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Sunday, November 30, 2014

'Bronco' S2 DVD: Classic Reconstruction Era Neo Western

Bronco: The Complete Second Season
An important disclaimer regarding the 20-episode 5-disc Warner Archive release of the 1959-60 second season of the classic Western series "Bronco" is that you will find yourself singing "Bronco, Bronco" in the style of the catchy theme song. 

It is equally important to note that both the writing and the acting in this season are better than the still wonderfully entertaining first season of "Bronco," which Unreal TV reviewed a few months ago. The plots extend nicely beyond standard Western stories, and the noticeably more relaxed acting of star Ty Hardin in his role as the titular Bronco Layne is less like that of a adult film performer.

On a related note, scenes in which nothing apparently comes between Hardin and his very tight Wranglers makes one wonder if the connection between four-legged horses and the titular character that prompts the nickname of the latter truly relates to his lifelong ability to work with the former.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube and Archive, of scenes in an S2 episode clearly shows that this season is worth checking out for reasons that include the aforementioned enhancements. Hardin shows great charm and humor, and "Gilligan's Island" fans get a glimpse of the terrific performance by Alan Hale, Jr. in this outing.

The S2 season premiere episode emits an uber-awesome vibe of legendary (and Unreal TV reviewed) '50s Western series "Maverick." This one has Bronco unwittingly set up a wealthy man who is his new best friend as the victim of a particularly clever female card sharp. Circumstances dictate that Bronco both capture and outwit the femme fatale.

Another "Maverick" style episode has drifter Bronco dragged into a nefarious plot by accepting a job to escort a body on a train trip; our hero subsequently being arrested for a theft that occurs during that journey requires playing 19th century detective.

Bronco also figuratively dons his deerstalker cap in the season finale; crimes that seem to be the work of outlaws who previously are seen with hangman's nooses around their necks require finding an explanation. The solution is not particularly apparent early in the episode but the dire circumstances in which poor dopey Bronco subsequently finds himself are obvious to anyone who has watched or read any mystery.

It is less of a mystery that the apparent appeal of a whodunit episode seemingly prompts other S2 episodes that has Bronco solving crimes; examples include finding the true culprit while striving to see that an accused murderer (played by Edgar Buchanan of "Petticoat Junction") is not killed before obtaining a fair trial regarding the offense, identifying the murderer of a man facing a threat from a vengeful individual from his past, and going undercover in a criminal haven that is similar to the community of Black Crater in the Unreal TV reviewed  Russ Tamblyn film "The Young Guns."

Another episode very cooly ties in Bronco's past as a Confederate officer during the Civil War by having him face the wrath of a former Union (and current United States) military officer whom Bronco dupes into facilitating a sabotage raid during the war. The flashback scenes of the events that prompt the desire for revenge provide a great glimpse into the occasionally mentioned past of our hero. Further, Bronco leaves no doubt regarding his being a man of honor in his present.

More traditional Western storylines have Bronco getting involved in a range war between cattlemen and sheep farmers (but surprisingly supporting the latter), finding himself in a literal Mexican standoff, and (again) literally getting caught in the crossfire between two feuding families.

The "Hatfields" style story includes an intriguing nature versus nurture element and genuine universal drama and humor. This outing further offers a moral regarding the serious unintended consequences that youthful pranks can cause. Another bonus in this one is a guest star appearance by a particularly dreamy Troy Donahue, who appears in a different role in an S1 episode.

The discussed episodes and the remaining ones clearly demonstrate that "Bronco" the series and the man have wide appeal that only improve after their first season adventures.

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

Saturday, November 29, 2014

'Laverne and Shirley' S8 DVD: Laverne Surely Goes Solo Final Season

Product Details
This review of the 1982-83 eighth and final season of the "Happy Days" spinoff "Laverne and Shirley" is an apt subject for the last entry in a series of reviews of CBS Home Entertainment DVD releases of "Days" shows. This group began with "Joanie Loves Chachi" CS, moved onto "Days" S5, and then covered "Laverne" S7. An earlier post on "Laverne" S6 includes the most in-depth discussion of the premise of that series.

Television historians and most folks with even a passing familiarity with "Laverne" know that the evolution of this sitcom begins with the titular working-class '50s Milwaukee gals making an appearance on "Days," getting their own series about their daily lives and efforts to achieve better ones while working in a Milwaukee brewery, moving to beautiful downtown Burbank in S6, and Shirley Feeney portrayor Cindy Williams leaving Laverne DeFazio portrayor Penny Marshall to finish out the series on her own early in S8.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, is of a hilarious scene from the final episode in which Williams appears. Including this goofy fun in this outing provides her the best possible send off from the series.

Once Shirley leaves Laverne in the three-episode arc that begins with the season premiere, the latter continues getting herself into the wacky/precarious sits that provide most of the com in the series. These include getting trapped in an anti-gravity suit, babysitting a monkey, and undergoing the selection process for a job as a bunny at the Playboy Club. ("Star Wars" star Carrie Fisher surprisingly guest stars in the Playboy episode.)

Although seeing "Laverne" continue without Shirley (and keeping her name in the title throughout the entire series) is odd, the writers aptly adapt by creating solo physical schtick in which Laverne can engage.

This transition is very akin to the Los Angeles years in the classic sitcom "The Lucy Show" (which CBS also released on DVD) when Lucille Ball's Lucy Carmichael moves out to California on her own, leaving Vivian Vance's Vivian Bagley behind.

A "very special two-parter" continues the tradition of a dark episode each season beginning with the "Laverne" move to California; this one has Laverne comically getting involved with a group of '60s radicals and ultimately ending up on death row as a result of a wacky misunderstanding. Aside from requiring the ultimate degree of suspension of disbelief, the stakes in this one are surprisingly high in a series in which dignity (and perhaps blue-collar employment) typically are at risk.

A lesser dark note relates to an episode that explains the previously unaddressed absence of the stepmother (and former landlady) of Laverne. The odd circumstances related to the departure of this cast member are a bit more serious than an expected reason, such as having to choose between staying around and pursuing a lifelong ambition or moving back to Milwaukee to care for a sick relative.

The absence of cast members who have been around since the first season continues with creepy and dim-witted stooge Squiggy largely going solo without sidekick Lenny. Folks who are familiar with the classic Bowery Boys comedy films can think of Squiggy as Slip and Lenny as Sach from that Unreal TV reviewed series.

A classic sitcom plot involving aspiring talent agent Squiggy has him called into action to perform in place of the Russian ballet dance who is his doppelganger.

Regular Shirley suitor (and aspiring singer) Carmine "The Big Ragu" Ragusa stays around and continues in his persona of a big sweet lug. One interesting thing regarding his eighth season episodes is that they show that he seems more comfortable and overall has more chemistry with Marshall's Laverne than Williams' Shirley.

Carmine fully takes center stage in two late-season episodes. One has guest star Jay Leno as a Dick Clark style teen music show host catapulting Carmine to stardom in an episode that is very similar to a "Days" outing in which resident James Dean clone Fonzie becomes an overnight sensation. A clear reference to that '70s icon in that "Laverne" outing strongly contributes to that vibe.

Carmine takes center stage even more in the penultimate episode in which he makes a major life change that further promotes his career. The fact that the series finale includes an apparent continuity error suggests that the one in which Carmine carries the show is the intended "Laverne" finale.

The aforementioned finale involves another classic sitcom plot in that it has Laverne's father Frank DeFazio being the political rookie who runs against the long-term incumbent in a local election. One spoiler is that no one gets married or has an exceptionally significant life change in this one. Similar to the classic "Cheers" season finale, one leaves "Laverne" with the sense that the characters are largely going to continue leading the same lives that they have during the eight-year run of the series.

