February 15, 2011

Three's company

Stanley Donen’s much-maligned high-seas adventure Lucky Lady sets sail for DVD 

Also this week: Waiting for Superman, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

With an all-star cast, legendary director and gargantuan budget, Lucky Lady (Shout! Factory)  should've been luckier upon its released in 1975. While it did manage to turn a quick profit, critics and audiences ultimately panned the film and it was inevitably shelved. Even in today’s anything-goes DVD market, 20th Century Fox never even bothered releasing it. Enter Shout! Factory, who are now giving this endearing shipwreck the attention it deserves.   

Set during the Prohibition era, Burt Reynolds, Gene Hackman and Liza Minnelli star as three small-timers who decide to make a few bucks as overseas rum-runners. Things go smoothly until they come across a maniacal Coast Guard captain, and then the mob. 

The plot is easy enough to follow, but Lucky Lady’s anarchic amalgam of tones is what makes it a love-or-hate wild card. Equal parts screwball comedy, action-adventure, musical and romantic melodrama, these jarring shifts are just plain weird. But open-minded viewers who are searching for something a little more chaotic than the norm will find much to enjoy in this nutso gem.  

A sprightly cast and glitzy direction from Stanley Donen (Singin’ in the Rain, Charade) are quick to please. It’s the screenwriting duo behind American Graffiti (and the underrated Messiah of Evil – pls rent it) that turn this into an intriguing mishmash of ideas. One of the film’s most unique elements is the ménage à trois dynamic between the leads, addressed with such cheerful ambivalence that it almost seems progressive. Then again, a PG rating probably called for them to scale back on the sex and drama, and thus it just plays like a carefree affair. 

Lucky Lady’s daunting production and the cast and crew’s hesitant understanding of what the final product would look like is apparent in two vintage featurettes that accompany this DVD. Hackman didn’t even want to be in the picture, and only joined after he was offered a staggering paycheck of $1.5 million (a lot for its time) that his agent admitted would’ve been obscene to reject.  

Also Available

In the last few years, Davis Guggenheim has made a nice place for himself in the realm of documentary filmmaking. After making a huge splash with 2004’s An Inconvenient Truth, he directed a feature, a couple of TV episodes and the highly enjoyable rockumentary It Might Get Loud. Waiting For Superman (Paramount) sees him once again tackling more sobering issues. His latest subject follows a group of disparate students trying to get into charter schools to help ensure a promising future. The only obstacle in their way is a lottery draw. Both heartbreaking and uplifting, Guggenheim’s captivating arguments could benefit from less sugar (cutesy montages are so passé) and more spice. All the same, it’s illuminating stuff – even for us better off Canadians. Extras: additional stories, making of the song’s title track, discussion avec director. 

I’ve got nothing but mad love for my girls Vicky and Christina, but the cinema of Woody Allen has been on the steady decline for well over a decade. Still light years better than his previous stinker, Whatever Works, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (Sony) sees the once-trailblazing auteur phoning it in yet again. Thanks to a smart-sexy ensemble cast led by a wonderfully vile Josh Brolin, this light-dark comedy goes down without much struggle. Then again, you should only see it if you’ve already been exposed to everything from Take the Money and Run to Sweet and Lowdown. Extras: never.