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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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20 Sep, 2010

New on Disc: 'The Secret in Their Eyes,' 'That Evening Sun' and more …


The Secret in Their Eyes

Street 9/21
Sony Pictures, Drama, B.O. $6.4 million, $28.95 DVD, $38.96 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for a rape scene, violent images, some graphic nudity and language.
Stars Ricardo Darin, Soledad Villamil, Pablo Rago, Javier Godino, Guillermo Francella.
2009.
The Secret in Their Eyes, the most recent foreign-language Oscar winner, is several movies in one — beginning as a whodunit where we pretty well know who did it by the two-thirds mark. But it’s also about romance that gets frustrated over a period of decades; unspoken affection between members of different social classes; office politics and rivalries; political interference that prevents justice from being accomplished; and questions about what constitutes just punishment: execution or perhaps something more imaginative? It’s grown-up material that wasn’t designed for theaters that have video games in the lobby. Even those adverse to subtitles should still take the leap to enjoy a movie that’s fully accessible.
Extras: Director/co-writer Juan Jose Campanella delivers a commentary and appears in a couple featurettes.
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That Evening Sun

Image, Drama, B.O. $0.3 million, $27.97 DVD, $29.97 Blu-ray, ‘PG-13’ for brief strong language, some violence, sexual content and thematic elements.
Stars Hal Holbrook, Ray McKinnon, Mia Wasikowska, Walton Goggins, Carrie Preston.
2009.
Adapted from a short story by William Gay, Sun got a handful of commercial play dates (after considerable festival activity) in what felt like an attempt to get Hal Holbrook a best-actor Oscar nomination. I think this is a better movie than what eventually won, Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart.
Extras: Writer-director Scott Teems, who says he doesn’t like director commentaries, shares one here with key filmmaking associates, explaining the sweat that went into what was only a four-week shoot. A bonus visual essay about the movie doesn’t work all that well, but there is an excellent featurette about all that went into a key scene between Lonzo and his wife.
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The Wall: A World Divided

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
2010.
The degree to which political hacks based in East Berlin snooped on fellow citizens remains a profound shocker with built-in dramatic punch. One such victim describes what he discovered about his own files at roughly the midway point in this documentary, written and directed by Eric Stange. He was consigned to being blackballed for life over the discovery of posters for the Woodstock Festival on the walls of his room. Of course, it took a while for East Germany’s in-house spy mechanism to get oiled and operational, so this hour-long remembrance starts at the beginning and brings viewers all the way through to the fall of the wall with interviews with several of the statesmen involved, including Mikhail Gorbachev and George H.W. Bush.
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Santiago

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Alan Ladd, Rossana Podesta, Lloyd Nolan, Chill Wills.
1956.
This engagingly middling action potboiler is not the place to go for a history lesson. It is, instead, a reasonably diverting Saturday matinee at the movies, though no one is going to send out the sentries if the pulp adventure nostalgists among us watch it some other time of the week.
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13 Sep, 2010

New on Disc: 'Solitary Man,' 'Seven' and more …


Solitary Man

Anchor Bay, Drama, B.O. $4.3 million, $29.98 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for language and some sexual content.
Stars Michael Douglas, Susan Sarandon, Mary-Louise Parker, Jesse Eisenberg.
2010.
Solitary Man is Michael Douglas’ best role and best performance since 2000’s Wonder Boys — one in which his character’s underlying seediness is (for a while) camouflaged in huckster’s veneer. Whether you like (or can forgive) the guy or not, Douglas makes him real.
Extras: Co-directors Brian Koppelman and David Levien, who previously co-wrote Rounders, Ocean’s 13 and The Girlfriend Experience, are joined on the commentary by Douglas McGrath, whose essays on various screen subjects (including a dead-on appreciation of Doris Day not long ago) often appear in the New York Times.
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Seven (Blu-ray)

