Couch Trip 

Woman Times Seven

At best mildly amusing and at worst intolerable, 1967's Woman Times Seven is one of the weakest examples of Vittorio De Sica's erratic late career. It's a neat concept — seven short films with Shirley MacLaine playing seven women living in adulterous relationships, alongside brief appearances by Peter Sellers, Michael Caine, Philippe Noiret and others — but it gets very boring very quickly. MacLaine portrays a grieving widow, an amateur prostitute, a couple of neglected wives, an art-loving interpreter, a dressmaker and a suicidal fugitive, showing off her eclectic range in segments that hold great promise but generally go nowhere. The humor is risqué in a dated way (the result of the then-recent opening of cinema's censorship floodgates) and the dramatic portions are unengaging and overlong. The picture's redeemed solely by MacLaine's infectious enthusiasm and a few choice confections that rise above the mediocrity: MacLaine trying to get a husband's attention by swinging her jingling earrings, or throwing a barrage of breakable objects at a philandering husband with ruthless realism. —John Thomason

Mother of Tears
Dimension Home Entertainment

Twenty-seven years is a long time to wait for a conclusion to a trilogy. Yet that's what fans of Dario Argento's "Witches" films had to do. What if Lord of the Rings or Pirates of the Caribbean had taken such a leisurely pace getting to the multiplexes? Imagine throngs of angry middle-earth lovin' geeks with flaming torches in hand ready to burn director Peter Jackson at the stake. Or better, a mob of pirate-speaking Keith Richards clones forcing Johnny Depp to walk the plank. Fortunately, cult-movie enthusiasts are a bit more patient. If only Mother of Tears were worth the wait.

Argento's detractors have always bemoaned his lack of logical narrative. A plot in most of his films is merely a series of bizarre and inexplicable events loosely strung together like a nightmare. The stale plot here involves the discovery of an urn that when opened by two hapless museum assistants unleashes Mater Lacrimarum, who is the most beautiful and evil of a triptych of witches. One assistant escapes the initial bloodbath and is left to uncover her own witchy past as well the humble abode of the newly reincarnated Mother of Tears. At the very least, this flick sets you up for some sort of über-witch smack-down a la The Craft or Lord of Illusion. It never happens. Instead, our heroine spends most of her time dodging police and roving gangs of international L'Oreal supermodels decked out in Hot Topic fashions. Umm, scratch that. They're witches, not supermodels. It's hard to tell the difference. That's but one of many chuckles here. Argento flicks are supposed to feel like nightmares. This feels like camp. —Paul Knoll

An American in Paris
Warner Home Video

Between Meet Me in St. Louis, The Band Wagon, Brigadoon, An American in Paris, Gigi and others, Vincente Minnelli was the unparalleled king of the classic Hollywood musical. The latter two titles have been available on DVD for some time, but they contained few bonus materials. Reissued with stellar commentary tracks, shorts, cartoons, featurettes and feature-length bonus movies, Warner's two-disc editions of An American in Paris and Gigi are the ones collectors have been waiting for

An American in Paris is to the City of Light what Manhattan is to the Big Apple, even if Minnelli's love letter to the city happened to be shot in a studio. It cemented the idea of Paris as a romantic ideal — windows always open, friendly people on every corner, money unnecessary. In this stylized vision of Paris, struggling painter Gene Kelly falls in love with a perfume seller (a then-unknown Leslie Caron) who happens to be his acquaintance's girl. It's going to take a little Gershwin, a lot of dancing and a 15-minute ballet for the two souls to finally connect.

While most of the spectacle in the classic musical formula was derived from Broadway and vaudeville, Minnelli's art was pure cinema, pulling off the kind of visual flourishes that could only be accomplished by the seventh art. Take the sexy introduction of Caron's character, dancing in a series of color-coded tableaux; nobody in Hollywood exploited color the way Minnelli did, especially in An American in Paris.

While not exactly "spellbinding," as the box art boasts, the new documentary 'S Wonderful: The Making of an American in Paris is nothing if not extensive. The featurette provides great detail about the stunning ballet sequence, showing which French painters inspired which portions of the ballet, but it fails to give any credit to Powell and Pressburger's The Red Shoes, which greatly influenced Kelly's choreography. At any rate, the concluding ballet is one of cinema's great marvels, a wordless crystallization of the protagonist's film-long quest.

If An American in Paris is a tribute to dance, then Gigi is a tribute to song, a showcase for an unforgettable Lerner and Lowe soundtrack. Here, the characters even think in song. On the surface, Gigi is about two misunderstood characters — bored, wealthy playboy Gaston (Louis Jourdan) and sprightly, uncouth firecracker Gigi (Caron at her best) — who find each other through their mutual distaste for the roles society has planned for them in turn-of-the-century Paris. It's also, apparently, about grooming the title character into a prostitute, if you believe the historians, who delve into the scandalous nature of this G-rated classic in the Thank Heaven! making-of featurette.

The first screen adaptation of Collete's novel Gigi, made in France in 1948 and included here in an unrestored transfer taken from the lone surviving print, played up the prostitution angle more overtly. Minnelli's version feels more like a Pygmalion-esque story of an unmannered prole learning to become a lady; any subtext about prostitution went completely over my head in each of the three times I've watched Gigi. On the other hand, the opening vision of a 70-year-old Maurice Chevalier singing "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" while smiling at pubescent girls on the Bois du Boulogne — that gets creepier every time. —John Thomason

Black Ass Master
Jules Jordan Video

The fine art of nasty sex with African-American women possessing huge behinds is taken to a new level with this mind-blowing contribution from director Alexander DeVoe, whose previous black-ass works pale in comparison to this breakthrough, wicked pleasure. In this special, two-disc edition we see human beings coming together and, for a few beautiful moments, the history of racial prejudice and sad stereotypes are erased.

Meaning white men with large johnsons get it on with thick ebony princesses.

Pinky, a stunning, vociferous honey with hair colored to match her name, peels open that massive keester for a serious round of the old in-out, in-out. Beauty Dior takes a weenie ride (and is vocal as hell about it) that she won't soon forget, and neither will you, especially thanks to rewind action. The list of weighty talent goes on; Carmen Hayes, Donna Red, Roxy Reynolds and the tireless Cherokee make this video a must-have. Superb camera work and searing performances from the ladies (and the upstanding males) figure in to a sure bet. —Fern LaBott

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