Posts Tagged ‘The Magician’

Wilmington on DVDs: Toy Story 3, The Toy Story Trilogy, The Magician, Centurion, Winnebago Man … and more

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010


Toy Story 3 (Four Stars)

U. S.: Lee Unkrich, 2010

Toy Story 3 is just what we’ve come to expect from Pixar: a brilliantly conceived and immaculately animated knockout of a family show: witty and scrumptious, moving and marvelous, and something that parents can enjoy every bit as much as their children undoubtedly will.

Bravo! Again.

Directed and co-written (story) by longtime Pixar hand Lee Unkrich; co-produced and written (story again) by Pixar head John Lasseter, who started it all; with a script by Little Miss Sunshine’s Michael Arndt, another batch of super-nifty songs by Randy Newman, and another great unimprovable cast, this movie deserves every “hurray” and “kai-yai-yippie“ it can field.

Toy Story 3 ties up the tale of youngster Andy’s faithful toys: that beguiling bunch led by indomitable cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks), and stalwart sidekick-spaceman Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen). It ends the three-part saga in ways that are both powerfully entertaining and eminently, emotionally satisfying. I laughed and smiled all the way through it, and brushed away some tears at the end, and I bid these old friends a fond farewell. Just as the Pixar gang wanted me to

Many of the Toy Story 1 & 2 bunch are back for the farewell party: including courageous cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), the finicky Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head (Don Rickles and Estelle Harris), jolly dinosaur Rex (Wallace Shawn), frugal piggy bank Hamm (John Ratzenberger), and the resourceful Slinky Dog (Blake Clark). And there are plenty of new arrivals, including a fancy clothes horse of a Ken Doll (Michael Keaton), who’s a patented mate for Andy’s sister’s blond fashionista Barbie Doll (Jodi Benson), as well as a terrific new villain: a pink, squeezable, folksy tyrant, who looks like an ursine Barney, smells of strawberries, and is named Lotso Huggin‘ Bear (voiced with perfect genial scariness by Deliverance’s Ned Beatty). There’s even a terrific enforcer for bad Lotso, the silent, but infinitely menacing Big Baby.

Toy Story 3 shows us what happens to them all (especially the old pals left from 1995‘s Toy Story and 1999’s Toy Story 2) when college-bound Andy finally packs to leave home. Apparently, he’s outgrown his old playroom pals, marking them all (except Woody) for the attic, and by accident, almost throwing them all away (except Woody) in the trash. That catastrophe is eluded by sheer toy pluck, but the near garbage apocalypse alienates all the toy gang (except Woody), and they choose instead to be sent off to a seeming toy paradise nearby, the Sunnyside Daycare Center, a place with plenty of tots anxious to play with new and pliable playthings. (Except Woody.)

Unhappily, the paradise has some snakes. It turns into a living, screaming toy hell, a prison and toy torture chamber run by Beatty‘s Lotso, a homespun dictator who suggests a sadistic variation on Will Geer‘s Grandpa Walton, as grandpa might act with a 44 Magnum in his overalls. Luckily, Woody is still around outside, determined to save them all.

Of course, you can pretty much predict what happens — though you may be a little surprised by the dark psychological roots of Lotso Huggin’ Bear‘s evil, which are rendered in flashback. But so what? Great fairytales or children’s stories are usually a bit predictable, which is part of why they work so well.

The toys are always being saved from impending doom and loss, just as toys sometimes are in real life. And Toy Story 3 one has the most ferocious cliffhanger climax of them all. The gang not only has to escape from Sunnyside, in a jailbreak that irresistibly reminds you, as did Nick Park‘s Chicken Run, of Steve McQueen, James Garner and Richard Attenborough busting out in The Great Escape. They have to survive the hellish, fiery threat of trash compactors and incineration, shown to us in terrifying toy’s-eye views.

I don’t think the movie is too exciting for most kids, but some adults should probably be forewarned: the final action scenes in Toy Story 3 are more exciting than anything in some of the recent hyper-violent action trash like The A-Team or From Paris with Love.

Mostly that’s because we actually care for these little animated toys, which, along with the studio’s consistent technical genius, is the true secret of Pixar. The Toy Story movies use both invented toy characters (Woody, Buzz, Jessie) and real mass-market toys (Ken and Barbie, Slinky), and the mish-mash creates the kind of haphazard play-world with which a real kid might populate his or her fantasy-world. The toys come alive and talk when they’re together and away from their human household. But when Andy appears, they flop down inanimate, and wait to be played with.

It’s Andy who brings them alive and who gave them their personalities, and though they’ve somehow achieved an independence that lets them confab and soar and race all over town without him, it’s Andy (played here in youth by Charlie Knight and, college-age, by John Morris) who probably triggers their stories, which is why the savvier Woody is so faithful to him.

The toys, and not just Andy’s gang, symbolize the crucial elements in all three Toy Story movies: the power of art and dreams, and of empathy. If you can’t empathize with your playthings, and with the stories and dreams they evoke, you may not empathize much with people either. If you can’t weep or at least feel bad for a little, lost, cast-off toy (who was once your faithful friend), you may not be all that concerned about, say, a loyal animal pet, or about other human beings, or even about the whole interconnected, living, breathing planet. The hell with them, you may feel. They’re just plastic too. Toss ‘em out. Burn ‘em. Get new ones. Tough little stud or cookie that you think you are, you may be more worried about clean-up time, and about “grown-up” tea party stuff: taxes and money and the loot that will buy you grown-up toys that probably won’t talk back.

John Lasseter, who conceived the Toy Story movies, and wrote and directed the first one, and worked and was a driving force on the next two, really created a wonderful, heartfelt modern pop myth when he dreamed up Woody and Buzz and all their buddies, which is why audiences responded to it so strongly. In that myth, we get something to treasure. We discover that all our long-ago, long-vanished toys and dreams and friends are not really gone. They still care about us and miss us as well, and, with all their toy-strength, toy-brains and toy-courage, they will try their damnedest to come home and return to us. Like all myths, this one can comfort us and help reclaim a world that is lost.

But, since this is a farewell party, Toy Story 3 says something a little different as well, something about growing up (Andy) and about being part of a community (the toys). I won’t reveal it, of course, but that new twist is what made me brush away that tear.

You see, I had toys as well, small, very inexpensive but infinitely precious playthings that my mother bought me long ago, when I was four or five, before school started, even though she could barely afford any extras or non-essentials. They were a grand company of little play farm animals, and they included three intrepid adventurers named Horsey, Bully and Colty, who went on heroic quests together and had a wicked nemesis, named Mrs. Cow.

I was the enthralled and happy witness to all of this trio’s (or quartet’s) adventures, or at least the ones they had when I was watching. Later, I drew and wrote crayon-colored comic books about them. They’re gone now, of course: accidentally thrown away or left behind long ago. Lost, lost…But I still miss them, even bad old Mrs. Cow. And I’d like to think, for a moment at least, that they’re fighting to come back to me, battling cars and trucks and trash collectors and evil teddy bears and incinerators, to make their way home.