All of this amounts to S8 being the one that brings the most changes to both the format of "Laverne" and the characters that inhabit that world. It also shows that the writers keep things entertaining until the end.

The special features consist of episode promos and a gag reel.

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


Friday, November 28, 2014

'The Immortalists' Theatrical Openings: They're Gonna Live Forever & Maybe Learn How to Fly

The new Structure Films documentary "The Immortalists" features two colorful "gonzo" scientists who will make you believe that greatly (if not infinitely) extending human life is feasible. This film is opening at the Cinema Village Theater in New York City on November 28, 2014 and at the the Laemmle NoHo Theater in Los Angeles two weeks later. Chances are excellent that it will hit an art house theater near the rest of us in early 2015.

The following spoiler-laden clip, courtesy of YouTube, of a promo. for "Immortalists"provides a nice introduction to the researchers around whom much of the film centers. This glimpse includes looks at the scenes in which these men describe their theories.

The rail-thin extremely long bearded practicing nudist Dr. Aubrey de Grey looks as if he just spent the summer following whichever folk rock band is filling in the gap since the breakup of the Grateful Dead decades ago but is an acclaimed scientist with a method for compensating for the aging process. He identifies his seven-step method as SENS, which stands for "Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence."

The theory of de Grey is that solutions exist for the seven causes of aging, which include cell loss and athrophy. This method largely consists of conducting necessary repairs and maintenance regarding those conditions.

Aside from arguably being a marathon addict, Dr. Bill Andrews is a much more conventional individual than de Grey. Further, the approach of Andrew to addressing aging seems more feasible than that of his colleague.

Andrews presents the analogy that small caps at the end of chromosomes are like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces; he goes on to note that, just as shoelaces tear apart as the tip at the end deteriorates, chromosomes lose their cohesiveness in a manner that causes aging as the aforementioned cap on their tips break down. His approach simply is to prevent that process.

Much of the film focuses on the personal lives of de Grey and Andrews; these "intimate portraits" are entertaining and provide insight regarding these scientists choosing aging as their field of study.

A particularly amusing segment has the men of science simultaneously undergoing tests that measure the degree to which each of them has aged; the friendly competition regarding this further adds to the highly human element in this film about scientific research.

The presumption that folks who do not wish to outlive their parrots or their tortoises will have the option of opting out of utilizing anti-aging treatment addresses that ethical issue regarding the work of the subjects of the film and their colleagues; the "who knows" attitude that de Grey expresses regarding the impact of the increased population that will result from large numbers of people extending their lives is surprising and distressing. It is as if he simply wants to unleash the results of his work on the world and leave the rest of us to deal with the highly likely negative consequences of that success.

On a broader level, "Immortalists" takes a fascinating look at a subject that affects every person who ages. It further provides folks who long to live long enough to visit the moon a chance to achieve that goal.

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

Thursday, November 27, 2014

'The Historian' Theatrical Release: Publish Does Not Always Preclude Perish

[Editor's Note: Unreal TV has posted an article on an interview with "The Historian" star John Cullum of the classic TV series "Northern Exposure."]

The terrific instincts regarding the Historia Films production "The Historian" extend well beyond screening this dramedy about the trials and tribulations of college professors at the aptly selected The Quad movie theater in Manhattan beginning November 28, 2014.

"Historian" has the same amusingly warped view of academic life as a classic John Irving novel or one of the better efforts by fellow author Michael Chabon. Like the primary characters in those works, the educators in "The Historian" manage to impart knowledge to the leaders of tomorrow before experiencing the inevitable breakdowns associated with their damaged psyches.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of a promo. for "Historian" awesomely conveys this vibe of the true nature of collegiate life.

This film divides its focus between silver child "Rhodes" scholar Dr. Ben Rhodes and tarnished former academic star Dr. Valerian Hadley; Hadley chairs the classic department that hires Rhodes for a one-year visiting-scholar position. William Sadler of "The Shawshank Redemption" and numerous other classics plays Hadley; "Historian" director and real-life historian Miles Doleac portrays Rhodes.

A hilarious early scene that expertly sets the tone for the rest of the film has an exasperated Hadley providing a not-so-bright unmotivated student a graphic lesson on crucifixion only to be crucified for his efforts.

Another example of students complaining after essentially having their feelings hurt include Rhodes being criticized for giving students what they allege is too much homework and otherwise attempting to actually provide a genuine academic challenge.

On a more personal level, the arrival of Rhodes painfully reminds Hadley that his personal glory days are over. Living and caring for his senile father, wonderfully played by John Cullum of "Northern Exposure," adds to stress that ultimately causes Hadley to crack.

For his part, Rhodes is leaving a walk-in closet full of emotional baggage behind related to his recently failed marriage. Moving his physical baggage into a corporate apartment complex that is identical to such properties across the country does not help his mood.

Further conflict between the men comes in the form of Anna Densmore; her worship of Hadley diminishes as she gets to know neighbor Rhodes better and Hadley consequently becomes increasingly rough on her.

Background characters include the dean who runs a fairly tight ship but knows when to back off, the wacky popular professor who is an expert at academic politics, and the unfocused student who needs proper guidance.

Former and current college students, professors, and administrators will see themselves and those with whom they interacted while on campus in these characters and the situations in which they find themselves.

"The Historian" additionally provides accurate commentary on the reduced standards that plague many campuses. The overall message seems to be that students have gone from being individuals who sign up for four years of having their minds molded to customers who may take their business elsewhere if not essentially entertained during that period and then given a piece of paper that alleges that they are qualified to be productive participants in their chosen professions.

"The Historian" is consistent with the message described above in providing the audience roughly 90 minutes of entertainment with a few dashes of substantive knowledge.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "The Historian" is welcome to either email me or to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

'Possessed' BD: Joan Crawford Gets Wired and Hung Up

Possessed (1947) (BD)
Pointing out that a younger actress with a more vulnerable persona would have been a better choice than an early 40s Joan Crawford for the lead in the well-written and filmed 1947 noir classic "Possessed" must be stated at the risk of awakening one night to find a broad-shouldered axe-wielding ghost flailing away with a wire hanger in her other hand. However, it must be said.

The recent Warner Archive Blu-ray release of "Possessed" provides an excellent opportunity to evaluate both the performance of Crawford and the film itself. Determining whether you think that the work warrants a designation of "Hollywood" royalty," "box office poison," or something in the middle of these extremes is part of the fun of this experience. Archive sharing that playing Louise (but hardly Lovey) Howell in the film earns Crawford a Best Actress Oscar nomination is some help.

Regardless of any analysis of the wisdom of casting Crawford in the film, the overall movie and the terrific black-and-white film noir cinematography look absolutely fabulous in this remastered BD release.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the theatrical trailer for "Possessed" conveys all of the above.

"Possessed" opens with a distraught and frantic Howell roaming the streets of Los Angeles desperately seeking David. This erratic behavior soon lands her in the hospital. A creative POV scene in one long take on the arrival of Howell at said medical care facility is one of the best in the film and truly is Hitchcockian.

Another good (and especially noiresque) early scene has the shadows from the headboard of Howell's hospital bed cross her face in a good (bot not so subtle) effort to convey that she "caged" in prison.

On sedating Louise, who has nothin' to do and no where to go, her team of caregivers slowly get some sense of the story of this schizophrenic Jane Doe. The fact that Howell's memory is as swiss cheesed as that of Dr. Sam Beckett on the classic scifi series "Quantum Leap" makes this task tough.

