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DVD Reviews For 6/18: " It's Even But It Ain't Settled. Let's Settle It."
by Peter Sobczynski

A couple of beloved film classics making the Blu-Ray debuts are covered in this round-up of the big new home video releases but are they actually any good? Well, without giving anything away, get ready for a slightly heretical opinion or two.


ACCIDENT (Shout! Factory. $26.97): In this strange but ultimately engrossing Hong Kong action thriller produced by celebrated filmmaker Johnnie To, Louis Koo stars as a hit man who kills his prey by staging incredibly elaborate scenes that are designed to make their deaths look like accidents. Alas, this is a hit man who is plagued with guilt over the lives that he has taken over the years, not to mention the recent loss of his wife, and when one of his "accidents" goes badly and end with a member of his own crew getting killed, he becomes convinced that this particular scene was choreographed by someone who wants him dead as well.

ACT OF VALOR (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): in what can only be described as a bizarre inversion of the comedic premise of "Tropic Thunder," a group of real-life active duty Navy SEALS are the stars of this relentlessly formulaic war film that starts with them traveling behind enemy lines to rescue a kidnapped CIA agent (Roselyn Sanchez) and eventually leads to them racing against time to prevent a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Outside of the gimmick involving the SEAL members, there is nothing here that you haven't seen done better in dozens of other cut-rate action epics over the years. If you are in the mood for a film of this type that is comparatively subtle in its politics, get thee to your nearest Wal-Mart and pick up their exclusive releases of the Chuck Norris classics "The Delta Force," "Missing in Action" and "Missing in Action 2: The Beginning" (MGM Home Entertainment. $14.95 each).

CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: THE COMPLETE 8TH SEASON (HBO Home Entertainment. $39.95): Over the years, through his contributions to "Seinfeld" and the previous seasons of this show, Larry David has already assured himself a position of prominence in the pantheon of American comedy legends. However, despite all those accomplishment, I would be cheerfully willing to go out on a limb and suggest that the "Palestinian Chicken" episode that is one of the ten comprising the eighth season of his HBO series could possibly be the single funniest thing that he has ever done in his entire career. That said, none of the other episodes, which eventually find Larry raising hackles back in his hometown of New York City, on display are slouches by any means either. If nothing else, you will never be able to look at a Pinkberry the same way again after watching this. Other TV-related items now available include "Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season" (Sony Home Entertainment. $55.99), "Burn Notice: Season 5" (Fox Home Entertainment. $49.98), "Entourage: The Complete 8th and Final Season" (HBO Home Entertainment. $39.98), "Fairly Legal: Season One" (Universal Home Entertainment. $34.98), "Falling Skies: The Complete First Season" (Warner Home Video. $39.98), "GCB: The Complete 1st Season" (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $39.99), "In Plain SIght: Season Four" (Universal Home Entertainment. $39.98), "Missing: The Complete 1st Season" (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $39.99), "Necessary Roughness: Season One" (Universal Home Entertainment.. $34.98), "Pretty Little Liars: The Complete 2nd Season" (Warner Home Video. $59.98), "Scandal: The Complete 1st Season" (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $29.99) and "White Collar: Season 3" (Fox Home Entertainment. $39.98).

GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): In this who-asked-for-it? sequel to the 2005 big-screen adaptation of the second-tier Marvel Comics title, the demonically-haunted Nicolas Cage bombs around in a souped-up vehicle trying to save a small child from the clutches of Satan himself, all in the redoubtable miracle of 3-D. The bad news, as fans of really bad movies featuring Nicolas Cage no doubt recognize, is that this description almost exactly matches the earlier Cage vehicle "Drive Angry," right down to the whole 3-D element. The worse news is that of the two takes on similar material, this is by far the lesser of the two--a stupendously boring programmer (which seems odd since it was made by Neveldine/Taylor, the guys behind the hyperactive "Crank" films) that, despite the expense that presumably went into producing it, looks and feels like the cheap-jack direct-to-video sequel that it probably should have been in the first place.

THE GOLD RUSH (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Following their acclaimed editions of Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times" and "The Great Dictator," Criterion once again pulls out all the proverbial stops for the Blu-Ray debut of Chaplin's 1925 classic following the misadventures of his beloved Little Tramp character in the Yukon that includes several of his most beloved bits of business--the Tramp transforming a couple of dinner rolls and forks into a pair of dancing feet, attempting to navigating a teetering cabin and making a meal out of his shoe being the best-known of the bunch. This special edition trots out plenty of the expected bonus features--audio commentaries from Chaplin experts, documentaries on its history and featurettes on its importance in regards to film history--but the most significant feature of the bunch are most likely the two different cuts of the film that are included; the original 1925 silent version and an alternate version prepared by Chaplin in 1942 featuring a different musical track and a strange and largely unnecessary narration provided by Chaplin himself.

