Digital Week – October 5


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Algren (First Run Features)

This week’s roundup is highlighted by two affectionate new documentaries, in theaters and streaming: “Cleanin’ Up the Town,” about the making of “Ghostbusters,” and “Algren,” about the unsung American writer Nelson Algren. Also available are several Warner Archive releases on Blu-ray (including the latest roundup of classic Tex Avery cartoons) and two TV shows—the sophomore season of “Batwoman” on Blu and the freshman season of “The Equalizer” on DVD.

In-Theater/Streaming Releases of the Week

Cleanin’ Up the Town—Remembering Ghostbusters (Screen Media)

Cleanin’ Up the Town—Remembering Ghostbusters (Screen Media)More than 35 years after its release in 1984—when it was a huge box-office hit, surprising even its own studio, which thought it had an overpriced modest success on its hands—“Ghostbusters” remains one of the few hilarious big-budget Hollywood comedies, and uberfans Anthony and Claire Bueno show their love with this affectionate documentary that takes us through the movie’s making from script to release. We hear from almost everyone—stars Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Annie Potts and the late, great Harold Ramis; director Ivan Reitman; songwriter Ray Parker Jr.; producers, special effects wizards, and other technicians—with the glaring exception of Bill Murray, who’s actually not missed, as there are terrific anecdotes, priceless behind-the-scenes and on-set footage, and pretty much everything any fan of the movie would want to know.

Algren (First Run Features)

Michael Caplan has made an engaging and intelligent documentary about writer Nelson Algren, whose most famous book, 1949’s “The Man with the Golden Arm,” was turned into something unrecognizable by director Otto Preminger’s 1955 film adaptation starring Frank Sinatra. (Algren famously sued Preminger, but couldn’t afford the legal fees so the suit didn’t go forward.) Algren wrote with empathy about the lower-class Polish community he knew and observed in Chicago, where he grew up, and despite moments of fame and celebrity—he had a years-long affair with French intellectual Simone de Beauvoir and won the National Book Award for “Golden Arm”—he never gained the notoriety he deserved. With well-chosen, pithy interview segments featuring film directors William Friedkin, Andrew Davis, John Sayles and Philip Kaufman, author Russell Banks and even musician Billy Corgan, Caplan burrows into the heart of Algren’s artistry and life, which are inseparable from each other.

Blu-ray Releases of the Week

Batwoman—Complete 2nd Season (Warner Bros)

Batwoman—Complete 2nd Season (Warner Bros)After the supposed death of Kate Kane at the end of season one, homeless woman Ryan Wilder finds the batsuit and picks up the vigilante mantle to fight crime in Gotham City in the second season of this entertainingly “woke” entry in the Arrowverse. “Batwoman” gets by mainly on the charismatic presence of Javicia Leslie, who makes Ryan/Batwoman a compellingly conflicted superhero. The season’s 18 episodes look smashingly good in hi-def; extras include deleted scenes, a gag reel and two featurettes with cast and crew interviews.

The Damned (Criterion Collection)

The Damned (Criterion Collection)Italian director Luchino Visconti’s reputation was as inflated as any in film history: case in point is this endless, risibly uninsightful epic about a German family that gets its comeuppance when Hitler takes over. Under the guise of showing how decadence and arrogance heralded the arrival of Nazism, Visconti revels in weirdness and pederasty, which is not the same. Quite able actors like Dirk Bogarde, Helmut Berger, Ingrid Thulin and Charlotte Rampling are unable to fashion real characterizations from disparate fragments, unfortunately. Criterion’s hi-def transfer is clean but has a greenish tint; extras include an alternate Italian-language soundtrack (the film is in English and German); archival interviews with Visconti, Berger, Thulin and Rampling; and a 1969 documentary, “Visconti on Set.”

