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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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14 Feb, 2011

New on Disc: Blu-rays for 'Broadcast News' and 'An Affair to Remember'

Broadcast News

Criterion, Comedy, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for language and some sexual content.
Stars Holly Hunter, William Hurt, Albert Brooks, Jack Nicholson.
James L. Brooks’ second feature as a director reverberates today in terms of the climactic mass layoffs at its story-central television network’s Washington, D.C., news bureau. The sharp dialogue has always resonated, and so has the ensemble acting, including a once thoroughly ambushing performance by lead Holly Hunter, for which no one was prepared. Broadcast News remains its era’s definitive work-versus-personal life screen treatment.
Extras: Joining Brooks on the commentary is editor Richard Marks, and the deleted scenes here contain one major revelation: a more romantic ending that is at least as good as the honest but perhaps emotionally unsatisfying one that ended up in the release version. It packs a wallop if you’ve just watched the movie, and the odd story behind its conception so pains its maker until this day that he hadn’t looked at the alternative scene again until now.
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An Affair to Remember (Blu-ray)

Fox, Romance, $34.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Cathleen Nesbitt, Richard Denning.
Along with a tandem release of All About Eve, this is the first time Fox Entertainment has delved into “deep catalog” for the issuing of a Blu-ray. I enjoyed this Blu-ray more than any rendering (of many) I’ve seen of Affair since I first caught it as a child during its original release. The film is quintessentially dapper Cary Grant, but what I never quite noticed until this Blu-ray edition — perhaps because her performance is so ladylike and refined — is the glamour treatment director Leo McCarey gave to co-star Deborah Kerr as well. The Blu-ray has an intensity you don’t get on the standard DVD or TV showings; in the same shot, Grant’s tanned skin tones complement redheaded Kerr’s pale ones, and even the process shots look pretty acceptable.
Extras: Along with cardboard packaging, it includes backgrounder text and glossy still photos printed on high-quality paper. Otherwise, this release basically transfers the 2007 standard DVD intact, which means there are also some wide-ranging bonus featurettes on the superstar leads, the filmmakers and the production.
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Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, ‘PG-13’ for mature thematic elements involving violence, drug and alcohol use, sexual content and nudity.
Stars Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Anthony Perkins, Laurence Harvey, Wayne Rogers, Pat Hingle, Moses Gunn, Don Gordon, Cloris Leachman.
When a superstar headlines a sturdy supporting cast in a 41-year-old political drama whose subject matter resonates loudly today, there’s probably a good reason if the movie is infrequently shown and remains generally obscure. WUSA feels like a direct off-shoot of the Democratic Convention riots from Chicago in 1968. Olive’s Panavision transfer is faithful to WUSA’s harsh grainy look, which was atypical of Paramount releases of the period. The movie reunited Paul Newman with director Stuart Rosenberg, who’d enjoyed his an undeniably great moment in the sun with 1967’s Cool Hand Luke.
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2 Weeks in Another Town

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Kirk Douglas, Edward G. Robinson, Cyd Charisse, George Hamilton.
Vincente Minnelli’s dramatically stillborn but visually resplendent CinemaScope trash captures a time when old Hollywood was crumbling and some of its old directorial hands were struggling to find work abroad in what used to be called runaway productions.
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7 Feb, 2011

New on Disc: An Action-Packed Double Feature and more …

Butch & Sundance: The Early Days/Death Hunt (Double Feature)

Shout! Factory/Vivendi, Action, $14.93 DVD, NR.
Stars Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, Tom Berenger, William Katt.
This harmless pairing is just another night at the drive-in — the kind of time-passers that might have made you want to build a drive-in just to show them, as long as you didn’t spend too much money on it.
Butch & Sundance: The Early Days (1979) is one of the first movies I can recall for which the dreadful term “prequel” was used and even utilized as a sales tool — a full 10 years (minus just a few months) after Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which at the time seemed like a foolhardy time span. That it remains a respectable undertaking and certainly no disgrace isn’t quite the same as saying that this was a movie that needed to be made, but it did give some work to the great Richard Lester when his eccentric sensibilities were starting to make a him less of an obvious candidate for the kind of films that were then getting made.
Death Hunt (1981) features Lee Marvin as a Royal Mountie out in the Yukon, called to duty after Charles Bronson begins shooting at marauding thugs from inside his log cabin. From the beginning, we’re on Bronson’s side after he opens the film by rescuing a canine from a Michael Vick kind of dog fight. Marvin is only fulfilling his job description by chasing Bronson, and the two develop a wary bond.
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American Experience: Panama Canal — Gateway to the American Century

