By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Theeb, Naked Island, Witch, Maurice Pialat, Cop Rock and more

Theeb: Blu-ray

There are times when Naji Abu Nowar’s terrific World War I adventure, Theeb, feels very much like Lawrence of Arabia writ small. Less than half as long, it tells a similarly exciting story from the point of view of Bedouin tribesmen who attach themselves to a British Army officer assigned to blow up an Ottoman railroad in the heart of the desert. Because Theeb is essentially a coming-of-age story, it betrays no secrets to reveal that the officer rather quickly becomes a non-factor in the drama, leaving only what he left behind to drive the narrative. Theeb was shot in parts of Jordan’s magnificent Wadi Rum (a.k.a., Valley of the Moon) that also provided backdrops for David Lean’s epic, The Martian, Red Planet and Passion in the Desert. While war rages across Europe and in the Ottoman controlled wilderness, newly ordained tribal chief Hussein raises his younger brother, Theeb, in a traditional Bedouin community isolated by the vast desert and its maze-like sandstone formations. So as not to dishonor the memory of his recently deceased father, Hussein and a cousin agree to lead the officer on an arduous journey to a series of water wells on the route to Mecca. At an age when boys in such environments quickly are required to act like men, Theeb decides to follow the men at a discreet distance on his mule. The path takes him to a steep canyon, where a different sort of war is being waged by Ottoman mercenaries, Arab revolutionaries and outcast Bedouin raiders. A deadly ambush suddenly requires of Theeb that he not only determine his own fate, but also that of a mercenary “guide” cut from the same cloth as Omar Sharif’s black-clad in Sherif Ali. After a sudden reversal of fortune, the boy is forced to accompany the wounded guide to the nearest Turkish outpost, where secrets will be revealed and Theeb will be faced with the first great moral dilemma in his life. The maturation process will further demand of Theeb that he decides whether he’ll follow the lead of the outlaw, return to a leadership position in his tribe or conceivably join Lawrence in the march to Aqaba and beyond. Nowar and co-writer Bassel Ghandour lived among the desert tribes for a year, absorbing the language and culture. They constructed Theeb as a “tale of four water wells,” during which Theeb is called upon to live up to the name — “wolf,” representing manhood in Bedouin culture – bestowed upon him by his father. In a very real sense, then, it describes traditions not unlike those glorified in the American Westerns that allowed Native Americans more than a modicum of decency and respect. Wolfgang Thaler’s cinematography splendidly captures both the intimacy of the human drama and grand scale of the locations. Theeb, like Mustang and Son of Saul, was a finalist for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. The other two candidates, Embrace of the Serpent and A War will be released into DVD next month. They attest to the continuing growth of the world cinema, especially in countries not typically represented in the category. The Blu-ray adds the director’s commentary and short film, “Waves ’98.”

The Naked Island: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray

From high above Japan’s Setu Inland Sea, the small patch of land at the center of Kaneto Shindô’s minimalist 1960 classic, The Naked Island, looks very much like Alcatraz, minus the abandoned prison. The family of four that lives on the island struggles to grow crops for subsistence trading, absent the assistance of potable water, sophisticated tools, generators or a motor for the wooden boat that takes them to shore, at least once a day, for fresh water, provisions and school for one the boys. Given the modernity of post-WWII Japan clearly visible on the opposite shores, their self-reliance seems less a condition of abject poverty, than a conscious decision to demonstrate that such a way of life was still viable. That it clearly isn’t feasible can be seen in the Sisyphean nature of their labor. Water from the mainland is transported by rowboat, then carried up a contoured hillside over what is basically a well-trod goat path. The crops are irrigated by hand, using a ladle. While parents Toyo and Senta go about their chores, Taro and Jiro prepare meals, feed the animals and attempt to catch the rare fish that a mainland restaurateur might find valuable. It’s a numbing existence, to be sure, but not one without time for occasional displays of love, despair and comfort, the latter in the form of a lingering bath in a heated barrelful of water. Just when The Naked Island appears to have reached a monotonous uniformity, Shindo shifts gears so abruptly that viewers are shocked into doubting the sanity not only of the endeavor, but also the man who demands so much of his family. While dialogue remains virtually non-existent, the story takes an unexpected turn to something resembling modern life, with the attendant joys and tragedies that come with it. Soon enough, though, the dull routine of years past – maybe decades – re-enters with the spring. Just as Robert J. Flaherty and Merian C. Cooper fudged details of everyday life in their early ethnographic documentaries, Shindo takes liberties with Toyo and Senta’s chores and rituals. What shines through is the endurance of the human spirit, sometimes for inexplicable reasons and, at others, out of pure determination to succeed on one’s own terms. Kiyomi Kuroda’s sparkling black-and-white cinematography ensures a sense of realism that never wavers throughout the 94 minutes of The Naked Island. The Blu-ray adds a video introduction by Shindo; archival audio commentary with Shindo and composer Hikaru Hayashi; a new video interview with actor and Shindo promoter Benicio Del Toro; a new video interview with film scholar Akira Mizuta Lippit; and an illustrated leaflet featuring an essay by film scholar Haden Guest.

