MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Gift Guide 3: 100 Years Olympics Films, One Day at a Time, Monterey Pop, 4K UHD/HDR Action Editions, Coens, Nutcracker, Stronger, mother!, Leatherface… and more

100 Years of Olympic Films: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
The Olympics movement has come a long way since the IOC reinstituted the Games in 1896, in Athens, only a hop, skip and very long jump from Olympia, where the ancient Games were held from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. The site has been partially reconstructed and, if you’re in the neighborhood, is well worth a visit. Held annually in honor of Zeus and other gods, the Games began with a foot race among young women competing to be anointed priestess for the goddess, Hera, while a second race was run to determine a consort for the priestess at religious ceremonies. During the Games, a truce was enacted so that athletes could travel to Olympia in safety. In 394 AD, the Nicene Christian emperor of Rome, Theodosius I, banned all festivals in the territories that were considered by the church to be pagan. Archeological evidence indicates that some games were still conducted, though. We’ll never know if doping, bribery, misplaced patriotism and fear of nuclear disaster concerned Theodosius, but those are issues confronting IOC officials and fans heading to South Korea in February. It also explains why the Criterion Collection’s epic box set, “100 Years of Olympic Films,” is such an irresistible gift idea, even at prices ranging from around $220 to $395 list price for DVD and Blu-ray editions. Besides being extremely entertaining to watch, the archival films serve as a reminder of what the world could be like if politicians paid more attention to athletics and the arts than building arsenals and putting up fences. If the Olympics could bounce back from two world wars, there’s no reason to think peace isn’t be possible in our time. “100 Years of Olympic Films” spans 41 editions of the Olympic Games, from 1912-2012, in 53 surprisingly comprehensive and impeccably restored movies. They aren’t simply newsreels shown before  features, either. The feature-length films were made under the auspices of the IOC, to be shown to audiences around the world unable to make the trips to venues. The earliest ones feature camerawork of the point-and-shoot variety, with special attention paid to dignitaries, awards ceremonies, galleries and parades, in which winter Olympians carried their skis, skates, brooms and sticks, and participants in equestrian events arrived on horseback. As recording devices became more portable, the individual contests were captured with more fluidity and imagination. In addition to the impressive 10 features contributed by Bud Greenspan, the set includes such documentary landmarks as Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia (Berlin 1936), Kon Ichikawa’s Tokyo Olympiad (Tokyo 1964), Claude Lelouch and François Reichenbach’s 13 Days in France (Grenoble 1968), Carlos Saura’s Marathon (Barcelona 1992) and Visions of Eight (Munich 1972), with segments directed by Ichikawa, Lelouch, Miloš Forman, Yuri Ozerov, Arthur Penn, Michael Pfleghar, John Schlesinger and Mai Zetterling.

In the first chapter, “Stockholm 1912,” Hawaiian swimmer Duke Kahanamoku, smiling broadly after finishing first in a race, and Native American Jim Thorpe, accept laurel wreaths and the medals he would be forced to relinquish for playing two seasons of semi-professional baseball before competing in the Olympics. (In 1983, 30 years after his death, the IOC restored the medals.) Other legends shown in action during early chapters are “Flying Finns” Paavo Nurmi and Ville Ritola, Eric Liddell (Chariots of Fire), and Johnny Weissmuller and three-time figure-skating champion Sonja Henie in their pre-Hollywood days. In 1936, Carl Junghans’ Youth of the World (Garmisch-Partenkirchen 1936) and Riefenstahl’s brilliant two-part Olympia: Festival of the Nations/Festival of Beauty would mark a turning point in coverage of the Games, both artistically and as a platform for Adolf Hitler to demonstrate the superiority of Aryan athletes and advance his propaganda machine. (African-American sprinters Jesse Owens, Ralph Metcalfe and Mack Robinson, high-jumper Cornelius Johnson and middle-distance runner John Woodruff spoiled that part of Der Fuhrer’s party.) The 1936 Summer Games were the first to be televised and broadcast live, while radio broadcasts reached 41 countries. While most of us are aware of Owens, Metcalfe and Robinson’s accomplishments, Riefenstahl’s ability to keep us guessing as to the results of other events, held 80 years ago, is truly remarkable. World War II forced the cancellation of the 1940 and 1944 Olympics, picking up again in 1948 in St. Moritz and London, whose economy was still devastated. Neither Germany nor Japan were invited to participate, and the USSR remained ideologically opposed. (The joined the festivities in 1952, after re-evaluating their propaganda value.) The opening ceremony and over 60 hours of coverage were broadcast live on BBC television and color was added to the cinematographers’ repertoire.

