|DVD/Blu-Ray Reviews For 12/8: "Christmas Has Always Smelled Like Oranges To Me"
|by Peter Sobczynski
For the most part, this round-up of new DVD/Blu-ray titles is a fairly weak lot that includes several of the year's least inspiring movies. However, if you can make it through all the dreck, you will find one of the past summer's more controversial items and nothing less than a spectacular new release of one of the greatest American films ever made.
NEW AND NOTABLE
ALL IS BRIGHT (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $26.98): In this oddball holiday-themed dark comedy, Paul Giamatti and Paul Rudd play a couple of cons who go into business selling Christmas trees on the streets of Brooklyn in the hopes of making some quick cash--Giamatti wants it to get a fresh start while Rudd needs it so that he can Giamattii's ex-wife. This marks the long-awaited follow-up film from director Phil Morrison, who charmed moviegoers a few years ago with his critically acclaimed debut "Junebug" and while it is nowhere near as interesting as his previous effort, this one does have its moments, mostly due to the inspired pairing of Giamatti and Rudd.
ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE (Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $24.98): After spending years in distribution limbo (during which virtually everyone who had any interest in seeing it did so via the grey market), this low-budget horror film starring a then-unknown Amber Heard as a teen queen whose friends are being brutally murdered over the course of a weekend party in a remote farmhouse. Since the question of whodunnit is one that even the least attentive of viewers will be able to puzzle out early on, the only real mystery about the film is why, other than the fact of its inadvertent unavailability, it generated such interest within the horror community in the first place.
THE CANYONS (MPI Home Entertainment. $29.98): When it was announced that controversial filmmaker Paul Schrader and bad-boy writer Bret Easton Ellis were going to collaborate on a low-budget film--funded in part via Kickstarter--about the sordid goings-on involving a group of young and privileged Los Angelenos that would co-star adult film actor James Deen and controversy magnet Lindsay Lohan, many assumed that such a combustible array of elements would lead to the project self-destructing long before it even got in front of the cameras. It did get made and even though it was barely released and largely dismissed by those who saw it, the resulting film--described in the DVD packaging as "a violent, sexually-charged tour through the dark side of human nature"--is actually better than expected. Unlike previous attempts to bring Ellis' chilly authorial voice to the screen, Schrader knows how to translate his words into cinematic terms and the low-budget circumstances surrounding the production seem to have freed up something within him as well for this is loosest and most energetic work he has done in a while. On the other side of the camera, Deen is undeniably effective as a seedy and sleazy trust-fund monster and as his needy girlfriend, Lindsay Lohan is absolutely captivating in a turn that blurs the line between performance and reality in ways that are alternately fascinating and heartbreaking.
DRINKING BUDDIES (Magnolia Home Entertainment. $26.99): Mumblecore icon Joe Swanberg returns with this low-budget romantic comedy starring Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson as a couple of co-workers in a Chicago microbrewery whose long friendships threatens to tip over into something else after a weekend by the lake with their respective partners (Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick) does not quite go as planned. Although some fans of his earlier work may consider this effort to be nothing more than a commercial sellout due to it having a discernible plot, adequate production values, a cast of reasonably familiar faces and not a smidgen of Greta Gerwig to offend thine eye, the fact is that this is just a better-than-average effort for him that is buoyed by a storyline that feels like more than a series of aimless improvs and likable performances from the two leads
THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): Based on the YA novel by Cassandra Clare (and quite loosely at that, to judge from the repeated comments of my guest at the screening), the film stars Lily Collins as a seemingly ordinary young woman who suddenly discovers on her birthday that there is another world out there filled with werewolves, vampires, faeries, demons and pansexual leather-clad warriors who sneeringly dismiss simple humans as "mundanes" and who are all searching for an enchanted cup with vaguely defined powers that could destroy us all or some such nonsense. The film doesn't so much so much tell a coherent story as it does randomly jam elements stolen outright from other sources--among the unwitting donors are "Harry Potter," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Twilight," "Underworld" and even "Star Wars" at one exceptionally risible point--in the hopes that something will stick. Throw in incoherent action scenes, lame performances, chintzy-looking visual effects and one of the least-inspiring heroines to come along in recent memory (she is supposed to be tough and resourceful but she spends an awful lot of time either getting rescued by the pretty boy or flat-out fainting at the first sign of trouble), all under the aegis of typographically-challenged hack Harald Zwart, and the result isn't so much mortal as it is terminal.