Kindergarten Cop 2

If sequel specialist Don Michael Paul (Jarhead 2, Tremors 5) doesn’t dishonor the legacy of Ivan Reitman and Arnold Schwarzegger’s hit fish-out-of-water comedy, Kindergarten Cop, his primary directive could have been to test the waters for a series of straight-to-DVD sequels targeted at kids who weren’t even born when the Governator left office in 2011. Twenty-five years later, in Kindergarten Cop 2, Dolph Lundgren proves to be a reasonable facsimile of a musclebound teacher terrorized by over-privileged kids and politically correct parents, while in pursuit of a dangerous international criminal. In this case, it’s an Albanian fiend, Zogu (Aleks Paunovic), whose wife provided Lundgren’s Agent Reed a few moments of bliss during the investigation. In order to solidify the FBI’s case against Zogu, Reed is assigned by his bullying boss to need to find a flash drive that belonged to a recently deceased kindergarten teacher. It’s believed to contain a tipoff to a terrorist attack. If the outcome is never actually in doubt, the interaction between Reed and everyone else at the progressive school is what will keep viewers occupied for most of the movie’s 100-minute length. After some awkward introductions, Reed develops an easy rapport with the kids – some of whom need extra TLC – and a fellow kindergarten teacher (Darla Taylor) who sees beyond his clumsy attempts at pedagogy. Bill Bellamy plays a fellow FBI agent, while Sarah Strange is the school’s p.c. principal. The DVD adds deleted scenes, a gag reel and “Kindergarten Cop 2: Undercover.”

Night Has Settled

Set in 1983, Steve Smith’s follow-up to 2008’s The Last International Playboy appears to borrow key elements of Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan, Roger Kumble’s Cruel Intentions and “Gossip Girl,” all in the service of an adolescent coming-of-age dramedy populated by the sons and daughters of New York’s social elite. The cover blurbs want potential viewers to consider the films of Larry Clark, as well, but the prep-school attendees in Night Has Settled have quite a bit more going for them than the skateboarders and borderline criminals in his depictions of debauched youths. Eighteen-year-old Spencer List is extremely convincing as the post-pubescent protagonist, Oliver Nicholas, a member of a clique of prep school boys and girls whose boredom and lack of direction is salved by sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll and shoplifting booze. As usual, almost none of their parents spend much time at home, leaving the kids free to engage in late-night parties and sexual experimentation. Oliver’s divorced mother, Luna (Pilar López de Ayala), is a self-absorbed free spirit who would prefer to be treated more like a friend and confidante to her son and daughter than a real mom. That responsibility lies with their Chilean nanny and housekeeper, Aida (Adriana Barraza), who is the parental figure Oliver wishes his mom would be. In fact, Luna is so incompetent as a mother that she happily leaves the parenting to Aida, who’s still grieving the loss of a son, years earlier, at the age of 10. Just when it seems as if the relationship between Oliver and Aida is becoming dangerously Oedipal, Smith puts her in the hospital with a debilitating stroke. Devastated, the boy acts out his myriad feelings in all the usual ways, leading to a cathartic moment that salvages both the character and the otherwise too-familiar story. If anything, Smith has invested too many interesting ideas into a film that’s all of 90 minutes. For example, in addition to all of his other problems, Oliver is cursed by migraine headaches whenever he nears climax while masturbating. That’s a new one on me, but Stone manages to pull it off without sacrificing much time or narrative coherency. Smith also finds room for the other youthful characters to grow.

