Saturday, July 22, 2017
Saturday Night at the Movies
Summertime Blus: Best BD re-issues of 2017 (so far)
By Dennis Hartley
Since we’re halfway through the year, I thought it would be the perfect time to take a look at some of the best Blu-ray reissues of 2017 (so far). Any reviews based on Region “B” editions (which require a multi-region Blu-ray player) are noted as such; the good news is that quality name-brand multi-region players are now much more affordable!
Being There (Criterion Collection) – For my money, the late director Hal Ashby was the quintessential embodiment of the new American cinema movement of the 1970s. Beginning in 1970, he bracketed the decade with an astonishing seven film streak: The Landlord, Harold and Maude, The Last Detail (reviewed below), Shampoo, Bound for Glory, Coming Home, and this 1979 masterpiece. Adapted from Jerzy Kosinki’s novel by frequent Ashby collaborator Robert C. Jones (who was uncredited...a hitherto unknown tidbit revealed in an extra feature), it’s a wry political fable about how a simpleton (Peter Sellers, in one of his greatest performances) literally stumbles his way into becoming a Washington D.C. power player within an alarmingly short period of time. Only in America! Richly drawn, finely layered, at once funny and sad (but never in a broad manner). Superbly acted by all, from the leads (Sellers, Melvyn Douglas, Shirley MacLaine, Jack Warden, Richard Dysart) down to the smallest supporting roles (a special mention for the wonderful Ruth Attaway). Like Sidney Lumet’s Network, this film only seems to become more vital with age. The Trump parallels are numerous enough; but one scene where Sellers meets with the Russian ambassador (a great cameo by Richard Basehart) has now taken on a whole new (and downright spooky) relevancy. Criterion’s Blu-ray features a beautiful 4K restoration and a plethora of enlightening extra features.
Fat City (Powerhouse Films) – John Huston’s gritty, low-key character study was a surprise hit at Cannes in 1972. Adapted by Leonard Gardner from his own novel, it’s a tale of shattered dreams, desperate living and beautiful losers (Gardner seems to be the missing link between John Steinbeck and Charles Bukowski). Filmed on location in Stockton, California, the story centers on a boozy, low-rent boxer well past his prime (Stacey Keach), who becomes a mentor to a young up-and-comer (Jeff Bridges) and starts a relationship with a fellow barfly (Susan Tyrell). Like most character studies, this film chugs along at the speed of life (i.e., not a lot “happens”), but the performances are so well fleshed out you easily forget you’re witnessing “acting”. One scene in particular, in which Keach and Tyrell’s characters first hook up in a sleazy bar, is a veritable masterclass in the craft. Granted, it’s one of the most depressing films you’ll ever see (think Barfly meets The Wrestler), but still well worth your time. Masterfully directed by Huston, with “lived-in” natural light photography by DP Conrad Hall. You will be left haunted by Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make it Through the Night”, which permeates the film. The print is beautifully restored, and extras include new interviews with the cast.
The Last Detail (Powerhouse Films) – Hal Ashby’s 1973 comedy-drama set the bar pretty high for all “buddy films” to follow (and to this day, few can touch it). Jack Nicholson heads a superb cast, as “Bad-Ass” Buddusky, a career Navy man who is assigned (along with a fellow Shore Patrol officer, played by Otis Young) to escort a first-time offender (Randy Quaid) to the brig in Portsmouth. Chagrinned to learn that the hapless young swabbie has been handed an overly-harsh sentence for a relatively petty crime, Buddusky decides that they should at least show “the kid” a good time on his way to the clink (much to his fellow SP’s consternation). Episodic “road movie”
misadventures ensue. Don’t expect a Hollywood-style “wacky” comedy; as he did in all of his films, Ashby keeps it real. The suitably briny dialog was adapted by Robert Towne from Daryl Ponicsan’s novel; and affords Nicholson some of his most iconic line readings (“I AM the motherfucking shore patrol, motherfucker!”). Nicholson and Towne were teamed up again the following year via Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. This edition sports a fabulous 4K restoration (the audio is cleaned up too, crucial for a dialog-driven piece like this). Loads of extras-including a sanitized TV cut of the film, just for giggles.
The Loved One (Warner Archive Collection) – In 1965, this black comedy/social satire was billed as “The motion picture with something to offend everyone.” By today’s standards, it’s relatively tame (but still pretty sick). Robert Morse plays a befuddled Englishman struggling to process the madness of southern California, where he has come for an extended visit at the invitation of his uncle (Sir John Gielgud) who works for a Hollywood studio. Along the way, he falls in love with a beautiful but mentally unstable mortuary cosmetician (Anjanette Comer), gets a job at a pet cemetery, and basically reacts to all the various whack-jobs he encounters. The wildly eclectic cast includes Jonathan Winters (in three roles), Robert Morley, Roddy McDowell, Milton Berle, James Coburn, Libarace, Paul Williams and Rod Steiger (as Mr. Joyboy!). Tony Richardson directed; the screenplay was adapted by Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood from Evelyn Waugh’s novel. No extras on this edition, but the high-definition transfer is good.
