|DVD/Blu-Ray Reviews For 1/29: "The Results Of Our Anti-Ugliness Drive Were Less Than Satisfactory "
|by Peter Sobczynski
It has been a while but now that my gig in the Patriots locker room has come to an unexpected end, I have returned with the latest column of new titles on DVD and Blu-Ray. Enjoy.
NEW AND NOTABLE
BANSHEE: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (HBO Home Entertainment. $59.98): Those who have arrived a little late to the party for Cinemax's violent, sexy and undeniably entertaining rural noir series about the surprisingly sordid goings-on in a Amish-area small town where an ex-con (Antony Starr) has taken over as sheriff, largely to be closer to the former lover/partner-in-crime (Ivana Milicevic) who is now living there with a new identity can now play catch-up with the show (now in its third season) with this set containing all ten Season 2 episodes and a number of deleted scenes, commentary tracks, interviews and other tidbits. Although this show does not get nearly the same amount of hype as other cable offerings like "Game of Thrones" or "Girls," this is still definitely a show to watch, albeit when the kiddies are far away from the TV.
BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP (Fox Home Entertainment. $19.98): Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth star in this spectacularly stupid thriller about a woman who, following an accident, suffers from a weird brain injury that causes all of her memories accumulated during the day to be wiped away when she goes to sleep. Of course, there is much more going on in this ridiculous "Memento" knockoff than meets the eye but you will most likely be laughing too hard at all of the hilarious plot machinations to notice. Some deluded people might describe this film as "Hitchcockian" but it isn't even Robyn, let alone Alfred.
THE BOOK OF LIFE (Fox Home Entertainment. $29.98): Although most of the talk surrounding this year's Oscar nominations for Best Animated Feature concerned the inexplicable omission of "The Lego Movie" from the final cut, few noticed that this equally deserving charmer, a Mexican-themed epic from the mind of Guillermo del Toro about the love triangle involving three childhood friends and how their lives are changed forever thanks to the influence of the two lords of the Underworld, failed to make the list as well. A welcome breath of fresh air from the usual animated films of late, this one fuses together goofy humor, striking imagery and a story more interested in trafficking in grand myth than in empty pop culture references.
THE BOXTROLLS (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): One of the 2014 animated features that did make the Oscar shortlist was the latest from Laika, the production company responsible for "Coraline" and "Paranorman," a fantasy tale about a little orphan boy who is adopted by a bunch of benign creatures who wear discarded boxes and tries to protect them from the clutches of a sleazy exterminator who has made them out to be a menace in order to drum up business. As much as I loved "Coraline" and "Paranorman," I could not work up much enthusiasm for this effort because while the stop-motion animation technique is as stunning as ever, the story this time is very weak and the visual style too often crosses the border from charmingly grotesque to flat-out icky. (After watching this, you will be glad that Smell-O-Vision never took off in a big way.) I still prefer it to a lot of the recent animated hits but knowing what Laika is capable of, this has to be chalked up as a disappointment.
FURY (Sony Home Entertainment. $30.99): In this lumbering epic from writer-director David Ayer set during the waning days of World War II, Brad Pitt leads a five-man tank crew traveling the countryside of Europe trying to stop the Nazi forces from making their last big push to win the war. Overlong, ridiculously violent (even by war movie standards) and filled with cliched characters and situations, this is a film that blatantly tries to reach for the gravitas of the likes of "Saving Private Ryan" and its ilk but fails to match the level of the B-movie programmers that filled theaters while the war was still raging on in real life.
HENRY V (Shout! Factory. $24.97): After having already established himself as a powerhouse stage presence in England, Kenneth Branagh made his directorial debut with this acclaimed 1989 adaptation of the classic Shakespeare drama about the British king and his attempts to rally his men together in his quest to conquer France. Although Branagh would go on to direct better Shakespearian films than this (his crazily ambitious full-length "Hamlet" is still a stunner), this is one of the better ones in his oeuvre and an impressive start to what would prove to be an admittedly uneven career behind the camera.
