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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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31 Oct, 2011

New on Disc: 'Island of Lost Souls' and more …

Island of Lost Souls

Criterion, Horror, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Charles Laughton, Richard Arlen, Kathleen Burke, Leila Hyams.
Souls is a screen adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells. Filmed partly on Catalina Island, the decidedly pre-Code Souls was conceived in that great expressionistic early ‘30s Paramount style.
Extras: The set includes interviews with Gerald Casale and Mike Mothersbaugh of Devo, who made Souls’ “Are We Not Men?” catchphrase their own in the 1970s, as well as interviews with the likes of John Landis and others, plus an essay booklet and a punchy, funny commentary by historian Gregory Mank.
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Cape Fear (Blu-ray)

Universal, Thriller, $19.98 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for strong violence and for language.
Stars Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, Juliette Lewis.
The Blu-ray of Martin Scorsese’s remake looks and sounds fantastic. Wesley Strick’s smart script is all about dysfunction and how Robert De Niro’s Max takes advantage of the lack of trust among his targeted family’s members.
Extras: An outstanding feature-length making-of documentary is carried over from the standard DVD.
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The Legend of Lylah Clare

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Kim Novak, Peter Finch, Ernest Borgnine.
This Kim Novak camp fest is talky and way overripe but with a distinctively funny flavor all its own. Lylah deals with the Hollywood myth-making machine in the manner of Sunset Boulevard and Fedora. Overall, the movie has a sustaining dose of that elusive “something.”
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24 Oct, 2011

New on disc: 'Page One: Inside the New York Times' and more …

Page One: Inside the New York Times

Magnolia, Documentary, B.O. $1.1 million, $26.98 DVD, $29.98 Blu-ray, NR.
An engaging and even important documentary with a central flaw actually closer to a miscalculation in semantics, producer-director Andrew Rossi’s melancholy portrait of the Times in techno-peril was criticized, amid its mixed to positive reviews, for lacking focus. I’ve seen it twice and didn’t have that feeling either time. The mistake the marketers made was subtitling their documentary “Inside the New York Times” because there is infinitely more to the Times than what is presented here. Rossi’s tale is in some ways about the newspaper industry as a whole as it flirts with full collapse, using the Times as its main actor (and if you’re casting a movie about a big subject, you probably want to have the biggest superstar for your lead). No matter how the current crisis shakes out — with the complete death of print being the most apocalyptic of possible climaxes — Page One is likely to end up being a permanently valuable achievement because it will have captured where the industry was at a crossroads it had never come to before.
Extras: Carl Bernstein, who is interviewed in the movie, shows up as well in one of this release’s short bonus featurettes, which are not unwelcome but subordinate to a movie that will probably go down as one of the year’s top documentaries.
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The Guns of Navarone (Blu-ray)

Sony Pictures, Drama, $19.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn, Stanley Baker.
There’s some mild, if discernible, new snap to the Blu-ray of the No. 1 box office attraction from 50 years ago — though here is a movie with restoration challenges formidable enough to rate a bonus-section featurette, one of many carried over to this appropriately priced Blu-ray from the 2007 Navarone “Collector’s Edition” standard DVD. Another movie about a wartime suicide mission that can’t possibly succeed (but does), Navarone deals with an Allied assignment that involves blowing up two huge guns (radar-controlled, which I thought was a neat touch at the time) that the Germans have fortressed inside some mountains over the Aegean Sea.
Extras: As with the other bonus featurettes, director J. Lee Thompson’s superb commentary — done when he was well into his 80s — is carried over from the DVD.
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Light in the Piazza

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Olivia de Havilland, Yvette Mimieux, George Hamilton, Rossano Brazzi.
Piazza came out in February 1962, and as glossy soap operas go, it has its virtues — few of which have anything to do with a dubious premise that a standup mother would allow (and even all but lobby for) her mentally impaired daughter (Yvette Mimieux) to wed a sweetly immature Italian lad even when, admittedly, the two are crazy about each other. But it’s a hallmark of screen craftsmanship to make us accept what our minds tell us not to. At 45, lead Olivia de Havilland was still something of a stunner and her performance fully conveys one of a not especially subtle movie’s more complex dynamics. Whereas de Havilland’s character is authoritative with her daughter, she’s noticeably subservient to her gruff realist husband (Barry Sullivan) when he planes over from North Carolina for a brief visit to his vacationing family. But you can see from the way de Havilland chain-smokes that she probably is not happy to be bellowed at.
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17 Oct, 2011

