Log in

Mike Clark has been writing about film for more than 20 years, starting with a weekly column in USA Today in 1985. He also served as program planner and director of the American Film Institute Theater.

Mike's Picks
Sort by: Title | Date
16 Jan, 2012

New on Disc: 'The Hellstrom Chronicle' and more …

The Hellstrom Chronicle

Olive, Documentary, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, ‘G.’
Producer David Wolper’s rather astonishing documentary Oscar-winner — as in astonishing that it beat Marcel Ophuls’ more or less nonpareil The Sorrow and the Pity — comes close to being what you’d expect from a screen portrait of the insect world that happened to be directed by the co-screenwriter of The Wild Bunch. Any of that feel-good, Walt Disney wonder-of-nature stuff is a no-go here for Chronicle director Walon Green, whose worldview seems to be that insects almost certainly have man’s number in any survivalist battle of the fittest. Apparently, it was one shared with Chronicle scripter David Seltzer, who later penned The Omen. There’s nothing wrong with taking such a defeatist attitude when the premise is more than credible, yet the film’s frequent scenes involving humans are so transparently staged (these Green did not direct) that I’ve never felt that the film should have even qualified as a documentary. As the fully fabricated Dr. Nils Hellstrom, who handles the on-camera narration, actor Lawrence Pressman is so over the top that the effect is risible. Shaky as art but not bad as entertainment, Chronicle was so brilliantly marketed it turned into a kind of hit in the summer of ’71.
Read the Full Review

Rapture (Blu-ray)

Available at www.screenarchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Melvyn Douglas, Patricia Gozzi, Dean Stockwell, Gunnel Lindblom.
Transferred from its source novel British setting to the coast of France, the picture headlines Melvyn Douglas not long after he won his Oscar for a sizable supporting performance in Hud and Hollywood was trying to figure out if he was still lead material (as he had been in younger days before a long period of screen inactivity from the early ‘50s through early ‘60s). Playing this widower’s daughter as a 15-year-old was 12-year-old Patricia Gozzi, previously a critics’ sensation in 1962’s Sundays and Cybele. Rounding out the dynamics here are a handsome escaped prisoner played by Dean Stockwell, and we also see Gunnel Lindblom playing the kind of friskily available housekeeper who’d have most traveling salesman wanting to play (quoting Preston Sturges) “Hey Hey in the Hayloft.” Embittered by his wife’s death, Douglas plays one of those guys (here, it’s a judge) who wants to do a lot of socially conscious favors for mankind in the abstract — yet is kind of a task-masterish prig at home. George Delerue’s score (isolated here on a separate track in Twilight Time fashion) is a plus, though the release’s chief selling point is the black-and-white cinematography by Marcel Grignon. Here’s a case where Twilight Time has come up with B&W of Criterion caliber.
Read the Full Review

The Constant Nymph

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Charles Boyer, Joan Fontaine, Alexis Smith, Charles Coburn.
The long-awaited unearthing of this absolute Warner Bros. treasure apparently shows how potent vintage marquee power remains even today when it comes to marketability. Oscar-nominated Joan Fontaine is 25 playing a love-struck 14 over Charles Boyer, and the arithmetic shows. Otherwise, this is probably the 94-year-old actress’s all-time performance (note her dead-on adolescent body language). Boyer is just about Fontaine’s equal in what is arguably his career performance as a symphonic composer who wallows in “dissonance” instead of making music from the heart. The other selling point here is Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s famous score.
Read the Full Review


9 Jan, 2012

New on Disc: 'Mildred Pierce' and more …

Mildred Pierce

HBO, Drama, $39.98 two-DVD set, $49.99 four-BD set, NR.
Stars Kate Winslet, Guy Pearce, Evan Rachel Wood, Melissa Leo, Brian F. O’Byrne, James LeGros, Mare Winningham, Morgan Turner, Hope Davis.
Despite Kate Winslet’s Emmy-winning performance (and Todd Haynes’ HBO miniseries of the James M. Cain novel got 21 nominations in all), she couldn’t have been anyone’s knee-jerk casting choice for the famed title hard-knocks restaurateur here. Yet by the time all five-and-a-half hours of this miniseries have elapsed, many or most should concede that she has met enough of the challenge to add even more heft to her filmography in the career long run. At the heart of the story is the still-true degree to which parents bust themselves for their children, often without getting thanks in return. This version has it detractors — but on the other hand, I’ve noted it on some year-end critics’ best lists devoted primarily to theatrical releases. On balance, it really kept me going for the duration without quite knocking me out, despite an explosive and then wistful wrap-up that I found extremely satisfying.
Read the Full Review

