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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
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3 Oct, 2011

New on Disc: 'Pee-wee's Big Adventure' Blu-ray and more …


Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (Blu-ray)

Street 10/4/11
Warner, Comedy, $19.98 Blu-ray, ‘PG.’
Stars Pee-wee Herman, Elizabeth Daily.
1985.
In terms of color, Blu-ray punctuates what has always looked like a nifty wax job on that “neat” bicycle Pee-wee possesses for a while — the theft of which puts him on the road to meeting (with us) an array of equally colorful characters.
Extras: You can see — in the deleted scenes from this resplendent straight carry-over from an earlier DVD release — that director Tim Burton, making his feature debut, had a pretty keen sense of what to include and what to excise.
Read the Full Review

My Cousin Rachel

Available at www.screenarchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Olivia de Havilland, Richard Burton, Audrey Dalton.
1952.
Rachel was kind of a big deal upon its release for being the first film Olivia de Havilland did after winning two deserved Best Actress Oscars in three years: 1946’s To Each His Own and 1949’s The Heiress.
Extras: The print is spectacularly crisp, shadowy and detailed. As usual for Twilight Time, the DVD includes a Julie Kirgo essay and an isolated musical score track for screen music connoisseurs.
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American Experience: Houdini

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
Narrated by Mandy Patinkin.
2000.
Produced a little more than a decade ago, this presentation is a good example of how one keeps a documentary moving when there isn’t a bottomless pool of existent real-life footage. Those interviewed include illusionist David Copperfield and late caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.
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26 Sep, 2011

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


The Caine Mutiny (Blu-ray)

Sony Pictures, Drama, $19.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Humphrey Bogart, Jose Ferrer, Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray.
1954.
Whatever negatives you want to spout about this iffy adaptation of novelist Herman Wouk’s Pulitzer winner, a powerhouse acting line-up delivers on its potential. Humphrey Bogart’s performance as Navy Capt. Philip Francis Queeg is still provocatively disturbing, but the movie is irksomely antiseptic (it needed the U.S. Navy’s cooperation) and a bit too jokey for most of its first 90 minutes before catching fire during the courtroom climax. In any event, this is a movie I’ve always liked when what I really wanted was to love it.
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Alex in Wonderland

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, ‘R.’
Stars Donald Sutherland, Ellen Burstyn, Federico Fellini, Jeanne Moreau.
1970.
Every bit as hippie-dippie-ish then as it will seem to anyone now, Paul Mazursky’s second directorial outing nonetheless merits its cult status — thanks in part to its lead performers and the basic decency of the characters they play.
Extras: A commentary with Mazursky.
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Cobra Woman

Manufactured on demand via online retailers
Universal, Adventure, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Maria Montez, Jon Hall, Sabu.
1944.
The irresistibly titled Cobra Woman is more than simply prototypical, offering Maria Montez playing twins at odds over the throne of a South Seas island.
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19 Sep, 2011

New on Disc: 'Genevieve,' 'The Incredible Shrinking Man' and more …


Genevieve

VCI, Comedy, $19.99 DVD, $24.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Dinah Sheridan, Kenneth More, John Gregson, Kay Kendall.
1953.
More than halfway as essential, albeit more benignly, to the screen’s rich car-culture canon as Rebel Without a Cause and Two-Lane Blacktop, J. Arthur Rank’s international favorite and BAFTA winner also ranks among the glories of British Technicolor that cinematographer Jack Cardiff couldn’t claim. Written by that Missouri-born presence of British cinema William Rose, this remarkably civilized comedy compared to the crude bludgeonings of today may have a second built-in audience beyond auto enthusiasts. This would be … the sports widow. Except in this case, the sport is an annual London-to-Brighton trek on circa 1904 “wheels” when (even then) the cars in question were nearly half-a-century old. The comedy builds slowly and eventually finds its way to the realm of sheer delight.
Extras: Thanks to an unexpectedly vibrant transfer, VCI’s Blu-ray edition really pops my clutch — though as we learn on a look-back featurette that’s included, corporate Rank didn’t like the picture very much until it took the country by storm.
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The Incredible Shrinking Man

