Archive for the ‘New on DVD’ Category

Richard-Pryor_Live-in-Concert-2On the cover of his 1975 comedy album is a photo of Richard Pryor tied to a stake and surrounded by hooded figures  (the Inquisition? Klansmen?) holding burning torches.

The album’s title: “Is It Something I Said?”

Well, yes, Richard. It’s something you said. It’s everything you said.

Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce and George Carlin form the Holy Trinity of American comedy. They broke rules, they went where they weren’t supposed to, and they changed the laugh-generating landscape for everyone who came after them.

Bob Newhart, no slouch when it comes to laughs, calls Pryor “the seminal comedian of the last 50 years.”

Pryor died in 2005 at the age of 65, and by that time poor health had kept him out of the spotlight for many years. Which means that a sizeable percentage of the young folk who today make up the audience for live comedy in this country are probably unfamiliar with his standup work. Oh, they may have seen him in movie roles, but at best those offered watered-down Pryor. To get the dude full strength you’ve got to look at the live routines.

And that’s just what you’ll find in “No Pryor Restraint: Life in Concert: Richard Pryor,”  a massive new boxed set out on the Shout label.

There have been other Pryor boxed sets – 2000’s “And It’s Deep Too! The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings (1968-1992)” and 2004’s “Evolution/Revolution: The Early Years (1966-1974).”


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There’s no shortage of Mel Brooks out there in home video land.

His movies (“Blazing Saddles,” “Young Frankenstein,” “The Producers,” etc. etc. etc.) have long been available on DVD.  Ditto for all the episodes of his ‘60s TV comedy series “Get  Smart.”

But the Shout Factory’s new five-DVD, one-CD collection “The Incredible Mel Brooks” employs a different approach. This massive undertaking is mostly about Mel Brooks the raconteur…and taken as such  it is flat-out wonderful.

Oh, three’s lots of other stuff here,  including Brooks’ Oscar-winning animated short “The Critic” and single episodes of his TV shows “Get Smart” and “When Things We Rotten” (not to mention the “Mad About You” episode in which he was guest star). There are short films and brief TV appearances on various variety shows (Sid Caesar).

But the real joy of “The Incredible Mel Brooks” comes when the man just sits down and talks.

Amassed here are all of Brooks’ TV appearances on the Johnny Carson and Dick Cavett talk shows, as well as an extended recent conversation (before a live audience) between Brooks and Cavett (and, out in the house, Carl Reiner).  These are screamingly, hilariously, off-the-wall riotious.

In a recurring series of featurettes Brooks discusses his filmography…these segments aren’t always terribly funny, but they’re full on insights about a moviemaker who sometimes seems to be winging it. Turns out Brooks gives his projects a lot of thought.

And a good chunk of one of the discs is turned over to Brooks’ most lingering creation, the 2000 Year Old Man.

In addition to 11 hours of viewing, this collection provides a 60-page booklet with essays by the likes of Gene Wilder, Bruce Jay Friedman and Robert Brustein.

So, if you have a Mel Brooks fanatic in the family, this is the perfect holiday gift.  Or, you can buy it for someone close and then watch it yourself.

| Robert W. Butler

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Some admirers of Kenneth Lonergan’s “Margaret” are calling the film a masterpiece.

I won’t go that far.  I like to give movies a decade or so before laying down that sort of pronouncement.

But “Margaret” is certainly a very good movie. It may very well be the best movie you have never heard of.

“Margaret” never played in Kansas City. For that matter, it barely played outside New York despite its astounding cast (Anna Paquin, Matt Damon, Alison Janney, Matthew Broderick, Mark Ruffalo) and awesome credentials (it was written and directed by playwright Lonergan, whose 2000 film “You Can Count on Me” is quite possible the Best Independent Movie Ever).

Filmed in 2006, “Margaret” went through a torturous post-production period. Lonergan reportedly had a hellish time editing the film and Fox Searchlight demanded a savage trim of the three-hour cut he submitted to them. There was litigation and much angst.

Late last year “Margaret” opened in one New York theater to glowing reviews and…and…well, that’s about it. The movie has now come out on home video and is available on pay-per-view through many cable providers.

See it. It’s a challenging, thoughtful and moving work. (more…)

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Dominic Cooper as Uday Hussein

“The Devil’s Double”:

If Brit actor Dominic Cooper doesn’t get an Oscar nom for his work here we should start an Occupy Hollywood movement.

In Lee Tamahori’s film Cooper (he was the bridegroom in “Mamma Mia!”) plays both Uday Hussein — Saddam Hussein’s psychotic and murderous older son — and real-life Iraqi officer Latif Yahia, who looked enough like the young despot to become his double, filling in for Uday at boring affairs of state and, on at least one occasion, drawing an assassin’s bullet.

It’s a delicious star turn, with Cooper reveling both as the piggish, ultra-violent Uday, and as Latif, a decent guy forced to live side-by-side with a man he despises.

