Apr 26 2015

Silents Please!: ‘Silent Ozu – Three Crime Dramas’

Eclipse

Silent Ozu – Three Crime Dramas (Eclipse 42) (Criterion, DVD) is an apt companion piece to Criterion’s previous set of silent Yasujiro Ozu films on their Eclipse line. The artist called the most “Japanese” of Japanese directors, famous for the quiet restraint and rigorous simplicity of his sound films, was a voracious film buff more interested in Hollywood movies than his own national cinema early in his career and he thrived in a great variety of genres. The previous Eclipse set collected a trio of family comedies. This one offers three gangster films: Ozu noir, so to speak, inspired by the late silent crime pictures by Josef von Sternberg and American pictures. These films are more intimate character pieces than the gangster romantic tragedies of their American cousins, but they are lively productions directed with a dynamic style he stripped away through the 1930s.

Walk Cheerfully (1930) mixes the gangster drama with character comedy in the story of a hood named Ken the Knife (Minoru Takada) who vows to go straight when he falls in love with a “good” girl. His old girlfriend, who sports a Louise Brooks bob, isn’t happy about being dumped and decides to get revenge on them both. In fact, there’s a lot of American influence in the film, from the storytelling to the camerawork (from tracking shots to oblique, dramatic camera angles) to fashions; these hoods are as sporty as their Hollywood counterparts with their flashy suits and fedoras and swaggering attitudes. This is a bright picture, as the title suggests. The mob isn’t happy that Ken and his partner (Hisao Yoshitani) have left the gang but for all the obstacles, this is on the more lighthearted side of the gangster genre.

More somber is That Night’s Wife (1930), which opens on the robbery of an office building by a lone gunman (Tokihiko Okada), a marvelous scene that is a model of crime movie direction, before revealing that the thief is no career criminal but a desperate father whose daughter is on the verge of death. The money is for the medicine that may save her life. Most of the film takes place in the one-room family home as the father and mother stand vigil over their young daughter, holding a cop hostage as they wait for her recovery. It’s a standoff with a poignant twist and Ozu orchestrates the situation beautifully with expressive camerawork and tight editing. This was shot and set in the depths of Japan’s depression. Ozu explored the plight of middle and working class families slipping into poverty and desperation in other films as well (see Tokyo Chorus in Silent Ozu: Three Comedies) but this is his most moving portrait.

'That Night's Wife'

‘That Night’s Wife’

Dragnet Girl (1933) is the most flamboyant of the three, a redemption tale not of the gangster (Joji Oka) but his moll Tokiko (Kinuyo Tanaka), who has a civilian job by day and plays in the criminal underworld by night. When her boyfriend is smitten by the good girl sister of a young boxer, she ends up befriending the girl and deciding to go straight herself. Except that he wants her to pull one last job. This was made after the explosion of Hollywood gangster movies in the early sound era and Ozu livens the story with fluid tracking shots, snappy editing, and striking compositions and editing. And he makes Tokiko a real tough cookie and a tough-love idealist, with a novel way of convincing her boyfriend to go straight.

Japanese intertitles with English subtitles. These are preserved rather than restored films, mastered from prints that are scuffed and damaged in places, but they are stable and well mastered from the existing element and feature fine piano scores by Neil Brand. As with all Eclipse releases, there are no supplements. Each film is in its own slimline case with an essay by house writer Michael Koresky.

More silent cinema on DVD at Cinephiled

Apr 25 2015

Silents Please!: ‘The House of Mystery’ from Flicker Alley

Flicker Alley

The House of Mystery (La Maison du Mystère) (Flicker Alley, DVD) – Serials—the adventure cliffhangers what would play out in theaters before the main feature at a chapter a week—are commonly dismissed as kid stuff, glorified B-movies cranked out with little thought for story or character. France, however, produced some serials with high production values for adult audiences. Louis Feuillaude was a master at making surreal pulp thrillers like Fantomas and Les Vampires but Judex moved him toward epic storytelling with more mature themes (his later serials, which are even more adult if less exciting, are sadly unavailable in the U.S.).

