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DVD Reviews For 9/15: "Doesn't The Fact That It Is Universal Make It International?"
by Peter Sobczynski

Yes, we have "Sharknado." We have "Sharknado" today.


AN AMERICAN HIPPIE IN ISRAEL (Grindhouse Releasing. $34.95): In recent years, this 1972 obscurity from writer-director Amos Sefer has been touted in some quarters as a new contender for the title of Worst FIlm Ever Made and at the first glance of its demented combination of anti-war sloganeering, free love, killer sharks, murderous mimes, it would be difficult to offer up any strong counter-argument to that position. However, no matter how strange and ungainly it may be--and believe me, it is strange and ungainly--it does have a certain demented charm to it and it is never boring, which is more than I can say about several of the other titles listed below. Granted, this is not for the faint-of-heart but for those with a perverse sense of fun, I would recommend it over such tiresome so-bad-they're-good wannabes as "The Room" or "Birdemic" without hesitation.

THE BLACK WATERS OF ECHO POND (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $22.98): Fusing together elements from both "The Evil Dead" and "Jumanji," this cheapo horror film presents us with bunch of dumb kids go off to a remote cabin for a weekend of fun and decide to pass the time by playing an old board game that they discover hidden away, inevitably unleashing the demons who originally played it and yadda yadda yadda. This may sound like another bit of straight-to-video stupidity but I assure you that it did play briefly in a few theaters a couple of years ago (considering that I was the only person in attendance at my screening, it was presumably very briefly). I can also assure you that it is total junk, though I do seem to recall Robert Patrick turning up to gnaw on the scenery for a few amusing minutes.

BLANCANIEVES (Cohen Media Group. $29.98): Utilizing the techniques of European silent cinema, this Spanish import from writer-director Pablo Berger offers up a 1920's-era retelling of the classic fairy tale "Snow White" in which the spunky heroine is a budding bullfighter who is cast out by her evil stepmother after the death of her beloved father and. . .well, you know. Yes, this is the third major reworking of "Snow White" to come along in the last couple of years but it is by far the best, thanks to the stunning visual style, spirited performances and one of the best musical scores to comes along in some time. Although older kids should be able to handle this PG-13 film with no problem, it may prove to be a little much for the little ones--especially its dark and decidedly Grimm finale.

FRANKENSTEIN'S ARMY (Dark Sky Films. $27.98): In this cheerfully grisly item set during the waning days of World War II, a platoon of lost Soviet soldiers stumble upon the ruins of a town that they assume was sacked by the enemy, only to uncover the hidden laboratory of a crazed mad scientist who has created a relentlessly vicious and seemingly unstoppable squad of robo-Nazis in the hopes of conquering the world. The whole thing is absurd, of course, but it does have a certain energy to help drive it along and gorehounds should be relatively satisfied by the gruesome sights on display throughout. Others will no doubt be sickened and offended by it all but my guess is that very few of them would even bother to check out a film entitled "Frankenstein's Army" in the first place.

FROM UP ON POPPY HILL (Cinedigm. $34.95): Written by recently retired animation legend Hiyao Miyazaki and directed by his son Goro, this low-key comedy-drama, set amidst the backdrop of Japan as it prepares itself to host the 1964 Olympics, tells the story of the friendship that unexpectedly blossoms between two high school students, only to be threatened by a long-hidden secret from their shared past. Although the films lacks the grand majesty of Miyazaki's own efforts, the film is still a fairly fascinating work that is as visually beautiful and dramatically intriguing (although it does end a bit abruptly). Although the story is a little more thematically complex than most animated features (especially those produced in America), there is nothing here that a child could not immediately understand and embrace. I would go so far as to deem it the best animated film of 2013 to date but considering how bad the competition has been, that might sound more like a backhanded compliment than the sincere praise I mean it to be.

