Happy Tuesday, Daily Grinders! Welcome to the most egregiously tardy column to date! This here weekly column is meant to highlight some of the most interesting new DVD and Blu-Ray releases of the week. Assuming you can forgive the delay, you can buy all these picks through Amazon, and if you click through the images below to get to the Amazon links, you’ll be helping your buddies at Daily Grindhouse out too. Your simple clicks help us keep this ride a’rolling.
*** PICK OF THE WEEK ***
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013)
The most widely misunderstood movie of 2013, and arguably the best (I’d argue it), but surely the most important. Yes, I know 12 YEARS A SLAVE was officially named Best Picture. That’s understandable and only a monster would stand in opposition — a finely-made film about institutional racism in America will unfortunately be relevant to this country every year. But at this particular moment in time, there’s no more relevant topic than financial malfeasance. How do you think institutional racism is maintained nowadays? We’re far too enlightened to allow actual slavery. Today’s bad guys need more subtle ways to profit off the backs of those less fortunate.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET hints around this issue, zoning in on a single-but-hardly-isolated instance, that of Jordan Belfort, who committed routine stock market fraud, specifically targeting lower-income wage slaves (because rich people were too smart). For his crimes, preying upon trusting clients and causing most of them economic ruin, he served 22 months. Seems a bit light, doesn’t it? The movie treats the prison sentence as almost an afterthought — it lasts only a minute or two, in a running time of 180 minutes. This is why some viewers (and critics!) thought the movie let its protagonist off easy. They’re forgetting how this movie begins: With a stentorian faux-commercial for Stratton Oakmont, the bullshit name Belfort gave his boiler room to make it sound more authentic. Then Leonardo DiCaprio enters the film in the role of Belfort, narrating the whole coke-and-hookers criminal odyssey. We see him getting blown by a pretty blonde as he speeds down a highway in a red sports car — which he corrects mid-anecdote, making the car white.
In other words, the whole movie is a put-on. It’s being told to us by a bullshit artist — no, not an artist — a bullshit Renaissance-man. We can’t trust him. We shouldn’t trust him. Of course, any audience member who fully trusts what they’re seeing and hearing might get the wrong idea. I guess it’s better to be one of the upset people than to be one of the little shits who will inevitably treat this movie as career inspiration. That doesn’t mean the movie isn’t necessary. The same way 12 YEARS A SLAVE reminds us of our nation’s despicable history and how it still affects us all today, so too does THE WOLF OF WALL STREET remind us of the bastards who raid our economy and our pockets for their own benefit — let alone the corporate interests that own pretty much everything in sight. That’s a valuable service for a movie to perform. Yeah, it’s a black comedy. It’s funny as hell. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. You want to get mad, please, get mad! Just don’t address your anger to DiCaprio, writer Terence Winter, or director Martin Scorsese. Address it to Jordan Belfort, and the many more like him who you can see, right now, out on the sidewalk, in slick suits and ties, racing to their day jobs defrauding the government and its citizens. They’re all over the place, man.
THE KING OF COMEDY (1983)
As THE WOLF OF WALL STREET proves, sometimes people have trouble telling when Martin Scorsese is kidding. He’s a serious artist, sure, and more film-literate than pretty much anybody on the planet, but there’s a dark sense of humor running through so much of his work. He’s so rarely commended for that humor that sometimes he has to spell it out for people, like here, when he put the word COMEDY in the title. Like THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, THE KING OF COMEDY is the blackest kind of black comedy. From a script by former film critic Paul Zimmerman, Scorsese tells the story of Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro), an aspiring stand-up comic who practices religiously in his mother’s basement for the day he will get to perform on the late-night talk show hosted by his hero, Jerry Langford (the simultaneously legendary and controversial comic Jerry Lewis). When Langford spurns Pupkin, Rupert’s hopes aren’t dashed, but his approach changes. Instead of going through the normal channels, auditioning and all that, he kidnaps Langford, demanding his spot on the show. This is the satiric inverse of TAXI DRIVER, the earlier Scorsese/De Niro masterwork concerning themes of isolation and obsession. Like NETWORK, it predicted future trends by many years: The craven desire for fame, where in place of talent there is only ferociously aggressive drive, has a lot to do with many of the most prominent entertainers of the last decade or so. It’s comical enough, but it’s also pretty awful. You have to be a little twisted to find THE KING OF COMEDY funny, which is why many irony-deficient pundits didn’t get it at the time. So basically, between THE KING OF COMEDY and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, Scorsese has been dealing with being misunderstood by oversensitive bores for thirty years.
