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    • Solaris - Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 Sci-Fi Epic

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  1. New Books

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    • Hope: Entertainer of the Century

    • By Richard Zoglin

      From vaudeville to radio, from the movies to television and everything in between, entertainer Bob Hope successfully tackled every major mass-market entertainment medium of the twentieth century. His tours to entertain US troops, patriotic radio broadcasts, and his all-American, brash-but-cowardly movie persona helped to ease the nation's jitters during the stressful days of World War II.

      Hope helped redefine the very notion of what it means to be a star. He tackled stand-up comedy and made it his own, modernizing the art form for the generations that would follow. He was a savvy businessman, pioneer of the brand extension (churning out books, writing a newspaper column, hosting a golf tournament) and public-spirited entertainer whose Christmas military tours and tireless work for charity set the standard for public service in Hollywood.

      But by the 1960s, as the country became embroiled in the Vietnam War, he found himself becoming more and more of polarizing figure. Despite the criticisms, he continued entertaining the troops and developed a close friendship with embattled President Richard Nixon.

      Despite his friendly, self-deprecating demeanor and larger than life public persona, there were parts of his life Hope chose to keep very private. Author Richard Zoglin explores Hope's secret first marriage and his stint in reform school, his indiscriminate womanizing and his ambivalent relationship with Bing Crosby and Johnny Carson.

      Unlike the lovable characters he played on film, Hope could be cold, self-centered, tight with a buck, and perhaps the least introspective man in Hollywood. But as readers will discover, he was also a dogged worker, gracious with fans and generous with friends.

      There is much to be appreciated about this most public of entertainers. Zoglin makes clear that while Hope was a complex and flawed man, he not only truly enjoyed being famous, he appreciated and took seriously the responsibilities that came with that fame.

      Richard Zoglin is a contributing editor and theater critic for Time magazine. His book Comedy at the Edge: How Stand-Up in the 1970s Changed America is considered the definitive history of that groundbreaking era in comedy. He lives in New York City.

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    • Missing Reels

    • By Farran Smith Nehme

      Combining a love of old movies with romance in New York City, Nehme creates a work of fiction that that is a valentine for movie fans.

      It is the late 1980s and plucky Ceinwen Reilly has just moved from Yazoo City, Mississippi, to New York City. Though trying to hold down a job as a vintage store salesgirl and living in an Avenue C walk-up that hardly exudes glamour, her love of movies and NYC repertory cinemas provides all the glamour she seeks.

      When Ceinwen discovers that her downstairs neighbor may have starred in a forgotten silent film that hasn't been seen for ages, she decides to track down the missing movie. She begins an epic quest that brings her in contact with a cast of eccentric characters, including a bumbling, awkward and impossibly dreamy English math professor who is as rational as she is dreamy.

      Intrigued by the young woman's quest, they band together to search for the long forgotten missing reels and uncover the mesmerizing New York City silent film underworld and--possibly--a happy ending.

      Farran Smith Nehme has been writing about classic film at her blog, Self-Styled Siren, since 2005. She also is currently a freelance movie reviewer for the New York Post, and her film writing has appeared in The New York Times, Barron's , Cineaste , The Baffler, and many other publications. In 2008 she was named Film Blogger of the Year by GQ's Tom Carson. She lives in New York City.

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    • Scandals of Classic Hollywood

    • By Anne Helen Petersen

      Movie-goers have long been fascinated with the scandalous side of Hollywood. Long before Charlie Sheen's escapades, Mel Gibson's melt-down and hacked nude photos of young stars were making headlines in TMZ, film fans were kept informed of Hollywood's scandals by tabloids, gossip and movie magazines that kept the spotlight firmly on the burgeoning celebrity culture.

      Hollywood scandals have a way of being passed down, and along the way it becomes harder and harder to follow the facts amid all the salacious details. Kenneth Anger first tapped into celebrity scandals with his Hollywood Babylon books and seemingly hit the mother lode when sales of the books rocketed to the top of best-seller lists. Over the years, the stories in those books have been told and retold as readers shared the juicy details with others, and too often, lost along the way were the real facts of these stories.

      Petersen, a film professor, offers a different perspective on the subject of Hollywood stars and the bad behavior that created the controversies that swirled around them. From the scandal surrounding Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle to the "long suicide" of Montgomery Clift, she uses a variety of archives and newspaper articles to put the emphasis on the facts rather than the tawdry details that most remember.

      The stories are all contextualized within the boundaries of film, cultural, political, and gender history, making for a read that is informative as well as entertaining.

      Anne Helen Petersen is a professor of film and media studies at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington as well as a contributor to the popular site, The Hairpin. She lives in Washington state.

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    • The Making of Gone With the Wind

    • By Steve Wilson

      Seventy-five years ago, moviegoers watched a young heroine stand on a hillside in the early morning hours and swear she would never go hungry again. By that point in the movie, Scarlett O'Hara had already encountered love, loss and an invading army. Audiences were swept up in the epic story and the film has become an enduring classic.

      To commemorate the milestone anniversary of this beloved film, author Steve Wilson scoured the archives of the David O. Selznick collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin for this new book chronicling the making of the film.

      This rarely-seen material offers fans and film historians a fascinating behind-the-scenes view of the challenges, trials, and successes related to the production of this timeless classic.

      Before a single frame of film was shot, Gone With The Wind was embroiled in controversy. There were serious concerns about how the film would depict race and violence in the Old South during the Civil War and Reconstruction. And while Clark Gable was almost everyone's choice to play Rhett Butler, there was no clear favorite for Scarlett O'Hara which, stymied the legendary producer Selznick for some time.

      There was also the huge challenge of turning Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize-winning epic into a manageable screenplay and producing it at a reasonable cost. Various screenwriters tried to tame the story and Selznick himself kept the pressure up with his own notoriously detailed memos. George Cukor was hired and then fired before Selznick finally settled on Victor Fleming as the man most able to handle the scale of both the story and the production.

      With a foreword by film historian and TCM Host Robert Osborne, the book includes on-set photographs, storyboards, correspondence, fan mail, production records, costumes and, of course, Selznick's own lengthy memos. The author writes effectively about how creative choices helped produce one of the most loved films of all time and why it remains so influential all these years later.

      Steve Wilson is the curator of the film collection at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin. He has curated several exhibitions at the Ransom Center, including Shooting Stars, a display of Hollywood glamour photography, and Making Movies, a major exhibition on film production.

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  1. DVD Reviews

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    • Point Blank on Blu-ray

    • When documentary filmmaker John Boorman made the leap to feature filmmaking with Catch Us If You Can (aka Having a Wild Weekend, 1965), a low-budget rock-n-roll vehicle for the Dave Clark Five, he transformed the quickie into a surprisingly biting satire of popular culture set to a bouncy soundtrack, displaying a remarkable sophistication and creativity unexpected from such a project. It was enough to land him his first American film, Point Blank, where he revealed an even greater ambition and talent.

      Based on the novel The Hunter by Richard Stark (a pen name for Donald Westlake), Point Blank shuffles the lean, straight-forward story of a gunman named Walker (Lee Marvin), who is double crossed by his partner in crime and returns (seemingly from the dead) for revenge, into a surreal, abstracted crime drama. The plot is faithful to original novel, a hard-boiled piece of crime fiction reimagined for the underworld culture of the sixties, but Boorman and Marvin, who requested the young director and supported his unconventional vision for the film, refract it through a modern lens. Walker's odyssey from Alcatraz in San Francisco to the underworld of Los Angeles is splintered with short, sharp shards of memory that cut through his story, as if reflecting Walker's attempts to put the pieces of cause and effect together in his mind.

