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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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5 Jul, 2010

New on Disc: 'Film Noir Classics II,' 1927's 'Chicago'


Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II

Street 7/6
Sony Pictures, Drama, $59.95 five-DVD set, NR.
Stars Glenn Ford, Fred MacMurray, Kim Novak, Gloria Grahame.
1954-59.
This boxed set contains, in order of personal preference: Human Desire (1954), Pushover (1954), City of Fear (1959), Nightfall (1957) and The Brothers Rico (1957). All five are correctly presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
Extras: Martin Scorsese introduces one of the selections, and there are further bonus cameos from Shutter Island colleague Emily Mortimer (talking about noir women and situations), plus Memento/The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan on “Pulp Paranoia” and the fact that noir is as much a state of mind as it is a means of shadowy photographic expression.
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Chicago

Street 7/6
Flicker Alley, Comedy, $39.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Phyllis Haver, Victor Varconi, Robert Edeson.
1927.
Thought to be lost for so many years, the first screen version of Maurine Watkins’ play is more sober than that of its follow-ups, ultimately presenting a more jaded view of press fickleness.
Extras: A booklet contains three informative essays, enticing on-screen supplements and a half-hour featurette that explains the flapper phenomenon by interviewing women who offer first-hand remembrances. The standout bonus is the inclusion of an obscure but lively 63-minute “March of Time” documentary The Golden Twenties, which RKO distributed in 1950.
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It Came From Kuchar

IndiePix, Documentary, $24.95 DVD, NR.
2009.
In the great scheme of (non-cineaste) things, we are talking about the fringe of the fringe here — back from the days before DVD democratized everything, and there was a certain quaint excitement and daring in watching underground movies (even by the most rigid underground standards) in some storefront or other makeshift venue. If you want to see who was capable of influencing John Waters in his formative years (and this is nothing to be high-hatted about), you need go no further than Bronx-bred twins George and Mike Kuchar. Jennifer M. Kroot’s documentary is a good introduction that doesn’t probe too deeply into a subculture.
Extras: There are 40 minutes of deleted scenes, the same length as the actual film. We see George making it to Telluride (earning a tribute, in fact), where he hob-knobs with Leonard Maltin, Todd Haynes and even Ken Burns.
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Two on a Guillotine

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Connie Stevens, Dean Jones, Cesar Romero.
1965.
For those who like horror movies where the principal characters take a break in the action to visit an amusement park and disco (showcased in Panavision, no less), this movie is for you. Artistically, the movie isn’t the stuff of shelf lives, except for in one regard: You sense pretty quickly that a superior cinematographer must have photographed it. And though one can argue that Guillotine’s puppy-loving (really … a roller coaster ride?) waters down the horror and inflates the 107-minute running time, it’s unexpected enough to get the movie out of the predictable ‘B’-movie rut in which director William Conrad (one and the same as the portly actor) was laboring in during this period.
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28 Jun, 2010

New on Disc: 'Leave It to Beaver,' 'The White Ribbon' and more …


Leave It to Beaver: The Complete Series

Street 6/29
Shout! Factory, Comedy, $199.99 37-DVD set, NR.
Stars Jerry Mathers, Barbara Billingsley, Hugh Beaumont, Tony Dow.
1957-63.
The show was and is so well-written that it almost certainly helped thousands of youngsters to develop their senses of irony — the kind that comes from observing an adult world through youthful eyes.
Extras: A revealing bonus disc includes the original pilot, which had a few different actors in the cast. There also are several anecdotes spun in an outstanding talking-heads documentary in which enthusiastic participants Billingsley, Mathers and Dow make it obvious that they still like and see each other.
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The White Ribbon

Street 6/29
Sony Pictures, Drama, B.O. $2.2 million, $28.95 DVD, $38.96 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for some disturbing content involving violence and sexuality.
In German with English subtitles.
Stars Ulrich Tukur, Burghart Klaussner, Rainer Bock.
2009.
The continually absorbing German film The White Ribbon won the Golden Palm at Cannes but may have been too grim (despite a Golden Globe win as well) for Oscar voters.
Extras: Though the Blu-ray contains a making-of featurette and a couple more on writer-director Michael Haneke, the standard DVD has no extras.
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Night Train to Munich

