Editor’s Notes: Pixels, I Want to Live,The Great American Dream Machine are out on their respective formats October 27th.
Pixels (Sony Home Entertainment) has a strange concept for a movie geared to kids. When aliens misinterpret video feeds of classic arcade games as a declaration of war, they attack the Earth through video games — Space Invaders, Donkey Kong, Pac Man, and such. Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), a teenage video-game champion from the original heyday of the games, is empowered by President of the United States William Cooper (Kevin James) to save humankind.
The problem is that the target audience has never heard of these games, so they will not be in on the basic joke. The film combines live action with computer-generated “monsters” that look more silly than threatening. The acting — if you can call it that — is atrocious, and Sandler is given far too much screen time doing shtick. It’s hard to accept James as the President, even in a picture as goofy as this one. He mugs shamelessly, probably to compensate for the lack of real comedy in his role, and director Chris Columbus (Mrs. Doubtfire, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) fails to reign him in. The supporting cast is impressive —Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad, Jane Krakowski — but fail to add any pizzazz to the lame script by Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling.
The 2-disc 3D Blu-ray/2D Blu-ray edition contains 8 behind-the-scenes featurettes and a music video.
I Want to Live
I Want to Live (Kino Lorber) is based on the true story of Barbara Graham (Susan Hayward), executed for murder in 1955. Graham was convicted of murdering an elderly widow named Mabel Monahan and died in the gas chamber, but she may have been framed for the crime by two acquaintances who were trying to save themselves. Though there is doubt as to whether Graham actually was innocent, the movie is sympathetic to her. Graham’s backstory, noir atmosphere, and courtroom melodrama form the setting for Hayward’s riveting performance. She won the Best Actress Oscar, beating out both Rosalind Russell (Auntie Mame) and Elizabeth Taylor (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof).One of the grimmest aspects of the movie is the detailed sequence on preparing the gas chamber. This is the first film to be so graphic, and the matter-of-fact way in which the guards and prison officials are shown getting the chamber ready with such precision is chilling. Because the film raises considerable doubt about Graham’s innocence, it stands as an indictment of capital punishment. The screenplay is based on Graham’s own letters and articles that appeared in the “San Francisco Examiner,” and was nominated for an Academy Award.
Director Robert Wise (The Sound of Music, Star Trek: The Motion Picture) shows us how Graham’s situation spirals ever downward, with one bad break after another taking her ever closer to execution. One of the most dramatic scenes is Graham being led to the gas chamber, only to receive a temporary stay of execution. Hayward’s performance in this scene, in particular, is raw and disturbingly believable.
There are no bonus features on the unrated widescreen DVD.
The Great American Dream Machine
The Great American Dream Machine (S’More Entertainment) was an irreverent, satirical weekly variety show aired nationally on PBS for two seasons from 1971-1972. The show was unlike any ever seen on public television and seemed to bask in controversy during the pre-Watergate era. Chevy Chase, Albert Brooks, Penny Marshall, Henry Winkler, Andy Rooney, Tiny Tim, David Steinberg, and Charles Grodin honed their comic talents on this show and went on to greater fame on television and the movies. Humorist and commentator Marshall Efron hosted. A combination of humorous skits, drama, musical performances and political commentary, the program was considered public TV’s first prime-time hit and inspired such later shows as Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show, and The Colbert Report.
Produced by WNET in New York, The Great American Dream Machine was called the “intellectual ‘Laugh-In’” and reflected a growing counterculture, poking fun at politics, mass culture, advertising, and television itself with cleverly written sketches and wide-ranging vignettes. The show was born at a time in public television when producers were encouraged to explore new ways to use the medium, to be spontaneous, to stun, shock, amuse, annoy, and give viewers a different way of seeing the world. Because it ran on PBS, its creators were not beholden to sponsors, which enabled ordinarily taboo subjects to be covered. The war in Vietnam and the Nixon White House were frequent targets of the program’s satire.
The 4-disc box set contains close to 13 hours of comedy and opinion, including Marshall Efron’s “Lemon Pie From Scratch” sketch, Albert Brooks’ “School for Comedians,” Andy Rooney’s pre-“60 Minutes” opinion segments, Chevy Chase’s “Singing Faces” mime, “Great American Weather Days” — a Dream Machine-style weather forecast with a glance back at some of the greatest days in U.S. weather history — a “Great American Hero” profile of daredevil Evel Knievel, and Elaine Stritch performing Stephen Sondheim’s “Here’s to the Ladies Who Lunch.”