Editor’s Notes: It’s Always Fair Weather, Beyond Redemption, Life on the Line, Justice League Dark, Graves: Season One, Look at Us Now, Mother!, The 9th Life of Louis Drax, Vice Principals: The Complete First Season, & Psychomania are out on their respective formats Tuesday February 7th.
It’s Always Fair Weather
It’s Always Fair Weather (Warner Archive), made in 1955 toward the end of MGM’s Golden Age of Musicals, has an original story and some excellent musical numbers, but has never achieved the status of the studios’ other musicals, such as The Band Wagon and Singin’ in the Rain. Three G.I.’s return from Europe and make a pact to reunite at Tim’s Bar and Grill in ten years. But their reunion is a disaster, as Dog (Dan Dailey) is an unhappy advertising man who looks down on Angie (Michael Kidd), the owner of a hamburger stand. Both of them are surprised to find that Ted (Gene Kelly) has become a gambler and boxing promoter. Ted is disillusioned, too, until he meets Jackie Leighton (Cyd Charisse), who also works in advertising as production aide on the TV show Midnight With Madeline, starring the cynical Madeline Bradville (Dolores Gray).
What makes the film unusual is that it deals with characters facing real-life issues. It’s not an affectionate look through Technicolor lenses at a world that only could exist on a Hollywood sound stage. Betty Comden and Adolph Green wrote the script, trying to re-capture the magic in their Singin’ in the Rain screenplay, but focused on dreams unfulfilled, disappointment, and resentment — hardly the typical subject matter of musicals. The relationship between Ted and Jackie attempts to infuse some romance into the proceedings. The film marked the last directorial collaboration between Kelly and Stanley Donen. They had previously directed On the Town and Singin’ in the Rain. The New York Times voted It’s Always Fair Weather one of the Ten Best Films of the Year.
The film boasts some great numbers. A tour de force features Kelly, Dailey and Kidd dancing in the street, on top of a taxi, and with trash can lids on their feet as they display their joy at being back in America. “I Like Myself” is a solo by Kelly in which he dances through the streets of New York City on roller skates. “Baby, You Knock Me Out” has Cyd Charisse high stepping, backed by a gymnasium full of boxers. Dan Dailey, on loan from Twentieth Century-Fox, has a solo number in which his character is drunk, dances with a lampshade on his head, and trashes a room. Filmed in CinemaScope, the film takes advantage of the wide screen in the staging of the dance numbers. Unlike the opening of On the Town, the entire film was shot on sound stages giving the movie that “studio realism” so common of the period. Location filming was still a few years away.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include a behind-the-scenes featurettre; 3 musical number outtakes (“The Binge,” “Jack and the Space Giants,” “Love Is Nothing But a Racket”); 2 segments from “The MGM Parade” featuring Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly; 2 cartoons (“Deputy Droopy,” “Good Will to Men”); the audio-only “Thought They’d Never Leave” outtake; and theatrical trailer.
Beyond Redemption (Well Go USA) is an action movie about an undercover cop in an Asian gang. After successfully passing an initiation test to join the upper ranks of the Ching Tau gang, undercover cop Billy Tong (Brian Ho) is brought in on a plan for a home invasion against a wealthy Chinese businessman that will give Billy the evidence he needs to bring down the gang. As plans proceed, Billy learns that his ex-wife is pregnant and he begins questioning his career choices. Although Billy realizes the need to put things right and prepare for his new family, his past as a police officer complicates his decision to simply be reassigned. Events take an unforeseen turn when he is forced to protect a rival gang leader’s daughter when he learns both sides are planning to strike an important deal.
