Monty Python Live (Mostly) – One Down, Five to Go (Eagle Rock, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital) puts to disc the stage performance that was previously shown via satellite in select theaters around the world for one night only earlier in 2014. The first live show sold out with 30 seconds of the moment tickets went on sale and more shows were added, but they capped it at ten performances at the O2 in London. They say that this is the last time the group will perform together, and there’s no reason to doubt it; the last time the entire group performed together was 30 years ago, when Graham Chapman was still alive.
The title says it all: the five remaining Pythons (John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin, plus their favorite guest performer, Carol Cleveland) reunite for an encore, with Gilliam getting a little more involved than usual and a featured chorus member periodically joining in. You could say that Chapman is as much as a presence as could be hoped for, considering he died 25 years ago, but in fact he’s featured more than you would think possible, from the title of the show to classic film and video clips that bring him back into the ensemble (including some clips that showed in their first concert film, Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl) or make him a link between live segments, as if he was still interacting with the old gang.
This isn’t a master class, it’s a reunion and we’ve been invited to watch the old gang fall back into old patterns. Between revivals of their greatest hits (with a few wink wink nudge nudge updates) are big song-and-dance production numbers out of an overblown Broadway revue, with young dancers and singers taking over to kick up the energy and provide the production value. The rest is nostalgia. They are nowhere near the top of their game but they are clearly having fun (they are just as funny when they forget their lines or lose their place, which happens a couple of time) and so is the audience. Everyone there seems to know the skits by heart and get a kick out of seeing these senior citizens revive their standards for one last go round.
There are a few supplements, notably behind-the-scenes clips from the initial reunion meeting, the official announcement, and highlights from the 10 shows (including all the guest star appearances), plus the raw footage that the Pythons shot for intermission breaks and other video screen announcements.
As of this writing, it is still not available on cable or digital VOD or from any streaming subscription service. It’s only on disc. Which is a good reason to support your local video store.
Clint Eastwood directs Jersey Boys (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), an old-school adaptation of the jukebox Broadway show about the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Season. Coming from working class New Jersey, their story has its share of underworld characters and even a mobster Godfather in addition to the classic scenes of finding their sound, adding a songwriter who spotlights Frankie’s voice, and the combustible group dynamics that finally break them up and send Frankie on a solo career. John Lloyd Young reprises the role of Frankie that he created for the original Broadway production (and won a Tony Award for), no longer looking the teenager in the early scenes but giving a vocal performance that sells the show. And while it’s not exactly a “Rashomon,” each member of the quartet takes their turn in relating the story with their own insights and observations of what was going on behind the stage. And if you don’t know that story (which I didn’t going into the film), it may surprise you.
On Blu-ray and DVD with “”Oh, What a Night” to Remember,” a featurette on the making of the film’s finale. The Blu-ray adds two additional featurettes (“From Broadway to the Big Screen” and “Too Good to be True”) and bonus DVD and UltraViolet Digital HD editions of the film.
It’s also available on Cable/Satellite VOD and on digital VOD from Amazon, iTunes and other sources.
Portrait of Jason (Milestone, Blu-ray, DVD), Shirley Clarke’s stream of consciousness character study of Jason Holliday, aka Aaron Payne, is a landmark of non-fiction filmmaking and LGBT cinema. Ostensibly part of the cinema verité movement, it straddles the line between documentary and performance art piece. Clarke shot her portrait of the gay black hustler as an all-night extemporaneous monologue and gave voice to a man who would otherwise never be heard in any media form in 1967. In his round coke-bottle glasses and collegiate blazer, Jason plays to the camera and skeleton crew (heard just off camera throughout but never seen), telling stories and doing impressions over the 12 hour session, which Clarke edited to just under two hours. It is an act, all performance and outsized personality, with Jason playing the raconteur and would-be nightclub headliner, and it’s not clear how much is true and how much flight of fancy and projection. But between his paroxysms of laughter, puffs of a joint, and endless glasses of vodka, he offers a glimpse of how one grows up and survives as a flamboyant queer in sixties America.