New on Disc: 'Beautiful Boy' and more …

Beautiful Boy

Anchor Bay, Drama, B.O. $0.08 million, $26.98 DVD, $29.99 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for some language and a scene of sexuality.
Stars Maria Bello, Michael Sheen, Alan Tudyk, Moon Bloodgood, Kyle Gallner, Meat Loaf Aday.
If the viewing experience is drab, you can’t really say that it’s necessarily false to the central event being portrayed. The film focuses on a middle-aged couple (Maria Bello and Michael Sheen) dealing with the aftermath of a college shooting in which their son was involved. You have to admire the filmmakers for having the nerve to take this story all the way.
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Available at ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time, Western, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Ann-Margret, Alex Cord, Bing Crosby, Red Buttons.
As follies go, Fox’s instantly foredoomed remake of John Ford’s 1939 perennial isn’t without passable entertainment value — if for no other reason than it turned out to be the final theatrical feature of Bing Crosby.
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You Got to Move: Stories of Change in the South

Street 10/18
Milestone, Documentary, $29.95 DVD, NR.
I was flummoxed even trying to identify this comparably unknown look back at the Highlander (TN) Research and Education Center — a sleeper that Lucy Massie Phenix co-directed with Veronica Selver that was recently restored as part of the center’s 80th anniversary.
Extras: There are several bonus featurettes, including an excerpt from a 1981 “Bill Moyers Journal” about Highlander co-founder Myles Horton.
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10 Oct, 2011

New on Disc: 'Le Beau Serge' and more …

Le Beau Serge

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Jean-Claude Brialy, Gérard Blain, Bernadette Lafont.
France’s Nouvelle Vague movement’s feature-film launch is credited to this rather brooding Claude Chabrol achievement, which the writer-director filmed in Sardent, the town where he’d resided during World War II while his father was fighting for the Resistance.
Extras: Included here is a standout 51-minute documentary from 2003 that interviews an ingratiating Chabrol on camera. There’s also a 10-minute snippet from another documentary done in 1969.
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Grandview, U.S.A.

Paramount, Comedy, $19.99 DVD, ‘R.’
Stars Jamie Lee Curtis. C. Thomas Howell, Patrick Swayze.
Not only does Grandview have the semi-obligatory rock video fantasy numbers that look like remnants from MTV — but also a cast that turns the result into a tolerably mellow experience.
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The Inspector General: Collector’s Edition

Shout! Factory, Comedy, $19.97 DVD, NR.
Stars Danny Kaye, Walter Slezak, Barbara Bates, Gene Lockhart.
This Technicolor farce set in 18th-century Hungary features Danny Kaye as an illiterate gypsy peddler of fake medicine who is mistaken for Napoleon’s prime sleuth of municipal theft, graft and corruption.
Extras: The DVD includes a rare 1938 Kaye comic short about life insurance, and some of director Henry Koster’s home movies.
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3 Oct, 2011

New on Disc: 'Pee-wee's Big Adventure' Blu-ray and more …

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (Blu-ray)

Street 10/4/11
Warner, Comedy, $19.98 Blu-ray, ‘PG.’
Stars Pee-wee Herman, Elizabeth Daily.
In terms of color, Blu-ray punctuates what has always looked like a nifty wax job on that “neat” bicycle Pee-wee possesses for a while — the theft of which puts him on the road to meeting (with us) an array of equally colorful characters.
Extras: You can see — in the deleted scenes from this resplendent straight carry-over from an earlier DVD release — that director Tim Burton, making his feature debut, had a pretty keen sense of what to include and what to excise.
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My Cousin Rachel

Available at www.screenarchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Olivia de Havilland, Richard Burton, Audrey Dalton.
Rachel was kind of a big deal upon its release for being the first film Olivia de Havilland did after winning two deserved Best Actress Oscars in three years: 1946’s To Each His Own and 1949’s The Heiress.
Extras: The print is spectacularly crisp, shadowy and detailed. As usual for Twilight Time, the DVD includes a Julie Kirgo essay and an isolated musical score track for screen music connoisseurs.
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American Experience: Houdini

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
Narrated by Mandy Patinkin.
Produced a little more than a decade ago, this presentation is a good example of how one keeps a documentary moving when there isn’t a bottomless pool of existent real-life footage. Those interviewed include illusionist David Copperfield and late caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.
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26 Sep, 2011

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

The Caine Mutiny (Blu-ray)

