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Friday, May 25, 2018

'I Confess' Blu-ray: Hitchcock Drama of Priest Paying for the Sins of Others

Warner Archive combines its best elements in the Blu-ray release of the 1953 Hitchcock drama "I Confess." This Montgomery Clift-Anne Baxter tale of a priest who is a prime suspect of a murder for which the killer confesses to him is a lesser-known classic and ties into the more recent Archive release of the (reviewed) Hitchcock film "The Wrong Man" because Hitchcock identifies both as his favorites of his films. "Confess" additionally masterfully reproduces a beautifully shot black-and-white film. The typical cherry on the sundae is a few high-quality bonus features. In other words, Archive outshines an arrogant (and grossly overpriced) purveyor who releases films that meet the criterion of that company.

Justifiable arrogance regarding "Confess" starts with feeling that Hitchcock is adopting the style of the French New Wave filmmakers and then seeing a comment in the "making-of" special features sharing that that film is a favorite of those Europeans for that reason. The basis for this observation is the copious imagery and excellent use of the contrast between black and white (which looks perfect in Blu-ray). An example of this is Father Michael Logan (Clift) walking past sculptures of soldiers forcing a bent-over Christ to carry his cross to his crucifixion.

This technique (and the strong noir element of "Confess") is clear from the opening scenes. The film opens on a dark night and begins with a series of shots of one-way street signs in Quebec.

The audience quickly learns of the aforementioned killing, and we see a wolf in priest's clothing seemingly flee the scene. This leads to Logan investigating on seeing the man in black enter his church.

More terrific imagery and symbolism follows as WWII German refugee Otto Keller confesses both to his wife Alma Keller and to Logan. The insult that is added to the central injury relates to Logan having taken in the Kellers and allowed them to live with some dignity in the post-war period.

The rookie mistake of Logan that enhances the scrutiny of investigating officer Inspector Larrue (Karl Malden) is returning to the scene of the crime the next morning. The bigger picture is that this reflects the Hitchcock leitmotif of the scary ease with which an innocent man or woman can get caught up in the system.

The Hitchcock blonde this time is Anne Baxter of "All About Eve." Her innocent/femme fatale Ruth Grandfort is the former lover of Logan and the current wife of a prominent politician. The murder victim being a man who knew too much regarding this triangle contributes to putting a nail in the coffin of Logan.

The suspense escalates to the point of Logan being tried for the murder while Otto essentially sits knitting away in his catbird seat at the trial. Clift puts his method acting technique to good use depicting the Christ-like anguish of watching the evidence pile up against him while the nature of confession ties his hands.

While lesser filmmakers would end their projects with the reactions of the principals on the reading of verdict in the trial of Logan, Hitchcock validates the basis for his reputation as Hollywood royalty. Logan is subjected to a virtual stoning by the outraged masses and finds himself in a final confrontation that truly tests his faith.

The bigger picture (pun intended) is that Hitchcock greatly emulates his actual peer Orson Welles. This comparison extends beyond the New Wave style of filming in black-and-white in this CinemaScope era. Hitchcock and Welles share a similar sensibility of the nature of  post-war Germans. The related broad messages are that living under the rule of Hitler affects everyone and that the true nature of all of us ultimately emerges for better or worse. Throwing in commentary on the Catholic Church contributes more food for thought.

The other Blu-ray features are fun newsreel footage of the Quebec premiere of "Confess" and the theatrical trailer of the film.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Confess" is strongly encouraged either to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

'The Gay Bride' DVD: Gold Digger Carole Lombard Finds that Marrying for Mob Money Does Not Pay

The Warner Archive April 4, 2018 DVD release of the 1934 Carole Lombard screwball comedy "The Gay Bride" proves both that funny is eternally funny and that everyone has his or her price. The fairy tale relates to choosing the pauper over the loaded crime prince.

Lombard stars as the titular "doll" who marries speak easy owning "guy" William T. "Shootz" Magis in the wake of the repeal of Prohibition. His other challenges include a rival gang and an underling separately acting to move him six feet under the ground.

Mary does not meet Shootz on walking into his bathtub gin joint or while working as a waitress in a cocktail bar; she is a chorus girl in a theater that a friend of Shootz owns. This leads to her using her fatale wiles to snare the wiseguy of her dreams.

An amusing aspect of this variation of a shotgun wedding is that Tommy guns play a role in Mary becoming a runaway bride effectively straight to the bank. This flight throws her into the car (but not the arms) of bodyguard/accountant/aspiring grease monkey Jimmie "Office Boy" Burnham (Chester Morris). Our not-so-blushing bride immediately blatantly showing her true colors clearly demonstrates that Office Boy he is not the only one willing to screw his boss for the right price.

The next bit of hilarity occurs during the wedding night. Mary goes to great lengths to ensure that she has adequate protection before consummating her marriage. A spoiler is that she later learns that the devil is in the details.

The next portion of the film amusingly has Mary taking Shootz for more than he is worth; this fleecing includes a heavy sucker tax. For his part, Office Boy knows the score but an't sayin' nothin'.

Drama follows trauma regarding Mary getting a chance to trade up; at the same time, she feels an increasing desire to give at the office.

This leads to general mayhem as Mary tries to use ill-gotten gains to do good without trading in her designer footwear for cement shoes. This effort to go straight requires Office Boy to choose teams and to avoid becoming a soprano.

Of course, all works out relatively well for our made men and our woman on the make.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Bride" is strongly encouraged either to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

'Marx Reloaded' DVD: Red v. Blue

Icarus Films furthers its manifesto to make "innovative" documentaries available to the masses with the May 1, 2018 (a.k.a. May Day) DVD release of the 2011 documentary "Marx Reloaded." The significance of this date includes it being the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx. This exploration of the theories of Marx and their relevance to our current economic crisis includes analysis of the viability of capitalism.

The further relevance of the "Reloaded" release is that it coincides with the Icarus epic 3-disc DVD release of "Capitalism." This look at that system extends from the present day to the era before 18th century economics god Adam Smith. The comprehensiveness of this series includes explaining the true nature of capitalism and its evolution.

"Reloaded" is almost pure cinema verite in that fillmmaker/literal voice of Marx Jason Barker turns his camera on the best brains in the world of economics and lets them have their say. These folks nicely dumb things down to the level of a high school class on the subject. The nifty animated segments that feature Marx as Alice of Wonderland fame help in that regard.

The crash course in Marxism includes his general tenet that capitalism relies on exploiting the working class. This relates to the ability of the fat cats to make money depending on profiting from paying people less than the full value of their labor. This, in turn, leads to a discussion on the tricky issue of determining the actual value of anything.

The study of value includes a fascinating discussion on commodities and their relationship with fetishism and prostitution. The bottled water industry is a provided modern example of this.

An especially fun segment has the aforementioned talking heads share their thoughts regarding their preference for capitalism or communism. As expected, their answers fall along party lines. It also relates to the best shot in "Reloaded" that has a 20-something man drinking Coke outside a shrine to communism.

Wonderful comeuppance is delivered via showing that many current Marxists only know a portion of the story. We additionally learn that a third philosophy is more crucial to economic and actual survival than either capitalism or Marxism.

A fun DVD bonus is a fast-paced animated six-minute short titled "Marx for Beginners." This equal homage to Marx and Monty Python explains the key principles that "Reloaded" analyzes in great depth.

The opportunities for capitalists to acquire "Reloaded" in DVD or digital form include the Icarus website.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Reloaded" is encouraged either to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

'Thank God It's Friday' Blu-ray: That '70s Night at the Disco Classic Featuring Donna Summer Oscar-Winning Song

Groovy Mill Creek Entertainment celebrates prom season with the May 1, 2018 Blu-ray release of the 1978 musical-comedy "Thank God It's Friday." This funky tale of the adventures of diverse characters during one night at The Zoo disco in California is a classic example of the 1976 film "Car Wash" style "day in the life" vignette comedies of the '70s. "Friday" starring celluloid heroes who range from some that you recognize to some that you hardly ever heard of is equally typical of this sub-genre of film. Jeff Goldblum appearing with Debra Winger and Valerie Landsburg reflects this casting.