Tamahori doesn’t bring a whole lot of style to the proceedings, but then he doesn’t have to. This is Dominic Cooper’s movie and he owns it from first frame to last.

“13 Assassins”:

Takashi Miike’s samurai tale may not score many points for originality (it’s yet another clone of Kurosawa’s timeless “Seven Samurai”), but it’s hugely enjoyable.

A dozen jobless ronin and a comical forest-dwelling goofball join forces (more…)

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Watching the new deluxe boxed set of HBO’s excellent World War II series “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific,” I kept thinking what a great gift this would be for the fighting men of the “greatest generation.”

And then I realized that there aren’t that many of them left.

My own father, a Navy veteran in the Pacific Theater, just turned 90. I’m guessing the youngest combat veterans of the war are at least 85.

Which means that the lasting value of these two series lies not with the men who are their subjects, but with the rest of us, who will learn some moving things about love of country, sacrifice and doing the right thing.

Yeah, that’s kind of a sappy way of putting it, and it may seem incongruous coming from someone who once considered himself a pacifist.

But these monumental TV programs are like nothing we’ve ever seen before, an examination of both combat and the American character spread out on a vast canvas.


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Michael Parks, a gay-bashing preacher in "Red State"

Iconic indy filmmaker Kevin Smith gets serious — well, sort of — with “Red State,” his self-distributed melding of political/religious satire, action film and slasher/horror gruesomeness.

Think Fred Phelps meets the Waco standoff by way of a “Hostel” flick.

The movie is several things at once, some elements more successful than others. But for all of its borderline naive satire and paranoia it cannot be easily dismissed, if only because Smith is working here with some very talented actors who elevate the material into something quite watchable.


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“THE BANG-BANG CLUB” (Now available)

The movies love war correspondents.

For one thing, it’s an inherently dramatic profession. And then there’s the compelling ambivalence of civil wars without clear-cut rules of combat, of conflicts where it’s hard to differentiate between soldier and civilian.

Two classics of the genre are “Under Fire” (1983) with Nick Nolte and Gene Hackman and Oliver Stone’s “Salvador” (1986).

More recently the upheaval in the Balkans has generated several memorable combat correspondent flicks, like “Welcome to Sarajevo” (1997) and “The Hunting Party” (2007).

These movies always pivot on questions of ethics and mortality.

First, should a journalist (writer, photographer, broadcaster) ever take sides, even if genocide is involved? Second, what are the chances of said journalist getting his/her head blown off?

The latest entry to the genre is “The Bang-Bang Club,” a mostly factual recreation of life in South Africa in the early 1990s (more…)

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“OUTSIDE THE LAW” (Now available)

The latest from French/Algerian filmmaker Rachid  Bouchareb takes the same three Algerian brothers featured in his sweeping WW2 yarn “Days of Glory” and plops them down in post-war France, where they become urban terrorists on behalf of their homeland’s independence movement.

The oldest, Messaoud (Roschdy Zem), is a former French soldier who returns from the Indochina debacle missing an eye. He hopes to marry, settle down and never again raise a weapon.

Abdelkader (Sami Bouajila), the intellectual, has spent years in a jail for his opposition to French colonialism. He’s a particularly dangerous sort — an doctrinaire revolutionary (think Robespierre) who loves ideology but apparently has little use for people. He doesn’t think twice about ordering the murders of those who disagree with him politically — even family members.

Baby brother Said (Jamel Debbouze) is apolitical. He gets involved in the Parisian crime scene, runs a nightclub and wants only to be left alone to make money.

Bouchareb’s epic tale,  nominated for a foreign language Oscar, has stirred controversy in France, (more…)

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“JANE EYRE”  (Available Aug. 2)

It’s an old story in Hollywood: A fresh young director makes a splash with a first movie, but loses his/her way with a followup effort.

But Cary Fukunaga has avoided the sophomore slump. His “Jane Eyre” got rave reviews when it opened in March, and despite coming out on DVD this week the latest adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Gothic romance is still playing theatrically in Kansas City (it’s more or less taken up residence at the Screenland Crown Center).

Fukunaga, 34, is a native of Oakland CA and a film graduate of NYU who wowed many of us two years ago with “Sin Nombre,” a Spanish-language yarn about a Central American banger who hops a northbound freight train to elude his murderous fellow gang members and travels right up to the U.S. border, befriending a young woman hoping for a better life in America.

“Sin Nombre” suggested a major talent; “Jane Eyre” confirmed it. (more…)

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A pre-Oscar Melissa Leo in "Streetwalkin'"

“STREETWALKIN’” (Available Aug. 2)

One of the downsides to winning an Oscar is that the home video industry starts digging through the movies you made early in your career, hoping to peddle some dross as gold.

That’s pretty much the story with “Streetwalkin’,” a 1985 innocent-in-the-big-city melodrama starring the then 25-year-old Melissa Leo.

This was, of course, before Leo registered with TV audiences as a member of the “Homicide: Life on the Streets” cast and, more recently, scored an Academy Award for her supporting performance in “The Fighter.” (more…)

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