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Blu-ray slight return: Summer heat edition

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Anything having to do with The Philadelphia Experiment (6/11, Anchor Bay) gets my immediate attention. I have fond memories of the 1984 film of the same name as well as Final Countdown a 1980 Kirk Douglas starrer where a then modern aircraft carrier goes back in time to the start of WWII. Of course the mythology of the Philadelphia experiment goes back to a secret Naval operation in 1943 that may or may not have actually happened, and if it did happen that resulted in a battleship being rendered invisible. The new version from the SyFy Channel minimizes the legend for a kind of rote chase scenario so common to cable movies. It left me wondering why there was so little Sy and so much Fy. Actors include Nicholas Lea, Malcolm McDowell and Michael Paré.

Perfect Understanding (6/4, Cohen Media) brings a restored version of a 1933 romcom that brought together an upcoming Laurence Olivier with the already established star (and starting to wane) Gloria Swanson and the chemistry works. Michael Powell (uncredited) contributed to the screenplay, which has its share of what would be then considered risqué material. The direction by Cyril Gardner contains perfect examples of lyrical camera movement during the early years of sound. Extras include two Mack Sennett produced shorts (20-minutes each) from that year: Dream Stuff and Husband’s Reunion.

Barrymore (Image Entertainment, 5/7) presents Christopher Plummer as acclaimed early 20th century thespian John Barrymore. Based on a play that won Plummer a Tony Award Barrymore never falters in its portrait of an actor in his golden years.

There’s great cranky dialogue throughout as Barrymore struggles to present a coherent audition despite being distracted by drunken reveries and flashbacks to his greatness. Includes a lengthy behind-the-scenes featurette that interviews all involved.

In an exhaustively complete tribute to Richard Pryor comes No Pryor Restraint: Life in Concert (6/11, Shout! Factory). Packaged in a book that contains 7 CDs and all three of Pryor’s stand-up concerts films on 2 DVDs No Pryor Restraint also contains four essays on Pryor’s career and influence.

Additionally a filmography reminds that Pryor also had a strong movie resume that includes everything from bit parts in Wild in the Streets (1968, anybody over 30 is put in an LSD re-education camp), to classics like The Lady Sings the Blues and Blue Collar to huge commercial hits like Stir Crazy and Silver Streak. Pryor’s last movie role was a cameo in David Lynch’s Lost Highway.

The discography lists over two-dozen records Pryor either released as a solo act or appeared as a guest on. The 7 CDs here are culled from those recording with a bonus of several unreleased tracks and a couple of candid radio station interviews, all recorded from 1966 to 1992. Hearing Pryor at different points through successive decades chronicles what was going on socially (civil rights, war) as well as culturally (drugs, sex).

The three films - Richard Pryor Live In Concert (1979), Richard Pryor Live On The Sunset Strip (1982), Richard Pryor… Here And Now (1983) – are quintessential Pryor, profane and nasty and just funny. Pryor’s comedy routine includes him going into different characters. In particular, Live On The Sunset Strip where Pryor comes clean about his blowing himself up and nearly dying while addicted to freebasing is hands down one of the best mea culpa performances by a comedian. “Whatcha going do?” Pryor literally caught himself on fire and ran from his mansion to the hospital. “Believe me, when you’re on fire, people will get out of your way.” For those unaware of Pryor’s influence this set sets the record straight. If listened to and watched properly this compilation will provide weeks of laughs.

All discs reviewed were in the Blu-ray format except for the two Richard Pryor Discs, which were on DVD.

- Michael Bergeron

About MBergeron

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