Movies Till Dawn: Post-Prandial Palate Cleansers (2020 Edition)

Dolly: The Ultimate Collection” (2020, Time Life) This staggering 19-disc set couldn’t be better timed, given the recent outpouring of affection for Dolly Parton, not for her financial support of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, but also for her long and celebrated tenure as a songwriter, performer, and country music trailblazer. The Time Life set – nicely appointed with display-worthy keepsake/coffee table packaging – covers the breadth of Parton’s career on television, from her debut in 1967 as a vocalist on “The Porter Wagoner Show” (seven episodes are included) and later, as the host of her own syndicated variety series (1976-77). Five episodes from “Dolly” are featured in the set, including the earliest incarnation of the Trio with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt and first collaborations with Kenny Rogers. Curiously, the set includes more of her less successful (and frankly, weirder) 1987 variety series, also called “Dolly,” which pairs her with Hulk Hogan, Pee-Wee Herman, and Oprah Winfrey (and that’s just in the first episode), as well as Bruce Willis, Kermit the Frog, and Joe Piscopo (segments from a Nashville/Grand Ole Opry reunion show with Wagoner, Faron Young, and Kitty Wells are also featured). The full-length documentary “Dolly Parton: Here I Am” and various music videos and guest and talk show appearances (including three “Tonight Show” episodes) fill out the set, but the best standalones are “Song by Song,” which devotes each of its six episodes to one of her best-known songs, along with commentary by (among others) Miranda Lambert and Miley Cyrus, and two full concerts from 2002 and her 2009 appearance at the O2 arena in London. Needless to say, a must-have/get for Dolly devotees, both new and old.

Back to the Future: The Ultimate Trilogy” (1985-1990, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment) Having just survived a four-year-long cosplay take on the dystopian nightmare depicted in “Back to the Future Part II,” I’m wondering how many people are willing to dive into the funny version again; regardless, it, along with the other two entries in the well-loved science fiction/comedy trilogy, is available in remastered form in this four-disc Blu-ray set. The movies remain largely clever, paying gentle homage to while also tweaking sci-fi tropes with the help of an expert cast (Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, both top-notch, but also fun turns by Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson, and Mary Steenburgen in “Part III”); the discs are loaded with vintage extras, including a 5-part making-of doc, deleted scenes, cast Q&As, and commentary by director Robert Zemeckis and producers Bob Gale and Neil Canton; the new material featured in the set is for “Future” diehards, and include a lengthy look at a musical based on the first film, lost audition tapes featuring Ben Stiller, Kyra Sedgwick, and Jon Cryer, among others, episodes of the short-lived animated series, and a look at the Hollywood Museum exhibit devoted to the three films.

Mission: Impossible – The Original TV Series” (1966-1973, CBS Home Video/Paramount Home Video) Arriving at a time in history when the popular view of espionage was shifting from the exotica of James Bond to the dirty tricks of the CIA in Vietnam and COINTELPRO, the CBS series “Mission: Impossible” earned a lengthy run on network TV by avoiding real-life conflict and emphasizing a caper approach, with a team of specialized experts infiltrating and undoing various international threats. That it had a boss theme song and a cool cast – led initially by Steven Hill before Peter Graves assumed command, and comprised of electronics genius Greg Morris, strongman Peter Lupus, and Barbara Bain and Martin Landau as experts in deception and disguise (later replaced by, among others, Leonard Nimoy, Sam Elliott, and Lesley Ann Warren) – certainly helped sell its escapist appeal, which remains intact if slightly more naïve in the wake of decades of world-rocking counterintelligence (which the subsequent movie series does its best to acknowledge while still leaning on the stunts). The entire seven-season, 171-episode run is remastered for Blu-ray and bundled in CBS/Paramount’s massive, 46-disc (!) boxed set

Saturday Night Live: The Early Years” (1975-1981, Time Life) Twelve discs, 33 full episodes culled from the iconic sketch comedy series’ first six years on NBC. Time, imitation, and repetition have defanged some of the material found here (John Belushi’s Samurai, the Killer Bees), but much remains both brash and funny (“Word Association” with Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor; Gilda Radner’s Candy Slice; Albert Brooks’s short films). The inclusion of complete episodes, including monologues and musical numbers instead of specific sketches, also yields much to discover: Harry Shearer‘s first run as a cast member in 1979 and Fred Willard hosting; appearances by Andy Kaufman, Richard Belzer, Taylor Mead, and Barrie Humphries; the Muppets‘ brief and bizarre run as a regular segment; and musical performances by Devo, Blondie, Frank Zappa, Patti Smith, and Kate Bush, among others. A necessary buy for SNL fans; the Time Life set includes screen tests for the original cast (and Andy Kaufman) and vintage TV interviews.

Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President” (2020, Greenwich Entertainment) Effective and uplifting doc about the mutual appreciation between POTUS 39 and a host of musical talent from the rock, country, jazz, and soul universes, and how each benefited from the other’s support. “President” details Carter’s savvy in parlaying his relationship with Dylan, the Allmans, Willie Nelson, and others to attract younger voters to his campaign, as well as his unwavering support for all forms of music during his single term in office. Interviews and plentiful music clips bolster the notion of Carter as a president for whom the arts was not an abstract but a key element in his personal and spiritual foundation (Dylan, in particular, waxes poetically about Carter’s humanistic nature); one can’t help but watch this doc, reflect on the outgoing occupant of the White House and note how nothing resembling creativity, joy, or art took root there, and then consider which was the more notable one-term president.

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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