The birth of a comedy genius in 19 short comedies
Buster Keaton was arguably the cinema’s first modernist: an old fashioned romantic with a 20th century mind behind the deadpan visage. His films brim with some of the most breathtaking stunts and ingenious gags ever put on film, all perfectly engineered to look effortless. And it all began with his first solo flights: 19 short films that he made between 1920 and 1923. Though he did not take director credit for these films (or, for that matter, many of his feature), he was the creative artist behind every aspect of the production, including the direction. This amazing run is, along with Charlie Chaplin's Mutual comedies, the peak of creativity, ingenuity and comic grace in American silent comedy shorts.
Keaton was raised in vaudeville doing pratfalls and physical comedy and apprenticed in the movies under Fatty Arbuckle, an unsung genius of silent film comedy, but he developed his own identity and sensibility when he started making his own two-reel comedies. He first displayed a knack for becoming one with mechanical world with his third solo short "The Scarecrow" (1920), where he transforms a one room bachelor pad into an automatic house via a Rube Goldberg tangle of ropes, pulleys, toy trains and trap doors, and he topped the slapstick mayhem of the Keystone Kops with his own "Cops" (1922), which ends with Keaton chased by a veritable army of uniformed policemen.
But he also pushed comedy into the realm of the surreal in such shorts as "The Frozen North" (1922), where he spoofs frontier adventure fiction clichés with a modern sensibility, and "The Playhouse" (1921), a masterpiece of silent comedy that begins with Keaton playing every role (including the audience) in a vaudeville act and proceeds to dismantle our sense of reality at every turn. It is an ingenious film, as hilarious as it is constantly surprising, and it also features Keaton breaking out of the stone face persona to play a chimpanzee: with simple make-up, rubber-faced gestures and a make-over created entirely from body language, he offers the greatest impression of a simian that a mere human has ever put to film. But then, of course, Keaton is no mere human.
These shorts have all been available as supplements to various Keaton DVD releases but this new edition (on both DVD and Blu-ray) marks the first time they have been gathered into a single collection. Both present the shorts in chronological order on three discs and include with short visual essays (illustrated with still and film clips) for 15 of the films, four visual essays on locations, alternate and deleted shots and two bonus shorts featuring Keaton cameos among the supplements. Each short is accompanied by an organ score.
Plus the end of "ER" and more from the BBC
"ER: The Complete Fifteenth and Final Season" (Warner) – The long-running medical drama ends after fifteen years with 22 episodes of crises, emergencies, complicated lives and lots and lots of returning faces: Noah Wyle returns in a recurring role through the season and Julianna Margulies, Laura Innes, Eriq La Salle, Maura Tierney, Goran Visnjic, Alex Kingston, Sherry Stringfield and others drop by for their farewells to the show. Videodrone's review is here. "Damages: The Complete Third Season" (Sony) pits Glenn Close's hardball attorney Patty Hewes against a Bernie Madoff-like figure and spins the headline case into a dense, lethal conspiracy. Videodrone's review is here.
"MI-5: Volume 9" (BBC), the latest season of Britain's cliffhanger-strewn espionage series (called "Spooks" over there), is still as addictive, and as exhausting, as ever. This season opens in the aftermath of the death of Ros (Hermione Norris), the show's best team leader to date, and adds Sophia Myles to the ranks as a private contractor who wants to prove herself to the team. But the story running beneath the individual cases involves the secret past of a trusted team member that gets churned up with deadly consequences. But as far as I'm concerned, Peter Firth is still the show's ace in the hole as MI-5 chief Harry and while Nicola Walker's Ruth Evershed plays the show's conscience, which is all that keeps Harry going. I can't say it's a great show, but Firth and Walker keep me coming back. This season plays out over eight episodes, collected in a two-panel digipak.
On the lighter side, "Entourage: The Complete Seventh Season" (HBO) finds fun-loving Hollywood star Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) bent on career self-destruction (including a drug-fueled affair with porn star Sacha Grey, who plays herself with gusto) while his buddies try to pull him out, at least between the parties and the usual antics, and super-agent Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) fast-talks his way to the top of heap. It's all being laid out for the final season, which starts this month on HBO. 10 episodes on two discs, plus commentary on three episodes and featurettes.
And then there is "Robot Chicken: Star Wars™ Episode III" (Warner), the third collection of blackout sketches and sight gags Seth Green and Matthew Senreich and their pop culture-skewering partners in comedy in a galaxy not far enough away. The program of stop-motion skits with runs 44 minutes but there are three hours of supplements, including multiple commentary tracks, featurettes and deleted scenes.