Universal, Sci-Fi, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Grant Williams, Randy Stuart, April Kent.
1957.
Of all the movies that took a gazillion years or at least a dozen to arrive on DVD, I’ve been puzzled by the MIA status of this Richard Matheson-Jack Arnold collaboration other than in a previously issued boxed set — filled with other sci-fi chillers from the Universal-International ‘50s stable (many fun but not many as first-rate). Given the fan base it has picked up over several decades — including the good folks at the Library of Congress who select all-timers for the National Film registry — Shrinking Man really merits a full-court-press edition with extras instead of this no-frills job, welcome as it is. At one point, its starving lead character is pleased to be munching on basement mousetrap bait, and I kind of feel the same way. Nuclear radiation is the story’s culprit, in this case, a mist that has passed over Grant Williams’ body. Within months, he is looking up at his wife, and it gets worse — and this is the beauty of the movie. Ultimately living in a kid’s dollhouse and later a matchbox, Williams sees ordinary household items we all take for granted become intimidating (pin cushion, paint can) while routine domestic creatures (a now-behemoth spider, housecat-turned-“Simba”) become objects of terror.
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House of Women

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Shirley Knight, Andrew Duggan, Constance Ford, Barbara Nichols.
1962.
This burn-on-demand obscurity often is lazily referred to as a remake of Caged, the definitive women’s prison movie, though its only real similarities are a sweet-faced innocent as heroine (Shirley Knight for Eleanor Parker) and Warner Bros. as its home studio. Women’s premise actually has some promise. It’s the only movie of its kind I can think of that exploits the mass maternal instincts of its inmates as a major plot point. This is because — until they’re old enough for adoption — a slew of convict toddlers reside in their own wing, even though a cuckolded male warden, played by Andrew Duggan (at that time, the hardest working man in Warner Bros. show business), is unambiguously vocal about his opposition. The other intriguing plot point is Duggan’s eventual employment of Knight’s character as a domestic in his home, where she may or may not be unwillingly sleeping with him. The movie is kind of cagey about this — though during the climax, she sure seems to know where in his bedroom he keeps a revolver.
Read the Full Review

 


12 Sep, 2011

New on Disc: 'Bill Cunningham New York' and more …


Bill Cunningham New York

Street 9/13
Zeitgeist, Documentary, B.O. $1.49 million, $29.99 DVD, NR.
2011.
As tough as it must be fashioning fictional movies that deal with so-called lovable eccentrics who too often cloy, filmmaker Richard Press absolutely hit the mother lode in his deservedly praised documentary about Bill Cunningham, the New York Times’ premier chronicler of fashion trends in the reader magnet “On the Street” column. Director Press says it took him about 10 years to get this documentary on film, eight of which involved just getting Cunningham to do it. In other words, we’re talking about an extremely private person for someone who is otherwise easily spottable out and about zipping around town. The result is a nice dovetail with the recently-in-theaters Page One: Inside the New York Times (this is its equal, in fact), as well as 2009’s The September Issue, which profiled American Vogue editor Anna Wintour.
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The Flim-Flam Man

Available at ww.screenarchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars George C. Scott, Michael Sarrazin, Sue Lyon.
1967.
A relatively soft-sell comedy trapped in one of the hardest-selling genres of all, this acclaimed sleeper of its day probably helped lead the way to the more heavy-handed rural comedies with Burt Reynolds (usually directed by Hal Needham) that always played to me as if they were aimed at the “wife beater at the drive-in” demographic. As such, the unknowing might not routinely peg FFM as a George C. Scott vehicle — though it boasts one of the actor’s signature performances in a role (it has been said) that he regarded as his personal favorite. The title definitely merits a truth-in-advertising citation, in that William Rose’s script (adapted from a Guy Owen novel) cast the 39-year-old Scott as a 70-ish con artist who travels by train (boxcars to be precise) while earning his living bilking hardware store loiterers in games of chance. The movie’s director was Irvin Kershner — who, despite landing The Empire Strikes Back and 007’s Never Say Never Again relatively late in his career, was typed as a filmmaker known for “good little movies” substantially more quirky than even this one: The Hoodlum Priest, The Luck of Ginger Coffey, Loving and Up the Sandbox.
Extras: Julie Kirgo notes in her booklet essay that you tend to forget about Scott’s extensive old-age makeup after a while — which is not to say that it isn’t a piece of work.
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The Burning Hills