Albatross, a French studio founded by Russian immigrants who fled the communist revolution, produced some of the most sophisticated films on the twenties, including the serial The House of Mystery (1923), an epic story of love, jealousy, murder, blackmail, and injustice. The opening credits tease the audience by presenting our hero in multiple disguises before revealing the face of Ivan Mosjoukine, suggesting he is something of a Judex or Fantomas. In fact he’s Julien Villandrit, the scion of a manufacturing family who marries his sweetheart Régine (Hélène Darly) and takes over the family textile mill. All seems well as we jump to “Seven Years Later” and find his longtime associate Henri (Charles Vanel) going all Iago, planting the seeds of doubt in Julien’s mind over the attentions of an elderly banker (Sylvia Gray) toward his wife. What seems unseemly has a rather touching explanation but it takes a dramatic turn when Julien is framed for murder and sent to prison while Henri remains free to pursue Régine. Nicolas Koline plays the woodsman Rudeberg, a photographer whose hobby gives him the leverage to blackmail his way into a steady job. It’s not quite as mercenary as it seems—it’s all to give his troubled son a shot at an education and a better life than him—but it means hiding the evidence proving Julien’s innocence and incriminating the true killer.

Over the course of a story that spans decades there is a daring jailbreak and desperate escape over rugged mountains and deadly ravines (it takes up almost an entire chapter and is a magnificent piece of silent action spectacle), and a series of disguises donned by our hero to return home and clear his name, but this is more romantic melodrama than thriller. A wedding scene is played in a series of silhouettes that resembles the delicacy of the cut-out animation of Lotte Reiniger and the trial sequence takes a break from courtroom drama for a lovely moment of silent movie connection as Régine nudges Julien to sit up, refresh himself, and reclaim his dignity, all communicated in gestures and glances across the room.

Ivan Mosjoukine

Ivan Mosjoukine

 

Mosjoukine is magnificent in the leading role, a part in which he invested himself completely. He transforms from nervous, unworldly, odd young man to confident husband and father to tragic hero who spends years attempting to reunite with his family, and that doesn’t include the characters he creates while hiding out from the authorities. Mosjoukine wrote the adaptation (it was based on a bestselling novel) and even created his own make-up, and his transformation is as complete (if not quite as extreme) as Lon Chaney in the states.

It plays like a modern TV mini-series, more concerned with dramatic complications and character conflict than with action-film cliffhangers. The serial format gives the drama room to breathe and the actors space to develop characters and relationships over 10 chapters and 6 ½ hours and Alexandre Volkoff directs with a high degree of sophistication and elegance. It’s what silent cinema does at its best: delve into the depth of the moment, drawing out action to explore the dramatic textures and letting the actors reveal the emotions of the characters, to show the audience rather than explain in intertitles. That sounds like a hard sell to viewers not already enchanted by the charms of silent cinema but this is a lovely film and a superb presentation of a rarity. It could make a convert of anyone with a love of classic movies and cinema history.

The complete serial was restored in 1992 and was digitally remastered for its home video debut by Eric Lange and Lobster Films in 2014, and it features a piano score by Neil Brand. Also includes a gallery of production stills and a booklet with an essay and notes on the film and the filmmakers by silent film historian Lenny Borger.

More silent cinema on DVD at Cinephiled

Apr 24 2015

Videophiled: ‘Escape from New York’

Scream Factory

Escape from New York: Collector’s Edition (Scream Factory, Blu-ray) – “Plissken? I heard you were dead.” “Call me Snake.” Maybe it’s not John Carpenter’s best film, but it’s one of his most fun and the premise is irresistible: in the future, Manhattan has been turned into a high security island prison and Liberty Island is the guard station. When Air Force One is hijacked by an American revolutionary outfit (this may be what the future looks like from 1981, but these yahoos look more like holdovers from the early seventies), the American President (Donald Pleasance) crash lands in the middle of no man’s land and becomes a bargaining chip for the reigning king of the outlaws (Isaac Hayes), who runs the place like a gangland Godfather.

