MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com

The DVD Wrap: Get Him to the Greek, Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky, The Thin Red Line, The Law, Ellery Queen … and more

Get Him to the Greek: Blu-ray

In Richard Benjamin’s delightful 1982 comedy, My Favorite Year, all junior writer Benjy Stone was required to do was get the famously debauched British actor, Alan Swann, from his New York hotel to a nearby studio, where a popular comedy-variety show (think, “Your Show of Shows”) is being broadcast live to a national audience.

In Get Him to the Greek, record-company drone Allen Green is enlisted to fly from L.A. to London, where he’ll hook up with famously debauched British rocker Aldous Snow and escort him back to SoCal, for a comeback concert, with a stop in New York for an appearance on the “Today” show. In Greek, Jonah Hill performs the same thankless task as Mark Linn-Baker in My Favorite Year, while Russell Brand plays the character literally embodied by Peter O’Toole.

Brand may be a lot of things, but, as an actor, he’d have to climb a ladder to breathe the same air as the great O’Toole, for whom playing a drunk was second nature. The same probably could be said about the Brit comic, Brand, but he remains something of an unknown commodity here. Part of the gag in Greek comes in knowing that Snow’s character was introduced first in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, also directed by Nicholas Stoller and produced by Judd Apatow.

Fans of Apatow’s comedies will recognize in Greek all of his archetypal characters and trademark gross-outs, and react accordingly. Other viewers, not so much. The pacing is off a touch and the sight gags involving vomit also seem forced. Naturally, much of the humor comes from watching Green go toe-to-toe with Snow in the number of inebriants consumed and social abominations committed. It’s funny, if not particularly surprising or original.

For my money, though, Stoller saved the best material for supporting characters played by Rose Byrne as Snow’s randy ex-girlfriend; Colm Meaney as his dad, a Vegas lounge-lizard musician; Elisabeth Moss as Green’s self-centered girlfriend; and Sean Combs as an amoral record-company executive (aren’t they all?).

The deluxe editions of the movie contain the theatrical and five-minute-longer unrated cut; commentary with Stoller, producer Rodney Rothman and Brand, Byrne and Moss; a trio of behind-the-scenes featurettes; several music videos and karaoke-ready clips; deleted and alternate scenes, gag reels and “Line-O-Rama”; an alternate intro and ending; “Blind Medicine,” described as a selection of scenes from Sarah Marshall’s new hit show; uncut segments from faux and real interview shows; cast auditions; a digital copy; pocketBlu and social media features; BD-Live capability; and limited free streaming of Uncle Buck, Life or Dazed and Confused.

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Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky

For a guy whose idea of haute couture is a pastel Tommy Bahama shirt and newly laundered Levis, I’ve sure learned a lot about Coco Chanel in the last three years. In addition to Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky and Coco Before Chanel, which covered most of the famed designer’s life, I’ve also watched the epic-length Lifetime biopic, Coco Chanel.

She’s been portrayed, at various stages of her development, by Barbara Bobulova and Shirley MacLaine, Lisa Cohen and Audrey Tautou, and, here, the stately beauty, Anna Mouglalis. (Completists would add Leila Frechet and Marie-France Pisier, of Chanel Solitaire, to that short list.)

As the title suggests, CC&IS is as much about two seminal artists approaching the peaks of their careers, as it is about legends in lust and love. Jan Kounen’s story picks up shortly after the death of Chanel’s hottest flame, Arthur “Boy” Capel, and eight years after the devastating Paris debut of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.

While Chanel is thriving, the Russian exile (Mads Mikkelsen) and his family are shown as living in poverty. She invites them to live in her country estate, where the composer’s sickly wife can regain her health and Stravinsky can concentrate on his music. Kounen leaves the door open for us to wonder whether Chanel had intended to seduce the strait-laced, deeply religious father of four all along. As played by Mouglalis, herself a “face” of Maison Chanel, Coco would have been difficult for anyone to resist.

CC&IS suggests that the designer’s undisguised sexuality helped bring down the walls keeping Stravinsky from expanding his repertoire, while the composer’s music allowed Chanel to get over the loss of Boy and discover other sensual pleasures, including the scent captured by Chanel No. 5 perfume. It’s here that fact and fiction collide, but, really, who cares? M&M engage in several scorching love scenes; the costumes are fabulous; and Kounen’s re-staging of “Rites” is fascinating. The bonus features include a backgrounder on the ballet and subsequent fracas; interviews; and other material.

