MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka Dretzka@moviecitynews.com

The DVD Wrapup: King George, Cars 3, Overdrive, Afterimage, Glass Castle, Whisky Galore, The Journey, Into the Night, Sissi, Stay Hungry and more

The Madness of King George: Blu-ray
Even if Olive Films weren’t presenting its Blu-ray release of The Madness of King George as a cautionary tale, it would be difficult for any American – Republicans included – not to draw parallels to our current political predicament. Nicholas Hytner and writer Alan Bennett’s meditation on power, and a state’s ability to overcome serious damage by a monarch’s mental illness, is based on the periods of dementia experienced by England’s George III (Nigel Hawthorne). The movie also describes his relationship with his eldest son, the Prince of Wales (Rupert Everett), particularly focusing on the period around the Regency Crisis of 1788–89, when Charles James Fox (Jim Carter) led the opposition and William Pitt the Younger (Julian Wadham) supported the king as PM. Upon its release in 1994, references to “King Lear” competed with reports of Richard Nixon’s oddball behavior in the final years of his presidency, as reported by Henry Kissinger. The British monarch, at least, had an excuse. It’s believed that he was a victim of acute intermittent porphyria, a blood disorder that affects the brain, but losing the American colonies surely had an impact on his sanity. Hawthorne, Helen Mirren and Bennett were nominated for Academy Awards, while the set direction and art design of Ken Adam and Carolyn Scott were honored with an Oscar. Today, of course, detractors of the current occupant of our White House wonder out loud if Donald Trump might be showing signs of dementia or megalomania. If, like Trump, George III had been able to share his thoughts on Parliament every morning, before dawn, they might sound a lot like his ravings in Bennett’s play and screenplay. If Trump were to be declared mad or impeached for incompetency, the debate in Congress as to his successor probably would resemble the movie’s depiction of Pitt’s power struggle with Fox and the king’s eldest son. By the time Parliament was ready to decide the fate of the Regency bill, the king’s madness appeared to disappear. (If Mike Pence, Jared Kushner or Paul Ryan begin wearing powdered wigs to work, look out!) This isn’t to say that The Madness of King George can’t simply be enjoyed as a brilliantly conceived historical dramedy or for its acting, because it can. Thank goodness, modern medicine relies on symptoms more reliable than daily examinations of stool samples and applying caustic poultices to draw out “evil humors.” (The most telling sign of porphyria, the blue tint of the king’s urine, was ignored.) The Blu-ray arrives without bonus features.

Cars 3: Blu-ray, 4K UHD
Critics have been far less enamored of Disney/Pixar’s high-octane franchise, Cars, than the kids and parents who’ve turned it into a full-blown franchise, with sequels, big- and small-screen spinoffs, records, books, toys, video games and Cars Land, a replica of Radiator Springs at Disney California Adventure Park. Released in 2011 to less-than-stellar reviews, Cars 2 succeeded in expanding the series’ international base by reversing the ratio of box-office revenues flowing into the Mouse House from domestic and worldwide sales. I doubt it had much to do with animation czar John Lasseter’s decision to turn Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) into international machines of mystery. From my point of view, at least, the espionage conceits and 007 references overshadowed the characters’ pursuit of glory on the World Grand Prix circuit. In response to the overamped sequel, perhaps, the far better Cars 3 sputtered noticeably at the box office, both here and abroad. In the hands of first-time co-writer/director Brian Fee, the triquel adopts a back-to-the-future approach to advancing the mythology. In a scene almost too reminiscent of fiery crashes in actual NASCAR races, McQueen’s legacy is threatened by high-tech newcomer Jackson Storm (Armie Hammer). His future will be determined not solely by heart and TLC, but by recognizing that cars must join the digital world or accept also-ran status.

Four months later, while recovering in Radiator Springs, McQueen isolates himself from his friends, spending his idle hours watching footage of his late mentor, Doc Hudson. (The old-school racer has been reanimated, through unused recordings of Paul Newman from the first film.) He also reunites with girlfriend Sally Carrera (Bonnie Hunt), who fears he’ll be forced into retirement, like Doc. Much to his chagrin, team owners Dusty and Rusty (Ray and the late Tom Magliozzi) send him to a new state-of-the-art racing center, run by auto-parts magnate Sterling (Nathan Fillion). After failing one mechanical test, he orders McQueen to work with trainer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo). He takes her on a trip down Memory Lane, with stops at a demolition derby, beach races and a meeting with Doc’s former mechanic and crew chief, Smokey (Chris Cooper). After Cruz explains her lifelong desire to compete at the highest level, McQueen begins to see her in a much different light. By lending their voices to racing analyst Natalie Certain and Louise “Barnstormer” Nash, Kerry Washington and Margo Martindale add even more feminist touches to the generally boy-friendly proceedings. If Lee and his writing team don’t break much other new ground here, Cars 3 does benefit from a return to the basics of racing, teamwork and trust. The special features include commentary; the new Mini-Movie, “Miss Fritter’s Racing Skoool”; the theatrical short, “Lou,” a short film about grade-school recess and lost-and-found items coming to life; “Ready for the Race,” with race-car driver William Byron; “Cruz Ramirez: The Yellow Car That Could,” a closer look at designing and voicing the film’s key new character; a five-part making-of featurette; “fly through” looks at some of the movie’s key locales; deleted scenes; and “My First Car,” with cast and crew recall members.