      Boorman views L.A. through an alienated lens and edits it more like a European art film than an American crime thriller, but fills it with offbeat, ultra-stylized scenes of violence. It opens on a gunshot that should have killed him and he struggles to put it all together when he wakes up: "Cell. Prison cell. How did I get here?" Marvin is enigmatic, to say the least, as he tracks down his unfaithful, guilt-ridden wife (Sharon Acker), his wife's sister (Angie Dickinson), his old friend turned double-crossing heist partner Mal Reese (John Veron), and finally the syndicate bigwigs, all just to get his due: "I want my 93 grand."

      This vision of urban Los Angeles is alternately crowded and noisy and urban, and austere and empty and dislocated. His footsteps echoing through an empty, anonymous hallway becomes the disembodied beat of his march of revenge. A scatting, screaming R&B singer at a chic night spot called The Film Club is the feral soundtrack of a brutal backstage fight, at once visceral and abstracted in the clutter of 35mm film cans and nightclub supplies. The aftermath of a suicide becomes a psychedelic vision of destruction, which disappears in a cut to the apartment suddenly empty, a ghost house with no evidence of life or death, just transition.

      The dialogue is loaded with references to "a dream" and characters constant remind Walker that he's supposed to be dead. Keenan Wynn adds another level of remove as the devil whispering in Walker's ear, another unreal figure with a carefully concealed agenda who is preternaturally attuned to Walker's movements. More than an informant, he appears from nowhere to provide a name, an address, a piece of information on the trail to the top man in the Organization as Walker's debt keeps getting passed up the chain of command.

      Walker is both an unstoppable sentinel who seems more than flesh and blood and a vulnerable man wounded by betrayal who has armored over his emotions with a mission. Marvin delivers both sides of the character without compromising either. There's a cold fury under his deliberate movements and his eyes betray a moment of regret and sadness when he finds his wife dead by her own hand, but it is all pushed down and kept in check by his single-minded focus. "I just want my money" is his mantra, not a matter of greed but a debt to be settled to balance the scales. Marvin is at once deliberate and relaxed, a veteran criminal soldier alert to everything, which makes his character even more fascinating. He doesn't demand attention on screen, he commands it through confidence and ability and cool focus.

      That alone makes him more admirable than Mal, who is played by John Vernon as an oily, arrogant, amoral rat, selling out anyone and everyone to buy his way back into the Organization. The rest of the members of the cast don't play characters as much as cogs, functionaries in a criminal enterprise as a cutthroat corporation, simply doing their jobs as if Walker was a rival in a hostile takeover. Only Angie Dickinson's Chris has the passion and fury and emotional life of a human being, siding with Walker out of both loyalty and for payback against Mal ("He makes my flesh crawl") and the Organization that has taken over her business and her life. Sharon Acker, who plays Walker's wife, comes off less haunted than simply weak. She barely leaves an impression, which is fitting for her character but fails to offer any sense of tragedy to her story, and she's almost instantly forgotten after she exits the film. It's really the only weak element of the film, which otherwise is strong, confident, and sure from beginning to end.

      Point Blank has been called a modern film noir but it has more in common with Performance, another crime thriller that fractures time, offers enigmatic and ambiguous characters, and equates organized crime with big business. Boorman delivers meticulously executed set pieces that are designed for the wide CinemaScope frame with a sure sense of space and a dispassionate perspective. He emphasizes intelligence over action and presents Walker as total professional, never flustered and always emotionally removed from the situation. And if Walker is an extreme incarnation of the revenge driven noir anti-hero, the modern syndicate has transformed the old school mob into a world of paper jungles and corporate businessmen, an alienating concept to a two-fisted, gun-wielding independent like Walker. "Profit is the only principle," is their motto. Almost 50 years later, it's more modernist than modern, a fascinating time capsule of an era when young directors brought nouvelle vague style to classic genres, and a cryptic crime thriller that turns Marvin into the most enigmatic criminal professional in the movies.

      Boorman creates a hard, austere look for the film and the new Blu-ray delivers a sharp clarity to his vision of Los Angeles as an impersonal modern city. Apart from a few scenes, he strips the frame down to isolated figures in an empty urban landscape under the hard light of the California sun. It's an urban desert and the disc preserves that atmosphere of a ghost city by day and a shadowy underworld at night when the crowds gather on the streets and in the clubs. The impersonal palette of concrete surfaces and blank office interiors in the day gives way to the color of human habitation after dark, which oddly enough has a warmer atmosphere than the harsh light of day.

      Carried over from the earlier DVD release is an audio commentary track with director John Boorman and fellow director Steven Soderbergh, a fan of the film who essentially hosts the commentary. He engages Boorman in conversations about the film's style, the use of color and camera lenses, working with Lee Marvin (who became close friends with Boorman), and making his Hollywood debut with a film that refused to play by the studio rules. Soderbergh's The Limey was clearly indebted to Point Blank in both its theme of revenge and in its fractured storytelling and unconventional use of flashbacks. Taking part in this commentary is like paying tribute to his inspiration.

      Also features the vintage promotional featurette The Rock (in two parts), which looks at shooting the film on location in Alcatraz, and the original trailer.

      by Sean Axmaker

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    • Ravenous on Blu-ray

    • Ravenous (1999) channels the story reminiscent of the Donner Party disaster and the legend of Alferd Packer (the only American ever convicted of cannibalism) into a gruesome survival thriller with a crimson-hued streak of black humor and an elemental hint of the supernatural. The resulting film takes top honors as the definitive frontier cannibal movie. Not that there's a long list to choose from, mind you, but this earns its position with honors, thanks to a gleefully weird and savagely bloodthirsty sensibility.

      Guy Pearce is Captain John Boyd, whose battle cowardice during the Mexican-American war inadvertently results in making him an accidental hero. The ordeal of playing dead under the bleeding corpses of his fellow officers also puts him off meat, as the opening scenes so vividly illustrate. Director Antonia Bird cuts straight to the heart of the situation as she intercuts soldiers devouring bleeding-rare steaks at a military luncheon with the bloody casualties of battle stacked like cordwood: meat is meat, at least as far as this film is concerned. Boyd's commanding officer (John Spencer of The West Wing), who knows that his valor is a fraud, ships him out to the fringes of military reach: a fort in a California mountain pass, which runs with a minimal compliment during the impassable winter months. "This place thrives on tedium," smiles fort commander Colonel Hart (Jeffrey Jones), who takes everything with a bemused indulgence. How else to survive a company made up of a useless drunk second-in-command(Stephen Spinella), a giggling weed-head idiot (David Arquette), a twitchy, mumbling chaplain (Jeremy Davies), and a macho soldier boy (Neal McDonough) who holds the rest of the company in utter contempt?

      The tedium is quickly dispersed when a bedraggled disaster survivor (Robert Carlyle) stumbles into camp. He spins a horrific story of a lost wagon train and an incompetent scout who strands them in the mountains, where as the winter snows traps them and desperation leads to feeding on human flesh. It's a tale right out of the Donner Party until it turns feral, but it's not even close to the real story of Carlyle's wild-eyed survivor. For a starving man, he looks remarkably fit when he doffs his shirt, and other clues suggest that this is no production gaffe. One night, while camping on the trail to his old camp to search for survivors, he's caught licking the bleeding wounds of an injured soldier. You know, tasting his next potential meal.

      That's when the film takes its twist into weird and wild horror, a bizarre plot that doesn't really make much logical sense but sure makes for a wicked mix of psychodrama and visceral body horror. The Native American Wendigo myth is referenced to explain madness, but you could say it's a vampire tale without the supernatural dimension--it turns out human flesh is addictive, and it helps to have a nest of fellow flesh-eaters to keep the diet coming--or call it a particularly gruesome metaphor for manifest destiny. However you label it, it is off-the-charts crazy, an eat-or-be-eaten thriller served very, very rare.

