Eight seasons of dubious advice and power tool smackdowns with Tim Allen
Tim Allen is Tim “The Toolman” Taylor, loving husband, devoted father of three boys, and overzealous, disaster-prone host of a home improvement TV show that celebrates the biggest, baddest tools he can get his hands on. Spun off from Allen’s stand-up comedy act about American men and their obsession with tools, the more powerful and destructive the better, it’s a lightweight family comedy that gives Allen time to pull out his schtick every episode and ends with a heartwarming lesson. While Allen played the fun-loving patriarch with a mischievous streak, Patricia Richardson earned two Emmy nominations for grounding the show as the Taylor matriarch who finds her husband more of a handful than the boys.
Richard Karn co-stars as the tool show co-host (and the eternal butt of most of Tim’s jokes), Earl Hindman is his sage neighbor Wilson (whose face is never seen over the fence even as he offers homespun wisdom), and Taran Noah Smith, Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Zachery Ty Bryan are the three Taylor sons, who grow up over the course of the show, which lasted from 1991 to 1999. And don't forget Pamela Anderson, whose charms graced the show for two seasons as the original tool girl.
And here's a bit of trivia: for all of the show's nominations, it earned seven Emmy awards, all in the same category. Congratulations to Donald A. Morgan, the production's director of photography, for winning the Emmy for Outstanding Lighting Direction (Electronic) for a Comedy Series seven times from eight nominations.
All eight seasons--over 200 episodes--of the family sitcom are boxed up in this collector's tool case (or rather, a sturdy paperboard facsimile). Snap the clasp and open the lid to find each season in a tidy little case: eight set with 25 discs in all. There's commentary on three episodes from the debut season (including the pilot) by co-creators and executive producers Carmen Finestra and David McFadzean, bloopers from most seasons, the interactive "Tim's Tool Corral" (click on a tool to access a clip) hosted by “Tool Time” girl Debbe Dunning and the live reunion special "The Home Improvement Uder's Guide," hosted by Tim Allen and Richard Karn.
And because no collection is complete without an accompanying gewgaw, there an exclusive all-in-one tool (in this case, "all" is a tape measure and bubble level) with the Binford Tools brand, the exclusive sponsor of "Tool Time." And yes, it looks about as cheap as you'd expect from Binford. Because seriously, if Binford really had any class, they'd hire Bob Villa.
The Oscar nominated animated feature speaks a universal language
"The Illusionist" (Sony)
Sylvain Chomet (of the delirious "The Triplets of Belleville") transforms an unproduced script by French auteur Jacques Tati ("Mon Oncle") into a tender tale of a French magician and a Scottish girl in the theater-folk society of London as the old world of stage performance gives way to the new theater of rock and roll. They don't even speak the same language, not that words are the currency of communication in this film, a delicate and delightful piece of old-fashioned hand-drawn animation where character is in body language and personality in the "performance."
Chomet doesn't just adapt Tati's script, he models his lanky magician Tatischeff on Tati's own distinctive screen character and performance style. And while he has his own approach to staging screen comedy, Chomet shares Tati's preference to playing scenes out in full shots and long takes where his characters can fill the world with their presence. His screen Tati evokes the original beautifully while creating a unique animated character in its right. As the title suggests, the magic here is all illusion, a matter of sleight of hand and stagecraft, but Chomet reminds us that theater and art creates its own brand of magic. Chomet's brand of animated magic earned the film an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature.
The film arrives in a two-disc Blu-ray+DVD Combo pack with minimal but enjoyable supplements. "The Making of The Illusionist" is less a documentary than very brief hop, skip and jump through various stages of production but "The Animation Process," while almost as brief, offers an illustration of the animation process with pencil tests and progression sequences from a few key scenes. The soundtrack is listed as "English" but in fact the minimal dialogue, a matter of muttered asides and brief exclamations that are self-explanatory in the context of their scenes, is in multiple languages, reflecting the multinational character of the traveling performers.
Michelle Williams earned an Oscar nomination for her intense performance
"Blue Valentine" (Anchor Bay)
Michelle Williams, passed over at Oscar nomination for "Wendy and Lucy" last year, finally got her deserving nomination for Best Actress for her emotionally naked performance in "Blue Valentine," opposite an equally intense and committed Ryan Gosling as young marrieds in an unraveling relationship.
