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!
Okay, this week is another huge one, so let’s get right down to business…
12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013)
As of last Sunday, this film is considered the Best Motion Picture the year 2013 had to offer. Hard to argue against. Everyone involved with this film has done incredible work, and let’s please not overlook cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, who had a very busy 2013 between the releases of this, THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, OLDBOY, and BYZANTIUM (which was one of the best and most overlooked horror movies of the year).
Guessing that a 12 YEARS A SLAVE disc won’t get as many spins at home as MEAN GIRLS or FAST FIVE, but it’s undoubtedly a necessary film to consider.
This is a remake of a Park Chan-Wook film from 2003, which is pretty much a next-generation classic and has a hallowed reputation among film fiends. It’s dangerous to remake a film so many are so passionate about, particularly when you’re the fiercely iconoclastic Spike Lee and you don’t give a damn about things like fan service or source fidelity. The new OLDBOY did not go over well in America in 2013, I suspect because fans of the original stayed away and because your average multiplex crowd was baffled by the title. I didn’t get to see it in the theaters, but I still intend to; for one thing because it was written by the talented Mark Protosevich, whose original script for I AM LEGEND is one of the best I’ve ever read, and for another, because I’m fascinated by the knowledge that co-star Samuel L. Jackson also appeared in a thinly-veiled remake of OLDBOY called THE SAMARITAN a year earlier. He must really love this property. (A man of fine taste, in my estimation.) And I like Josh Brolin, although I kind of wish, with Spike directing and all, that this movie had starred Denzel or Wesley instead.
THE GRANDMASTER (2013)
Ip Man was a twentieth-century master of the martial art called Wing Chun. His most famous student was Bruce Lee. Recently, films about Ip Man have become a cottage industry, having spawned a hugely popular series starring Donnie Yen. A separate Ip Man film starring Anthony Wong (HARD BOILED, INFERNAL AFFAIRS) also appeared in 2013. THE GRANDMASTER was directed by Wong Kar-Wai, an appointment-viewing auteur director who isn’t known for action films. It features Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi, two massive stars. The path to release in America has been notoriously embattled, with a condensed edit from the Weinstein Company causing a stir amongst purists. To my understanding that’s the cut being provided here, so be advised.
BIG BAD WOLF (2014)
Jerry O’Connell’s brother stars in this, a movie that features him gritting his teeth while floating above three moodily-lit women. I have no information about this title, save this: A review from Daily Grindhouse is forthcoming, so stay tuned.
THE LAST DAYS ON MARS (2013)
Apparently having been art-designed to resemble 2013’s popular and critical success GRAVITY — have you ever seen Liev Schreiber looking that Clooney-esque? —THE LAST DAYS OF MARS looks to be worth a spot-check on its own merits. Aside from the aforementioned and always-great Schreiber, the cast also includes the reliably excellent Elias Koteas and Olivia Williams and features a score from Max Richter, a classically-styled composer whose mournful sound has been appearing in more and more trailers lately. Magnet Releasing and Magnolia Pictures have released some very solid films over the past several years, many of my recent favorites actually. It’s the rare brand I trust.
COLD COMES THE NIGHT (2013)
A crime thriller starring the lady from the recent STAR TREK movie and a gent probably best known from PROMETHEUS, the primary interest here is obviously Bryan Cranston, the now-ubiquitous former star of the TV series Breaking Bad. That show took Cranston from his previous image as a lovable sitcom dad all the way to the point where he was believable as a monstrous master-criminal. Ten years ago, if you knew Bryan Cranston’s name at all, you’d probably laugh at this poster art where he’s shadowy, goateed and ominous. Now it’s a selling point.
British character actor Sean Bean has played a vast arsenal of doomed heroes and doomed villains over a redoubtable career, although the ever-growing joke among those of us who admire his work is that “doomed” is the key word: The guy dies in everything. WICKED BLOOD seems to be a revenge-type action film, co-starring the otherwise talented James Purefoy, who’s recently been detained on the execrable TV series The Following. Judging from the poster art, WICKED BLOOD pits the fearsome Bean and Purefoy against the unstoppable force of child star Abigail Breslin (LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE). My guess is that she kills Sean Bean halfway through and then James Purefoy swears to avenge him.
