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Mike's Picks

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Mike's Picks

Insights from home entertainment industry experts. Home Media blogs give you the inside scoop on entertainment news, DVD and Blu-ray Disc releases, and the happenings at key studios and entertainment retailers. “TK's Take” analyzes and comments on home entertainment news and trends, “Agent DVD Insider” talks fanboy entertainment, “IndieFile” delivers independent film news, “Steph Sums It Up” offers pithy opinions on the state of the industry, and “Mike’s Picks” offers bite-sized recommendations of the latest DVD and Blu-ray releases.

January 31, 2011
New on Disc: 'Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer'

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer

Magnolia, Documentary, B.O. $0.2 million, $26.98 DVD, $29.98 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for some sexual material, nudity and language.
If you think director Alex Gibney had a formidable rogue’s gallery to work with in 2005’s Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, he all but outdoes himself this time in terms of shining glaring lights on smoothies who stink up the boardroom. There isn’t anyone currently around who makes more visually arresting documentaries than Gibney, and the Blu-ray makes a difference here. But on top of that, he gets amazing access. For starters, the filmmaker managed to get Spitzer himself on camera — as part of the latter’s self-perpetuated personal rehabilitation project. I liked Client 9 enough to put it on my 10-best list (2010 model) after a first viewing, but it clicked even more after a second.
Extras: The deleted scenes and outtakes are substantial and as compulsively watchable as the movie. I raced to them the second the main event concluded and watched all in a single sitting.
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Shock Corridor

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Peter Breck, Constance Towers, Gene Evans, James Best.
A newshound (Peter Breck) fakes an incestuous yen for his supposed sister (but in reality his stripper girlfriend) played by Constance Towers. This ruse is a plot to gain him entrance into a mental health facility where a murder has taken place — one he wants to solve on his way to the Pulitzer Prize. So, naturally, he cracks up. Photographed by that titan-of-shadow Stanley Cortez (The Magnificent Ambersons, The Night of the Hunter), director Samuel Fuller’s madhouse of a movie was supposedly shot in 10 days — making it prototypical because the maverick filmmaker rarely had much of a budget at his disposal.
Extras: Criterion has released Corridor before, but this remastered version includes new essays (one by Fuller himself) and two outstanding bonuses. One of these is a 2007 interview with Towers; the other features excerpts from The Typewriter, the Rifle and the Movie Camera, Adam Simon’s 1996 documentary about Fuller that is one of the best and most exacting of all documentaries on an American director.
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Inspector Bellamy

MPI/IFC, Mystery, B.O. $0.1 million, $24.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Gerard Depardieu.
Many of the relationships in the late French director Claude Chabrol’s swan song turn out to be complex or at least more so than they might initially seem — even the easygoing one between its central husband and wife that is probably the movie’s greatest pleasure. Gerard Depardieu plays a celebrated sleuth who can’t stop himself from getting involved in a case that begins when a stranger shows up at the door and somewhat spooks his spouse. This is a very enjoyable movie with a fuzzy resolution — though one whose fuzziness isn’t off-putting but the kind that makes you want to take another look someday.
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Night Must Fall

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Robert Montgomery, Rosalind Russell, Dame May Whitty.
One of Robert Montgomery’s standout career performances was as the almost twinkle-eyed murderer in this first screen version of Emlyn Williams’ 1935 play. Even though this movie is basically a photographed stage play with a lot of entrances and exits, I like director Richard Thorpe’s (or his editor’s) choice of shots here, the actors’ body language and the pace at which an often single-setting story manages to move over a 117-minute running time.
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By: Mike Clark