The Olympics popularity catapulted from there and licensing fees turned the IOC into as much a corporate beast as any of the sponsors trying to affix their logos on anything that moved. The films, too, would take on the tenor of the times, evolving into works of art that included original music soundtracks and other conceits. For this set, however, scores for the silent films were composed by Maud Nelissen, Donald Sosin and Frido ter Beek, while Marathon added an evocative score by Alejandro Massó and contributions by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Angelo Badalamenti. As the chapters unwind, some viewers might mourn the disappearance of such old-fashioned challenges as the men’s tug of war, rope climbing, synchronized calisthenics and gymnastics, horse racing on ice, and hockey played with wooden pucks, but no helmets, masks or side boards. Splashes of unintended humor can be found throughout the early films. During a 1912 hockey game between the U.S. and Canadian, an onscreen intertitle advises, “In the audience were several women in masculine garb. They found it more convenient than skirts.” By 1928, Nurmi was refusing to be photographed, while most other athletes enjoyed the exposure, if only to say, “Hi, mom,” which didn’t require a separate text-block. By its very composition, “100 Years of Olympic Films” not only showcases the evolution of athleticism and equipment, but also the development of sports cinematography. By the late 1920s, cameras were able to bring viewers closer to the action and slow-motion was introduced to capture dives in midair and treacherous turns on the bobsled run. The boxed set represents the culmination of a monumental archival project, encompassing dozens of new 4K restorations sponsored by the IOC. The early black-and-white footage could hardly be more pristine. Chapter breaks come between events, so, if you’ve tired of, say, race walking or hand-shaking, they’re easy to skip. The package adds a lavishly illustrated, 216-page hardcover book, featuring notes on the films by cinema historian Peter Cowie. Instructive featurettes also appear on some discs.

One Day at a Time: The Complete Series
When “One Day at a Time” began its midseason run on December 16, 1975, it was the first of Norman Lear’s groundbreaking sitcom that didn’t quite fit the mold. His fingerprints were all over “All in the Family,” “Sanford and Son,” “Maude,” “Good Times” and “The Jeffersons,” even if the shows’ roots could be traced to the British sitcoms, “Till Death Us Do Part” and “Steptoe and Son.” The short-lived “Hot l Baltimore,” adapted from an off-Broadway play by Lanford Wilson, was deemed too hot for ABC’s prime-time audience and only lasted 13 episodes. “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” became a hit in syndication, only after the networks passed on the parody of soap operas and middle-class consumer culture. Although Lear was credited with developing “One Day at a Time,” it was created by Whitney Blake and Allan Manings, a husband-and-wife writing duo, who started as actors in the 1950-60s. Blake based the series on her own life as a single mother, raising her three children — including future actress Meredith Baxter — after her divorce from her first husband. In most sitcoms of the period, unmarried women spent their time serial dating or commiserating with their friends about the losers they met. “One Day at a Time” featured a single, divorced mother, Ann Romano (Bonnie Franklin), and her two daughters — the rebellious Julie (Mackenzie Phillips) and smart-aleck Barbara (Valerie Bertinelli) – who move from Logansport, Indiana, to an Indianapolis apartment complex, in search of a new life. As difficult as it sometimes was, Ann wanted to afford the girls the kind of freedoms her parents denied her, growing up in a dead-end town of less than 19,000 people. At first, CBS suits insisted on Ann having a male friend, at least, but, in the second season, Richard Masur was replaced by a frisky female confidante and comedic foil, played by Mary Louise Wilson. That didn’t last long, either. By then, however, Lear was able to focus on the core cast, which now included the macho-man building superintendent. Schneider (Pat Harrington) rolled his cigarette packs in the sleeve of his T-shirt, wore his tool belt like a holster and fancied himself to be a real catch. Like the characters in “Seinfeld” and other sitcoms set in apartment buildings, he didn’t feel it necessary to knock or buzz before entering their apartment and making himself at home. As popular as he became, in my opinion Schneider served the purpose of being the token white-ethnic-male stereotype. The show would last nine years on CBS, with or without my eyes on it. What I completely misjudged the first time around was the sitcom’s appeal to a generation of married or otherwise single working women who totally identified with Ann, whether her dilemmas related to raising teenage hellions or struggling to sort through the bozos courting her affections. While I had yet to encounter many, if any women in similar straits, Lear was inspired by friends, including his daughter, who provided scenarios for the moral dilemmas that challenged Bonnie each week. The Shout! Factory boxed set includes all 209 episodes of the series – a DVD first, apparently – as well as the 2005 reunion special; “This Is It: The Story of ‘One Day at a Time’”; and a new interview with Phillips and actor Glenn Scarpelli.

