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                         Entertainment to Fight Off the Winter Blahs
                                        By: Ellis Nassour
The Yule holidays are over, we’ve said “Happy New Year” more times than we should have, the solar plexus won’t go away, and as we dig out of another deluge, we have a very bad case of the winter blahs. However, you can fight those blahs by donning about five layers and catching a Broadway or Off Broadway show; going for a huge, fresh bucket of “buttered” Orville Redenbacher at the cineplexes; or by cuddling up in front of a fire [ideally located in a fireplace] and entertaining yourself with a DVD release.

                         Entertainment to Fight Off the Winter Blahs
                                        By: Ellis Nassour
The Yule holidays are over, we’ve said “Happy New Year” more times than we should have, the solar plexus won’t go away, and as we dig out of another deluge, we have a very bad case of the winter blahs. However, you can fight those blahs by donning about five layers and catching a Broadway or Off Broadway show; going for a huge, fresh bucket of “buttered” Orville Redenbacher at the cineplexes; or by cuddling up in front of a fire [ideally located in a fireplace] and entertaining yourself with a DVD release.

FILM: The Golden Globes have spoken and the Oscar nominations are out. Here are three celebrated films, still breaking box office records: David O. Russell’s American Hustle [Columbia Pictures], a black comedy set against the backdrop of the 60s ABSCAM bribery scandal with winning performances by Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, and Jeremy Renner; and Steve McQueen’s riveting 12 Years a Slave [Fox Searchlight], about a freeman kidnapped into cruel servitude, with exceptional performances by Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael Fassbinder, and Benedict Cumberbatch.

In the much-acclaimed Gravity [Warner Bros.], nominated for 10 Oscars including Picture and Actress, director and co-writer Alfonso Cuarón uses 3-D [and IMAX, especially if you experienced the film on a real 89’ X 66’ IMAX screen] to become part of the story. It increases the visual impact to the degree that we’re not only in awe of deep space as the two astronauts, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, work outside their craft, but also side-by-side in our own space suits. When catastrophe strikes, we’re on the edge of our seats perspiring and losing oxygen with them; and hoping and praying they’ll make it. Using 3-D as a tool to show depth and enhance the story and not merely for novelty is a huge step forward.

Gravity Extended Trailer

For something completely different, but quite dazzling, there’s the season’s animated 3-D champ Frozen [Disney], loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, about two princesses [one very icy, who becomes queen; the other, a sweet, kooky believer in love] and a frolicking snowman who loves the warmth of a blazing fire. It has songs [including the GG- and Oscar-nominated "Let It Go"] by Robert Lopez [Avenue Q, Book of Mormon] and Kristen Anderson Lopez, which are sung by Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Santino Fontana, and Josh Gad. In most theatres, it’s accompanied by the incredibly hilarious Oscar-nominated short, Get a Horse, which at first appears as a vintage B&W cartoon, then explodes with color and characters bursting from the screen in the best use of novelty 3-D since the 50s and Bwana Devil and House of Wax.


Cinemaphiles are still reeling over the fact that, even in this year of some very, very good films, Lee Daniels’ The Butler [Weinstein Company] and Tracy Letts’ August: Osage County [Weinstein Company] didn’t make the GG and Oscar lists of Best Films. A few months ago, that didn’t even seem like as remote possibility. They seemed to be shoe-ins. It’s actually mindboggling that nominators snubbed the former’s Forest Whittaker and Oprah; but and a bit satisfying that at least Meryl Streep, for one of the rawest and most volatile roles of her career, and Julia Roberts are nominated for the latter.

