DVD Review “Weekend of a Champion”

Actors: Jackie Stewart, Roman Polanski
Directors: Frank Simon
Rated: NR (Not Rated)
DVD Release Date: May 20, 2014
Run Time: 90 minutes

Film: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 1/2 out of 5 stars

“Weekend of a Champion” is a lost film from one of the world’s greatest filmmakers and given a new life after 40 years, being restored and including new footage. Roman Polanski produced this and also stepped in front of the camera for a thrilling inside look at racing great Jackie Stewart’s attempt to win the 1971 Monaco Grand Prix. This film has been nearly forgotten and is quite hot coming off its return to movie screens. Polanski recently found, restored and recut the film along with adding a new epilogue showing Polanski and Stewart revisiting the events of the film in present-day Monaco.

Official Premise: In 1971, Oscar-winning filmmaker and racing fan Roman Polanski (The Pianist, Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, Tess) spent a weekend with world champion Formula One driver Jackie Stewart as he attempted to win the Monaco Grand Prix, one of the premier events in the sport. Polanski was given intimate access to Stewart’s world for three days, both on the track and off. The result was an extraordinarily rare glimpse into the life of a gifted athlete at the height of his powers.

The only special feature included on this DVD is a trailer, which is a little disappointing. If Polanski spent the time to recut and restore this film, I would have loved to see a little bit of new extras as well. Obviously if you could the new epilogue that this is a little bit different. If you had a chance to see this film back in the day, you will find that the new footage features Polanski and Stewart today talking about their friendship over the last 40 years as well as the changing of racing and life in general. A real treat for any Polanski fan and Grand Prix fan for sure!

World Air Guitar Champion Eric Melin talks about his title and the competition

We’ve all done it. I certainly know I have. I’ve done it in the shower. I’ve done it in the car. And more than once I’ve done it in front of 20,000 people at a concert. And so have you. The IT I’m referring to is playing air guitar. Guilty as charged, aren’t you. Well hang your heads, dear readers, because one person in the world does it better than anyone: World Air Guitar Champion Eric Melin.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to call Eric a friend and a colleague for over a decade. Like me, he’s a film critic for several outlets, including his own very popular site: www.scene-stealers.com.

I have to admit that it’s much easier for me to interview an Oscar winning filmmaker then it is a friend. Question four, below, came out of my mouth so mangled that we both laughed when I told him “that was a horrible question…I’m sorry. It will look better in print.”

Just back from Finland, “Mean” Melin took some time to speak with me about his title and the future of the competition.

Mike Smith: How long have you been playing air guitar competitively?
Eric Melin: Competitively? Five years. Ironically my work as a film critic led me to it. I saw the film “Air Guitar Nation,” which was a documentary that came out in 2006. I didn’t see it until 2009 when I caught it on Netflix. When I saw the movie I thought, “Oh, shit! I’ve been doing this pretty much all my life anyway. I should try to do it on stage in front of people.”

MS: I was going to say…everyone has at one time or another played air guitar but it’s really a lot more than just miming the pick moves, etc. What all goes into a performance?
EM: There are three things that are judged in air guitar, both in the US and the World Championships. There’s technical ability, which is what you just talked about. It’s not the most important thing but, believe it or not, you want to make it look like you’re actually somewhat playing a real guitar. The second thing is stage presence, which is what I call the “Wow” factor. You really have to come out in character…you have to get the people excited that you’re there. And the third thing they judge you on is air-ness.

MS: When and where did this…I hate to use the word craze…gain notoriety? Where did competitive air guitar start?
EM: The World Championships started in 1996. The event that I just won was the 18th Annual Air Guitar World Championships. It’s been going on for a very long time. As documented in the movie “Air Guitar Nation,” it really got started in America in 2003. What happened was two guys from America – Kriston Rucker and Cedrick Devitt, who are now the co-commissioners of US Air Guitar – found out that there was such a thing as a World Championship in Finland and they went there. They realized there was no U.S. representation! How could the country that invented rock and roll not have a representative at the World Air Guitar Championships? They set up a couple of shows in New York and Los Angeles that year to remedy that and find a champion. By the time I found out about it and signed up in 2009 there were already (28) cities sponsoring events. It expanded from two to twenty-eight cities in five years.

MS: In going through the list of this year’s finalists…they came from all over the world. Finland, of course. Germany, Belgium, France, England. Are the performances influenced by their home countries? You’re very dramatic on stage…a lot of big moves. A lot of Pete Townsend and heavy metal head banging. We’re all of the performances similar?
EM: This was my first year at the World Championships after five years of competing in the U.S. Air Guitar Championships. I learned a lot more about the international style this year.

MS: I know when we spoke earlier you had mentioned that you had planned on retiring from the competitive circuit, win or lose, after the World Championships. Is that still the plan?
EM: I did decide that this would be my last year. But, after winning, I changed my mind so I could fly back to Oulu again next year because I had so much fun! So I will actually compete to defend my title next year!

DVD Review “Betty White: Champion for Animals”

Directed by: Robert Kline
Starring: Betty White
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Distributed by: Image Entertainment
Release Date: March 27, 2012
Running Time: 89 minutes

Our Score: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Alright, I know everyone thinks that Betty White is a national treasure but I don’t. Don’t get me wrong she is loveable and very entertaining, especially in her prime days. But I think recently she has been in the spotlight quite a bit, a little too much for me. To make it worse in the whole 90 minutes she is only it in maybe 10 minutes tops. It is mostly about animals and their conservation. It plays like a 90 minute infomercial.

Even though, I feel that Betty White is not my favorite, in this I think the best parts where when she shared her experiences about the animals and discusses her devotion to them. The rest of the film travels to national parks, zoos and aquariums without her just meeting different animals. It tries to teach about their conversation but just comes off as preachy and overall is barely watchable.

The release does not include any special features at all, not that I could honestly bare any more. I think that this could have actually succeeded if it was more like a travel program and we followed Betty from place to place and having her narrate the film. I believe this could have at least made this watchable. I won’t be able to get my 90 minutes back on this one. Instead I would suggest watching Discovery Channel and actually learn something.