DVD Reviews For 9/3: "Bellboyyyyyy!"
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 09/04/12 04:05:53
What better way to mark the end of summer than by checking out newly released DVDs of films that premiered in theaters at the beginning of the season? If that doesn't float your collective boast, there are plenty of TV-related releases that will help you get in shape for the upcoming fall season.
Faithful readers of this column--a number stretching into high teens by now--will note that for the most part, I tend to only focus on one TV-related item per edition. This is partly because there is so much new product of this sort hitting shelves ever week that it would be almost impossible to keep up with everything even if I concentrated on them exclusively and partly because I still hold on to the prejudice that television, with certain exceptions, is little more than a lava lamp with slightly better audio, as the late Michael O'Donoghue once said. That said, a number of intriguing titles have just been released in order to tie in with the imminent premieres of their upcoming new seasons and I thought I would highlight a few of the more interesting ones.Of them, the one with the highest pedigree is "Boardwalk Empire" the sophomore season of the Prohibition-era drama created by Terence Winter and executive-produced by Martin Scorsese featuring lots of sex and nudity, lots and lots of eye-popping violence and one of the best ensemble casts working today, including the likes of Steve Buscemi, Michael Shannon, Kelly MacDonald, Michael Stuhlbarg and Dabney Coleman. In this series of episodes, bootlegger Nucky Thompson (Buscemi) seems to have Atlantic City firmly in his control when he is arrested for election fraud, a sign of weakness that has one-time friends and long-time enemies ready to pounce on his empire. After its knockout premiere season, this one may not seem quite as impressive at first glance but when you considered that, in terms of size and scope, that each episode is probably the equivalent to an entire feature film, what it accomplishes over the space of the twelve episodes collected here is impressive indeed and even on the level of individual episodes, it beats the likes of the similarly themed "Lawless" like a gong. This set includes a number of behind-the scenes documentaries chronicling its production as well as examinations of the history of the time period covered during the season.
If "Boardwalk Empire" was the most talked-about new series from two seasons ago, last season's new favorite was probably the Showtime drama "Homeland." Produced by some of the people responsible for a little thing called "24," this show stars Damian Lewis as a Marine POW who is rescued and brought back to America and celebrated as a war hero and Claire Danes as a CIA agent who is convinced that he is actually a sleeper agent created by Al Qaeda to unleash a massive attack on American soil. Unfortunately, she can't get anyone to believe her suspicions and the fact that she herself is on the mentally unstable side doesn't exactly help to further her cause but just because she has issues doesn't necessarily mean that she is wrong, right? When I first heard the premise of this show, I could see how it might work as a feature film but couldn't quite wrap my head around how it might work over the course of 12 episodes (at least) without quickly growing repetitive but I am happy to say that it does, thanks to ingeniously twisty plotting and stellar performances from the two leads. Besides the episodes, this set also includes deleted scenes, an overview of the entire season, commentary on the pilot episode and a preview of what is to come in the upcoming second season.
If you had asked me at this time last year to name a new series that seemed destined for failure, I probably would have suggested the fantasy show "Once Upon a Time" to be a prime candidate for a quick cratering. After all, the idea of a show set in a seemingly ordinary town that happens to be populated by every famous fairytale character and centering on the rivalry between a seemingly ordinary cop (Jennifer Morrison) who may be the daughter of the actual Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and the town's mayor (Lana Parrilla) who may be the Evil Queen seemed like the kind of silly high-concept notion that might work for an episode or two but which would presumably collapse into complete absurdity before too long. However, the show turned out to be one of the more popular new shows of the season and received a good amount of critical acclaim as well. Having skipped out on it during its initial run, I have only begun to catch up via this 5-disc set, containing all 22 episodes and the usual array of deleted scenes, commentaries, bloopers and behind-the-scenes documentaries, and while I may not be quite as enthused about it as some of its more ardent proponents--possibly as a result of a vague prejudice towards most fantasy-related TV shows--I must admit that it is a lot more clever and interesting than I assumed it would be; it is nowhere near as jokey as it could have been in the wrong hands and Robert Carlyle is pretty awesome as the mysterious Mr. Gold. In other words, of all the Snow White-based entertainments to emerge in the last year, this is arguably the best of the bunch.
