Michael Bergeron
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Blu-ray slight return: September song edition

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Taking a few cues from the And Now For Something Completely Different playbook Holy Flying Circus (9/4, Acorn Media) unfolds like a docudrama, with surreal comic highlights, about events surrounding the release of the film The Life of Brian in the UK and a subsequent televised debate between Monty Python members John Cleese and Michael Palin against the Church of England represented by the Bishop of York. There’s a lot to enjoy in HFC not the least of which are some amazing impersonations of the Python troupe, all of whom are played to perfection by other actors. Other aspects of the film take Pythonesque diversions, like men in drag or actors playing multiple roles and even an occasional bloodbath that wouldn’t be out of place in a Python feature (think Holy Grail). Extras include deleted scenes and outtakes.

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Cleanskin (9/11, E One) stars Sean Bean as a British secret service agent who investigates a terrorist cell. Give Cleanskin credit for presenting a three-dimensional Muslim bad guy and also for obscuring the line between good guys and bad guys. Abhin Galeya and Charlotte Rampling co-star. High School (Anchor Bay, 9/4) ups the ante on stoner comedies when an entire school is dosed with bake sale brownies that were obtained from a psyched-out dealer (Adrian Brody) who was ripped off of his Godweed. Hilarity ensues; Michael Chiklis, Matt Bush and Colin Hanks co-star. Goats (9/11, Image Entertainment) offers up a mythic performance by David Duchovny as Goatman, in real life the guy who takes care of the yard, lives in the pool house, has really long hair and a beard, and takes goats on road trips to gain universal wisdom. Actually Goats is a coming of age story with the main character a college lad, yet the Goatman is the cool uncle he never had and the moral compass of the film. Vera Farmiga co-stars. A Beginner’s Guide to Endings (E One, 8/28) has a trio of brothers dealing with their dad’s suicide in different ways, all of them quite dark and funny. The pater familias (Harvey Keitel) left his sons a strange legacy, one that pays off in smiles to the audience. Those are smiles of derision by the way.

Steve Martin: The Television Years (9/18, Shout! Factory) chronicles Martin appearances on specials and talk shows, as well as his own branded specials, with a few award ceremonies (Gene Kelly and Paul Simon) thrown in for good measure. The box set contains a booklet and three discs that cover Martin from a 1966 cameo on Dusty’s Attic to his acceptance speech in 2005 when Martin received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Make no mistake, this set is not in any way about Saturday Night Live, although a couple of Martin clips from that show are in the Bits and Pieces disc. Of particular interest in the B&P disc is The Great Flydini, one of the funniest magic parodies ever devised. The other two discs contain six of Martin’s cable or network specials, along with his Oscar nommed short The Absent-Minded Waiter. As revealed in Tonight Show clips and the numerous specials, Martin is a one-of-a-kind talent and deserves the moniker wild and crazy guy. There’s a really bizarre moment during Martin’s speech at Simon’s Presidential Award when the camera cuts to an audience shot of Kelsey Grammer and we see Mittens Romney sitting in front of him. Also unique is the way mentor Henry Winkler turns up backstage or in the audience in a few of the shows.

Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures (9/18, Paramount Home Media) is the Blu-ray box set everyone deserves; immaculate transfers and stereo surround mixes of the four Indiana Jones movies and a fifth disc that contains approximately seven hours of featurettes, including four different making of docs on just Raiders of the Lost Ark. Behind the scenes includes featurettes on every aspect of the quadrilogy: the women of Indiana Jones, sound, score, locations, iconic props, et al.

The thing about IJ is that the span of films takes in the last 30-years of film history as well as an overview of the advance of CGI effects and how old school pyrotechnics are nowadays accentuated with computers. Just take the atomic blast sequence from Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls and its merger of miniature sets being exploded combined with digital blast effects. Perhaps not oddly, the melting head effect from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark remains one of the best in-camera analog effects ever filmed. Likewise the railcar chase through the mine in Temple of Doom still amazes and moves you to the edge of your seat, even if that seat is a living room sofa. Funny that Temple of Doom with its beating hearts and monkey brains was considered so intense it created the PG-13 rating.

The opening of Last Crusade, the River Phoenix part, displays one of the best uses of movie locales by shooting a large-scale military expedition in the heart of the Arches National Park (Double Arch, and Park Avenue canyon) as well as locations later in the film shot in Petra, Jordan. The conclusion of Last Crusade, the good guys riding horses off into the sunset was shot on a ranch in the incredibly flat Panhandle region of Texas. This box set verily lives up to the complete part of the title.

All of the discs were viewed in the Blu-ray format except for Goats, A Beginner’s Guide to Endings and Steve Martin: The Television Years.

— Michael Bergeron