DVD/Blu-Ray Reviews For 2/24: "If It Weren't For Venetian Blinds, It'd Be Curtains For Us. . ."
By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 02/25/15 05:10:10
In this latest roundup of new DVD/Blu-Ray titles available to buy or rent, you can find this year's big Oscar winner as well as a couple of interesting obscurities, a couple of really awful comedies and a bit of titillation for good measure.
NEW AND NOTABLEAN AUTUMN AFTERNOON (The Criterion Collection. $39.95): In what would prove to be the closing chapter of one of the great careers in the history of world cinema, the last film of Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu was this 1962 drama about a widower (Chishu Ryu) who, due to a series of unexpected events, finds himself trying to convince the dutiful daughter who lives with and takes care of him to finally marry and live her own life. Like the best films of Ozu, this one is simple, direct and beautiful to behold and while it inspires any number of emotions throughout its running time, it earns each and every one of them. One of the great works from one of the greats, this edition includes such special features as a commentary from film expert David Bordwell and a 1978 episode of the French television show "Cine Regards" featuring a look back at Ozu's entire career.
BATMAN: THE TELEVISION SERIES--SEASON 2, PART ONE (Warner Home Video. $39.98): What's this? The DVD debut of the first half of the second season of the campy Sixties-era superhero TV favorite? Adam West and Burt Ward saving the day with the help of a cool car, nifty gadgets and some frighteningly tight outfits? An array of guest villains played by the likes of Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin, Liberace, Art Carney, Shelly Winters, Vincent Price and Otto Preminger? Surprisingly, these episodes hold up pretty well today as a cheerfully goofy take on a character that has sometimes been a little too self-serious for his own good. Other new TV-related titles of note include "Game of Thrones: Season Four" (HBO Home Entertainment. $59.99), "Nurse Jackie: Season 6" (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $29.98) and "Olive Kitteridge" (HBO Home Entertainment. $39.98).
BEACH BLANKET BINGO/MUSCLE BEACH PARTY (Olive Films. $29.95 each): Considering the fact that we are all pretty much sick to death of this goddamned winter, why not beat the cold with a couple of the classic AIP Beach Party movies from the Sixties that made teen heartthrobs out of Franke Avalon and Annette Funicello. Both are dumb but cute though the only way to really tell them apart is by the guest stars that happened to wander by while the camera was rolling--besides such regulars as Avalon, Funicello and Harvey Lembeck (the semi-fearsome Erich von Zipper himself), "Bingo" also included the likes of Linda Evans, Don Rickles, Paul Lynde and the legendary Buster Keaton while "Muscle" brought back Rickles and also threw Bond Girl Luciana Paluzzi, Morey Amsterdam, Buddy Hackett and musical performances by surf guitar god Dick Dale and Little Stevie Wonder.
BEYOND THE LIGHTS (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): In this very silly soap opera, a Rihanna-like singing sensation (the wonderfully-named Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is cracking up under the pressure of being the biggest superstar in the world (despite not having actually released her first album yet) when she meets a nice-guy cop (Nate Parker) who first saves her life and then falls in love with her because of who she is and not because of her fame. The two leads are charming and attractive as all get out but are undone by the fatally inane story provided by writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood, one of those hollow and cliched contraptions that is nowhere near as knowledgable about the music business as it thinks it is.
BIRDMAN (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): By now, I assume you know why you should probably check out this dark comedy about a once-popular actor (Michael Keaton) trying to jump-start his flagging career by producing a seemingly doomed Broadway venture for himself to write, direct and star in. While I was admittedly on the "Boyhood" bandwagon regarding this year's Oscar race, that does not in any way lessen my affection for this film--it is fast, funny, ingeniously conceived, brilliantly executed and filled with great performances from Keaton and such supporting players as Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Emma Stone. The only downside is that while the film nabbed the Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay and Cinematography, Keaton--whose performance was the best of a career that has always seemed a bit underrated--failed to win Best Actor. To prove to yourself just how much of an injustice this was, you can also now watch "The Theory of Everything" (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98) and observe Eddie Redmayne's comparatively meh performance as Stephen Hawking for yourself.