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Western, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Tab Hunter, Natalie Wood, Skip Homeier, Earl Holliman.
1956.
It’s just a guess, but we almost have to be talking about the only teen-dream movie ever aimed at the vintage fan magazine demographic that also was based on a Louis L’Amour novel. The picture casts Tab Hunter as a character named Trace (you could almost interchange the names) opposite Natalie Wood. The studio tried to sell the two being-groomed performers as a couple and even teamed them again before the same year was out in The Girl He Left Behind. Playing another “Maria,” Wood tries out her future West Side Story Puerto Rican accent (where it worked a little better) to play the hot and hot-spirited daughter of a Yankee father and Mexican mother who schleps food to Tab/Trace when he’s healing in a cave. This is his reward for having shot and wounded the local land baron, horse thief and employer of professional killers who killed Hunter’s brother.
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5 Sep, 2011

New on Disc: 'An American Family: Anniversary Edition'


An American Family: Anniversary Edition

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
1973-2011.
By far the biggest wavemaker PBS had ever had up to that time (if not still), 1973’s An American Family chronicled parents-of-five Bill and Pat Loud — an affluent San Diego couple who allowed a film crew to follow them around from late May through New Year’s Eve 1971, punctuated by a Loud divorce in the middle. Of course, this isn’t the real deal but a distillation of a dozen one-hour episodes into a two-hour remembrance. How big was this program at the time? Well, outside of Watergate and probably ’73’s winding down of the Vietnam War, this must have been the op-ed event of the year. Two separate spinoff documentaries emerged with the passage of time. In one obvious way, Family was the granddaddy of today’s so-called “reality TV.” But it wasn’t cast, scripted and generally canned the way those shows are.
Extras: Understandably, there’ll be some who shrug off this release in hopes of someday seeing the full-octane totality (never released officially for the home market), but the bonus interviews here are as compelling as this series overview itself.
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The Atomic City

Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Gene Barry, Lydia Clarke, Lee Aaker.
1952.
This agreeably modest black-and-white espionage thriller is enough of a time capsule — on levels both semi-universal and specific — that its 85 minutes go by with relative ease. The semi-universal level of which we speak (and there was no bigger deal in the early ‘50s) is its portrayal of that magical day when the family’s first TV arrived at the house — back when the medium still was all new and wonderful. The specific time capsule level has to do with where the family lives: Los Alamos, N.M., where the patriarch is a hotshot physicist. As matters evolve, the story’s cast of characters ends up worrying about creeps bent on stealing atomic secrets. They kidnap the physicist’s son, and from this point on, the movie becomes an FBI procedural led by an agent played by Milburn Stone. There’s a lot of material here that must have seemed advanced or at least cool at the time.
The print is clean, and Olive has done another pleasing job of making a vintage Paramount title look the way it used to.
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The Catered Affair

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Bette Davis, Ernest Borgnine, Debbie Reynolds, Barry Fitzgerald, Rod Taylor.
1956.
Gore Vidal penned this screen adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky’s teleplay about the plight of a Bronx Irish-Catholic cab driver and family, first presented the previous year as a Thelma Ritter starrer for “Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse.” Ernest Borgnine plays the cabbie, Bette Davis is the leading lady and Debbie Reynolds plays their daughter, who wants to get married in a simple, cheap ceremony so she and her honey (Rod Taylor) can take the opportunity for an immediately available cross-country honeymoon on wheels. But the Bronx biddies think she’s pregnant, so mom opts for a much more lavish break-the-bank ceremony just as dad wants to invest in a new cab. If you analyze Affair only a little, you discover one sick, twisted movie about a mother living her life through — and against the needs of — a child. The lovely score is by Andre Previn and the cinematography is by Mr. Film Noir himself, John Alton — more indication of the talent budget MGM coffers blew for a film that was never likely to be much of a hit.
Read the Full Review

 


