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Ed Blank’s video reviews |

Ed Blank’s video reviews

| Thursday, November 17, 2005 12:00 a.m

Tribune-Review film critic Ed Blank takes a look at a few recent popular and/or critically acclaimed films available on DVD:

Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals

20th Century Fox, which released all but one (“Flower Drum Song”) of the musicals featuring scores by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, is reintroducing four on DVD with boatloads of bonuses and labeling them anniversary editions.

It’s the 40th anniversary of the film version of “The Sound of Music” (G; 1965; 4stars ), the 50th of “Oklahoma” (G; 1955; 4stars ) and the 60th of “State Fair” (unrated but G in nature; Three and a half stars ).

But I said four films. The 1962 remake of “State Fair” (PG in nature; Three and a half stars ) is packaged with the earlier version but is not even mentioned on the front cover, a gratuitous snubbing that makes no marketing sense.

All four have audio commentaries and so many extras I spent hours enjoying.

“The Sound of Music,” once the top-grossing movie of all time, features two audio commentaries – one that the late Robert Wise had recorded for the laser disc in the 1990s and a new one hosted by Julie Andrews and featuring intercut observations by Johannes Von Trapp (youngest of Captain Von Trapp’s 10 offspring) and cast members Christopher Plummer and Charmian Carr.

Andrews recounts the troublesome filming of the final on-location sequence – the helicopter shots of her in the meadow that appear at the beginning.

Plummer recalls growing to love “the little monsters” cast as his children and co-star Eleanor Parker being about 50 then (she was 42). Von Trapp says the family stopped singing together in 1956; his father was “a much warmer person” than the man depicted, but “the whistle is accurate.”

The many other featurettes include Mia Farrow’s screen test and the A&E Von Trapp family “Biography.”

The “Oklahoma” package includes both the Cinemascope and Todd-AO wide screen versions, shot simultaneously, many featurettes and two audio commentaries, one featuring star Shirley Jones and historian Nick Redman.

The picture was shot over a period of nine months (two is normal) in Hollywood and Arizona because of more ideal landscape opportunities.

The Smithton native, the only performer ever to be under personal contract to the songwriting team, loved the humor of co-stars Gordon MacRae and Gene Nelson, both of whom she had crushes on, and found Eddie Albert congenial with his off-screen guitar-playing. She says Gloria Grahame was “not easy to get to know” and “extremely competitive” if men were around. Rod Steiger was “very intense … INTO his technique … Talk about no sense of humor.”

The 1945 “State Fair” was the only score Rodgers and Hammerstein ever wrote directly for the big screen. (Six of their seven songs for it were used.) Fox was so pleased with Louanne Hogan’s dubbing of Jeanne Crain’s songs that they retained her to do Crain’s singing in “Margie” and “Centenniel Summer.”

The notion of Vivian Blaine (in a role intended for Alice Faye) leading Dick Haymes astray had to be modified in this version because Haymes was five years older than Blaine, a point explained by historian Richard Barrios and stage book writer Tom Briggs on the audio commentary.

I’m in the minority in thinking the 1962 version is slightly superior to the ’45. The audio commentary by leading man Pat Boone is minimally informative, though his performance of Haymes’ old role as the farm boy is much more authentic.

The ’62 version has several additional songs, an equally appealing cast (Faye, Bobby Darin, Pamela Tiffin) and a couple of knockout numbers by Ann-Margret.

“The Forgetting: A Portrait of Alzheimer’s”Unrated but G in nature; 2004; 4stars

Maybe the most important and heartbreaking DVD documentary extant, Elizabeth Arledge’s “The Forgetting” looks at Alzheimer’s Disease from a clear, articulate medical vantage and as it affects a few focus couples and families.

One of the families is the Noonans. Julia, a mother of 10, contracted Alzheimer’s at age 39 and faded until she died. The family thought the siege had ended until the first of the 10 siblings was stricken. Then a second and a third.

We see them in old home movies and over a period of time that makes their lives a work of caregiving in progress.

Much of the film was shot in Pittsburgh. The main medics and researchers interviewed include Steven DeKosky, director of Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the Pitt Medical Center, where “The Pittsburgh Compound” was developed and used in conjunction with research at Massachusetts General Hospital.

As invaluably informative as the film is, “The Forgetting” is most of all a wrenching insight into an increasingly prevalent blight. The number of reported cases increased tenfold between 1988-2003. No one is immune.

The disease has mushroomed “because so many of us are living to the age where the risks are so significant,” one doctor says.

As one family member or another says: “It robs you of who you are”; “It erases irreplaceable memories”; “Anger, fear and paranoia erupt without warning,” and “The essence of a person slowly ebbs away.”

No movie or DVD in recent memory imparts so strong a sense of compassion.

The DVD contains additional interviews with the primary contributors.

Disney dogs

Disney wisely has made a double-disc package of the two movies it made from a couple of Fred Gipson’s dog novels, “Old Yeller” (G; 1957; Three and a half stars ) and “Savage Sam” (unrated but G in nature; 1963; Two and a half stars ).

Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran star in both as the young Coates brothers, who adopt pet dogs in each picture.

“Old Yeller” is the classic boy-and-his-dog yarn, with Dorothy McGuire and Fess Parker as the parents grappling with a realistic pet problem.

“Savage Sam” replaces the parents with Uncle Beck, played by Brian Keith.

Bonuses on the DVD include a cartoon short, three featurettes and conversations with Kirk, a former Disney contract player.

“Apres Vous” R; 2003; Three stars

A French screwball comedy that gets oddly serious toward the finish, “Apres Vous” features Daniel Auteuil as a Samaritan who is also a sommelier and maitre d’. He rescues Jose Gareia from suicide only to feel responsible for keeping him alive and employed – a full-time job.

“Edward Scissorhands” PG-13; 1990; Three and a half stars

Newly issued on DVD in a 15th anniversary edition, “Edward Scissorhands” seems to be pegged as much as anything to the 2005 theatrical releases of two more movies directed by Tim Burton, scored by Danny Elfman and starring Johnny Depp: “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and “Corpse Bride.”

Depp plays Edward, an outsider with hedge-shear hands who drops into a candy-colored suburban community and becomes the housewives’ favorite mascot for about 15 minutes.

The DVD had a featurette and audio commentaries by Burton and Elfman.

“The Skeleton Key” PG-13; 2005; Two and a half stars

We all suspend disbelief when watching sci-fi, horror and other fantasies, but I have an enduring gripe with movies that establish an earthbound reality and then lapse into Hoodoo witchcraft, as here, or voodoo as a way of working out the mystery.

Lawyer Peter Sarsgaard commends hospice worker Kate Hudson to client Gena Rowlands to care for the latter’s stroke-afflicted husband John Hurt in their swamp-lined New Orleans plantation house.

Director Iain Softley provides an audio commentary for the DVD, which also includes more than 20 minutes of deleted scenes and featurettes on the production and the difference between voodoo and Hoodoo.

Additional Information:


Additional DVDs released this week:

Madagascar Stealth

Coming Tuesday:

Polar Express War of the Worlds (2005 version) The Golden Girls (Season Three) Home Improvement (Season Three) The Honeymooners Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

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