Movies Till Dawn: Pre-Halloween Pleasantries (Nothing Creepy* Here Edition)

The Secret Garden” (2020, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment) Orphaned after the death of her parents from a cholera outbreak in India, ten-year-old Dixie Egerickx is sent to the English estate of her distant uncle (Colin Firth), where she discovers the lush titular garden and its seeming ability to heal long-standing sorrows. Visuals drive the narrative in this latest adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett‘s well-loved children’s novel; upon first sight of the garden, an abundance of CGI makes it all but impossible to assume that anything but pure magic will happen there, and the interior of Firth’s manor is designed to implicitly reflect the emotional chill that holds Firth and his son (Edan Hayhurst), who’s locked away in a sick bed. But if director Marc Munden relies too heavily on the (admittedly sumptuous) look of the film, the script by Jack Thorne (who also wrote the new and terrific “Enola Holmes” for Netflix) sticks close to the source material and the quiet but moving arcs of the characters, which should please Burnett devotees. Universal’s Blu-ray/DVD/digital release is supplemented with several making-of featurettes; the visual design is naturally emphasized, but there’s equal coverage of the cast and Thorne’s script.

Mallrats” (1995, Arrow Video) Smart alecks Jeremy London and Jason Lee take their dismissal by their girlfriends (Shannen Doherty and Claire Forlani) as a sign that they should while away the day at the mall, where they encounter a misanthropic dating game show, creepy store manager Ben Affleck, the Easter Bunny, Stan Lee, and (this being a Kevin Smith movie) Jay and Silent Bob. If you’re a View Askeniverse diehard, you’ll want Arrow’s double-disc Blu-ray presentation, which bundles restored versions of both the theatrical and extended cuts of the film, commentary by Smith, Affleck, Lee and others, multiple interviews, making-of featurettes and deleted scenes, and an amusing TV edit with absurd overdubs of the abundant profanity. If (like me), you find most of Smith’s movies self-indulgent and self-amused, you still might find some broad, snarky laughs here, and enjoyable turns by, among others, veteran scene stealers Michael Rooker and Ethan Suplee.

Driveways” (2019, Filmrise) While his mother (Hong Chau) contends with the disarray of a house left behind by an estranged sister, eight-year-old Cody (Lucas Jaye) navigates small-town life with the low-key assist of a neighbor, played by Brian Dennehy in one of his final performances. Issues of familial guilt, the passage of time, and appreciating the quieter moments in life are usually handled in features with broad, emotion-laden strokes, but this indie, from Korean-American director Andrew Ahn, avoids sogginess and sentiment with a thoughtful script by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen, and a measured pace that allows the cast to handle the heavy lifting through naturalistic performances. Chau and Jaye are standouts, but it’s Dennehy that makes the greatest impression, detailing volumes about his lonely, widowed veteran with the considerable and unshowy talent that defined his career. Filmrise’s Blu-ray includes promo art and a trailer.

Lord Love a Duck” (1966, Kino Lorber) For reasons known only to him, brilliant high schooler Alan (played by a then-38-year-old Roddy McDowall) decides to grant every wish held by his vain, vapid classmate (Tuesday Weld), which leads to her stardom and the ruination of everyone around her. Morbid/hip black comedy from co-writer/director George Axelrod (“Breakfast at Tiffany’s”) skewers Southern California excess and emptiness with malevolent, often surreal glee, though its disgust for its subjects often lends an ashen flavor to the laughs. Energetic direction (inspired by Richard Lester) and a world-class cast help, with Lola Albright, Ruth Gordon, Harvey Korman and Max Showalter (who, as Weld’s dad, shows a hormonally supercharged interest in his daughter that warrants a *) offering sold support to McDowall and Weld’s misanthropic leads. There’s also a swinging orchestra-pop score by Neal Hefti (“Batman”) and a title track by the Wild Ones; Kino’s Blu-ray features a new 2K master and the theatrical trailer.

Without Love” (1945, Warner Archives Collection) Military scientist Spencer Tracy and widow Katharine Hepburn enter into a marriage of convenience – without love, as both declare – but find that keeping emotion out of the equation is more difficult that imagined. Third of Tracy and Hepburn’s nine screen collaborations struggles to overcome unremarkable scripting (Donald Ogden Stewart and Philip Barry, both linked to Hepburn as screenwriter and playwright, respectively, of “The Philadelphia Story,” repeat those duties here, but to lesser effect) and direction by Harold S. Bucquet. But the on-screen charisma of the stars, and a likeable supporting cast anchored by a very funny Lucille Ball and Keenan Wynn, help smooth over the rough patches. The Warner Archives Blu-ray bundles “Without Love” with two shorts from the same release year: “Purity Squad,” from Warner’s hard-boiled “Crime Does Not Pay” series, here concerning the FDA and untested drugs (!), and Tex Avery‘s “Swing Shift Cinderella,” with the Wolf again in amorous pursuit of Red from “Red Hot Riding Hood.”

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 Amazon.com 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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