Happy Tuesday, and welcome to our weekly column highlighting some of the most interesting new DVD and Blu-Ray releases of the week. 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. Win-win!
This week has a couple critical favorites, one or two action movies, and then a big bunch of classics, so I’ll do my best to offer my take wherever I have one.
GEORGE WASHINGTON (2000)
Not yet forty, filmmaker David Gordon Green now has at least a dozen feature films to his name. This film, which sounds like it centers around the first American president but in fact centers around a young boy in rural North Carolina, was Green’s big breakout. Due to the lyrical rhythms of the filmmaking and particularly due to the cinematography of Tim Orr, Green was compared to a young Terrence Malick. After a few more films bolstering that comparison, Green took a hard left into dick-joke junction. I personally happen to believe Eastbound & Down is one of the great American contributions to art to appear so far in this young century, but there are many who yearned for the old David Gordon Green to return, and in a way, he has, with 2013’s excellent PRINCE AVALANCHE and this year’s JOE. Along the way Green has served as producer to other promising young directors, such as Craig Zobel, Todd Rohal, and Jeff Nichols. Basically I’m a huge fan of the guy and it all started here, with GEORGE WASHINGTON. It’s a Criterion disc so some of you will have snapped that up before reading a word of this here pitch.
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (2013)
The most exalted movie of the year, critically speaking, INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS is the latest from Joel & Ethan Coen, who are of course one of the most prolific, consistent, and sly filmmaking teams of the last three decades. The Coens generally work in either of two basic modes, the outwardly comedic and the more restrained and esoteric. This is more the latter, despite the presence of John Goodman. The story centers around the 1960s folk music scene of Greenwich Village, from which, most famously, Bob Dylan emerged. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS is inspired by a lesser-known artist, Dave Van Ronk, which makes sense. The Coens aren’t interested in life’s big winners. They’re fascinated by the sidelined, the peripheral, the forgotten. That’s where existentialism lies. Now that I’ve used the term existentialism it’s probably clear that this isn’t among the Coens’ more mainstream efforts (none of which are all that mainstream to begin with). But to dedicated fans of the work of these brilliant filmmakers, it’s probably essential.
BARBIE: THE PEARL PRINCESS (2014)
At the risk of betraying my manly image, I confess this is the one purchase this week I’m guaranteed to be making. Barbie movies are to my niece what Coen Bros. movies are to film obsessives.
BEYOND OUTRAGE (2012)
Takeshi Kitano is arguably best known in the United States as the director of somber and gruesome yakuza films such as this one, but in fact he’s a modern-day Renaissance man who’s done plenty of broad comedy in multiple venues, and plenty else besides film and television. But yakuza films, about the Japanese underworld, are the well to which he most often returns as a filmmaker. I’ve seen 2010’s OUTRAGE, to which this is a sequel, but I’ve yet to see BEYOND OUTRAGE. Let me tell you something: those gangsters were pretty cranky in the first movie. I can’t even imagine how much blood gets spilled when they go beyond where they went before. If you can handle super-brutal violence delivered coldly without much comic relief, this is probably worth checking out. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
THE BOOK THIEF (2013)
This movie is based on a book by the same name which did astronomical sales, as much as book sales these days can be astronomical. It’s a young adult novel about the experiences of a young girl during Nazi Germany. Reading about it now, I see both the book and the movie are narrated by Death. (Who is making a big comeback after the fallow years since BILL & TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY.) I’m not given to making dumb jokes about this particular era in human history — in fact I take it intensely seriously — but the trailer to this movie made it look so cravenly ‘prestige-picture’ that I discounted it by nature. Maybe that isn’t fair. Maybe the film was made with best intentions and it is in fact an important look at an awful period about which we really can’t ever stop being reminded, despite protestations by the more callous among us. Either way, I’m in no rush to endure this imagery, even if it’s of the highest cinematic quality. Please drop a comment if this is a worthy film I should be working harder to sell.
I wrote a ton about this movie already, so if you’re interested in the art of action movies and action stardom and the incongruous pairing of James Franco and Jason Statham, I should probably just give you the link. I guarantee you I’ve thought about this movie more deeply than anybody else on the internet, although I doubt that’s a thing to boast about.
OUT OF THE FURNACE (2013)
Yet another film I haven’t seen, despite a tremendous cast, i.e. all the people whose names you see on the cover there. I’ve hesitated because the director last made CRAZY HEART, which, despite Jeff Bridges, was a film I was hardly crazy about. Again, the comments are always there if I ought to be spurred on to check out something I’m slow to check out. I love being wrong about my misgivings!
ENEMIES CLOSER (2013)
The first time Jean-Claude Van Damme worked with director Peter Hyams, the result was TIMECOP. The second time they worked together, SUDDEN DEATH happened. I would say in all honesty that the third collaboration between these two is a point of interest, particularly since Hyams’ son John, a terrific action director, is on hand in the position of editor. That said, pivotal supporting performances are provided by noted movie tough guys Tom Everett Scott and Orlando Jones, so in other words, this can go either way.