Overdrive: Blu-ray
And, while we’re on the subject of automobiles, Antonio Negret’s Overdrive is a fast-paced thriller that can be enjoyed by classic-car aficionados and action freaks in equal measure. The only thing it lacks is a story that advances the chase subgenre beyond well-established conventions and tropes. The omission surprised me because the screenplay was written by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, whose credits include 2 Fast 2 Furious, 3:10 to Yuma, Wanted, The Double and the creation of TV shows “Chicago Med,” “Chicago Fire,” Chicago Justice” and “Chicago P.D.” Set in the south of France, Overdrive features international car thieves Andrew Foster (Scott Eastwood) and his half-brother, Garrett (Freddie Thorp), whose victims include some archetypically drawn miscreants who probably wouldn’t notice the disappearance of a brand new Cadillac or Lincoln. The loss of a vintage Bugatti Type 57, Ferrari GTO, Maserati Quattroporte, Alfa 6C and Porsche 911 GT3 RS … yes, they’ll miss. The brazen young dudes steal the Bugatti, for example, while it’s in transit from an auction house, to the garage of Marseille crime boss Jacomo Morier (Simon Abkarian). After tracking down the Foster boys, Morier trades their lives for a promise they’ll steal a rare Ferrari from his rival, the ruthless Max Klemp (Clemens Schick). No band of Hollywood car thieves would be complete without the inclusion of a pair of world-class beauties, here, in the persons of Ana de Armas and Gaia Weiss. Providing nothing more than an extra body to kill, Morier adds his cousin, Laurent (Abraham Belaga), to the group, to make sure that everything runs smoothly. The double- and triple-crosses to come are launched when Klemp figures out the original plan and exacts his own form of justice from the Fosters. Finally, though, the 93-minute story fails to accommodate all of the disparate characters and subplots, accentuating, instead, the splendid countryside and magnificent automobiles. The Blu-ray adds three rather abrupt featurettes, “The Caper,” “The Crew” and, all too briefly, “The Cars.”

Afterimage: Blu-ray
True horror takes many forms, as do the monsters who provoke it. In Polish director Andrzej Wajda’s final feature, Afterimage, the perpetrator of great evil, Joseph Stalin, lives hundreds of miles from Lodz, where avant-garde artist Wladyslaw Strzeminski (Boguslaw Linda), succumbed to the Soviet dictator’s madness. Stalin may never have spent more than a few seconds looking at Strzeminski’s work, but his disregard for art that didn’t fall within the general heading of “socialist realism” was heeded by Communist Party flunkies throughout the Eastern Bloc. Stalin’s condemnation of paintings and sculptures that didn’t glorify proletarian ideals dovetailed with Adolph Hitler’s abhorrence of so-called degenerate art, which he associated with leftists, Jews and internationalists. Unlike Stalin’s minions, however, Nazis weren’t at all averse to making a big show of their contempt, even going so far as to stage exhibitions to incite the public’s wrath. While Americans were made acutely aware of Hitler’s plans to eradicate artists, writers and filmmakers he didn’t like, it wasn’t until the collapse of the Iron Curtain that we learned that full extent of censorship there. Despite losing his right thigh and left forearm in World War I, Strzeminski gained an international reputation as an avant-garde painter, theorist and educator. Although some of his writings and sculptures were destroyed after the German invasion of Poland, he survived the war. For the next four years, he remained active as a painter, organizer and backer of educational institutions.

Afterimage opens in January 1950, when Minister of Culture Wlodzimien Sokorski orders Strzeminski’s dismissal from the State Higher School of Art. Practically overnight, he becomes a non-person in the eyes of the Polish government and those indebted to it. He can’t teach or mount exhibitions, and the jobs he does land don’t last very long. Without a job, he loses his access to food rations and finally is hospitalized with tuberculosis. Wajda’s depiction of the artist’s struggle merely to survive is horrifying from both an emotional and visual perspective. All the color is drained from Strzeminski’s surroundings and the persecution even extends to former students committed to committing his theories and observations to paper, on stolen typewriters. While Afterimage isn’t an easy movie to watch, it serves as a reminder of what happened to our creative community during the Red Scare and what could happen again, if religious fundamentalists in Congress were allowed to dictate taste and cut funds intended for the arts. Poland has blossomed since the return of democracy, but Wajda demands that freedom never be taken for granted. The package adds the comprehensive feature-length documentary, Wajda by Wajda.

