New: Scratching That “Downton Abbey” Itch
The accessibility of movies and TV shows on DVD and via various streaming outlets makes obsession and immersion extremely convenient. If getting through the last season of Friday Night Lights leaves you feeling empty, you can go back and see the movie; if you loved Midnight in Paris, you’ve got around 45 years’ worth of Woody Allen films you can catch up on while waiting for To Rome with Love to hit theaters.
So if you’ve already pored through both seasons of Downton Abbey, as well as the recent five-hour Titanic miniseries written by that show’s creator, Julian Fellowes, now you can dip into From Time to Time (Freestyle Digital Media; now available). Fellowes wrote and directed this tale of a young boy (Alex Etel, Millions) in World War II sent off to spend Christmas with his granny (Maggie Smith, Downton’s formidable Dowager Countess). At her country estate, the boy finds himself witnessing events from the Napoleonic War era.
The film doesn’t rank up there with Fellowes’ work for television or his Oscar-winning screenplay for Gosford Park — not for nothing was this movie denied a U.S. theatrical release — but Downton addicts will no doubt enjoy getting to see Smith (and Hugh Bonneville) in action while waiting for the third season.
And then there’s Showgirls 2: Penny’s from Heaven (now available via Amazon and iTunes), a lunatic extravaganza that’s part sequel, part fan-fiction, but mostly delirious fever dream. Which is exactly what you’d want from a Showgirls sequel.
Actress Rena Riffel, who appeared in the original 1995 camp classic as Cheetah dancer Hope (a.k.a. Penny) decided that the world needed to know what happened to her character, so she wrote, directed, edited and starred in this low-budget epic about dancing, whoring and elbowing anyone who gets in the way of your dream. Featuring plenty of quotes and cast members from the original Showgirls — director Paul Verhoeven turned down the chance to direct this sequel, but gave Riffel his blessing — Showgirls 2 goes to a manic superstar level all its own.
Acclaimed British drama Tyrannosaur (Strand Releasing; now available) features knockout performances from Peter Mullan, Olivia Colman (fans of British comedy will recognize her from Peep Show and Look Around You) and Eddie Marsan, perhaps not surprisingly, since actor Paddy Considine makes his directorial debut here. It’s a bummer of a tale, but the acting makes it a must-see.
Also worth checking out: The Icelandic gay coming-of-age drama Jitters (TLA Releasing; now available), documentaries Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey (Docurama Films; now available) and Miss Representation (Virgil Films/OWN; now available), the twisted amour fou tale American Translation (TLA Releasing; now available) and the one-man show Del Shores: My Sordid Life (Breaking Glass Pictures; now available), in which the playwright behind Sordid Lives and Southern Baptist Sissies tells his own hilarious and occasionally heartbreaking life story.
Classics: When David Met Noel…and Madonna Met Kevin
The recent tragic death of Whitney Houston makes the Blu-Ray reissue of The Bodyguard (Warner Home Video; now available) all the more powerful, but the sight of Houston at the height of her powers has been poignant for the last decade or so, given her rather public decline. And while the movie has its cheeseball aspects — writer Lawrence Kasdan recently admitted he never cared for the final product — there’s no denying Houston’s intensity as a both a rising actress and already seasoned vocalist.
Houston’s co-star Kevin Costner had another run-in with a famous singer in Madonna: Truth or Dare (Lionsgate; now available), but his encounter with the Material Girl is just one of many memorable moments from this famously scandalous fly-on-the-wall documentary. On the 1990 “Blond Ambition” Tour, Madonna was at the center of the pop-culture universe, and the camera captures her at her most steamrolling as well as her most vulnerable. Even if the whole thing’s an act, it’s an exceedingly watchable one.
A recent book suggested that gay playwright Noël Coward’s famously effete image was actually cultivated to hide the fact that Coward was a spy for British intelligence during World War II. But if you want evidence that Coward was more than just clever ditties and zinging bons mots, check out the David Lean Directs Noël Coward box set (The Criterion Collection; now available). From the grit of In Which We Serve to the heartbreak of Brief Encounter to the fizzy comedy of Blithe Spirit, this was a writer who contained multitudes, matched perfectly with a director who had gift for both small moments and sprawling vistas.
A Streetcar Named Desire (Warner Home Video; now available) makes its Blu-Ray debut in a handsome bookshelf-ready package that includes the documentary Elia Kazan: A Director’s Journey. Opinions go back and forth over whether or not Method acting was a good thing for the movies, but whatever your stance, there’s no denying the iconic power of Marlon Brando in this classic.
And apparently, you can’t spell “horny” without “RN,” based on The Nurses Collection (Shout! Factory; now available), the latest in the “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” line, featuring such naughty nursing tales as Candy Stripe Nurses, Night Call Nurses, Private Duty Nurses and The Young Nurses. Medic!
TV: Let’s Get Loud
The Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood left Wales and landed in L.A., of all places, with Torchwood: Miracle Day (BBC Home Entertainment; now available). While this season doesn’t hit the height of Children of Earth — and really, what could? — there’s lots of fun to be had watching Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman), Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) and Rhys (Kai Owen) move their base of operations to North America for a twisty plot about death taking a holiday. And since it was the first time the show was co-produced by the BBC and Starz, it’s designed to accommodate newcomers as well as fans; if you’ve avoided hopping in out of fear of too much back-mythology, Miracle Day’s a good place to start.
One of the great animated duos of all time are your guides to creativity in Wallace & Gromit’s World of Invention (Lionsgate; now available), in which the hapless inventor and his much wiser dog take us around the planet to show us how things get built and why they work.
If you’re more in a classic-TV mode, Gunther and Toody are pounding the pavement again in Car 54, Where Are You?: The Complete Second Season (Shanachie Home Video; available April 24) while Ernie Kovacs: The ABC Specials (Shout! Factory; now available) provides five more mind-blowing hours of ahead-of-its-time comedy for people who’ve already made their way through the extensive Kovacs box set.
And if you like new TV about old TV, there’s always Cinema Verite (HBO Home Entertainment; available April 24), a peek behind the scenes of the original reality show — PBS’ An American Family, featuring Bill and Pat Loud (played here by Tim Robbins and Diane Lane) and their kids putting their lives on TV and later paying the price for letting the cameras in their house. The DVD features a commentary from Lane directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (American Splendor).