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Babies: Blu-ray

Here’s a movie that demands to be seen by any couple that’s absolutely sure their baby is or will be the cutest, brightest, funniest and most inventive child in the history of mankind. Fact is, all parents think just as highly of their children, many of whom grow up to be serial killers and corrupt politicians. It would be difficult to find more exemplary children than the ones we meet in the often delightful, sometimes boring Babies.

Thomas Balmes and Alain Chabat have compared Babies to a nature documentary that focuses on humans, instead of animals and bugs. Among the newborns representing all babykind are Hattie, in San Francisco; Mari, in Tokyo; Baryarjargal, on the Mongolian steppes; Ponijao, in rural Namibia. They’re so cute and clever, there were times when I thought I was watching the costumed apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey, especially as they discovered the various ways a parched leg bone could be used to simplify life and warfare.

Although the babies live in distinctly different habitats, their development appears to be on the same schedule. If all things were equal, which, of course, they’re not, the tots might be expected to enjoy the same advantages and be tested by the same disadvantages, as well. Those hurdles will present themselves later, though.

Like most other contemporary nature docs, Babies looks terrific in hi-def, which accentuates the natural colors of the settings and eliminates the graininess that sometimes accompanies home movies. Parents and grandparents will find a lot to enjoy here, as will little girls who dream of becoming mommies nine months after getting their high school diploma. Most other viewers are likely to tune out after the first half-hour.

The Blu-ray package includes the featurettes, The Babies: Three Years Later, in which the director revisits all the babies; “Everybody Loves: Your Babies Sweepstakes”; and various other BD-Live and Pocket Blu diversions.

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The Thin Red Line: The Criterion Collection

Twenty years passed between the release of Terrence Malick’s splendidly photographed prairie drama, Days of Heaven, and his elegant war story, The Thin Red Line. During this hiatus, Malick developed a reputation as enigmatic and bizarre as Bob Dylan’s was in the 1960s.

In his adaptation of James Jones’ fine World War II novel, Malick literally puts war on trial as a means to solve any problem, short of genocide and imposed dictatorships. Until the later part of the 20th Century, war movies were built on a template that demanded clearly delineated heroes and villains, winners and losers. Films set against the background of the Vietnam War made it more difficult for audiences to identify such qualities as heroism, patriotism and honor. They also forced us to question what we were doing there, in the first place.

No such thing occurred in The Thin Red Line. The Japanese were a formidable enemy, well worth engaging, especially since their leaders weren’t in any mood to surrender. Everyone in uniform at Guadalcanal, friend or foe, considered himself to be a patriot, and it wasn’t difficult to recognize heroism. Even so, the futility of war was made obvious in Malick’s naturalistic depictions of islanders, animals, vegetation and topography, all of which would survive the fighting between these outsiders, as they had hurricanes and colonialists. If it weren’t for the island’s strategic location along established supply routes, Guadalcanal would have been of no interest to the war machines. The Japanese were dug in hard and ordered to fight to the death to protect the airfield being built there.

The battle chronicled in The Thin Red Line was only one of many, but it represented the determination of marines and soldiers on both sides of the conflagration to succeed. Most of the film was shot on location in Queensland, Australia, but key establishing material was filmed on Guadalcanal and Honiara Island, in the Solomon chain. John Toll’s cinematography is nothing short of spectacular in Blu-ray and Hans Zimmer’s score perfectly complements Malick’s ever-changing emotional palette.

All of this is explained in the impressive Criterion Collection package, which also includes a newly restored high-definition digital transfer; new audio commentary, featuring John Toll, Jack Fisk and Grant Hill; outtakes; interviews with several of the film’s A-list actors and crew, and casting director Dianne Crittenden; wartime newsreels from Guadalcanal; and a booklet featuring essays by novelist Jones and critic David Sterritt.

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Gangsters Paradise-Jerusalema

If you didn’t already know that Ralph Ziman’s taught urban drama, Gangster’s Paradise, was set in South Africa, it would be easy to confuse the mean streets of Johannesburg with those of Detroit, Marseille or Sao Paulo.