Stars and Stripes Forever (Blu-ray)

Fox, Musical, $34.98 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Clifton Webb, Robert Wagner, Debra Paget, Ruth Hussey.
What Blu-ray can do to showcase real-deal Technicolor goes a long way to carry this (high-side-of) boilerplate biopic that combines patriotic music with not-exactly-obligatory shots of Debra Paget in tights and other safely suggestive dress for the Korean War 1950s. But what really lingers in my memory is the degree of fun it is to watch Clifton Webb in splashy conductor’s duds and a John Philip Sousa beard in front of what passes for the United States Marine Band and later Sousa’s traveling own — plus the zeal Webb applies to his conducting labors, which is infectious to watch. Whenever Paget isn’t dancing, this 89-minute release keeps its eye on the rah-rah ball.
Extras: According to nonpareil movie musical historian Miles Kreuger and other experts featured in the bonus section, Lamar Trotti’s script is uncommonly adherent to the facts, even though it concocts a sometimes obtrusive love story built around a pair of then-new contract players being groomed for stardom: Paget (who’s given several decidedly non-Sousa-ish musical numbers) and Robert Wagner (decades before fatal boat outings and reverse mortgages were even a glint in his eye).
Read the Full Review

Death of a Scoundrel

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars George Sanders, Yvonne De Carlo, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Victor Jory, Nancy Gates, Coleen Gray.
This late-in-the-game RKO release does a good job concealing what had to be a frugal budget, thanks in part to its Max Steiner score and James Wong Howe cinematography. Star George Sanders and fast pacing, even over a full 120 minutes, carry the day — as does some intriguingly topical stock market finagling practiced by its fact-inspired protagonist. We are talking about real-life con man Serge Rubenstein, whose real-life 1955 murder was never solved after his body was found in the kind of posh New York apartment you’d expect a wheeler-dealer/femme magnet to have. Sanders, as fictional stand-in Clementi Sabourin, is pumped full of lead to open the movie, with only the assailant’s identity (not necessarily the one you’d expect) concealed until the end. What our scoundrel does with stock manipulation gives the movie a little extra narrative oomph in these troubled times.
Read the Full Review

19 Dec, 2011

New on Disc: 'A Farewell to Arms' and more …

A Farewell to Arms

Street 12/20
Kino Lorber, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Helen Hayes, Gary Cooper, Adolphe Menjou.
In addition to winning the Academy Award for sound, Frank Borzage’s adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s World War I perennial got Charles Lang a companion Oscar for his prototypically “1930s Paramount” cinematography, which gets in the marrow not just in the love scenes but during the more grimy combat scenes as well. You really do believe that Helen Hayes and Gary Cooper are in love here, which carries this rendering over some bumps. Hayes playing opposite a Cooper we see evolving from semi-cocksure to vulnerable is a pairing that clicks. And historically, you can probably advance the case that this is the movie that took Cooper from popular leading man to the next level of his career. Certainly, by 1935’s The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, he was a superstar, and it’s doubtful that the movies Cooper made between Farewell and Lancer are the ones that did it.
Read the Full Review

The Nickel Ride/
99 and 44/100% Dead (Double Feature)

