Movies Till Dawn: More Little Stabs at Happiness

Language Lessons” (2021, Shout! Studios) Effective and affecting two-hander from director/co-writer Natalie Morales and co-writer/producer Mark Duplass, who play a Spanish teacher and her somewhat reluctant student, respectively. The entire arc of their relationship transpires over Zoom calls (Morales’ Carino is in Costa Rica and Duplass’s Adam in LA), which may impact your appreciation of the film’s chief asset: the interplay between the two leads, who defy the separation inherent to their method of communication to forge much-needed connections in times of need. So appealing are the two leads that at times, one wishes the dramatic elements receded to simply give them more time to talk; as it stands, “Language Lessons” is an impressive addition to Morales’ growing directorial career (see also “Plan B“) and confirmation of Duplass’s status as a consistently and effortlessly creative indie force. Now available on digital and On Demand.

L.A. Story” (1991, Lionsgate Home Entertainment) Slight but sweet comedy penned by Steve Martin, who plays a television weatherman trapped between various poles – romance with journalist Victoria Tennant or spokesmodel Sarah Jessica Parker, a life devoted to superficial fame or artistic pursuits – while contending with our fair city. Martin’s satire has an equal amount of bite (freeway shooting do’s and don’ts) and soft targets, and his relationship with then-real-life spouse Tennant doesn’t generate much sparks. But Martin is an enormously likable lead, and surrounds himself with equally agreeable players (Richard E. Grant, Kevin Pollak, Frances Fisher, Sam McMurray), and his take on Los Angeles (with abundant on-location scenes) focuses less on its cartoonish excesses than on its ability to bemuse, appall, and amaze, all at the same time. Lionsgate’s 30th Anniversary Blu-ray bundles deleted scenes (where you’ll find cameos by John Lithgow, among others), multiple new and vintage featurettes, and promotional material.

Straight Time” (1978, Warner Archives Collection) Unvarnished crime drama, ostensibly about ex-con Dustin Hoffman trying and failing to stay out of trouble, but more about lost souls drifting through a landscape (Los Angeles) that offers them everything and nothing, and how they respond to it: by fading into the background or setting the place on fire. Hoffman falls into the latter category, while new paramour Theresa Russell is firmly in the former, while Harry Dean Stanton and Gary Busey, as Hoffman’s former partners, sit uncomfortably in the middle. Based on a novel by Edward Bunker, who co-wrote the screenplay and appears briefly as a barfly, and filmed across LA and in particular, Burbank, Sylmar, and sections of West LA and downtown by Ulu Grosbard (who replaced Hoffman as director after one day). Warner’s Blu-ray features a commentary track with Hoffman and Grosbard (who were recorded separately); a vintage featurette on Bunker, advertised on the disc’s packaging, appears to have been left off the final product.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House” (1948, Warner Archives Collection) Frothy comedy about the aspiring upwardly mobile, with Cary Grant as a New York adman whose dreams of vacating the big city for country living clash with the reality of an expensive remodel. The majority of the laughs are mined from Grant’s blithe attempts to rebuild a crumbling Revolutionary War-era Connecticut home without the slightest idea of how to do so; putting Grant, Myrna Loy (his cleverl wife) and Melvyn Douglas (exasperated lawyer) in charge of these scenes lends a sparkling quality to even the broadest slapstick setup. With world-class support from Louise Beavers (who has one of the film’s funniest lines) and kid actors Connie Marshall and Sharyn Moffett; the source material (Eric Hodgins’ novel) was later adapted as “The Money Pit” and “Are We There Yet?” You can visit the Blandings house in Malibu Creek State Park, if so inspired. Warner Archives’ Blu-ray includes two radio adaptations, both with Grant, who pairs with Irene Dunne for a 1949 take and his real-life wife, Betsy Drake from 1950. A Tex Avery cartoon, “The House of Tomorrow,” and the trailer round out the set.

Thank you to Warner Archives Collection for providing free Blu-rays for this review.

All the Streets are Silent” (2020, Kino Lorber) Nostalgia, courtesy of grainy home videos and remember-when interviews, dominates this look back at a period in ’80s-era New York when the skateboarding and hip-hop cultures intersected and cross-pollinated. Director Jeremy Elkin puts his street cred cards on the table up front by having Large Professor provide the score and Zoo York co-founder Eli Gesner as narrator; Gesner also provides much of the video content, which features legendary figures like Harold Hunter, and served as a vital link between the two cultures as promoter at Club Mars, where punks, skaters, and hip-hop fans freely comingled to live performances by Run-DMC, the Jungle Brothers, and other East Coast heavyweights. Many of them, along with early performances by the Wu-Tang Clan and Jay-Z, are also featured in footage taken from a Columbia University radio show hosted by legendary DJs Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Garcia, and which served as a second link in the color-blind connection between rappers and skaters. The vintage footage and new interviews are the documentary’s strong suit; less compelling is the introduction of commerce to the scene via companies like Gesner’s own Zoo York, but the film is carried by the sheer bravado and glee of those early, groundbreaking efforts.

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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