Made on a small budget, Beyond Redemption delivers in the action scenes, particularly those involving martial arts — fists and legs practically fly in fast-paced fights. Brian Ho, who has performed stunts and fights in several feature films, is reminiscent of the late Brice Lee, with a wiry body and panther-like moves. As action hero, his physical credentials are fine, but his acting could use some finessing. However, audiences for martial arts films are more interested in the choreographed action — which often approaches ballet in its intricacy and elegance — than in Shakespearean emoting. Don Lew (Star Trek Beyond) is appropriately intimidating as the bad guy, Yuan.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include the featurettes “Yuan vs. Billy” and “Mauler Fight,” and the theatrical trailer.
Life on the Line
Life on the Line (Lionsgate) is a drama that pays homage to electrical power line workers who work in a dangerous profession and are dedicated to keeping the power flowing and protecting the power grid, no matter the problems that arise. A prologue takes place in Texas in 1998 and shows Beau Ginner (John Travolta), a lineman working in the middle of a lightning storm. Through his negligence his brother is killed and his sister-in-law, rushing to the scene, is also killed in an automobile accident. Ginner suffers enormous guilt and raises his niece Bailey. Kate Bosworth plays both the sister-in-law and the adult Bailey. Years later, experience has made Beau a safety expert. Bailey is involved romantically with bad boy Duncan (Devon Sawa), who has just joined Beau’s crew. Because Beau doesn’t approve of Duncan’s lifestyle, there’s tension between the two men that spills over to the job.
The film’s opening features a lineman being interviewed. His somber manner suggests that the story that is about to unfold has tragic elements. During the main narrative, director David Hackl places date and time stamps over the action to show that a serious storm is getting closer and closer. But while we wait for the storm to vent its fury, there’s a lot of routine melodrama bordering on soap opera. The plot mirrors that of Armageddon, a picture that had the benefit of elaborate special effects to make up for a substantial plot. In Life on the Line, there’s a sense of deja vu, and it’s hard to become invested in such stereotypical characters. When the storm finally hits, the effects don’t dazzle the way they should.
Travolta — the star of such successful films as Saturday Night Fever, Pulp Fiction and Hairspray — has been doing low-profile movies lately. His last two features — I Am Wrath and In a Valley of Violence — had limited theatrical release and wound up on home video pretty quickly. His outstanding performance as lawyer Robert Shapiro in the TV mini-series The People v. O.J. Simpson indicates that, given solid material, Travolta still can command a role. Here, however, the material is mediocre, the role of Beau nothing special, and he simply goes through the paces. No previous film has focused on linemen as subjects, but if it was intended to honor their work, it should have been given more than a formulaic treatment.
Bonus extras on the Blu-ray release include “Life on the Line” music video by Fiona Culley featuring Darius Rucker; “Behind the Scenes with Cast & Crew” featurette; interviews; and trailer gallery. A digital HD copy is included.
Justice League Dark
Justice League Dark (Warner Home Video) is an animated feature about ordinary, innocent citizens of Metropolis and Gotham City who begin committing horrible crimes. They are hallucinating being attacked by demons, then resorting to any means to defend themselves. Superman (voice of Jerry O’Connell) and Wonder Woman (Rosario Dawson) bring these grim events to the attention of the Justice League, who conclude that the mayhem is being caused by an otherworldly force. Batman (Jason O’Mara) is not convinced, attributing the attacks to insane people, but changes his mind when he seeks the help of occultist John Constantine (Matt Ryan), an arrogant loner who recognizes that defeating these dark powers will require mystical teamwork.
This represents the first time in the DC Universe that a supernatural element has been combined with traditional action adventure. Inspired by a series of graphic novels, Justice League Dark”takes the viewer on a mysterious journey into the unknown, drawing into the conflict master magician Zatanna, trapeze artist and acrobat Deadman, and Etrigan, a demon from Hell. The story is pretty interesting, with its traditional battle of good vs. evil and colorful characters — some old, some new — to keep the plot percolating. The film’s animation captures the original art of the graphic novels that inspired it, and the R-rating gives the movie an edginess and adult sensibility not present in most superhero films, whether live action or animated.
