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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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29 Nov, 2010

New on Disc: 'The Night of the Hunter' and more …

The Night of the Hunter

Criterion, Drama, $39.95 two-DVD set, $49.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Lillian Gish.
Even for a movie budgeted in the $600,000 range with a short 36-day shooting schedule, Charles Laughton’s directorial masterpiece from Davis Grubb’s novel was a serious box office failure that by all accounts broke Laughton’s heart. Today, of course, it is routinely included on lists of the greatest movies ever made in any country.
Extras: There’s a trove of background information on this release, but the centerpiece is the 2 hour, 40 minute documentary Charles Laughton Directs The Night of the Hunter — assembled, with the help of Nancy Mysel, by Robert Gitt (retired, though still freelancing, from the UCLA Film & Television Archive). The other extras include a group commentary by Gitt, critic F.X. Sweeney (getting to be a welcome presence on DVDs), Preston Neal Jones (author of a book on both the novel and film) and director Terry Sanders, the second-unit director who shot the Ohio River material. There’s also a remembrance by actor/writer Simon Callow (who penned an excellent Laughton bio many years ago), ‘A’-list critical essays, Grubb’s sketches and Leonard Maltin’s interview of Gitt before the documentary begins.
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The Bing Crosby Collection

Universal, Musical, $49.98 three-DVD set, NR.
Stars Bing Crosby, Fred MacMurray, Carole Lombard.
This six-title set, which goes a long way toward filling some missing-on-DVD Bing Crosby gaps, is almost all 1930s — another way of saying that you’re not going to find many unsung classics, though it is packed with movies hitherto tough to see in recent years. The most historically significant is 1935’s Mississippi, which boasts Bing with W.C. Fields and with Rodgers and Hart (all in good form). The rest of the set includes College Humor (1933), We’re Not Dressing (1934), Here Is My Heart (1934), Sing You Sinners (1938) and Welcome Stranger (1947).
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Trapped in an Elevator

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
Narrated by John Lithgow
Elevators serve 325 million passengers daily. Next to cars, they are the most common method of transportation — and yet, because we can’t see them, everyone takes them for granted. Many of the concerns in this well-organized “Nova” documentary are serious, including an interview with a guy who was riding a World Trade Center elevator during one of the 9/11 attacks, reaching the floor and just getting out of the building before it started to collapse. But the dominant story, which the film keeps returning to like a weekly movie serial, deals with a worker in New York’s McGraw-Hill building (several years back; he didn’t have a cell phone) who went out for a cigarette break on a Friday night and didn’t even get noticed for 41 hours. From here, it’s on to an overview: the history of the technology, and how elevators of the future may dispense with cables — which have limitations in terms of a building’s height — in favor of powerful magnets.
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You’re a Big Boy Now

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Peter Kastner, Geraldine Page, Rip Torn, Elizabeth Hartman.
Just by themselves, a Lovin’ Spoonful soundtrack and eccentric casting would be enough to make this artifact of an era one juicy curio. One of Warner Archive’s most provocative current releases was Francis Ford Coppola’s first major studio outing. Whenever Elizabeth Hartman is on screen, the comedy ratchets up several levels, though you can feel the movie breathing like someone running the 440 to generate mirth.
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22 Nov, 2010

New on Disc: 'LennonNYC,' and more …


Street 12/7
A&E, Documentary, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Concurrently running on PBS as part of the incessantly invaluable “American Masters” series, the story of LennonNYC begins in 1971 when Lennon and wife Yoko Ono discovered they could live peacefully in Greenwich Village without being subjected to all the Beatlemaniacs who prevented them from taking casual strolls on London streets. Cooperating Ono is ubiquitous, seen in recent interviews that must have been painful even 30 years after Lennon was shot by Mark David Chapman. Musician colleagues and critics share recollections, not all of them pretty. Generally, the tone is more benign with a slightly melancholy tinge, making an extremely persuasive case that Lennon came to be far more comfortable at home with his wife and young son than he was with celebrity. Director Michael Epstein mines what is obviously a substantial archive of still photos and audio tracks from recording sessions.
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Mutiny on the Bounty (Blu-ray)