The Witch: Blu-ray

The abruptness of the title and demonic visage of a goat on the DVD jacket may suggest that The Witch is just another low-budget portrait of a supernatural being, burdened by genre pretentions and clichés. An alternate image, used on the one-sheet posters, shows a young woman walking into an autumnal forest, brightly lit by a full moon, as naked as the branches of the trees. If that were all to recommend Robert Eggers’ debut feature, it probably would have been released straight-to-DVD or VOD and left to fend for itself. Fortunately for everyone involved, however, an executive at fledgling A24 recognized the film’s potential for carving a niche in a genre overpopulated by zombies, vampires and sadists. The buzz surrounding the modestly budgeted indie must have been ear-shattering, because The Witch did well enough against Deadpool and the faith-based Risen to be accorded a legitimate theatrical run. Instead of focusing directly on the protagonist’s midnight stroll or the spooky-looking goat, Eggers has constructed a deeply atmospheric period piece that anticipates the Salem witchcraft trials and persecution of women who may or may not have been guilty of something ungodly. In 1630s New England, a devout Puritan family of seven is banished from their church and village in a disagreement over Christian beliefs. They are required to start over on the edge of the known frontier, where fields will need to be cut from rocky earth and the dangers of the forest have yet to be fully defined. Bears and Indians, sure … the devil’s spawn, not so much. Whatever happens to them will be God’s will. Or, so they’ve been led to believe.

Eggers effectively cultivates a profound dread of the unknown before introducing the inevitable gore and Satanic heebie-jeebies. Shot in an abandoned lumber camp in northern Ontario, The Witch is infused with a palpable feeling of isolation. Eggers built his reputation on set design and his attention to historical detail here goes way past anything expected from a budget south of $4 million. (The mosquito repellant might have been the most expensive item on the budget.) The thickly accented dialogue, filled with “thys” and “thees,” also is perfectly credible. When disturbing things do begin to happen to the scripture-citing William (Ralph Ineson) and his fragile wife, Katherine (Kate Dickie), it’s difficult for them to determine if they’re acts of God or Satan. Their newborn child disappears, along with some prized objects. The crops fail. The next youngest boy and girl find comfort in the company of the belligerent goat, Black Peter. There’s even a malevolent jack rabbit. Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw), his father’s right-hand man, hasn’t been the same since he discovered a strange dwelling in the forest, inhabited by a woman who wouldn’t be out of place in a Russ Meyer film. We assume, without direct proof that the titular character is teenage Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy). In a movie about Catholic mysticism, Taylor-Joy is the kind of open-faced blond who would be cast as the tortured saint-to-be. That Eggers has been able to maintain viewers’ interest for two-thirds of the movie, without giving hard-core genre buffs something nasty to chew, demonstrates the power of suspense and foreboding, which is enhanced by a droning soundtrack and sensory cues as earthy as the farm’s dung heap. If Thomasin is the witch, she probably doesn’t look much different than any of women sacrificed to bigotry and intolerance in Salem, 60 years later. The interviews, Q&A and gallery included in the bonus package attest to Eggers mastery of the project, from start to finish. I won’t be the only one who can’t wait to see what he – and Taylor-Joy, for that matter – accomplish next.

