Please note: titles released solely in DVD format are listed in italics, while Blu-ray and Blu-ray/DVD combos are in italic and bold font.
Are there any new studio releases that you wanna talk about? Me neither. Let’s move on.
Director Kevin (The Last King of Scotland) Macdonald’s documentary Marley (Magnolia) attempts to provide the definitive film biography of reggae icon Bob Marley, and largely succeeds thanks to the wealth of information provided in interview by the Marley family, as well as former collaborators like Peter Tosh and Lee “Scratch” Perry. Though most of the major talking points will be familiar to those who have made Marley’s life a subject of study, newcomers and casual viewers will undoubtedly appreciate the thoroughness of the material, as well as the candid tone of the interviews – Marley’s son Ziggy, who also served as co-producer of the film with Island Records chief Chris Blackwell, discusses his father’s strict, often competitive nature with his children, while Peter Tosh spares no quarter in discussing his break from the Wailers and disregard for Blackwell. Ultimately, what emerges from Marley is a well-rounded portrait of a man who strove for excellence in his art and life, but like so many of us, had his moments of doubt and failure. And it’s that essential humanity, which echoes throughout the interviews and wealth of live footage, that underscores why Bob Marley remains so revered four decades after his death, as evidenced by the sincere if too frequent tributes by modern fans interspersed throughout the picture.
Also on the schedule this week: remastered Blu-ray editions of experimental filmmaker Derek Jarman’s Sebastiane and The Tempest from Kino International. The former, which marked Jarman’s 1976 directorial debut (with Paul Humfrees), is a visually striking, semi-verite interpretation of the life of the early Christian martyr St. Sebastian that became a landmark of gay cinema due to the uncompromising frankness and freedom with which Jarman addressed his male characters’ relationships, while 1979’s The Tempest is a free-wheeling interpretation of the William Shakespeare play as part camp fantasy and part surreal reverie. Both titles are vibrant, offbeat, sexy and proof positive of Jarman’s position as a vanguard of independent film.
Among the many quality offerings from Warner Archives’ MOD department this week are a trio of little-seen rock and roll movies, including Lisztomania (1975), Ken Russell’s thoroughly berserk biopic-cum-fantasy of 19th-century composer Franz Listz (Roger Daltrey, fresh from Tommy), whom the director re-imagines as a modern-era, self-absorbed rock idol. Ringo Starr and Paul Nicholas are featured as the Pope and Listz’s chief rival, composer Richard Wagner, respectively, while The Rocky Horror Picture Show‘s Nell Campbell and Rick Wakeman (who also arranged the film’s soundtrack) as a cryogenically frozen Viking do their best to ride out Russell’s gloriously self-indulgent excess.
Somewhat more sober in its approach is Having a Wild Weekend (1965), a vehicle for the Dave Clark Five directed by John Boorman (Deliverance, The Emerald Forest). Clark plays a TV stuntman (a job he also held down in real life) who takes off from a commercial gig in a swell E-Type Jaguar with model/actress Barbara Ferris in the passenger seat. The duo make their way across Southern England, encountering a variety of exotic and eccentric personalities along the way before heading to Devon to meet Clark’s boyhood hero. The pleasant surprise about Having a Wild Weekend (which played in England as Catch Us If You Can, one of 12 DC 5 songs featured on the soundtrack) is that it’s actually a fairly dramatic picture, well performed by Clark and his bandmates. that addresses some serious topics – most notably, the challenge of remaining honest to one’s self in an increasingly manufactured society – in between numbers. You can think of it, as Bruce Eder noted in Marshall Crenshaw’s essential Hollywood Rock book, as the anti-Hard Day’s Night.
Also on deck from Warner is The Cool Ones (1967), which skewers pop sensibilities and the ’60s music business with brassy brattiness. Roddy McDowall is an insouciant Phil Spector carbon who takes a go-go dancer under his wing after her on-air freakout on a Hullaballoo-style dance show (while Glen Campbell performs “Just One of Those Things”) inspires a national dance craze, the Tantrum! The humor is hit and miss, but McDowall offers another memorably misanthropic-youth turn (on par with Lord Love a Duck), and the soundtrack features songs penned by Lee Hazelwood and performed by Nuggets favorites the Leaves (who play “In the Garden of Dr. Stone” at a Palm Springs club) and The Bantams, among others, while Toni Basil handles the exuberant choreography.
Elsewhere, there’s a new 25th anniversary Blu-ray edition of Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987) – the third to date from Warner Bros., for those counting – that resembles remarkably the 2007 Blu-ray, both in regard to picture quality and extras, save for a new collectible booklet and the DVD-only addition of Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes a British television documentary that provides a solid overview of the director’s career. If
you already have the 2007 edition, you can save the dough and put it towards something like Johnny Guitar (Olive), Nicholas Ray’s outrageous revisionist Western with Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge squaring off as the toughest hombres (hombrettes?) in a Western town and Sterling Hayden as the title gunslinger who falls for Crawford’s flinty charms. An enduring camp/cult favorite thanks to Crawford and McCambridge’s role-reversal turns and the florid dialogue by Ben Maddox, a blacklisted writer who poured his venom over the McCarthy trials into McCambridge’s hunt for Crawford’s compadres, Johnny Guitar is a one-of-a-kind experience that’s been lovingly restored for Blu-ray by Olive, which includes testimony to the film’s merits by Martin Scorsese. Olive also has John Ford’s Rio Grande (1950), the third in his unofficial cavalry trilogy, which includes Fort Apache (1948) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) – starring John Wayne. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, stitching offbeat comedy and musical elements around a multi-pronged story line that has Wayne contending with Apaches on the warpath, ex-wife Maureen O’Hara (his co-star in five pictures) and his son (Claude Jarman, Jr. of The Yearling) who has washed out West Point. But the film gels whenever Ford focuses on the chief conflicts, and if the result doesn’t rise to the high water mark of its predecessors, Rio Grande is still a watchable entry in the director’s revered canon of Western films. The Blu-ray includes a making-of featurette (mistakenly billed as “The Making of High Noon“) hosted by Leonard Maltin and the theatrical trailer. Shades of classic Westerns and Johnny Guitar can also be found in Stanley Kramer’s Oklahoma Crude (Columbia Classics), a rarely seen 1973 comedy-drama with Faye Dunaway as a landowner who hires drifter George C. Scott to help her drill for oil on her harscrabble property. Jack Palance turns up as a company strongman determined to take away the land from Dunaway by force, if necessary.
