Mike’s Picks: ‘Tin Cup’ and ‘The General Died at Dawn’

Tin Cup

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Comedy, $21.99 Blu-ray, ‘R’ for language and brief nudity.
Stars Kevin Costner, Rene Russo, Cheech Marin, Don Johnson.
1996. A golf-backdropped romantic comedy directed and co-written by Ron Shelton, Tin Cup was about as popular at the box office as the filmmaker’s breakthrough Bull Durham, yet it isn’t talked about as much these days — perhaps due to Durham’s extraordinarily sustained shelf life as a movie that really caught on in the home market.
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The General Died at Dawn

Kino Lorber, Thriller, $24.95 Blu-ray, Not rated.
Stars Gary Cooper, Madeleine Carroll, Akim Tamiroff, Porter Hall, William Frawley.
1936.
As a standout film or close in the borderline screen career of Lewis Milestone that additionally features the first screenplay of playwright Clifford Odets’ career, The General Died at Dawn has more going for it than the cosmetic magnitude of its two impossible-looking lead actors captured here in a new 4K mastering that shows how great ’30s Paramounts used to look.
Extras: Historians Lee Gambin and Rutanya Alda share the Blu-ray commentary.
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Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 5/12/20;
Warner;
Action;
Box Office $84.16 million;
$28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $44.95 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for strong violence and language throughout, and some sexual and drug material.
Stars Margot Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, Ella Jay Basco, Chris Messina, Ewan McGregor.

The most significant aspect of the 2016 Suicide Squad movie was undoubtedly the popularity boost it gave to the character of Harley Quinn, as played by Margot Robbie. While she had always been a fan favorite, the film made her a pop culture sensation, as Harley Quinn cosplay dominated the comic book convention circuit more than ever before, and there was little doubt the character would be popping up in her own movie soon enough.

Those plans hit a bit of a snag, however, as the creative direction of the DC Comics shared movie universe began to unravel a bit following the disappointment of 2017’s Justice League. Subsequent projects would put more focus on the individual films while de-emphasizing the potential for interconnected stories.

And with that, Harley Quinn would end up fronting a loose adaptation of the “Birds of Prey” comic book that shined a spotlight on some of the female heroes of Gotham City. Being the girlfriend of the Joker, Harley was usually cast as an antagonist, but her popularity spurt resulted in her being positioned as more of an anti-hero.

As such, the film finds Harley (Robbie) having just broken up with the Joker, a change in relationship status that makes her an open target for every criminal in Gotham City with a bone to pick with her. In her efforts to establish herself as an underworld authority in her own right, and find a quiet moment to enjoy an egg sandwich, Harley finds herself protecting a teenage pickpocket (Ella Jay Basco) who stole a jewel encoded with the account numbers of a vast mafia fortune, attracting the attention of a mob boss nicknamed Black Mask (Ewan McGregor).

Along the way, and with nary a mention of Batman, Harley tussles with a hotshot cop (Rosie Perez) who treats her job like an ’80s action movie; the Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), a lounge singer with sonic powers; and Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a crossbow-wielding vigilante who seeks vengeance on the crime lords who killed her family.

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Described by one of the visual effects supervisors in the bonus materials as Pulp Fiction meets Clockwork Orange, the film seems trying to set itself up as something of a girl power version of Deadpool, intersplicing some decent action scenes with broad comedy in service of several story threads connected by narration from Harley that jumps back and forth through time. Also like Deadpool, the film tries to play in the ‘R’-rated playground, but the attempt seems more like an excuse for excess rather than anything intrinsically necessary for the characters, story or humor.

Unfortunately, in an effort to be quirky, the film was saddled with the mouthful of a title Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, which when shortened to the obvious Birds of Prey doesn’t speak much to Harley’s involvement in it. So, after the film’s initial disappointment at the box office (also not helped by limiting the audience with its ‘R’ rating), the studio tried to re-christen it Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey for marketing purposes (a move further made understandable by the fact that they couldn’t get the full name right in their own press release for the home video). They probably just should have called it Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey to begin with.

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With the coronavirus pandemic cutting the film’s box office run short, it made an early debut through digital retailers, which offered a variety of bonus features that also made their way to the Blu-ray edition.

The primary extra is the Birds Eye View Mode, a viewing option that plays the film with a mix of filmmaker commentary, pop-up trivia and picture-in-picture behind-the-scenes footage.

More behind-the-scenes details are offered in six featurettes that run a total of 42 minutes, with some repetition of material between them and with the viewing mode. Most of the emphasis is on the physical look of the film, such as the production design and the costumes. There’s also a significant amount of time devoted to the style of the characters and finding the right actors to play them. One of the more unintentionally funny clips involves Winstead heaping praise upon the talents of McGregor — who reportedly left his wife for her while they were co-starring on the “Fargo” TV show just before signing on for this movie.

Finally, there’s a two-minute gag reel that, while amusing, is hard pressed to make an impact given all the silliness that ended up in the movie.