Street 6/29
Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Margaret Lockwood, Rex Harrison, Paul von Henreid.
1940.
No fans of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic train mystery The Lady Vanishes should deny themselves director Carol Reed’s unofficial follow-up.
Extras: Briskly compact at 95 minutes, it’s slighter than it’s made out to be in Criterion’s accompanying essay by critic/
historian Philip Kemp and video interview with critics Peter Evans and Bruce Babington.
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Soul of a People: Writing America’s Story

Street 6/29
Infinity, Documentary, $19.98 DVD, NR.
2010.
Narrated by Patricia Clarkson and packed with voiceovers of germane writings by Federal Writer’s Project employees whose later fame eclipsed their years tiling in crummy makeshift WPA offices, the story is almost inevitably entertaining because it deals with attempts to bring order to a Depression-era endeavor.
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Fog Over Frisco

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, $14.95 Download, NR.
Stars Bette Davis, Donald Woods, Hugh Herbert, Lyle Talbot, Margaret Lindsay.
1934.
Society types and the lowlifes they attract (the press included) are perpetually zipping around in this 68-minute stallion of a movie that serves as an example of how whodunits and screen melodramas in general should move.
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21 Jun, 2010

New on Disc: 'A Star Is Born,' 'She's Out of My League' and more …


A Star Is Born: Special Edition

Street 6/22
Warner, Drama, $20.97 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Judy Garland, James Mason, Jack Carson, Charles Bickford, Tommy Noonan.
1954.
Until the very last frame can be found and assembled — and rumors still exist that a full print is out there — this is about as good as one of my favorite movies ever is likely to get. The movie always had a harsh, orangey tint that I can’t quite recall being replicated in any other movie, but the restoration and 6K resolution — just smashing here — has a much warmer, cleaner look.
Extras: The copious bonus extras (including the Blu-ray’s essay by John Fricke) include one of the most amazing features I’ve ever seen: take after alternate take — the approach is to put one on top and one on the bottom — of the “Man That Got Away” sequence.
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She’s Out of My League

Street 6/22
Paramount, Comedy, B.O. $31.6 million, $29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for language and sexual content.
Stars Jay Baruchel, Alice Eve, T.J. Miller, Mike Vogel, Nate Torrence, Krysten Ritter, Lindsay Sloane.
2010.
If you never caught him in such TV series as “Undeclared” and “Just Legal” — or didn’t particularly notice him in Million Dollar Baby, Knocked Up or Tropic Thunder — here’s a chance to see actor Jay Baruchel in action. But the main selling point is co-star Alice Eve and a premise advancing the theory that maybe, just maybe, a stunning woman might get so sick of the egotistical male “10s” she’s used to dating that she’d prefer the calming influence of a “5.”
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Green Zone

Street 6/22
Universal, Drama, B.O. $35.1 million, $29.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for violence and language.
Stars Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Amy Ryan, Brendan Gleeson.
2010.
As grown-up entertainment, Green Zone isn’t bad, and the second hour is directed as if it were another “Bourne” action pic (certainly, it was sold like one) as a prelude to some cringe-worthy speechifying near the end.
Extras: Matt Damon shares DVD commentary labors with director Paul Greengrass. It also includes some deleted scenes and behind-the-scenes featurettes.
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Mystery Train

Criterion, Comedy, $39.95 DVD or Blu-ray, ‘R.’
Stars Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Nicoletta Braschi, Steve Buscemi.
1989.
Writer-director Jim Jarmusch’s quirky three-parter does, say those in the know, capture Memphis’ low-rent-district ethos from the era in which it was filmed.
Extras: There’s a lovely featurette on the depressed sections of Memphis from the time of shooting, plus a Q&A with Jarmusch.
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Burma VJ: Reporting From a Closed Country

Oscilloscope, Documentary, B.O. $0.05 million, $29.99 DVD, NR.
2009.
Under likely threat of imprisonment or death, these VJs (“video journalists”) secretly recorded street protests against the brutal military government of Myanmar. The video quality is remarkable given the raw circumstances under which it was shot.
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14 Jun, 2010

