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MST3K, War Horse among new home entertainment titles

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A DANGEROUS METHOD (2011). As part of his four-score from 2011, Michael Fassbender turned up in A Dangerous Method as Carl Jung, the Swiss doctor often deemed the father of modern psychology. Watching him tackle Jung as a cautious, conflicted man, it's hard to see the same person who was so brooding in Jane Eyre, so, uh, magnetic in X-Men: First Class, and so raw in Shame. Yes, there's a reason so many of us thought Academy Award nominee Michael Fassbender would have sounded a helluva lot better than, say, Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill. But I digress. A Dangerous Method, directed with uncharacteristic understatement by David Cronenberg, examines the linked destinies of three formidable individuals through roughly the first two decades of the 20th century. There's Jung, of course, initially coming into his own armed with theories that hadn't really been explored before (among them the idea of the collective unconscious). There's Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), the penis-envy proponent who serves as Jung's mentor until their philosophies ultimately take them down divergent paths. Finally, there's the largely (and unjustly) forgotten Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), who goes from being Jung's patient to his lover to, finally, a renowned psychologist in her own right. An intelligent movie about intelligent people, A Dangerous Method finds most of its verbal jousts in the capable hands of both Fassbender and Mortensen, the latter portraying Freud as an unbending stuffed shirt who nevertheless manages to maintain a touch of the impious about him. Less successful is Knightley: Jutting out her jaw to a frightening degree in the early scenes when Sabina is swallowed by her own hysterics — I was afraid the poor actress was going to dislocate the thing — she seems to have confused suffering with showboating, and while she becomes more believable as the film progresses, she never fully blends into the period setting as effectively as she did in Pride and Prejudice. For all its strengths (for starters, Howard Shore's score is exquisite), A Dangerous Method never becomes much more than a pleasant watch, with its studied formalism preventing viewers from ever truly connecting to these characters' situations. Just because the setting is clinical doesn't mean the film itself needs to follow suit.

Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Cronenberg and a making-of featurette.

Movie: **1/2

MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: VOLUME XXIII (2012). Granted, you're not going to find a Casablanca buried in the MST3K catalogue, but it should be noted that the films featured in the four episodes collected here are a particularly stinky assortment.

First up is King Dinosaur (movie made in 1955; featured on MST3K in 1990), the debut feature for writer-director-producer Bert I. Gordon. Gordon, who reportedly has had more movies featured on MST3K than any other filmmaker, begins his career in typically tepid fashion with this yawner about four space travellers who end up on a prehistoric planet populated by oversized creatures (well, actually, lizards and the like filmed large). A cute little lemur not only steals the show but inspires Joel and the 'Bots to come up with the "Joey the Lemur" song.

The Castle of Fu Manchu (movie made in 1969; featured on MST3K in 1992) stars the great Christopher Lee, but he's not so great here — and neither is the movie, which pound for pound is the worst in the whole set. In Lee's fifth and final go-round at playing author Sax Rohmer's most famous creation, the nefarious Asian villain plots to freeze the planet's oceans. It's up to his perennial nemesis Nayland Smith (Richard Greene) to stop him, although it's actually the Satellite of Love crew who take him down via some well-timed jabs.

Quinn Martin produced so many quality television series over the decades — among them The Untouchables, The Fugitive, The Streets of San Francisco and the criminally short-lived Banyon, starring Robert Forster — that I'm willing to forgive him for the failed TV pilot Code Name: Diamond Head (movie made in 1977; featured on MST3K in 1994). Mike, Crow and Tom weren't feeling as gracious, as they savage this Hawaii Five-O wanna-be in which an Aloha State secret agent (Roy Thinnes) clashes with a suave spy (Ian McShane, a long way from Deadwood). The majority of the biggest laughs actually come during A Day at the Fair, the short preceding the main feature.