Dementia: Blu-ray

I Saw What You Did: Blu-ray

In his feature debut at the helm, cinematographer/director Mike Testin does what he can with a script by fellow first-timer Meredith Berg that telegraphs almost all its surprises and will be familiar to anyone old enough to remember Nurse Diesel in High Anxiety or Annie Wilkes in Misery. If that sounds like I’ve spoiled the ending, I doubt anyone will hold a grudge against me. The best things in Dementia are incidental to the script devices. Veteran character actor Gene Jones (“Vinyl,” as Colonel Tom Parker) is very good as a Vietnam-era war hero and POW, George Lockhart, whose sound mind and body are about to give out on him. Haunted by dreams of being tortured and exposed to what he still considers to be the cowardice of one of his fellow prisoners, at least, suffers a stroke after using a rifle to scare some neighborhood bullies off a neighbor boy. While in the hospital, he’s also diagnosed with dementia … or whatever the politically correct term for the titular disease is these days. George would like to reconnect with his estranged son (Peter Cilella) and teenage granddaughter (Hassie Harrison) before his illness gets too advanced, but the distance between the two men presents a formidable challenge. His only friend is played by Richard Riehle, an old-timer who’s instantly recognizable from the 350 roles he’s played in movies and television. The son, Jerry, doesn’t have to look very far for the live-in caregiver/therapist, Michelle (Kristina Klebe), as they already met in the hospital. Afforded just that much information, it would be difficult not to figure out what transpires in the ensuing hour or so. Testin’s had plenty of experience shooting pictures not terribly dissimilar to Dementia and he’s saved a few tricks for his freshman outing in the director’s chair. When Michelle madness is revealed, he makes excellent use of George’s spacious house for the ensuing game of hide-and-seek. Testin also sets up a parallel test of nerves between his nurse and granddaughter, both of whom are blond and obsessed with completing their missions.

Even when it was released in 1965, I’m not sure William Castle’s psycho-thriller I Saw What You Did made much of an impression on its target audience, teenagers, who were becoming pretty jaded when it came to horror and other genre pictures. What’s interesting about it today is how Castle appears to have borrowed the shower scene from Psycho and telephone segment from Bye Bye Birdie – among other things – in the service of a movie that would influence John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Kevin Williamson, Marc Cherry (“Desperate Housewives”) and possibly even some giallo specialists. To pass the time while babysitting, bored teenagers Libby and Kit (Andi Garrett, Sara Lane) pick names out of the phone book and prank strangers with the warning, “I saw what you did and I know who you are.” They couldn’t have known that one of men (John Ireland) they called had just murdered his wife in the shower and put her body in a trunk, for burial in the woods. The only person in a position to torment him with this knowledge is a neighbor with the hots for him and helps him with the trunk. (Joan Crawford’s assignment wasn’t much more than a cameo, but she was given top billing.) Castle conceives of a way, however illogical, for the killer to turn the tables on the girls and put them on the defensive. The rest of the movie pretty much plays out in jump scares, lighting and sound effects. I Saw What You Did clearly was made on a budget that didn’t allow for great artistry or frills. Competition with television for young eyes was still fierce and it was film that could play in theaters and drive-ins. Castle’s name may not mean as much to today’s audience as Roger Corman, but they were two peas in a pod when it came to the exploitation market. Such titles as House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler, Strait-Jacket, 13 Ghosts and Macabre have stood the test of time and continue to be remade by new generations of filmmakers. His reputation as a showman is unmatched, as well. For I Saw What You Did, he instructed exhibitors to set aside a section of seats equipped with seat belts for easily shocked audiences.