Sony Pictures, Drama, $19.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Humphrey Bogart, Jose Ferrer, Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray.
Whatever negatives you want to spout about this iffy adaptation of novelist Herman Wouk’s Pulitzer winner, a powerhouse acting line-up delivers on its potential. Humphrey Bogart’s performance as Navy Capt. Philip Francis Queeg is still provocatively disturbing, but the movie is irksomely antiseptic (it needed the U.S. Navy’s cooperation) and a bit too jokey for most of its first 90 minutes before catching fire during the courtroom climax. In any event, this is a movie I’ve always liked when what I really wanted was to love it.
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Alex in Wonderland

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $19.95 DVD, ‘R.’
Stars Donald Sutherland, Ellen Burstyn, Federico Fellini, Jeanne Moreau.
Every bit as hippie-dippie-ish then as it will seem to anyone now, Paul Mazursky’s second directorial outing nonetheless merits its cult status — thanks in part to its lead performers and the basic decency of the characters they play.
Extras: A commentary with Mazursky.
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Cobra Woman

Manufactured on demand via online retailers
Universal, Adventure, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Maria Montez, Jon Hall, Sabu.
The irresistibly titled Cobra Woman is more than simply prototypical, offering Maria Montez playing twins at odds over the throne of a South Seas island.
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19 Sep, 2011

New on Disc: 'Genevieve,' 'The Incredible Shrinking Man' and more …


VCI, Comedy, $19.99 DVD, $24.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Dinah Sheridan, Kenneth More, John Gregson, Kay Kendall.
More than halfway as essential, albeit more benignly, to the screen’s rich car-culture canon as Rebel Without a Cause and Two-Lane Blacktop, J. Arthur Rank’s international favorite and BAFTA winner also ranks among the glories of British Technicolor that cinematographer Jack Cardiff couldn’t claim. Written by that Missouri-born presence of British cinema William Rose, this remarkably civilized comedy compared to the crude bludgeonings of today may have a second built-in audience beyond auto enthusiasts. This would be … the sports widow. Except in this case, the sport is an annual London-to-Brighton trek on circa 1904 “wheels” when (even then) the cars in question were nearly half-a-century old. The comedy builds slowly and eventually finds its way to the realm of sheer delight.
Extras: Thanks to an unexpectedly vibrant transfer, VCI’s Blu-ray edition really pops my clutch — though as we learn on a look-back featurette that’s included, corporate Rank didn’t like the picture very much until it took the country by storm.
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The Incredible Shrinking Man

Universal, Sci-Fi, $19.98 DVD, NR.
Stars Grant Williams, Randy Stuart, April Kent.
Of all the movies that took a gazillion years or at least a dozen to arrive on DVD, I’ve been puzzled by the MIA status of this Richard Matheson-Jack Arnold collaboration other than in a previously issued boxed set — filled with other sci-fi chillers from the Universal-International ‘50s stable (many fun but not many as first-rate). Given the fan base it has picked up over several decades — including the good folks at the Library of Congress who select all-timers for the National Film registry — Shrinking Man really merits a full-court-press edition with extras instead of this no-frills job, welcome as it is. At one point, its starving lead character is pleased to be munching on basement mousetrap bait, and I kind of feel the same way. Nuclear radiation is the story’s culprit, in this case, a mist that has passed over Grant Williams’ body. Within months, he is looking up at his wife, and it gets worse — and this is the beauty of the movie. Ultimately living in a kid’s dollhouse and later a matchbox, Williams sees ordinary household items we all take for granted become intimidating (pin cushion, paint can) while routine domestic creatures (a now-behemoth spider, housecat-turned-“Simba”) become objects of terror.
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House of Women

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Shirley Knight, Andrew Duggan, Constance Ford, Barbara Nichols.
This burn-on-demand obscurity often is lazily referred to as a remake of Caged, the definitive women’s prison movie, though its only real similarities are a sweet-faced innocent as heroine (Shirley Knight for Eleanor Parker) and Warner Bros. as its home studio. Women’s premise actually has some promise. It’s the only movie of its kind I can think of that exploits the mass maternal instincts of its inmates as a major plot point. This is because — until they’re old enough for adoption — a slew of convict toddlers reside in their own wing, even though a cuckolded male warden, played by Andrew Duggan (at that time, the hardest working man in Warner Bros. show business), is unambiguously vocal about his opposition. The other intriguing plot point is Duggan’s eventual employment of Knight’s character as a domestic in his home, where she may or may not be unwillingly sleeping with him. The movie is kind of cagey about this — though during the climax, she sure seems to know where in his bedroom he keeps a revolver.
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12 Sep, 2011

