"The movie business is macabre. Grotesque.
It is a combination of a football game
and a brothel."
-- Federico Fellini
Sep 022013

From the Big Screen:

“Stories We Tell,” “Now You See Me,” “From Up on Poppy Hill” and “The Iceman.” For more releases this week, see the Weekly Guide to Home Video Releases.


For collectors of old TV series, the folks over at StarVista Entertainment/Time Life have just released “Mama’s Family: The Complete Series.” From the first time the wildly-popular sketch “The Family” aired on “The Carol Burnett Show” in 1974, Vicki Lawrence has been followed by a buxom, blue-haired, purse-lipped, 65-year-old widow. This is, of course, Thelma Mae Crowley Harper, Lawrence’s indelible, abrasive and smart alecky alter ego who would eventually be spun-off into her own delightfully offbeat sitcom “Mama’s Family,” which debuted on NBC on January 22, 1983 and ran for six seasons (until 1990). Set in the fictional city of Raytown, “Mama’s Family” revolves around the eye-opening escapades of the Harper clan, headed by formidable photo for Mama's Family: The Complete Series matriarch, Mama Harper, a fiery-tempered no-nonsense woman who does not suffer fools gladly. In fact, she makes everybody suffer a little with her patented snappy retorts that truly put the “diss” in dysfunction. Across 130 30-minute episodes spanning six seasons, viewers were treated to hilarious — and sometimes heart-warming — family comedy. Adding to the mix were Mama’s journalist sister, Fran (Rue McClanahan), who lives with her; her youngest son, Vint (Ken Berry), who moves in with his two teenagers after he’s evicted; and Naomi (Dorothy Lyman), who marries Vint by Episode 4. Mama’s extended family includes her two daughters, highfalutin’ Ellen (Betty White) and high-strung Eunice (Carol Burnett), as well as Eunice’s husband, Ed (Harvey Korman). The set is comprised of 130 episodes across 24 DVDs in a collector’s set with an introductory note from Vicki Lawrence. On DVD for $199.95. The set includes a collectible “Mama’s Family” album featuring character bios, a “Mama’s Family” tree, and interviews and anecdotes from cast members; 10 hours of specially-created bonus material including interviews, featurettes and much, much more.

For cult horror fans the name Larry Cohen conjures up images of horror films “It’s Alive” (1974), but the prolific writer-director-producer has been writing for a wide variety of genres, from episodes of TV’s “Kraft Theatre” (when he was only 17!!), “The Fugitive,” “The Defenders,” “Branded,” “The Rat Patrol,” “”The Invaders” and “Columbo” to such big screen outings as “Maniac Cop,” “Phone Booth” and “Cellular.” His directorial debut was in 1972 with the little-seen, off-kilter home-invasion thriller “Bone” (in which Yaphet Kotto breaks into the home of the wealthy, seemingly happily married Beverly Hills couple of Andrew Duggan and Joyce Van Patten), followed up by “Hell Up in Harlem” (1973) and “Black Caesar” (1973) and the also little-seen “God Told Me To” (1976), a weird, disjointed tale about a New York detective (Tony LoBianco) who investigates a series of murders committed by random New Yorkers who claim that “God told them to.” For me, the peak of Cohen’s writing and directing skills is evident in “Q The Winged Serpent” photo (1982), which Scream Factory/Shout! Factory is bringing to Blu-ray this week. The film, produced by horror-exploitation genius Samuel Z. Arkoff, stars Michael Moriarty, Richard Roundtree, David Carradine, Candy Clark and James Dixon in a wild, almost cheesy saga revolving around Quetzalcoatl, a dragon-like Aztec god that is summoned to modern-day Manhattan by a mysterious cult and which roosts at the top of the Chrysler Building, feasting on window washers, construction workers and rooftop sunbathers. Moriarty — in a great, method-acting performance — is a small-time thief who finds the nest of the creature and blackmails the city, and Roundtree and Carradine are New York’s finest, hot on the serpentine tail of the bloodthirsty flying serpent. It’s a bizarre masterpiece that has influenced generations of filmmkers since. Extras include a new commentary with writer-producer-director Cohen, the theatrical trailer and a teaser trailer.