CAVEMAN (Olive Films. $29.95): In arguably the silliest artistic endeavor from one of the Beatles after their breakup, Ringo Starr stars in this goofy 1981 comedy about a lovably dopey caveman who pines for a gorgeous member of a rival tribe (Barbara Bach, who soon became the real-life Mrs. Starr) and whose attempts to woo her away from her brute boyfriend (John Matuszak) leads to him making any number of surprising discoveries. Essentially a spoof of "Quest for Fire" that managed to arrive a year before "Quest for Fire" came out, this is dumb as can be but in a friendly way that will appeal to kids and lovers of cartoonish slapstick. Alas, this bare-bones presentation fails to provide viewers with the glossary of definitions to the made-up caveman language that theatrical viewers received after buying a ticket.
DUMB AND DUMBER TO (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Presumably because nothing much else was going on in their big-screen careers at the time, Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels and co-writers/directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly reunited for this presumably long-awaited sequel to their hit 1994 gross-out comedy--this time around, idiots supreme Harry and Lloyd are on a quest to find the former's heretofore unknown daughter. Inevitably, complications ensue--few of them amusing and several of them kind of cruel to co-star Kathleen Turner to boot. Admittedly, I didn't exactly find the original to be a work of comedic genius either but that one at least had two big laugh-out-loud moments, which by my count is one more than can be found here.
THE INTERVIEW (Sony Home Entertainment. $14.99): After all the drama and controversy surrounding this comedy about a pair of American journalists (Seth Rogen and James Franco) whose unexpected invitation to interview North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Randall Park) is sidetracked when the CIA recruits them to assassinate him instead, the film turned out to be a massive dud in which any potential for smart satire was pushed aside in order to add more jokes involving gay panic or severed body parts. When future generations study the story that surrounded this film on the eve of its release and then actually watch the thing, my guess is that they are going to be throughly befuddled that anyone could get worked up over something as silly, stupid and innocuous as this.
KISS ME, STUPID (Olive Films. $29.95): In a film so controversial at its time (1964) that it nearly destroyed his career, the great Billy Wilder offered up this outrageous comedy about an aspiring songwriter (Ray Walston, filling in for Peter Sellers, who suffered a heart attack a couple of weeks into filming), who will do anything to sell a song to international pop star Dino (Dean Martin) when he is stuck briefly stuck in the remote town of Climax, Nevada, including hiring town prostitute Polly the Pistol (Kim Novak) to pose as his wife and seduce him, but, as they say, complications soon arise. The film was decried as a smutty scandal back in the day and indeed, some of the material is still risqué enough to raise an eyebrow or two today. That said, it is still one of Wilder's most inspired farces and one of the most underrated works in one of the great Hollywood filmographies. Too bad that this Blu-Ray only includes a trailer as its sole special feature because a featurette or commentary discussing the controversy it inspired at length might have proven to be of great value. For another perversely funny look at the perils of marriage, Sixties style, this week also sees the Blu-Ray debut of "How to Murder Your Wife" (Olive Films. $29.95), in which confirmed bachelor (and longtime Wilder regular) Jack Lemmon wakes up married to sexy Italian Virna Lisi and will go to great lengths to regain his bachelorhood.
LAGGIES (Lionsgate Home Entertainment. $19.98): In one of my least-favorite films of 2014, an aimless young woman (Keira Knightley) panics when her long-suffering boyfriend proposes marriage and, through circumstances too stupid to get into here, meets a high school girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) and winds up staying with her and her divorced father (Sam Rockwell) because. . .well, just because. If any of this seems even remotely amusing or plausible to you, then you might actually get something out of it. Otherwise, it will most likely strike you as being more like a lesser Adam Sandler vehicle, albeit one with a tone far too self-serious for the drivel on display.
LIFE ITSELF (Magnolia Home Entertainment. $26.98): Obviously there is no real way that I can speak or write objectively about this documentary on the life and work of the late Roger Ebert that was inspired by his best-selling memoir and which wound up capturing the final months of his long struggle with cancer. All I can say is that if you have any interest in film or film criticism, this film by Steve James (the man behind the legendary "Hoop Dreams") is a must-see and if you are simply interested in the story of a man who truly lived life to its fullest and who affected the lives of countless people over the years, this film is absolutely essential.