That’s why Woody the cowboy is one of Tom Hanks’ best roles, one of the parts he should be happiest he played. And Buzz is one of Tim Allen’s, and Jessie one of Joan Cusack’s. And ditto for everybody else, especially Ned Beatty, the meanest Goddam teddy bear you‘ll ever see and hear. How much empathy and art does it take to bring all those toys alive — both for the actors and for the expert company of technicians and artists who brought them all home? Lots, I bet. Thank you, Pixar.

Extras: Featurettes, Deleted scenes.



The Magician (Four Stars)

Sweden: Ingmar Bergman, 1958

Ingmar Bergman’s 1958 classic The Magician carries us back to Sweden in the 19th century, a supposedly “enlightened” but dark country, a realm of snobs and mountebanks, of bawdy life and relentless death — a fearful, funny, magical land where science battles superstition, realism clashes with fantasy, ghosts seduce witches, and August Strindberg dances with Hans Christian Andersen.

Through a stark, black and white forest, rides a coachful of traveling players in a traveling show, a troupe starring the dour, silent mesmerist Albert Emmanuel Vogler (Max Von Sydow), his beautiful cross-dressing assistant and wife Manda (Ingrid Thulin), the genial, lusty barker/emcee Tubal (Ake Fridell) and Vogler’s grandmother (Naima Wifstrand), a wise and wizened little old lady who brews potions and may be a witch.

They ride through a dark forest of spiky black trees, where Death lurks: more specifically, where Von Sydow will find Bengt Ekerot — the unforgettable scowling chess-playing Death Max faced in Bergman‘s The Seventh Seal — here playing the dying, threadbare actor Johan Spegel.

Through the softly howling darkness, they are on their way to a town of large houses, splendid furnishings and blazing candles, where the complacent bourgeois rulers who engage them for an evening’s entertainment scoff at magic, and snort at theater and its tricks. There, the players will present a show of levitation, telepathy and communion with spirits from beyond, before that audience of scornful nabobs, critics and rationalists, including the condescending royal medical advisor Dr. Vergerus (played by Gunnar Bjornstrand), the mocking consul Egerman (Erland Josephson), the mean bailiff ( ) and the consul’s more susceptible wife (Gertrud Fridh). In the household, in the kitchen — remember, actors always must use the back entrance and sleep with the help — they will meet a host of lively servants, including another of Bibi Andersson’s sexy Saras.

The troupe has problems. Vogler cannot talk. His wife is disguised as a man. Tubal is a drinker and a rake. The leaders in their audience despise them and want to make fools of them. The wires may break, the mirrors may crack, the levitating bodies may fail to rise and the curtains may fail to fall. And somebody, either in the cast or in the audience, may forget their lines.

But there’s a magic in theater, a spirit raging within the silent magician Vogler. There’s an angel in the wings, and maybe even a demon in the attic, and they can triumph over anything, even a hostile house. Even death itself (played by that distinguished actor Bengt Ekerot).

Bergman was a real man of the theater, probably Sweden’s leading stage director of the last century and one of its great playwrights as well (though he wrote almost all his “plays” for the movies). And this is his ode to the stage, his valentine for his fellow directors and players, and his flip-of-the-bird to the snooty Svenskas and sarcastic world critics and carpers who tried to chasten or silence him, to cut him down to size. It’s a comedy about death, anguish, persecution and humiliation, all those things that a Strindberg or a Hedrik Ibsen turned into drama and tragedy. Drama lurks here and so does tragedy, but they’re both just part of the company. (Take a bow, torment. Laughter, you‘re on next.)

Playing with Bergman is his incredible troupe of Malmo Theater actors, one of the great repertory troupes of all theater or of all movies — including his bewitching then-mistress and matchless ingenue Bibi. (No summer night should be without her smile.) Bravo and encore to them all, especially for the movie’s end…


…when the sun comes mysteriously out, and the brass band plays, and the traveling players take one last bow and travel on to their next engagement…


The Magician (called The Face in Swedish) came near the end of Bergman’s great string of ‘50s films, the pictures that introduced him to the world audience. It was climax of a group of four consecutive masterpieces that included Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries. And it’s a movie that has two very obvious and very notable direct descendants in the Bergman fimography/lexicon: Persona, which has another stage Vogler who doesn‘t talk, and Fanny and Alexander, where there’s another stage troupe and another Vergerus who tries to spoil the show. (There’s also another more neglected offspring: Bergman’s 1969 TV film The Rite, in which comedy takes a holiday, and Strindberg and Kafka take over more of the stage.)

The Magician is obviously one of his key works. And playing gloriously for and with Bergman in this picture, is his incredible troupe of Malmo Theater actors, one of the finest repertory troupes of all theater or all movies — including his bewitching then-mistress Bibi. (No summer night should be without her smile.)

But The Magician displeased Bergman’s early admirers at Cahiers du Cinema, and it’s been underrated or neglected by some auteurist critics ever since. Robin Wood, writing about the film in his monograph, virtually became a Vergerus himself. Ah, wrong. The Magician is great stuff, quintessential Bergman. (Read the essays in the accompanying Criterion booklet by Geoff Andrew and French filmmaker Olivier Assayas for more testimonial.) No filmmaker was more of a cinematic auteur, more of a writer, or more a man of the theater than Ingmar Bergman — or more brilliant at all three.

So it’s always made me angry, a little, that some otherwise rational critics, irritated perhaps that Bergman was one of the few filmmakers accepted by so many non film specialists as an artist, tended to underrate him, to try to over-politicize or debunk him, to deny him a place at the table, to be nasty and rationalist and play the Vergerus.

But forget all that. Instead, let’s see The Magician in this beautiful Criterion edition. Ready? The lights are dimming. The audience is quieting, the programs rustling in the dark. The curtain rises. The forest is dark. (Hear the coach!) The players are ready and waiting, slipping on their masks, their faces: Max and Ingrid and Gunnar and Erland and Bibi, forever young. Listen. Watch. Feel. Let Bergman, the mesmerist, weave his magic. (In Swedish, with English subtitles.)

Extras: Video interviews with Bergman, one by Olivier Assayas and Stig Bjorkmen; Visual essay by Peter Cowie; Booklet with essays by Geoff Andrew and Assayas, and an excerpt from Bergman’s book Images.



Clint Eastwood: 35 Films, 35 Years of Warner Bros. (Blu-ray) (Four Stars)

U.S.: Clint Eastwood, Don Siegel and Other Directors, 1968-2008 (Warner)

From Dirty Harry to Unforgiven. From Where Eagles Dare to Letters from Iwo Jima. From The Gauntlet to Gran Torino.

Go ahead. Make our day.

Includes: (All movies are U.S.) Where Eagles Dare (Brian G. Hutton, 1968) Three Stars. With CE, Richard Burton and Mary Ure. WW2 shoot-out, a la Alistair MacLean. Kelly‘s Heroes (Brian G. Hutton, 1970) Three Stars. With CE, Donald Sutherland, Telly Savalas. WW2 as comedy. Dirty Harry (Don Siegel, 1971) Four Stars. With CE, Andy Robinson. Clint’s angry Frisco cop signature role. Magnum Force (Ted Post, 1973) Three and a Half Stars. With CE, Hal Holbrook. The second Dirty Harry movie. The Enforcer (James Fargo, 1976) Three stars. With C. E., Tyne Daly. The third Dirty Harry.