The Winding Stream: The Carters, the Cashes and the Course of Country Music

Modern country music may owe more to the Eagles, the Allman Brothers and Buffalo Springfield than George Jones, Willy Nelson and Merle Haggard – ditto, country radio, which is more country-suburban, than country-western – but the roots of all commercially viable country music can be traced to A.P., Sara and Maybelle Carter. That’s the premise of musician-turned-documentarian Beth Harrington (“Welcome to the Club: The Women of Rockabilly”), whose essential The Winding Stream: The Carters, the Cashes and the Course of Country Music should be shown on a continuous loop at the rock ’n’ roll and country music halls of fame, Opryland, the Ryman Auditorium and Grammy Museum. Harrington takes us all the way back to 1927, when A.P. piled family members into his car for the then-grueling journey from Maces Spring, Virginia, to Bristol, Tennessee. Victor Records producer Ralph Peer had advertised for local musicians to gather there to record songs only familiar to the mountain folk. A.P. didn’t make it to the recording session, as he was looking for a replacement tire for the car, but, several weeks later, he received $50 for each song Sara and Maybelle recorded. By the end of 1930, they had sold 300,000 records in the United States. Realizing that he would benefit financially with each new song he collected and copyrighted, A.P. traveled around the southwestern Virginia area in search of new material. As the family grew, so did its fame. In 1938, the extended family traveled to Villa Acuña, Mexico – across the border from Del Rio, Texas – where they performed a twice-daily program on the 250,000-watt radio station, XERA. For the next 50 years, one iteration of the Carter Family or another performed “old time music” for enthusiastic fans everywhere. “The Winding Stream” is the product of exhaustive research and continually updated interviews with family members, historians and musicians. The Cash family connection is also duly noted, especially Johnny’s longtime relationship with June Carter. Harrington was able to interview the Man in Black only weeks before his death in 2003 and it’s terrific stuff. Anyone anxious to extend the experience should check out Maggie Greenwald’s underappreciated 2000 drama, Songcatcher, which chronicled a fictional musicologist’s (Janet McTeer) discovery of a treasure trove of ancient Scots-Irish ballads that had been handed down through generations of Appalachian musicians, but never written down or recorded. It is loosely based on the turn-of-the-century work of Olive Dame Campbell, founder of the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina, and that of the English folk-song collector Cecil Sharp.

The Films of Maurice Pialat: Volume 1: Blu-ray

Even by American arthouse standards, the films of French director Maurice Pialat were a hard sell. His intensely naturalistic technique required a great deal of patience from viewers accustomed to Nouvelle Vague storytelling, as well as a willingness to take unlikeable characters at face value. That they were inspired by people close to him in real life didn’t make them any more sympathetic. Pialat’s uncompromising attitude is reflected in a feature-length documentary, “Love Exists,” that’s included in the Cohen Film Collection package, The Films of Maurice Pialat: Volume 1. During his 35-year career, which began when he was 42, Pialat completed only 10 major features. Although his pictures scored numerous nominations at Cannes and in Cesar competition, they were shut out of the Academy Awards and Golden Globes. Probably the best known of three features included here is Loulou (1980), in which well-to-do Nelly (Isabelle Huppert) falls in lust with the unemployed lay-about Loulou (Gérard Depardieu). The underground life is fun until her husband pulls her safety net out from under her and she’s faced with having to raise a child with the small-time hoodlum, who can barely take care of himself. Like a working-class and not particularly funny version of American Graffiti, Graduate First (1978) follows a graduating class of teenagers in northern France as they await the results of the baccalaureate exams that could seal their fates as young adults. One path leads to college and the security that comes with middle-class life, while the other puts them in the more precarious position of having to live in continual fear of being laid off or making due on minimum-wage salaries. The kids need look no further than their parents to understand what they’re up against. In Mouth Agape (1974), a woman (Monique Mélinand) who’s worked hard all of her life as a shopkeeper, wife and mother, is fighting a losing battle with cancer. Gathered around her in her final weeks and days are her philandering husband (Hubert Deschamps), her adult son (Philippe Léotard) – also a cheat – and her eager-to-please daughter-in-law (Nathalie Baye). There’s love to be found here, but it takes a while to surface. In June and July, Cohen is sending out Blu-ray editions of Under the Sun of Satan and Van Gogh, an excellent biopic that had the misfortune of arriving within a year of Robert Altman’s terrific Vincent & Theo. All three volumes include insightful interviews and deleted scenes.