The young hoodlum at the film’s center parleys what he’s learned from the OG’s in his shantytown home into a drug and real-estate empire, thanks to some savvy business deals, charity rip-offs and good, old-fashioned extortion. The movie is based on a true-story, but one that would sound familiar on Chicago’s South Side or L.A.’s South-Central.

Lucky Kunene’s strategy includes convincing the predominantly black and poor residents of decrepit apartment buildings to give him their rent money, which he withholds from their slumlord owners. Once in control, Kunene runs his criminal enterprises from the safety of their high-rise walls. It isn’t until Kunene begins buying property in ritzier neighborhoods, and endears himself to the family of his liberal white girlfriend, that hubris becomes his worst enemy.

It allows police and rival gangsters to combines forces against him. Nothing here negates what’s been achieved by the post-Apartheid governments … the success of the World Cup speaks volumes on that subject. The exploitation of poor people by thugs of any racial, religious or political persuasion is a universal plague. Fans of hard-core gangsta flicks, though, will find a lot to like in Gangster’s Paradise.

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The Law

After being blacklisted in the early 1950s, writer/director/actor Jules Dassin moved to France, where he carved out a decent niche in the international cinema. In addition to such gritty American titles as Brute Force, The Naked City, Thieves’ Highway and Night and the City, Dassin scored big with Rififi, Never on Sunday and Topkapi.

Released in 1959, The Law is as fascinating for its literary back-story as what appeared on the big screen. Roger Vailland’s novel was set in a downwardly mobile fishing village in southern Italy, where nothing much actually happens, but, what does, is overseen by the town’s wealthiest landowner, Don Cesare, and a slick wannabe crime boss, Matteo Brigante (Yves Montand).

Order is maintained less by the sleepy town’s constabulary than a truth-or-dare drinking game, the Law. It dictates that players tell the truth when questioned by the game’s inquisitor, even when it’s embarrassing or implicates them in a crime. In Brigante’s hands, knowledge really is a powerful tool. (The game was outlawed by Italian authorities, but remains popular in certain enclaves.)

Porto Manacore is also populated by several beautiful, buxom women, the most desirable of whom is Cesare’s housekeeper, Mariette, played by the insanely gorgeous Gina Lollobrigida. As mischievous as she is pretty, Mariette falls for a Milanese engineer, Enrico (Marcello Mastroianni), who’s been assigned the task of draining Cesare’s wetlands to prevent malaria.

Brigante perceives correctly that Enrico presents a threat to his pursuit of Mariette and engages him in a game of the Law. Meanwhile, cars and motorbikes literally disappear from parking spots and a small fortune is stolen from a Swiss visitor. Everything comes to a delightful head when Cesare falls ill and begins playing favorites with his last will and testament.

The Law shows its age, but remains lots of fun to watch, especially for the abundance of top stars (Melina Mercouri plays a local belle du jour) and scenic location.

The two-disc set includes the uncensored French-language version; new commentary by critic David Fear; a new English-language subtitle translation; alternate ending, Mariette’s Revenge; a 1958 episode of Cinépanorama from the set of The Law, with Dassin, Lollobrigida, Montand and Mercouri; a 1957 television interview with the novelist, Vailland; the documentary, “L’Ultima Osteria,” about the Law, as played today; and an essay by Haden Guest, director of the Harvard Film Archive.

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Suck
Frozen
Triple Dog

Of all the things the world doesn’t need right now, another new vampire movie is right there on top of the list. It was impossible to resist “Suck,” however, if only for a cast that includes Alice Cooper, Moby, Henry Rollins, Iggy Pop, Dave Foley, Jessica Pare and Malcolm McDowell, playing vampire-hunter Eddie Van Helsing.

In a variation on the “Crossroads theme forwarded by bluesman Robert Johnson, a Canadian band of losers called the Winners begins to sell its soul to the devil, one individual at a time. Sure enough, the Toronto band becomes successful on a circuit that runs roughly from Toronto to Cleveland, but it comes with the price of much spilt blood. This time, however, the disaffected bloodsuckers are given a get-out-of-hell-free card by Cooper, whose daughter also appears in Suck.

Even as direct-to-DVD movies go, Suck doesn’t suck all that badly. Writer/director Rob Stefaniuk’s experience as a rock musician informs the movie and the presence of veteran rockers validate his creative choices. If it isn’t on a par with Rocky Horror, Suck is light years ahead of most other vampire movies when it comes to goofy fun.

Heck, Stefaniuk even got permission to use clips of McDowell, circa Clockwork Orange. The disc also includes the making-of featurette, “Down to the Crossroads, or How to Make a Movie Suck”; audio commentary with Stefaniuk and cinematographer Gregor Hagey; and a Burning Brides music video.

In Frozen, a trio of snowboard enthusiasts gets stuck on a lift, alone and abandoned, 50 feet above the surface of the mountain. That’s the long and short of Adam Green‘s chilly, if not particularly chilling thriller. Kevin Zegers, Shawn Ashmore and Emma Bell play the stranded kids, who are given very few options, besides taking a header off the chair.

Instead of waiting for an impending storm to dump a few feet of new powder, one of the young men decides to make the leap. The doofus soon discovers what can happen when a pack of wolves picks up the scent of a fallen boarder with a pair of badly broken legs, and it ain’t pretty. The two others figure out different ways to make it back to earth, but, once they do, the excitement is pretty much over. Even being stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean offers more opportunities for survival and meaningful dialogue.

That said, the actors give it their all. There are a couple of truly gruesome scenes, but, when the sun is out, the Utah scenery is nice. It’s to Green’s credit, as well, that the movie didn’t rely on green-screen effects for its thrills. The DVD adds commentary, deleted scenes and behind-the-scenes featurettes.

In Triple Dog, a socially diverse collection of teenage girls plays a dangerous game of Truth or Dare while at a sleepover party. As I recall, a triple-dog dare is much more daunting than a single or double dare, and, here, the girls must comply or risk having their heads shaved. The dares aren’t all that inventive, really, but one girl’s history threatens to get everyone in serious trouble. The cast is full of attractive young women, all of whom could be one solid role away from breaking through to something more substantial than straight-to-DVD thrillers. There’s no reason teen viewers wouldn’t enjoy spending part of a sleepover watching Triple Dog. The bonus materials include deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes interviews and a photo gallery.

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Stomp the Yard 2: Homecoming
Eric Clapton: The 1960s Review
Soundtrack for a Revolution
Pearl Jam: Under Review

It’s amazing what one learns from the movies. Not having seen the original Stomp the Yard, I wasn’t aware of the new dance craze that’s sweeping fraternities and sororities at black colleges around the nation. It’s called stepping and, besides highly coordinated stomping of Doc Martens, involves all manner of spins, leaps, kicks and pops.

The original Stomp the Yard made a cool $60 million, a figure that must have raised lots of eyebrows around Hollywood. The sequel, Homecoming, is taking the straight-to-DVD route, eliminating most marketing costs by relying on buzz and pent-up anticipation.

Here, a talented street dancer joins the Theta Nu fraternity at Atlanta’s Truth University, just in time to participate in a national competition. Chance Harris (Collins Pennie) is the real deal, but becomes a liability when gang-bangers show up to collect a $5,000 debt … exactly the amount of money being awarded the winning stepper. It’s pretty wild stuff and the crowds couldn’t be more enthusiastic. The Stomp the Yard films remind me of “Drumline” and dozens of other movies about break-dancing, lambada, ballet, tango, swing, lap and river-dancing.

There’s no scarcity of rock-docs in which Eric Clapton’s music is analyzed, worshiped or put into one artistic context or another. The 1960s Review may be the best one I’ve seen, in that it offers the testimony and recollections of artists with whom he’s played, as well as producers, historians and friends. There’s also plenty of vintage video footage of the bands with whom he played, including the Yardbirds, Bluesbreakers, Cream and Blind Faith. It arrives on the heels of Jimi Hendrix: The Guitar Hero: Classic Artists, in which Clapton discussed the influence of Hendrix on a generation of musicians. Here, too, the evidence is presented in an entertaining and informative fashion.

Music played as much a role in the civil-rights movement as did the speeches. “We Shall Overcome” said more in a couple of stanzas than most speakers could in a half hour. The musical documentary Soundtrack for a Revolution recalls the anthems that fueled the sit-ins, boycotts and freedom rides and kept people marching in the face of resistance from brutal police and venomous locals.