New on Disc: 'Youth in Revolt' and more …


Youth in Revolt

Street 6/15
Sony Pictures, Comedy, B.O. $15.3 million, $28.95 DVD, $34.95 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for sexual content, language and drug use.
Stars Michael Cera, Portia Doubleday, Ari Graynor, Rooney Mara, Zach Galifianakis, Jean Smart, Ray Liotta, Justin Long, Steve Buscemi, Mary Kay Place,
M. Emmet Walsh, Fred Willard.
2010.
Michael Cera’s Nick Twisp takes on an alter ego to win the girl of his dreams (Portia Doubleday). Any movie that gives us a bare-chested Fred Willard lying face down on the living room floor after ingesting psychedelic mushrooms earns at least enough points to get in the front door.
Extras: You can see from Doubleday’s screen test, which is included with others on the DVD/Blu-ray bonus section, that she came naturally to what can’t have been the easiest role.
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Collapse

Street 6/15
MPI, Documentary, B.O. $0.05 million, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Featuring Michael Ruppert.
2009.
Director Chris Smith’s must-see interview of the controversial Mike Ruppert, who predicted the recent economic collapse and now thinks the depletion of the oil supply will reset society’s definition of advanced technology to the wheelbarrow.
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Flash Gordon (Blu-ray)

Street 6/15
Universal, Sci-Fi, $26.98 Blu-ray, ‘PG.’
Stars Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Max Von Sydow, Timothy Dalton.
1980.
This good-looking lark remains a guilty pleasure, and as a massage on the senses it has its moments. The Blu-ray is basically just a format upgrade from the 2007 “Saviour of the Universe” DVD but a better BD job than Universal did with Spartacus and Out of Africa.
Extras: Screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. is kind of funny when being profiled on a bonus featurette, which, like the other extras, are carried over from the “Saviour” DVD.
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Bob Hope: Thanks for the Memories Collection

Universal, Comedy, $39.98 three-DVD set, NR.
Stars Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, Bing Crosby, Jane Russell.
1938-48.
This set includes the DVD debuts of Thanks for the Memory (1938), The Cat and the Canary (1939) and Nothing But the Truth (1941), as well as longtime favorites The Ghost Breakers (1940), The Road to Morocco (1942) and The Paleface (1948).
Extras: Bonus featurettes deal with Hope entertaining the troops during World War II.
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Flap

Available Now via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive.
Warner, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, $14.95 Download, ‘PG.’
Stars Anthony Quinn, Shelley Winters, Claude Akins, Tony Bill.
1970.
Director Carol Reed’s next-to-last movie, a curiously comic modern-day Western based on the novel Nobody Loves a Drunken Indian.
Read the Full Review


7 Jun, 2010

New on Disc: 'Shutter Island' and more …


Shutter Island

Street 6/8
Paramount, Thriller, B.O. $127.8 million, $29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for disturbing violent content, language and violence.
Stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer.
2010.
Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Dennis Lahane’s period mystery about all kinds of mental instability on an island asylum in 1954 is an impressive pro job with bull’s-eye performances and masterful cinematography by the great Robert Richardson. The movie improves on Lahane’s very respectable book — especially with the ending.
Extras: A commentary would’ve been nice, but the DVD/Blu-ray extras we get are better than the usual boilerplate: We really get a sense of what the director and cast were trying to do here plus a lot of insights as to where psychiatry was in 1954.
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My Lai (American Experience)

Street 6/8
PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
2010.
Pressure-packing a prodigious amount of information into just over 80 minutes, this “American Experience” presentation is a huge sock to the gut — though, of course, you’d have to deem this particular documentary a failure were it not — chronicling still controversial events that resulted in the massacre of between 347 and 504 Vietnamese civilians in 1968.
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Reds Memories: The Greatest Moments in Cincinnati Reds History

