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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 May, 2014

New on Disc: 'Double Indemnity' and more …


Double Indemnity (Blu-ray)

Universal, Drama, $29.98 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, Edward G. Robinson.

1944. The Blu-ray of this increasingly durable version of James M. Cain’s novel is the visually darkest rendering I’ve ever seen of the picture, but the image clarity is super sharp. Similarly sharp were Billy Wilder’s casting instincts over many years, and as good as the script is, it is tough to imagine the definitive insurance-fraud movie being as revered as it is were the choice of players not so distinctive. 
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Riot in Cell Block 11

Criterion, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Neville Brand, Emile Meyer, Leo Gordon.

1954. The backstory to this example of what used to be called a “shaky-A” is probably a little more interesting than the film itself, an exposé of prison abuses. Brutal for its day, Riot runs a tight 80 minutes and occasionally reflects a low budget that doesn’t give the great cinematographer Russell Harlan that much to do, though his deep-focus shots of the darkened prison corridor are not unimpressive.
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28 Apr, 2014

New on Disc: 'The King of Comedy' and more …


The King of Comedy (Blu-ray)

Fox, Comedy, $24.99 Blu-ray, ‘PG.’
Stars Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis,
Sandra Bernhard, Diahnne Abbott.
1983.
This discomforting film from Martin Scorsese absolutely nails the show-biz nerd subculture, particularly in terms of what New York City fringe living was at that time. 
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Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Blu-ray)

Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $29.95 Blu-ray, ‘R.’
Stars Warren Oates, Isela Vega, Gig Young, Robert Webber, Emilio Fernandez.
1974.
This is the one Sam Peckinpah movie, according to the director himself, that he got to make without studio or producer interference.
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3 Mar, 2014

New on Disc: 'Foreign Correspondent' and more …


Foreign Correspondent

Criterion, Thriller, $39.95 Blu-ray/DVD combo, NR.
Stars Joel McCrea, Laraine Day, Herbert Marshall, Albert Basserman.
1940.
Joel McCrea plays an ordinary guy typical of Alfred Hitchcock films getting tossed and turned by unexpected intrigue and a polished smoothie (Herbert Marshall) who’s perpetrating it. Plus, the film has a pre-WWII call-to-arms speech that’s a lot less subtle than the rest. Foreign Correspondent was among the classier American features to get an early TV release, but was frequently exhibited via worn prints. Criterion has given the movie a new 2K restoration, and it looks better than I’ve ever seen it.
Extras: One of the typically bountiful Criterion extras is an interview with writer and film historian Mark Harris about the ways in which Hollywood contributed to the wartime propaganda effort. The other main extra is a new piece on the film’s special effects. There’s also a written essay by film scholar James Naremore, a 1942 Life war-related photo essay by Hitchcock, a 1946 radio adaptation of this yarn with Joseph Cotten, and Hitchcock’s 1972 appearance on “The Dick Cavett Show.”
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Glickman

Available via Warner Archive
HBO, Documentary, $17.95 DVD, NR.
2013.
This HBO documentary is a two-pronged affair that deals first with Marty Glickman’s own success as an athlete  — he was a brilliant runner who got shafted out of appearing in the Hitler-hosted 1936 Olympics in Berlin — with the Olympics experience as a climactic bitter pill, and then as the storied announcer (he coined the term “swish”) for the New York Knicks, New York Giants and New York Jets. Several household names appear in interviews to praise him.
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17 Feb, 2014

New on Disc: 'It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World' and more …


It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Blu-ray)

Criterion, Comedy, $49.95 Blu-ray/DVD combo, NR.
Stars  Spencer Tracy, Jonathan Winters, Ethel Merman, Milton Berle, Dorothy Provine, Sid Caesar, Phil Silvers, Mickey Rooney, Buddy Hackett, Terry-Thomas, Edie Adams, Dick Shawn, Jim Backus, Peter Falk, Jimmy Durante, Buster Keaton.
1963.
Criterion’s release is the second attempt to piece together what remains of scrapped footage into something resembling the original road-show cut. Overall, I prefer the more-common shorter version (which also is included), but it’s still a treat to see what was cut.

Criterion has gone all out with this one: three standard DVDs for both versions of the film and copious extras plus two Blu-rays that replicate the same material.