The Complete Monterey Pop Festival: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
While the arrival of yet another iteration of the musical documentary, Monterey Pop, would hardly appear to qualify as news, this Criterion Collection releases represents a step up, even from the company’s stellar 2009 Blu-ray edition. Director D.A. Pennebaker personally supervised the new 16-bit 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed stereo soundtrack, as well as upgraded high-definition digital transfers of Jimi Plays Monterey and Shake! Otis at Monterey, and another separate disc of outtake performances and bonus material, featuring the Association, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Blues Project, Byrds, Country Joe and the Fish, Electric Flag, Jefferson Airplane, Al Kooper, Mamas and the Papas, Laura Nyro, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Simon and Garfunkel, Tiny Tim and the Who. The rock festival concept was generated in the spring of 1967 by musician John Phillips, record producer Lou Adler, festival co-producer Alan Pariser and publicist Derek Taylor. The idea was to establish rock-’n’-roll as a form of art to be taken as seriously as jazz and folk music, both of which were already recognized as such by festivals in Monterey, Big Sur and Newport. Another idea was to introduce bands from southern and northern California to audiences who’d yet to sample them. It grew to include musicians from New York, Chicago and England. It is recalled, as well, for the first major American appearances by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Who and Ravi Shankar; the first large-scale public performance of Janis Joplin; and the introduction of Otis Redding to white folks. Instead of having his team of cinematographers merely point their cameras on the musicians, on stage, Pennebaker had them seek out interesting faces in the crowd – including fellow artists — and nascent hippies on the fringes of the facility. In this way, Pennebaker laid the foundation for Michael Wadleigh’s even grander coverage of Woodstock. The three-disc Criteria package also arrives with alternate soundtracks for all three films, featuring 5.1 mixes by recording engineer Eddie Kramer, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio; commentaries by Pennebaker, Adler and music critics and historians Charles Shaar Murray and Peter Guralnick; new interviews with Adler and Pennebaker; “Chiefs” (1968), a short film by cameraman Richard Leacock, which played alongside Monterey Pop during its inaugural theatrical run; archival interviews from 2002 with Adler, Pennebaker and Phil Walden, Otis Redding’s manager; a photo-essay by photographer Elaine Mayes; Monterey International Pop Festival scrapbook; marketing material; an artists’ index; and a 72-page booklet, with essays by critics Michael Chaiken, Armond White, David Fricke, Barney Hoskyns and Michael Lydon.

Transformers: Blu-ray, 4K UHD/HDR
Interstellar: Blu-ray, 4K UHD/HDR
Terminator 2: Judgement Day: Blu-ray, 4K UHD
Paramount has decided to test the 4K UHD/HDR waters with new upgraded editions of its Transformer quintet: Revenge of the Fallen (2009), Dark of the Moon (2011), Age of Extinction (2014) and, already available, The Last Knight (2017). The upgraded editions look and sound stunning in UHD/HDR – Ultra High Definition/High Dynamic Range — especially the bright yellow Bumblebee and other computer-generated characters and images. Their depth is impressive, as is the addition of theater-quality Dolby Atmos audio tracks. There aren’t any new bonus features, but commentaries and other material from previous Blu-ray editions have been ported over on separate discs. Critics may have already noted their displeasure with certain of the films, qualitatively, but fans will delight in the noticeably upgraded 4K UHD/HDR audio and visual presentation.

The studio is also trotting out Christopher Nolan’s 2014 sci-fi thriller, Interstellar, in the same advanced format. The sci-fi epic looks great, even on my system, which is hardly state-of-the-art. Listen to Nolan sell it, though, “4K Blu-ray with HDR is an incredibly exciting new home-video format that allows a much closer re-creation of viewing the original film print,” he observes. “The deeper color palette comes closer to matching the analogue colors of film and we’ve restored the original theatrical mixes for this release. If you can’t re-watch these films in the theater, this is the best experience you can have in your own home.” Couldn’t have said it better, myself.