      British director Antonia Bird seems like an odd match for this material. She honed her craft on TV drama and made her reputation with the tough, wrenching dramas Priest and Face, two films with complex characters and socially conscious themes. What they have in common with Ravenous is star Robert Carlyle, who recommended Bird after the film's original director Milcho Manchevski was let go after three weeks and the producer's chosen replacement, Raja Gosnell, was rejected by the cast. Bird (who passed away last year at the relatively young age of 62 after a battle with thyroid cancer) was frustrated by the conditions of the production and the oversight of the producers and she complained that her cut was compromised in post-production. That may explain the awkward pace, jarring turns, and a climax that feels tossed together--an uninspired way to end such a devious film--but she is clearly the architect of the odd, offbeat key of the film's blackly comic tone and surreal atmosphere and Carlyle is her partner in outsized madness. He leads the cast in playing their eccentricities big, though next to Carlyle's juicy performance, Arquette and Davies come off more like actor's studio sketches in twitchy weirdness or fidgety indecision than actual characters. Guy Pearce provides the contrast, creating a character fighting to maintain control and keep his emotions and his reflexive revulsion in check as everyone else lets their freak flag fly. It oddly enough makes him the most intense character on screen. As all that fear and disgust and anxiety just bottles up behind his desperate eyes and increasingly battered body, Pearce shows us the toll this ordeal exacts on him. In this survival drama, he's the one in true survival mode.

      Scream Factory's Blu-ray features a solid new HD transfer that preserves the dynamic contrast between the white-out daylight scenes of snow and the ominous shadows of the deep forest and the dark rough-hewn quarters of the frontier fort. Night doesn't have to fall for the darkness to seep into the image. Given the elemental quality of the imagery--much of the film takes place in the snowbound wilderness, with the Tatra Mountains of Slovakia standing in for California--the transfer has a satisfying level of grain that not only preserves the texture of the film but gives the entire atmosphere an added level of authenticity. These images feel like they were carved into the film.

      The film was previously released on DVD over a decade ago with three separate commentary tracks. Director Antonia Bird and composer Damon Albarn team up for the most informative track, with Bird talking in detail about the physical challenges of the production. Screenwriter Ted Griffin and co-star Jeffrey Jones tend to lapse into silences in their track and actor Robert Carlyle is even more intermittent in his the solo track. Also carried over from the earlier disc is a collection of deleted scenes (many of them in rough-cut form) with optional commentary by Bird and a gallery of stills. New to this edition is a 20-minute interview with Jeffrey Jones, who looks back on the themes of the film.

      by Sean Axmaker

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    • Southern Comfort on Blu-ray

    • A motley crew of Louisiana National Guardsman wade out into the swamps for weekend maneuvers. It's 1973, as the war in Vietnam is grinding away the soul of America and the heart of the military, and this platoon of weekend warriors--a volatile collection of rednecks, hotheads, jokers, and guys who probably signed up to steer clear of the draft--are like fresh recruits going into battle for the first time. They've got the fatigues and the cocky attitude but dubious discipline and training and their machine guns are loaded with blanks as they head into the bayou. To the Cajun swamp folk, the trappers and hunters living on the fringes of society, these men are invaders who trample their camps and steal their boats. And when one of the soldiers lets loose a burst from his weapon, laughing like the class bully after humiliating the new kid, these shadowy swamp dwellers defend themselves, becoming a guerilla strike force waging a war of terror on the utterly unprepared toy soldiers. They don't know that it's just blanks in those guns but it likely wouldn't matter if they did. They've been attacked and they will respond. These city dwellers are out their element and after their commanding officer (Peter Coyote) is gone, the first casualty in the war of attrition, they are out of their depth, flailing around with a panic that dumps their radio, compass, map, and pretty much everything else that was supposed to keep them alive.

      Southern Comfort will never be mistaken for a Nation Guard recruitment tool. Call it an anti-platoon movie. Hill gives the squad the outward accoutrements of a real fighting force, down to the uniforms and weapons, but this is a military unit in name only. Beyond the swaggering banter of the soldiers and self-deprecating comments of Spencer (Keith Carradine), the self-appointed company joker, they have no real training, no experience under fire, and no commitment to one another. These guys are more like barroom buddies playing soldier than a disciplined force.

      There are two voices of restraint in the wilderness, Spencer and new guy Hardin (Powers Booth), a transfer from Texas who doesn't know anyone in the company but sizes up their weaknesses quickly and realizes that they haven't much a chance as long as wild cards like Reece (Fred Ward) and Stuckey (Lewis Smith) go charging through the swamps looking for payback. Casper (Les Lannom) takes command by virtue of an essentially meaningless detail of rank and bumbles around quoting regulations and making speeches, doggedly following the book because he hasn't a clue what to do next. The filmmakers don't make him a figure of ridicule, mind you, just a guy falling back on the only thing he knows. In fact, none of them are necessarily "bad guys," though like any Hill ensemble, it has its share of jerks, bullies, racists, and anger management candidates and the pressure brings out their worst instincts.

      So yes, it's a story of American soldiers in an alien land, lost in an unfamiliar landscape and outmaneuvered by a guerrilla army at home in the jungle. Director / screenwriter Walter Hill and producer / co-screenwriter David Giler insist to this day that Southern Comfort was never intended to be an allegory for Vietnam, simply a survival tale in an overwhelming and unfamiliar environment. It's hard to take them at face value but it is easy to forget the allegory in the heat of the drama. It also shares DNA with Deliverance, another film about city boys with guns who take their sense of ownership and entitlement into the wilderness, threaten the locals, and end up hunted by them. But where John Boorman's primal thriller turns his Appalachian backwoods men into brutal outlaws who take pleasure in stalking the city invaders, Hill and Giler keep their Cajun soldiers hidden, seen as figures in the distance or blurs running behind the trees, ghosts on the fringes of sight. They treat the would-be soldier like wild game, silently shadowing their progress and whipping them into a state of panic to steer them into their traps. And whatever the short-fused guys in the platoon think, this is no cultural conspiracy to wipe out the invaders. Their enemy consists of a handful of isolated hunters who didn't start the war but by God are determined to finish it. The rest of the Cajun folks they meet don't seem to be a part of it, though after a couple of days in the swamps, the paranoia is powerful enough to make every sidelong glance look ominous. Ry Cooder's eerie and haunting score only intensifies the paranoia.

      What ultimately differentiates them from the soldiers of a classical platoon drama is that they haven't bonded under fire and have never had to put their trust in one another. This group unravels and tears itself apart from fear and panic and unfocused rage. And in classic Hill manner, there are no philosophical musings or existential conversations. The closest the film comes to putting its theme into words is from the mantra of a terrified Simms (Franklyn Seales), who finds himself cut off from the group and suddenly aware of just how vulnerable he is. "I'm not supposed to be here," he repeats, as if begging the universe to correct some cosmic planning error. And then he's no longer there.

      While this band of infighting brothers wades blindly through the swamp without a clue as to their bearings or direction, Hill's direction never falters. He has always had a sure hand as a storyteller, keeping his plots uncluttered and letting the details of character, conflict, and the world around them define the story. Southern Comfort limits the world to the middle of the swamp, where we (like the soldiers) are unable to find any point of reference, and observes how the discomfort of the environment and the constant disorientation takes its toll on what little good sense the characters bring with them to the mission. It exacerbates the already dysfunctional dynamics of this platoon of battle virgins and is as deadly on its own as the native hunters who use the environment as a weapon in their arsenal. It's not necessarily skill or even luck that saves the guardsmen who survive the ordeal. In classic Hill fashion, it is a matter of intelligence, awareness, teamwork, and the commitment to do what is necessary to survive. There's no sense of victory in survival, merely relief.

      Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack. Both discs feature the new HD master but the Blu-ray of course features superior clarity and richness of color. Both are clean, strong images while the Blu-ray shows off excellent detail. The Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack puts the mix right up front. A couple of scenes of chaos and confusion overwhelm the dialogue with background sound, which is surely intentional but still seems a little out of balance to my ears.

