DVDs for 11/02/10 – Winnebago Nilsson on the River Kwai

I can’t believe that I let Toy Story 3 (Disney) get by me in the theaters. I caught up with it on Blu-ray (no 3D experience here, but the Pixar brand of CGI has a such a great sense of space and perspective that I don’t feel I missed anything) and it was a delight. I laughed, I cried, and often did both simultaneously. I even liked Tim Allen in a film, possibly for the first time in the last ten years. I review the DVD (with the marvelous animated short “Day & Night”) and Blu-ray (with great featurettes that remind us of the creativity behind the film) releases on MSN. Also competing for the child within is The Goonies: 25th Anniversary Collector’s Edition (Warner), with nothing new on the disc but a whole bunch of oddball collectibles tossed into the package, reviewed on MSN here. My pick for the week is Frank Sinatra: Concert Collection (Shout! Factory), a collection of TV specials that transcend format, and for cult movie fans is a new special edition of John Carpenter’s feature debut: Dark Star: The Hyperdrive Edition (VCI). And for the rest…

Jack Rebney, ever the professional, keeps the anger in check

Winnebago Man (Kino) – Jack Rebney is the star of the original viral video, a montage of invective-laced outtakes from a Winnebago sales video that were passed around on VHS tapes before YouTube made him a phenomenon. Ben Steinbauer’s portrait of the man and the phenomenon begins as a documentary cliché (“Who was this guy and where did he come from? I decided to find out.”) and his efforts to find Rebney (who has covered his tracks pretty well, according to a private detective) have the obligatory feel of a filmmaker falling back on the familiar tropes of a documentary detective story.

But when he finally meets this friendly, welcoming, seemingly centered old man, living practically off the grid in the hills outside of Redding, CA., the film finally finds its real story: a character piece on a genuine character. While he confesses that he’s aware of the viral video and is bemused by the notoriety (“for the life of me, truly I don’t understand its popularity”), there’s another Rebney under that calm front and welcoming demeanor, a self-proclaimed “crotchety old man” who is still sharp-tongued and angry, confesses that he was initially furious when he discovered the video and sees this film as a platform to get his ideas out there. What makes the film so enjoyable is how it keeps defying expectations in its survey of the rough edges, sharp mind and iconoclastic personality of the loner known as “The Angriest Man in the World,” not in big dramatic gestures but small revelations that bring out the human being behind the reputation and the front he chooses to show the public. If Steinbauer had confronted his own confused motivations as diligently as he digs into Rebney, he might have had a masterpiece, but the triumph of the unexpectedly warm and sweet film is that by the end, even the filmmaker’s motivations seem beside the point. Features the original, complete 25-minute Winnebago Sales Video (which shows Rebney at his best) and a 16-minute featurette on the film’s New York City Premiere, with special guests Michael Moore and Jeff Garlin.

Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him)? (Kino) – A Grammy-winning singer (“Everybody’s Talking,” “Without You”) and songwriter (“Me and My Arrow,” “Jump Into the Fire”) who counted The Beatles among his biggest fans (“Nilsson is my favorite group,” Lennon told an interviewer in the late 1960s), Harry Nilsson (who died of cancer in 1994) was once the golden boy of American pop music. As a child I adored him equally for the joyous humanism of his animated musical “The Point” and for calling out “You’re breaking my heart / You’re tearin’ it apart / So fuck you!” in the opening seconds of his “Son of Schmilson” album. Songwriters as diverse and revered as Randy Newman, Brian Wilson, Jimmy Webb and Van Dyke Parks praised his talent for composing and his gift for melody, yet his greatest popular success came from singing other people’s songs (the Grammy-winning “Everybody’s Talking”). He recorded a diverse set of albums, wrote and composed the animated musical “The Point” and sang on TV specials, yet he refused to perform public concerts. In final years of his too-short life he was as famous for his antics carousing with John Lennon, Ringo Starr and Keith Moon as for his music and since his death he’s almost been forgotten. John Sheinfeld’s generous documentary portrait of the man, the artist and the reputation explores his troubled childhood (and adulthood) and surveys his career and his artistic legacy. Sheinfield doesn’t shy away from his substance abuse problems, his self-destructive streak or his failures as a husband and father, but neither does he find the roots of his talents in his childhood. Nilsson seems to burst fully formed as a songwriting craftsman and a consummate pianist and singer. Still, it is a lovingly made portrait of the artist and the man that celebrates his achievements with a wealth of rare performance clips, illuminating interviews with friends, family members and colleagues and archival audio interviews with Nilsson himself. The DVD also features 17 deleted and/or extended scenes, an alternate ending and additional interviews.

The Bridge on the River Kwai (Blu-ray/DVD Combo) (Sony) – David Lean’s 1958 multiple Oscar winner is one of the great war epics, a tragedy that turns on a clash of wills and an overweaning pride, and a character study with an edge of bitter satire of British honor and enterprise. Alec Guinness brilliantly winds the contradictions of his principled British officer into a crisp portrait while William Holden reprises the cynical survivalist of Stalag 17 as the camp’s unceremoniously pragmatic realist. It’s modern anti-war sentiment in a classic package of heroism, sacrifice and duty. The Blu-ray debut (which looks fine though not stellar, with weaknesses in the source material; for a more detailed technical analysis, see the DVD Beaver review) is a combo pack in a hardback booklet case with a bonus DVD. In addition to the documentaries and featurettes from earlier DVD releases (the hour-long “The Making of the Bridge on the River Kwai,” the featurette “The Rise and Fall of a Jungle Giant,” a USC short narrated by William Holden and an interview/appreciation with John Milius), there’s an archival clip with William Holden and Alec Guinness (on location and filmed specifically for the event) on The Steve Allen Show and audio of William Holden at the film premiere, plus a poorly engineered “Beyond the Bridge” mode, which shrinks the film down to a quarter of the screen to accommodate trivia and artwork (which could easily have been scrolled over the image). The booklet includes essays, film notes and a collection of postcard-sized lobby card reproductions.

The Bing Crosby Collection (Universal) features six films starring Der Bingster, most (but not all) from the thirties: College Humor (1933), We’re Not Dressing (1934), Here Is My Heart (1934), Mississippi (1935), Sing You Sinners (1938) and Welcome Stranger (1947).

Not of This Earth (1988) (Shout! Factory) with Traci Lords and The Terror Within/ Dead Space Double-Feature (Shout! Factory) are the latest entries in the Corman New World features rolling out from the Shout! Factory label.

The 1984 Rolling Stones concert film Let’s Spend The Night Together (Lionsgate), directed by Hal Ashby, also debuts on DVD, the latest is a sudden surge of Stones music cinema on home video.

Also new on DVD: ExTerminators (Image) with Heather Graham, Mirrors 2 (Fox), which features the U.S. debut of the original 2003 South Korean film Into the Mirror as an extra, and Bangkok Adrenaline (Image).

For TV on DVD for the week, see my wrap-up here. For the rest of the highlights, visit my weekly column, which goes live every Tuesday on MSN Entertainment.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I'm a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I've written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View. I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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