Man Facing Southeast (Kino-Lorber) – I originally caught this 1986 sleeper from Argentina on Cinemax 30 years ago and have been longing to see it again ever since. Kino-Lorber’s Blu-ray edition signals the film’s first domestic availability in a digital format. Writer-director Eliseo Subiela’s drama is a deceptively simple tale of a mysterious mental patient (Hugo Soto) who no one on staff at the facility where he is housed can seem to remember admitting. Yet, there he is; a soft-spoken yet oddly charismatic young man who claims to be an extra-terrestrial, sent to Earth to save humanity from themselves. He develops a complex relationship with the head psychiatrist (Lorenzo Quinteros) who becomes fascinated with his case. While primarily sold as a “sci-fi” tale, this one is tough to pigeonhole; part fable, part family drama, part Christ allegory (think King of Hearts meets The Day the Earth Stood Still). Beautiful, powerful, and touching. Extras include interviews with Subiela, Soto, and DP Ricardo de Angelis.
Metropolis (Eureka; Region “B”) – Japanese director Rintaro’s visually resplendent 2001 anime is based on Osama Tezuka’s manga reimagining of Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent film classic. The narrative (adapted by Akira director Katsuhiro Otomo) is framed as a detective story (not unlike Blade Runner), with a PI and his nephew attempting to unravel the mystery of Tima, a fugitive robot girl who has become a pawn in a byzantine conspiracy involving a powerful and corrupt family that rules Metropolis. Intelligent writing, imaginative production design and beautifully realized animation make this a must-see. Extras include interviews with cast and crew, and a “making of” documentary.
Multiple Maniacs (Criterion Collection) – Warning: This 1970 trash classic from czar of bad taste John Waters is definitely not for the pious, easily offended or the faint of heart. A long out-of-print VHS edition aside, it has been conspicuously absent from home video…until now. Thank (or blame) The Criterion Collection, who have meticulously restored the film back to all of its original B&W 16mm glory (well, almost…there’s grumbling from purists about the “new” music soundtrack, reportedly precipitated by the prohibitive costs of securing music rights for some of the tracks that were “borrowed” by Waters for his original cut). The one and only Divine heads the cast of “Dreamland” players who would become Waters’ faithful repertory for years (Edith Massey, Mink Stole, David Lochary, etc.) in a tale of mayhem, perversity, filth and blasphemy too shocking to discuss in mixed company (you’ll never see a Passion Play in quite the same way). Flippancy aside for a moment, watching this the other day for the first time in several decades, I was suddenly struck by the similarities with the contemporaneous films of Rainier Werner Fassbinder (Love is Colder than Death and Gods of the Plague in particular). Once you get past its inherent shock value, Multiple Maniacs is very much an American art film. Extras include a typically hilarious commentary track with Waters.
Ocean Waves (Universal Studios Home Entertainment) – This 1993 anime is one of the last remaining “stragglers” from Japan’s Studio Ghibli vaults to make a belated (and most welcome) debut on Blu-ray (it was previously only available on PAL-DVD). Adapted by Kaori Nakamura from Saeko Himruo’s novel, and directed by Tomomi Mochizuki, it concerns a young man who returns to his home town for a high school reunion, which triggers a flood of memories about all the highs and lows of his adolescent years. It’s similar in tone to another Ghibli film, Only Yesterday, which is also takes a humanistic look at the universality of growing pains. On a sliding scale, this may be one of Ghibli’s “lesser” films, but the studio has set a pretty high bar for itself, and it will certainly please Ghibli completists (who, me?). Extras are scant, but the hi-definition transfer is lovely.
Seven Days in May (Warner Archive Collection) – This 1964 “conspiracy a-go go” thriller was director John Frankenheimer’s follow-up to The Manchurian Candidate (the cold war paranoia force was strong in him!). Picture if you will: a screenplay by Rod Serling, adapted from a novel by Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II. Kirk Douglas plays a Marine colonel who is the adjutant to a hawkish, hard right-leaning general (Burt Lancaster) who heads the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The general is at loggerheads with the dovish President (Fredric March), who is perceived by the general and some of the other joint chiefs as a “weak sister” for his strident support of nuclear disarmament. When Douglas begins to suspect that an imminent, unusually secretive military “exercise” may in fact portend more sinister intentions, he is torn between his loyalty to the general and his loyalty to the country as to whether he should raise the alarm. Or is he just being paranoid? An intelligently scripted and well-acted nail-biter, right down to the end. Also with Ava Gardner, Edmund O’Brien, and Martin Balsam. No extras, but a great transfer.
They Live By Night (Criterion Collection) – This 1949 film noir/progenitor of the “lovers on the lam” genre marked the directing debut for the great Nicholas Ray. Adapted by Ray and Charles Schnee from Edward Anderson’s Thieves Like Us (the same source novel that inspired Robert Altman’s eponymous 1974 film), this Depression-era tale concerns the unexpected and intense mutual attraction that sparks between a young escaped convict (Farley Granger) and a sheltered young woman (Cathy O’Donnell). The young lovers’ primal drive to meaningfully connect with someone who truly “gets” them clouds the illogic of expecting to play house when one of them is a wanted fugitive. In a fashion, the film presages Ray’s 1955 social drama Rebel Without a Cause more so than it does his later noirs like In a Lonely Place and On Dangerous Ground, with its shared themes of young outcasts, adolescent confusion, and doomed love. Moody, atmospheric and surprisingly sensual for its time (it doesn’t hurt that Granger and O’Donnell are both so beautiful). Criterion’s 2K restoration lends depth to the shadows and light of George E. Diskant’s cinematography. Extras include commentary by “Czar of Noir” Eddie Muller.
More reviews at Den of Cinema
digby 7/22/2017 05:00:00 PM