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DVD Reviews For 7/16: "Make love? But No One's Done That For Hundreds Of Centuries!"
by Peter Sobczynski

I'm not gonna lie to you--this round-up of newly-released titles is pretty much filled with weird and sleazy cinematic artifacts spanning almost an entire century of filmmaking. In other words, you are very welcome.


ALTERED STATES (Warner Home Video. $19.98): After spending the 1970's making a string of increasingly audacious and borderline surreal epics (including such cult classics as "The Devils," "Tommy" and the simply indescribable "Lisztomania"), Ken Russell finally got the chance to work his magic in Hollywood when he was hired to direct Paddy Chayefsky screenplay about an obsessed scientist (William Hurt in his film debut) whose experiments utilizing sensory deprivation and hallucinogenics lead to results that expand his consciousness while threatening his marriage (to a never-foxier Blair Brown), family (including Drew Barrymore in her film debut as one of his kids) and his very existence. Perhaps inevitably, the production was troubled--Chayefsky took his name off the screenplay even though everyone knew he wrote it and Russell never worked on this scale in America again--but the end result is still one of the most dazzling and audacious fantasy films of all time and the visual effects continue to blow minds to this day. Alas, even though a film like this screams for a behind-the-scenes documentary dishing out all the wild stories surrounding its production (contractually forbidden from altering any of Chayefsky's sometimes lugubrious dialogue, Russell got through it by having his actors deliver it at double time or while chewing on food), the only extra marking its Blu-Ray debut is the trailer but the film itself is still trippy enough to make it a bargain even in this bare-bones incarnation.

AMERICAN REUNION (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): In the first theatrical sequel to the blockbuster 1999 teen sex comedy since 2003's dismal "American Wedding" (all those direct-to-video sequels do not count), the whole gang from East Great Falls High returns for their 13-year class reunion (that doesn't sound awkward at all) in order to pick up an easy paycheck, show off the work that they have had done and get involved in sub-par hijinks that feel wheezier than ever. Outside of a couple of inspired moments involving Eugene Levy--who can still squeeze laughs out of the lamest material, as he proves throughout here--there is nothing here for anyone other than Chris Klein completists and the fact that giggly survivor Tara Reid is granted a full character arc while Shannon Elizabeth is relegated to an exceptionally fleeting cameo is tantamount to sacrilege in my book.

BAND OF THE HAND (Sony On Demand. $20.95): Although this extremely dated 1986 action film, in which five Miami-based juvenile delinquents undergo survival training in the swamps and utilize those skills to bring down the drug dealers in their neighborhood, plays more like a busted TV pilot than anything else (which it was), it still deserves a look today from curiosity seekers for three reasons. For one thing, it was produced by none other than Michael Mann in an ill-fated attempt to cash in on the success of his own "Miami Vice." For another, it features a number of soon-to-be-famous faces in embarrassing early roles, including Lauren Holly and future "Hedwig & the Angry Inch" creator John Cameron Mitchell as two of the young punks and Laurence Fishburne as drug lord Cream. Finally, and most inexplicably, this unrepentantly B-level film includes a killer title song written and performed by none other than Bob Dylan with backing from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers! Hell Time indeed. . .

BARBARELLA (Paramount Home Video. $29.99): Yes, this infamous Roger Vadim adaptation of the popular European comic strip featuring a sexy interstellar secret agent searching for a missing scientist and battling all forms of bad guys while wearing the most revealing outfits imaginable is stupid, silly and ridiculously dated in every possible way. And yet, I can't help but have a soft spot for it because it is stupid, silly and ridiculously dated in the best ways imaginable--as it hurtles from one goofy situation to the next, you keep thinking that it can't get any weirder and then it does just that. Throw in some incredibly imaginative production design, a few funny lines courtesy of Terry Southern's screenplay and an undeniably sexy and endearing performance from Jane Fonda (in what is easily the most memorable of her pre-liberated career) and you get a film that still lives up to its reputation as a cult classic. Sadly, while the film itself is pretty eye-popping in its Blu-Ray debut, the lack of any bonus features is a letdown--a commentary track from Fonda talking about its production and its effect on her career would have been priceless.