Hail Britannia: more British TV
"Poirot: Set 6 – The Movie Collection" (Acorn) collects three feature-length mysteries, starring David Suchet at Hercule Poirot, made for the BBC and broadcast on stateside on "Masterpiece Mystery." "Three Act Tragedy," "The Clocks" and "Hallowe'en Party" are all based on novels by Agatha Christie.
The classic "Doctor Who" shows continue to roll out with two more story arcs: "Doctor Who: The Gunfighters" (BBC), story number 25 from 1966, stars William Hartnell as The Doctor, and "Doctor Who: The Awakening" (BBC), story number 132, stars Peter Davison as The Doctor. Both volumes include commentary, featurettes and other goodies. And "Last of the Summer Wine: Vintage 1990" (Acorn) features 10 episodes from the longest running sitcom on TV, plus a Christmas special.
"ThunderCats: The Original Series - Season 1, Part 1" (Warner) presents the initial 12 episodes of the original animated adventure series about a family of feline survivors from the planet Thundera.
Plus "Rango," "Arthur," "Miral" and "Insidious"
Johnny Depp taps into his inner lizard for "Rango" (Paramount), voicing a pet chameleon with thespian ambitions who takes the role of sheriff in a desert town. While ostensibly a family film, this southwestern goof is really for really big kids with a love of movies, a sense of whimsy and a soft spot for the hideously gorgeous creatures of the desert. Videodrone's review is here.
"Rango" arrives on Friday, July 15, as does the remake of "Arthur" (Warner) with Russell Brand in the Dudley Moore role, Helen Mirren providing the dignity to Brand's whimsy, and Jennifer Garner and Greta Gerwig co-starring as the women in his life. "Brand definitely carries the first hour with his free-associative riffing and childlike energy, making the irresponsible rich playboy a more-than-acceptable mercurial object," confesses MSN film critic Glenn Kenny, who admits he enjoyed the film more than most. "Still, it has to be said that in the picture's second half things get bogged down in unnecessarily drawn-out plot complications…" The DVD features deleted scenes and the Blu-ray adds a comic-inflected featurette and a gag reel, plus a bonus DVD and digital copy.
"The Lincoln Lawyer" (Lionsgate), a legal thriller with a meaty story (faithfully adapted from the Michael Connelly novel), casts Matthew McConaughey in a role where his smarmy charm is appropriate: a classic shyster lawyer who works out of the backseat of a Lincoln town car and finds most of his clients right out of the police lock-up. "The courtroom thriller used to be a staple of big-studio "adult" product," recalls MSN critic Glenn Kenny, and he admits that this is "a pretty decent entertainment on those terms, although it does have a pretty challenging time covering up the fact that the genre hasn't got a whole lot of new tricks in its bag." Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillippe, William H. Macy, John Leguizamo and Bryan Cranston head up a terrific cast. The DVD and Blu-ray come with featurettes on the film and on author Michael Connelly, a conversation between Connelly and actor McConaughey and deleted scenes. The Blu-ray+DVD Combo pack includes a bonus DVD and digital copy (which is accessible only through iTunes).
Winner of the Palm d'Or at Cannes 2010 and finally stateside in 2011, Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" (Strand) is not a film for everyone, which is too bad for everyone else because it is gentle and sublime and magical and magnificent, a film straddling the physical and the spiritual worlds as experienced by a dying man who… well, you can read it in the title. Ghosts and animal spirits and legends of old manifest themselves as Boonmee spends his final days in the company of family, both in the flesh and in spirit. Are they real? And what exactly constitutes "real" to a man suddenly open to the supernatural? This is the 2011 cinematic experience I keep finding myself drawn back to again and again, if only to see those magnificent animist "monkey ghost" creatures, so dark that they appear out of the jungle like the night itself, with eyes that glow like burning coals, watching on like the echoes of lives past. In Thai with English subtitles. Features deleted scenes and an interview with Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
Julian Schnabel directs "Miral" (Anchor Bay), a drama inspired by real events about the plight of Palestinians in Israel, but MSN film critic Glenn Kenny complains that "rather than emitting a genuine sense of grievance or rage or injustice, it's merely sentimental and romantic and cliché-laden." Frieda Pinto (of "Slumdog Millionaire") stars as the title character. On DVD and Blu-ray with commentary, featurettes and deleted scenes.
The horror! The horror!