The Glass Castle Blu-ray
For a pothead, Woody Harrelson is a remarkably prolific actor. In the last two years, alone, he’s starred in a dozen movies, played characters who range from cynical and neurotic (The Edge of Seventeen, Wilson), to militaristic and presidential (War for the Planet of the Apes, LBJ). The one constant in his performances, spanning Natural Born Killers and The Glass Castle, is the likelihood that he’ll slide off the deep end at one point or another, into uncharted waters. In Destin Daniel Cretton’s The Glass Castle, he plays the kind of domineering father we first encountered in Peter Weir’s The Mosquito Coast (1986) … a man so alienated from society that he’ll drag his brood to the ends of the Earth to avoid contact with his personal demons. In a different story, Rex might be categorized as just another unrepentant hippie or non-conformist. Because The Glass Castle is based on a memoir by former journalist and best-selling author Jeannette Walls, however, we’re constantly required to distinguish between eccentricity and madness in a character we’re predisposed to cut some slack. Like Harrison Ford, in The Mosquito Coast, Harrelson’s Rex is an inventor in pursuit of some sort of utopian idyll.

Rex’s problems, however, begin with growing up in a family of dysfunctional hillbillies and continue through self-destructive bouts with alcoholism and failure to complete any of his projects. He can be kind, funny, supportive and wildly imaginative, but usually Rex is portrayed as being a mercurial lout. In this, he’s supported by his wife, Rose Mary (Naomi Watts), a talented artist who doesn’t appear to have been allowed an unfiltered thought since the 1960s. Jeanette is well played by Brie Larson, as an adult, Ella Anderson, as an adolescent. Like her siblings, Jeanette somehow emerged from a childhood of enforced poverty with a semblance of a traditional education and desire to succeed on her own terms. Even so, her success as a gossip columnist in New York can’t keep her from living in fear of the day when Rex and Rose Mary will show up in the city to shatter her dreams for a peaceful life. When they do, we can’t help but wish for them to be hit by a bus. Still, Cretton finds the humanity at the core of Wells’ memoir and leaves room for Harrelson to pull off a positive resolution.  We’re introduced to the writer in the featurettes and she doesn’t seem any worse for the wear. Her childhood, though, isn’t something you’d wish on your worst enemy’s daughter.

Darkness Rising: Blu-ray
Killing Ground: Blu-ray
The Tormenting
For years, Madison (Tara Holt) has been tormented by memories of the murder of her younger sister at the hands of their mother. Joined by her fiancé (Bryce Johnson) and cousin (Katrina Law), Madison returns to her childhood home just before it’s slated to be demolished. Instead of finding closure and collecting a few souvenirs — the home’s contents are nearly intact — they find themselves pursued by the same malevolent, supernatural presence that drove Madison’s mother to unthinkable violence. The demonic device deployed in Darkness Rising by director Austin Reading (“Death Valley”) and writer Vikram Weet (Devil’s Pass) is Madison’s obsession with the tally symbol for the number five. Naturally, the trio should have considered the possibility that they were prying open the gates to hell when the broke into the house, but what fun would that be?

Also from Scream Factory and IFC Films comes a nasty bit of business from Australia, Killing Ground. In Damien Power’s feature debut, a couple’s weekend camping trip becomes a desperate fight for survival, when everything that could go wrong, does. In need of a break from the pressures of city life, Sam (Harriet Dyer) and Ian (Ian Meadows) head to a remote beach in New South Wales. They ignore the first sign of impending doom, in the form of a menacing gas-station attendant right out of Central Casting. After pitching their tent, the couple notices another campsite not far away. The next thing they discover is a traumatized child, seemingly left behind or lost on a path through the forest. It doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to surmise that the crying child and hulking sociopath have something in common: the disposition of the missing campers. Upon further investigation, Sam and Ian find themselves within the crosshairs of two sadistic locals (Aaron Glenane, Aaron Pedersen). If there isn’t much in Killing Ground we haven’t already seen, Power capably orchestrates the frighteningly real dangers of camping in unknown territory.

