Happy Thursday, and welcome to our weekly column highlighting some of the most interesting new DVD and Blu-Ray releases of the week. This installment is coming two days late, and I hope I can be forgiven for that. This is no time for me to be asking favors, BUT I am required to remind you that:You can purchase all the following picks through Amazon, and if you click through the images below to get to the Amazon links, you’ll be helping out your buddies at Daily Grindhouse too. (Those generous dollars go towards cattle prods, with which to zap your humble narrator into timeliness.)
To date, FROZEN has grossed more than one billion dollars. This is before the home video release. With DVD and Blu-Ray sales Disney could, what, double that? That’s a lot of dollars, and it ain’t like that studio was hurting before. Disney owns pretty much everything. Disney owns The Muppets. Disney owns Pixar. Disney owns Marvel. Disney owns Star Wars. Disney owns Scandal! By now Disney probably owns your extended family. Disney is the all-knowing, all-seeing monolith. Ironically, if life were a movie Disney could make a great villain. That said, I’ll be buying a copy of FROZEN for my niece (who’s seen it three times already), so I’m only one drone amidst the masses, gleefully enabling corporate manifest destiny. Personally I haven’t seen the movie but that makes me the last of a dying breed. FROZEN is everything, everywhere, all the time. Expect sequels, parade floats, and a Broadway musical. It even might be standing behind you right now!
AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013)
Now this one I did see. I was mystified by the reaction to it, on both sides. There were many who called it the year’s best movie, which it very certainly wasn’t, and there were just as many who called it absolutely terrible, and it isn’t that either. So it’s not that I’m on one side or the other… unless you’re one of those who tell me I have to choose between AMERICAN HUSTLE and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, in which case I ride with Marty, always. Quite frankly, what mystified me about the reactions to AMERICAN HUSTLE was all the furious passion. What about the movie makes people so passionate about it? It’s diverting. It has some excellent performances, and some mediocre ones. It has some funny bits, and some energetic camera movements — I encourage anything standing outside the current trend of hand-held everything. It also kind of feels like a ‘seventies-themed costume party, or am I the only one who constantly confuses the above poster with the poster for ANCHORMAN 2? The worst thing I can say about AMERICAN HUSTLE is that Jennifer Lawrence’s accent work was a total disaster. The best thing I can say about it is that I’d rather have a movie want to be CASINO than one that wants to be TWILIGHT or TRANSFORMERS, and also that I like Louis CK as much as you probably do. That may be relatively faint praise, but what can I say, my praise fainted. My ire is dead in the water so I can’t help you there either.
One guy that’s definitely steaming is Katt Williams, who was neither compensated nor given a role as a 1970s dandy.
SAVING MR. BANKS (2013)
Well, this is some horseshit. First of all, this is no kind of sequel to SAVING SILVERMAN. Next: look at that cover artwork. Senseless. Tom Hanks doesn’t become Mickey Mouse and Emma Thompson doesn’t become Mary Poppins. Even in context, that’s bizarre and dumb. This isn’t about Walt Disney creating Mickey Mouse. It’s about P.L. Travers and her major creation. But moreover, this is a movie about Walt Disney’s attempts to make a movie of P.L. Travers’ Mary Poppins. We know he succeeded, so there’s no suspense. And by all accounts, this movie is light on the facts. Neither of these have to be problems, necessarily, but neither are they incentive to get me to care about this movie. Worse, I think this kind of in-house self-valorization is corny at best. At the risk of poking fun at Disney twice in the same column, I’d argue that this is basically the prestige-picture version of an infomercial. Would you rush out to see a movie about how Ray Kroc convinced a chef to give him the secret recipe for the Filet O’Fish?
KILL YOUR DARLINGS (2013)
Another biopic of the Beat Generation, this one featuring Daniel Radcliffe as Allen Ginsberg, Dane DeHaan as Lucien Carr, Jack Huston as Jack Kerouac, and Ben Foster as William S. Burroughs. A mid-range period piece about your sophomore English-major syllabus starring not-quite-A-list-actors: Over the past half-decade, movies like this one have been released at a clip of one or two a year. I don’t mean to be cynical but this just isn’t my cup of tea, and also, I don’t drink tea. Anyway, this is there if you want it.
MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM (2013)
Wherein the dapper Idris Elba portrays the revered statesman and political revolutionary Nelson Mandela. This is a film I’ve not seen. I am curious. I wonder if ladies watch this thing distracted at the sight of Sexy Nelson Mandela. That can be confusing. I’m sure I can relate: Naomie Harris plays Winnie Mandela, which presents me with the worrisome possibility of committing an infinite rudeness, i.e. getting a boner for Winnie Mandela.
REASONABLE DOUBT (2014)
Sam Jackson’s career is amazing. He played a few small roles in film and TV before really making a dent in movies, with Eddie Murphy’s RAW and COMING TO AMERICA. Then he went to work for Spike Lee, in SCHOOL DAZE and DO THE RIGHT THING, and from there the man has been as prolific as any star on the planet, clocking multiple film appearances almost every single year since 1989. (In 2001 he only appeared in THE CAVEMAN’S VALENTINE, and in 2009 all of his credits are voiceovers only.) He’s been in more colossal hits than any actor I can think of besides Harrison Ford, but he’s been in almost as many overlooked movies you’ve never heard of — you, not me. I watch these things, i.e. THE SPIRIT, THE SAMARITAN, THE ARENA… because you never know. Anyway, this one, REASONABLE DOUBT, has Sam playing the bad guy against Dominic Cooper (THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE, CAPTAIN AMERICA) who’s playing a lawyer trying to get Sam out of the crime that he (Cooper) actually committed. Looks like a CHANGING LANES sort of mid-range thriller. I’ll probably watch it. Join me, if you will.