New on Disc: 'Bill Cunningham New York' and more …

Bill Cunningham New York

Street 9/13
Zeitgeist, Documentary, B.O. $1.49 million, $29.99 DVD, NR.
As tough as it must be fashioning fictional movies that deal with so-called lovable eccentrics who too often cloy, filmmaker Richard Press absolutely hit the mother lode in his deservedly praised documentary about Bill Cunningham, the New York Times’ premier chronicler of fashion trends in the reader magnet “On the Street” column. Director Press says it took him about 10 years to get this documentary on film, eight of which involved just getting Cunningham to do it. In other words, we’re talking about an extremely private person for someone who is otherwise easily spottable out and about zipping around town. The result is a nice dovetail with the recently-in-theaters Page One: Inside the New York Times (this is its equal, in fact), as well as 2009’s The September Issue, which profiled American Vogue editor Anna Wintour.
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The Flim-Flam Man

Available at ww.screenarchives.com
Twilight Time, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars George C. Scott, Michael Sarrazin, Sue Lyon.
A relatively soft-sell comedy trapped in one of the hardest-selling genres of all, this acclaimed sleeper of its day probably helped lead the way to the more heavy-handed rural comedies with Burt Reynolds (usually directed by Hal Needham) that always played to me as if they were aimed at the “wife beater at the drive-in” demographic. As such, the unknowing might not routinely peg FFM as a George C. Scott vehicle — though it boasts one of the actor’s signature performances in a role (it has been said) that he regarded as his personal favorite. The title definitely merits a truth-in-advertising citation, in that William Rose’s script (adapted from a Guy Owen novel) cast the 39-year-old Scott as a 70-ish con artist who travels by train (boxcars to be precise) while earning his living bilking hardware store loiterers in games of chance. The movie’s director was Irvin Kershner — who, despite landing The Empire Strikes Back and 007’s Never Say Never Again relatively late in his career, was typed as a filmmaker known for “good little movies” substantially more quirky than even this one: The Hoodlum Priest, The Luck of Ginger Coffey, Loving and Up the Sandbox.
Extras: Julie Kirgo notes in her booklet essay that you tend to forget about Scott’s extensive old-age makeup after a while — which is not to say that it isn’t a piece of work.
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The Burning Hills

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Western, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Tab Hunter, Natalie Wood, Skip Homeier, Earl Holliman.
It’s just a guess, but we almost have to be talking about the only teen-dream movie ever aimed at the vintage fan magazine demographic that also was based on a Louis L’Amour novel. The picture casts Tab Hunter as a character named Trace (you could almost interchange the names) opposite Natalie Wood. The studio tried to sell the two being-groomed performers as a couple and even teamed them again before the same year was out in The Girl He Left Behind. Playing another “Maria,” Wood tries out her future West Side Story Puerto Rican accent (where it worked a little better) to play the hot and hot-spirited daughter of a Yankee father and Mexican mother who schleps food to Tab/Trace when he’s healing in a cave. This is his reward for having shot and wounded the local land baron, horse thief and employer of professional killers who killed Hunter’s brother.
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5 Sep, 2011

New on Disc: 'An American Family: Anniversary Edition'

An American Family: Anniversary Edition

PBS, Documentary, $24.99 DVD, NR.
By far the biggest wavemaker PBS had ever had up to that time (if not still), 1973’s An American Family chronicled parents-of-five Bill and Pat Loud — an affluent San Diego couple who allowed a film crew to follow them around from late May through New Year’s Eve 1971, punctuated by a Loud divorce in the middle. Of course, this isn’t the real deal but a distillation of a dozen one-hour episodes into a two-hour remembrance. How big was this program at the time? Well, outside of Watergate and probably ’73’s winding down of the Vietnam War, this must have been the op-ed event of the year. Two separate spinoff documentaries emerged with the passage of time. In one obvious way, Family was the granddaddy of today’s so-called “reality TV.” But it wasn’t cast, scripted and generally canned the way those shows are.
Extras: Understandably, there’ll be some who shrug off this release in hopes of someday seeing the full-octane totality (never released officially for the home market), but the bonus interviews here are as compelling as this series overview itself.
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The Atomic City