The Tormenting isn’t a title that carries much weight as a purveyor of horror. If all that evil spirits and monsters did was torment their victims, an entire genre would disappear. The original title of Jaspreet Kaur’s debut feature was “Poignant,” which doesn’t convey a sense of dread, either. Amy (Laura Mitchell) is a medical researcher with ambitions to open her own health-care facility. After visiting a property for sale, she begins to experience visions of a young girl who was raped and murdered there. As the visions evolve, Amy feels less tormented than empowered with the responsibility of pursuing justice for the girl’s death and bringing peace to her soul. The problem is, of course, convincing someone in the police department to take her requests seriously. Kaur does a nice job of establishing chemistry between Amy and the girl’s spirit, and convincing us that something scary really is happening.

Gun Shy: Blu-ray
The Show: Blu-ray
If the folks who bestow Golden Raspberry honors are soliciting nominations for the recently added Barry L. Bumstead Award, they need look no further than Gun Shy. Typically, the prize goes to a film that costs a lot and makes very little money in its extremely limited release. The first two winners were United Passions, a soccer drama that starred Tim Roth, Gérard Depardieu and Sam Neill, and Misconduct, with Josh Duhamel, Alice Eve, Malin Åkerman, Julia Stiles, Al Pacino and Anthony Hopkins. In Gun Shy, Antonio Banderas plays a famously besotted rock star, who appears to be a composite of Steven Tyler, Ozzie Osbourne and Keith Richards. Newly retired, Turk Henry is wasting away in a Margaritaville of his own creation. His supermodel wife, Sheila (Olga Kurylenko), convinces him to take her on vacation in Chile, which, being in the southern hemisphere, is in its off-season for tourism. The chilly weather doesn’t prevent Turk from grabbing a lounge chair and recruiting a local boy to deliver beer to him. Sheila decides to do some sightseeing, during which time she and a few other visitors are taken hostage by a band of stereotypical guerrillas. As inept as the rebels might be, they’re able to recognize Sheila as a valuable possession. Turns out, however, that they’re big fans of her husband’s album, “Metal Assassin,” and treat her like royalty. Turk doesn’t mind paying the ransom, but is forbidden from doing so by some State Department types. Nothing else in the remaining hour, or so, makes any sense whatsoever. Curiously, Gun Shy was directed by Simon West, whose resume includes such legitimate entertainments as Con Air, The Expendables 2 and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. On the plus side, Gun Shy takes full advantage of the Chilean locations. The Blu-ray adds interviews and a music montage.

Another candidate for the Bumstead Award could be Giancarlo Esposito’s The Show, which attempts to make a statement about reality shows that put their participants in harm’s way, simply to milk ratings points from jaded viewers. Josh Duhamel plays Adam Rogers, a reality-show host who’s front and center when a spurned contestant shoots the man who rejected her and then kills herself. At first, everyone involved is appalled by what happened on live television. At second glance, however, the ratings for the episode inspire network executive Ilana Katz (Famke Janssen) to order Rogers to host a new show, “This Is Your Death,” in which suicidal viewers are encouraged to kill themselves while the cameras are rolling. Disgusted, Rogers turns the tables on his boss by embracing the blood-thirsty aspects of the production and pushing them to their extremes. Caitlin FitzGerald (“Masters of Sex”) plays the rare reality-show producer with scruples, while Esposito portrays a kind-hearted janitor, who volunteers to participate to help his struggling family survive at any cost. The Show goes completely off the rails when Rogers’ seriously depressed sister (Sarah Wayne Callies), a nurse, throws her hat into the program’s ring. If writers Noah Pink and Kenny Yakkel had done their homework, they would have recognized the futility in trying to mimic themes addressed 40 years ago, in Network, and, later, in Running Man and Series 7: The Contenders. I don’t know who’s advising Duhamel on career choices, but whoever it is isn’t doing the actor (“Las Vegas”) any favors. Losing Fergie probably didn’t help him make better decisions, either. The Blu-ray adds a making-of featurette and interviews.

Whisky Galore!: Blu-ray
Not having seen the original adaptation of Compton Mackenzie’s 1947 novel, “Whisky Galore,” it’s impossible for me to accurately compare the 1949 Ealing Studios comedy with the new version, starring Eddie Izzard, Gregor Fisher, Sean Biggerstaff, James Cosmo, Ellie Kendrick, Kevin Guthrie and Naomi Battrick. All three were inspired by the true story of the cargo ship SS Politician, which ran aground off the coast of Eriskay, an island and community of the Outer Hebrides in northern Scotland, in 1941. Among other things, the ship was carrying 50,000 cases of whiskey, much of which local islanders claimed for their own purposes before it sank. The movie advances the timeline a couple of years, to 1943, when the legal consignment of the “water of life” has run dry and residents are beginning to panic. What the islanders consider to be a godsend is treated as a loss of revenue by government authorities, who send Customs officials to retrieve the untaxed booze. In addition to the amusing game of cat-and-mouse the locals play with the interlopers, the movie adds a romantic angle featuring the fetching daughters of the local shopkeeper. Without the whisky, any plans for a traditional wedding celebration would have to be postponed until after the war. Critics who’ve seen both iterations of Whisky Galore! cite a palpable shortage of “mischief” in the remake. Perhaps, but I found it entertaining enough to recommend for anglophiles and fans of old-fashioned comedies. The Blu-ray includes interviews with the stars and director Gillies MacKinnon (Hideous Kinky).