Shout! Factory, Drama, $19.93 DVD, ‘PG.’
Stars Jason Miller, Richard Harris, Edmond O’Brien.
Whenever DVD box art slaps something as impersonally generic as “Action Double Feature” in larger typeface than the respective movies’ titles, you naturally expect the result to be a pair of 1947 John Ireland ‘B’-melodramas about insurance fraud taken from scratchy 16mm prints. But, no: this two-fer highlights not only a pair of 20th Century-Fox/DeLuxe Color productions from, say, the Average White Band era — but a duo that’s even from name filmmakers: Robert Mulligan (To Kill a Mockingbird) and John Frankenheimer. For director-oriented completists, you can’t say the price isn’t right for a playbill where the Mulligan contribution turns out to be the more assured of the two yet less entertaining than its slipshod companion. The Mulligan is 1975’s The Nickel Ride, a decidedly un-slick underworld mood piece that fell in the director’s career between The Other and the early Richard Gere showcase Bloodbrothers. Frankenheimer’s contribution is the tone-deaf but not unwatchable gangland oddity 99 and 44/100% Dead (1974), which I suspect is a title that market-tested well with only a certain demographic. Chronologically, it followed the director’s four-hour American Film Theater epic of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, which he once called his best movie.
Read the Full Review

Lost Horizon

Manufactured on demand via online retailers
Sony Pictures, Musical, $20.95 DVD, ‘G.’
Stars Peter Finch, Liv Ullmann, Sally Kellerman, George Kennedy.
On an apparently never-completed promotional featurette that’s part of the surprisingly extensive bonus material for this on-demand release, the now long-deceased producer Ross Hunter claims that this remake of Frank Capra’s famed 1937 played-straight drama “wasn’t a musical.” Now, don’t you love hearing something like that when the movie’s score has 11 Burt Bacharach-Hal David songs?  Anyway, the picture was such a colossal disaster that its belated DVD release constitutes a contribution to film history. One reason this very handsome DVD gets billed as “uncut” has to do with a beefcake musical interlude that got jettisoned (I was told) because audiences were falling out of their seats with hysterical laughter. I do have a soft spot for big-budget disasters as long as they don’t drag or run for four hours.
Read the Full Review

12 Dec, 2011

New on Disc: 2011 World Series Film and more …

2011 Official World Series Film
St. Louis Cardinals 2011 World Series Collector’s Edition

A&E, Sports, World Series Film $29.95 DVD, $34.95 Blu-ray; Collector’s Edition $79.95 eight-DVD set, NR.
The St. Louis Cardinals (with, of course, a major assist from the Texas Rangers) sparked one of the cream entries in postseason MLB contests from the past quarter century. The Cards beat the heavily favored Phillies in the prelim National League Division Series despite the fact that teams more than 10 games out in late August aren’t even supposed to be in the NLDS. And then the Cards advanced to a six-game NLCS victory over the Milwaukee Brewers — an ascension made possible, lest we forget, by pitcher Chris Carpenter’s 1-0 shutout over the Phillies in the NLDS deciding game 5, which is about what it takes when you’re facing the latter’s Roy Halladay in a money game. That Cards-Phils clincher is included as one of the bonuses on the World Series 2011 Fall Classic DVD and Blu-ray whose documentary portion is narrated by St. Louis native Jon Hamm. Like past MLB wrap-ups of any October action that has just transpired, it stands to rise or falls on the quality of the Series in question. The full evidence of how good this one was (20-hour running times have a way of making a case) is set forth in The St. Louis Cardinals 2011 World Series Collector’s Edition — the annual Series boxed which is naturally bathed this year in Cardinals red. The boxed set proves that this was a Series to be savored.
Read the Full Review

Meet Me in St. Louis (Blu-ray)

Street 12/13
Warner, Musical, $35.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, Tom Drake, Lucille Bremer.
This long-awaited Blu-ray version of Vincent Minnelli’s own career-maker is a kind of color alternative to what Warner did earlier this year with black-an-white on its release of Citizen Kane — employing a kind of “artful grain” that shows up if you’re fairly close to the screen but contributes marked detail if you move just a few inches back. This is how neighborly 1903-04 should have looked for anyone not totally hooked by the ultra-urban experience. 
Extras: The release rates the same cardboard book-like packaging that Warner reserves for its most prestigious Blu-ray releases, and also included is a short CD of the Hugh Martin-Ralph Blane staples (“Have Yourself a Marry Little Christmas,” “The Trolley Song,” “The Boy Next Door”) the movie produced. The other extras recycle a lot of what was on the deluxe 2004 standard DVD version.
Read the Full Review

