DVD Picks: Goats, Riverboats and Rock Stars

March 26, 2010

Raleigh News & Observer
March 26, 2010

The Men Who Stare at Goats

Comedy; rated R for language, some drug content and brief nudity; also available on Blu-ray

The Gist: Greenhorn reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) stumbles across a top secret government psi ops program in Iraq, learning “the way of the Jedi” from the likes of George Clooney, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey.

The Lowdown: This very funny and slyly satirical comedy from director Grant Heslov is a real pleasure, and drew all that top-shelf acting talent for a reason. Intriguingly, the film is based on actual events. As the fascinating DVD extras reveal, the “New Earth Army” – an experiment exploring possible military applications of New Age psychic phenomena – really did exist. “Goats” can be enjoyed on one level as a dextrous madcap comedy, and on another as a kind of gonzo satire of military culture and the madness of war.

The Extras: Generous; two mini-docs detailing the real-life events behind the script, plus audio commentaries, deleted scenes and character bios.

The Bottom Line: One of the best examples I’ve seen of a film that is greatly improved with the full-on DVD treatment. The extras, particularly the “Goats Declassified” doc, are critical to appreciating the movie’s delightful real-world weirdness.

Double Secret Bonus Tip: Casting Ewan “Obi-Wan” McGregor as the aspiring Jedi warrior is inspired – attentive “Star Wars” fans will be rewarded with several clever in-jokes.

The African Queen
Adventure romance; unrated (safe for kids); also available on Blu-ray

The Gist: Gin-swilling riverboat captain Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart) and uptight missionary Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn) find adventure and love in World War I East Africa.

The Lowdown: Making its long-awaited debut on DVD, director John Huston’s classic earned Bogart the 1951 Best Actor Oscar and endures as one of the great movie star pairings of all time. When the Germans sack her tiny missionary village, Rose reluctantly makes her escape with Charlie on his ramshackle riverboat.

The Extras: Sadly skimpy; a single hourlong doc, “Embracing Chaos: Making the African Queen.”

The Bottom Line: Classic film fans will want to check it out, while those weaned on modern movies can marvel at the vast gulf between acting styles of 1951 and today. Believe it or not, Bogie and Kate’s broad, almost-caricatured performances were considered quite subtle back in the day.

Double Secret Bonus Tip: Hepburn, appalled at the heavy drinking of Bogart and Huston on location in Africa, drank only water and subsequently suffered from dysentery throughout the shoot. That’s one to grow on, kids.

The T.A.M.I. Show: Collector’s Edition
Concert film; unrated (safe for kids)

The Gist: One of the great “lost” concert films of all time, “The T.A.M.I. Show” is a fascinating document of rock ‘n’ roll in its rough-and-tumble adolescence.

The Lowdown: Filmed at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on October 29, 1964, the T.A.M.I. Show – an acronym for Teenage Awards Music International – features an impossible procession of rock ‘n’ roll royalty. Chuck Berry. James Brown. The Beach Boys. Jan and Dean. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. The Supremes. And a little British R&B combo out of the U.K. known as the Rolling Stones. Because of legal issues, The T.A.M.I. Show has never before been released on home video in any format.

The Extras: Commentary track by director Steve Binder; original radio ads and theatrical trailers (with commentary by filmmaker John Landis) and an illuminating commemorative booklet with additional details on the T.A.M.I. saga.

The Bottom Line: All performances are 100 percent live, with the vocal acts backed by the famous “Wrecking Crew” band of L.A. studio musicians – including Glen Campbell on guitar and Leon Russell on piano.

Double Secret Bonus Tip: Look closely at the background dancers and you might spot a young Teri Garr, and an even younger Toni Basil (“Hey Mickey”) – credited as assistant choreographer.

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