TINY TENANTS — The Secret World Of Arrietty, Studio Ghibli’s animated adaptation of the classic British children’s book The Borrowers, is not as fast-paced as what an American version might be like, but that is part of its charm. Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi from a screenplay co-written by Japanese anime master Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Ponyo), this is a dreamy, lyrical film that chronicles the exploits of a family of tiny people (approximately four-inch high teen Arrietty and her parents) as they survive secretly living underneath a house occupied by an older woman, her sickly, 12-year-old nephew and her middle-aged maid (voiced in the American version by Carol Burnett). The sense of awe and wonder about nature and the tiny family’s adventures within the nooks and crannies of the vast house make this a joy to watch. These “Borrowers” live off small things that humans won’t miss, but the danger of being discovered is great, especially when the maid has sinister intentions towards them. Also getting deserved Blu-ray release are two other acclaimed Studio Ghibli movies—Whisper Of The Heart and Castle In The Sky.
RAUCOUS REFORM — Here is the story of a man who walked proudly and literally carried a big stick in the name of justice. Inspired by the real-life story of Tennessee sheriff Buford Pusser (yeah, not the nicest sounding name), the original Walking Tall created a big stir upon its 1973 release. Starring Joe Don Baker in the lead role, the film espoused a tough approach to law and order as Pusser, his wife and two young children, return to live in his hometown and discover it has become a den of prostitution, gambling and moonshine. When Pusser is roughed up within an inch of his life for challenging a local brothel/casino on its questionable practices, then gets no help from authorities or higher political figures on the take, he enacts the best revenge by becoming sheriff and waging war on the local riff-raff, which includes a feisty madam who’s handy with a gun. Pusser puts himself and his family in jeopardy when he begins to fight back dirty with the abusive tactics of the local criminals. Pusser is an engaging mix of a loving family with a keen mind and a down-and-dirty former wrestler still getting his animal side on. You’ll find him arresting even as you question some of his practices (and roll your eyes at some Hollywood-esque embellishments). This DVD release includes two obligatory sequels starring Bo Svenson. Amazingly, the original also inspired one more TV movie with Brian Dennehy (later re-titled Hard Stick), a short-lived TV series as well as a 2004 remake starring Dwayne Johnson that also inspired two direct-to-DVD sequels.
SATCHURATION LEVEL — There are so many concert DVDs out in the marketplace it’s crazy, but obviously each one is geared towards a specific audience. The new Joe Satriani: Satchurated Live In Montreal is no different, featuring a fine performance by the famed guitarist and his recent tourmates, keyboardist Mike Keneally, rhythm guitarist Galen Henson, drummer Jeff Campitelli and bassist Allen Whitman. The catch here is that the concert is available as a regular 2D DVD release and a 2D/3D Blu-ray version, and it was screened in select cinemas throughout March and early April and was reportedly the first 3D theatrical concert film released with 7.1 Dolby Surround Sound. Even if you do not have the 3D capabilities to enjoy the multi-angle collages, swooping crane shots and various musician close-ups, the music is key. Satch’s band is top-notch and his axework is fantastic. These guys may not play “rock star,” bouncing around onstage or pumping up the audience like many younger, prettier mainstream bands out there, but that’s not the point when you’re playing technically difficult (but also emotionally resonant) instrumental music. These guys blow most other rock bands out of the water, and they clearly look like they’re having fun onstage. Even if you do not have the attention span to sit through the 138-minute concert running time, you could play it like a CD and enjoy the performances that way. And that’s meant as a complement.
CREEPING FEAR — If you saw writer-director Ti West’s last film, House Of The Devil, you know he likes his scary stories to unfold with a slow burn, and his latest fear fest, The Innkeepers, continues that tradition. Two young work buddies (Sara Paxton and Pat Healy) with an interest in capturing paranormal phenomenon via audio recordings ride out the last weekend that their quaint and allegedly haunted New England hotel is open. Aside from a couple of guests, including a once famous actress turned psychic/healer (Kelly McGillis), the place is dead. But its restless spirits, including the ghost of a young woman who committed suicide there, are not planning to close the place out in peace. There have been plenty of haunted hotel movies made over the years, but this one stands out because the geeky (and slightly obnoxious) protagonists have a good chemistry, and a lot of times their pranking around make their investigations seem moot…until you realize something really spooky could be going on. When you watch a movie like The Innkeepers, you realize how used to cheap scares and loud shocks we have become, which makes its slowly building tension that much more fun to appreciate.
PICK A DOCTOR — Thanks to BBC America, the classic Doctor Who franchise has been enjoying a resurgence over here with new seasons and new Doctors over the last few years. The upside for fans of the classic shows, which span back an impressive 49 years, is that more of the vintage stories are being reissued on DVD. The latest batch includes The Demons and Carnival Of Monsters from the Jon Pertwee years (1970-74), Nightmare Of Eden from the Tom Baker years (1974-1981) and Dragonfire and The Happiness Patrol from the Sylvester McCoy years (1987-1989, the last regular shows until 2005). The longest-running actor in the role, Baker has been a perennial fan favorite since his time on the show due to his eccentric, charming portrayal of the immortal Time Lord, but many fans have their own personal preference. To this day, the emphasis in any version of Doctor Who is not on high-tech effects but imagination, humor, clever storytelling and the relationship between each new Doctor and his associates. If you want to get a taste of what the franchise was like before its recent reincarnation, the BBC reissues are a great place to explore the good Doctor’s earlier exploits.
CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION — Universal Studios are celebrating their 100th Anniversary this year by reissuing a slew of classic movie titles with new transfers on DVD, and in some cases, special Blu-ray/DVD combo packs, many of which also include liner notes in handsome book packages. For example, The Sting, the classic caper film starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, comes housed in a hardcover, book-like shell with an eye-popping, 46-page booklet featuring an introduction by film critic/historian Leonard Maltin, script pages from director George Roy Hill, costume sketches from Edith Head and some great photos. Physical product may slowly be going the way of the dodo for many people, but releases like The Sting, To Kill A Mockingbird, Out Of Africa and Pillow Talk prove that it’s still alive and vital for many of us. Other non-book releases include Smokey And The Bandit, The Deer Hunter, Erin Brockovich and My Man Godfrey.