      New to this release in an original 27-minute featurette with new interviews with actors Keith Carradine, Powers Boothe, Lewis Smith, and Peter Coyote and, on low-resolution video via Skype, director Walter Hill and producer David Giler, who collaborated on the script with Hill. The actors share stories of shooting in the Louisiana swamps in February with wet suits under their uniforms, six weeks of working in the cold and damp, and they remind us that they were all in it together. The crew endured the same conditions so no one had the right to complain. More interesting is the discussion around the themes of the film. Hill and Giler maintain that while they did not intentionally set out to make a Vietnam allegory they were aware that audiences would make that connection, while the actors admit that they knew it was an allegory from the moment they read the script. Keith Carradine's reading is particularly detailed and interesting. Curiously, none of the six participants mention Deliverance.

      Carried over from the old DVD release is a brief collection of outtakes and the original trailer. All of the supplements are featured in both the Blu-ray and DVD discs of the Combo Pack.

      By Sean Axmaker

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    • Tess on Blu-ray

    • Tess (1979), Roman Polanski's film adaptation of Thomas Hardy's 1890 novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles, has in 2014 received a sublime Blu-Ray and DVD release from Criterion. Restored by Pathe under the direct supervision of Polanski himself, the movie looks and sounds magnificent. At first glance, the lushly beautiful Tess is a seemingly unusual work for Polanski, whose films we tend to associate with horror and sex, but this was actually a highly personal project for the master filmmaker. It was his first picture after fleeing the United States in 1977, and also a project that his wife, Sharon Tate, had suggested he make as a vehicle for herself -- just before she was murdered by the Manson gang in 1969. Polanski read the novel after her death and realized it was indeed right up his alley, and he dedicated the eventual film to her with an on-screen inscription.

      Hardy's tale, to which the film is very faithful, is about a poor English girl, Tess, whose father learns he is a distant descendant of a once prominent, rich family, the D'Urbervilles. He sends Tess to the home of a remaining D'Urberville to find employment (or at least a handout), but Tess winds up being seduced by the ne'er-do-well Alec D'Urberville (Leigh Lawson), who becomes obsessed with her. Fleeing Alec, she eventually finds work at a dairy farm and starts a passionate relationship with a young farmer named Angel Clare (Peter Firth). But in this society, the revelation of the sins of her past, even if they were not her fault, could doom Tess to shame, ostracism and worse. Ultimately, Tess is about a woman struggling to make her way in the world, looking for happiness, or at least survival, but finding that a judgmental society, timing and even luck are all working against her.

      Polanski explores this theme vividly, sympathetically and cinematically. Costumes, speech and physical mannerisms of the actors all convince the audience of the time period and of the distinctions among the social classes, and the film's pictorial beauty does much to stress the contrasting cruelty of some of the characters. The movie is not "pretty" for prettiness' sake. Most important, one really feels the isolation of Tess throughout the film, which is at once sprawling and intimate. The plot itself, while important, feels less vital here than the depiction of Tess' emotional experience of the world she is forced to inhabit, and as a result, the long running time feels entirely appropriate and never tedious.

      Tess was shot entirely in France, mostly on locations in Normandy and Brittany, because Polanski worried that if he traveled to England he would be extradited to the United States. Polanski later wrote, "To tell the story at all, it was essential to find the proper setting, a twentieth-century equivalent of Hardy's nineteenth-century Dorset. The only way to convey the rhythm of his epic was to use that setting as an integral part of the film, signaling the passage of time and the change in Tess herself by means of a visible, almost palpable change in seasons. Once our rural locations were chosen, we would have to film throughout the year from early spring, through high summer, to the depths of winter." With such a shooting strategy, filming wound up lasting nine months over 80 separate locations, and Tess became, at $12 million, the most expensive film ever made in France to that point. Freak weather and labor strikes only added to the overall time and expense.

      If Tess is atypical of Polanski, it's in the way that The Age of Innocence (1993) is atypical of director Martin Scorsese. But in fact, both films are completely emblematic of their directors' concerns and are indeed suffused with violence. It's just that the violence is emotional, an undercurrent beneath a pristine surface -- exactly like the societies the films depict.

      That being said, it's hard to shake some of Tess's most exquisitely beautiful imagery, such as the lovely natural light of an outdoor dance, or the riders and dogs on a fox hunt who appear out of a sublime mist, or the face of Nastassia Kinski, who is heart-stoppingly gorgeous (a quality, incidentally, that is vital to the story). Cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth, who had shot such films as Becket (1964) and Cabaret (1972), died a few weeks into production and was replaced by Ghislain Cloquet, who sadly would himself pass away two years later. They shared the Oscar for Best Cinematography. The film also won for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design and was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Score.

      Criterion's dual-format release contains one Blu-ray disc and two DVDs, with both formats containing the film and identical extras. And there are plenty, starting with three short documentaries about the film's making (originally included in Columbia's 2004 DVD release), directed by Laurent Bouzereau and totaling 73 minutes in length. Bouzereau expertly interviews key players like Polanski, producers Claude Berri and Timothy Burrill, co-writer John Brownjohn, actors Nastassia Kinski and Leigh Lawson, set decorator Pierre Guffroy, costume designer Anthony Powell, hair and makeup artists, the crew electrician, the assistant editor and others. The artists discuss fascinating details of production, like the challenge of getting the "strawberry seduction" scene between Kinski and Lawson just right (which astonishingly was shot on a rainy day despite looking on-screen like the height of warm summer), the creation of the Stonehenge set outside of Paris, and the design of the costumes to be authentic and truly expressive of character -- beautiful without being decorative. Powell is fascinating as he discusses his approach, and also about the little splotch of blood he put on the hem of Tess' dress at a key point in the story, which Polanski shot for maximum impact.

      Burrill recalls that on location the filmmakers were only able to see the rushes days after shooting, rather than the next day, and not always under the best conditions. But gradually, he says, "we started to see what was happening, the magic that was coming off the screen, and the extraordinary professionalism of Nastassia.... I don't think there was ever one day when she fluffed a line. She was word-perfect, always."

      Second is a 52-minute documentary from 2006 by Daniel Ablin and Serge July entitled Once Upon a Time... Tess. This is also interesting, but it covers much of the same material as the Bouzereau pieces, with many of the same interviewees telling the same stories. It's also not as smoothly edited. But unlike the Bouzereau film, it includes composer Philippe Sarde, and delves more into Polanski's pre-Tess life and career. It also recounts the difficulties in Tess's post-production, particularly concerning the running time. Francis Coppola was brought in by producer Claude Berri to trim the film, which was deemed overlong, but Polanski hated the result, leading to a falling-out between Berri and Polanski and between Polanski and Sarde. Polanski himself eventually trimmed the film by about 20 minutes, resulting in the current running time of 171 minutes.

      Third, there's a 1979 episode of the French TV program Cine Regards, running 48 minutes, that looks at the making of Tess and interviews Polanski during the film's production. The interviews with Polanski are revealing, but the real strengths of the piece are the long, uninterrupted slices of life on the set as Polanski directs and thinks through scenes, conducting his orchestra of crewmembers. These sequences go on long enough to make us feel as if we are there.

      Fourth is a 1979 episode of the British TV program The South Bank Show, 50 minutes in length, in which host Melvyn Bragg interviews Polanski. And Criterion rounds things out with the film's trailer as well as a handsome printed booklet containing a fine essay by Colin MacCabe and crisp, colorful photos from the film, almost all of which feature the entrancing Nastassia Kinski. It's a beautiful package and motion picture, all very highly recommended.

