DVD and Blu-Ray releases transport viewers back in time. The shifts can be recent – reflections off the multiplex screens from a few months ago to repeats of a just passed television season – or generational jaunts into unfamiliar ages.
For a classic journey, look no further than the critically acclaimed releases from the libraries of 20th Century Fox and MGM. The Home Entertainment divisions of these two studios have taken it upon themselves to educate the masses, not only in regard to great cinema, but also amazing literary adaptations. Be prepared to bone up on the likes of Anna Karenina, The Grapes of Wrath, Henry V, How Green Was My Valley, Inherit The Wind, Jane Eyre, Journey to the Center of the Earth (not to be confused with the CGI remake from a few years ago with Brendan Fraser), The Lion in Winter, Les Miserables, Lord of the Flies, Much Ado About Nothing, Moby Dick, Of Mice and Men, Richard III, and The Children’s Hour. That’s quite a daunting list of titles, so I chose three (The Grapes of Wrath, Moby Dick and Richard III) for my initial literary refresher course and found Richard III to be the A+ choice. Director Richard Loncraine’s mesmerizing reimagining of this bloody rein from Shakespeare transports the passionate tale of blinding ambition to an alternative early 20th century setting with Britain rebuilding after a civil war and the powers that be drifting close to the tyranny of a fascist state with Richard (Ian McKellen) pulling all the strings. This production features an eclectic all-star cast (Annette Bening, Robert Downey Jr., and Kristin Scott Thomas) that continues to usurp the multiplexes and the art houses.
MGM isn’t just interested in broadening our cultural horizons though. The studio also understands the power of period nostalgia and has a six-pack of films from the 1980s to tickle the fancies of viewers seeking little more than a good time. Who can forget Nicolas Cage in the 1983 hit Valley Girl, which helped to put him on the cinematic map? Key members of the lauded Brat Pack make appearances (in less noted films and roles) – Tom Cruise in Losin’ It, Andrew McCarthy and Rob Lowe in Class – and there’s even a sighting of television’s dynamic dimwitted duo, Scott Baio and Willie Ames, in Zapped! My favorite here though would have to be The Rachel Papers from 1989. Papers smartly plays out the end of the run for the rom-coms of the day that focused on anonymous nerdy guys (Dexter Fletcher pens and spins Papers) winning the coveted trophy girls from the rich preppy boys (and who better defines that revolting class than poster boy James Spader who found a way to move on and become a model television citizen on Boston Legal alongside William Shatner). The curiosity/guilty pleasure factor in the mix here is Ione Skye, the belle of the ball from Say Anything, who launched a thousand crushes (likely for both guys and gals) back in the day despite her limited acting range. She had one expression, but it was heavenly and it remains hard to resist.
Yet, it is television that claims the final noteworthy spot in this installment of the Bonus Features. As a film critic, it is tough for me to pursue the treasures and gems of the small screen because I spend most evenings cruising the multiplexes for the best and brightest lights. Now, I can’t always take the high road when there happens to be a trashy good time out there that just entertains the hell out of me, which is the case with the FX series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (I could easily rename this one It’s Always Damned Funny in Philly). Season Five finds the gang from Paddy’s Bar doing what they do as crudely as ever. It could be argued that Mac (Rob McElhenney), Dennis (Glenn Howerton), Charlie (Charlie Day), Dee (Kaitlin Olson) and Frank (Danny Devito) are little more than a loosely scripted version of Johnny Knoxville’s Jackass and while the stunts and gags here fall short of the epic lunacy of the MTV reality series (and the film adaptations), Philadelphia has a sense of story and place (“The World Series Defense” might supplant Rocky as the quintessential Philadelphia tale of the ages) that can’t be matched by those other Jackasses. (tt stern-enzi)