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DVD Reviews For 4/24: "It Happens Sometimes. People Just Explode."
by Peter Sobczynski

Due to a series of personal and professional conflicts, topped off with a minor case of ebola, this column is so ridiculously overdue that I almost hesitate to mention its lateness. Nevertheless, here is a roundup of titles from the last few weeks that you have probably checked out already if you are truly hep. Anyway, sorry for the tardiness and hopefully everything will get back to normal.


DJANGO UNCHAINED (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $29.99): Part spaghetti western, part romance, part blaxploitation homage, part delicious comedy, part over-the-top gorefest and part crackpot history lesson of a subject too often ignored or glossed over by Hollywood, it is doubtful that there is any other filmmaker, past or present, other than Tarantino who would have even attempted to pull together such a weird and potentially volatile mix of ingredients into the same film and if there was, it is even more doubtful that they could have pulled off such an audacious feat as well as he has. As the freed slave-turned-bounty hunter doggedly trying to track down his still-enslaved wife and his wily mentor, Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz (who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance) make for a wonderful du while Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson are alternately hilarious and horrifying as the chief villains, a theoretically genteel plantation owner and the house Negro willing to sell out his fellow slaves in an instant. Throw in a complex and nervy examination of the horrors of slavery (which has inevitably inspired all sorts of criticism from observers, though not all of them apparently bothered to see the film before griping about it), nimbly executed action scenes and plenty of chances for Tarantino to display his flair for colorful and memorable dialogue (which earned him a second Oscar for Best Original Screenplay) and you have a film that is both outrageous and outrageously entertaining. Tarantino fans might also want to check out "Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Pictures Triple Feature" (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $14.98), a triple-bill of Seventies-era exploitation films that he reissued theatrically in the wake of his "Pulp Fiction" success--the "King Kong" ripoff "Mighty Peking Man," the blaxploitation cop thriller "Detroit 9000" and the simply indescribable "Switchblade Sisters."

HEMINGWAY & GELLHORN (HBO Home Entertainment. $19.97): The perennially underrated filmmaker Philip Kaufman--the man behind such brilliant works as the 1978 version of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "The Right Stuff," "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," "Henry & June" and "Quills"--moved to the more hospitable realm of cable television for his latest effort, a historical drama chronicling the tempestuous romance of famed writer Ernest Hemingway (Clive Owen) and war correspondent Martha Gellhorn (Nicole Kidman), a relationship that provided just as much conflict as any of the famous battle that they covered. It is a shame that Kaufman, like such fellow directors as David Mamet and Steven Soderbergh, has been forced to move to the small screen in order to make the more adult-oriented projects that he prefers to do but the big screen's loss is HBO's gain because this is a smart, sexy and highly entertaining work that might have found itself a serious Oscar contender had it been given a chance. For the special features, Kaufman and longtime editor Walter Murch provide a worthwhile audio commentary and there are behind-the-scenes featurettes chronicling the making of the film and how it achieved its recreations of famous past events.

HUDSON HAWK/HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE (Mill Creek. $9.98): When it was released in the summer of 1991, the bizarre caper comedy "Hudson Hawk" was roundly dismissed by critics and audiences alike as a bloated vanity vehicle for star/co-producer Bruce Willis and it quickly disappeared from theaters after recovering only a fraction of its enormous budget as a result. Well, I am gonna tell you what I have been telling people for the last 22 years--those naysayers were wrong and "Hudson Hawk" is a hilarious bit of charmingly weird post-modern comedy that is closer in spirit to a live-action "Bullwinkle" cartoon than the expensive and incoherent spectacles that it was spoofing. Besides, any movie that contains the line "But I want to do community service. I want to teach the handicapped how to yodel" is aces in my book. Just watch it and I guarantee that you will be laughing from start to finish and if you don't, then there is something seriously wrong with you. As for "Hollywood Homicide," which also appears on this bargain-priced Blu-Ray--okay, that one still sucks.

HYDE PARK ON HUDSON (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): When it was announced that Bill Murray would be tackling the seemingly unlikely role of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, most people dismissed the news as some kind of weird joke and could not imagine how such a thing could possibly work. Well, his performance is actually surprisingly credible but it is the only thing that works in this otherwise shockingly banal mishmash that find him at his weekend getaway in upstate New York one weekend in 1939 as he juggles visits from the king of England, who wishes to enlist the U.S. into lending support against the increasing aggressions of Axis forces and his distant cousin/current mistress (Laura Linney). The result is a mess of clashing tones (serious drama, wistful romance and bawdy comedy among them) that never come together at all and while Murray at least makes it slightly endurable, even he cannot save it in the end.

JOHN DIES IN THE END (Magnolia Home Entertainment. $29.98): Thanks to the likes of "Phantasm," "The Beastmaster" and the immortal "Bubba Ho Tep," filmmaker Don Coscarelli is already firmly ensconced in the midnight movie firmament. With this adaptation of David Wong's cult novel, in which a couple of college dropouts investigate the appearance of a mysterious new drug and discover that it is the creation of an alien race using it to help with a full-scale invasion of Earth, he tries to do it again but this effort comes up somewhat short--it starts off brilliantly but it goes on for far too long and eventually degenerates into complete confusion. Still, it is ambitious and perhaps readers of the book will get more out of it than I did. Oh, by the way--Spoiler Alert! on the title.

