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DVD Reviews For 3/24: "Your Arms Were Quicksand. Your Kiss Was Death"
by Peter Sobczynski

In the latest roundup of titles newly available on DVD/Blu-Ray, you will find two of the best films of 2012 and a few of the worst, a couple of all-time masterworks making their Blu-Ray debuts and a shameless plug for a friend. Enjoy!


BADLANDS (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): It is interesting to note that within a few weeks of each other in the spring of 1973, two of America's most celebrated filmmakers--Terrence Malick and Steven Spielberg--would make their first feature films with road movies about young couples on the run from the police. Spielberg's version, "Sugarland Express," was highly impressive but Malick's impressionistic take on the multi-state killing spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate, which terrified the nation in 1959, was an instant masterpiece and remains one of the greatest directorial debuts in the history of American cinema and even after four decade, it remains a powerful viewing experience thanks to Malick's fully-formed cinematic style and the haunting performances by Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek in the lead roles. Long available only in a bare-bones DVD, it makes its Blu-Ray debut via Criterion in an edition featuring a gorgeous new 4K transfer, a making-of documentary featuring new interviews with Sheen and Spacek, additional interviews with producer Edward Pressman and editor Billy Weber and a Starkweather-centered episode of the 1993 television series "American Justice"--the end result is an essential presentation of one of the essential films.

THE BLOB (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): A then-unknown Steve McQueen leads a group of some of the oldest teenagers you'll ever see into battle against a gelatinous creature from outer space bent on destroying Earth in this undeniably silly but hugely entertaining 1958 sci-fi schlock masterpiece. Proving that they are committed to celebrating all the meats of the cinematic stew--even the variety ones in this case--the folks at Criterion may well have spent more to bring this film into the digital age via a new digital restoration than was spent to produce it in the first place and have sweetened the deal by porting over the extras from their old DVD edition, including two commentary tracks featuring producer Jack H. Harris, director Irvin Yeaworth Jr., co-star Robert Fields and film scholar/Blob fanatic Bruce Eder and a still gallery featuring hundreds of Blob-related stills, posters, prop photos and the like.

CIRQUE DE SOLEIL: WORLDS APART (Paramount Home Video. $29.99): For those of you who want to experience the questionable joy of watching goofs twirl through the air on giant rubber bands but don't want to actually be seen in public doing it, you may be interested in the group's attempt to transfer their popularity from the stage to the big screen via a vehicle that offers highlights from some of their most popular programs with the added attraction of 3-D photography presented under the supervision of none other than James Cameron himself. For everyone else, the film's flaws are twofold. For starters, instead of simply presenting the performances, writer-director Andrew Adamson has instead elected to try to tie them all together via a spectacularly uninteresting framing device involving a young woman who meets a mysterious aerialist at a traveling circus and travels through a number of fantasy worlds in pursuit of him. (Put it this way--"Carny," this is not.) The bigger problem is that whatever excitement that the live show generates by seeing the performers going through their often-astonishing paces right before your eyes simply does not translate to the medium of film and the whole thing soon grows kind of monotonous, though those thrilled by the notion of watching 3-D close-ups fabulous and incredibly flexible minxes in tiny outfits contorting themselves into outrageous positions might disagree. It may satisfy fans of Cirque de Soleil, but more casual observers are liable to feel as if it has merely left them hanging.

FEMALE TEACHER/FAIRY IN THE CAGE (Impulse Pictures. $19.95 each): The good folks at the video label dedicated to presenting the strangest and most perverse films imaginable has certainly raised the bar (among other things) with these incredibly sleazy examples of Japanese sexploitation. In the former, a comely teacher at a new school tries to solve the mystery of who sexually assaulted her in the locker room following tennis practice using only a single puzzle piece as a clue. Could it have been one of the two students who sexually assaulted her a few days later as revenge for cutting a friend from the tennis team? I won't tell but I will say that you will need a shower yourself after this one, preferably of the Karen Silkwood variety. In the later, an innocent young lass and a kabuki performer in World War II-era Japan are captured by a deranged judge and put through an endless array of physical, emotional and sexual tortures. I wouldn't necessarily say that either one is any good by conventional standards--at least not in polite mixed company--but if you do have a taste for kinky cinema of this type, these may indeed be right up your dark and disturbing alley

