Welcome back to Daily Grindhouse’s weekly list of what’s new and interesting in the world of Blu-Ray and DVD releases. Everything that follows is available to purchase online or in stores as of yesterday. If any of the following titles catches your eye, please click through the Blu-Ray cover icons to buy them through us — it helps keep the lights on here (literally). I hear it’s a great way to get into Heaven!
** PICK OF THE WEEK! **
TRUE DETECTIVE: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (TV) (2014)
Ours is a cruel, unreasonable, bruising and scarring world. It gets to be so you don’t know who you can really, truly trust. Somebody tells you they’re your friend, but when you need them most, they’re nowhere. Good people die young. Bad people rarely get it in the end. And when somebody tells you any particular series is the “best show on television,” they’re most likely full of shit. Do they watch every show on television? They do not. It could even be that Celebrity Ghost Encounters is the best show on television, or Tattoo Nightmares, or the Julianne Hough Proactiv infomercial. We can’t possibly know. No one sees everything. Even still, when somebody tells you that True Detective is an excellent program, of a nature superior to the majority of television being produced at the moment, one would have to work far too hard to challenge the claim. And it’s a better use of time to simply watch True Detective. So watch True Detective.
ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (1955)
Douglas Sirk was a German-born director who became best known in America for his florid melodramas, the best known of which is, arguably, IMITATION OF LIFE, the last of them, a female-driven story concerned with race, identity, and motherhood. Sirk directed a few genre movies in his career but his heart seemed to be with the films he’s become most associated with — ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS, THE TARNISHED ANGELS, WRITTEN ON THE WIND, movies about human beings with recognizable problems. His style, however, forced reality into the stratosphere — you couldn’t call these soap operas because the intensity of emotion in Sirk’s films (the ones I’ve seen, anyway) is far more heightened, almost exaggerated. He worked often with the great cinematographer Russell Metty, who conjured bold, lustrous Technicolor imagery that were the ideal match with the bold, lustrous performances centering the painterly backgrounds. Subtext and context only adds more to Sirk’s films; the fact that regular Sirk protagonist Robert Stack became known to a younger generation as a comedic figure playing it deadly serious in AIRPLANE, or the way the stars of ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS, who play a May-December couple, were only eight years apart in age, which makes all of the related histrionics more pronounced. Jane Wyman is more associated by history as Ronald Reagan’s first wife, and that Rock Hudson is more associated by history now as being a closeted gay man who romanced many female stars onscreen but only married a woman at a studio’s bidding. All of these elements feed into the already bombastic text of the films, which is why Sirk has camp appeal. However, Sirk was so technically accomplished as a director that his films cannot be dismissed as pure camp. No soap opera is this well-made. And there is no winking at the camera; these films are played completely straight, in both senses of the term. Clever younger filmmakers such as John Waters, Pedro Almodóvar, Lars Von Trier, and Todd Haynes have smartly repurposed Sirk’s influence in their own work, while Sirk’s spirit lives on in recent and relatively recent films (of varying quality) such as MAGNOLIA, MONSTER’S BALL, MILLION DOLLAR BABY, and — I haven’t seen it but I’m willing to bet — this year’s THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. No idea yet if Bruce Springsteen was thinking of Sirk when he put out the Tunnel Of Love album.
Michelangelo Antonioni is one of my cinematic blind spots, and from my understanding L’ECLISSE isn’t the place to start, since it follows L’AVVENTURA and LA NOTTE chronologically and thematically. Luckily, Criterion has released all three (and a couple more) so Antonioni fans old and new can more easily catch up.
Liam Neeson plays a drunken air marshal who discovers one of the passengers on board his flight is a blackmailing murderer. He has to find and defeat his adversary, all while the plane is in the air. That is what is known — really, no pun intended — as a high concept. A sort of irresistible one, as far as modern Liam Neeson action thrillers go. Add to that the fact the director is Jaume Collet-Serra, who made the hilariously deranged horror film ORPHAN (don’t read about it, just see it), and this sounds like a blast.
ALAN PARTRIDGE (2013)
Steve Coogan is hysterical, a national treasure, although I guess his nation isn’t this one which is our loss. Coogan has been playing the character Alan Partridge on and off for two decades now, all over in England where he’s a huge TV star. In England, this movie is called ALPHA PAPA but since that doesn’t sound quite as funny in an American accent, they just went with the character name for the American release. I’ve only seen the trailer so far. In it, media personality Alan Partridge loses his radio job right before the station is taken hostage by a disgruntled gunman. All I can think about is AIRHEADS, but as far as Adam Sandler vehicles go, Steve Coogan could remake GROWN UPS 2 shot for shot and I’d still watch that.
