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DVD Reviews For 11/11: "Sherman. . .Where Are All The White People?"
by Peter Sobczynski

What better way to acknowledge Veterans Day than with a column of new DVD/Blu-Ray releases? Okay, I can think of several off the top of my head, but you get the drift. . .


THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): Needing to produce another Spider-Man film before the end of this year and unable to come up with a satisfactory story (not that this stopped them from making "Spider-Man 3"), Sony decided to jettison the franchise they built with the increasingly expensive likes of Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire and do a reboot with much cheaper likes of Marc behind the camera and Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone in front of it. Alas, like most filmss produced merely to satisfy contractual obligations, the end result was a drag that demonstrate little of the good cheer, high spirits and visual style of the previous installments. Although it felt like an afterthought when it came out last summer thanks to its release being sandwiched between "The Avengers" and "The Dark Knight Returns," it made enough money to ensure that Sony will be exercising their contractual rights within the next five years--maybe some lawyer can slip in a clause requiring that a decent script be part of the deal as well.

AMERICANO (MPI Home Entertainment. $24.98): Considering that his parents (Jacgues Demy and Agnes Varda) were two of the leading lights of French cinema it probably would have been a surprise if Mathieu Demy did not choose to follow in their footsteps and take up filmmaking himself. In this dram, he plays a man who comes to California after the death of his estranged mother in order to take care of her estate. While there, he discovers some surprising secrets about her life and this leads him on a journey to Mexico to meet with an over-the-hill stripper (though not that over-the-hill since she is played by Salma Hayek) who may hold the answers to his questions about both his mother and himself. If one wanted to overly analyze Demy's cinematic style, one could detect the influence of both his parents but the films itself is strong enough to work solely on its own merits. It may not be a masterpiece, but it is smart and affecting and suggests that Demy may have a real future as a filmmaker regardless of his parentage.

ARTHUR CHRISTMAS (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): With a few notable exceptions, I hate most Christmas-related movie with a blind passion--things like "White Christmas" annoy me to no end and I can't even quite wrap my head around the seemingly universal love for "A Christmas Story" (aside from the awesome scene where Ralphie visits Santa at the department store). And yet, when a good one comes along, I have no problem singing its praises and that is the case with this instant classic from the good folks at Aardman, the animation shop behind the beloved Wallace & Gromit and "Chicken Run." In this one, we learn that the job of being Santa Claus is a family operation that has been transformed into a hi-tech enterprise by an older son gunning for the big man's job when he retires. However,when a glitch causes the system to overlook one child, idealistic younger son Arthur grabs his retired grandfather and a feisty elf, hooks up some rookie reindeer to an old sleigh and rushes off to save the day. Trust me, what transpires is a delight for all ages and while it kind of got lost in the crush of family-oriented films when it came out last Christmas, it will hopefully be rediscovered this season and go on to become the holiday favorite that it deserves to be.

Another holiday-oriented movie that I enjoy, "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" (Paramount Home Video. $22.98)--for my money, the one essential John Hughes film--is making its Blu-Ray debut as well. Of course, if you are one of those people who will sit through anything with a holiday theme, there is the direct-to-video epic "A Christmas Story 2" (Warner Home Video. $27.95), a film that I will leave for you to discover on your own.

THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES (Warner Home Video. $19.95): When Brian De Palma's 1990 adaptation of the Tom Wolfe best-seller, in which a Wall Street mover/shaker (Tom Hanks) who takes the wrong exit while out with his mistress (Melanie Griffith) one night and sparks a racially-charged scandal that threatens to destroy his life thanks to the breathless media coverage instigated by a desperate journalist (Bruce Willis), it was a critical and commercial flop of mammoth proportions thanks to any number of ill-advised decisions (all chronicled in the must-read book "The Devil's Candy") and even today, its attempts to smooth over its rough edges and dilute Wolfe's singular voice in an attempt to make the material more palatable to the mass audience still ring hollow today. However, if one can ignore the existence of the book entirely and look at the film simply as an extension of the radical, rabble-rousing comedies like "Greetings" and "Hi Mom" that De Palma began his career with before becoming delving into the suspense genre that he is best known for today, it does have its moments of interest. That said, it is still one of De Palma's lesser works and a prime example of what can happen when a movie studio decides to transform a quirky property into a would-be blockbuster by dispensing with all the stuff that made it so distinctive in the first place.