Kurt Russell hisses out a B-movie Clint Eastwood impression as Snake Plissken, a one-time war hero turned notorious criminal and his arrival at Liberty Island in cuffs makes him the only hope they have of rescuing POTUS before very bad things start to happen. What exactly isn’t important. It’s a deadline that Plissken has to meet if he wants out alive, which is how head of security Lee Van Cleef, Plissken’s nemesis turned wary ally by circumstance, guarantees his cooperation. As he navigates the feral streets to rescue the President, he picks up a motley, not completely trustworthy crew (including Harry Dean Stanton as the weaselly Brain, Adrienne Barbeau as his pistol-packing lover, and Ernest Borgnine as a big-band loving cabbie). But Russell is the revelation. He was best known for Disney comedies at the time and Carpenter had to push the studio to accept him in the lead. He delivers.

Carpenter’s dark, garbage-strewn streets lit by bonfires and headlights makes for inspired art direction and his synthesizer score is suitably minimalist and moody. Shot for a song in the rougher parts of St. Louis (doubling for the Big Apple) with simple but bold model work (some of it created by James Cameron in his Roger Corman days) and striking computer graphics, it’s a hoot, yet behind the colorful personalities of the prison yard gang is a sardonic crack about the state of modern urban America lost to poverty, runaway crime, and gangs that rule the inner city. This really was a product of its time.

EscapeSnake

“Call me Snake”

 

Escape from New York is both a marvelously scruffy film and a well-produced piece of dystopian cinema superbly shot by Dean Cundey in Carpenter’s beloved Panavision widescreen. The new 2k digital master, scanned from the inter-positive struck from the original negative, doesn’t take anything away from that. It gives shows the squalor in much greater detail, and the clarity helps give definition to the nocturnal imagery. This is, after all, a film that takes place mostly on the streets at night.

MGM released the film on Blu-ray a couple of year ago but it was a bare-bones affair with none of the extras from the terrific DVD special editions. This two-disc edition features the two previously available commentary tracks—a thoroughly entertaining track with director John Carpenter and Kurt Russell chatting away like old (“By the way, both of our ex-wives are in the movie”) and a second track by producer Debra Hill and production designer Joe Alves covering more technical material—plus a third newly-recorded commentary track with co-star Adrienne Barbeau and cinematographer Dean Cundey, looking back with over thirty years’ hindsight. Barbeau has a lot of affection for the film and for Carpenter, to whom she was married at the time.

There are also five new interview featurettes on the second disc. “Big Challenges in Little Manhattan: The Visual Effects of Escape from New York” featuring interviews with visual effect DP Dennis Skotak and matte artist Robert Skotak, “Scoring the Escape: A Discussion with Composer Alan Howarth” (who collaborated with Carpenter on the score), “On Set with John Carpenter: The Images of Escape from New York” with still photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker, “I Am Taylor: An Interview with Actor Joe Unger,” and “My Night on Set: An Interview with Filmmaker David DeCoteau.”

Carried over from the previous DVD release are the complete ten-minute robbery sequence that Carpenter cut from the film (it was meant to be the opening scene) with optional commentary by Carpenter and Russell, the vintage promotion featurette “Return to Escape From New York,” trailers, and a gallery of stills, posters, and promotional art.

More new releases at Cinephiled

Apr 23 2015

Film Review: ‘Little Boy’

Jakob Salvati

This home-front family drama of hope, friendship, and faith, shot through the sepia-tinged light and faded hues of nostalgia, is part of a new trend. Faith-based movies are increasingly breaking out of niche theaters and into wide release. Roma Downey and Mark Burnett, prior stewards of The Bible and Son of God, are executive producers of Little Boy, directed by Alejandro Monteverde in a Norman Rockwell-style 1940s California seaside village (actually created in Mexico).

