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DVD Reviews For 8/19: "When A Fire Burns Itself Out, All You Have Left Is Ashes."
by Peter Sobczynski

Admittedly, there isn't that much to behold in the way of newer movies but for those with a fondness for catalogue titles--especially ones that are either getting the lavish special edition treatment or simply making their long-awaited DVD debuts--there is a virtual bonanza of things to see here. As an added bit of fun, one of the movies listed below is actually one of my mother's favorites. See if you can guess what it is--I think you will be pleasantly surprised. (And no, it is not the Serbian entry, smarty pants.)


BLUES BROTHERS 2000 (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98): Although this sequel to the 1980 musical comedy classic is generally regarded as an unqualified disaster by those who actually saw it during its brief and fairly disastrous 1998 release, I tend to be of two minds regarding it. On the one hand, it is frankly terrible for a multitude of reasons--the incalculable loss of John Belushi, the budget-related decision to shoot most of the film in Toronto instead of its central locations of Chicago and New Orleans and the incredibly ill-advised choice to add a spunky little kid to the now-PG-13 proceedings (once slated to be played by Macauley Culkin) to lure in a younger audience--and time has not eased their sting in any way. On the other hand, as bad as the movie is, the soundtrack is pretty damned awesome with contributions from the likes of Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Sam Moore, Jr.. Wells and the all-star Louisiana Gator Boys and if you just look at the film as simply a delivery system for the music, it works well enough. (That said, it might just be easier to dig up the soundtrack album and eliminate the cinematic middle man in this case.)

CLUE (Paramount Home Video. $22.99): Long before "Battleship" was a fevered twinkle in some producer's eye, the idea of adapting a mere board game into a big-screen movie was put into practice in 1985 when the venerable mystery game was transformed into a frantic farce featuring the likes of Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Martin Mull and Michael McKean trying to figure out whodunnit--a task made slightly more difficult by the fact that the film came equipped with three separate endings that each played in different theaters during its initial release (and which have all been included in its Blu-Ray debut here). Although not a great comedy nor even a particularly good mystery, it does have a brash energy and silly humor to it that is kind of winning and it has actually aged pretty well over the years.

CODE OF SILENCE/LONE WOLF MCQUADE (MGM Home Entertainment. $16.99): No doubt meant to tie in with his brief appearance in "The Expendables 2"--his first theatrical release in a long time, MGM has seen fit to give Chuck Norris's two finest films their Blu-Ray debuts. In the former, a gritty and fairly well-constructed 1985 Chicago-based cop drama directed by Andrew Davis, he plays an honest Chicago cop caught up between the mob and corrupt fellow policemen and gets involved in one pretty awesome fight atop a moving El train. In the latter, made two years earlier and eerily prefiguring what would become his best-known work, he plays a tough Texas Ranger going up against evil bad guy David Carradine who, at one point, knocks him unconscious and buries him alive inside his own beloved 4X4--how Chuck gets out of that predicament is alone worth the purchase price and then some. To further feed your "Expendables"-related jones, this week also sees the release of "Stallone 3 Film Collector's Set" (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $24.99), a 3-title Blu-Ray set bringing together the previously released "Rambo: First Blood Part II" (undeniably exciting although politically and historically deranged), "Cop Land" (good but hardly an action extravaganza by any means) and "Lock Up" (oy!). Finally, although he missed being a part of the "Expendables" crew by having passed away a while ago, the bad-ass nature of legendary tough guy Charles Bronson can be celebrated via the Blu-Ray debuts of "Death Wish II," "Death Wish 3" and "Death Wish IV: The Crackdown." (MGM Home Entertainment. $16.99 each)

ESSENTIAL GAMES OF THE CHICAGO CUBS (A&E Television. $39.95): Even the most optimistic of Cubs fans have to admit that this season has pretty much been a washout practically from the start and that if there is any more genuine excitement to be had at Wrigley Field this season, it will be when Bruce Springsteen arrives to play a couple of shows in September. At least they can derive some solace from this collection from the archives of Major League Baseball featuring four full-length broadcasts of important games in the history of the franchise--one from the summer of 1969 with future Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams smacking down Philadelphia, a 1984 game in which the legendary Ryne Sandberg led an astonishing rally against the hated Cardinals, the 1998 Wild Card tiebreaker against the Giants that landed them in the playoffs and the 2008 meeting against the Cardinals in which they clinched the division. A&E is also releasing "Essential Games of the Philadelphia Phillies" (A&E Television. $39.95), which includes two pennant wins, one World Series victory and the 2010 NLDS Game 1 with Roy Halladay pitching only the second no-hitter in the history of post-season play, and "Essential Games of the Texas Rangers" (A&E Television. $39.95), which includes Nolan Ryan's seventh no-hitter, the 1996 game that marked their first experience with post-season play and their pennant clinchers in 2010 and 2011.