The condensed (and spoiler free) recap of the flashbacks that convey the incidents that lead to Howell roving the streets far from home are that two traumas within a short period of time places her on the edge. A later incident that is closely related to both incidents ultimately causes the final snap.

Much of the brilliance of "Possessed" relates to taking the time to tell the story and showing the action as it unfolds. Many films would focus more on the efforts to elicit those memories.

Further, one really experiences the descent into madness that Howell experiences. Her delusions are so credible that the audience joins her in believing that they are reality.

Crawford does a great job with the body language and harsh and manic facial expressions that her role requires; however, the delivery of her lines lacks the power and the passion associated with the ordeals and inner turmoil that Howell is experiencing. Crawford does not phone it in but also neglects to put method in her madness.

At the same time, the overall film is a good one that is well worth adding to your collection; the addition of the DVD version to the Unreal TV long predates the existence of this site.

The BD extras include the special feature "Possessed: The Quintessential Film Noir" and the wonderfully '40s noir theatrical trailer.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Possessed" is welcome to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

'Line of Wellington' DVD: Epic Tale of Napoleonic Wars

Product Details
Film Movement, which operates the uber-fantabulous independent foreign Film of the Month Club that is an Unreal TV favorite,  honors the true spirit of the holiday film season by releasing the epic 2012 European production "Lines of Wellington" on November 25, 2014. It seems that the Peter Jackson Middle Earth productions are the well-produced dregs of a period in which multiplexes were chock full of big-budget spectaculars in the latter half of December.

Visually, this film about the impact of Napoleon's army trekking through Portugal is both stunning and compelling. The opening scenes of the aftermath of a battle get you hooked, and the rest of the cinematography keeps you focused until the final scenes of the period following the climatic battle towards which the entire film moves (no pun intended).

On a deeper level, the general (no pun intended) story of the Portuguese, British, and French armies moving toward their critical showdown and the Portuguese civilians who both literally see their homes and land destroyed and must flee ahead of an invading army evokes strong feelings of the very similar events during The Great War and especially WWII.

Filmmaker Valeria Sarmiento, for whom the personal aspects of "Wellington" include he own experience with exile and finishing this project of her late husband Raul Ruiz, further does an incredible job putting human faces on these epic events.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the trailer for "Wellington" nicely recaps the themes of the film and showcases the artistry of the production.

Much of the film focuses on intrepid Portuguese Lieutenant Pedro de Alencar, who heroically struggles to rejoin the action while literally having a bullet lodged in his noggin through much of this trek. One of his most entertaining adventures during this journey involves obtaining refuge at the home of an unhappy noblewoman at the same time that the daughter of this one-percenter is "entertaining" a French officer in the palatial abode.

The titular military leader, played by the always-spectacular John Malkovich, also gets ample screen time. Malkovich's portrayal of his character as a perfect example of a pompous ass adds both a wonderful human quality to that historic figure and great humor to the film. A scene in which Wellington describes the culinary creation that bears his name is must-see.

Other characters who travel with the armies or simply wander the countryside add additional human elements. There is the very recent war widow, the proverbial tough but good-hearted (and much sought-after) prostitute, the entrepreneur who manages to maintain a good stock of merchandise, the young boy caught up in all this, the deserters, etc. 

Keeping the action going and the depictions of war realistic also avoids the pitfalls of more traditional period pieces set during large-scale armed conflicts. No one is particularly stalwart, most uniforms and other garments do not look as if they just came from the dry cleaners, and battle is not glorified. You almost truly sense that "you are there."

All of this makes this candy-coated history lesson very enjoyable. Many of us do not know much about these events, and seeing it portrayed by a cast full of actors the caliber of Malkovich, Catherine Deneuve, and Isabelle Huppert is beyond awesome. Students facing European history finals likely will find the film to be a great study aid.

The extra feature consists of a "making of " documentary of this epic.

There is no reason that your (often humble) reviewer did not watch the bonus short film "Two Laps" that Movement includes in this two-disc set other than being very busy timely watching and reviewing copious holiday-season DVD releases. The perfect track record of Movement regarding these films allows confidently predicting that this Australian story of a highly competitive swimming race meets the standard of excellence that Movement always meets.

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

Monday, November 24, 2014

Martin & Lewis Collection V1 & V2 DVD: Classic Comedy for the Holidays

Martin & Lewis Collection Vol. 1 Martin & Lewis Collection Vol 2Warner Archive outdoes itself in releasing the "Martin and Lewis Collection" Volumes One and Two in time to order these great sets of classic films for the holidays. The cinephiles (and French people) on your list would love to find either or both sets under their trees, in their stockings, or wherever else you place your gifts.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of newsreel footage of Martin and Lewis is a fun way to build on the excitement related to these DVD releases.

Each volume has great cover art in the style of the wonderful caricatures that Al Hirschfeld used to draw for The New Yorker. Volume One includes "My Friend Irma," which is the first film in which Martin and Lewis appear as a team; the Volume Two collection includes "Hollywood or Bust," which is the last film pairing of the dynamic duo.

The films in the four-disc Volume One set are:

"My Friend Irma"
"My Friend Irma Goes West"
"That's My Boy"
"Sailor Beware"
"Jumping Jacks"
"The Stooge"
"Scared Stiff"
"The Caddy"

The flicks in the three-disc Volume Two set are:

"Hollywood or Bust"
"Living it Up"
"You're Never Too Young"
"Artists and Models"

Although comparing Martin and Lewis to Joanie and Chachi from the '70s sitcom "Happy Days" validly seems sacriligious, the common principle is that both comedy duos tanked when their mutual affection disappeared. The former did their best when they were close in real life, and it well known that America's sweethearts of the '80s tanked after Joanie no longer loved Chachi in real life.

The 1949 film "My Friend Irma," in which Martin and Lewis have supporting roles, is one of their best efforts because they are a true team then and do the schtick that America knows and loves.

This offering, which is based on the radio show of the same name, has the titular dim-witted Gracie Allen type blonde and her more level-headed roommate Jane getting wrapped up in shenanigans related to Irma's huckster-minded five-year fiance getting the music career of Dean's character Steve off the ground.

This concept provides plenty of chances for Martin and Lewis to engage in their trademark act of having the latter interrupt and overall create chaos during a singing performance of the former. A prophetic element comes in the form of Lewis' Seymour getting upset when Al tries to push him out of the act.

The whole gang returns a year later in "My Friend Irma Goes West." This "road" movie has the group traveling to Las Vegas related to the pursuit of stardom by Steve.

Early signs of the subsequent split of Martin and Lewis in "West" include Lewis doing solo bits that includes an amusing scene with a monkey and a politically incorrect segment that has him selling Indian blankets.

Moving forward to the latter years in the partnership, "You're Never Too Young" from 1955 has Lewis' Wilbur and Martin's Bob meeting at the hotel barbershop where Martin is a guest and Lewis is a bumbling barber apprentice; the pair reunites at the private girls' school where Bob teaches and Wilbur is temporarily stuck.

One sit that provide the com in this one is that a jewel thief and murderer, played by Perry Mason himself Raymond Burr, has passed a valuable stolen gem onto Wilbur and subsequently tries to track him down to recover that item. A related "wacky element" is that Wilbur is now masquerading as an 11-year-old boy in a context that makes sense.

Other humor comes from the fact that the other characters accept the relatively hirsute Lewis as a prepubescent child.

A nice element of this film from this era in which Martin no longer loves Lewis is that it includes a few scenes in which the pair engage in their trademark antics regarding Lewis disrupting a musical performance of Martin.

The fellow 1955 Martin and Lewis film "Artists and Models" go back to the roots of the duo. For  this reason and those stated below, this offering is a little stronger than "Young."