TIM’S VERMEER (2014)
This is a documentary about a man named Tim Jenison who works to recreate the paintings of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer in an attempt to demonstrate that Vermeer used mirrors to get the ultra-realistic effect he achieved in his work. Apparently this is a topic of major debate in the art world, and why not? The rest of us are over here debating whether the more awesome superhero is Batman or Superman. (The answer is Batman.)
The documentary was directed by Teller, of the duo Penn & Teller. Can’t say much of I’m a fan of those guys in their onstage personas, but I plan to give this one a shot anyway. Nice reviews!
JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (2014)
The Jack Ryan character was huge in the early 1990s, which is when Kenneth Branagh was doing Shakespeare instead of movies like this and THOR. Also in the early 1990s, Kevin Costner could have easily played Jack Ryan, which may be why he’s giving Chris Pine the side-eye in that poster art up there. I have so little interest in this franchise my left eye fell asleep while I’ve been typing this sentence, but there are people I trust who say this movie is diverting. The choice is yours.
COSMOS: A SPACETIME ODYSSEY (TV) (2014)
Celebrity astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson hosts this update of Carl Sagan’s PBS series. Like Sagan, Neil DeGrasse Tyson works to popularize science for a wide audience. That is a mission I am entirely behind. As much as I am not in any way an admirer of Seth McFarlane, I must tip my cap to him for helping to get this show on Fox, where very many people have been watching it. At a moment in our nation’s history when science has been dangerously devalued, this is a noble project. I’ve seen a couple episodes — it’d be worth looking at if only for ace cinematographer Bill Pope’s visuals, but there are some big ideas floated here too. Worth a look.
RAY DONOVAN: SEASON ONE (TV) (2014)
That’s a menacing pose. A little bit NOSFERATU.
KLONDIKE (TV) (2014)
Ever have déjà vu?
DEVIL’S KNOT (2013)
Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth in a film from well-regarded arthouse director Atom Egoyan about the West Memphis Three: That feels like a movie that ought to have a higher profile, doesn’t it? Find out if it should or shouldn’t in our Daily Grindhouse review.
THE TRAIN (1964)
This is a John Frankenheimer war film starring Burt Lancaster — there are millions of worse reasons to check a movie out.
HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON (1957)
This is a John Huston war film starring Robert Mitchum as a Marine who ends up stuck on an island with a nun. Sounds like HELL IN THE PACIFIC, only with more romantic tension. Not one of the preceding words is a problem for me.
THE MAN FROM LARAMIE (1955)
Holy crap, is that an incredible design! I would gravitate to this cover even if I didn’t know this was one of the Westerns which the great director Anthony Mann made with Jimmy Stewart — surprisingly dark flicks, if all you didn’t know Jimmy Stewart had it in him. This is the last of the five Westerns from the team of Mann and Stewart — you’ll go wrong with none of them.
Musicals aren’t my wheelhouse, so I don’t have any edifying comments to make (or even any stupid ones), but Vincente Minnelli was the director of many of the most famous musicals of the studio era. I do love the classic CinemaScope look — F.Y.I. THE MAN FROM LARAMIE and HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON are CinemaScope productions also — so if this was playing on TCM I would definitely stop flipping channels
** PICK OF THE WEEK! **
This is one of the darkest movies Clint has made — some detractors called it sordid. Richard Tuggle, who wrote ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ for Clint and Don Siegel, wrote and directed TIGHTROPE, though apparently Clint ghost-directed much of it. To be honest with you, this is one of the few Eastwood movies I haven’t gotten to yet. Clint’s career is one that has been preoccupied with the matter of violence. Sometimes his films take a flippant attitude towards violent acts, but frequently they go deeper. Many of Clint’s better films are meditations on violence and its effects on both violent men and their victims. Often that has included sexual violence, and violence perpetrated against women. By all accounts, TIGHTROPE goes deeper into that subject matter than any of the DIRTY HARRY movies, and there’s something about violence perpetrated against women that brings out the Dirty Harry in me. I cannot abide it in life and I don’t like seeing it in movies (somewhat hypocritically, since I’ve watched thousands of men murdered and mutilated in years of bloody action-movie watching.) I will have to get over that reservation, since Clint is one of my very favorite filmmakers and I am intellectually curious about how he approaches this film, about a troubled detective pursuing a serial rapist. We know what Dirty Harry would do, but this is a different character.