MAISON CLOSE: SEASON ONE (Music Box Films. $39.95): If "Fifty Shades of Grey" left you curiously unsatisfied--dramatically and otherwise--you might get a kick out of this French TV series about the employees of a popular Parisian bordello circa 1871; not only is it infinitely better from the acting, writing and directing perspectives but the erotic content is far more stimulating as well. And if that isn't enough for you, you can further satisfy your jones for Euro-style erotica with "Lady Chatterley's Lover" (Olive Films. $29.95), the 1981 adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence classic starring Sylvia Kristel and "Schoolgirl Report Volume 13: Don't Forget Love During Sex" (Impulse Pictures. $24.98), the final installment of the long-running Seventies-era series of silly Swedish sleaze featuring overage students getting involved in all sorts of eyebrow-raising (among other body parts) hijinks.
RACE FOR YOUR LIFE, CHARLIE BROWN (Paramount Home Video. $14.98): When I was a wee lad, my late father took my younger brother and I to a matinee showing of this 1977 film featuring the "Peanuts" gang in a series of summer camp misadventures. Alas, about halfway through, something broke and the rest of the screening was scrapped--since the only other film playing was "Midnight Express," we went home and until I received my review copy of its first-ever DVD release, I never saw the rest of it. Now that I have watched it all, I can assure you that it is like the other "Peanuts" feature films that came out around that time--it looks cheap and contains very little of the charm that marked both the comic strip and the best of the TV specials.
THE ROAD TO HONG KONG (Olive Films. $29.95): In what would prove to be the last of their long-running "Road" series, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby find themselves in trouble once again when Hope takes a miracle drug that gives him a photographic memory--alas, he also memorizes a top-secret formula and soon becomes the target of a group of spies, led by Robert Morley and including Joan Collins as the babe who inevitably comes between the guys. (Dorothy Lamour, who usually essayed that role, is afforded a cameo.) This 1962 effort is definitely the least of the series but the Hope-Crosby repartee still manages to induce some smiles and there is one flat-out hysterical scene in which Hope visits a nutty doctor played by Peter Sellers in a cameo bit.
ROSEWATER (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): Making his big-screen debut as a writer-director, Jon "Death to Smoochy" Stewart presented this true story of a London-based Iranian journalist (Gael Garcia Bernal) who returns home to cover the 2009 elections, only to be detained by authorities for months and tortured who believe he is a spy following his appearance on a "Daily Show" sketch. The resulting film is well-meaning enough and there is nothing especially wrong with it but one wishes that there was a little more passion behind it. Although he does a solid enough job behind the camera, I was going to suggest that Stewart not quit his day job anytime soon but it looks as though that particular ship has already sailed.
THE WILD ANGELS (Olive Films. $29.95): Three years before "Easy Rider," Peter Fonda mounted his hog for this cheerfully sleazy exploitation film from Roger Corman in which a group of Hell's Angels go off in violent pursuit of a motorcycle that is stolen from one of their members. Featuring Nancy Sinatra, Bruce Dern, Diane Ladd and actual Hell's Angels members, this makes for some grungy fun and while it may not be a masterpiece by any stretch, I personally think that it beats the overrated "Easy Rider" like a gong. For an extra dose of sleaze, this week also sees the Blu-Ray arrival of "Psych-Out" (Olive Films. $29.95), a tour of the drug culture circa 1968 featuring appearances from the likes of Susan Strasberg, Dean Stockwell, a then-unknown Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Max Julien and the haunting strains of the Strawberry Alarm Clock.
101 DALMATIANS: DIAMOND EDITION (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $39.95)
ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO-GOOD, VERY BAD DAY (Walt Disney Home Entertainment. $39.95)
A DAY IN THE COUNTRY (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)
DON'T LOOK NOW (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)
FORCE MAJEURE (Magnolia Home Entertainment. $29.98)
LOVE AT FIRST BITE/ONCE BITTEN (Shout! Factory. $24.97)
NIGHTCRAWLER (Universal Home Entertainment. $34.98)
THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (Shout! Factory. $24.97)
ST. VINCENT (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98)
VAMPIRES KISS/HIGH SPIRITS (Shout! Factory. $24.97)