Street 6/8
Shout! Factory, Sports, $19.93 DVD, NR.
2010.
Here’s a feel-good cheerleading set about a baseball team that has often given me that feel-good sensation — which means this isn’t the place where we’ll hear about Pete Rose’s banning from the sport or about some of the outlandish public comments one-time Reds owner Marge Schott used to make. There’s much more here than the Big Red Machine of the 1970s, but the Big Red Machine will do quite nicely, thank you.
Extras: The finale to Tom Browning’s perfect game, Seaver’s no-hitter, milestone home runs, Johnny Bench’s funny Hall of Fame speech and more.
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Word Is Out

Street 6/8
Milliarium Zero, Documentary, $29.95 DVD, NR.
1977.
As a landmark gay documentary worthy of its reception at the time yet with equal or surpassing power today, this intense labor of love from San Francisco’s Mariposa Film Group collective benefits from eerie historical placement that wasn’t evident at the time.
Extras: Generous bonus material includes an outstanding update.
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No Orchids for Miss Blandish

VCI, Drama, $19.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Jack La Rue, Linden Travers.
1948.
This notably lurid underworld melodrama was one of the all-time misconceived howlers — a British attempt to re-create the American gangster movie. Well, yesterday’s camp classic can occasionally become today’s “expressive” cinema, especially with VCI’s handsome-looking DVD.
Extras: A commentary and a lengthy interview.
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31 May, 2010

New on Disc: 'The Eastwood Factor,' 'MLB Bloopers' and more …


The Eastwood Factor: Extended Version

Street 6/1
Warner, Documentary, $14.97 DVD, NR.
2010.
The Eastwood Factor is a pleasing afternoon chat with a legendary filmmaker. The documentary has been expanded from a version that was included in the 35 Films 35 Years at Warner Bros. boxed set from February. Several Eastwood films also are being released on Blu-ray, such as Heartbreak Ridge, Absolute Power and The Rookie.
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MLB Bloopers: Baseball’s Best Blunders

Street 6/1
Shout! Factory, Sports, $14.97 DVD, NR.
2010.
You go into one of these amusing grab-bags — this one seems like the millionth since the dawn of the VHS era — wondering if it will pay deep and deserved homage to the May 23, 1993, Indians-Rangers game in which a fly ball hit Texas outfielder Jose Canseco in the head and bounced into the stands for a home run. The bounce heard ’round the world is, in fact, the funny DVD’s opening selection. The DVD also, for better or ill-focused worse, includes more than bloopers: think song-time in the dugout during rain delays or players tarp-sliding in the same situation.
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Bing Crosby: The Television Specials Vol. One

Infinity, Musical, $29.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Edie Adams, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peggy Lee.
1954-70.
Bing Crosby was unquestionably the most important American entertainer from the first half of the 20th century, but he didn’t plunge into his TV specials until the Sunday night after New Year’s in 1954. This is the first of four shows on this spotty mix of curios and the genuinely super.
Extras: It was rare to see Crosby interviewed in any depth, but there’s a 1967 beauty in this set’s outstanding bonus section. The other standout — in an array that even includes a 1964 pitch for a Thermo-Fax machine — is a spring 1952 episode of religious show “The Christophers.”
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Silver Lode: Special Edition

VCI, Western, $14.99 DVD, NR.
Stars John Payne, Lizabeth Scott, Dan Duryea.
1954.
One of the better Westerns that rode in on High Noon’s buckboard, Silver Lode exhibits the limitations of low-budget filmmaking, which reduces its effectiveness as a political tract opposing McCarthyism.
Extras: VCI previously released Lode early in the decade but here gives it a fresh spiff-up, fine-tuning the film’s inherently expressive Technicolor and cleaning up wear that detracted from its DVD predecessor’s print.
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Which Way to the Front?