Lafayette Escadrille

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Tab Hunter, Etchika Choreau, David Janssen, Clint Eastwood.
The story here deals with a spoiled high school jock (Tab Hunter) whose father is something of a swaggering lout. After a serious brush with the law, the aggressively blond Hunter starts thinking about the French Foreign Legion — but instead ends up as a volunteer flyboy in France before America’s belated entry into World War I. Director William A. Wellman is said to have called his big-screen swan song the worst movie of his four-and-a-half-decade career. Thanks to uncommonly specific WWI subject matter plus ahead-of-its-time casting, this pronouncement is something of a negative stretch — though, this said, it’s true that a picture into which Wellman put so much of himself was severely compromised and artistically bludgeoned by the studio.
Read the Full Review

5 Dec, 2011

New on Disc: 'Mysterious Island' Blu-ray and more …

Mysterious Island (Blu-ray)

Available at www.screenarchives.com
Twilight Time, Adventure, $34.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Michael Craig, Gary Merrill, Joan Greenwood, Michael Callan.
The Jules Verne crew that constitutes the cast here encounters a crab the size of a tank — and with a body of conveniently just-discovered “hot springs” water supply. After this creature generates the kind of mayhem you’d expect from a Ray Harryhausen concoction rendered in the famed effects artist’s SuperDynamation stop-motion animation process, it is miraculously dispatched as a flying projectile into the springs for what must be the all-time crab feast anyone has ever enjoyed (well, without butter). Island came out just before the Columbia Harryhausen films with producer Charles H. Schneer started to ebb. It is amazing how frequently the team was able to churn out these fantasy-adventure favorites. The other auteur of these movies was composer Bernard Herrmann, who almost did as much for them as he did for Alfred Hitchcock‘s oeuvre from 1955-64. 
Extras: As has been the case in Twilight Time’s previous limited releases, the musical track has been isolated for pure listening pleasure. Options are the original mono or 5.1. Usually, I’m a purist, but this is Herrmann … so pump it away, I say.
Read the Full Review

6 Ed Sullivan Shows Starring The Rolling Stones

SOFA Entertainment, Music, $39.98 two-DVD set, NR.
Two months ago, the same distributor brought out a DVD devoted to 11 tunes versus these 17 (and over just four of these six shows) performed live by the Stones on the once weekly Sullivan outing — which from 1948-71 was a remarkable mix of highbrow, lowbrow and sometimes cutting-edge pop and rock. As with previous Sullivan volumes devoted to the three shows that featured Elvis Presley in 1956-57 and four that featured the Beatles a decade later, this set gives you the full context (e.g. comedy acts by Joan Rivers and Rodney Dangerfield, George Fenneman Lipton Tea commercials, etc.) of what it was like to see Mick, Keith, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts and (for a while) Brian Jones in your living room for free. A few of the numbers throughout are miked differently from what we’re used to hearing, which makes for a fresh experience.
Extras: The set includes some grade-A liner notes by Greil Marcus, who thinks it is their third appearance (February 1966) where they come to resemble the Stones of the ages.
Read the Full Review

Give a Girl a Break

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Musical, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Marge Champion, Gower Champion, Debbie Reynolds, Bob Fosse.
If you’ve seen Bob Fosse’s heavily autobiographical All That Jazz, you know that cigarettes, sauce and women dancers with women dancers’ legs counted as his best friends. So it’s definitely snicker-bait to witness Fosse on screen in this agreeably minor Stanley Donen musical (with some major participants) pulling some substantial wool over our eyes. Running just 82 minutes and back-ended with enough pigment-happy musical numbers to make the second half notably superior to the first, the movie is actually about plural girls (as they used to be called) competing for the same Broadway role after a pending show’s huffy femme star ankles it in a dispute with the show’s director.
Read the Full Review