29 Aug, 2011

New on Disc: 'The Killing' and more …


The Killing

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray.
Stars Sterling Hayden, Colleen Gray, Marie Windsor, Elisha Cook Jr.
1956.
Aside from a spoon-feeding narration that’s pretty terrible, the worst thing you can say about racetrack caper The Killing is that The Asphalt Jungle (about a jewel robbery going into comparable “crumble” mode) is even better — though not by any humiliating margin. What’s more, it was probably Time’s rave review for Stanley Kubrick’s pennies-pinched feature that put the then unknown director on the road, leading to his second collaboration with Killing producer James B. Harris on Paths of Glory. This is standout noir black-and-white that even makes house lamps dramatic.
The movie’s quasi-Rashomon structure of relating the robbery’s events from different perspectives was lifted from the source novel (Clean Break by Lionel White), so it was rather suspect of Kubrick not to give the great hardboiled writer Jim Thompson more significant on-screen credit for the screenplay when Thompson’s dialogue (which crackles) is what makes the script tick. Thompson scholar Robert Polito (nice on-camera interview here) notes that Kubrick treated Thompson well in other ways — using him, in fact, on Paths of Glory. And because Kubrick, according to Harris, knew just about every movie and character actor around, he made an enormous contribution to The Killing’s brilliant low-budget casting.
Extras: As on Criterion’s previous release of Paths of Glory, producer Harris (who just turned 83) is interviewed here and again exudes a pleasing mix of modesty and detailed recall, especially in recalling how former Look photographer Kubrick and the great cinematographer Lucien Ballard just didn’t get along (because Kubrick told Ballard what he wanted). This new Criterion release of Kubrick’s third feature (though I suppose debut Fear and Desire barely counts) is such a jewel that buried in the bonus extras is, in its entirety, the director’s 1955 second feature Killer’s Kiss. Rounding out this mouth-watering package is a printed essay by film historian Haden Guest, a printed Marie Windsor interview and some on-camera love by critic Geoffrey O’Brien for Killer’s Kiss.
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Baseball Classics: 1956 World Series Game 3

Available now from www.raresportsfilms.com
Rare Sportsfilms, Sports, $29.95 DVD, NR.
1956.
The 1956 World Series was history’s final Yankees-Dodgers matchup while the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn. It’s a miracle that we can now even see this game — thanks to a onetime edict that even the Major League Baseball games kinescoped for delayed viewing by armed forces overseas had to be destroyed almost immediately. (The same kind of brain-trust mentality that failed to preserve movies that had been printed on nitrate stock existed in sports as well.) Fewer than 10 baseball telecasts before 1965 (all World Series games) exist in complete or even semi-complete form, and the majority are owned by sniff-them-out archivist and Rare Sportsfilms Inc. founder Doak Ewing. He’s the guy who previously found the Game 5 perfect game pitched by the Yankees’ Don Larsen in this same ’56 Series, which took place on the Monday after this Saturday broadcast. The kinescope quality is about the same on both (i.e. very good).
We’re looking here at the Dodgers in (figurative) Ebbets Field twilight, and we’re also looking at Jackie Robinson in the final week of his career playing on a diamond packed with household names (both teams).
With a notable exception of the 1960 Series Game 7 that was recently discovered in Bing Crosby’s wine cellar, most recent “miracle acquisitions” have been missing some footage; with kinescopes originally mounted on more than one reel, it didn’t take much for one or more of them to get lost during the course of decades. This particular release is missing innings 2 and 3 but nothing else.
The NBC broadcast does include some memorable commercials, such as Yankee first-baseman Bill (Moose) Skowron, who would belt a grand slam in Game 7 of this series, shaving on national television with a Gillette blade with announcing royalty Mel Allen standing next to him at the mirror. There’s also Allen co-announcer Vin Scully demonstrating a nifty new “piggy-back” Papermate pen on live TV.
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In a Better World

Street 8/30/11
Sony Pictures, Drama, Box Office $1 million, $45.99 Blu-ray/DVD combo, ‘R’ for violent and disturbing content, some involving preteens, and for language.
In Danish with English subtitles.
Stars Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen, Markus Rygaard, William Johnk Nielsen.