GLEE: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON (Fox Home Entertainment. $59.98): After an artistically wobbly second season that culminated with the near-total rejection of a cash-in 3-D concert movie, the noted musical-comedy-drama series entered its third season with both a full-scale backlash and the real possibility that some of its best-known performers might be leaving, voluntarily or not, at its end. The end result was inevitably uneven--there were still too many guest stars and gimmicks, though not as many as in the previous season (or maybe we are all just used to them by now)--but it did come closer to reminding viewers of the quirky gem that they originally fell in love with instead of the pop culture behemoth that it had devolved into through its surprise popularity. Other TV-related DVDs now available include "American Pickers: Volume 4" (A&E Television. $19.95), "Barack Obama: From His Childhood to the Presidency" (A&E Television. $19.95), "Community: The Complete Third Season" (Sony Home Entertainment. $45.99), "Dance Moms: Season 1" (A&E Television. $29.95), "Dexter: The Sixth Season" (Paramount Home Video. $54.99), "Happy Endings: Seasons One & Two" (Sony Home Entertainment. $45.99), "Harry-O: The Complete First Season" (Warner Archives. $59.99), "Parenthood: Season 3" (Universal Home Entertainment. $59.98), "Pawn Stars: Volume 5" (A&E Television. $19.95), "The Rookies: The Complete Second Season" (Shout! Factory. $44.99) and "Strike Back: Season 1" (HBO Home Entertainment. $49.98)

THE HUNGER GAMES (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $30.98): Between the ridiculous amount of hype surrounding its production and the fact that its basic premise sounded strikingly similar to the ultra-violent Japanese cult favorite "Battle Royale," I didn't really go into this screen adaptation of the Suzanne Collins' best-seller, a tale of a dystopian future in which two children from each district of a nightmarish future America are chosen at random to fight to the death before a televised audience, with much enthusiasm. Therefore, I was surprised to discover that even though originality is not exactly its strong suit, I actually liked it a lot because of director Gary Ross's ability to find an emotional core to material that could have become very silly very quickly (though his handling of the big action beats was occasionally clunky), the eclectic supporting cast (with Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks among the chief scene-stealers) and the ferociously convincing work done by Jennifer Lawrence in the central role of conflicted heroine Katniss. Of course, none of what I have written has likely made a single bit of difference to most of you because you have presumably already rushed out and gotten your copies the moment they hit the shelves.

For gladiatorial games from a different era, Warner Archives has just released a pair of new-to-video titles from the glory days of epic cinema, "Damon and Pythias" and "Hercules, Samson and Ulysses" (Warner Archives. $19.98 each).

JAWS (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): I had originally planned on doing a long piece about the Blu-Ray debut of Steven Spielberg's 1975 game-changing horror masterpiece about a shark terrorizing a small seaside town but, despite assurances that it was on the way, I never received an advance review copy from Universal. As a result, I have not yet had a chance to plow through all of the various features, the most notable of the bunch being the debut of the acclaimed feature-length documentary "The Shark is Still Working: The Impact and Legacy of Jaws." However, based on the bits and pieces of the film proper that I have looked at to check out the brand-new digital restoration, I can say two things about it for sure. First, the film continues to be not only Spielberg's crowning cinematic achievement but one of the ten greatest movies ever made in my humble and always correct opinion. Second, I have seen this film in any number of permutations over the years and I don't think that I have ever seen it look as good as it does here. Yeah, I am still annoyed about not getting the advance copy but if I had to vote for Blu-Ray of the Year right now, this would definitely be in the running.

JOHNNY GUITAR (Olive Films. $29.95): One of the craziest films produced by Hollywood during the 1950's this one-of-a-kind 1954 western from director Nicholas Ray tells the tale of a saloon owner with a shady past whose attempts to build a new life are thrown into upheaval after being framed by a powerful local rancher for a series of robberies and by the arrival of a former flame with an equally troubled past who has just taken a job in said saloon. Sounds staid enough in theory, right? Well, what if I told you that the saloon owner was played by Joan Crawford, the rancher was Mercedes McCambridge, the former lover was Sterling Hayden, the film as a whole is told at a feverish, Freudian pitch that has had viewers speculating for decades about what it is really about (Are Crawford and McCambridge former lovers as well? Is the whole thing an allegory for the Red Scare? Is that really Peggy Lee singing the theme song?) and the end result is some kind of deranged masterpiece. Alas, there are no extras to be found here other than an introduction to the film by Martin Scorsese and the visuals aren't quite as fabulous as one might hope but the film as a whole is so damned awesome that most will be able to overlook these comparatively minor failings.

JUAN OF THE DEAD (E1 Entertainment. $19.98): In a film that most will read as a horror-comedy but which the demagogues at Fox News will no doubt try to claim as a straightforward documentary, an aging Cuban slacker wakes up one morning to discover his country in the throes of another bloody revolt--this time from "dissidents" that turn out to be zombies. If nothing else, the film is certainly ambitious in the way that it tries to blend together goofy undead gore with political satire in much the same way that George Romero has done in his "Living Dead" films and if director Alejandro Breugues isn't quite at that level yet, he has nevertheless come up with a generally amusing work that fans of the genre should definitely respond to favorably.