KNUCKLEBALL (MPI Home Entertainment. $24.98): The strangest pitch in baseball finally gets its due in this documentary that follows knuckleballers R.A. Dickey and Tim Wakefield throughout the course of the 2011 baseball season and offers further details into its history through the eyes of the other pitchers who were able to master it. Obviously this is a film that has been made for a select group but those who belong to it are likely to find this an engrossing exploration of one of baseball's most mysterious elements.

LINCOLN (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $29.99): After talking it up for years, Steven Spielberg finally got around to making his long-awaited film about our 16th president and while the approach may have been unusual--instead of a full biopic, Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner instead chose to concentrate on the brief period in early 1865 in which he attempted, by any means necessary, to pass an amendment outlawing slavery before the fast-arriving ending of the Civil War--the end result was pretty much expected; a noble-but-dull history lesson that wants to run counter to the mythical Lincoln seen in history books and films like "Young Mr. Lincoln" but which eventually succumbs to that very impulse. As Lincoln, Daniel Day-Lewis is technically impressive but Tommy Lee Jones and James Spader pretty much steal the entire enterprise with their far-more-engaging supporting turns. As Spielberg-related historical epics go, it is certainly better than the dreadful "War Horse" but once the hype has dissipated, I suspect that it will fade from memory as quickly as that one has.

MONSIEUR VERDOUX (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Although his career was rocked by the transition from silent films to talkies, Charles Chaplin was still an enormously popular performer when he came up with the shockingly atypical 1947 film--a pitch-black comedy about a mild-mannered man who marries and murders a string of rich widows, ostensibly to provide for his family but largely because he sees himself as an extension of the increasingly violent and amoral world around him. Needless to say, audiences did not take to either the film or the complex moral questions that it raised, it was an enormous flop and within five years would be essentially exiled from the United States for nearly 20 years after being deemed anti-American and a communist. Chaplin himself considered it to be perhaps his best film and I have to agree with him on that--watching him cheerfully pulverize his beloved screen image through dark humor (including a hilarious sequence in which he struggles to bump off new wife Martha Raye that is among the highlights of his career) in order to make his point about where he saw the world heading is fascinating to behold and his approach was so far ahead of its time that the film feels fresher than anything currently playing at you local multiplex. A must-see.

A MONSTER IN PARIS (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $14.97): No, this was not an alternate title to "Monsieur Verdoux." Instead, this is an animated feature from France, set in 1910 Paris, in which a young inventor, his best pal and a wacky pet monkey discover a friendly creature in the rising floodwaters and try to protect him from an ambitious politician who wants to capture it in order to further his own career. TThe whole thing is kind of silly but it has a nice visual style, a few good laughs and it is nowhere near as oppressive or annoying as most of the recent deluge of animated entertainments. Additionally, it features the dulcet tones of Vanessa Paradis on the soundtrack and that is always a good thing in my book.

NAKED LUNCH (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): For decades, it was believed that the infamous 1959 William Burroughs novel was truly unfilmable--any straightforward adaptation of the hallucinatory text would have required an astronomical budget to bring it to the screen and most likely would have been banned in virtually every civilized country in the world. In bringing it to the screen, David Cronenberg--perhaps the only working filmmaker at the time whose artistic sensibilities were a match for Burroughs--instead created an equally bizarre melange of bits from the book mixed in with other elements taken from Burroughs work and life that does an astonishingly good job of translating his voice into cinematic terms. Darkly funny, deeply freaky and filled with jaw-dropping imagery, this was one of the strangest films released by a major studio in the Nineties and was arguably Cronenberg's finest film of the decade. For its Blu-Ray debut, Criterion has provided a spiffy new transfer and has ported over all the extras from their previously released DVD special edition, including a commentary from Cronenberg and star Peter Weller, an extensive making-of documentary from Chirs Rodley and an audio recording of Burroughs himself reading selected excerpts from his book.

PIERRE ETAIX (The Criterion Collection. $59.95): A French comedy filmmaker who has been compared to such masters of the form as Jacques Tati and Jerry Lewis, Etaix has languished in obscurity for years due to the unavailability of his films as the result of massive legal entanglements. At last, the red tape has been cut away and this set contains his five features--"The Suitor" (1963), "Yoyo" (1965), "As Long as You've Got Your Health" (1966), "Le Grand Amour" (1969) and "Land of Milk and Honey" (1971)--as well as three short subjects as well as introductions to the films by Etaix and a documentary on his life and work made by his wife, Odile Etaix. I have only just begun to dig into this two-disc set but what I have seen of Etaix's hilariously deadpan homages to silent comedy and his own experiences as a circus clown has been pretty much a total delight. I know that you have almost certainly never heard of Etaix but if there was ever a time to pick up something completely unawares and discover it for yourself, this is that title.

