Movies Till Dawn: Welcome Distractions

30 Rock: The Complete Series” (2006-2013, Mill Creek Entertainment) Though current global circumstances seem to warrant it (demand, even), I’m not much for binge-watching TV. Even the most revered or critically acclaimed shows start to wilt after three or four consecutive episodes (for me, at least); the rare exception to this is “30 Rock,” Tina Fey‘s Emmy-winning workplace comedy/surrealist exercise. Much of the reason for this is because all elements of the show work at such a high level of quality in virtually every episode, from the regular cast (Fey, Jane Krakowski, Jack McBrayer and in career-defining turns, Alec Baldwin and Tracy Morgan) and supporting players (Judah Friedlander, Scott Adsit, Chris Parnell as the insane Dr. Spaceman and Kevin Brown and Grizz Chapman as Tracy’s entourage) to guest stars (too many to name in all, but Matt Damon, Jon Hamm, Elaine Stritch, Steve Buscemi, Paul Reubens and Rip Torn are stand-outs), writing, direction, and even the jazzy, jubilant score by Fey’s spouse, Jeff Richmond.

The show’s perspective on show business is also appealingly cynical – it’s insane, and you’re insane to participate in it – but there’s also a level of familial warmth to the madness that seems to underscore Frost’s old adage that home is the place where they have to take you in. That sort of cracked charm seems to work better for repeat viewings – again, IMHO – and holds up through all seven seasons (only the last season shows minor signs of flagging), which you can’t say for other popular binge favorites like “The Office” or “The Simpsons.” So if you do find yourself with an excess of time on your hands (like everyone else on the planet) and in need of a long-term TV commitment, “30 Rock” might be your best comedy option. Mill Creek’s 20-disc (!) Blu-ray set contains the entire series run along with numerous commentaries, deleted scenes, the East and West Coast editions of its live shows), the cast’s appearance at UCB, and much, much more.

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and the Band” (2019, Magnolia Home Entertainment) Primer-style documentary on The Band and its frontman, as seen from his perspective. Robertson is an engaging storyteller, especially on his early years on a reservation, and his extended relations, whom he describes as “Canadian-Jewish gangsters.” But the material on the Band is just a basic biographical sketch, and director Daniel Roher relies more on testimony from famous talking heads (Bruce Springsteen, Martin Scorsese, vintage interviews with Dylan) than live footage of the group to corroborate their iconic status. Still, Robertson is respectful in his comments about his former bandmates, especially the late Levon Helm, with whom he had a contentious relationship, and longtime devotees may appreciate seeing that olive branch extended.

Police Squad! The Complete Series” (1982, CBS Home Video/Paramount Home Video) In an unnamed city, Detective Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) and his fellow officers lend their unique investigative techniques to cases involving robbery, a mad bomber, and Florence Henderson. Emmy-nominated spoof of ’50s/’60s cop shows by “Airplane!” creators David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams benefits from a relentless barrage of surreal sight gags puns (Nielsen, to a horn-playing boxer: “Sorry, Buddy. No sax before a fight”), non sequiturs (the murder of “special guest stars” like Henderson – who replaced John Belushi – William Shatner and Robert Goulet in each opening credit sequence) and Nielsen’s weapons-grade deadpan; it vanished after only six episodes, but later served as the basis for the ZAZ team’s successful “Naked Gun” film franchise. The CBS/Paramount Blu-ray includes commentary on three episodes (ZAZ, actor/writer Robert Wuhl), a vintage interview with Nielsen, casting tests, and a look at the amusing “freeze frame” episode wrap-ups.

3-D Rarities, Volume II” (1941-1983, Flicker Alley) From the tireless archaeologists at the 3-D Film Archive comes another Blu-ray collection of 3-D film projects long considered lost, and ranging from oddities and novelties to a feature film and the first 3-D project made in Mexico. The former includes the comic goof “A Day in the Country (1941) with narration by one-time Stooge Joe Besser, a prologue for the Spanish horror film “Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror” (which actually features werewolves) and the curious “Games in Depth” (1966), a curious grab bag of images (airplanes, dancers, Burt Lancaster) edited and scored in staccato rhythm. The latter is “El Corazon y la Espada” (1952), a serial-style Spanish-language costume drama filmed in Mexico with Hollywood stars Cesar Romero and Katy Jurado; the vigorous leads and an abundance of derring-do make it the standout entry in the set. There are also two showcases for stereoscopic photography, including stunning color images of Mid-Century Modern design and pics of Eisenhower-era celebs taken silent film comic Harold Lloyd (see below), as well as a lovely British ballet short, “The Black Swan” (1952). Commentary on “Corazon” and “Swan” features a wealth of technical info on 3-D production and photography.

The Douglas MacLean Collection” (1921-1923, Undercrank Productions) More hard-to-find features brought to light, both starring comic actor MacLean, who despite starring in more than 20 films, remains largely unknown to all but silent film historians. A boyish, likeable performer, MacLean parlays his all-American persona in two light comedy-romances: in “One a Minute” (1921), his drugstore owner concocts a cure-all to fight off encroachments by a chain store (how prescient), while in “Bell Boy 13” (1923), he takes the titular job in order to marry his actress girlfriend; the latter is memorable thanks to MacLean’s brief turn on a hotel ledge a la Harold Lloyd and an odd bit of union satire. There is some dated ethnic humor to contend with, but MacLean’s sunny disposition and can-do spirit may be the dose of optimism your day needs. Undercrank’s DVD features digital restorations of both films with new scores by Undercrank chief/historian/composer Ben Model, as well as a short visit to Ince Studios (now Culver Studios) featuring MacLean.

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 Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, 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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