DVD Obscura: Puppets vs. Nazis in WWII-era London

DVD Obscura: Puppets vs. Nazis in WWII-era London

Jul 25, 2011

DVD Obscura is our bi-weekly look at the odd, overlooked or downright rare films that are new to DVD and Blu-ray.  If you're the kind of movie buff who cares more (or at least as much) about the little titles as you do the blockbusters, this column is just for you.


One of the Looniest Movies Ever Made, At Last on Video

At a time when studios seem to be digging deeply into their vaults, there still remain a few cinematic holy grails that fans eagerly await to see on DVD. For me, one of the top 5 OMG-I-need-this-now titles was Otto Preminger’s 1969 Skidoo, which never even got a VHS release. But now, thanks to Olive Films, lovers of the unusual and the bizarre can snag this cult classic for repeated home viewing.

One of those movies that defies labels like “good” or “bad” or “insane” or “genius,” Skidoo conveys the generation gap of the late 1960 in a singularly bizarre way. On the one hand, you have old Hollywood hands like Preminger, Jackie Gleason, Mickey Rooney, and Groucho Marx (in his final screen role), and on the other, young up-and-comers like composer Harry Nilsson (who wrote the songs and the score, and even sings the closing credits) and John Phillip Law (the male lead of Barbarella and The Love Machine here plays a blissed-out hippie named “Stash”). Somehow, all these folks came together to make a movie about gangsters, LSD, body-painting, TV commercials, and prison food.

It comes down to this — if you’re a movie buff who thinks he or she has seen it all, you haven’t lived until you watch Gleason trip on acid or Carol Channing strip her way out of a canary yellow Rudi Gernreich dress in order to seduce Frankie Avalon. Skidoo will leave you slack-jawed and bemused, but you just gotta see it for yourself.


PoticheDeneuve and Depardieu Clash in a Battle of the Sexes

François Ozon, one of the most exciting directors on the international scene, teams up with legendary French screen icons Catherine Deneuve (who previously starred in Ozon’s mystery musical 8 Women) and Gérard Depardieu in the frothy comedy Potiche, now available from Music Box Films. A “potiche” is a pretty but useless object, and it’s French slang for a “trophy wife,” which Suzanne (Deneuve) has been for decades while her husband Robert (Fabrice Luchini) ran the family umbrella factory.

When Robert suffers a heart attack, Suzanne takes over and, to everyone’s surprise, makes the business flourish. And when she has problems with the labor force, she’s not above rekindling a relationship with old beau Maurice (Depardieu), who’s now a union leader. Ozon gets maximum mileage out of the film’s late-1970s setting — although the subplots about outsourcing and corporate chicanery feel very up-to-the-minute — and seeing Deneuve surrounded by bumbershoots is a great call-back to her breakthrough role in 1964’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

Potiche may be something of a trifle, but it’s a tasty one that no lover of French cinema will want to miss.


Hey BooMockingbird Sings Again

It’s no easy task to make a documentary about the woman who wrote one of the Great American Novels, and then stopped giving interviews in 1964, but Hey, Boo: Harper Lee & To Kill a Mockingbird (now available from First Run Features) takes a pretty interesting run at the subject. Between testimonials from famous fans like Oprah Winfrey and Scott Turow, Hey Boo provides insight into Lee’s early years (her hometown that inspired the one in the book, the friends who gave her money so that she could quit her job as an Eastern Airlines reservation agent and take a writing sabbatical) to the influence that the book (and film) had on American culture and the burgeoning civil rights movement.

The DVD comes with extended interviews featuring Winfrey, Rosanne Cash, and James McBride.


Jackbootson WhitehallIt’s Puppets vs. Nazis in WWII-era London

Decades ago, the British gave us the cinematic achievement known as Super-Marionation, which brought puppets to like in kiddie classics like Thunderbirds Are Go! That same spirit of silliness lives on in the definitely-not-for-kids Jackboots on Whitehall (out July 26 from New Video), an over-the-top war-movie spoof that involves Winston Churchill leading a ragtag team of Brits hoping to drive the Nazis out of London.

This goofy comedy, described by one critic as “Team America crashing headfirst into Inglorious Basterds,” features an all-star cast, including Ewan McGregor, Richard E. Grant, Alan Cumming (as Hitler), Tom Wilkinson (as Goebbels), Stephen Merchant, Rosamund Pike, Richard Griffiths (as Goering), Richard O’Brien (as Himmler), Dominic West, and Timothy Spall (as Churchill). Perhaps not for all tastes, but certainly not the same-old same-old.

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