Warner, Adventure, $34.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Charles Laughton, Clark Gable, Franchot Tone.
The Oscar-winning first and better version of MGM’s Bounty extravaganzas is the only movie for which its three top-billed stars all received lead actor Oscar nominations — and now it’s the first black-and-white release from deep in the MGM archives that Warner Home Video has issued on Blu-ray. In general, I’ve always thought that vintage Warner Bros. titles have a visual snap that their MGM counterparts never had, so the result is slightly subordinate to Warner’s Blu-ray releases of, say, its own Casablanca or The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. But make no mistake: Watching Bounty here is like watching it for the very first time. Aside from an infrequently grainy shot here and there (a product, I’m sure, of the source material, not some slip-up), it really looks super on screen, and the soundtrack has more heft than I ever would have expected.
Extras: Bounty comes packaged in the same cardboard booklet that Warner reserves for its most important catalog releases, though the bonus extras are fairly paltry.
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Monte Walsh

Paramount/CBS, Western, $19.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Lee Marvin, Jeanne Moreau, Jack Palance, Mitch Ryan, Jim Davis, Michael Conrad.
The first screen version of Shane author Jack Schaefer’s source novel (there was also a 2003 Tom Selleck TV movie) is quite a throw-up-your-hands jumble. And yet, now as then, the movie sparks rooting interest that’s only fitfully rewarded despite some appealing elements here and there — especially to those who’ll watch an ‘A’-budget Western at the drop of a cowboy hat. The movie’s best reviews justifiably went to the remarkably restrained Jack Palance for what must have been the least threatening or prickly performance in his career. Certainly, it’s an interesting counterpoint to Shane, which contains Palance’s most famously malevolent work.
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Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Stewart Granger, George Sanders, Joan Greenwood, Alan Napier, Viveca Lindfors, Jon Whiteley.
As one of the few color and even fewer widescreen movies that Fritz Lang directed in his 41-year career, this undeservedly obscure (in America) yarn about a lad who falls in with 18th-century pirates points up the disconnect in critical sensibilities from country to country. As a child’s-eye-view of British coastal cutthroats, exotic women, saloon living, underground hideouts and personal loneliness, the result is naggingly affecting thanks in part to Miklos Rozsa’s score and an apposite turn by child co-lead Jon Whiteley.
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15 Nov, 2010

New on Disc: 'White Christmas' and more …

White Christmas (Blu-ray)

Paramount, Musical, $26.99 DVD, $29.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen.
As a non-anamorphic alternative to such wider-screen rivals as CinemaScope, Cinerama and the coming TODD-AO, films shot in VistaVision ran through the camera horizontally instead of vertically, and for depth of field and color vibrancy I think it is still the best photographic process ever. Hollywood phased out three-strip Technicolor in the summer of 1955, and VistaVision didn’t launch until late ’54. Thus, the number of films that can boast both are very few, and this is one of them. Just one look at the “Mandy” number with its dramatic reds and blacks should answer any questions about how super this Blu-ray looks.
Extras: The transfer and fairly comprehensive backgrounder extras replicate what were on last year’s standard DVD.
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Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)?

Kino Lorber, Documentary, B.O. $0.03 million, $29.95 DVD, NR.
Several talkin’ heads here make reference to a still-underrated singer/songwriter’s intolerance of fools and his ability to be an occasional S.O.B. John Scheinfeld’s lovely documentary oozes major affection from everyone interviewed, all of whom (including record producer Richard Perry; ex-Monkee Micky Dolenz; songwriter Jimmy Webb, to name just three) come off as people you might want to have as next-door neighbors. Scheinfeld previously did The U.S. vs. John Lennon, the documentary that proved that the former Beatle and the Nixon Administration did not have instant karma.
Extras: Talkin’ runs just less than two hours but moves at a motor-mouthed pace, with an added 90 minutes of supplementary materials (Nilsson’s widow and now grown children are outstanding) that engage as much as the main body.
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Douglas Sirk: Filmmaker Collection

Available at TCM.com
Universal, Drama, $49.99 four-DVD set, Individual films $24.99 each, NR.
Stars Rock Hudson, Dorothy Malone, Claudette Colbert, Barbara Rush.
You didn’t get a whole lot of respect from 1950s tastemakers for directing so-called “women’s pictures,” melodramas or Westerns, which means that Hamburg-born (of Danish parentage) Douglas Sirk had to laugh all the way to the bank during his now revered heyday during that decade at Universal-International. But the film he regarded as his best — 1957’s The Tarnished Angels, which is the standout of a long-savored set Turner Classic Movies is offering as an exclusive — was a box office failure. The set also includes 1951’s Thunder on the Hill, 1954’s Taza, Son of Cochise and 1955’s Captain Lightfoot.
Extras: You expect TCM Robert Osborne’s introductions to be first-rate here — and they are. But I was taken also by the extra care given to the written histories of each film, which are also in the on-screen bonus section. Every movie of merit or even interest should be blessed with this kind of bang-up treatment.
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Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold

Available at WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Action, $19.95 DVD, ‘R.’
Stars Tamara Dobson, Stella Stevens, Tanny, Norman Fell.
Though it’s not exactly high scholarship whichever side of the debate you’re on, I’m of the school that prefers this sequel to 1973’s Cleopatra Jones — both of which provided a less buxom alternative to the Blaxploitation era’s Pam Grier action pics. This time, Stella Stevens (in lieu of the first film’s Shelly Winters) plays the obligatory lesbian nemesis. Despite the DVD-R stigma of being an “on-demand” release, Casino looks very, very good in its Panavision aspect ratio. Cinematographer Alan Hume later graduated to a couple James Bond pictures and (for a real resumé gooser) Return of the Jedi — a movie in which lipstick lesbians were few and far between.
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8 Nov, 2010

New on Disc: 'Bridge on the River Kwai,' 'You Don't Know Jack' and more …

The Bridge on the River Kwai (Blu-ray)

Sony Pictures, Drama, $34.95 Blu-ray, ‘PG’ for mild violence.
Stars William Holden, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins.
For an adaptation of a Pierre Boulle novel in which the bridge isn’t even blown up at the end, director David Lean — launching the “epic” stage of his career — got a climactic screen explosion for the ages in a deserving best-picture Oscar winner that also made so much money that it set up top-billed William Holden for life. Sony’s new restoration makes it look better than any time in my memory. It’s been restored before but without going back (as here) to the camera negatives with 4K digital technology.
Extras: Most of the Kwai Blu-ray extras are carried over from a previous DVD release, but this time there are also miniaturized lobby card replicas; a picture/graphics/trivia feature that’s a matter of taste (not particularly mine); a relatively hard-covered packaging booklet that’s somewhat in the fashion of Warner’s own whoop-de-doo archival Blu-rays; and a second disc, in the DVD format, that also includes the restored version (better, natch, than its DVD predecessor — but also, of course, hardly up to the Blu-ray).
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You Don’t Know Jack

HBO, Drama, $26.98, NR.
Stars Al Pacino, Susan Sarandon, John Goodman, Danny Huston.
Though the content and a couple revelatory performances battle it out as the main attention-getters in another of HBO’s welcomely grown-up TV movies, they don’t obscure the narrative skills that director Barry Levinson and Emmy-awarded writer Adam Mazar bring to the ever-controversial story of Jack Kervorkian — the Michigan pathologist who became a dedicated and compassionate but also imperfect symbol of the right-to-die movement.
Extras: The disc includes a commentary and a 10-minute featurette that in part details how an extraordinary makeup crew turned Al Pacino into a replica of the real Kervorkian, who notes in the extras that he didn’t understand the double entendre nature of this movie’s clever title.
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Evening Primrose

eOne, Drama, $29.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Anthony Perkins, Charmian Carr, Larry Gates, Dorothy Stickney.
According to archivist Jane Klane, who’s manager of research services at the Paley Center of Media, this Stephen Sondheim-James Goldman fantasy has been the single-most consumer-requested musical ever produced for television. Primrose aired in color, but eOne’s release (from the DVD godsend Archive of American Television) is from a black-and-white kinescope, which is the only version that exists.
The disc’s bonus section contains about 20 minutes of color test footage, plus Klane’s audio interview of star Charmian Carr and an on-camera sit-down with Primrose director Paul Bogart, who’s a little tentative at age 90 but still full of memories (many good, a few less so) of the production.
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The Hypnotic Eye

Warner, Horror, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Jacques Bergerac, Allison Hayes, Marcia Henderson, Merry Anders.
A good-looking woman disfigures herself under what turns out to be hypnosis. The victim in the opening scene massages something into her hair that we assume is some kind of conditioner yet is actually a flammable liquid. She turns on a gas burner, and her skull bursts into flame. After all these decades, I have never forgotten this scene. Eye remains a passably resourceful cheapie.
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1 Nov, 2010

