DVD Tuesday: ‘Rambo’, ‘Cassandra’s Dream’

by W. Andrew Powell

Sylvester Stallone as RamboGive him a gun and a big knife, and you can be pretty sure that John Rambo can take on any enemy. Resurrect him 20 years after his last adventure though and you have to wonder if he’s really up to the task of a modern-day fight in the jungle. Sylvester Stallone‘s super soldier is back this week on DVD, joined by the dramas Cassandra’s Dream and Grace Is Gone, plus a collection of Eddie Murphy‘s funny films.

Rambo & Rambo: The Complete Collector’s Set
While the rebirth of franchises like Indiana Jones earns applause from fans and critics, it’s a bit harder to find the same praise for the return of John Rambo.

Since his success in the 80s, things have changed a lot, and Rambo’s ultra-violent world is a bit harder to swallow for some people today. As one of the few grandfathers of the action hero genre, Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo was an icon for yesteryear who gave teen boys someone to idolize while they pretended to shoot each other, and blow up their treehouse forts. Between 1982 and 1988 the hero would draw blood three times, before returning early this year for another shot at glory.

While the latest film hardly managed to capture the imaginations of critics, running afoul of most writers because it was a joyless bloodbath, Rambo will still find a place on the shelves of the action fans who grew up pretending they were him.

Stallone reprises his role as the shell-shocked war hero, who now lives in northern Thailand working as a ferryman for people traveling the Salween River between the borders of Burma. Rambo is called back into action when a group of missionaries are captured by the Burmese army, and he seems to be the only person who can help them escape.

Action fans can find the new film on shelves this week, or they can pick up the huge “Ultimate” collector’s set from Maple Pictures featuring the latest film and all three originals, First Blood I, II and III. With six discs in the set, and over 20 hours of extras, the set is sure to please fans.

Cassandra’s Dream
Writer and director Woody Allen made his name making comedies like Annie Hall, but in recent years the strange but no doubt talented filmmaker has turned his attention to new genres. In Cassandra’s Dream, Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor are working class brothers caught in a drama of tragic proportions when their rich uncle, played by Tom Wilkinson, proposes they get themselves out of debt and help him stay out of prison by killing a rival businessman. The duo are reluctant, but ultimately sign on for the dark deed, but the road will be fraught with dangers, and choices that will challenge their relationship.

As one of Allen’s darkest films to date, Cassandra’s Dream received fairly split reactions among reviewers. On the one hand, a portion of the critics suggested Allen makes the story feel contrived while also injecting far too little wit into the tale. On the other hand, some critics remarked that Allen should finally give up comedies since this film is so good. “There’s a deceptive simplicity to Woody Allen’s Cassandra’s Dream,” said Tom Long of the Detroit News. “A directness and clarity that’s too rare in modern filmmaking.”

Grace Is Gone
Following numerous movies about the effects of the current Iraq war, including documentaries, dramas, and even a few farces, Grace Is Gone is one of the few family-driven dramas that takes another side of the story.

John Cusack is Stanley Phillips, a man who has to cope with the death of his wife while she is fighting in Iraq, but can’t find a way to break the horrible news to his two daughters. Doing the only thing he can think of at the time, Stanley packs the girls into the car for a road trip, trying to figure out how he can finally talk with his girls.

Earning him praise from a majority of critics, Cusack’s subdued performance does a lot to make Grace Is Gone work. Jan Stuart of Newsday said in his review that the star “disappears into his character’s repressed skin so utterly, we can barely recognize in him the perky teen heartthrob of Say Anything.”

The Eddie Murphy Comedy Collection
It seems almost wrong to release a collection of Eddie Murphy’s best comedies and not include classics like Coming to America, or Trading Places for that matter. Instead, The Eddie Murphy Comedy Collection is really just a minor repackaging of a very small number of Murphy’s films from Universal Pictures, which includes The Nutty Professor, The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps, Bowfinger, and Life.

Murphy’s longest running gag, that of playing multiple characters and family members in the same film, is definitely worth a look, but it’s hard to revel in the greatness of Murphy based solely on these recent, and mostly forgettable films. Bowfinger stands out as one of the only interesting films in the whole collection, if only because of Heather Graham and co-star/director Steve Martin.

Television on DVD this week…
Season six of CTV’s Degrassi: The Next Generation arrives with plenty of teen drama and angst, while volume two of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe delivers more classic cartoon fun.

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