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Nine Must-Own DVD Stocking Stuffers Not on Store Shelves This Black Friday

Nine Must-Own DVD Stocking Stuffers Not on Store Shelves This Black Friday  (photo)

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With Black Friday nearly upon us, the urge for many a movie buff’s friend or significant other will be to grab that $5 Blu-ray of “Angels and Demons” off the shelf and call it a day. (Oh, we’re only kidding with “Angels and Demons.” Titles like “Kick-Ass” and “The Wrestler” will be nearly as cheap.) But for those who are willing to be a little more adventurous or just looking to impress, many of the major studios have started to open up their archives to make DVDs to order for films that may not be popular enough to have warranted a major pressing in the past, but certainly have their fans and have long been unavailable on any format.

Warner Brothers, in particular, has pioneered this type of mail order program with Warner Archives, which has made available over 700 films since originating last year while similar services from MGM (Limited Edition Collection), Universal (Vault Series) and Sony (Columbia Classics) have trickled onto the market, all of it to the great benefit of the cinephile, who can pick up everything from long-neglected silent films, foreign offerings (Andre Techine’s “Thieves” is on Columbia Classics), and recent bursts of nostalgia (the Richard Grieco’s “If Looks Could Kill” is on Warner Archive). Although there’s something for everyone, it can also be overwhelming to comb through everything that’s become available, so here are some personal favorites that are ripe for rediscovery this holiday season.

“Gambit” (Universal Vault Series) – By the time I saw “Gambit” at the original Alamo Drafthouse in downtown Austin as part of Quentin Tarantino’s curated QT Fest in 2000, Ronald Neame’s 1966 comic caper had already come and gone from video stores on VHS and was only available via the rare 2:40 a.m. airing on TCM, a particularly strange fate given that stars Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine have remained popular and it played like gangbusters for anyone lucky enough to be in attendance at the Drafthouse that night. Naturally, Tarantino recounted a history of the film that was probably more detailed than those who were actually involved in its production, telling the crowd to pay special attention to the film’s tagline, “Go ahead tell the end…but please don’t tell the beginning.”

Perhaps since Universal could no longer rely on the film’s central gimmick involving the heist of a priceless artifact in Hong Kong as a selling point, they let the dust collect on a potential DVD version until this past March when it was released as part of the initial offering in their Vault Series, exclusive to Amazon. However, anyone willing to order “Gambit” will realize shortly the film is far more than a gimmick, luxuriating in the witty rapport between the know-it-all Caine and the streetwise MacLaine long after the surprise of the film’s unconventional structure pays off. This is no doubt what attracted the Coen brothers to write a remake a few years back that they intended to direct until they went on their post-“No Country for Old Men” tear, resulting in “The Last Station” director Michael Hoffman recently stepping in to revive the project.

11242010_TheLandlord.jpg“The Landlord” (MGM Limited Edition Collection) – To hear Nick Dawson explain it in his first-rate biography “Being Hal Ashby,” the “Harold and Maude” director’s first feature was done in by boobs – on the poster and in United Artists’ marketing department. In adapting Kristin Hunter’s novel, Ashby had directed a thoughtful, sharp-elbowed culture clash comedy about an apathetic upper cruster (Beau Bridges) whose plans to turn a brownstone in a lower-class neighborhood into his personal pad are thwarted when the building’s tenants begin to pierce his chilly exterior.

Of course, Ashby’s delicate seriocomic tone is difficult to replicate in advertising, so United Artists decided on a campaign that would target an audience the same age as the then-28-year-old Bridges with a cheeky poster of a finger approaching two doorbells with the not-so-subtle implication they were breasts. Facing a lower threshold of scrutiny in the pre-Internet era, “The Landlord” still was able to score Lee Grant an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress as Bridges’ mother in the film, but most blamed the ads for derailing the film’s chances at the box office and likewise, probably resulted in the film sitting on the shelf in MGM archives during the DVD boom in spite of Ashby’s renewed popularity. As Alexander Payne told GOOD Magazine in his 2008 tribute to the film that he cited as a major influence on “Sideways,” “Discover it the way I did: Just see it.”

“The Outfit” (Warner Archive) – Somewhere between the exploitation flicks and the meticulous crime dramas being pumped out by studios during 1970s existed the films of John Flynn, whose later career would resemble the former but always maintained the determination and polish of the latter. His best film, 1977’s revenge thriller “Rolling Thunder,” the one that Quentin Tarantino named his production company after which stars William Devane as a G.I. who struggles to reintegrate into civilian life until he’s forced to revisit his Vietnam self when the moment calls, will soon be available through MGM’s manufacturing on demand (and if you can’t wait, it’s available through Hulu).

However, equally coveted, if not quite as well-known by the public at large, is Flynn’s 1973 policier “The Outfit,” an adaptation of Donald Westlake alias Richard Stark’s third novel about Parker, the unstoppable thief who had previously been featured in John Boorman’s “Point Blank.” While that 1967 film is generally accepted as the finest incarnation of the brute (and its 1999 Mel Gibson remake “Payback” is the most popular), “The Outfit” is the least stylish of the Parker films, but also possibly the truest to Stark’s hard-boiled intentions and his seedy settings. It was actually one of just two films Flynn is credited with writing himself and served up one of the films that gave Robert Duvall his tough-as-nails reputation as Parker surrogate Macklin, who takes on the mob (and takes away their money) after they kill his brother. As Roger Ebert wrote in the introduction to his review in 1973, “An outline of the plot would make it sound pretty routine, but what makes the picture superior is its richness of detail,” a nuance that may have led to a lack of appreciation for the film at the time and led to a substantial wait on DVD. Needless to say, fans of gritty ’70s cinema and film noir (who will appreciate Robert Ryan’s presence) should be overjoyed to have it available now.

11242010_ColdTurkey.jpg“Cold Turkey” (MGM Limited Edition Collection) – Though he produced many films and even was nominated for an Oscar for writing “Divorce American Style,” up until last year, I was completely unaware that Norman Lear, the legendary creator of such television shows such as “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons,” had ever directed a movie. But not Joe Dante, who programmed a double bill of Lear’s only feature film with the equally overlooked 1967 James Coburn comedy “The President’s Analyst” at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles and put up the film’s trailer (with commentary from screenwriter Larry Karaszewski) on his Trailers From Hell! site to burnish the reputation of “Cold Turkey.”

Today, it’s nearly unthinkable that a film starring such household names as Dick Van Dyke and Bob Newhart could go under the radar when both were near the height of their powers, but that’s what happened with “Cold Turkey,” a biting satire about a small town that finds salvation for their financial woes by entering a contest sponsored by the tobacco industry where they will win $25 million if everyone in the community gives up smoking for a month. After seeing no such dollar signs in “Cold Turkey”‘s future, United Artists gave up on the film, assuming that Van Dyke as the opportunistic minister who turns the town’s abstinence from smoking into a national cause célèbre and Newhart as the maniacal cigarette exec whose publicity stunt backfires weren’t the roles the public would want to see them in, especially given the film’s downbeat ending. Two years after the film was finished in 1969, UA decided to release “Cold Turkey” after Lear had made his name in television and it was even a minor box office success. Ironically, the edge that kept it from being released, even on DVD, is what makes it still relevant today and more importantly, funny.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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