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Cul-de-sac (Blu-ray)

CRITERION

MOVIE A-

SPECIAL FEATURES B-

BLU-RAY GEEK FACTOR 7.75

(OUT OF 10)

click to enlarge Cul-de-sac (Blu-ray)
  • Cul-de-sac (Blu-ray)

Director Roman Polanski was two years away from hitting it big with Rosemary's Baby when he put together this odd yet funny black comedy starring Donald Pleasence, Lionel Stander and Françoise Dorléac.

Stander plays a gangster who winds up at the gigantic beachfront home of a married couple (Pleasence and Dorléac) after he and his partner are wounded. Stander's character is an intruder, but he and the couple develop a bizarre, funny and surprisingly close relationship. While they don't become buddies or anything like that, they manage to share a few laughs before things come to a somewhat fiery conclusion.

Stander (who most people probably remember from TV's Hart to Hart) is hilarious and scary as an unstable man dealing with major uncertainty after a botched job. Pleasence delivered one of his better performances as the confused and arguably weak husband.

Dorléac, the older sister of Catherine Deneuve (who starred in an earlier Polanski work, Repulsion), proves to be a delightfully wicked, playful actress in this co-starring role; she looked to have a great career ahead of her. Unfortunately, she would die in a fiery car crash just one year after this film's release. She had all of her sister's beauty, and a wild spontaneity about her that perhaps went beyond Deneuve's talents. What an absolute shame that she died so young.

Polanski certainly showed what separated him from other directors with this early offering. He allowed his performers to become unhinged in front of the cameras—Pleasence goes nuts here—and you get a true sense of cinematic playfulness when watching this. It's also a terrific-looking movie, with great and quirky touches. I loved the chickens roaming about the house after they were set free from their coop.

Any fan of Polanski's work who has yet to see this movie should get right on it. After one viewing, I'm willing to call it one of his better films. It was near the beginning of his directorial career, and he was already throwing genre conventions out the window. To see it now is an astonishing viewing experience.

SPECIAL FEATURES: A documentary on the making of the film that includes participation from Polanski and much of his crew. There's also an older interview with the director, and an excellent booklet containing an essay on the film.


Better Off Dead (Blu-ray)

PARAMOUNT

MOVIE B

SPECIAL FEATURES F

BLU-RAY GEEK FACTOR 5.75

(OUT OF 10)

click to enlarge Better Off Dead (Blu-ray)
  • Better Off Dead (Blu-ray)

While this film didn't necessarily make then-little-known-actor John Cusack a household name back in 1985, it did provide his future fans with something to go back and check out after he became famous. The film, directed by a nut named Savage Steve Holland, was, and still is, a severely bizarre concoction that represents the '80s at its strangest.

Cusack plays Lane Meyer, a high school student and skiing enthusiast who is madly in love with his high school sweetheart. He is promptly dumped for the school's best skier, which puts him in a suicidal mood. There are a couple of scenes in which Lane dabbles with killing himself, and I guess you could say they are in bad taste. So what? It's Cusack gold, and it's funny.

Of course, the part of this film that people probably remember the most is the scary newspaper boy angrily seeking his $2. Also hilarious is the Asian dude talking like the late sportscaster Howard Cosell and constantly challenging Lane to drag races. (He moved to the country and learned English by watching Wide World of Sports.) Also supremely bizarre is Lane's mom, played by Kim Darby, and her strange creations in the kitchen.

Cusack went on to make another couple of odd movies (including One Crazy Summer with Holland) before moving on to more serious fare. Obviously, he knows the value of this type of film to his fans, having made Hot Tub Time Machine recently, a film that acted as a nice homage to the likes of Better Off Dead.

SPECIAL FEATURES: You get nuthin'!


Eastbound and Down: The Complete Second Season

HBO

SHOW B+

SPECIAL FEATURES B

DVD GEEK FACTOR 7.25

(OUT OF 10)

click to enlarge Eastbound and Down: The Second Season
  • Eastbound and Down: The Second Season

In the hilarious second season, former Major League Baseball star Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) escapes to Mexico, where he tries for a comeback with a Mexican baseball team and meets up with his long-lost dad (Don Johnson).

While McBride has been whiffing at the movie box office lately (with the disappointing Your Highness and 30 Minutes or Less), he's delivering comic gold in this series, which will have a third and final season.

Guest stars in Season 2 include a hilarious Michael Peña as a baseball-team owner, and the always-funny Adam Scott as a baseball scout. Ana de la Reguera has a role as Kenny's new (and quite unfortunate) love interest, while Steve Little is still around as Kenny's adoring and terribly disturbed fan.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentaries, deleted scenes and outtakes. If you buy it at Best Buy, you can get a free T-shirt!

More by Bob Grimm

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