Director Derek Cianfrance, who extensively used improvisations to create a spontaneity, intercuts his anatomy of the end of a marriage with flashbacks to the excitement and anticipation and hope of the beginning of the relationship, and shoots it all with a handheld camera that, which is more distracting that immediate and "real." But it does create a crucible for very powerful performances and a convincing relationship in all its contradictions.
In the words of MSN critic Glenn Kenny, "it is, in fact, really almost very, very good. Which means, when you break it down, that "Blue Valentine" largely feels genuinely honest, rather than aspiring to an obvious movie facsimile of "honest." It also means that the film is scrupulously conceived and genuinely well-constructed. That it is, finally, a considered work of ... wait for it ... art!"
The DVD and Blu-ray editions both feature a production-oriented commentary by director Derek Cianfrance (who spent years getting this film made and has plenty to say about every step) and co-editor Jim Helton, the 13-minutes "The Making of Blue Valentine" (which is more thorough and dense than most such productions), four deleted scenes and "home movie" footage created to give the couple a family history.
Fragments of an amazing film that might have been
"Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno" (Flicker Alley)
In 1964, French director Henri-George Clouzot—a man at the top of his game and his fame for such films as "The Wages of Fear," "Diabolique" and "La vérité" (though largely forgotten today, it was an Oscar nominee and a Golden Globe winner for Best Foreign Language Film)—was given carte-blanche by Columbia Pictures to make a dream project and challenge the new supremacy of the freewheeling nouvelle vague directors.
His film, a portrait of obsessive jealousy in a husband (Sergio Reggiani) who becomes insanely paranoid and maniacally controlling of his beautiful young wife (Romy Schneider, then one of the most luminous stars in Europe), collapsed in the director's own obsessive camera tests and experiments, increasingly demanding direction and endless reshoots. He pushed the production overbudget and over schedule, drove his leading man to quit in exasperation and became distracted in exacting minutiae at the cost of the big picture. When a heart attack leveled him, the producers to pull the plug. It's a story that Werner Herzog could have concocted: an epic of one man's vision and creative ambition fueled by obsession and growing megalomania and laid low by the limits of physical reality, production economics and the limits of his own body.
Serge Bromberg's documentary (co-directed with Ruxandra Medrea Annonier) is a peek into a film that never was through a rich collection of rushes and camera tests, unseen and forgotten for decades until Bromberg tracked it down and negotiated access. The footage (some of it in raw, undeveloped form until Bromberg's involvement) reveals an artist searching for new expressive ways to explore jealousy and madness on film, but also a relentlessly ambitious artist looking for new ways to express himself.
Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher to navigate sex without emotional entanglements. Hilarity ensues.
"No Strings Attached" (Paramount)
"No Strings Attached," starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher as buddies who sleep together but resist emotional entanglements (or so they insist), was the first friends-with-benefits romantic comedy out of the gate this year. Which may have helped it at the box office, since its unlikely to be the best. (Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake still have their own odyssey to make in the upcoming "Friends With Benefits.")
Portman (who also produced) is a workaholic doctor with no time for romance and Kutcher a production assistant on a TV show (his production is pretty much a "High School Musical" knock-off) at loose ends after his girlfriend (played by the irresistibly named Ophelia Lovibond) dumps him. So these pretty young singles decide to become recreational sex partners: all physical with no emotional entanglements, at the insistence of Portman's character. That's gonna be an issue, isn't it? Because, being a Hollywood film, there's no way that anyone can have that much fun without having to face some kind of consequences.
See an MSN Exclusive clip from the supplements below
MSN critic Glenn Kenny complains that "it's pretty bald-faced in its attempts to adopt some of the stylings of more au-courant comedy auteur Judd Apatow (random-seeming pop culture references, a wannabe-knowing attitude to such new "youth" phenomena as social media, and so on) but predictably stiff in that respect all the same."
John Lennon co-stars in Richard Lester's darkly anti-war farce
"How I Won the War" (MGM Limited Edition Collection)
MOD stands for "Manufacture on Demand" and represents a recent development in the DVD market, where slipping sales have slowed the release of classic, special interest and catalogue releases. These are DVD-R releases, no-frills discs from studio masters, ordered online and "burned" individually with every order.
You can read a general introduction to the format and the model on my profile of the Warner Archive Collection on Parallax View here. Sony, MGM and other studios have followed suit with their own MOD programs.
There are now scores of titles pouring out in this format every month, far too many for me to cover, but I can pick out a few highlights, intriguing titles and personal favorites and spotlight them every week. We begin this week with...