The Outlaw Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood/(Philip Kaufman), 1976) Four Stars. With CE, Sondra Locke, Chief Dan George. Great quest western. The Gauntlet (Clint Eastwood, 1977) Three and a Half Stars. With CE, Locke. Pat Hingle. A hard-drinking cop and a hooker witness run a mob/corrupt police gauntlet. Every Which Way But Loose (James Fargo, 1978) Three stars. With CE, Locke, Ruth Gordon and Clyde the orangutan. First Philo Beddoe movie.

Bronco Billy (Eastwood, 1980) Four Stars. With CE, Locke and Scatman Crothers. Naïve Western hero saves his Wild West Show. One of Clint‘s favorites. Any Which Way You Can (Buddy Van Horn, 1980) Two and a Half Stars. With CE, Locke, Ruth Gordon and Clyde the orangutan. Second Philo Beddoe movie. Honkytonk Man (Eastwood, 1982) Four Stars. With CE and Kyle Eastwood. Neglected gem: Clint as dying C&W singer/picker, on the road to the Grand Ole Opry with nephew. Firefox (Eastwood, 1982) Two Stars. With CE, Freddie Jones and Nigel Hawthorne. Rare Clint clinker: Empty Cold War plane chase thriller.

Sudden Impact (Eastwood, 1983) Four Stars. With CE and Locke. Fourth Dirty Harry. And the second best. City Heat (Richard Benjamin, 1984) Two and a Half Stars. With CE and Burt Reynolds. Unhappy crime comedy misfire, with old TV pal Burt. Written by movie’s original director, Blake Edwards Tightrope (Richard Tuggle/(Eastwood, 1984) Three Stars. With CE and Genevieve Bujold. New Orleans neo-noir, with Clint as tormented cop. Pale Rider (Eastwood, 1985) Three Stars. With CE, Michael Moriarity and Chris Penn. A supernatural twist on Shane. Heartbreak Ridge (Eastwood, 1986) Three Stars. With CE, Marsha Mason and Mario Van Peebles. Clint aces as raspy-voiced, hard-ass U. S. Marine top kick, in so-so gung ho Grenada story.

Bird (Eastwood, 1988) Four Stars. With Forest Whitaker, Diane Venora and Keith David. Great movie bio of bebop jazz sax legend, Charlie Parker. The Dead Pool (Buddy Van Horn, 1988) Two and a half stars. With CE, Liam Neeson, Jim Carrey and Patricia Clarkson. Fourth, and weakest Dirty Harry, despite cast. Pink Cadillac (Buddy Van Horn, 1989) Two and a Half Stars. With Bernadette Peters and Carrey. Okay chase comedy with Clint as bail-bond skip tracer vs. fascist gang. White Hunter, Black Heart (Eastwood, 1990) Three and a Half Stars. With CE as “John Wilson“ (aka John Huston) in cool adaptation of Peter Viertel‘s backstage African Queen novel. The Rookie (Eastwood, 1990) Two and a Half Stars. With CE, Charlie Sheen, Raul Julia and Sonia Braga. Sleazy but sometimes gripping old cop/young cop thriller.

Unforgiven (Eastwood, 1992) Four Stars. With CE, Gene Hackman, Richard Harris, Morgan Freeman and Frances Fisher. Western masterpiece and big Oscar winner. A Perfect World (Eastwood, 1993) Four Stars. With CE, Kevin Costner and Laura Dern. Engrossing chase thriller, with psychological twists. The Bridges of Madison County (Eastwood, 1995) Four Stars. With CE and Meryl Streep. Poignant romance, with CE in off-type vulnerable/sensitive role as National Geographic photographer who woos married woman (Streep). From Robert James Waller novel, which it improves. Absolute Power (Eastwood, 1997) Three Stars. With CE, Hackman, Ed Harris, and Laura Linney. Dark political thriller.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (Eastwood, 1997) Three and a Half Stars. With Kevin Spacey, John Cusack and Lady Chablis. Shot in Savannah: Good true-crime thriller, based on John Berendt’s book. “True Crime” (Eastwood, 1999) Three stars. With “ Space Cowboys” (Eastwood, 2000) Three and a Half Stars. With CE, Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner and Donald Sutherland. Aging astronauts show Right Stuff. Great cast clicks. “”Blood Work” (Eastwood, 2002) Three and a Half Stars. With CE and Jeff Daniels. Nifty mystery. “Mystic River” (Eastwood, 2003) Four Stars. With Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Kevin Bacon, Laurence Fishburne and Marcia Gay Harden. Great Boston set neo-noir, about murder and the ruinous past, from Dennis Lehane’s novel.

Million Dollar Baby (Eastwood, 2004) Four Stars. With CE, Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman. Modern nourish boxing classic, from F. X. Toole story. Clint’s second big Oscar winner. Letters from Iwo Jima (Eastwood, 2006) Four Stars. With Ken Watanabe. Superb, grim WW2 movie: War is hell, from the Japanese side. Gran Torino (Eastwood, 2008) Four Stars. With CE. Get off my lawn. Clint‘s acting swan song? We hope not .The Eastwood Factor (2010). Three Stars. Fine documentary.

Extras: Documentary, Featurettes; Book.

Clint Eastwood: 35 Films, 35 Years of Warner Bros. (Blu-ray) (Four Stars)
U.S.: Clint Eastwood, Don Siegel and Other Directors, 1968-2008 (Warner)
See above.)

The Toy Story Trilogy (Blu-Ray DVD) (Ten Discs) (Four Stars)
U.S.: Various Directors, 1995-2010 (Walt Disney)

The best film trilogy of any kind I’ve seen since The Lord of the Rings — which, after all, had the advantage of being adapted from a classic.

The Toy Story movies are all classic American pop-film mixtures. They‘re sentimental family fairytales, but they’re also hip satiric comedies, deeply emotional parables of friendship and community, Randy-dandy musicals, and pulse-racing adventure movies packed with cliffhangers and breathless chases. The toys are always being saved from impending doom and loss, just as toys sometimes are in real life.

Pixar has kept up a commercial/critical double whammy triumph ever since the first. Defying the averages, they manage to keep turning out better and better movies (most recently the animated masterpieces Wall-E and Up). And they‘ve gone on to become one of the major cultural/commercial forces in American movies, if not the foremost of all. The only complaint I have about Pixar is that it frustrates me that this company, supposedly making movies for children (though really for adults too) makes stuff that’s so much smarter and better, and even more adult — than the vast majority of the live-action stuff for more supposedly mature audiences.

Dammit, don’t we adults deserve something as good as this? If Lasseter and company can make these toys come so wondrously alive, why can’t most of the “adult” movies do the same thing, with human beings?

Includes: Toy Story (U.S.; John Lasseter, 1995) Three and a Half Stars

In many ways, the most important American movie release of 1995 was director/co-writer John Lasseter‘s Toy Story, the first animated feature from Pixar — which scored a big audience hit with this bouncy, funny tale of a community of toys who (just as we always expected) all come alive when their boy-owner Andy (John Morris) and his mom (Laurie Metcalf) leave the room. Among the delightfully computer-animated gang: stalwart cowboy Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), timid dinosaur Rex (Wallace Shawn), excitable Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles), lovelorn Ms. Bo Peep (Laurie Potts) and the newest arrival, intrepid cosmonaut Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) — whose arrival creates a surfeit of heroes, a potentially dangerous rivalry between Woody and Buzz.