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, ‘G.’
Stars Jerry Lewis, Jan Murray, Steve Franken, John Wood.
1970.
A band of American World War II draftees, played by predominantly but not exclusively Jewish actors, invades Italy to take on the Germans. This gives Jerry Lewis, sporting a distinctive mustache/beard combo, the opportunity to impersonate a lookalike general in the German high command. I dare you to watch.
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24 May, 2010

New on Disc: 'Stagecoach' and more …


Stagecoach

Street 5/25
Criterion, Western, $39.95 DVD or Blu-ray, NR.
Stars John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Thomas Mitchell.
1939.
John Ford’s landmark Western is about as bedrock as you can get when it comes to American cinema. The print here — struck from best-existing 1942 materials, which tells you everything you have to know — is the best of the movie I’ve ever seen, though with more scratches than anyone is used to seeing in a Criterion Hollywood release. That’s the way it is: We all know the horror stories about the what-me-worry attitude the industry took toward preservation way back when.
Extras: Criterion has gone all out on the extras here, starting with a rather rigidly delivered but undeniably organized no-fat commentary by top movie Western historian Jim Kitses. You get the sense that Criterion, knowing the inevitable shortcomings of the utilized print, did everything else possible to succeed in making this one of the DVD/Blu-ray releases of the year.
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Doctor Zhivago: 45th Anniversary Edition

Warner, Drama, $24.98 two-DVD set, $35.99 Blu-ray, ‘PG-13’ for mature themes.
Stars Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin, Rod Steiger, Alec Guinness, Ralph Richardson, Tom Courtenay.
1965.
David Lean’s blockbuster adaptation of Boris Pasternak’s novel became the No. 1 date movie of its era, and Warner’s gorgeous new Blu-ray almost makes it seem like a first-time viewing.
Extras: Extensive carryovers from previous releases, though a new 40-minute featurette has several filmmakers rhapsodizing on what Zhivago meant to them.
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Rogues of Sherwood Forest

Sony Pictures, Adventure, $14.94 DVD, NR.
Stars John Derek, George Macready, Diana Lynn, Alan Hale Sr.
1950.
Cashing in on the new Robin Hood is a DVD quartet of ‘B’ movies that along with Rogues includes The Bandit of Sherwood Forest (1946), Prince of Thieves (1948) and Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960). This movie about Robin Hood’s son is minor, yet looks as if it cost four times more than it must have, so splendid is the Technicolor that hits us in the face with its reds.
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Roads to Memphis (American Experience)

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
2010.
Perhaps not as classy as other “Experience” presentations, this documentary at least provides context for the fateful (and fatal) convergence of Martin Luther King Jr. and his assassin, James Earl Ray, in 1968.
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Cookie

Available now via WBShop.com’s Warner Archive.
Warner, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, ‘R.’
Stars Peter Falk, Emily Lloyd, Dianne Wiest, Jerry Lewis.
1989.
No more — or less — than keenly cast goombah fluff that barely got a national release at the time, this reasonably cute trifle didn’t just predate “The Sopranos” by a full decade in its portrayal of hoods at home. It also opened before Warner, almost exactly a year later, unveiled Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas to instant classic status. Cookie may be one of Warner’s DVD-R titles geared to on-demand requests, but there’s nothing wrong with its 1.85:1 presentation.
Read the full review


17 May, 2010

New on Disc: 'The Messenger,' 'Walkabout' and more …


The Messenger

Street 5/18
Oscilloscope, Drama, B.O. $1.1 million, $29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for language and some sexual content/nudity.
Stars Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster, Samantha Morton, Steve Buscemi, Jena Malone.
2009.
To my knowledge, here’s the first time that a movie has focused its full intensity on those soldiers whose duty it is to report the deaths of other soldiers to their families and loved ones. This is among last year’s best films.
Extras: The DVD/Blu-ray extras include a commentary and an interview of key filmmaking personnel; reflections from the set; and a documentary on the U.S. Army Casualty Notification Officers.
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Walkabout

Street 5/18
Criterion, Drama, $39.95 DVD or Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Jenny Agutter, Luc Roeg, David Gumpilil.
1971.
A prominent example of a movie beloved by many within cult parameters yet not particularly known to the masses. The story focuses on two siblings (played by Jenny Agutter and director Nicolas Roeg’s son, Luc) who are stranded in the Australian Outback after their father flips out, and meet a young aborigine (David Gumpilil) on a ritual quest to claim his manhood.
Extras: The print here is the longer European cut. Criterion’s extras are superb, highlighted by an hour-long documentary about Gumpilil — who has spent his life going back and forth between movie appearances and living the most primitive kind of life.
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Carlito’s Way (Blu-ray)

