Movies Till Dawn: More Biographies, Real and Imagined

Jazz on a Summer’s Day” (1959, Kino Lorber) I wrote about this exceptional concert film of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival when Kino Lorber Repertory reissued it virtually to theaters in 2020 (which only feels like a million years ago); now Kino has released it on Blu-ray, which features the reissue’s stellar 4K restoration (a joint effort between IndieCollect and the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress), as well as informative commentary by journalist Natalie Weiner (she knows the ins and outs of the performers) and a feature-length documentary on director Bert Stern, who’s also featured on a short interview featurette. Required viewing for any traditional jazz fan for the sheer quality of players and selections, including Thelonious Monk on “Blue Monk,” Anita O’Day, Louis Armstrong, Sonny Stitt, Big Maybelle, Chuck Berry, Dinah Washington, George Shearing, Chuck Berry and Mahalia Jackson (among many others).

Archenemy” (2020, RLJ Films) Joe Manganiello, a brawny actor with a likable streak of self-deprecation, is the chief selling point of this fantasy about an addled homeless man in Los Angeles who may (or may not) be an extraterrestrial superhero. Manganiello handles both sides of his role well – he has the brawn for the alleged world-saving and a believable hangdog vibe for the street scenes – and his exchanges with Skylan Brooks, a local kid sold on his supposed super status, are appealing. But the framing adventure – saving Brooks’ sister from druglord Glenn Howerton – is too broadly spoofish in tone, even by comic book standards (though Paul Scheer, as a manic henchmen, is funny), to lend any sense of real urgency or drama. RLJ’s Blu-ray includes a making-of doc.

Rewind” (2020, Filmrise) Home movies, hours and hours of them, provide director Sasha Joseph Neulinger, with fragments that help him piece together a ghastly puzzle: the pattern of sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of his own family members. The pain and tragedy in “Rewind” is, at times, unbearable – not because anything graphic is shown, but because we know that seemingly harmless interactions between the young Neulinger and his abusers – captured in obsessive and incessant video footage taken by his father, himself a survivor of familial abuse – are steeped in terrible lies and threats shadows, lurking just outside of the camcorder frame. Interviews with surviving family members and Neulinger’s role in the fates of his victimizers are compelling, but that video footage is as harrowing – maybe more so – as anything this side of a crime investigation (or combat footage). Filmrise’s Special Edition Blu-ray includes an interview with Neulinger.

Queen of Hearts: Audrey Flack” (2020, Film Movement) Admiring biography of a subject worth admiring: painter/sculptor Audrey Flack, a major figure in both the abstract expressionist and photorealist movements of the 1950s and 1970s, and a still-active artist (in sculpture) today. Directors Deborah Shaffer and Rachel Reichman give equal and ample coverage of her remarkable work and accomplishments (her photorealist work was among the first to find a permanent home at the Museum of Modern Art), and struggles (constant misinterpretation of her work by a male-dominated art scene, sexual assault at the hands of her mentor, Josef Albers), though the film works best when it focuses squarely on interviews with Flack, who remains confident and daring in her eighth decade, and the boundless creativity of her work. Film Movement’s DVD includes a filmmaker Q&A and deleted scenes.

The Incredible 25th Year of Mitzi Bearclaw” (Indican Pictures, 2019) For Mitzi Bearclaw (MorningStar Angeline, very good), a First Nations woman living in Toronto, turning 25 should have been all about cultivating her hat designs and enjoying life with her photographer boyfriend (Vance Banzo). Instead, it becomes 12 months living between past and present when her father (Billy Merasty) calls her back to their remote coastal reserve to help care for her irascible, estranged mother (Gail Maurice). Director Shelley Niro deftly balances the humor and pathos of making peace (more or less) with all the parts of your former life with an Indigenous culture framework; there’s sadness, to be sure, and dalliances with magical realism in Mitzi’s experiences with the spirit world. But this is first and foremost a gently irreverent and frequently funny comedy about universal issues (family, upbringing, putting old problems to rest) that apply to all cultures. With the great Gary Farmer (“Dead Man”); available on demand and DVD.

Five Corners” (1987, Liberation Hall/MVD) The murder of a schoolteacher by an unseen assailant with a bow and arrow seems to set in motion a paroxysm of changes – personal, political, social – for the residents of the titular East Bronx neighborhood over the course of 24 hours in 1964, including reformed thug Tim Robbins, psychotic John Turturro, and the object of his obsession (Jodie Foster). Playwright John Patrick Shanley’s script seems willfully and at times perversely determined to weird out viewers of Tony Bill‘s drama; the tonal shifts from Robbins’ embrace of pacifism to Turturro’s deranged behavior (the bit with the penguins seems culled from a Werner Herzog film or a Hubert Selby novel), and a subplot involving a quartet of thrill-seeking teens that veers from comedy to creepiness, may result in a serious case of whiplash. One wonders if this would have played better on stage, but the film – produced by George Harrison’s Handmade Pictures (hence the inclusion of “In My Life” on the soundtrack) – does benefit from its cast (which includes Todd Graff and Elizabeth Berridge) and Bill’s capable direction. The Liberation Hall Blu-ray is widescreen.

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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