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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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15 Dec, 2014

New on Disc: 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington' and more …


Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Blu-ray)

Sony Pictures, Drama, $19.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, Edward Arnold.
1939.
Sony has given Mr. Smith the kind of deluxe treatment we don’t see very often from them anymore, a 75th anniversary treatment of a top-drawer Frank Capra film that looks better than it has in decades with its lustrous black-and-white visuals.
Extras: The Blu-ray boasts recycled but standout featurettes from the long-ago DVD release and digibook packaging with a Jeremy Arnold essay and the kind of glossy, high-test paper stock that gives still photos super-snap. Revered academic Jeanine Basinger from Wesleyan University talks of her works with the Capra archive, and the late Frank Jr. (on his commentary and several featurettes recorded many years ago) really knew how to communicate an anecdote.
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Safe

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for a sex scene and brief language.
Stars Julianne Moore, Xander Berkeley.
1995.
Writer-director Todd Haynes’ second feature was filmed just as lead Julianne Moore was coming into her own. She plays a vapid but not unsympathetic upscale San Fernando homemaker whose unexplained allergies may be in her mind yet at least to some degree have to be real. The tone here is almost exactly the opposite of what we got in disease-of-the-week TV movies from the same era, though this is actually a 1995 release set in the late ’80s with the symbolic aura of AIDS hanging over more story threads than not, though AIDS is never specifically mentioned.
Extras: Haynes and producer Christine Vachon have it exactly right on the supplements here when they emphasize that many or even most critics didn’t know what to make of the film. Moore has a tough role, though to hear her speak in a kinetic 36-minute Haynes-Moore discussion here, she seems to have to had an automatic sense of what her character was about and even where to place herself in — or take advantage of — Haynes’ striking framing. Included on this release as well is an early and once thought-to-be-lost 1978 Haynes short called The Suicide, about a bullied male teen.
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8 Dec, 2014

New on Disc: 'Flaming Star' and more …


Flaming Star (Blu-ray)

Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Western, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Elvis Presley, Steve Forrest, Barbara Eden, Dolores Del Rio.
1960.
Flaming Star is the picture that marked the beginning of the end of any chance Elvis had to become a serious actor, despite being one in a handful of contenders for the best narrative movie the singer ever made. Director Don Siegel and cinematographer Charles C. Clarke handle CinemaScope well for a Blu-ray presentation that significantly betters the old DVD — with bountiful interior scenes that are rarely static and an outdoor set that sticks the memory as the next thing to another character in the movie.
Extras: Twilight Time’s Nick Redman and frequent collaborator Lem Dobbs discuss The King’s film career on the commentary.
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American Masters: Bing Crosby Rediscovered

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
2014.
This is a portrait so on point that the only disappointment is the 85-minute running time when Bing Crosby is a subject that easily could have gone a full two hours. The organizational skills here are exemplary, with compact sections devoted to music and movies, the relationship with Bob Hope, Crosby’s war effort and popularization of golf, his pioneering history with tape recording (both audio and visual) and relationships with both of his families (one stormy and even tragic and one not).
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1 Dec, 2014

New on Disc: 'It Happened One Night' and more …


It Happened One Night (Blu-ray)

Criterion, Comedy, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Walter Connolly.
1934.
The first movie to sweep the five major Oscars has been readily available for so long that it’s easy to take for granted, and yet Criterion’s definitive home release is almost like seeing the movie for the first time.
Extras: The Blu-ray includes a 38-minute featurette in which critics Molly Haskell and Phillip Lopate go to town on the film’s endless virtues (photographically as well). Also included is a very crisp essay by film writer Farran Smith Nehme; director Frank Capra’s 12-minute screen debut from 1921 (Fultah Fisher’s Boarding House), which turns Rudyard Kipling verse into a festival of fisticuffs and other hustle-bustle; the feature-length documentary Frank Capra’s American Dream; plus a slightly edited version of Capra’s AFI Life Achievement Award.
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Sands of Iwo Jima

Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars John Wayne, John Agar, Forrest Tucker, Adele Mara.
1949.
The movie said to have been responsible for more Marine enlistments than any other picture in history boasts not only one of the most prototypical John Wayne roles and performances, but one of only two (Wayne’s ultimate win for True Grit was the other) to have earned him a best actor Oscar nomination. Olive’s release has no frills but is the standard bump-up from regular DVD.
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24 Nov, 2014

New on Disc: 'Portrait of Jason' and more …


Portrait of Jason

Milestone, Documentary, $29.95 DVD, $35.96 Blu-ray, NR.
1967.
Director Shirley Clarke’s once unique one-man-show is a verbal all-nighter with a black and gay male hustler (and also aspiring stand-up comic). Subject Jason Holliday knows how to work the room when it comes to relating his experiences with a tough, hard-ass father, white employers who’ve hired him as a domestic assistant and those he’s hustled for money and sex.
Extras: This release’s copious bonus section includes a live comic album (or part of it) to indicate that Holliday’s skills as an entertainer were publicly shared with more than just Clarke and interviewer Carl Lee.
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Viva Maria!