Bonus extras on the 2-disc, widescreen Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD Limited Edition include the featurettes “The Story of Swamp Thing,” “Constantine Origin,” “Color of Magic,” “Black Orchid,” and “Deadman Casting,” and footage of a 2016 NY Comic-Con Panel. Also included is a Constantine figurine.
Graves: Season One
Graves: Season One (Lionsgate) is a political drama about Richard Graves (Nick Nolte), a former Republican President of the United States. Among Republicans, he’s regarded as the last great Republican President. Restless in retirement on his ranch out West, he sets out on a mission to right the conservative policies he put into effect during his administration and reclaim his legacy 25 years after leaving the White House.
There are many similarities to both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush in Graves. The show throws a spotlight on Graves’ family. Wife Margaret (Sela Ward), a popular First Lady, is the crisis manager of the Graves household and is now being urged by party leaders to run for the Senate. Daughter Olivia (Helene Yorke) has become somewhat reckless because of poor decision making, and her older brother Jeremy (Chris Lowell) is a soldier recently returned from Afghanistan with pent-up resentments toward his father.
We’re never quite sure what prompts Graves’ mid-life crisis and reassessment of his tenure as Chief Executive, but the character is interesting, and it’s great to see Nolte in a well-written substantial role. Guest appearances include former governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson, former Mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani, and former chairman of the Republican National Committee Michael Steele.
The 3-disc DVD set contains all 10 episodes of Season One. Bonus extras include the featurettes “What Fresh Hell Is This?: “Making ‘Graves’ Season One,” “Family Dynamics: The Acting Ensemble,” and a gag reel.
Look at Us Now, Mother!
Look at Us Now, Mother! (Virgil Films) is a personal documentary about the complex bond between mother and daughter. The genesis of the film is TV producer Gayle Kirschenbaum’s short film My Nose, a humorous short in which she introduced us to her hypercritical mother, Mildred, as she pressed Gayle to have a nose job. Look at Us Now, Mother! is an expansion on that film, taking the viewer on a longer journey of the changing relationship of two strong-willed women. Both are big personalities – witty, frequently judgmental, chatty — and even sound alike with their matching “New Yawk” accents.
During filming, Gayle’s father passed away, altering the dynamics of her relationship with Mildred. They head off together and start traveling the world. Gayle keeps cameras on as they move through various countries, continents, and emotionally sensitive minefields. Gale and Mildred share joint visits to several therapists, other family members, a French film festival, some vacation spots, and spend time in each other’s homes — Gayle lives in Manhattan, Mildred in Boca Raton, Florida. What emerges is an intimate family study with humor and pathos in the midst of conflicts and affections that bind mother and daughter, all told with cutting humor and raw honesty. As these two women travel a bumpy road and see each other from a renewed perspective, a universal theme of forgiveness emerges.
There are no bonus features on the unrated widescreen DVD release.
The 9th Life of Louis Drax
The 9th Life of Louis Drax (Lionsgate) is the story of a boy who has survived eight near-death accidents throughout his unlucky life. Louis (Aiden Longworth) has been bitten by spiders, accidentally electrocuted, stung by bees, had a chandelier fall on his crib, and once stopped breathing for close to ten minutes. On his ninth birthday, Louis Drax plunges off a steep cliff. While the police investigate the cause of Louis’ near-fatal fall — his ninth serious accident in nine years — and the whereabouts of his violent father, Peter (Aaron Paul), acclaimed neurologist Dr. Allan Pascal (Jamie Dornan) uses unorthodox methods to try to tap into the boy’s unconscious mind and reveal the truth about the events that led to his condition. But as he’s drawn deeper into the mystery of Louis’ apparent ability to cheat death, the doctor finds himself falling for Louis’ mother, Natalie (Sarah Gadon).
