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DVD Reviews For 1/21: " If I'm Not Grounded Pretty Soon, I'm Gonna Go Into Orbit."
by Peter Sobczynski

As this first full DVD/Blu-Ray column of 2013 is running a few days late, I will skip over the intro that you most likely never bother to read anyway and let you get to the good stuff, such as it is. . .


30 NIGHTS OF PARANORMAL ACTIVITY WITH THE DEVIL INSIDE THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (Fox Home Entertainment. $22.98): Putting the "Holy shit!" in "Holy shit, this is bad even by crappy movie parody standards!," this spoof of found-footage horror movies and anything else that was either popular or presumed to be popular during the two or three days when it was being filmed (though in hindsight, my guess is that the filmmakers might now rethink at least the preponderance of jokes inspired by "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Killer") is not only the second such movie to debut so far in 2013, following "A Haunted House" by a few days, but it is actually manages to be the lesser of the two despite using many of the same jokes. If you know anyone who actually spent any money to see this, even as a rental, cut your losses and never speak to them again--you will be glad that you did.

ARCHER: SEASON THREE (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): On the other hand, if you want to see something comedic that is actually, you know, funny, look no further than this set of episodes from the third season of the hilarious animated spy spoof currently airing on FX. The first episode alone, in which the clueless secret agent meets his ultimate manly ideal, Burt Reynolds (voiced, in a brilliant stroke of casting, by Burt Reynolds), and is then horrified when his hero starts putting the moves on his mother, is quite possibly the funniest thing I saw on TV last year that did not include the words "Community," "Happy," "Endings" or "Rock" in the title. Other TV-related titles now available include "Anger Management: Season One" (Liongate Home Entertainment. $29.98), "Dallas: The Complete 1st Season" (Warner Home Video. $39.98), "Enlightened: The Complete First Season" (HBO Home Entertainment. $39.98), "The Goode Family" (Shout! Factory. $22.97), "The Jackson 5ive: The Complete Animated Series" (Classic Media. $29.99), "Life's Too Short: The Complete First Season" (HBO Home Entertainment. $29.98) and "Smash Season One" (Universal Home Entertainment. $59.98).

BORIS KARLOFF TRIPLE FEATURE (Warner Archives. $19.99): Although Karloff is, of course, best remembered today as one of the true icons of horror films, he made plenty of films outside of the genre--especially in the earlier years of his career before he eventually became typecast--and this set of rarities from the Warner Brothers vaults unleashes three of them on DVD for the first time. In the somewhat ethnically questionable "West of Shanghai" (1937), directed by John Farrow, he plays a cruel Chinese warlord holding a group of Americans prisoner in a mission. Karloff reunited with Farrow the next year for "The Invisible Menace," in which he played an unjustly accused ex-con suspected by Army brass of killing the man who framed him. Karloff's bad luck with incarceration continues in 1939's "Devil's Island," which finds him playing a French doctor thrown into the titular penal colony after being falsely tried and convicted on charges of treason.

COMPLIANCE (Magnolia Home Entertainment. $26.98): Inspired by a true story, this creepy and controversial drama follows what happens when a middle-aged fast-food restaurant manager (Ann Dowd) receives a call from a cop claiming that one of her pretty young employees (Dreama Walker) has stolen money from a customer and insisting that she follow his increasingly off-putting interrogation suggestions over the course of one long day. While the film does sometimes straddle the line between thought-provoking drama and outright exploitation a little too closely at times, it is mostly an engrossing and enraging work featuring strong and brave performances from Dowd, Walker and as the voice on the phone who has more than a few secrets of his own. That said, if you are looking for a cheerful and life-affirming movie--maybe something to watch on a first date--you should probably give this one a wide berth and find something a little happier, such as virtually any other movie ever made in the entire history of the cinema.

FAREWELL MY QUEEN (Cohen Media Group. $24.98): In his latest film, French filmmaker Benoit Jacquot does the seemingly impossible: he takes a story that most viewers will be familiar with--the end days of the the reign of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and the dawn of the French Revolution--and finds a new angle at which to approach it. Utilizing a take that will remind some of the likes of "Upstairs Downstairs" or "Gosford Park," Jacquot takes us on a tour of Versailles through the eyes of Sidonie (Lea Seydoux), a servant who has earned herself a certain position of privilege as the favorite reader of Marie Antoinette (Diane Kruger) herself. However, despite her relative prominence among her fellow workers, Versailles isn't all that it is cracked up to be--the furnishing are getting a bit on the tatty side and a gondola trip is likely to unveil dead rats in the water--and as the film opens, rumors begin to sweep the palace about some sort of unpleasantness at the Bastille. Shooting on location at Versailles itself, Jacquot does an excellent job of recreating those confused final days as rumors make the rounds, subjects and employees alike flee in droves and Sidonie rudely discovers just how important and valuable she is to the Queen for whom she has pledged her love and loyalty. In addition, there are excellent performances to be had from rising star Seydoux , Kruger and Virginie Ledoyen (as a duchess who shares a special and much-rumored friendship with Marie) and you have a fascinating inside look at the collapse of an empire of privileged excess of the likes that may never be seen again.