Directors Bill Guttentag and Dan Sturman examine the music from the viewpoint of leadership and musicians, alike. Among the activists featured here are John Lewis, Harry Belafonte, Andrew Young and Julian Bond. The performers include Richie Havens and the Roots, with TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone, Joss Stone, the Blind Boys of Alabama, John Legend, Wyclef Jean, Mary Mary and the Carlton Reese Memorial Unity Choir. Behind-the-scenes photo gallery

Pearl Jam: Under Review not only examines the Seattle band’s music, but also its crusades against the abuses of record labels and promoters. The DVD includes interviews with the band, colleagues, rock writers, rare and classic performance footage.

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Cat City

The wind farms outside Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage and Cathedral City provide an interesting backdrop for crime and intrigue under the brutally hot desert sun. Shot from one angle, they resemble giant centurions or space vehicles. Looking straight down a row of blades, the designs are nothing short of kaleidoscopic. They’re probably the most interesting things in Cat City, a thriller about a real-estate deal gone hinky and an angry mark, who wants his money back … now.

Generally speaking, it isn’t wise to steal from known mobsters and a heavily armed stranger. Neither is it smart for a husband (Julian Sands) to cheat on a wife (Rebecca Pidgeon) who’s infinitely smarter than he is. Brent Huff’s thriller makes great use of the desert setting: Is there anything hotter –literally and figuratively – than the sight of a beautiful woman baking in the sun, alongside a crystal-blue swimming pool? The plot is serviceable, if not terribly complicated, and there’s a reasonably satisfying ending. Otherwise, it’s something we’ve all seen before.

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The Secret of Moonacre

Renowned animator Gabor Csopo followed up the live-action fantasy, Bridge to Terabithia, with this adaptation of Elizabeth Goudge’s children’s tale, The Little White Horse. It follows the recently orphaned Maria Merryweather, who is required to leave her luxurious home and live with an eccentric uncle at Moonacre Manor.

The estate not only is inhabited by all sorts of outrageous characters and mythical beasts, but it also is haunted by a troubling prophesy. Among other things, Maria (Dakota Blue Richards) discovers she’s a real princess and holds the key to keeping Moonacre Manor from disappearing into the sea. The Secret of Moonacre also stars Ioan Gruffudd, Tim Curry and Natascha McElhon. The DVD adds a making-of featurette, deleted scenes, cast/crew interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.

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Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals

This HBO documentary arrives just in time for the opening of NBA pre-season camps. It reminds us of the time, before the arrival of Michael Jordan, when two of the college game’s greatest and most remarkable players joined the pros simultaneously and began a rivalry for the ages. It boasted attendance at arenas across the country and helped TV ratings reach record highs.

Their intensity also had a direct impact on the overall quality of professional basketball. Until this documentary aired, most fans weren’t aware of the depth of the rivalry between Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson and Larry Bird, who came from completely different backgrounds, but shared an intense love of the game. The NBA could use another such rivalry, instead of cynically created dream teams, such as the Miami Heat.
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Rich Man, Poor Man: The Complete Collection
Secret Agent AKA Danger Man: The Complete Collection
South Park: A Little Box of Butters

Like it or not, the (your-seasonal-holiday-here)-buying season will soon be upon us. I spotted my first decorated aluminum tree this past weekend and surrendered to the reality that Christmas was right around several different corners, including Halloween and Thanksgiving. To that end, let’s get on with the business of getting and giving:

In January, 1977, Roots set the bar for all mini-series to come, by demonstrating that important social issues could be addressed on television in an entertaining, educational and enlightening way. A year earlier, though, it was Rich Man, Poor Man that created the template for dozens of prime-time family dramas to come. It also introduced the world to rising-star Nick Nolte, but that’s a different story.

Adapted from a popular novel by Irwin Shaw, RMPM chronicled the story of the Jordache brothers from 1945 through the late 1960s. The one played by Peter Strauss rose from his German-immigrant roots to become a corporate mogul and political kingpin. Nolte played the bad-boy sibling, who boxed, joined the Merchant Marine and engaged in a bloody rivalry with an unforgettable brute named Anthony Falconetti (William Smith).

Among other things, RMPM proved that a major production could succeed, even if the most familiar stars were sitcom actors (Ed Asner), over-the-hill matinee idols (Van Johnson) and up-and-comers (Susan Blakely), and viewers could handle interlaced storylines that extended more than a hour a week. It was terrific. The DVD edition of the first installment now is available and Boomer parents will love seeing it again.