The Journey
The Settlers
In His Own Home
For most of the second half of the last century, Americans couldn’t help but be perplexed by news of the “troubles” in Northern Ireland and the undeclared war between Israelis and Palestinians. Bombings routinely killed civilians and combatants, alike, in both countries, while men wearing balaclavas destroyed any hope for a lasting peace. Even as the Iron Curtain collapsed and apartheid in South Africa disappeared, practically overnight, those conflicts continued to smolder. Then, in 2006, something miraculous happened. In a move almost as unexpected as President Nixon traveling to Red China, as it was then known, sworn enemies in Northern Ireland sat together long enough to find common grounds for disarming their soldiers and declaring peace. The Journey describes what might have happened when diehard British loyalist Ian Paisley (Timothy Spall) shared a limousine with former IRA leader Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney), during a break in their stalled negotiations in Scotland. It wasn’t their idea, but the ploy worked. So did the clandestine effort by Prime Minister Tony Blair and his MI-5 staff to monitor what transpired during their hourlong ride to the airport, which was interrupted by a strategic detour in the Scottish countryside. Nick Hamm and writer Colin Bateman probably weren’t made privy to what was said in the limo, but in the hands of Spall and Meaney, it doesn’t really matter. They nail the two men’s distinctive mannerisms and speech patterns, without tipping off the happy ending. Also impressive are Freddie Highmore, Toby Stephens, Catherine McCormack and John Hurt, a great actor who died earlier this year, at 77.

It would be nice to report that Shimon Dotan’s insightful and comprehensive documentary, The Settlers, offered even an iota of hope for a break in the stalemate in the Middle East. It doesn’t. Instead, it measures the depth of the divide separating the Israelis and Palestinians, thanks, in large part, to the proliferation of settlements in the occupied territories of the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War. It provides a seemingly impartial historical overview and geopolitical study of the most daunting challenges facing Israel and the international community, as well as introducing viewers to at least two generations of settlers. The film doesn’t discuss Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s contributions to this sad state of affairs or belabor the complaints of Palestinians, which have remained consistent ever since Israel was granted statehood. What’s most pronounced here is the hatred, intolerance and implacability in the voices of the newest settlers, whose enemies include “leftists” in the peace movement and foreign nations pressuring Israeli leaders on making compromises. Also telling is a discussion of the separate, but unequal highway system, which allows settlers to make the journey from their homes to Jerusalem in minutes, while the roads reserved for Palestinians are little more than glorified goat paths. If that doesn’t define apartheid, I don’t know what would.

The United States, of course, hasn’t been immune to such dilemmas. In some ways, we wrote the book on them. Our racial divide continues to widen, and its manifestations have only become that much more apparent with the proliferation of cameras on cellphones, police cars and uniforms. In the 25 years since the Rodney King beating was recorded and fed to an L.A. television station, inescapable evidence of police brutality and cover-ups have mounted exponentially. The terrible event described in Malini Schueller’s In My Own House might have been glossed over successfully by University of Florida police, if it weren’t for videotape and 911-recording evidence. It took persistent cajoling on the part of community activists to push the apologists into the media spotlight, however. After a complaint of a disruption in an apartment complex, heavily armed campus police broke into the apartment of disabled and unarmed Ghanaian doctoral student Kofi Adu-Brempong. Within a minute of entry, he was shot in the face. The officer who shot him, who had previously been caught cruising through town, throwing eggs at residents of a black neighborhood, was neither suspended nor fired for excessive use of force. Instead, an elaborate cover-up – contradicted by the recordings – was concocted by the department, which recently had militarized its approach to law enforcement. The case has since been resolved in the favor of Adu-Brempong, with the family agreeing not to disclose terms of a settlement. As such, In My Own House tells only about three-quarters of the story. It should have widened its scope and added more examples of dangers posed by over-militarized and undertrained police units, when dealing with students and teachers from many different countries and racial backgrounds. As it stands, the doc merely adds fuel to the fire was ignited by the ensuing Black Lives Matter movement.

