New Indie of the Month
On your shelf of Contemporary Classic Bad Movies, make room alongside The Room, Birdemic, Miami Connection and Ben & Arthur for The Oogieloves in The Big Balloon Adventure (Lionsgate), a mind-bending kiddie romp that’s perhaps most famous as the lowest-grossing wide release in cinema history.
“But it’s a children’s film!” I imagine some of you yelping. “It’s not fair to hold it to the standards of more mature fare.” Here’s the thing: even by kids' movie standards, Oogieloves goes into areas of crazy hitherto unexplored. Whether it’s the array of name stars (including Cloris Leachman, Chazz Palmintieri, Toni Braxton, Cary Elwes, Christopher Lloyd and Jamie Pressly) embarrassing themselves with ridiculous musical numbers or the grotesque Oogieloves themselves, this is a movie that’s misguided from start to finish.
Parents might want to know that the film implicitly endorses, among other things, jumping from high places with only a balloon to break your fall, drinking gigantic milkshakes really, really fast and talking to strangers and entering their vehicles. Keep Oogieloves away from impressionable youngsters, but watch it with other adults over a cocktail or two for a jaw-dropping good time.
Also available this month: Francis Ford Coppola began his career with Dementia 13 and now he returns to his low-budget horror roots with the twisted Twixt (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment); Taye Diggs, Julia Stiles, Melissa George and David Barbour star in Between Us (Monterey Media) as two couples whose friendship may or may not weather the ebb and flow of life’s rich pageant; British actor Dexter Fletcher makes his directorial debut with the witty crime drama Wild Bill (Flatiron Film Company); The Silence (Music Box Films), an intense thriller from Germany, will engage fans of procedural crime stories; if you liked Beyond the Black Rainbow and the ’70s sci-fi to which it paid homage, don’t miss the trippy Vanishing Waves (Artsploitation Films); the disturbing Combat Girls (Artsploitation Films) follows two young female suburbanites as they get involved in Germany’s neo-Nazi movement.
New Classic of the Month
No retrospective of Robert Duvall’s extraordinary film career would be complete without a look at The Great Santini (Warner Archive Collection), the tough and touching adaptation of the autobiographical novel by Pat Conroy (The Prince of Tides). Duvall’s portrait of a hard-as-nails Marine stands out amidst a very strong ensemble cast (which includes Michael O’Keefe, Blythe Danner, Lisa Jane Persky, David Keith and Stan Shaw), and Lewis John Carlino does a sensitive job with the material as writer-director.
Also available: The great Erich von Stroheim’s Foolish Wives (Kino Classics) gets the gorgeous Blu-ray treatment, and this collection also features the documentary The Man You Loved to Hate; The Best of Warner Bros. — 20 Film Collection: Comedy (Warner Home Video) compiles together decades’ worth of hilarity from the Marx Brothers to The Hangover; young Bette Davis sets out to prove her worth as a girl reporter in the zippy, pre-Code Front Page Woman (Warner Archive Collection); Richard Dreyfuss singing “Hey Little Goldfish”? Roddy McDowall as a music mogul named Nate Ashbury? It’s hard to pick out one highlight in the bonkers 1960s comedy Hello Down There (Warner Archive Collection); Sam Elliot faces a midlife crisis in a red Speedo in Lifeguard (Warner Archive Collection).
The first of 30 movies Elvis Presley made in a 13-year period, Love Me Tender (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment) — now available on Blu-ray — is thought by many to be his best; also getting the high-def treatment from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment is Marilyn Monroe, whose Bus Stop and Niagara showcase the icon’s dramatic talents; and speaking of sex symbols showing their knack for serious acting, Raquel Welch gets memorably down and dirty as a roller-derby champ in Kansas City Bomber (Warner Archive); the quirky Zero Effect (Warner Archive) hints at success that director Jake Kasdan (Freaks and Geeks) and costar Kim Dickens (Deadwood, Treme) would later find on the small screen; Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy (Warner Archive) might be a tad erratic, but it’s better than most movie versions of cable comedies (Strangers with Candy, Run Ronnie Run, Tim & Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, etc.); and finally, you can’t go wrong with Frankie Avalon and the late Annette Funicello sending up their own wholesome images in Back to the Beach (Warner Archive).