SHUTTER ISLAND (2010)
Note: This isn’t the first Blu-Ray release of this film, but the Steelbook release gives me an excuse to write about it. So yay, metal case!
In the context of Scorsese’s career, SHUTTER ISLAND is more of a mainstream-intended genre exercise, comparable most to his 1991 remake of CAPE FEAR, another storm-drenched thriller with claustrophobic psychological overtones. But that was the De Niro era; this is the Di Caprio era. With the different leading men come different thematic preoccupations: De Niro’s best-known films, particularly those he made with Scorsese, deal at least in part with the suppression and/or the explosion of rage. DiCaprio’s finer films often center around façades, and especially how they contrast with or contradict reality, i.e. CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, GANGS OF NEW YORK, THE DEPARTED, BODY OF LIES, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, INCEPTION, J. EDGAR, DJANGO UNCHAINED, THE GREAT GATSBY, and yes, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET. It seems to be a theme that preoccupies the actor as star, and offers him the chance to do some of the more interesting and challenging dramatic work done by any A-lister in the last 15 years.
DiCaprio’s haunted performance — nicely assisted by a world-class supporting cast — is really one of the two main points of interest in SHUTTER ISLAND, along with the stylistic flourishes Scorsese experiments with, abetted by the highly-regarded cinematographer Robert Richardson who previously worked with Scorsese on BRINGING OUT THE DEAD. I’d already read the novel by Dennis Lehane, long before seeing the movie, so I knew going into the movie about the major plot twist, which elevates and deepens the beach-book mystery that is the pretext of the plot. Lehane isn’t really a pulp author, or if he is, he’s one of the more sophisticated ones, and an excellent detailer of character. SHUTTER ISLAND is his pulpiest book, but Scorsese pushes the pulp aspects to phantasmagoric levels. The plot twist is actually intrinsic to the visual methodology utilized by Scorsese and Richardson, and allows them to run wild, in a good way. This is more sophisticated (and prettier) than the average studio thriller. Although this isn’t a major work of any of the principal players, it was one of Scorsese’s rare box-office successes. Ain’t that always the way?
THE SWIMMER (1968)
Our friends at Grindhouse Releasing have been doing miraculous work with their loving presentations of under-remembered cult films. (Please tell me you’ve already picked up their release of THE BIG GUNDOWN!) THE SWIMMER, based on a short story by John Cheever, stars Burt Lancaster as a man who decides to swim across country by taking a dip in every backyard suburban swimming pool he can. A gymnast and a multi-talented athlete, Lancaster is one of the few stars who could pull such a role off, and apparently he wears a bathing suit throughout the movie, so not only can you appreciate a lesser-known film spotlighting a great star, but you can also see pretty much all of him if that’s a selling point for you. The film is notable for having the first score by Marvin Hamlisch and for being the first cinematic appearance of Joan Rivers. I haven’t seen it yet so this is likely a blind purchase for me.
MS. 45 (1981)
Speaking of cult-release labels we love, Drafthouse Films has just put out MS. 45, the Abel Ferrara revenge film from 1981. If you’ve already picked up THE VISITOR on Blu-Ray you know what the folks at Drafthouse can do for cool films that fell through the cracks. MS. 45 is the violent story of a young woman who survives a brutal double-attack and then heads off on the vengeance warpath. It’s often compared to THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE (which we talked about on a recent Daily Grindhouse podcast), but this is the New York City version of that cycle of violence, and you know New York don’t play. This is real-deal grindhouse shit right here. Check it out with a quickness.
Patrick is a comatose psychokinetic (which is a scarier-sounding way to say telekinetic). I wonder if he knows Carrie. This is one of several Australian exploitation films from director Richard Franklin, a talented disciple of Alfred Hitchcock, and Everett De Roche, who wrote a bunch of terrific horror movies — two of the others he wrote for Franklin include ROAD GAMES and LINK, both of which I endorse heartily. Believe it or not I haven’t seen PATRICK yet, but a Blu-Ray release from Severin Films (yet another great cult-film label!) is an excellent place to start.
ODD THOMAS (2013)
Okay, so this is an adaptation of a Dean Koontz book about ghosts and psychic powers, starring Willem Dafoe and Patton Oswalt (who are awesome) and Anton Yelchin (who is most often not awesome), directed by Stephen Sommers (who made VAN HELSING and the Brendan Fraser MUMMY films), reunited here with his cinematographer from G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA. In other words, this could go any number of fucked-up ways. To find out which it did, check out this Daily Grindhouse review.