Goldblum plays Zookeeper/owner Tony DeMarco who repeatedly gets the comeuppance that audiences love regarding outrageously arrogant egotists such as this playa. He begins his evening carefully parking and covering his prize Porsche. He then enters his domain in which he stocks his personal petting zoo with the disco bunnies who frequent the club.

The patrons that night include suburban types Sue (character actress Andrea Howard) and Dave (veteran character actor Mark Lonow), who are celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary. Dave wants to end his evening with a cozy night at home, but Sue has a strong desire to experience the night life and to boogie. A hilarious scene in which an innocent bystander feels the brunt of their debate is a highlight of "Friday."

Of course, Sue wins out. Their initial hours being jostled and otherwise intruded on devolve to Sue catching the eye of a persistent DeMarco and Dave taking a trip with a Valley Girl of the Dolls. The underlying "Love Boat" style plot regarding this pair is the extent to which Sue will act on the her five-year itch and if Dave will be moving to a depressing divorced guy apartment building.

Landsburg, who is best known for her roles on the television series versions of "Fame" and "Hotel," plays one of a pair of high-school girls who sneak into the club. Landsburg's Frannie mostly is there to compete in the $200 dance contest for which The Commodores are providing live music.

Much of the comedy of the film revolves around The Commodores initially not showing up and then making the scene while their instruments are somewhere en route. This endangers the career of a radio DJ whose big break is consisting of broadcasting live from the club with the concert being the grande finale to the evening if it goes off and to the career of the DJ if it does not. The misadventures of the roadie trying to reach the club contributes further comic mayhem.

The final notable subplot has Disco Queen Donna Summer play aspiring singer Nicole, who sneaks her way to the boys in the band (and the booth) as her first step toward becoming an American Idol. The real life success of  Summer
 regarding "Friday" is that she wins an Oscar for performing "Last Dance."

Folks familiar with the entertaining formula know the aforementioned loverboys (and girls) who are working for the weekend and going off the deep end in pursuit of new romance and other pleasures have a night to remember that involves each other and their fellow sufferers (including two nerdy college boys out to get some) to various degrees. Even those are no happier when the lights come on at closing time when they can't stay there at least are a little wiser.

The bigger picture is that "Friday" is timeless both in clearly representing a unique era in American history and presenting issues that pre and post-date the film for centuries.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Friday" is strongly encouraged either to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

'Six L.A. Love Stories' DVD & VOD: Ghosts of Loves Past, Present, Future, and Future Past

The recent Gasoline Films DVD and VOD releases of the 2016 short stories dramedy "Six L.A. Love Stories" nicely resurrects the art house indie film genre of vignettes with a common theme or other connection. In this case, we get the titular sextet of tales about couples at various stages of relationships interacting in separate locations during the same afternoon in Los Angeles.

Producer/writer/director Michael Dunaway also is the producer of the exceptionally good (reviewed) documentary 21 Years: Richard Linklater.

Warranted praise for "Six" includes that each story has a strong live-stage vibe. More formal accolades include the awards for Best Feature, Best Actor, and Best Director at the 2016 Williamsburg Independent Film Festival.

The following YouTube clip of the official trailer for "Six" nicely conveys the spirit of this film about 21st century relationships in a city in which virtually everyone considers himself or herself God's gift to both sexes.

"Six" opens on a very L.A. note with Ross Partridge of "Stranger Things" harassing an uptight and stressed out fellow guest at a pool party. The entertainment extends beyond this pair being an odd couple to Partridge's Wes Ellis stating plausibly odd things about other people at the event.

We next get Matthew Lillard (a.k.a. live-action Shaggy) as a character who comes home early to find his wife in bed with another man. This couple with issues spends their portion of the film hashing things out in the bedroom. Every man can relate to the Lillard character being concerned with whether his rival is bigger than him; the reveal near the end of the film provides an interesting twist.

A particularly fun story has always entertainingly quirky Stephen Tobolowsky play a professor having hostile exchanges with a tour guide (Beth Grant) at a Will Rogers historic site. He speaks for all of us who have ever experienced a rigidly conducted tour.

"And the rest" consists of a woman and her ex-husband revisiting old territory while deciding where to send their daughter to school, a successful woman calling her aspiring screenwriter ex-boyfriend on his unwarranted arrogance and related habit of being his own worst enemy, and a lesbian couple unexpectedly reuniting at an open mic afternoon in which the participants perform monologues.

At the heart of things, Dunaway presents believable stories that reflect the human condition. This includes old feelings that remain after love turns to at least indifference, a reluctance to give up on a long-term relationship, and the fact that you sometimes still must deal with your ex. The bigger truth is that we all have personality flaws that the enhanced egos of the majority of Los Angeles residents exacerbate with a proportional impact on the folks who bear the brunt of that 'tude.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Six" is strongly encouraged either to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Norman Rockwell Museum Exhibit of Pulp Fiction Artist Gloria Stoll Karn Gives That Genre Royale Treatment

The most recent exhibit at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts goes back even further than the '60s and '70s animation of Saturday morning gods Joseph Hanna and William Barbera and the '50s through the '80s art of Pop Art deity Andy Warhol that has recently graced the walls of this shrine to Mr. Americana. "Gloria Stoll Karn: Pulp Romance" literally hangs the work of this dime-store magazine illustrator on the other sides of the walls of a exhibit of the 21st century art of Tony Diterlizzi of The Spiderwick Chronicles fame.

The common element of these exhibitions beyond all of them being worth a drive to the scenic Berkshires is that they are part of the Rockwell mission to promote the art of American illustrators. The ticking clock regarding the Karn exhibit is that it closes on June 10, 2018 to make way for the summer self-explanatory offering "Keepers of the Flame: Parrish, Wyeth, Rockwell, and the Narrative Tradition" (OH MY!).

An tour of  the Karn presentation that is the work of Deputy Director/Chief Curator Stephanie Plunkett by charming and knowledgeable Rockwell curator/exhibitionist Jesse Kowalski was the focus of a recent trip to this very Vermonty region of The Bay State. Two nights at the nearby Red Lion Inn (read all about it) made this journey especially terrific.

Kowalski stated that the exhibit is doing very well and noted that a group from central New York visited the museum just to see it. Personally tagging along with a group of grade schoolers was great fun, but there is no need to share who among us did not meet the ideal of sitting entirely quiet and fully focusing on the member of the Rockwell education staff conducting the tour.

The vibrant reds and yellows that are Karn trademarks MUST be seen in person to be fully appreciated. The same is true regarding the incredible attention to detail that makes this work even more lifelike than the paintings of the dude for whom the building is named.

The below images provide an incomplete sense of this talent. Professional and aspiring artists will note that the rare ability of Karn to draw hands allows her to avoid the cheap trick of hiding them in pockets and otherwise out of the picture.

The follow up was a delightful hour-long telephone conversation with 94 year-old Karn, who is as sharp as she was back in the day.

Art Royalty From Queens

The Bromx tale of Karn begins with her being born in that borough before her parents move to the Sunnyside neighborhood of Queens. While living in Archie Bunker territory, Karn became one of the first ever students at the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts of "Fame" fame. Her memories of those days include fellow students jamming on the otherwise empty subway when they left school at 3:00 p.m. each day.

Karn recalled seeing a photo of Jackie Kennedy and the kids by classmate Lawrence Schiller when Karn attended a concert at Carnegie Hall decades after they graduated. This proved the truth of the classic punchline that the way to get to Carnegie Hall is to practice.

One Day At A Time

The amazing story of Karn breaking into a man's world when she was in her '20s during the '40s began with literal housekeeping. Her mother agreeing with Oprah that clutter should not be allowed to accumulate prompted recent high school graduate/current insurance company file clerk Karn to attempt to burn the portfolio of her artwork. The portfolio not fitting in the chute that led to the incinerator prompted Karn to leave it on a pile of newspapers that were due to be directly placed in that inferno.