To go along with its A-team cast, Criterion has assembled a gang of bonus-section backgrounder personnel. Lou Lumenick nails it when he says that “part of the genius” of the movie “is that while each of the main stars is given plenty of room to do his or her own thing, they also come together brilliantly as a team.”
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Wadjda

Sony Pictures, Drama, B.O. $1.35 million, $40.99 Blu-ray/DVD combo, ‘PG’ for thematic elements, brief mild language and smoking.
In Arabic with English subtitles.
Stars Waad Mohammed, Reem Abdullah.
2013.
The irrepressible 10-year-old Saudi Arabian sass-giver here longs to own a bicycle. So she rebels against everyone who says that bikes are only for boys — something akin, perhaps, to what writer-director Haifaa Al Mansour must have done as well because this is the first feature film made by a Saudi female. This is another of those releases where the production’s backstory rivals what’s on screen.
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20 Jan, 2014

New on Disc: 'The Ghost and Mrs. Muir' and more …


The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Blu-ray)

Fox, Fantasy, $24.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison, George Sanders.
1947.
Lovely, and that’s really the word for it, Ghost was one of the handful of movies directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz that he didn’t script, though the screenwriter, Philip Dunne, was first-rate (he of How Green Was My Valley and Kiss of Death). But this very affecting movie is pretty well made by Bernard Herrmann’s score, which is one of his best. Rex Harrison plays a deceased sea captain who is rumored to be hanging around as a spirit in the seaside cottage he formerly owned. This is indeed true, as the widow who rents the place (Gene Tierney) is soon to learn. A subsidiary character (very small role) is Tierney’s character’s daughter played by Natalie Wood, whose breakthrough child role in Miracle on 34th Street hit screens the very same month.
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Our Nixon

Docurama, Documentary, B.O. $0.02 million, $29.95 DVD, NR.
2013.
Documentarian Penny Lane’s political-junkie catnip, which offers an irresistible look at Richard Nixon’s presidency up to April 30, 1973, couldn’t even exist without a couple miracles (or at least highly unusual occurrences). First of all, there are the famous Nixon White House tapes, which provide a significant amount of the audio. As for the visuals here, they only exist because White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman and fellow senior officials John Erlichman and Dwight Chapin were home-movie addicts in the pre-video days. After Haldeman and domestic affairs chief Erlichman resigned on April 30, the home movies (and thus this documentary) stop, but there are moments just in what’s captured that qualify as privileged. Nixon has often been called the gift that keeps on giving, and so are Nixon documentaries.
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6 Jan, 2014

New on Disc: 'North to Alaska' and more …


North to Alaska (Blu-ray)

Fox, Comedy, $24.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars John Wayne, Stewart Granger, Ernie Kovacs, Fabian, Capucine.
1960.
A transitional movie in John Wayne’s career, this Henry Hathaway Western farce is broad even by Donovan’s Reef standards, though you probably haven’t lived until you’ve seen Ernie Kovacs (the heavy of the piece) completely covered in mud after a free-for-all. As the great Johnny Horton title song explains, Wayne’s “Big Sam” is prospecting gold with partner George (Stewart Granger) and brother Billy (1950s pop idol Fabian), at least when George isn’t pining for a French babe he met in Seattle. It’s all kind of poignant in a handsome Blu-ray that looks better than any theatrical print I’ve seen.
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Good Ol’ Freda

Magnolia, Documentary, B.O. $0.14 million, $26.98 DVD, $29.98 Blu-ray, ‘PG’ for some thematic material and smoking.
2013.
Freda Kelly was a teenager plucked from a typing pool  to become an indispensable aide and even friend to the Beatles — a union extending a little beyond the time when the Liverpool lads finally broke up. For all this, Kelly has remained unassuming and unpretentious for 50 years — finally, just this once, agreeing to tell her story for benefit of any grandchildren who may come to think she was just some old woman who had never accomplished much in life. She doesn’t tell all she knows here — in fact, she won’t even say if she ever dated any of her employers — but this is quite a story just the same. Basically a talking heads documentary augmented by good music and some largely unseen Beatles photos that will likely short-circuit the brains of fans, Freda shows how watchable a purely functional narrative can be if the material is there.
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2 Dec, 2013

New on Disc: 'All the President's Men' and more …


All the President’s Men: Two-Disc Special Edition

Warner, Drama, $19.98 Blu-ray, ‘R.’
Stars Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Hal Holbrook, Jason Robards.
1976.
The brand new Blu-ray of a benchmark of newspaper-pic royalty includes the automatically essential All the President’s Men Revisited documentary, which aired earlier this year on the Discovery Channel. Revisited’s standout “wow factor” is the reunion we get between Men leads Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman plus another one with Redford, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, plus former Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, the bullet-biter Jason Robards won an Oscar for portraying. Everyone I knew spent a minimum of 90 minutes every day reading the Post Watergate coverage, and the movie brings it all back with an immediacy that still touches anyone who was there.
Extras: The documentary extras from the previous Men Blu-ray are carried over.
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Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room

Milestone, Documentary, $24.95 DVD, NR.
2012.
Vera Iwerebor’s main-event documentary chronicles the story of Diana Serra Cary — stage name Baby Peggy — a child star who, unlike so many, didn’t let the downward spiral of her career destroy her life. Cary, who is still alive at 95, was born a couple weeks before the World War I armistice and became one of the biggest movie stars of the early 1920s. The elephant part of the title refers to Peggy’s vanished stardom and its effect on the rest of her family — a subject that was apparently and incredibly never discussed at the dinner table or anywhere else.
Extras: The bonuses include three shorts and the 1924 feature Captain January.
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18 Nov, 2013