I don't like to invoke the phrase "guilty pleasure" too often but in the case of "Revenge," here is a show that wears that phrase like a badge of honor. Loosely and luridly based on "The Count of Monte Cristo," the show stars Emily VanCamp as Emily Thorne, a lovely lass who arrives in the Hamptons and sweeps the rich and powerful denizens off their well-shod feet with her poise, great and beauty. What they don't realize is that Emily is not who she claims to be after all. She is actually a member of a family that was destroyed by these very same people--specifically the imperious Victoria Grayson (Madeline Stowe)--years earlier and now she has returned in order to. . .well, you saw the title. Easily the best show of its type to hit the airwaves since "Gossip Girl," this is unabashedly soapy material of the most irresistible sort--every time you think it can't possibly get wilder or more cheerfully demented, it goes ahead and does just that. Throw in strong roles for VanCamp and Stowe, the latter finally getting the comeback part that she has long deserved, and the end result is a show that is far more fun than it has any right to be and one that will leaves viewers waiting in breathless anticipation for what the upcoming season has to offer.
BOARDWALK EMPIRE: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (HBO Home Entertainment. $59.99)
HOMELAND: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Fox Home Entertainment. $59.98)
ONCE UPON A TIME: THE COMPLETE 1ST SEASON (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $45.99
REVENGE: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $45.99)
Other TV-related releases now available include "The Adventures of Tin Tin: Season 3" (Shout! Factory. $19.93), "The Closer: The Complete 7th Season" (Warner Home Video. $59.99), "House: The Final Season" (Universal Home Entertainment. $59.98), "In Plain SIght: Season Five" (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98), "NCIS: The Complete 9th Season" (Paramount Home Video. $64.99), "NCIS: Los Angeles: The Complete 3rd Season" (Paramount Home Video. $62.99), "Sons Of Anarchy: Season Four" (Fox Home Entertainment. $59.98), "Two And A Half Men: The Complete 9th Season" (Warner Home video. $44.99) and "The Walking Dead: The Complete Second Season" (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $59.98).
NEW AND NOTABLE
BATTLESHIP (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): My guess is that once it was announced that there was going to be a $200 million dollar adaptation of the venerable board game featuring a cast consisting of an untried newcomer (Taylor Kitsch), a swimsuit model (Brooklyn Decker), a pop star trying her hand at the acting thing (Rhianna) and a talented actor hell-bent on squandering his reputation on obvious dreck a la Richard Burton (Liam Neeson) battling aliens that had nothing to do with the original property, few moviegoers were expecting that it would be some kind of game-changing classic. That said, my guess is that even fewer could have suspected that it would wind up being this bad--a boring, derivative and painfully loud crapfest that came very close to making the "Transformers" movies seem watchable by comparison. However, in one of the summer's happier surprises, most moviegoers decided that it looked too stupid even for them and the end result was one of the biggest bombs of the season. While the DVD/Blu-Ray is packed with all sorts of features showing all the top-level technology and complex special effects required to bring Brooklyn Decker to the screen, those of you who skipped it in the theater can continue to do so without without worrying about missing anything.
BERNIE (Millennium. $28.99): One of the strangest and funniest films to emerge so far this year, this true-life dark comedy from Richard Linklater tells the story of the unusual friendship between a beloved small-town mortician (Jack Black) and the miserly and much-hated heiress (Shirley MacLaine) that ends with her being killed with a bullet in the back, him standing on trial for her murder and virtually the entire town taking the side of the accused to such a degree that it is the prosecution that demanded a change of venue on the grounds that they couldn't get a fair trial. It sounds batty and borderline unpleasant--it is, after all, a comedy inspired by a real woman's murder--but Linklater finds just the right tone for the material throughout and the film is further blessed with wonderful performances from Black (in what may be the best work of his entire career), MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey, who is so convincing as the D.A. charged with the exceedingly peculiar case that I actually did not recognize him during his first couple of scenes even though I knew he was in the film. Trust me--this is one of the best films of the year and a must-see.
DARLING COMPANION (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): If I were to tell you that there was a movie that featured performances from the reliable likes of Kevin Kline, Diane Keaton, Richard Jenkins, Dianne Wiest and Sam Shepard and a screenplay and direction from Lawrence Kasdan, the man behind such favorites as "Body Heat," "Silverado," the great "Grand Canyon" and the underrated "Mumford," my guess is that you would think that there is no way that it could possibly fail--at the very least, it would have to be better than Kasdan's previous effort, the disastrous Stephen King adaptation "Dreamcatcher," right? And yet, despite all the talent involved, the end result--in which Kline and Keaton play an estranged couple who come to terms with their lives when her dog runs away from their vacation home in the Rockies and they, along with a few other poor saps, begin combing the countryside looking for it--is such a terrible bore that the biggest surprise is that none of the actors took the same initiative and ran for the hills themselves. Trust me--if you like any of the people involved with what is essentially a more expensive version of the navel-gazing drivel usually offered up by the likes of Henry Jaglom, you will give this loser the widest possible berth lest it put you to sleep.