DEAD KIDS (1981)
DEAD KIDS, also known as STRANGE BEHAVIOR, is an ‘Ozploitation’ horror film written by Bill Condon (DREAMGIRLS, GODS & MONSTERS) with a score by Tangerine Dream (THIEF, THE KEEP, SORCERER). I haven’t seen it but this is a Severin release and they always put out fascinating stuff.
Well, that’s an awesome cover. This is a horror movie about a pack of dogs who decide to go on a murder tour of humanity. That is literally all I know. But it is, in fact, enough. Don’t know about you, but I gotta check this one out.
EL DORADO (1966)
EL DORADO is a virtual remake of Howard Hawks’ 1959 classic Western with John Wayne, Dean Martin, and Ricky Nelson, which is just plain an all-timer. In EL DORADO, like RIO BRAVO written by the great Leigh Brackett, Wayne again plays a sheriff who is outnumbered by bad guys and has no one but a run-down drunk and a punk kid to back him up. Here Robert Mitchum takes the Dean Martin role, and James Caan steps in for Ricky Nelson. Underrated badass R.G. Armstrong plays the heavy. EL DORADO isn’t half the movie RIO BRAVO is, but then few movies anywhere are half the movie RIO BRAVO is. EL DORADO is still excellent, and thoroughly entertaining. Hawks, Wayne, and Brackett would reunite to make the similar RIO LOBO in 1970, but that one I haven’t seen.
GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL (1957)
Hollywood has always adored the story of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the titular gunfight. Nearly every decade since the beginning of film itself has had at least one version of this story. Believe it or not, the real Wyatt Earp lived long enough to become a technical consultant on several early Westerns. Of course the battle he was most famous for fighting didn’t go down the way the movies said it did, but it’s a good story, ain’t it? Most people my age love TOMBSTONE the best. That one stars Kurt Russell as Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday, and it’s a fun one, but my personal favorite version is the 1946 John Ford rendition, MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, starring Henry Fonda and Victor Mature. In GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL, Burt Lancaster plays Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas plays Doc Holliday. It’s a solid, steely Western, as is par for the course with director John Sturges. Bonus: This iteration of the tale has a deep bench of cool and weird character actors, including Lee Van Cleef, Dennis Hopper, Jack Elam, and DeForest Kelley.
HATARI! is Swahili for “Danger!” I had to look that up because I’ve always wondered. Howard Hawks, one of the great action directors and John Wayne’s best director who wasn’t John Ford, called the shots on HATARI!, which had script contributions from the aforementioned Leigh Brackett, music from Henry Mancini, and cinematography by Russell Harlan. The TCM crowd can back me up: These are good names to see in a movie’s credits. I know I’ve seen HATARI! but I only vaguely remember it. It’s more of a lark than a life-or-death action movie, centering around a team led by Wayne who venture to Africa in order to catch wild animals to bring to zoos. Two years later, Wayne made CIRCUS WORLD with Henry Hathaway, a director not quite as great as Howard Hawks but possessed of similar initials. Apparently, the early 1960s was John Wayne’s “works with elephants” period.
SAMSON & DELILAH (1949)
It’s odd to find the name Victor Mature twice in the same column in the year 2014, but here we are. Then again, it’s odd that biblical epics are making a return to theaters in the year 2014. It’s not a new trend. SAMSON & DELILAH is one of the best examples of the genre, an ornate Technicolor extravaganza directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr as the title characters. Victor Mature was the Stallone of his day, a big heap of muscles who was typecast in physical roles. He was always a more soulful actor than that comparison suggests, though, particularly in the aforementioned MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, and in KISS OF DEATH, and in this movie. Meanwhile, Hedy Lamarr was a straight-up fox, slinky and super-smart. This movie finds her in her seductive primacy. Also extremely attractive in this movie, confusingly enough: Angela Lansbury. Yeah man. SAMSON & DELILAH is something to see: This was a huge-budgeted movie at the time and it’s up there on the screen. George Sanders gives a typically wry performance as the villain of the piece. Overall this is a really entertaining introduction or re-introduction to old-Hollywood — this is probably my least favorite genre and I had a lot of fun with it, so take from that whatever is useful.
Here’s Groucho Marx with a review: “First picture I’ve ever seen where the male lead has bigger tits than the female.”
AIRPLANE! / AIRPLANE II: THE SEQUEL (1980/ 1982)
Bad news for anybody who bought AIRPLANE! and its sequel on separate Blu-Rays: Now you can get them in one package for half the price. Wait, did I buy them separately? Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit
sniffing glue religiously checking release dates on Amazon.
That’s it for this week. See you next time!
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