They are boyhood friends from Steubenville, Ohio (which is the real-life hometown of Martin) who now live in Greenwich Village and are pursuing their respective careers. Martin's Rick wants to be a professional artist, and Lewis' Eugene aspires to write children's books.

The wacky incidents in this film get the boys paired up with the female comic book artist and her roommate/model (played by a very young Shirley MacLaine) in the apartment above theirs. The dynamic among that quartet is very similar to that between Martin and Lewis and their "Irma" co-stars.

This one gets way out of hand, including Cold War antics that involve a spy played by Eva Gabor.

Intentional highlights of "Artists" include a terrific and hilarious duet between MacLaine and Lewis and a grand musical finale in the film. An unintentional highlight has MacLaine's character having the same strong interest in astrology for which her portrayor becomes ridiculed in the '80s.

The aforementioned "Hollywood" from 1956 came out after the pair split and had mixed elements of their earlier films. Their character meet during the film, unite for a long trip to Hollywood (with a diversion to Las Vegas) and squabble along the way.

Although "Hollywood" has the elements of an enjoyable Martin and Lewis romp, it seems that the pair would have been better off if they had called it quits after "Artists."

Although one can debate the individual merits of the pair, no doubt remains that the Warner collection is the most comprehensive one out there or that the films are masterfully restored. As Lewis fans would state "vive la difference."

Further, this always at least entertaining pair make movies that the entire family can watch and enjoy together.

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

Sunday, November 23, 2014

'WHAT IF' DVD and BD: When Harry Potter Met Sally

Product Details
The 2014 romcom "WHAT IF," which Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is releasing on Blu-ray and DVD on November 25 2014, represents the latest expansion in the film career of "Harry Potter" legend Daniel Radcliffe.

Radcliffe's role of Wallace in this one takes him from playing everyone's favorite wizard to highly theatrical dramas such as "The Woman in Black" and "Kill Your Darlings" to being the lovestruck dope at the center of every chick flick since at least 2000. One gets the sense that Harry Potter has cast a spell that transfers the consciousness of fellow Brit. Hugh Grant into his body.

Potter further channels Grant in being the manchild in the life of Wallace's nephew. A scene in which Wallace babysits said boy is very cute.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the uber-spoiler-laden trailer for "WHAT" includes glimpses of the key scenes that demonstrate the humor and charm in the film. It further provides a sense of the decent chemistry that Radcliffe and his leading lady share.

We first meet Wallace at a party that he is attending with his quirky slacker former college roommate Allan, who plays the role largely in the same manner that he portrays Adam in the HBO comedy series "Girls." Wallace, who is nursing a seeming eternal broken heart in the wake of a devastating breakup, soon has the typical romcom quirky cute meeting with Chantry. Yale theater program graduate Zoe Kazan, who is the granddaughter of film legend Elia Kazan, plays said "girl".

Chantry's successful career as an animator fills the role of a lead romcom character having a "sexy" job. This aspect of her character also provides a premise for some artistic animation in the film.

The related obstacles that delay the inevitable romance between Wallace and Chantry at the end of "WHAT" include his belief that any relationship that begins with the break up of another relationship never ends well and his desire to not interfere with the stable and loving relationship that Chantry shares with live-in boyfriend Ben.

The blessing and the curse of "WHAT" is that it abandons the more traditional romcom model of a series of outrageously wacky situations and schemes related to the pursuit of real love in favor of a more low-key story of the development of the friendship between the leads and a somewhat gradual realization (and acceptance) of the fact that they are the person for the other. This genre is also blessed (plagued?) by casting '70s sitcom actors as the oddball parents of at least one lead.

Similarly, an alternative pop soundtrack replaces the Motown or pop music from the '70s or the '80s songs that usually provide the background for these films.

In other words, "WHAT" is not your older sister's romcom.

At the same time, "WHAT" does not completely abandon the conventions of the Katherine Heigl vehicles that come before it. The highly contrived amusing scene in which Wallace and Ben meet consists of several minutes of schtick that Radcliffe magically pulls off.

A less amusing scene has Wallace coming to the rescue of Chantry in a department store dressing room. The latter is simply less skilled at physical comedy and embarrassed charm than the former.

The nude scene that is a tradition in every Radcliffe film since the Potter series comes during a decent skinny dipping sequence that represents the beginning of the end for Ben in the life of Chantry.

This mix of traditional and neo romcom elements results in a film that will appeal to fans of both and shows devotees of Radcliffe that he can do anything.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "WHAT" is welcome to either email or connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

'Rake' S1 DVD: Aussie Barrister Courting Disaster

Product Details
BFS Entertainment including the third season of the uber-awesome modern Australian dramedy "Rake" in its October 2014 releases, which include DVD sets of the equally good reviewed "WPC 56" S2 and comparably spectacular "Secret Army" S1, has prompted a series of reviews of "Rake" with these thoughts regarding S1 of these shows. Reviews of S2 and S3 will follow during the next several weeks.

The accolades for S1 include an award from the Australian Writer's Guild.

As an aside, the 2014 mid-season Fox remake of "Rake" with Greg Kinnear falling victim to Tivo overload precludes comparing the top-notch original and the American version.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of a network promo. for "Rake" S1 includes a taste of the raucous nature of this show about a legal professional who lives his life in a less than professional manner.

The titular scoundrel is criminal defense attorney Cleaver Greene, whose highly defective self-control results in regularly engaging in behavior that is as reprehensible as his advocacy on behalf of his clients is usually effective. He further benefits from both having a great deal of charm and having enough sense of self to feel remorse regarding the harm that he inflicts on himself and on those near and dear to him.

The pilot strikes the tough balance between introducing the characters and providing a level of exposition that causes ADD-inflicted viewers to stop watching halfway through. We learn that Greene is involved in a tax dispute, is indebted to the kind of people to whom you do not want to be on the bad side of, has a regular relationship with a prostitute, gets along well with his ex-wife, is subject to manipulation by his 15 year-old son, squats in the offices from which he practices law, and lives above a cafe. Each of these elements (and other sordid aspects of the life of our hero) are factors in each of the eight hour-long S1 episodes.

The bizarre legal case in the pilot has Greene defending a man who admits to eating another human being; the plot elements include proof that the consumed man consented to being killed and subsequently eaten and Australia lacking a law that prohibits cannibalism. Specific sources of dark humor are too tasty to spoil.

Another case with a culinary element involves a celebrity chef who seems as addicted to getting married as Greene is to his personal vices.

Easily the most amusing legal case involves a man and his wife who take the practice of doing "it" doggy style to an incredibly perverse extreme. Suffice it to say that a courtroom analysis on detecting when a Rottweiler is indicating consent regarding a particular activity is hilarious.

Many of Greene's worlds (and vices) collide in the season finale that has him defending someone who fits the textbook definition of frienemy in a bizarre murder case. Like the aforementioned episode, alternative sexual activity is at the center of the case. It offers the terrific bonus of good discussions regarding separating love and sex.

The vicarious thrills associated with watching Greene indulge almost constant whims, highly entertaining courtroom hi-jinks, wonderfully warped defendants, truly unexpected "reveals" during trials, and plain ole silliness and wildness that are crammed in each episode of "Rake" make it a perfect show for anyone with either a good sense of humor or at least an appreciation for the type of developments that are tragic if they happen to you and hilarious when someone is the victim.

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

Friday, November 21, 2014

'Government Girl' DVD: Olivia de Havilland Takes on WWII-era Washington Bureaucracy and Search for True Love

Government Girl
Warner Archive increases its catalog of WWII-era films in releasing the hilarious 1943 Oliva de Havilland comedy "Government Girl" on DVD. Seeing this dramatic actress, best known for "Gone With the Wind," expertly pull off the lead in a screwball comedy is delightful.