THE DICTATOR (Paramount Home Video. $29.98): Abandoning the semi-documentary format that they deployed in the reasonably funny "Borat" and the disastrously unfunny "Bruno," Sacha Baron Cohen and director Larry Charles reunite for this raunchfest in which the former plays the cruel dictator of a foreign country who, while on a trip to New York to speak before the U.N., is replaced by a double and forced to fend for himself amongst the kind of people that he would have once had summarily executed. Although certainly funnier than "Bruno" (a claim that could theoretically be made for every title on this list), Cohen's brand of shock comedy--in which he says wildly racist, sexist and homophobic things and viewers are supposed to laugh because we know that he is really being ironic--is really getting tiresome and outside of a few funny bits, this is just more of the same and the continued squandering of the comedic talents of Anna Faris on material far beneath her is really getting depressing. That said, if you found it funnier than I did, be advised that the "Unrated" edition of the film offers up an additional 15 minutes of material along with an additional half-hour of deleted scenes.
ECLIPSE 35: MAIDSTONE AND OTHER FILMS BY NORMAN MAILER:(The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Although best-known as the two-fisted, hard-drinking author of such literary classics as "The Naked and the Dead," "The Executioner's Song" and "Harlot's Ghost," Norman Mailer made several attempts to carve out a second career as a two-fisted, hard-drinking filmmaker with considerably less success and this set from Criterion's secondary line dedicated to more obscure titles and filmmakers collects all of those films save for his last effort behind the cameras, his deliriously deranged adaptation of his 1984 potboiler "Tough Guys Don't Dance." "Beyond the Law" (1968) covers one night in a New York police station, "Wild 90" (1968) follows a group of criminals as they hole up and plan their next heist and "Maidstone" casts Mailer as a celebrated filmmaker who decides to run for the presidency. Largely improvised and fairly dated experiments in non-narrative storytelling, the films are somewhat difficult to get through today but those who are still fascinated with Mailer and the mystique surrounding his work will no doubt find them interesting. For everyone else, the pick of the litter is clearly "Maidstone," if only because of its now-infamous finale in which frustrated co-star Rip Torn actually attacked Mailer on-camera during the filming of another scene and the two break character in order to pound the crap out of one another.
FREELANCERS (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $19.98): For those of you waiting to see what Robert De Niro will do next to tarnish his once-vaunted reputation as America's Greatest Actor, be sure to check out this ridiculously predictable cop drama in which Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson plays the son of a murdered cop who joins the force and discovers corruption in the ranks. For everyone else, the fact this DVD actually boasts on the cover that it is "From A Producer Of "Righteous Kill" and "Street Kings" should serve as ample warning as to the quality of the contents contained within.
JERSEY SHORE SHARK ATTACK (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $19.98): Every time Roger Corman churns out one of these low-budget "Jaws" knockoffs for the Sci-Fi Channel featuring first-rate titles, second-rate CGI shark effects and third-rate actors, I promise myself that this is the last time I give one of them any publicity and then inevitably backslide the next time one comes around. That said, this is the last time and dammit, I mean it this time!
THE LAS VEGAS STORY (Warner Archives. $19.95): Having scandalized the movie world a few years earlier with the infamous "The Outlaw," Howard Hughes, in his capacity as owner of RKO Pictures, reunited with Jane Russell for this lurid noir drama in which she plays a woman whose trip to Vegas with husband Vincent Price gets really complicated thanks to gambling debts, a valuable necklace, a cop who just happens to be a former lover of hers and murder. This is one of the latest obscurities to final see the light of day thanks to the Warner Archives program.
Other newly released titles include "The Cool Ones" (Warner Archives. $19.95), a 1967 musical extravaganza from executive producer William Conrad featuring Roddy McDowell as a Phil Spector-like music impresario and performances from Glen Campbell, The Bantams and The Leaves , "The Liquidator" (Warner Archives. $19.95), a weird 1965 Bond knockoff featuring Rod Taylor as a spy who digs all the fun stuff regarding espionage but who so recoils at the notion of killing people that he hires a hitman to do his wetwork for him and "Young Cassidy" (Warner Archives. $19.95), in which Taylor teams up with director John Ford to tell the story of Irish playwright Sean O'Casey.