Hired to Kill: Special Edition: Blu-ray

Sometimes, I wonder if the famously inventive headline writers at New York’s tabloid newspapers (“Headless Body in Topless Bar”) are ever called upon to suggest taglines for movies. On Amazon, a blurb for Hired to Kill brashly declares, “No Man on Earth Could Get Him Out of Prison Alive. Seven Women Will Try.” This is collaborated in an interview included in the bonus package with filmmaker Nico Mastorakis, who allows that he envisioned a “Magnificent Seven with women.” More precisely, I’d suggest, “Magnificent Seven with runway models.” If Hired to Kill had been half as good as the tagline, it might not have been released straight-to-video in most markets or virtually forgotten in the 26 years since it was made. If anything, it exists as a slightly less sexploitative knockoff of Andy Sidaris’ Hard Ticket to Hawaii, Malibu Express, Picasso Trigger and Savage Beach, which defined the girls-with-guns subgenre in the 1980s. The difference is a cast that includes such noteworthy, if well past their prime stars as Oliver Reed, George Kennedy, Jose Ferrer and veteran tough guy Brian Thompson (Cobra). Here, Thompson plays the musclebound mercenary, Frank Ryan, assigned by Kennedy to track down Reed on a rebel-controlled island and free an imprisoned opposition leader (Ferrer). In a leap of faith impressive even by straight-to-DVD standards, the rock hard, 6-foot-3 actor is required to pose as a fashion designer conducting a photo shoot with seven “beautiful but deadly female fighters.” The Greek island of Corfu provides the perfect backdrop for action, glamour and intrigue. If only the machine guns looked as if they were firing live ammunition and some of the punches actually landed in the fight scenes. Co-writers Kirk Ellis and Fred Perry previously collaborated with Mastorakis on such immortal thrillers as The Naked Truth, Death Street USA and Terminal Exposure. Co-director Peter Rader enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame – or infamy — as co-writer of Waterworld, for which he later would be featured in “Flops 101: Lessons from the Biz.” Arrow Video has also released sterling Blu-ray “special editions” of Mastorakis’s Island of Death and The Zero Boys … not that there was all that much clamor for them. Bad-movie buffs should get a kick out of the presentations, though, as well as commentary and fresh interviews with editor Barry Zetlin, Mastorakis and Thompson; an essay by critic James Oliver; original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys; and BD/DVD-ROM copy of the original “Freedom or Death” screenplay.


Cop Rock: The Complete Series

BBC: The Merchant of Venice

PBS: Mr. Selfridge: The Complete Fourth Season: Blu-ray

The Red Skelton Show: The Best of Early Years, 1955-1958

Carol + 2: The Original Queens of Comedy

The Facts of Life: The Final Season

Power Rangers: Ninja Sentai Kakuranger: The Complete Series

When an executive producer of hit television series is on a roll, he can propose almost anything and someone in Hollywood will take a nip at the bait, at least. Such was the case with Steven Bochco, who, by 1990, had successfully launched such landmark shows as “Hill Street Blues,” “Doogie Howser, M.D.” and “L.A. Law,” as well as near-misses “Hooperman” and “Rockford Files” spinoff “Richie Brockelman, Private Eye.” His record may not have been perfect, but Bochco and co-creator William M. Finkelstein (“L.A. Law,” “Murder One”) carried enough weight and promise to get ABC to buy into an idea so preposterous it would go down in history as one of the medium’s worst disasters. “Cop Rock” attempted to combine the gritty street-level police procedural with musical theater. The series centered on the LAPD and featured an ensemble cast that mixed musical numbers and choreography throughout individual storylines. Although some critics embraced the idea, it was trashed by most other opinion-makers and ignored by audiences. It lasted all of 11 episodes before being pulled off the network schedule. Today, like CBS’s ill-fated “Viva Laughlin,” it might not have made it to a third week. Even so, exposure on cable television would add a cult-like sheen to “Cop Rock.” (The same can’t be said of NBC’s “Hull High,” also launched in 1990, which lasted all of eight episodes, but would directly influence “Glee” and “High School Musical.”) Shout! Factory, a company known to take chances on longshots, has decided that the time might be right for a DVD revival of “Cop Rock.” If the individual episodes remain offbeat to a fault, it’s still fun to watch such members of Bochco’s repertory company as ex-wife Barbara Bosson, Larry Joshua, James McDaniel, Peter Onorati, Ronny Cox, CCH Pounder and guest stars Michelle Greene, James Sikking, Jimmy Smits, Gordon Clapp, Sheryl Crow, Gina Gershon and theme-song composer Randy Newman pop up every now and again. The police action and courtroom scenes should remind Bochco fans of scenes from his more fortunate efforts. The DVD adds new interviews with Bochco and series star Anne Bobby.

