- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 21, 2002

An early arrival in the Czech new wave , Oldrich Lipsky's 1964 Lemonade Joe, emerges as one of the strangest films we've ever seen. It's our…

Video pick of the week
"Joe," new from Facets Video ($29.95 VHS, 800/331-6197, www.facets.org), is a dead-on deconstruction of (and affectionate homage to) American B Westerns, with a few more biting barbs aimed at capitalism, puritanical values and racial stereotyping tossed into the supremely entertaining mix. Oh yeah, and it's a musical too, with a wealth of clever satirical tunes performed with much mock-earnest panache.
Our hero, two-gun-toting, white-hatted Lemonade Joe (Karel Fiala), is not your ordinary cowpoke but an aggressive Kolaloka Lemonade rep who teams up with local temperance types, including fetching blond Winnifred (Olga Schoberova), to push his nonalcoholic beverage at Stetson City, Arizona's hitherto disreputable Trigger Whiskey Saloon.
But saloon owner Doug Badman (Rudolf Deyl) is not about to roll over without a fight, so he calls on his notorious, sheriff-shooting brother Horace Badman (Milos Kopecky), a master of disguise, to sabotage Joe and his fellow teetotalers, setting the stage for a series of comic set-pieces ranging from stunt-driven slapstick to surreal conceptual humor in an Ernie-Kovacs-meets-Monty-Python vein.
Beyond its endlessly inventive gags, "Lemonade Joe" offers amazing production and costume designs that simulate screen prairie ambience as faithfully (and fancifully) as any Hollywood Western.
Sepia tones and color tinting lend the film a silent-movie look (though it's anything but a quiet flick), while the actors, from hero Joe to saloon chanteuse Tornado Lou (Kveta Fialova), hit the right note of exaggeration without resorting to mugging.
In sum, "Lemonade Joe" should be just the celluloid tonic for comedy lovers, sagebrush buffs and foreign-film fans and not many movies can make that claim.

The 'A' list
Looking ahead to a few of the recent theatrical releases heading our way next month, we sight two from 20th Century Fox: the combat drama Behind Enemy Lines , starring Gene Hackman and Owen Wilson; and the thriller The Deep End , with Tilda Swinton and "E.R." emigre Goran Visnjic.
Elsewhere, Columbia/TriStar plans a late April launch for Michael Mann's all-star boxing bio Ali , top-lining Will Smith in the hard-hitting title role, with Jamie Foxx, Mario Van Peebles and an Oscar-nominated Jon Voight as Howard Cosell. Universal introduces the complex international espionage caper Spy Games , with Robert Redford and Brad Pitt.
Michael Gambon plays struggling, casino-addicted Russian author Dostoevski, with Jodhi May as his loyal young partner, in the less known but highly imaginative literary bio The Gambler (Wellspring Media). All of the above will be priced for rental VHS and also available on DVD.
Warner Home Video, meanwhile, goes the sell-through route with its remake of gimmick guru William Castle's 1960 chiller Thirteen Ghosts ($22.98 VHS, $24.98 DVD), with Tony Shalhoub, Embeth Davidtz, Matthew Lillard and Shannon Elizabeth.

Home sweet Home Vision
For the art-house set, the perfectionists at Home Vision release a trio of new "Criterion Collection" special edition DVDs. The label leads off with a gala double-disc edition of In the Mood for Love ($39.98), Wong Kar-wai's critically acclaimed bittersweet romantic drama set in 1962 Hong Kong and starring Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. The impressive raft of extras includes Mr. Kar-wai's own behind-the-scenes documentary, interviews with the director and stars, deleted scenes, critical essays, photo galleries and more.
David Gordon Green's indie hit George Washington ($39.98), which follows a group of rural North Carolina youngsters (played mostly by nonprofessionals) over the course of a pivotal summer, receives similarly lavish treatment, with director and crew commentary, new cast interviews and more.
Federico Fellini's enduring fantasy feast Juliet of the Spirits ($29.98) enjoys a new digital transfer, along with a Fellini interview ("Familiar Spirits") and original theatrical trailer.

Phan mail
Dear Phantom: Like your column, and have two recommendations for DVD issuance. The first is an inspiring "B" sand-and-sandal movie called The 300 Spartans , with Richard Egan. Haven't seen it out, but it is a well made and stirring movie and I've seen a lot worse get the DVD nod. Also, a terrific made-for-TV movie from the late '60s or early '70s called The Andersonville Trial , with William Shatner and Richard Basehart.
Steve Pody, via e-mail
We agree: We've heard from many readers in search of the 1962 historical epic "The 300 Spartans," which has yet to land even a VHS release. The 1970's "The Andersonville Trial" was available on VHS but is no longer in circulation.

Send your video comments and queries to Phantomof the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002 or e-mail us at: [email protected] Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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