Toy Story 2 (U.S.; John Lasseter/Ash Brannon/Lee Unkrich, 1999) Four Stars. Toy Story seduced both audiences and critics, and it was rousingly succeeded by Toy Story 2 –in which Buzz and the gang have to save Woody from an evil toy seller Al (Wayne Knight) and a life in the Al’s Toy Barn toy warehouse museum, with yodeling Cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack) and gabby old coot Stinky Pete (Kelsey Grammer). It’s one of the rare sequels that is both a totally logical outgrowth of the original, and even better than its predecessor as both art and entertainment. It’s no exaggeration to say that Toy Story 2 is the Godfather 2 of feature cartoons. (Toy Story 3 proved a bit better capper than Godfather 3.)

Both Toy I and Toy II, by the way, boast song scores by that song-writing genius, acid Angeleno, and seeming nemesis of short people and long red lights, Randy Newman. His “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” (from “I“) is a great kid anthem. And his abandoned toy ballad “When She Loved Me“ (sung by Sarah McLachlan in II) is a real heart-tugger. (In Newman’s defense, I’d like to point out that all the toys here are quite short. (Satire, people, satire.) The eight-man writing teams on 1 and 2 include Lasseter, Pete Docter (Up), Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) and Joss Whedon.

Toy Story 3 (U.S.: Lee Unkrich, 2010) Four Stars. (See above.)

Extras: Featurettes, Deleted scenes; Animated studio stories.



Centurion (One and a half Stars)

U. K.; Neil Marshall, 2010

Michael Fassbender (no relation to R. W. Fassbinder), as Centurion Quintus Dias, wanders around a pre-Christian, pre-Beatles Britain (Scotland, actually), swallowed in murk and gloom, and echoing with the din of battle axes and random decapitations. You think you’ve got it rough? Also around, trapped in the bloody havoc and the boggy mire, are Andreas Wizniewski as Commander Gratus, Dave Legend as Vortix, Dominic West as General Titus Virilus (these names are not jokes), Lee Ross as Septus, Ian Ickthorpe as Tankus (that was), O’Haffer L’Habidine as the Arm Wrestler, David Morrisey as Bothos and the late Oliver Reed as General Vampires Suckus. (Joke, joke.) Axele Carolyn and Olga Kurylenko provide unusual love interest as a homicidal psychopath and a friendly witch.


Almost all of them except Centurion Quintus and the beautiful witch die horrible deaths or buy out their contracts and flee to the Via Veneto.


Off-screen, director-writer Neil Marshall quashes a suit by the descendants of Thax, Bothos, Gorlachon, Garlicus, Achivir, Matrix and the Arm Wrestler, who claim their ancestors were not incoherent brutes with British accents, guzzling mead, thrusting spears into each other and wallowing in mud. And the Roman Empire falls, immediately after the first screening of this movie.

The only really good thing about Centurion is that it’s not Centurion II. Or Vampires Suck.

Winnebago Man (Three and a Half Stars)

U.S.: Ben Steinbauer, 2009 (Kino)

About two decades ago, on a hot day in Iowa, with flies buzzing and the camera and microphone running, a burly, bell-voiced TV writer-producer-performer-pitchman named Jack Rebney tried to get through a half-hour Winnebago sales film he’d written, while strolling around and inside the camper, speechifying and extolling the vehicle’s many virtues.

But the heat poured down, the flies buzzed in his face, he kept going up on his own lines, and finally he began blowing his top when he blew a line. “Shit! Fuck! Shit!” he yelled, over and over again, and “My mind has turned to shit!” and other words children shouldn‘t hear. He exhorted everyone to calm down, “including me” and then blew a line and blew his top again. “Do me a favor. Do me a kindness,“ he said to his assistant Tony, polite but tense, and later Tony pitched a towel at him. “Shit!“ he roared. The tantrum became serial, epic — and after a while, you sense that Jack is not just spewing, but playing comic relief to himself, exaggerating his own fury to get through the day.

Jack got though the sales film (it’s one of the extras on this DVD) and later the filmmakers that day edited together a video of his various tantrums, and it became a classic and got him millions of watchers and fans, and eventual superstardom on the Internet. It also earned him the nicknames “The Angriest Man in the World” and “Winnebago Man.“

But meanwhile, Jack disappeared. He’d had a long broadcasting and film career, starting on WBBM in Chicago, but suddenly you couldn’t find him anywhere, even on the Internet, except for the “Winnebago Man” video. I don’t know, maybe the Winnebago people saw it and got mad. I have a vision of them watching the Jack outtakes in a conference room and yelling to each other “Shit! Fuck! What the fuck is this guy doing? Shit!” But probably they didn’t do anything, just frowned and had another meeting. It shouldn’t have mattered. Bill O’Reilly has a far nastier candid tantrum (“Do it now! Do it now!“) available on the Internet, and look what happened to him.

Ben Steinbauer is a filmmaker, a film teacher and the director of this movie, and he loved Jack and loved the video. Ben is a gentle-acting, soft-spoken guy here, and you get the idea that he never uses a four-letter word unless it’s absolutely necessary, that he lets guys like Jack do his spewing for him. Steinbauer decided to find the Angriest Man and film him, and he did.

It was a little surprising though: Jack was living alone with his dog Buddha, working as live-in caretaker for a wildlife sanctuary, and he seemed to be happy in his reclusive life, but incommunicado, except for daily calls with his best friend, Keith Gordon, a pilot. What happened? Did he see the video himself and get embarrassed? Jack agreed to be filmed, but he was mostly nice, well-spoken, a sweet guy. A little aggravation; no tantrums. Not much there for a documentary, except for wildlife sanctuary lovers.

Then, a while later, Jack got back in touch. He admitted he’s been putting on an act, playing nice for the camera. He invited Ben back. He agreed to be filmed again. Something had happened though, something sad. As Jack said, “his vision had left him.” He was blind, but still at the sanctuary, still with Buddha. Jack was willing to talk though, even seemingly willing to get angry on camera again — and there was a lot he was angry about, especially Dick Cheney.


Then Ben made a big mistake. He had wanted Jack to spew some, but he asked Jack to stop talking about politics, and talk about something personal instead. Jack didn’t want to talk about himself and his life; he wanted to talk about what an asshole Dick Cheney was.

For the life of me, I don’t understand why Ben wouldn’t let him. If you’ve got Paderewski, you let him play the violin. If you’ve got Rubinstein, you let him play the piano. If you’ve got Louis Armstrong, you hand him a horn. And if you’ve got Jack Rebney, you let him blow his top. Especially about a jerk like Dick Cheney, who pisses me off too, and who deserves it. You know something: Fuck Dick Cheney, and the horse he rode in on. But I’m sure Jack could say it better, with more force and feeling. He is a sweet guy, at least here, but sweet guys can get burned.

So the filming broke up. Too bad, but later Ben got a happy ending of sorts for this movie, by taking Jack and his best buddy Keith (who does the late interviewing, a good pick) to the Found Footage Film festival, where it was a packed house and they watched the Winnebago Man tape (again, I‘m sure for everybody there). Jack talked and they loved him and gave him great gusts of roaring applause and approval. Later, at the end, Ben drops Jack off at his place and Jack tells them all to get lost. But he’s just playing nasty; he watches the camera car and the retreating camera all the way up the road.