Also in theatres: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, a reboot of the franchise based on Tom Clancy bestsellers, starring fresh-face Chris Pine [Star Trek reboot; upcoming Into the Woods]. As he recovers from an Afghan rocket-propelled grenade attack, he’s recruited by Kevin Costner, a CIA handler to be an undercover financial analyst. He exposes a mad plan by Russia to wreck the U.S. Economy. He arrives in Moscow to do an "audit" at a shell company, is brutally attacked in his hotel suite where bullets fly, disturbing not a single guest. Everything is obliterated, but Ryan survives. Within a half hour the suite is magically restored by a CIA Cleaner Crew. The edge-of-the-seat thrills continue as Ryan’s pitted against a power-mad, psychotic womanizing Russian ogre with a drinking problem, played none-too-subtly by Sir Kenneth Branagh, also directing, who emerges as a most dastardly villain. Keira Knightley co-stars a Ryan’s love interest. There’s an unbilled cameo by Mikhail Baryshnikov as a Russian mobster, and stunning cinematography as the action flies across Moscow.

Jack Ryan Shoadow Recruit Trailer

Current box office champions include Martin Scorsese’s GG and Oscar-nominated three-hour crude and hilarious thrill ride the aftermath of a massive scheme to defraud investors in a massive 90s securities scam, The Wolf of Wall Street [Paramount}, starring Oscar nominee and GG winner Leonardo DiCaprio, Oscar-nominee Jonah Hill, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, 2012 Oscar and GG Best Actor Jean Dujardin [Silent Movie], Tony and Drama Desk winner Christine Ebersole, Rob Reiner, and a bevy of skimpily-and-less-clad nymphets; and Lone Survivor [Universal], based on a true story of the 2005 Navy Seal mission to capture or kill an Al Qaeda leader and the valiant soldiers – portrayed by Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch [TV’s Friday Night Lights], Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster, and Eric Bana – outgunned and left to fight for their lives.

The Wolf of Wall Street Official Trailer

Still out there and worth catching are Saving Mr. Banks [Disney], very loosely based on the pains Walt Disney endured to get Mary Poppins onscreen -stymied at every step by beloved English author Mrs. P.L. Travers, who was not only not very nice but also not a Mrs.- starring, respectively, GG nominees Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson; and two endearing, feel-good films: Spike Jonze’s Oscar and GG-nominated Her [Warner Bros.], about a lonely writer’s love affair with a machine, starring Oscar and GG nominee Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, Amy Adams, and the voice of Scarlett Johansson; and GG-nominated Inside Llewyn Davis [CBS Films], which follows a 60s Greenwich Village folk singer struggling against the odds, headlined by GG-nominee Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Stark Sands [Broadway’s Kinky Boots], Justin Timberlake, and Amy Adams.

DVD: Look for Oscar- nominated Lee Daniels’ (Precious) The Butler [Weinstein Company; Blu-ray Combo pack SRP, $23; DVD, $18], set against the tumultuous political backdrop of 20th century America, inspired by Eugene Allen’s White House service, 1957 – 1986. The blistering, often raw, and much-embellished screenplay recounts Cecil Gaines (Forest Whittaker, who has a rollicking finale line) path from a 20’s Georgia share-cropper’s son to the White House and his butlering through seven presidential administrations to his ultimate reward: seeing African American elected President. In addition to being a history lesson on the struggles of African Americans, The Butler is also a love story of a husband and wife (Oprah) and a father’s rocky relationship with one of his sons.

The controversial, very adult, and sumptuously-engrossing and entertaining original 1993 six-episode PBS Peabody Award-winning miniseries Tales of the City: 20th Anniversary Collection [Acorn; two discs, SRP $30], adapted by Richard Kramer from Armistead Maupin’s groundbreaking novel, was uncommonly fine TV fare as it chronicled the colorful characters’ quest for love and connection across a spectrum of sexual experiences at 28 Barbary Lane in wide-open 70s San Francisco.

The casting is unique, with nary a dead bolt. Headlining the large ensemble are Olympia Dukakis [as the divinely decadent, mysterious Mrs. Madrigal], Laura Linney [in only her fifth major role, so shy and innocent as Mary Ann], Paul Gross, Billy Campbell, Thomas Gibson, Donald Moffat, scenestealing Chole Webb [Mona, with the luscious, curly red hair], Barbara Garrick, Marcus D’Amico – not to mention surprises galore, such as Parker Posey, Michael Jeter [the late, beloved Tony-winning co-star of Grand Hotel], Nina Foch [veteran of dozens of Hollywood classics, as the alcoholic wife of an ad agency director], Paul Dooley, and Meagan Fey.

