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New on Disc: 'The Conversation' Blu-ray and more …

7 Nov, 2011 By: Mike Clark

The Conversation (Blu-ray)

Lionsgate, Drama, $24.99 Blu-ray, ‘PG.’
Stars Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield, Cindy Williams.
As the “other” movie Francis Ford Coppola directed in the year of his Oscar-winning The Godfather Part II, this more modest jewel remains on the highest side of the repertory arthouse staples. Now that smartphones can do everything (including show movies), the “neat” techno stuff from The Conversation probably seems quaint to some — though with the brilliant Walter Murch as its sound editor, you can bet that the movie’s audio element was up to date for its day. This Lionsgate release artfully emphasizes film grain without descending into eyesore territory.
Extras: The bonus extras are a mix of retained oldies (including separate Coppola and Murch commentaries) and some shorter newbies. On one of the latter, the director’s former brother-in-law (composer David Shire) notes that his sparse piano score, abetted by Murch’s sound contribution, led him to land more spinoff work than anything in his musical career.
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Frontline: The Man Who Knew

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
Though you can obviously go other places beyond a “Frontline” documentary to take the equivalent of a 700-level college course in irony, there aren’t many other places where you’ll get a bigger dose of the stuff than in this portrait of the late former FBI agent John O’Neill. “Former” is the operative word here — and though this DVD release is a tad off in commemorating this past September’s 10th anniversary of 9/11, it is (either by accident or design) very well-timed to the release of Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar, which will inevitably deal with the do’s and don’ts of Bureau image-making and the protection of one’s in-house turf. O’Neill didn’t like being constrained by the Bureau’s Criminal Division and wanted to fight al-Qaeda from a different vantage point within — which naturally ruffled those who worked in the Criminal Division. He was out of the loop when rumblings about a pending al-Qaeda attack began to emerge during the summer of 2001 — so much that he resigned from the Bureau and eventually became (through some string-pulling by friends) head of Security at the World Trade Center just 19 days before the 9/11 attacks.
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Travels With My Aunt

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, ‘PG.’
Stars Maggie Smith, Alec McCowen, Louis Gossett Jr., Cindy Williams.
Adapted from a Graham Greene novel that has little in common with the political intrigue of The Third Man or The Quiet American, George Cukor’s movie was originally intended as a vehicle for the director’s friend, Katharine Hepburn, in the auntie role of a bohemian eccentric who adds some needed globe-hopping zest to the life of a minor London bank exec/nephew who is used to more orderly ways. When the actress exited Aunt in a messy dispute with studio chief James Aubrey, some of the gas went out of the result. In her place came Maggie Smith (between Oscars, and she’d get another nomination here). This uneven but generally pleasing film at its weakest plays a little like a madcap party to which you haven’t been invited, yet its good and better moments are placed fairly rhythmically throughout. It is not just sumptuous, though that certainly helps: The cinematography, art/set decoration and costumes all got Oscar nominations, with a win in the last category. But 40 years ago, there also was the novel pleasure of watching an old-school Hollywood filmmaker in his 70s make a movie about interracial sex and marijuana usage.
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