      By Jeremy Arnold

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    • Used Cars on Blu-ray

    • The opening of Used Cars (1980) has the ominous, wind-scoured character of a modern crime film in a desperate southwest town where a Sergio Leone western wouldn't be out of place. The camera cranes down from a high shot over a struggling used car dealership, where a few pathetic beaters line the lot, and slowly glides over to one car with someone is crammed under the dashboard. The only sound is the lonely wind--the kind of strangled, desolate howl you get in dustbowl dramas and desert survival thrillers--and the grunts of the man struggling with the mechanics under the dash. And then we see the odometer turn back, shaving some 40,000 or so miles from the record. The title hits the screen, a brass band jumps in with "Stars and Stripes Forever," and the unidentified mechanic wriggles out to reveal Kurt Russell in a cheap, loud suit making his rounds to mask the sorry condition of the cars on the lot. It turns out that this is a crime movie after all, or at least a film of multiple misdemeanors and bald-faced misrepresentation, and the perpetrators are the good guys.

      The second feature from director Robert Zemeckis and co-writer and producer Bob Gale, Used Cars comes right out of the screen comedy culture of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the underdogs snubbed their collective noses at authority, propriety, property and privacy laws and anything else that crossed their paths in slobs vs. snobs comedies like Animal House (1978), Caddyshack (1980) and Ghostbusters (1984). Used Cars is raucous and reckless and far more gleefully corrupt than any of its brothers in rebellion, embracing the confidence games and illegal stunts pulled by the skeleton crew that works for Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden), who is the closest thing that the film has to an honest man. The devotion of salesmen Rudy (Russell) and Jeff (Gerrit Graham) and mechanic Jim (Frank McRae) to Luke is really all that separates them from Luke's rapacious brother and across-the-street rival Roy L. Fuchs (Warden again) and his slick sales force. That and the fun they have ripping off the rubes who wander on to their lot.

      The premise of film - two used car outfits at war with one another - was hatched by John Milius, who was one of the executive producers (along with Steven Spielberg), but the script is pure Zemeckis and Gale. The rivals are twin brothers, the Cain and Abel of used car dealers. When impending freeway construction threatens to destroy bad brother Roy's dealership and make the good brother Luke rich, Roy finds a way to speed the demise of Luke's bad heart and Rudy makes good on his promise to keep Roy from taking over the lot. Rudy has his own, more immediate motivation, of course--he's trying to buy his way into the local political machine and he's still a little short on the down payment--but it's also personal. Luke is something of a father figure to the crew, which makes them the mischievous sons who break the rules whenever dad's back is turned. After Luke dies, their antics more outrageous, from secretly burying Luke on the lot (his beloved convertible fittingly serves as his casket) to jamming satellite signals with wild pirate commercials replete with gratuitous nudity and senseless destruction of private property. The plot seems to careen from one comic collision to another but there's a nicely-constructed plan under it all, simple but ingenious enough that you don't actually see how the pieces are laid in place until it all comes together in the ragged spectacle of final act.

      It's not really a satire of American business so much as a wicked lampoon: lie, cheat and steal as the American way, as long as you do it with a sense of fun. Kurt Russell was just breaking out of his clean-cut post-Disney persona when he took on the role and he sinks his teeth into Rudy, turning the brash characters into the epitome of the smiling mercenary selling lemons to suckers with dirty tricks and phony promises. Gerrit Graham is his partner in commercial piracy, unfazed by anything but harbingers of bad luck, notably red. Deborah Harmon is both romantic interest and plot complication as Luke's long lost daughter, who shows up just after dad's death. Jack Warden has a field day playing twin brothers and Frank McRae is hilarious as the giant adrenaline-pumped mechanic. The crotch-grabbing Mexican junk car wholesaler is ubiquitous character actor and future director Alfonso Arau in his first great comic role in an American film (Romancing the Stone and Three Amigos soon followed). But the entire cast is in danger of being upstaged by the adorable dog Toby, who has his own role to play in the sale stunts. This pooch's hilarious performance makes him one of the greatest movie dogs.

      Zemeckis matured into a polished filmmaker and an ambitious storyteller and went on to make more sophisticated, more provocative, and certainly more subtle films, but he never made anything as savagely funny as Used Cars. Its banged-up ingenuity and rough-and-tumble energy and warped mirror reflection of the American Dream as a snatch and grab free-for-all is wickedly funny. Everyone is a crook here and the epilogue even enshrines mendacity as a virtue, at least when it comes to stepping into the used car game.

      Used Cars has a remarkably tidy visual aesthetic for a film about a seedy, shabby culture, with a screen that is uncluttered and flooded with desert sunlight in day scenes and blasted with floodlights as bold as a football stadium night game for the after-dark stunts. The new HD transfer shows a well-preserved print and is sharp and clear. Simply put, it looks superb.

      The commentary track with Zemeckis, Gale, and Russell, carried over from the 2002 DVD reelease, is almost as fun as the movie. "We wanted Jimmy Stewart in It's A Wonderful Life, except he's totally corrupt," is how Zemeckis explains the genesis of Rudy. Kurt Russell laughs back: "So you cast me!" These guys are having a blast laughing their way through their remembrances, but they manage to stay on track and keep the production stories coming. Few commentaries manage to balance the information and entertainment so well.

      There's a four-minute reel of outtakes (apparently taken from surviving video dub; it's all quite hazy), a radio interview with Russell, a car commercial featuring Russell, galleries of art and stills, and not one but two isolated score tracks: along with Patrick Williams' musical score heard in the film is an alternate, unused score by Ernest Gold. We don't quite get it in the context of the film (at least not with dialogue and sound effects) but it's a more conventional, less satirical approach. The accompanying 8-page booklet features another fine essay by Julie Kirgo.

      By Sean Axmaker

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  1. Press Release

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    • TCM Remembers Mike Nichols (1931-2014)

    • Turner Classic Movies pays tribute to stage and screen director Mike Nichols on Saturday, December 6 with the following festival of films. With the exception of the previously-scheduled showing of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, this program will replace the previously scheduled movies for that evening so please take note.

      The new schedule for the evening of Saturday, December 6 will be:
      8:00 PM Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
      10:30 PM The Graduate (1967)
      12:30 AM Carnal Knowledge (1971)



      Perhaps best known for directing such classics as "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" (1966) and "The Graduate" (1967), Nichols holds the distinction of being one of the few people to have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an OscarĀ® and a Tony award, as well as a record-breaking 6 Tony Awards. His groundbreaking work in film began with "Woolf," his debut feature, that was controversial for the film's profanity and handling of marital infidelity. He followed up that film with a string of hits, including "The Graduate," "Catch-22" (1970), "Silkwood" (1983), and more recently "Closer" (2004) and "Charlie Wilson's War" (2007).

      After establishing himself as the straight-man half of a popular comic duo with Elaine May in the late 1950s, Mike Nichols became one of the most decorated directors of stage and screen, earning several Tony Awards for his work on Broadway while helming seminal Academy Award-winning films. Though he began his career as in improvisational comedian and gained a degree of popularity with May, Nichols found his greatest success first on Broadway, where he collaborated extensively with Neil Simon to direct "Barefoot in the Park" (1963) and "The Odd Couple" (1965); both of which earned him Tony Awards for Best Director. He soon moved to Hollywood and directed the controversial "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966), which broke ground for its use of profanity and frank handling of marriage infidelity, and "The Graduate" (1967), which managed to tap into the feelings of isolation and abandonment by that era's youth. Following a misfire with his adaptation of "Catch-22" (1970), Nichols once again broke ground tackling the subject of sex and relationships with the hit drama, "Carnal Knowledge" (1971). But he soon broke away from Hollywood to focus on the stage, only to return with the acclaimed biopic "Silkwood" (1983), starring Meryl Streep. Following popular hits like "Working Girl" (1988) and "Biloxi Blues" (1988), Nichols' film career hit a precipitous downturn until he directed the surprise hit comedy "The Birdcage" (1996). On the small screen, he found even more success with the acclaimed made-for-cable movie "Wit" (HBO, 2001) and the extraordinary miniseries "Angels in America" (HBO, 2003), both of which earned their share of critical adulation and awards. After a return to big screen form with "Closer" (2004) and "Charlie Wilson's War" (2007), Nichols proved that he was just as viable as he was when he broke new ground for a previous generation.

