Newly released DVDs include current and classic movies and television. They include:
• "The Brave One" (Warner, 2007, R for violence, language, sex, nudity, drugs, $28.98). Continuing her series of take-charge roles (after "The Panic Room," "Flightplan" and "Inside Man"), Jodie Foster stars in this distaff version of "Death Wish" as a victim of violence who takes matters into her own hands.
This one is actually pretty good, in the same way that Charles Bronson's 1974 version manipulated audience sympathies until it falls apart in the final reel when suspicious cop Terrence Howard crosses a line.
Separate widescreen and full-frame editions, deleted scenes, featurette.
• "Charlie Chan, Volume 4" (Fox, 1938-39, b/w, four discs, $49.98). With the untimely death of Warner Oland in 1938, Fox scrambled to find someone to fill his shoes as the inimitable Hawaiian detective in its lucrative Charlie Chan series. After testing 35 actors for the part, the studio finally settled on another non-Asian, Sidney Toler.
Although Oland was beloved by fans, Toler made the role his own and went on to play Chan in 22 films both for Fox and, after a two-year break, the poverty-row studio Monogram. The Fox films are infinitely superior; the later flicks are strictly for die-hards.
This box set features Toler's first four outings and hopefully Fox will give us a couple more sets down the road. (The first half of his Monogram tenure can be found in the long-in-release MGM box set "The Charlie Chanthology.")
Toler's debut, "Charlie Chan in Honolulu," finds Chan awaiting the birth of his first grandson while investigating a murder on a docked ship. Also, with the departure of Keye Luke as Lee, Chan's "No. 1 Son," Toler banters with "No. 2 Son" Jimmy (Sen Young).
"Charlie Chan in Reno" has the detective looking into a murder in the divorce capital; "Charlie Chan in City in Darkness" has Chan battling Nazis in Paris; and "Charlie Chan in Treasure Island," arguably the best of these, sees him teaming up with professional magician Cesar Romero to trap a crooked psychic.
In addition to Romero, the films are filled with colorful character players who enliven the proceedings, including Lon Chaney Jr., George Zucco, Marc Lawrence, Slim Summerville, Lynn Bari, Douglas Dumbrille, etc.
These are B-movies to be sure but clever writing and witty dialogue delivery by these seasoned pros make the films here well worth the price of admission.
Extras: full frame, audio commentary (on "Treasure Island"), featurettes, photo galleries, trailers; six-page booklet.
• "The Apartment: Collector's Edition" (MGM, 1960, b/w, $19.98). This is a reissue of the classic comedy-drama that cynically lampoons big business, skewers the male view of marriage, has elements of dark melodrama and sentimentally embraces romantic love.
It's a tightrope that only filmmaker Billy Wilder could successfully walk, and he did so with relish. (And took home three Oscars for his trouble.)
The plot has an office worker allowing his apartment to be used for dalliances by his married middle-management bosses so he can climb the good-ol'-boy's corporate ladder. Which serves him well ... until he makes the fatal mistake of falling in love with the big boss's latest girlfriend.
Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine shine in the lead roles, and the supporting cast is great, including Fred MacMurray in an atypical part as a heel. The film hits the bull's-eye in every respect, with many memorable moments, from Lemmon using a tennis racket to drain spaghetti to MacLaine's last line.
Widescreen, trivia-filled audio commentary, entertaining features on the making of the film and Lemmon's career.
• "Imitation of Life: Universal Legacy Series" (Universal, 1934/1959, b/w and color, two discs, $26.98). This is a reissue of both versions of the classic soap opera about the intermingled up-and-down lives of two women, one white and one black. And the particular heartache the latter feels when her daughter rejects her heritage to pass for white.
Both films seem dated today and are condescending and insulting in some respects. But they are still valuable as interesting examinations of racism from their respective eras. And, strangely, in some ways the full frame, black-and-white 1934 film seems more rooted in reality and down-to-earth than the lush, widescreen, color version that came 25 years later.
In the '30s film, widowed Claudette Colbert takes in Louise Beavers and (with obvious echoes of Aunt Jemima) they create a pancake-mix empire. The lush, colorful remake employs a show-biz backdrop, with Lana Turner and Juanita Moore.
The stars are all very good, but special marks must go to Fredi Washington in the first film as Beavers' daughter, in a rich, multilayered performance that holds up well today.Bonus features include a very good making-of featurette and both films have audio commentaries addressing their historical relevance.
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