HITCHCOCK (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99): My choice for the single worst film of 2012, this singularly irritating pseudo-biopic takes one of the most fascinating tales in the history of American cinema--the making of Alfred Hitchcock's taboo-shattering horror masterpiece "Psycho" and how it literally changed the film industry forever--and transforms it into an empty-headed, factually inaccurate and historically uncurious craptacular in which the tale has been reconceived as a "Shakespeare in Love" knockoff centering on the relationship between Hitchcock (an embarrassingly hammy Anthony Hopkins buried under unconvincing makeup) and his long-suffering wife (Helen Mirren) that bears virtually no existence to or interest in their real and fascinating relationship. Other than a surprisingly effective turn by Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, this is pretty much a failure on every possible level and the fact that it failed to garner any of the Oscar nominations it was clearly gunning for is the only good news to take away from it. Also now available is "The Girl"(HBO Home Video. $19.98), another docudrama featuring Hitchcock at work, this time focusing on the increasingly twisted relationship that developed between the director (Toby Jones) and aspiring actress Tippi Hedren (Sienna Miller) over the course of the two movies that they made together, "The Birds" (in which she spent a week being pelted with real birds for a key sequence) and "Marnie" (in which he allegedly propositioned her and vowed to destroy her career when she turned him down). This one isn't that great either but at least it seems a little more interested in Hitchcock as a person and as an artist and the performances by Jones and Miller are both pretty good as well.

IN THEIR SKIN (IFC Films. $24.98):In yet another unpleasant home-invasion thriller in which a family finds itself under siege from attackers for unknown reasons, Selma Blair and Joshua Close (who also wrote the screenplay) play a Yuppie couple who have recently suffered a tragedy and who, along with their young son, retreat to their remote home in the country for a few days to get away with it all. The morning after they arrive, they meet their seemingly friendly neighbors (James D'Arcy and Rachel Miner) and invite them and their son to dinner that night and inevitably, things quickly go bad as the neighbors reveal that they are not exactly who they appear to be. Essentially, the film is just another 90-minute sample of physical and emotional torture and while director Jeremy Power Regimbal keeps things moving along in a reasonably slick and efficient manner--aided in no small part by the talented cast--but other than the specific twist involving the motives of the invaders and a very weird coda, this just feels like what "Funny Games" might have been like without the artistry or audacity that Michael Haneke brought to the material.

LES MISERABLES (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Adapted from the long-running musical extravaganza based on the beloved Victor Hugo novel, "Les Miserables" tells the heart-rending tale of a promising dentist who is tragically reduced to having to remove and sell the teeth of a filthy prostitute (who was no doubt asking for it) in order to make a humble living. Okay, maybe it isn't exactly like that--I too the above from the sample review that I sent in as part of my application to CNN--but trust me, it sounds better than the lumbering monstrosity brought forth by inexplicably celebrated hack filmmaker Tom Hooper, his endlessly tilting cameras and a cast ranging from the decent (Anne Hathaway did deserve her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her rendition of the famous show-stopper "I Dreamed A Dream" and newcomer Samantha Barks makes such a strong impression in her few scenes that when she finally disappears, even those who like the movie will find it sagging as a result) to the awful (Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried are so boring as the couple whose misadventures fuel much of the second half that it can be said that they truly deserve each other) to the hilariously miscast (Russell Crowe was far more convincing in "The Man with the Iron Fists" than he is here as Inspector Javert). If you adored the film--such people do apparently exist--the Blu-Ray will thrill you with such extras as a commentary from Hooper and numerous featurettes devoted to the book, the making of the film and the decision to have all the actors sing their parts live, no doubt in homage to "At Long Last Love." If you hated the film. . .well, you aren't reading this thing anyway, so let us press on.

THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Hailed by many as the greatest British movie ever made (or at least runner-up to "Sex Lives of the Potato Men"), this 1943 masterpiece by the legendary duo of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger charts Britain's bumpy history over the first four decades of the 20th century through the eyes of a soldier (Roger Livesey) as he rises in rank, attempts to find a replacement for the love he let get away (Deborah Kerr in three different roles) and bears witness to to the loss of civility in both the military and the world at large. Deeply controversial in its home country when it first came out for criticizing the military in the midst of World War II and chopped by and hour and wildly restructured for its initial American release (it would eventually be returned to its original length and structure in 1983), the film is just as funny, tragic, knowing and entertaining today as one could possibly hope and looks better than ever thanks to the 4K restoration prepared by the Film Foundation in 2012. For its Blu-Ray debut, Criterion has included all the supplements from its earlier DVD incarnation, a choice collection including a commentary from the late Powell and acolyte Martin Scorsese (the latter also provides an introduction to the film and a demonstration of the restoration process), a 2000 documentary on the history of the film, galleries of production stills and the original Colonel Blimp cartoons that inspired the film and a newly filmed interview with Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese's longtime editor and Powell's widow. A must-own.

LIFE OF PI (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): Many doubted that Yann Martel's best-selling novel, recounting the alternately harrowing and inspirational journey of a young Indian man named Pi who survives a horrifying shipwreck and finds himself stranded at sea in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger who was the only other survivor, could ever be filmed properly but Ang Lee managed to transform it into a worldwide hit and even managed to beat odds-on favorite Steven Spielberg for this year's Best Director Oscar. Too bad that the movie itself is such a drag--although visually spectacular (with one of the most impressive deployments of the miracle of 3-D to date, though only those with 3-D Blu-Ray players will be able to get the full effect), the story itself is such a painful load of symbolic horseshit that it defies belief that so many could have fallen for it. Still, it is such a visual marvel that I suppose that it deserves to be seen at least once and if you turn the sound off entirely, so much the better.

THE MOB DOCTOR: THE COMPLETE SERIES (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): This Chicago-set melodrama about a spunky young woman (Jordana Spiro) who spends half her time fighting the good fight as a surgeon at a top-notch hospital and the other half working surreptitiously for a local mob boss (William Forsythe) in order to protect her idiot kid brother (well, she is from the South Side, which only partially explains it) was one of the dumbest concepts for a television show in recent memory (at least until that "Do No Harm" nonsense) and it was no surprise that it was cancelled after only a few weeks in the wake of horrible reviews and viewer apathy. However, I do want to highlight the DVD release of the entire 13-episode run because in episode 3, "Change of Heart," you will spot my friend and former colleague in the UIC theatre department, Tin Penavic, in the role of the younger version of the Forsythe character. Hopefully, some casting agent will see him there and hire him to appear in my long-gestating spec script "Out For Justice: The Early Years" and all of our dreams will come true. Other TV-related titles now available include "Jersey Shore: The Sixth and Final Season" (Paramount Home Video. $29.99), "Law & Order: Criminal Intent--The Final Year" (Shout! Factory. $29.93) and "Quincy M.E.: Season 5" (Shout! Factory. $39.97).

(Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): On paper, the premise of this film--a chronicle of the tempestuous romance that develops between a self-centered and emotionless lunk who all but ignores his young son while trying to make it as a professional kickboxer and a sexy killer whale trainer forced to reevaluate her entire life after she loses both her legs in a terrible accident at work--makes it sound like either an exceptionally hideous Nicolas Sparks epic or a parody of an exceptionally hideous Nicolas Sparks epic. There is no way that a movie like this should work but this one does beautifully thanks to the powerful, irony-free manner in which Audriad (who previously helmed the acclaimed "The Beat My Heart Skipped" and "A Prophet") handles the material, the strong and risky performance by Matthias Schoenaerts as the bruiser antihero and, most notably, the astounding work from Marion Cotillard, the best of her not-too-shabby career to date, as his legless lover--she is so firmly committed to the character that even though we instinctively know that we are watching special effects at work in the scenes involving her missing limbs, she makes the illusion come across as completely convincing.

SAMSON & DELILAH (Paramount Home Video. $19.99): Cecil B. DeMille put Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr (not Hedley) through their paces in this jumbo-sized recounting of the Bible's most famous haircut that was the most popular film of 1949. Today, however, the whole thing is pretty silly and outside of the amusing fact that this was the film that DeMille was seen shooting during his cameo appearance in the somewhat better regarded "Sunset Boulevard," it is perhaps best remembered today for inspiring one of the all-time great Hollywood one-liners; asked what he thought of the film by DeMille following its premiere, Groucho Marx reportedly responded "Well, there's just one problem, C.B. No picture can hold my interest where the leading man's tits are bigger than the leading lady's."