Pepper Busbee (Jakob Salvati) is the adorable 7-year-old whose stunted growth makes him look like either a sophisticated toddler or a juvenile understudy for The Wizard of Oz’s Lollipop Guild.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Apr 22 2015

Videophiled: ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’

Kino Lorber

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, DVD, Netflix), written and directed by California-based and Iranian-born filmmaker Ana Lily Amirpour, is a genre film with a fresh approach and a distinctive cultural texture: a vampire movie from a female director who stirs American movie references into her stylized Iranian street drama.

The Girl (as she is identified in the credits), played by Sheila Vand (Argo), walks the streets (and at one point rides a skateboard) of the ominously-named Bad City in a chador, but underneath wears a striped blouse that could have been borrowed from Jean Seberg in Breathless and her basement room is adorned in pop music posters. Arash (Arash Marandi), the son of a heroin addict father in debt to a drug-dealing pimp, seems to model himself on James Dean, right down to the white T-shirt, black leather jacket and blue jeans. (The pimp, meanwhile, who fashions himself an East LA gangbanger.) Of course they cross paths and The Girl, who exercises a measure of morality in choosing her meals, allows him to woo her. Why not? They’ve both already robbed the same gangster (she took jewelry and his CDs, he grabbed the cash and the drugs).

Shot in high-contrast black-and-white widescreen almost entirely at night, A Girl Walks Home is like an Iranian film noir by way of a crime drama with supernatural edges. Amirpour uses the widescreen format to present a stripped-away landscape, devoid of bystanders (giving it a ghost town atmosphere) and prowled by predators, criminals, hookers, and other society drop-outs. It was produced in the United States, with night-shrouded California locations transformed into the suburbs and industrial outskirts of an Iranian town by the loaded name of Bad City and a cast speaking Farsi, and financed in a decidedly American manner: production funds were raised in an IndieGoGo campaign. And there are also two rather familiar Persian-American faces in supporting roles: Marshall Manesh (Ranjit in How I Met Your Mother) and Pej Vahdat (Arastoo Vaziri in Bones). The brief glimpse of nudity will likely keep it from screening in Iran but had a good festival run and a theatrical release.

Blu-ray and DVD, in Farsi with English subtitles, with a substantial collection of featurettes, including an onstage Q&A with director Ana Lily Amirpour conducted by Roger Corman and an interview with Amirpour and actress Sheila Vand, plus deleted scenes and a booklet with a graphic novel version of the film.

It’s previously been available through Cable On Demand and VOD and it is now also available to stream on Netflix.

More new releases on disc and digital at Cinephiled

Apr 19 2015

Videophiled: ‘Massacre Gun’

MassacreGun

Arrow

Massacre Gun (Arrow / MVD, Blu-ray+DVD) – Yasuharu Hasebe, a disciple of Nikkatsu’s maverick filmmaker Suzuki Seijun, made his directorial debut with Black Tight Killers (1966), a crazy, campy spy adventure fun shot in bright, pop-art color. His follow-up feature remains in the action genre but takes a turn into the dark alleys of gangster noir with the drama of loyal mob lieutenant Kuroda (Japanese crime movie icon Jô Shishido) who breaks with his boss and ends up in a gang war. It’s Kuroda and his brothers, the hot-headed Eiji (Tatsuya Fuji) and rising boxer and part-time drummer Saburo (Jirô Okazaki), versus his best friend turned nemesis (Hideaki Nitani) in a fight that is doomed to end in tragedy. That’s not a spoiler, mind you, merely a convention of this kind of grim gangster drama with a personal twist. This is a film that opens with Kuroda ordered to kill the woman he loves and his young brother (Jiro Okazaki), who Kuroda is determined to keep out of the outlaw life, getting a beatdown by the same vindictive boss. Kuroda is so loyal that love isn’t enough to buck his boss but family is different and the assault sparks a territory war.