It’s a scruffy, raw film that got scuffed up over the decades and had never been released on home video in the U.S. until Milestone undertook “Project Shirley.” Portrait of Jason is officially “Project Shirley, Volume 2” but the first in the series to be released to Blu-ray and DVD. This restoration, built on materials found in worldwide search, recovers lost footage and visual detail but leaves the roughness of the 16mm shoot intact because Clarke treasured that gritty texture. And as with all of Milestone’s archival presentations, the discs are packed with invaluable historical bonus material, from outtakes to archival interviews with Clarke to the audio-only “The Jason Holliday Comedy Album,” a rarity that makes an astounding companion piece to the film.
Ornette: Made in America (Milestone, Blu-ray, DVD), Clarke’s 1985 free-form documentary on free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman, also arrives this week in a newly-restored edition. Constructed around a tribute concert in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas, and a performance of his “Skies of America” symphony, the film surveys his life and career, with glimpses of his impoverished youth recreated as fictionalized flashbacks with a sense of play and footage from performances and appearances throughout his career (some of it shot by Clarke herself in the 1960s).
Like Jason, this disc is filled with archival supplements, including video and radio interviews with Clarke, an interview with Denardo Coleman (Ornette’s son and drummer), and a playful little video piece with Clarke celebrating her affection for the “Felix the Cat” cartoons.
Seven Wonders of the World (Flicker Alley, Blu-ray+DVD Combo), the third feature to be shot and presented in the 3-strip Cinerama process, is a full-on travelogue hosted and presented by journalist Lowell Thomas. This isn’t limited to the officially designated “wonders,” mind you, but it does begin with the only surviving Wonder of the Ancient World—the Great Pyramid of Giza (with the camera lingering on the nearby Sphynx as well)—before launching on a trip around the globe in a converted B-25 to capture other wonders, both natural (Victoria Falls, the Grand Canyon, an active volcano in Africa) and man-made (the Angkor Wat Temple, the Taj Mahal, the Statue of Liberty), as well as glimpses of cultural color from around the world.
The 1956 feature is a real time capsule of how the west saw the rest of the world. The narration frames the sights with a sense of curiosity and exoticism that borders on condescending, as if ancient rituals and cultural difference was a sign of primitive inferiority. There is a sense of awe at many of the sights, mind you, but the people and the cultures are presented as naïve or simple. Only when the film gets to the holy land does the joshing narration turn sober and the music become grand and serious as description becomes scripture.
Also new this week is Search for Paradise (Flicker Alley, Blu-ray+DVD Combo), a Cinerama safari odyssey through central Asia to the Himalayas ostensibly in search of Shangri-La. It’s the fourth Cinerama feature and the first to stay on the ground (none of those swooping aerial surveys) as it follows a caravan up mountains and through treacherous passes and rickety bridges.
Both films have been restored from the original camera negative by David Strohmaier (they look amazing, though you may detect some discoloration or distortion at the seams where the films meet) and are presented in the Smilebox format, which must look odd to someone coming in without context: the image flairs out on the sides of the frame to offer a sense of forced perspective. It’s the only way to really see the Cinerama image properly, as it was projected in theater on a giant curved screen and was shot to take into account the distortions around the edges.
Both releases feature one Blu-ray and two DVDs and are packed with archival supplements (also produced by Strohmaier) including behind-the-scenes footage, newsreels, and a restoration demonstration. Wonders includes a new documentary on the composers of Cinerama and Paradise features a new 2012 Cinerama short, a 1998 interview with director Otto Lang, and a PowerPoint look at the making of the film. Both also feature a miniature reproduction of the original souvenir program from the films’ release, shrunk down to booklet size.
Clearly the TV on disc event of the week—nay, the season—is Batman: The Complete Television Series (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD). Sadly, I did not receive a review copy and don’t have access to any sample discs, so no review coming from me. I can say that advance word has been good and that the quality is said to be superb.