THE LUCKY ONE (Warner Home Video. $28.98): In this adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks best-seller, Zac Efron plays an emotionally disturbed Iraq vet who--you know, I think that I am just going to leave it at that and movie on if it is all thee same to you.
THE MOTH DIARIES (MPI Home Entertainment. $24.98): Returning to the director's chair for the first time since 2005's "The Notorious Bettie Page," Mary Harron ooffers up this adaptation of the Rachel Klein novel about a boarding school friendship between two girls (Sarah Bolger and Sarah Gadon) is threatened when a new girl (Lily Cole) arrives and comes between them. While one becomes inseparable from the newcomer, the other begins to suspect that the newcomer is actually a vampire, a claim bolstered by the number of dead bodies popping up on campus. The movie is not very good, to be sure, but if you are in the mood for an admittedly stylish bit of vampire-related nonsense feature a bunch of beautiful young women looking all languid and whatnot, you can do worse than this and probably have done so several times over in the past.
THE PIRATES: BAND OF MISFITS (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): In the latest offering from England's Aardman Studios, the people behind Wallace & Gromit and "Chicken Run," a bumbling pirate captain (Hugh Grant) leads his trusty crew into a contest to be named Pirate of the Year and winds up running afoul of the Queen (Imelda Staunton), for obvious reasons, and a scientist (David Tennant), for reasons best left discovered for yourselves. Although no the biggest hit in these parts when it opened last spring, it is one definitely worth checking out at home because it is pretty much a pure delight from start to finish and, like the other Aardman efforts (like last year's underrated "Arthur Christmas"), the fact that it manages to retain a certain dry British wit while still coming across as totally accessible to American audiences is something to treasure. Alongside "Paranorman" and "The Secret Life of Arietty," this is one of the best animated films of 2012 to date.
QUADROPHENIA (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Perhaps in response to the sheer bombast that dominated the 1975 Ken Russell adaptation of their concept album "Tommy," The Who decided to go in a more restrained direction in bringing their 1973 album to the big screen. Instead of glitz, glam and goofiness, first-time filmmaker Franc Roddam offered up a quiet and restrained look at a confused young man (Phil Daniels) in mid-1960's London with no other interests in life than the pills he pops, the teen queen (Leslie Ash), he lusts after, the gang of scooter-riding Mods that he hangs out with and the cycle-driving Rockers that they do battle with in the streets over the slightest provocation. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give this movie is that if you stripped all the classic Who songs (which are merely heard in the background and not sung by the characters) off the soundtrack, the film would still hold up as a powerful and strangely universal coming-of-age story. With the tunes, however, it gets boosted up to the level of genuine cult classic and its mystique has grown over the years thanks to the presence of Sting in his first film role as the enigmatic Mod leader Ace Face. This Blu-Ray from Criterion looks and sounds amazing and features suc bonus items as an interview with the Who's sound engineer regarding the restoration of the soundtrack, archival news reports on the making of the film, the band and the actual Mod-Rocker skirmishes that inspired the album. I also have an amusing story about seeing the film at midnight while in college but alas, no one asked me to contribute it but for a nominal fee, I would be willing to offer it up to any interested parties.
VIRGINIA (E1 Entertainment. $24.98): Marking the directorial debut of Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, this comedy/melodrama stars Ed Harris as the married Mormon sheriff of a sleepy small town who is about to run for public office and whose deepest secret is that he has been having a long-running affair with a mentally ill woman (Jennifer Connelly) and may even be the father of her son (Harrison Gilbertson)--to make matters even more complicated, a romance seems to be brewing between the boy and the sheriff's acknowledged daughter (Emma Roberts). There are a lot of good actors on board here and Connelly gives a strong enough performance to make you wish that she had better opportunities to show off her considerable talents but for the most part, there is a very good reason why most of you have never even heard of this movie until this very moment.
ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (Universal Home Entertainment. $26.98)
AIRPORT (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98)
THE ARISTOCATS (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $39.99)
BARTON FINK (Fox Home Entertainment. $36.98)
DEATH WATCH (Shout! Factory. $14.93)
GOOD WILL HUNTING: 15th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $14.99)
HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MEYERS (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $24.99)
HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MEYERS (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $24.99)
THE LIVING DEAD GIRL (Kino Video. $24.99)
LONESOME (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)
POCAHONTAS: TWO-MOVIE SPECIAL EDITION (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $39.99)
THE RESCUERS: TWO-MOVIE SPECIAL EDITION (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $39.99)
16 CANDLES (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98)
THINK LIKE A MAN (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99)
THINNER (Olive Films. $29.98)
WARGAMES (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.99)