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Army of Shadows

Criterion Collection
Movie A
Special Features A
DVD Geek Factor 9 (out of 10)

Unreleased in the United States until last year, this 1969 masterpiece by Jean-Pierre Melville was panned by French critics upon its original release for multiple reasons. Some said that the characters in this story of French Resistance fighters during World War II were presented as gangsters. Others condemned it for glorifying Charles de Gaulle, a controversial figure at the time.

After watching the film, I can report that the characters portrayed here are not gangsters. They are, in fact, tragic figures dealing with hardships and betrayals on many levels, with their efforts ultimately resulting in death. Lino Ventura, in a heartbreaking performance, plays Philippe Gerbier, a character partially based on an actual Melville colleague named Pierre-Bloch, who fought the German occupation of 1940-1944. The film begins with Gerbier's imprisonment.

After a successful escape attempt, he reunites with other members of the Resistance, including Mathilde (Simone Signoret), an espionage mastermind, and Jean-François (Jean-Pierre Cassel, father of modern era French star Vincent Cassel). Melville depicts their stories with an understated, monochromatic film that evades bombastic heroics. His characters are tortured mentally and physically, and they will not live to see the glory of their dedication.

That's not to say Melville isn't an exciting filmmaker. A sequence where Gerbier must jump from a plane in the dead of night is intense, as is an attempted rescue of an imprisoned member of the Resistance. Another set piece where Gerbier faces a firing squad is masterful filmmaking.

Thanks to Studio Canal--who restored the film--and Criterion, you now have the chance to witness this long-forgotten film. From its opening moments of Nazis parading in France to the final text showing its characters' ultimate fates, it's an amazing film.

Special Features: An illuminating recent interview with actual Army of Shadows cinematographer Pierre Lhomme is the highlight. Archival featurettes and documentaries, including one examining the final days of German-occupied France, make things very informative. Film historian Ginette Vincendeau provides a commentary, and a booklet encapsulating critical excerpts and details on each character rounds out the package.

The Film Crew: Hollywood After Dark

Shout! Factory
Show B
Special Features D-
DVD Geek Factor 8 (out of 10)

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett, formerly of Mystery Science Theater 3000, return to provide bad movies with running commentary. This is an endeavor strictly for DVD, with the premise being that they are three janitors (or something like that) who watch crap movies and crack wise about them. We don't see their silhouettes, MST3K style, but it's fun to hear their voices destroying movies again. (Murphy and Corbett were robots Tom Servo and Crow, respectively.) The premise isn't as fun (the behind-the-scenes sequences are lame), but once the shit movie commences, it's pretty much MST3K all over again.

For their first DVD, the Film Crew go after former Golden Girl Rue McClanahan in a 1968 piece of trash called Hollywood After Dark. Rue plays a wannabe actress who winds up in the seedy underworld of stripping. The trio do a fine job spitting venom at the picture, and MST3K fans should be happy. After McClanahan's first scene, they grouse: "She's actually less sexy than when she was on The Golden Girls." During one particular dancing sequence, they quip: "I think this is what you would get if Darren Aronofsky had directed Flashdance."

After about 15 minutes, the boys hit their stride, comparing McClanahan to Roger Daltrey and suggesting that her character will partake in "light-duty whoring." Once the laughs start, they don't stop. It's good to have the boys back.

Special Features: A stupid sequence called "Ode to Lunch" has no need for existence. The only thing keeping the special features from receiving an F is the cool Film Crew patch that comes inside. You won't be buying this one for the special features. More discs are coming, including the skewering of Killers From Space.

Welcome Back Kotter: The Complete First Season

Warner Bros.
Show B
Special Features C+
DVD Geek Factor 5.75 (out of 10)

When I was a kid, if you yelled "Up your nose with a rubber hose!" at somebody, you would get punched in the face for being inane. Yes, the show spawned some bad catchphrases, as well as that stupid Horshack laugh, but it did give us John Travolta, which is an OK thing in some camps. Of the '70s sitcoms, this one didn't make my Top 5 (I was a Happy Days fan), but looking back at it, it was actually pretty good. Gabe Kaplan kicked ass as the sarcastic teacher dealing with the Sweathogs, special-needs students with wacky senses of humor.

The first episode featured none other than James Woods as a fellow teacher named Alex, a super nerd in plaid pants. Television at its finest!

Special Features: What? No Sweathog commentaries? Are you kidding me? The discs do contain a decent retrospective featurette, hosted by Marcia Strassman, Mrs. Kotter herself. (She's still hot! Gabe Kaplan ... not so much.) It also contains original Sweathog screen tests.

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