Street 9/14
Warner, Thriller, $34.99 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for grisly afterviews of horrific and bizarre killings, and for strong language.
Stars Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow.
1995.
So many people have seen Seven that there’s no point wasting much time on how dark (in one meaning of the word) it is. But “dark’s” other meaning is germane to the visual success of the Blu-ray. Happily (if that’s the word), a movie that’s a stranger to solar power until its climactic scene has been given a rendering that enables us to pick up all the details director David Fincher wants us to see.
Extras: Seven is one of those getting-to-be-frequent Blu-rays for which distributor Warner goes the extra mile, complete with a hardback booklet and an array of stills on glossy paper. The copious Blu-ray extras have been carried over from New Line’s 2000 “Platinum Series” two-DVD set and were extraordinary for their day. They cover every subject under the sun that rarely shines in the film, including the labors that went into adapting Seven to the home experience.
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3 Silent Classics by Josef von Sternberg

Criterion, Drama, $79.95 DVD, NR.
Stars George Bancroft, Evelyn Brent, Emil Jannings, Betty Compson, William Powell.
1927-28.
Criterion’s magnificent new box of three late-1920s Josef von Sternberg silent films — definitely a candidate for DVD of the year — opens the vaults to a trio of titles mostly relegated to museum showings in a handful of lucky cities. The remastered films here include Underworld (1927), The Last Command (1928) and The Docks of New York (1928).
Extras: Criterion has provided two musical scores for each film; a Swedish TV interview with Sternberg; a visual essay from writer/scholar Tag Gallagher’s visual essays; UCLA film professor Janet Bergstrom’s own visual essay on Underworld; plus a 96-page booklet.
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It’s a Small World

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Paul Dale, Anne Sholter, Todd Karns, Will Geer.
1950.
A small movie about a small guy with an eye for flashy women of all sizes, this unearthed obscurity from cult director William Castle is a required stop-off for connoisseurs of strange cinema. World examines the plight of a rural male youth destined not to grow and the verbal/psychological abuse he takes from all but a few.
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6 Sep, 2010

New on Disc: 'Harry Brown,' 'Tommy,' 'Thriller' and more …


Thriller: The Complete Series

Image, Horror, $149.98 14-DVD set, NR.
Stars Boris Karloff.
1960-62.
“Thriller” was a pretty good concept, derivative as it was, when it ran on NBC opposite “The Red Skelton Show.” Premiering a year after “The Twilight Zone” and well after anthology series such as “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and “Suspicion,” it dealt heavily but not exclusively in the supernatural but would sometimes venture into melodrama or psychological suspense drama. Generally speaking, the supernatural episodes are the set’s strongest.
Extras: The set contains frequent commentaries by living participants plus fans with legitimate knowledge of the show. Host Boris Karloff, wearing glasses, is introduced via a DVD menu that employs a bongo-backed musical score. Boris and Bongos — it sounds like a concept album.
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Harry Brown

Sony Pictures, Thriller, B.O. $1.8 million, $27.96 DVD, $30.95 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for strong violence and language throughout, drug use and sexual content.
Stars Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer.
2010.
I was intrigued by some of the polarized reviews this movie got, but it isn’t very difficult to sort out what its virtues are and aren’t. Just about every professional viewer reacted to the same things, and your own reaction will almost be solely based on whether you think the actor’s assured performance is enough to carry 103 minutes. It basically becomes a story loop about Caine entering some pretty crummy places — the kind, for instance, where young women are drugged into making porno films — and taking care of business with some serious kabooms!
Extras: Director Daniel Barber joins cast members on a bonus commentary. 
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Tommy (Blu-ray)

Street 9/7
Sony Pictures, Musical, $24.95 Blu-ray, ‘PG.’
Stars Ann-Margaret, Roger Daltrey, Oliver Reed.
1975.
Any movie that drenches Ann-Margret in baked beans that burst out of a busted TV screen isn’t just any old collection of auteur antics. This is why I remain intrigued by, and even somewhat sympathetic to, Ken Russell’s exhausting attempt to sustain The Who’s rock opera for almost two hours of screen time, even though the result gets on my nerves and sometimes seems to be the reason the fast-forward button and chapter stops were invented. This 35th Anniversary edition restores the “Quintaphonic” sound utilized for the film’s big city engagements, an offshoot of relatively short-lived Quadraphonic sound and a kind of surround-sound-in-the-round format utilized on this film only. As rendered, the sinus-clearing orchestrations occasionally smother the singing here (though not particularly on any numbers that matter) — yet because of it, the movie did grab me more than it ever has since I saw it during the initial release.
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None But the Lonely Heart