Street 2/8
PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
The raw figures after the Panama Canal was completed were $350 million (the largest federal expenditure up to that time) and 5,000 human deaths, plus the fatalities of who knows how many mosquitoes and their larvae. The last was an attempt to eradicate the yellow fever that was the most serious obstruction to a project that had already licked the French. A lot of “American Experience” presentations run an hour, but some of them go to 90 minutes or even two hours. This expert telling is in the 90-minute range, which is mandatory — if only to give a sense of time of a project that spanned 1904 to 1914. This rendering uses illustrations, photos and, from the final stages, even early moving pictures to tell this incredible story. Side (but hardly tangential) issues touched upon are: railroad construction that made it possible to haul away all the dug-up dirt, the building of a necessary dam to lick the flooding issue, the racism involved in the treatment of the project’s massive West Indies work pool, and the brainstorm of the “locks” system that made success possible — an amazing engineering feat in and of itself.
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The Reluctant Debutante

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Rex Harrison, Kay Kendall, Sandra Dee, John Saxon, Angela Lansbury.
Though it’s one of those upper-crust comedies where the characters say “darling” and “divine” a lot, the second of Vincente Minnelli’s three movies in what turned out to be a banner year has more than a little in common with the director’s perennially popular Father of the Bride. The great casting coup here is one of the things that probably limited Debutante’s commercial chances in the United States: the brilliant pairing of then real-life marrieds Rex Harrison and Kay Kendall as a British lawyer and second wife dealing with banker Harrison’s American (and American-ized) teen daughter in that then-dying Brit milieu of debutante coming-out “season.” The two are perfect — and their performances are perfectly in synch. The other performance it’s easy to take for granted is Angela Lansbury’s as a motor-mouthed friend. For Minnelli, this comedy was sandwiched between two triumphs that did much better at the box office: Gigi (which went on to win the Oscar) and Some Came Running.
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31 Jan, 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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24 Jan, 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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17 Jan, 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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10 Jan, 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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3 Jan, 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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20 Dec, 2010

New on Disc: Frank Sinatra Concerts, Elia Kazan and more …

Frank Sinatra: Concert for the Americas

Shout! Factory/Vivendi, Music, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Recorded at the Altos de Chavón Amphitheater in La Romana, Dominican Republic, Americas represents a DVD premiere (in this country at least) — though Shout! Factory also included it in its seven-disc Frank Sinatra: Concert Collection, which came out Nov. 2 for a $79.95 list price. Except for one relative musical stiff (“Searching”) he wastes time on just after 64-year-old drummer Buddy Rich pounds and sweats up a storm during Sinatra’s intermission, Americas’ 18-tune playlist is all but exclusively made up of familiar benchmarks from the singer’s relatively later Capitol and Reprise eras. This said, he does perform 1945’s Columbia-era “The House I Live In,” a warmly patriotic tune from an eponymous short subject that won him a special Academy Award at the time. Even against a lot of contenders, Americas has to be counted as a high point in the concert box set, which includes several TV specials previously released by Warner and material also fresh to DVD. Another personal favorite is 1973’s Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back, which represented Sinatra’s so-called showbiz comeback after a hiatus in recording.
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The Elia Kazan Collection

