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Shared Darkness

A Communal Life in Film, Examined

Touched

When
one peruses the credits of a straight-to-video title and sees the
above-billed star also featured as a producer, there’s understandably
cause for, A) concern, B ) snickering, C) both A and B, or D) questions
about whether Lebanese-born producer Elie Samaha is involved in what is
invariably described as a long-gestating “passion project” for said
actor
. Thankfully there’s no need for D) with regards to Jenna Elfman’s
Touched (though the former Dharma & Greg star is a Scientologist and Samaha did have a hand in shepherding the god-awful Battlefield Earth
to the big screen). In the end, though, that doesn’t necessarily make
this straightforward and earnestly pitched tale of yearning and
you-can-do-it inspiration any more entertaining than your average
Lifetime tele-pic
.

Written and directed by Timothy Scott Bogart (the short-lived small screen serial Mowgli: The New Adventures of the Jungle Book), Touched
(rated R, kids… but only for language) centers around loving young
father Scott (Randall Batinkoff), who awakens from two years in a coma
following a terrible auto accident to find his life completely changed.
As he struggles to cope with the loss of his son and the gaps in his
memory, he comes to realize that he is quite literally losing his
bearings and sense of touch.

On cue, enter Angela (Elfman), the nurse who tended to Scott during
his two lost years — the nurse with a kindred spirit and wounded past
of her own. Scott finds comfort and rootedness in Angela; she helps him
confront the realities of his new life and point him toward new
possibilities, showing him that there is a journey of hope and love in
the future. Does standard-issue dialogue about bereavement and
reclaimed hopefulness ensue? Check. Coy flirting around trees strung
with white Christmas lights? Check.
Bruce Davison in a supporting role?
Check. Kisses in the rain? Well… you’ll have to watch the movie.

Look, Touched isn’t awful, but neither is it the most
commendable use of Elfman’s sunny-leaning talents
. Granted, she’s not
the aggrieved lead herein, but even her casting opposite such seems to
wear off some of her luster. Surely there must be a television pilot or
indie big screen comedy out there in need of an irrepressible female
lead. Right?

Packaged in a regular Amray case, Touched is presented in
1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a Dolby digital 5.1 audio track and
optional Spanish subtitles. There are, unfortunately for Elfman fans,
no supplemental extras to complement this DVD presentation, which does
seem strange given her producorial championing of the project. C- (Movie) D (Disc)

Roseanne: The Complete Fourth Season

Sure,
she’s crass and abrasive, and probably not someone with whom you or I
would really want to work. (Not to mention horrible at carrying the
national anthem’s tune.) But there’s no denying that Roseanne
Barr-Arnold-back-to-Barr is funny, and that her eponymous sitcom helped
change the face of television in the late 1980s and early ’90s,
becoming a smash hit with an underclass that collectively saw a bit of
themselves in the less than perfect family on display
.

Rooted in her in-your-face stand-up persona, Roseanne
starred its namesake as the cranky, sarcastic head of the blue collar,
Midwestern Conner family. Along with husband Dan (John Goodman) and
sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf), Roseanne rode herd on her three kids,
perpetually exasperated oldest daughter Becky (Lecy Gorenson), sardonic
and reserved tomboy Darlene (Sara Gilbert), and young DJ (Michael
Fishman). The fourth season, spanning 1991 and ’92, finds Dan
continuing to struggle to make ends meet at his motorcycle shop, while
Roseanne picks up shifts at a diner at the mall, where Martin Mull
recurs as her boss. Frank foregrounding of social and other family
issues remains the series’ bread and butter, though, including Becky
asking her mother to consent to getting her birth control bills, as in
the season opener, and Darlene growing continually disaffected as she
enters her high school years.

This fact — and of course Roseanne’s own gum-smacking, dismissively
acerbic personality — points to the show’s greatest strength: its
willingness to show its frequently bickering main characters in an
unsympathetic light and then slowly redeem them through genuine
familial fence-mending
. Such indulgence not only makes for a more
realistically three-dimensional family unit, but also lends old sitcom
clichés — as when Roseanne and Dan pull a prank on a neighbor during
Halloween and win a costume contest — a fresh energy. It’s also worth
pointing out that Metcalf really reveals herself as the glue of the
entire show, whether it be in her wide-eyed or slow-burn counterpoint
silences or in a more central role
, such as when she becomes depressed
over seeing an ex-boyfriend with his new lover in “Why Jackie Becomes a
Trucker.”

