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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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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.