Criterion this week titillates filmlovers with two Teutonic-leaning offerings: the Blu-ray debut of Ernst Lubitsch’s wartime comedy “To Be or Not to Be” (1942) and an impressive set of the early work of the great German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder. “To Be or Not to Be” may not be Lubitsch’s best screwball comedy but it is his most daring. The film stars Jack Benny and, in her final screen appearance (before dying in an airplane crash while returning from a World War II Bond tour), photo for Carole Lombard, as husband-and-wife thespians in Nazi-occupied Warsaw who become caught up in a dangerous spy plot. Benny is here at his best as the self-absorbed “Shakespearean-actor-wannabe” who impersonates a German spy, and Lombard is forever radiant as his loving but roaming wife. There’s a great cast of Lubitsch regulars in supporting roles, a convoluted plot, and all manner of misunderstandings and misidentifications. “To Be or Not to Be” is not nearly as sophisticated as Lubitsch’s previous outings, but the director managed to brilliantly balance political satire, romance, slapstick and wartime suspense in a comic high-wire act that’s just plain fun. Among the many extras here are “Lubitsch le patron,” a 2010 French documentary on Lubitsch’s career; “Pinkus’s Shoe Palace,” a 1916 German silent film directed by and starring Lubitsch; and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien.

Living in Los Angeles in the 1970s spoiled me: It seemed like every neighborhood theatre was hosting one international film series after another (many of them from Janus Films, which works closely with Criterion). Among the many, many directors I was introduced to was Rainer Werner Fassbinder, an iconoclastic German filmmaker who was a master of social melodramas and a rebellious champion of nonconformity. In 16 short years (he died in 1982, at 37, of a drug overdose) he directed 44 movies and TV shows, creating at least a half-dozen amazing masterpieces, photo forincluding “The Merchant of Four Seasons” (1971), “The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant” (1972), “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” (1974), “Fox and His Friends” (1975), “Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven” (1975) and “The Marriage of Maria Braun” (1979). Criterion has just released a set of Fassbinder’s early films, “Eclipse Series 39: Early Fassbinder.” I just got the set, so haven’t had time to screen them yet; here’s what Criterion has to say: “From the very beginning of his incandescent career, the New German Cinema enfant terrible Rainer Werner Fassbinder refused to play by the rules. His politically charged, experimental first films, made at an astonishingly rapid rate between 1969 and 1971, were influenced by the work of the antiteater, an avant-garde stage troupe that he had helped found in Munich. Collected here are five of those fascinating and confrontational works; whether a self-conscious meditation on American crime movies (“Love Is Colder Than Death,” 1969), a scathing indictment of xenophobia in contemporary Germany (“Katzelmacher,” 1969), or an off-the-wall look at the dysfunctional relationships on film sets (“Beware of a Holy Whore,” 1971), each is a startling glimpse into the mind of a twentysomething man who would become one of cinema’s most madly prolific artists.” The other two titles: the crime drama “Gods of the Plague” (1969) and “The American Soldier” (1970), about the German-born Ricky who returns to Munich from Vietnam and is promptly hired as a contract killer. On DVD.

From TV to DVD:

