“Whirlybird” (2019, Kino Lorber) Polarizing documentary about Los Angeles reporters Bob (now Zoey) Tur and ex-wife Marika Gerrard, who redefined news coverage in the 1980s and 1990s by using a helicopter to provide a perspective that alternated between omniscience and espionage. Their white-knuckle coverage yielded a lot of iconic moments – O.J.’s flight in the white Bronco, the beating of Reginald Denny – but also helped to change the tenor and focus of the news from information to spectator sport. Director Matt Yoka alternates the action movie-styled coverage with personal details on Tur and Gerrard’s marriage and family (which included daughter Katy Tur, now an MSNBC reporter), which collapsed under Tur’s adrenaline obsession and internal conflict (Tur underwent gender transition in 2014); these moments offer sobering counterpoint to the lunacy of the news footage, and show how one fueled the other. Kino’s DVD is widescreen.
“The Yearling” (1946, Warner Archives Collection) World-class tearjerker, based on the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings novel of the same name, with Gregory Peck and Jane Wyman as the parents of a lonely young boy (Claude Jarman, Jr.) who finds solace with an orphaned deer fawn. Decades of lesser boy-and-his-(insert animal here) stories have slightly blunted the impact of this film’s payoff, but the performances – especially Wyman as a woman haunted by loss – are uniformly fine (Peck and Wyman both earned Oscar nods and Jarman received a special Oscar), and the script by Paul Osborn manages to echo Rawlings’ novel as a satisfying experience for adults and kids, though the former should expect to spend some time explaining the film or consoling the latter. Warner Archives’ Blu-ray offers a stellar hi-def transfer and a 1948 radio adaptation featuring Peck and Wyman; the theatrical trailer and a Tom and Jerry cartoon round out the set.
Thank you to Warner Archives Collection for providing a free Blu-ray for this review.
“Red Angel” (1966, Arrow Video) Unrelievedly grim anti-war drama from Japanese director Yasuzo Masumura (“Giants and Toys“) set during the second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), and seen from the perspective of a nurse played by Masumura regular Ayako Wakao. Dispatched to a field hospital in China, she finds shell-shocked soldiers stitched together with limited supplies by doctors long past the burnt-out stage. Wakao is herself brutalized shortly after arrival and learns that survival – both hers and her patients – is based on sinking to the depths of those around her, including morphine-addicted medico Shinsuke Ashida. Shock tactics (gallons of blood and severed limbs) have their intended effect, but it’s the icy reserve of the black-and-white cinematography and Wakao and Ashida’s performances as they plunge further into spiritual decay that land the most lasting punches in “Red Angel.” Arrow’s Blu-ray includes input from numerous historians – commentary by David Desser, intro by Tony Rayns, and a visual essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum – with a hi-def presentation.
“The Ultimate Aang and Korra Blu-ray Collection” (2005-2008/2012-2014; Paramount Home Video) Animation devotees or those need extended distraction from the latest pandemic variant/natural disaster/traitorous uprising should invest their hard-earned time into these award-winning fantasy series, which are compiled in their entirety, along with a staggering amount of extras, on this 18-disc Blu-ray set. Aang and Korra are the youthful heroes of “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “The Legend of Korra,” respectively, who possess remarkable powers of manipulating the elements; their adventures in a complex and richly diverse world are both complex and engaging for pre-teen and older viewers, who will undoubtedly dive into the vast satellite media surrounding both series, including comics, novelizations, and video games. The Ultimate set includes dozens of making-of featurettes, including conversations with the creative teams behind both of the shows, as well as commentaries, animatics, Comic-Con panels, the online spin-off shorts “Republic City Hustle”; while much of this has been featured in previous releases, the Ultimate set also features an hour-plus of new material, including a deep dive into the show’s sound effects and “Avatar: Braving the Elements,” a podcast hosted by Janet Varney, who voiced Korra, and Dante Basco, who voiced Zuko in “Avatar.”
“Edward Everett Horton: 8 Silent Comedies” (1927-28, Undercrank Productions) Undercrank’s two-disc set bundles eight of the surviving silent two-reel comedy shorts produced by Harold Lloyd and starring comic actor Horton, who’s perhaps best known today for the “Fractured Fairy Tales” segment on “Rocky & Bulwinkle” (and that short block that bears his name off Burbank in Encino). The eight shorts, all preserved by the Library of Congress and presented by Undercrank with sparkling new scores by company chief/archivist Ben Model, should please silent comedy fans to no end: Horton’s fussbudget screen persona, already well developed by this point, is put to the test in various family and romantic scenarios, but it’s also surprising (and delightful) to see the very proper Horton get his hands dirty with slapstick (most notably in “Horse Shy”) and in drag (in three shorts). Jazz Era Los Angeles plays itself in the background of many shorts; the Undercrank disc includes a short tribute featurette on Horton’s silent career.