"Insidious" (Sony) comes from the curious collaboration of the creators of "Paranormal Activity" and "Saw" and a determination to return to shivery old-school scares. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne star as parents in what they think is a haunted house, until the haunting follows them when they move. "The first third of their new film builds legitimate haunted-house dread, generating some nasty jump-out-of-your-skin scares," celebrates MSN film critic Kat Murphy, who is let down by a jokey second act, "as if the filmmakers had suddenly lost faith in the genre's power to breed killer nightmares. That faith is later restored in spades but "Insidious" never entirely recovers its footing." The DVD and Blu-ray feature three featurettes.
The Spanish "[REC] 2" (Sony), from filmmakers Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, picks where the influential original left off: in an quarantined apartment building swarming with zombies. Arrives on DVD only, with deleted scenes and featurettes. In French with English subtitles.
And the rest:
Elisabeth Shue and Sarah Roemer are mother and daughter struggling with Dissociative Identity Disorder in "Waking Madison" (eOne). Dax Shepard stars as a skewed version of himself in the mockumentary "Brother's Justice" (Well Go), an actor trying to remake himself as a martial arts star. And Dean Cain is a small town sheriff investigating cannibal killers in "Maneater" (eOne).
The legal series spins a deadly conspiracy from the headlines
In the realm of TV legal series, "Damages" offers something more adult, and more morally murky, than the usual solved-in-the-end episode.
"Damages: The Complete Third Season" (Sony) pits Glenn Close's hardball attorney Patty Hewes against a Bernie Madoff-like figure named Louis Tobin (Len Cariou), with former protégé/nemesis Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) now a wary ally in the DA's office. As the government goes after the conviction, Patty and her firm goes in search of the money, which she is convinced that Tobin has hidden for his family. The show continues its complicated structure of jumping between parallel storylines in jarring flashbacks/flashforwards (in this case, showcasing the murder of a major character), and slowly bringing the two threads together in the final episodes.
This is a show that essentially confirms the suspicions most Americans have of corporate malfeasance and legal shenanigans: the rich and powerful on both sides of the law don't play by our rules and have a gift for getting away with murder. And the series does so in a way that threads the needle between legal thriller and high-society melodrama, with characters capable of almost anything and actors able to hide their hold cards throughout the show. This season Campbell Scott takes the lead as the estranged son of Tobin, whose anger and desperation pushes him to play after-the-fact accomplice, and Martin Short shows chops he's rarely had a chance to flaunt in a plum dramatic role as Tobin's shark of an attorney. And in a much smaller part, Tom Noonan is just as good as the investigating detective in the flashforward scenes.
Tate Donovan is back as Patty's associate promoted to partner and the guest cast includes Keith Carradine, Mädchen Amick and Lily Tomlin. This was the final season to run on FX. The fourth season launches exclusively on the satellite service DirecTV this month. 13 episodes on three discs, with commentary on two episodes (including the season finale), episode introductions, deleted scenes and featurettes, in a box set of two thinpak cases.
The show may be over but the Emergency Room never closes
"ER: The Complete Fifteenth and Final Season" (Warner) – The long-running medical drama ends after fifteen years with a 22 episodes of crises, emergencies, complicated lives and lots and lots of returning faces: Noah Wyle returns as Dr. John Carter in a recurring role through the season, working to put his family fortune to good use by giving the community a new hospital, and Julianna Margulies, Laura Innes, Eriq La Salle, Maura Tierney, Goran Visnjic, Alex Kingston, Sherry Stringfield and others drop by for their farewells to the show, many of them appearing in the double-length finale, which also honors Anthony Edwards' character Dr. Mark Green, who died earlier in the run.
Meanwhile, we watch the stories of the current doctors, residents and other employees of Chicago's Country General Hospital, which this season is populated by Parminder Nagra, John Stamos, Linda Cardellini, Scott Grimes, David Lyons and Angela Bassett. As befitting the series where the job never ends, only the shift does, and the final episode goes out with all hands on deck once more.
22 episodes on five discs in a standard case, plus deleted scenes and "Previously on E.R.," a 42-minute retrospective featuring almost every major regular cast member since the beginning of the show (and even a few comments from executive producer Steven Spielberg). It was originally broadcast on NBC in advance of the series finale.
Call this animated spaghetti western a chameleon out of water tale
Johnny Depp taps into his inner lizard for "Rango" (Paramount), voicing a pet chameleon with thespian ambitions who takes the role of sheriff in a desert town, only find that what he thought was on old Hollywood oater is actually a spaghetti western by way "Chinatown." It's the role of a lifetime for a loner who has done nothing but play heroes in his private plays, but this time he's set up to be the patsy.
