In this week's DVD column, there's an American original, challenging comedy, a great new documentary and a very sad finale for a marginal show business personality.
Spike Jones: The Legend
When I received the advisory from Infinity Entertainment that they were releaseing a three-DVD and one-CD set featuring classic television appearances of the great iconoclast of American pop music, I wrote back saying, "Sign me up!"
For the age-impaired, let me say that Spike Jones entertained this country much in the same way has "Weird Al" Yankovic has done with clever send-ups of popular music only Jones did it with a big band and a troupe of dancers, jugglers, acrobats and comics.
His recordings of "Cocktails for Two, "All I want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth," and "You Always Hurt the One You Love," among others, have withstood the ravages of changes in pop culture taste they're still hilarious.
Log onto www.youtube.com and search for Spike Jones videos if you've never seen him before.
Paramount Home Video had released three tapes of Jones' television shows from the early 1950s years ago, and although Infinity Entertainment didn't send me the full set, the screener disc they assembled showed some classic Jones bits. The quality of the video and sound were great.
The complete set has two radio recordings as well as four one-hour television shows.
I know I'll be getting the complete set myself.
Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus
Scientist and filmmaker Randy Olson has put together a very informative, well-rounded and informative movie about the intelligent design movement. In fact he balanced his film so carefully the intelligent design advocates he interviewed liked it!
Intelligent design is a scientific theory that has replaced creationism. Proponents of the idea believe that the fossil record has significant gaps and to explain how species have made unexplained leaps forward they point to unseen force, namely God.
Intelligent design fans want their theories to be taught along side evolution, something more traditional scientists and civil libertarians have opposed.
If this sounds like a dry social and political debate, you'd be mistaken. Olson is able to make this clash funny and shows the flaws on both sides. I think this film should be shown to high school and college students to help them grapple with the subject.
The DVD's extras show sequences that were cut and Olson explains why. Most of the sequences actually tilt the film closer to Michael Moore territory and although I'm glad to see them, I think Olson was right to cut them from the finished film.
For more information, log onto www.docurama.com.
Upright Citizens Brigade: the Complete First Season
I've always sat on a fence over whether or not I actually liked the Comedy Central series "Upright Citizen's Brigade (UCB)." Aired from 1998 to 2000, the series starred Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts and Matt Walsh as the members of the UCB, an underground organization dedicated to spreading chaos through society. They do so by setting pranks and schemes and they monitor the results from their underground lair. The four stars also play just about every other character in the show.
In many ways, UCB is similar in tone to "Monty Python's Flying Circus" and "The Firesign Theater" in that its comedy was not always inviting, but instead challenging. This was comedy that required you to be engaged. Normally I love that kind of material, but sometimes UCB was so cold, I just didn't care.
There are some laugh-out-loud moments such as a sequence in which new homeowners have to deal with "the Bucket of Truth" in their living room forcing all of their guests to face the ultimate truths in their lives. I also liked the bit involving a tyrannical school bus driver who controls her passengers by sitting on them. There are others that don't work as well.
If you're up to the challenge, then check out this two-disc set.
For more information, log onto www.paramount.com/homeentertainment.
I've watched a lot of bad movies in the past 30 years of being a film fan. Sometimes I've gone into them unknowingly and sometimes with my eyes wide open. There are bad films I've embraced for their wonky entertainment value, and others that have been a terrible train wreck.
"Illegal Aliens" falls into the second category, but I was surprised at just how bad it was.
The film was the final production starring the late Anna Nicole Smith and produced at Edgewood Studios in Rutland, VT. Although Smith was scarcely an actress, she was notorious and landing this production was definitely a feather in the studio's cap. Smith's name ensured a certain level of attention would be directed to this straight-to-DVD film regardless of its final quality.
The film is a classic example of an exploitation film. It doesn't have the budget the story deserves director David Giancola relies on three major stock footage sequences from other films to realize the terrible script but it does have an exploitable element: Smith. For decades, low-budget producers have relied on having something in their films that could take the place of a good script or big stars. In the past exploitation films have relied on monsters, violence, special effects, sex or a members of the cast famous for something other than acting to draw in an audience.
"Illegal Aliens" is not any different. The script is a mish-mash of "Critters," "Men in Black, and "Charlie's Angels," with Smith playing one of three shape-shifting aliens who have pledged to protect the earth. Joanie Laurer, the former wrestler, is the villain of the film.
The film's release was held up by the death of Smith's son and then by Smith's death.
Smith's utterly unappealing performance in the film is a very sad end to a tawdry life.
© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs