Attack of the Puppet People (1958)
DVD (also available on VHS)
After threatening audiences with The Amazing Colossal Man, director-producer-special-effects "whiz" Bert I. Gordon again proves that size does matter in his revamp of The Incredible Shrinking Man for American International Pictures. John Hoyt, the wheelchair-bound tycoon from When Worlds Collide, is Mr. Franz, a lonely doll maker who reduces anyone who abandons him to doll-size. How Franz, a former puppeteer, could accomplish this scientific marvel is never explained, but Franz's collection (who, in an oddly unsettling scene, are forced to participate in a marionette show) include his salesman Bob (John Agar, by now an established B-movie staple) and secretary (June Kenny, from Gordon's Earth vs. the Spider) as well as a handful of strangers (including Ken Miller from I Was a Teenage Werewolf and the Queen of Outer Space herself, Laurie Mitchell). As always, Gordon's limitations overshadow his intentions, and his direction and atrocious effects (AIP monster maker Paul Blaisdell is credited with "special design"), as well as the script by SF hack George Worthing Yates (Them!), undo the film's few laudable aspects, chief among them Hoyt's sympathetic performance. However, his self-promotional skills are topnotch--Bob and Sally see Colossal Man on their drive-in date. Puppet People won't impress younger audiences, but parents raised on a diet of drive-in fodder will appreciate its pulpy plot and solid genre cast. Filmed as The Fantastic Puppet People, it was retitled after being paired on a double bill with War of the Colossal Beast. MGM's full-screen print looks excellent, with only mild speckling. --Paul Gaita


Casablanca
DVD (also available on VHS)
A truly perfect movie, the 1942 Casablanca still wows viewers today, and for good reason. Its unique story of a love triangle set against terribly high stakes in the war against a monster is sophisticated instead of outlandish, intriguing instead of garish. Humphrey Bogart plays the allegedly apolitical club owner in unoccupied French territory that is nevertheless crawling with Nazis; Ingrid Bergman is the lover who mysteriously deserted him in Paris; and Paul Heinreid is her heroic, slightly bewildered husband. Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Conrad Veidt are among what may be the best supporting cast in the history of Hollywood films. This is certainly among the most spirited and ennobling movies ever made. The DVD release has theatrical trailers, a related documentary, optional French soundtrack, and optional English and French subtitles. --Tom Keogh


Casino (1995)
DVD (also available on VHS)
Director Martin Scorsese reunites with members of his GoodFellas gang (writer Nicholas Pileggi; actors Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Frank Vincent) for a three-hour epic about the rise and fall of mobster Sam "Ace" Rothstein (De Niro), a character based on real-life gangster Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal. (It's modeled after on Wiseguy and GoodFellas and Pileggi's true crime book Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas.) Through Rothstein, the picture tells the story of how the Mafia seized, and finally lost control of, Las Vegas gambling. The first hour plays like a fascinating documentary, intricately detailing the inner workings of Vegas casinos. Sharon Stone is the stand out among the actors; she nabbed an Oscar nomination for her role as the voracious Ginger, the glitzy call girl who becomes Rothstein's wife. The film is not as fast paced or gripping as Scorsese's earlier gangster pictures (Mean Streets and GoodFellas), but it's still absorbing. And, hey--it's Scorsese! (Additional note: the digital video disc has a "layer switch," allowing you to watch the entire film without interruption.) --Jim Emerson


Casino Royale: The Collector's Edition (1997)
VHS
Who was the first actor to play James Bond? If you answered Sean Connery, you would be wrong. In 1954, Barry Nelson played Bond in 007's screen debut: a 1954 live t.v version of the first James Bond novel "Casino Royale". Spy Guise Video now makes this amazing and historic program available - complete with the restored ending missing from previous video versions. This deluxe collector's edition also features many extras: an exclusive overview of the life of Ian Fleming and the "Casino Royale" legacy hosted by Lee Pfeiffer, co-author of the best-selling book "The Essential Bond: An Authorized Celebration of 007". Additionally, this version contains rare promotional advertisements, photographs, and information about James Bond clubs, magazines and officially licensed collectibles. No James Bond fan will want to be without this definitive collector's edition of 007's screen debut. Recorded in the SP mode for superior quality.


Diamonds are Forever (1971)
VHS
Sean Connery retired from the 007 franchise after You Only Live Twice (replaced by George Lazenby in the underrated and underperforming On Her Majesty's Secret Service) but was lured back for one last official appearance as James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever. He's in fine form--cool but ruthless--in a sharp precredits sequence hunting the unkillable Blofeld (a suavely menacing Charles Gray in this incarnation), but the MacGuffin of a story (involving diamond smuggling, a superlaser on a satellite, and Blofeld's latest plot to rule the world ) is full of the groaning tongue-in-cheek gags that Roger Moore would make his signature. Goldfinger director Guy Hamilton keeps the film zipping along gamely from one entertaining set piece to another, including a terrific car chase in a parking lot, a battle with a pair of bikini-clad killer gymnasts named Bambi and Thumper, and a deadly game with a bizarre pair of fey, sardonic killers who dispatch their victims with elaborate invention. Jill St. John is the brassy but not too bright American smuggler Tiffany Case, and country singer and pork sausage king Jimmy Dean costars as a reclusive billionaire with not-so-subtle parallels to Howard Hughes. Shirley Bassey belts out the memorable theme song, one of the series' best. Connery retired again after this one but he returned once more, for Never Say Never Again 15 years later for a rival production company. --Sean Axmaker


Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)
DVD (also available on VHS)
The original cowriter and director of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was Alex Cox, whose earlier film Sid and Nancy suggests that Cox could have been a perfect match in filming Hunter S. Thompson's psychotropic masterpiece of "gonzo" journalism. Unfortunately Cox departed due to the usual "creative differences," and this ill-fated adaptation was thrust upon Terry Gilliam, whose formidable gifts as a visionary filmmaker were squandered on the seemingly unfilmable elements of Thompson's ether-fogged narrative. The result is a one-joke movie without the joke--an endless series of repetitive scenes involving rampant substance abuse and the hallucinogenic fallout of a road trip that's run crazily out of control. Johnny Depp plays Thompson's alter ego, "gonzo" journalist Raoul Duke, and Benicio Del Toro is his sidekick and so-called lawyer Dr. Gonzo. During the course of a trip to Las Vegas to cover a motorcycle race, they ingest a veritable chemistry set of drugs, and Gilliam does his best to show us the hallucinatory state of their zonked-out minds. This allows for some dazzling imagery and the rampant humor of stumbling buffoons, and the mumbling performances of Depp and Del Toro wholeheartedly embrace the tripped-out, paranoid lunacy of Thompson's celebrated book. But over two hours of this insanity tends to grate on the nerves--like being the only sober guest at a party full of drunken idiots. So while Gilliam's film may achieve some modest cult status over the years, it's only because Fear and Loathing is best enjoyed by those who are just as stoned as the characters in the movie. The DVD offers the film in its full 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. --Jeff Shannon

Honeymoon in Vegas (1992)
DVD (also available on VHS)
Writer-director Andrew Bergman is capable of funny, funny stuff, but this movie runs out of jokes long before it runs out of comic ideas. The result is a series of comedy concepts that never get past the one-liner stage and are distinctly unsatisfying. Still, there is plenty to be amused by in this story of a reluctant bridegroom (Nicolas Cage) who finally agrees to marriage, only to lose his fiancée (Sarah Jessica Parker) in a crooked poker game to a professional gambler (James Caan). The rest of the movie deals with his frantic attempt to get his fiancée back, while coping with a Vegas in the throes of an Elvis-impersonator convention. That's the funniest thing about the whole movie (most notably the team of parachuting Elvises at the end), but even that is drawn out in ways that are more clever than laughter inducing. --Marshall Fine