Street 5/18
Universal, Drama, $26.98 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for strong violence, drug content, sexuality and language.
Stars Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller, Luis Guzman.
1993.
In terms of movies about former outlaws trying to go straight but getting foiled by bad luck and bad punks, Brian De Palma’s kinetic adaptation of the Edwin Torres novel is way up there on my list of applicable favorites. The photographic interiors make this movie an enticing Blu-ray candidate, even though a fresh remastering wouldn’t have hurt.
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Matinee

Universal, Comedy, $19.98 DVD, ‘PG’ for language, and for mild violence and sensuality.
Stars John Goodman, Cathy Moriarty, Simon Fenton.
1993.
You’d really have to be a pop-culture zero not to realize that the comic sleeper of its year was made by a pair of savvy movie lovers (writer Charlie Haas and director Joe Dante) who grew up paying attention to what theatrical exhibition in the early 1960s was really like.
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Toys in the Attic

Available now via Amazon.com CreateSpace
MGM, Drama, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Dean Martin, Geraldine Page, Wendy Hiller, Yvette Mimiuex.
1963.
An oddball adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s play about repressed incest and other hothouse excesses in New Orleans. After a career directing live TV, George Roy Hill made Attic his second feature (of only 14 total) before he really got rolling several years later with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting and Slap Shot.
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10 May, 2010

New on disc: 'Leap Year,' 'No Time for Sergeants' and more …


Perry Mason: Season Five Vol. One

Paramount/CBS, Drama, $54.99 four-DVD set, NR.
Stars Raymond Burr.
1961.
I love hopping through vintage TV series to see which ones were employing character actors on their way up, down (usually) or simply sustaining themselves via steady employment. Perry Mason: Season 5 Vol. 1 offers a fair tally, starting with dishy Leslie Parrish in a pair of episodes following her Broadway and screen appearances as Daisy Mae in Li’l Abner — but before she appeared memorably in The Manchurian Candidate as Laurence Harvey’s tragic wife.

In “The Case of the Impatient Partner,” she’s a receptionist the boss honcho is always chewing out whenever she tells him the bad news that Mrs. Honcho is calling. (There’s also a prototypically “Mason” hysterical courtroom breakdown by Ben Cooper, who was previously the one green member of the Dancing Kid’s gang in Nicholas Ray’s classic Johnny Guitar). In "The Case of the Left-Handed Liar," Parrish runs an exercise class (she’d easily fill the bill today as well) but has a really snotty personality.

Robert Armstrong, renowned as the crusty promoter in the original King Kong, plays a crusty seaman in “The Case of the Malicious Mariner” — and working phones in the shipping office is former cowgirl Penny Edwards, who often took over as Roy Rogers’ leading lady when Dale Evans got pregnant in real life. Skip Homier had the kind of facial features that suited his frequent casting as villains, a la the Nazi youth in Tomorrow the World and the punk who shoots Gregory Peck in The Gunfighter. In "The Case of the Pathetic Patient," he’s a good guy doctor getting sued by Frank Cady (previously the neighbor who sleeps on the fire escape in Rear Window and later Sam Drucker on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Petticoat Junction” and “Green Acres”). And look: here’s “Star Trek’s” DeForest Kelley — in a white tux, no less — fairly miserably married to the boss’s daughter in “The Case of the Unwelcome Bride.” There are all kinds of familiar faces in this one: The Crimson Pirate’s Torin Thatcher; frequent underworld smoothie Gerald Mohr; Shane’s string-pulling villain Emile Meyer as a cop; and on the witness stand, Alan Hale Jr. pre-“Gilligan’s Island.”

Leap Year

Universal, Romance, B.O. $25.9 million, $29.98 DVD, $36.98 Blu-ray, ‘PG’ for sensuality and language.
Stars Amy Adams, Adam Scott, Matthew Goode.
2010.
When it played in theaters in January, neither critics nor the public got too excited about the admittedly modest Leap Year. But if you have a crush on lead Amy Adams — and I will plead guilty to any of Perry Mason’s judges — this predominantly Ireland-based romance does more for her as a star vehicle than, say, January’s Edge of Darkness did for Mel Gibson. Though, yes, its basic framework has been employed again and again and again (if perhaps not lately) since It Happened One Night.