Mike’s Picks: “Murder, He Says” and “Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project”

Murder, He Says

Street Date 4/7/20
Kino Lorber, Comedy, $24.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Fred MacMurray, Helen Walker, Marjorie Main, Jean Heather, Porter Hall.
1945.
Fred MacMurray gives what may be the top comic performance of his long and still underrated career in Murder, He Says, a twisted Hollywood comedy that gets a 4K spiff-up for Blu-ray.
Extras: Includes a voiceover commentary by producer/writer Michael Schlesinger and film archivist Stan Taffel.
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Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project

Kino/Zeitgeist, Documentary, B.O. $0.06 million, $29.95 DVD, $34.95 Blu-ray, NR.
2019. There’s almost certainly a link between a certain kind of genius and a certain kind of madness, which is one of the themes of Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project — director Matt Wolf’s graphically sophisticated documentary about a most unusual woman who was on a mission.
Extras: The Blu-ray includes a commentary by Wolf, interviews, and episodes of a public access talk show hosted by Marion Stokes.
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Mike’s Picks: ‘Beau Brummell’ and ‘Canyon Passage’

Beau Brummell

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $21.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Stewart Granger, Elizabeth Taylor, Peter Ustinov, Robert Morley.
1954.
A flop at the time, this superbly cast costume drama has picked up a cult following who should be pleased by the Blu-ray’s 4K scan off the original negative that pays off with such vivid reds and dark blues on its British military uniforms.
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Canyon Passage

Kino Lorber, Western, $24.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Dana Andrews, Brian Donlevy, Susan Hayward, Ward Bond, Hoagy Carmichael, Patricia Roc, Lloyd Bridges.
1946.
Set in pre-Civil War Oregon amid a settlement that’s pretty isolated even by Northwest standards of the day, Technicolor Canyon Passage on Blu-ray makes for a fairly stunning visual experience, though you can’t tell at first because the opening shot is set of muddy streets during a monsoon.
Extras: Includes a commentary by Toby Roan, who knows Westerns as well as anyone.
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Mike’s Picks: ‘A Little Romance’ and ‘Salesman’

A Little Romance

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $21.99 Blu-ray, ‘PG.’
Stars Laurence Olivier, Diane Lane, Thelonious Bernard, Sally Kellerman, Arthur Hill.
1979.
It was spring of 1979 when 12-year-old Diane Lane made the cover of Time magazine back when that really meant something — ostensibly as part of a cover story on “Hollywood’s Whiz Kids” but spurred primarily by her utterly beguiling screen debut opposite Laurence Olivier in A Little Romance, the first film released, albeit through Warner Bros., by the then brand new Orion Pictures.
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Salesman

Criterion, Documentary, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
1969.
Salesman was the documentary feature debut that put the Maysles Brothers (David and Albert) on the map along with Charlotte Zwerin, whose subtle editing choices here are, with good reason, the kind often termed as “invisible,” though we subliminally sense that they’re there. We end up following four Irish-Catholic door-to-door salesmen of middle age and pet nicknames — charged with unloading deluxe doorstop Bibles full of elaborate illustrative paintings to customers who haven’t the money to make the monthly payments.
Essay: The accompanying essay by critic Michael Chaiken and a 1969 Maysles TV interview by onetime Newsweek film critic Jack Kroll are up to Criterion standards and the original DVD’s commentary by Albert Mayles and Zwerin has been carried over. But the high point is unquestionably the full-length inclusion of a spoof from the “Documentary Now!” cable series, in which Bill Hader and Fred Armisen expertly have their way in Globesman, a precisely detailed replication about guys trudging through the same snow and the like to peddle globes. Hader also provides a separate appreciation for the original film.
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Mike’s Picks: ‘The Day of the Dolphin’ and ‘X … the Unknown’

The Day of the Dolphin

Kino Lorber, Drama, $19.95 DVD, $29.95 Blu-ray, ‘PG.’
Stars George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Paul Sorvino, Fritz Weaver.
1973.
When I first saw The Day of the Dolphin, my reaction was akin to that of so many other film folk in that we couldn’t quite figure out what the hell we’d just seen. This had nothing to do with always on-point storytelling courtesy of what I now realize was an outstanding Buck Henry script, but, instead, with the mix of talent and subject matter.
Extras: Film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson offer a Blu-ray bonus commentary. Kino’s wonderful bonus featurette offers an interview with Henry, who was never absolutely crazy about the film himself. The Blu-ray bonus interviews also include featured players Leslie Charleson and the late Edward Hermann.
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X … the Unknown

Shout! Factory, Sci-Fi, $24.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Dean Jagger, Edward Chapman, Leo McKern.
1956.
Despite what looks like a glorified Ed Wood budget that’s mercifully camouflaged by a lot of nocturnal outdoor shots and a generally zippy pace, X … the Unknown is an affectionally regarded member of the Hammer Films family that’s sometimes mistaken for one of that studio’s “Quatermass” pictures.
Extras: Acreenwriter Jimmy Sangster, the most revered of the Hammer nucleus of talents who made the organization “go,” is the predominant subject of the Blu-ray’s bonus featurette about the original Hammer gang, not only for his ability to pull off a cheapie like this one but for his exceptionally expressive color horror films. The other featurette is a slapdash jumble of film clips in which the music drowns out a huge percentage of what narrator Oliver Reed is trying to say.
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Mike’s Picks: ‘Black Angel’ and ‘Kitten With a Whip’