THE DEVIL'S NEEDLE & OTHER TALES OF VICE AND REDEMPTION (Kino Entertainment. $34.95): From the very beginnings of Hollywood, the film industry has taken a keen interest in creating stories torn from the headlines of the days exposing and exploiting the ills of society and this compilations brings three of them to Blu-Ray for the first time. 1916's "The Devil's Needle" features silent star Norma Talmadge as a junkie model whose addiction winds up dragging an innocent painter down with her. The infamous 1913 "The Inside of the White Slave Traffic" is pretty much self-explanatory while 1915's "Children of Eve" goes after child labor and unhealthy tenement conditions and climaxes with a reenactment of the notorious Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire from four years earlier. The three films are fascinating snapshots of their time and the disc provides further edification with pieces of surviving production footage from "Inside the White Slave Traffic" and "Children of Eve."
Another recent release in the same vein is "Crime Does Not Pay: The Complete Shorts Collection (1935-1947)" (Warner Archives. $34.95), a six-disc set comprising all 50 shorts from the long-running MGM short subject series that offered viewers detailed cinematic proof that crime--Spoiler Alert!--doesn't pay after all.

DJANGO KILL! (Synapse Video. $29.98): Although presumably getting the restored Blu-Ray treatment in order to cash in on the advance hype for the upcoming Quentin Tarantino film "Django Unchained, this super-violent 1967 spaghetti western presumably has nothing to do with it other than a similar title and genre. This one features Tomas Milian as a thief who, after being double-crossed and left for dead, goes off on a journey of revenge that leads him to a strange town that is practically teeming with sex, violence and unabashed depravity. In other words, all kinds of sick and sadistic fun for viewers of all ages.

THE FLOWERS OF WAR (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $29.99): Apparently unsure as to whether anyone would want to bear cinematic witness to the atrocities that befell China following the brutal 1937 invasion by Japanese forces as seen exclusively through the eyes of, you know, Asian actors, director Zhang Yimou gives us this story featuring Christian Bale as a drunken American mortician who somehow winds up in the middle of the fray, takes refuge in an abandoned church and winds up posing as a priest in order to protect a gaggle of schoolgirls and a platoon of local prostitutes from fates worse than death outside the gates. At once spectacularly uninteresting and borderline offensive in the way that it exploits real-life horrors in order to prop up a weak story, this film is a botch from beginning to end that also manages to contain what may be the single worst and most embarrassing performance of Bale's entire career.

GOD BLESS AMERICA (Magnolia Home Video. $26,98): In this darkly comic film from writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait, Joel Murray stars as a despondent man who, having lost his marriage and job and now faced with a terminal disease, decides to go out in a blaze of glory by gunning down those who represent the worst that society has to offer--reality TV celebrities, people who talk during movies and the like--with the assistance of a spunky and possibly psychotic teenage girl who comes along for the ride. This film is sharp, incisive and very funny for the first 40 minutes or so and Murray's performance is undeniably impressive but after a while, Goldthwait begins to run out of things to say and the final scenes are a real mess. That said, Goldthwait has transformed into an undeniably interesting filmmaker over the past few years and while this may not be a total success, it does leave me curious to see what he comes up with next.

MARGARET (Fox Home Entertainment. $39.98): Back in 2005, writer--director Kenneth Lonergan began making his long-awaited follow-up to "You Can Count On Me," a drama about a self-absorbed high-school student (Anna Paquin) who is partially responsible for a fatal bus accident but lies about what happened to the cops. Consumed by guilt, she eventually changes her story and becomes obsessed with making sure that the bus driver (Mark Ruffalo) is made to suffer for his crime as well. Alas, the film wound up in a legal limbo for years over Lonergan's final cut (he preferred a three-hour version despite being contractually obliged to bring it in at a maximum of 150 minutes) and it was only last fall that it finally emerged for a brief theatrical run (in a version running 149 minutes) that instantly became a cause celebre among critics who deemed it an instant masterpiece. While I am not so sure that I would go that far--it is rough going in some points and it is quite obvious where material has been inelegantly deleted--the film does have a number of brilliant performances (from a cast that also includes Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Matt Damon and Jeannie Berlin), a number of undeniably great scenes and more wild ambition than one might find in a dozen ordinary movies and is definitely recommend for those reasons alone. Fans of the theatrical version will be delighted to hear that the Blu-Ray features both that cut and an extended version prepared by Lonergan that clocks in at 186 minutes--the longer version may not provide new twists and turns but it does fill in some of the obvious blanks from the previous cut and is an undeniably richer experience, though it may prove to be a little too overwhelming for first-timers.