Perhaps the most provocative play in William Shakespeare’s repertoire, “The Merchant of Venice” has perplexed audiences as long as it’s been performed, somewhere in the neighborhood of 418 years. Aside from the lingering questions about the Bard’s intentions when it comes to his portrayal of the Jewish moneylender, Shylock, the play’s ending defies easy categorization as to whether it’s technically a tragedy or comedy. It kind of depends on how one feels about the forced conversions as punishment. Shylock’s painful status in Venetian society is emphasized in his celebrated “Hath not a Jew eyes?” speech, even as the epithets of his enemies continue to sting the ears of contemporary audiences. Because of this ambiguity, the play has lent itself to contemporization as a vehicle for anti-Semitic vitriol by bigots and a loud call for tolerance by others. Then, too, by allowing Portia and Nerissa to don judicial disguises and beg Shylock to reconsider his demand for a pound of Antonio’s flesh — “(Mercy) is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes” – Shakespeare appears to be making a case for gender equality. The 1973 adaptation newly released on DVD here by Shout! Factory originally aired on Britain’s ITV and ABC on this side of the pond. Sir Laurence Olivier and Dame Joan Plowright lead a stellar cast of actors (Anthony Nicholls, Anna Carteret, Jeremy Brett, Louise Purnell), most of whom originally appeared in the 1970 National Theatre stage production. That’s reason enough to check it out. Like Jonathan Miller, director John Sichel advanced the action to Victorian times.

ITV is also responsible for the surprise hit series, “Mr. Selfridge,” which currently is wrapping up its four-year run on PBS. In the episodes included in “The Complete Fourth Season” Blu-ray edition, creator Andrew Davies has advanced the narrative several years to the eve of the store’s 20th anniversary celebration. The Roaring ’20s have caught up with Harry, who’s begun to party like it’s 1909, again, and is paying for it. After missing Season Three, Lady Mae (Katherine Kelley) returns to London and, not surprisingly, Harry eventually finds himself in dire financial difficulty. A prominent newspaper publisher has declared war on him, as well. Faithful fans of the Sunday-night soap won’t be disappointed by the introduction of new characters — the hotsy-totsy Dolly sisters, a cocky business partner, a black seamstress — and story threads that need to tied before the series concludes. The Blu-ray adds four background featurettes.

Shout! Factory and Timeless Media Group extend their inventory of shows from the so-called Golden Age of Television with “The Red Skelton Show: The Best of the Early Years, 1955-1958.” Historically speaking, it marks the start of the beloved comic’s association with Johnson’s Wax and Pet Milk, as well as CBS’ experimentation with colorcasts on Tuesday night. Otherwise, the show continued to provide a home for such

delightful characters as Clem Kadiddlehopper, Cauliflower McPugg, San Fernando Red and Freddie the Freeloader. Among the guest stars are John Wayne, Johnny Carson, Jack Benny, Phyllis Diller, George Raft, Martha Raye and Carol Channing, in other words the cream of Hollywood’s vintage crop. Young viewers will have to take my word on this, but the 18 shows represented here are as funny as anything on TV right now … not so much the dance and song routines, though.

