Movies Till Dawn: What You Could Be Watching This Weekend (Doctors, Cowboys and Presidents Edition)

Last Flag Flying” (2017, Lionsgate) Vietnam vet Steve Carell seeks out two fellow Marines – hard-living bar owner Bryan Cranston and one-time hellraiser Laurence Fishburne, now a pastor – to assist him in traveling to Washington, D.C., where he will retrieve the body of his son, who died while serving in Iraq. Understated drama is tangentially linked to Hal Ashby’s “The Last Detail” (1973 – both films are based on novels by Darryl Ponicsan, who co-wrote the script for “Flag” with Richard Linklater), but stands on its own thanks to the performances of its three leads.

The mechanics of the story is occasionally bogged down by some heavy-handed emotional beats and an unfocused conflict between Carell and a military colonel (Yul Vazquez) over the choice of burial suit for his son, but as with Linklater’s best efforts (“Boyhood,” “Dazed and Confused”), the film works best in its quietest moments, when Cranston, Fishburne and especially Carell (who seems to have cornered the market on infinitely sad men) are allowed to shine in conversations that recall the high-water marks and disappointments of their lives in plain-spoken terms. Lionsgate’s Blu-ray includes deleted scenes and two making-of featurettes.

My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea” (2016, Shout! FactoryGKids) Animated feature from cartoonist Dash Shaw, which makes the case that high school hierarchies are only slightly less hazardous to your health than being inside a building that plunges into the ocean.

A cross-section of high-schoolers – voiced by, among others, Jason Schwartzman, Reggie Watts, Maya Rudolph and Lena Dunham – find themselves in that predicament, and with the help of a wise lunch lady (Susan Sarandon), must make their way to the roof of the building, “Poseidon Adventure”-style, before it sinks; a host of problems, from sharks to bullies, block their path, though their biggest obstacles appear to be their own sense of self-worth (inflated or otherwise) and aspirations for placement in the school demographic.

The dialogue borders on precious at times, but the actors make it palatable; more appealing is the animation, which employs a bold color palette against Shaw’s bristling, hand-drawn black line images. The Blu-ray from Shout and GKids includes commentary by Shaw, several short films based on his graphic novel titles (“Cosplayers”) and a making-of featurette.

Young Doctors in Love” (1982, Kino Lorber) Barn-door-broad spoof of soap operas and medical dramas by television producer Garry Marshall, whose equally long and uneven career in feature films began here. “Young Doctors” has the advantage of an entirely game cast, among them such effortlessly funny people as Michael McKean (fresh from Marshall’s “Laverne and Shirley”), Dabney Coleman, Pamela Reed, Saul Rubinek, the late, great Taylor Negron and Michael Richards, all of whom navigate scripters Michael Elias and Rich Eustis‘ relentless and mostly successful barrage of visual non-sequiturs and plot absurdities with remarkable poker faces.

The picture is handily stolen by Harry Dean Stanton, who’s clearly enjoying himself as an addled pathologist with a unique approach to diagnosing biological samples; those who made soaps part of their afternoon TV diet in the Reagan era will also note cameos by daytime players from the period, including Susan Lucci, Chris Robinson and Stuart Damon. Kino’s Blu-ray includes commentary by actor Pat Healy and his brother, film curator Jim Healy, who provide enthusiastic perspective on the cast and the shows/plotlined parodied in the film.

Time To Die” (1966, Film Movement) Mournful black-and-white drama in Western garb from Mexico with Jorge Martinez de Hoyos (“The Magnificent Seven”) as a man returning to his hometown after serving 18 years for a murder charge. There, he discovers his old flame (Marga Lopez), as well as the two sons (Enrique Rocha and Alfredo Leal) of the man he was accused of killing, both with designs on avenging their father.

While the pedigree for this rarely-seen feature is impressive – it’s the directorial debut of the fiercely independent Mexican filmmaker Arturo Ripstein and boasts a script written by novelists Gabriel Garcia Marquez (whose “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” follows a similar plotline) and Carlos Fuentes – it’s the long, kinetic takes employed by Ripstein (in particular, an unbroken sequence where de Hoyos is beaten by Leal) and it’s consistent upending of traditional Western and Mexican cultural tropes (especially male roles) that makes the picture both memorable and gripping. Film Movement’s Blu-ray includes commentary by Ripstein and Rocha, an enthusiastic introduction by director Alex Cox (“Repo Man”) and liner notes by Cinema Tropical founder Carlos A. Guiterrez.

The Indomitable Teddy Roosevelt” (1986, Flicker Alley) Emmy-winning documentary profiles the 26th President in boldface type, emphasizing his achievements as American folk mythology against a stirring soundtrack by John Philip Sousa. The tone is largely appropriate, given Roosevelt’s bootstrapping approach to his own life –sickly kid transforms himself through exercise and sheer force of will into a one-man superlative machine (Harvard scholar, Rough Rider and in short order, New York Assemblyman, Governor, Vice President and then President of the United States) and advocate for labor, women’s rights and the American landscape.

Director Harrison Engle makes excellent use of silent footage (Roosevelt was the first President captured on film) and voluminous material, while also employing recreations of events featuring Bob Boyd as Roosevelt and several real-life TR descendants in minor roles. Your tolerance for such an approach will determine whether the dramatizations are effective, but the quality of research and narration by George C. Scott makes this a worthwhile view for history and POTUS buffs, many of whom may wonder if No. 45 will ever merit such a tribute. Flicker Alley’s BD-R includes an interview with Engle and a transcript of Roosevelt’s 1905 inaugural address.

 

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About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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