Olive, Drama, $24.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Gene Barry, Lydia Clarke, Lee Aaker.
This agreeably modest black-and-white espionage thriller is enough of a time capsule — on levels both semi-universal and specific — that its 85 minutes go by with relative ease. The semi-universal level of which we speak (and there was no bigger deal in the early ‘50s) is its portrayal of that magical day when the family’s first TV arrived at the house — back when the medium still was all new and wonderful. The specific time capsule level has to do with where the family lives: Los Alamos, N.M., where the patriarch is a hotshot physicist. As matters evolve, the story’s cast of characters ends up worrying about creeps bent on stealing atomic secrets. They kidnap the physicist’s son, and from this point on, the movie becomes an FBI procedural led by an agent played by Milburn Stone. There’s a lot of material here that must have seemed advanced or at least cool at the time.
The print is clean, and Olive has done another pleasing job of making a vintage Paramount title look the way it used to.
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The Catered Affair

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $19.95 DVD, NR.
Stars Bette Davis, Ernest Borgnine, Debbie Reynolds, Barry Fitzgerald, Rod Taylor.
Gore Vidal penned this screen adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky’s teleplay about the plight of a Bronx Irish-Catholic cab driver and family, first presented the previous year as a Thelma Ritter starrer for “Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse.” Ernest Borgnine plays the cabbie, Bette Davis is the leading lady and Debbie Reynolds plays their daughter, who wants to get married in a simple, cheap ceremony so she and her honey (Rod Taylor) can take the opportunity for an immediately available cross-country honeymoon on wheels. But the Bronx biddies think she’s pregnant, so mom opts for a much more lavish break-the-bank ceremony just as dad wants to invest in a new cab. If you analyze Affair only a little, you discover one sick, twisted movie about a mother living her life through — and against the needs of — a child. The lovely score is by Andre Previn and the cinematography is by Mr. Film Noir himself, John Alton — more indication of the talent budget MGM coffers blew for a film that was never likely to be much of a hit.
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29 Aug, 2011

New on Disc: 'The Killing' and more …

The Killing

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray.
Stars Sterling Hayden, Colleen Gray, Marie Windsor, Elisha Cook Jr.
Aside from a spoon-feeding narration that’s pretty terrible, the worst thing you can say about racetrack caper The Killing is that The Asphalt Jungle (about a jewel robbery going into comparable “crumble” mode) is even better — though not by any humiliating margin. What’s more, it was probably Time’s rave review for Stanley Kubrick’s pennies-pinched feature that put the then unknown director on the road, leading to his second collaboration with Killing producer James B. Harris on Paths of Glory. This is standout noir black-and-white that even makes house lamps dramatic.
The movie’s quasi-Rashomon structure of relating the robbery’s events from different perspectives was lifted from the source novel (Clean Break by Lionel White), so it was rather suspect of Kubrick not to give the great hardboiled writer Jim Thompson more significant on-screen credit for the screenplay when Thompson’s dialogue (which crackles) is what makes the script tick. Thompson scholar Robert Polito (nice on-camera interview here) notes that Kubrick treated Thompson well in other ways — using him, in fact, on Paths of Glory. And because Kubrick, according to Harris, knew just about every movie and character actor around, he made an enormous contribution to The Killing’s brilliant low-budget casting.
Extras: As on Criterion’s previous release of Paths of Glory, producer Harris (who just turned 83) is interviewed here and again exudes a pleasing mix of modesty and detailed recall, especially in recalling how former Look photographer Kubrick and the great cinematographer Lucien Ballard just didn’t get along (because Kubrick told Ballard what he wanted). This new Criterion release of Kubrick’s third feature (though I suppose debut Fear and Desire barely counts) is such a jewel that buried in the bonus extras is, in its entirety, the director’s 1955 second feature Killer’s Kiss. Rounding out this mouth-watering package is a printed essay by film historian Haden Guest, a printed Marie Windsor interview and some on-camera love by critic Geoffrey O’Brien for Killer’s Kiss.
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Baseball Classics: 1956 World Series Game 3