The following clip, courtesy of Archive and YouTube, of an early scene from "Girl" conveys much of what you need to know about the WWII vibe and wonderful '40s era comedy sense of the film.

This amusingly goofy take on "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" opens with Marine wannabe automobile production executive Ed Browne joining the ranks of "dollar-a-year" men who come to Washington during WWII to contribute their management expertise or other knowledge to the war effort. The naive Ed shows up without a place to stay in blissful ignorance of the intense housing shortage related to the war-related surge of people into our nation's capital.

It is not so predictable that the status of Browne resulting in a hotel manager denying a couple with a reservation a room to accommodate the newly arrived V.I.P. causes conflict with de Havilland's Elizabeth "Smokey" Allard. Further, this encounter clearly and amusingly establishes that Smokey is a veteran of wartime bureaucracy who proves the adage that secretaries are the ones who truly accomplish things in any large organization.

It is a bit more predictable that Ed comes along when Smokey is in a quasi-desperate situation the next morning and aggravates her at least as much as he assists her.

The level of predictability increases as Smokey gives Ed an earful as he is setting up the office from which he is going to oversee the manufacture of bombers and soon learns that he is her new boss.

The task-oriented Ed continues exasperating his gal Friday by disregarding the written and unwritten rules that govern how Washington operates. The most momentous example of this  involves Ed diverting a shipment of steel for use in manufacturing planes.

The arguable hijacking of the raw material provides two Washington power brokers who have Ed on their enemies list for other reasons an opportunity to ruin him. As is typical regarding this type of tyrant, the absence of malice (or profit) regarding the diversion is entirely irrelevant.

On hint regarding the identity of one such broker is that this haughty individual agrees with the philosophy "what fools these mortals be" regarding 99 percent of the human race.

The conflict described above culminates in the style of courtroom scene that is common in many classic films of the era; this development further allows de Havilland to put her drama hat back on and deliver an oration that puts the Jack Nicholson "You can't handle the truth" monolgue from "A Few Good Men."

On a more general level, "Girl" has every element that make the films of the '30s and '40s so much fun.

Scenes in an apartment house for women that a house-mother style manager rules with an iron fist provide wonderful broad comedy and general fun that includes the residents piling together in a car to go to their jobs that support the efforts of the boys overseas.

There is also nice bantering between de Havilland and her leading man; they are no Tracy and Hepburn but have decent chemistry.

Elements of patriotism include highly symbolic footage of the bombers that Ed is helping to produce flying past the Washington monument and a few scenes in which Ed and Smokey throw darts at a caricature of Hitler. Further, the patriot who brings Ed into the fold explains early in the film that our hero is much more valuable devoting his manufacturing expertise to the war effort than he would be fighting on the front lines.

This great combination of factors results in a trifecta in the form of a great old-style screwball romantic comedy, a nostalgic WWII comedy/propaganda piece, and a charming boy-meets-girl story.

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

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Interview With John Cullum of 'Northern Exposure' on 'The Historian'

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Unreal TV reviewed the film "The Historian" on Thanksgiving Day 2014.] 

An awesome aspect of being invited to review the recently theatrically released film "The Historian" was the chance to interview Theater Hall of Fame member John Cullum, who arguably is best known for playing restauranteur Holling Vincoeur on the classic TV series "Northern Exposure."

The excitement regarding talking with Cullum extended beyond connecting with a beloved actor; he essentially confirmed that he is the person whom I thought that I recognized but could not immediately place while walking through an airport roughly 20 years ago. The big bright smile that Cullum bestowed on the lout who stared at him as they approached each other was as gracious as the insights that he shared yesterday.

Cullum on "The Historian"

Cullum's Brigston Hadley in "The Historian" is the father of college professor Valerian Hadley, whom William Sadler portrays. Cullum did not share the sense that he and Sadler bear a strong resemblance to each other but stated that he played the father of Sadler's character on the wonderfully fun early-2000s scfi series "Roswell."

Cullum, whose earlier acting career includes several Shakespearean productions, also stated that he did not base his portrayal of Brigston on King Lear but agreed that the two characters possessed similar characteristics.

Cullum shared on a more general level that "I'm not a method actor in that I do not have to think of something that happened to me; I'm interested in the story and the dialog."

Cullum added that one exception to the approach described above was that he partially based his Tony winning role in "Shenandoah" on his father and his great-uncle.

Cullum also stated that he did not think that "Historian" writer/director/co-star Miles Doleac knew that Cullum had appeared in "Roswell." The plain-spoken actor added that Miles called him after signing Sadler up for the film and that Cullum concluded that "there weren't any reasons to say no and many reasons to say yes."

The reasons for saying yes included the shooting schedule in Hattiesburg, Mississippi fitting Cullum's schedule and his liking the script.

Comments related to the appeal of the script included noting that "father-son relationships have dominated drama back to "Oedipus (Rex)," and that "family relationships are the most powerful of all."

Tennessean Cullum volunteered as well that he liked the open unencumbered attitude that Doleac demonstrated and confirmed that Doleac being a fellow southern was a factor regarding their good working relationship.   

Cullum on 'Northern Exposure'

The incredible enthusiasm that Cullum still feels toward doing "Exposure" in the '90s was music to the ears of this fan of that series. This clear regard for doing the series began with Cullum expressing surprise when asked if the "Exposure" producers had the cast attend a retreat to create the bonds that were so apparent among that group. Collum simply responded "They didn't have to."

Collum expressed particular affection for co-star John Corbett, who played spiritual ex-con DJ Chris Stevens. Collum noted that Corbett often improvised and shared an awesome story about watching the then long-haired Corbett pick up a pair of scissors in the make-up room for the show and cut off all his hair simply to see how it would look.

Cullum wondering what Corbett was currently doing prompted looking up the IMDb profile of the latter. Reporting back that Corbett had done some good things and some pretty lousy projects prompted Cullum to laugh and reply "haven't we all."

Along similar lines, Cullum stated several times that "Exposure" wife Cythnia Geary was gorgeous and noted that that show was her first major role. He noted further that she had trained as a singer.

A discussion of Geary's interest in singing led to reminding Cullum of the episode in which Geary's Shelly developed a condition that resulted in her only being able to verbally communicate by singing. Cullum noted that as an example of the "Exposure" writers writing for both the characters and the performers in those roles.

Similar to the research regarding Corbett, a look at a listing of Geary's recent work revealed a role in a 2012 made-for-TV Bigfoot film. Cullum was a true gentleman in learning about that one.

Cullum next stated that much of "Exposure" was filmed in the small town of Rosslyn, Washington and that that community had a restaurant that shared the name of "The Brick" in the series. In his typical style, Cullum had high regard for that community.

The only sad aspect of this discussion of "Exposure" was that Cullum did not express much optimism regarding the possibility of an "Exposure" reunion film but seemed very willing to participate in any such project. 

Cullum on Cullum

The awesomeness of Cullum extended to his being one of the nicest and most genuine celebrities interviewed in an eight-year career writing film and television reviews. This particularly came across when commenting to Cullum that seeing "The Historian" on the marquee of the The Quad theater near his Manhattan home when the film opens there on November 28, 2014 certainly will not be a thrill after roughly 50 years as a live theater, film, and television actor.

Cullum replied "I'm certainly not blase about seeing myself in something I've done. I'm humbled by watching a performance."

This led to asking (and hoping) whether a Cullum autobiography was a possibility. This prompted the highly inaccurate response "I didn't feel that my career justified that kind of treatment."

