New DVDs and Blu-rays for the first half of June include a wonderfully warped look at the filmmaking process, Marilyn Monroe canoodling with Albert Einstein, and a retail crew that dreads the weekly ritual of “New Comics Day.”
Peter O’Toole Pulls the Strings
One of the greatest movies ever made about moviemaking, Richard Rush’s The Stunt Man (now available from Severin Films) gets a snappy new Blu-Ray reissue that comes jam-packed with extras, most notably Rush’s feature-length documentary “The Sinister Saga of the Making of ‘The Stunt Man,’” which catalogs the many travails the film faced during production and while trying to get into theaters. (Unlike other movies that traveled a bumpy road, at least The Stunt Man got a happy ending, complete with critical acclaim and three Oscar nods.) Some of the DVD extras will be familiar to owners of previous versions, but they’ve thrown in new goodies, including an interview with Peter O’Toole, who plays a power-mad director. If you’ve never seen The Stunt Man, there’s never been a better time to snag it on DVD.
The Seven-Year Itch Meets E=mc2
Theresa Russell gives a memorable performance as an emotionally vulnerable actress in The Stunt Man, but she takes a totally different tack on a similar character in one of my favorite underrated movies of the 1980s, Insignificance (out June 14 from the Criterion Collection). Directed by her then-husband Nicolas Roeg, Insignificance stars Russell as The Actress (who is clearly meant to be Marilyn Monroe) who has memorable encounters over the course of one hot August night in Manhattan with The Professor (Michael Emil, as Albert Einstein), The Senator (Tony Curtis, as Joseph McCarthy), and The Ballplayer (Gary Busey, as Joe DiMaggio). The scene where Marilyn demonstrates the theory of relativity to Einstein using only flashlights, toy trains, and a few balloons, is one for the ages. And this being a Criterion release, the DVD and Blu-Ray discs come fully loaded with interviews, a documentary shot on the set, and some great essays.
Give Me a Bouncy "Big C"
It’s criminal that HBO didn’t pick up "Tilda," a comedy pilot starring Diane Keaton and directed by Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Twilight: Breaking Dawn), but Condon had better luck at Showtime, where he directed the pilot for "The Big C" (now available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment). Laura Linney won a Golden Globe for her performance as a suburban wife and teacher whose stale, predictable life gets completely shaken up when she get diagnosed with terminal cancer. But a show that could have been utterly dreary or ridiculously upbeat is neither – it’s smart, darkly funny, and the sharp writing gives a talented cast – which also includes Oliver Platt, Gabourey Sidibe, Idris Elba, Cynthia Nixon, and John Benjamin Hickey – the chance to chew on some great dialogue.
Digging into the Vaults
Warner Bros. has assigned much of their older and less obviously marketable titles to their wonderful Warner Archive label – if you’re a James Garner fan, you’ll want to get the newly-released DVDs of Marlowe, The Wheeler-Dealers, and Mister Buddwing, for instance – but it’s the big-daddy Warner Home Video that’s giving us Night Flight (now available). And no, it’s not a compilation from the fondly recalled late-night USA Network show from the ’80s. This rarely seen 1933 aerial adventure about pilots on a life-saving mission boasts an amazing all-star cast that includes Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, Robert Montgomery, Helen Hayes, and both John and Lionel Barrymore. And while Night Flight won’t be flying off the shelves at Wal-Mart as fast as that dreadful Adam Sandler/Jennifer Aniston movie, it’s nice to know that the big studios know that there’s still an audience for these older gems.
Also going back to find titles that somehow missed the DVD boat are MGM and 20th Century Fox, who have collaborated on the Limited Edition Collection, which periodically digs up movies from decades past that have fallen between the cracks. Some of their recent releases that totally merit a look include the cult comedy A Thousand Clowns, starring Jason Robards and Barbara Harris; Paul Schrader’s brilliant Patty Hearst, starring the late Natasha Richardson, which dares to turn the headline-grabbing kidnapping case of the 1970s into a darkly funny satire of post-Vietnam politics; and Laws of Gravity, a movie that gave us one of our first looks at a talented young actress named Edie Falco, and which co-starred Paul Schulze, who would later play opposite Falco on both "The Sopranos” and “Nurse Jackie.”
I Got Your Bag and Board Right Here
Yes, it’s shot in a retail establishment, and the pop culture references fly fast and furious, but that’s where the resemblances end between Kevin Smith’s seminal Clerks and the web sitcom "The Variants," which just released its first season on a Volume One DVD. Set in an actual comics store – Dallas’ Zeus Comics – “The Variants” follows the merry crew of employees, from the flighty boss to the guy who lives in the storeroom, through a number of misadventures. (Full disclosure: I know several of the folks involved, but I wouldn’t promote their work if I didn’t actually like it.) My personal favorite episode deals with “passholes,” those people who will show up anywhere where they can pick up free movie passes – it’s filmed like a zombie movie, natch – but “The Variants” had me chuckling from start to finish. You don’t have to know Green Lantern from Green Arrow to get most of the jokes, but it probably couldn’t hurt.
Duralde is the co-host of the Linoleum Knife podcast; follow him on Twitter at @ADuralde.