There’s another mistake on Ben’s doc. They start with Jack’s classic tape, but they don’t run it all. You can see it — as I did — by going to YouTube or Googling “Jack Rebney,” but you shouldn’t have to. You should be able to see it all in the doc, straight through, and they don‘t even include it as an extra — even though, along with Jack Nicholson blowing up at Ann-Margret in Carnal Knowledge, this is the “Emperor Concerto“ of temper tantrums.

Anyway, do Jack a kindness and watch him in Ben’s movie. It isn’t perfect, but hell, neither was the Winnebago.

Extras: The complete lost Winnebago Sales Video, starring Jack; Featurette with Jack, Ben and Michael Moore; Trailer.

Henry Miller‘s Tropic of Cancer (Two and a Half Stars)

U.S.; Joseph Strick, 1970 (Olive)

Henry Miller’s classic of unbuttoned hard-core sex confession and four letter word ribaldry and misogyny, with the words and sex acts intact, but somewhat implausibly transferred from ’30’s Paris to late ’60s Paris, probably because there was no money for sets. Director Strick took a lot of heat for his movie adaptation of Joyce’s Ulysses and he deserved to. But this movie is somewhat better, if a hard sit for any radical feminists who may mistakenly wander in. (Then again, it may confirm their worst suspicions about men.)

Rip Torn, sporting his shark’s grin, seems to be having a damned good time as “Miller” (who does a brief cameo); Torn also narrates Miller’s unfettered prose well. And Ellen Burstyn, as Miller’s wife June, or “Mona,” makes about as big an impression as you can possibly make in five minutes. Like Ann-Margret in Carnal Knowledge (see above) she’s absolutely eerie-beautiful.

Jimmy the Gent (Two and a Half Stars)

U.S.; Michael Curtiz, 1934 (Warner Archive)

It’s a Michael Curtiz movie, so it really moves. And it stars the young Jimmy Cagney and Bette Davis, so you know it has charisma and star style to spare. But this snappy romantic comedy about a detective (Cagney), who specializes in finding lost heirs, and his comely ex-employee (Davis), who’s deserted him for his phony-gentleman, tea-serving competitor (Alan Dinehart), is just fast but ordinary Warners stuff, with a fast but so-so script. On the other hand, who can resist a movie with Cagney, Davis and Allen Jenkins? (This movie is manufactured on demand. To order, visit The Warner Brothers Archive Collection at

Ebiri On “Uncle Ingmar And Me”

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Ebiri On “Uncle Ingmar And Me”

The DVD Wrap: Splice, The Magician, White on Rice, Leaves of Grass, and more …

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Splice: Blu-ray

If an Academy Award were given each year to the most ingenious new monster, it would be difficult to choose between the conjoined creature created by a mad surgeon in The Human Centipede and the genetic abominations in Splice.

In Vincenzo Natali’s continuously inventive sci-fi/horror thriller, Splice, a pair of young scientists extends a genetic experiment far beyond its intended goal, if only because they’re curious as to what their research might reveal. Hired by a corporate laboratory to create animal hybrids from which medical benefits might be gained, Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) balk when their employers decide to put the brakes on the project for economic reasons.

Although neither would appear to fit the same profile as Dr. Victor Frankenstein and Dr. Paul Moreau, they share with them a belief that the laws of God and man don’t apply to them. The same could be said of the corporate executives who answer to God on Sunday mornings and the lords of Wall Street the rest of the week, but that’s an entirely different movie. Clive and Elsa’s first genetic experiment results in a slug-like animal that mostly slithers and grows.

It’s possible that the beast’s chemicals could be useful, but further investigation – if not experimentation – is required. Our frustrated protagonists extend their research to its logical conclusion, though, by adding human DNA to the original cocktail. The result is a humanoid, Dern, who appears to be equal parts flying squirrel, kangaroo and petulant beauty queen. Like other babies, Dern is cute, curious and mischievous, all qualities that Elsa finds to be endearing.

Soon, less appealing traits reveal themselves in Dern, including a willingness to exploit her undeniable sexuality for her own devious purposes, one of which is possessing Clive’s heart. Without being at all derivative, Splice recalls much of David Cronenberg’s work: thought-provoking, scary and extremely well made. Natali describes it as a “metaphor for dysfunctional parenting.” The Blu-ray package adds, “A Director’s Playground: Vicenzo Natali on the set of Splice.”


The Magician: The Criterion Collection: Blu-ray

Chronologically, Ingmar Bergman’s The Magician fits roughly between such acknowledged masterpieces as The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, and The Virgin Spring and Through a Glass Darkly. If the movie isn’t often mentioned in the same breath as those classics, it’s probably because Bergman used it less to address great philosophic and religious questions than artistic concerns of less gravity to his growing legion of admirers.

Influenced by a G.K. Chesterton play the filmmaker admired, The Magician — a.k.a., Ansiktet (The Face) – used the mysteries and pretense of the illusionist’s art to comment on such peeves as the intolerance of critics, rigidity of scientists and pomposities of small-town potentates. Max von Sydow stars as Dr. Vogler, a mid-19th Century mesmerist who travels through Europe with a small company of associates, casting spells and performing rudimentary magic tricks.

To support themselves, they also peddle a line of potions designed to cure the ills of rubes in the towns on their itinerary. On the road to Stockholm, their carriage is stopped by a local sheriff acting on orders of the town’s minister of health, Dr. Vergerus (Gunnar Bjornstrand). Before they’re allowed to proceed, the company must perform before a select audience of skeptics. If he fails the audition, Vogler could be charged as a fraud.

Like any good magician who keeps his best tricks hidden up a sleeve, Vogler survives an early faux pas by identifying the scientist’s greatest fear and leveraging it against him. Meanwhile, the servants keep themselves amused by frolicking with the visitors, testing the potions and accepting the magician for what he is, an entertainer with extreme “animal magnetism.”

The Criterion Collection edition features a newly restored high-def digital transfer that literally makes the black-and-white presentation sparkle; a new visual essay by Bergman scholar Peter Cowie; a brief 1967 video interview with the director; an English-language audio interview with Bergman; and a booklet with an essay by critic Geoff Andrew.


White on Rice

Movies populated by characters of a single ethnic or minority group face several commercial obstacles, besides attracting cross-over audiences. In addition to being entertaining, for example, they’re also expected to comment on the experience of being someone other than a descendant of the original American settlers.

White on Rice is about a fully assimilated Asian-American family living in Salt Lake City, the most conspicuously bland community in the United States. For all it says about the “outside” experience, it might as well take place in Chicago and feature a family of Greek-Americans … oh, yeah, that one’s taken. And, that’s kind of the point. Hiroshi Watanabe plays 40-year-old Jimmy, a socially inept Japanese divorcé who’s moved into the suburban home of his sister, brother-in-law and precocious nephew.