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Cary Grant, Ethel Barrymore, June Duprez, Jane Wyatt.
1944.
Adapted from a novel by How Green Was My Valley author Richard Llewellyn, None But the Lonely Heart begins immediately after World War I’s Armistice Day in 1918, with Oscar nominee Cary Grant’s jack-of-all-trades Ernie Mott (his specialty is tuning pianos) looking for a better lot in a period of recently terminated global chaos.
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30 Aug, 2010

New on Disc: 'City Island' and more …


City Island

Anchor Bay, Comedy, B.O. $6.7 million, $29.98 DVD, $34.98 Blu-ray, ‘PG-13’ for sexual content, smoking and language.
Stars Andy Garcia, Julianna Margulies, Steven Strait, Dominik Garcia-Lorido, Ezra Miller, Alan Arkin, Emily Mortimer.
2010.
City Island’s screenplay is an original by director Raymond De Felitta and has a few roots in old-style sitcoms. All of the performances are spot on, with Andy Garcia as the patriarch of a family filled with people keeping secrets. There’s nothing fancy about this movie, but it has an assured tone that juggles comedy and pain against the implied advice it gives that people who live with each other might be better off if they just talked to each other at least once in a while.
Extras: One of the bonuses on the disc reunites the cast for a dinner table sit-around with real food, a kind of communal affair very much in keeping with the camaraderie it takes to get a labor of love like this made, to say nothing of breaking out of the pack.
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Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg

Docurama, Documentary, B.O. $1.1 million, $29.95 two-DVD set, NR.
2009.
Someone in Aviva Kempner’s documentary about a multileveled pioneer calls Gertrude Berg an anomaly, which is as good a way as any to describe a well-dressed, opera-loving Park Avenue resident who created matriarch Molly Goldberg. The character was the centerpiece of television’s first successful sitcom ever, “The Goldbergs,” premiering in January 1949.
Extras: In addition to Kempner’s commentary, the extras are plentiful and require a second disc. They include a substantial tally of interview segments not included in the film and a sampling of complete “Goldberg” episodes including one with young actress Anne Italiano, later renamed Anne Bancroft when she went to Hollywood.
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L’enfance nue

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, NR.
In French with English subtitles.
Stars Michel Terrazon, Linda Gutemberg, Raoul Billery.
1968.
The late Maurice Pialiat’s film about foster care focuses on Francois (Michel Terrazon), who is frequently in scrapes, despite moments of tender behavior that keep the viewer off balance. The movie’s make-or-break moment comes early. Francois, with co-conspiring buddies, takes the cat belonging to the family with which he currently resides and drops it several floors down a stairwell. L’enfance nue is, actually (cat aside), quite accessible and journeys not an inch beyond the lives that uncountable people live everyday.
Extras: The movie isn’t at all an indictment of the French foster home system, though in a TV interview included in the bonus section, Pialiat chides himself for withholding insights his research had revealed — as in the significant number of foster children who commit suicide.
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Yellowstone Kelly

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Western, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Clint Walker, Edward Byrnes, John Russell, Andra Martin.
1959.
Though more familiarity might breed indifference were the movie not so infrequently shown these days, there’s definitely a nostalgic kick in re-seeing what was a very heavily promoted cross-demographic Western in its day. Kelly is ultimately a kiddie Western with Edd “Kookie” Byrnes of “77 Sunset Strip” for the teen girl demographic.
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23 Aug, 2010

New on Disc: 'Me & Orson Welles' and more …


Me & Orson Welles

Warner, Drama, B.O. $1.2 million, $18.98 DVD, ‘PG-13’ for sexual references and smoking.
Stars Zac Efron, Christian McKay, Claire Danes.
2009.
Relative newcomer Christian McKay serves up one of the most on-the-button portrayals of a 20th-century pop figure that I have ever seen. The story’s setting is New York City in 1937 — four years before Welles directed Citizen Kane and a year before he terrorized the nation with his radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds. So at a just-turned-22, he’s mounting a Mercury Theatre production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar his own way. Zac Efron is the young acting hopeful and makeshift ukulele practitioner hired on the spot for a small role. The DVD is sold exclusively at Target.
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Black Orpheus