Fox, Drama, $199.98 18-DVD set, NR.
Stars Marlon Brando, James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Lee Remick.
Its 16 titles include five DVD premieres plus a new documentary from a filmmaker of equal stature. The 10 titles released before include Boomerang!; the badly dated Gentleman’s Agreement and Pinky; the crisp on-location New Orleans melodrama Panic in the Streets; the revolutionary screen acting showcase A Streetcar Named Desire; the even more revolutionary On the Waterfront and East of Eden; the ticklishly lascivious Baby Doll; the prescient A Face in the Crowd; and Splendor in the Grass (easily the most durable and moving of all high-school sex sagas). Of the premieres, one is a cluttered mess (Man on a Tightrope), one is quite good (Viva Zapata!) and three are splendid (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Wild River and America, America). Just on the level of this set’s crop of talent, Elia Kazan was the greatest director of actors ever.
Extras: Martin Scorsese’s recent A Letter to Elia (co-filmed with Kent Jones and previously run as an “American Masters” entry on PBS) is obviously one of this boxed-treasure-with-booklet’s selling points — a 60-minute documentary that more than one observer thought was Scorsese’s most personal work in years. Though I’m moved to see it give A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Wild River the major love that is only their due, Letter’s hour-long limitations force it to ignore other titles such as Viva Zapata! and Baby Doll. Mostly it’s about Scorsese’s formative obsession with Waterfront and especially East of Eden.
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The Outfit

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, ‘PG.’
Stars Robert Duvall, Joe Don Baker, Karen Black, Robert Ryan.
Adapting a Donald E. Westlake novel six years after Westlake’s The Hunter had given MGM 1.5 of its finest hours of the 1960s with its screen version (Point Blank), writer-director John Flynn fashioned a very mean movie — can this really be a ‘PG’ film? — in which someone gets shot in the hand and another is threatened with even worse (try one toe at a time). The premise operates on a rude surprise: that the Midwest bank you and your brother knocked off was the personal play-pretty of the local mob. Stick-up perpetrator Robert Duvall, just out of the cooler, is in a foul mood because “the boys” have just exacted revenge on his brother, gunning him down in the backyard. In short order, he recruits Joe Don Baker from a roadside eatery to be his aide; bloodies-up a high-stakes poker game that includes the perennially watchable character actor Timothy Carey (he of the wounded hand); and, in what is probably the movie’s best scene, has one whale of a time at a farmhouse (killer dog included) trying to get a good deal on a car that won’t be linked to him. The result is no world-beater, but it never tries to be more than it is, and the casting hits keep coming.
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13 Dec, 2010

New on Disc: the 2010 World Series film, 'Restrepo' and more …

2010 World Series Champions: San Francisco Giants

Shout! Factory/Vivendi, Sports, $19.93 DVD, $29.93 Blu-ray, NR.
Though five-game series must be the bane of DVD marketers’ existence, there are nifty infield plays and keen dugout reaction shots here (from both teams) to what their opponents were doing. The Giants’ win over the Texas Rangers was the franchise’s first Series win since they were in New York and broke the backs of the 1954 Cleveland Indians in a four-game sweep — permanently traumatizing several of my best childhood Ohio friends and causing them severe emotional problems as adults. Not counting bonus extras, this overview documentary runs about 85 minutes, even though it was a short match-up in which the Rangers won only game 3 (their first after returning to home turf in Arlington). Thus, much of the drama is on the periphery. My key gripe with this release — which is otherwise enjoyable, and no more so than in the final victory parade — is the musical soundtrack. The canned music Major League Baseball Productions uses is generically terrible in the first place, but here it frequently drowns out the narration and game action.
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Virgil, Documentary, B.O. $1.3 million, $19.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for language throughout including some descriptions of violence.
Way up on the list of the year’s “and you think you have it tough” screen achievements is this narrowly but searingly focused Afghanistan war documentary that’s on the short list of 15 for the feature award to be presented on the next Oscarcast. While admiring the brave men here and being ever-thankful not to be among them, it’s also important to remember that it also took an unseen crew to follow and photograph them in one of the globe’s most desolate hot spots. Named for Juan Restrepo, a beloved medic, sage and impromptu guitar instructor who was just 20 when he was killed, Restrepo chronicles 15 months with members of the Second Platoon, Battle Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade — whose survivors are interviewed in stark close-ups (in Italy, after the fact).
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Trouble in Mind

