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DVD Review: Sony’s First Wave of Martini Movies

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This Tuesday, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is launching a brand-new line of DVDs.  Entitled "Martini Movies," the line is meant to, according to the press release, feature "hip and iconic films for the cool film lover."  The five films that will appear as part of this line at the outset are:  The Garment Jungle, $ (Dollars), The New Centurions, The Anderson Tapes, and An Affair in Trinidad.  As the lineup indicates, the films all really share no true similarities, they're spread across several decades, genres, and styles.  They are all, however, enjoyable to watch.

The true standout in this initial wave of Martini Movies is the Rita Hayworth-Glenn Ford drama Affair in Trinidad.  In this very Gilda-esque film, Hayworth stars as a nightclub singer whose husband apparently commits suicide.  Ford plays the deceased husband's brother, who was on his way to Trinidad after receiving a letter from his brother about a job opportunity.  Things quickly get more complicated as the suicide turns out to be a murder and Ford finds himself vying for Hayworth's attentions.  As with many a Hayworth film, it is her dance numbers which really make the film a standout.  Though she only takes to the floor twice in the film, both numbers are truly wonderful.

In fact, one of the few things that many of the films have in common the inclusion of one or two over-the-top centerpieces.  In the Sean Connery led The Anderson Tapes, the film culminates in an apartment building heist scene whereas in $ (Dollars), there are both a bank robbery and an incredibly long chase sequence.  In the former, the heist is a fantastic scene, and as with much of the film, it cuts back and forth between the action itself and people outside the action either commenting on or listening in on what took place during the heist. The film, which doesn't take itself seriously, keeps a light tone throughout even the more serious moments of the robbery.

On the other hand, while the bank vault robbery scene in $ (Dollars) works as well as the one in The Anderson Tapes, the extended chase that functions as the film's finale only serves to dampen all that came before it.  To that point, Warren Beatty and Goldie Hawn both do a fantastic job of keeping the comedy on its feet, but the dramatic conclusion sucks the wind out of the whole affair.  Not only is the chase scene overly long, there is a lack of tension in it as there is no doubt how it will play out in the end.  As a comedy, there can be no doubt that our two heroes will win out before the final credits roll.

The same cannot be said of The New Centurions, which as a straight, somber, action drama about the lives of LAPD officers in the late 1960s/early 1970s, explores the darker nature of both the good and bad guys.  Starring George C. Scott and Stacey Keach, the film pulls no punches with its world view, from good cops going bad to the crumbling of our society.  More than any other film in the first five Martini Movies, The New Centurions views the world as a whole in a negative light.

Though equally serious, and with equally dark moments, The Garment Jungle, which focuses on the New York City garment district and efforts to unionize the workers, ends in a far more upbeat tone.  A lot of bad things might happen in the movie, but the viewer never doubts that the protagonist, Alan Mitchell (Kerwin Mathews), will both find love and success.

In order to try and make the DVD line more homogeneous, Sony has included as the only bonus feature (outside of theatrical trailers) something they refer to as "Martini Minutes" on each disc.  These incredibly short featurettes (something on the order of ninety seconds to two minutes each) purportedly teach one "How to Play the Leading Man" or "How to Hold Your Liquor."  In actuality however, they all start with the same introduction and rather than teaching the viewer anything are mainly just clips from several different films (presumably ones that will be released as Martini Movies at a later date in addition to clips from the current five) along with a sultry voiceover providing scant bits of jokey information.  In the end, they are little more than advertisements for other movies. 

Each DVDs also includes martini recipes.  Recipes are on both the face of the disc and at the tail end of the "Martini Minutes."  While I haven't tried any of them, they certainly do sound very good.

Certainly the entries in Sony's Martini Minutes are all worthwhile on their own merits, but there does seem to be very little logic to having issued them as a line of DVDs.  Perhaps as more DVDs are released some sort of grand plan for what makes a "Martini Movie" will become clear. As it stands the discs are worth purchasing only if you are interested in the movie, not for their inclusion in the series.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.