagman, Shelly Winters and, in his last role, William Holden) but even if you have no working knowledge of the people from that era, you will still be able to enjoy the energetic performances and a screenplay that runs the gamut from clever wordplay and biting satire to beautifully timed physical silliness. Naturally, the film flopped when released in the summer of 1981 but I would put it right up there with "Sunset Boulevard" and "The Player" as one of the most compulsively watchable and darkly amusing looks at itself ever produced. Reissued as part of the Warner Archives program, this week also sees the release of two other Edwards efforts from the 1980's for $19.95--1982's "Victor/Victoria" (the hit cross-dressing musical comedy that proved to be another hit, though I must confess that it has never done much for me other than a hilarious supporting turn from Robert Preston and a brilliant bit of slapstick involving a crowded restaurant and an errant cockroach) and 1989's "Skin Deep" (a garish comedy-drama about the misadventures of a drunken womanizer that is rescued somewhat by a nice lead performance from a cast-against-type John Ritter).

THOU SHALT NOT KILL. . .EXCEPT (Synapse Films. $29.95): In between the production of the first two "Evil Dead" films, many of the people responsible for those classics (including Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, co-producer Scott Spiegel, composer Joseph Loduca and others) signed up to put together this low-budget action thriller about a Vietnam vet who returns home from the war and puts together a group of fellow Marines to do battle with the Manson-like cult leader (played by none other than Raimi himself) who has kidnapped his ex-girlfriend. Inevitably, the film (directed by Josh Becker, who would go on to make the interesting little gem "Running Time") is nowhere near as interesting or exciting as "The Evil Dead" and the budgetary seams are far more in evidence. That said, it has its foul and bloody charms and "Evil Dead" fans will definitely want to check out both the film and the bonus features, including two commentaries with Becker, Campbell and star Brian Schulz, a shot documentary on its making and "Stryker's War," a short 8mm version of the film made with Campbell in the lead.


BOUNCE (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $14.99)

BUCK PRIVATES (Universal Home Entertainment. $39.98)

CONVERSATION PIECE (Rarovideo. $29.98)

DON JUAN DEMARCO (New Line Home Entertainment. $19.95)


HIGH ROAD TO CHINA (Hen's Tooth. $34.95)

IN TOO DEEP (Echo Bridge. $14.99)

KATE & LEOPOLD: DIRECTOR'S CUT (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $14.99)

LATE SPRING (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)

OPERATION CONDOR 2 (Echo Bridge. $19.99)

ROADRACERS (Echo Bridge. $19.99)


THE TRUTH ABOUT CATS AND DOGS (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $17.99)

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originally posted: 04/20/12 21:11:23
last updated: 04/21/12 00:14:36
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