2010. Somewhere in that cavernous region between “compelling enough storytelling” and “were Academy voters smoking too much humanistic weed again?” falls the most recent Oscar winner in the foreign-language category. Directed by Denmark’s back-home Susanne Bier, conceivably licking a few Hollywood wounds after 2007’s congenitally drab Things We Lost in the Fire, it does, however, do a better job than one might expect of balancing one thread (medicinal and other horrors in an African refugee camp) with another (playground terrorism and how it sprouts).

Christian (William Johnk Nielsen) is the new 10-year-old kid at a Danish school. And by the time he’s done, its administrators (who either intentionally or not come off as moderate twits here) probably wish he had stayed in London. Angry with partial cause, Christian has accompanied his father back to Denmark (grandma’s digs are impressive) following the brutally elongated cancer death of his mother – suffering for which he somehow holds his father partly responsible. It is here that he meets the contrastingly un-sullen Elias (Markus Rygaard), a target of schoolyard bullies (one in particular) who seem to be everywhere.

The majority of World’s most powerful scenes — and we get a handful of them in different contexts — deal with how (or if one even does or doesn’t) to stand up to thugs who both they and the audience might at least fantasize about seeing buried alive in someone’s spare lime pit. And, to be sure, the key playground assailant definitely gets his, thanks to Christian stepping in and settling some major hash with serious weaponry in the school’s boys’ room. But Elias’s father Anton (played with spot-on world-weariness by Mikael Persbrandt) is right when he points out to his son that this is how wars start — and working as head doctor in the refugee camp, he knows.

The story turns when this perpetually exhausted physician breaks up a minor scuffle involving young children and combusts the ire of a local auto mechanic, who then slaps the doc around in front of the older boys. What Anton sees every day professionally would immerse this dull-wit in his own upchuck, but the doctor — both in the initial incident and a second encounter — literally turns the other cheek. The boys are shamed (though we’re primarily talking instigator Christian), and decide to take this guy out – or at least his van with a homemade bomb.

The script by veteran Bier collaborator Anders Thomas Jensen is fairly schematic, which is one of its limitations: a father who saves lives, sometimes of people who don’t deserve it, is ground down by his son’s falling in with someone who wants to break the knees of anyone who does him wrong. Still, the plentiful African scenes could have proved a major distraction from the story’s main event in a lot of movies — but in this case, doesn’t. Anton’s encounter with a sub-human warlord despot (played by an actor who could have given Forest Whitaker a run for his money playing Idi Amin) synchs up with what’s going on at home — and if this, too, is schematic, it culminates in a powerful scene that plays out the way it should.

There are even more subplots, including one involving the turmoil suffered by Elias’s mother, also a doctor). But they, too, seem to fit into the fabric of a movie that seems to lose its way in the final going — probably because the wrap-up seems too neat and clean by more than half in a cozy way that has historically appealed to Oscar orchestrators. And speaking of orchestration, World has one of those pound-it-home musical scores that provide the soil from which a movie’s detractors are bound to sprout. You remember the “101 Strings” franchise? This is more like 501 and may offer a test of how much you can submerge your own tendencies toward retaliatory violence.
 


22 Aug, 2011

New on Disc: 'Cameraman' and more …


Cameraman: The Life & Work of Jack Cardiff

Strand, Documentary, B.O. $0.02 million, $24.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, NR.
2011.
It’s almost inconceivable that anyone could ever demur from the widely held assertion that Cardiff was the greatest color cinematographer who ever lived — what with a filmography that includes Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, Stairway to Heaven (also from the Shoes/Narcissus team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger), Scott of the Antarctic, Hitchcock’s underrated Under Capricorn, Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, The African Queen, The Barefoot Contessa, The Prince and the Showgirl, The Vikings, Legend of the Lost (lousy movie, fabulous lensing) and the King Vidor version of War and Peace (in VistaVision). And speaking of lookers, you can also address this point from a slightly different direction — one that Craig McCall’s loving documentary made me think about to a degree that hadn’t quite hit me before — which is that Cardiff’s work also represents the apogee — or pretty close to it — of color glamour photography (moving-image category). Working with some admittedly great raw material, he conjured up breathtaking visages of Ava Gardner (twice), Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn (or as much as that War and Peace costuming would allow), Janet Leigh and even Deborah Kerr in those Narcissus fishing-stream flashbacks before her character became a nun. Interview subjects are top of the line: Martin Scorsese, Lauren Bacall (along with Bogie on the Queen shoot) and Charlton Heston are just a few.
Extras: Cardiff liked to shoot home movies on the set, and both the documentary itself and its copious bonus extras (among the most enjoyable I’ve seen in a while) incorporate a lot of this material. A highlight is some fabulous stuff from the set of The African Queen taken before cast and crew took ill from impure drinking water that spared only two of the principals (Humphrey Bogart and John Huston), who ignored water from the get-go in favor of booze.
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The Colossus of New York