January 24, 2011
New on Disc: 'Animal Kingdom,' 'Piranha 3D' and more …

Animal Kingdom

Sony Pictures, Drama, B.O. $1 million, $28.95 DVD, $34.95 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for violence, drug content and pervasive language.
Stars James Frecheville, Guy Pearce, Joel Edgerton, Luke Ford, Ben Mendelsohn, Jacki Weaver.
The Melbourne milieu here is on the scuzzy side, starting right off with an opening scene where central character Josh (James Frecheville) watches TV with his mother, who has died from a heroin overdose. Josh heads to his grandmother’s house, where he finds a bunch of thug uncles brandishing various levels of psychoses — a clan that Melbourne’s Armed Robbery Squad would like to bust for good reason. Jacki Weaver as the grandmother has exactly the right look for the part: If eyes are the windows to one’s soul, Weaver’s initially beckon one to bask in the glow of their perceived warmth — before a second look reveals the decay behind them.
Extras: In the 75-minute making-of documentary that’s included as a bonus, writer-director David Michod tells of his obvious worries that any young actor chosen for the Josh role might go on a growth spurt during the extended period between the film’s conception and shooting schedule, but he came to realize hiring an older teen would have its own advantages.
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Piranha 3D

Sony Pictures, Horror, B.O. $25 million, $28.95 DVD, $34.95 Blu-ray, $39.95 3D Blu-ray, ‘R’ for sequences of strong bloody horror violence and gore, graphic nudity, sexual content, language and some drug use.
Stars Elisabeth Shue, Adam Scott, Jerry O’Connell, Ving Rhames, Steven R. McQueen, Jessica Szohr, Kelly Brook.
If you’re in the market for a movie where topless bimbos on spring break gyrate with such zest that their exposed breasts make discomfortingly obvious piranha targets, this one is on the higher end of crowd pleasers for that specialty demographic. The movie has a little of everything, as you can see by reading the specifics of its ‘R’-rating designation, which are longer than some novellas.
Extras: On the copiously detailed DVD/Blu-ray extras, director Alexandre Aja, a Frenchman, notes that the zeal he brought to the project was at least partly due to the fact that spring break is a concept alien to Europeans and, thus, was to him (my word, not his) exotic.
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Which Way Home

Street 1/25
Docurama, Documentary, $29.95 DVD, NR.
In Spanish with English subtitles.
Putting aside the politics of illegal immigration, a viewer might have to travel as long as some of the perilous train journeys in this Oscar-nominated documentary to find many more inherently dramatic subjects. Which Way Home deals with the arduous trek youngsters have to make even before they reach the U.S.-Mexico border — on their way (sometimes, but not always) to link up with a relative who is somewhere in the States. A product of HBO’s documentary arm, Which Way Home won an Emmy, in addition to its Oscar nomination (Outstanding Informational Programming — Long Form).
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Girl of the Night

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Anne Francis, Lloyd Nolan, John Kerr, Kay Medford.
The late Anne Francis stars in this melodrama of prostitution adapted from a landmark psychoanalytical book called The Call Girl by Dr. Harold Greenwald. If not for Francis, it would be just a respectable curiosity, but she makes it a little more than that.
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By: Mike Clark

January 17, 2011
New on Disc: 'Howl' and more …


Oscilloscope, Drama, B.O. $0.06 million, $29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray/DVD combo, NR.
Stars James Franco, David Strathairn, Jon Hamm, Bob Balaban.
Though the idea behind it was never going to be inherently filmable, this barely released slice of anti-nostalgia can’t help but seduce, within severe screen limitations, as a cheeky screen concept for grown-ups. Here’s James Franco playing Allen Ginsberg a couple years after the poet had penned the sexually frank Howl, which ended up spurring a famous 1957 San Francisco anti-obscenity trial against poet/publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The rendering of the legal fracas is split into halves: the Ferlinghetti trial, which Ginsberg did not attend, plus life/autobiographic ruminations taken strictly from Ginsberg’s writings.
Extras: Along with the standard environmentally friendly Oscilloscope packaging that threatens to crumble in your hands, the release has lots of extras that include a Franco/filmmakers commentary and some cool backgrounders on how the production designer and costumers managed to do a lot with what had to have been a limited budget.
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Robinson Crusoe on Mars