“Ancient Aliens: Season 5 — Volume 1” (2012) is a three-disc set with 12 episodes, $19.98 from Lionsgate … “Criminal Minds — The Eighth Season” (2012) is a six-disc set with 23 episodes of the series that revolves around an elite team of FBI profilers who analyze the photo for country’s most twisted criminal minds, anticipating their next moves before they strike again. The Behavioral Analysis Unit’s most prominent agent is David Rossi (Joe Mantegna), a founding member of the BAU, who returns to help the team solve new cases, while pursuing some unfinished business of his own. Each member brings his or her own area of expertise to the table as they pinpoint predators’ motivations and identify their emotional triggers in the attempt to stop them. $64.99 from CBS/Paramount … “Da Vinci’s Demons — The Complete First Season” (2013) is a three-disc set with all eight episodes of the Starz Original series that follows the “untold” story of Leonardo Da Vinci during his early years in Renaissance Florence, using only his genius to fight against those who use history, religion and politics to suppress the truth. On DVD, $44.98; Blu-ray Disc, $54.99; from Anchor Bay … Stephen Tompkinson and Andrea Lowe star as the tenacious and stubborn Chief Inspector Alan Banks and the feisty and headstrong Detective Sergeant Annie Cabbot in “DCI Banks: Aftermath” (2010), a chilling crime story photo for based on the hugely successful novel from award-winning international crime writer Peter Robinson. A young woman is unconscious, bleeding from a head wound. Her husband is hiding in the cellar, ready to wield a knife at anyone who tries to enter and desperate to protect his secret. What happens next leaves one of the officers dead, the other fighting for her career and Banks with a chilling murder investigation that will test him to the limit. $19.98 from BBC Home Entertainment … “Haven: The Complete Third Season” (2012) is a four-disc set with 13 episodes. When FBI Agent Audrey Parker arrives in Haven, Maine on a routine case, she quickly finds herself involved in the return of the Troubles, a series of supernatural afflictions that have long cursed the seaside town and its residents. Joining the Haven Police Department, Audrey began to realize that it was fate — not luck — that brought her to this place and that she is inexplicably linked to the mysteries of Haven. This season picks up immediately after the end of Season 2, with Audrey having been brutally kidnapped, Nathan warned photo for against pursuing a relationship with Audrey, and Duke seemingly engaged in a fight to death with Nathan after he discover his family lineage is to kill Haven citizens with Troubles. On DVD and Blu-ray from Entertainment Ones … “The Jesse Stone Collection” is an eight-disc set with all the installments of the Tom Selleck-starring crime drama, packed in a box with a collectable Paradise Police Department baseball hat. $95.99 from Sony … “The Office Season Nine” (2012-13) is a five-disc set with 23 episodes. Join the Scranton gang for the ninth and final season of the groundbreaking Emmy Award-winning hit series. Andy’s back in charge as regional manager at Dunder Mifflin, but a journey of self-discovery leads to unexpected consequences. Jim lands the job of his dreams, but he and Pam must now adjust to a long-distance relationship. Meanwhile, Dwight steps up on the family farm; Darrel looks at new career opportunities; and Erin struggles with matters of the heart. And … everyone is excited to finally see the long awaited documentary about their lives in the office, an event nine years in the making. On DVD, $49.99; Blu-ray Disc, $59.98; from photo for Universal … “Parks and Recreation: Season Five” (2012-13) is a three-disc set with 22 episodes, $39.98. from Universal … “Person of Interest: The Complete Second Season” (2012-13) contains all 22 episodes of the series about investigators who save potential criminal targets and prevent violent crimes before they happen. On Five-disc DVD, $59.98; Blu-ray/DVD Combo with five DVDs, five Blu-rays, $69.97; from Warner … “Regular Show: Fright Pack” (2013) features 14 scary stories from Cartoon Network’s Emmy Award-winning hit animated comedy series. $19.82 from Warner … “Revolution: The Complete First Season” (2012-13) is a five-disc set with 20 episodes, $59.98. Also available as a nine-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo with UltraViolet digital copies, $69.97; from Warner … “Scandal: The Complete Second Season” (2012-13) is a five-disc set with 22 episodes, $45.99 from Disney … photo for “Sinbad: The Complete First Season” (2012) is a three-disc set with 12 episodes of the SyFy series. On DVD, $29.98; Blu-ray Disc, $34.98; from BBC Home Entertainment … “Spartacus: War of the Damned — The Complete Third Season” (2013) Three- disc set with all 10 episodes. Following the defeat of Roman commander Gaius Claudius Glaber, Spartacus and his men have amassed major victories against the Romans after the battle of Vesuvius. These victories have not only forged the legend of Spartacus, they have greatly increased the ranks of the rebellion slaves to more than 30,000. The Roman Senate turns to Marcus Crassus, a wealthy, strategic politician, for aid. He respects his opponent and refuses to make the same mistakes Glaber and his predecessors have. With a young and fiercely competitive Julius Caesar as an ally, Crassus is determined to crush Spartacus and his rebellion. On DVD, $49.98; Blu-ray Disc, $59.99; from Anchor Bay … “The Vampire Diaries: The Complete Fourth Season” (2012-13) photo for (2012-13) is a five-disc set with 23 episodes, $59.98. This season starts off with everything in transition. Senior year is finally here, and Elena should be having the time of her life. Instead, she faces her worst nightmare, struggling with the painful transformation from human to vampire. As Damon mentors Elena into a supernatural life, their repressed passions explode, causing Stefan to undertake a desperate quest to restore humanity to the girl he adores. But as Elena ruthlessly quenches her newfound thirst for blood, and her friends race to find a vampire cure based on clues inked onto Jeremy’s flesh, the world around them falls prey to a host of sinister forces. Also available as a nine-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo with UltraViolet digital copies, $69.97. From Warner.