The building superintendent subsequently meddled in a fully Schneider manner by giving tenant/pulp cover artist Rafael DeSoto (for whom the superintendent modeled) the portfolio. The positive response of DeSoto brought the superintendent to the door of Karn with an introduction to meet DeSoto.

Karn recalled the pulp magazine publisher stating "I've seen worse" when first shown her work. This led to regular assignments during the rest of the career of the pulp cover art career of Karn.

Cover Girl

The first amusing aspect of her work that Karn discussed was that she and the other artists never were provided the stories for which they created the art. They merely received general guidance and would submit roughly three pieces for consideration. The related funny story is that Karn often would resubmit the rejected art until it was selected for another cover.

The divulged secrets of the trade were that each illustration would take roughly 3 days. Karn further described the work as "almost like a formula" that included "a pretty girl and a handsome guy." The shortcuts included changing hair color.

Rangeland Romance seemed to be the magazine for which Karn (who has a particular talent for drawing dreamy cowboys) seemed to most enjoy working. She recalled that the guidelines for covers for that publication included that it had to have something to do with horses.

Karn shared as well that she used the superintendent as a model. She described him as "very thin, wiry, tall and strong." She additionally stated that she once drew him holding a chair over her head. Kowalski stated that Karn would draw from live models in contrast to Rockwell photographing his models and using those images when painting.

Kowalski added that Karen based her work on either herself or her friends. He further explained that she used bright colors to help her covers stand out among the large numbers of magazines that newsstands and other outlets displayed.

One sad aspect of this important bit of Americana was Karn saying "we never signed out art work and never got credit."

Karn continued painting covers until she and her husband (more below) moved to her current home of Pittsburgh in 1949 when he got a job with a mining company; she noted that sending her art to New York in a manner that it arrived unharmed was more than a minor inconvenience.

Meeting Prince Charming

The immense appeal of Karn includes her lively sense of the "good old days." This related to liking that everyone was polite and dressed neatly and men wore fedoras in this era before the world went pop and the safety dance became popular. This awesomely related to her fairy tale marriage with her prince.

Karn told the story of her mother often telling her about the handsome well-dressed man in their building. This gallant gent always smiled and held the door open for Mrs. Stoll.

This led to DeSoto once again being a guardian angel for Karn. She and her mother were at a party in the apartment of that artist when her mother pointed out that the fedora-wearing dreamboat who had just entered was the man about whom she had been speaking. This led to actual love at first sight.

The adoration by Karn included her husband being "very handsome" and modest regarding his good looks.

Heeding the Call

The manner in which the Rockwell exhibit of Karn came to be further proves the value of being good and kind. Kowalski shared that a neighbor of Karn called to inquire about showing the pulp fiction art at the museum. Subsequently looking at that work, speaking with Karn, and then visiting with her prompted Plunkett to green light the exhibit.

Kowalski added that "the field of illustration in the early 20th century was dominated by men, especially in the pulp fiction magazine field, so it made sense to show the work of someone who stands out in the field."

Karn stated that she and Rockwell never directly spoke. She did attend a lecture that he gave at a Society of Illustrators event in New York. She noted that "he was wearing a well-worn tweed coat that was very typical of Norman Rockwell." She added that she did not know if he was wearing a hat because she did not see him arrive or leave.

Kowalski noted that one difference between the artists was that Karn got most of her art back and kept the bulk of it with the exception of her work for horror magazines, which was not her preferred genre. Conversely, Rockwell allowed The Saturday Evening Post to keep the covers that he drew for that publication.

The Deal of the Art 

The work of both Rockwell and Karn reflect an important era in an American history in a manner to which literally everyone can relate. This is the last time that we were not violently divided along age, gender, class, race, or ideological lines.

The Rockwell deserves tremendous credit and support for providing an opportunity to properly experience this art by seeing it in person. The way cool gift shop is a bonus.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding this article is encouraged either to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

'Entre Nos' DVD: Standing by Man Lands Colombian Woman Abandoned in NYC With Children

Aptly named Indiepix Films continues its fine tradition of monthly film festivals centered around a leitmotif with three April 17, 2018 DVD releases of art house movies centered around recent immigrants experiencing challenging new lives in their strange new world.

The previously reviewed "That Girl in Yellow Boots" chronicles the trauma of an English-born 20-something woman working at a sleazy massage parlor in India to finance her search for her father. The Indonesian film "Jermal" finds a 12 year-old boy stuck living on a floating fishing platform with his unloving father.

The 2009 U.S. drama "Entre Nos" brings things closer to home on a few levels. Writer-director-star Paola Mendoza plays mother Mariana in this fictionalized account of Mendoza moving to New York City as a young girl.

The following YouTube video of the dialog-free trailer for "Entre Nos" provides a strong sense of the life of the family.

"Entre" opens with the central Colombian family living a modest but generally happy life in a small but decent apartment in New York a few months after Mariana moves her roughly six year-old daughter Andrea and approximately 10 year-old son Gabriel (a very charming Sebastian Villada) from Colombia to join husband Antonio. Antonio is in New York because of a seemingly incurable wanderlust.

The catalyst for the primary action of "Entre" is Antonio announcing out of the blue that he is moving to Miami; the rest of the story is that he is leaving his family behind but allegedly is going send for them once he gets settled and saves some money.

Things turn dire as Mariana soon discovers that she is left with very little money to support her and her children and that Antonio seems to have fully abandoned his family. An added insult to this injury is that Mariana leaves a good life in Colombia behind to move to New York to literally and figuratively stand by her man.

As is the typically so in real and reel stories of this nature, Mariana initially has hope of maintaining a decent standard of living only to have that dissolve. Her efforts to sell her tasty homemade empanadas fail, she finds herself unemployable even for illegal labor at a sweatshop, and the family finds itself literally living on the street without any warning. The consequences of a bundle that Antonio leaves behind does not help matters.

"Entre" expertly putting a very human face on the intertwined numerous timely issues of the struggles of recent immigrants in the U.S., of husbands abandoning their families, and of homelessness earns the many festival awards that it has to its name. Virtually all of us who always have had a comfortable home and have never faced the prospect of sleeping on a park bench never think about the folks pushing grocery carts full of cans or assertively selling street food sans a truck.

This impact includes the feelings that particularly Mariana and Gabriel prompt genuine interest in the "where are they now" portion of "Entre." Mendoza supplements this with information on the plight of folks like this family and provides a website for folks who want to know more.

The DVD includes the documentary "Still Standing" by Mendoza. This one shows her coming to help after Hurricane Katrina literally flattens the home of her grandmother. Like "Entre," family and a place to call home are primary themes.

Other special features include a lesson on how to make empanadas and a separate presentation that is a PSA on immigration reform.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Entre" is encouraged either to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

'House of Evil' DVD: The Amityville Adjacent Horror

The Breaking Glass Pictures May 8, 2018 DVD release of the 2017 indie horror film "House of Evil" provides a good chance to see one of the most nostalgically retro movies to come along in a while.

This fact-based tale of a young couple moving into into a bargain-priced house with a history being straight out of '70s sensation "The Amityville Horror" is only the tip of the iceberg. "House" also channels a 1968 horror classic, and the retro look of the film extends to a VW van of the type that knockin' is unwelcome when it is rockin'. For the fun of it, we will call the couple Sonny and Cher.

"Evil" also borrows from the more modern horror classic "The Sixth Sense" in having eerie figures dart around in a creepy dark house. This is not to mention the things that literally go bump in the night.

All of these films owe Alfred Hitchcock an ENORMOUS debt. This genius is credited with realizing that horror is more terrifying if the setting is from our daily lives, rather than the creepy mansion on the outskirts of town.

Sonny is a photographer and Cher is a painter; their reasons for buying a large country house include a desire to start a family. The roach infestation that they discover on moving in is the least creepy indication that something is amiss.

