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New on Disc: 'Howl' and more …

17 Jan, 2011 By: Mike Clark


Howl

Oscilloscope, Drama, B.O. $0.06 million, $29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray/DVD combo, NR.
Stars James Franco, David Strathairn, Jon Hamm, Bob Balaban.
2010.
Though the idea behind it was never going to be inherently filmable, this barely released slice of anti-nostalgia can’t help but seduce, within severe screen limitations, as a cheeky screen concept for grown-ups. Here’s James Franco playing Allen Ginsberg a couple years after the poet had penned the sexually frank Howl, which ended up spurring a famous 1957 San Francisco anti-obscenity trial against poet/publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The rendering of the legal fracas is split into halves: the Ferlinghetti trial, which Ginsberg did not attend, plus life/autobiographic ruminations taken strictly from Ginsberg’s writings.
Extras: Along with the standard environmentally friendly Oscilloscope packaging that threatens to crumble in your hands, the release has lots of extras that include a Franco/filmmakers commentary and some cool backgrounders on how the production designer and costumers managed to do a lot with what had to have been a limited budget.
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Robinson Crusoe on Mars

Criterion, Sci-Fi, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Paul Mantee, Victor Lundin, Adam West.
1964.
This Blu-ray is worth noting and even savoring for a couple standout reasons. It’s gorgeous — a prime example of how brilliant Paramount’s designers and labs could make Technicolor look in the early 1960s, even with a release shot in the economizing Techniscope process, whose trade-off was to make movies look grainier than anyone wanted (though not in this case). It’s actually a pretty solid movie about making do with isolation and one that’s still a dream to gaze upon, despite the primitive special effects of the day. According to the production principals, no one really wanted to retain a moniker, for public consumption, that was basically just a working title — though it does describe the movie, in which a U.S. astronaut (Paul Mantee) crash-lands you know where.
Extras: Criterion long ago issued a laserdisc of this sleeper and has basically replicated the initial release (and the standard DVD that followed years later), and did a wonderful job with the commentary track, covering the movie from all angles. There’s also a featurette by a space historian, a music video and a booklet of essays and factoids.
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Phffft!

Sony Pictures, Comedy, $14.94 DVD, NR.
Stars Judy Holliday, Jack Lemmon, Jack Carson, Kim Novak.
1954.
Its historical distinction as the second big-screen feature of both Jack Lemmon and Kim Novak is, by itself, enough to make screenwriter George Axelrod’s marital comedy a conversation piece. But chalk up another footnote as well, given the title’s unofficial status as the box office employee’s No. 1 headache of the era. Lemmon is a lawyer and Judy Holliday a writer for NBC who’ve tired of their marriage but quickly become wary of the dating scene. Last fall, Sony brought out a box of Columbia Lemmon comedies that included Phffft!
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Good-bye, My Lady

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Walter Brennan, Phil Harris, Brandon de Wilde, Sidney Poitier.
1956.
Good-bye, My Lady is never as good as one would like it to be, though it has an appealing story and a most interesting cast. It’s a little pokey, takes a while to get rolling, overdoes its harmonica backing and is obviously shot on a set — yet the basenji dog who’s its centerpiece is extraordinarily lovable, and the cast is never less than intriguing. Warner’s DVD-R version is letterboxed (which even the old laserdisc wasn’t) and has been remastered — though here and there, the print shows some minor wear.
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