Magic in the Moonlight: Blu-ray
After holding his own against big summer blockbusters with such small gems as Midnight in Paris, Blue Jasmine and To Rome With Love, Woody Allen delivered a light summer confection that had no chance against Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Guardians of the Galaxy or, even, the instantly forgettable Let’s Be Cops. Considering that most actors probably agree to forgo their usual salaries to be directed by Allen, and foreign revenues are still being counted, it’s possible that Magic in the Moonlight will make enough money to keep the air-conditioners humming at Sony Pictures Classics … until the North Koreans turn them off. Set in Europe between the world wars, the breezy rom-com stars Colin Firth as a hoity-toity British illusionist, who performs under the stage name Wei Ling Soo, and an American psychic played by Emma Stone. When he isn’t making elephants disappear, Firth’s Stanley Crawford endeavors to debunk the charlatans who prey on tycoons desperate to communicate with deceased relatives. At about the same time, Harry Houdini had committed himself to the same cause. When he’s alerted to the seemingly nefarious activities of Stone’s Sophie Baker, Stanley accepts an invitation to spend the summer in a swank villa on the French Riviera proving she’s a fraud. He certainly doesn’t expect to be bowled over by the American’s sparkling personality and irresistible flirtations. Given Allen’s gift for setting such tender traps, however … well, c’est la vie. Unfortunately, that’s about all that happens in the movie. What makes Magic in the Moonlight compelling, though, is his crew’s attention to period detail and ability to merge the magician’s art with the unpredictability of romance … especially when it comes to men and women working opposite sides of a grift. The scenery’s pretty swell, too. Lowering one’s expectations should contribute to making Magic in the Moonlight an easy way to pass a winter’s night. The Blu-ray adds some rather perfunctory interview clips, none of them with Allen.
This Is Where I Leave You: Blu-ray
Whether they are set over a holiday weekend, at a wedding or a funeral, all family-reunion dramedies are essentially the same. Typically the actors look as if they’re from completely different families and no one is allowed to be completely happy in their marriages, jobs or dotage. If things start out well for the characters, the movie will end in chaos … and vice versa. No matter how much the family members bicker and swap insults, they inevitably end up putting aside their differences for the good of la familia. No matter the family’s religious persuasion, half of the characters will be played by actors of noticeably different faiths. It also is written in stone, somewhere, a family’s matriarch or patriarch is borderline crazy or died in some embarrassing way. There’s always room for sentimentality, but too much can spoil the broth. In Shawn Levy’s generally agreeable, if completely implausible This Is Where I Leave You, the matriarch of a non-observant Jewish family (Jane Fonda) insists that her four grown children, along with their respective spouses and kids, co-exist under the same roof while they sit shiva for their dearly departed father. It doesn’t matter to her that there aren’t enough bedrooms to accommodate all of the family members or that religion never played a big role in their lives. It was their father’s last wish and they’d satisfy it or die trying. And, of course, the siblings played by Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver and Corey Stall, in collusion with in-laws, current and former lovers, Rose Byrne, Kathryn Hahn, Connie Britton, Timothy Olyphant and Dax Shepard, practically kill each other off before half the movie is over. If Fonda’s early contributions are limited to a few fake-boob gags – the focus of the studio’s marketing campaign – rest assured she gets the last laugh. I think that This Is Where I Leave You could have been funnier and far more credible if some of the childish horseplay was toned down. But, since Jonathan Tropper’s screenplay was adapted from his own semi-autographical novel, maybe the Altmans are dead ringers for his own family from which he emerged. The Blu-ray adds a deleted scene and the featurettes, “The Gospel According to Rabbi Boner,” which discusses the film’s one very funny running joke, “Points of Departure” and “The Narritive Voice.