In 1965, there was no way to escape the craze that began with the publication of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and subsequent 007 movie franchise. As if there weren’t enough homegrown spies on television, CBS elected to import the British series, Danger Man, starring Patrick McGoohan as Washington-based secret agent John Drake. Ostensibly, Drake worked for NATO. Like any good fictional spy, however, his actions often blurred jurisdictional boundaries.

The title would be changed to Secret Agent and run for 86 episodes, all included in the impressive new package from A&E home Video. Each episode of the show is presented in the original broadcast order, from the original season of Danger Man to the 47 episodes of Secret Agent. The set includes the two-part finale, which was presented in color; a McGoohan biography/filmography; a photo gallery; and the original U.S. opening, featuring Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man.”

Leopold “Butters” Stotch, one of the most enduring characters on South Park, gets the superstar treatment in “A Little Box of Butters” DVD gift set. The wee lad with a gigantic imagination entered TV life as a background character on the first episode, in 1997, but eventually was given a platform of his own as Eric Cartman’s tormentee and an alter ego, Professor Chaos.

The box includes 13 Butters-centric episodes, re-mastered in 5.1 Surround Sound, and “It’s Butters! A Trivia Game,” an interactive experience that allows his fans to test their knowledge of the character. Among other memorabilia are a pimp chain from “Butters’ Bottom Bitch”; an Inspector Butters Badge from “Butters Very Own Episode”; an all-new manuscript of the lost chapter from “The Poop That Took a Pee” from “The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs”; and a cancelled check from Paris Hilton from “Stupid Spoiled Whore Video Playset.”

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The Cleveland Show: The Complete Season One
Family Guy: Partial Terms of Endearment
Ellery Queen Mysteries
Real National Treasure
Battle 360/Patton 360
Nostradamus 2012
Party Down: Season Two
Superman/Batman: Apocalypse
Astonishing X-Men: Gifted: Marvel Knights

Last season, Fox’s Sunday-night animation block added The Cleveland Show, featuring neighbor Cleveland Brown from Family Guy. In it, Brown and Brown Jr. move from the fictional town of Quahog, Rhode Island, to Stoolbend, Virginia. The idea was to give the Browns a new family, friends and storylines of their own, as well as a fresh cast of vocal actors. Among them are Sanaa Lathan, as new wife Donna; Reagan Gomez-Preston, as her teenage daughter; and co-creator Mike Henry, as her 6-year-old son.

Seth McFarlane’s Family Guy is represented on DVD, as well, with the controversial “Partial Terms of Endearment” episode. In it, Lois agrees to become a surrogate mother for an infertile couple. The set represents only a single episode, but adds such special features as “The Seth and Alex Almost Live Comedy Show,” an “uncensored” table-read, animatics and nine songs created for Family Guy. Never a critics’ darling, the series is an equal-opportunity offender.

In the mid-1970s, Jim Hutton (Timothy’s dad) starred in a series of whodunits adapted from the popular Ellery Queen novels. Developed by the creators of Columbo and Murder, She Wrote, Ellery Queen Mysteries encouraged viewers to guess along with the protagonist and his father, New York police inspector Richard Queen (David Wayne), as to the perpetrators of various serious crimes.

Fans have been waiting a long time for this DVD collection, which is comprised of all 22 digitally restored, uncut and unedited episodes of the NBC series. Among the guest stars are Don Ameche, Dana Andrews, Tom Bosley, George Burns, Joan Collins, Troy Donahue, Anne Francis, Eva Gabor, Larry Hagman, June Lockhart, Robert Loggia, Roddy McDowall, Ed McMahon, Sal Mineo, Donald O’Connor, Dean Stockwell, Dick Van Patten, Vincent Price, Cesar Romero and Betty White … yeah, that Betty White. It adds the series pilot, “Too Many Suspects,” an interview with co-creator William Link, and a collectible booklet with essays and episode summaries.

The good folks at History/A&E keep churning out special DVD and Blu-ray editions of their fascinating documentary and speculative-history production. Hardly a week goes by without a new title, or five, from the A&E family of networks. This week’s entries include Real National Treasure, which opens the doors of the U.S. Library of Congress, the largest of its kind in the world (745 miles of shelves, holding 145 million items). The show not only focuses on the institution’s rare documents, but also how the staff of 4,000 people goes about the business of cataloging and preserving its growing inventory, physically and digitally.