See an MSN exclusive clip from the Blu-ray below
Gore Verbinski, who directed Depp in the first three "Pirates of the Caribbean" films, turned down the fourth to make this film, which he'd put on the backburner for years. It was the right call. This is a lot more fun.
It's also his animation debut and that gives him a different slant on things. He approaches animation like a live-action film and collaborated with digital effects guys from ILM studios, many of whom were also new to animation as animation (rather than digital effects). The results is something that looks and feels different from any other animated feature out, with desert realism and comic surrealism, incredible textural detail and oddball personality quirks. And while ostensibly a family film, this southwestern goof is really for really big kids with a love of movies, a sense of whimsy and a soft spot for the hideously gorgeous creatures of the desert.
""Rango" wears the genuine and personal quirkiness of its makers on its sleeve, while at the same time being pretty relaxed about the whole thing," affirms MSN film critic Glenn Kenny, who embraces it as "a fleet, quirky, computer-animated feature that I found ingenious, charming and almost entirely engaging."
Note that the film arrives in stores (or in the mail) on Friday, July 15
Features both the original theatrical version and an extended edition (which runs four minutes longer), the latter with very detailed commentary by director, story co-writer and producer Gore Verbinski (who sounds oddly like a Johnny Depp impression as he introduces himself) with head of story James Ward Byrkit, production designer Mark “Crash” McCreery, animation director Hal Hickel and visual effects supervisor Tim Alexander. There's also a featurette on the real animals that inspired the animated versions and ten deleted scenes that are incorporated in the extended edition, including the extended coda of the ending. Which means that, unlike the deleted scenes of most animated features, these are all finished shots.
The Blu-ray includes the two-part, 50-minute documentary "Breaking the Rules: Making Animation History," which is certainly family friendly but offers a more detailed and in-depth look at the production than most animated discs offer. "A Field Trip to Dirt" is an interactive features that allows you to explore the town and its characters, though it's designed more like a game than a gallery as you are left to stumble around and click to see what's what. It’s a two-disc set and the second disc features bonus DVD and digital copy (of the theatrical version only).
MSN 'Rango' Exclusive: "Gore Verbinski on Western Shootouts"
Director Gore Verbinski weighs in on creating a western shootout. "Rango" is available on Blu-ray/DVD July 15, 2011.
Videodrone's take on the biggest, best, coolest and culty-ist releases of the week.
Johnny Depp taps into his inner lizard for "Rango" (Paramount), voicing a pet chameleon with thespian ambitions who takes the role of sheriff in a desert town, only find that what he thought was on old Hollywood oater is actually a spaghetti western by way "Chinatown." While ostensibly a family film, this southwestern goof is really for really big kids with a love of movies, a sense of whimsy and a soft spot for the hideously gorgeous creatures of the desert. And the Blu-ray edition features an extended edition (four minutes longer) and an alternate ending. Videodrone's review is here. "Rango" arrives on Friday, July 15, as does the remake of "Arthur" (Warner) with Russell Brand in the Dudley Moore role and Helen Mirren providing the dignity to Brand's whimsy.
"The Lincoln Lawyer" (Lionsgate), a legal thriller with a meaty story, is as faithful an adaptation (from the Michael Connelly novel) and as sturdy a piece of old-fashioned storytelling as you'll find this year. It's a pleasure to find Matthew McConaughey in a role where his smarmy charm is so appropriate, but above all it’s a good yarn well told, and that is no small achievement in today's high concept Hollywood. Videodrone's review is here.
Winner of the Palm d'Or at Cannes 2010 and finally stateside in 2011, "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" (Strand) is not a film for everyone, which is too bad for everyone else because it is gentle and sublime and magical and magnificent, a film that straddles the physical and the spiritual worlds. This is for anyone seeking out films that deliver a different kind of cinematic experience. Videodrone's review is here.
"Insidious" (Sony) comes from the curious collaboration of the creators of "Paranormal Activity" and "Saw" and a determination to return to shivery old-school scares, while the Spanish "[REC] 2" (Sony) picks where the first left off: in a quarantined apartment building swarming with zombies.