The rest of the week’s revival lineup reads like this: The Incredible Mr. Limpet (Warner) is a lighthearted family comedy with Don Knotts, fresh from his Emmy-winning turn on The Andy Griffth Show as a milquetoast (what else?) who become a war hero after turning into a fish. The underwater sequences, created by Warner’s animation team (which shut down after the film’s completion), are the picture’s highight. Only slightly less ridiculous is The Chapman Report (Warner Archives), George Cukor’s overripe adaptation of the Irving Wallace novel about a sex researcher (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) who studies a quartet of women (Jane Fonda, Shelley Winters, Claire Bloom and Glynis Johns, each with their respective bedroom hang-ups. Daring in its time (1962), it’s quaint, campy material now, especially the “frigid” Fonda, who finds her own personal heating unit in whitebread Zimbalist; it would make a swell “How the Cinema Got Sex Wrong” double bill with Portnoy’s Complaint (Warner Archives), screenwriter Ernest Lehman’s sanitized 1972 take of Philip Roth’s bestseller about a hapless New Yorker (Richard Benjamin in schlemiel overdrive) attempting to make sense of his sexual misadventures in analysis. Neither sexy nor amusing, it does feature lively turns by Karen Black as Benjamin’s highly flexible Gentile obsession and Jill Clayburgh as a formidable Israeli.
Meanwhile, Columbia Classics has Richard Brooks’ Lord Jim (1965), a by-the-books if brawny screen version of the Joseph Conrad novel about a young merchant seaman (Peter O’Toole) who seeks to redeem a moment of cowardice by taking on a suicide mission against a warlord (Eli Wallach) in the jungles of Cambodia. Also on the action front from Columbia: Air Hawks (1935), an odd mix of aerial derring-do and science fiction with Ralph Bellamy as the owner of a small airline company who finds his planes under siege by a larger competitor armed with a death ray (shades of the Koch Brothers!) created by renegade scientist Edward van Sloan (Van Helsing in Universal’s Dracula). Real-life aviator Wiley Post is called in to even the score. Foul play of a more personal nature is afoot in The Crooked Web (Columbia Classics), a late-entry noir from ’55 with starched shirt Frank Lovejoy as a drive-in owner caught in a scheme hatched by two private eyes in the employ of a German man who believes that Lovejoy killed his son during World War II. Then it’s back to the Continent for Frank Pierson’s 1969 adaptation of John Le Carre’s The Looking Glass War (Columbia Classics), with cult leading man Christopher Jones (Wild in the Streets, Ryan’s Daughter) as a Polish defector sent back across the Iron Curtain to obtain information on an East German missile program. Ralph Richardson is the British operative in charge of the plan, while Anthony Hopkins is the agent on Jones’ trail after he decides to escape his new employers.
The unfortunately named but scrappy horror picture The Boogens captured national attention during its brief theatrical release in 1982 when it received glowing praise from Stephen King in the pages of Twilight Zone magazine. Unfortunately, the collapse of its parent company, Sunn Classic Pictures (the fine folks who gave drive-in audiences such dubious documentaries as In Search of Historic Jesus, as well as the Grizzly Adams series), took the film out of the public eye save for grey market bootlegs for the better part of three decades. Olive Films’ Blu-ray rectifies the unfortunate situation, allowing viewers to discover an effective low-budget chiller about subterranean monsters plaguing a quartet of visitors to an old Utah mining town. Director Jeff L. Conway shrewdly keeps his creatures off-screen for the majority of the running time until the final reel; suffice it to say that the Boogens themselves, once revealed, do not live up to their advance press (an unfortunate combination of time constraints and failed animatronics), but the build-up to their arrival is well-paced and surprisingly suspenseful. The Blu-ray includes a breezy commentary track by Conway, his leading lady (and wife) Rebecca Balding and screenwriter David O’Malley, who discuss the film’s production problems with considerable good cheer.
A hearty bowl of ’70s-era mashed potatoes comfort TV, the second season (1973-1974) of Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg’s The Rookies (Shout Factory) offers by-the-books cop drama action set against a sunny Southern California backdrop populated by a mix of up-and-coming and veteran day players doing their best to seem like scofflaws or citizens caught up in criminal doings. As with most Spelling-Goldberg series, episodes are less concerned with telling an actual story than with watching its cast of physically appealing players – in this case, Georg Stanford Brown, Michael Ontkean and the late Sam Melville as newly minted members of the SCPD (Southern California Police Department, I guess) and Kate Jackson as Melville’s wife, a nurse with an impressive ability to become involved in her husband’s cases – play adult dress-up. But it’s polished and harmless and boasts not only a swell title theme by Elmer Bernstein, but also TV vet Gerald S. O’Laughlin as the rookies’ commanding officer and an impressive array of guest stars, including old pros like Joseph Campanella, John Saxon, Joan Blondell and Strother Martin, as well as a baby-faced Nick Nolte, Don Johnson, John Travolta, a very Breck Girl-esque Sissy Spacek and wonder of wonders, Jim Nabors as a desperate hoodlum.