More than anything else, Jimmy wants to find another woman willing to put up with the needs and desires of a spoiled Japanese man. Most of the Asian-American women he meets in SLC are as American as the Mormon Tabernacle and, although he has some endearing qualities, Jimmy is extremely boring. Nevertheless, he confuses the kindness of a cousin for romantic encouragement and is devastated when she allows a former boyfriend to re-enter her life. Jimmy’s depression also has a negative effect on his hard-working brother-in-law, who feels as if the family’s infrastructure is about to collapse under the weight of their guest’s ineptitude.

Eventually, as they must in these sorts of comedies, fortunes reverse themselves. White on Rice is Dave Boyle’s second feature, after the offbeat fish-out-of-water comedy, Big Dreams Little Tokyo. While the humor in White on Rice is probably too broad to satisfy most mainstream audiences, it demands little of its viewers. The predominantly Asian cast is universally bright and enthusiastic. As diversions go, I’ve seen a lot worse.


Arn: The Knight Templar

Until recently, Hollywood was the go-to place for vast historical epics. When ambitious filmmakers ran out of options everywhere else, they’d come here to realize their dreams. Even the great Akira Kurosawa struggled to find the money and support to make movies that told big stories.

That’s changed somewhat, though. Chinese filmmakers have displayed both the financial wherewithal and talent to compete with the American studios at their own game, while computers can create great armies from a platoon of extras on horseback. Sweden would be among the last of the major filmmaking countries one would expect to make a movie with the same historical and romantic scope as Robin Hood, Kingdom of Heaven or Australia. Arn: The Knight Templar, based on the novels of Jan Guillou, uses the saga of a fictional warrior, Arn Magnusson, to describe life in Sweden before the formulation of a recognizable kingdom.

After a bloody encounter with an elder from rival tribe and forbidden sexual relations with a woman from another clan, Magnusson is ordered to serve as a knight templar in the Third Crusade. Meanwhile, his lover, Cecilia, is sentenced to 20 years of labor in a convent. While in the Holylands, Magnusson gains a reputation as a much-feared warrior. In a skirmish with bandits, he saves the life of the Arab military genius, Saladin, with whom he feels a kinship based on honor and mutual respect. Conveniently, Magnusson’s tour of duty ends just before Saladin’s takeover of Jerusalem. Upon his return to Götaland, the knight is re-united with Cecilia and volunteers to lead the local king’s resistance to an invasion by tribes aligned with the Danes.

Filmed in Sweden, Scotland and Morocco, Arn is reported to be the most expensive film production in Swedish history, and every krona shows in the production values. The costumes and sets are excellent, as are the battles staged by director Peter Flinth with hundreds of extras and horses. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the movie’s leading man, Joakim Nätterqvist, find a home in English-language projects, as have co-stars Stellan Skarsgard, Bibi Andersson and Vincent Perez. The DVD adds a pair of making-of featurettes.


I Am Comic

Look closely at the face of a standup comedian and you’ll see the tracks made by the tears of a clown, or so sayeth Smoky Robinson. It’s also what the men and women we meet in I Am Comic want us to believe. In his often hilarious documentary, Jordan Brady follows retired performer Ritch Shydner as he struggles to get his groove back after a 13-year hiatus from the club scene.

Shydner had a once-promising career, appearing in HBO specials, TV pilots and late-night talk shows. After a while, though, he decided to pull himself off the road and focus on writing, instead. Between Shydner’s musings about the grind of standup work and his efforts to put together a new routine, Brady intersperses material culled from interviews with dozens of stand-up comics, ranging from true stars to virtual unknowns. Especially outrageous are the stories about the uncouth behavior of comedians who share apartments owned by nightclub owners too cheap to afford hotel rooms.

That’s not the worst of it, either. In some clubs, the owners treat even the headliners as if they’re panhandlers. Among the participants are Tim Allen, Tom Arnold, Dave Attell, Lewis Black, Margaret Cho, Lewis C.K., Phyllis Diller, Tom Dreesen, Jeff Foxworthy, Janeane Garofalo, Sarah Silverman, Robert Schimmel and Carrot Top. The bonus material adds extended interviews and club scenes.


Forbidden Lie$

Literary and journalistic hoaxes have become so commonplace, it’s difficult to fully trust any controversial work of non-fiction. Authors found guilty of bending the truth beyond recognition use “literary license” as an excuse for their crime. Movies get around the problem by adding the line, “Based on a true story.”

In 2003, Random House published a book by a woman, purporting to be Norma Khouri, about a Jordanian friend murdered by her brother in an Islamic honor killing. The title of the international best-seller was Forbidden Love (a.k.a., Honor Lost). Those are the facts of the case, as presented by Australian documentary maker, Anna Broinowski, in Forbidden Lie$. Everything else we know about Khouri, her book, the murdered woman and honor killing in Jordan has been laid open to question.

Australian journalists were the first to begin tearing Khouri’s story apart. They established that Khouri was Norma Bagain Toliopoulos. She was born in Jordan, but raised on the south side of Chicago. In 2001, a few steps ahead of the FBI, the woman moved to Australia with her husband and children. It was there that she wrote the book that would stir two major controversies: first, that Jordan would countenance such abominations and, second, that almost nothing she wrote was 100-percent accurate.

Broinowski took Norma up on her challenge to prove that the book was a fraud and discovered a woman so complex and sure of herself, she made Clifford Irving and James Frey look like schoolboys. In Forbidden Lie$, she also demonstrates how good an actress Norma is. The documentary is absolutely fascinating, whether it’s exposing the charade or balancing her lies with the truth. The bonus package adds lots more testimony as to Norma’s possibly criminal background in Chicago and the very real subject of honor killing.


Leaves of Grass

Edward Norton plays identical twin brothers in Tim Blake Nelson’s often delightful, if wholly schizophrenic Leaves of Grass, an indie comedy that demands to be accepted on its own quirky terms. Apart from sharing an ex-hippie mother (Susan Sarandon) and Oklahoma roots, Bill and Brady Kincaid couldn’t possibly be any more different from each other.

Bill is a highly respected Ivy League philosophy professor, while Blake has gained a reputation locally for growing hellaciously good marijuana. One’s life is ruled by ethics, while the other is a righteous criminal. Although there’s nothing noticeably wrong in their relationship, Bill has stayed away from Oklahoma for a good long while, perhaps because his mom is such a nut job. (At 50, she chooses to live in a retirement home, where she’s the youngest resident by several years.)

Apparently, Brady and his good-ol’-boy pal, Bolger (Nelson), have gotten into a spot of trouble and could use someone who looks exactly like Brady to pull off an elaborate scam. They con Bill into coming home by saying that his brother was killed by an Orthodox Jew drug dealer (Richard Dreyfuss) from Tulsa. The explosive situation is leavened by Brady’s sweet stoner girlfriend (Melanie Lynskey) and her friend Janet (Keri Russell), a high school teacher and poet, who returned to Oklahoma after becoming disenchanted with the academic life in New England.

Among Janet’s endearing qualities is an ability to “noodle” catfish and recite Walt Whitman while gutting them, in preparation for dinner. Leaves of Grass would fit squarely within the definition of romantic comedy, if it weren’t for the number of violent deaths that occur during its 105-minute length. A couple of them are so surprising as to be shocking. All of the lead actors are fun to watch, as they straddle the tightrope between sentimentality and farce. Musician Steve Earle also is scary in the role of a no-nonsense drug dealer.

