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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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16 Dec, 2013

New on Disc: 'Oliver!' and more …


Oliver! (Blu-ray)

Available at www.ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Musical, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Ron Moody, Mark Lester, Shani Wallis, Jack Wild, Oliver Reed.
1968.
Still a feel-great musical despite always being mindful of the Dickensian squalor at its source, Carol Reed’s brief comeback blockbuster has been aggressively back-bitten over the years for winning the Best Picture Oscar the year Stanley Kubrick’s visionary 2001: A Space Odyssey came out (though 2001 wasn’t even nominated in the category). Running 153 minutes without even a hint of any pacing lags, Oliver! looks terrific on Blu-ray in a Sony/Twilight Time rendering, despite the fact that much of it takes place in something less than House Beautiful indoor settings with limited light (two expansive set-piece numbers are exceptions). Blu-ray is an ideal format for this kind of movie, in which colors tend to bleed when seen in a lesser home format.
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Turn Back the Clock

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $18.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Lee Tracy, Mae Clarke, Otto Kruger.
1933.
You can’t watch this Depression-influenced sleeper without thinking of It’s a Wonderful Life, though the premise here could have served as well for, say, a “Twilight Zone” episode — long enough, that is, to sustain the story’s march through economic and political history predating World War I.
Lee Tracy plays a cigar-store owner who is projected back to his youth where he can court an old squeeze, enabling her well-heeled father to jumpstart his career in finance, all with knowledge of future events at his disposal. There’s almost no way you can like time travel movies in general and fail to enjoy this one at least to some extent, especially once things begin falling apart catastrophically for a protagonist who thinks he’s been blessed with a second chance.
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9 Dec, 2013

New on Disc: 'Jane Eyre' and more …


Jane Eyre (Blu-ray)

Available at www.ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine, Peggy Ann Garner, Margaret O’Brien.
1944.
Just by itself, Bernard Herrmann’s score goes a long way toward at least suggesting that this fairly renowned Charlotte Bronte adaptation might be an unofficial Orson Welles film from his early 1940s directorial heyday — as opposed to the Robert Stevenson achievement it is. Welles as the tormented Rochester dominates even Joan Fontaine as the tough-luck servant Jane. This has to be the closest Welles ever came to cutting a dashing figure on screen. Meanwhile, an incredibly unbilled Elizabeth Taylor gets everything there is to get from a handful of scenes.
Extras: Includes Julie Kirgo’s peppy liner notes and two commentaries. Herrmann’s score can be enjoyed as an isolated experience on a separate track.
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Fearless (Blu-ray)

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for language and airplane crash realism.
Stars Jeff Bridges, Isabella Rossellini, Rosie Perez.
1993.
Based on a novel by Rafael Yglesias, who also wrote the screenplay, this is an eerie, under-your-skin story of survivor trauma: specifically, an airplane mishap but a situation easily as applicable to combat or a mass killing where one is spared when others are not. A plane crashes in a cornfield — a setpiece staged expertly by director Peter Weir. A survivor played by Jeff Bridges begins thinking he’s indestructible. There’s some compelling support-group material involving an airline psychiatrist, and it’s instructive to witness the different ways in which the survivors react to the experience.
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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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4 Nov, 2013

New on Disc: 'The Uninvited' and more …


The Uninvited

Criterion, Drama, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Ray Milland, Gail Russell, Ruth Hussey, Donald Crisp.
1944.
My old NYU film prof, William K. Everson, opined in class that this uncommonly lush romantic creeper directed by underrated Lewis Allen was the best ghost movie of all time, and nothing emerging on screen during the past few decades has diminished a movie that Criterion was super-savvy to pluck from the Universal-owned library of 1929-49 Paramount titles it acquired in a steal via a deal with MCA in the 1960s.  The story involves siblings (played by Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey) who buy a house that turns out to be possessed by mentally disturbed spirits related to a young woman (Gail Russell) who lives nearby.
Extras: This is a classy home release all around, including as it does two radio presentations of the story (both with Milland), an old interview with director Allen, plus superior liner notes by Farran Smith Nehme. A half-hour visual essay by Michael Almereyda deals not only with the movie itself but the personal demons of Milland and Russell.
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Stalag 17 (Blu-ray)

Warner/Paramount, Drama, $19.98 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars William Holden, Don Taylor, Otto Preminger.
1953.
The movie, a comedically charged tale of prisoners in a German World War II POW camp, is an ensemble acting piece second to none. William Holden took the ’53 Best Actor Oscar, but the one other standout is Otto Preminger’s brilliantly cast turn as the camp commandant.
Extras: Carried over from the standard DVD are a commentary and half-hour documentaries on the movie’s production and real-life POWs.
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28 Oct, 2013