Stonehearst Asylum: Blu-ray
Paul Anderson’s credits include such dandy thrillers as Session 9, The Machinist and The Call, and episodes of “Boardwalk Empire,” “The Killing,” “Treme” and “The Wire.” Even so, his latest feature, Stonehearst Asylum, was accorded a pitifully limited release and it received decidedly mixed reviews. I don’t have any problem recommending the gothic horror to folks whose only opportunity to see it would be on the small screen, though. Based on the 1844 Edgar Allen Poe short story “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether,” its cast includes such high-profile actors Jim Sturgess, Ben Kingsley, Michael Caine, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson and Kate Beckinsale. Its chilly Bulgarian locations tingle the spine and the titular institution has “Bedlam” written all over it. Even better is a story – adapted by Joe Gangemi (Wind Chill) – that will keep viewers guessing from start to finish. There’s no way to synopsize what happens in Stonehearst Asylum without spoiling one or two of the key surprises. Even to suggest that the loonies often appear to have taken over the asylum gives away too much information. Sturgess (Across the Universe) plays recent medical-school graduate Edward Newgate, who, one winter’s day, arrives at the gates of Stonehearst Asylum, a giant facility roughly located in the middle of nowhere. In search of an apprenticeship, Newgate is warmly welcomed by Dr. Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley), who can’t recall receiving the letter the young man insists he sent, but is in desperate need of an assistant. Newgate is immediately is drawn to a cultivated young pianist, Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), who the audience has already met in a lab demonstration at the medical college. It doesn’t take him long to discover the dungeon in which less-well-attended patients are being kept in medieval conditions. The more Newgate learns about Dr. Lamb’s psychiatric methodology, the more horrified he becomes. Likewise, the more questions he asks, the more confused he is about what’s happening around him. And, like I said, none of it gets sorted out until near the end of the final reel. That’s OK, too.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: 3D/2D Blu-ray
It’s highly unlikely that any negative criticism of the Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot by anyone older than 12 or not affiliated with a geek website will be read by anyone who paid good money to see the movie. And, not surprisingly, plenty of high-minded negativity was hurled at the reptilian crusaders. (Yeah, I thought turtles were amphibians, too.) Why mainstream publications continue to send out their frontline critics to pass judgment on such frivolous fare is beyond me. They might as well assign the review to the religion writer or a guy from the IT department. Yes, by any critical standard, “TMNT” stinks. By the only measure that matters in Hollywood, however, Jonathan Liebesman’s live-action, CGI-heavy picture has to be considered wildly successful. It may not have threatened to break the 10-figure barrier worldwide in its theatrical run, but, with a $65.6 million first weekend take here, it now ranks fourth all-time in the month of August … more in one weekend than the 2007 animated Turtles movie earned in its entire run. Its tiny little turtle legs eventually would carry it to a $477.2 return in total global box-office. What’s it about? Who cares? An evil force known as Shredder threatens to take control of New York City. It’s so dastardly, we’re told, that it prompts four unlikely brothers to rise from the sewers and “discover their destiny” as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (I guess that makes it an origin story.) Exciting computer-generated action ensues. Among the recognizable human actors are Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Danny Woodburn, Tony Shaloub and Whoopi Goldberg. But, really, they’re just along for the ride. More to the point, the Blu-ray offers fans an exceptional audio/visual experience, even those whose home-theater systems aren’t blessed with immersive Dolby Atmos technology, designed to amp up any action picture. The featurettes include the making-of “Digital Reality”; “In Your Face! The Turtles in 3D”; the franchise backgrounder, “It Ain’t Easy Being Green”; a zoological backgrounder, “Evolutionary Mash-Up”; “Turtle Rock,” on the recording of the score; a 46-second extended ending; and music video of “Shell Shocked,” by Juicy J, Moxie, Ty dolla $ign and Wiz Khalifa. While supplies last, packages for purchase include face masks in four different colors.
A couple of weeks ago, we discussed here the Criterion Collection release of Monte Hellman’s long neglected Westerns, “Ride in the Whirlwind” and “The Shooting.” Unbeknownst to me, RaroVideo/Kino had just sent out a Blu-ray edition of Hellman’s even more rarely screened, Iguana. Adapted from Alberto Vazquez-Figueroa’s 1982 novel of the same title, describes what happens when a grotesquely disfigured harpooner takes revenge on the sailors who mistreated him on a 19th Century whaling ship. After escaping from the ship, Oberlus (a.k.a., Iguana), finds refuge on a deserted island in the middle of a watery nowhere. Before long, Iguana anoints himself ruler of the island and declares war on anyone who threatens him. When a group of sailors attempts to capture him, he turns the tables by taking them prisoner and demanding they pledge allegiance to him or face the bloody consequences. He also takes into custody the feisty daughter of a neighboring potentate. Oberlus loses most of our sympathy when he rapes the attractive young woman. After she gets pregnant, his behavior gets increasingly more bizarre. The island setting, with its subterranean cave system, is ideal for this kind of madness, though. The sea and shoreline are almost indescribably beautiful – thanks, in large part, to Spanish cinematographer Josep M. Civit — while the volcanic terrain could hardly be more forbidding. Within this environmental context, Hellman is able to milk Iguana’s various existential struggles for all they’re worth. Budget constraints clearly prevented Hellman from taking Iguana to the next level of creativity and thematic considerations convinced distributors not to accord it any more than extremely limited exposure. Nonetheless, adventurous filmgoers should find something in Iguana to like, if only the candid 20-minute interview with the sadly marginalized filmmaker.
Lord of Illusions: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
You Can’t Kill Stephen King
At the Devil’s Door: Blu-ray
Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead: Blu-ray
Welcome to My Darkside: Women in Horror
Clive Barker’s name on any entertainment platform practically guarantees that genre buffs will pay attention to whatever is being exhibited or contained therein. It also ensures that no small amount of dread, menace and gore will be on the menu, as well. In 1995, Lord of Illusions was released into theaters in a version 10 minutes, or so, shorter than Barker would have preferred. It was far from a disaster, but as director, screenwriter and adapter of his own story, “The Last Illusion,” he didn’t hesitate taking the opportunity to replace the missing ingredients, even 20 years later. (The new Scream Factory edition includes both versions.) I’m glad he made the effort. Barker employs his hard-bitten literary creation, Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula), to introduce a horrific clash between practitioners of stage magic and “magik” of the occult. Thirteen years before he enters the case on behalf of the wife of a David Copperfield-like performer, the lair of a cult leader and his acolytes is neutralized by former followers who believe that he’s gone over the edge of sanity. (Indeed, he uses a chained mandrill, of all possible primates, to frighten a kidnapped girl.) As Lord of Illusions progresses, D’Amour allows himself to be sucked into the philosophical divide separating the forces of good and evil. Famke Janssen, in only her second theatrical role, makes it easy for D’Amour to think that risking his life might be a good way to earn a paycheck. I didn’t bother to learn how much difference the additional 10 minutes made to the film, but I found Lord of Illusions sufficiently scary to satisfy my taste in horror for a while. Fans almost certainly will want to sample the bonus features, which add even more unseen footage; Barker’s commentary; the original making-of featurette; a fresh interview with storyboard artist Martin Mercer; and a photo gallery.