Buzzin’ the ‘B’s:

In “Stranded” (2012), starring Christian Slater, Brendan Fehr, Amy Matysio and Michael Therriault, an isolated U.S. military moonbase is bombarded by a rogue meteor storm harboring alien spores … and they’re replicating. Now a vicious, shape-shifting predatory life form is loose inside the crippled facility, picking off victims one by one. On DVD, Blu-ray from Image Entertainment … In “A Company Man” (2012 — South Korea), Hyeong-do wears a suit and tie like any other rank-and-file white collar worker … except his profession is murder. Seemingly a section chief in the sales division of a metal fabrication company that is actually a front for an organization of hit men, Hyeong-do is regarded as one of the best contract killers in the business … until he falls in love, quits his job, and is targeted and hunted down by his former employers. photo An exciting, straight ahead actioner with plenty of stylized violence — especially when Hyeong-do goes up against his former employers. On DVD, Blu-ray Disc from Well Go USA) … A group of friends get together for an ’80s-themed murder mystery party, but things take a dark turn when someone from their past out for blood hijacks the evening in “Among Friends” (2012), starring Danielle Harris, Christopher Backus, Jennifer Blanc and AJ Bowen. From Lionsgate … Four upscale Manhattanites run for their lives in the Brooklyn subway tunnels after a botched drug deal in “NYC Underground” (2010), starring Clayne Crawford, Sean Faris, Arielle Kebbel, Rob Mayes, Dania Ramirez, Evan Ross and Matt Servitto. From Lionsgate … When an unidentified object is shot down by the military and crashes into Seattle’s Puget Sound, it sets off a series of strange weather phenomena: earthquakes, tornados and lightning storms that begin to spread, threatening the city and the entire planet in “Seattle Superstorm” (2012), starring Esai Morales, Ona Grauer, Jared Abrahamson and MacKenzie Porter. From Arc Entertainment … When a bounty hunter kills an outlaw gang member, the gang retaliates, killing the soon-to-be-famous Billy the Kid’s mother, and the Kid and the bounty hunter team up to avenge her death in “Billy the Kid” (2013), starring Cody McCarver, Jerry Chesser, Christopher Bowman, Billy Joe Royal and Jason Harbour. From Lionsgate … A group of friends go deep inside the woods in search of the legendary big foot monster, a “silent killer” eliminating people in the dark in “Fear the Forest” (2009), starring Anna Kendrick, Matthew Bora and Don Evans. From MVD Entertainment … A group of strangers are forced to take shelter in an outback roadhouse while a flood rages around them, but the danger lurking within is far greater than the threat from outside in “Savages Crossing” (2011 — Australia), starring John Jarratt, Craig McLachlan and Chris Haywood. From MVD Entertainment.

On the Indie Front:

A former tennis pro forced to work at a public recreation center must regain his self-respect and lead his team of oddball amateurs to victory in a prestigious, annual tournament showdown in “2nd Serve” (2012), starring Josh Hopkins, Cameron Monaghan, Kevin Sussman and Guillermo Diaz. From Green Apple Entertainment … “Online” (2012), starring Morgan Ayers, Kelsey Sanders and Esseri Holmes, is a romantic drama of faith and forgiveness: A happily married man logs into a social networking site and re-connects with his old high school flame; what begins as a harmless “Hello” rapidly escalates into a rekindling of their past romance, and he must face the consequences of his decisions. From Slingshot Pictures … A deeply troubled boy and an apathetic investment advisor get paired together at a summer camp for foster kids and discover the meaning of unconditional love in “Camp” (2013), starring Miles Elliot and Michael Mattera. From Word Films.