Into the Night: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
It’s too bad that Susan Seidelman Desperately Seeking Susan, Martin Scorsese’s After Hours and John Landis’ Into the Night, all released in 1985, aren’t the property of the same distributor. Besides the coincidence of a common birth year, all three of the stranger-in-a-strange-land dramedies showcased stellar casts and an offbeat approach to introducing their square protagonists – Rosanna Arquette, Griffin Dunne and Jeff Goldblum, respectively – to a bracingly dangerous nocturnal world they had no idea existed. The first two titles took advantage of unconventional locations in Soho, Chelsea and Greenwich Village, while Into the Night made stops at such disparate Los Angeles landmarks as LAX, Frederick’s of Hollywood, the Marina, Randy’s Donuts, Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Tommy’s Burgers and Tiffany & Co. Of the three movies, only Seidelman’s resonated with audiences, especially teenage girls attracted by Madonna and fashion designer Santo Loquasto’s hip thrift-shop costumes. In retrospect, Into the Night can enjoyed far more today for its gimmicks and Landis-ian conceits than as an early example of L.A. noir. In fact, the plot can be reduced to a couple of sentences: an aerospace worker suffering from insomnia (Goldblum) has just learned that his wife has been cheating on him. He escapes into the L.A. night, finding shelter in a parking lot at the airport, where he agrees to help a devious prostitute (Michelle Peiffer) escape a group of Iranian gangsters, who believe she’s in possession of gems stolen from the shah’s wife. He chauffeurs her around town in a Cadillac convertible that belongs to her Elvis-impersonator brother. Mayhem ensues.

The best part, though, comes in keeping track of the cameos by 17 directors, including David Cronenberg, Roger Vadim, Daniel Petrie, Jonathan Demme, Richard Franklin, Amy Heckerling, Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Colin Higgins, Lawrence Kasdan, Paul Mazursky, Paul Bartel and Don Siegel; cinematographer Robert Paynter; writer Waldo Salt; FX maestro Rick Baker; seven vintage Playboy Playmates; rockers David Bowie and Carl Perkins; actors Clu Gulager, Irene Papas, Richard Farnsworth, Kathryn Harrold, Bruce McGill and Michelle’s sister, Dedee; and car dealer Cal Worthington. If Into the Night is every bit as messy as it sounds, it also remains entirely watchable. The Shout!Factory remaster features lengthy new interviews with Landis and Goldblum, and an upgraded edition of the award-winning documentary, “B.B. King into the Night,” with concert-like performances from the movie.

The Sissi Collection: Blu-ray
I have a feeling that a lot of old-timers, especially those who still speak a little German at home, will be happy to learn that Film Movement Classics has put a fresh new polish on Ernst Marischka’s “Sissi Trilogy,” which, after their initial release in the 1950s, would become a staple of holiday viewing on Austrian, German, Dutch and French television. At a time when Europe was still reeling from the aftershocks of World War II, Sissi, Sissi: The Young Empress and Sissi: Fateful Years of an Empress, gave those who looked back with fondness on the glamorous trappings and relative calm of the Austro-Hungarian Empire something to anticipate as Christmas approached. Like Marie Antoinette, the former Elisabeth of Bavaria would become a larger-than-life figure, frequently overshadowing the accomplishments and policies of her husband, Emperor Franz Joseph I. In Sissi, Romy Schneider does wonderful job portraying the future empress as a carefree teenager, who wasn’t expected to do much besides having fun, looking grand at formal gatherings and marrying well. The fix was in for her older sister, Helene (“Néné”), to marry Franz Joseph and produce male heirs for the Habsburg ruler. Instead, as often happens, the young emperor and free-spirited Elizabeth became smitten with each other, overruling the demands of his domineering mother, Princess Sophie. The animosity between the two women continues throughout all three chapters of the trilogy, impacting negatively on the emperor’s state of mind. When Sophie arbitrarily decides to take control of her granddaughter’s upbringing and education – even naming the baby after herself – Sissi threatens to abdicate her crown and move back to her dad’s castle. He ordered his mother to back off his wife, but it was an empty threat. The clash would only be the first of many conflicts that occur in the highly romanticized trilogy. Later, Sissi would also emerge as a respected diplomat in tension-filled relations between Austria and the less couth tribes of Hungary. A more accurate portrayal would have taken into account Sissi’s increasingly bizarre behavior, the traumatic deaths of her children, assassination attempts and the cooling of their once passionate marriage. That, however, would have required another chapter, which Schneider refused to do. The trilogy is beloved, however, for its grandeur and nostalgic portrayal of courtly life before the world wars. The package also contains the 1962 English-language condensation of the trilogy, Forever My Love, to which a theme song by Burt Bacharach was added. Other Blu Ray assets include “From Romy to Sissi,” a 20-minute making-of featurette; rare footage of Sissi’s great-grandson at the movies, taken from the documentary, “Elisabeth: Enigma of an Empress”; and a 20-page commemorative booklet, with a new essay by film critic Farran Smith Nehme.