JEAN DE FLORETTE/MANON OF THE SPRING (Shout Factory. $24.97): In the first half of this two-part epic from Claude Berri set in a remote area of Provence, a city dweller (Gerard Depardieu) moves his wife and young daughter to a farm he has inherited in order to make a go of it, not knowing that a greedy neighbor (Yves Montand) has deliberately blocked his main source of water in the hopes of getting the land cheap. In the second half, set ten years later, the now-grown daughter (Emmanuelle Beart) discovers the ruse that destroyed her family, she embarks on a brutal revenge plot against the neighbor and his son (Daniel Auteuil). Whether seen separately or all at once in one big gulp, this is masterful storytelling written on such a grand scale that the subtitles hardly seem necessary and featuring great performances from some of the best French actors and actresses of the era.
THE JUDGE (Warner Home Video. $28.98): In a bid to remind people that he can still appear in a movie even without the aid of an iron suit or a deerstalker cap, Robert Downey Jr. stars in this drama about a hot-shot big-city lawyer who returns to the small town where he grew up to defend his estranged father (Robert Duvall) on a murder charge. The whole thing is pants-crappingly bad (literally at one point)--overlong, contrived, filled with subplots that go absolutely nowhere (including one involving Leighton Meester and the possibility of incest that is largely treated for laughs and then thrown away) and acted in a universally indifferent manner by a group of normally strong performers who all decided to take it easy this time around. Frankly, the only real mystery here is how Duvall's uber-hammy performance was able to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Based on the evidence here, I guess they figured that he was just following in the footsteps of previous winner Jack Palance and crapped bigger than everyone else.
LUCY (Universal Home Entertainment. $29.98): After making a series of admittedly uneven films since returning from his short-lived "retirement" a few years ago, one-man moviemaking machine Luc Besson was back in beautiful form with this stylish, exciting and enormously entertaining thriller about an unwilling drug mule (Scarlett Johansson) who accidentally ingests a substance that allows her to use 100% of her brain's functions and deploys them to destroy her tormentors and to seek out the one scientist (Morgan Freeman) who might hold the key to what she is becoming. Yes, it is preposterous but it is a preposterousness of an eminently watchable type that contains a number of stunning action setpieces, a performance by Johansson that is more detailed and nuanced than one might expect to find in a wild thriller and a finale that is jaw-dropping in its sheer audaciousness in the way that it somehow combines key moments from "2001" and "The Tree of Life" while never skimping on the bullets. Seriously, this was one of the 10 best films of 2014 and I will fight anyone who says differently.
MY WINNIPEG (The Criterion Collection. $29.95): Canadian surrealist filmmaker Guy Maddin, essentially his country's homegrown equivalent of David Lynch (though by no means a mere copycat) has given viewers any number of odd and astonishing visions throughout his career but this utterly unclassifiable 2007 tribute/roast to his hometown takes the cakes. As he guides you through a bizarre half-awake landscape filled with hockey fanatics, a river filled with frozen horses, scavenger hunts, deranged TV soap opera and B-movie favorite Ann Savage (still as cheerful and friendly as she was in the classic "Detour"), you may not be able to figure out what is real and what is fantasy but it will almost certainly get you thinking about your own relationship with your birthplace. A must-own for Maddin fans, this Blu-ray also includes an interview with the filmmaker conducted by art critic Robert Enright, four shorts by Maddin and Even Johnson on other Winnipegian oddities and five of Maddin's recent shorts.
THE PALM BEACH STORY (The Criterion Collection. $29.95): During his brief reign as one of Hollywood's top filmmakers, writer-director Preston Sturges made some of the wildest and screwiest comedies in American film history and this 1942 effort, his fifth, remains one of his crowning achievements. Joel McCrea and Claudette Colbert star, respectively, as a broke inventor and his money-loving wife. Fearing that she is bringing him down, she decides to leave him so that he can fully concentrate on his work and achieve success at last and while fleeing to Florida, with him in pursuit, she becomes involved with a goofball millionaire (Rudy Vallee) and his sister. Breathlessly paced and wildly funny, this is one of the great screen comedies and if you somehow have not yet seen it, you are hereby advised to drop literally everything you are doing and see it right this instant. Although not exactly overloaded with bonus features, the disc does include "Safeguarding Military Information," a 1941 military propaganda short made by Sturges and a 1943 radio adaptation of the film. A must-see.