HOMELAND: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (Fox Home Entertainment. $59.98): If your new television show becomes an enormous success with critics and audiences alike during its debut season, what do you do for an encore? In the case of this acclaimed drama about an unstable CIA agent (Claire Danes) and her pursuit of a former POW-turned-congressman (Damian Lewis) that she suspects of being a potential terrorist, you kind of go off the rails with storylines that are all over the map, numerous distracting subplots and characters and bits of business that teeter on the edge of self-parody. The show is still more interesting than much of what is currently on the air and hopefully it will figure out how to straighten out its course during its upcoming third season. Other TV-related titles now available include "Army Wives: The Complete 7th Season" (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $39.99), "The Big Bang Theory: The Complete 6th Season" (Warner Home Video. $44.98), "Blue Bloods: The 3rd Season" (Paramount Home Video. $64.99), "Castle: The Complete 5th Season" (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $45.99), "Chicago Fire: Season 1" (Universal Home Entertainment. $44.98), "Haven: The Complete 3rd Season" (eOne Entertainment. $49.98), "The League: The Complete Season Four" (Fox Home Entertainment. $39.99), "The Office: Season Nine--The Farewell Season" (Universal Home Entertainment. $49.98), "Parades End" (HBO Home Entertainment. $39.98), "Parks & Recreation: Season Five" (Universal Home Entertainment. $39.98), "Person of Interest: The Complete 2nd Season" (Warner Home Video. $59.98), "Phil Spector" (HBO Home Entertainment. $19.98), "Revolution: The Complete First Season" (Warner Home Video. $59.98), "Scandal: The Complete 2nd Season" (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $45.99) and "The Vampire Diaries: The Complete 4th Season" (Warner Home Video. $59.98).

HORNY DIVER: TIGHT SHELL/THE STORY OF WHITE COAT: INDECENT ACTS (Impulse Films. $19.95 each): Two more examples of the bizarre sex movies that Nikkatsu Studios cranked out for the Japanese market once upon a time. "Horny Diver" centers on a ruthless land developed whose plans to transform a small fishing village into a tourist trap are threatened by a group of comely clam divers (not a euphemism) until he hires a stud to seduce them all as part of a massive land snatch (definitely a euphemism and I think I owe Mel Brooks a quarter to boot). "Story of White Coat" features a sweet and untouched young nurse whose purity is threatened when the sex-crazed son of the hospital's largest shareholder is admitted as a patient and begins working his way through a nursing staff that, to be fair, only puts up a token resistance at best. One of these movies features an octopus being put in a very uncomfortable place (not the back of a Volkswagen--crap, now I owe Kevin Smith a quarter) butI will let you figure out for yourselves which one it is--the answer might surprise you.

THE LORDS OF SALEM (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $26.98): The back of the DVD package offers a quote avowing that this horror movie is "The best movie to date by director Rob Zombie" and while that may be technically true, that says more about the sheer crumminess of his earlier outings--"House of 1000 Corpses," "The Devil's Rejects" and his remakes of "Halloween" and "Halloween II"--than anything else. This time around, a disk jockey in Salem, Massachusetts receives a mysterious LP and when she plays it on the air, its grotesque sounds unleash the town's long-buried secrets and pave the way for the return and revenge of Satan himself. this is marginally more entertaining than Zombie's previous films--if only because watching him ripping off the baroque visual stylings of the late Ken Russell is slightly more fun than watching him indulge in his usual white trash grotesqueries--but it is still pretty useless due to him inability to tell a coherent story and his insistence on casting his talent-free wife, Sherri Moon Zombie, in key roles despite the total lack of any discernible acting ability.

MDNA: WORLD TOUR (Universal Music. $19.99): The once and future Queen of Pop blasts her way through tunes ranging from classics like "Papa Don't Preach," "Vogue" and "Like a Prayer" to songs from her recent "MDNA" album, demonstrates enough flexibility and stamina during the intricate choreography to put people half her age to shame and even cheekily comments on Lady Gaga's alleged pilfering of "Express Yourself" for "Born This Way." Say what you will about Madonna and her music, she knows how to stage a true spectacle and even the naysayers may find themselves dazzled by some of the sights and sounds on display here. Also now available for music fans is "Carrie Underwood: The Blown Away Tour: Live" (Sony Nashville/Arista. $16.98).

MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000--THE MOVIE (Shout! Factory. $29.93): After suffering the indignity of two bare-bones DVD versions from home studio Universal, the 1996 version of the cult TV classic, featuring Mike and the bots riffing on the 1955 semi-classic "This Island Earth," finally get the special edition that fans have been clamoring for featuring deleted scenes, interviews and an interesting, no-holds-barred documentary chronicling the film's long and tumultuous journey to the big screen which may explain why Universal was so oddly dismissive of a property with an audience that would have leaped at the chance to own a version with all the bells and whistles. As for the film itself, it is a little awkward in places--the host segments are sillier than usual and the jokes, presumably in an attempt to attracted a broader audience, are nowhere near as delightfully arcane as in the best episode--but it is still funnier than most anything that you or I have seen lately.