And, speaking of marquee attractions, it would nigh on impossible to beat Stephen King. He’s so prolific that once, in reaction to an accusation by his publisher that he’s overworked and, by inference, overexposed, the author created an entirely new pseudonym to override the complaint. His tireless devotion to duty – or his own ego, one — is why so many people love him, however. He’s so devoted to his craft and, by inference, his readers, that he couldn’t bear the thought of not working. In the often very decent indie thriller, You Can’t Kill Stephen King, a group of college-age friends decides it might be fun to check out the master’s home turf, on a lake in Maine. In real life or the movies, this mixed bag of transient readers – including one who is intimate with all the details of King’s life and fiction – probably wouldn’t be the first or last such group to do so. They mean no harm and expect no trouble. Instead, their lives quickly become nothing but not trouble, all of it resembling storylines, characters and crimes committed in King’s books. As such, the more trivia one knows about King, the more likely viewers it is that they’ll enjoy this decidedly low-budget indie, as well as more forgiving of the flaws that are attendant to low-budget fare. Beyond that, any summarization of the storyline would require one long spoiler. As such, that’s all I care to say on the subject, except to say that I was surprised by how much I liked You Can’t Kill Stephen King.
In some states, real-estate agents are required by law to inform potential home buyers of any serious crimes that might have taken place in a property. I’m not sure if the law covers houses believed to be possessed by demons, but, I’m guessing, it doesn’t. Like the Lutzes of Amityville, N.Y., however, some bargain hunters aren’t in any hurry to look a gift horse in the mouth, even after being warned that it might bite. At the Devil’s Door isn’t all that different from dozens of other haunted-house movies that followed in the wake of The Amityville Horror. Sophomore writer/director Nicholas McCarthy (The Pact) begins his story in the bright sunlight of the California desert, before jumping several years into the future in a far darker suburban milieu, where a young real estate agent, Leigh (Catalina Sandino Moreno), is commissioned to sell a house with a checkered past. Before long, she is confronted by the creepy runaway daughter – she wears a red raincoat with the hood pulled over her face — of the couple selling the property. When Leigh tries to help the girl, she antagonizes a supernatural force that soon pulls Leigh’s artist sister, Vera (Naya Rivera), into its web with her. If At the Devil’s Door is derivative, at least it is populated with attractive actors and can boast of some neat set pieces. It arrives with commentary, a making-of featurette and deleted scenes.
The best thing that can be said about Joel Soisson’s techno-horror thriller, Cam2Cam, is that its Bangkok setting is almost worth the price of a rental. The worst thing to be said, I think, is that it wastes the setting by cluttering the scenery with a story that defies easy comprehension. It opens with the murder of two young women on opposite ends of an Internet chat site. One lures the other into a trap that involves removing prominent items of clothing, while an ax-yielding fiend stalks both of them. (Sounds impossible, but stay tuned.) After taking out one woman, he breaks into the second victim’s apartment to complete the daily double. The next thing we know, another young American not only is checking into the same transient hotel in Bangkok that the murder occurred, but also the more bloody of the two rooms. Practically overnight, Allie Westbrook (Tammin Sursok, of “Dirty Little Liars”) becomes the target of the same deadly scam. Fortunately for viewers, an interesting tour of Bangkok at night is included in the movie.
The Italian import Cruel Tango also employs a techno-horror device in the service of a gory murder mystery. A masked killer is terrorizing a village in southern Italy, confounding police and showing no signs of satisfying his mad hunger. When a local blogger discovers a musical connection between the killer and the victims, naturally he becomes the prime suspect in the eyes of the police. Once again, the unusual location makes Salvatore Metastasio’s giallo-inspired thriller something out of the ordinary.
Looking for something really twisted? Edward Pionke’s Mother’s Milk tells the story of a mousy statistics professor, who, after a devastating childhood trauma, developed an unnatural craving for breast milk. Instead of surfing the Internet to find a wet nurse in need of a few extra bucks – all fetishes are served online – he kidnaps a babysitter he incorrectly assumes to be lactating. He chains her to a bed in his basement, where the polite pervert hopes to win her over with his gourmet cooking. To avoid being harmed, the abductee feigns interest in her captor to the point where she allows herself to be impregnated. Pionke allows us to ponder her true intentions.