Guest stars include Edie Adams [as a faith/holistic healer!], Mary Kay Place, Sir Ian McKellen, Rod Steiger, McLean Stevenson, Karen Black, [costume designer] Bob Mackie, Mother Love, and Don Neville [as Father Carducci].

The 20th Anniversary edition is completely remastered [including stereo tracks] and unabridged. There’s 36 minutes of behind-the-scenes location and rehearsal footage, Episodes 1, 3, and 6 have audio commentary by Maupin, director Alastair Reid and actors. The package contains an eight-page insert with photos, notes, and an introduction by Maupin.

Earlier DVD edition garnered complaints about deleted scenes, abridgement, and overdubbing of dialogue, but that is not the case in the anniversary edition. 

Tales of the City Trailer

The 20th Anniversary edition is completely remastered [including stereo tracks] and unabridged. There’s 36 minutes of behind-the-scenes location and rehearsal footage, Episodes 1, 3, and 6 have audio commentary by Maupin, director Alastair Reid and actors. The package contains an eight-page insert with photos, notes, and an introduction by Maupin.

Warner Home Video’s www.WBShop.com is a film collector’s dream site with TV box series sets, franchise sets [Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Batman, Superman, Looney Toons], and hundreds of contemporary films; and Warner Bros, Paramount, M-G-M, United Artists, and Goldwyn classic dramas, thrillers, comedies, westerns, and musicals.

Stars, stars, stars! Kate and Spencer, Kate and Grant, Fred and Ginger, Garland, Martin and Lewis, Davis, Crawford, Stanwyck, Day, Taylor, Monroe, Streisand, MacLaine, DiCaprio, Dean, Wood, Newman, Cukor and Hitchcock classics.

Recent finds: the Oscar winning The Best Years of Our Lives, William Wyler’s superb and poignant film of returning WWII GIs; the original adaption of Thurber’s Secret Life of Walter Mitty, starring Danny Kaye; Natalie Wood and introducing Warren Beatty [in a role that would have gone to Dean] madly in love in 20s Kansas in Elia Kazan’s Splendor in the Grass; Al Pacino and Dame Helen Mirren in Phil Spector, written and directed by David Mamet; and King Vidor’s 1937 soap Stella Dallas, starring Oscar-nominated Barbara Stanwyck in one of her greatest performances as a callous woman who turns her daughter away in a great sacrifice to give her a better life [five hanky ending] [bonus material is the original 1925 silent, which the talkie follows almost scene for scene; a treat, which would be even better accompanied by music and sound effects as was always the case in the nickelodeons].

The Best Years of Our Lives Trailer

Then there’s the Archive Series of Manufactured-on-Demand [MOD] discs, which are printed on order and, most often, delivered within four business days. Watch for seasonal sales with discounts from 50% – 70% not only DVDs but also Blu-ray discs.

Recent finds: Jack Benny and Ann Sheridan in the hilarious Geo. Washington Slept Here; Howard Hawks’ Land of the Pharaohs, starring Jack Hawkins and a sultry, young Joan Collins with an entry procession into Rome that even Cleopatra couldn’t top [and a screenplay by, get this: William Faulkner!]; Wood and Robert Redford as battling lovers [town nymphet vs. rail employee] sent to axe jobs in humid, Depression-era Mississippi railroad junction in Sydney Pollack’s This Property Is Condemned, adapted from a Tennessee Williams one-act by Francis Ford Coppola [with the first open-mouth kiss; stunning James Wong Howe cinematography]; Vanessa Redgrave in Williams’s Orpheus Descending, directed by Peter Hall; Streisand, Yves Montand in adaptation of Lerner and Lane’s On a Clear Day You Can See Forever, directed by Vincente Minnelli; and Shirley Booth as Dolly Levi, Anthony Perkins, Shirley MacLaine, Paul Ford, and Robert Morse in adaptation of Thurber’s The Matchmaker.

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