Cullum added that the theater world has dubbed him "the legend" based on his longevity in that industry. However, his frustrating inability to recognize his greatness resulted in his adding that everyone in theater was known as a legend.

If working with Richard Burton on "Camelot" and "Hamlet," doing two plays with Arthur Miller, winning two Tony awards, still being an active working actor at 84, etc. does not warrant an autobiography, nothing does.

Cullum offered the consolation that he recorded a 90-minute podcast for the "Footlight Parade" series that "The Musical Theater Project" Artistic Director Bill Rudman produces and hosts. Cullum commented that he told Rudman at that time that "you have managed to do my biography ... and I liked it!"

A very gracious Rudman subsequently discussed the exceptional experience regarding talking with Cullum; when asked for a recording (which included Cullum singing songs from his shows) of their conversation, Rudman good-naturedly responded with a chuckle in his voice "that is my interview."

Cullum equally graciously declined a request to sing "Come Back to Me" from his Broadway production of "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever." He provided the ample consolation prize of performing a few lines from "Lear."

Cullum on the Future

On asked the shamefully lame chestnut "what's next for you," Cullum shared that he has returned to a project on which he has worked on-and-off for years. It is a musical version of the Appalachian folk stories that are known as "Jack" tales that include "Jack and the Beanstalk."

Cullum stated that these stories included "Jack and the Doctor" in which Jack of "Beanstalk" fame took on the challenge of convincing the titular physician that Jack is worthy of marrying the daughter of that medical practitioner. Cullum added that his plans include playing the doctor.

Regarding future television projects, Cullum expressed his trademark enthusiasm for an upcoming ABC mini-series titled "Member's Only." This production about the behind-the-scenes goings on at an exclusive country club is scheduled to air in February 2015.

Cullum described the 80-year-old retired U.S. senator that he plays in "Members" as "a womanizer and a drunk." He expressed special enthusiasm for his first grand entrance in his first scene in the series.

The described tableau was that Cullum's character drove his car up on the curb, knocking over a don't walk on the grass sign. This quickly led to telling the valet that he had not had a bowel movement in nine days and that the valet should ensure that the bathroom in the club was well stocked with toilet paper.

Cullum provided the additional spoiler that his character's trophy wife had left him for his son. The involvement of Cullum and the seeming similarities between "Members" and the uber-uber-awesome film "Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills" in which a son announces to the entire family that he has reason to believe that he is hung like a rhino compared to his father make "Members" worth checking out.

In Conclusion

The only thing left to share regarding the exceptional hour spent talking with Cullum is that he definitely achieved the goal of a performer of leaving his audience wanting more. This is on top of solving a 20-year-old mystery regarding whether he was the gracious man walking through an airport.

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


'Oh Christmas Tree!' DVD: Hallmark Channel Hoke for the Holidays

Product Details
The delightful and charming 2013 movie "Oh Christmas Tree!," which Monarch Home Entertainment recently released on DVD, emits such a strong pine-scented vibe of a Hallmark Channel holiday movie that learning that this film began life on that network as "Fir Crazy" is not surprising fir sure.

Not that there is anything wrong with that; these films do not approach the quality of timeless holiday classics, such as "Its a Wonderful Life" and "Miracle on 34th Street," but are equally enjoyable. Nothing beats a November or December Sunday morning marathon of Hallmark Channel holiday fare while eating croissants and drinking cocoa with marshmallows and peppermint sticks.

Further, watching this amusing fluff far beats listening to little Jennifer pound out chopsticks on the piano or Justin providing a mangled recap of the original "Star Wars" film that is as long as the movie.

(On a related note, your reviewer is eagerly anticipating exercising the right to an exception regarding a general household prohibition against "Saved by the Bell" to watch a "very special" two-parter being referred to as a "very Zachy Christmas.")

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the Hallmark promo. for "Tree" shows how the film provides great holiday-themed escapist fun.

In true Hallmark style, "Tree" stars "Chuck's" Sarah Lancaster as yuppie Elsie MacReynolds and still-dreamy Eric Johnson of "Smallville" and "Flash Gordon" as Darren. Manhattanite Elsie predictably is denied a promotion and actually fired from her corporate executive position just as her upstate farm folk parents are preparing for their annual six-week trek to the big apple to sell Christmas trees in their spruced up (it had to be written) lot outside a department store.

It is equally predictable that Elsie learns that resistance is futile regarding being called into service at the lot. It is less predictable that this does not cause intense drama.

Darren is a kind-hearted elementary school teacher who frequents the lot after becoming enamored with Elsie. The predictability continues with the initial sense that he is barking up the wrong tree leading to a sweet courtship that does not include any actual or implied sexual activity.

Johnson does a nice job in the role and shows that he makes a terrific Santa aside from being a guy in whose lap most women and a lesser population of men would enjoy sitting.

Gary Dixon, who is the new manger of the department store where the lot is located, fills the role of villain who has a change of heart near the end of the film. A predictably unpleasant first meeting with Elsie and subsequent nuisances associated with the lot prompt a seemingly successful campaign to shut down this literal mom-and-pop business.

The fact that things get gray but never turn black is part of the appeal of this escapist fun. Further, Lancaster does a terrific job showing that Elsie's heart merely slowly thaws. There is no dramatic Grinch-style event that transforms her from a typical jaded New York with a reasonably happy childhood into a Pollyanna at the snap of a finger.

"Tree" additionally has genuinely amusing moments. Lancaster does good schtick with the trees, and scenes regarding the differences between the trees provide good humor.

The "miracle" related to all this is that "Tree" is an above-average example of the genre described above. You will laugh, probably will not cry, and will have a warm feeling (regardless of whether you drink cocoa) at the end of the film. You maple even pine for another viewing next year.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Tree" is welcome to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

'Slow Food Story' DVD: Italian Activist Shows Advocating Small-Farm Local Food No Crock

Product Details
The 2013 Italian documentary "Slow Food Story," which uber-awesome doc. film distributor Icarus Films is releasing on DVD on November 18 2014, is an ideal example of this genre in that it documents with minimal propaganda. It also benefits from both having a very charming leading man and an important subject that affects every person who consumes food.

The following trailer, courtesy of YouTube, for "Food" conveys all of the awesomeness that this review attempts to communicate. You will want to have a gelato with all the participants and to do all your shopping at a farmer's market.

Although the audience first meets "traditional and regional cuisine" advocacy pioneer Carlo "Carlin" Petrini receiving a rock star level reception at a gathering of the faithful, we soon get a relatively (pun intended) glimpse of his childhood and early political activism. Friends and family of Petrini provide the insights regarding both elements of his developmental years.

The experiences that Petrini shares with the aforementioned individuals who are exceptionally near and dear to him truly logically lead to opening what must have been a terrific cafe that serves local food.

The text on the back of the DVD cover that describes the resulting Slow Food Movement as "an international anti-fast-food resistance movement to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourages farming of plants, seeds and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem" perfectly conveys the purpose and spirit of that organization. It also evokes thoughts of the farmers' markets, grocery store style co-ops, and farm food subscription services that have formed and grown in the wake of Carlini starting all this from his ruralish hometown of Bra, Italy.

The film terrifically shows how the Movement has tremendously expanded in both size and enthusiasm. Seeing local dairy and vegetable farmers and others who make their living from working the land realize that this chance to band together incredibly increases the viability of their efforts to enrich the physical and emotional health of their communities is infectious enough to make many of us want to abandon city life to run a farm in Hooterville. At the very least, you will look at your Big Mac and Dunkin Donuts pastry a little different after seeing the film.

Another development that is too awesome to not spoil is that Slow Food is also an influence behind the Eatly locations that have spread through much of Europe and hopefully will expand beyond the New York and Chicago locations in the United States. These HUGE open-formant marketplaces offer the best food that you will ever eat.

