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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Relationships > Romance > Family > Hollywood > Wealth > Satire > Slapstick > Con Artists > Politics > Cafe Society (2016/Amazon/Lionsgate Blu-ray w/DVD)/The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection (1929 - 1933 with The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers & Duck Soup/Paramount/Un

Cafe Society (2016/Amazon/Lionsgate Blu-ray w/DVD)/The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection (1929 - 1933 with The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers & Duck Soup/Paramount/Universal Blu-ray Set)/9 To 5 (1980 aka Nine To Five/Fox/Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray)/Short Cuts (1993/Altman/Fine Line/New Line/Warner Bros./Criterion Blu-ray Set)

Picture: B (C+: DVD) Sound: B & C+/B-/B-/B Extras: C/B/B/B Films: B/B+/B/B

PLEASE NOTE: The 9 To 5 Blu-ray is now only available from our friends at Twilight Time, is limited to only 3,000 copies and can be ordered while supplies last at the links below.

The following comedy releases cover almost 90 years of the genre in the sound film era and include six classics, an underrated gem and a new, easy to underestimate work from the most prolific comedy writer in all of cinema history...

That writer is Woody Allen and his new film Cafe Society (2016) is a love letter to old Hollywood, which his films constantly show through the decades that he loves as a great era and not just with films that happen to take place in New York City. This film is interested in many of Allen's themes, but what makes it a bit different is its obsession with doppelgangers in its characters and contrasting the East Coast/New York City with the West Coast/Hollywood. Jesse Eisenberg plays a young man from NYC who goes out to Hollywood to find a job and a fun new life. It is rough at first, even in trying to get an appointment with a relative (Steve Carell) who is becoming a major force in the growing feature film business.

This leads to meets his uncle's assistant (Kristen Stewart in yet another effective pairing with Eisenberg) whom he is shown the town by and starts to really like. She says she has a boyfriend, but he hopes they'll breakup so he can get involved. Then some amusing twists and turns ensue, plus a few that do not, but the period is evoked effectively, as are both locales and though many might miss it, this is one of Allen's better films of late. Amazon actually picked this one up wisely and Lionsgate is releasing it on Blu-ray and DVD here.

Allen also does the voiceover, but it is sometimes a bit off, yet it works well enough as does much of his script. The opposite of Stardust Memories as this is when the 'stardust' was happening, he loves old Hollywood the way he loves old Jazz and his latest proves that is as strong as ever. Uncompromising in its intelligence, the things that work best might be missed by most audiences and apparently some critics, but it is a love letter to love, film and a great time in danger of being forgotten somewhat. In all this, it is worth a good look. Parker Posey, Blake Lively, Corey Stoll and Ken Stott also star.

Extras include Digital HD Ultraviolet Copy for PC, PC portable and other cyber iTunes capable devices, while the discs add a Photo Gallery and brief Making Of featurette called On The Red Carpet.

Among those old Hollywood comedy Allen loves and has even featured clips of in his films...

The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection collects their first five hilarious feature films made at Paramount Pictures when they were a quartet that included Zeppo along with Chico, Harpo and Groucho. Before Abbott & Costello or Martin & Lewis arrived with hit feature films, when Laurel & Hardy, Our Gang/The Little Rascals and The Three Stooges would become legends on brilliant series of film comedy shorts, this fantastic four floored audiences with this series of hit films that immediately took advantage of the arrival of sound.

This set has been issued by Universal (owners of most of the older pre-1948 Paramount films) as 'Restored' (more on that later), this Blu-ray set proves the team helped establish screwball comedy as well as finishing the foundation for all feature film comedies in sound as the silent stars were not making the transition fully as one would have wished and one (Chaplin) stuck to silent cinema as long as he could. But never feature, the greatest comedic brothers of all time were on the way.

A hit right off the bat, Robert Forey's The Cocoanuts (1929) is the first of their two films that were both filmed entirely in New York and based on highly successful stage plays, written by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, they have vague narrative plottings that allow their gags, jokes and routines to hang onto. But they are all so funny, even all these decades later, the laughs plow over any flaws in logic. Here, Groucho is a hotel owner in trouble trying to save and keep his business going, but it won't be easy when so many people are out for themselves and up to their own little ideas of getting ahead. The guests are either thieves or if they have money, targets and Chico & Harpo play strangers also targeting Groucho's imperiled owner.

I always thought it was just funny that they would pretend not to know each other (Zeppo included) before the film even kicked in, but however practiced and tested, the comic timing, content and even subversion of their humor (class division is brushed on here, oddly just in time as the Great Depression arrived in real life) is remarkable and the film instantly established them as a force to be reckoned with. It is one of the few early sound classics anyone still talks about.