Director Alexandre Aja spends a lot of time devoted to Louis’ comatose condition after his fall that, once again, nearly killed him. The film diverges into two stories: Louis’ “Alice in Wonderland”-type journey through a frightening netherworld while he is in a coma, and the efforts of Dr. Pascal to understand the boy’s accident-prone propensity and his troubled past. The premise of the film is fascinating, but its main problem is that it goes off in all directions and is overly ambitious. The film has violence, a police investigation, a creepy romance, social commentary, monsters, magic, and surrealism. The primary attraction is why Louis Drax has defied death so consistently and so often. There are too many sidetracks to learning the answer to this mystery.
The sole bonus extra on the Blu-ray release is a making-of, behind-the-scenes featurette. A digital HD copy is included.
Vice Principals: The Complete First Season
Vice Principals: The Complete First Season (HBO Home Entertainment) is a darkly comic look at two men, Neal Gamby (Danny McBride), a strict disciplinarian, and Lee Russell (Walton Goggins), a borderline sociopath, who are both vice principals at a South Carolina high school. Gamby and Russell detest each other, but after they’re passed over for a promotion, they join forces to take down the woman hired in their place, new principal Belinda Brown (Kimberly Hebert Gregory), an intelligent, experienced educator from Philadelphia. That the guys are white and the new principal is African-American provides tension.
Gamby is rigid and racist, and extremely unpopular with his colleagues, He relishes his power in school like a fascist, delighting in handing out detentions and expulsions, referring to kids in unflattering language. He gets ticked off at minor provocations or perceived slights, and is a petulant loser who doesn’t attempt to disguise his resentment and frustration.
By comparison, Russell appears to be a friendly and warm colleague, but beneath a genteel Southern-gentleman facade, he is consumed with fury and devious plans. He’s the strategist and the brain behind schemes to undermine Principal Brown’s chances for success.
It’s chancy to make two hardly admirable individuals the central characters of a show, but that’s exactly the appeal of “Vice Principals” — it defies the typical TV sitcom to go into more forbidden territory and push the envelope of political correctness. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but it certainly is different.
All 9 episodes of the first season are contained on the 2-disc widescreen Blu-ray release. Bonus features include deleted scenes, blooper reel and 9 audio commentaries with cast and crew.
Psychomania (Arrow Video) is an interesting twist on the zombie theme. A delinquent group of leather-clad bikers gets its kicks causing mayhem on the roads in southern England and making out in lonely graveyards. Gang leader Tom Latham (Nicky Henson) lives in Latham Manor, a luxurious family estate associated with unpleasant memories. His mother (Beryl Reid) is a practicing medium who lives with her strangely ominous butler, Shadwell (George Sanders, in his final screen appearance). When she discovers the secret of immortality, the name of his crew — “The Living Dead” — takes on a literal meaning. An opening sequence shows motorcyclists riding in slow motion around an ancient stone circle, setting the tone for a film that links paganism and the occult with the modern era.
Psychomania, also known as The Death Wheelers, emphasizes the spirit of rebellious anarchy while illustrating how it can be destructive. The look and sound of the film is pure 70s, with long-haired guys, hip-Brit lingo, and an electric rock score pulsating as motorcycles roar. The theme of returning from the dead is blended with youthful arrogance and empowerment. It’s society’s worst nightmare — young people deriving thrills from hedonistic pleasures while being unaccountable to rules, laws, and adult authority. When the bikers return from the dead, they set their sights of revenge, targeting teachers, police officers, clergymen, and judges in a counterculture clash that provides some of the movie’s most memorable scenes. Ms. Reid and Mr. Sanders add stature to the proceedings, and Hammer Films veteran Don Sharp directs.
There unrated 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack is rich with bonus extras, including a collector’s booklet; “Hell for Leather,” a featurette about the company that supplied the film’s costumes; “Riding Free,” an archive interview with singer Harvey Andrews; interview with composer John Cameron; archive feature containing interviews with actors Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Denis Gilmore, Roy Holder, and Rocky Taylor; “Remastering Psychomania,” a look at the film’s restoration from original 35-mm black & white separation masters; and reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned art work.