In the Good Old Summertime (Warner Archive)

Cleanin’ Up the Town—Remembering Ghostbusters (Screen Media)The first musical adaptation of Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo’s “Parfumerie”—which would later beget the classic Broadway musical “She Loves Me”—pairs Judy Garland and Van Johnson as pen pals who, unknown to each other, also work together in a local music shop. Robert Z. Leonard’s 1949 romantic comedy is a frothy delight, with Garland at the height of her charm and no less an eminence as Buster Keaton stealing scenes as their coworker. There’s a superb hi-def transfer, with the Technicolor visuals popping off the screen; extras are an intro by Garland biographer John Fricke and two vintage travel shorts.

The Naked Spur
The Santa Fe Trail (Warner Archive)

The Naked Spur The Santa Fe Trail (Warner Archive)These two westerns are at opposite ends of the spectrum, dramatically and artistically. Anthony Mann’s “The Naked Spur” (1953) is a stark and intense drama about the intriguingly shifting dynamics of the relationship between a bounty hunter (James Stewart) and his prey (Robert Ryan). Michael Curtiz’ “Santa Fe Trail” (1940) throws facts to the wind in its tale of how West Point grads Jeb Stuart and George Custer took on bad guys out west, including fanatical abolitionist John Brown, all while romancing the same woman; stars Errol Flynn (Stuart), Ronald Reagan (Custer), Raymond Massey (Brown) and Olivia de Havilland (woman) do what they can with mainly routine melodramatics. Both films look spectacular on Blu, especially the bright colors of “Spur”; “Spur” extras are a vintage short and classic Tax Avery cartoon.

The Original Three Tenors (C Major)

The Original Three Tenors (C Major)The first—and best—Three Tenors concert, shot in 1990 in Rome before an enthusiastic outdoor audience, was the ultimate superstar event in the classical music world: tenors Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras are joined by conductor Zubin Mehta and the opera orchestras of Florence and Rome for a lushly entertaining 90 minutes of solos, duets and trios encompassing operatic hits and even a medley of Broadway and pop tunes. It all goes down easily in this remastered version where the hi-def video and audio make it look and sound better than ever. Also included is a new 88-minute documentary, “The Three Tenors—From Caracalla to the World,” which recaps the seminal show with interviews with the principals—Pavarotti, who died in 2007, is seen in vintage interview segments.

Shadow of the Thin Man (Warner Archive)

Shadow of the Thin Man (Warner Archive)This 1941 “Thin Man” sequel (the third) repeats the witty repartee between its stars, William Powell and Myrna Loy, although this time their chemistry is tied to a more routine murder mystery than in the original. No matter: when Powell and Loy are onscreen as Nick and Nora—along with their dog Asta—all is forgiven and “Shadow” is more enjoyable than it has any right to be. There’s a sparkling new hi-def transfer of this B&W comedy; extras are a vintage live-action short and classic cartoon.

Tex Avery Screwball Classics, Volume 3 (Warner Bros)

Tex Avery Screwball Classics, Volume 3 (Warner Bros)Tex Avery was primarily responsible for the classic cartoon output during the golden age of animation—the ‘40s and the ‘50s—and this third (and final?) volume once again brings together another 20 of his most wanted treasures, including his none-too-subtle swipe at Hitler, “Blitz Wolf,” and one of his most memorable anthropomorphic creations, the airplane family of “Little Johnny Jet.” As usual, some of it is dated and in questionable taste, but much of it amusing and clever. The restored hi-def color images look terrific; the lone extra is Avery’s “Crackpot Quail” with original audio.

DVD Release of the Week

The Equalizer—Complete 1st Season (CBS/Paramount)

The Equalizer—Complete 1st Season (CBS/Paramount)In this reboot of the mid-‘80s CBS series starring Edward Woodward as a retired intelligence agent who extracts justice for other victims, Queen Latifah straps on a gun and gets to blasting on behalf of the even more downtrodden. As a new slant on an old theme—a couple of movies with Denzel Washington also used the same blueprint—the series is entertaining if unnecessarily and implausibly explosive. But Latifah is a good guide to the show’s action-filled plots. All 10 episodes are on three discs, extras include three featurettes, a gag reel and deleted scenes.

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