28 Nov, 2011

New on Disc: 'Tabloid' and more …


MPI/IFC, Documentary, B.O. $0.7 million, $24.98 DVD, ‘R’ for sexual content and nudity.
The entirety of Tabloid is in the great tradition of my favorite twisted moments from nonfiction filmmaker Errol Morris. This is because Tabloid heroine Joyce McKinney, who’s on screen most of the time, is so batty that the movie never gets out of the Twilight Zone (not that we’d want it to). At 88 minutes, Tabloid is roughly divided into half-hour thirds, and in each of the second two, there is a revelation that knocked me for a loop: one about McKinney’s “resumé” and one involving her choice of pets. The basics are that the onetime beauty queen got an obsession for not just a Mormon male — but one who was then sent to England to perform a devout mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After McKinney hired a pilot to fly her there so she could abduct her former lover, he either was or wasn’t a willing participant when she tied him to a bed, and here the documentary naturally gets into a discussion of whether one can fake an erection.
Read the Full Review

12 Angry Men (Blu-ray)

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, Jack Warden.
Director Sidney Lumet’s Oscar-nominated adaptation of Reginald Rose’s famed teleplay 12 Angry Men is especially durable. Over 95 minutes, there isn’t a single lull — and, as is pointed out on one of the accompanying featurettes here, a sizable number of its edits occur in the final sections when the filmmaking goes into an accelerated frenzy with increased close-ups.
Extras: As Vance Kepley from the Wisconsin Historical Society points out in one of this release’s typically succulent Criterion bonus extras, the casting smoothly traded in on Henry Fonda’s past movie history with (as it turned out) predominantly John Ford. Rounding out the stops-pulling collection of extras are a 38-minute treatise about cinematographer Boris Kaufman, edited-together passages from various Lumet interviews about his career; an essay by writer/law professor Thane Rosenbaum (who seems to know his film scholarship); a new interview with screenwriter Walter Bernstein about old pal Lumet; and the Feb 19, 1956, “Alcoa Hour” Rose-Lumet teleplay Tragedy in a Temporary Town, in which Lloyd Bridges got so worked up in a scene about racial prejudice that he cursed on live TV.
Read the Full Review

The Left Hand of God

Available at www.screenarchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Humphrey Bogart, Gene Tierney, Lee J. Cobb, Agnes Moorehead.
Being one of the last movies filmed by Humphrey Bogart before his death is one reason director Edward Dmytryk’s movie of a novel by William E. Barrett (also of Lilies of the Field) is more interesting outside the frame than in it. Another is co-star Gene Tierney, who had been one of Twentieth Century Fox’s biggest attractions until a well earned mental breakdown that extended beyond this picture slowed her career. The year is 1947, China is in civil war, and Bogie is a pilot who crashed and ends up working for a warlord. After a while, he has enough and elects to take over the identity and garb of a dead priest. At just 87 minutes, it’s short enough to be a serviceable time-killer.
Extras: Twilight Time has given this its usual pro rendering, and the print looks good, with California and some first-class production design standing in for more exotic locales. In TT fashion, the musical score is isolated on a separate track; this time, it’s by the great Victor Young.
Read the Full Review

21 Nov, 2011

New on Disc: 'These Amazing Shadows' and More …

These Amazing Shadows: The Movies That Make America

Street 11/22
PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, $29.99 Blu-ray, NR.
There’s something special and, yes, even unique about the United States National Film Preservation Board’s National Film Registry. These screen achievements deemed extra worthy of preservation by the Library of Congress are selected by a board of scholars and film professionals who tend toward a historical perspective that Oscar voters and even some day-to-day critics don’t always have. As this grabber Paul Mariano-Kurt Norton documentary explains, the process began in 1988 in substantial reaction to Ted Turner’s decision to colorize the black-and-white movies he purchased from the MGM Library. This 88-minute history (with enjoyable extras) also makes the tandem case for film preservation, spending a lot of its time at the Library of Congress’ Packard Campus of the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, Va., where prints are stored. Interviewees include Librarian of Congress James H. Billington and Packard Campus chief Dr. Patrick Loughney — also technicians who regularly handle the prints. Mariano and Norton don’t work a representative clip from every single Registry pick into the proceedings (at least, I don’t think so), but they get a lion’s share and certainly enough of them to remind any viewer of why he/she loves the movies.
Read the Full Review