New Documentary of the Month
There may never again be as singular an accomplishment as The Up Series (First Run Features), in which director Paul Almond introduced us to a group of seven-year-old British children in Seven Up, and then Michael Apted (a researcher on the original) checked in on them every seven years thereafter (7 Plus Seven, 21 Up, 28 Up, etc.) to see what became of them all. It’s documentary filmmaking and anthropology and social science and humanity on the grandest scale, and this newly updated collection now includes the eight Up films (all the way to the recent 56 Up) as well as special features. If you’re a fan of binge-watching, this essential box set will allow you to watch Apted’s subjects age right before your eyes.
Also available: Director Julien Temple (The Great Rock n Roll Swindle, Absolute Beginners) explores the city he loves and the outsiders who shaped it in London -The Modern Babylon (Docurama); Lily Tomlin, Sandra Bernhard, Kathy Griffin and Aisha Tyler are just some of the hilarious interviewees in Why We Laugh: Funny Women (Lionsgate); if you think only animals can become extinct, meet The Fruit Hunters (Docurama), who set out to preserve species of fruit that are rapidly disappearing from the planet; Venus and Serena (Magnolia Home Entertainment) takes a compelling look at the Williams sisters and their impact on tennis, fashion and the culture at large.
New Grindhouse of the Month
Leave it to John Carpenter to make precipitation terrifying in The Fog: Collector’s Edition (Shout Factory). His higher budgeted follow-up to Halloween wasn’t universally acclaimed upon its original release in 1980, but this eerie ghost story about spirits seeking revenge upon a New England town has gained a strong cult reputation over the years. This new Blu-ray offers a new transfer, an interview with costar Jamie Lee Curtis and other extras that fans will devour.
Also available: The noted Italian gangster auteur (a favorite of Quentin Tarantino’s) gets another snazzy Blu-ray box set with Fernando Di Leo: The Italian Crime Collection Volume 2 (Raro Video); Kino Classics offers up Blu-ray versions of two classics by another Italian master, Mario Bana, with new releases of Black Sabbath and Kidnapped; The Incredible Melting Man (Shout Factory) is, perhaps, an acquired taste, but Rick Baker completists will be thrilled to know this early work from the makeup master is now available in high-def; there’s a whole lot of yelling in Cohen & Tate (Shout Factory), written and directed by Eric Red (The Hitcher), but it has its fans; Heavy Traffic (Shout Factory) sees adult-animation legend Ralph Bakshi following up Fritz the Cat with another sexy, surreal and gritty tale of making it in the big city.
New TV of the Month
The tricky thing about sketch comedy is that even when things aren’t going well, you’re still stuck with several minutes of flailing before the sketch is over. That’s one of the reasons I love Robot Chicken so much; if the joke isn’t funny, it’s only going to be a few seconds until they go to the next one. (Not that their longer-form stuff, like Emperor Palpatine’s Bob Newhart–esque phone conversation with Darth Vader, isn’t hilarious as well.) One of the show’s best pop-culture mash-ups, Robot Chicken DC Comics Special (Warner Home Video), is now available, and it spotlights everything the show does best, from outrageous blackout gags to digging around the darkest corners of pop culture for hilariously obscure references. Whether you’re a hard-core fanboy or only vaguely aware of the parameters of the DC Universe, you’ll find something to chuckle over here.
Also available: Diane Keaton finally got her chance to play the legendary aviatrix in Amelia Earhart: The Final Flight (Warner Archive), a made-for-TNT movie that’s way better than the big-screen Amelia from a few years ago; the bots are back in Mystery Science Theater 3000: Vol. XXVII (Shout Factory), this time skewering The Slime People, Rocket Attack USA, The Deadly Mantis and Bert I. Gordon’s Village of the Giants, featuring Ron Howard and Beau Bridges; a cool show that didn’t get the break it deserved gets collected in Last Resort: The Complete Series (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment), starring Andre Braugher and Scott Speedman; if Pacific Rim whetted your appetite for giant robo battles, check out the Robotech: 2 Movie Collection (Lionsgate); find out why Tatiana Maslany was robbed of an Emmy nomination for her work in the provocative sci-fi series Orphan Black: Season One (BBC America); nefarious deeds are afoot in Banshee: The Complete First Season (HBO Home Entertainment), creator Alan Ball’s first series after he parted ways with True Blood; The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis: The Complete Series (Shout Factory) spotlights a legendary TV sitcom — where else can you see Bob Denver (as beatnik icon Maynard G. Krebs) and Warren Beatty share the screen?; and while this show was always an also-ran to Saturday Night Live, ABC’s 1980s late-night comedy experiment Fridays gets a little love in The Best of Fridays (Shout Factory).