Much of the terror is psychological in that the spirit of the house and of the former occupants seems to occupy our couple. This is particularly true regarding Sonny, whose time in his basement darkroom seems to increase in direct proportion to his mood becoming dark.

Both the hold of the house and the nature of a master plan become very apparent near the end of the film. The positive way of looking at this is that the general idea of having a role in an important undertaking can be flattering.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Evil" is strongly encouraged either to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Friday, May 18, 2018

'Drama 4 in 1 Collection-John Travolta' Blu-ray: Diverse Films Are The Ones That You Want

Mill Creek Entertainment further shows its increasing cult-oriented diversity with the 2-disc May 1, 2018 Blu-ray release of "Drama 4 in 1 Collection-John Travolta." These films mostly from the early 2000s resurrection of the career of the star of "Saturday Night Fever," Grease," and "Pulp Fiction" include marathon-worthy quirky films.

"A Love Song For Bobby Long" (2004) is a good starting point because it arguably is the least-known of the four films and inarguably is the most entertainingly bizarre. Jersey boy Travolta stars in this character study of the titular stereotypical grey-haired Southern Gothic alcoholic washed-up womanizing former acclaimed literature professor. His current disgrace includes living in a squalor in a crumbling New Orleans house with former worshiping student/current cranky nursemaid Lawson Pines. Former castmate of fresh-off-the-boat royal Meghan Markle Garbriel Macht plays Pines.

Much of the action revolves around young free-spirit/future trainwreck Pursy Will (Scarlett Johansson) moving in with the boys on inheriting a share of their home. Her not-so-surprising history with Long that is revealed near the end of the film makes his behavior on her joining the group really creepy.

Seeing Travolta play both his true age and a Southern is unintentionally amusing. The bigger picture is that this imitation of a Tennessee Williams plays offers a fun change of pace regarding both the Creek collection and most films in general.

The period piece noir film "Lonely Hearts" (2006) is the second most odd movie in the collection. Travolta plays truer to form in his role as washed-up New York homicide detective Elmer Robinson. Seeing famous wiseguy portrayor James Gandolfini cross over to the other side of law enforcement to play past and future Robinson partner Charles Hilberbrandt is even more terrifically unusual.

This moderatelyboiled tale has Hilberbrandt recruiting Robinson back into the game from his voluntary exile to a desk job in the wake of significant trauma. The impetus for this rebirth is the apparent suicide of a single woman who lacks any clear motive for ending her life.

The evidence soon points the boys in plainclothes in the direction of awesomely tortured psychotic Ray Fernandez (Jared Leto), who is one of the "Lonely Hearts Killers." His partner in breaking hearts and skulls is equally twisted "sister" Martha Beck (Selma Hayek), who stands by her man and eliminates any competition for his affection with extreme prejudice. Watching them prey on the lonely provides awesome perverse fun.

The recommended third film in this Travoltafest is the better-known "Basic" (2003). The washed-up alcoholic whom Travolta plays this time is former Army ranger/current disgraced DEA agent Thomas Hardy. He is living in squalor in Panama awaiting the outcome of a DEA bribery investigation when Army buddy Styles (Tim Daly) calls him in to help with a ticking clock investigation of the mayhem and bloodshed related to an incident during a jungle training exercise in the middle of a hurricane.

The drama includes the death of a hated sergeant, the conflicting stories of soldiers who do not adhere to the "Band of Brothers" mentality (or to no man left behind), illegal activity, and a gay soldier whom Hardy aptly notes does not receive the benefit of the "don't ask don't tell" policy of the day.

"Basic" does not have a dull moment and includes mostly sublime reveals with great surprises at the end.

"Perfect" (1985) aptly is the ideal choice for the last film in this marathon. Initially, it wonderfully represents the Travolta films of the '80s that include "Urban Cowboy" and "Two of a Kind." It additionally allows Millennials a good chance to see what they missed by not living through the "Me" decade. A fun aspect of this is having a soft rock star being so vain as to play herself in a cameo.

Travolta plays hard-news "Rolling Stones" reporter Adam, whose current priority is a story on a criminal trial of a reclusive computer company owner. Part of the deal for traveling from New York to Los Angeles for that story is simultaneously writing a softer story on how health clubs are the single bars of the '80s. One spoiler is that the men are even blonder, buffer, tanner, and have better hair than the women. The one surprise is that all of these Adonises have no interest in each other beyond gangbanging "the most used piece of equipment in the club."

Jamie Lee Curtis fills in for Olivia Newton John as former champion swimmer/current aerobics instructor/love interest Jessie. Her conflict with Adam relates to trust regarding his story not making her and her co-workers look bad. Of course, there are wacky misunderstandings that lead to traumatic confrontations that awesomely relate to true lies and anything but love.

The common thread that makes these films great is the camp factor related not only to Travolta perfectly playing a meathead but both character and actor seemingly being unaware of that aspect of reel and real life.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Collection" is encouraged to email me; you also can connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

'The Last Horsemen of New York' Theatrical & VOD: Mr. Edifying Documentary on Battle Over Horse-drawn Carriages in Central Park

The Freestyle Digital Media May 11, 2018 theatrical release (and more recent VOD release) of the Mary Haverstick documentary "The Last Horsemen of New York" sheds light on the ongoing efforts of New York City mayor Bill deBlasio to fulfill his vehement campaign promise to ban horse-drawn carriages in Central Park.

The notes regarding this review relate to the nature of any documentary. It is important to remember that even propaganda that supports your side still is propaganda. It is equally important to remember that there is your view, the view of the other guy, and the truth.

The following YouTube clip of the "Horsemen" trailer terrifically capture the passion associated with the controversy.

The groups with known horses in the race are the owners and operators of the carriages and the group called NYClass that is organizing the effort to get the city council to pass the ban. The asserted basis for this campaign is that the horses are abused and work in an industry that is dangerous for them. An element of this is that it is highly probable that the involvement of at least the rank-and-file members reflects a sincere concern for the horses.

"Horsemen" showing that real estate developer/NYClass founder Steve Nislick has a horse in the race provides the main basis for the thesis of the film. This assertion is that Nislick is using the animal cruelty argument as a pretense for closing down the stables on prime Manhattan real estate that Nislick could greatly profit from developing. Neither Nislick nor any other representative of NYClass provides an interview for "Horsemen." The probable reasons are either that they were not invited or declined to participate out of a concern that Haverstick would inaccurately portray their statements.

The "straight from the horse's mouth" information comes from carriage operators Christina Hansen and Stephen Malone. Their denials of any mistreatment of the animals seem credible. Further, the horses seem content and in stable condition.

The star power comes via Liam Neeson, who is on the side of the operators. We see that his support extends to requesting that interviews on late-night talk shows include that topic.

The bigger and more dramatic picture relates to the apparent connection between the carriage trade and the 2013 mayoral election. Then-candidate Christine Quinn provides Haverstick her side of the story and produces an apparent smoking gun that shows that Nislick conditions his support of a candidate in that race on supporting the ban. de Blasio running on an (as yet unfulfilled) promise to ban the carriages on entering the office suggest that he succumbed to the nagging by the developer.

A strong indication of the propaganda aspect of "Horsemen" comes via footage of a New York City Council session in which that group hears testimony related to the ban. We see members of the staff of deBlasio unable to satisfactorily answer questions related to the issue. At the same time, we do not see proponents of the ban score any points. The nature of these proceedings is such that they almost never are as one-sided as indicated in this scene.

The objective viewpoint regarding all this is that NYClass is making apparently adequately credible assetrtions of animal abuse to have a legion of impassioned followers, and the carriage operators are just as vehemently denying these claims. Haverstick not presenting any tangible proof of horses being harmed either is attributable to there not being any or to her not presenting that side of the story. As in all things, folks who remain on the fence are best served further investigating the matter.

