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DVD Reviews For 7/1: "I Thought She Was A Sandwich, 'Til She Went Spare On Me Hand."
by Peter Sobczynski

Of course, you are all planning on commemorating the upcoming holiday by watching the greatest July 4th movie ever made, a little thing that I like to call "Jaws." (Well, you had better be. . .) If you have time to watch something else, this roundup of new titles available on DVD and Blu-Ray includes a few cult favorites, one comedic masterpiece, a couple of interesting titles that you probably missed in theaters earlier this year and one of the most depraved, disgusting and thoroughly off-putting (in none of the good ways, BTW) wastes of time, money and talent ever produced by putatively human hands. (Hint: it is [i]not[/i] "Shoah."


HELP! (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): After the mammoth success of their first cinematic collaboration, a little thing called "A Hard Day's Night," the Beatles and director Richard Lester reunited for this cheerfully cartoonish and borderline surreal 1965 followup in which the wacky members of a religious cult follow the boys around the world in order to kill Ringo, who has their sacred sacrificial ring stuck on his finger. Admittedly, the idea of homicidal fanatics stalking the Beatles in the hopes of killing one of them is not quite the instant laugh riot that it once might have been but if you can get past that, you will find this to be a throughly underrated charmer that may lack the importance of its predecessor but more than makes up for it in terms of pure enjoyability. Just at the point where anything they put out would be endlessly analyzed and treated with the upmost seriousness, this may be the last purely fun thing that they released and that sense of heedlessness is still present nearly a half-century later. Oh yeah, the soundtrack is all kinds of awesome as well but I suspect you probably knew that.

THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE (Warner Home Entertainment. $28.98): Following the basic plot template that Will Ferrell devised for the ingenious "Anchorman" and then ran into the ground in a series of lesser comedies, this draggy comedy features Steve Carrell as a successful-but-lazy Vegas magician whose stature is threatened by a brash upstart--in this case, a weirdo street magician played by Jim Carrey--and must pull himself together with the help of oddball friends (including Alan Arkin and Steve Buscemi) and a fabulous babe (Olivia Wilde) who inexplicably falls for him despite his being a total idiot in order to return to the top of the pecking order. Although Carrey does get a couple of laughs here and there, this is a fairly witless affair and much of that is due to the miscasting of Carrell in the lead--no matter how hard he tries, he just isn't believable as an egotistical jerk and as a result, the whole thing falls apart. (Put Carrey in Carrell's role, Carrell in Buscemi's and Buscemi in Carrey's and then you might have had something.) However, it does feature James Gandolfini in one of his final roles, so if you want to watch it for him, go right ahead. If that is the case, though, you should immediately follow it up with the infinitely better "Not Fade Away," about which I have lucubrated in these parts many times before.

THE LAST EXORCISM PART II (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): This may just be another terrible and pointless sequel to a horror film that a.) was pretty good and b.) was pretty good largely because it seemed to end on a note that precluded any continuations. However, as hilariously idiotic sequel titles go, this one goes right up there with the immortal "The Neverending Story--Part II."

LIFEFORCE (Shout! Factory. $29.93): Momentary bankable in the wake of the huge success of "Poltergeist," Tobe Hooper was hired by Cannon Films to direct this apocalyptic horror/sci-fi saga about naked space vampires (led by Mathilda May, whose singular presence makes it almost impossible for the film to be shown on commercial TV without heavy cropping of the image) who are set free from their capsules inside the tail of Halley's Comet and brought to Earth, where they suck the energy out of everyone they encounter and, in one of the wildest climaxes in genre history, causes the streets of London to explode into chaos that only Steve Railsback, the notoriously twitchy actor best known for playing Charles Manson on television, can possibly stop. A huge flop in its day, this seriously insane movie has developed a cult following over the years and if you are lucky enough to be on its deeply demented wavelength. you will quickly understand why. Long available only on a chintzy bare-bones DVD, this Blu-Ray debut features 2 versions of the film (the American theatrical cut and the European version preferred by Hooper), a commentary from Hooper and numerous interviews with key personnel, including Mathilda May herself, who has rarely spoke about the film and still seems a little bewildered by the whole thing. A must-own.
Shout! Factory is now also offering the Blu-Ray debut of Joe Dante's equally entertaining 1981 werewolf epic "The Howling" (Shout! Factory. $29.93), a film that should be watched by every man, woman and child at least twice.

MOVIE 43 (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): Enough celebrities to fill a year's worth of issues of "Vanity Fair" and no fewer than 13 directors unaccountably banded together to film this collection of loosely connected skits that are largely based on premises ranging from the merely scatological to the downright unthinkable. (To cite only one, Kate Winslet--yes, Kate Winslet!--goes on a first date with desirable and suspiciously eligible bachelor Hugh Jackman--I would have said "yes, Hugh Jackman!" except for the fact that he was in "Les Miserables" and therefore lost most of his column privileges--and discovers at dinner that his testicles are dangling from his throat, a distraction that only she seems to notice.) The film was presumably meant to be in the tradition of "Kentucky Fried Movie" or "Amazon Women on the Moon" but more closely resembles what you might find on the floor of a theater showing them after a raucous midnight screening. Oddly enough, there were two versions of this movie unleashed on the public--the U.S. got one featuring Dennis Quaid as an insane moviemaker whose depraved pitches to studio weasel Greg Kinnerar provided a framing device while Europe got one with some dumb kids searching the Internet for the filthiest movie ever made--and this Blu-Ray not only offers up both for posterity, it even includes a deleted sequence featuring Julianne Moore and Tony Shaloub, both of whom are no doubt thrilled that their extended incest joke can now be seen by all. According to IMDB, there was at least one other skit dropped for being too appalling in which Anton Yelchin played a necrophiliac--rumors that this skit was spun off into the film "Like Crazy" remain unfounded. (Sadly, that joke is funnier than anything in the film itself.)