New on Disc: 'Paths of Glory' and more …

Paths of Glory

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Kirk Douglas, Adolphe Menjou, Ralph Meeker, George Macready.
This adaptation of Humphrey Cobb’s unforgiving World War I novel is now an all-time classic but did limited business in its day. It apparently did manage to turn a profit almost certainly due to the resourcefulness of a young cinematic comer named Stanley Kubrick and a frugal budget (a third of which went to star Kirk Douglas). What amazes about the limited production funds is the perfect casting of the actors. Cinematically, the film still dazzles as much as it ever has. Its occasional whiplash editing maintains its punch, and the exteriors (whether in French trenches or in a famed battle scene that was shot on someone’s farm) are no more arresting than the interiors, which are architecturally staged almost like a chess game with the actors as players.
Extras: The bonus materials are first rate. I don’t think I’ve ever been so taken with Kubrick’s fourth feature. Some of this enthrallment was picked up on my own, but a lot of my response was sparked by this release’s great Gary Giddins’ commentary (atop a good printed essay by Kubrick scholar James Naremore), which is a model of what this kind of voiceover should be.
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Summer and Smoke

Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Una Merkel, Rita Moreno, Pamela Tiffin, Laurence Harvey, John McIntire, Geraldine Page.
A perfect example of a movie that’s not very good yet absolute eyewash in the most positive sense, this stilted but gorgeously mounted adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ play was a handsome view in theaters, also on laserdisc (for its day) and now, way belatedly, on DVD. It’s one of the new Olive Films releases of vintage Paramount titles — and the best-looking one they’ve brought out to date.
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Nova: Crash of Flight 447

Street 11/2
PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
This documentary explores the case of the AirFrance Airbus A330 that disappeared for no apparent reason over the Atlantic on June 1, 2009, with the loss of all 288 lives. For the same reason that fictional movies about threatened planes will always have an audience, documentaries such as this are inevitably compelling — even when they’re dealing with an extreme example of highly technical jargon. “Nova” assembled a team of veteran pilots, engineers and safety sleuths to make the most educated guess possible as to why the Rio de Janeiro-to-Paris flight “fell out of the sky” (which is how the disaster has been described) when no A330 had ever before been involved in a mishap. Obviously motivating the project was one of the eerier takes on that familiar statement about how, if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.
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Pretty Maids All in a Row

Available via WBshop’s Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $24.95 DVD, ‘R.’
Stars Rock Hudson, Angie Dickinson, Telly Savalas, Roddy McDowall.
A high-school black comedy that couldn’t be released today without sparking reactive Op-Ed pyrotechnics, French director Roger Vadim’s first Hollywood movie is, momentarily putting aside its odder curiosities, the sexiest showcase Angie Dickinson ever got on screen. Of all people, the screenplay is by “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry, and the title song is performed by The Osmonds.
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25 Oct, 2010

New on Disc: 'Treasure of the Sierra Madre,' 'Monster-A-Go Go,' 'Tropic of Cancer' and more …

Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Blu-ray)

Warner, Drama, $24.98 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt.
Walter Huston got the supporting Oscar here for one of those performances whose perfection is so slam-dunk obvious from the second it’s first shown that you go, “let’s just have the Oscarcast now because this race is over.” The actor’s own son (John) directed his way to an Oscar as well, and there’s also great work by Humphrey Bogart and very sturdy contribution by co-star Tim Holt. Like Warner’s Blu-ray of Casablanca, this release brings archival standards to your home as you reach for some wine. Seeing this staple of American cinema on Blu-ray is like seeing it for the first time — which is, come to think, the illusion that Blu-ray at its best is designed to give.
Extras: The Blu-ray replicates the content of the 2003 Treasure DVD, which was one of those whoop-de-doo affairs of a classic title that Warner brings out a few times a year. This means the new release also includes an excellent John Huston documentary and a 49-minute grabber about the movie’s production.
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Tropic of Cancer

Street 10/28
Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, ‘NC-17.’
Stars Rip Torn, Phil Brown, James Callahan, Ellen Burstyn, David Bauer.
The picture is a curio and even gets off to a most promising start when American expatriate Henry (Rip Torn) is paid a too-brief Parisian visit by wife Mona (Ellen Burstyn, still going by Ellen McRae but just on the brink of belated stardom). Whatever its undeniable limitations, it’s a must for fans of Torn and Burstyn. Writer-director Joseph Strick developed a kind of cottage industry in his later career trying to adapt unfilmmable novels.
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Monster A-Go Go: Special Collector’s Edition

