New: What Jenna Fischer Does Outside of The Office
One of my favorite films from this spring’s USA Film Festival was the charming romance The Giant Mechanical Man (New Video/Tribeca Film; now available), a passion project for Jenna Fischer, best known for her role in The Office. Actually, “passion project” takes on multiple meanings — not only did she shepherd the film throughout the process in her role as producer, but she fell in love with and married writer-director Lee Kirk along the way.
Fischer stars as Janice, who’s struggling with love and adulthood in general; left with no choice but to move in with her sister (Malin Akerman), Janice eventually finds romance with street performer Tim (Chris Messina), despite her sibling’s attempts to push her into the arms of thoroughly obnoxious self-help author Doug (Topher Grace). It’s the kind of movie that gives understated quirk a good name while demonstrating that there’s more to Fischer than knowing glances shot right at the camera.
Sometimes it feels like we’ve gotten to the point where your documentary can’t just be good — it has to make a difference in society. The Thin Blue Line and the Paradise Lost series got innocent men released from prison, and now Kirby Dick’s powerful The Invisible War (Docurama Films; now available) has actually affected policy towards the reporting of sexual assaults among military personnel.
Dick’s gut-punch of a film introduces us to several rape victims, both male and female, who recount how their reporting of the crime against them somehow managed to get lost in the channels of military justice. After its stunning debut at Sundance, The Invisible War got screened at the Pentagon, and its impact is just beginning to be felt. Dick (This Film Is Not Yet Rated) handles this disturbing subject matter with power and poignancy; it’s one of the year’s best docs.
Another Sundance hit making its way to DVD is Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present (Music Box Films; now available), about the career of the legendary Serbian performance artist, culminating with her much-talked-about 2010 installation at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
Classic: Plenty of Fearsome Options for Halloween
The grandma of that peculiar genre known as “hag-sploitation” or “Grande Dame Guignol” gets a 50th anniversary Blu-ray release as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Warner Home Video; now available) gets repackaged in a handsome bookcase edition, complete with a 36-page full-color booklet. The extras will be familiar to purchasers of previous editions, but the gorgeous black-and-white cinematography really stands out in HD.
If you like your October horrors more on the prosaic and visceral side, new Blu-ray releases of slasher fave Terror Train and Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse (both Shout Factory; now available) will be more up your alley. Both releases include scads of new extras, including interviews and commentaries.
And if you’re a fan of the Master of Suspense, you better have saved your shekels: In addition to the budget-challenging, 15-disc Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection (Universal Studios Home Entertainment; now available), this month also offers the Blu-ray debuts of Strangers on a Train and Dial “M” for Murder (both Warner Home Video; now available). Most exciting about the Dial “M” release is that it’s an old-school 3D movie that’s available as a stereoscopic home video for you early adapters who have a 3D home theater. Watch for the scissors!
On the non-scary front, the 1986 documentary What Happened to Kerouac? (Shout Factory; available November 6) makes its way to DVD just in time for the long-awaited screen adaptation of Kerouac’s On the Road later this year. More excitingly, the doc comes packaged with a new 139-minute feature, The Beat Goes On, which offers rare and unseen footage of Beat giants like Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs.
Two funny fantasies make their Blu-ray debuts: the much-loved The Princess Bride (MGM/Fox; now available) and the wonderfully quirky Ella Enchanted (Lionsgate; now available). Both feature commentaries and other notable extras.
And while it’s not necessarily the greatest Western — or even the greatest Dean Martin Western — I’ve always had a soft spot for Something Big (Paramount/CBS; now available). From its Burt Bacharach theme song to the eclectic ensemble (Honor Blackman! Brian Keith! Joyce Van Patten! Merlin Olson! Ben Johnson!), this is the kind of movie just made for rainy Saturday afternoons.
TV: Lt. Columbo Has Just One More Question
The greatest pestering lawman since Javert in Les Misérables, Peter Falk as Detective Columbo managed to break one arrogant murderer after another through seven seasons and 24 TV movies; whodunit was never the question, but rather how would Columbo catch them? Every second of his adventures captured in the staggeringly entertaining Columbo: The Complete Series box (Universal Studios Home Entertainment; now available), which clocks in at nearly 100 hours of murder-mystery fun. (They’ve even tossed in a few episodes of the underrated Mrs. Columbo, starring a pre-Star Trek: Voyager and NTSF:SD:SUV: Kate Mulgrew for good measure.)
Two more legendary TV series getting the doorstop treatment this month are Peter Gunn: The Complete Series (Timeless Media Group; now available), the sexy and stylish gumshoe created by Blake Edwards (and yes, the box set includes a CD with the legendary theme song) and All in the Family: The Complete Series (Shout Factory: now available), paying tribute to the groundbreaking sitcom by including all 213 episodes as well as new interviews and documentaries, the two original series pilots, and the pilots for spin-offs Gloria, Archie Bunker’s Place and 704 Hauser.
Not getting enough bears on TV? Try The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams: Season One (Timeless Media Group; available November 6) starring Dan Haggerty as 1970s television’s favorite back-to-nature hero. Need more showtunes? The exhaustive documentary miniseries Broadway: The American Musical (PBS; now available) gets a spiffy Blu-ray makeover just in time for the holidays, while A MusiCares Tribute to Barbra Streisand (Shout Factory; available November 13) features the legendary singer and pals like Jeff Beck, Seal and Barry Manilow tackling her biggest hits, most of them from musicals.
Love Kathy Griffin but hate those Bravo-enforced bleeps? Then don’t miss the thoroughly uncensored two-disc set The Kathy Griffin Collection: Red, White & Raw (Shout Factory; now available), featuring a septet of the unabashed comedian’s spiciest specials, with bonus footage to boot.
And speaking of TV comedy that won’t quit: They just keep finding Ernie Kovacs gold in the vaults. The Ernie Kovacs Collection, Volume 2 (Shout Factory; now available) features more than nine hours of previously unreleased and exceedingly rare content from the video visionary, including a TV pilot he made with Buster Keaton, three episodes of his offbeat game show Take a Good Look (available exclusively from ShoutFactory.com), and the only existing filmed solo interview with Kovacs. This one’s a must not just for completists but also for anyone who cares about the history of small-screen comedy.