KILL LIST (MPI Home Entertainment. $29.98): In this odd hybrid of genres from British filmmaker Ben Wheatley, a hit man on the physical and financial ropes after botching a job eight months earlier is dragged by his partner into performing a complex trio of hits on a priest, a librarian and a member of Parliament. Sounds straightforward enough but as the two go from target to target, things gets progressively stranger as the story. . .well, to say what happens next would be a massive spoiler. Alas, it is precisely that shift that is at the heart of why I object to the film because I just don't think that Wheatley pulls off his genre-bending experiment as well as he had hoped and the end result is film that feels more hopelessly confused than anything else. That said, the fil does have a devoted fan base behind it and if you are willing to accept the big twist, you may get more out of it than I clearly did.

LES VAMPIRES (Kino Video. $39.95): One of the landmark works of French silent cinema, this 10-part 1915-16 serial from Louis Feuillade tells the action-packed story of a journalist who, along with a wacky sidekick, attempts to infiltrate and destroy a massive criminal gang known as The Vampires, an endeavor made more complicated by the efforts of a rival crime lord and the charms of the Vampires' deadliest assassin, the bewitching Irma Vep. (Yes, this is the film that was supposedly getting the remake treatment in Olivier Assayas's "Irma Vep.") Whether you watch it in individual parts or in one big gulp lasting nearly seven hours, this epic is a must both as a historical artifact and because it is frankly more exciting and entertaining than most contemporary blockbusters by a wide margin.

THE LIFE AND DEATH OF A PORNO GANG (Synapse Films. $29.95): For those of you who have been waiting fervently for "A Serbian Film II" to get the green light, this exceptionally nasty little item, also from Serbia, should help make the wait more bearable. Set during the waning days of Slobodan Milosevic's reign, the film follows the story of a struggling film student who puts together a "porno cabaret" of oddballs willing to perform live sex acts for the delectation of rural farmers and peasants. Eventually, they run across a snuff film producer who is sure that they can make a lot more money by filming themselves murdering theoretically willing participants. Oh well, it is still better and less offensive to the sensibilities than "The Help" but that said, I wouldn't recommend showing it on Family Night anytime soon.

MARLEY (Magnolia Home Entertainment. $26.98): After a number of false starts, the life of beloved reggae musician Bob Marley gets the documentary treatment with this expansive look at his life and work via archival material, new interviews with friends, family and fellow musicians and, of course, lots and lots of incredible music. Obviously, this is not exactly the most objective documentary ever made and there are points where it does begin to drift into hagiography but for the most part, this is a fascinating look at one of the more compelling figures to ever become a star on the international music scene and for fans of his work, it is a must-see.

THE RAID: REDEMPTION (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.95): In this wildly over-the-top of "Die Hard," "Assault on Precinct 13" and any number of kung-fu movies, a SWAT team in Jakarta enters a high-rise that has become a haven for the city's worst criminals in order to arrest the crime boss living on the top floor. Needless to say, the raid doesn't go quite as planned and one green rookie finds himself doing battle against wave after wave of psychotics hoping to protect their leader from arrest. Needless to say, the movie is as silly and implausible as all get out but writer-director Gareth Evans brings such a giddy and heedless energy to the proceedings--this is one of those movies that starts off at 11 and then really cranks things up--that action buffs will most likely have a blast watching it.

ROSETTA (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne won the Palme d'Or at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival for this powerful drama about a young Belgian girl (then-newcomer Emilie Dequenne, who won the Best Actress award at Cannes for what was her debut performance) as she struggles to find a job that will provide enough money for her to support herself and her alcoholic mother. This is grim and powerful stuff--especially in its alternately heartbreaking and horrifying final scenes--but it is absolutely compelling thanks to the combined efforts of Dequenne and the Dardennes. To go along with the Blu-Ray debut of "Rosetta," Criterion is also releasing the Dardennes' first film, the equally acclaimed 1996 drama "La Promesse" (The Criterion Collection. $39.95).



BOUND (Olive Films. $29.95)


EVAN ALMIGHTY (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98)

FALLEN (Warner Home Video. $19.98)


GROSSE POINTE BLANK (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $20.00)

HIGH FIDELITY (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $20.00)

THE INCREDIBLE MR. LIMPET (Warner Home Video. $19.98)

KORCZAK (Kino Video. $29.95)

NEW JACK CITY (Warner Home Video. $19.98)

RIO GRANDE (Olive Films. $29.95)


THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)

SEBASTIANE (Kino Video. $29.95)

SHAFT (Warner Home Video. $19.98)


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originally posted: 08/20/12 07:31:12
last updated: 08/20/12 08:08:10
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