Synergy, Horror, $9.99 DVD, NR.
Stars June Travis, Peter Thompson.
We know we are in good hands almost from the beginning of this movie, which “Mystery Science Theater 3000” once called the worst of all time, when there’s a long, arduous-to-endure conversation in a sitting car partially obscured by tree branches that nobody thought to remove. The result looks a lot like one of those screen images we’ve all experienced in which dirt gets trapped on the prodigiously magnifying lens of the projector, and the projectionist is too busy reading the racing form or the latest Hustler to notice or remove it.
Extras: For those who love to collect hall-of-fame baddies — a not insignificant demographic that is likely the only one for this release — Synergy has provided two color short subjects that are more entertaining than the main movie.
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Stranger on the 3rd Floor

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Peter Lorre, John McGuire, Margaret Tallichet.
Peter Lorre is the name-brand star here, but his part is small, even if he does play the title stranger. The thrust of the story involves a young newspaper reporter (John McGuire) who’d like to marry his girlfriend (Margaret Tallichet). He’s also the star witness at a murder trial whose testimony could send the accused (Elisha Cook Jr.) to the electric chair. Director Boris Ingster only made a couple more features after this promising beginning.
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18 Oct, 2010

New on Disc: 'The Psycho Legacy' and more …

The Psycho Legacy

Street 10/19
Shout! Factory/Vivendi, Documentary, $19.93 DVD, NR.
There’s a pretty fair time to be had with writer-director Robert V. Galluzzo’s comprehensive documentary, which goes way beyond the original Psycho and its influence (monumental) to deal with the franchise’s other components (II, III and IV), which never get all that much airtime.
Extras: There’s footage here — both in the documentary and the DVD’s bountiful extras — of actor Anthony Perkins at some festival or museum Q&A session being cheerful and funny about his Norman Bates legacy, which had in many ways killed his career for anything beyond goofball roles. Other extras include a tour of the exteriors of the motel set and another one in the home of a collector who has an entire Psycho room in his house.
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The Thin Red Line

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for realistic war violence and language.
Stars Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Elias Koteas, James Caviezel, Woody Harrelson.
Rhapsodically photographed by John Toll and given one of Criterion’s most bang-up color masterings ever, Terrence Malick’s take on James Jones’ 1962 Guadalcanal novel couldn’t care less about conventionality — concentrating almost exclusively on the physical and the uncommonly contemplative. With the obvious exception of Apocalypse Now, this may be the most sensual war movie ever. One gets a unique POV sense of how physically difficult it must be to take a hill grass-blade by grass-blade when you have no idea what’s on the other side (and when you get to the top you’re still not likely to know).
Extras: There is no way the notoriously reclusive Malick was going to be interviewed here, but the extras give all kinds of insights to his working methods. The commentary is by producer Grant Hill, production designer Jack Fisk and cinematographer Toll. Other extras focus on the actors and composer Hans Zimmer. And even-headed daughter Kaylie Jones offers about 17 minutes of insights about what her father taught her about war. With a vintage James Jones essay on “phony war films” and an opening intro by critic David Sterritt, this is a first-rate package all the way. One of Criterion’s best, in fact. 
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Hand in Hand

Sony Pictures, Drama, $14.94 DVD, NR.
Stars Kathleen Byron, Finlay Currie, Arnold Diamond, Philip Needs, Loretta Parry.
Anybody who followed movies more than causally in the ’60s may at least recall the title of this unpretentious black-and-white sleeper from Britain. It got superb reviews and even made some 10-best lists. The movie sports a veneer of tolerance right from the get-go, with a Catholic boy and Jewish girl striking up a friendship at school before other people try to split them up.
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Jimmy the Gent

Available via WBshop.com's Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars James Cagney, Bette Davis, Allen Jenkins.
For a comedy, there’s a remarkable mortality rate in the opening montage: plane crashes, boating accidents and (in a capper that can’t help but draw a laugh after the other accidents we’ve just seen), two locomotives doing a head-on into each other. The result is dead people — or dead people without heirs — and it is Cagney’s business to come up with phony ones to inherit the victims’ fortunes (for a cut, of course).
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11 Oct, 2010

