Please note: titles released solely in DVD format are listed in italics, while DVD/Blu-ray and Blu-ray only titles are listed in italics and bold font.
You have your choice of Haywire, Steven Soderbergh’s all-star, uptown meta-take on 21st century action starring pro mixed martial artist Gina Carano; New Year’s Eve, another Love Boat-styled romantic comedy smorgasbord from Garry Marshall, or Joyful Noise, which pits Dolly Parton against Queen Latifah for, I don’t know, queen of gospel or something. While I imagine that each have their merits, I also feel like you could do better for an evening’s entertainment. Don’t you?
Reviews of Living in the Material World (UMe) Martin Scorsese’s bio on the life of George Harrison, have largely leaned toward “disappointing,” but let’s be honest: was there ever a chance that this was going to please everyone? Harrison’s life has avoided the strip-mining of information that befell biographies and histories of the Beatles and John Lennon in particular, leaving a vast amount of information to be disseminated by a single picture. In choosing to give an overview of Harrison’s life and career, Scorsese cannot help but gloss over some areas; the fact is that while we want this to be all things George, given its subject and its pedigree, such a thing is probably impossible. Having said that, one can take legitimate issue with the pacing, as well as what feels like an unfortunate, revisionist decision to portray the Beatles-era Harrison as an artist needing coaxing and encouragement by his bandmates and George Martin. Still, for interview clips and live footage alone, as well as its serious take on the importance of spirituality in Harrison’s life, Material World is worth at least a visit. Extras are limited to a few extended interviews and sound clips of Harrison in the studio.
Robert Redford roughs it in Jeremiah Johnson (Warner), a 1972 Western drama about a 19th century veteran who heads into the Rockies to become a trapper and in doing so, finds a sense of purpose and humanity amidst the brutal weather and violent people. A major hit for Redford (at the top of his game) and Sydney Pollack, the Blu-ray features a thorough and informative commentary by its star, director and screenwriter John Milius, as well as a brief making-of featurette.
And on the other side of the aisle is Pillow Talk (Universal), with Doris Day and Rock Hudson in their first of three screen pair-ups. The clash between Doris’ lovelorn interior decorator and Rock’s would-be cad of a songwriter still retains its charm, as well as the undercurrent of bedroom bonhomie. Read what you want into the subtext (as countless others, including some of the guest commentators and talking heads on this disc), but Pillow Talk is really just fizzy fun with two still-underrated talents. The Blu-ray includes a wealth of extras, including promotional material and script excerpts.
The rest of the Revival House schedule includes Bird of Paradise (Kino), King Vidor’s remarkably hot-blooded (for 1932, that is) South Seas romance between soldier of fortune Joel McCrea and island princess Dolores Del Rio, who’s slated for a volcano sacrifice; The One that Got Away (VCI), which offers the flipside of the WWII prison escape picture by following German officer Hardy Kruger’s dogged attempts to break free from a series of increasingly severe Allied POW camps; The Case of the Black Parrot (Warner Archives), with William Lundigan as a reporter on the trail of an internationa criminal while aboard a transatlantic ship; the breezy (58 mins), action-heavy Truck Busters (Warner Archives), with Richard Travis as an independent trucker who organizes his brother drivers against a crooked and lethal executive (Don Costello) – call it Occupy Convoy; and the truly offbeat Bewitched (Warner Archives) from radio legend Arch Oboler (Lights Out), who adapted his play, “Alter Ego” for this story of a young woman (Phyllis Thaxter) who begins hearing voices that urge her to kill!
You might also consider She Played With Fire (Sony Collector’s Choice), a 1957 British noir with Jack Hawkins and Arlene Dahl as ex-lovers who find themselves at the center of a blackmail plot concerning the murder of Dahl’s ex-husband (Dennis Price). Watch closely for a pre-stardom Christopher Lee in the supporting cast. Or you could go with Drive-In (Sony Collector’s Choice), an endearingly lunkheaded comedy about the goings-on at a Texas drive-in. The late, great Trey Wilson (Raising Arizona) is featured among the largely unknown cast, while its lead, Glenn Morshower, lost his shock of red hair but became an exceptionally prolific character actor (24). Be prepared, however, to hear The Statler Brothers’ “Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott” more times than you ever thought possible.
