What ever happened to the Brooklyn Robins? It’s a rhetorical question about a future edition of Blu-ray Slight Return from later in October, the World Series edition. Meanwhile this is Blu-ray Slight Return the Harvest Moon edition. September has been both a dumping ground for straight to disc genre product as well as a goldmine of belated admiration for films that didn’t do great in theatrical but have revealed their obvious delights to an even expanding audience. That would be the growing percentage of people hopping on the Blu-ray bandwagon.
In some ways the high tech of high def has replaced the obsession with pure audio from previous generations. Think about it, high-end stereo component systems of the past have been replaced by iPods with thin earplugs while small screen television boob tubes that were designed to look like office furniture in the middle of your living room have been supplanted by large screen devices empowered with special cables, sound bars, and multi-region players.
Genre films often find themselves regulated to drive-in type status, despite any inherent quality. Some recent standouts include the Jessica Biel starrer The Tall Man (9/25, Image Entertainment), which I watched when I was fucked up so I don’t remember why I liked it, so much as recall grooving on its dark look. Chained (10/2, Anchor Bay) pushes buttons that make you feel weird for watching its excessively bizarre story of a serial killer (Vincent D’Onofrio totally inhabits his character, slumped shoulders, cruelty and all.) who kidnaps a young boy, the son of one of his victims. Eventually the lad has grown into his teens and become the servant of D’Onofrio and possibly his successor. Jennifer Lynch directs the hell out of Chained and you know her old man has to be proud. The real clinchers for direct to disc releases though were a couple of foreign films. Penumbra (MPI, 8/28) from Argentina, helmed by the Bogliano Brothers (Adrian and Ramiro), offers a slow build-up that just explodes in the third act when a woman is taken prisoner in her own apartment and forced to take part in an otherworldly ritual. Penumbra leaves you numb because the story seems so normal most of the way through the film only to pull the rug out from under the viewer. In Snowman’s Land (9/25, Music Box) a hit man who can’t even kill the right victim or afford his next weapon finds himself on a kind of sabbatical in the Carpathian Mountains, with an equally inept sidekick. They are house sitting for a mobster, and then the kingpin’s girlfriend accidentally shoots herself while having rough sex with the sidekick. Naturally the mobster returns home and wants to know what happed to his moll even while events continue to spiral out of control. This German entry stars Jurgen Rissman and expertly balances its mayhem with the black comedy.
Recent 3D Blu-ray releases include Bait 3D (9/18, Anchor Bay) and Piranha 3DD (9/4, TWC). Both provide visual thrills that with a proper home 3D set-up look great. From Australia, Bait has more chops, deftly operating within its genre limits. A tsunami traps a group of people in a supermarket where they wind up being terrorized by sharks. Piranha 3DD (a sequel that finds ways to work actor cameos from the previous installment) is definitely more camp and exploitive. The David Hasselhoff sequence does add some life to the proceedings.
Fans of comedy and stand-up should check out Katt Williams: Kattpacalypse (E One, 9/18) for his hilarious take the difference in how blacks and whites view Obama. Katt displays manic energy that translates into laughs. Paul Rodriguez: Just For The Record (9/25, Image Entertainment) unwinds more like a one-man two-act play as Rodriguez offers family stories that have insight, common sense and family bonding as well as laughs.
A couple of Blu-rays also sport great extras and director/cast commentary. Klown (9/25, Drafthouse Films) may be the funniest film of the year, and certainly gives Ted a run for the guffaws champ statue. Klown is definitely the most outrageous film that’s been released this year. The extras for this Dutch film include an episode of the television series it’s based on that was written by Lars von Trier. The commentary of the director and two stars is in English and offer insight into some of the more kinky aspects of making the film, like a body prosthetic used for one underage actor. Damsels in Distress (9/25, Sony Home Entertainment) also offered singular delights and is hands down the most stylized film to come out this year. Whit Stillman’s commentaries (along with most of the cast) are as mannered and clever as his movie dialogue. Other extras include deleted scenes, outtakes, and a lengthy Q&A from a post-screening panel.
Television has not really evolved from its golden era, although Portlandia: Season Two (9/25, IFC) gives the past a run for the money. The set has all ten eps on one disc, some with commentary and a second disc of extras. I don’t consider Portlandia on any level with classic skit comedy, yet each episode has at least one gag that convulses me with laughter. Like the ep Cat Nap where Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein induct their pet cat into their rock group. Of course, we all know that Armisen for years played drums, first with Trenchmouth and then with Blue Man Group, while Brownstein fronted Sleater-Kinney. This duo knows how to bring syncopation to their cultural humor. For classic sketch comedy I defer to The Carol Burnett Show: Carol’s Favorites (9/25, Time Life) a six-disc set that has several lengthy interviews with people like Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner (don’t forget he posed for Playgirl in the ‘70s), Tim Conway and late Harvey Korman and Burnett. Other extras show insight into the zeitgeist of the golden age, like one ep that goes back to The Gary Moore Show from 1961 where Burnett first made a sensation. Show guest from the ten episodes chosen here include Steve Martin, Shirley MacLaine, Vincent Price, Maggie Smith, Rock Hudson, Roddy McDowall (in full Planet of the Apes make-up for one skit); the list goes on. The thing about this show, yeah sure the humor is dated (although Conway as Simba in the Born Free takeoff will never loose its luster) but the musical numbers were often original and certainly of Broadway quality. The Jackson Five absolutely slayed during their appearance on a couple of songs (“Dancing Machine” with Michael pulling some vintage dance moves) and joining Carol for a skit where she plays a dorky schoolmarm while the kids sing “ABC.”
Joseph Campbell: Mythos The Complete Series (Acorn Media, 9/18) contains 15 lectures on six discs Campbell performed in the 1980s. You’re going to be an expert on comparative religion and myth from both Western and Eastern perspectives after watching these amazing if not meticulous eps, each one an hour and hosted by Susan Sarandon.
Closing out the television DVDs selections I deem important enough the get evangelical about would be Thriller: Fan Favorites (9/4, Image Entertainment). This 1961 series lasted two years and was hosted by Boris Karloff. Besides seeing performers that would establish their own personas in other popular shows/films of the ‘60s (Shatner, Chamberlain, Dick York, Russell Johnson, Donna Douglas) this horror and ghostly anthology legitimately has great black-and-white creep-me-out-late-at night endings. Most people have heard of the Twilight Zone, which aired during the same years, but Thriller deserves some newfound cult love. The shows have a decent budget, look slick and have great scripts (Psycho writer Robert Bloch has credit on more than one ep) as well as dense soundtracks.
– Michael Bergeron