FRANKENWEEENIE (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $29.99): For his latest experiment in stop-motion animation, Tim Burton expanded his 1984 live-action short film, a gentle riff on "Frankenstein" in which a smart young boy brings his beloved pet dog back to life after a terrible accident, into a full-length feature and the end result is easily the most engaging and entertaining thing that he has done in years--a delightful work that finds a perfect balance between spoof, homage and straightforward storytelling that will satisfy old-school genre buffs and younger generations of viewers in equal measure. WIth the possible exception of the similarly-themed "Paranorman," this was the best animated film of 2012 and is almost a shoo-in to win Burton his first Oscar in a few weeks for Best Animated Feature. FOr the curious, the original short (which was never theatrically released after it scored a PG rating from the MPAA, scuttling Disney's plans to show it before their 1984 re-release of "Pinocchio") appears on the Blu-Ray as one of the bonus features, along with a new short (an expansion of a hilarious bit from the film) and behind-the-scenes looks at how the film itself was brought to life.

GAME CHANGE (HBO Home Entertainment. $19.97): Having previously recounted the complications surrounding the 2000 presidential election in dramatic fashion for cable subscribers with "Recount," director Jay Roach and screenwriter Danny Strong return to the genre for this behind-the-scenes look at the tumult that enveloped the 2008 presidential campaign of John McCain after he chose the then-unknown Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate. The story is fascinating, of course, but the film is not very successful at conveying any of that--too much of the dialogue is of the hitting-the-nail-on-the-head nature and even unrepentant liberals may find it to be too slanted for their tastes. That said, Julianne Moore, while no Tina Fey, does an excellent job at playing Palin--even pulling off the considerable task of making her more sympathetic than one might expect--and pretty much deserves all the accolades that she has received for her performance.

HIT & RUN (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): If you are in the mood to see a current Oscar nominee for Best Actor humiliate himself in a crummy B-movie mess, you may enjoy this obnoxious car chase comedy with Dax Shepard as a member of the witness relocation program who breaks from it in order to get his girlfriend (Kristen Bell) to a job interview and Bradley Cooper as the former criminal cohort in hot pursuit. For everyone else, this is loud, unpleasant, gross, occasionally racist and, aside from a few impressive automotive stunts (done without the use of CGI), largely devoid of anything resembling genuine entertainment value.

HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): If you are in the mood to see a current Oscar nominee for Best Actress humiliate herself in a crummy, B-movie mess, you may enjoy this dopey thriller starring Jennifer Lawrence as as a sullen teen who moves to a new town and discovers that the house next door is inhabited by a loner whose sister apparently killed their parents before vanishing without a trace. Naturally, she falls for the guy but then uncovers a couple of horrifying secrets that put her. . .ah, who cares. Actually, Lawrence is pretty good in this--if nothing else, she proves herself to be the kind of actress strong enough to elevate weak material all by herself--but the rest of it is basically a rip-off of any number of famous films of its type put together in the laziest manner imaginable.

THE INBETWEENERS (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $26.98): Brits, twits and. . .oh, you know. . .are the focus of this ribald big-screen spinoff of the raunchy English TV series in which the quartet of horny high schoolers head off to a secluded Greek island for summer vacation and have misadventures described by the MPAA as containing "strong crude and sexual content, some graphic nudity, language, alcohol and brief drug use." In other words, it sounds like either One Direction on tour or the kind of DVD likely to be found on One Direction's tour bus.

THE JAZZ SINGER (Warner Home Video. $35.99): While its place in cinema history for being the first feature film to incorporate synchronized sound into what had previously been a silent medium is secure, the inescapable truth about this 1927 melodrama, the old chestnut about a cantor's son (Al Jolson) torn between pleasing his father by following in his footsteps and breaking his heart by going off to pursue his dream of a show business career, is that it is not an especially great movie and anyone who still blindly considers it to be a classic clearly hasn't seen it in several decades. Nevertheless, it does still serve as an important historical work if nothing else and it certainly looks and sounds better than it probably ever has in its existence in its Blu-Ray debut. That said, the real interest here are the two supplemental DVDs (ported over from the original DVD release and not upgraded) that contain a feature-length documentary on how Hollywood made the transition from silents to talkies and several hours worth of musical and comedy short subjects produced by Vitaphone in the early days of sound films, many of which serve as the only record in existence of many of the vaudeville acts that would soon be drummed out of business for good by talking pictures.