Street 12/14
Shout! Factory/Vivendi, Drama, $19.97 DVD, ‘R.’
Stars Kris Kristofferson, Keith Carradine, Lori Singer, Genevieve Bujold.
Filmed in Seattle and set in a compatibly fictional metropolis called Rain City, writer-director Alan Rudolph’s flaky noir conceit was at the time among my favored movies of 1985. The movie has an elusive “something” going for it, which is mostly potent chemistry between its romantic principals plus some ticklish gonzo casting — also a Mark Isham score that gets under your skin. Rudolph was a protégé of Robert Altman’s, and the movie plays like one of the latter’s more “winging it” projects (which is mostly what Altman himself was doing in the 1980s).
Extras: The look-back features all five surviving leads (it’s obvious that they all enjoyed the experience) plus a sit-down between Rudolph and Isham to discuss the music.
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Madam Satan

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Kay Johnson, Reginald Denny, Roland Young.
This movie from Cecil B. DeMille is a heavily qualified must if you’ve never seen it, but it’s also often an exasperating grind. It’s one of the definitive “it is what it is” movies — one where cinematic competence matters less than the fact that these two hours of film exist at all. DVD, of course, makes it an easier chore to watch the picture in increments, which is the only way you’ll ever get through the first half.
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6 Dec, 2010

New on Disc: 'Waking Sleeping Beauty' and more …

Waking Sleeping Beauty

Disney, Documentary, B.O. $0.08 million, $29.99 DVD, ‘PG’ for some thematic elements and brief mild language.
It would take a miniseries to sort out the conflicting personalities of Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Roy Disney and their late peacemaker Frank Wells — who, in varied ways, rejuvenated corporate Disney starting in the mid-1980s. And for a documentary that deals specifically with the de-slumbering of Disney animation after years of toxic-apple ingesting, you’ll note that this short list of studio execs doesn’t even include the scads of animators and composers who helped make the Disney visuals sing. All of this is to say that Waking Sleeping Beauty director Don Hahn has bitten off a big chew when trying to tell this great story in just under 90 minutes. His documentary is one of those that leaves you wanting more, but let it also be said that there isn’t a fidgety minute to be had.
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Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel

Street 12/7
Phase 4, Documentary, B.O. $0.01 million, $29.99 DVD, ‘R’ for graphic nudity and sexual content.
Hugh Hefner is, if anything, regarded as quaint these days — which is probably why the director of an Oscar-winning documentary (Brigitte Berman of 1985’s Artie Shaw: Time Is All You’ve Got) lent her services to remind us of a few things that bear remembering. One is that in addition to jazz, Hefner is a longtime friend to civil rights, also to legal protections for married couples (not all that long ago, they could go to jail in all 50 states for breaking arcane sodomy laws) and even to film preservation. On hand to fortify the last point is George Lucas, who will do for an advocate in that field. The serious limitation here is a lack of real perspective: We’re never going to get a tough and reasoned screen debate about what the Playboy empire meant (mostly past tense — but what a run) until someone else other than its dominant player isn’t the key on-screen host. A corollary to this is this documentary’s déjà vu aspect. I know I’m not hallucinating about the existence of the startlingly similar Hugh Hefner: Once Upon a Time, Hugh Hefner: American Playboy and (to a lesser extent) The Bunny Years.
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The Bob Hope Collection

Street 12/7
Shout! Factory/Vivendi, Comedy, $34.93 three-DVD set, NR.
Stars Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour.
Some of this set’s five titles have been released in so many versions that it would be easy to blink and miss what this box has to offer, which is: much improved renderings with only one significant technical boo-boo to make the knowledgeable scratch their heads. The set includes Road to Rio (1947), Road to Bali (1952), The Lemon Drop Kid (1951), My Favorite Brunette (1947) and The Seven Little Foys (1955). The latter is simultaneously one of Hope’s beloved movies and this collection’s one misstep. The Technicolor values are adequate, but the one here has a 1.33:1 aspect ratio when it ought to be 1.85:1 and simply looks “off,” though not fatally so.
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Your Cheatin’ Heart

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars George Hamilton, Susan Oliver, Red Buttons, Arthur O’Connell.
Sam Katzman’s biopic about Hank Williams is probably the most respectable movie he ever made. George Hamilton plays Williams in a likably adequate manner. Just beginning his career, Hank Jr. sings the incredible catalog (“Cold, Cold Heart” and so on) that Hamilton lip-syncs — hardly an unthinkable touch though somewhat of a questionable one considering that rights to the originals were controlled by MGM Records and this was an MGM film.
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