“My Friend Dahmer” (2017, FilmRise) There’s no question that Jeffrey (Ross Lynch) is a little strange: he wanders through school like a ghost, stiff and unsmiling, except when feigning a mental handicap for the amusement/dismay of his classmates. But that behavior captures the attention John “Derf” Backderf (Alex Wolff), who comes to learn that the outbursts are part of a larger, more disturbing pattern of acting out. After school hours, Jeffrey is honing darker compulsions, ones that will later cement him as one of history’s most monstrous serial killers. This ominous indie drama is based on Derf’s real-life relationship with Jeffrey Dahmer, which formed the basis for his graphic novel; unlike previous Dahmer films, writer/director Marc Meyers is less interested in the crimes than the slow build-up of Dahmer’s aberrant activity – collecting roadkill, stalking a local doctor (Vincent Kartheiser) – and how it deepened without raising alarm (an issue that unfortunately remains timely). Performances (especially Anne Heche and Dallas Roberts as Dahmer’s disastrous parents) and technical merits are plusses, with Andrew Hollander’s score and Daniel Katz’s photography lending undernotes of dread. But former Disney Channel star Lynch does the heaviest lifting, portraying Dahmer’s blank exterior and roiling interior with unsettling skill. FilmRise’s Special Edition Blu-ray includes interviews with Meyers, Lynch and other cast and crew members.
“Copyright Criminals: The Funky Drummer Edition” (2009, IndiePix) Ask Chuck D or Sage Francis about sampling, and they’ll tell you about how interpolating elements from other songs granted depth, context and undeniable beats to their original material. Ask George Clinton or Clyde “Funky Drummer” Stubblefield, whose music anchored countless hip-hop tracks, and you’ll hear appreciation for renewed exposure, as well as regret over a lack of remuneration for their efforts. Both sides are thoroughly examined in this documentary, which originally aired on PBS; interviews with pioneers and practitioners detail its rise from DJ culture to the mainstream, as well as the legal fights it spawned over fair use rights (which derailed De La Soul), give history and perspective to the practice, while numerous comparisons of sampled tracks a (some remixed by Eclectic Method) are strong arguments for some sampled songs standing toe-to-toe with their sources. IndiePix’s two-DVD set includes extended interviews and a quartet of shorts about sampling fair use; Stubblefield, who died in 2017, is showcased on a slew of extras, including collaborations with Chuck D and a downloadable compilation of breaks and beats.
“The Marcel Perez Collection, Volume 2” (2018, Undercrank Productions) Sophomore showcase of rare silent comedies featuring comedian/filmmaker Marcel Perez, whose gift for elaborate and often extraordinarily physical gags is slowly earning overdue praise. The Spanish-born former circus clown made comedies in Europe before relocating to America during the First World War; once here, he starred in a vast array of one- and two-reel comedies, often billed under and playing a wide variety of character names (Tweedy, Tweedledum, etc.). While Perez’s acting is gleefully unrestrained, it’s his physicality that makes them stand out – in “The Near-Sighted Cyclist” (1907), he catapults headlong into crowds and over tables, is crushed by a falling safe in “Some Hero” (1916) and brawls with abandon in “Wild” (1921). The timing and direction of these stunts, as well as impressive use of photographic effects, should have made Perez a household name, but the sheer number of films (close to 200) he made and pseudonyms he employed may account for why he’s known mostly to silent film devotees. The seven films (and one fragment) collected on the Undercrank disc, all presented in new digital scans of 35mm materials preserved and scanned by the Library of Congress, may help to realign Perez’s star in the silent comedy pantheon.
“Robert Altman’s Images” (1972, Arrow Video) As Rod Serling might have said: portrait of a woman at odds with herself. Specifically, it’s children’s author Susannah York’s mental state that appears to be waging a campaign against her, battering her with visions, like her photographer husband (Altman vet Rene Auberjonois) adopting the appearance of a dead lover (Marcel Bozzuffi), of another ex-paramour (Hugh Millais) and his daughter (Cathryn Harrison), who taunt her, threaten her and appear to push her to murder. But is it murder if the victim doesn’t exist? This rarely-seen U.S.-British production by Robert Altman doesn’t offer easy answers – any answers, really – but in terms of presenting a fractured state of mind, it offers a haunting Chinese box to explore and contemplate. It may throw off Altman fans used to his sprawling, overlapping portraits, like “Short Cuts,” but the cast and Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography lay out a compelling path to follow. Arrow’s Blu-ray includes scene select commentary by Altman ported over from the 2003 MGM disc, as well as new commentary by Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger, who make a compelling case for the film’s meta qualities; Altman is also featured in an archival interview in which he discusses the film’s origins, while an interview with Harrison and an appreciation by UK critic Stephen Thrower are both new.
“Birdman & The Galaxy Trio: The Complete Series” (1967-1968, Warner Archive Collection) Like “Space Ghost” (which also just earned the complete series treatment from Warner Archive), Hanna-Barbera’s “Birdman” is probably better known today for its Adult Swim spoof – the lunatic “Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law” – than for its original year-long network run. That’s unfortunate, because the series delivered what the Saturday morning faithful wanted: a redoubtable hero (voiced by Keith Andes) created by the great Alex Toth, who gave Birdman solar rays, not one but two sidekicks (eagle Avenger and young Birdboy) and a boss war cry (“BIIIRD-MAN!”) to aid in his fight against the spy network F.E.A.R. and other outrageous villains. Each of its 20 episodes is divided between Birdman’s adventures and a segment devoted to the Galaxy Trio, an extraterrestrial team who patrolled the galaxy for interstellar miscreants. A featurette included on the two-disc set seems to suggest that Birdman’s often unreliable powers, which required charging by the sun (like Ultraman), might have contributed his relative anonymity, but I imagine that modern audiences, who have come to appreciate the vulnerable side of their costumed heroes, might find this appealing. If not, the terrific Toth designs alone, and the heady nostalgia they produce, make “Birdman” worth a look for vintage animation fans and former cartoon kids alike.