Olive, Sci-Fi, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars John Baragrey, Mala Powers, Otto Kruger, Ross Martin.
1958.
In this twisted pretzel of a domestic drama, sibling scientists John Baragrey and Ross Martin are in a kind of Smothers Brothers situation over the affections of their brain surgeon father (Otto Kruger). You see, dad loves the latter more (winning a Nobel Prize probably helped). When the favored son is killed, the father determines he can take his dead son’s brain and implant it into a giant robot. But the robot is discomforted and confused (this is not a normal state) on his way to a psychotic state. The robot costume, if that’s the word, is pretty cool, and Colossus has a spare and very effective piano score, which, when juxtaposed against this behemoth, is substantially eerie. As these things go, Colossus is pretty decent of its kind — with a 70-minute running time that keeps the picture from wearing out its welcome, especially when the print looks as clean as it does here.
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Where the Boys Are

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Dolores Hart, George Hamilton, Yvette Mimieux, Paula Prentiss.
1960.
As it turned out, the Glendon Swarthout novel upon which this film was based was more hard-edged than the resulting movie. Still, the movie has a little more edge than expected (maybe 5% to 10%) in addressing the pressures and even psychological abuse young women endured at the outset of the Pill — everyday, but in this specific instance, during college vacations where there were going to be a lot of men who didn’t want their time to be exclusively spent tossing footballs on the beach. But given its release date during the period when JFK had been elected but Eisenhower still was in office, the movie makes it clear that the women are always back in their motel (with pool) by evening’s end — and sleeping six or seven to a room.
Extras: Uncommonly for a made-to-order release, Boys is a re-issue of an out-of-print onetime retail title — complete with carried-over bonus extras that include a Paula Prentiss commentary.
Read the Full Review
 


8 Aug, 2011

New on Disc: 'Streetwalkin',' 'The Egyptian' and more …


Streetwalkin’

Street 8/2
Shout! Factory, Drama, $14.93 DVD, ‘R.’
Stars Melissa Leo, Dale Midkiff, Julie Newmar.
1985.
This is presumably the only screen portrayal of street prostitution to find a role for Julie Newmar. Surprisingly upfront — though no more than honesty dictates — about the tawdriness of the trade, Streetwalkin’ ends up having a little more conviction than you might expect within swaggeringly melodramatic conventions. For its smidgens of integrity, we can thank a young Melissa Leo, whose recent supporting Oscar (and two nominations in three years) has doubtlessly sparked this fairly raw melodrama’s entrance into the DVD domain. Leo goes so many extra miles here, in terms of acting intensity, that it’s tough to figure out why she never got the early break she deserved. Sporting a fresh face that doesn’t exactly synch with that Oscar performance in The Fighter, Leo and her handsome kid brother bus into New York City from an obviously boozy mom/abusive stepdad situation — whereupon she’s immediately befriended by someone who turns out to be a pimp. The moral here, as always: Beware of men who befriend you in strange-city subway terminals that are adjacent to bus stations.
Extras: Writer-director Joan Freeman provides a commentary.
Read the Full Review