Many of the packaged foods, such as jams and dry pastas, come from Italy. The baked goods and other perishable items seem to be the products of local entities.

Personal experience requires encouraging EVERY visitor to New York City to get a sandwich at the counter-service cafe and then pick up a treat at the bakery across the aisle. They will be the best of both that you have ever eaten. (The croissants from the bakery at the other end of the facility are pretty good as well. :-))

Anyone traveling from NYC to Boston is asked to please serve as a mule in bringing a salami sandwich and hazelnut cookie with ganache back. 

The bottom line regarding all of this is that watching "Food" introduces you to the very charming Petrini and documents the value of locally grown and lovingly prepared food without being at all strident or otherwise offense. Filmmaker Stefano Sardo even goes beyond this in including amusing short animated bumpers that are reminiscent of the style from "Monty Python's Flying Circus."

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

'Rumors of Wars' DVD: Letting Chips Fall Where They May

Product Details
The recently released on DVD 2014 end-times thriller "Rumors of Wars" presents a compelling version both of the events that precipitate what many consider the inevitable break down of American society and the impact of that on the faithful.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the trailer for "Rumors" provides a solid sense of the lore and the theology of the film. It also does a good job of fulfilling its purpose of making you want to watch more.

The chronology of relevant events is that a series of bombings at American military bases and civilian locations prompts an initiative by the Zurn Corporation to "voluntarily" have a monitoring chip implanted in the back of your hand. The stated purpose is to deter nefarious doings, and the incentives include financial perks for complying.

Things rapidly escalate to the aforementioned end times in which many buildings are piles of rubble, a large percentage of the population lives under deplorable conditions, and martial law maintains as much order as possible.

College student Roxy provides the prophetic link between the beginning of the end times and the ensuing chaos; doubt regarding whether getting the chip is advisable leads to investigating the validity of claims related to the initial attacks and the extent to which Zurn is being a model corporate citizen.

Future soldier Shaw subsequently finding the journal in which Roxy records her thoughts and findings increases his doubts regarding the justifiability of rooting out (and often summarily executing) folks who remain faithful to a higher power other than Zurn. One might even say that Shaw becomes swayed by the Gospel According to Roxy. "Courageous" actor Ben Davies does his usual good job playing Shaw as an earnest and clean-cut young man.

"Rumors" nicely portrays all this as a kind and gentle theological analogy; there is nothing close to Kirk Cameron trying to coerce his views on the audience.

It is also fun to see Eric Roberts as Zurn the man; he seems born to play a charming front man who may be concealing something.

Everything discussed above adds up to "Rumors" offering an entertaining look at an exaggerated version of a somewhat realistic scenario. The powers-that-be typically want more power, and people have faced those with a stake in getting them to abandon their faith since there have been people; this will continue until the unknown time when earth goes boom for good.

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

Monday, November 17, 2014

'The Middle' S5 DVD: A Kinder Gentler 'Roseanne'

Product Details
The current ABC sitcom "The Middle" migrating from Warner Home Video to Warner Archive for the DVD release of the 2013-2014 fifth season is very apt considering the high esteem with which Archive holds traditional television series and films. "Middle" is the genuine family comedy of the 21st century in that it depicts a middle-class family living in middle America with a generally average number of kids with overall typical personalities of offspring for their ages.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the network promo. for "Middle" S5 is a Cliff Notes version of the relatable family interaction that provides much of the humor in the series. As these glimpses show, the audience can see themselves and those with whom they are bound for life in the characters.

The Heck family of Indiana around which "Middle" centers also falls nicely in the middle of classic TV broods. Unlike Dan and Roseanne Conner of the highly obnoxious '90s sitcom "Roseanne," Frankie (a.k.a. Frances) and Mike Heck are college educated and have what passes for steady and decent employment in the current economy. Newly slightly upwardly mobile Frankie is a dental hygienist, and Mike manages a quarry.

Patricia Heaton of "Everybody Loves Raymond" brings her tradition of eye-rolling exasperated mom and wife to the role of Frankie; Neil Flynn of "Scrubs" plays Mike as much nicer than Flynn's janitor persona from the earlier series but retains an element of the antisocial quality of that character.

The moments in the sun that this pair share in the fifth season include a hilarious weekend at a house with technology that they cannot operate and hosting a dinner party that turns into a typical suburban neighborhood event.

Unlike more affluent television families of the past and the Hecks' Wednesday night neighbors the Dunphy/Pritchett clans of "Modern Family," the Hecks are like many households in finding providing their family even moderate "extras" financially challenging in this era of moderate dystopia.

One example from an earlier season with which a large percentage of viewers can identify has Frankie scrambling to earn money after inadvertently spending $200 on eye cream and having Mike only get upset because the family used to handle such unexpected expenses more easily.

The story described above also provides good context for contrasting "The Middle" with "Roseanne." The titular character in the latter likely either would have shrilly raised a scene regarding the audacity of charging $200 for a couple of ounces of eye cream until the clerk refunded her money or would have successfully replaced the "good stuff" with a dirt-cheap substitute and had a huge belly laugh regarding pulling one over on the over-priced store and the rich jerks who shop there.

The Hecks also take a more humane approach than the Conners to raising their weird youngest son, quirky middle child, and popular but not-so-motivated oldest. Frankie and Mike parent with as much love and understanding as their financial, physical, and mental resources allow.

Fan favorite Axl Heck provides the majority of the "funny because its true" style of humor in the fifth season; this relates to everyone's favorite boxer-clad teen boy going from BMOC high school football star to lowly college freshman.

The college fun commences with the hilarious season premiere centered around the family bringing Axl to college at the start of the academic(?) year. Anyone who has endured this ritual can relate to a frantic trip to a clone of  Bed, Bath, and Beyond for dorm supplies; anyone who has taken a family road trip can relate both to the comical squabbling among the kids and very amusing diversions that turn a 45-minute journey into a more than three-hour tour.

Other college-oriented rites of passage in which Axl amusingly engages includes contending with a highly incompatible roommate, hosting high-school buddies for a weekend on campus, taking a last-minute road trip, burning through his meal plan long before the end of the school year, facing an academic crisis, and trying to figure out where he and his high school girlfriend do (or should) stand.

Wonderfully awkward (now high school junior) Sue Heck continues showing her perpetual peppiness regarding trying out for a plethora of extra-curricular activities despite an unbroken record of either not making the cut regarding such hobbies or failing (hilariously) miserably at those that accept her.

The writers add an awesome new dimension to Sue in having her become a little more assertive following freedom in largely having tormenter Axl out of the house. Although sitting in her older brother's chair at the kitchen table is purely symbolic, fans should be glad to see Sue take a typical move for her in taking a stand in the form of taking a seat.

The most amusing Sue storyline has her very surprisingly making a team under circumstances that are even more hilarious than those under which she shines during a game. This one has her literally repeatedly falling down only to bounce up with as much enthusiasm as ever.

Sue additionally shines both in an especially good episode centered around her efforts to get a prom date and the three-part season ending episode. The latter has Sue make an impassioned speech about her unwavering determination despite a lifetime of failures; this very funny message is that knowing that the odds are against her does not phase her.

For his part, very weird Brick Heck experiences growing pains associated with transitioning from elementary school to middle school. His related adventures include severe paranoia regarding using the school bathroom, misunderstanding the concept of having multiple teachers, and a particularly amusing storyline regarding his emerging body odors.