TV on DVD:
"ER: The Complete Fifteenth and Final Season" (Warner) – The long-running medical drama ends after fifteen years with a 22 episodes of crises, emergencies, complicated lives and lots and lots of returning faces: Noah Wyle returns in a recurring role through the season and Julianna Margulies, Laura Innes, Eriq La Salle, Maura Tierney, Goran Visnjic, Alex Kingston, Sherry Stringfield and others drop by for their farewells to the show. Videodrone's review is here.
"Damages: The Complete Third Season" (Sony) pits Glenn Close's hardball attorney Patty Hewes against a Bernie Madoff-like figure (Videodrone's review is here) and "MI-5: Volume 9" (BBC) adds Sophia Myles to the ranks while another member of the team reveals a secret past with deadly consequences. Videodrone's review is here.
On the lighter side, "Entourage: The Complete Seventh Season" (HBO) finds Vincent Chase bent on career self-destructive course while his buddies try to pull him out, and then there is "Robot Chicken: Star Wars™ Episode III" (Warner), the third collection of blackout sketches and sight gags from a galaxy not far enough away, with hours of supplements.
Cool, Classic and Cult:
Not just one of the greatest and most inventive slapstick comics of all time, Keaton was an artist and a filmmaker could warp gags and spin situations until they left the plane of reality, taking audiences with him in a blast of laughter. "Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection (1920-1923)" (Kino) collects all 19 short comedies in a single set in superb editions on both DVD and Blu-ray. Videodrone's review is here.
"Battle Beyond the Stars 30th Anniversary Special Edition" (Shout! Factory), which launched Richard "John Boy" Thomas into a space-age "The Seven Samurai," was Roger Corman's budget-minded answer to "Star Wars." But this knock-off also sports a screenplay by John Sayles and marked the professional debut of an inventive art director and set designer named Jim "James" Cameron, and the new edition features plenty of supplements. Videodrone's review is here. Also from Shout! Factory is the seventies post-apocalyptic thriller "Damnation Alley" (Shout! Factory) with Jan-Michael Vincent.
For pure, unadulterated exploitation, there is the "Women In Prison Triple Feature" (Panik House), which features the "Mr. Skin" seal of approval, and the SyFy Channel creature feature "Dinocroc Vs. Supergator" (Anchor Bay), from producer Roger Corman and featuring one of the last screen appearances by David Carradine.
"Brazil" (Universal), Terry Gilliam's absurdist nightmare of a Kafka-esque future, debuts on Blu-ray in the 132 minute cut but with no supplements. Too bad, as this is one film that deserves the Criterion treatment and Gilliam's preferred 142-minute director's cut. More on Videodrone here.
Criterion, meanwhile, offers their HD upgrade of Mike Leigh's "Naked" (Criterion), perhaps the director's most controversial film, with all the supplements carried over from the earlier DVD release.
Build Your Library Essential of the Week:
"Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection (1920-1923)" (Kino) – While most silent cinema appeals to a specialized segment, the 19 short comedies of Buster Keaton are, along with the Charlie Chaplin's 12 Mutual film, the peak of creativity, ingenuity and comic grace in American silent comedy shorts. They are brilliant, timeless and endlessly entertaining.
The complete calendar of releases this week is after the jump:
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Your guide to our coverage of the new DVD/Blu-ray releases
Here's what's new on DVD and Blu-ray this week as featured on Videodrone
"Of Gods and Men" and Spirituality and Humanity
Cult Watch: "Hobo With a Shotgun"
"13 Assassins" - Miike Takashi puts his spin on the classic warrior spectacle
TV on DVD:
"The Cape" – Another Small Screen Dark Knight
The Cool and the Collectible:
Cult Watch: Two-minute Commentary in "Trailers From Hell"
"Wild and Weird" – The Alloy Orchestra Accompanies 14 Fascinating and Innovative Films
Coming up next week:
"The Lincoln Lawyer" (Lionsgate)
"Insidious" (Film District)
"Miral" (Anchor Bay)
"[REC] 2" (Sony)
"Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" (Strand)
"Battle Beyond the Stars 30th Anniversary Special Edition" (Shout! Factory)
"Robot Chicken: Star Wars Episode III" (Warner)
"Dinocroc Vs. Supergator" (Anchor Bay)
"Entourage: The Complete Seventh Season" (HBO)
"Damages: The Complete Third Season" (Sony)
"ER: Season 15" (Warner)
"MI-5: Volume 9" (BBC)
"Buster Keaton: The Short Films Collection (1920-1923)" (Blu-ray) (Kino)
"Naked" (Blu-ray) (Criterion)
For more upcoming releases, see our extended list here
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