The Egyptian

Available at ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $19.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Jean Simmons, Victor Mature, Edmund Purdom, Gene Tierney.
1954.
This artifact-packed, would-be blockbuster with opulent trimmings and a fabulous score is famed on at least one might-have-been level: This is the movie where Edmund Purdom replaced Marlon Brando when the actor balked at making the picture. Set 13 centuries B.C., The Egyptian is a shaggy pyramid saga about the long life of Pharaoh Akhenaton’s court physician (at least when things are going harmoniously between doc and the court) and all the events that have contributed to his age lines and gray hair before the film’s opening flashback begins. It’s been famously said that no one ever goes to a movie for the sets and costumes, but there are times where I disagree. This is one, especially when such a big-scale production gets this kind of rendering; even with my nose almost touching the screen in an experiment, this transfer looked spectacular.
Extras: Alain Silver and James Ursini do the commentary (lots to talk about), Julie Kirgo’s liner notes are often funny, and there’s an isolated soundtrack of the famous score — split between my two favorite screen composers ever (Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Newman) because there were too many screen minutes (140) and too little time.
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Follow Me Quietly

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars William Lundigan, Dorothy Patrick, Jeff Corey.
1949.
Long before Hollywood glutted the market by turning serial killer melodramas into a major sub-industry, this 60-minute toughie — the kind of double-bill supplement that screen-cheapie fanciers used to term “efficient” — was one of the first movies I know of to deal with the subject in an American urban setting (as opposed to say, your standard garden variety Jack the Ripper pic). What got me about Quietly was the idea of the cop played by William Lundigan requisitioning police funds to construct a “suspect” mannequin that fit meager witness descriptions, akin to the standard composite sketch but throwing in a suit, a tie and hat. The director does a lot of moody things here with noir-style rain (the killer always strikes during heavy precipitation), and the chase ending seems heavily influenced by Jules Dassin’s once-landmark The Naked City, as so many crime thrillers of the late 1940s were. Dorothy Patrick plays the pesky journalist and love interest, and Jeff Corey plays the secondary cop, not too long before the actor was politically blacklisted in Hollywood for nine years.
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1 Aug, 2011

New on Disc: The Minnesota Twins 1991 World Series


•Magic in Minnesota: Remembering the 1991 World Series Championship
•The Minnesota Twins 1991 World Series Collector’s Edition

Street 8/2
A&E, Sports, Magic in Minnesota: $19.95 DVD, 1991 World Series: $69.95 seven-DVD set, NR.
1991.
Five of the seven ’91 contests were decided by one run (and five of six after game one); four wins came in the final at-bat; three of the games went extra innings (a record); and the final two rose to special heights, with game seven an all-timer on multiple levels — but especially for containing one of the gutsiest pitching performances in Series annals. The 20th anniversary look-back Magic in Minnesota is an overview with lots of older (and, in some cases, heavier) Twins participants — including manager Tom Kelly, who always seemed to keep the franchise in there every year (the Twins won the Series in ’87, too). You can see from this Series why Braves manager Bobby Cox always seemed to be, whether he literally was or not, in the dugout chewing a Costco warehouse’s worth of antacids. The Braves went back to Minnesota with a 3-2 Series advantage and then lost the sixth game 4-3 (on a Kirby Puckett walk-off home run in the bottom of the 11th) and then game seven by a score of 1-0 when Twins ace Jack Morris went all 10 innings for the shutout with a “don’t even think about taking me out” attitude in what he called the most focused game of his career. I’ll bet.
Extras: The Magic DVD includes Puckett’s great Hall of Fame induction speech. The box of complete game broadcasts has a nice feature that allows you to hear the game via either its TV or radio feeds. And each individual disc jacket is splashed with trivia-fancier stats — including even the running time, attendance and (for completists) game-time temperature.
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Sands of the Kalahari

Street 8/2
Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Stanley Baker, Stuart Whitman, Susannah York, Harry Andrews.
1965.
As a drama about the moral limitations of social Darwinism, Sands has its provocative moments. It centers on nature’s downing of a two-engine job that has been chartered after a regular commercial flight was delayed: There’s nothing like running into a five-mile swath of locusts. This is no hyperbole — it’s what the pilot, in fact, claims — resulting in the worst windshield wiper gunk you’ll ever see, a shot I’ve never forgotten after all these years. The Panavision is easy on the eye, and the story ends with one of the more memorable (and certainly uncompromised) endings from any movie of the era. The film generally is devalued as a lesser cousin of two tangentially related movies of the same era: 1964’s Zulu and The Flight of the Phoenix.
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Athena