THIS IS 40 (Universal Home Entertainment. $30.99): And no matter what you might think of that Groucho quote, it is infinitely more amusing than virtually anything in the latest overlong hymn to self-absorption from the increasingly less interesting Judd Apatow in which the supporting characters from "Knocked Up" played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann take center stage. As they go through their resoundingly uninteresting and unsympathetic problems (they whine endlessly about money woes yet throw themselves lavish catered birthday parties and go off on spa weekends on a moments notice), it becomes more and more clear that there was no one around to convince Apatow that this effort lacked the wit and heart of his earlier successes and was coming off as little more than an elaborate home movie (even his two children have prominent supporting roles) designed to assuage Mann, his real-life wife, that she is indeed the funniest, sexiest and most wonderful woman ever to walk the planet. Other than Albert Brooks, who is aces as always as Rudd's father, the funniest person in the film, oddly enough, is Megan Fox, who is legitimately hilarious in a supporting role as one of the employees of Mann's failing business. I am almost tempted to say that this character deserves her own movie, as long as they could get someone besides Apatow to handle it, of course.

THIS MUST BE THE PLACE (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $29.95): Okay, so maybe the idea of a film about a reclusive goth rock legend who returns to America to reconcile with his dying father and, failing that, decides to avenge him by tracking down the Nazi war criminal that he had spent decades trying to find just doesn't sound goofy enough for your delicate sensibilities. Well then, what do you think about the idea of casting the role of the Robert Smith/Elie Weisel hybrid central character with no less of a presence than the one and only Sean Penn? Yeah, I thought so. Odd that this film credits something like sixteen different producers and not one of them could figure out that putting Penn in such a part could only result in the kind of unintentionally hilarious disaster that came and went through theaters last fall.

TRISTANA (Cohen Media Group. $24.98): Following on the heels of their landmark collaboration on the classic "Belle du Jour," filmmaker Luis Bunuel and screen icon Catherine Deneuve reunited in 1970 for this equally perverse blend of sex, surrealism and bizarre black humor in which Deneuve plays a young woman who, following the death of her mother, is sent off to live with older guardian Fernando Rey. Before long, the seemingly respectable man seduces her but she does not take this lying down and uses her allure to drive him into a constant state of jealous distraction. Although not quite as good as "Belle du Jour"--few films are--this lesser-known title from Bunuel's incredibly fertile late period is still a fascinating look at moral hypocrisy and sexual obsession, two subjects that the late director held near and dear to his heart. Although Bunuel passed away in 1983, Deneuve is still going strong in every possible way and that can be seen in the recently released "The Big Picture" (MPI Pictures. $24.98) an entertaining French thriller in which she plays the mentor to a young lawyer (Romain Duris) whose life is turned upside-down when he is forced to go on the run after being implicated in the murder of a free-spirited photojournalist whose freedom he secretly admired.

ZERO DARK THIRTY (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): chronicle of the decade-long CIA manhunt for Osama bin Laden will have to wait until then. What I can tell you is that for the first two hours, Bigelow and writer Mark Boal (whose previous collaboration was a little thing called "The Hurt Locker") have crafted a masterful procedural in the vein of "All the President's Men" and "Zodiac" that follows one dedicated analyst (another great performance from the increasingly invaluable Jessica Chastain) sifting through mountains of data and potential leads, not to mention doubt from her superiors, in pursuit of her quarry. For the final half-hour, they then recreate the raid on bin Laden's Pakistan compound in a manner that manages to be incredibly nerve-wracking even though the outcome is obviously a given. Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, this is a must-see of the highest order.


BACHELORETTE (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $24.98)

BROTHER BEAR/BROTHER BEAR II (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $39.99)

GORGO (VCI Entertainment. $19.99)



MINISTRY OF FEAR (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)

MULAN/MULAN II (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $39.99)

PORKY'S (Fox Home Entertainment. $16.99)

RISE OF THE GUARDIANS (Paramount Home Video. $29.99)

SMASHED (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99)

TIMERIDER (Shout! Factory. $19.93)

WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT? (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $26.50)

WILLOW (Fox Home Entertainment. $24.99)

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originally posted: 03/25/13 12:48:32
last updated: 03/26/13 02:02:09
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