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DVD Reviews For 6/3: "You Learn To Love The Rope."
by Peter Sobczynski

There isn't much in the way of new stuff in this round-up of the latest titles to hit DVD and Blu-Ray but more adventurous viewers will find several decidedly off-beat films--several making the long-overdue home video debuts--that are worth checking out.


THE ABC'S OF DEATH (Magnolia Home Entertainment. $26.98): For this horror anthology film, twenty-six up-and-coming genre filmmakers were each given a letter of the alphabet and charged with coming up with a short film inspired by that letter involving. . .well, you saw the title. The gimmick is amusing in theory and some of the entries are kind of fun but since there isn't much time for any of the filmmakers to explore their ideas in any great detail, the end result is pretty much just a series of sometimes exceptionally gory blackout gags that grows kind of tiresome after a while.

CLEOPATRA (Fox Home Entertainment. $24.99): Far from the masterpiece that its makers clearly hoped it would be or the all-out disaster that its detractors over the years would have you believe, this epic-sized chronicle of the grand and ultimately doomed romance between Cleopatra (Elizabeth Taylor) and Marc Antony (Richard Burton) is a decidedly uneven movie that contains a lot of genuine spectacle and undeniably captivating performances from Taylor and Rex Harrison (though Burton often seems overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of his surroundings) but which never quite manages to transcend either its less-than-captivating screenplay or the sheer ponderousness of it all. That said, it is still sort of interesting as a historical curio and indeed, thanks to all the behind-the-scenes documentaries and featurettes chronicling its chaotic and budget-busting production history, this is one of those films where the making-of features are actually more fascinating and compelling that the film itself.

COVERT AFFAIRS (Universal Home Entertainment. $39.98): As the cutest covert agent in the history of the CIA, Piper Perabo once again kicks undercover ass in the third season of this entertaining globe-trotting series while getting involved in increasingly convoluted adventures that force her to question everything she knows about herself and those for whom she works. Other TV-related titles now available include "Beetlejuice: The Complete Series" (Shout! Factory. $99.99), "Laverne & Shirley: The Sixth Season" (Paramount Home Video. $39.98), "Longmire: The Complete First Season" (Warner Home Video. $39.98), "Red Widow: The Complete First Season" (ABC Studios. $29.99), "Saving Hope: The Complete First Season" (E1 Entertainment. $39.95), "Suits: Season Two" (Universal Home Entertainment. $44.98), "Teen Wolf: Season Two" (MGM Home Entertainment. $39.98) and "True Blood: The Complete Fifth Season" (HBO Home Entertainment. $59.99).

CROSSFIRE HURRICANE (Eagle Rock Entertainment. $14.98): The long and controversial history of noted pop combo The Rollings Stones is chronicled in this documentary featuring new interviews with the members of the group, plenty of rare archival footage and, of course, a soundtrack featuring almost as many songs as a typical Martin Scorsese film. It is all interesting stuff--and well neigh indispensable for fans of the group--but I must confess to some disappointment that it pretty much ends its story somewhere during the late Seventies but then again, I guess that leaves plenty of room and material for a sequel.

DARK SKIES (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $29.98): Keri Russell stars in this sci-fi/thriller about an ordinary suburban family who become the victim of a series of bizarre events that are eventually revealed to be extraterrestrial in nature. Basically, it plays as a standard-issue "Paranormal Activity" knockoff with a few vaguely-seen aliens tossed into the mix and precious little of it is worth your time or money unless you want confirmation that a.) aliens are out there and b.) they can really be jerks at times.

THE LAST STAND (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $29.95): In his first starring role in a film since 2003's "Terminator 3," Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as a small-town sheriff who finds that he and his minuscule police force is the only thing that can possibly stop a notorious criminal in a souped-up car faster and furiouser than expected from crossing the border into Mexico and escaping justice for good. Once the action kicks into overdrive in the final act, the movie becomes fun in some dumb, fundamental way but everything up until then is kind of a slog. As for Arnold, he is still a commanding screen presence but if he wanted to reestablish himself as a movie star after such a long absence, he probably should have held out for something better than this. (Judging from the anemic box-office reception that it received last winter, his fan base clearly agreed.) Lord knows he has made worse films than this but if you were choosing between this and, say, "Eraser" or "The Sixth Day," you would probably have to think about it for a while.

THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN (Olive Films. $24.95): Made during a period in which he was appearing in some of the oddest films of his career, this 1969 comedy features Peter Sellers as the world's richest man who, with the aid of the young homeless man (Ringo Starr) that he has impulsively adopted, starts pulling an array of outrageous stunts and pranks designed to prove that the rich will do anything (even dive into a concoction of shit and blood) to get more money for themselves. More of a series of blackout sketches than a coherent narrative, this is one of those films that has so much talent involved with it (the screenplay was written by the great Terry Southern with contributions from a pre-Python John Cleese and Graham Chapman, both of whom also appear along with the likes of Raquel Welch, Laurence Harvey and Yul Brynner, who turns up in drag to sing "Mad About the Boy") that it takes a while for it to register that, with the exception of a few laughs here and there, it really isn't that funny or daring. Put it this way--as poorly received counterculture comedies of the period go, this is no "Skidoo" or "Candy."

MY DOG TULIP (New Yorker Films. $39.95): Based on the autobiographical book by J.R. Ackerley, this delightful animated film chronicles the 15-year-long relationship between a solitary British man (voiced by Christopher Plummer) and the one true love of his life--a German shepherd that he takes in and bonds with in unexpected ways. It takes material that could have been cheaply sentimentalized into something tacky and vulgar and instead handles it in a subtle and restrained manner that pays off beautifully as it goes on. Despite being an animated film, this is not necessarily one that young children will be able to fully grasp or appreciate and that is no doubt while it failed to secure much of a release in this country, where any animated films that donít at least partially cater to younger viewers is pretty much doomed. However, it is still a charming and touching work that is well worth watching even if you donít happen to be much of a dog person.

PARKER (FilmDistrict. $30.99): In the latest attempt to bring Parker, the tough but oddly ethical career criminal created by author Richard Stark, to the screen, Jason Statham steps into the shoes once filled by the likes of Lee Marvin (in the neo-noir masterpiece "Point Blank") and Mel Gibson (in the adequate-but-unnecessary "Point Blank" remake "Payback") for this story that finds him going to Florida and joining forces with a down-on-her-luck real estate agent in order to get back at the former partners who betrayed him after their last job together. As much as I like Statham and his screen presence, he is just not the right fit for the character and Taylor Hackford's strangely plodding direction doesn't help matters much either. Oddly, Lopez probably comes off the best of all the actors but her character is largely superfluous to the non-action.

ROLLING THUNDER (Shout! Factory. $19.97): After spending years in brutal captivity as a P.O.W., troubled Vietnam vet William Devane loses his young son and his hand in a robbery gone horribly wrong. After recovering and with a hook in the place of his hand, Devane tracks the bad guys down and, with the help of fellow soldier Tommy Lee Jones, gets his revenge, largely by shooting approximately 500 rednecks in the face during a siege on a seedy brothel. If this sounds a little bit like "Taxi Driver," it is because the original script was also written by Paul Schrader and may be even bleaker than that landmark film. Although, not quite as good as "Taxi Driver," this is still a strong and powerful revenge drama that still packs a considerable punch today thanks mostly to the strong performances from Devane and Jones. BTW--if you ever have the time and want to buy me a drink, I have a long and fitfully amusing story to tell that involves this film, Devane and Julia Stiles that I can bore you with in return.

SHANKS Olive Films. $24.95): For his final film, William Castle, the man behind such cheerfully gimmicky cult favorites as "13 Ghosts," "House on Haunted Hill" and ""The Tingler," recruited famed mime Marcel Marceau for this strange tale about a deaf-mute puppeteer who--through circumstances that are too odd to get into here--discovers a way of reanimating the dead and moving them around like puppets. A total failure at the box-office when it first came out in 1975, this film has been incredibly difficult to see since then and is making what I think is its official North American home video debut with this release. To be honest, I have never seen this film before but between the bizarre-sounding plot and the combination of the talents of Marceau and Castle, I cannot wait to get a look at it.