In return for giving the world the goofy 2009 Nazi-zombie flick, Dead Snow – budgeted at a cool $800,000 — Norwegian filmmaker Tommy Wirkola was awarded the keys to Paramount/MTV/MGM’s $50-million Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, which starred Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton, Peter Stormare and Famke Janssen. Despite being trashed by mainstream critics, the film broke even in the U.S. and made enough money overseas to warrant a sequel. Wirkola’s Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead picks up where the original ended, in a Norwegian village besieged by Gestapo forces who had remained buried in the frozen slopes until a group of skiers accidentally awakened them. In their vacant minds, something reminded the storm-troopers of their mission to punish locals who had resisted Adolph Hitler’s charms. This time, a trio of American zombie chasers – led by Martin Starr, of “Silicon Valley” — joins Martin (Vegar Hoel), the only survivor from the original’s siege. To prevent being contaminated, he had chopped his arm off, but wakes up in a hospital with the zombie leader’s limb sewn onto his stump. If the splatter quotient is extremely high in Dead Snow 2, viewers can take solace in knowing that it’s all in the name good clean-as-the-driven-snow fun.
Welcome to My Darkside: Women in Horror is little more than a bargain-basement rehashing of themes already covered in the documentaries Screaming in High Heels: The Rise & Fall of the Scream Queen Era and Invasion of the Scream Queens. The primary difference is in the quality of the movies and actresses chosen to represent the genre. Only the most adventurous of genre buffs will recognize the women interviewed and films that went directly to PPV or DVD. As such, the quality of the anecdotes and personal data leaves plenty to be desired. Among those interviewed are Michelle Tomlinson (The Cellar Door), Brooke Lewis (Slime City Massacre), Lynn Lowry (The Crazies), Adrienne King (Friday the 13th), Dana Pike and Darla Enlow (The Stitcher), Michelle Fatale (The Cleaner) and hostess Miss Misery (Movie Massacre).
186 Dollars to Freedom
I don’t know how many Americans were dissuaded from attempting to smuggle drugs out of Turkey or Thailand by Midnight Express and Brokedown Palace. Maybe none, maybe a bunch. Like Alan Parker and Oliver Stone’s films, 186 Dollars to Freedom is based on a book written by the survivor of a rather harsh prison ordeal, this one in Peru, in 1980. Unlike “Midnight Express,” however, the protagonist, Wayne Montgomery (John Robinson), was framed on false charges of carrying two kilos of cocaine in his knapsack. An avid surfer, he had traveled there to take advantage of the waves, but needed to make money to stay in the country by teaching. Corrupt police officials hoped that his family would pay what amounted to a ransom for his freedom. Instead, he refused to tell them that his parents lived in Beverly Hills or how to contact them. Wayne would share space in Lima’s infamous El Sexto prison, along with all manner of common criminals, political prisoners and foreigners in the same boat as him. Writer/director Camilo Vila is most effective in creating a prison environment as frightening as it is filthy. His tendency to over-emphasize the brutality of the prison guards, however, made 186 Dollars to Freedom exceedingly difficult to sit through at times. One needn’t have his nose pushed into a pile of dog shit to recognize the smell, after all. An interview with the man who endured the punishment, some 30-plus years ago, appears in a bonus featurette to add some needed context to the harrowing film.
Edith Wharton: The Sense of Harmony
Not many of us have lived the kind of life that would justify the creation of a documentary as compelling as Altina. If we had, it would be nice to know it was being made by an adoring grandchild, such as Peter Sanders (The Disappeared). Altina Schinasi was born in 1907, in New York City, a decedent of Sephardic Jews from Asia Minor and daughter of a self-made tobacco tycoon. Altina wanted for nothing, except, perhaps, her father’s unconditional love. Lacking that, however, Altina used her outgoing personality and innate creative drive to achieve success as a painter, sculptor, muralist, Oscar-nominated filmmaker (George Grosz’ Interregnum), entrepreneur, designer, humanitarian and activist. Outside of her circle of friends and lovers, she was best known for designing the Harlequin eyeglass frame. Anyone who’s seen one of her whimsical “chair-acter” sculptures — which combine the function of a seat with the form of the sitter – isn’t likely to forget the experience, either. Altina also neatly captures the eccentric nature of Schinasi’s love life, which included four husbands and God knows how many lovers. Wealth allowed her the freedom to pursue her various passions, but it was her drive and courage that encouraged her to take the necessary first steps. If Altina stops short of being inspirational, it’s only because few of us possess the wherewithal to follow the same footsteps. The DVD includes additional interviews and a gallery.
If one doesn’t look too closely at their resumes, Altina Schinasi and American novelist Edith Wharton would appear to have been cut from the same cloth. Elizabeth Lennard’s scholarly bio-doc Edith Wharton: The Sense of Harmony paints a portrait of a woman born into wealth, whose literary talent revealed itself at an early age and allowed her to inform “The Age of Innocence,” “The House of Mirth,” “Ethan Frome” and “The Custom of the Country” with the kind of details that other writers of the Gilded Age must have envied. Wharton was the first woman to receive an honorary degree from Yale, win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and report from the front lines of World War I. She also was a talented designer, a tireless traveler and a passionate philanthropist. The DVD contains interviews with such biographers as Louis Auchincloss, R.W.B. Lewis and Eleanor Dwight, as well as writer Colin Clark and historian Sir Steven Runciman, and the only known film footage of Wharton in existence.
Jay Johnson: The Two & Only!