DOCTOR WHO: THE TIME OF THE DOCTOR (2013)
I know almost literally nothing about this property — it’s about a tweedy British guy named for an Abbott & Costello routine who travels through time in a phone booth, right? Like in BILL & TED? — but I figured some of you would like to know it’s available for purchase.
FOR THE FIRST TIME ON BLU-RAY
INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (2003)
This is B-grade Coen Brothers, goes the general consensus, although most filmmakers would make Satanic pacts to achieve even D-grade Coen Brothers. It’s definitely the only Coen Brothers movie featuring Cedric The Entertainer, unless he was in A SERIOUS MAN somewhere and I missed it. (He’s pretty good in this movie though!) Haven’t seen this one since it was in theaters so I’m due for a rewatch.
BOILER ROOM (2000)
Not sure how it looks a decade and a half later, but at the time, I thought BOILER ROOM was intriguing, a story echoing WALL STREET and GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS featuring characters who have seen and taken to heart both those movies. The cast is full of up-and-comers at the time; Ben Affleck appears in a monologue-heavy part recalling Alec Baldwin’s role in GLENGARRY, Nicky Katt singes the screen in an intensely angry performance, and it’s a rare role for Vin Diesel as a person rather than an action-movie automaton. Some of the actors went on to bigger things, some should have but didn’t, and some are Jamie Kennedy. It’s a weird thing to watch every-creep Giovanni Ribisi romancing the gorgeous Nia Long, but that’s a thing that happens here. After making a strong impression with his script for this film, director Ben Younger has apparently kept working but hasn’t released a film since 2005’s PRIME. But BOILER ROOM would seem to have anticipated films like last year’s THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, or at least it engaged with similar themes of youth and money and the dangers of the two colliding.
JOHN WATERS! Here’s a filmmaker I only appreciate more, the older I get. Not only is his public persona eminently lovable, but his movies are a manifestation of that good-naturedly rebellious spirit. His early films are gross-outs and these in particular can be off-putting, but at the same time I never get the sense that his transgressions are mean, only playful. All of his movies are populated by oddballs and counter-cultural figures. Those are generally the heroes. His targets are the sticks-in-the-mud, the straights, the censors. HAIRSPRAY is arguably his most accessible film, an argument bolstered by the fact that the film has since been adapted to Broadway and then again to screen by toothless candymaker Adam Shankman. I wonder if it’s only coincidence that Waters set HAIRSPRAY in 1962, the same year as ANIMAL HOUSE. HAIRSPRAY, about an overweight teenage girl who dances on an American Bandstand type TV show and becomes an unlikely leader in the cause of racial integration, dovetails interestingly with ANIMAL HOUSE, which has a slightly troublesome approach to the same issue. The white kids in ANIMAL HOUSE love black music, right up until the issue of sex is insinuated; i.e. the panic that ensues over the line “Do you mind if we dance with your dates?” By contrast, the implicit essence of HAIRSPRAY is resolutely inclusive, almost utopian except of course that this kind of heaven is totally possible if we all just got over our dumb prejudices and danced.
This was Waters’ last film with longtime muse Divine, who died not a month after HAIRSPRAY was released. His role in the 2007 remake was played by John Travolta in a horrifying fat suit, because the universe is cruel.
GARDEN STATE (2004)
In 2004, the television hit Everybody Loves Raymond was heading towards its final season. As it was a major source of revenue, many people in nice suits in nice offices wanted to keep it going. One executive was heard asking, “We like this, but can we go younger and more emo?” And so it was that latter-day STAR WARS ingenue Natalie Portman was brought in to play the Patricia Heaton role (an improvement) and gangly young Zachary Braffary was recruited to play Ray Romano 2.0, who rides around in a World War II era motorcycle with a sidecar that nobody rides in, not even when he has a passenger. Ian Holm played the Peter Boyle role, and I guess in this ongoing analogy Peter Sarsgaard would have to be that giant Frankenstein-looking guy. There was no laugh track, so no one remembered to laugh.
Actually I don’t remember anything about GARDEN STATE, other than I hated every minute up until the final scene, which I liked a lot. I think it had a good song to close it out. Some people call this the movie of my generation but I don’t know, it was probably WEDDING CRASHERS or some shit.
HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS (1987)
The simple story of a nice normal family on a camping trip who plow into a jaywalking Bigfoot and end up adopting him. You may know I have a soft spot for this particular scenario. The main reason this movie still holds interest is the incredible tag-team performance of monster man Rick Baker and the guy in the suit, Kevin Peter Hall, who also played the Predator that same year. Rick Baker has said Harry is one of his favorite creations, and he’s made some pretty incredible creatures in his day. Of course, if you watch this movie you’ll also get to hear John Lithgow over-annunciate the name “Harry” approximately eight thousand times, and who doesn’t want to bask in that particular simple pleasure?
AN AMERICAN TAIL (1986)
This is a movie about an immigrant mouse, a Jewish rodent from Russia, arriving on the cold shores of America. Dom DeLuise does the voice of the one cat too friendly to eat mice. This thing had MAUS beaten by five years. I guess Art Spiegelman figured AN AMERICAN TAIL wasn’t harrowing enough. Christopher Plummer does the voice of a pigeon and Madeline Kahn is another one of the mice. I’m guessing this one is a lot weirder than I remember it being from when I was a kid.
SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1980)
Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour star in a sci-fi love story from the mind of Richard Matheson, directed by the man who brought us JAWS II. Christopher Plummer pops up in this one too. This was his harvest season, I guess. You could do a whole lot worse than watching everything Christopher Plummer has been in.
FRIED GREEN TOMATOES (1991)
I imagine there are tons of fans of this movie reading Daily Grindhouse. It has everything you need in a movie: Jessica Tandy at her Jessica Tandy-est. Mary-Louise Parker. Mary Stuart Masterson. Mary Kathy Bates. Fried green tomatoes (presumably). Please note this is the extended version, because the original running time of 136 minutes wasn’t long enough for somebody.
FAR AND AWAY (1992)
Good God, I can’t think of a single person who would need to see this movie on Blu-Ray in 2014. Even Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman probably don’t want to watch this movie again. I saw it once, in high school — one of those days when the history teacher needed a break so they’d wheel in the TV on that rickety cart and turn on a time-waster like this one. It’s 142 minutes, by the way. We used to look forward to movie days, but this one made us want to actually get the teacher back. FAR AND AWAY is Ron Howard at his most milquetoast, grasping at weight and clutching only feathers, and at the same time, abetting the vanities of a then-current celebrity couple, with songs by Enya on top of the whole pile. At least he found roles for Rance and Clint in there somewhere. Good to keep those two out of trouble.
*** PICK OF THE WEEK ***
THE VISITOR (1979)
Saw this movie for the first time in 2013 and it just about broke my brain. Like a 1970s disaster movie, it has a huge cast of recognizable and randomly assembled stars, including John Huston, Shelley Winters, Glenn Ford, Lance Henriksen, Franco Nero, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and everyone’s favorite misanthropic madman, Sam Peckinpah, as a kindly doctor. Here’s what I said in my review for this site:
Where does one even begin with THE VISITOR? For starters, one probably ought not classify it amongst the horror genre, although all of the poster art past and present seems to promise frights within, and there are a couple attacks by winged creatures which, were they to occur in Hitchcock, would play disturbingly. But the bird attacks in THE VISITOR don’t play that way. THE VISITOR isn’t strictly a horror film. Nor is it strictly science-fiction epic, or strictly religious allegory, or strictly phantasmagorical vision quest. Wikipedia calls it a “psychological thriller.” IMDb uses keywords such as “occult,” “italian horror,” “satanism,” “supernatural,” and “terror.” The pull-quote on the re-release poster likens it to a stew of ROSEMARY’S BABY, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, and THE OMEN. Vice calls it “the entirety of 1970s horror shoved into one film.” Nobody’s wrong here. It’s all and it’s none. It doesn’t cleave neatly to any boundary of genre, unless of course you have a special shelf for films labelled “WHAT THE EARTHLY FUCK?”
I also called the movie “certifiable” and promised “When I get my hands on a copy of THE VISITOR, I’m going to fit it with a little strait-jacket and toss it into an asylum.” Now I finally can, and you can too!
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