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New on disc: 'Rock n Roll High School' 30th anniversary and more …

3 May, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School: 30th Anniversary Special Edition

Street 5/4 DVD, 5/11 Blu-ray
Shout! Factory, Comedy, $19.93 DVD, $26.97 Blu-ray, ‘PG.’
Stars P.J. Soles, Vincent Van Patten, Dey Young, The Ramones.
Other than perhaps as a figment of director Allan Arkush’s self-admitted wishes, maybe the ragged but raucous Rock ‘n’ Roll High School isn’t The Ramones’ equivalent of A Hard Day’s Night. But in some ways, maybe it is. Blu-ray is only going to help a production this humble so much, but I don’t recall it looking this good in 1979.
Extras: The new and recycled DVD extras are a ball.
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Ride With the Devil: Director’s Cut

Criterion, Drama, $39.95 DVD or Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Tobey Maguire, Jeffrey Wright, Skeet Ulrich, Jewel.
Director Ang Lee’s adaptation of Daniel Woodrell’s Civil War novel Woe to Live On led to the one time in his career where he didn’t control the editing process. Already leisurely and contemplative at an uncommonly long 138 minutes, this was not a movie its distributor wished to see run 160, which was Lee’s preferred cut and the one that’s presented here. Chronologically for the filmmaker, Devil comes between The Ice Storm and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Even at the time, Lee was amassing one of the most eclectic filmographies around.
Extras: Two commentaries, a new interview with Jeffrey Wright, and a booklet of essays by Southern-bred film critic Godfrey Cheshire, who calls the 1863 Lawrence (Kansas) Massacre the worst act of domestic terrorism until the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the attacks of 9/11.
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Fox 75th Anniversary Studio Classics: An Affair to Remember/Leave Her to Heaven/A Letter to Three Wives/Peyton Place

Fox, Romance, $19.98 four-DVD set, NR.
All four selections in this Fox set are movies for which I’ve had decades of affection — and for differing reasons. In order of preference, the set contains: A Letter to Three Wives (1949), directed by Oscar-winner Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starring Jeffrey Lynn, Kirk Douglas, Paul Douglas, Jeanne Crain, Ann Sothern and Linda Darnell; Peyton Place (1957), which led to the 1960s TV show; An Affair to Remember (1957), the romantic classic with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr; and Leave Her to Heaven (1945), featuring Gene Tierney portraying a first-class sociopath.
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Available now via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive.
Warner, Musical, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Al Jolson, Lois Moran, Lowell Sherman.
If one were asked to name the No. 1 entertainer from the first half of the 20th century, the answer would have to be Bing Crosby. But judging from accounts of the day, No. 2 would likely be Al Jolson. Time has not been kind to Jolson, whose film career was spotty at best, and the blackface albatross that was a substantial part of his career is never going to go away. Michael Curtiz’s Mammy celebrates a onetime blackface tradition that wasn’t even questioned during what now seem like the prehistoric days of minstrel shows. A specialized DVD venue such as this makes sense: It tends to attract more historically knowledgeable viewers, who know what they’re getting — and Warner doesn’t have to spend a lot of promotion money to call more attention to the offensive content.
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The Tiger Next Door

First Run, Documentary, $24.95 DVD, Not rated.
2009. Not a whole lot of grass grows in this remarkably even-keeled documentary before the words “Siegfried and Roy” get mentioned. This figures, because the subject at hand is people who keep dangerous wild animals in their residential backyards. Which is, of course, risky business strictly from the POV of the owners themselves — long before the gang from PETA expresses its own opinions.

Then the story gets complicated, at least in terms regarding the motivation of its central, Indiana-based protagonist Dennis Hill. He has that same scruffy (some would say mangy) white beard right out of Central Casting that brings to mind one of those used bookstore owners who always seem to have 20 housecats on the premises.

Hill has his share of adversaries, including the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, who’ve cited him for unsecure cages, sub-hygienic conditions and a general disinclination to rectify infractions that go somewhat beyond a condo association telling you to get a new storm door. With one or two key exceptions, the adversaries don’t really make it personal in their attempts to end, or at least limit, Hill’s operation. In fact, we’re shown a hearing or town meeting scene where longtime friends and reluctant foes have decent things to say about him. We also see that his mother supports and loves him – feelings that are reciprocated.

But … the guy just doesn’t seem strung together too well, and then there’s the fact that he previously served time for manufacturing meth. Someone at the hearing claims this is a bogus side issue — that Hill has paid his debt to society and that this incarceration history has nothing to do with the current issue at hand. Still, I ask you: If you’re already feeling uneasy about the guy next door raising tigers in the back yard, is this last bit of news going to ease your nerves.

Horror stories get told here about others who raise exotic animals — stories of abject filth, severe malnutrition and the fact that individual body parts — that is, if you cut the animal up — can bring a lot more money than an entire creature. Though what one does exactly with a tiger liver is for someone else to explain.

There is no evidence that Hill is anywhere near this craven — and plenty of evidence that he loves animals, going way back to childhood. But this kind of love, as someone points out, can be destructive as well, and Hill’s tirades about the government interfering with him shows him to be as oblivious to the bigger picture as the ultimately eaten subject of Werner Herzog’s unforgettable Grizzly Man, who at least mingled with the beasts on their own turf.

But again, filmmaker Camilla Calamandrei plays it cool in terms of personal soap-boxing and lets us make our own decision. Though at a time when PETA is talking on an institution like Ringling Brothers, some dude with flimsy cages, limited roaming space and icky drinking water needs isn’t likely to win many PR wars.

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