John Lennon's familiar face, unsmiling behind a pair of yellow-tinted glasses, stares out from the cover of the this release of Richard Lester's 1967 anti-war farce "How I Won the War." And though second billed in the credits, Mr. Lennon is not so much co-star as an impish member of the company, an ensemble of oddballs goofing behind the ineffectual strutting of Lt. Goodbody (Michael Crawford, from Lester's earlier film "The Knack…" and later to star in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s "Phantom Of The Opera") spouting his memoirs to the sympathetic German officer that has taken him prisoner. Peace signs and psychedelic suggestion of the cover aside, this sixties satire is neither a Beatles-esque romp nor a counterculture blast, but a mix of British music hall lampoon, "Goon Show" whimsy and absurdity, gallows humor and grim anti-war imagery (some of it actual battle footage edited into the comically chaotic recreation of warfare).
The film shifts back and forth through Goodbody's confused service with the sweetly stupid and misguidedly cocky upper-class twit of a college boy, promoted to officer by virtue of class rather than any talent, intelligence or aptitude for leadership, periodically turning to the audience to spin a narrative that has little to do with the incompetence and tomfoolery onscreen. His mission—to build a proper cricket pitch in North Africa—stands in for the absurdity of war as the men die in often brutally violent fashion for this misguided misadventure.
"How I Won the War" is a well-meaning misfire of curious bits and pieces awkwardly pieced together in an unbalanced mosaic. Lennon, who had worked with Lester on "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!," is no comic genius but his good-natured goofing and mugging as Musketeer Gripweed adds a scruffily vulnerable touch to the more focused character comedy of Jack MacGowran (as the unit con man and self-appointed entertainment director) and Roy Kinnear. The gruesome and the goofy mix it up in scene after scene, but Lester's grand plan of using farce for political commentary is sabotaged by his uncharacteristically clumsy handling of it all. It's like a military burlesque with everyone too busy with their own act to notice that there's a story here. Or there should be one, at least.
A technical fault puts a shadow across a batch of discs
A batch of discs from the MGM Limited Edition Collection, a MOD (manufacture-on-demand) line of releases sold exclusively via the web, was manufactured with errors in the image. In particular scenes with dark objects or hard lines set against a bright or neutral backgrounds, a halo effect, or ghosting, can be seen in the radiating out from the image (see frame captures below for an example). The problem, which has since corrected by Allied Vaughn (the company partnering with Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment in the enterprise), was the result of a faulty transcoder used in the replication process, according to a spokesperson from Fox.
The problems appear to be limited to discs replicated during a particular window of time—the discs where I noticed the issue all arrived in early April—and a particular machine. And they are most apparent on black-and-white films, though the Africa scenes of "How I Won The War," with soldiers set against the desert or the clear sky, are also quite noticeable, especially on high definition widescreen monitors.
It's hard to see at this size, but if you look closely at the antenna against the blue sky at the top of image, you can see the ghost of lines just to the left of it. On a large screen monitor, the effect is significantly magnified.
The lines are gone in the corrected disc.
For those not familiar with the format, MOD represents a recent development in the DVD market, where slipping sales have slowed the release of classic, special interest and catalogue releases. These are DVD-R releases "burned" individually rather than pressed like DVDS, and are no-frills releases of titles that otherwise would not see a home video release. You can read a general introduction to the format and the model on my profile of the Warner Archive Collection on Parallax View here.
Your guide to our coverage of the new DVD/Blu-ray releases
Here's what's new and notable on DVD and Blu-ray this week as featured on Videodrone
It's Not Easy Being "The Green Hornet" - with an MSN Exclusive clip
TV on DVD:
"Identity" Cops: A British cop drama on the dark side of identity theft
The Cool and the Collectible:
Cult Watch: "Dementia 13" and "The Terror" - Classic Corman Cheapies get the HD treatment
"Smiles of a Summer Night": An Ingmar Bergman Roundelay
Blu-ray Round-up: Catherine Breillat’s "Fat Girl" and the 1954 "Romeo and Juliet"
Streams and Channels:
Coming up next week:
"No Strings Attached" with Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher
"Blue Valentine" with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams
"Justin Bieber: Never Say Never" on Friday, May 13
"The Illusionist" from France
"I Saw the Devil" from South Korea
"Something Wild" in a new edition from Criterion
"Home Improvement: The 20th Anniversary Collection" – All Eight Seasons
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