SIDE EFFECTS (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): In what Steven Soderbergh claims will be his final big screen directorial effort, Rooney Mara plays an anxious young woman who is prescribed a revolutionary new drug by psychiatrist Jude Law in a move that has unexpected results for the two of them as well as her husband (Channing Tatum) and another doctor (Catherine Zeta Jones). The early scenes of this film--a quietly wicked satire of Big Pharma and our overmedicated culture--is so strong and smart that when the film shifts gears to become an increasingly implausible thriller, it is a letdown that it never quite recovers from as things get sillier and sillier. That said, the performances are good and Soderbergh has assembled the pieces such consummate skill that I wouldn't necessarily recommend against watching it. However, if you see only one new Soderbergh film this week, you really should make it "Behind the Candelabra" instead.

STAND UP GUYS (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $27.98): Under normal circumstances, the notion of putting Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin in the same movie sounds like a can't-miss proposition. Alas, this deeply idiotic comedy-drama in which they play three aging gangsters--one who has just gotten out of prison, one who is living in a nursing home and one who has been ordered to kill one of the others--reunite for a long evening of betrayal, truth-telling, hell-raising and Viagra-related complications. With the single exception of "Movie 43," this movie may well be the most scandalous waste of talent of any to be released in 2013 so far and the sight of seeing these screen icons coasting through material that is so far beneath them is more depressing than you can possibly imagine.

SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA (Shout! Factory. $19.95): For most people, the idea of watching a film consisting of nothing but a man sitting behind a desk and talking for 87 minutes might sound like the epitome of boredom but Jonathan Demme's screen version of the late monologuist Spaulding Gray's performance piece inspired by his adventures in Southeast Asia while filming a small part in "The Killing Fields" is anything but that. Armed with only a couple of maps and his keen insight, Gray weaves a web of words ranging from the historical to the personal that is that is mesmerizing to behold. One of the great indie triumphs of the Eighties, this film finally makes its long-awaited DVD debut and even includes a director's commentary from Demme as a bonus. Highly recommended.

THE ULTIMATE GANGSTER COLLECTION: CLASSICS (Warner Home Video. $49.98): Four of the most famous gangster movies ever made--1930's "Little Caesar" with Edward G. Robinson, the 1931 James Cagney breakthrough "Public Enemy," the 1936 Bette Davis/Humphrey Bogart/Leslie Howard drama "The Petrified Forest" and the 1949 Cagney masterpiece "White Heat"--make their Blu-Ray debuts in this box set that also includes a fifth disc containing a documentary on the history of gangster films. While "Little Caesar" and the two Cagney films are still as good as can be, "The Petrified Forest," despite featuring one of Bogart's first truly notable performances, has not aged especially well and if this set truly wanted to live to its title, it should have swapped it out for something like "The Roaring Twenties" or "Angels Have Dirty Faces" instead. As a companion piece, Warners is also putting out "The Ultimate Gangster Collection: Contemporary" (Warner Home Video. $49.95), which includes "Mean Streets," "The Untouchables," "Goodfellas," "Heat" and "The Departed."


AIRHEADS (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $17.99)

BEDAZZLED (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $17.99)

THE BURNING (Shout! Factory. $29.93)

CAPTAIN AMERICA (Shout! Factory. $14.97)

FATHER GOOSE (Olive Films. $29.95)

THE FILE ON THELMA JORDAN (Olive Films. $29.95)

THE GRASS IS GREENER (Olive Films. $29.95)

HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $39.99)

JUMPIN JACK FLASH (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $17.99)

LIFE IS SWEET (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)

MEDIUM COOL (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)

MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $39.99)

MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND ( Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $17.99)

NATIONAL LAMPOON'S VACATION (Warner Home Video. $19.98)

THE NEWTON BOYS (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $17.99)

SIMPLY IRRESISTIBLE (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $17.99)

SOMMERSBY (Warner Home Video. $19.98)

THE STAR CHAMBER (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $17.99)

THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (Shout! Factory. $26.99)

VEGAS VACATION (Warner Home Video. $19.98)

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originally posted: 06/04/13 06:46:29
last updated: 06/04/13 07:18:50
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