BUGS BUNNY SUPERSTAR (Warner Archives. $19.95): Although the history of the Warner Brothers animation department has been well-documented via films, books and DVD extras over the years, this 1975 documentary was one of the first the give people a behind-the-scenes look at how the adventures of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig and too many others to cite here came to b created via interviews with animators Bob Clampett, Tex Avery and Friz Freleng and home movies shot by Clampett capturing the animators at work hashing out gags and bringing them to life. For animation fans, this is essential viewing but is entertaining enough for casual viewers to enjoy as well.

CHIPS '99 (Warner Archives. $19.95): Wait, there was a "CHiPs" reunion and I wasn't made aware of it--how is that possible? As it turns out, Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox somehow managed to clear their schedules for this 1998 TV movie that found them once again serving and protecting the citizens of Los Angeles from vehicular-based villainy, this time chiefly in the form of a violent auto hijacking ring. Yes, it is all fairly stupid but boy howdy, the toothy smiles are as blinding as ever.

Those with a taste for TV-movie reboots may also want to check out "Coma" (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.98), a new version of the Robin Cook medical thriller (previously filmed in 1978 by Michael Crichton) is which a winsome young doctor (Lauren Ambrose) investigates why seemingly healthy people go into the hospital she works at for routine surgeries only to wind up in irreversible comas. Despite an impressive cast (including James Woods, Geena Davis, Joe Morton, Ellen Burstyn and Richard Dreyfuss), the whole thing is too long and dull for its own good and never comes close to approaching the creepy, junky fun of the original.

POLISSE (MPI Home Entertainment. $24.98): On the other hand, if you are in the mood for a cop drama of a slightly more serious manner, you may enjoy this effort from French filmmaker Maiwenn following members of the child protection division of the Paris police department as they struggle to balance their professional and personal lives. The on-the-job stuff is often interesting especially in the way that it mixes the horrifying nature of their work with a welcome streak of black humor that they use to cope with what they encounter on a daily basis. However, the stuff involving their personal lives is a bore and leads up to one of the silliest conclusions to a film that I have encountered in quite a while.

REC 3: GENESIS (Sony Home Entertainment. $22.99): In the third entry in the Spanish-language horror franchise in which the effects of a horrifying virus are captured through the lens of an unblinking and never-stopping camera, a wedding reception is reduced to a grislier mess than usual when the guests begin turning into monsters and the newlyweds are forced to fight to survive long enough to make their honeymoon. Nothing new here, of course, but the same old stuff has been served up in a fresher-than-expected manner and the result is arguably the best of the series to date.

ROSEMARY'S BABY (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Having already shaken up the world of European cinema with such films as "Knife in the Water" and "Repulsion," Roman Polanski came to Hollywood in 1968 to direct the screen adaptation of Ira Levin's best-seller about a young pregnant woman (Mia Farrow) who becomes convinced that her self-absorbed actor husband (John Cassavetes) and oddball neighbors (Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer) have diabolical plans for her and her unborn child. The result, simply put, was instantly hailed as one of the undisputed classics of the horror genre and 45 years later, it has not lost a bit of its punch. Making its Blu-Ray debut, this special edition contains a documentary about the film and its impact featuring interviews with Polanski, Farrow and producer Robert Evans, a 1997 radio interview with Levin, a documentary on Krzystof Komeda, the jazz musician who composed the film's unnerving score, and a booklet containing background materials created by Levin in preparation for writing the book.

RUBY SPARKS (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): Pure cinematic poison from start to finish, this indescribably awful romantic comedy tells the tale of a struggling novelist (Paul Dano) who creates the perfect woman on his typewriter one night and wakes up the next morning to discover that she is now real (in the form of Zoe Kazan, who also wrote the screenplay) and in his house. All is well for a while but when the girl begins to develop her own personality, the author is torn between pulling the strings or taking the risk of embarking on a real relationship. Frankly, you will be rooting for the two to get together because they are so resoundingly obnoxious and unappealing that no other person, real or fictional, should have to spend more than a minute or two in their company. It may seem like what would come out if you threw"The Purple Rose of Cairo" and "Stranger Than Fiction" into a blender but the end result is closer to something that you will want to throw into the nearest available furnace instead. Sure, some have liked this movie despite its utter odiousness but my guess is that most of them are the same people who liked the equally obnoxious "Like Crazy" last year.