I did, however, receive True Blood: The Complete Seventh Season (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD). I bowed out of the show a while ago as it slid into increasingly outrageous storylines and verged on self-parody and I didn’t see the final season when it aired. So it was more with a sense of closure than anticipation that I approached the end of the series.
For the seventh and final season, the show made a point to give its characters and their storylines some closure and even a happy ending for a many of its characters. The season ostensibly puts the on-again, off-again romance between the part human-part faerie heroine Sookie (Anna Paquin) and centuries old vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer) at the center but it really is an ensemble show with dozens of characters and plenty of complicated relationships to sort through. To the show’s credit, the season gives the characters and their stories their due while tackling the terrible Hep-V plague, the man-made virus that only infects vampires and turns them into rabid creatures before finally killing them (another AIDS metaphor for the series, this one full-tilt conspiracy), and it adds the yakuza into the mix as everyone scrambles to find an antidote or a vaccination (and a profit along with it) for the disease. The final season never reaches the inspired mix of horror pulp and social metaphor that made the first few seasons such a pop culture fixture (and top selling DVD and Blu-ray releases), but it certainly an improvement from recent seasons and it delivers closure for the fans who stuck with it through the entire run.
10 episodes on Blu-ray and DVD, plus retrospective featurettes looking back on the show and commentary.
Veteran micro-indie filmmaker Joe Swanberg continues his move into more commercial fare with Happy Christmas (Paramount, DVD), a holiday comedy focused on a young couple whose life is turned upside down when a reckless relative moves in after a bad break-up. Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Mark Webber, and Lena Dunham star.
Foreign films this week include Michel Gondry’s whimsical romantic comedy Mood Indigo (Drafthouse, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) with Audrey Tautou and Romain Duris and Catherine Breillat’s Abuse of Weakness (Strand, DVD) starring Isabelle Huppert, both from France, and I Am Yours (Film Movement, DVD) set in the Pakistani immigrant culture of Norway.
New comedies include Tammy (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD) with with Melissa McCarthy and Susan Sarandon and Let’s Be Cops (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) with Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr., plus the animated adventure How to Train Your Dragon 2 (DreamWorks, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD) for the kids.
A pair of family-friendly animated features from Japan debut on disc and digital this week. Patema Inverted (Cinedigm, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD), which didn’t get a wide release in the U.S. but did play New York several film festivals, is a romantic fantasy set in a future after a scientific disaster has flipped gravity for a large part of the population. This film, directed by Yasuhiro Yoshiura, and Welcome to the Space Show (Cinedigm, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD), a fantasy that whisks a group of bored kids to a space colony on the dark side of the moon and beyond, both feature original Japanese language and English dub soundtracks and featurettes.
Nocturna (Cinedigm, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD), a fantasy about an orphaned boy who finds a magical world at night, is from Spain and features an English soundtrack, plus two featurettes.
Presented by National Geographic, James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenge 3D (Millennium, Blu-ray+Blu-ray 3D, DVD, VOD) chronicles the filmmaker’s 2012 expeditions into the Mariana Trench in his Deepsea Challenge submersible
On Friday, November 14, two new limited-release films debut on Cable VOD the same day they open in theaters in New York and Los Angeles: Miss Meadows, an offbeat action film starring Katie Holmes as an elementary school teacher who moonlights as a vigilante, and the horror film Wolves, the directorial debut of screenwriter David Hayter (X-Men, X2, Watchmen). It stars Jason Momoa, Stephen McHattie, and Lucas Till.
The romantic drama In Your Eyes, starring Zoe Kazan and Jennifer Grey, comes to cable VOD later this week while it continues its theatrical run. This microbudget indie was written by Joss Whedon, who also is executive producer.
You can purchase these upcoming releases in digital form before the discs are available: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Fox, Digital HD), The Expendables 3 (Lionsgate, Digital HD), and The Giver (Anchor Bay, Digital HD).
