California Literary Review

The Fourth Wall

A Film and Television Blog

William’s Weekly DVD Heist: 4-13-10

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April 13th, 2010 at 10:25 am

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Every week, dozens of DVDs and Blu-Rays are released unto the world, and in this economy it gets harder and harder to decide what to spend your money on. The Weekly DVD Heist is here to tell you what your primary objective is, determine the difference between high priority and low priority targets, and help you decide what to leave behind.

Not much new this week, but we do get some high profile re-releases, along with a few rarities only just now joining the DVD party. They’re coming up now, so let’s get said party started.

April 13th, 2010

PRIMARY OBJECTIVE:

Apollo 13 (15th Anniversary Edition) (Blu-Ray)

DVD Cover: Apollo 13

None of the “cool” kids seem to like Ron Howard much anymore. Oh sure, they’ll begrudge him his involvement in “Arrested Development,” but for some reason they only seem to remember his recent, bland and generally pretty crappy directorial efforts like The Grinch, A Beautiful Mind and The Da Vinci Code, any of which could legitimately belong on a recent “Worst Films of the Decade” list with no complaints. But before what I like to refer to as “The Unpleasantness,” Howard was a respectable filmmaker churning out fantastic slices of American entertainment from Splash to Willow to Parenthood, a period culminating in Apollo 13, which is probably his best work. A great cast at the top of their game, a story that’s almost too incredible to be true, and the best direction of Howard’s career. Why don’t we just call Apollo 13 a classic again?

Oh right. “The Unpleasantness.” Grow up, people.

HIGH PRIORITY:

Gone with the Wind (Scarlett Edition) (Blu-Ray)

DVD Cover: Gone with the Wind

So last year, Gone with the Wind came out on Blu-Ray in an enormously expensive box set that spat in the face of every film aficionado suffering from what I like to call “The Economy.” Now at last we get a stripped down presentation of this incredible transfer of what people now seem hesitant to call one of the greatest movies of all time. Watching it today it’s genuinely difficult to understand why critical appreciation has waned. Sure, there’s a fair amount of racism and sexism to be found in Gone with the Wind, but it’s indicative of the time period (both of the production and its period setting) and never as painful as advertised. Every frame of this Technicolor wonder seems worthy of framing, especially in High Definition, and the melodrama feels as Shakespearean as ever. A “Must Own” if ever there was one.

A Nightmare On Elm Street (Blu-Ray)

DVD Cover: A Nightmare on Elm Street

A few of the original Nightmare on Elm Streets were actually pretty good. Dream Warriors had a really neat superhero vibe to it, and New Nightmare is in many respects the cleverest film of Wes Craven’s career. But the original Nightmare is as close to horror perfection as has ever been achieved, and owes its success to a well-structured and fiendishly clever screenplay that gets the most out of its high concept (a rarity these days), a particularly-talented young cast (also a rarity these days), and a director who actually knew how to film a dream sequence and make it actually feel like a dream. (Something absolutely none of the other directors in the franchise seem to have figured out, instead turning Freddy Krueger’s realm into some kind of horror-themed amusement park.) Nightmare had an intensely 1980’s look that may not benefit much from the High Definition treatment, so check the reviews before you upgrade, but oh man, this is tempting…

The Offence (DVD)

DVD Cover: The Offence

Sidney Lumet has directed some of the best dramas ever filmed, from Serpico to Dog Day Afternoon to The Verdict, but somehow he doesn’t seem to get the respect of some of his flashier peers. His unobtrusive visual style just didn’t lend itself to audience recognition and as a result, his films often don’t feel “directed” at all. For the record, people, that’s not a bad thing. One of the last of his films to not receive a proper DVD release – The Offence, starring Sean Connery as a detective who after 20 years of witnessing one atrocity after another just completely snaps – is now available via Amazon.com, and I for one am really looking forward to seeing it.

LOW PRIORITY:

Defendor (DVD)

DVD Cover: Defendor

Woody Harrelson is experiencing a long overdue career boost thanks to Zombieland and The Messenger, and I’ve heard good things about his performance in this low-budget superhero tale as a normal guy in search of a nemesis. It looks like a good double feature for Kick-Ass, and I’ll bet the timing of the release is no accident. The “Average Joe” superhero genre can be really hit (The Specials) or miss (Blankman… ugh), so fingers crossed for this one.

The Great Mouse Detective (Mystery in the Mist Edition) (DVD)

DVD Cover: The Great Mouse Detective

This classy Sherlock Holmes for kids story is one of Disney’s better animated films from the decade before The Little Mermaid rejuvenated the company both financially and artistically. Plus, it stars Vincent Price as “Professor Ratigan” and even features Basil Rathbone (in audio clips from his previous films) as the voice of the real Sherlock, who lives above the eponymous mousey mystery solver. I have nothing bad to say about this film, and the only reason it’s not a “High Priority” is because Disney is re-releasing the film to home video and not in high definition. I realize that it’s not a top priority for the company, but The Great Mouse Detective has a respectable cult following and deserves better treatment.