Victor Heerman's Animal Crackers (1930) proved commercially and critically that the first film was no fluke as Groucho plays explorer Captain Spaulding, back from a trip to Africa and into 'cafe society' joining up with a wealthy Margaret Dumont, but a valuable painting goes missing and all are suspects, including Zeppo, Harpo and Chico as opposing characters, plus some female interests and other suspects are in the mix. I should add how we get musical numbers out of nowhere, but that does not make any of these films musicals, though it adds immensely to their entertainment value.

Norman Z. McLeod's Monkey Business (1931) was a more polished film made in Hollywood, with the improvements noticeable and sound equipment getting relatively better, the quartet are in this romp as four stowaways on a fancy ship that will lead to more chases, romances and comedy with great twists in what is their first non-stage screenplay. It works and we get the likes of Thelma Todd and Ruth Hall in the prominent female roles. The Marxes stay as subversive as ever and the result is another winner.

Norman Z. McLeod returns to helm Horse Feathers (1932) has Groucho as Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff in this send up of sports and particularly college football and college (read higher education) itself. The college is in trouble, so he gets his son (Zeppo!) to secretly load the team with pros and hope no one notices. Chico and Harpo land up enrolling and throwing the ball, while so much con artistry is afoot (the Prohibition angle may be dated, but they're blatant readiness to defy it is pure Marx Brothers) and it leas to a hilarious climax. Hard to believe, but they were on a role like few others in the history of big screen movie comedy.

By the time they made their next film, Leo McCarey's Duck Soup (1933), they had become too advanced for their audience, the film did not do well and it was their last film for Paramount, but this turned out to be their masterpiece about the madness of politics, conformity, war, how nations interact and adults acting like children. Note this was released just as Hitler was about to take power in Germany, but created just before that real-life evil began. Groucho is Rufus T. Firefly, who may become the President of the nation of Freedonia, but there will be no money for the nation unless that happens because a rich woman (Margaret Dumont again) has the money bags. From there, the film just gets wackier, wittier and more brilliant until its climax. Now recognized as one of the greatest comedy films of all time, it would not be the Marx Brothers last cinematic triumph (though Zeppo was about to bow out to become a highly prolific talent agent, to say the least), but it was their peak and what a peak it is and remains. That makes this collection one of the all-time must-haves of comedy!

Extras in this decent slipcase packaging include a well-illustrated booklet on the films including informative text and an excellent essay by film & Marx Brothers Scholar Robert S. Bader, while the Blu-ray discs add feature length audio commentary tracks on each film (Anthony Slide on The Cocoanuts, Jeffrey Vance on Animal Crackers, Bader and Harpo Marx's son Bill on Monkey Business, F.X. Feeney on Horse Feathers and Bader & Leonard Maltin on Duck Soup), Documentary The Marx Brothers: Hollywood's Kings Of Chaos and Inside The NBC Vault: The Today Show Interviews, with the trio on camera.

The films of The Marx Brothers left a permanent high watermark on comedy and on all comedy teams to follow, especially when they were more than duos. A wave of comedies in the 1970s (particularly thanks to the huge box office success and critical acclaim of Peter Bogdanovich's What's Up Doc? (1972)) led to what is still an underrated wave of comedy classics that lasted into the early 1980s that were also subversive, hilarious and remarkable.

Colin Higgins' 9 To 5 (1980) remains one of the biggest hit comedies of all time, a claim some early Marx Brothers film could likely make, but a massive success that left no stone unturned in taking on women in society, women liberated and (as relevant as ever) the exploitation, underpaid hard work and neglect of working women. Far bolder than Mike Nichols' Working Girl, Jane Fonda is a new employee at a big company that seems to be a big break for her, especially since she is suffering from a broken marriage, but the job comes with some ominous signs in the odd way people behave there.

Showing her around is a longtime employee played by the brilliant Lily Tomlin who warns Judy (Fonda) about who is worth dealing with and who you need to look out for. This includes their boss Mr. Franklin Hart (Dabney Coleman giving the perfect performance as a sexist, bigoted goof stealing others ideas and making life miserable for all) who has stolen ideas from Tomlin. Then there is Hart's new secretary (Dolly Parton, a riot and huge surprise in her big screen debut, handling comedy as well as she handles music, which says something) who the married Hart wants to get in bed with, but she is naïve and clueless to this at first. He also makes sure she looks like a willing bimbo, instantly creating scorn against her.