New on Disc: 'Eyes Without a Face' and more …


Eyes Without a Face (Blu-ray)

Criterion, Drama, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
In French with English subtitles.
Stars Pierre Brasseur, Alida Valli, Juliette Mayniel, Edith Scob.
1960.
When this all but unique French film opened in America around Halloween time and nearly three years late, what audiences ended up getting was a methodically paced under-your-skin chiller with so little graphic gore that even its most explicit shot is purposely out of focus. Worldwide, director Georges Franju was handicapped by working in a genre not conducive to the tastemakers of the day, so it took a while for Eyes Without a Face to see its reputation secured with sharper noggins. Aside from one key new featurette, this Blu-ray is an upgrade from Criterion’s 2004 standard DVD, and I have never seen the picture looking this good.
Extras: The carryovers include the director’s famous but infrequently shown Blood of the Beasts from 1949, a 22-minute documentary that redefines the word “clinical” in its no-holds-barred look at a Parisian slaughterhouse and everything that entails.
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The New York Yankees 2000 World Series: Collector’s Edition

A&E, Sports, $29.98 DVD, NR.
2000.
The first “Subway Series” since the 1950s was a five-game affair in which the New York Yankees won their third-consecutive World Series title and fourth in five years against the Mets. Every game here is a good one. Both Yankees fans and cultural historians will get a kick out of this set, though it’s a step down from more lavish past Series boxes that included odds-and-ends highlights or interviews, plus even a game or two from one of the winner’s earlier playoff games from that season.
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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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14 Oct, 2013

New on Disc: 'The Big Parade' and more …


The Big Parade

Warner, Drama, $14.97 DVD, $27.98 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars John Gilbert, Renée Adorée, Karl Dane.
1925.
Befitting the movie that put MGM at the top of the map both economically and artistically for nearly a quarter-century, a 4K The Big Parade on Blu-ray is among the format’s best silent treatment I’ve seen to date. John Gilbert plays a rich kid who surprises everyone by enlisting in the army after getting caught up in the fervor of a patriotic parade, a motif that continues throughout the film and makes the title especially honest.
Extras: Warner has gone all out with this 64-page digipak release, starting with liner notes by Mr. Eminence himself: Kevin Brownlow. The 2½-hour commentary predominantly by historian Jeffrey Vance is very well prepared, artfully shoehorning in four fairly lengthy interview excerpts that director King Vidor gave later in his life.
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Branca’s Pitch

Strand, Documentary, $19.99 DVD, NR.
2013.
There’s a brief moment in this unusual baseball documentary when its subject — former Brooklyn Dodgers relief pitcher Ralph Branca — says that the folkloric walk-off home run off him by New York Giants third baseman Bobby Thomson in 1951 didn’t bother him. Well, if that were true, this tight 87-minute package probably wouldn’t exist, even if it ultimately does appear that Branca, now 87, has come to terms with his fate. Shot in black and white, which blends nicely with the old newsreel footage, this is a baseball documentary with a slightly skewed approach I wasn’t expecting. The standout archival mind-melters here are subsequent kinescopes of Branca on TV’s “Concentration” (where he won 17 games) and of him sharing an indescribable singing duet with Thomson on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
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7 Oct, 2013

New on Disc: 'From Here to Eternity' and more …


From Here to Eternity (Blu-ray)

Sony Pictures, Drama, $19.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Frank Sinatra, Donna Reed.
1953.
The film’s five principal actors represent one of the ultimate historical examples of white-heat star power, having earned merited Oscar nominations (with wins for Frank Sinatra and Donny Reed), before we even get to the fact that the story’s standout heavy is played by Ernest Borgnine. Daniel Taradash’s script remains a model of how to telescope a sprawling literary source into a two-hour movie. Eternity got the Oscar for Burnett Guffey’s black-and-white cinematography, and the Blu-ray has significant grain but doesn’t overdo it and is especially effective in some of the close-ups.
Extras: The Blu-ray includes a super-nifty new picture-in-picture feature in which on-the-ball younger historians guide us through the entire production. There’s also a carried-over making-of featurette and a vintage short about director Fred Zinnemann.
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A Letter to Three Wives (Blu-ray)

Fox, Drama, $24.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Jeanne Crain, Ann Sothern, Linda Darnell, Kirk Douglas, Paul Douglas.
1949.
Delivering on what is essentially a plotting gimmick, the movie traces the Saturday afternoon gut-punches three suburban wives receive when they get a joint letter from a so-called friend informing them that she has run off with one of their unnamed husbands — setting off a trio of flashbacks to explain how any one of the men might credibly be the unfaithful party. The Blu-ray essentially upgrades the standard Fox DVD, and it gets a nice, if not staggering, boost in the superior format.
Extras: Includes the “Biography” episode devoted to Linda Darnell.
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