NASHVILLE (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): Robert Altman's 1975 masterpiece, an epic-size examination of the political, cultural and emotional as seen through the eyes of 24 disparate character who converge upon the titular city and bounce off of each other over the course of a couple of days, finally gets its long-overdue Blu-ray due via the good folks at Criterion and the resulting package is just as strong and absorbing as the film it commemorates. In addition to porting over the fascinating audio commentary that the late director recorded for its 2000 DVD release, this set also includes a documentary of the making of the film, behind-the-scenes footage taking during its filming, a demo of Keith Carradine performing some of the songs that he wrote for the film and a few archival interviews with Altman himself. If you are at all interested in the history of American film, then "Nashville" is essential viewing and this release is an absolute must-have.
PLANES (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $29.99): At least during the otherwise dismal "Cars" films, viewers could at least console themselves with the fact that they at least looked splendid. Alas, the same cannot be said of this cheaply made spin-off, set in the same universe but dealing with sentient airplanes voiced by the likes of Dane Cook and lesser lights. In a year that was not exactly bursting with prime examples of feature-length animation, this was one of the least impressive of the bunch and the fact that it actually made a lot of money at the box-office was a development of revolting proportions.
THE SIMPSONS: THE COMPLETE 16th SEASON (Fox Home Entertainment. $49.98): That eminent scientist Professor Frink gets the cover treatment for the latest set of episodes from the long-running animated sitcom covering Season 16, a period that saw Bart going to work designing novelty T-shirts, Homer starting a business helping sports figures create memorable taunts, Marge remodeling Moe's into an English pub and appearances from the likes of Eric Idle, James Caan, Robert Wagner, Charles Napier, 50 Cent and Thomas Pynchon. No, the 21 episodes collected are nowhere close to the peaks it used to hit so effortlessly in earlier years but even the weakest ones contain more solid laughs than most sitcoms firing on all cylinders. Other TV-related titles now available include "Breaking Bad: The Final Season" (Sony Home Entertainment. $55.95), "Hot in Cleveland: Season 4" (Paramount Home Video. $29.98), "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman: The Complete Series" (Shout! Factory. $249.95) and "Mystery Science Theatre 3000: 25th Anniversary Edition" (Shout! Factory. $64.99).
THE SMURFS 2 (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): Okay, I have spent the last half-hour trying to come up with a suitable "Blue is the Warmest Color"-related joke for this deeply dumb sequel that finds those obnoxious little creatures off to Paris to rescue Smurfette from the viscous clutches of Gargamel (Hank Azaria) before he can do some damn thing or another to her and frankly, I am at a loss (at least in regards to tasteful ones). Instead, I will merely note the depressing fact that this craptacular, which blessedly underperformed in theaters last summer, will go down in history as the last credit of the late, great Jonathan Winters (who provided the voice of the avuncular Papa Smurf) and point out that while the Blu-ray is jammed with deleted scenes, cartoons and behind-the-scenes fluff, the producers apparently couldn't find room to include the video for the Britney Spears theme song "Ooo La La," a supremely weird affair that finds the singer seemingly coming on via song to both Smurfette and her own kids.
THERESE (MPI Home Video. $24.98): For what would prove to be the final film of his career, the late French filmmaker Claude Miller adapted the 1927 novel by Nobel Prize-winning author Francois Mauriac about a woman who well but unhappily who is inspired by the example of her best friend, who has chosen to fall in love with someone who doesn't fit into their social class, to carve out a new existence for herself that allows her to be more than just a mere appendage to her husband. Although lacking the power of Miller's finest work, this is a strong and sturdy adaptation that is greatly enhanced by a lush visual style and a smart performance by the always-reliable Audrey Tautou in the lead role.