However, events start taking a few interesting turns and the three gals start to get wise to the bigger picture, bonding together and ready to take revenge.. if they can figure out just how exactly how to do this. The result is very, very funny, the trio have incredible chemistry and now more than ever, it is apparent that this was not just a blockbuster and a comedy classic. So how did it get so lost in the shuffle that Fox allowed this to become another exception Twilight Time Limited Edition Blu-ray?

Simple, Nancy Reagan successfully targeted the film (think a near blacklisting) bashing a scene where the trip uses 'pot' resulting in each having a surprising fantasy sequence on what they would like to do to Hart. It also sets up more gags and jokes later. Knowing now about what was really going on with The Reagan Administration and drug kingpins (think Contras), we know the 'Just Say No' campaign was not on the up and up, but Mrs. Reagan's shaming of the film was really because her husband's rollback politics did not want to see women getting equal pay or equal rights when their agenda was to roll back pay, rights and unions. Mrs. Reagan may have even been (semi-)sincere about the drugs, but the film (like the Bee Gees disco music, as they could not go after gay, female and other music acts of color) was scapegoated for political reasons and we know Jane Fonda would never be that administrations favorite actress.

Now looking back, with the gains women have made, are about to make as we post this review and have yet to make (though more is imminent soon), the film was a political, ideological and personal success no matter what the Reagan Era was (and still is) about as strong women still entered the picture (and not just in fiction) while the popularity of the cast just grew over the years (Fonda had more hits and is still with us, Higgins directed Parton in the bigger-than-you-remembered Best Little Whorehouse In Texas, Tomlin's legendary career continued, Coleman finally became as star and other involved found success) and the film was more groundbreaking in its time (pot notwithstanding) and a TV series version was launched (Dolly's sister got her role, while Jeffrey Tambor and Peter Bonerz both played Hart at different times as Fox and ABC tampered with and botched the show) that sadly did not last.

9 To 5 is a one-time comedy event film and an important one, so it is nice to see it finally come out in such a great blu-ray edition.

Extras include an illustrated paper foldout on the film including informative text and an excellent essay by the great film scholar Julie Kirgo, while the Blu-ray adds two feature length audio commentary tracks, a fun past track that reunites Producer Bruce Gilbert with Fonda (her one-time husband), Dolly and Tomlin, then a fine new one with Kirgo, scholar Nick Redman and the film's screenwriter, Patricia Resnick. We also get a robust Isolated Music Score, Deleted Scenes, Animation Reel, Gag Reel, Original Theatrical Trailer, Singing 9 To 5 Karaoke and three other older pieces in Remembering Colin Higgins, Nine @ 25: Revisiting A Comedy Classic and an on-camera Lilly & Dolly interview.

All these comedies add up to what became a key component of the counterculture that finally arrived in the 1960s and that included all kinds of comedies. However, there is one filmmaker that shares a unique and important place in that history and helped make it possible: Robert Altman. After some TV work and trying out a few feature films, Altman hit it big with M*A*S*H in 1970, a unexpected comedy blockbuster (reviewed elsewhere on this site) that inspired a very different kind of hit comedy TV series classic he had nothing to do with, but established him a brutally honest filmmaker who had rare total control of his work and fate until the 1980s arrived and he retreated into independent production (after Popeye with Robin Williams bombed). In the early 1990s, he was back with a vengeance with The Player and he wasn't compromising one bit.

Instead of playing it safe, Altman created one of his most ambitious films ever with Short Cuts (1993) based on the writings of Raymond Carver, it takes a dark look at Los Angeles (and Hollywood by association) juggling an incredible cast and telling several well-defined separate stories without pulling back from the darkness of anger, hate, mental illness, self-destruction, joy sat times, dysfunctional behavior much of the time and the unpredictability of human nature.

It also reminds us of Altman's unique form of comedy, honest, not intentionally dark comedy (or wallowing in anything like so many films do now), but still fused with his smart ass sense of life, not that everything here is intended to be funny. The opening visually references M*A*S*H with TV talk of war and shots of flying helicopters and we arte about to see some mini-wars, but the area is being sprayed for bugs (Medflys) so people are not sickened by an epidemic. If only their (usually suburban) lives were not hiding all kinds of issues and cruelties to begin with.