If, like me, you dread the thought of being invited to a showcase of local ventriloquists, but are willing to admit, later, that they enjoyed the show, Jay Johnson: The Two & Only! may be the Christmas gift you didn’t know you planned to give. If Johnson’s name is vaguely familiar, it’s probably because of his starring role in the zany ABC sitcom, “Soap.” In it, he played Chuck and Bob Campbell, a ventriloquist and his “friend,” who served as the yin to other’s yang … or, if you will, the pepper to his salt. His Tony Award-winning show is equal parts autobiographical and a historical guide to ventriloquism, both delightfully rendered. Johnson invites several of his favorite props – dummies, puppets, dolls, characters, whatever — on stage to help him recall key moments in his life and career. His recollections of his relationship to mentor and friend Arthur Sieving, who created “Bob,” is especially affecting. Apart from a couple of naughty words, “Two & Only” easily qualifies as family entertainment.
My Uncle Rafael
If you loved My Big Fat Greek Wedding, there’s a better than a fighting chance that you’ll get a kick out of My Uncle Rafael. Like Mia Vardalos’ surprise hit, Vahik Pirhamzei’s movie started its life as a stage play and quirky celebration of his ethnic heritage. Much of My Uncle Rafael is set in a family-run café that serves Armenian delicacies, in addition to buckets of coffee. It’s in Glendale, which has a large Armenian-immigrant population, but also supports a mix of cultures. In a forced contrivance, the deceptively wise Uncle Rafael (Pirhamzei) is hired by the producer of a reality-based show to mediate the many problems dividing a split-pair of a dysfunctional American families. All of the characters are exaggerated in one way or another – Rafael’s prosthetic makeup borders on the grotesque – but only one of them could be considered to be a villain, of sorts. What saves My Uncle Rafael is a veteran team of comic actors that viewers will recognize from such shows as “Happily Divorced,” “Inside Amy Schumer,” “Yes, Dear,” “Suburgatory” and “The Carrie Diaries.” The Armenian actors may be far less recognizable, but no less talented. Despite the success of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the reluctance to cast overtly ethnic-looking actors is pathetic. (Despite the fact that Pirhamzei has portrayed more than 20 characters in his live comedy-variety shows — and performed in Farsi, Armenian, English and German – his list of film credits wouldn’t exhaust the fingers on a single hand.) The DVD adds deleted scenes and a backgrounder.
Ever After (Reloaded)
If nothing else, Fernando A. Mico deserves credit for putting his fingerprints on every single frame of his debut film, from the opening credits to the last lines of the closing reel. His name appears in 11 of 12 categories on the IMDB.com listings for the martial-arts actioner, Ever After (Reloaded), from writer, director and actor to miscellaneous crew, cinematographer and special effects. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the working definition of a DIY (do-it-yourself) filmmaker. It almost doesn’t matter that Ever After isn’t very good. Mico deserves kudos merely for being able to finish the damn thing, without running out of hats to wear or committing suicide. It should go without saying that Miko stars as Miko, a “lone assassin in the tradition of Clint Eastwood and Bruce Lee … with a score to settle.” Just as Miko takes money from rival crime bosses to kill each other’s subordinates, he’s chased across America by street-level cops, FBI agents and, even, his sensei. A couple of the fight scenes work OK, but everything else is almost necessarily underwhelming. Having lived in a few glass houses, myself, I’m not about to throw stones at anyone who attempts to do something as daunting as making a feature film all by himself.
Ed Wood’s Dirty Movies
Come Play With Me
Sweet & Perverse Milly
Here’s a DVD few people saw coming and, yes, there’s still time to stuff tuff one into a loved one’s stocking … preferably, black thigh-highs. To coin a phrase originated by the folks at Budweiser, “When you say, Ed Wood’s Dirty Movies, you’ve said it all!” Twelve years after the most justifiably reviled director in the history of the medium committed Plan 9 from Outer Space to film, Wood turned to hard-core features under the pseudonym, Richard Trent. By the time Deep Throat introduced facials, anal and giant cocks to mainstream audiences, under the guise of “porno chic,” Wood’s The Young Marrieds had successfully merged an identifiable narrative with explicit sex. If it isn’t very good, remember that Deep Throat wasn’t all that terrific, either. In The Young Marrieds, an uptight suburban housewife and her frustrated husband are introduced to the sexual-liberation movement by friends who have quietly embraced swinging. By the end of the movie, the character played by Alice Friedland is in control of her own orgasm and digging something she once dreaded, showing emotion while having sex. Right on, Ed. The appropriately titled Nympho Cycler features a wacky cameo by Wood, in a bathtub, while Shot on Location takes an inside-Hollywood approach to voluntary and forced sex. The trailer package is a blast, as well.
The late British sex star Mary Millington has been compared to Linda Lovelace, if only because of her appeal defied any attempt to ghettoize porn in the 1970s. For my money, though, the petite blond bombshell had more in common with Marilyn Monroe, both physically and in the details of her sad demise. Released in 1977, Come Play With Me is a soft-core comedy that more closely resembles “Benny Hill” with nudity than Deep Throat or Behind the Green Door. Basically, it’s a crime caper that takes place largely in a rural retreat/brothel. A pair of forgers take refuge from a crime boss at the health farm at the same time as a busload of punters arrive for some sexual healing. There’s plenty of nudity, but not much in the way of hard-core action. This distinction helped Come Play With Me set box-office records by running 201 weeks at the Moulin Cinema in London’s West End. The DVD adds background featurettes on Millington, who had become a household name before British cops and tax collectors pushed her into a corner from which there was no escape.