Finally, Last of the Wild Horses (movie made in 1948; featured on MST3K in 1994) is a dull-as-dirt Western with a plot so forgettable that — well, I've forgotten it. Yet it's the host segments that make this episode, as Mike, the 'Bots and the Mads spoof the classic Star Trek episode "Mirror, Mirror." The result? Dr. Forrester and TV's Frank are the ones in the auditorium watching the film (at least briefly) while the SOL crew turn evil at various points. Added bonus: the return of the "Joey the Lemur" song.

DVD extras include an introduction by Frank Conniff (aka TV's Frank); a piece on Robert Lippert (producer of King Dinosaur and director of Last of the Wild Horses); a look at Quinn Martin; and vintage MST3K promos.

Collection: ***

MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: THE WILD WORLD OF BAT WOMAN (movie made in 1966; featured on MST3K in 1993) / MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: GIRL IN GOLD BOOTS (movie made in 1968; featured on MST3K in 1999). But wait! There's more MST3K mirth and mayhem on hand! In addition to the aforementioned box set, the folks at Shout! Factory have released a pair of single editions, and they're both keepers.

The Wild World of Bat Woman is arguably one of the worst movies ever showcased on MST3K — and that's not mere hyperbole. A superhero spoof that makes the Adam West Batman series look as accomplished as Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight franchise by comparison, this is often painful to watch — thank goodness Mike and crew are on hand to ease the pain. The preceding short, Cheating, is the springboard for a great running gag involving Crow going on trial for copying Gypsy's words verbatim ("Cheating is bad. Richard Basehart is good.").

The episode featuring Girl in Gold Boots is even better, as Mike and team are in top form riffing on a laughable yarn about a diner employee in the middle of nowhere who takes off with a shady character promising to turn her into a top go-go dancer in Los Angeles; along the way, they pick up a sensitive musician named Critter. Wretched edits in the film lead to some particularly choice wisecracks from the SOL gang, but really, the entire episode provides sustained hilarity, running the gamut from Easy Rider references to a nod to H.R. Pufnstuf.

There are no extras on the DVDs.

Episodes: ***1/2

WAR HORSE (2011). Steven Spielberg is no novice when it comes to presenting moviegoers with the horrors of war, whether it's the muted screams of Schindler's List, the frontline carnage of Saving Private Ryan or even the knotty retaliations of Munich. While all those films deservedly earned R ratings, don't be fooled into thinking the PG-13 War Horse takes a much softer approach to the subject at hand — with several specific scenes, Spielberg establishes that his World War I epic, like some of the platoons marching through it, won't take any prisoners. Before those sequences arrive, we're introduced to the majestic title animal, a horse (named Joey) who bonds with youthful farmhand Albert (Jeremy Irvine) before being sold to the British army. A sensitive captain (Tom Hiddleston) promises Albert that he'll take good care of Joey, but the horse doesn't remain in the officer's hands; instead, Joey finds himself passing between soldiers and civilians, between Brits and Germans, between kindly souls and abusive monsters. A young girl offers him a home; a German officer plans to work him until he drops dead; soldiers from each side team up to save him. And so it goes. Based on the smash stage hit, War Horse has been opened up in breathtaking fashion for the screen, vibrantly bringing each vignette to life and allowing them to collectively address how war diminishes not just humankind but irrevocably destroys surrounding environs. War Horse is a movie of rage, but it's also one of empathy and understanding — it's to Spielberg's credit that he knows the storyline is emotionally wrenching enough that he doesn't need to manipulate tears out of anyone (believe you me, many viewers won't need any coaxing to reach for those hankies at the appropriate moments). Only with the final shot selections does the director succumb to the sort of artistic grandstanding that's sometimes in his nature, but these screensaver images hardly negate the power and the fury of the hard-charging movie that precedes them. This earned six Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture.

Extras on the Blu-ray four-disc combo pack include an hour-long making-of documentary created by Spielberg; various looks at the technical aspects of the film, including the editing, scoring, sound design and cinematography; a discussion with producer Kathleen Kennedy, including photos she took during filming; and a piece offering the point of view of film extra Martin Dew.

Movie: ***1/2

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