THE POSSESSION (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $29.95): the bad news is that this is not the jaw-dropping 1981 supernatural psychodrama with Isabelle Adjani and Sam Neill that found acclaim on the art-house circuit last year. The good news is that it is also neither the dull Gwyneth Paltrow literary drama or the duller and long-forgotten Sarah Michelle Gellar "thriller." This was one of 2012's numerous demonic possession extravaganzas--a little girl finds a mysterious box at a yard sale and things go hinky--and while the end results will not cause anyone to forget any of the "Exorcist" movies (with the possible exception of the Renny Harlin one), it was certainly an improvement on such silliness as "The Devil Inside" and "The Apparition" and contains enough jolts to make it a reasonably satisfactory rental for fans of the genre, though it is unlikely to lure newcomers into the fold.

SAMSARA (MPI Home Entertainment. $27.98): In 1992, filmmaker Ron Fricke released "Baraka," a visually stunning compilation of images from around the world captured over a period of years in the glorious 70mm format. This follow-up offers more of the same--a look at images both natural and man-made that were filmed over a period of five years and in the increasingly rare 70mm format--and while some may complain that the point that Fricke seems to be making about the increasingly mechanized nature of society is undone by the fact that everything he shows is breathtaking to behold (the same complaint that befell the cult classic "Koyannasqatsi," which Fricke worked on as a cameraman), the sheer beauty of the imagery on display. Of course, not even the finest home entertainment system can begin to replicate the impact of seeing it on the screen but this Blu-Ray, presented in 8K UltraDigital HD, does come surprisingly close to hitting that mark.

SEAL TEAM SIX: THE RAID ON OSAMA BIN LADEN (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $19.98): If you were in the mood to see a film about the mission that successfully took down Osama bin Laden after a 10-year manhunt but didn't want to be distracted by any of that pesky artistry or dramatic ambiguity that Kathryn Bigelow brought to the material, perhaps you will enjoy this take on the story as seen through the eyes of director John Stockwell, the auteur of the likes of "Blue Crush," "Into the Deep" and "Turistas." Not surprisingly, the end result is but a pale shadow of "Zero Dark Thirty" but even if that film had never been made, this would still come across as a weak and cliched recounting of one of the most decisive military events of our lifetime that has all the dramatic weight of a lesser made-for-TV movie.

SLEEP TIGHT (MPI Home Entertainment. $24.98): 2012 was not a banner year for horror films by any stretch of the imagination but the latest work from Spanish director Jaume Balaguero, the guy behind the found-footage "{Rec}" films, was one of the few that bucked the trend. In it, a seemingly mild-mannered apartment building doorman (Luis Tosar) is actually a borderline psycho with a perverse and secret fondness for making people as miserable as possible, especially the sweet and cheerful tenant Clara (Marta Etura). Balaguero is not exactly reinventing the wheel here but he spins his familiar premise off into fairly unnerving directions--aided in no small part by the impressive performance by Tosar as the Bizarro World version of Carlton--and if nothing else, watching it will all but guarantee that you remember to tip your doorman adequately from now on.

STOLEN (Millennium Films. $19.98): It is no secret that Nicolas Cage has spent the last few years squandering his talents on an increasingly silly string of lame-ass genre films that now barely see the light of day in theaters before being rush-released to DVD and this one, in which he reunites with his "Con Air" director Simon West, is more of the same. This time around, he plays a master thief who is released from prison after taking part in a robbery in which $10 million seemingly disappeared. Believing he still has it, his nasty former partner kidnaps his estranged daughter and demands the loot in 12 hours in exchange for her. Turns out Cage really doesn't have it and he is forced to plan an execute another big-scale theft in that time while trying to evade the federal agents who also think he is hiding the money. And with that, I have now expended more time, energy and thought on the plot of this nonsense than anyone actually involved with it apparently did to judge from the utterly laughable end results.

TAKEN 2 (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): Liam Neeson throat-punches his way through Istanbul to this sequel to the 2009 surprise hit that made him the unlikeliest action star in recent memory. Actually, the film is not so much a sequel as it is a remake--it so closely matches the original at times that it feels as if producer/co-writer Luc Besson merely mimeographed the earlier screenplay and replaced Paris with Istanbul is the stage directions--and as a result, it lacks the surprise that helped to make the first one so successful. That said, Neeson is still a badass and there is enough craziness on display, especially the manner in which he maps out his location using tools rarely found in a cartographer's toolbox, to make it reasonably palatable for fans of the genre.