New on Disc: 'Beauty and the Beast' Blu-ray and more …

Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition

Disney, Animated, $39.99 Blu-ray combo pack, ‘G.’
Voices of Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Angela Lansbury, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden-Stiers.
Not even 20 years old, Beauty and the Beast predictably pops off the screen via a fresh remastering, with audio that makes the Alan Menken-Howard Ashman score resonate better than ever. I re-ran the Belle-Beast dancing scene four times, and majestic is the only word. Though this release includes an alternate longer version with an extra musical number, the original theatrical version has perfect rhythmic balance in terms of song placement and in the way the tunes advance a story with many live-wire supporting characters.
Extras: It’s startling to hear in Beyond Beauty — a backgrounder documentary that’s probably the standout of many bonus extras here — that there was a time during the conception when this version of the tale wasn’t even going to be a musical. There’s wall-to-wall historical illumination packed into the set’s two discs.
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Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals

HBO, Documentary, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Narrated by Liev Schreiber.
How did the former L.A. Laker Earvin “Magic” Johnson and former Boston Celtic Larry Bird get to be friends after years of antagonism — dating back when they played in the NCAA’s 1979 National Championship Game, respectively representing Michigan State and Indiana State? Well, it took years, and there’s even been a book about it: When the Game Was Ours, co-written by the principals with veteran sportswriter Jackie MacMullan, who is also interviewed extensively in this documentary, which is one of the best ever made on sports. This is a totally consuming mix of clips and interview subjects that include lots of reflection by the principals themselves — plus writers, other players and coaches, if not family members.
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Jacqueline Susann’s Once Is Not Enough

Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, ‘R.’
Stars Kirk Douglas, Deborah Raffin, Alexis Smith, David Janssen.
Let’s all go to the Hamptons and take Kirk Douglas along. This would at least seem to be a sub-theme of this Panavision twist on the “Daddy’s Little Girl” syndrome — a follow-up to the comparably campy movie versions of Susann’s Valley of the Dolls and The Love Machine released nine months after the author’s 1974 death. In the process, it finds an atypical (though not career-unique) milieu for its male lead.
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The Animal World

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Documentary, $19.95 DVD, NR.
In producer-writer-director Irwin Allen’s follow-up to his Oscar-winning The Sea Around Us (1952), two dino behemoths proceed to chomp big bloody chunks out of each other’s necks before both topple over a cliff into some rapids. If any screen example better crystallizes the differences between being a ’50s kid and being one 30 years later, it does not immediately come to mind. There’s some occasional majesty here, and the creature combat or pursuit footage is, per usual, foolproof up to a point: ant vs. termite, octopus vs. moray eel, tiger-antelope, birds-insects, kangaroo rat-gila monster — and, lest we forget, man trying to maintain his supposed superiority over all of them.
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4 Oct, 2010

New on Disc: 'The Killer Inside Me' and more …

The Killer Inside Me

MPI/IFC, Drama, B.O. $0.2 million, $19.98 DVD, $29.98 Blu-ray, ‘R’ or disturbing brutal violence, aberrant sexual content and some graphic nudity.
Stars Casey Affleck, Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson, Ned Beatty.
Despite a certain watchability around the edges, the only scene that engenders a full emotional response is the most repulsive one in the film. The story’s crucial beating would be disturbing with any recipient, but there’s an added dimension when someone cast against type plays the victim. Here, it’s Jessica Alba. Casting — if only on paper — is what this movie has. But for such heated material, the treatment here is extremely cool, and this extends to a maladroit score of honky-tonk that works against the drama. What’s left is one of the more interesting career-trackers of recent days, plus a mildly memorable murder/cover-up drama with some adequately absorbing police procedural touches.
Extras: All three principals are featured in the DVD/Blu-ray bonus section.
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Charade (Blu-ray)

Criterion, Mystery, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn.
Here we are in Criterion-ville with Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Parisian locales and a Henry Mancini-Johnny Mercer theme song that’s effective both in its upbeat version (during the opening credits) and later on a cruise boat in one of the film’s loveliest passages. Charade is sometimes called the best Hitchcock movie not directed by Hitchcock, but despite some remarkably grisly moments, it is more of an “entertainment” film without the twisted, dark core you find even in the lightest Hitchcocks.
Extras: Criterion’s release basically transplants its standard same-price DVD to Blu-ray, complete with a typically fine Bruce Eder essay plus the mutually cantankerous commentary by director Stanley Donen and late screenwriter Peter Stone, which is widely regarded as one of the most entertaining voiceovers ever due to the “old-marrieds-at-home” tone it employs.
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Knock on Wood