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR. In Portuguese with English subtitles. Stars Breno Mello, Marpessa Dawn.
1959.
Writer-director Marcel Camus’ panoply of pigmented costuming (against an equally kinetic beat) remains something close to a one-of-a-kind. Certainly, it was in terms of the filmmaker, whose other movies didn’t amount to much given all the vitality here. Liberally adapted from a Vinicius de Moraes play called Orfeo do Carnaval, the movie’s male protagonist (Breno Mello) is a Rio de Janeiro streetcar conductor with guitar-playing aspirations. Its Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) is a visitor at carnival time — an event that consumes a year of prep because it offers the one brief annual respite from squalor.
Extras: Criterion has provided a ton of extras not on its original 1999 DVD about the movie’s history and influence, including a full-length documentary. As film scholar Robert Stam points out in an excellent supplement, this is not an Brazilian film but a French one whose point of view or emphasis is one a native filmmaker probably wouldn’t have taken.
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The Great Waldo Pepper

Universal, Drama, $14.98 DVD, ‘PG.’
Stars Robert Redford, Bo Svenson, Susan Sarandon, Bo Brundin.
1975.
Historically significant as both a star-power footnote and something close to aviation-buff nirvana, this cult box office underachiever has finally received its DVD due. No widescreen movie deserves to be released in cruddy pan-and-scan, as happened to Great Waldo Pepper in 1998. Even without extras, this DVD is a beauty. An odd and even clashing mix of early aviation comedy-drama, Pepper’s period spans the post-World War I era all the way through the 1920s, with Robert Redford’s title character obsessed with the heroic efforts of onetime German flying ace Ernst Kessler.
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Les Paul: Live in New York

Questar, Music, $19.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, NR.
2010.
Electric guitar pioneer Les Paul died just over a year ago at 94, but this uplifting homestretch release clarifies why it was normal to think that he’d always be around to play. New York captures Paul’s twilight performances at the Iridium Jazz Club when he jammed Monday nights on stage with guests (even Keith Richards made the pilgrimage).
Extras: The bonus material is copious and goes beyond additional Iridium performances. There’s an episode from the old “Les & Mary” TV show and the famous episode from “Omnibus” in which the couple has fun explaining multitracking against occasional crew laughter.
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16 Aug, 2010

New on Disc: 'A Prophet' and more …


Pandora and the Flying Dutchman

Kino Lorber, Romance, $29.95 DVD, $34.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars James Mason, Ava Gardner, Nigel Patrick.
1951.
Along with writer-director Albert Lewin’s better-known 1945 screen adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, this is the signature work of a filmmaker who didn’t make many movies but had a flair for portraying the rich (or well-off, at least) and infamous. The film opened in the United States about three weeks before star Ava Gardner married Frank Sinatra.
Extras: Pandora was previously issued in a DVD version taken from a 35mm print source. The earlier release’s limitations are dramatically evident in a before-after comparison included with this version, which visually swamps just about any normal movie.
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A Prophet

Sony Pictures, Drama, B.O. $2.1 million, $27.96 DVD, $38.96 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for strong violence, sexual content, nudity, language and drug material.
Stars Tahar Rahim, Niels Arestrup, Adel Bencherif.
2009.
When the evidence runs a consistently intriguing two hours 35 minutes despite taking place predominantly indoors amid oppressively grubby settings, there can’t be much doubt about the degree of vitality left in the prison picture, whose heft as a genre goes back to the earliest days of the talkies. France’s recent nominee for foreign-language Oscar is as good as Argentinian winner The Secret in Their Eyes and German nominee The White Ribbon.
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Tapped

