Editor’s Notes: The ‘Mama’s Family’ Favorites Collection, The Man Who Could Cheat Death, 100 Streets, Bloodrunners, The Legend of Chupacabras, & The Russian Ballet Collection: Don Quixote are out on their respective home video formats, March 7th.
The ‘Mama’s Family’ Favorites Collection
The ‘Mama’s Family’ Favorites Collection (Time Life) features highlights from all six seasons of Mama’s Family, which originally aired from 1983 to 1990, first on NBC and then, after a two-year hiatus, in first-run syndication. Mama’s Family originated on “The Carol Burnett Show,” which lasted 11 seasons on CBS. On the Burnett show, the sketch was called The Family and featured the ever-squabbling Harpers, getting into snits about mundane matters. Vicki Lawrence was transformed into Mama Thelma Harper, a blue-haired, irascible 65-year-old widow never shy about speaking her mind, no matter how inappropriate her comments. Her quick temper, abrasive retorts and smart-alecky wisecracks contributed a large portion of the show’s laughs.
Vicki Lawrence initially turned down the offer to star in the series because of misgivings about playing the role without Harvey Korman, who played Mama’s son-in-law Ed Higgins, and Carol Burnett, who played Mama’s daughter, Eunice. After encouragement from Burnett, Lawrence eventually agreed to play Mama in the spin-off series.
Lawrence herself selected the 37 shows featured in this collection. Episodes feature Rue McClanahan as Mama’s uptight sister, Ken Berry as her slow-witted son Vint, Dorothy Lyman as his bubble-headed girlfriend (and later wife) Naomi, and Betty White as Mama’s snobbish daughter Ellen. Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, Alex Trebek, and Imogene Coca also make guest appearances.
Stories include Mama ghost writing an advice column, helping spring a cousin from a retirement community, winning the jackpot on Jeopardy, chewing out a radio station’s consumer watchdog on the air and getting hired as his replacement, and getting bopped on the head by a pot while making gooseberry jam.
There are no bonus features in the 6-disc DVD box set.
The Man Who Could Cheat Death
The Man Who Could Cheat Death (Kino Lorber), a 1959 Hammer Studios remake of The Man in Half-Moon Street (1945), takes place in Paris in 1890. Dr. Georges Bonnet (Anton Diffring), a surgeon and amateur sculptor, remains youthful by taking a special serum and having a series of gland operations every ten years from living donors. The donors are young women he employs as models for his sculpting, and he has romantic designs on one of them, Janine (Hazel Court).
Though he looks to be 35, Bonnet is actually 104. Because Bonnet’s regular surgeon is too old to operate anymore, he is training Pierre Gerrard (Christopher Lee) to continue the periodic surgeries that will maintain Bonnet’s immortality. As Bonnet struggles against the inevitable grip of death, he begins a descent into madness that threatens not only the lives of those he cares for the most, but the very laws of nature.
The plot combines elements of The Picture of Dorian Gray and House of Wax, and contains the signature Gothic look of Hammer films of the period. The studio was riding the crest of popularity with its Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Dracula (1958), and was turning out one successful horror film after another. “The Man Who Could Cheat Death” doesn’t have famous monsters, but does a more than capable job with the mad doctor theme. Diffring is impressive as a man desperate that he might become susceptible to mortality when his regimen of unorthodox treatments is threatened.
Though not first-tier Hammer, the movie is well acted, boasts lush production design, and is directed by Terence Fisher with a flair for creating an atmosphere of malevolence.
Special features on the widescreen Blu-ray release include audio commentary by film historian Troy Howorth, interview with critic and novelist Kim Newman, interview with author and historian Jonathan Rigby, and movie trailers.
100 Streets (Sony Home Entertainment) follows three contrasting stories as they play out in a single neighborhood in modern-day London. A former rugby player, Max (Idris Elba) — addicted to cocaine and women — struggles to find a life off the field while fighting to save his marriage to former actress Emily (Gemma Arterton), eager to revive her career but trapped in a routine of shopping and taking care of their two kids. Teenage Kingsley (Franz Drameh) is a small-time drug dealer desperately seeking a way off the street. While completing his community service for a misdemeanor, Kingsley meets Terence (Ken Stott), a local actor, who gives him the push he needs out of his dead-end life and into a very different, creative world. Mild-mannered cab driver George (Charlie Creed-Miles) and his wife Kathy (Kierston Wareing) dream of having kids, but a terrible accident puts their hopes on hold, destroying George’s self-respect and ambition.
The movie focuses on a cross section of people who, on the surface, are ordinary and don’t stand out. But each has a unique story and each is trying to extricate himself/herself from some sort of downward spiral and find stability. The problem is that the characters aren’t all that compelling, and their tales tend to fall more into soap opera than strong drama. It’s a shame that the film doesn’t do justice to the considerable talent on screen.
Some of the characters cross over into others to play important roles, but the George and Kathy story is completely separate. In its depiction of cultural and socioeconomic diversity within a small community, the film contains one too many plot contrivances that lack authenticity.