In 1981, the Australian sexploitation comedy, Pacific Banana, took flight. Reminiscent of the raunchy “Carry On …” series and Aussie sex comedy, Alvin Purple, it describes what happens when a hapless pilot – he sneezes whenever he is aroused, causing him to lose his erection – accepts a job in the cockpit of a Banana Airlines island-hopper. His co-pilot is a male slut who frequently forgets to turn off the intercom when he brags about his conquests. The equally horny air hostesses and tour director take it upon themselves to cure the pilot of his sneezing malady, which finally is resolved with a touch of true romance. The movie may be outdated, but the scenery isn’t bad.
While we’re on the subject of how different nations responded to the call of the so-called Golden Age of Porn, it’s worth noting RaroVideo’s upgrade of Alberto Cavallone’s 1978 Blue Movie. Just as an Italian sports car can be differentiated from those manufactured anywhere else in the world, its genre cinema stands out like a screaming-neon sign, at night, on a two-lane highway in the desert. Everything is done with a sense of style and overstatement that could have pushed a film in the direction of an arthouse or triple-bill at the local drive-in theater. Blue Movie tells two interrelated stories, both involving extremely attractive men and women and abusive sexual relations. In the first, a young woman is kidnapped and taken to abandoned Etruscan ruins in the forest, where she manages to escape her captors before being raped. Her clothes torn and tattered, Silvia (Dirce Funari) flags down a passing motorist, who offers her a place in his photography studio to nurse her wounds. After a traumatizing stint covering the war in Vietnam, Claudio (Claude Maran) can’t help but contrast the degradation of mankind and dehumanization of contemporary culture in his fashion photography. When he isn’t shooting supermodels in overtly sexual positions, he’s arranging and photographing discarded pop cans as if they were high-fashion models. As this is an Italian film, Silvia can’t help but be attracted to the deeply troubled, if bewitchingly attractive Claudio, who keeps his model, Daniela (Danielle Dugas), locked in a room. Before long, Silvia becomes troubled by recollections of the attempted rape and escape from masked assailants. She responds by allowing herself to be turned into just another aluminum can, crushed and posed at Claudio’s whim. The sex scenes in Blue Movie are more graphic than one usually encounters in giallo and somewhat more disturbing. This was as much a commercial consideration on the producers’ part as an artistic decision made by Cavallone. This isn’t an easy movie to grasp intellectually, but an informative 40-minute featurette goes a long way toward clarifying what happened to Blue Movie in its journey to limited release. It adds some interesting interviews, not only with the director and his associates, but also the male lead, Claude Maran. The disc also includes a few minutes of deleted material shot in super-8, most of which is fairly explicit in nature and not all of which Cavallone recalls shooting. A color booklet of liner notes from Davide Pulici provides further information on the film and its director.
In One 7 Movies’ Sweet & Perverse Milly, the formidable Italian sex goddess Milly D’Abbraccio essentially plays her on-screen alter ego, this time as a lusty and pleasure-loving woman who’s tired of the men in Italy. On a lark, she decides to take her manhunt crusade to the U.S., where she engages in trysts with several studs who look suspiciously Italianate. It’s a very goofy film, noteworthy primarily for the presence of the voluptuous D’Abbraccio, who, before going into hard-core, won the 1978 Miss Teenager Italy pageant. She would attempt a career in the non-porn world of entertainment, but found greater success and visibility in the sex trade. Like Cicciolina, she would cap her career by running for political offices in Rome and Monza. “S&P Milly” was directed by Christopher Clark, under the supervision of American maestro Gerard Damiano.
Southern Baptist Sissies
[Safe]: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Big Gay Love
Typically, if five students at a high school in an affluent community came down with the same disease simultaneously or, perhaps, even had their cars robbed in the parking lot in the same week, parents would be passing around petitions and demanding explanations from the principal, vice principal, homeroom teachers, hall monitors and janitors. If the situation continued, lawsuits would be filed against school personnel and the school board. In many districts, a football coach whose team loses five games in succession will be fired or brought before a PTA tribunal. By contrast, in Mentor, Ohio, the suicide deaths of five students – two of them, at least, to an epidemic of bullying – caused a wall of silence to be raised around the offices of several school officials, but no formal actions to curb the scourge. It’s possible that one or two of them showed some concern, unofficially, but the refusal to discuss the matter extended to the producers of the horrific documentary, Mentor. One would think that the mass slaughter of children at Columbine at other schools would have convinced the administrators of Mentor’s school to investigate reported incidents of bullying, but, according to the people who were willing to be interviewed by Alix Lambert (The Mark of Cain) for this upsetting film, the most anyone did was destroy files documenting the many times victim Sladjana Vidovic reported the abuse before committing suicide. In 2006 and 2010, Mentor was selected as one of America’s Top 100 Cities to Live, so it’s unlikely that any freakish environmental accident many have triggered the rash of bullying or that the kids who committed suicide were influenced by ties to gangs or drug cartels. Apparently, Sladjana’s crime was being born in Bosnia and given refugee status, along with her parents and sister, in the U.S. after the war erupted in the early 1990s. Then, too, kids in the cool clique appear to have resented her struggles with the language and difficulty of pronouncing her name, not that any of them were required to do so. She did the right thing, by reporting the bullying to her parents, who, although not fluid in English, repeatedly pursued their daughter’s complaints with school officials. One of the taunts, of course, questioned her sexual identity, not that it would have made any difference, either. The other teenager to whom we’re introduced is Eric Mohat, an enthusiastic member of the school’s stage choir – think, “Glee” – but singularly unable to defend himself against the jock elite. Eric suffered in near silence, before taking one of the bully’s advice and committing suicide. With only a few weeks to go until the end of classes and a competition in Hawaii just around the corner, the boy’s parents had no reason to fear such a dire solution to his problems. Mentor doesn’t dwell on the other suicides, except to imply that they didn’t cause a ripple of concern among school officials, either.