REPO MAN (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): One of the funniest and craziest films released (however ineptly) by a major studio during the Eighties, Alex Cox's brilliant 1984 debut follows the misadventures a disaffected suburban punk (Emilio Estevez) who becomes a car repossessor under the tutelage of a world-weary mentor (Harry Dean Stanton) and finds himself hunting down a 1964 Chevy Malibu with some very unusual cargo in its trunk. Politically astute, endlessly quotable, visually stunning and all set to one of the era's best soundtracks, this demented spin on the noir classic "Kiss Me Deadly" has lost none of its edge and remains as funny and strange as it was when it debuted nearly 30 years ago and yes, I feel ancient after having written those words. This edition ports over a previously issued audio commentary featuring Cox, executive producer Michael Nesmith (who funded the film with all his fat Liquid Paper money), casting director Victoria Thomas and co-stars Sy Richardson, Zander Schloss ad Del Zamora and also includes deleted scenes, new interviews with many of the participants, a discussion between producer Peter McCarthy and Stanton and, perhaps most entertaining of all, the inadvertently hilarious TV edit of the film that includes re-dubbed dialogue that is actually more offensive than the conventional obscenities it was meant to replace. (At one point, a pair of Hispanic repo men are now called "melon farmers" instead of "motherfuckers.") A must-own title for any self-respecting cult film fanatic.

SEXCULA (Impulse Entertainment. $24.98): For years, collectors of strange sexploitation films have been seeking out this 1974 fusion of horror and pornography from Canada--the only X-rated film made during that time by America's hat (and with government funding, no less) that was allegedly shown only once before disappearing. Finally, a print was discovered languishing in the Canadian archives and now the misadventures of Countess Sexcula (Debbie Collins) can be seen once again. The film is not scary at all and isn't even particularly sexy (though Collins' resemblance to adult film icon Marilyn Chambers is more than a tad disconcerting) but though with a taste for the weird will probably be happy to have their curiosity (and probably only their curiosity) satisfied at last. The DVD also includes liner notes from "Porn Archaeologist" Dimitrios Otis that amusingly covers the film's long and strange saga.

SEXY EVIL GENIUS (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $26.98): A group of strangers (including Seth Green, Michelle Trachtenberg and Harold Perrineau) turn up at an L.A. bar one night and discover that they all have something in common--a crazy ex-girlfriend (Katee Sackhoff) who has just gotten out of prison for killing another former lover and who has gathered them all together for presumably diabolical purposes. This direct-to-video item has a good cast and manages to avoid feeling like the filmed play that it might have resembled in other hands but it never quite comes together into a satisfying whole.

THE SWEENEY (E1. $29.98): Based on the long-running British cop drama, this film stars Ray Winstone as the rough-and-tumble leader of a top-notch crime-fighting out to break up the crimes that the regular police apparently can't be bothered with investigating by whatever means necessary. I suppose that if you are a fan of the show, this big-screen version might hold some intrinsic appeal but if you are unfamiliar with it (as most people in America presumably are), it is pretty much interchangeable with any other mid-level cop drama and not even the presence of such reliable performers as Winstone, Damian Lewis and Hayley Atwell can raise it above the level of mundane.

VEEP: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (HBO Home Entertainment. $39.98): Of all the presidential-related items in this column, this HBO comedy chronicling the misadventures of the first female vice-president is by far the best of the bunch. Creator Armando Iannucci has created another piece of outrageous and brutally funny political satire as barbed and uncompromising as his previous efforts "The Thick of It" and "In the Loop" and as the once-rising political star struggling to regain the power and prestige she lost when she became the VP, Julia Louis-Dreyfus gives what may be the funniest performance of her entire career. (Just the look on her face when she gets word that the president may be incapacitated was enough to earn her the Emmy that she received for her work here.) Other TV-related titles now available include "The Bible: The Epic Miniseries" (Fox Home Entertainment. $59.98), "The Borgias: The Second Season" (Paramount Home Video. $39.99), "Boss: Season 2" (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $39.98), "Family Ties: The Sixth Season" (Paramount Home Video. $45.98), "The Killing: Season 2" (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $29.99), "Men At Work: The Complete First Season" (Sony Home Entertainment. $35.99), "Merlin: The Complete Fifth Season" (BBC. $49.98), "Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXVI" (Shout! Factory. $59.97) and "Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War" (Time-Life Entertainment. $39.95).


BEAUTIFUL GIRLS (Echo Bridge. $14.99)

FUTUREWORLD (Shout! Factory. $19.97)

GATE OF HELL (The Criterion Collection. $29.95)

HELLO DOLLY (Fox Home Entertainment. $19.99)

KILLING THEM SOFTLY (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $29.98)

A MAN ESCAPED (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)

PANIC IN THE STREETS (Fox Home Entertainment. $24.99)

PARENTAL GUIDANCE (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98)

PLAYING BY HEART (Echo Bridge. $9.98)

A ROYAL AFFAIR (Magnolia Home Entertainment. $26.98)

THE SANDLOT: 20th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Fox Home Entertainment. $19.99)

THAT THING YOU DO (Fox Home Entertainment. $19.99)


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originally posted: 04/25/13 03:42:15
last updated: 04/25/13 23:34:10
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