Film and TV

DVDs & Blu-rays: Being Elmo, the Battle of the Blonds and Old Blue Eyes

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey stars Kevin Clash, Frank Oz and Whoopi Goldberg: Constance Marks directs.

Nothing could entice us to review either of the two big-budget films being released on DVD/Blu-ray this week, you know, the one about a horse and the other one about a zoo. It's not that we have anything against animal movies, but we just weren't enthusiastic about either choice. We went for a monster instead, in this case a red, furry, lovable monster named Elmo.

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey is the story of Kevin Clash, the man who plays Elmo on Sesame Street. The documentary, narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, took home a Special Jury Prize at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and it's easy to see why. It's delightful. Marks not only shot new footage of Clash at work, but secured footage that showed Clash as a teenager sewing together a puppet and trying out voices as well as working as a young puppeteer. There are interviews with Frank Oz and Rosie O'Donnell, and a look at the inner workings of Sesame Street and the Jim Henson Workshop.

And then there's Elmo. Clash is seen performing in front of live audiences, mostly squealing kids who are enraptured with Elmo. Even though Clash is sometimes in full view, wearing the puppet on his arm and voicing his dialogue, the kids see only Elmo, their little friend who wants nothing more than to love and be loved.

Clash was always determined to be a puppeteer. As a teen he gave shows for kids in his neighborhood, using his handmade creations as characters and his mom's bed sheets as backdrops. He landed a job at a local television station before he was out of high school. After meeting Kermit Love, the man who built the Muppets, Clash eventually snagged his dream gig: working with Jim Henson. Clash was still an underling when a veteran puppeteer, tired of trying to find a voice and character for a new puppet, threw the bundle of red fur to Clash and said, "Here, you try it." Clash eventually came up with Elmo, squeaky voiced, eternally happy and always ready with a hug.

Extras on the DVD include the featurettes Sundance Premiere Q&A with Kevin and the Filmmakers and Some Thoughts from the Filmmakers, and the Being Elmo trailer.

It's the battle of the Academy Award-winning blonds in boxed set releases this week. Nicole Kidman, Gwyneth Paltrow and Renée Zellweger all have four-film sets. Each collection is slightly uneven and there is some overlap (both Kidman's and Zellweger's sets include the wartime drama Cold Mountain). We're happiest with Kidman's lineup, the aforementioned Cold Mountain, Rabbit Hole, about a couple that loses their young son and can't find their way back to the picture-perfect life they had before, and The Others, a stylish ghost story. It's only the disappointing Dogville, which has Kidman as a woman on the run from a gangster who takes refuge in a small town, that doesn't seem worthy of a spot in our permanent collection.

Paltrow's set has a nice range; it contains Shakespeare in Love, Emma, Bounce and View from the Top. Zellweger's collection includes Chicago (duh), Bridget Jones's Diary (double duh), New in Town and Cold Mountain. Renée, you had us at Chicago.

Cinephiles will want to take a look at The Frank Sinatra Film Collection. Yes, yes, Sinatra was a singer, but like a lot of other singers he crossed over to acting. And some of that acting was very, very good. There are ten films in the collection, including The Manchurian Candidate, Cast a Giant Shadow and The Detective.

Our favorite is John Frankenheimer's 1962 The Manchurian Candidate. Sinatra is Major Ben Marco, an intelligence officer in the U.S. Army who uncovers a Communist plot to rig the next presidential election. Laurence Harvey plays Sergeant Raymond Shaw, a former squad member who served with Marco in the Korean War. Shaw is a repressed, unsmiling loner, played to social misfit perfection by Harvey. Angela Lansbury is Shaw's mother, the overbearing, manipulative Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin. Lansbury's performance earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress and a win in the same category at the Golden Globes that year. Janet Leigh is Marco's mysterious new girlfriend (she gets much too little screen time, if you ask us).

Sinatra plays Marco with all the "I might be crazy" intensity the role requires, though he relaxes into a slightly sarcastic charmer in his scenes with Leigh. And while Lansbury is brilliant as Mrs. Shaw (she's got quietly creepy down to a science), this is Sinatra's film from start to finish.

We wish the collection included High Society, Some Came Running, Guys and Dolls and Ocean's 11, but maybe they'll be in The Frank Sinatra Collection, Part 2.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Olivia Flores Alvarez