Editor’s Notes: The Lady in the Van, Panic in the Year Zero, Haven: The Final Season, & VEEP: The Complete Fourth Season will be released on their respective formats on April 19th.
The Lady in the Van
The Lady in the Van” (Sony Pictures Classics) is the story of writer Alan Bennett (Alex Jennings), who allows the elderly, cantankerous Miss Shepherd (Maggie Smith) to park the van in which she lives in his Camden Town driveway until she gets things “sorted out.” The temporary arrangement lasts 15 years. Based on Bennett’s 1989 memoir and 1999 West End play of the same title, The Lady in the Van has an episodic structure, and we learn through a series of conversations, flashbacks and exposition about Miss Shepherd’s history.
Ms. Smith makes this homeless woman her own, providing a layered portrayal that differs markedly from the Dowager Countess of Grantham on Downton Abbey. There could not be two woman more distant in social class and comportment, which makes it fun for fans of Ms. Smith to see her acting choices and realize what a truly magnificent performer she is.
The Lady of the title is hardly endearing. She’s brash and delusional and often extremely annoying. Yet we feel for her and admire her pride despite her sad circumstances. What doesn’t work is Bennett’s odd conversations with a literal manifestation of himself. It’s an artsy device that differs in style from the grounded performance of Ms. Smith.
The movie has lots of dry British wit, ample charm, and a generous helping of pathos. It is especially a treat for those who love watching the superb Maggie Smith.
Blu-ray bonus features include deleted scenes, commentary with director Nicholas Hytner, a profile of Maggie Smith’s portrayal of Miss Shepherd, making-of featurette, and a look at the film’s special effects.
Panic in the Year Zero
Panic in the Year Zero (Kino Lorber), made in 1962 at the height of the Cold War, is a sobering look at the aftermath of a nuclear attack, as seen through the eyes of the Baldwin family — Harry (Ray Milland), wife Ann (Jean Hagen) and their two teenage children (Frankie Avalon, Mary Mitchel). While they are off on vacation, their hometown of Los Angeles and four other major American cities undergo a nuclear attack. The family heads to a fishing cabin in the mountains where they hope to steer clear of residual radiation and armed survivalists, get information about the extent of the devastation, and figure out their next moves.
Science-fiction movies of this era dwelt a lot on alien invasion and usually depicted a world bound together in a concerted attempt to defeat the attack from beyond the stars. Panic in the Year Zero dealt with a then-present fear that nuclear war would mark the end of mankind as we know it. The film capitalizes on that paranoia in a doomsday scenario that seemed frighteningly plausible. With a breakdown of law and order, desperate people — once decent citizens — are driven to acts of violence. Looting is rampant, and survival of the initial blasts doesn’t guarantee surviving the lawless aftermath. The movie is pessimistic in its portrait of humanity spiraling out of control.
Other films have dealt with nuclear attack, notably Fail Safe, Dr. Strangelove, On the Beach, The Day After, and most devastatingly, Testament. This one was Ray Milland’s first time directing a theatrical feature after having directed several TV shows. Frankie Avalon was a pop singing sensation at the time, appeared in many movies in the early 1960s, and is best remembered for a series of fun-at-the-beach musicals with co-star Annette Funicello.
Bonus extras on the newly restored HD Blu-ray release include Atomic Shock!, a short film in which director Joe Dante discusses Panic in the Year Zero; audio commentary by film historians; and trailer gallery.
Haven: The Final Season
Haven: The Final Season (Entertainment One) contains 13 episodes from the second half of the series’ fifth and final season. The supernatural series, based on Stephen King’s The Colorado Kid, aired its last original episode on December 17, 2015. In Season 5, the town of Haven has been cut off from the rest of the world by a mysterious fog bank. Through journeys into the past, the future, and the fragile area between worlds, events in Haven lead to a gripping showdown. Will the heroes be able to rid Haven of “the Troubles” forever, or will the town and its inhabitants continue to suffer the curse?”
Author King returned again to his theme of a town cut off or set apart from the normal world, as in the TV mini-series The Langoliers and Under the Dome. Here, however, the mid-season story arc handles the idea more effectively and with considerably less padding.
Originally aired on the SyFy Channel, Haven never attracted a large audience, but those who did tune in were loyal and embraced its mix of suspense, drama, action, and horror. In style, it is reminiscent of The Twilight Zone. It’s refreshing to watch these shows without the frequent commercial interruptions on SyFy.
The series finale satisfactorily concludes a unique show that featured regular folks dealing with unexplainable and often frightening occurrences. Resolutions typically are controversial, since not every viewer can be happy with the writers’ choices. Without giving away spoilers, suffice it to say that the final two-part episode lives up to the tone of the show, with a few unexpected moments that give it special resonance.
Bonus features on the 3-disc Blu-ray release include “Mythology Refresher;” “Haven Revisited: Lifestream Segments” with cast and crew; “Entries From the Crocker Diaries;” “Haven Origins: Lovers Conquered All;” 13 “Inside Haven” featurettes; 13 audio commentary tracks; and interviews with Lucas Bryan, Eric Balfour, William Shatner, Adam Copland and Shawn Piller.
VEEP: The Complete Fourth Season
VEEP: The Complete Fourth Season (HBO) opens with Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) having ascended to the presidency of the United States. The first episode of the season, “Joint Session,” features Selina making her first major speech to Congress, with her staff trying to make sense of what her message is. Meanwhile, Gary (Tony Hale) is concerned about his limited access to Selina. Jonah (Timothy Simons) is wary of the new vice president’s Chief of Staff and Amy (Anna Chlumsky) has a meeting with ruthless political operative Bill Ericsson (Diedrich Bader).
Other episodes deal with a state dinner for the Israeli prime minister as Gary gets carried away planning it; a data breach at the White House; Amy being annoyed by the president’s new adviser, who’s helping Catherine with her First Daughter speech; an awkward pancake fundraiser breakfast; a bout of the flu that sidelines Selina; and a key bill that’s headed for failure.
The writing seems to get better every season, with jokes both broad and subtle and a terrific ensemble that make “VEEP” one of the funniest shows on TV. In addition to being hilarious, it neatly skewers Beltway politics, private and public faces of politicians, and the never-ending series of deals and meetings — some vital, others trivial — that occupy Selina and her staff.
The sole bonus feature on the 2-disc Blu-ray release is a series of deleted scenes.