SAFETY LAST (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Perhaps the only way to rebound from something like "Movie 43" is to immediately immerse yourself in one of the greatest comedies ever made and this 1925 silent masterpiece should do the job. In it, Harold Lloyd, a comedian whose popularity once rivaled such contemporaries as Chaplin and Keaton and whose films still entertain today, plays a nice young man who moves to the big city and convinces his small-town sweetheart that he is running a giant department store even though he is really only a lowly salesman. Of course, this is all merely prelude for the film's astonishing final act in which, for reasons too complicated to get into, our hero is forced to substitute for a "human fly" and scale the side of the store without getting caught by the cops or plummeting to his death. This film supplies one of the most instantly recognizable visuals in film history--Lloyd dangling over the streets while holding on to the face of the building's clock--but the rest of it is just as hilarious and thrilling to behold, especially when you realize that while the scenes might not have been quite as risky as they looked (as you will learn from the bounty oof special features included here), there were plenty of moments in which Lloyd--not a stuntman--was in genuine peril. This is a true cinematic masterpiece and if you have kids who have never before experienced a real silent movie from the era of such things (or if you yourself haven't), it should prove to be a perfect and perfectly entertaining introduction to the format.

STOKER (Fox Home Entertainment. $22.98): For his English-language debut, Asian filmmaker Park Chan-wook (whose movies include the international hits "Oldboy" and "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance") directs a creepy melodrama in which a teenage girl (Mia Wasikowska) tragically loses her father on her 17th birthday but gains an heretofore unknown uncle when his long-lost brother (Matthew Goode) turns up for the funeral and insinuates himself into the lives of her and her zonked-out mother (Nicole Kidman) as bodies begin to stack up around them. The screenplay by actor Wentworth Miller hews so closely to the parameters of the Alfred Hitchcock classic "Shadow of a Doubt" that it almost feels like a remake at times (at least before the spectacularly gory final scenes take the story way off the reservation) but what the film lacks in originality, it more than makes up for in the long run thanks to the creepy atmosphere that Park lends to the proceedings as well as the strong performances from the three leads. Sadly, this did not do very much business when it appeared in theaters during the early months of 2013 but if you are looking for a deeply unsettling movie night, this underrated gem should do the trick.

THINGS TO COME (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): H.G. Wells adapted his own novel "The Shape of Things to Come" for this 1936 epic of speculative science-fiction charting the progress of civilization over the course of a century as it picks up the pieces after a decades-long world war and advance to the point of making the first manned journey into outer space. At the time, this film, which was produced by Alexander Korda and directed by William Cameron Menzies, was a massive undertaking but none of the key participants were that happy with it and the film fell into public domain where it was shown in shoddy and chopped-up prints. Happily, Criterion has cleaned it up, restored it and given it a bunch of nifty special features, including commentary from historian David Kalat, bits of special-effects footage developed for the film but not used in the finished product and a recording of a 1936 reading from Wells himself. As a whole, the film may not quite be the masterpiece it clearly wants to be but it has so many legitimately spectacular ideas and images floating around through it that it deserves to be considered a classic of the genre.

UPSIDE DOWN (Millennium Entertainment. $28.99): I rarely quote extensively from the packaging for these things but in the case of this extremely strange hybrid of romance and science-fiction, I am going to make an exception. "In an alternate universe where twinned worlds have opposite gravities, a young man (Jim Sturgess) battles interplanetary prejudice and the laws of physics in his quest to reunite with the long-lost girl of his dreams (Kirsten Dunst). This visually stunning romantic adventure poses the question, what if love was stronger than gravity?" Well, that about sums it up except to note that while the film is largely a failure from a dramatic standpoint, thanks to a silly story and having the painfully dull Sturgess in the lead, it is still worth checking out because it is awesome to look at (nearly every scene has some visual marvel or other) and it so thoroughly embraces its completely batshit crazy premise that it is almost impossible to resist it. Trust me on this one.

THE WIZARDS RETURN: ALEX VS. ALEX (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $19.99): In this final episode of the Disney Channel series "The Wizards of Waverley Place," ever-impish wizard-in-training Selena Gomez whips up a spell that does a "Superman III" and splits her into a good version and an evil version that battle for supremacy. For little kids, it is cute enough but older viewers are advised to wait a couple of weeks for the release of "Spring Breakers"--trust me, they are practically the same thing. Other TV-related titles now available include "Body of Proof: The Complete Third Season" (ABC Home Entertainment. $39.99), "CSI: NY--The Final Season" (CBS Home Video. $64.99), "Drop Dead Diva: The Complete Fourth Season" (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99), "Fat Albert & The Cosby Kids: The Complete Series" (Shout! Factory. $119.99) and "Web Therapy: The Complete Second Season" (E1 Entertainment. $19.98).


AMERICAN MARY (Xlrator. $20.99)

THE CALL (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99)

COMMENT CA VA? (Olive Films. $29.95)[//i]

HANGAR 18 (Olive Films. $29.95)

KEEP YOUR RIGHT UP (Olive Films. $29.95)

PHANTOM (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.99)

PUSHER (Starz/Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $29.99)

SHARK (Olive Films. $29.95)

SHOAH (The Criterion Collection. $99.99)

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originally posted: 07/02/13 02:10:37
last updated: 07/04/13 00:10:59
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