“Haunted” (DVD)

DVD Cover: Haunted

Most people know Matthew Fox as “That Guy from Lost.” But this short-lived series came out when he was still “That Guy from Party of Five.” He’s really moved up in the world. Anyway, “Haunted” starred Fox as a Public Detective-turned-Private Detective after the unsolved abduction of his son, who begins to see ghosts after a Near-Death experience and uses his new abilities to solve crimes. So basically it’s The Ghost Whisperer meets Medium (ha ha) with the “Woe Is Me” melodrama of the first few seasons of “Angel.” About half of these episodes never aired, so if you remember this series fondly then now’s the time to buy. (Of course, next week or any of the weeks after will probably be just as good. You waited this long, right?)

Pirate Radio (DVD/Blu-Ray)

DVD Cover: Pirate Radio

I did not see Pirate Radio, but esteemed California Literary Review film critic Julia Rhodes did, and it made her Top Ten Films of 2009. Here’s what she had to say about it:

Pirate Radio is a fascinating, jovial story about British culture in the 1960s and those who were brave enough to stand up to censorship for the love of rock ‘n roll. The art direction, soundtrack, dialogue, and acting are top-notch. Think of every funny Brit (and New Zealander) you can, and half of them are in Pirate Radio. This movie didn’t release as widely as it should have (largely because it released the same day 2012 came out—bah).”

Okay then.

The Slammin’ Salmon (DVD)

DVD Cover: The Slammin' Salmon

The Broken Lizard guys have broken my heart before. Club Dread sucks. I mean, it really, really sucks. It’s one of those comedies where you can remember every single time you laughed because you were completely shocked that laughter was still possible (and even then only twice). But then again Super Troopers and Beerfest had an undeniable charms and even, at times, officially qualified as “comic genius.” Their films don’t really set box offices on fire so The Slammin’ Salmon barely got released theatrically, but here it is on home video and thus far critics and audiences alike have been very kind. Looks like this one’s a rental, folks.

Valentino (DVD)

DVD Cover: Valentino

Ken Russell was once hailed as “Britain’s Orson Welles,” a moniker perhaps too appropriate since his career has taken a serious downturn in the later decades of his life. I’m a big fan of his off-the-wall Lair of the White Worm, but he’s probably better known for Altered States, Women in Love and of course The Devils, which has yet to see an uncut release stateside. Valentino reportedly takes extreme liberties with the life of its subject, silent film star Rudolph Valentino, and Russell referred to the film as the biggest mistake of his career, and is apparently quoted as saying, “What idiot made this?” It was a commercial and critical failure, but it’s also Ken Russell doing a biography of Rudolph Valentino, so I want to see it.

Wicked Stepmother (DVD)

DVD Cover: Wicked Stepmother

You know, M. Night Shyamalan reminds me a lot of Larry Cohen, who wrote and directed Wicked Stepmother, a film best known for having Bette Davis’s last on-screen performance. Both writer/directors have made a career of taking familiar genre concepts and spinning them into new and interesting arenas, usually those of normal, working class heroes. Cohen’s Q, The Winged Serpent is one of my favorite genre screenplays for its smart and character-driven take on the giant monster oeuvre, and of his more recent work, mostly relegated to thriller scripts, I really love his endlessly clever B-Movie Cellular, which takes the mobile phone – usually a storytelling crutch that makes plotting either too easy or too difficult – and builds an entire movie based on finding new and interesting ways to mine the ubiquitous device for dramatic effect. I say all these nice things about Cohen’s other films because I haven’t seen Wicked Stepmother and heard it wasn’t very good, but I’m a fan of Cohen’s work and want to see it anyway.

LEAVE IT BEHIND:

Oh My God (Expanded Edition) (DVD)

DVD Cover: Oh My God

This week’s “That’s Barely A Movie!” award goes to Oh My God, a documentary dedicated to asking people all over the world what they think God is. It sounds like a film school project that got way out of hand, and it sure seems like the experience of watching this film could be entirely trumped by having the same conversation with your friends at your own convenience (and preferably whilst intoxicated… Double Trouble!). Plus, the presence of celebrities like Hugh Jackman and David Copperfield pretty much nullifies any claims of sincerity the filmmakers may have once had, since they clearly assume that audiences could only be tricked into watching this film because of celebrity involvement rather than harbor any interest in their actual premise. If you’ve ever actually asked yourself what David Copperfield thinks God is (be honest), then I guess this is the documentary for you.

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