Available now from www.raresportsfilms.com
Rare Sportsfilms, Sports, $29.95 DVD, NR.
The 1956 World Series was history’s final Yankees-Dodgers matchup while the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn. It’s a miracle that we can now even see this game — thanks to a onetime edict that even the Major League Baseball games kinescoped for delayed viewing by armed forces overseas had to be destroyed almost immediately. (The same kind of brain-trust mentality that failed to preserve movies that had been printed on nitrate stock existed in sports as well.) Fewer than 10 baseball telecasts before 1965 (all World Series games) exist in complete or even semi-complete form, and the majority are owned by sniff-them-out archivist and Rare Sportsfilms Inc. founder Doak Ewing. He’s the guy who previously found the Game 5 perfect game pitched by the Yankees’ Don Larsen in this same ’56 Series, which took place on the Monday after this Saturday broadcast. The kinescope quality is about the same on both (i.e. very good).
We’re looking here at the Dodgers in (figurative) Ebbets Field twilight, and we’re also looking at Jackie Robinson in the final week of his career playing on a diamond packed with household names (both teams).
With a notable exception of the 1960 Series Game 7 that was recently discovered in Bing Crosby’s wine cellar, most recent “miracle acquisitions” have been missing some footage; with kinescopes originally mounted on more than one reel, it didn’t take much for one or more of them to get lost during the course of decades. This particular release is missing innings 2 and 3 but nothing else.
The NBC broadcast does include some memorable commercials, such as Yankee first-baseman Bill (Moose) Skowron, who would belt a grand slam in Game 7 of this series, shaving on national television with a Gillette blade with announcing royalty Mel Allen standing next to him at the mirror. There’s also Allen co-announcer Vin Scully demonstrating a nifty new “piggy-back” Papermate pen on live TV.
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In a Better World

Street 8/30/11
Sony Pictures, Drama, Box Office $1 million, $45.99 Blu-ray/DVD combo, ‘R’ for violent and disturbing content, some involving preteens, and for language.
In Danish with English subtitles.
Stars Mikael Persbrandt, Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen, Markus Rygaard, William Johnk Nielsen.

2010. Somewhere in that cavernous region between “compelling enough storytelling” and “were Academy voters smoking too much humanistic weed again?” falls the most recent Oscar winner in the foreign-language category. Directed by Denmark’s back-home Susanne Bier, conceivably licking a few Hollywood wounds after 2007’s congenitally drab Things We Lost in the Fire, it does, however, do a better job than one might expect of balancing one thread (medicinal and other horrors in an African refugee camp) with another (playground terrorism and how it sprouts).

Christian (William Johnk Nielsen) is the new 10-year-old kid at a Danish school. And by the time he’s done, its administrators (who either intentionally or not come off as moderate twits here) probably wish he had stayed in London. Angry with partial cause, Christian has accompanied his father back to Denmark (grandma’s digs are impressive) following the brutally elongated cancer death of his mother – suffering for which he somehow holds his father partly responsible. It is here that he meets the contrastingly un-sullen Elias (Markus Rygaard), a target of schoolyard bullies (one in particular) who seem to be everywhere.

The majority of World’s most powerful scenes — and we get a handful of them in different contexts — deal with how (or if one even does or doesn’t) to stand up to thugs who both they and the audience might at least fantasize about seeing buried alive in someone’s spare lime pit. And, to be sure, the key playground assailant definitely gets his, thanks to Christian stepping in and settling some major hash with serious weaponry in the school’s boys’ room. But Elias’s father Anton (played with spot-on world-weariness by Mikael Persbrandt) is right when he points out to his son that this is how wars start — and working as head doctor in the refugee camp, he knows.

The story turns when this perpetually exhausted physician breaks up a minor scuffle involving young children and combusts the ire of a local auto mechanic, who then slaps the doc around in front of the older boys. What Anton sees every day professionally would immerse this dull-wit in his own upchuck, but the doctor — both in the initial incident and a second encounter — literally turns the other cheek. The boys are shamed (though we’re primarily talking instigator Christian), and decide to take this guy out – or at least his van with a homemade bomb.

The script by veteran Bier collaborator Anders Thomas Jensen is fairly schematic, which is one of its limitations: a father who saves lives, sometimes of people who don’t deserve it, is ground down by his son’s falling in with someone who wants to break the knees of anyone who does him wrong. Still, the plentiful African scenes could have proved a major distraction from the story’s main event in a lot of movies — but in this case, doesn’t. Anton’s encounter with a sub-human warlord despot (played by an actor who could have given Forest Whitaker a run for his money playing Idi Amin) synchs up with what’s going on at home — and if this, too, is schematic, it culminates in a powerful scene that plays out the way it should.

There are even more subplots, including one involving the turmoil suffered by Elias’s mother, also a doctor). But they, too, seem to fit into the fabric of a movie that seems to lose its way in the final going — probably because the wrap-up seems too neat and clean by more than half in a cozy way that has historically appealed to Oscar orchestrators. And speaking of orchestration, World has one of those pound-it-home musical scores that provide the soil from which a movie’s detractors are bound to sprout. You remember the “101 Strings” franchise? This is more like 501 and may offer a test of how much you can submerge your own tendencies toward retaliatory violence.

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