SKIDOO (Olive Films. $29.95): X In one of the strangest attempts by a member of Hollywood's old guard to show that he could fit in with the rapidly changing times of the late Sixties, Otto Preminger directed this supremely strange psychedelic comedy in which a retired gangster (Jackie Gleason) is forced to go into prison in order to rub out a former associate (Mickey Rooney) and winds up having his consciousness expanded instead thanks to an accidental ingestion of LSD. Between the strange plot, the decidedly eclectic cast--including Carol Channing, Frankie Avalon, Frank Gorshin, John Philip Law, Peter Lawford, Burgess Meredith, George Raft, Cesar Romero and "Groucho Marx playing God" (a mob boss, not the supreme deity)--and weirdo touches (such as having the end credits sung, it is not surprising that this film was such a massive flop when it first came out in 1968. It still isn't very good by most conventional standards but for sheer novelty value alone, it is not without interest and those with a taste for the bizarre stuff may even find its eccentricities to be somewhat charming after all. For those of you with a taste for late-period Preminger, Olive Films, which is presenting this title in a newly remastered edition, has also released cleaned-up versions of "Hurry Sundown"(Olive FIlms. $29.95), his bloated and occasionally ridiculous melodrama about racial strife in a Georgia backwater town in the 1940s with another all-star cast headed by Michael Caine and Jane Fonda, and "Such Good Friends" (Olive Films. $29.95), his jet-black 1971 satire, featuring a screenplay by Elaine May (writing under the pseudonym of Esther Dale), about an upper-class Manhattan housewife (Dyan Cannon) whose life is torn upside down when her husband goes into the hospital for minor surgery and doesn't come out. Be warned--the latter title features a nude scene involving no less a cinematic sex symbol than Burgess Meredith himself.X
SUPERNOVA (Shout! Factory. $29.98): One of the most chaotic movie productions of modern times, this 2000 sci-fi epic went through numerous directors (including Jack Sholder, who left early on, Walter Hill, who shot the bulk of the film and who would come and go a couple of times, and Francis Ford Coppola, who was brought in afterwards to try to make some sense of it all) and years of delays and reshoots before being dumped on the public in a version pretty much disavowed by all involved (after Hill removed his name from the credits after yet another dispute, it would eventually be credited to the fictional "Thomas Lee"). If only the film itself were as interesting as the backstory--alas, this confusing space thriller wastes a good cast (including James Spader, Angela Bassett, Robin Tunney and Robert Forster) on a nonsensical plot about a deep space medical vessel that goes on a rescue mission that places them in numerous forms of extreme danger. It is bad but those watching it to see all the hiccups that were incurred as a result of the reshoots and reedits ( my favorite--to beef up the romance between Spader and Bassett, footage of a zero-gravity sex scene between Tunney and Peter Facinelli was utilized with their faces spliced on and the footage darkened in a desperate attempt to cover the fact that Tunney is white and Bassett isn't) may have a blast with it. This Blu-ray does include deleted scenes, an alternate ending and new interviews with co-stars Forster and Lou Diamond Philips and while they all hint at the behind-the-scenes chaos, you'll find yourself wishing that someone had given the whole endeavor the full "Lost in La Mancha" treatment.
ZERO THEOREM (Well Go. $24.98): In the latest mind-bender from Terry Gilliam, set in the not-too-distant future, Christoph Waltz plays a brilliant-but-reclusive math genius who is given a special project by the head of the conglomerate he works for--solve a theorem that has not only driven others before him to madness but which may indeed prove once and for all that everything in life is essentially meaningless. Although not nearly the equal of such Gilliam masterpieces as "Brazil," "12 Monkeys" and "Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas"--the storyline is too dense for its own good at times, the seams of the low budget are sometimes a little too evident and the ending is not quite the mind-blower that it clearly wants to be--it is still a hugely ambitious work in a genre where ambition is in short supply these days and I have no doubt that it will go on to become a cult favorite in due time.
THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)
THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL (Shout! Factory. $29.98)
LA BELLE CAPTIVE (Olive Films. $29.95)
LA CINEGA (The Criterion Collection. $39.95)
RETURN TO ME (Olive Films. $29.95)
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originally posted: 01/29/15 13:01:52