“Grace of My Heart” (1996, Kino Lorber) Boundless talent and fortitude allow singer-turned-songwriter Illeana Douglas to navigate the turbulence of the music industry during the 1960s and her own personal life and ultimately bring her own artistry to life. Writer-director Allison Anders pays affectionate tribute to the major female songwriters of the period by drawing from the bios of Carole King, Ellie Greenwich and Lesley Gore (among others), and getting the always watchable and empathetic Douglas to bring them to life; the script and performance, as well as turns by John Turturro (a thinly veiled Phil Spector) and Bridget Fonda (Gore), help to overcome a degree of shortcomings (Eric Stoltz and Matt Dillon as Gerry Goffin and Brian Wilson/John Phillips, respectively). The soundtrack is ultimately the best takeaway, with contributions from Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello (“God Give Me Strength“), J. Mascis, Joni Mitchell, Gerry Goffin and daughter Louise, Los Lobos, and Boyd Rice, of all people. Kino’s Blu-ray includes commentary by Anders, deleted scenes, and a making-of featurette.
“Schitt’s Creek: The Complete Series” (2015-2020, Lionsgate Home Entertainment) Oceans of ink have been spilled about this lovely and ridiculous Canadian series from Dan Levy and father Eugene Levy, especially since its Emmy sweep this year, so I will simply say that the premise – about a monumentally selfish family (the Levys, Catherine O’Hara and Annie Murphy) exiled to the titular small town – deserves all the superlatives it’s earned, and quite possibly, a few more. The first season might underscore those initial doubts – it’s unfocused and broad – but by Season Two, “Creek” has settled into something unique, a sitcom that trades equally in laughs and genuine, unmanufactured and uncalculated sweetness; the cast has much to do with it, with Levy pere, O’Hara and Chris Elliott (the town’s bumptious mayor) flexing the whole of their remarkable comic talents; they’re well matched by Dan Levy (who also handles producer and writer duties) and the extraordinarily funny Murphy, and a supporting cast – all great, but especially Emily Hampshire, Jennifer Robertson, and Noah Reid – that any series would covet. Lionsgate bundles the entire six-season run on a 13-DVD set (albeit on stacked spindles, which aren’t the best for discs) that includes multiple behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, and outtakes.
“Burt Sugarman’s The Soul of the Midnight Special” (1972-1976, Time-Life) Five discs with 60 (count ’em) performances of top soul, funk, and R&B talent from the early and mid- ’70s, all culled from episodes of the long-running syndicated variety series. Most of the major solo acts of the day are represented here – James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, Al Green – as well as a cross-section of bands, including Sly and the Family Stone and Kool and the Gang, and vocal acts (O’Jays, Spinners, Blue Magic). The song choices, too, hew towards chart hits, though there are a number of deep cuts on hand, like Al Wilson‘s stately “Show and Tell” and a silky run through “I’ll Be Good to You” by the Brothers Johnson. But what makes “Soul” essentially for classic groove archivists is the fact that the songs are performed live, often with a full band (which frequently threaten to overwhelms the already limited capacity of the “Midnight Special” stages). The live aspect lends extra depth and context to the appearances beyond just the song: the crisp, synchronized stage work of the Stylistics (in matching canary yellow tuxes), Al Green slowing “Tired of Being Alone” to a honeyed slide, Curtis Mayfield and band folding a Latin/Caribbean groove into “Freddie’s Dead” and “Superfly”; Wilson Pickett wrestling a brawny “In the Midnight Hour” to a standstill; Sly Stone, playful and high, stopping the Family Stone in the middle of a colossal “Stand!” to don his outer space Stetson before returning with twice the firepower; Barry White, resplendent in red velvet before an equally massive Love Unlimited Orchestra; Bobby Womack, shirtless in chaps and cowboy hat, putting a gospel headlock on “Lookin’ for a Love”; and James Brown, sporting Al Swearengen‘s mustache, casually tossing off pelvis-breaking splits and calling out the Ohio Players on bruising runs through “Cold Sweat” and “Sex Machine.” A barrage of hosts, from the Bee Gees and Johnny Rivers to Helen Reddy, are briefly glimpsed; many of the musicians also hold forth in bonus interviews.
“Seniors: A Dogumentary” (2020, MVD Visual) Like the older dogs on which this documentary is focused, “Seniors” is low-key but likable, and makes a modest case for the benefits shared by senior dogs and their human owners. Gorman Bechard, who directed the recent and fun “Pizza: A Love Story” and the offbeat Replacements doc “Color Me Obsessed,” takes what is, most likely, an appropriately leisurely approach to the subject, bouncing (gently) from very cute footage of various elder dogs to the owners and professionals (caregivers, photographers, medical) who interact with them. Cases are made for the intelligence and empathetic qualities of senior dogs, and how these affect the humans around them, but the film’s primary takeaway seems to be that senior dogs, like many things in their prime, are still deserving of and capable of giving love and attention. Not a revolutionary statement, but still a lovely notion, especially for dog owners, who are most likely the core audience; MVD’s DVD is loaded with additional footage of its canine subjects, director’s commentary, and a Q&A at the film’s premiere.
“I Am a Dancer” (1972, Film Movement) Less a documentary than a series of clips, all featuring ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, who at the height of his powers in the 1960s and 1970s, was arguably one of the greatest performers in the history of ballet. Much of the film’s running time is consumed by rehearsal footage, which makes sense, given that ballet requires intense and virtually constant training; payoff eventually arrives in full-dress performances featuring Nureyev with a fellow great, Margot Fonteyn, in “Marguerite and Armand,” as well as excerpts from “Sleeping Beauty” and “La Sylphide.” The why of Nureyev’s greatness is given the dimmest of lights by director Pierre Jourdan, but the performances do provide a glimpse of his enduring status. Film Movement’s DVD includes discussions about Nureyev with members of the Martha Graham Dance Company and American Ballet Theatre.