The bonus package adds a good making-of featurette, in which Nelson and Norton explain their motivations for spending time on a movie, however entertaining, that always looked to be a tough commercial sell.


Language of the Enemy

In 2005, a 21-minute musical comedy titled West Bank Story used Romeo & Juliet as a light-hearted vehicle to comment on the futility of life in war-torn Israel. In it, an Israeli soldier falls in love with the Palestinian cashier at one of two rival falafel stands in the occupied territories. Imagine the cast of Glee performing during a break at a Camp David summit and you’ll have an idea of how much fun the Oscar-winning short was to watch.

Language of the Enemy (a.k.a., A House Divided) revisits the Shakespearian conceit, this time with a far more tragic agenda. Eoin Bailey plays Romi Meir, a young American businessman in Israel for the funeral of his father, killed in a terrorist attack. While there, a cousin coerces him into using his knowledge of Arabic to serve as a spy for the Israeli secret service. Tying up loose ends at his father’s bakery shop in Ramallah would give him the perfect cover for taking photographs of armed Palestinians.

Instead, Romi gets caught up in a rally disrupted by snipers, and witnesses the killing of a boy and his father, ostensibly by Israeli soldiers. He, too, is wounded in the fracas. Fortuitously, Romi’s surgeon is the beautiful Palestinian women, Joleh, with whom he bonded earlier over bread at the bakery. If their stars weren’t crossed before then, they sure were now. Joleh allows Romi to recover from his wounds at her home, where her blind grandfather studies the Koran and cheats at backgammon. Anyone familiar with Romeo & Juliet will know what happens next, if not precisely where. And, yes, it’s tragic.

The cast, which also features F. Murray Abraham and Tovah Feldshuh, does what it can to support the highly condensed series of coincidences and shortcuts that lead to the ill-fated romance. The Israeli settings add to the film’s limited credibility. Ultimately, though, the on-going struggle for a solution to the Mideast crisis proves to be too weighty a dilemma to be alleviated by one couple’s suffering.


Daniel & Ana

Reports of drug-related massacres, assassinations and kidnappings pour out of Mexico like so many illegal aliens at an unattended border crossing. Unless one is anticipating a vacation in Acapulco or Cabo, Americans have begun tuning out all but the most horrendous incidents. We’re told that Daniel & Ana is based on one of those truly shocking trends and everything plays out exactly as it did in reality. Otherwise, Michel Franco’s first feature would be sexual equivalent of a snuff film … too ugly to be anything but myth.

Although separated by several years, siblings Daniel and Ana are as close as twins. She’s about to be married to a man whose stability she admires, while he’s only recently begun exploring his own sexuality. On the way back from a store, they’re kidnapped by men who know their names. Instead of demanding a ransom from relatives, the kidnappers give Ana and Daniel an impossible choice: have sex before their camera or be raped and killed.

Reluctantly, the siblings choose life over certain death. Franco’s cameras observe the sexual intercourse dispassionately, but at a length that some critics have considered to be gratuitous. The rest of the movie deals with Daniel and Ana’s difficulties in dealing with what happened to them and how the change in their personalities affects everyone else. The fate of sex tape itself remains unknown. I found the movie to be a shattering experience, if only because we know that nothing will be the same for Daniel and Ana ever again.

We’re told, as well, that such tapes are passed around in certain circles like snuff films reportedly were in the 1980s and, of course, child pornography still is. I think that, by lingering on the sexual act, Franco attempts to implicate anyone who’s watched reality-based porn, however phony, and gets off to it. Clearly, Daniel & Ana isn’t a movie that can or should be recommended to mainstream audiences, even those used to watching NC-17 titles. As further evidence of man’s inhumanity to man, however, it serves the intended purpose.


Brain Dead
Crucible of Terror
Four Boxes

Kevin Tenney’s latest gore-fest is a throwback to the days when all one needed to sell a horror flick to drive-in audiences was to bash in the heads of otherwise anonymous characters, introduce a grotesque humanoid or alien, and flash some bodacious ta-tas.

Brain Dead does all that all and adds a generously macabre sense of humor, as well. The first hole in the head is administered by a meteorite that turns an angler into a zombie. A few minutes later, a young woman in the company of a sleazeball evangelist goes topless, causing a passerby to drive his car into a tree. Three more sets of very large breasts are revealed before the zombie strikes, again. Oh, yeah, there’s also a crazed escaped convict who takes refuge in a deserted fishing cabin, which provides shelter for the fearful characters.

The siege continues until a gorgeous forest ranger has her brain ripped from her head and, well, you get the picture. Instead of being scary, the effect is strangely entertaining. The movie’s most compelling mystery, perhaps, lies in the fact that screenwriter Dale Gelineau has only one other script to his credit, and that was for an episode of Moonlighting nearly a quarter-century ago.

Fans of mid-century British horror will find something to enjoy in Crucible of Terror, a 1971 thriller notable mostly for starring former Pirate Radio deejay Mike Raven (a.k.a., Austin Churton Fairman). Raven plays a Victor Clare, a sculptor whose bronzes resemble beautiful women who no longer are listed among the living. Clare lives in a spooky mansion, from which his alcoholic son has stolen some sculptures and given them to a gallery owner.

The works attract the attention of the dealer’s patrons, who would like to see more examples. Alas, Clare is more interested in seeking perfection than making money. The gallery owner and his patrons journey to Clare’s remote studio in hopes of convincing him to change his mind. Instead, horror ensues. Crucible of Terror is far more interesting as an artifact than a thriller … which it’s not, particularly.

Indeed, Raven’s own story would make a far more interesting movie. Besides employment as a deejay and actor, at various stages in his life he was a sculptor, occultist, TV presenter, production manager, writer, ballet dancer, photographer, flamenco guitarist and, finally, a sheep farmer. He lived in interesting times and in intriguing places. The DVD, which looks much better than previous video versions, reportedly was transferred from the only known uncut 35mm print in existence, loaned to Severin Films by a Bodmin Moor coven.

Four Boxes is one of those movies that asks viewers to tag along through most of its length, then, with only about 20 minutes to go, presents new facts not in evidence, thereby pulling the rug out from under them. Instead of succeeding as a fully realized thriller, it exists mostly as a parlor trick. Here, a trio of estate scavengers and Internet geeks moves into the home of a recently deceased man.

They become obsessed with a voyeuristic website,, which is chronicling the movements of a gnarly freak they nickname Havoc. He appears to be capable of inflicting great danger on society, but not so much as they would feel necessitated a call to police. And, yes, therein lies the rug, er, rub.


Sex and Lucia: Blu-ray
All American Orgy

More than any other American filmmaker, Radley Metzger set the table for the sexual revolution in the cinema during the late 1960s and early 1970s, by importing I, a Woman and directing such posh soft-core erotica as Camille 2000, The Lickerish Quartet, Therese and Isabelle and Carmen, Baby. In the guise of Henry Paris, he also demonstrated that hard-core pornography could be classy and sexy.

His The Opening of Misty Beethoven, Barbara Broadcast and Maraschino Cherry still hold up as classics. Before those films were released, he made Score as Radley Metzger.