Disinformation, Documentary, $19.98 DVD, NR.
2009.
Director Stephanie Soechtig’s polemic has to do with the scourge of drinking water out of plastic bottles — a heavily marketed habit that started in about 1989 after the first wave of bottled water (Perrier in glass, circa 1973) ran its course. A lot of the material here was previously covered in Flow: For Love of Water, but the presentation in this one-sided but convincing exposé seems more dynamic with its trenchant visuals (ill people; oceanside views that look like landfill; oceanic water samples littered with chunks of plastic) that are hard to shake. Less speculative are the corporations that pump water out of local communities without offering any remuneration — which is especially nice when there’s a drought and consumers are ordered to curtail their own use while the water companies are not.
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The Locket

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Brian Aherne, Gene Raymond, Henry Stephenson, Laraine Day, Ricardo Cortez, Robert Mitchum, Sharyn Moffett.
1946.
The Locket is the twisted telling of a twisted story via one of the messiest time structures ever. The film’s biggest claim to fame is that it contains a flashback within a flashback within a flashback. The story is also psychologically compelling. Director John Brahm pulls out the stylistic flourishes for the finale, a scene that ultimately puts over the movie. It’s grown-up, tantalizingly ambiguous and, in its way, credible — not the usual melodramatic comeuppance scenario (say, falling off a cliff) that screen women like Laraine Day’s character often have to endure. The actress’s performance (very good) is served by an array of changing hairstyles but doesn’t lean on them. This is, after all, a character who’s always reinventing herself — remaining unflappable throughout constant accusations of duplicity by men going down for the count.
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9 Aug, 2010

New on Disc: 'Elvis on Tour' and more …


Elvis on Tour

Warner, Documentary, $19.96 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, ‘G.’
Stars Elvis Presley.
1972.
Elvis Presley’s last movie was this unpretentious but now rather affecting performance film. The Blu-ray presentation is a pleasing rendering, and I enjoyed this swan song substantially more than I had the two or three previous times over the years. With the passage of time, it’s now easy to see that Elvis’ final screen appearance came at exactly the apt moment. Elvis on Tour turns out to be something of a stew that includes a tribute to old Elvis movies and a look back at his Ed Sullivan heyday.
Extras: You get a sense of what the metabolic grind the road is on performers. A touring schedule included with the Blu-ray lists 15 consecutive days of shows, including two-a-day performances each in Knoxville, Macon and Jacksonville — the last two engagements on consecutive days.
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The Kim Novak Collection

Sony Pictures, Drama, $39.95 three-DVD set, NR.
Stars Kim Novak, James Stewart, Frank Sinatra, William Holden, Fredric March.
1955-59.
The set includes three previously available Novak starrers — Picnic (1955), Pal Joey (1957) and Bell Book and Candle (1958) — and two new to DVD — Jeanne Eagels (1957) and Middle of the Night (1959). Jeanne Eagels is director George Sidney’s misconceived biopic of the stage actress. The set’s revelation is the inevitably uncommercial Middle of the Night, which reunited writer-playwright Paddy Chayefsky with director Delbert Mann four years after they’d collaborated on the Oscar-winning Marty.
Extras: A couple of the films have Novak commentaries for selected scenes, but there are also several featurettes with the actress and Stephen Rebello, who does an outstanding job of drawing her out (it’s obvious that they hit it off) and asking intelligent questions.
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Louie Bluie

Street 8/10
Criterion, Documentary, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Featuring Howard Armstrong.
1985.
Terry Zwigoff’s little seen Louie Bluie is a 60-minute documentary on late country-blues musician Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong, a man whose many talents included looking natural in an orange sport jacket and matching shirt and being one of those rare non-military personnel to look cool in a beret.
Extras: Critic Michael Sragow’s liner notes are full of welcome information about the production and of how Zwigoff cleaned out his life savings to make a movie that didn’t stand a chance of getting wide distribution. Zwigoff’s own DVD commentary is very entertaining and often very frank.
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Devil’s Doorway