Bullying and suicide both figure prominently in Del Shores’ alternately hilarious and deflating Southern Baptist Sissies, a 2000 stage play (with songs) that describes the hell of growing up LGBT in a town dominated by bigots and people too weak to stand up to blow-hard Christian ministers. Having survived the experience and prospered in a land far, far away from the militantly right-wing hamlets of central Texas, Shores has been able to look back in fear, loathing and laughter. A natural-born storyteller, Shores has served as writer/producer of such TV shows as “Sordid Lives,” “Queer as Folk” and “Dharma & Greg.” The potential audience for Southern Baptist Sissies, which is filmed as a theatrical piece, shouldn’t feel limited to one particular group, gay or straight. The DVD adds music videos for show-stoppers, “Stained Glass Window” and “Pass Me Not”; a behind-the-scenes featurette; and cast interviews.
If only for the radiant presence of Julianne Moore and its suburban setting, Todd Haynes’ 1995 allegorical drama, [Safe] will remind viewers of Far From Home, his 2002 adaptation of Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows. Both deal with issues that were kept hidden from view in polite society, but served as ticking time bombs in the lives of the protagonists. In [Safe], Moore plays the wife of a successful, if annoyingly aloof businessman, whose primary concern is maintaining a lifestyle worthy of his station in life. Carol seems satisfied in her role as a presentable wife and someone who makes sure their home is up-to-date, according to the magazines she reads. One day, out of the blue, Carol begins to display symptoms of an illness that could be a simple as an allergy or as potentially fatal as leukemia. After running a series of tests, her doctors conclude that she has developed an allergy that can be triggered by anything from fumes from a newly woven carpet to the food she consumes and air she breathes. Perplexed, Carol takes the advice of an ad she sees, advertising a health retreat far from the noxious atmosphere of the San Fernando Valley. Once there, she’s surrounded by people diagnosed with ailments similar to the one torturing her. The spiritual leader of the retreat, who’s HIV-positive, preaches the gospel of self-awareness, self-blame and self-help. Never having to take her life and environment at anything except face value, Carol feels as abandoned at the retreat as at home in the suburbs. The ending has stuck in the craw of some viewers, who apparently expected more of a statement on AIDS and others, who felt Haynes left too much open to question. Twenty years after the fact, the ending seems perfectly fine to me and, as Haynes indicates in his comments in the Blu-ray package, an inescapable commentary on society’s early response to AIDS. Also included in the new 4K digital restoration are commentary, featuring Haynes, Moore, and producer Christine Vachon; a new conversation between Haynes and Moore; Haynes’s “The Suicide,” a 1978 short film from his high school years; a new interview with Vachon; and an essay by critic Dennis Lim.
Big Gay Love explores the America’s physically obsessed culture, especially in the gay community, where maintaining a youthful glow and buff physique can mean the difference between hope and despair. Jonathan Lisecki (Gayby) plays the self-conscious protagonist, Bob, whose only hurdle to happiness is a body that only a bear could love. Alas, that’s not Bob’s scene. When the smart, sensitive and handsome chef Andy (Nicholas Brendon) shows an interest in the party planner, Bob talks himself out of accepting that such a cool guy could be his “big gay love.” Frankly, we have to be convinced that Andy’s intentions are true, as well. The rest of the movie is consumed with the kinds of things that would happen in any rom-com, straight or LGBT, under similar circumstances. If Bob’s self-loathing is almost too much to bear at times, Ringo Le’s picture is saved by some clever writing and a cast that isn’t nearly obsessed with their flaws.
The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis: The Final Season
Comedy Central: Kroll Show: Seasons One & Two
Nickelodeon: CatDog: The Complete Series: Blu-ray
Masterpiece Mystery: Inspector Lewis: Series 7
PBS: Makers: Women Who Make America, Volume 2
Mind of a Chef: Magnus Nilsson – Season 3
Barney Miller: The Complete Sixth Season
Hart to Hart: The Complete Third Season
Nickelodeon: Legend of Korra: Book Three: Change
Drawing With Mark: Take Flight/As The Wheels Turn
Visit Sheila Kuehl’s website and you’ll notice at the bottom of her biography that “in her youth, she was known for her portrayal of the irrepressible Zelda Gilroy in the television series, ‘The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.’” The rest of the page is devoted to the years she’s spent since then as a legislator, public servant, educator, lawyer and activist. No one’s gotten around to adding Kuehl’s new job as Los Angeles County supervisor, a position she assumed after beating Kennedy kinsman Bobby Shriver in a high-profile campaign. I only mention this as an introduction to the new DVD collection, “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis: The Final Season,” in which Zelda played a prominent role. Among other things, this is the season Dobie finally is required to make up his mind about marrying Zelda or continue being flummoxed by women who mistakenly believe that he’ll someday come into big money. Bobby Diamond joined the team as Dobie’s frisky young cousin and co-conspirator with Maynard on a variety of silly schemes. Other weird Gillis relatives show up in the fourth season, as well. Among the guest stars are the Lettermen, Ellen Burstyn, Robby the Robot and Tuesday Weld, who returns for a final turn as Thalia Menninger. It’s a fine end to a landmark series.