The even bigger picture reflects the value of "Horsemen." Presenting the topic in an interesting and compelling manner shines a spotlight on it and encourages right-thinking folks to conduct the aforementioned research.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Horseman" is strongly encouraged to email me; you also can connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

'I Am the Blues' DVD: Documentary Exploring Origins of Roots Music

Indie foreign and domestic movie deity Film Movement awesomely inadvertently takes a page from the Unreal TV playbook regarding the Movement DVD release of the 2015 documentary "I Am the Blues." Just as Unreal TV strives to help keep "TV Land" shows alive in the public consciousness, "Blues" documents the music and the stories of the members (who are in their 80s) of the genuine blue men groups before they pass away.

One of the many, many, many, musicians who participate in this labor of love by writer/director Daniel Cross hits the nail on the head in commenting that the hardships of the young guys of today do not compare to the experiences of the old-timers whose experiences come through in the titular form of music. A prime example of this is a lyric that begins on the happy note of a doctor slapping a newborn to get the infant to breathe and transitions to the baby dying soon after.

The above sentiment comes through loud and clear in the following YouTube clip of a festival trailer for "Blues."

The star of this film is Bobby Rush, who provides a tour of the juke joints and other venues for the blues. This region in the South is nicknamed the Chitlin' Circuit in recognition of the food-based payment that many musicians received. One man discussing his payment beginning with a hamburger each for him and his band, increasing to a surplus of burgers, and ultimately reaching $2/night shows both the variation of this payment-in-kind and two ways of increasing the compensation.

Greater historical context comes in the form of the widespread open segregation of the South during the first-half of the 20th century. One story that involves a venue requiring the band to play behind a curtain is a concrete example of the well-known attitude of many white people of the day that they want to hear the blues but do not want to see the musicians who play them.

Aspects of the related poverty of most black people during this era include tales of working in the cotton field and also of one musician making his first instruments largely out of discarded junk. This reinforces the theme of the blues that with great deprivation comes great soulful expression.

We also hear from a couple of blueswomen, who include Barbara Lynn. Her best story is of her fellow musicians beginning to call her mother by the same term of endearment that Lynn calls the woman who brought her into the world. The ladies also regale us with a song that is based on what is known to be a one-night stand before the night ends.

As stated above, the story of these true American idols and their music is an important (and oft-overlooked) part of American heritage. Rock and other popular forms of music would be far different without the blues. Cross helps keep that alive through his film in the same manner that Unreal TV does what it can to remind folks that television has much more to offer than reality shows.

The DVD bonus feature is 30 minutes of additional footage.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Blues" is strongly encouraged to email me; you also can connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

'that girl in yellow Boots' DVD: 20-something Immigrant Masseuse Provides 'Handshake' in Search of Happy Ending

The timely leitmotif of the Indiepix Festival Favorites Volume 5 from Indiepix Films is the plight of downtrodden immigrants. The first of these three separate April 17, 2018 DVD releases is the 2010 drama "that girl in yellow Boots." The other two (to-be-reviewed) films are "Entre Nos" (2009) about a Colombian woman facing desperation in New York, and "Jermal" about a boy struggling with his tough life in a new environment.

"Boots" centers around hardened 20-something English woman Ruth Edscer, whose search for the Indian father who abandons her at a tender age results in living an impoverished existence in Mumbai. Giving massages in an unlicensed parlor pays the rent; offering customers a "handshake" for an additional fee provides the funds needed to locate the man who deserts his family after a tragedy.

This highly feminist film is realistic in depicting every man in the life of Ruth as a villain and/or weak and is less realistic in not showing anyone whose reproductive organs are on the outside as having any positive characteristics. Conversely, every woman is a sympathetic character.

The most toxic man in the life of Ruth is her boyfriend Prashant, who is a weak-willed drug addict. His begging for sex and whining when provided a "handshake" initially establish him as a not-so-great catch.

A scheme of Prashant going awry creates further problems for Ruth in that it brings very rough trade to her door looking for a few forms of compensation. This prompts Prashant to attempt a form of rehab that robs him of the little dignity that he possesses.

Other interaction with a customer triggers a childhood memory that creates workplace turmoil that (of course) makes the man look foolish. Fairness requires stating that this scene depicts how many men view casual sexual interaction.

The worlds of Ruth further collide when learning more about her father shows that he is what can only be described as a sick fuck. This understandably sends this girl on a quest into a tailspin.

This being neither a Hollywood nor a Bollywood film results in the end being a far cry from a tearful family reunion in which father and daughter board a plane to reunite with mother. Rather than trying to make the audience feel good, "Boots" is wonderful cautionary tale about a mother facilitating a man being a father figure.

The bonus feature include a Q & A with director Anurag Kashyap and the theatrical trailer.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Boots" is encouraged either to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Monday, May 14, 2018

'The Black Scorpion' BD: Mexican Standoff With Killer Arachnids

The Warner Archive March 20, 2018 Blu-ray release of the 1957 horror film "The Black Scorpion" offers great nostalgic fun for folks who (depending on their age) spent Saturday afternoons watching these creature movies either in the theater or on television. One difference is that the crystal-clear Blu-ray version looks far better than either of the earlier formats.

"Scorpion" hits all the genre highlights of an absurd premise, cheesy stop-motion animation and laughable models, and community theater grade acting. Of course, all that is what makes these films so fun. Further, they truly do not make 'em like that anymore.

A more cerebral perspective is that this Atomic Age production reflects the paranoia of the era regarding radiation. We do not know when the big one will hit or the catastrophic effects of such a detonation. A cool twist this time is that scorpions are worthy of fear even n their typical state.

The premise this time is that Mexico experiencing the greatest earthquake ever known initially has a realized consequence of seismic proportions and precedes mysterious cattle (and human) mutilations of an unknown cause. This is not to mention an eerie sound that may be crickets on steroids.

The aforementioned tremor brings local geologist Artur Ramos and his north-of-the-border colleague to rural Mexico to investigate. Their efforts leading to a very cool "Jurassic Park" style discovery is a highlight of "Scorpion." The boys also soon team up with a pretty ranch owner with whom at least one of them would like to get his rocks off.

The Short Round of "Scorpion" is an annoying cheerful and spunky Mexican boy named Juanito. His constant chatter and refusal to literally and figuratively wait in the car makes you wish that he becomes scorpion chow.

One epic scene has our scientists battle the scorpions at the bottom of the volcano so that they do not have to battle them here. This action has all of the aforementioned elements that make these movies such great guilty pleasures.

As also is typical, it seems that things are better until the mother of all scorpions travels to Mexico City for a reason other than buying inexpensive prescription drugs. Discovering whether it is beauty that kills the beast requires watching the film.

The BD special features consist of presentations on stop-motion animation. The most fun one is of dinosaurs from the 1956 Irwin Allen film "The Animal World."

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Scorpion" is encouraged either to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy,

Sunday, May 13, 2018

'Cocaine Godmother: The Griselda Blanco Story" DVD: Catherine Zeta-Jones Lifetime Channel Biopic of Queen of Miami Vice

The May 15, 2018 Lionsgate DVD release of the 2017 Lifetime Channel Original Movie "Cocaine Godmother: The Griselda Blanco Story" provides a good chance to see this smash hit with a strong pedigree without commercials. Oscar and Tony winner Mrs. Michael Douglas Catherine Zeta-Jones stars as the titular underworld legend.

"Godmother" effectively hits the trifecta of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll in this film that is surprisingly ambitious for a basic cable channel that is well-known for low-budget films about damsels in distress with a moderate to strong sexual element. One of many drug aspects of the film is DEA agent Jimmy (Warren Christie) narrating the film.

Sex enters the picture early on as we see a roughly seven year-old Griselda being the pimp for her mother in Colombia. This toddler initially allowing a trick to leave without paying his two bits only to soon collect with extreme prejudice conveys the don't fuck with me boys attitude of this future cocaine queenpin.