Little Big Man (Blu-ray)

Paramount, Western, $24.99 Blu-ray, ‘PG-13’ for intense battle sequences and some sexual content.
Stars Dustin Hoffman, Faye Dunaway, Chief Dan George, Richard Mulligan.
Director Arthur Penn’s take on novelist Thomas Berger’s revisionist Western Little Big Man has its moments in addition to two or three outstanding performances. Dustin Hoffman’s Jack Crabb character, something like 121 years old as the movie begins, spends most of his early life going back and forth between the white and Native American cultures, even taking an Indian wife at one point. Having also befriended Wild Bill Hickok and stumbled into several encounters with General Custer (including a final one at Little Big Horn), he has come out of the experience with a wealth of sardonic perspective by the time of the opening pre-flashback scene, which finds actor Hoffman buried under mounds of latex that make him look more like 921. Hoffman’s performance holds it together, while Chief Dan George as Crabb mentor Old Lodge Skins was a stroke of casting gold.
Read the Full Review

The Last Time I Saw Paris

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Elizabeth Taylor, Van Johnson, Walter Pidgeon, Donna Reed.
This ubiquitously home-distributed screen version of an F. Scott Fitzgerald story (Babylon Revisited) gets a welcome 1.85:1 release. Even the image on MGM’s old Paris laserdisc wasn’t nearly as horizontal as what we get here. The movie begins with an irresistible hook: A Paris-based reporter, played by Van Johnson, is kissed by a stranger, played by Elizabeth Taylor, during the celebration of V-E Day. He then meets another more instantly smitten looker (Donna Reed), who turns out to be the kisser’s sister. What follows is a passionate Taylor-Johnson love affair/marriage full of boozing, while rejected Reed holds a grudge. Before the story plops into suds during the final half hour, Taylor fanatics will enjoy tracking her changing hairstyles (as her character’s life gets more complicated, the cuts get increasingly shorter).
Read the Full Review


14 Nov, 2011

New on Disc: 'Going Places' and more …

Going Places

Kino Lorber, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
In French with English subtitles.
Stars Gérard Depardieu, Patrick Dewaere, Miou-Miou, Jeanne Moreau, Isabelle Huppert.
Playing characters respectively said to be 25 and 23 (though they look older), Gérard Depardieu and Patrick Dewaere plow through a kind of who’s who of French actresses (at least this side of the Arletty era) in a road picture where they seem to run into a new arthouse household name seemingly every 20 minutes or so. The Kino Blu-ray is exceptionally clean and attractive. 
Read the Full Review

The Collector

Image, Drama, $17.97 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Terence Stamp, Samantha Eggar.
Director William Wyler fashioned this rather amazing arthouse film out of John Fowles’ novel (adapted here by Stanley Mann and John Kohn) about a meek bank clerk who abducts a beautiful art student and takes her to the farmhouse he has purchased with football-pool winnings. In some ways, The Collector is more disturbing now than it even was in 1965 because what was then merely the hook for a very unusual movie has since proven to be not that uncommon in real life.
Read the Full Review

Fashions of 1934

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars William Powell, Bette Davis, Frank McHugh.
This mild breeze of a film focuses on an agreeable cheat (William Powell) who steals the designs of Paris fashions so he can bootleg them for U.S. sale. Assisting them is a gal Friday played by Bette Davis who hangs around the office mostly hoping for a marriage proposal.
Read the Full Review

7 Nov, 2011

New on Disc: 'The Conversation' Blu-ray and more …

The Conversation (Blu-ray)