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Musical, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Jane Powell, Debbie Reynolds, Vic Damone, Edmund Purdom.
1954.
In one huge regard that makes it interesting viewing today, Athena was ahead of its time in its advocacy of a healthy lifestyle — which led to casting the studio’s professional cuties Jane Powell and Debbie Reynolds with a cast of musclemen who included male-boomer icon Steve Reeves (the former 1950 Mr. Universe later immortalized by two Joe Levine “Hercules” epics). Though Powell was just coming off the biggest hit of her career (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers), the sea change in popular music at the time was so dramatic that her big-screen career would be over in four years and her MGM career in one.
Extras: This is a handsome release, and there are some raw musical outtakes included that are fun to watch.
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25 Jul, 2011

New on Disc: 'Amelie' Blu-ray and more …


Amélie (Blu-ray)

Lionsgate, Comedy, $19.99 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for sexual content.
In French with English subtitles.
Stars Audrey Tautou, Mathieu Kasovitz, Rufus, Lorella Cravotta.
2001.
The story of a gamin-like cutie who plays a good Samaritan/Cupid to the detriment of her own stunted emotional development, France’s internationally popular five-Oscar nominee (a striking tally for a foreign-language release) offers proof that modern-day movies can still “do” saturated color, and it’s the added ocular benefits that get my vote when it comes to maximum enjoyment of director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s peripatetic screen original.
Extras: The Blu-ray extras do the old Buena Vista DVD one better by adding a commentary by Jeunet to the original tally.
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Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird

First Run, Documentary, B.O. $0.03 million, $24.95 DVD, NR.
2011.
Writer-director Mary Murphy’s appreciation of all things Mockingbird has to be the most appealing book junkie’s documentary (or movie of any kind) since 2002’s The Stone Reader — and she had to pull off this feat with a huge crater in the middle of her picture. That would be author (Nelle) Harper Lee’s total abstinence from interviews since a New York radio Q&A in 1964, which Murphy’s portrait samples generously. The documentary approaches Mockingbird from the angles of the racial progress it portended; as a work of Southern literature (many Southern writers weigh in); as a formative experience for other well-known folks (Oprah Winfrey, Rosanne Cash, Tom Brokaw); and as the source of a movie that will turn 50 next year. Assumed to be something like the no-nonsense tomboy “Scout” narrator she invented for the only novel she ever wrote, Lee turns out to be something of a “Boo” Radley — the elusive key character Robert Duvall played in the 1962 movie version of the book (his big-screen debut). In her own milieu, Lee hasn’t been a recluse, and no one has had any trouble spotting her walking around hometown Monroeville, Ala. It’s just that she doesn’t like to speak in public — and more recently has been severely impaired by a stroke and significant blindness (something the documentary doesn’t address).
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The Letter

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Jeanne Eagels, O.P. Heggie, Herbert Marshall.
1929.
This comparably stilted and nearly “lost” film based on Somerset Maugham’s 1927 play, released by Paramount early in the sound era, is very much worth seeing — primarily because it preserves one of the first performances ever nominated for the Best Actress Oscar: by famed stage actress and legend-of-the-day Jeanne Eagels not long before her death at 39. The movie is only a little more than a photographed stage play, but the hot-house atmosphere is fairly convincing, allowing for the primitive filmmaking origins.
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The Goddess

Manufactured on demand via online retailers
Sony Pictures, Drama, $20.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Kim Stanley, Lloyd Bridges, Steven Hill.
1958.
The Goddess, Paddy Chayefsky’s thought-to-be takeoff on Marilyn Monroe, is a most compelling project to have been mounted — then or now — because there’s no time in history when it could have been a feel-good project; it’s almost the “anti-Amélie” in that regard. What’s more, Monroe was still an active and very public figure at the time this not exactly flattering portrait was released in the late spring of 1958. Making things even more compelling is the fact that The Goddess marked the big-screen debut of revered stage actress Kim Stanley. The director is the underrated John Cromwell (father of actor James), who was especially good with actresses.
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