Fandor, a subscription streaming service that specializes in independent and foreign films, has just added a selection of films from the Criterion Collection to its library. It’s a rotating collection, with seven new films arriving each week and running for 12 days, and selections organized by themes. This week it launches such “Expeditions” as Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925), Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear (1953), and Mikhail Kalatozoff’s riveting Letter Never Sent (1959). A new selection arrives every Tuesday. Tim Appelo broke the story at The Hollywood Reporter.
The Shooting / Ride in the Whirlwind (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)
Birdman of Alcatraz (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Judgement at Nuremberg (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
When the Wind Blows (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Flaming Star (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Bunny Lake Is Missing (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
The Twilight Samurai (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Dolls: Collector’s Edition (Scream Factory, Blu-ray)
UHF: 25th Anniversary Edition (Shout Factory, Blu-ray)
The Compleat Al (Shout Factory, DVD)
Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Sands of Iwo Jima (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Sam Whiskey (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray, DVD)
White Lightning (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray, DVD)
Gator (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray, DVD)
Drum (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray, DVD)
Christmas in Connecticut (Warner, Blu-ray)
More Dead Than Alive (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray, DVD)
Demons (Synapse, Blu-ray, DVD)
Demons 2 (Synapse, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Bruce Lee Premiere Collection (Shout Factory, Blu-ray)
Ed Wood’s Dirty Movies: The Young Marrieds / Nympho Cycler / Shot on Location (After Hours, DVD)
Wedding Crashers (Warner, Blu-ray)
Bing Crosby: The Silver Screen Collection (24 films) (Universal, DVD)
Mondo Cannibal (Severin, DVD)
In the Land of the Cannibals (Severin, DVD)
The Cannibal Massacre Collection (Papaya, Cannibal Terror, Devil Hunter) (Severin, DVD)
Wanda Whips Wall Street (Distribpix, DVD)
Forbidden Films from the Age of Beauty: Anthology of Erotic Cinema – The 1900s (Risque, DVD)
Batman: 25th Anniversary Two-Disc Edition (Warner, Blu-ray – Best Buy Exclusive)
Getting On: The Complete First Season (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD)
Sons of Anarchy: The Collector’s Edition (Seasons 1-6) (Fox, Blu-ray, DVD)
Star Wars: The Clone Wars – The Lost Missions (Disney, Blu-ray, DVD)
Thundercats: The Complete Series (Warner, Blu-ray)
Dads: The Complete Series (Olive, DVD)
The Avengers: Season Five (Lionsgate, Blu-ray)
The Last of the Summer Wine: Vintage 2002 (BBC, Blu-ray, DVD)
Quincy, M.E.: Season Seven (Shout Factory, DVD)
Liberty: Heroes of the American Revolution (Lionsgate, DVD)
Duck Dynasty: Duck the Halls (Lionsgate, DVD)
Ancient Aliens: The Complete Seasons 1-6 (History, DVD)
The Twilight Zone: The 5th Dimension Limited Edition Box Set (Image, DVD)
Iceman (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital)
I Am Ali (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD)
We Could be King (Cinedigm, DVD)
Snails in the Rain (TLA, DVD)
Drive Hard (RLJ, Blu-ray, DVD)
The Damned (IFC, Blu-ray, DVD)
The House at the End of Time (Dark Sky, DVD)
The Desert (El Desierto) (Cinedigm, DVD)
Summer of Blood (Dark Sky, DVD, Digital)
Snuff 102 (Massacre Video, DVD)
The Cemetery (Massacre Video, DVD)
I Am Santa Claus (Virgil, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD)
Once Upon a Time in Queens (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD, VOD)
Covert Operation (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD, VOD)
Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story (Wolfe, DVD, Digital)
36 Saints (Screen Media, DVD)
Dear Secret Santa (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD, VOD)
Gingerclown (Lionsgate, DVD, Digital HD, VOD)
Frozen in Time (Arc, DVD, VOD)