Black Angel

MVD/Arrow, Mystery, $39.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Dan Duryea, June Vincent, Peter Lorre, Broderick Crawford.
1946.
The big takeaway from Angel, at least speaking personally, is just how much of a visual stylist director Roy William Neill apparently was.
Extras: Alan Rode provides a voiceover commentary, and there’s also an on-camera interview with British film historian Neil Sinyard.
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Kitten With a Whip

Universal, Drama, $21.98 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Ann-Margret, John Forsythe, Richard Anderson, Peter Brown, James Ward.
1964
Kitten With a Whip was kind of an unexpected and even strange choice for Ann-Margret to take on in the immediate aftermath of Bye Bye Birdie and Viva Las Vegas. As with its title, Kitten’s ad art was provocative, too — eschewing a literal whip but still suggesting that this might be the kind of girl you could take home to dad if dad were the Marquis de Sade.
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Mike’s Picks: ‘The Great McGinty’ and ‘Watergate’

The Great McGinty

Kino Lorber, Comedy, $29.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Brian Donlevy, Muriel Angelus, Akim Tamiroff, William Demarest.
1940.
It’s a little surprising that it took Hollywood until 1940 to attack the subject of political corruption as directly head-on as in The Great McGinty. However comparably minor it might be compared to the enduring Preston Sturges masterpieces that were shortly to come, McGinty is nonetheless full-throttle instant auteurism and effortlessly identifiable as a Sturges concoction from just about any 30-second excerpt.
Extras: Includes a voiceover commentary by Samm Deighan.
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Watergate

Region 2 British Import
Dogwoof/History Channel, Documentary, $15 DVD.
2019. Charles Ferguson’s four-hour, 21-minute documentary on the scandal that brought down the Nixon administration overcomes, for the most part, its inclusion of mostly unfortunate live reenactments.
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Mike’s Picks: ‘Holiday’ and ‘Trapped’

Holiday

Criterion, Comedy, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Lew Ayres, Doris Nolan, Edward Everett Horton.
1938.
Adapted from a play Philip Barry wrote well before he concocted The Philadelphia Story, this comic portrait of the unapologetic rich featured one of the four pairings of Katharine Hebburn and Cary Grant. Hepburn is as full of herself as ever, but this time in charming ways against a story that makes one fully empathize with her character. And Grant, so soon after The Awful Truth “made” him, gets another chance to deliver on his burgeoning screen charm but against a less farcical backdrop.
Extras: The Blu-ray includes the 1930 version of the story. Also included are an often funny back-and-forth from critics Michael Sragow and Michael Schlesinger; excerpts from 1970-72 AFI interviews of director George Cukor; a costume photo tribute; and a welcome essay by Slate critic Dana Stevens.
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Trapped

Flicker Alley, Drama, $34.99 Blu-ray/DVD, NR.
Stars Lloyd Bridges, Barbara Payton, John Hoyt.
1949.
For a tawdry, if seductively so, minor melodrama that director Richard Fleischer apparently didn’t even mention in his memoirs despite early-career finesse with noir, Trapped is full of what genre enthusiasts, at least, would count as curio compensations.
Extras: The esteemed Alan Rode and the luminous Julie Kirgo offer a Blu-ray commentary.
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Mike’s Picks: ‘The Bad and the Beautiful’ and ‘The Story of Temple Drake’

The Bad and the Beautiful

Available via Warner Archive
Warner, Drama, $21.99 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Dick Powell, Gloria Grahame, Walter Pidgeon.
1952.
The Bad and the Beautiful, a critical/commercial hit in its day, is tops of its kind if you’re into Vincente Minnelli’s specialized approach to sometimes gasket-blowing melodrama. A dissection of Hollywood’s underbelly all dressed up in MGM slickness, the relativelycalm-side B&B is both savvy and the next thing to over-the-top, without much attention paid to what was really going on in the industry at the time.
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The Story of Temple Drake

Criterion, Drama, $29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray, NR.
Stars Miriam Hopkins, William Garage, Jack La Rue, Florence Eldredge.
1933.
Paramount’s The Story of Temple Drake remains one of the more obscure Hollywood releases to the masses when it comes to making a list of the ones that caused a scandal in their day.
Extras: The always persuasive Imogen Smith makes a thoughtful feminist case about Miriam Hopkins’ title character, while acknowledging certain ambiguities. Film critic Mick LaSalle also is a bonus interviewee. Rounding out the bonuses are cinematographer/Motion Picture Academy president John Bailey — who joins Matt Severson (head of that organization’s Margaret Herrick Library) to look at the original storyboards, which (again) suggest a horror movie.
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