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Robert Taylor, Louis Calhern, Paula Raymond.
1950.
The leap of faith audiences have to make is the casting of Robert Taylor as an Indian bilked out of his land and the cattle fortune that’s gone with it by laws that give Native Americans no rights — and he a Civil War Congressional Medal of Honor winner to compound the insult. The print hasn’t been remastered but is quite acceptable, though certainly it’s not up to what Criterion did with director Anthony Mann’s The Furies in 2008 (which is almost breathtaking).
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2 Aug, 2010

New on Disc: 'Piranha: Special Edition' and more …


Piranha: Special Edition

Street 8/3/10
Shout! Factory/Vivendi, Horror, $19.93 DVD, $26.97 Blu-ray, ‘R.’
Stars Heather Menzies, Bradford Dillman, Kevin McCarthy, Keenan Wynn, Dick Miller.
1978.
I had never seen Piranha before its new Blu-ray edition, which, like the company’s other recent high-def editions from the Roger Corman library, polishes the appearance of a frugally budgeted production to the highest level we’re likely to see.
Extras: You have to love hearing Corman, on the bonus section here, conceding that his picture was “influenced” by Jaws.  The bonus section is largely devoted to the blue-smoke-and-mirrors work director Joe Dante and his effects people had to pull off to disguise the reality that the so-called piranhas were fake and nailed/glued to sticks, which were then manipulated by technicians.
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Home

Kino Lorber, Comedy, $29.95 DVD, $34.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Isabelle Huppert, Olivier Gourmet.
2009.
Smoothly situated in that spot somewhere between a plausible story surreally told and a surreal story told reasonably realistically, Switzerland’s submission for the most recent Oscars is another chapter in the career of its marvelously chameleonic lead Isabelle Huppert. The movie’s credible base emanates from something all of us have noted at one time or another: those households that manage to function even though they’re plunked right up against the highways our speeding cars zoom down.
Extras: The movie’s visuals burn in the brain, and bonus features tell of how director/co-writer Ursula Meier’s debut feature was inspired by, in fact, whipping down the freeway and noting oblivious adjacent residents enjoying life despite the noise and pollution.
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Appointment With Danger

Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Alan Ladd, Phyllis Calvert, Jack Webb, Harry Morgan.

1951. The movie opens with a familiar-sounding announcer voice-overing standard boilerplate about how great the post office is — but quickly gets down to business with the welcome noir array of third-rate hotels, a foiled robbery, seedy gang hideout and a resident blonde chippie. By the time Danger came out, Jack Webb was only months away from transferring “Dragnet” from radio to TV and on a permanent “enforcement” perch; as a result, audiences never got too many opportunities to see him on the wrong side of the law. (But in a juicy footnote, he is, again, in Charlton Heston’s 1950 debut vehicle Dark City — another of the five launch titles, along with this release, in Olive Films’ new distribution deal with Paramount to release several of the latter’s catalog titles.)
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Brewster McCloud

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $24.95 DVD, ‘R’ for language, drug references and sexuality.
Stars Bud Cort, Michael Murphy, Rene Auberjonois, Sally Kellerman, William Windom.
1970.
This is a movie about all things birds — and specifically, about a young man (Bud Cort, so early in his career that he hadn’t even made Harold and Maude yet) who yearns to fly in the Houston Astrodome via a complex makeshift contraption that demands he keep his arms in shape by doing hundreds of pull-ups. Despite self-indulgent dead spots, the movie has the comic tone and look of prime Robert Altman (it’s his first movie after MASH brought him overnight lionization).
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26 Jul, 2010

New on Disc: World Series 1985 and 'Crack in the World'


The Film Noir Classic Collection Vol. 5

Warner, Thriller, $49.92 four-DVD set, NR.
Stars John Cassavetes, Dick Powell, Richard Kiley, Susan Hayward.
1945-56.
The easy standout pick here is the most eagerly awaited and overdue: director Phil Karlson’s trenchant 1955 The Phenix City Story, which deals with the much publicized (at the time) postwar corruption in Phenix City, AL — once the so-called “Sin City” just across the river from Columbus, Ga., and Fort Benning. The set also includes Dial 1119 (1950), Cornered (1945), Desperate (1947), Armored Car Robbery (1950), Crime in the Streets (1956), Deadline at Dawn (1946) and the underachieving Backfire (1950).
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Kansas City Royals: 1985 World Series Collector’s Edition