The action then moves ahead roughly 20 years to Griselda living a modest existence with her three sons and her abusive first husband in 1970s Miami. This man moving out triggers Griselda beginning to move on up by connecting with future second husband Alberto Blanco. Much of the fun of this portion of the film is watching Griselda teach her not-so-old dog new tricks and proving that the girls can play even more roughly than the boys.

This also is the period in which mistress Carolina enters the life and the bed of Griselda. She largely is eye candy even after indulging in rock candy.

The indisputably best element of this portion of the film is eldest son Uber being a good and respectable boy to the extreme of having a pretty blonde girlfriend from a wealthy family, spending his days playing tennis at a country club, and being on track to go to college and pursue a truly respectable career.

Conversely, the two younger boys are wild children who clearly take after their mother to her moderate distress. They ultimately join the family business and live a rock star lifestyle to the ultimate disadvantage of their mother.

The destiny of Uber dramatically changes when a casual comment prompts Griselda to have her future in-laws silenced with extreme prejudice. This prompts the future son-in-law to rebel by joining the family business in what can be considered an Uber sensitive manner. One spoiler is that he does not take anyone for a ride in any part of "Godmother."

Griselda going on to make a name for herself on the distribution end of the cocaine business leads to a partnership with "supply side" king Pablo Escobar. That relationship also proves relevant regarding Griselda once again finding herself on the market. This in turns leads to a couple of additions to the family.

This boost in the business activities of Griselda fully brings her on the radar of the DEA in this era in which busting heads in an effort to take down names is tolerated much more than in modern times.

Things build to a climax as the DEA turning up the heat prompts Griselda and the boys to make a run closer to the border; this in turn leads to a sort of a homecoming, which turns to Griselda paying the price for being innovative.

As mentioned above, the tone of "Godmother" is grittier and much less campy than typical Lifetime Movie fare. It also provides an interesting and personal perspective on the rise of the cocaine trade in Miami in the '70s and '80s.

The bigger picture is that this is a Lifetime portrait of a intelligent, clever, and driven woman who uses a convenient outlet to provide for her family and to assert her ambitious nature.

Anyone with questions or comments regrading "Godmother" is strongly encouraged either to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

'fastlane' CS DVD: The Millennial Mod Squad

The unparalleled scope of the Warner Archive catalog is to blame for this site frequently referring to the diversity of Archive releases. The May 1, 2018 complete-series DVD set of the 2002-03 action-adventure series "faastlane" from the same source as releases from the genesis of the Golden Age is the latest example of this range.

This update of the 1968-73 television series "The Mod Squad" is the creation of McG of the "Charlie's Angels" movies and John McNamara, whose numerous credits include the Syfy series "Magicians." The central concept is that tough tomboy LAPD cop Wilhelmina "Billie" Chambers (former Kelly girl Tiffani Thiessen) runs the "candy shop," which is a base of operations that uses confiscated property such as fast cars and obscene amounts of cash as part of an undercover operation to take down high-level drug dealers and other criminals who live large. Billie being a former addict of a substance much stronger than caffeine pills should get "Saved By the Bell" fans so excited that they just can't hide it.

TV dramas veteran Peter Facinelli stars as Donovan "Van" Ray. His past includes a childhood that puts him a step ahead of most fellow cops. His scruffy good looks and habit of showing off his chiseled torso by going shirtless while wearing long pants makes him look like a West Hollywood street-corner rent boy.

Deaqon "Deaq" Hayes (Bill Bellamy) rounds out the group. He is a recent transplant both from New York and less recently to the enforcement side of police activity.

The pilot follows a fairly standard course in that it involves Billie recruiting Van after his partner/BFF is killed in an undercover operation gone bad. Deaq being the estranged brother of that partner contributes additional drama.

Many of the ensuing cases involve a personal element. A cool aspect of this is that an episode with a heavy element of the aforementioned wonder years of Van provides perspective regarding him often bonding with the female assassin, jewel thief, etc. whom he is assigned to collect evidence on before giving her a pair of bracelets.

One of the best episodes has the case requiring Van and Deaq to pair up with an ATF agent who may have been spending too much time deep undercover. The fun of this one is watching the repeated sadistic torture of our heroes allegedly for their own good. One of many examples is outing them as cops in a roomful of Russian mobsters.

A "very special" episode has the team join forces with an undercover agent regarding whom Billie feels very protective. Hilarity ensues when one of the boys would have been caught with his pants down if the interruptus had occurred a few minutes later.

Good drama ensues when the special guest star finds herself in serious danger and the team frantically rushes to save her. This alone shows the human side of our group.

An especially fun episode has Van and Deaq teaming up with "connected" series regular Aquarius (Big Boy) to open a night club to nail a drug dealer and to locate his well-hidden manufacturing facility. Highlights include the boys bickering about the name of their club and using amusing trickery to create the desired image.

The fun continues with episodes that put the "fastlane" spin on plots that include a "Midnight Run" escorting a fugitive who has hitmen after her, a tight deadline to avert a gang war, and the team being coerced into using their skills and resources for evil.

The copious DVD special features include unaired and deleted scenes from the pilot, a documentary on the evolution of "fastlane," and separate features on the stars and the stunts. Archive wraps up these extras with a fun set of bloopers and outtakes.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "fastlane" is encouraged either to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge Mass. Offers Roaring Good Experience

A visit to the truly historic Red Lion Inn in the Berkshires town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts a few months after a similar trip there awesomely verified everything both about that hotel and the benefit of choosing this type of unique property over cookie-cutter hotels. The primary purpose of both trips was to visit an exhibit at the nearby Norman Rockwell Museum. An interview with 95 year-old pulp magazine artist Gloria Stoll Karn will run by late May 2018.

Inns that value art over commerce provide those of us who enjoy a sense of visiting Grandma (without the competing smells of cheap perfume and toxic cleaners) a real treat and allows folks who generally feel as if they are staying in an Apple store or a Pottery Barn a chance to see how more enlightened folks live.

Special fun at the Red Lion involves discovering the treasures throughout the main inn. These extend well beyond the scads of vintage photos and other art on every floor to equally abundant antiques that include the original hotel switchboard and cabinets full of other cool stuff.

The hospitality began with the first telephone call regarding a reservation. The prior stay made the Red Lion aware of both a love of suites and a preference for having "the whole joint" to myself as much as possible. This led to booking me in the incredibly homey Hayes Suite in the Stafford guest house, which literally (but untested) is spitting distance from the main inn.

The three suites in the Stafford are designed to give wedding parties and other groups traveling together a chance to have their own space. This building retaining much of its original single-family house vibe further contributes to a sense of coming home while staying there.

The literal accommodations include a parlor (complete with board games and books) in the common area, the downstairs Pratt Suite having kitchen facilities, and the upstairs Holden and Hayes Suites having connecting doors that can be securely locked when separately booked. The Pratt and Holden Suites being unoccupied provided the intended desired solitude.

The following self-explanatory photos (including the image of the "charming dressing area") are of the Hayes Suite. Even Grandma does not provide that much private space or give you turn-down service that includes gourmet heart-shaped chocolates.

A recent addition to the Red Lion staff wonderfully supplements the hospitality that EVERYONE there provides guests. Four year-old former shelter cat Norman (as in Rockwell) is very glad to let those of us who miss our kitties or doggies pet him and tell him that he is a good boy.

An unplanned test proved that the human employees at the Red Lion go above-and-beyond to put right what once went wrong. Concern about a low tire-pressure warning light and a related epic failure by a non-AAA roadside emergency service led to asking if the hotel maintenance man on duty at 8:30 on a Sunday night might be able to help. Josh quickly came to the rescue in heavy drizzle by checking the pressure and offering advice. Of course, car repair is beyond any reasonable expectation of a hotel guest.

Stockbridge provided another "rescue." The combined impact of the car trouble and very minor disappointments that had nothing to do with the town and were not the fault of anyone dampened the mood on the trip. Further explore a hiking area that I found by wandering the prior day was what the head doctor would have ordered.

