DVD Obscura: 8/31/11

DVD Obscura: 8/31/11

Aug 31, 2011

 

New: A Domestic Thriller and Some Provocative Imports

David Hyde-Pierce gets about as far away from Niles Crane as possible in The Perfect Host (Magnolia Home Entertainment/Magnet; now available). While the film opens with the Frasier star playing a character you might think you recognize — as Warwick Wilson, he’s getting everything ready for an absolutely perfect dinner party — things start to change when a fugitive gunman (played by Clayne Crawford of 24) crashes the event, pretending to be a friend of a friend of Warwick’s.

And then…well, it’s the delicious surprises that make The Perfect Host such a spellbindingly entertaining nail-biter. I watched it earlier this year with an absolutely breathless audience at the USA Film Festival/Dallas, and now viewers at home can enjoy this thoroughly unpredictable game of cat and mouse.

Zeitgeist Films and KimStim release two other festival faves this week that will keep you guessing: the award-winning Spanish action thriller Cell 211 (in which a prison guard is forced to pretend to be a member of a cellblock gang to stay alive) and Romanian new-wave entry Police, Adjective, from director Corneliu Porumboiu (12:08 East of Bucharest). If you can work with the latter film’s deliberately deliberate pace, the payoff is well worth it.

 
 
 
 
 
Classics: Guns, Shields, Scares, Strikers and a French Master

Timed to the recent release of the Guillermo del Toro–produced Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Warner Archive has released a remastered version of the original 1973 TV movie of the same name (now available) that frightened a young del Toro and inspired the remake. The telefilm holds up — even if the creature effects are a little old-fashioned, the shocks and suspense still deliver. The new DVD features a commentary with horror experts Sean Abley, Steve “Uncle Creepy” Barton, and Jeffrey Reddick.

Also tied into a recent big-screen release is the 1990 Captain America (now available) from MGM’s “Limited Edition Collection” of movies-on-demand titles. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this version’s pretty embarrassing, despite the best efforts of Matt Salinger in the title role. (Yes, he’s the son of J.D., but he’s built up a notable résumé on his own as an actor and producer.) Still, for superhero completists, you can finally get rid of that crappy bootleg you bought at Comic-Con a few years ago.

With organized labor fighting back against the governors of Wisconsin and Ohio, what better time for a gorgeous restoration of Sergei Eisenstein’s directorial debut Strike (Kino Classics; now available)? Eisenstein’s extraordinary gifts for camerawork and editing are already fully evident in his first feature, and it’s a stirring portrayal of a 1903 factory strike that still resonates. The DVD and Blu-Ray releases include Eisenstein’s first short film, thought to be lost for many years, and a documentary, Eisenstein and the Revolutionary Spirit.

The Criterion Collection keeps putting out extraordinary DVDs, almost faster than I can write about them. In recent weeks, we’ve seen the Blu-Ray debut of Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing — a movie that taught Quentin Tarantino a thing or two about telling stories out of chronological order — and now The Complete Jean Vigo, a collection featuring the entire filmography of the French genius behind such classics as Zero for Conduct and L’Atalante. Now if only someone would release Julien Temple’s moving biopic of the filmmaker, 1998’s Vigo, which has never been available on DVD in the U.S. (More on these releases in our Criterion Corner section.)

TV: Must-See Comedy, Teen Trauma, Cops and Creatures

Two of the cornerstones of NBC’s Thursday night line-up get snazzy new DVD box sets: Community: The Complete Second Season (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment; September 6) shows the sitcom going into weird and wonderful directions, from paintballing to Pulp Fiction–themed birthday parties to the animated Christmas episode.

And if you’re still teary-eyed over Steve Carell hanging up his Michael Scott suit, The Office: Season Seven (Universal Studios Home Entertainment; September 6) will let you relive those final, golden moments. (Guest stars like Jim Carrey, James Spader, Will Arnett, Amy Ryan, Ricky Gervais, Timothy Olyphant, and Catherine Tate don’t hurt either.)

Probably the most interesting subplot on 90210: The Third Season (CBS/Paramount Home Entertainment; now available) was tennis-pro Teddy (Trevor Donovan) coming out of the closet, so it was a bit dispiriting to hear that Teddy will pop up only about four times in the coming season. Still, with this DVD, you can follow his whole story, along with betrayals and bitch-slapping and weddings and cat-fights and medication-switching and all the other fun stuff this goofy but addictive show manages to cram into each episode.

Taking place in a completely different SoCal zip code is Joseph Wambaugh’s acclaimed anthology series Police Story, and Police Story: Season One (Shout! Factory; September 6) takes us back to the 1973-1974 season for a show that influenced many that followed, including Hill Street Blues and Homicide: Life on the Street.

And if all that gritty cop stuff has you craving some thoroughly frothy entertainment, why not check out Sigmund and the Sea Monsters: Season One (Vivendi Entertainment, September 6), the beloved Sid and Marty Krofft series about two surfer kids (Johnny Whitaker and Scott C. Kolden) who befriend a lonely and misunderstood walking hunk of seaweed? This is the sort of thing kids happily ate up with bowl after bowl of sugary cereal on Saturday mornings in the early 1970s.

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