NOW YOU SEE ME (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.98): Proving once again that the moviegoing public is borderline insane, this rock-stupid caper film about a group of street magicians who use their talents to pull off a string of increasingly complex and seemingly unsolvable heists proved to be one of the surprise hits of last summer's box-office derby. "How stupid?," you may ask. So stupid that it is by far the dumbest movie to be featured in this column and bear in mind, I am about to delve into "Sharknado" before too long.

PAIN & GAIN (Paramount Home Video. $29.95): If you ever wondered what the classic "Fargo" might have been like in the hands of the infamous Michael Bay, you have your answer in the "Tranformers" auteur's garish and grotesque. recounting of the true story of a couple of pumped-up meatheads (Mark Whalberg and Dwayne Johnson) whose plot to kidnap a rich and arrogant jerk (Tony Shaloub) in order to force him to sign over his holdings to them spirals violently out of control. To pull off dark comedy of this sort requires a delicate touch and that is one item that is not in Bay's bag of tricks and the result is an ugly and unpleasant spectacle that will leave most viewers with nothing more than the desire to take a very long and very hot shower afterwards in a desperate attempt to once again feel clean.

SHARKNADO (Asylum Home Entertainment. $14.93): Like most films produced for the SyFy channel featuring outrageous premises, decidedly shaky special effects and a cast consisting of has-beens and never-wills, this campy horror film about a tornado filled with sharks (okay, technically a hurricane) that begins dropping man-eating death throughout the flooded streets of Los Angeles is more fun in theory than it is to actually sit through. That said, it never quite wears out its welcome and the conceit is so mind-bogglingly bizarre that one can't help but feel a certain strange affection for its barmy charms. Somewhere, Roger Corman is either kicking himself for not having thought of it himself or he has already launched into production on his own even cheaper rip-off.

STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS (Paramount Home Video. $29.95): While nominally more interesting than the 2009 reboot of the long-lasting sci-fi franchise, this follow-up still proved to be a fairly dismal disappointment due to the inexplicable decision to offer up a blatant retread of the beloved "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" (with Benedict Cumberbatch feebly stepping in the sandals of Ricardo Montalban as the villainous Khan) instead of setting off on its own course of action. Perhaps realizing that they may have lost a chunk of their audience with this one, Paramount is doing their best to make up the difference by soaking the faithful for as much as they can be taking the various special bonus features and splitting them up between three different dealer-exclusive versions and an iTunes version that is the only one to contain the commentary by director J.J. Abrams--in other words, to get all the extras, the hardcore fans will have to buy four different copies of a film barely worth even a single rental. Classy.

STORIES WE TELL (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.98): Because much of the impact of this absolutely extraordinary documentary from acclaimed actress/director Sarah Polley comes from knowing as little as possible about it before going in to see it, I will only say that it involves Polley looking into her family's past--mostly involving her late mother--and making a number of surprising discoveries with reverberations that continue on in the present day. The result is one of the very best films of the year--a conceptually fascinating and emotionally overwhelming work that, once seen, will linger in the mind long after the end credits have finished rolling.

WISH YOU WERE HERE (eOne Entertainment. $24.98): Four people--a married couple (Joel Edgerton and Felicity Price), her sexy sister (Teresa Palmer) and the sister's boyfriend (Antony Starr) go off for a bit of sun and fun in Cambodia but only three of them return--could one or more of the above know more about the disappearance than they are letting on? I wouldn't dream of answering that question but I will tell you that this is a moderately engaging thriller that features good performances from the four main actors and a screenplay that is maybe just a little too clever at times for its own good.


ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE (Warner Home Video. $19.98)

ACE VENTURA: WHEN NATURE CALLS (Warner Home Video. $19.98)

THE FLY (Fox Home Entertainment. $24.99)

THE FUGITIVE: 20th ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Warner Home Video. $19.98)\

IDLE HANDS (Image Entertainment. $17.97)

JENNIFER 8 (Warner Home Video. $19.98)

JOY RIDE (Fox Home Entertainment. $14.98)

LA CAGE AUX FOLLES (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)

MARATHON MAN (Warner Home Video. $19.98)

MARNIE (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98)

SLIVER (Warner Home Video. $19.98)

SNAKE EYES (Warner Home Video. $19.98)

THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)

THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY (Warner Home Video. $19.98)

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originally posted: 09/16/13 04:45:33
last updated: 09/18/13 01:30:46
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