THE TIN DRUM (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): I have always been of two minds regarding this generally acclaimed 1979 adaptation of the Gunter Grass novel about a little boy in Twenties-era Germany who makes a conscious decision on his third birthday to stop growing as his form of protest at the combination of madness and passivity amongst his fellow countrymen that will eventually lead to the horror of WWII. On the one hand, the book was deeply allegorical in nature and in transferring it from the page to the screen, director Volker Schlodorff never quite figures out a way to keep the material from coming across as heavy-handed and since it clocks in at 163 minutes, the whole thing eventually grows kind of monotonous after a while. On the other hand, as movies based on theoretically unfilmable novels go, this is an impressively mounted work that is probably the best possible adaptation of this particular source material. For its Blu-Ray debut, the film is being presented in a new cut clocking in at about 20 minutes longer than the original version (which was the co-winner of the 1979 Palme d'Or at Cannes along with a little thing called "Apocalypse Now") and includes and interview with Schlondorff about the film and the creation of this new iteration. While I cannot say that I fully recommend the film as a whole, those with an interest in it should definitely check out this release, though those in Oklahoma should probably be careful when doing so.

TO ROME WITH LOVE (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): Woody Allen continues his cinematic word tour with this four-part Italy-based comedy telling the stories of the misadventures of a newlywed couple who get accidentally separated, a young architect (Jesse Eisenberg) advised on his romantic travails with his girlfriend (Greta Gerwig) and her best friend (Ellen Page) by his older self (Alec Baldwin), an ordinary guy (Roberto Benigni) who inexplicably becomes a media sensation over night and a would-be impresario (Allen) who discovers a singer with a voice made for opera and one very odd quirk. As a follow-up to the undeniably great "Midnight in Paris," this one is a little bit of a letdown that feels like a clearinghouse for ideas that Allen couldn't quite spin into feature length. Judged on its own merits, however, it is still a pretty good movie, especially by the standards of Allen's own admittedly uneven recent oeuvre, and contains enough solid laughs, engaging performances and lovely scenery to make it worth a look.

TWO-LANE BLACKTOP (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): One of the landmark films of the 1970's, Monte Hellman’s 1971 existential road movie classic features musicians James Taylor and Dennis Wilson as a pair of aimless drifters bombing the roads in a souped-up ‘55 Chevy, the gone-before-her-time Laurie Bird as the cute hitch-hiker who comes between them and Warren Oates as the middle-aged GTO driver who challenges them to a half-hearted cross-country drag race. For its Blu-Ray debut, Criterion presents a spiffed-up version of their already-stellar DVD with improved picture and sound and featuring a pair of commentaries (featuring Hellman, filmmaker/fan Allison Anders and screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer), interviews with Hellman (who finally emerged from his extended hiatus from filmmaking a couple of years ago with the intriguing "Road to Nowhere") and Taylor, outtakes, a copy of Wurlitzer’s screenplay (which was actually published by “Esquire” in advance of the film’s aborted release) and appreciations from fans Richard Linklater and Tom Waits.)

WON'T BACK DOWN (Fox Home Entertainment. $22.98): "Inspired by true events"--largely the desire of billionaire financier Phillip Anschutz to dismantle the institution of public education in favor of privatized charter schools that might help further the agendas of himself and others of his particular ilk--this bit of anti-union agitprop features Maggie Gyllenhaal as a harried mother who discovers the reason why the public school her daughter attends is failing her--those lazy teachers with their benefits, perks and tenure--and bands together with lone dedicated educator Viola Davis to fight the power and form their own school against all odds. My problem with the film is not that it is little more than propaganda or even that it is propaganda that I do not necessarily agree with but that it is badly-made propaganda in which the pertinent arguments have been reduced to such childish extremes--Unions Depraved And Evil/Charters Blameless And Holy--that it is impossible to take it or the message it is trying to put across for a second.


THE BONE COLLECTOR (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98)

CAPE FEAR (1962) (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98)

DREDD (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $29.98)

DRIVING MISS DAISY (Warner Home Video. $27.98)

EXPERIMENT IN TERROR (Twilight Time. $19.95)

FEAR (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98)

FRENCH KISS (Fox Home Entertainment. $16.99)

GENTLEMEN'S AGREEMENT (Fox Home Entertainment. $24.99)

GRAND HOTEL (Warner Home Video. $19.98)

HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (MGM Home Entertainment. $24.99)

HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (Fox Home Entertainment. $24.99)

JACK & DIANE (Magnolia Home Entertainment. $26.98)


MRS MINIVER (Warner Home Video. $19.98)

ONE FINE DAY (Fox Home Entertainment. $16.99)

OUR MAN FLINT (Twilight Time. $19.95)

SLEEPER (MGM Home Entertainment. $24.99)

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originally posted: 01/22/13 08:02:48
last updated: 01/27/13 06:06:37
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