To handle a cast that includes Altman alumni Lily Tomlin, Tim Robbins, Julianne Moore, Robert Downey Jr., Jack Lemmon, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Waits, Andie MacDowell, Matthew Modine, Bruce Davison, Anne Archer, Fred Ward, Chris Penn, Madeleine Stowe, Peter Gallagher, Lyle Lovett, Frances McDormand, Lori Singer, Annie Ross, Robert DoQui, Buck Henry and Huey Lewis, it takes over three hours. Add how it uses Jazz music and ideas of Jazz in how the film itself is assembled and you have a challenging masterwork that works more often than not.

You have to have serious patience with it, but if you do, Short Cuts pays off, even if it is not always comfortable... its worth it.

Extras are presented over two Blu-ray discs and include an illustrated paper foldout on the film including informative text and an excellent essay by Michael Wilmington. We also get the 'alternate' 5.1 soundtrack mix, an isolated music score track, Conversation between Altman and actor Tim Robbins from 2004, Luck, Trust & Ketchup: Robert Altman in Carver Country, a 1993 feature-length documentary on the making of Short Cuts, To Write and Keep Kind, a 1992 PBS documentary on the life of author Raymond Carver, a one-hour 1983 audio interview with Carver, conducted for the American Audio Prose Library, an original demo recordings of the film's Doc Pomus-Mac Rebennack songs, performed by Dr. John, Deleted Scenes and a look inside the marketing of Short Cuts that shows the remarkable, ambitious poster designs like we rarely see anymore.

Each release offers films shot in very different ways, but eventually all evening out as particularly good and sometimes impressive, even with a few demo shots each. None constantly wowed me either, but all offer a good look these works.

The 1080p 2.00 X 1 digital High Definition image on the Cafe Blu-ray is an all-digital shoot by legendary Director of Photography Vittorio Storaro, A.I.C., A.S.C., resulting in one of the few standout HD shoots that will really hold up decades from now. Slightly sepia at times without being cliché, it is one of the smoothest HD shoots also to date and when the color is in full range, it is better than expected. The anamorphically enhanced DVD that comes with it is much softer and you loose what Storaro and Allen really pulled off here.

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 black & white digital High Definition image transfers on all five Marx Brothers Blu-rays can obviously show the age of the materials used, as expected for their age despite claims they have been restored. Though superior to previous transfers and releases of these films, more work will need done, especially on the first two films. Some footage almost looks like 16mm, but Universal will need find what they can as these masters were made before 4K and HDR were thought of. Otherwise, you get some nice shots in each case and when you can see the quartet doing their jokes and gags this much more clearly, you laugh more. Some footage seems to have been shot in the older 1.2 X 1 silent frame, but its hard to tell where.

The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on 9 To 5 can in a few places show the age of the materials used, but this is far superior a transfer to the decent DVD issued a few years ago and much of this holds up better than you would think for a film even its age. The mock Disney animation shows its age more (trying to do that style on the cheap was a combination of limited budget and in-joke), but other shots are really nice and the opening sequence is among the best.

Finally, the 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Cuts rarely can show the age of the materials used, was hot in the Super 35mm format and is superior to any older video transfers of the film as well. Color is extremely correct and grain is what you would expect when shooting in this format (or the likes of Techniscope), but the biggest thing the film has going for it is that is was shot on 35mm Agfacolor film negative. That gives it a rare, distinct look makes it even more interesting to watch in a different way than if it were shot on Kodak or Fuji film due to their unique color range and capacity, especially in a new 4K scan from the original negative with Criterion and Director of Photography Walt Lloyd involved. For all this, it is reference material for the format and film stock.

As for sound, this is one of the few times Woody Allen is not offering a monophonic film, but one in a DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Cafe, resulting in one of his best-sounding films, yet the sound is still smart, not overdone or uneven. The lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 on the DVD is not as good, though. Cuts is also well mixed and presented, also here in a DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix (it has 6-track multi-channel stereo sound in 70mm blow-up prints) and like the Allen film, despite being dialogue and joke-based, keeps a consistent soundfield throughout. All five Marx Brothers films were theatrical mono, some of the earliest ever, but the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono on all five films are about as good as we could expect for their age, though some cleaning and slight upgrades would make a difference. The jokes are audible for the most part.

9 To 5 offers DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) in both 2.0 Stereo and Mono versions, but the film originally was issued at its best in Magnetic Stereo sound. These upgrades are odd, with the Stereo sounding good with the theme song (which could still sound better if the multi-channel master was used), then lans up sounding dull versus the Mono that sounds like it has more depth and is more natural-sounding throughout. You can compare yourself to hear, though the isolated music score sounds fine.

To order 9 To 5 limited edition Blu-ray, buy it and other great exclusives while supplies last at these links:




- Nicholas Sheffo


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