Kino Lorber, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Star Brigitte Bardot, Jeanne Moreau, George Hamilton.
1965.
A prime “it is what it is” comedy that just misses wearing out its welcome until expectedly lurching into fourth gear during the final half-hour, this one’s about a pair of anarchist Marias who earn their living on stage while traveling from town to town via covered wagon transport.
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17 Nov, 2014

New on Disc: 'Pete Kelly's Blues' and more …


Pete Kelly’s Blues (Blu-ray)

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $21.99 Blu-ray, NR. 
Stars Jack Webb, Janet Leigh, Edmond O’Brien, Peggy Lee.
1955.
The true big-screen baby of jazz lover Jack Webb’s career spun off from a radio show about ’20s Kansas City musicians so distracted by encroaching mob muscle that there isn’t a whole lot of time left for any fun with flappers.
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Man of the West

Kino Lorber, Western, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Gary Cooper, Julie London, Lee J. Cobb, Arthur O'Connell, Jack Lord.
1958.
The brilliance of the CinemaScope staging in director Anthony Mann’s next-to-last Western makes it easy to see how the isolation of the Texas land could drive certain men crazy and basically dividing their options into two: settling down with a respectable woman or sticking up train passengers.
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10 Nov, 2014

New on Disc: 'Possessed' and more …


Possessed (Blu-ray)

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $21.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey, Geraldine Brooks.
1947.
One of several postwar psychiatric dramas, Possessed features Joan Crawford as a paranoid schizophrenic, and her sometimes chilling performance gets further below the surface than a lot of the acting does even in some of the best noir competition.
Extras: Crawford is as vulnerable as she ever let herself be on screen, a point raised on the featurette this handsome Blu-ray has imported from the old DVD, one that features several familiar film noir specialists known to those who like digging into bonus extras.
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Dorothea Lange: Grab a Hunk of Lightning

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
2014.
In this “American Masters” presentation, which avoids being episodic, director Dyanna Taylor presents a portrait of her grandmother, famed Depression-era photographer Dorothea Lange.
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3 Nov, 2014

New on Disc: 'The Believers' and more …


The Believers (Blu-ray)

Available via ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Horror, $29.95 Blu-ray, ‘R.’
Stars Martin Sheen, Helen Shaver, Robert Loggia, Harley Cross.
1987.
Aside from not having the kind of high-profile cast from which pedigrees are fashioned, this John Schlesinger urban horror film is one icky movie even before the movie loses a few beats on its way to a wrap-up that some may find risible.
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Gold Is Where You Find It

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $21.99 DVD, NR.
Stars George Brent, Olivia de Havilland, Claude Rains, Margaret Lindsay.
1938.
Take away a good supporting cast and one topical selling point of interest to the ecologically minded, and we likely wouldn’t be giving this semi-obscurity too much notice were it not for its visual novelty value, which is seeing Northern California and its apple orchards in 1930s pigmentary splendor.
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27 Oct, 2014

New on Disc: 'Fedora' and more …


Fedora

Street 10/28
Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, ‘PG.’
Stars William Holden, Marthe Keller, Hildegarde Knef, Jose Ferrer.
1978.
Billy Wilder’s troubled penultimate project has enough qualified admirers to make its Blu-ray release something of a minor event for major league movie buffs. Three-movie Wilder veteran William Holden (just off Network) plays a filmmaker facing some of the same problems his own writer-director was facing during production as an old man in a young man’s business.
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Married to the Mob (Blu-ray)

Kino Lorber, Comedy, $29.95 Blu-ray, ‘R.’
Stars Michelle Pfeiffer, Matthew Modine, Dean Stockwell, Alec Baldwin.
1988.
This movie, about the challenges of an undercover FBI agent (Matthew Modine) to survive at his job while simultaneously romancing a recently widowed mob wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) is of a piece with director Jonathan Demme’s more-esteemed Something Wild (1986), thanks to its incessant wacky streak, creative casting, beat-heavy musical soundtrack and vibrant color schemes.
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20 Oct, 2014

New on Disc: 'The Lusty Men' and more …


The Lusty Men

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $21.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Robert Mitchum, Susan Hayward, Arthur Kennedy, Arthur Hunnicutt.
1952.
Newly remastered, this solid rodeo drama from director Nicholas Ray stars Robert Mitchum as an aging rodeo star who comes across a married couple (Arthur Kennedy and Susan Hayward). The tone Ray maintains throughout is mostly perfect and consistent against a triangular dramatic set-up that seems almost foolproof.
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Al Capone: Icon

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
2014.
This lukewarm bio makes some good points about Al Capone’s criminal career, a central thesis being that bootlegging so “made” Capone’s career that if Prohibition hadn’t existed, it’s likely that he’d never escaped the lower rungs of Chicago sociopathy.
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13 Oct, 2014

New on Disc: 'Dick Cavett's Watergate' and more …


Dick Cavett’s Watergate

Street 10/14
PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
2014.
Just about the only non-news show that would touch the subject of Watergate during the period was the one hosted by the only Johnny Carson rival who managed to carve out an equally vital late-night niche of his own. This pressure-packed remembrance is hosted by today’s version of Dick Cavett, assisted by star Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, former White House counsel and eventual beans-spiller John Dean, former Nixon Library historian Timothy Naftali (this guy is the final word in historical context) and more.
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Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Western, $21.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Randolph Scott, James Craig, Angie Dickinson, James Garner.
1957.
Truth to tell, there’s really no shoot-out in this lukewarm but sporadically ticklish Randolph Scott Western, but you do get a punch-out or two once the baddies start to get theirs in piecemeal fashion in the later reels. James Garner and Angie Dickinson have major roles when they were very young.
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