Olive, Comedy, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Danny Kaye, Mai Zetterling, Torin Thatcher.
Relatively obscure these days yet substantially acclaimed at the time, Danny Kaye’s head-trippy spy romp deals in part with a ventriloquist’s dummy that loses verbal control and publicly embarrasses his ostensible human controller. Knock has some first-rate Kaye showcasing in an Irish pub (singing), car dealership (the newest dream auto has a button for everything — except for perhaps turning on the ignition) and with a Russian ballet troupe (a wild number choreographed by Michael Kidd the same year as his 7 Brides for 7 Brothers triumph).
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The Real National Treasure

A&E, Documentary, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Though any informative documentary on a fascinating subject is its own justification and reward, the later parts of this hello to the Library of Congress are of overriding interest to those who love seeing classic movies on DVD and Blu-ray in a museum or repertory theater. All those preserved films have to be stored somewhere, right? The day-to-day material about one of the globe’s more specialized workplaces is fascinating as well. The documentary is part of the History Channel’s “Modern Marvel” series, and the Library is definitely one, even if George Washington’s crops (or the old-school manure he used to goose the soil) are your overriding interest.
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27 Sep, 2010

New on Disc: 'Forbidden Planet' on Blu-ray and more…

Forbidden Planet (Blu-ray)

Warner, Sci-Fi, $24.98 Blu-ray, ‘G.’
Stars Leslie Nielsen, Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis.
Though it hasn’t the lobby card miniatures that offered a sweet nostalgic touch for fans who were around during the movie’s original release, Forbidden Planet’s Blu-ray pretty well replicates the standard two-DVD 50th Anniversary Edition that Warner brought out in 2006. This version’s soundtrack has more muscle, but visually, the quality is very close.
Extras: The prodigious extras — all available with the earlier DVD, but this time packed comfortably on a single disc — include a Turner Classic Movies documentary on 1950s outer space cinema; an episode from TV’s “The Thin Man” in which Robby the Robot guest-appeared; plus Robby’s follow-up 1957 feature The Invisible Boy.
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The Essential Games of the Seattle Mariners

Street 9/28
A&E, Sports, $39.95 four-DVD set, NR.
Assembling this kind of set must be like a lobbyists’ picnic as those in charge strive to reach consensus. In this case, the selection committee has deemed as “essential” these four baseball games: the 1995 one-game playoff against the Angels for the Western Division crown, Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS against the Yankees, Game 3 of the 2000 ALDS against the White Sox, and the game in 2001 that clinched the Western Division en route to a record 116 wins.
Extras: The extras naturally deal with key principals we see in the games. Jay Buhner, for instance, plays in two of them and rates his own bonus footnote featurette about  the 1993 game where he hit for the cycle. Also, Seattle’s rich minor league history gets explained in the bonus section of the fourth disc.
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Where Love Has Gone

Street 9/28
Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Susan Hayward, Mike Connors, Joey Heatherton, Jane Greer, George Macready, DeForest Kelley, Bette Davis.
Two veteran actresses, both known for their off-screen toughness, battle it out as wealthy mother and daughter. The source material is a Harold Robbins bestseller inspired by, notwithstanding denials to the contrary, one of the most famous murder cases of the preceding decade. The aforementioned daughter and her own 15-year-old femme offspring share a lover (the yarn’s murder victim). There’s blackmail, adultery and heavily implied nymphomania — everything that trash-loving moviegoers would have wanted in 1964, including a title ballad sung by Jack Jones. The DVD looks fairly pristine compared to some of Olive Films’ other recent color releases of Paramount catalog titles.
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The Sea Around Us

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Documentary, $19.95 DVD, NR.
The author of the book The Sea Around Us was the eventually world-renowned Rachel Carson, and it isn’t hard to understand why she threw up her hands over this hour-long screen treatment, which nonetheless proved popular with audiences and won the Oscar for best documentary. It’s a safe assumption that many moviegoers who got off on Sea’s shark-octopus battle or its queasy encounter with a moray eel had never seen anything like this on screen, at least in Technicolor.
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