Cleveland does not necessarily rock in “The Land” and “Uncle Nick”


For a city whose river once caught on fire, Cleveland doesn’t seem to capture the imagination of many filmmakers. Sure, the Mistake by the Lake plays home to both one of the iconic Christmas movies of all time (“A Christmas Story”) and one of the most iconic baseball movies of all time (“Major League”). But outside of genre and the scruffy charm of the Harvey Pekar biopic “American Slendor,” you don’t see much of Cleveland in the movies.

Which is too bad, since the city embodies all that is both great and tragic about the American city – I would love to see a big-screen adaptation of Mark Weingarten’s epic novel “Crooked River Burning,” for example. But until then, by coincidence, two new films set in Cleveland, “The Land” and “Uncle Nick,” happen to be hitting DVD shelves this month. They’re very different films, but in their own ways both could only be made in Cleveland.

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“Len and Company”: The punk rocker in winter is not pretty


Len wouldn’t watch his own movie. Len is a spiky, angry former punk rocker turned hit pop producer, stewing in his infinity pool and his own self-loathing at his “country estate.” He listens to audiobooks of Western novels and watches old police shows on television. I doubt that he would watch Tim Godsall’s “Len & Company,” the fuzzy and unfocused indie drama that stars Len, out on DVD this month from IFC Films and available on Netflix.

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“Modesty Blaise”: The spy who accessorized me


In retrospect, it’s kind of amazing how quickly spy movies became ridiculous in the 1960s. You start the decade with the relatively sane “Dr. No” and “From Russia With Love,” and in the space of a few years you get to “Danger: Diabolik” and “Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine.” It’s as if the counterculture looked at the Ian Fleming novels that their dads were reading, saw the silliness that underlay the machismo and violence, and decided to flip it inside out.

One of the shining examples of the genre is the gloriously silly spy-chedelic 1966 spoof “Modesty Blaise,” just released in a new extras-packed edition from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. Take the most hard-to-swallow moment in any James Bond movie, magnify it by a hundred, and put it in a great outfit, and you have “Modesty Blaise.”

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“Here Comes Mr. Jordan” sums up the human condition in a bittersweet sax riff


“Pleasant Valley, where all is peace, and love, and harmony, and where men are beating each other’s brains out.”

It’s rare that an opening title card sets the tone of a movie quite so effectively as the laugh-out-loud beginning to Alexander Hall’s 1941 gem “Here Comes Mr. Jordan,” now out in a new Blu-ray edition from the Criterion Collection. It’s both a funny line and a signifier of one of the themes of the film, about how nothing quite lives up to our idealization of it. Not even Heaven.

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“Going Away”: Two wandering souls connect in the south of France


One is vagabond by choice. The other is a vagabond by necessity. Their paths cross in veteran French director Nicole Garcia’s empathetic but at times unfocused “Going Away.”

The 2013 film, largely overlooked in the United States and only now available on DVD from Cohen Media, mixes Dardennes Brothers-style economic realism with big melodramatic revelations. The fit can be awkward at times, but also strikes emotional sparks against a lush south of France backdrop.

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“The Player”: Remember when writers in Hollywood were important enough to get murdered?

The Player

What would Griffin Mill think of today’s Hollywood? In Robert Altman’s 1992 satire “The Player,” Mill (Tim Robbins) is the boy-king of an compromised Hollywood, ruthlessly steamrolling the desperate pitches of screenwriters, plucking a few that he can turn into acceptable multiplex pablum.

Today, original movie pitches seem almost quaint; it’s all about reboots and remakes, putting a CGI gloss on something familiar. Or better yet, make every movie conform to a larger brand, like products on an assembly line, each feeding back to the same rapacious beast. The studio comes up with the idea now, and hires hungry writers and an unproven director to get it done. Of all the pitches we hear in “The Player,” Buck Henry’s idea for “The Graduate 2” might get through. But Mill would be sacked — probably by the studio’s Chinese owners — if he let anything remotely original get made, sappy happy ending or no.

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“A Married Woman”: Jean-Luc Godard’s study of a marriage in pieces comes to Blu-ray


The subtitle for Jean-Luc Godard’s “A Married Woman” is “Fragments of a Film Shot in 1964, in Black and White,” which is true in more ways than one. In the early scenes, and repeatedly throughout the film, all we see on the screen is pieces of two lovers’ bodies – hands reaching for each other, lips whispering into an ear, a naked torso.

The effect is erotic — Godard skirts the edge of censor-worrying nudity without slipping over — but unsettling, as we never get a clear full-length shot of these two people together. After the free-wheeling camerawork of “Breathless” and “Band of Outsiders,” the rigorous formality of these shots feels constrained. The people seem pinned inside the frame like specimens, with Godard (and us) watching their lovemaking from an almost clinic distance.

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