Penn & Teller Get Killed (1989)
VHS
Penn and Teller burst onto the scene as part of the new-vaudeville wave of the mid 1980s. Riding high on the basis of a hit off-Broadway show, these two magicians--who poke fun at magic even as they pull off masterful illusions with a taste for blood--tried to transfer that sense of gruesome wonder to the big screen and missed the boat badly. Working with director Arthur Penn, they concocted a movie about themselves, in which Penn (the big one, who talks; the diminutive Teller never speaks) announces on national TV that he wishes someone would try to kill him. An intriguing idea, except they never do anything with it. There's the occasional bit of sleight of hand and the odd practical joke, but otherwise, this movie can't pull a rabbit out of its hat. --Marshall Fine


Rain Man (1988)
DVD (also available on VHS)
Rain Man is the kind of touching drama that Oscars are made for--and, sure enough, the film took Academy honors for best picture, director, screenplay, and actor (Dustin Hoffman) in 1988. Hoffman plays Raymond, an autistic savant whose late father has left him $3 million in a trust. This gets the attention of his materialistic younger brother, a hot-shot LA car dealer named Charlie (Tom Cruise) who wasn't even aware of Raymond's existence until he read his estranged father's will. Charlie picks up Raymond and takes him on a cross-country journey that becomes a voyage of discovery for Charlie, and, perhaps, for Raymond, too. Rain Man will either captivate you or irritate you (Raymond's sputtering of repetitious phrases is enough to drive anyone crazy), but it is obviously a labor of love for those involved. Hoffman had been attached to the film for many years, as various directors and writers came and went, but his persistence eventually paid off--kind of like Raymond in Las Vegas. Look for director Barry Levinson in a cameo as a psychiatrist near the end of the film. --Jim Emerson


Rounders (1998)
DVD (also available on VHS)
A little drunk on its own arcane exotica as a gambling movie, Rounders is a film that takes us inside a world of high-stakes card players but falls short on such essentials as character development, relationships, that sort of thing. Still, it is a real curiosity, written by a couple of guys (David Levien and Brian Koppelman) who appear to know something about the dark underbelly of card hustling for fun and profit. Matt Damon stars as a reluctant law student who can't put aside his subterranean career of playing poker and blackjack for big money. After he loses his post-grad nest egg to a weird Russian kingpin (John Malkovich)--and also loses his disgusted girlfriend (Gretchen Mol) in the process--Damon's character turns to an unreliable old buddy (Edward Norton) for a dangerous game of sharking wherever there happens to be a game underway: frat boys, cops, bad dudes, you name it. Norton appears to be living out every young actor's fantasy of re-creating Robert De Niro's prototypical head case in Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets, and while his performance is burdened by obvious quotation marks, his estimable talent still shines through. Damon's charm and intelligence bring some oomph to the curiously flat proceedings, and while his hushed, soul-bearing scenes with Martin Landau (as a law professor who takes a shine to the kid) seem gratuitous, they're still nice to watch. Behind all this is director John Dahl (Red Rock West), who is not exactly at the top of his game here but who brings his distinctive toughness to the crime-noir tone. --Tom Keogh


Viva Las Vegas (1964)
DVD (also available on VHS)
It's pretty tough to beat Jailhouse Rock in terms of sheer entertainment, but Elvis lovers are particularly fond of this 1964 hit. The Big E plays race-car driver Lucky Jackson, who arrives in Las Vegas for an upcoming Grand Prix race. Lucky's car needs a new engine, so he gets a waiter job at a casino and starts working his crooning charms on Rusty Martin (Ann-Margret). It's their on-screen chemistry that makes this flick a lot of fun; Presley never had a better costar than Ann-Margret, and their race-car romance is quintessential 1960s fluff. Then there are the songs, of course, including the snappy title tune, a rockin' rendition of Ray Charles's "What'd I Say?," and "The Yellow Rose of Texas." Viva Las Vegas is one of the Elvis movies that stands the test of time, when the legend was still at his peak. And if you're wondering if the King gets his car fixed in time to win the race, well, check out this digital video disc to find out. --Jeff Shannon


Blue Hawaii (1961)
DVD (also available on VHS)
Elvis Presley's seventh film was the first of his "Hawaii trilogy" (including Girls! Girls! Girls! and Paradise, Hawaiian Style). While its story is daft--the King has just been released from his Army posting in Italy and returned to the islands, where he's trying to avoid working in his father's fruit business--the music is not: "Blue Hawaii," "Almost Always True," and the beautiful "Can't Help Falling in Love." Angela Lansbury plays Elvis's mother, who can't seem to get through to him. Directed by the star's frequent collaborator, Norman Taurog (G.I. Blues). --Tom Keogh


Elvis - That's the Way It Is (Special Edition) (1970)
DVD (also available on VHS)
This 1970 concert documentary captures Elvis Presley midway through a fateful transition, seeking to reclaim his musical primacy after a decade of self-imposed exile from concert stages. Sidelined by his big-screen career, eclipsed by rock's mid-'60s transformations, the King had begun his return two years earlier with the relatively lean attack of his fabled network television appearance, '68 Comeback Special. Now the Memphis legend was poised to reposition his performing profile by pursuing the top rungs of headliner status in Las Vegas, a career choice that seems even more ephemeral in hindsight than it already did at the time.

Elvis: That's the Way It Is follows the show's genesis from rehearsal to stage, with the performance footage that provides its inevitable climax shot over six nights. The rehearsal footage, expanded for this special edition, offers further proof that Presley's band was simply superb: stripped of the orchestrations and lush choral arrangements that would be grafted onto the stage show, the sextet sounds both tough and nimble. In performance, we're treated to a mostly riveting glimpse of Presley in top vocal form, poised at the brink of bombast. This is Elvis before the onset of portentous Richard Strauss overtures, karate kicks, and tossed scarves, kicking off the show with the classic "That's All Right." If he risks undercutting the punch of his early songs with self-deprecating clowning, he attacks two Ray Charles classics with gusto. The special edition also boasts digitally remastered visuals, crisply remixed Dolby audio, alternate versions that replace the original performances of several tracks (including the extended vamp of "Suspicious Minds"), a theatrical trailer, and a new documentary on the restoration of the film. --Sam Sutherland


Watership Down (1978)
VHS
Much like Richard Adams's wonderful novel, this animated tale of wandering rabbits is not meant for small children. It is, however, rich storytelling, populated with very real individuals inhabiting a very real world. The animation is problematic, sometimes appearing out of proportion or just subpar; but it seems to stem from an attempt at realism, something distinguishing the film's characters from previous, cutesy, animated animals. A band of rabbits illegally leave their warren after a prophecy of doom from a runt named Fiver (Richard Briers). In search of a place safe from humans and predators, they face all kinds of dangers, including a warren that has made a sick bargain with humankind, and a warren that is basically a fascist state. Allegories aside, Down is engaging and satisfying, and pulls off the same amazing trick that the novel did--you'll forget that this is a story about rabbits. --Keith Simanton


The Muppet Movie (1979)
DVD (also available on VHS)
This simply irresistible first feature from the Muppets has Kermit the frog going from the swamps to Hollywood to be a star. As he travels and picks up his usual friends (Miss Piggy, Fozzie the Bear), Doc Hopper (Charles Durning) is in pursuit, looking for Kermit to be the spokesman for his frog-leg cuisine. A loose rendition of The Wizard of Oz, the film incorporates the same cagey humor as their breakout syndicated TV series The Muppet Show. This is one of the few times that a human cast (notably Steve Martin, Orson Welles, and Carol Kane) are integrated seamlessly with nonhumans. Worth noting is Paul Williams's score, which includes the Oscar-nominated "The Rainbow Connection." Williams's music, much like Howard Ashman's work on The Little Mermaid and other Disney films, provides more than atmosphere; there's a degree of magic here. Williams did not work on the future Muppet films until A Muppet Christmas Carol. His contributions made these films the best of the Muppet series. --Doug Thomas