The best Brick episode arguably is one in which he tries to arrange for Mike to apologize to a female classmate of Brick whom Mike chastises for behavior that does not warrant a rebuke. Much of the humor in this one relates to Brick not understanding how the public perceives encounters such as a grown man meeting a pre-teen girl in a park and giving her gifts.

The aforementioned season finale wraps up with the family doing a good job with the arguably jump-the-shark plot of a trip to a Disney Park. In true "Middle" style, nothing goes right even when things seem to be back on track (and despite exceptional efforts of Disney staffers to provide the family a good experience).

All of this amusement and regular hilarity leads to the conclusion (which may have been a tag line for the series at some point) that the Hecks are like your family, only funnier. You may not quote lines from the show or entirely see you or relatives in the characters but will relate to this group and the wacky situations in which they become embroiled.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "The Middle" is welcome to email me. You can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

'Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For' BD/BD 3D BD: Awesomely Graphic and Novel

Product Details
The star-studded 2014 crime drama sequel "Frank Miller's Sin City: A Dame to Kill For," which Anchor Bay Entertainment is releasing on DVD, Blu-ray, and 3D Blu-ray on November 18 2014, is an incredibly highly stylized film that combines the best elements of classic black and white noir films and the grotesque violence of a Quentin Tarantino film. This success is largely attributable to the dynamic film-making duo of Miller and Robert Rodriguez being at the helm.

This movie, which emits a strong vibe of a live-action graphic novels, opens with the same gritty and rough action that continues non-stop until the uber-Tarantino ending roughly 105 minutes later.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the trailer for "Dame" nicely conveys the sense described above.

The titular dame is Ava (played by Eva Green), who uses the remaining power that she holds over ex Dwight (played by Josh Brolin) to come to her rescue regarding alleged abuse that her wealthy husband is inflicting on her. This leads to a brutal raid and subsequent showdown that may or may not accurately reflect the title of the film.

Meanwhile, the charmed (and charming) Johnny (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) runs afoul of Senator Roarke (played by Powers Boothe) during a high-stakes poker game. A revealed history between the men and the multiple symbolic meanings regarding the outcome of the game trigger the amped-up violent fallout in this one.

This action centers around Marv (played by Mickey Rourke), who is a crusader for justice either at his own initiative or when called on to help bust heads or otherwise violently exact justice. His own adventures include pursuing college punks in the immediate wake of a heinous and heartless crime by them.

A broader (pun intended) and equally entertaining element of "Dame" is the common theme of the strong women, who are just as violent as the men in the film, who rule the seedy part of the titular burg. Whether standing by their man while brandishing an especially lethal firearm or enforcing a neighborhood ban on cops, these ladies show that they have no problem playing rough when the situation requires doing so.

This combination of unique pulp fiction, girl power, and creative cinematography make "Dame" one of the more memorable films of the year.

The special features include an all green screen version of the film, "making of" presentations, and character profiles.

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

Saturday, November 15, 2014

'Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory' BD and DVD: New Doc. Showing Healing Power of Music for Alzheimer's Patients

Product Details
The documentary "Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory," which City Drive Films is releasing on DVD and Blur-ray on November 18 2014, nicely demonstrates how IT guy turned social worker Dan Cohen uses music to trigger formerly lost memories in Alzheimer's patients and other folks with cognitive difficulties.

Friends and family members of Alzheimer's patients will relate (no pun intended) to the scenes in which essentially comatose people quickly respond to music that is chosen for them; fanboys will think of the similar integral role that music plays in "Ghostbusters II." One spoiler is that Cohen does not get a toaster to dance.

The scenes in the following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the trailer for "Alive" perfectly convey the style and substance of this well-made film.

The apt recognition for "Alive" includes winning the Documentary Audience Award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, the Best Documentary Award at the Milano International Film Festival, and the Audience Award at the Calgary Underground Film Festival.

Dr. Oliver Sacks, who is best known through the Robin Williams film "Awakenings," briefly explains the science behind music triggering memories; the opening scene in "Alive" in which an elderly woman first expresses an inability to remember much of anything but seems to recall her early life on listening to jazz legend Louis Armstrong singing "When the Saints Go Marching In" shows that Sacks gets it right.

Other case studies include a vegetative old man and a not-so-happy woman perking up and vividly recall happier times of their lives on hearing songs from their respective youths. (The Beach Boys does it for the golden girl.)

One related "inconvenient truth" that "Alive" addresses is a shift in the philosophy regarding caring for infirm elderly people away from residence-style nursing homes to facilities based on hospital models. Another associated "truth" is that these facilities (consistently with much of the general American healthcare system) limit much of the provided care to pouring pills down the mouths of the patients. This practice gives healthcare providers the benefits of keeping the resident members of the "greatest generation" docile without requiring much effort and of obtaining significant revenue through dispensing the drugs.

All of this adds up to "Alive" meeting the oft-repeated Unreal TV standard for a good documentary; it informs and entertains. Anyone with an interest in learning about the seemingly effective music therapy that the film depicts can learn more through the non-profit Music & Memory organization that Cohen heads.

The special features include a Q&A session with Cohen, an interview with "Alive" filmmaker Michael Rossato-Bennett, and an extra that features music from the film.

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

Friday, November 14, 2014

'One Night at Susie's' DVD: When I Met Your Depression-Era Mother It Was Murder

One Night At Susie's (1930)
The 1930 shouldabeenaclassic noir film "One Night at Susie's" has everything that makes Warner Archive releases so special. It is an early talkie starring household name Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (a.k.a. the former Mr. Joan Crawford) and has a style that perfectly reflects dramas of its era. "Susie" having uber-prolific silent film director John Francis Dillon at the helm contributes more Archiveness to the film.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube and Archive, of an important (but not spoiler) scene from "Susie" provides a great look at the style of the film and the great chemistry between Fairbanks and his co-star.

The titular dame runs a not-so-respectable establishment that offers current and reformed not-so-wise tough guys all manner of support. She also is not afraid to use her influence with public officials to lay down the law when necessary.

Foster son Dick Rollins, whom Fairbanks plays with a great mix of charm and sincerity, is a truly legitimate press agent for a theater whom Susie successfully keeps away from the "life." This effort includes a threat of incurring the wrath of Susie regarding any attempt to corrupt her boy.

Susie quasi shows that mother knows best regarding expressing her disapproval when Dick brings home new best gal chorus girl Mary Martin, whom '20s darlings Billie Dove portrays nicely, to meet Mom. The primary concern of Susie is that chorus girls cannot be trusted and always lead to trouble.

Yes, Mary does declare "I love Dick." Yes, as well, that line elicits giggles from those of us who delight in having the sense of humor of a 12-year-old.

A series of melodramatic circumstances that lead to Dick voluntarily taking the fall for a murder that Susie commits leads the prediction of Susie coming true. The almost surreal scene in which the judge sentences Dick wonderfully seems like something out of "Citizen Kane."

The next round of drama relates to a highly resentful Susie emotionally supporting Mary in fulfillment of a promise to Dick. The predictable showdown regarding that is another memorable moment in the film.

For their part, Susie and Dick remain as close as ever during his tenure at Sing Sing. The support that he provides his beloved includes advancing her career arguably at the expense of his own reputation in his profession.

The nice (and unexpected) overall element that makes "Susie's" worth adding to your DVD collection is that Dillon and his primary cast do not overstate things in this era in which the related still-strong influences of live-stage productions and silent films often result in over-the-top performances.

The audience believes the tough-but-civilized Susie when she tells Dick before finding that his soon-to-be-introduced intended is a chorus girl that Susie can be a lady. Dick himself seems like a nice ordinary guy, rather than either a bon vivant or an anti-social intellect. For her part, Mary speaks and dresses just fine to the extent that she lacks any hint of bimboness.

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