Licorice Pizza

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Universal/MGM;
Comedy;
Box Office $17.32 million;
$29.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R’ for language, sexual material and some drug use.
Stars Alana Haim, Cooper Hoffman, Sean Penn, Tom Waits, Bradley Cooper, Benny Safdie.

Writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson, whose films typically emphasize mood over story, adds to his oeuvre with Licorice Pizza, his reflection on life growing up in Los Angeles in the early 1970s.

The centerpiece of the film is an unconventional love story between a 15-year-old child actor and a listless 25-year-old woman he hits on during photo day at his high school.

Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, a frequent Anderson collaborator, makes his feature debut as Gary Valentine, a young hustler loosely based on producer Gary Goetzman. He is instantly attracted to the sassy Alana (Alana Haim, a musician also marking her film debut), who finds herself intrigued by his forwardness despite being 10 years older than him.

Gary, as an actor whose mother is involved with marketing several restaurants around the San Fernando Valley, seems to have connections all over town and is quick to exploit any opportunity for profit. First, he starts a business selling water beds, recruiting several of his friends, including Alana, to help run it.

Things are going swimmingly until the oil crisis inflates the costs of plastics needed for his beds, forcing him to close up shop, but not before one last installation at the home of eccentric Hollywood personality Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper), leading to a wild night around town.

Questioning her life choices, Alana turns to political activism, allowing Anderson to dramatize the real-life mayoral campaign of closeted L.A. councilman Joel Wachs (Benny Safdie).

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Like most of Anderson’s films, Licorice Pizza is carried by quirky characters and unconventional dialogue. The title is a reference to a defunct chain of record stores, which Anderson likened to evoking the feeling of childhood memories. The film is somewhat ethereal in that regard, more like a series of vignettes connected through character arcs. Its wistful quality might make it feel disconnected to some viewers, though PTA fans should enjoy his usual touchstones embedded throughout.

Fans of Hollywood history will also enjoy the numerous references to the entertainment industry of the 1970s, not unlike how Once Upon a Time In Hollywood paid tribute to Hollywood in the 1960s.

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The Blu-ray includes a handful of extras but nothing too exciting. Most interesting is a two-minute deleted scene that pays off a pretty important joke that’s in the movie. There’s also Gary filming a fake commercial for his waterbed store.

Also included are four minutes of camera tests and a 10-and-a-half-minute behind-the-scenes featurette that just shows scenes being filmed, without any interviews or context. In fact, the Blu-ray doesn’t really offer any filmmaker discussion, leaving the film’s messaging to pretty much stand on its own. Curious viewers looking for such insights will have better luck on the internet.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Criterion;
Comedy;
$29.95 DVD, $39.95 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R.’
Stars Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Robert Romanus, Brian Backer, Phoebe Cates, Ray Walston, Forest Whitaker, Vincent Schiavelli.

The Criterion Collection’s new edition of the 1982 comedy classic Fast Times at Ridgemont high includes a sparkling new transfer of the film that goes a bit beyond the typical restoration.

The new 4K digital transfer, supervised by director Amy Heckerling, goes so far as to restore a scene of full-frontal male nudity of Robert Romanus during his sex scene with Jennifer Jason Leigh that was trimmed from the original version in order to avoid an ‘X’ rating. It’s not a new scene added back into the film — the theatrical version simply zoomed in to avoid showing off too much of Romanus. The Criterion cut simply restores the original framing.

In addition to a printed essay booklet by film critic Dana Stevens with an introduction by screenwriter Cameron Crowe, the primary new extra on Criterion’s Blu-ray is a 35-minute interview about the film with Heckerling and Crowe moderated by actress and filmmaker Olivia Wilde, who discuesses how much Fast Times influenced her in making Booksmart.

The Blu-ray also includes the television edit of the film, which adds in a few deleted and alternate scenes to run about five minutes longer than the theatrical cut.

Legacy extras carried over from Universal’s earlier home video releases include a 1999 commentary from Heckerling and Crowe; the 40-minute “Reliving Our Fast Times at Ridgemont High” retrospective from 1999, featuring interviews with cast and crew; and a 47-minute audio discussion with Heckerling conducted at the American Film Institute in 1982.

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Sean Penn Doc ‘Citizen Penn’ to Premiere on Discovery+ May 6

The documentary Citizen Penn, chronicling actor and activist Sean Penn’s work in Haiti and beyond, will premiere on the SVOD service Discovery+ May 6.

The documentary records the moment Penn and his team of volunteers landed in Haiti, just days after the earthquake struck, and the 10 years since. The film offers viewers an intimate, honest and self-reflective look into the triumphs and challenges of those who decided to do something. For Penn, Haiti changed his life. He went there for what he thought was a two-week aid mission to drop off supplies, help doctors provide immediate medical care, and then get out and get back to his normal life. Instead, he stayed and created an organization called J/P HRO (now CORE) that took over management duties for the largest camp for displaced people in the entire country.

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Over the past few years, CORE has expanded its efforts across the United States, most recently organizing free COVID-19 testing sites across the country and running the nation’s largest vaccination site at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Citizen Penn highlights the team and their current projects in the United States.

The film is written and directed by Don Hardy with an original score by Linda Perry and features the original song “Eden (To Find Love)” performed by Bono and co-written by Bono and Perry.