The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
DVD (also available on VHS)
This second motion-picture outing for the adventurous Muppets finds them in London hunting down jewel thieves while staying at the city's most cheerfully derelict dive, the Happiness Hotel. Filled with song and dance (and swimming!) numbers, this Jim Henson-directed feature is worth seeing, if for nothing else than to see the cantankerous Charles Grodin (Beethoven) swoon over Miss Piggy. But The Great Muppet Caper has a lot more going for it: cameos by John Cleese, Peter Falk, and Oscar the Grouch, among others; Miss Piggy parading down a catwalk; and Kermit the Frog on a bicycle. The Muppets are fond of breaking down that pesky fourth wall, which gives the movie some of its cleverest moments and will elicit the biggest laughs from the kids. (Kermit to Miss Piggy: "You're overacting. You're hamming it up.") By the time a framed Miss Piggy is freed and the real jewel thieves are caught, you'll forget the occasional slow spots and remember the musical numbers and the banter. --Kimberly Heinrichs


The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)
DVD (also available on VHS)
The Muppets go to the Big Apple to make the big time.


Muppets From Space (1999)
DVD (also available on VHS)
The film that answers the immortal question: what species is Gonzo? Kermit the Frog's curly-nosed friend feels alone in the world. When his breakfast cereal starts spelling out questions and he hears voices, Gonzo is convinced he must be from outer space, and his alien brothers are coming to earth. Of course, there are evil scientists (led by Jeffrey Tambor) who kidnap Gonzo to learn his secrets (like "What do you do with a nose like that?"). The usual brand of merriment from the gang is in good order, especially in the opening scene when the Muppets start the morning under one roof. It's not as memorable as earlier films, but nevertheless the joy and sly humor will warm most souls age 5 and up. Human cameos include Ray Liotta, Rob Schneider, Josh Charles, Andie MacDowell, David Arquette, and F. Murray Abraham (as Noah, no less). --Doug Thomas


The Tale of the Bunny Picnic (1998)
VHS
Jim Henson's last directorial production aimed squarely at children is this delightful 50-minute show about a bunny who cried "dog." Little Bean Bunny always wants to make an impression on his family and his jovial bunny community. When he encounters a daffy dog bent on chasing rabbits (voiced by Henson), his stories only bemuse everyone; they'd rather prepare for the upcoming spring festival. Escaping into a rich fantasy life, Bean soon overcomes his fears and then finds practical ways to be a hero for a day. Jam-packed with music, The Tale of Bunny Picnic illustrates the enormity of Henson's vision in presenting multiple Muppet-like characters on screen at one time; there's a real sense of community. A cousin to his Fraggle Rock programs, this show will appeal to all folks age 3 and up. --Doug Thomas


The American Puppet
VHS


The Frugal Gourmet: Vegetables with Class
VHS


Delicious Vegetables
VHS


Monet's Garden at Giverny
VHS
The garden that inspired 500 of Monet's paintings is given a horticultural and art history spin. The artist's presence is felt through interviews with Monet's step-grandson and his wife, who speak about how the father of impressionism--who died in 1926--used the garden during the second half of his life to further his art. The resurrection of the garden, neglected after the death of Monet's widow, is followed in painstaking detail as the production presents a year in the life of the garden, which sees half a million tourists annually. The careful botanic study also includes thoughtful analysis about the use of the colorful garden as a palette for Monet's work. An artist, a photographer-historian, a Japanese garden designer, and gardeners weigh in, helping the viewer to see the cornucopia of nature as perhaps Monet did. And, as one artist says, "What wonderful eyes to see it through." --Valerie J. Nelson


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