The objective this time was Laura's Tower; not having the proper clothes for hiking and not bringing water prevented reaching that goal. However, the walk in the woods was wonderful and included a few dog encounters.

The rest of the afternoon consisted of using the provided bath crystals to soak in the deep tub followed by a rinse in the almost waterfall level two-head shower. The rest of the evening consisted of watching DVDs from the very relaxing couch.

The deep impact of all this is a strong sense of the hotel ideal of a vibe of staying at a home away from home.

Anyone with questions about the Red Lion or the Rockwell Museum is strongly encouraged either to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

'Barnum' DVD + Digital: Burt Lancaster Stars in Biopic of The Greatest Showman on Earth

The Mill Creek Entertainment May 1, 2018 DVD + Digital release of the 1986 Burt Lancaster TV-movie "Barnum" allows biopic and/or circus fans to see a significantly different take on the titular entertainment pioneer than the portrait in the Christmas 2017 Fox film "The Greatest Showman on Earth." "Barnum" actually making the asserted subject the focus of the film is one advantage over the recent movie.

The principle that applies to all propaganda provides the best guidance regarding determining whether "Barnum" or "Showman" more accurately portrays their common subject. This tenet is that there is your side, the side of the other guy, and the truth. In other words, both films likely are comparably true. The larger truth is that the primary factor is that both provide good entertainment.

"Barnum" opens with thrilling scenes at the literal three-ring circus for which we have Barnum to thank. Skilled storyteller Lancaster then figuratively takes the center stage as the elderly version of the titular showman. This sets the stage for the early 19th century childhood of  Barnum that sets the stage for his career. We see the grandfather of Barnum teach his grandson the importance of imagination and the value of hyping your product.

The story then progresses to the fairly well known story of a teenage Barnum essentially trading the family cow for magic beans. Keeping his job as a store clerk requires turning those "beans" into a cash cow.

Lancaster continues the narration as we see Barnum progressively prosper through ventures that equally entertain and rely on the gullibility of the American public. We also learn the story regarding the famous phrase "there's a sucker born every minute."

This narrative greatly diverges from the "Showman" story. A particularly large difference relates to the interaction between Barnum and singer Jenny Lind. The Lancaster version is much tamer and focuses more on the business (rather than the pleasure) aspects of their relationship.

The greatest fun comes regarding the founding of the circus and the circumstances regarding how Bailey joins the act. One story that "Barnum" omits is how this enterprise comes to join forces with the Ringling Brothers. The short version is that a scheduling conflict leads to the merger.

As shown above. the aforementioned focus on the actual subject of the film reminds folks familiar with the life of Barnum of notable moments in his life, introduces everyone else to this unique story, and reminds everyone of the basis for all modern entertainment. We all like shiny and/or  odd things and enjoy being dazzled and fooled time after time after time.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Barnum" is strongly encouraged either to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

'Comet Over Broadway' DVD: Busby Berkeley Melodrama of Meteoric Rise of Fallen Woman

The Warner Archive April 4, 2018 DVD release of the (largely dance-free) 1938 Busby Berkeley melodrama "Comet Over Broadway" is a terrific example of a B movie that deserves an A. This presentation of the tale of a small-town girl with aspirations of stardom and a husband who likely has become a wife is as good as any "feature presentation" of the era.

Many modern women can relate to the initial plight of newsstand operator/adequately content wife/loving mother Eve Appleton ("Queen of Warner Brothers" Kay Francis.) She reads the trades for her own fun and absolutely no profit and sublimates her desire for fame and fortune by starring in local community theater productions. Her other woes include dull faithful and loving husband Bill Apppleton who does not support her dreams and living with the mother of all mothers-in-law.

"Guffman" arriving changes everything. A famous actor who is vacationing in this town that likely does not have many more than one horse catches the act of Eve and persuades this naive "innocent" to come to his cabin for a command performance. The curtain is just going up ahead of the dress going down when Bill bursts in the room. The ensuing melee results in the actor ending up all wet and stiff as a board.

Bill getting life in "State Prison" leads to Eve entering one of the oldest professions to earn enough money to get her husband sprung from the big house. The first step in this plan is to take her baby Jackie on the road with her when she joins a burlesque troupe.

An opportunity for career advancement requires that Eve leave Jackie with fellow burlesque troupe member Eve Adams, who repeatedly reminds one and all that she is "close to 40" and cannot keep up with the demands of her career forever.

Eve making her triumphant return to New York creates even more melodrama as now toddler Jackie does not greet Mommie Dearest with open arms; one aspect of this is that Jackie portayor poor man's Shirley Temple Sybil Jason is so saccharinely annoying that one wishes all the worst for that character.

The other development is that Eve having enough money to free Bill from his unfortunate incarceration comes at a time that she and a more suitable match fall in love. Bill getting a shiv to the ticker is the best outcome for all, but this is not necessarily how things play out.

The broad (no pun intended) appeal of this early feminist film in the spirit of "Mildred Pierce" is that a determined woman/wife/mother can make it in a man's world.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Comet" is encouraged either to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Monday, May 7, 2018

'Laugh-In' S4 DVD: Farce, Satire, and Celebs

The Time Life May 8, 2018 DVD release of the 1970-71 S4 of "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-in" coming roughly one month after the reviewed S3 set (which comes roughly two weeks after the reviewed S2 set) demonstrates a commitment to very timely release these seasons. At this rate, the sixth and final season will be out no later than August.

The Time Life commitment to "Laugh In" also includes continuing to add special features to these DVD sets. The S4 bonuses include a continuation of the S3 set interview with star Lily Tomlin and a very interesting separate interview with Tomlin co-star Arte Johnson.

The cold open in the S4 season premiere nicely captures the spirit of this hilarious and brave borderline burlesque rapid-paced sketch comedy show that uses risque humor to make politically incorrect jokes that would not fly today and to expertly skewer politicians on both of the aisle. The opening scene has Art "Ed Norton" Carney in character yelling down to an unseen Ralph Kramden to come up and watch "Laugh-in."

A physical characteristic of the regular cast member who plays Kramden prompts a joke that would get "Laugh-in" boycotted in this era in which society has gone from f**k 'em if they can't take a joke to f**ked if you tell 'em a joke. This witticism involves Carney referring to primary Kramden portrayor Jackie Gleason hosting his variety show in Florida by commenting that Kramden has been spending too much time in the Miami sun.

Most of the usual characters and their on-screen creations show up during this season premiere. This includes relatively new girl Lily Tomlin as telephone operator Ernestine talking to an off-screen Aristotle Onassis about his spendthrift wife ordering an absurdly expensive telephone. Tomlin further shines as "Tasteful Lady" who comments on the crude humor of the series.

The political humor includes ongoing jokes about Spiro Agnew being president. Even better humor comes in a "The Mitchells at Home" sketch that has Nixon Attorney-General John Mitchell chastising infamously outspoken "Mouth of the South" wife Martha for offending a foreign dignitary.

The second episode has "Mr. Warmth" Don Rickles knowingly blatantly promoting his recent film "Kelly's Heroes." Although he is a very good sport and fully gets into the spirit of the series, Rickles surprisingly does not engage in his trademark insult humor. A nod to this legacy is his singing in a tribute to show business that his audience thrills at him calling them dummy.

This bit on show business also provides stand-out Ruth Buzzi a chance to shine as an auditioning actress quickly adapting to the demands of a casting director. This one further has Buzzi portray her classic frumpy Gladys Ormphy having persistent dirty old man Tyrone F. Horneigh move his attempted seduction from their typical park bench to the friendly skies. A surprising omission is that his "courtship" does not refer to the Mile High Club.

The third S4 episode can be considered a "very special" one in that the primary guest star is former cast member Goldie Hawn freshish off her Oscar win for "Cactus Flower." Watching Hawn comically play the diva and series hosts Dan Rowan and Dick Martin do a hilarious Abbott and Costello style bit on her absence is hilarious. A chorus line of dancing Goldies is another highlight. No one does the dumb blonde bit better than Hawn.