Larry Fessenden, in case you don’t already know, is a New York based writer, director, producer, and actor who has made nearly as many interesting and unusual horror films as he’s acted in. Last year you could have seen him in JUG FACE and YOU’RE NEXT. His most recent film as director is BENEATH, which is about a country lake’s problem with a killer catfish. Here’s the Daily Grindhouse review.
THE PAST (2013)
THE PAST is a French film from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi (A SEPARATION), starring Bérénice Bejo from THE ARTIST and Tahar Rahim from A PROPHET as a French woman and an Arab man who have a relationship which society makes difficult. Many high-profile critics gave this movie rapturous reviews, but I myself haven’t seen it. I’m just trying to class this place up a little bit by mentioning it.
THE GREAT BEAUTY (2013)
THE GREAT BEAUTY is another foreign film that was met with thunderous critical applause last year. This one got the Academy Award for Best Picture, and now it’s already being rewarded with the Criterion treatment. It’s about an elderly writer who reflects on his life, which definitely sounds like an acclaimed arthouse movie to me! As an idiot, I have seen IRON MAN 3 and FAST & FURIOUS 6 but not this.
Embarassingly, I’ve not seen PERSONA. My knowledge of Ingmar Bergman’s films is strictly limited to the one where the knight plays chess against Death, because, you know, metal. PERSONA‘s reputation is hallowed — it’s considered the arguable masterpiece from a filmmaker who made several contenders to that title. It’s about a nurse tending to a famous actress who has gone mute, but obviously there’s a whole lot more to it than a simple logline. The best tonic to not having seen a classic work of cinema is a Criterion release, so here we go!
THE FRESHMAN (1925)
While Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton remain household names, Harold Lloyd is largely known only to true devotees of cinema. The image of Lloyd hanging many stories above the street from the hands of a clock tower, from his film SAFETY LAST!, is more recognizable than the man’s name at this point. (And let’s not even get into Charley Chase…) Maybe that’s because of the major silent comedians, Lloyd’s persona was more middle-class everyman than Chaplin or Keaton, whose characters were more cartoonish. THE FRESHMAN was Lloyd’s biggest film. He plays a college student looking to make the school football team and finding himself overmatched. In other words, this is one of the first college comedies ever made, the metaphorical cave painting that would become ever cruder as the generations went on. If you’re looking to get into silent films, the comedies are a great, accessible starting point. You’ll dig this one.
CHINESE ZODIAC (2012)
In this ambitious remake of David Fincher’s epic historical thriller about the search for the Zodiac killer, the roles played by Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey Jr. are all played by Jackie Chan.
DELIVERY MAN (2013)
I don’t know how a premise where Vince Vaughn has unknowingly fathered hundreds of constantly-yammering, gigantic-foreheaded moron children becomes anything other than a dystopian horror movie, but I do know they should stop calling it DELIVERY MAN and start calling it VINCE SPAWN.
WALKING WITH DINOSAURS: THE MOVIE (2013)
This is a terrific movie to get for your kids, if your kids love absolute bullshit. Why would you compound a CGI rip-off of THE LAND BEFORE TIME with the evil of layering Justin Long’s lifeless voice on top of it? I suppose if your goal is to use cinema as a torture device, then go ahead and be cruel. Here’s a first-person account of one man’s excrutiating walk with dinosaurs. (It makes for hilarious reading.)
WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE (2013)
Yeah, I don’t know what in the blue flaming fuck is going on here. It looks like a comedy-only version of SEVERANCE, the British horror-comedy about a corporate team-building vacation that ends in murder. I liked that one. This one is anyone’s guess. Van Damme is on the cover there, but this isn’t an action movie so it could be one of those ironic cameos. You’ve got some of those UCB-type people in there and also Dennis Haysbert, who is mostly known for Allstate commercials at this point, and Megan Boone from NBC’s The Blacklist and apparently a tiger. I wouldn’t necessarily expect this movie to have a consistent tone, but you never know. I’ve seen as many minutes of WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE as I have of PERSONA or THE GREAT BEAUTY, so maybe all it needs is a better publicist.
That’s it for this edition, but you won’t have to wait long for the next batch of recommendations — the new releases for this week drop tomorrow, as will this column! Really. I swear.
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