THE TO-DO LIST (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): The usually awesome Aubrey Plaza is utterly wasted in this incredibly lame sex comedy about a brainy girl who decides to use the summer before going off to college to get caught up on all the sexual experiences that have so far eluded here. The idea of a raunchfest done from a female perspective holds a lot of promise but this film does absolutely nothing with it and the result has all the wit, charm and insightfulness of one of the lesser "Porky's" sequels.
VIOLET & DAISY (Cinedigm. $29.95): Saoirse Ronan and Alexis Bledel play a couple of bizarrely young assassins who take on a new job in order to earn enough money to pay for a couple of designer dresses and are flummoxed when their intended target (James Gandolfini) proves to be completely content with the idea of dying. This botched attempt at black comedy marks the directorial debut of Geoffrey Fletcher, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of the abysmal "Precious," and proves himself to be just as incompetent and incoherent of a storyteller behind the camera as he is behind the keyboard and only the reasonably touching work from Gandolfini (in what would prove to be one of his final performances) keeps this from becoming completely worthless.
THE VIVIEN LEIGH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION (Cohen Media Group. $59.95): To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Leigh's birth, this collection brings together four films that she made in England just before coming to America to appear in a little thing entitled "Gone with the Wind," all of which are appearing on Blu-ray for the first time in newly restored editions. The films compiled here include "Dark Journey," "Fire Over England," "Storm in a Teacup" (all 1937) and "Sidewalks of London" (1938) and of the four, my favorite is probably "Dark Journey," a brisk romantic thriller set during World War I that finds her and Conrad Veidt as a couple of opposing spies who wind up falling in love with each other.
WE'RE THE MILLERS (Warner Home Video. $28.98): In this inexplicable box-office sensation, dopey pot dealer Jason Sudekis is forced to smuggle a huge amount of pot across the Mexican border and hits upon the idea of hiring a surrogate family--including surly stripper Jennifer Aniston, surly runaway Emma Roberts and weirdo kid--to come with him and help deflect suspicion. There are a few funny bits early in the proceedings but after a while, the joke goes pretty old and not even the strongest cannabis available will be enough to get viewers through the final scenes in which things go completely soft and the film actually asks us to care about the characters.
THE WOLVERINE (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): In the latest spin-off of the "X-Men" franchise, everyone's favorite adamantium-enhanced loner mutant (Hugh Jackman) ventures off to Japan at the behest of a dying friend who claims to be able to cure him of his cursed immortality--in news that will no doubt shock and surprise you, things aren't entirely as they seem and yes, ninjas are heavily involved. Although not quite as good as the genuinely impressive origin tale "X-Men: First Class," this is still one of the better superhero epics of late--one that even those who aren't fans of the genre will respond to favorably--and is infinitely better than the previous and largely forgotten Wolverine solo vehicle.
THE WORLD'S END (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): For the culmination of their so-called Cornetto Trilogy, Brit wits Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have come up with a tale involving a screw-up (Pegg) who tries to stave off the inevitability of his approaching middle age by reuniting his childhood pals (including Frost, Paddy Considine and Martin Freeman) to recreate an epic pub crawl that they attempted but did not complete 20 years earlier and which quickly goes sideways this time around for reasons that are best left to be discovered for yourselves. Although it may not be quite as flat-out funny as "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz," it still has more than its share of hilarious moments, several insightful ones and a finale that, while it may not completely work as well as hoped, certainly deserves points for sheer audacity.
ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (Shout! Factory. $29.93)
CARMEN JONES (Fox Home Entertainment. $24.99)
DESK SET (Fox Home Entertainment. $24.99)
FAMILY PLOT (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98)
FRENZY (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98)
NIGHT OF THE COMET (Shout! Factory. $29.93)
PARANOIA (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98)
THE RUTLES ANTHOLOGY (Video Services Group. $24.95)
SATURN 3 (Shout! Factory. $26.99)
SERPICO (Warner Home Video. $19.98)
TANK GIRL (Shout! Factory. $26.98)
TERMS OF ENDEARMENT (Warner Home Video. $19.98)
TOKYO STORY (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)
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originally posted: 12/09/13 11:31:15
last updated: 12/10/13 00:27:27