Other big and small-screen luminaries who guest star on during S4 include Orson Welles, Zero Mostel, Ken Berry, Tim Conway, Carol Channing, and semi-regular Johnny Carson, who literally comes across the hall to join the fun.

The continuing appeal of all this is that "Laugh-In" perfectly combines every element that warrants calling a television show great. The starting point that Tomlin notes in her interview is that an entire family can enjoy it together without anyone either not liking it or getting bored.

"Laugh-in" further benefits from having has a talented ensemble in which everyone excellently plays off each other and seem to genuinely get along, humor that is funny either because it is spot-on commentary of the era of the show or is timeless, and booking every guest star one for which one could hope.

The sad part of all this is that our current society is so divided that "Laugh-in" would not work today. As the beginning of this article states, people no longer can take a jok. On top of this, any current series that hypothetically has Julie Andrews guest star likely does not attract the same viewers who tune in to see hypothetical guest Chris Evans get it socked to him. We simply live in society in which there are numerous fissures that expand into chasms.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Laugh-in" is strongly encouraged either to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

'Harper' BD: Paul Newman Channels Sam Spade

Reviewing the Warner Archive February 27, 2018 DVD release of the William Goldman ("Princess Bride," "Butch Cassidy," "All the President's Men") 1975 Paul Newman "Harper" sequel "The Drowning Pool" before the 1966 film provides an interesting perspective on the earlier movie.

A more amusing observation is that both films (including the general tone and "Pool" taking titular P.I. Lew Harper well outside his comfort zone) warrants a comparison to the Chevy Chase "Fletch" films of the '80s. Fans of that franchise still have hope for "Fletch Won" to hit the megaplex as a triple feature with the third "Bill and Ted" and "Gremlins" movies.

Harper is the creation of crime novelist Ross MacDonald. Archive reminds us that the first film is based on the aptly titled book The Moving Target.

One interesting contrast between "Harper" and "Pool" is that the Blu-ray of "Harper" looks and sounds better than the perfectly good BD of the later film. Probable reasons for this include the first film being set in sunny southern California, and "Pool" looking much more gritty to better reflect the tougher New Orleans area setting of that film.

The most noticeable difference in these movies is apparent from the opening seconds of both films. Newman still looks good nine years later, but we see that time has been unkind to this modern day Sam Spade/Philip Marlowe. The implication is that this creation of novelist Ross MacDonald bears the physical and psychological burdens of cases such as the one in "Harper."

A similarity in both films is that the method technique of young lion Newman quickly establishes that he is a downtrodden "have not" who makes his living catering to the "haves." These largely silent scenes heavily rely on the acting talent of this national treasure.

The following YouTube clip of the theatrical trailer for "Harper" is one of the best ever of these promos. Well-written narration accurately and entertainingly conveys the tone of the film, and having the female stars stay in character while commenting on that sexy beast is great fun.

"Harper" opens with our exhausted hero waking up in the one-room office that doubles as his home. His humiliating life includes having to disgustingly improvise on discovering that he is out of coffee. "Pool" has Harper land at the New Orleans airport to discover that the seat belt of his beater rental car is broken.

Both films then have Harper drive either his own beater or the aforementioned crappy rental to the lavish estate of his new client. In this case, it is trophy wife Elaine Sampson. Former Mrs. Bogart Lauren Bacall, who is no stranger to noir, plays this kept woman. Elaine tells Harper that her husband Ralph apparently has run off, and that she merely wants to know the details. The probability that Ralph is with a woman is of less interest than anticipated.

The investigation goes poolside as Harper questions surrogate son/private pilot Allan Taggert (Robert Wagner), who saw Ralph a few minutes before his disappearance. Watching 20-something daughter Miranda Sampson ('60s sex kitten Pamela Tiffin) dance '60s style to the accompaniment of generic rock music of the era is a highlight of the film. Her stereotypical behavior extends to the dancing being part of an extended futile effort to seduce Taggert. Taggert being a substitute for her deceased blood brother contributes an entertaining ick factor.

Harper then sets out to retrace the steps of Ralph with Taggert as his pilot and Miranda as a tag-a-long. Seeing the '66 "Batman" level tacky pied-a-terre of Ralph only is part of the fun. Watching Harper first verbally nail Miranda regarding her attempted seduction of him and then call her bluff is hilarious.

This investigation next leads Harper to the next member of the conga line of Hollywood stereotypes that populate the film. He tracks down Hollywood royalty turned overweight box office poison Fay Estabrook, who is a friend of Ralph. Shelley Winters is very good sport and does a great job portraying this sloppy alcoholic has-been.

The other star-studded stereotypes include Janet Leigh as the no-longer-suffering almost-ex Mrs. Harper, Julie Harris as a former notable jazz musician/current ex-con junkie, and Strother Martin as a guru. Discovering the extent of the connections between the stock character persons in the life of Ralph is much of the fun of the film and is a great example of the cynicism that characterizes noir.

Even more fun comes when the aforementioned reveals prompt the tumblers to click in the mind of any viewer savvy enough to solve a "Scooby-Doo" mystery. Although the general deduction will be correct, the assumption regarding the motive almost definitely will not be. The cynicism here relates to some people simply deserving what they get.

The most notable aspect of "Harper" is that it perfectly represents the transition from the Golden Age of Hollywood to the Silver Age. The tone of the film is very modern with a touch of the noir style that precedes it. We further get young lions Newman and Wagner taking center stage from Bacall and the other cast members of her generation.

The special features include audio commentary by Goldman.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Harper" is strongly encouraged either to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

'Mighty Ground' DVD and Theatrical: Doc on Homeless Singer Ronald Troy Collins Will Get Many to Change Tune About Homelessness

The Random Media April 10, 2018 DVD release of the 2017 documentary "Mighty Ground" fully embraces the principle of the genre ideal of being equally entertaining and educating. This look at the life of literal street musician Ronald Troy Collins introduces viewers to the incredible voice of this man and his sincere efforts to improve his life. All of this is in the context of putting a very human face on the issue of homelessness.

Documentarian Delila Vallot deserves strong credit for largely using the cinema verite method of simply having the camera record Collins as he goes about his life and shares his story; the absence of a soundtrack designed to stir emotions is another nice element.

The following YouTube clip of the trailer for "Ground" enticingly accurately conveys the tone and the themes of this film.

Early scenes literally have Collins singing for his supper; people stopping to listen to him and giving him money is much more surprising than watching people walk away even as he continues directs his panhandling at them. Hearing his incredible voice fully proves that you cannot judge a book by its cover.

Collins further endears himself to the audience in a scene that establishes that his regular acceptance of offered support of a convenience-store owner includes directing that mensch to keep a running total of what Collins owes him.

The somewhat subtle preachy aspect of "Mighty" relates to the dire straits of 49 year-old Collins largely being due to a crack addiction that dates to his early teens. The origin story regarding this addiction further garners sympathy for Collins.

Much of the focus of the film is on the friendship between Collins and 20-something journalists Ian and Phoebe who take on his cause to the degree of sheltering him. One of the best scenes has Collins commenting on the essentially rock star treatment that he is receiving regarding Vallot making the film at the same time that Ian and Phoebe are devoting a great deal of time and energy to him. We further see the extent to which the young scribes stand by their man.

Another highlight is watching Collins discuss his hope for a standard of living that is far below the existence that most of us enjoy. It is equally nice that he does not blame any third-party individual or institution for his plight.

A larger theme is the success that Collins achieves in bettering his situation. It is hard to imagine anyone not being on his side or feeling his joy when he (at least temporarily) gets himself off the streets and seems to be on a good path.

The larger picture comes via the perspective of the head of an organization that supports homeless people. He provides surprising statistics regarding the scope of the problem and makes a facially compelling argument for spending more money on support services and less on policing.

The bottom line regarding all this is that "Mighty" will not prompt most of us from continuing to avoid homeless people but will get us to give them a little more thought.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Mighty" is encouraged either to email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.