THEY LIVE (Shout! Factory. $29.93): The oeuvre of legendary director John Carpenter has inspired countless arguments amongst genre fans over the last couple of decades but this brilliant 1988 effort is generally considered to be one of his best. Wrestling legend Rowdy Roddy Piper plays a homeless man who puts on a pair of strange sunglasses and makes a shocking discovery--aliens from another world are posing as materialistic yuppie swine and attempting to brainwash the entire planet into becoming mindless consumers as part of a diabolical plot--that he must try to prevent. Mixing action movie silliness (including a hilariously extended fistfight between Piper and co-star Keith David), monster-movie mayhem and surprisingly deft political satire, the movie was a classic when it first came out (though few people noticed it at the time) and time has only made its message more potent. Previously released in embarrassingly bare-bones version, the film finally gets the special edition treatment it has long deserved for its Blu-Ray debut, including a commentary track featuring the tag team of Carpenter and Piper originally recorded for the European DVD, new interviews with both and vintage promotional materials--the only thing missing is a piece of bubble gum and you know what that means. Also making its Blu-Ray debut is "Dark Star" (VCI Entertainment. $19.99), the odd 1974 sci-fi satire that marked Carpenter's feature directorial debut.

TRISHNA (MPI Home Entertainment. $24.98): Considering his prolific output and determination to try something new with each endeavor, I suppose it was only a matter of time before filmmaker Michael WInterbottom got around to directing an adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" (previously brought to the screen magnificently by Roman Polanski in 1979) that updated the story to modern-day India. In it, Frieda Pinto stars as a simple country girl working in a large resort hotel to support her family until she meets and falls in love with owner's son (Riz Ahmed), a move that leads to love, betrayal and tragedy, pretty much in that order. Pinto is excellent and proves without a doubt that she is more than just an extraordinarily pretty face but the film as a whole is lacking the passion and anger that the story requires if it is to have any sort of meaning. It isn't awful by any means but if you want to see Winterbottom doing a proper adaptation of Thomas Hardy, check out his extraordinary and sadly underseen "The Claim" instead.

WITH GREAT POWER: THE STAN LEE STORY (MPI HOme Entertainment. $24.98): This documentary charts the story of the always modest and self-effacing Lee from his humble beginnings to his still-ongoing run as one of the leading lights of the comic book industry thanks to his help in the development of such iconic characters as Spider-Man, Hulk, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men and a whole bunch that you probably have never heard of before and never will until they eventually get the big-budget movie treatment. The big question--who is going to make the hammy cameo appearance here?

WOLF LAKE (E1 Entertainment. $39.98)
: One of the bigger flops of the 2001-2002 television season--after an avalanche of pre-broadcast hype, its debut was knocked aside by 9/11 and it only spent 5 weeks on the air before being yanked--this horror-drama about a cop (Lou Diamond Phillips) who tracks his missing girlfriend (Mia Kirshner) to her hometown and discovers some shocking lycanthrope-related secrets involving the populace has finally hit DVD, presumably in an attempt to lure viewers about to go into permanent "Twilight" withdrawal. Fans of the show--such people presumably still exist--will be somewhat dismayed to discover that, to quote the package, "Episodes may be edited from their original network versions. Music has been changed for this home entertainment version." On the other hand, the show does feature a young and dewy Mary Elizabeth Winstead in its cast, so it has that going for it, which is good. Other TV-related titles now available include "All in the Family: The Complete Series" (Shout! Factory. $199.99), "Chuck: The Complete Series" (Warner Home Video. $179.98), "Copper: Season One" (BBC America. $49.98), "Entourage: The Complete Series" (HBO Home Entertainment. $299.95) and "Law & Order: The Eleventh Year" (Shout! Factory. $36.98).

YOUR SISTER'S SISTER (MPI Home Entertainment. $24.98): Still reeling from the death of his brother a year earlier, Jack (Mark Duplass) goes off to spend a week alone at the cabin belong to the family of his best friend, Iris (Emily Blunt). Turns out that Iris' sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) had the same idea after breaking up with her girlfriend and turns up as well. What happens from this point is left for you to find out--suffice it to say, things get complicated, even more so when Iris herself shows up as well. Although the film has all the trappings of another mumblecore monstrosity--Duplass is a regular in that particular subgenre and it was written and directed by Lynn Shelton, the woman behind "Humpday"--it is much better than what one has come to expect from such movies, largely thanks to the efforts of Blunt and DeWitt.


360 (Magnolia Home Entertainment. $26.98)


BEACHES (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $20.00)

THE BRAIN (Olive Films. $24.98)

THE CLIENT (Warner Home Video. $19.98)

GUYS AND DOLLS (Warner Home Video. $34.99)



THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $19.95)

THE PACT (MPI Home Entertainment. $24.98)

PATTON (Fox Home Entertainment. $24.99)

RASHOMON (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)

SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99)

SUNSET BOULEVARD (Paramount Home Video. $26.98)

SWEET HOME ALABAMA (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $20.00)

VON RYAN'S EXPRESS (Fox Home Entertainment. $24.99)

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originally posted: 11/12/12 10:32:10
last updated: 11/12/12 15:01:40
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