HAROLD & MAUDE (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Although a massive box-office flop when it was first released in 1971, Hal Ashby's film about the oddball romance that develops between a suicidal young man (Bud Cort) and an elderly woman with a unique zest for life (Ruth Gordon), all set to the music of Cat Stevens, has gone on to amass an enormous cult following that will no doubt be delighted to see the object of their fascination making its long-awaited Blu-Ray debut. That said, I cannot count myself among those legions because I have always found the film to be a bit of an insufferable bore that is far too cloying and cutesy and self-consciously whimsical for its own good--what I imagine a Wes Anderson film might be like as seen through the eyes of one of his detractors. Those of you who have been looking forward to this particular title will no doubt be pleased with the bonus features, which include an audio commentary from Ashby biographer Nick Redman, archival audio recordings of seminars conducted by Ashby and screenwriter Colin Higgins (who went on to do "Silver Streak," "Foul Play" and "9 to 5" before dying unexpectedly) and a new interview with Cat Stevens.

JOHN CARTER (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $29.99): People have been struggling to bring Edgar Rice Burroughs' beloved sci-fi/adventure hero to the big screen for decades now (legendary animator Bob Clampett was even involved in an attempt to do it as a cartoon back in the Thirties) so most genre fans were presumably hoping for a happy ending to this saga when they heard that a big-budget film following the exploits of a Civil War veteran who is magically zapped to Mars and finds himself in the middle of a struggle for control of the Red Planet. Alas, the end result was one of the biggest box-office calamities in Hollywood history as this insanely expensive (with a budget that has been low-balled at around $250 million) dud was dismissed by genre fans for its plodding storytelling, ho-hum action sequences and one of the blandest heroes in recent memory in the form of one Taylor Kitsch (it what would prove to be only the first of his $200 million+ bombs to emerge in 2011) and ignored by those who, thanks to an ill-advised title change from the brain trust at Disney from the slightly zippier "John Carter of Mars," either had no idea what it was supposed to be or who wondered why the dullest character on "E.R." was getting his own vehicle. Hell, even veteran rocker John Mellencamp might have made for a more convincing intergalactic hero than the one found here.

JOHN MELLENCAMP: IT'S ABOUT YOU (MPI Home Entertainment. $24.98): Unfortunately for the uberlords at Disney, Mellencamp was busy doing this documentary that follows him on a 2009 concert tour that he undertook with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson that found him visiting such legendary American musical landmarks as Sun Studio and a hotel room once utilized by Robert Johnson, experiences that would go on to inspire his acclaimed album "No Better Than This." More than just a simple concert souvenir, this is a pretty effective documentary that serves as a solid reminder that Mellencamp is one of the more underrated musical talents of our time. (And while on the subject, when will we see a DVD release for Mellencamp's directorial debut, the fascinating 1992 drama "Falling From Grace"?)

THE JOURNEY (Warner Archives. $19.95): Have you ever thought to yourself "Man, I would love to see a film co-starring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr but I really don't want to deal with any singing or dancing or that being-shorter-than-the-king crap"? Well if that is the case, you might want to check out this recently unearthed title making its DVD debut as part of the Warner Archives program, a 1958 drama from producer-director Anatole Litvak in which a pair of lovers (Kerr and Jason Robards Jr., making his screen debut) fleeing Budapest during the Hungarian uprising of 1956 with a group of refugees are stopped at the Austrian border by a Russian Major (Brynner), a development that threatens the lives of the entire group if Robards' true identity is revealed. To make matters more complicated, Brynner finds himself drawn to Kerr even as the interrogation process goes on and on. Actually filmed on the Austria-Hungary border, this Cold War thriller is largely a curio today but there is a snap to it that makes it watchable today despite its occasionally dated nature. Among the other new release from Warner Archives are a pair of film starring famed comedian Red Skelton from 1953--"The Great Diamond Robbery" (in which he plays a diamond cutter who inadvertently gets mixed up with thieves intent on stealing the priceless gem that he is currently working on) and "Half a Hero" (in which he, wife Jean Hagen--fresh off her turn as Lina Lamont in "Singin in the Rain"--and their brood leave the city in order to confront the mysterious world of suburban housing developments).

JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (Warner Home Video. $28.98): This loose-to-promiscuous sequel to the mildly entertaining and largely forgotten 2008 take on Jules Verne's "Journey to the Center of the Earth" takes two of that film's least-appealing elements--the murky 3-D presentation and the whiny presence of Josh Hutcherson--adds contributions from the presumably slumming likes of Dwayne Johnson, Vanessa Hudgens, Luis Guzman and Michael Freakin Caine and deploys them into the service of a vague adaptation of Verne's "Mysterious Island" (which at least explains that ungainly title) that finds them all facing strange creatures on a remote island that is preparing to explode. Put it this way--there have been many wonderful and imaginative films based on Verne's life and work over the years and this one is most definitely not one of them.

