Drama. The stuff that millions of sonnets, songs and stories are made of. While some of them can turn out to be quite fetching, there are others that don’t seem to possess that necessary element of allurement. Of course, it’s all in the execution: a competent poet, songwriter or filmmaker can deliver the goods — whereas pompous, pretentious parables performed by the world’s less-talented artistes (the poseurs, if you will) often inadvertently deliver the completely wrong kind of execution to viewers and listeners. Assembled here for your own pleasure and/or agony are several recent home video releases, all of which are positively bursting at the seams with drama.
· The Hustler (1961) (Fox Home Entertainment)
The Short Version: It’s back, and more depressing than ever!
The Slightly-Elongated Version: A few years before he passed away in 1966, once-blacklisted Hollywood filmmaker Robert Rossen created this gripping and unforgettable piece of cinema — one that’s just as marvelous as it was back when it was first released and earned a heap of Oscar nominations. The story here — which is anything but a happy one — is based on the novel by Walter Tevis, tells of a young pool hall hustler named “Fast” Eddie Felson (Paul Newman, in a role he would reprise 25 years later in The Color Of Money with Tom Cruise) who moseys his way into a high-stakes championship against billiards champ Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason). But his eagerness to become King of the Cues by hook or crook may prove to be his undoing once said aim becomes an obsession. Piper Laurie turns in a riveting performance as a young handicapped woman who vies for Eddie’s attention, and George C. Scott plays Jackie Gleason’s manager. Murray Hamilton and Michael Constantine also co-star, and Vincent Gardenia has an early bit part as a bartender. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment’s 50th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray of The Hustler is an amazing one, and boasts a number of impressive special features to boot.
· Knockout (2011) (Phase 4 Films)
The Short Version: Steve Austin’s Thousand Dollar Baby.
The Slightly-Elongated Version: Imagine, if you will, a no-budget rip-off of The Karate Kid by way of Million Dollar Baby. Now remove any and all traces of talent or significance, and replace them with big dumb beefy wrestler Steve Austin. The result: Knockout — or, as I like to call it: Steve Austin’s Thousand Dollar Baby. It’s even available on Blu-ray. Thank you, and good night.
· The Exploding Girl (2009) (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
The Short Version: Well, perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to cross a female with a bomb!
The Slightly-Elongated Version: Some movies simply reach out and grab you by the hamstrings. Others just kinda sorta exist. The Exploding Girl is one of the latter. The tale here centers on a young, smarter-than-average-yet-epileptic lass named Ivy (Zoe Kazan) during an unforgettable (well, for her, anyway) summer vacation from college. During that span of time, Ivy ponders over the whole “Hmm, do I really wanna be in my relationship?” thing a lot of smarter-than-average-yet-epileptic girls her age tend to do, as well as entertain her friend Al (Mark Rendall) who’s temporarily staying with her. If you’ve ever fancied lots of long shots of people walking around New York City, only without any sort of witty Woody Allen-esque dialogue, this one’s for you. Personally, I was just pissed off that the bitch never blew up. False advertising!
· The People I’ve Slept With (2009) (Maya Entertainment)
The Short Version: I’d need an entire television series for all of my bedroom exploits.
The Slightly-Elongated Version: Moving past most of the various elements of dead-serious drama, unintentional humor and utter ennui that we’ve encountered so far, The People I’ve Slept With is this first movie in this selection of flicks that knowingly embraces comedy. Put simply, the movie is about Angela (Karin Anna Cheung) a wanton woman who keeps Polaroid keepsakes of her sexual conquests (something she no doubt learned in college). When Angela learns she’s pregnant, she finds herself at a loss as to who the father is. And so, she engages the services of her gay friend (ever woman has one) to help her figure out “whodunit.”
· Napoleon & Love (1974) (Acorn Media)
The Short Version: Suffice to say, his romances are all pretty short.
The Slightly-Elongated Version: As I said at the beginning of the last title, “I’d need an entire television series for all of my bedroom exploits.” Well, I’m not the only vertically-challenged individual to have ridden the hobby horse a lot: the great Napoleon Bonaparte also had a series of somewhat legendary romantic feats. In this nine-episode Thames Television series from 1974, Ian Holm (in a role he would go on to play several more times in different productions) stars as the eager (and horny) soldier-cum-emperor. The series spans across the whole Napoleon’s lengthy career (giving an overacting Holm a chance to wear a variety of ridiculous wigs), touching upon all the women Bonaparte himself touched upon. Edward de Souza, Peter Bowles, Ronald Hines and Tim Curry co-star; with Billie Whitelaw, Sorcha Cusack, Veronica Lang, Catherine Schell and Nicola Pagett appearing as some of the famous loves. The series is presented on three discs, with a few text-only extras as special features.
· Kisses (2008) (Oscilloscope Laboratories)
The Short Version: The story behind the invention of Hershey’s most famous chocolate creation.
The Slightly-Elongated Version: And, finally, we end with a yarn about runaway kids from Ireland. It’s Christmas in Dublin, and Kylie and Dylan (Kelly O’Neill and Shane Curry, respectively) want to ensure that this year isn’t like all the others, and so they decide to run away together. Their plight into the unknown introduces them to the absolute best and worst their big city has to offer. Filmmaker Lance Daly tosses in multiple references to Bob Dylan here, as well as far too many montage sequences. Stephen Rea (whom the world has all-but forgot about as of late) makes an uncredited cameo — thereby adding the teensiest bit of star power in an otherwise all-indie film.
Happy viewing, kids!