      Born Michael Igor Peschowsky on Nov. 6, 1931 in Berlin, Germany, Nichols was raised by his father, Nicholaievitch, a physician, and his mother, Brigitte. When he was four years old, Nichols was given a defective whooping cough vaccine that left his entire body devoid of hair, a condition that precipitated him wearing a wig the rest of his life. Nichols came to America in 1939 when he fled Nazi Germany with his brother, Robert, after their father had set up a medical practice on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Since their mother stayed behind due to ill health, Nichols' father left his two boys with his patients' family, only to see them from time to time while he further established his business. Though the family was reunited when their mother arrived a year and a half later, Nichols' mother and father fought constantly, and seemed assured of divorce if not for their father dying of leukemia in 1942. Meanwhile, Bridgette's descent into depression and hypochondria dragged the family down into abject poverty, and away from the middle-class comfort they had enjoyed when their father was alive.

      A perennial outsider due to his initially limited English, Nichols - who was naturalized as a citizen in 1944 and was certified a genius at age 12 - struggled as a student while attending the Dalton School and Walden School in New York. Though able to make others laugh - a trait he received from his father - Nichols was unaware that entertaining people for a living was available to him until he saw Elia Kazan's staging of "A Streetcar Named Desire" when he was 16. He knew from watching that performance, which starred a young Marlon Brando, that he was destined to be involved in theater. By the time he landed at the University of Chicago, Nichols himself had been flung into fits of depression, which led to his firing from deejay duties at the school's radio station on several occasions. But he found solace in the theater, directing his first play, W.B. Yeats' "Purgatory" with Ed Asner in the lead, during his sophomore year. He also performed on stage in several others, including "St. Joan," "La Ronde" and "Miss Julie." Around this time, Nichols met Elaine May, with whom he had a brief romantic entanglement, but also had a long-running professional relationship based on their symbiotic improvisational comedy.

      Although they had met previously, Nichols and May did not begin their partnership in earnest until 1955 after he had dropped out of college and briefly studied Method acting with Lee Strasberg in New York. But with no hopes of finding any work, he returned to Chicago and joined the relatively new Compass Players, an improvisatory troupe among whose founders were Paul Sills and May and eventually evolved into the famed comedy group, Second City. Although he performed with others in the group, Nichols' true comedic talents came to full blossom only when partnered with May. The duo shared an effortless chemistry onstage, where they continually challenged one another and enjoyed displaying their verbal wit. Though almost split apart in 1958, Nichols and May went on to enjoy enormous success as the premiere comedy duo of the late 1950s and early 1960s, appearing on "The Steve Allen Show" (NBC/ABC, 1956-1964) and "Omnibus" (CBS/ABC/NBC, 1952-1961), while also making their debut as panelists on "Laugh Line" in 1959.

      Over the next several years, Nichols and May saw the culmination of their collaboration with the Broadway production "An Evening with Nichols and May" (1960), which led to a Grammy-winning recording for Best Comedy Performance in 1962. But the strain of performing together began to take its toll that year when the play, "A Matter of Position" - which May wrote, directed and starred in - flopped in Philadelphia. Their partnership and friendship came to a sudden crashing end. Feeling abandoned and without moorings, Nichols was unsure what to do next with his career. So when he was offered a chance to stage the Broadway-bound Neil Simon play "Barefoot in the Park" (1963) he readily accepted. With a cast including Elizabeth Ashley, Robert Redford, Mildred Natwick and Kurt Kaznar, the light romantic comedy became a hit and forged a long-running collaboration with the famed playwright, while winning Nichols his first Tony Award for Best Director. The following year, Nichols directed Simon's seminal comedy, "The Odd Couple" (1965), with Art Carney as Felix Ungar and Walther Matthau as Oscar Madison in the leads. Nichols won his second consecutive Best Director Tony Award, which soon helped break down doors in Hollywood.

      Having honed his craft on stage, Nichols moved to the big screen when screen goddess Elizabeth Taylor handpicked him to direct the film adaptation of Edward Albee's blistering portrait of a marriage, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" (1966). Although he clashed with studio head Jack Warner, who had wanted to make the picture in color, Nichols instead shot the film in stark black and white, while occasionally using handheld cameras to intensify the dramatic tension between a hard-drinking associate professor (Richard Burton) and his taunting, scorn-filled wife (Taylor), who happens to also be the dean's daughter. Tackling the difficult subjects of adultery and alcoholism, while benefitting from the recently abolished Production Code by Motion Picture Association of America head Jack Valenti, Nichols was able to keep most of the so-called offensive language from Albee's play. Though initially faced with an overly concerned Catholic League of Decency threatening to condemn the movie, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" was kept largely intact and broke ground with its unrelenting use of words and phases like "goddamn," "son of a bitch" and "screw you," which had never before been heard on screen. The film itself was a triumph at the box-office and with critics, while earning a near record 13 Academy Award nominations, including Nichols' first for Best Director.

      Prior to reuniting with Neil Simon to direct "Plaza Suite" (1968) on Broadway, which earned him his third Tony Award for Best Director, Nichols became an Oscar-winning director with only his second film, the seminal coming-of-age drama "The Graduate" (1967). By focusing on an adrift college graduate (Dustin Hoffman), who is seduced by an older woman (Anne Bancroft), only to fall in love with her daughter (Katharine Ross), the film spoke to the members of a disaffected generation by giving life to otherwise inchoate feelings of alienation and frustration. Ably performed by Hoffman, Bancroft and Ross, and scored by Paul Simon, "The Graduate" became one of the seminal films of the late 1960s alongside "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967) and "Easy Rider" (1969), ushering in a cycle of youth-oriented motion pictures that rejuvenated a moribund American film industry hurt by the splintering of the studio system. The film also earned seven Academy Awards, with Nichols winning the one-and-only statue. Now able to choose whatever project he wished, Nichols opted to film Joseph Heller's complex cult novel "Catch-22" (1970). The overly-detailed feature, however, turned out to be a noble failure, with critics citing Nichols for sentimentalizing the darkly comic absurdity of the original material. Though beautifully shot and well acted by Alan Arkin, Buck Henry, Orson Welles and Jon Voight, "Catch-22" kept audiences at bay with its cerebral remoteness.

      Returning to Broadway, he earned his fourth Tony for "The Prisoner of Second Avenue" (1971) and rebounded from "Catch-22" with his next feature effort, "Carnal Knowledge" (1971), a trenchant exploration of sexual politics that solidified Jack Nicholson's star status, proved Candice Bergen was more than a pretty face, and renewed the sagging acting career of Ann-Margret. As he did with "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Nichols bucked the MPAA's still-nascent ratings system with the film's frank discourse about sexual mores and overabundance of profane language. Once again, audiences came out in droves, though critics remained split. In between the George C. Scott vehicle "The Day of the Dolphin" (1973) and the period comedy "The Fortune" (1975), with Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson and Stockard Channing - both of which flopped at the box office - Nichols earned yet another Tony Award nod for directing an adaptation of Anton Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" (1973). Meanwhile, two weeks into shooting "Bogart Slept Here" from a Neil Simon script in 1975, Nichols became frustrated with Hollywood and pulled the plug on the project to leave filmmaking for nearly a decade.