Stay Hungry: Blu-ray
Miracle Worker: Blu-ray
Rock-A-Doodle: Blu-ray
Return of the Ape Man: Blu-ray
Vampire’s Ghost: Blu-ray
S.O.S. Tidal Wave: Blu-ray
Flipper: Season Three: Blu-ray
In addition to the aforementioned The Madness of King George, the folks at Olive Films have stayed busy shipping out nicely restored versions of classics, near-classics and curiosities. If I were to guess, I’d say that Stay Hungry is a movie that indie buffs easily recall for being a distinctly quirky product of the mid-1970s, but few paid to see. A lot of people confuse it with Pumping Iron, a documentary about body builders that arrived a year later, in 1977, and likewise featured a compelling performance by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Others remember it as the movie that convinced casting directors that Sally Field could hold her own in feature films and put Gidget and Sister Bertrille behind her. It also cemented Jeff Bridges’ growing reputation as a potential leading man, whose versatility and unforced charisma were unique among actors his age. Co-writer/director Bob Rafelson was coming off a big commercial and critical success, Five Easy Pieces, and a high-profile bust, The King of Marvin Gardens. Adapted from a novel and screenplay by Charles Gaines, Stay Hungry is centered around a small gym in Birmingham, Alabama, which has the distinction of being a mecca for competitive body builders. It also is the only business preventing a corrupt syndicate from completing a shady, if highly lucrative real-estate deal. Bridges plays a wealthy good ol’ boy, who’s brought on board to grease the skids, but falls hard for the gym’s receptionist, played by Field. Schwarzenegger wouldn’t normally be required to stretch very far to play Joe Santo, the reigning Mr. Austria, who’s in Alabama preparing for the Mr. Universe championships. Here, he’s also asked to play a mean bluegrass fiddle in a backwoods combo and share Bridge’s feelings for the receptionist. Rafelson keeps things interesting by continually adding colorful characters to the mix; choreographing a truly frightening fight in the gym, fueled by ’roid rage and poppers; and, while that’s going on, staging a pose-off in the streets of downtown Birmingham. In my opinion, Staying Hungry was among the best films of a decade known for great stuff and it holds up surprisingly well.

Once one of the most frequently produced plays by high-school drama departments, The Miracle Worker also is a movie that lingers in the mind of Boomers and their parents. So do performances by Patty Duke, as the blind, deaf and mute Helen Keller, and Anne Bancroft as the half-blind teacher who broke through her many walls and became her mentor. I don’t know how many of today’s students are aware of Keller’s remarkable story, which has been retold in a couple of made-for-TV movies. In 1957, when William Gibson’s original teleplay was produced by “Playhouse 90,” Keller was still alive and widely recognized as an author, humanitarian and inspiration for people dealing with debilitating afflictions. (She also was an avowed socialist and anti-war activist.) Two years later, Gibson would revise his teleplay for the Broadway stage. The 1962 film reunited Gibson, Bancroft, Duke and director Arthur Penn. The two men would be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, while Bancroft and Duke won Oscars for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively. (In Bancroft’s absence, Joan Crawford famously accepted her statuette, primarily to piss off Bette Davis, who was nominated in the same category.) The black-and-white presentation may require an adjustment by younger viewers, but Olive’s audio/visual freshening makes the experience easy to take.

Released in 1991, just as Disney was beginning to get its animation mojo back, Rock-a-Doodle is a story within a story about a rooster named Chanticleer who’s conned by the Grand Duke of Owls into believing that he isn’t responsible for the rising of the sun each day. Ridiculed by the other barnyard animals, Chanticleer (Glenn Campbell) escapes to the anonymity of big-city life. Meanwhile, the Grand Duke (Christopher Plummer) has succeeded in his plan to bring perpetual darkness and rain to the farmlands. He’s also devised a way for the rooster to enjoy some success as an Elvis impersonator. If he’s to return to the barnyard to save his friends, Chanticleer may have to put his career on permanent hold. Former Disney animator Don Bluth co-directed and co-wrote Rock-a-Doodle.