HERE COMES THE DEVIL (2012)
As a Mexican-made horror-type film (released by Magnet!), this is exactly the kind of thing that piques my interest. Here’s the official description: “A couple’s son and daughter inexplicably reappear after being lost overnight on a desolate, cave-riddled mountainside. Becoming withdrawn and beginning to exhibit strange behavior, their parents quickly assume something sinister happened to them while missing and alone. But after hearing an ominous local legend… the concerned mother and father begin to realize that their children may have fallen prey to something inhuman – and that this dark, unstoppable evil has now returned home with them.” Yup. I’m on this like paparazzi on a Kardashian.
THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923)
Silent Lon Chaney pictures are where I find my zen. Based on the many-times-a-movie story by Victor Hugo, this version of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME dates back to 1923 and it still wasn’t the first cinematic treatment of the tale. But it was a tremendous hit for Universal, and this is technically the first of the Universal Horror films which brought us the most iconic visions of Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and The Wolf-Man, among others. Two years later Universal and their marquee star Lon Chaney followed up this film with THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, which is more overtly and intentionally scary, a true horror movie. This version of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME was directed by Wallace Worsley, who made nearly as many films with Chaney as Tod Browning did. In a pinch I think I prefer the 1939 version of this story with Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara, but this is still a stylish and moody take and you can really never go wrong with anything Lon Chaney.
THE HIDDEN FORTRESS (1958)
One of legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s more entertainingly mainstream and financially successful films, THE HIDDEN FORTRESS is probably most often referenced today as the main point of inspiration George Lucas used for STAR WARS. It’s a samurai period piece like so many of Kurosawa’s best-known films, but it has a more epic feel, halfway a swashbuckler. Lucas based the bickering odd-couple dynamic of R2D2 and C3PO on Tahei and Matashichi, the low-station peasants who get wrapped up in a grander adventure. There’s a princess to be protected, and Toshiro Mifune plays the rogue-ish Han Solo type who does the protecting. There is no Kurosawa movie not worth seeing, but certainly fans of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg really ought to get acquainted with this film in particular, since Kurosawa was such a hallowed influence for them and on their movies. And on its own merits, THE HIDDEN FORTRESS exceeds any comparisons to its descendants. There’s something beautiful about the grandiosity of these action scenes, shot in black and white long before visual effects could be used as a crutch. This was Kurosawa’s first widescreen film and you’d better believe he made brilliant use of the extra space on a broader canvas.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME (1991)
Errol Morris is one of my blind spots. I’ve seen a couple of his films but I really need to see them all. He’s one of the world’s finest and most essential documentarians, and every frame of his films that I have seen is imbued with characteristic lucidity and fascination with the subjects being depicted. Here, Errol Morris’ camera (wielded by the extremely talented John Bailey) fixates on Stephen Hawking, the phenomenally impressive astrophysicist and author whose physical limitations are too often seized upon by crappy comedians. Were he able-bodied Dr. Hawking would still deserve our utmost respect, but considering his handicaps, his achievements are all the more incredible. In a way I’m almost glad I haven’t seen this film until now, because as of now it’s been given the Criterion treatment, which is what all films dream of growing up to be.
THE BLACK STALLION (1979)
Even though it was executive-produced by Francis Ford Coppola and turned out to be a financial success, THE BLACK STALLION feels like an under-remembered film when the golden era of the American 1970s in film is discussed. One reason may be that its director, Carroll Ballard, has been the opposite of prolific, with only six features over four decades. His work, lensed in this case by the renowned cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, tends to be magisterial, graceful, concerned with man’s relationship to the natural world. That’s a theme worth exploring, and this is a film worth re-discovering. If you have children, this is a terrific one to share with them.
“Two English stepsisters have cannibal parents in common.” That logline is all the plot summary I need, personally, but if you need more convincing, please check out our own Paul Freitag-Fey’s review for Daily Grindhouse from earlier this week.
THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE (1982)
There were literally hundreds of movies like this one in the early 1980s, with similar titles and similar posters and similar bunches of half-naked girls on them. This one has a difference. It was written by Rita Mae Brown and directed by Amy Holden Jones. That makes this one of the few slasher films to have been created and steered by women, a virtual anomaly in the genre. Believe me. I’ve seen a ton of them. Having written a lot about the tension between being a lover of scary movies and a person who doesn’t enjoy watching women getting killed, I would consider this an important film to add to the conversation. [Here’s Dave Kehr writing about it for the New York Times.]
TOM HOLLAND’S TWISTED TALES (2013)
I had no knowledge of this title before I began working on this week’s column, but here’s the press release: “Horror Legend Tom Holland (CHILD’S PLAY, FRIGHT NIGHT, PSYCHO II, HBO’s Tales from the Crypt) dares you to join him for nine nerve-shredding, totally Twisted Tales. Serving up a mind-bending assortment of the macabre, it’s an anthology of darkness and dread fine-tuned to keep you on the edge of your seat. A new drug offers users a glimpse of the future… with beastly consequences. A murderous husband is stalked by his own cell phone. A jilted lover wreaks satanic vengeance. The nightmarish action then leads to worlds haunted by dark magic, demonic possession, vampires, witches and more in this seriously freaky festival of fear.”
Here’s Daily Grindhouse’s Paul Freitag-Fey with his official review. As always, my most emphatic recommendation: Read everything Paul writes.
And that’s it for this week. See you next Tuesday… cattle prods willing!
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