Elba creates a nuanced portrait of a one-time sports hero, now humbled by the real problems of navigating an uncertain future. Charlie Creed-Miles is a stand-out as the down-to-earth cabbie devastated by a fateful event that eats away at his self-confidence and causes doubt that he will achieve the future he dreamed of.
The widescreen Blu-ray release contains the bonus extra, “A Look Inside 100 Streets” with director Jim O’Hanlon and Idris Elba.
Bloodrunners (Speakeasy Pictures) is a horror action thriller. By 1933, Prohibition has proven a booming enterprise, where average citizens break the law, hide in the shadows, and operate at night. The new world order has even lined the pockets of corrupt cops like Jack Malone (Michael McFadden). He collects a “luxury tax” from every bootlegger and petty criminal in the small town he has sworn to protect. But there are rumors that Prohibition is about to end, thus cutting off a lucrative source of income for Jack.
While shaking down the newest speakeasy in the local underground, Jack and his men uncover a clan of vampires intent on taking over the town. Chesterfield (Ice-T), an ancient vampire, and his horde hide their secret at any cost, but eventual confrontation claims the bodies of innocent townsfolk. When Jack discovers that the speakeasy is a front for a vampire den, he becomes a target of the bloodsuckers. With nowhere else to turn, he joins forces with a busboy and a crazy preacher to save the town and make a final stand against Chesterfield and his vampires.
The film’s vampires look and act like many cinematic versions that have come before, but the film’s atmosphere is reminiscent of those lurid EC horror comics of the 1950s, which were extremely graphic and often had dark humor tossed in for good measure. The film never quite becomes camp, but it hits an effective balance between traditional horror and gangster flick, drawing on vampire lore, a colorful period setting, shoot-em-up violence and grisly special effects. Like the vampires who stalk him, Jack is also a parasite, setting his sights not on human blood but on folks who thirst for booze and are willing to bribe the law for the privilege of enjoying it.
Bonus features on the widescreen Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack include a gag reel, deleted scenes, extended scenes, filmmaker commentary, and the official trailer.
The Legend of Chupacabras
The Legend of Chupacabras (Lionsgate) is a spooky Mexican animated feature in the style of the Goosebumps series about a heroic boy and his magical friends who uncover the mystery of a legendary monster. Leo San Juan is imprisoned after being mistaken for a rebel insurgent by the royal army while on his way home to Puebla, but when a mysterious flying monster, known as the Cupacabras, begins attacking both prisoners and guards, Juan is fated to fight the flying monster.
Leo is a kid on a mission to discover where the Chupacabras came from, what it is, and why it’s there. Leo’s two male sidekicks contribute lots of laughs, balancing the frightening moments. The film is similar to the legend of the young King Arthur, in that fate plays a major role in shaping both Arthur’s and Leo’s destiny. There’s practically non-stop action with a good message: keep an open mind and don’t jump to conclusions. Very young children might find the monster scenes and a sequence about an impending execution scary, but the tone never becomes downright horrifying. Kids love monsters, if they’re not too frightening. This is a monster movie that’s appropriate for kids.
The animation resembles the inexpensive Saturday morning TV cartoon style. It looks two-dimensional and there is little attempt to create fluid movement. This “limited animation” lacks the rich, lush look of classic Disney, so be aware. Voice talent is unfortunately weak, with most actors shouting their lines and exaggerating, doing little to infuse their characters with personality. Everyone is loud.
There are no bonus features on the PG-rated DVD release.
The Russian Ballet Collection: Don Quixote
The Russian Ballet Collection: Don Quixote (Kino Classics) is a 1978 production of the ballet that premiered in 1869 with Marius Petipa’s choreography to the musical score by Ludwig Minkus reflected his travels in Spain and his love of castanets, toreadors, and Spanish bravura, loosely connected to Cervantes’ epic.
Don Quixote, an elderly Spanish knight, sets off with his servant Sancho Panza on a chivalrous quest. He comes across a village where the innkeeper’s daughter Kitri and Basilio, the barber, are trying to persuade Kitri’s father to let them marry. But he wants Kitri to make a better marriage to the rich but foppish Gamache.
Don Quixote fantasizes that Kitri is his dream Dulcinea, a noble lady who must be rescued from this potential tragedy, and the rest of the ballet shows the comic events that finally result in love winning the day amid exceptional dancing.
This live performance is from the Bolshoi Theatre, digitally restored and remastered to HD quality. It stars Nadezhda Pavlova with her husband Vyacheslav Gordeyev, dancers seldom seen in the West. Don Quixote is played by Vladimir Levashev, and the orchestra is conducted by Alexander Kopylov.
Bonus features on the DVD release include scenes from the 1964 Don Quixote filmed at the Bolshoi and starring Maya Plisetskaya and Maris Liepa. The 1978 ballet is in color in the widescreen format. The 1964 scenes are in black and white in the full-screen format.