New on Disc: 'The Bells of St. Mary's'


The Bells of St. Mary’s

Street 11/19
Olive, Drama, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Bing Crosby, Ingrid Bergman, Henry Travers.
1945.
Leo McCarey’s Oscar-winning Going My Way for Paramount was the most popular movie released during all of World War II, and this all-but-immediate sequel became the biggest box office movie in RKO history. This goes a long way to explain why Bing Crosby, whose film career was arguably subordinate to his Decca waxings, was easily the show-biz figure from the first half of the 20th century. Though this said, co-star Ingrid Bergman was also at the peak of her career and, in fact, both performers had just won Oscars. Olive’s print is much heavier on grain than I’m accustomed to seeing in their black-and-white releases. But I’m delighted that film historian R. Emmet Sweeney’s essay, quoting boxofficemojo.com, notes that adjusting for inflation, Bells made more money at the box office than The Dark Knight Rises.
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Blackfish

Magnolia, Documentary, B.O. $2.07 million, $26.98 DVD, $29.98 Blu-ray, ‘PG-13’ for mature thematic elements including disturbing and violent images.
2013.
This almost unanimously praised documentary is the story of the orca (named Tilikum) who killed trainer Dawn Brancheau at Orlando’s SeaWorld in 2010, an episode that got a lot of play at the time because, for one thing, dramatic footage existed of the incident. There are dreadful tales related here by shamed participants in the capture of orcas and separating them from their mothers. The next step finds them utilized as fodder for kiddie amusement. This is a very powerful documentary, riveting all the way.
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11 Nov, 2013

New on Disc: 'American Experience: The War of the Worlds' and more …


American Experience: The War of the Worlds

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
Narrated by Oliver Platt.
2013.
The broadcasting legend we’re speaking of is Oct. 30, 1938’s still famous Orson Welles/John Houseman production of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds for CBS Radio’s Mercury Theater of the Air — a Halloween lark that went wrong (though hardly for Welles’ reputation). This is because more people than you’d guess took the program at face value and convinced themselves that the world was about to end, courtesy of invading martians. The gripe I have with this documentary, which does put across a lot of keen history in digestible form, is its transparent re-creations, in which professional
actors portray listeners who reacted in panic and/or wrote letters to CBS or congressmen. Oddly, War’s filmmakers seem pleased with themselves over this phony approach in the disc’s bonus material (a rare instance of a PBS disc having supplemental materials in the first place). The time might have been better spent examining the broadcast’s legacy.
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Red Garters

Available at online retailers via
Warner Archive
Warner, Musical, $21.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Rosemary Clooney, Guy Mitchell, Jack Carson, Pat Crowley.
1954.
Whatever else you want to say about this Western-motifed drug trip before its time, there has never been anything quite like it. Guy Mitchell and Gene Barry play a duo in competition for the same lady, and their relationship grows even more complex when it comes out that one killed the other’s brother, which sets up a gunfight that competes with a slew of musical numbers in the second half.
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21 Oct, 2013

New on Disc: 'Fantastic Voyage' and more …


Fantastic Voyage (Blu-ray)

Fox, Sci-Fi, $24.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch, Arthur Kennedy, Edmond O’Brien.
1966.
A dual Oscar winner for art/set decoration and special effects in a far more primitive technological era, Fox’s hit howler about a journey through a human body is a prime example of a mostly terrible movie being sometimes mistaken for a better one simply because it is what it is (i.e. something any movie lover would covet, at least on paper). A world-renowned scientist with unique knowledge barely survives an assassination attempt, and to save him, a small crew of experts must be miniaturized along with their submarine and injected into the victim’s bloodstream. But there’s a hitch — if the participants, who include Raquel Welch in her first major role, can’t accomplish the feat in an hour, they begin reverting to normal size. You just have to go with it because it was a remarkable achievement for the day, and at least Leonard Rosenman’s score remains effective. Fox’s Blu-ray is a notable leap over the old DVD version. 
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Plunder Road

Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Gene Raymond, Wayne Morris, Jeanne Cooper, Elisha Cook Jr.
1957.
This is hardly a film to be oversold, but it easily fills the bill if you like your ‘50s cinema grimy and kind of gamey. It deals with a motley assemblage of not-quite-hoods who rob a train of government gold and split the stash into the back of large highway-bound trucks. Director Hubert Cornfield shot this fairly taut little toughie in about two weeks, and indeed, it’s mostly minimalist aside from the visual excitement cinematographer Ernest Haller brings to the imposing trucks that dominate his Regalscope framing. 
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