Street 7/27
A&E, Sports, $69.95 seven-DVD set, NR.
1985.
Chronicling what was called the “I-70 Series” due to the atypically close proximity of the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals in Missouri, here’s a set that transcends specific fandom of one team or another due to the drama that took place on the field, punctuated by Don Denkinger’s blown call that allowed the Royals to win Game 6, and a melee in the Royals’ Game 7 clincher that threatened to resemble one of the saloon brawls in John Ford’s Donovan’s Reef.
Extras: According to a couple interviews in the supplements, the Royals got riled when they went into St. Louis two games down and saw a banner prematurely congratulating their opponents as “World Series Champions.” The extras also include the Royals’ post-game locker-room celebration, and it’s good to see George Brett not just spraying teammates with champagne — but also swigging the stuff, then spitting it out, on national television.=
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Crack in the World

Street 7/27
Olive, Sci-Fi, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Dana Andrews, Janette Scott, Kieron Moore, Alexander Knox.
1965.
The kind of movies for which 1960s drive-ins were invented, this dramatically lukewarm but thematically scorching sci-fi melodrama is of interest for its environmental topicality and for its status as one of the “launch” titles in a welcome new line of Paramount oldies now being distributed by Olive Films. The peril is encroaching heat from the Earth’s core — which is intended to solve the world’s energy needs but is instead engendering earthquakes and causing animal populations to run for the hills, or at least cooler temperatures. The workmanlike direction is by Andrew Marton, who is probably best known for co-directing 1950’s King Solomon’s Mines and the only bad movie Grace Kelly ever made (Green Fire) — plus the American exterior episodes in The Longest Day and the famous chariot race for William Wyler’s Ben-Hur.
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College, Inc. (Frontline)

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD.
2010.
The $400 billion for-profit higher-education system leaves many graduates saddled with massive student loan debt. “Frontline” continues to do what it does so well: tell a story that other documentaries are not inclined to cover, even though the subject is one that effects huge numbers and probably someone on your block. Like most muckraking documentaries, this one deals with “excesses” — which means the volume of them is either several instances of simple bad apple-dom or the kind of numbers you get when an entire system whose potential for abuse is endemic.
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Prodigal Sons

First Run, Documentary, DVD $24.95, NR.
2008.
There’s a cartoon from the 1970s that I used to love from, if memory serves, The New Yorker — though if not, it had a decidedly New Yorker tone. The set-up is a domestic scene that pictures something like a frumpy mom in pin-curlers, one son who’s either gay or a cross-dresser and another on his way out the door dressed for what in the ’50s would have been rumble. In the center of the frame is dad in his chair, reading Ozzie Nelson’s autobiography.

I was thinking about this — and how life can play tricks on all kinds of parental plans and assumptions — while watching this deservedly praised documentary about the surprises that were in store for a Helena, MT, physician and the woman from Texas who married him. Older son Marc (adopted) eventually suffered a severe frontal lobe injury as a young adult and became subject to violent outbursts that went against the grain of his everyday demeanor. Next in line came this film’s transgendered director Kimberly Reed — who turns out to be a role model for displaying grace under stress — who is now a woman but was once a male quarterback for the high-school football team.

Marc and Kim (who was in the same high-school class because Marc got held back in pre-school) have never truly gotten along, due in part to her onetime local star status. Now, after a long layoff, and as Kim pays a visit with her New York female companion as the story begins, they are trying.

Just by itself, this warm-up would make an interesting movie. Here’s married Marc the tinderbox primed to explode unexpectedly at any time, as he does late in the movie when he commits violence against a younger brother whose gayness he sometimes won’t accept (so you can imagine the issues he has with Kim). And Kim is going through what many transgendered individuals do, which is to go into such complete denial of one’s former existence that even seeing old snapshots can conjure up pain. And Marc is a guy with a fondness for old snapshots.

But there’s an added twist, which, unlike the rest of the story, made news a few years back. Marc, who has always been searching for his own identity in a sibling rivalry, finds one in spades when he discovers that the biological mother he never even saw until she was in a casket at her funeral was Rebecca Welles, daughter of Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth. And the physical resemblance between Marc and his grandfather is unmistakable.

