Michael Bergeron
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Blu-ray / DVD slight return

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informantInformant (11/19, Music Box) documents a radical activist turned FBI informant turned Tea Party darling. And an amazing transformation it is. Brandon Darby organizes minority families in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina “for Common Ground, a grassroots relief org.” Soon after, Darby becomes disillusioned after some Austin activists that he’s trained use violent techniques of which he doesn’t approve. Shifting further to the right Darby’s conservatism moves him to provide info to the FBI and eventually lecture on the Tea Party circuit. Truth be told, there’s a little bit of Darby of one shade or another in all of us.

film_9Music Box Films also distributes the doc Smash & Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers (12/3) through their Doppelgänger label. The Pink Panthers are a daring gang who pull a $30-million jewel robbery. Some of their ties lead to the Eastern Euro criminal underground. Pic includes surveillance footage of various robberies.

Dirty Wars (10/15, IFC/MPI) evolved from journalist Jeremy Scahill’s book of the same name; Richard Rowley directs. Film provides a disturbing recent account of drone strikes, kill-lists, and what and what-is-not revealed by the government.

IFC and MPI Home entertainment have also released these recent narrative features: Byzantium (10/29), a femme vampire tale for the ages with Gemma Arteton and Saoirse Ronan, helmed by Neil Jordan; the director’s cut (Paul Schrader) of The Canyons (11/26) a provocative drama that deserves a second look, starring Lindsay Lohan; and Crystal Fairy (11/19) a drug fueled road trip through Chile with Michael Cera (good in a departure from his usual sensibilities) and Gaby Hoffman (amazing Earth mother performance).17GRODE-articleLarge

The Vivian Leigh Anniversary Collection (11/19, Cohen Media Group) presents four British films featuring Leigh in stunning digitally restored prints on a two-disc Blu-ray release. Films include Fire Over England, Dark Journey, Storm in a Teacup, and St. Martin’s Lane. Seriously, each successive film is thematically different and better than the last. In addition to Leigh the films feature Laurence Olivier, Conrad Veidt, Rex Harrison and Charles Laughton.

I’ve waited years to see All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (12/3, Anchor Bay). This 2006 horror film has been in film festival and small distributor limbo for long enough. The debut feature of Jonathan Levine (50/50, Warm Bodies) stars Amber Heard as the titular heroine and occasionally rises above its genre limits.

Speaking of genre limits, the Mystery Science Theater 3000: 25th Anniversary Edition (11/26, Shout! Factory) offers some stone cold sci-fi flicks from time past. The five-disc set comes in a tin box and includes mini-posters designed by Steve Vance. Films include Moon Zero Two (great score by Don Ellis), Gorgo, Mitchell (Joe Don Baker private dick flick), The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (severed head-fu before Re-Animator and Se7en), The Leech Woman, and The Day the Earth Froze.

Rounding out selections for this edition of Slight Return is The Rutles: Anthology (11/19, VSC) featuring two discs with the 1978 mockumentary All You Need is Cash and the 2002 follow-up Can’t Buy Me Lunch, as well as a new commentary from Eric Idle. The Rutles for the uninitiated were a mock-Beatles group and Idle and in particular Neil Innes totally nail the sound and rhythms of the Fab Four. Guest appearances for All You Need is Cash include many members of the then new Saturday Night Live show (Bill the K Murray and Gilda Radner shine) as well as George Harrison and many others. The set includes one Blu-ray and one DVD.

— Michael Bergeron