It’s a sharp-looking film, shot in black and white widescreen with dynamic designs and graphic flair, and Shishido is the coolest of the cool and a tragic figure all at once, torn between his loyalties to the code and to his family. The opening sequence, which plays wordlessly under the credits but for a single line (“Kill her”), sets the tone, with a tease of romantic rebellion set against Kuroda’s tortured obedience, and it follows with pulp gangster fantasy all the way to the inevitable showdown.

Hasebe isn’t the rebel of his mentor, Suzuki, and the script doesn’t always make sense—“It could be a trap,” warns Kuroda as they approach a seemingly abandoned ship, to which Eiji responds, “Let’s check it out anyway,” with predictable results—but it offers a cool portrayal of Japanese mobster culture. How do these three hold off a veritable army of gunmen? And what are the rules of the gang war game that both sides seem to be following (and periodically breaking)? Never mind, it’s all in the name of romantic doom and conflicted allegiance. But there is one question: why does Kuroda’s nightclub have a staircase to the offices and private rooms opening right out on the dance floor, as in an old west saloon? Is this a standard feature of sixties jazz clubs I never knew about? Or just another example of design over logic?

massacre-gun

Tatsuya Fuji, Jô Shishido, Jirô Okazaki

 

Blu-ray and DVD, with new video interviews with star Jô Shishido (who was 80 at the time and kind of drifts through his memories; it’s 18 minutes and in Japanese with English subtitles) and British film historian Tony Rayns, a specialist in Asian film history, who offers a comprehensive history of Nikkatsu, the oldest movie studio in Japan (37 minutes).

More new releases on disc and digital at Cinephiled

Apr 18 2015

Videophiled: ‘Day of Anger’

DayofAnger

Arrow

Day of Anger (Arrow / MVD, Blu-ray, DVD) is another reminder of why Lee Van Cleef became a major spaghetti western star. He doesn’t just dominate Day of Anger (1967), he owns the film as a Frank Talby, a smiling gunman who rides into the thoroughly corrupt town of Clifton, Arizona (which, of course, is actually Almería, Spain) to collect a debt and ends up adopting the Scott (Giuliano Gemma), turning the town bastard and whipping boy into a formidable gunman in five hard lessons (all helpfully numbered). Van Cleef is smooth and cool, at once ruthless and oddly likable, and Talby’s tough-love affection for Scott is beyond the call of manipulation. Next to the utterly corrupt folks who don’t even bother to hide their arrogance and bigotry, Talby is almost honest about his criminality. He wants his money, he wants to run the town, and he wants vengeance against the hypocrites who double-crossed him.

Which is not to say he’s a hero in any sense, merely that he has a kind of honor missing from the crooked town elders who built their power on his stolen money. Talby never draws first, but he has a way of provoking others into trying their luck so he can remove them from his path in self-defense. Which is not to say he shies from a fair fight. When the bad folks of Clifton hire a mercenary to take out Talby, he agrees to the gunman’s terms: a shoot-out as frontier duel on horseback, loading the gun and shooting at full gallop. It’s a fabulous scene and Van Cleef instills in Talby a sense of honor as he matches a rival on equal terms. When he successfully takes over the town of Clifton, burning down the old saloon and building his own gambling palace (complete with pillars carved into giant handguns) as his headquarters, it’s almost comic when the ousted town leaders moan “Now Clifton will never go back to the way it was,” as if their malevolent rule was some kind of paradise for the peasants, the drunks, and the outcasts they kept in their place. Giuliano Gemma has quite the baby face as Scott and the voice in the English dubbing is all young cowhand aw-shucks innocence. You might say the film is about his evolution from hero-worshipping boy to responsible man forced to choose a side.