No Time for Sergeants

Warner, Comedy, $14.97 DVD, NR.
Stars Andy Griffith, Myron McCormick, Nick Adams, Murray Hamilton, Don Knotts.
1958.
Watching Sergeants today, you have to think that it must have in some ways influenced “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” in that its rural innocent is drafted into the Air Force, whereby he turns his superiors into basket cases. This screen version’s first hour is much funnier than I remembered.
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The Honeymooners Valentine Special

MPI, Comedy, $14.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Audrey Meadows, Jane Kean.
1978.
This late-1970s special and a new companion volume (1976’s Second Honeymoon) are funnier than expected, though they must have seemed beyond retro at the time, when “Saturday Night Live” was still a fresh rage.
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The Barbara Stanwyck Collection

Universal, Drama, $49.98 three-DVD set, NR.
1937-56.
Two movies I treasure are the hallmarks of a six-title set devoted to my favorite actress of her generation, one who could be vulnerable or charming — but if the script called for it, also capable of taking your head off. Those are Douglas Sirk’s There’s Always Tomorrow (1956) and All I Desire (1953). The other four selections have enough individual ammo to make them worth seeing — Internes Can’t Take Money (1937), The Great Man’s Lady (1942), The Lady Gambles (1949) and The Bride Wore Boots (1946), which features a 7-year-old Natalie Wood.
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Art & Copy

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
2009.
There are no specific allusions to “Mad Men” in Doug Pray’s documentary about 1960s ad men and women, but you feel its presence everywhere in this story of how a once stale business and “old boys club” got creative just as the country was changing and getting out of its own cultural doldrums.
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The Gallant Hours

Available now via Amazon.com CreateSpace.
MGM, Drama, $19.98 DVD, NR.
1960.
The Gallant Hours was James Cagney’s next-to-last movie before retiring, not counting the late twilight comebacks he made in Milos Forman’s Ragtime and TV’s “Terrible Joe Moran” two decades later. His performance as World War II’s famed Adm. William Fredrick “Bull” Halsey Jr. — think Paul McCartney & Wings’ Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey — effectively submerges the more familiar Cagney flamboyance and is instructive in gauging his acting range, which was underrated. Compare this film, which came out a year after Halsey’s death, with Cagney’s mile-a-second comic monologues in Billy Wilder’s One Two Three, where breathlessly staccato pacing facilitated the exhausted actor’s retirement as retiring to a more placid farming environment suddenly looked attractive.  
 


3 May, 2010

New on disc: 'Rock n Roll High School' 30th anniversary and more …


Rock ‘n’ Roll High School: 30th Anniversary Special Edition

Street 5/4 DVD, 5/11 Blu-ray
Shout! Factory, Comedy, $19.93 DVD, $26.97 Blu-ray, ‘PG.’
Stars P.J. Soles, Vincent Van Patten, Dey Young, The Ramones.
1979.
Other than perhaps as a figment of director Allan Arkush’s self-admitted wishes, maybe the ragged but raucous Rock ‘n’ Roll High School isn’t The Ramones’ equivalent of A Hard Day’s Night. But in some ways, maybe it is. Blu-ray is only going to help a production this humble so much, but I don’t recall it looking this good in 1979.
Extras: The new and recycled DVD extras are a ball.
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Ride With the Devil: Director’s Cut

Criterion, Drama, $39.95 DVD or Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Tobey Maguire, Jeffrey Wright, Skeet Ulrich, Jewel.
1999.
Director Ang Lee’s adaptation of Daniel Woodrell’s Civil War novel Woe to Live On led to the one time in his career where he didn’t control the editing process. Already leisurely and contemplative at an uncommonly long 138 minutes, this was not a movie its distributor wished to see run 160, which was Lee’s preferred cut and the one that’s presented here. Chronologically for the filmmaker, Devil comes between The Ice Storm and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Even at the time, Lee was amassing one of the most eclectic filmographies around.
Extras: Two commentaries, a new interview with Jeffrey Wright, and a booklet of essays by Southern-bred film critic Godfrey Cheshire, who calls the 1863 Lawrence (Kansas) Massacre the worst act of domestic terrorism until the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the attacks of 9/11.
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Fox 75th Anniversary Studio Classics: An Affair to Remember/Leave Her to Heaven/A Letter to Three Wives/Peyton Place