Nick Kroll is an extremely funny guy, who’s been kicking around Hollywood for almost 20 years as a writer and performer in comedy clubs and television. Although he may be better known for his podcasts and sketch work on various Internet series, the Westchester County native has raised his profile considerably of late as Rodney Ruxin on “The League” and with recurring roles on Adult Swim’s “Childrens Hospital,” the NBC sitcom, “Parks and Recreation” and as a regular on the “Funny or Die” website. On Comedy Central’s anarchic “Kroll Show,” he takes on several very different personalities each week, including the sleazy Bobby Bottleservice. Practically every sketch comic in the business has shown up on the show, at least once, during its first two seasons.
Imagine Laurel & Hardy or Abbott & Costello as conjoined twins and you’ll have a pretty good idea of the dynamic at work in the brash Nickelodeon series, “CatDog,” which enjoyed a four-season run between 1998 and 2005. Instead of being joined side-by-side or back-to-back, the protagonists of the animated series resemble a sausage with the two heads and dual personalities, one of a cat and the other of a dog. At the time of the show’s arrival on the cable network, Nickelodeon had yet to commit fully to the kind of offbeat cartoons it’s now famous for producing. The success of “CatDog” convinced it to push forward on the burgeoning format. Shout! Factory has released “CatDog: The Complete Series” for DVD. The studio also plans to offer the item a couple of months early, exclusively through one well-known chain of brick-and-mortar department stores, for the very passionate fans out there. The set will cost $39.99 SRP, and can be pre-ordered right now from Amazon at a discounted cost of $27.99, and delivered right to your door in time for Christmas! Package art hasn’t been finalized yet, but stay tuned. Our thanks to longtime reader Shira Schweitzer for tipping us off about this item!
The busy little bees who toil in the service of PBS have been particularly active this month. Among the DVDs and Blu-rays newly available is “Masterpiece Mystery: Inspector Lewis: Series 7,” which includes three complete episodes of the ITV/PBS presentation: “The Greater Good,” “The Lions of Nemea” and “Beyond Good & Evil.” Oxford crime-solvers Kevin Whately and Laurence Fox have been reunited after Lewis’ brief retirement and none too soon, as one of his first successful cases as a detective-inspector has been re-opened for appeal.
The format for the second go-round of “Makers: Women Who Make America” has changed to focus on individual fields in which women have had a profound impact on how things are run and done. “Women in Comedy” and “Women in Hollywood” are already so well-trod that comedian Joy Behar quipped for the camera, “This is the last documentary I want to see about women in comedy.” Me, too. Less obvious are chapters devoted to women in Politics/Business/War/Space. Here, the women we meet have faced far different, but equally difficult challenges on their way through the glass ceiling.
The latest edition of Anthony Bourdain’s “The Mind of a Chef” is especially delicious, as it delivers both as a foodie guide to Scandinavian cuisine and luscious travelogue for adventurous diners. The mini-series’ epicenter is the kitchen at Magnus Nilsson’s Fäviken, where simple cooking methods and local ingredients are favored. Nilsson also is our guide on a camping trip, a visit to his native village, the Faroe Island and onto the Atlantic Ocean fisheries, with a side trip to the restaurants of Paris in which he learned his craft.
Also on tap this month are “Finding Your Roots: Season 2,” with such celebrity guests as Stephen King, Gloria Reuben, Courtney B. Vance, Derek Jeter, Billie Jean King, Rebecca Lobo; Ken Burns, Anderson Cooper, Ben Affleck, Khandi Alexander, Tom Colicchio, Carole King, Tina Fey, David Sedaris and George Stephanopoulos; and the “Nova” presentations “First Man on the Moon,” which ought to be watched alongside “Women in Space,” and “Bigger Than T. Rex,” about the mystery surrounding Spinosaurus, the prehistoric world’s largest predator.
Besides “Dobie Gillis,” Shout! Factory has sent out seasonal packages of the police squad-room sitcom “Barney Miller” (No. 6) and glamorous detective drama “Hart to Hart” (No. 3), in which Robert Wagner, Stefanie Powers and Lionel Stander effectively updated “The Thin Man” movies and series. Both are relatively timeless.
“Legend of Korra: Book Three: Change” returns the animated series to Earth Kingdom, one of the four major nations in the setting of the series. Air-benders are re-introduced into the narrative, alongside Lin Beifong, Zuko, the Red Lotus anarchists and Zaheer, who wants to overthrow the world’s governments and the Avatar. I don’t think that the children’s instructional series, “Drawing With Mark,” is running on any television network currently, but, for those who want to bring out the artist in their kids, Shelter Island has released “Take Flight” and ”As the Wheels Turn,” as a combo.