MUDDY WATERS & THE ROLLING STONES LIVE AT THE CHECKERBOARD LOUNGE (Eagle Rock. $19.98): While visiting Chicago as part of their 1981 concert tour promoting "Tattoo You," the Rolling Stones made a pilgrimage to the South Side to the Checkerboard Lounge to pay tribute to one of their inspirations, the legendary Muddy Waters. Before long, they joined Waters and others (including Buddy Guy) on stage to run through such blues classics as "Caledonia," "Flip, Flop and Fly" and the inevitable "Mannish Boy" in a once-in-a-lifetime gig that has been bootlegged ever since. Now commercially available for the first time on CD and DVD (or as a combo pack featuring both) in a cleaned-up edition, the show is uneven at points (especially when the obviously inebriated Lefty Dizz takes over for a number and practically has to be led from the stage afterwards) and Buddy Guy more or less steals the show but the obvious reverence that the Stones have for their hero and the way that this reverence helps rejuvenate Waters right before our eyes is a joy to watch.

TRUE STORY OF A WOMAN IN JAIL: CONTINUES/ ZOOM IN: SEX APARTMENTS (Impulse Pictures. $19.95 each): Two more offerings of cinematic sleaze of the highest/lowest order from the Far East make their DVD debuts in order to shock, horrify and arouse viewers with the most lurid sights imaginable. In the former, a sequel to the immortal "True Story of a Woman in Jail: Sex Hell," our heroine is released from solitary confinement, befriends a sweet new inmate who is under the control of the Yakuza and winds up doing battle with practically all the other inmates in order to protect her. In the latter, a thriller in the style of the giallos of Dario Argento (though without the exquisite visuals) a rape victim finds herself investigating a series of murders in her apartment building in which men are killed have their junk set on fire and eventually comes face to face with the killer. . .or not. Not surprisingly, these film are most definitely not for the faint-of-heart but exploitation buffs should get a scuzzy kick out of what they have to offer.

TWINS OF EVIL (Synapse Film. $29.95): Sex, Satanism, vampires, debauchery, depravity, Peter Cushing and twins--these are just some of the fun things on display in this legendarily lurid 1971 Hammer Films epic about a pair of sexy twin sisters (Mary and Madeleine Collinson) who go off to live with their witch-hunting uncle (Cushing) and fall under the spell of a hunky local Satanist/vampire. Also included in the package is "The Flesh and the Fury: X-Posing Twins of Evil," a new behind-the-scenes documentary on the film's history, a still gallery, TV ads, a trailer and a rare deleted scene to boot. Maybe not the masterpiece that some of its proponents have claimed but a sexy and bloody vampire films go, it makes the "Twilight" saga look like a big and boring load of junk by comparison.



BLADE II (New Line Home Entertainment. $19.98)

BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98)

BRAINSTORM (Warner Home Video. $19.98)

CHARIOTS OF FIRE (Warner Home Video. $35.99)

CHESTY MORGAN'S BOSOM BUDDIES (Image Entertainment. $19.98 )

COMA (Warner Home Video. $19.98)

THE ENTITY (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $17.99)

HOME ON THE RANGE (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $29.99)

THE HORSE WHISPERER (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $20.00)

OUTLAND (Warner Home Video. $19.98)

PHENOMENON (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $20.00)

THE SAPHEAD (Kino Entertainment. $34.95)

SENNA (Arc Entertainment. $26.99)

STEP UP (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $20.00)

TREASURE PLANET (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $29.99)

UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $20.00)

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originally posted: 07/17/12 03:25:04
last updated: 07/17/12 04:02:06
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