For the Family:

“The Painting” (2011 — France) is a feast for the eyes as well as the imagination, a wry parable from animator-director Jean-Francois Laguionie that centers on a kingdom in a painting that is divided into three castes: The impeccably painted Alldunns, who reside in a majestic palace; the Halfies, who the Painter has left incomplete; and the untouchable Sketchies, simple charcoal outlines who are banished to the cursed forest. The story follows the adventures of Lola, a rebel Halfir, Ramo, an Alldunn, and Quill, a Sketchie, as they break through the canvas of their painting into the Painter’s studio in search of him and the reasons he left the painting unfinished. The abandoned workspace is strewn with paintings, each containing its own animated world, and they explore first one picture and then another, attempting to discover just what the Painter has in mind for all his creations. It’s a brilliant concept, not too sophisticated for kids but abstract enough for adults. It’s clever, delightful and involving. Why can’t American animators create such simple, yet wonderful worlds? In French with English subtitles and an optional English audio track. photo On DVD, Blu-ray from GKIDS/Cinedigm … “Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late … And More Stories by Mo Willems” (2013) contains three animated adaptations of stories by the New York Times best-selling author: “Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late,” “Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion” and “Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct.” Narrators for the stories include Cher Willems, John Scieszka and Mo Willems himself. From Scholastic Storybook Treasures … “Children Make Terrible Pets … And More Stories About Family” (2013): In the title animated tale based on Peter Brown’s children’s book, Lucy, a young bear, meets a charming young boy in the forest and brings him home. Her mother, however, has other ideas and cautions her that, “children make terrible pets.” Other stories include “All the World” (by Liz Garton Scanlon, narrated by Joanne Woodward), “Crow Call” (by Lois Lowry, narrated by Julia Fein) and “Elizabeti’s Doll” (by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen, narrated by Lynn Whitfield). From Scholastic Storybook Treasures … In “Barbie Mariposa & the Fairy Princess” (2013), Mariposa becomes the royal Ambassador of Flutterfield and is sent to bring peace between her fairy land and their rivals, the Crystal Fairies of Shimmervale. On DVD, Blu-ray from Universal … “Super Buddies” (2013) is the latest in the popular Buddies franchise. Budderball, Mudbud, B-Dawg, Buddha and Rosebud discover mysterious rings that grant them each a unique super power, and the pups unleash their amazing abilities and race to the rescue when a shape-shifting bully from outer space threatens the planet. On DVD, Blu-ray/DVD Combo from Disney … And, finally, take me out to the Hundred Acre Wood in hi-def: Disney is bringing “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” (1977) to Blu-ray in a Blu-ray/DVD Combo with such extras as the new mini-“Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” short: “Geniuses,” as well as the Disney Intermission function: Press “pause” during the movie and younger viewers can play along with the Hundred Acre Wood friends in a variety of engaging activities.

Special Interest:

“The Substance: Albert Hofmann’s LSD” (2011 — Switzerland-Germany) is an informative and entertaining investigation into the history of a drug so potent that mere fractions of a milligram can alter a subject’s perception of reality. In 1943, at the Sandoz chemical-pharmaceutical photo laboratories in Basel, Switzerland, chemist Albert Hofmann, in search of a respiratory and circulatory stimulant, first synthesized LSD. Hofmann’s discovery quickly left the lab and moved into military experiments, clinicians’ offices, and then into the streets. The notoriety and sense of possibility surrounding LSD persist to this day; decades after it first began to appear on international drug blacklists, doctors and researchers have resumed exploring its potential medical and therapeutic applications. From Icarus Films Home Video … “Missions That Changed the War: Germany’s Last Ace” (2011) is a four-part Military Channel documentary that tells the story of three fighter pilots who played decisive roles in the aerial battles over Germany: Lt. Col. Hubert Zemke, Lt. Robert Rankin, and Luftwaffe squadron commander Gunther Rall. Through original footage, expert military analyses, and never-before-seen interviews with the participants, the docu revisits the events of May 12, 1944, which Nazi armaments minister Albert Speer considered the day that Germany lost the war. Two-disc DVD, $49.99 from Athena.

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