Typically, the movie was set in a haunt of the idle European rich and starred actors who could have stepped out of the pages of Vogue, wearing the same evening clothes and lingerie. Here, a happily married man and woman enter into a competition as to which one is able to introduce a newlywed couple into the swingers’ lifestyle first. The affairs take place at a nice Riviera villa (Zagreb, actually). Score is heavy on same-sex couplings – especially of the boy-boy variety — which, at the time, was highly unusual. The set includes an entertaining interview with cult goddess Lynn Lowry.

Cult Epics is also releasing Tinto Brass’ 2003 erotic comedy, Private (a.k.a., Do It), an uncharacteristically playful collection of vignettes, in which gorgeous women demonstrate just how easy it is to manipulate their men, using only their joysticks. Each short film introduces a different kink, accompanied by jazzy music and lavish settings. The sex is tame compared to what’s au courant in American porn circles, but only a handful of directors here – Andrew Blake among them – care to make sex look fashionable, anymore. The set comes with a making-of featurette, photo galleries and previews of other Brass titles.

Spanish director Julio Medem made Sex and Lucia after scoring big in 1998 with the intricately structured Lovers of the Arctic Circle. If he accomplished nothing more than introducing the luscious Paz Vega to a weary world in Sex and Lucia, Medem could have considered his mission on Earth accomplished.

It, too, is multilayered story, in which a writer falls for a waitress (Vega), while also obsessing over a nanny and her employer, the woman who might have borne his child. It helps that much of the action takes place on Formentera, one of Balearic islands. The Blu-ray edition benefits from the film having been shot digitally, unusual 12 years ago. It adds a behind-the-scenes featurettes, interviews, soundtrack information, a photo gallery and bios.

The replacement title, All American Orgy, is nearly as misleading as the original, Cummings Farm. Yes, the dweebs gathered in a guesthouse at Cummings Farm are there to engage in an orgy, but next to nothing sexual actually occurs there and, what does is almost painful to watch. Sarah Silverman’s sister, Laura, is half of one of the three couples in attendance. Anyone hoping to catch a glimpse of her naughty bits will be sorely disappointed, though. As usual in these sorts of flicks, the women are far more evolved than the men, who, here, are lacking in even the most basic of social graces.


You Might As Well Live
The Trailer Park Boys: The Complete First Season

Considering the large number of comedians and comic actors who’ve made their mark in Hollywood, it’s odd that so few feature-length comedies have survived the journey south. British and French comedies do far better. You Might As Well Live arrives here in straight-to-DVD form. It’s representative of the kind of movie that lacks nearly all of the attributes of a successful comedy – pacing, timing, insight, irreverence – but still somehow manages to raise a smile.

Joshua Peace plays terminal loser Robert Mutt, who, after attempting to commit suicide several times, is committed to a mental hospital. Although he feels he’s among his element there, Mutt is tossed back into the streets for being too happy. Once home, he’s accused of being a purveyor of kiddie porn and subjected to even more harassment and ridicule.

This all changes when he runs into his hero, the near-mythic baseball player Clinton Manitoba (Michael Madsen), who encourages him to marry his catatonic daughter, Regina. His only other friends include a trannie and a mad bomber. If you assume we’re in Napoleon Dynamite territory here, you’re right. If that’s your cup of tea, take a sip of You Might as Well Live.

On the other hand, I have gotten hooked on several Canadian sitcoms, Trailer Park Boys being only the latest example. I caught up with the show rather late in its seven-year run, via a special DirecTV channel dedicated to reruns of interesting cable and foreign programs. Set in a generic mobile-home conclave in Nova Scotia, Trailer Park Boys wraps every trailer-trash cliché into a tidy package and, then, adds a few more insults of its own.

The protagonists, Julian and Ricky, are a pair of guys who spend most of their waking hours smoking home-grown pot, drinking and trying to come up new ways to avoid working for a living. Their best pal is Bubbles, who wears glasses with coke-bottle lenses, collects cats and converts stolen shopping carts into go-karts and hashish transports. Their nemesis is trailer-park supervisor, Mr. Lahey, a former cop and full-time alcoholic whose lover/assistant is a permanently shirtless former street hustler. There also are assorted girlfriends, kids and neighbors, one goofier than the next.

The show is real hoot, at once profane and sentimental. Season One opens the same way as the rest, with Ricky and Julian exiting jail and vowing to go straight. The faux documentary format predates its use in Ricky Gervais’ The Office.


Great Expectations/Kochuu

Jesper Wachtmeister’s documentary provides a comprehensive look back at radical movements in 20th Century architecture and the people who made them happen. They include Le Corbusier’s functionalist cities, Buckminster Fuller‘s geodesic domes, Moshe Safdie‘s Habitat ’67 prefab apartments, Rudolf Steiner‘s Goetheanum and other anthroposophy buildings in Switzerland, Oscar Niemeyer‘s designs for Brasilia, Paolo Soleri‘s arcology and Colin Fournier‘s biomorphic Kunsthaus Graz in Austria.

Wachtmeister’s film employs archival and contemporary footage, animation and interviews to explain why some ideas succeeded and others failed. Included in the package is Kochuu, a film that describes how Japanese architecture has influenced modernist Scandinavian design.


Skins: Volume 3
Sgu Stargate Universe: Complete First Season
Clatterford: Season 3
Wolverine and the X-Men: The Complete Series

Skins, which debuted here on BBC America, is simply one of my favorite television series of all time. Unlike American shows about teenagers, the characters in Skins are allowed to age and graduate to college or trade schools. The casts go through wholesale changes and the kids actually dress their age and status. By comparison, Glee and Gossip Girl might as well take place on Mars. The biggest difference, I suppose, is that Britain’s TV teens are allowed to use the same colorful language they would in real life and sexual hang-ups aren’t always cured with a morality lesson attached, nor is drug and alcohol abuse.

In Season Three, the central characters are back for another year at Roundview College, a school that will never be confused with Cambridge. This term’s “it girl” is Effy, a pretty brunet whose self-confident veneer is wafer thin. The boys compete for her attention and the girls want to be seen in her company. Eventually, though, as alliances shift, the strengths and weakness of the other key characters come to the fore. The DVD set includes bonus stories, behind-the-scenes material and auditions, and interviews.

Sgu Stargate Universe is the fourth series in the Stargate family. It joins Stargate SG-1 (1997), Stargate: Infinity (2002) and Stargate: Atlantis (2004). This time around, a group of soldiers, scientists and civilians find themselves stranded on a seed ship, left by the Ancients eons ago, billions of miles from Earth. The Destiny is locked on an unknown course, which means it will encounter all manner of alien forces, cultures and potential cataclysms. Among the cast members are Robert Carlyle, David Blue, Ming-Na, Justin Louis and Elyse Levesque.

The third season of the offbeat BBC series, Clatterford will be its last, unfortunately. The series, created by Ab-Fab stars Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders, followed the daily routines and get-togethers of the ladies of small-town Clatterford. The gossip is mixed with storylines that tackled various social issues. It will be missed.

The new Blu-ray Wolverine and the X-Men compilation includes all 26 episodes; 29 audio commentaries; a making-of featurette and The Inner Circle: Reflections on ‘Wolverine and the X-Men’; a trailer gallery; and English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital Audio.