Not to be left behind, Lionsgate is releasing its 4K UHD edition of Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991) on the day after Christmas. Arnold Schwarzenegger returns in this explosive action-adventure spectacle, which James Cameron may have made in anticipation of such high-end technology. In the sequel, Arnold’s out-of-date Terminator is one of the good guys, sent back in time to protect John Connor (Edward Furlong), the boy destined to lead freedom fighters of the future, from T-1000 (Robert Patrick), the most lethal Terminator ever created. Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton), John’s mother, has been institutionalized for her warning of the nuclear holocaust she knows is inevitable. Together, the threesome must find a way to stop the ultimate enemy and rescue the franchise from premature extinction. Newly added is “T2: Reprogramming the Terminator,” a 55-minute documentary, including interviews with Schwarzenegger, Cameron and Furlong.

The Godfather Trilogy Collection: Limited Omerta Edition: Blu-ray
In celebration of the 45th anniversary of The Godfather, Paramount has re-re-released the beloved trilogy in a new, lightly colored four-disc Blu-ray package. Technically, “The Godfather Trilogy Collection: Limited Omerta Edition” is identical to the highly regarded “Coppola Restoration,” released in 2008. Besides different packaging, it adds a handful of cardboard and magnetic trinkets. Considering that Paramount has been in the forefront of the 4K movement, I wonder how much consideration was given to releasing a UHD package this year. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see one arrive next Christmas, though. So, caveat emptor. Bonus content includes a fold-open collection of five attached cards, each with a color image from a key sequence from The Godfather. On the flip side is text entitled “Anatomy of a Scene,” which recreates the shooting script for the sequence depicted on the front. Another set of collector’s cards feature character portraits and movie stills on the front, with character quotes on the rear. A perforated magnetic sheet holds a number of phrases, whose words can be removed and shuffled on a refrigerator. On a smaller cut-out at the bottom of the box are 10 “Godfather” trivia cards with the question on the front and the answer on the back.

Nutcracker: The Motion Picture: Blu-ray
Upon its release in 1986, critics weren’t terribly impressed by Carroll Ballard’s interpretation of the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker, the production of which was designed by Maurice Sendak in collaboration with Kent Stowell, the company’s artistic director. They seemed to be overly disappointed by the fact that Ballard failed to incorporate the wonderful cinematography on display in his first two directorial efforts, Black Stallion and Never Cry Wolf. Considering that the holiday staple was shot on a pair of sound stages on Warner Bros.’ Burbank lot – on a reportedly miniscule budget — that would have been a lot to ask of him. It isn’t likely that the producers thought they were sending out the definitive adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” Nearly every little girl in the country – and more than a few little boys – has experienced “The Nutcracker,” in one form or another. Ballard probably could have chosen from a dozen other productions, but the Seattle company already was showcasing the Stowell/Sendak collaboration, as part of its standard repertoire, and it fit his notion of how special visual effects could be used to support the story and dancers in a unique way. Sendak had previously adapted “Where the Wild Things Are” for the stage. in 1979, and   designed sets for the Houston Grand Opera’s productions of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” and the New York City Opera’s production of Janáček’s “The Cunning Little Vixen,” both in 1981. Nutcracker: The Motion Picture, like the Stowell/Sendak stage production, is presented as Clara’s coming-of-age story. It depicts Clara’s inner conflicts and confusion as she approaches adolescence, as well as the beginning of her sexual awakening. The film emphasizes the darker aspects of Hoffmann’s original story and the significance of dreams and the imagination. That aspect must not have bothered the MPAA panelists, who gave the movie a “G,” even as they pointed out the dark and potentially disturbing subtext. Freudians might have suggested a “PG,” instead. The dancing is very good.

The Coen Brothers: The Iconic Filmmakers and Their Work
British film journalist Ian Nathan’s admittedly “unofficial and unauthorized” evaluation and celebration of the Coen Brothers’ oeuvre focuses primarily on their work as directors of such wonderfully eclectic entertainments as Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Fargo, Barton Fink, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Inside Llewyn Davis, A Serious Man, No Country for Old Men, True Grit and Hail, Caesar! Packed with stunning images from the Kobal Collection Movie and TV Archive, the book also highlights the brothers’ involvement, as writer