Lionsgate, Drama, $24.99 Blu-ray, ‘PG.’
Stars Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield, Cindy Williams.
As the “other” movie Francis Ford Coppola directed in the year of his Oscar-winning The Godfather Part II, this more modest jewel remains on the highest side of the repertory arthouse staples. Now that smartphones can do everything (including show movies), the “neat” techno stuff from The Conversation probably seems quaint to some — though with the brilliant Walter Murch as its sound editor, you can bet that the movie’s audio element was up to date for its day. This Lionsgate release artfully emphasizes film grain without descending into eyesore territory.
Extras: The bonus extras are a mix of retained oldies (including separate Coppola and Murch commentaries) and some shorter newbies. On one of the latter, the director’s former brother-in-law (composer David Shire) notes that his sparse piano score, abetted by Murch’s sound contribution, led him to land more spinoff work than anything in his musical career.
Read the Full Review

Frontline: The Man Who Knew

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
Though you can obviously go other places beyond a “Frontline” documentary to take the equivalent of a 700-level college course in irony, there aren’t many other places where you’ll get a bigger dose of the stuff than in this portrait of the late former FBI agent John O’Neill. “Former” is the operative word here — and though this DVD release is a tad off in commemorating this past September’s 10th anniversary of 9/11, it is (either by accident or design) very well-timed to the release of Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, which will inevitably deal with the do’s and don’ts of Bureau image-making and the protection of one’s in-house turf. O’Neill didn’t like being constrained by the Bureau’s Criminal Division and wanted to fight al-Qaeda from a different vantage point within — which naturally ruffled those who worked in the Criminal Division. He was out of the loop when rumblings about a pending al-Qaeda attack began to emerge during the summer of 2001 — so much that he resigned from the Bureau and eventually became (through some string-pulling by friends) head of Security at the World Trade Center just 19 days before the 9/11 attacks.
Read the Full Review

Travels With My Aunt

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, ‘PG.’
Stars Maggie Smith, Alec McCowen, Louis Gossett Jr., Cindy Williams.
Adapted from a Graham Greene novel that has little in common with the political intrigue of The Third Man or The Quiet American, George Cukor’s movie was originally intended as a vehicle for the director’s friend, Katharine Hepburn, in the auntie role of a bohemian eccentric who adds some needed globe-hopping zest to the life of a minor London bank exec/nephew who is used to more orderly ways. When the actress exited Aunt in a messy dispute with studio chief James Aubrey, some of the gas went out of the result. In her place came Maggie Smith (between Oscars, and she’d get another nomination here). This uneven but generally pleasing film at its weakest plays a little like a madcap party to which you haven’t been invited, yet its good and better moments are placed fairly rhythmically throughout. It is not just sumptuous, though that certainly helps: The cinematography, art/set decoration and costumes all got Oscar nominations, with a win in the last category. But 40 years ago, there also was the novel pleasure of watching an old-school Hollywood filmmaker in his 70s make a movie about interracial sex and marijuana usage.
Read the Full Review

31 Oct, 2011

New on Disc: 'Island of Lost Souls' and more …

Island of Lost Souls

Criterion, Horror, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Kathleen Burke, Leila Hyams.
Souls is a screen adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells. Filmed partly on Catalina Island, the decidedly pre-Code Souls was conceived in that great expressionistic early ‘30s Paramount style.
Extras: The set includes interviews with Gerald Casale and Mike Mothersbaugh of Devo, who made Souls’ “Are We Not Men?” catchphrase their own in the 1970s, as well as interviews with the likes of John Landis and others, plus an essay booklet and a punchy, funny commentary by historian Gregory Mank.
Read the Full Review

Cape Fear (Blu-ray)

Universal, Thriller, $19.98 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for strong violence and for language.
Stars Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, Juliette Lewis.
The Blu-ray of Martin Scorsese’s remake looks and sounds fantastic. Wesley Strick’s smart script is all about dysfunction and how Robert De Niro’s Max takes advantage of the lack of trust among his targeted family’s members.
Extras: An outstanding feature-length making-of documentary is carried over from the standard DVD.
Read the Full Review

The Legend of Lylah Clare

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Kim Novak, Peter Finch, Ernest Borgnine.
This Kim Novak camp fest is talky and way overripe but with a distinctively funny flavor all its own. Lylah deals with the Hollywood myth-making machine in the manner of Sunset Boulevard and Fedora. Overall, the movie has a sustaining dose of that elusive “something.”
Read the Full Review