      Although he spent some time attempting to jump-start a film version of "A Chorus Line," Nichols largely stayed away from moviemaking and turned his attentions to the small screen, serving as an executive producer on the acclaimed, award-winning drama "Family" (ABC, 1976-80). Following a return to Broadway to direct Trevor Griffiths' play "Comedians" (1976) and serving as one of the producers of the Tony-winning hit musical "Annie" (1977), Nichols earned a Tony Award nomination for another stage success with "The Gin Game" (1977). After stumbling a bit with the comedies "Lunch Hour" (1980) and the short-lived Neil Simon comedy "Fools" (1981), Nichols made a triumphant return to features with the acclaimed biopic, "Silkwood" (1983), which starred Meryl Streep as a nuclear plant employee whose mysterious illness prompts her to conduct an investigation into the plant's malfeasance with its safety procedures. "Silkwood" was not only a commentary on the plight of women in a male-dominated culture, but also depicted how anyone could be dehumanized by a complex system, whether it be the government or big business. The film not only restored Nichols to the ranks of top directors in Hollywood, it also refreshed the career of singer-actress Cher, catapulted Kurt Russell to the ranks of leading men and further demonstrated the seemingly endless talents of star Meryl Streep. It also earned Nichols another Academy Award nomination for Best Director.

      Nichols continued his Broadway domination with his fifth Tony Award win for Best Director after his successful staging of Tom Stoppard's "The Real Thing" in 1984. Reuniting with both Streep and Nicholson, he directed the feature drama "Heartburn" (1986), an adaptation of Nora Ephron's caustic roman-a-clef about her failed marriage that once again explored the impact of sexual politics, only this time to less impressive results. His follow-up, "Working Girl" (1988), was a successful satire of the same idea within a corporate setting, and starred a breakout Melanie Griffith as a secretary who finds love and success in the cutthroat world of Wall Street. Following his endearing and light-hearted screen adaptation of Simon's "Biloxi Blues" (1988), Nichols had a successful reunion with Meryl Streep in his take on Carrie Fisher's semi-autobiographical "Postcards from the Edge" (1990), which examined how women coped with working in show business. Though well-crafted and deserving of positive reviews, it was obvious to some observers that Nichols' film career was on a downward slope. But his personal life was on the upswing when he married television news anchor Diane Sawyer in 1988 after spending most of his adult life engaged in a series of failed marriages, including one with singer Patricia Scott.

      In the early 1990s, Nichols suffered box-office disappointments with "Regarding Henry" (1991) and "Wolf" (1994), despite high profile leads Harrison Ford and Jack Nicholson, respectively. The former was a somewhat sappy look at a venal corporate lawyer whose life is changed after a shooting, while the latter was a metaphoric character study of the male libido embodied by a man literally turning into a beast. In his first overt reteaming with Elaine May - she reportedly worked as a script doctor on each of his films since they reconciled in the 1970s - Nichols enjoyed a surprise hit with "The Birdcage" (1996), an Americanized remake of the popular French farce "La Cage aux folles." While some gay and lesbian groups were not particularly pleased by what were thought to be stereotypical depictions of homosexual characters, the movie allowed Robin Williams and Nathan Lane to cut loose and give larger-than-life portrayals as a long-standing couple whose lives are upturned when Williams' son visits with his conservative fiancŽ (Calista Flockhart) and her traditional all-American parents (Gene Hackman and Diane Wiest). Despite a mixed critical bag, the comedy took in over $120 million in domestic box office.

      Instead of capitalizing on his success with "The Birdcage," however, Nichols made the daring decision to return to stage acting in the 1996 London production of Wallace Shawn's play "The Designated Mourner," which was preserved on film and released theatrically the following year. Somewhat static and talky, the movie at least allowed audiences a rare opportunity to see Nichols tackle a dramatic role. When he did resume his directorial career, it was with the feature adaptation of the controversial political roman-a-clef, "Primary Colors" (1998). His original choice of Tom Hanks to play a not-too-disguised caricature of Bill Clinton passed on the project in part over concerns on how the lead character was depicted. But star John Travolta had no qualms and accepted the role, delivering one of his more finely-tuned performances. While accomplished, the movie suffered from a case of poor timing, when it was released when Clinton's presidency was in crisis over his sexual liaison with a White House intern. Nonetheless, Elaine May's script was sharp, though overshadowed by the unfolding history. He followed up with the widely panned comedy, "What Planet Are You From?" (2000), which starred Gary Shandling as an alien who comes to Earth in order to impregnate a human woman, only to discover the task's difficulty. Both a critical and box office failure, the movie was quickly forgotten after being relegated to cable outlets and video store shelves.

      Nichols roared back by collaborating with "Primary Colors" lead Emma Thompson on a small screen adaptation of the Pulitzer-winning drama "Wit" (HBO, 2001). Focusing on an uptight, sardonic professor (Thompson) who contracts terminal cancer, the film version was a brilliantly acted ensemble piece, anchored by Thompson's luminous performance. Nichols served as co-executive producer, co-author of the teleplay with Thompson and director, while earning Emmy Awards for his direction and as producer of the Outstanding Made for Television Movie. A remarkable achievement for any medium, "Wit" demonstrated that when given the right material, Nichols was still able to rise to the occasion. Anticipation ran high for his next project, the six-part HBO adaptation of Tony Kushner's charged epic of interwoven AIDS-related stories, "Angels in America" (2003). With a stellar cast led by Al Pacino, Meryl Streep and Thompson, the film was among the most highly praised television presentations of the year. Nichols was duly rewarded with two Emmys - one for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special; the other as a producer for Outstanding Miniseries. Also that year, he won the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Movies for Television the same year he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by the guild.

      Nichols returned to feature films when he directed the highly literate, often romantically brutal battle of the sexes, "Closer" (2004), a tense, charged throwback to his earlier films "Carnal Knowledge" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?", which was based on Patrick Marber's play about a pair of couples (Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts and Clive Owen) who become messily intertwined with one another. Although the film garnered mixed reviews, some raved about Nichols' return to form. Away from the screen, Nichols proved that he remained a potent force in the world of legitimate theater, winning his sixth Tony Award as Best Director in 2005 for helming the enormously popular and critically hailed Broadway production of "Spamalot," culled from the 1975 film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." He next produced "Whoopi, the 20th Anniversary Show" (2005), which marked comedian Whoopi Goldberg's return to the stage and earned Nichols a Tony nomination for Best Special Theatrical Event. Back on the silver screen, he directed "Charlie Wilson's War" (2007), which starred Tom Hanks as the freewheeling titular Congressman from Texas, who finds his mission in life by arming the Mujahideen warriors in Afghanistan fighting the invading Russian army. In June 2010, Nichols was honored with an American Film Institute award for Lifetime Achievement and feted in Los Angeles by some of the biggest names in the business, including former co-workers Harrison Ford, Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Cher.

      Biographical data courtesy of TCMDb

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    • DICK DINMAN PRESENTS "THE VIC DAMONE STORY" (PARTS 5 & 6)

    • DICK DINMAN SALUTES LEGENDARY VOCALIST VIC DAMONE (PART FIVE): Vocalist Vic Damone returns to regale producer/host Dick Dinman with more of his remembrances about his enviable career which include his affectionate tribute to Jane Powell, how he almost missed the recording session for one of his biggest song hits (An Affair To Remember), his memorable duets on his popular weekly television show with such legendary musical superstars as Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Andre Previn, Count Basie, Mel Torme etc. and he reveals the truth about his totally unexpected prolonged and passionate kiss with Judy Garland after one of their duets.

      DICK DINMAN SALUTES LEGENDARY VOCALIST VIC DAMONE (PART SIX): In this very special extended length final show with producer/host Dick Dinman's guest Vic Damone Vic reveals how he was almost murdered for breaking off an engagement with a mob bosses daughter, how he got drunk for the very first time on his initial date with Ava Gardner, the elaborate steam room joke he played on Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., his working out with Bruce Lee and his regrets about the "lack of romance" in today's music and culture.