Fox, Romance, $19.98 four-DVD set, NR.
1949-57.
All four selections in this Fox set are movies for which I’ve had decades of affection — and for differing reasons. In order of preference, the set contains: A Letter to Three Wives (1949), directed by Oscar-winner Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starring Jeffrey Lynn, Kirk Douglas, Paul Douglas, Jeanne Crain, Ann Sothern and Linda Darnell; Peyton Place (1957), which led to the 1960s TV show; An Affair to Remember (1957), the romantic classic with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr; and Leave Her to Heaven (1945), featuring Gene Tierney portraying a first-class sociopath.
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Mammy

Available now via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive.
Warner, Musical, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Al Jolson, Lois Moran, Lowell Sherman.
1930.
If one were asked to name the No. 1 entertainer from the first half of the 20th century, the answer would have to be Bing Crosby. But judging from accounts of the day, No. 2 would likely be Al Jolson. Time has not been kind to Jolson, whose film career was spotty at best, and the blackface albatross that was a substantial part of his career is never going to go away. Michael Curtiz’s Mammy celebrates a onetime blackface tradition that wasn’t even questioned during what now seem like the prehistoric days of minstrel shows. A specialized DVD venue such as this makes sense: It tends to attract more historically knowledgeable viewers, who know what they’re getting — and Warner doesn’t have to spend a lot of promotion money to call more attention to the offensive content.
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The Tiger Next Door

First Run, Documentary, $24.95 DVD, Not rated.
2009. Not a whole lot of grass grows in this remarkably even-keeled documentary before the words “Siegfried and Roy” get mentioned. This figures, because the subject at hand is people who keep dangerous wild animals in their residential backyards. Which is, of course, risky business strictly from the POV of the owners themselves — long before the gang from PETA expresses its own opinions.

Then the story gets complicated, at least in terms regarding the motivation of its central, Indiana-based protagonist Dennis Hill. He has that same scruffy (some would say mangy) white beard right out of Central Casting that brings to mind one of those used bookstore owners who always seem to have 20 housecats on the premises.

Hill has his share of adversaries, including the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, who’ve cited him for unsecure cages, sub-hygienic conditions and a general disinclination to rectify infractions that go somewhat beyond a condo association telling you to get a new storm door. With one or two key exceptions, the adversaries don’t really make it personal in their attempts to end, or at least limit, Hill’s operation. In fact, we’re shown a hearing or town meeting scene where longtime friends and reluctant foes have decent things to say about him. We also see that his mother supports and loves him – feelings that are reciprocated.

But … the guy just doesn’t seem strung together too well, and then there’s the fact that he previously served time for manufacturing meth. Someone at the hearing claims this is a bogus side issue — that Hill has paid his debt to society and that this incarceration history has nothing to do with the current issue at hand. Still, I ask you: If you’re already feeling uneasy about the guy next door raising tigers in the back yard, is this last bit of news going to ease your nerves.

Horror stories get told here about others who raise exotic animals — stories of abject filth, severe malnutrition and the fact that individual body parts — that is, if you cut the animal up — can bring a lot more money than an entire creature. Though what one does exactly with a tiger liver is for someone else to explain.

There is no evidence that Hill is anywhere near this craven — and plenty of evidence that he loves animals, going way back to childhood. But this kind of love, as someone points out, can be destructive as well, and Hill’s tirades about the government interfering with him shows him to be as oblivious to the bigger picture as the ultimately eaten subject of Werner Herzog’s unforgettable Grizzly Man, who at least mingled with the beasts on their own turf.

But again, filmmaker Camilla Calamandrei plays it cool in terms of personal soap-boxing and lets us make our own decision. Though at a time when PETA is talking on an institution like Ringling Brothers, some dude with flimsy cages, limited roaming space and icky drinking water needs isn’t likely to win many PR wars.