HE GOT GAME (1998)
25TH HOUR (2002)
Spike Lee Joint Collection Vol.2
SUMMER OF SAM (1999)
MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA (2008)
Now here’s a guy who isn’t as much of a Clint Eastwood fan as I am. But I’m a fan of both, and these four movies all illustrate why. 25th HOUR is a crime film about the moments you never see in a crime film, where a convicted felon readies himself for his first prison bid. HE GOT GAME is a sports film where sports scenes are incidental, and the focus is on the troubled relationship between a talented athlete and the father he hardly knows. SUMMER OF SAM is a period piece about the hysteria in New York City during the summer of 1977, where the city faced a massive blackout and the shooting spree of the “Son Of Sam” killer (not to mention the ongoing punk explosion and a Yankees championship drive). And MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA is a war film about black American infantrymen stationed in Italy during World War II, which was made with the specific goal of being a corrective to the many Hollywood war films that the director felt failed to credit the contributions of black soldiers.
Spike Lee traverses genres and subject matter, but approaches each film in the same idiosyncratic manner: More than almost any great director, he personalizes the movie he’s making. For that reason, he’s probably the unruliest of great directors — it’s clearly more important to Spike to say what he wants to say when he wants to see it, than to make a so-called “perfect film.” A film that is unassailable narratively and technically takes a certain degree of restraint, a thematic cohesion, whereas Spike is often willing to pursue side roads that may not seamlessly fit in with the rest of the film. I’m thinking of the “Ground Zero” scene in 25th HOUR, for example, where Spike purposely allows 9/11 imagery to overtake a conversation between two characters concerning the main plot of the film. Spike is saying what he wants to say, making a point he feels it’s important, but that point sits outside what 25th HOUR is otherwise about. 25th HOUR is one of my favorite films of its decade, but I wouldn’t argue it’s a totally flawless film. I’d argue DO THE RIGHT THING is a flawless film, one where Spike’s filmmaking approach dovetailed ideally with his thematic intentions. I can’t say the same for these four films, but still I would recommend picking up both these double-features, which are available at an affordable price — every one of them has moments of excellence, some more than others, and all of them reflect the world as their director sees it. That has value. That has increasing value, as huge-budget spectacles are the order of the day and fewer filmmakers are willing or able to fight the system. Spike still can and still does, and one doesn’t have to agree with his every statement or love his every last film to appreciate that.
** PICK OF THE WEEK! **
THE MECHANIC (1972)
One of Charles Bronson’s very best films, and that’s no small statement coming from me, THE MECHANIC is a definitive illustration of the appeal of one of the great bad men of the screen. Michael Winner made half a dozen action films with Bronson. This is the most zen of them all, zen being a relative term in a film with this many gunshots and explosions. What I mean is, THE MECHANIC distills the appeal of Bronson to its essence. Few stars have anywhere near as much power in silence. For long stretches of this film, Winner allows Bronson to demonstrate this fact, having the star hold the screen quietly as he moves with determination and without mercy. The story is about a veteran hitman (the title is a euphemism) who takes on an apprentice, a decision he may regret. With no exaggeration I tell you that out of the hundreds of action films I’ve seen, this one has an ending that places in the top five — at least. In a story about violent men it’s only being honest to bring the story to a violent end, and there is a savage purity to this ending that is both shocking and hilarious, for better or worse. A necessity.
RESURRECTED is the debut feature from Paul Greengrass, one of the finer directors working today, who has made UNITED 93, two BOURNE movies, and GREEN ZONE. I pretty much despised CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, for reasons too complicated to get into here, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have great interest in his past and future films.
KILL ZOMBIE! (2012)
Forget WORLD WAR Z — the truly crazy zombie epidemic is the spread of the international horror comedy. I wrote a lot more about that trend here. This one is the Dutch entry, set in Amsterdam. All the jokes you’re probably thinking up right now are probably in the movie already. Also known by the amazing title of ZOMBIBI, the title KILL ZOMBIE! is nothing to sneeze at. (Is anything actually to sneeze at? Besides tissues?)
AGE OF TOMORROW (2014)
Clearly, this is The Asylum’s answer to the mainstream sci-fi release EDGE OF TOMORROW. I’m not being sarcastic. This is what they do!
CURSE OF THE DRAGON SLAYER (2013)
Looks to me like the dragon slayer gets to hang out with an elf lady and an orc dude, and also he gets to fight dragons. Buddy, that ain’t a curse. That’s a gift.
And with that, we’ve reached the end. But when we reach the end, we just start all over again, speaking of EDGE OF TOMORROW, so let’s die now and agree to restart and meet back here again next week.
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