“The Best of Cher” (2020, Time Life) This nine-DVD, 15-hour Time Life set, which covers the post-Sonny/pre-movie stardom and post-Oscar periods of her career, provides not only an abundance of footage of El Centro’s Cheryl Sarkisian, but also examples of why Cher has remained popular for so long: in the ten episodes of her eponymous 1975 variety series and in two network specials, she’s earthy and funny and holds her own with an array of guests (Elton John, Ike & Tina, the Jackson Five, and the Muppets, among others, but unfortunately, not her weird and wonderful duet with David Bowie). Her dedication to Giving the People What They Want also remains a draw, and if that means draping herself with Bob Mackie‘s lysergic costumes, appearing with Dolly Parton and the Tubes (!) in a Heaven-and-Hell music number, sparring in a sketch with Andy Kaufman, or tearing through her catalog of hits in Vegas (in two full ’90s-era concerts featured on the set), she’ll deliver each with maximum strength Old School Show Biz Professionalism. The sheer scope of the set – which also includes a full-length doc, interviews with Mackie (whose designs are featured in a booklet), Lily Tomlin, and others, and countless vintage and recent clips, promos, talk show appearances, outtakes, and more – may overwhelm the casual fan, but diehards will relish so much Cher in one set.
“Einstein’s Universe” (1979, Corinth Films) TV documentary, produced by the Boston PBS affiliate station WGBH and the BBC, that celebrated the centenary of Albert Einstein‘s birth by attempting to explain his theories. The jocular Sir Peter Ustinov serves as both narrator and on-screen host, submitting to the whims of an all-star lineup of scientists, including Roger Penrose, Wallace L.W. Sargent, Sidney Drell and science writer Nigel Calder, who penned both the script and a subsequent book of the same name. Ustinov registers what seems like genuine interest in Einstein’s work, and especially his theory of general relativity, and is entirely game to participate in experiments that explain gravity, black holes, warped space and even space travel, for which he gleefully dons an astronaut suit. His enthusiasm helps smooth over his co-stars’ occasional awkwardness on camera, and makes even the densest material palatable, which is essentially the purpose of the film. Corinth’s Blu-ray is fullscreen.
“The B-52s: Live at Us Festival” (2020, Shout! Factory) Sandwiched between the Police, Ramones, Talking Heads, Oingo Boingo and English Beat, the B-52’s faced an uphill battle to capture the crowd’s attention during their hour-long set on the opening day of the first US Festival in 1982. But the band, featured here in its original line-up of Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson, Cindy and Ricky Wilson, and Keith Strickland, has sass and sugar-shock energy to spare, and a can’t miss setlist (highlights are “Give Me Back My Man,” “Dance This Mess Around” and the set closer, “Strobe Light”), so their mission is a total success. Clips from this performance turned up in Shout’s “US Festival: 1982 The Us Generation” set in 2018, but the full set is a better showcase for the band at its creative peak. Fred, Cindy and Kate reflect on the show in a recent interview, which is fun but feels shoehorned between the songs.
“Breezy” (1973, Kino Lorber) Los Angeles realtor William Holden is jolted out of his middle-aged doldrums by the arrival of Breezy (Kay Lenz), a childlike, blissed-out street kid who becomes his roommate, traveling companion and eventual romantic partner. Clint Eastwood‘s third go-round in the director’s chair is the most unlikely title in his c.v. (even more than “Bridges of Madison County” and “Jersey Boys”) and was undoubtedly assigned to prove that he could handle more than just action titles; he delivers a professional job here, and Holden and Lenz are fine, but they are undone, at times, by the script from associate producer and occasional Eastwood collaborator Jo Heims, which hinges on an improbable (and at times icky) men’s magazine premise. You do get glimpses of Laurel and Topanga Canyons in their heyday, as well as Lookout Mountain and the PCH; Kino’s widescreen Blu-ray includes commentary by Howard Berger and C. Courtney Joyner.
“Z” (2019, RLJE Films) Not the 1969 Costa-Gavras political thriller, but rather a modestly creepy domestic creepshow about a young boy (Jett Klyne) and his imaginary friend, dubbed Z, who makes life miserable for everyone they encounter. The path of Klyne’s mom (Keegan Connor Tracy) from believing to battling her son’s malevolent pal travels along well-worn tropes, but director Brandon Christensen and co-writer Colin Minihan (who also wrote the unnerving “It Stains the Sands Red“) add some intriguing wrinkles in a possible connection between Tracy and Z, and the presence of the always great Canadian character actor Stephen McHattie (as Klyne’s psychiatrist) adds gravitas to the whole venture. RLJE’s Blu-ray is widescreen.