Besides providing lots of laughs, the 1966 special “Carol + 2: The Original Queens of Comedy” offered a preview of the arrival of “The Carol Burnett Show.” Alongside the two redhead comedians is Broadway dynamo Zero Mostel, whose unpredictability was his hallmark. Carol’s wedding anniversary sketch with Mostel points to future marital angst with Harvey Korman. When she and Lucy clean up at the William Morris Agency, as imaginary “charwomen of the board,” she offers a variation of the character whose animated likeness opened the show. The first appearance of the character, included here in a bonus sketch, was on Burnett’s 1963 special, “Carol & Company.” The DVD also includes the 1972 CBS television movie version of “Once Upon a Mattress,” in which Carol reprises her 1959 Tony-nominated Broadway debut role as Princess Winnifred the Woebegone. Joining her are Ken Berry, Bernadette Peters and Jack Gilford, all of whom (in addition to Lucy) would guest star on “The Carol Burnett Show” multiple times over its 11 seasons.

The Facts of Life: The Final Season” wraps up nine years of life in and around Eastland School for Girls, a boarding school in Upstate New York. A spin-off of “Diff’rent Strokes,” the series focused on the school’s housemother and dietician Edna Garrett (Charlotte Rae). Also under her wing are students Blair (Lisa Whelchel), Natalie (Mindy Cohn), Tootie (Kim Fields) and Jo (Nancy McKeon), who by this time, were probably closer to retirement than puberty. As the girls prepared to join the world outside Peekskill, Blair rallied the troops one more time to save Eastland from bankruptcy. Oh, yeah, one of the girls finally loses her virginity in the ninth season. Despite solid ratings, NBC was forced to cancel the show when Cohn and McKeon decided to move on to grown-up shows.

Before the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers stormed America in the 1990s, the Japanese series, “Super Sentai Zyuranger,” laid the foundation for its success of tokusatsu television. The sixteenth installment in the long-running “Super Sentai” franchise of superhero programs would provide the raw material for Saban’s “Power Rangers” franchise. The storyline in the “Complete Series” box is nearly incomprehensible. Apparently, though, “It’s been a long time since the great war between the Three God Generals and the Youkais, an ancient race of monstrous spirits. Since then, imprisoned in a cave protected by the mystical Seal Door, their leader Daimaou and his Youkai army wait, planning for the day they can finally strike. That day has arrived and it is up to the Kakurangers, along with the Three God Generals, to defeat the Youkais, before Daimaou’s villainy destroys Earth.” That, from the publicity blurb from Shout! Factory for the boxed set. Some things, you simply can’t make up.

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Leonard Klady's Friday Estimates
Friday Screens % Chg Cume
Title Gross Thtr % Chgn Cume
Venom 33 4250 NEW 33
A Star is Born 15.7 3686 NEW 15.7
Smallfoot 3.5 4131 -46% 31.3
Night School 3.5 3019 -63% 37.9
The House Wirh a Clock in its Walls 1.8 3463 -43% 49.5
A Simple Favor 1 2408 -50% 46.6
The Nun 0.75 2264 -52% 111.5
Hell Fest 0.6 2297 -70% 7.4
Crazy Rich Asians 0.6 1466 -51% 167.6
The Predator 0.25 1643 -77% 49.3
Also Debuting
The Hate U Give 0.17 36
Shine 85,600 609
Exes Baggage 75,900 62
NOTA 71,300 138
96 61,600 62
Andhadhun 55,000 54
Afsar 45,400 33
Project Gutenberg 36,000 17
Love Yatri 22,300 41
Hello, Mrs. Money 22,200 37
Studio 54 5,300 1
Loving Pablo 4,200 15
3-Day Estimates Weekend % Chg Cume
No Good Dead 24.4 (11,230) NEW 24.4
Dolphin Tale 2 16.6 (4,540) NEW 16.6
Guardians of the Galaxy 7.9 (2,550) -23% 305.8
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 4.8 (1,630) -26% 181.1
The Drop 4.4 (5,480) NEW 4.4
Let's Be Cops 4.3 (1,570) -22% 73
If I Stay 4.0 (1,320) -28% 44.9
The November Man 2.8 (1,030) -36% 22.5
The Giver 2.5 (1,120) -26% 41.2
The Hundred-Foot Journey 2.5 (1,270) -21% 49.4