      The award-winning DICK DINMAN'S DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR is the only weekly half hour show devoted to Golden Age Movie Classics as they become available on DVD. Your producer/host Dick Dinman includes a generous selection of classic scenes, classic film music and one-on-one interviews with stars, producers, and directors. To hear these as well as other DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR shows please go to www.dvdclassicscorner.com or www.dvdclassicscorner.net.

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    • DICK DINMAN PRESENTS "THE VIC DAMONE STORY" (PARTS THREE AND FOUR)

    • DICK DINMAN SALUTES LEGENDARY VOCALIST VIC DAMONE (PART THREE): Iconic vocalist Vic Damone shares some fascinating stories about his years as an MGM star with producer/host Dick Dinman and also reveals why he ultimately turned down an important role in THE GODFATHER. Among the songs included in this show are Vic's rarely heard outtake number that was not used in ATHENA as well as an exclusive presentation of Jane Powell and Vic's never before heard musical audition (with piano accompaniment only) for THE STUDENT PRINCE/DEEP IN MY HEART.

      DICK DINMAN SALUTES LEGENDARY VOCALIST VIC DAMONE (PART FOUR): Vic Damone candidly reveals to producer/host Dick Dinman how the callous behavior of acclaimed director Vincente Minnelli made his experience costarring in MGM's mega-budget musical extravaganza KISMET so relentlessly unpleasant. Among the songs included in this show are Vic's rarely heard duet of "This Is My Beloved" with Judy Garland.

      The award-winning DICK DINMAN'S DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR is the only weekly half hour show devoted to Golden Age Movie Classics as they become available on DVD. Your producer/host Dick Dinman includes a generous selection of classic scenes, classic film music and one-on-one interviews with stars, producers, and directors. To hear these as well as other DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR shows please go to www.dvdclassicscorner.com or www.dvdclassicscorner.net.

      NEXT MONTH! DICK DINMAN PRESENTS "THE VIC DAMONE STORY" (PART FIVE AND SIX).

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    • "The Making of GONE WITH THE WIND" Exhibition

    • The exhibition "The Making of 'Gone With The Wind'" commemorates the 75th anniversary of one of the most popular films ever created by exploring its history and legacy. The exhibition runs from Sept. 9 to Jan. 4, 2015, at the Harry Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at The University of Texas at Austin.

      Featuring more than 300 items, the exhibition is drawn entirely from the Ransom Center's collections and includes on-set photographs, storyboards, makeup stills, costume sketches, concept art, correspondence and fan mail, production records, audition footage and producer David O. Selznick's own extensive memos. Three original gowns worn by Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara, including the iconic green curtain dress, will be exhibited together for the first time in more than 25 years. In 2010 donors from around the world contributed more than $30,000 to support conservation work for these costumes. Replicas of two gowns will also be on view.

      From the time Selznick purchased the rights to the book, it took more than three years to bring the film to the screen. The materials in the exhibition document the challenges of turning Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer Prize-winning book into a manageable screenplay and producing it at a reasonable cost.

      Before a single frame was shot, "Gone With The Wind" was embroiled in controversy. There were serious concerns about how the film would depict race and violence in the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction. While Clark Gable was a popular choice to play Rhett Butler, there was no clear favorite for Scarlett O'Hara, and there was a nationwide search before British actress Leigh was cast in the role.

      "'The Making of 'Gone With The Wind'" is the largest and most comprehensive exhibition on this film," said Steve Wilson, exhibition curator and the Ransom Center's curator of film. "The David O. Selznick archive, which is the Center's largest collection, forms the backbone of the exhibition, placing the Ransom Center in a unique position to tell the story of the making of this epic film."

      The chronologically organized exhibition will reveal the challenges involved in the making of this quintessential film from Hollywood's Golden Age and illustrate why it remains influential and controversial 75 years after it was released. Visitors will get an insider's perspective on the search for an actress to play Scarlett, the film's iconic scenes, the influence of the African-American press on filmmakers' decisions and the enthusiastic reception of the film by fans.

      A fully illustrated exhibition catalog of the same title will be co-published by the Harry Ransom Center and University of Texas Press in September with a foreword written by Turner Classic Movies (TCM) host and film historian Robert Osborne. Generous support for the exhibition has been provided by TCM.

      The David O. Selznick holdings comprise the core of the Ransom Center's film collection, which also includes the archives of silent film star Gloria Swanson, screenwriters Ernest Lehman and Paul Schrader, director Nicholas Ray and actor, director and producer Robert DeNiro.

      "The Making of 'Gone With The Wind'" can be seen starting Sept. 9 in the Ransom Center Galleries on Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended Thursday hours until 7 p.m. On Saturdays and Sundays the galleries are open from noon to 5 p.m. Member-only hours are offered on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to noon.

      Public tours are offered every day at noon, as well as Thursdays at 6 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. "Gone With The Wind" screentests will be shown in the Ransom Center's first-floor theater at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on weekends, immediately following the public tour.

      In conjunction with the exhibition, the Ransom Center will host the 2014 Flair Symposium, "Cultural Life During Wartime, 1861-1865," from Sept. 18 to 20. The symposium will look back to the 19th century to examine the cultural world of Union and Confederate painters, photographers, musicians, theater companies and writers. The songs, images, poems, books and plays that appeared between 1861 and 1865 offer a nuanced perspective on the Civil War that challenges later narratives, both fictional and historical.

      Complementing the physical exhibition is the web exhibition "Producing Gone With The Wind," which explores producing the film, including rarely seen fan mail from individuals who sought auditions, solicited employment and protested the production. Visitors can also see teletypes from Selznick's production company that detail the casting of Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara and explore the costumes, hair and makeup that contributed to the film's vibrant imagery. The web exhibition launches Sept. 9 at www.hrc.utexas.edu/webgwtw.

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    • DICK DINMAN PRESENTS "THE VIC DAMONE STORY"

    • DICK DINMAN SALUTES LEGENDARY VOCALIST VIC DAMONE (PART ONE): Producer/host Dick Dinman commences his six-show tribute to iconic vocalist Vic Damone as guest Vic Damone shares his reminiscences of his upbringing in a rough section of Brooklyn, the early influence of his idol Frank Sinatra, his first break and first of many hit recordings, and the generous help and encouragement of stars Perry Como and Milton Berle.

      DICK DINMAN SALUTES LEGENDARY VOCALIST VIC DAMONE (PART TWO): Producer/host Dick Dinman continues his tribute to ever-popular song stylist Vic Damone as Vic chats about his first screen test courtesy of MGM producer Joe Pasternak and reveals the identity of the silver screen superstar who saved the day by guiding him through it, his stint in the Army that temporarily interrupted his rise to screen stardom, and his marriage ceremony to the troubled MGM star Pier Angeli as Angeli's ex-beau James Dean looks on mournfully.

      The award-winning DICK DINMAN'S DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR is the only weekly half hour show devoted to Golden Age Movie Classics as they become available on DVD. Your producer/host Dick Dinman includes a generous selection of classic scenes, classic film music and one-on-one interviews with stars, producers, and directors. To hear these as well as other DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR shows please go to www.dvdclassicscorner.com or www.dvdclassicscorner.net.

      NEXT MONTH! DICK DINMAN PRESENTS "THE VIC DAMONE STORY" (PART THREE AND FOUR).

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  • Wednesday, March 20, 2011

  • Removed: 10:00pm Springfield Rifle
    12:00pm Casablanca
    Added: 1:00pm Virginia City
    12:15pm Casablanca
  •  
  • Wednesday, March 20, 2011

  • Removed: 10:00pm Springfield Rifle
    12:00pm Casablanca
    Added: 1:00pm Virginia City
    12:15pm Casablanca
  •  
  • Wednesday, March 20, 2011

  • Removed: 10:00pm Springfield Rifle
    12:00pm Casablanca
    Added: 1:00pm Virginia City
    12:15pm Casablanca