Criterion, Sci-Fi, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Paul Mantee, Victor Lundin, Adam West.
This Blu-ray is worth noting and even savoring for a couple standout reasons. It’s gorgeous — a prime example of how brilliant Paramount’s designers and labs could make Technicolor look in the early 1960s, even with a release shot in the economizing Techniscope process, whose trade-off was to make movies look grainier than anyone wanted (though not in this case). It’s actually a pretty solid movie about making do with isolation and one that’s still a dream to gaze upon, despite the primitive special effects of the day. According to the production principals, no one really wanted to retain a moniker, for public consumption, that was basically just a working title — though it does describe the movie, in which a U.S. astronaut (Paul Mantee) crash-lands you know where.
Extras: Criterion long ago issued a laserdisc of this sleeper and has basically replicated the initial release (and the standard DVD that followed years later), and did a wonderful job with the commentary track, covering the movie from all angles. There’s also a featurette by a space historian, a music video and a booklet of essays and factoids.
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Sony Pictures, Comedy, $14.94 DVD, NR.
Stars Judy Holliday, Jack Lemmon, Jack Carson, Kim Novak.
Its historical distinction as the second big-screen feature of both Jack Lemmon and Kim Novak is, by itself, enough to make screenwriter George Axelrod’s marital comedy a conversation piece. But chalk up another footnote as well, given the title’s unofficial status as the box office employee’s No. 1 headache of the era. Lemmon is a lawyer and Judy Holliday a writer for NBC who’ve tired of their marriage but quickly become wary of the dating scene. Last fall, Sony brought out a box of Columbia Lemmon comedies that included Phffft!
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Good-bye, My Lady

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Walter Brennan, Phil Harris, Brandon de Wilde, Sidney Poitier.
Good-bye, My Lady is never as good as one would like it to be, though it has an appealing story and a most interesting cast. It’s a little pokey, takes a while to get rolling, overdoes its harmonica backing and is obviously shot on a set — yet the basenji dog who’s its centerpiece is extraordinarily lovable, and the cast is never less than intriguing. Warner’s DVD-R version is letterboxed (which even the old laserdisc wasn’t) and has been remastered — though here and there, the print shows some minor wear.
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By: Mike Clark

January 10, 2011
New on Disc: 'The Films of Rita Hayworth' and more …

The Films of Rita Hayworth

Sony Pictures, $59.95 five-DVD set, NR.
Stars Rita Hayworth, Gene Kelly, Glenn Ford, Stewart Granger.
As a World War II pinup icon, Betty Grable was undeniably a cutie, but it’s tough to imagine the heads of servicemen doing 360-degree spins the way they did for Rita Hayworth during her too-abbreviated prime. This five-title box, with newly spiffed-up prints from Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation, contains three new-to-DVD titles and a pair that were previously released. Better prints are better prints, but be aware going in that the two retreads (color Cover Girl and black-and-white Gilda) are the collection’s high points. Cover Girl (1944) did as much for the career of Gene Kelly as it did for his co-star. For the most part, it’s Hayworth’s picture, if one has to choose, but there is one spectacular Kelly solo in which he dances with “himself” (or his character’s alter ego) that may be even more of a special effects marvel than the dance Kelly would do with animated Jerry Mouse. Tonight and Every Night (1945) is just about Girl’s Technicolor equal, dealing with a London theater that continues performances throughout wartime bombing. Gilda (1946) exploits Hayworth’s signature role for some signature film noir. To enjoy Salome (1953), you have to have a taste for religious epics, though Hayworth still looks fabulous enough to convince as a Biblical figure who probably didn’t have to bankroll her own veils. Miss Sadie Thompson (1953) fared better as previous vehicles for Gloria Swanson and Joan Crawford, but Hayworth has one standout scene: her once-notorious “The Heat Is On” number.
Extras: The presentations include intros by Martin Scorsese, Baz Luhrman and redheaded soul sister Patricia Clarkson.
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Frontline: The Spill

Street 1/11
PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
You can’t buy the caliber of publicity BP got from its Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and this typically taut “Frontline” documentary, which aired on PBS this past October, adds to the negative ballyhoo. It’s one of those chronicles that shows how a major disaster was far from an isolated occurrence in terms of a corporate culture — the kind of look-back that recalls dreadful previous incidents from the past you may have half-forgotten, unless you lived in the geographical area affected. One such incident involves the Texas City, Texas, refinery BP acquired from Amoco in 1999 that already had been regarded as “troubled”: It was built in 1934, there was lots of corrosion and it suffered about a fire a week. The culmination was the biggest industrial accident in decades: an explosion on March 23, 2005, that killed 15 workers and injured 170 others — the result being then-record fines for safety violations numbering into the hundreds and $1 billion paid out to families as long as they signed an agreement to remain silent. The Spill runs an hour with nary a dull moment, though someday, after more perspective, one can imagine its subject getting the full-scale treatment that, say, Spike Lee gave Hurricane Katrina in When the Levees Broke. Certainly, anyone who works for an arrogant employer will empathize with what they see.
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Just Tell Me What You Want