Reed deserves a lot of credit for juggling what could have been some dangling elements, which include a family visit to Croatia at the request of Oja Kadar — Welles’ companion for the last two decades of his life and a memorable presence in 1973’s F for Fake, the last film he directed. Marc and the others swim outside her home in what looks as if it could be anyone’s ideal honeymoon spot, and given the almost folkloric financial woes that plagued Welles for almost his entire career, it’s good to see Kadar apparently living large. More power to her.

Assisting Kim in her own journey are a group of old Helena friends who come off as being non-judgmentally supportive — though when the story opens, she’s on her way a 20th high school class reunion after a long absence and isn’t certain how she’ll be received. Her mother, too, seems to be constituted of uncommonly sound bedrock, and the older woman’s reflections are featured on a DVD bonus section that deals with this film’s festival showings and a special film-related church weekend back in Helena. The story ends, though, with Marc’s plight at an impasse, and just about anyone will exit this haunting documentary wondering about his ultimate outcome.
 


19 Jul, 2010

New on Disc: 'Black Narcissus' and more …


Black Narcissus

Street 7/20
Criterion, Drama, $39.95 DVD or Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Deborah Kerr, David Farrar, Sabu, Jean Simmons.
1947.
Thanks to an unusual story stirringly told plus apt and imaginative casting, the high-Fahrenheit film version of Rumer Godden’s novel played well even when shown in black-and-white in early TV showings decades ago. The Blu-ray pretty well equals the impressive theatrical print of this Technicolor psychological drama with religious overtones that dramatized the challenge of British Anglican nuns to bring a sense of order to what is at least physical paradise in the Himalayas, which merits serious consideration as one of the 10 most beautiful color movies of all time.
Extras: A booklet contains magnificent color stills and an essay by Kent Jones, plus several more supplements (some that carried over from a 2001 DVD) that relay a lot of information about the production.
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White House Revealed

Street 7/20
Infinity, Documentary, $14.98 DVD, NR.
Narrated by Martin Sheen.
2010.
You have to believe that no one ever says “it’s just a job” when it comes to the 95 resident staffers in the White House detail, who begin and end their day (which can last up to 20 hours if a state dinner is on the calendar) serving the leader of the free world, family members and a dog or two. Martin Sheen (an apt choice considering his role on “The West Wing”) narrates this 50-minute history, which frequently cuts to the senior George Bush and first lady Barbara for warm recollections.
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New York Confidential

VCI, Drama, $19.99 DVD, NR.
Stars Broderick Crawford, Richard Conte, Anne Bancroft, Mike Mazurki.
1955.
If you don’t expect too much beyond grown-up subject matter and actors who can carry the show, there’s a hefty body count to be enjoyed from what the DVD box art refers to as “the Holy Grail of missing noir films.” Seen by relatively few at the time and fondly remembered by a few, the movie basically fell off the face of the earth until a recent well-received public showing at the American Cinematheque’s annual noir festival in Los Angeles.
Extras: On the commentary by Alan K. Bode and Kim Morgan — one of the most entertaining and certainly the funniest I’ve heard in a while — the film is not unjustly described as “roots” of The Godfather.
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Verboten!

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Dick Kallman, James Best, Susan Cummings, Tom Pittman.
1959.
Fans of writer-director Samuel Fuller will let him get away with anything and even relish the nerviness of his conceits. How many movies do you know that feature Beethoven’s Fifth on the soundtrack, followed by the voice of an unbilled Paul Anka singing the title tune? Fuller’s extensive combat experiences in World War II no doubt colored this rather raw ‘B’-pic (or close) about a conquering G.I. (James Best, later of the filmmaker’s quintessential 1963 Shock Corridor) who is cared for in a rubble-surrounded house by an anti-Nazi fraulein (Susan Cummings). Best so specialized in playing good ol’ boys that he later ended up as Sheriff Roscoe in TV’s “The Dukes of Hazzard,” and there’s a little of that here.
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