Spread out over four discs in two slimline cases in turn housed in a cardboard slipcase, all 25 episodes of Roseanne’s
fourth season are presented here in 1.33 full screen, with a Dolby
digital audio track that honestly seems mixed across the board a bit
too low. Thankfully, though, distributor Anchor Bay graces the
collection with a number of pleasurable extras rare for many catalogue
small screen releases, and rarer still in later-season sets. Included
are new interviews with the always outspoken Roseanne, as well as
Gorenson and Fishman.

Best among the supplements, though, are two video commentaries with
Roseanne
. While it’s obvious she hasn’t prepped at all for these,
that’s part of the charm, as she assays her own look as “pre-nose job,
pre-facelift” and rips writers for, at her insistence, bringing back
guest star George Clooney — who did 10 episodes on the show’s first
season as Booker, Roseanne’s coworker — only to stick him in a moose
costume during most of the Halloween episode
. She also reveals a few
random fun tidbits, such as the fact that the cast apparently kept fan
letters stocked in the freezer of the on-set refrigerator, the better
to read through during production down time. B+ (Show) B+ (Disc)

Film Noir Classic Collection Vol. 3

Marrying
the sort of crime fiction widely popular in the 1930s with a grittier
aesthetic, deeper sense of detail and decidedly more world-weary
point-of-view, film noir came of its own as a genre in the 1940s to
mid-’50s
, bringing to the big screen a feeling and impression of moral
ambiguity heretofore unseen.

There’s significant debate over when exactly film noir was birthed. Some cite 1941’s The Maltese Falcon as its launching point, others call that film merely a progenitor of Fritz Lang’s M, from a decade earlier. For some it’s a little known RKO picture, 1940’s Stranger on the Third Floor; for others, 1944’s Double Indemnity, or Edward Dmytryk’s adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s Murder, My Sweet,
also from that year. Regardless of what exact line of demarcation one
chooses to use, however, this much is certain: though rooted in certain
tropes and mores of German expressionism and French social realism, the
genre came of age in a big way in the United States after the
conclusion of World War II
, when battle-toughened Americans were much
more willing to accept pictures with a harder, more cynical edge, or at
least those that had no desire to reflect or sermonize a broader
cinematic morality.

Characterized by sordid urban narratives frequently told from the
point-of-view of a criminal or at least somewhat morally dubious
character, noir came to be associated, cinematographically speaking,
with deep shadows and strong, canted angles
— all the better to disrupt
the typical harmonic space of most pretty-as-a-picture stories.
Narratives were often marked by institutional corruption, sexual or
romantic obsession, duplicitous identity, murder-for-hire and other
manner of extreme psychological duress. To that end, another fine
collection arrives in the form of Warner Bros.’ five-film Film Noir Classic Collection Vol. 3.
Included here are Howard Hughes’ 1951 presentation of
The Racket, starring Robert Mitchum; the Chandler mystery Lady in the Lake (no relation to M. Night Shyamalan’s soggy tale); 1949’s justly under-regarded Border Incident, starring Ricardo Montalban; and Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino’s On Dangerous Ground,
a visually remarkable slice of investigative fatigue powered by Bernard
Herrmann’s score. Also starring Mitchum and Jane Russell, His Kind of Woman meanwhile least fits the mold here, studded as it is with sassiness and subversiveness, though it’s still a fun time.

A six-disc compendium sold only as a set, Film Noir Classic Collection Vol. 3
includes each film in its own slimline case, all of which collectively
slip into a sturdy cardboard keepcase which features a suitable
pastiche of hardboiled sketch imagery from the film’s individual
posters and one-sheets. A variety of audio commentaries from film
scholars and genre enthusiasts dot each release, and Warner Bros. has,
gratifyingly, spread the assignments around so that the purveyors
aren’t overextended and don’t return to the same description
. His Kind of Woman and The Racket lack the accompanying theatrical trailers of the other titles, but the big boon is the inclusion of the documentary special Film Noir: Bringing Darkness to Light.

This edifying 66-minute full screen presentation includes interviews
with a wide variety of figures
— from directors like Christopher Nolan,
Paul Schrader and Sydney Pollack to writers Christopher McQuarrie,
Frank Miller and James Ellroy and archivists, authors and historians
like Hayden Guest, Glenn Erickson and Eddie Muller — and benefits from
this widely cast net. Also included on this phenomenal bonus disc are a
collection of five vintage, loosely categorized noir shorts from MGM’s
“Crime Doesn’t Pay Series,”
including Oscar nominees Forbidden Passage and The Luckiest Guy in the World. B+ (Movies) A- (Discs)