Battle 360 uses vivid CGI visualizations to chronicle the role played by aircraft carrier Enterprise in World War II. In addition to being a spectacularly juicy target, the ship’s crew and officers played a significant role in the coordination of American forces fighting on, above and below the surface of the ocean. The first-season compilation includes all 10 original episodes and additional scenes.

The same all-encompassing approach is applied to Patton 360, which employs modern technology to document Gen. George S. Patton’s campaign in North Africa, the invasion of Sicily and the charge toward the heart of Hitler’s Third Reich. In addition to CGI, both shows feature archival footage, personal diary quotes and commentary from historians and veterans.

Nostradamus 2012 was shown ahead of the expensive Hollywood take on Mayan prophesy, which dictates the world will end sometime around December 21, 2012. (Get your Christmas shopping done early.) Nostradamus prophesized several important events in world history, and we’re told that some of the horror could still be averted. The DVD adds the feature-length documentary, The Lost Book of Nostradamus.

I very much enjoyed the Starz series, Party Down, about a collection of Hollywood wannabes who work for a dysfunctional catering company. The line that divides catering gigs and starring roles in a movie or sitcom can be very thin, indeed, and the servers invariably come in contact with more successful colleagues, casting agents, producers and stars. Their catering duties then become secondary to getting noticed. In the second season, Megan Mullally replaced original cast member Jane Lynch, who only shows up in a wedding episode.

In Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, Batman and Superman must deal with a mysterious Kryptonian, whose space vehicle crashes in the waters off New York. The evil Darkseid abducts the aliens, hoping to use its powers to defeat the superheroes. The set adds a preview of “DC Universe”; a short film, “Green Arrow”; the featurette, “Last Daughter of Krypton”; and bonus episodes, “Little Girl Lost: Parts 1 and 2.”

Astonishing X-Men: Gifted combines the creative powers of Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and John Cassaday (Planetary, Captain America) in the service of a new “flagship” X-Men series.

In the “motion comic,” Cyclops and Emma Frost re-form the X-Men to battle a potentially catastrophic mutant gene and the enigmatic Ord. The set adds “A Conversation With Joe Quesada and Neal Adams,” a behind-the-scenes look at Marvel Knights animation, “The Best of Marvel Super Heroes: What The —? X-Men Edition,” a visual history of the characters, a music video and trailers.

3 Responses to “The DVD Wrap: Get Him to the Greek, Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky, The Thin Red Line, The Law, Ellery Queen … and more”

  1. Jane Biggers says:

    VAN JOHNSON, WAS ANYTHING BUT AS YOU PUT IT: “OVER THE HILL”. WHAT A CHEAP TITLE FOR SUCH A FINE ACTOR…

  2. gdretzka says:

    At 60, I think it can be argued that Mr. Johnson was, if not over the hill precisely, approaching its summit. With more space, I might have mentioned the names of all the Emmy nominees from “RM/PM,” of which Mr. Johnson was one. In less than two years, he would make his first appearance on “Love Boat,” which was the official Hollywood demarcation of for being “over the hill.” I meant no insult, in any case.

Dretzka

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“Dude, I don’t like the way you talk, bro. How can you tell me that it’s going to be hard? Do you see a lot of people like you writing stories? Give me a break, bro. That’s your strength, that you’re not like us. Go out there and tell your stories. Don’t go out there and try to be like Quentin or me or anybody else. We need you. Tell me what makes you angry, why you’re arrogant, or fearful, whatever it is. Don’t hide anything. Be honest. What is that thing that bothers you and makes you distinct? Everyone’s looking for you. A Mexican point-of-view to tell a story right now? I’m telling you, everybody wants that right now. I desperately need you to tell your story in your way. You are essential.”
~ M. Night Shyamalan

“My films are always brought to life from an idea, a coincidence, or a dreamlike magic. An ephemeral moment that settles in my mind and starts to bloom. The plot slowly appears before my eyes, and there’s nothing left but to write it. I actually do use a mood board. And location scouting is essential to the realization of the film. I’m inspired by architecture — the beauty of certain neighborhoods, the mystery in odd buildings, or streets that suggest psychoanalytic theories. I only choose my actors after I write the script.”
~ Dario Argento