There has to be an interesting story behind Olive’s decision to send out cleaned up versions of Return of the Ape Man (1944), Vampire’s Ghost (1945) and S.O.S. Tidal Wave (1939), none of whose virtues can trump their many cheeseball flaws. They’re fun to watch as guilty pleasures, but, like I said, there must be a solid reason for spending good money on reclamation projects of dubious worth to anyone besides fans of Poverty Row products. In the hourlong “Ape Man,” Bela Lugosi and John Carradine play mad scientists who hope to reanimate a primitive man they find frozen in a glacier, using an experimental treatment and long needle. Rather than attempting to teach the humanoid to communicate, Lugosi decides to save time by doing a partial brain transplant from an unwilling human subject. It works, but not in any way that’s particularly interesting.

At first, second and third glance, Vampire’s Ghost appears to be a rip-off of the Jacques Tourneur/Val Lewton thriller, I Walked With a Zombie, which debuted two years earlier. The primary differences between them are the settings – a Caribbean Island vs. an African port city – and nature of the antagonist’s curse. Here, instead of a zombie, the villain is a vampire suffering from a severe case of ennui. Based on an original story by Leigh Brackett (The Big Sleep) everything leads to a showdown between humans and the undead in a temple hidden in the jungle, to which the vampire/bartender has lured a virginal white woman. Arlyn Roberts performs a seductive dance that wouldn’t have been out of place in Gilda.

S.O.S. Tidal Wave was released a year after Orson Welles demonstrated how effective fake news can be in freaking out the American citizenry, in “War of the Worlds.” Here, instead of a radio broadcast, news of a killer tsunami heading for New York is delivered by a television reporter. The medium was in its infancy in 1939, so it’s conceivable that a few electronics stores had TVs in their windows, I suppose. That’s only half the story, though. The movie opens with the reporter taking on the boss of a corrupt political machine. When he refuses to be deterred by bribes or threats, the villains promise dire consequences for his wife and son. The fake-news footage of Manhattan being destroyed by the tsunami – perhaps, the first of its kind – was borrowed from the 1933 fantasy feature, Deluge.

Also available from Olive is the third and final season of “Flipper,” a show that ran from 1964 to 1967 and was dubbed an “aquatic Lassie.” The series follows a Bottlenose Dolphin named Flipper, who is the wild pet of Porter Ricks, a park warden, and his sons Sandy (15) and Bud (10). Flipper lives in a lagoon near Ricks’ cottage at Coral Key Park and Marine Preserve. With the Ricks family, Flipper helps protect the park and preserve its wild inhabitants. He is also instrumental in apprehending criminals and thugs. For an aquatic mammal, Flipper is one smart cookie.

TV-to-DVD
PBS: L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables: The Good Stars
In the second installment of Breakthrough Entertainment’s series of made-for-TV movies adapted from L.M. Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables,” Anne Shirley (Ella Ballentine) turns 13, facing a host of new milestones. They include first sleepovers, culinary misadventures and shifting relationships with her BFF, Diana (Julia Lalonde), and academic rival, Gilbert Blythe (Drew Haytaoglu). Through all this, Anne strives to strike a balance between becoming an upstanding, sensible young woman, and embracing her inquisitive and free-spirited nature. Life in Avonlea is never simple. “The Good Stars” was shown on Canadian television earlier this year, with an airing on PBS affiliates here scheduled for Thanksgiving.

One Response to “The DVD Wrapup: King George, Cars 3, Overdrive, Afterimage, Glass Castle, Whisky Galore, The Journey, Into the Night, Sissi, Stay Hungry and more”

  1. Fernando says:

    Cars 3 did just fine since it’s now on 382M on it’s 175M.

    Besides, a lot of people knew that it would end up between 150M and 160M since Despicable Me 3 came two weeks after that.

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“I never accepted the term contrarian. I think that’s offensive, frankly. And my response to that is: if I’m a contrarian, what are other reviewers? What I strive to do is be a good critic, not somebody who simply accepts the product put in front of me. I guess it scares people to think that they don’t have any originality; that they don’t have the capacity to think for themselves.

“There’s a line a lot of reviewers use that I don’t like at all. They say ‘accept the film on its own terms.’ What that really means is, ‘accept the film as it is advertised.’ That’s got nothing to do with criticism. Nothing to do with having a response as a film watcher. A thinking person has to analyze what’s on screen, not simply rubber-stamp it or kowtow to marketing.”m

“To me, everything does have a political component and I think it’s an interesting way to look at art. It’s one way that makes film reviewing, I think, a politically relevant form of journalism. We do live in a political world, and we bring our political sense to the movies with us – unless you’re the kind of person who goes to the movies and shuts off the outside world. I’m not that kind of person.”
~ Armond White to Luke Buckmaster

“One of comedy’s defining pathologies, alongside literal pathologies like narcissism and self-loathing, is its swaggering certainty that it is part of the political vanguard, while upholding one of the most rigidly patriarchal hierarchies of any art form.”
~ Lindy West