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, ‘R.’
Stars Ali MacGraw, Alan King, Peter Weller, Myrna Loy.
This brittle romantic comedy has a scene that just about everyone remembers if they know the movie — even if they blank on its title. I’m talking about the set piece where Ali MacGraw attacks Alan King inside and out front of Bergdorf Goodman’s in New York City. By just squeaking in as an ‘80s release, Just Tell Me enabled the great Myrna Loy — who is spottable on screen at least back to films from the mid-1920s — to have been a movie presence in seven different decades. She’s wonderful here in her final big-screen feature, so if your taste doesn’t run to department store slugfests, Loy is a reason to see it as well.
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By: Mike Clark

January 03, 2011
New on Disc: 1960 World Series Game 7 and more …

Baseball’s Greatest Games: 1960 World Series Game 7

A&E, Sports, $29.95 two-DVD set, NR.
Yogi Berra always says it isn’t over ’til its over, but guess what? This time it was over when Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski led off the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series with a home run, bringing to an instant end one of the more improbable World Series in baseball history with a victory over the New York Yankees. As with the DVD of Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series that MLB/A&E released in a 2009 Yankees boxed set, watching this is game is almost a supernatural experience. I’ve probably read at least 30 books that deal with it on some level but certainly never thought I’d get a chance to see it, given how few games exist on tape (or the earlier and more primitive kinescope) from before the early 1970s. Nearly 50 years after the fact, all but unimaginably, the Bing Crosby family’s archivist found a kinescope of it in the wine cellar of the singer, who was a co-owner of the Pirates.
Extras: The set includes the official 1960 World Series film (with the familiar faded color) along with theatrical newsreels that chronicled the series, interviews with some of the players and two broadcast tracks.
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True Grit (Blu-ray)

Paramount, Western, $24.99 Blu-ray, ‘G.’
Stars John Wayne, Glen Campbell, Kim Darby, Robert Duvall.
Just because the Coens’ fresh take makes for a better movie than John Wayne’s Oscar showcase of four decades’ past, it doesn’t mean the original is without merit or fails to retain some of the charm that made it so popular at the time. Wayne doesn’t show up until about 13 minutes into True Grit, and it’s a fairly grim time of it waiting for the movie to get in gear outside of Elmer Bernstein’s music and the postcard perfection of the great Lucien Ballard’s cinematography. The Blu-ray does look exactly as the movie did in 1969, when I saw it five times in its first-run engagement.
Extras: The bonus extras, carried over from the 2007 DVD, are short but venture in directions both desirously expected and surprising. One Western historian has a lot of fun talking about how one of the keys to being a successful outlaw was to carry the right moniker.
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Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work

MPI/IFC, Documentary, B.O. $2.9 million, $27.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for language and sexual humor.
Like Joan Rivers herself, this well-received documentary by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg isn’t afraid to go in some discomforting or even icky directions, and, as such, it ranks as one of the more honest portrayals of … well, if not the show biz underbelly, at least its unforgiving nature. There’s nothing like reaching 75 and having to worry about what is or isn’t a good career move. It appears that the filmmakers got handed a documentarian’s dream in that their saga begins with Rivers’ career on the downside before her ultimate first-place selection on “The Celebrity Apprentice.”
Extras: The DVD and Blu-ray both feature outtakes that are, indeed, weaker than the release print, plus a decent Q&A that took place at a Sundance Festival showing.
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Susan Slept Here

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Dick Powell, Debbie Reynolds, Anne Francis.
The great Dick Powell’s final movie as an actor is one of the first movies I can ever recall that was regarded as “racy.” I still like the idea of seeing Powell at about 47 playing a 35-year-old screenwriter who marries Debbie Reynolds (then 21 but cast as a 17-year-old). It keeps the blood flowing.
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By: Mike Clark


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