A LITTLE BIT OF HEAVEN (Millennium Pictures. $28.98): There has already been such a buffet of cinematic loathsomeness on display this year that limiting a Worst Films list to only ten titles seems like an impossibility already. That said, I cannot imagine one that does not include this absolutely appalling item featuring Kate Hudson (in what I sincerely hope and pray will prove to be the absolute nadir of her career) as a free-spirited slatterns whose carefree and heedless lifestyle is turned upside-down when she is diagnosed with an aggressive and terminal strain of colon cancer and tries to come to grips with her mortality with the aid of her hunky oncologist (Gael Garcia Bernal) and the occasional conversation with God, whom she envisions in the form of Whoopi Goldberg. Even worse than it sounds, this film is jam-packed with comedy that isn't funny, pathos that is largely pathetic and a romance that is never believable for a second and outside of an oddball cameo from Peter Dinklage as a gigolo, there is no earthly reason to even attempt to sit through this one--you would be better off with the thematically similar but infinitely superior "50/50" instead.

SHALLOW GRAVE (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Danny Boyle kicked off one of the more wide-ranging directorial careers of recent times with this nasty 1994 thriller about a trio of obnoxious, self-absorbed roommates (played by then-unknowns Ewan McGregor, Kerry Fox and Christopher Eccleston) who take in a fourth person who promptly dies from an OD, leaving behind a suitcase full of money--suffice it to say, this inspires one ill-advised decision after another that leads to much grisliness all around. Like most of Boyle's films to date, this is flashy and fast-paced as all get out and while there might not be much going on beneath the surface (as opposed to its most obvious inspiration, the Coen Brothers 1984 debut "Blood Simple"), it is still a pretty effective bloody black comedy with a couple of scenes that still have the power to make you squirm. For its Blu-Ray debut, Criterion is offering it in a special edition with bonus features that include commentaries from Boyle, screenwriter John Hodge and producer Andrew MacDonald (all of whom would reunited in 1996 for a little thing called "Trainspotting"), interviews with Fox, Eccleston and McGregor and a 1993 documentary on its production made by Kevin Macdonald.

SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS (Warner Home Video. $28.98): After grossing something like a half-billion dollars with a take on Arthur Conan Doyle's legendary sleuth that positioned him as a two-fisted, wisecracking action hero, director Guy Ritchie and stars Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law return for more of the same in this equally noisy and superficially silly follow-up. To be fair, this one is a little better than the first film--if only because it has a better villain in the form of the notorious Professor Moriarty (JAred Harris) and because Noomi Rapace livens things up considerably in the otherwise pointless part of a fiery Gypsy babe who assists Holmes and Watson in their inquiries--but Doyle purists and fans of coherent storytelling are likely to find much of this to be wanting.

THIN ICE (Fox Home Entertainment. $22.98): In her first film since 2002's "13 Conversations About One Thing," Jill Sprecher present a dark comedy in the vein of "Fargo" starring Greg Kinnear as an overextended insurance salesman who tries to dupe a befuddled old man (Alan Arkin) who unwittingly owns what seems to be a priceless violin and gets involved with an increasingly messy series of betrayals, double-crosses and the like as a result. The film as a whole has a couple bright spots but just isn't very good for the most part. However, Sprecher may not be entirely to blame because the film was taken away from her and recut without her participation and it was a contractual fluke that forced her to keep her name on it. In an unusual move as a response to the bad publicity that the film got as a result of this imbroglio, the Blu-Ray version contain both the version that played theatrically and Sprecher's original cut that hasn't been seen since it popped up on the festival circuit a couple of years ago. Since I didn't get an advance copy of this title, I have not yet seen Sprecher's version but based on the desultory nature of the recut and my fondness for her previous work, I almost have to assume that her take has to be at least a little more interesting if nothing else.

YELLOW SUBMARINE (Capitol Records. $21.98): Made to fulfill the contractual obligation that had previously inspired the classic "A Hard Day's Night" and the perfectly good "Help," the Beatles contributed little more than a few songs and a couple of hours of their time for a brief cameo appearance to this 1968 animated effort that finds the quartet trying to save the bucolic world of Pepperland from the clutches of the nasty Blue Meanies. Look, the film is colorful enough, the songs are largely without peer and it is probably an excellent way of introducing younger audiences to the Fab Four (provided that they aren't frightened off by the sometimes garish pop-art-inspired visual style) but I must admit that while I could watch the group's earlier films at the drop of a hat, this one has never really done that much for me and every time I watch it, I find myself impatiently waiting for the damn thing to end. However, before you condemn me as some kind of monster, ask yourself this--would you be defending this film or even give it the time of day if it were the exact sam thing, only focused on Herman's Hermits? I didn't think so.


BLOOD WORK (Warner Home Video. $19.98)

COCKTAIL (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $20.00)

THE COLOR OF MONEY (Walt DIsney Home Entertainment. $20.00)

ERIN BROCKOVICH (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98)

THE GRAPES OF WRATH (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99)

HONDO (Paramount Home Video. $24.99)

HOOSIERS (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.99)

A PERFECT WORLD (Warner Home Video. $19.98)

RANSOM (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $20.00)

SAFE HOUSE (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98)

SCENT OF A WOMAN (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98)

SEA OF LOVE (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98)

SMOKEY & THE BANDIT (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98)

U.S. MARSHALS (Warner Home Video. $19.98)

ZORBA THE GREEK (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99)

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originally posted: 06/19/12 01:06:03
last updated: 06/19/12 02:10:27
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