Herschell Gordon Lewis, the once and future Godfather of Gore, made a two-decade career of spurring “teenaged couples [to hop] from their cars and vomit” (in the words of John Waters) in the 1960s and early ’70s with a string of cheap, brutal and blackly comic horror films, including Blood Feast (1963), Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) and The Gruesome Twosome (1966). Two of his last efforts in the genre before a lengthy tenure in direct-mail marketing (and a recent return to filmmaking with The Uh-Oh Show) have surfaced on Blu-ray from Image Entertainment and the legendary exploitation archaeologists at Something Weird Video. The Wizard of Gore (1970), which freaked out indie audiences with a lengthy surprise excerpt in Juno, is probably Lewis’ most stomach-churning picture, with lengthy murder sequences filmed in near-medical close-ups. It’s also one of his most bizarre titles, with a lysergic dream-plot about a hammy magician (the amazing Ray Sager, who went on to produce horror in Canada) whose violent stage illusions become real after the curtain comes down. It’s paired with The Gore Gore Girls (1971), a sort of comedy-mystery about a smug amateur detective hunting a killer stalking female performers at Henny Youngman’s (!) club. If you’re at all squeamish, stay clear of this double feature; while Lewis’ effects are undeniably crude, they remain some of the ugliest images you’ll ever see in low-budget film. But if you’re a diehard horror fan (especially of ’70s fare), you owe it to yourself to take on the endurance test of Lewis at his looniest. In typical Something Weird fashion, the Blu-ray is loaded with extras, including wry commentary from Lewis, trailers and more.
More subtle shocks await vintage TV aficionados with Ghost Story a.k.a. Circle of Fear (Sony MOD), a 1972 horror anthology produced by William Castle of Homicidal and Thirteen Ghosts fame. Though short-lived (due in part to a mid-season change that swapped out the Ghost Story title for Circle of Fear and ousted Sebastian Cabot as the genteel host), the series is fondly remembered by TV terror fans as one of the rare ’70s horror anthologies that delivered the goods, thanks to scripts penned by such genre greats as Richard Matheson, Jimmy Sangster, D.C. Fontana and Robert Bloch. The series also attracted some top-notch actors, including Janet Leigh, Patricia Neal, Rip Torn, Martin Sheen and Karen Black. The 6-disc, 23-episode set is the first complete and legit release for the show, which has circulated on the grey market for decades, although two episodes showed up as part of Sony’s William Castle Film Collection in 2009.
Elsewhere, Shout Factory continues to do police procedural fans a favor by releasing Season 4 of Kojak. All 25 episodes of the ’76-’77 season are featured here, and show that the series, created by Oscar winner Abby Mann, lost none of its grit or drama as it continued its network run. Among the cases facing Telly Savalas’ Lt. K are a pedophile with diplomatic immunity, which in the hamfisted grip of a sensationalist show like Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, would become a superficial soap box topic, but is treated here with tact and skill. Episodes like this are proof positive why Kojak remains among the high water marks for TV cop dramas.
Elsewhere, you can indulge your inner child with The Invisible Man: The Complete Series (VEI), with David McCallum (NCIS) in the title role, a scientist rendered invisible by his experiments who goes to work for the government. Created by Harve Bennett (the Star Trek theatrical franchise), it starts on a promising note with a dramatic pilot but falters in subsequent episodes with corny humor and shoddy effects. Or you can take the Saturday morning route with Shazzan: The Complete Series (Warner Archives), a fun riff on the Aladdin story with two (largely whitebread) teens who find a lamp containing the relentlessly helpful title genie. Barney Phillips’ enthusiastic vocals as Shazzan are really the best thing about the show, which was produced by Alex Toth (Space Ghost, Herculoids), but it’s still a big bowl of mashed-potato comfort TV for former ’70s babies.