It’s ostensibly based on a German novel but director and co-writer Tonino Valerii admits that it was merely a matter of co-production financing and his script spun a new story around the basic premise. Which, in the spaghetti western tradition, is in many ways about the corruption behind the myth of the old west. Valerii was an assistant to Sergio Leone on A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More and directed the Leone-produced My Name is Nobody. This hasn’t the operatic flamboyance of Leone but it has a more complex portrait of power and corruption and an ambivalence toward loyalty and justice. There’s no sense of triumph in vengeance here, merely inevitability.

Lee Van Cleef

The film has been digitally restored for Blu-ray and DVD from the original 35mm Techniscope camera negative. I’m sure it hasn’t looked this good since it was released. Valerii favors the spare visuals of most spaghetti westerns, emphasizing the isolation and emptiness of the Spanish plains standing in for the American southwest, and the disc presents it all with a sharp clarity and vivid burnished palette. It features the original, uncut Italian version (with both English and Italian soundtracks, with optional subtitles) and the shorter international version (in English only).

It features new video interviews with screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi (13 minutes, in Italian with English subtitles) and Tonino Valerii’s biographer Roberto Curti (43 minutes, in English) and a previously unreleased 2008 interview with Tonino Valerii (11 minutes, in Italian with English subtitles), plus a deleted scene, and includes a booklet with an essay by spaghetti western expert Howard Hughes.

More new releases on disc and digital at Cinephiled

Apr 17 2015

Videophiled: ‘Foyle’s War’ – The final mysteries

Acorn

Foyle’s War: Set 8 (Acorn, DVD) – Foyle’s War debuted on British TV in 2002 as a mysteries series set on the homefront during World War II, where the cool-headed, rational Inspector Foyle (Michael Kitchen) was assigned to investigate domestic crimes against the backdrop of life during wartime. British TV long had a tradition for mysteries set in the colorful pre-war past, from Sherlock Holmes to Poirot, but this show started a vogue for darker stories in less glamorous settings and troubled times. It became a favorite in both Britain and the U.S. (where it played on Masterpiece Mystery), was revived twice after cancellation, and carried on after the show brought the war to an end war with Foyle working for the secretive MI-5 to fight the Cold War.

This set presents the final three episodes of the show, all scripted by series creator Anthony Horowitz. Set in the late 1940s, each mystery is a fictional take on the real life events and social realities of the era. While Foyle cuts through the tangled politics of crimes that reach beyond the borders of Britain, his assistant Sam (Honeysuckle Weeks) and her husband Adam (Daniel Weyman), an idealistic Member of Parliament struggling to make a difference, take us through the social and political situation of post-war life for ordinary citizens. Horowitz also takes the opportunity to explore Foyle’s superiors at MI-5, who slowly put their trust in his intelligence and sense of justice in a culture of compromise and secrecy.

In “High Castle,” the murder of a translator at the Nuremberg war crimes trials leads back to an act of treason in the war. “Trespass” deals with the conflicts over the emigration of Jews to Palestine and the rise of a Fascist party stoking anti-immigrant anger in Britain. “Elise,” the final episode of the show, weaves the story of a conspiracy within the intelligence service reaching back to the war with black market activities in the present, and it ends the show in a way that leaves the door open for yet another revival. It could happen. Horowitz has said this is the end but in the featurettes he’s careful not to close the door entirely.

On DVD, with “The Truth Behind the Fiction” interviews between Anthony Horowitz and historian and series consultant Terry Charman that explore the real-life history behind the stories among the supplements.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

Apr 16 2015

Videophiled: ‘A Tale of Winter’

Big World

A Tale of Winter (Big World, DVD), the second film in French filmmaker Eric Rohmer’s “Tales of the Four Seasons” cycle from the 1990s, is not the chilly story its title would suggest. Felice (Charlotte Very) is a single mother with two lovers but feels little passion for either of them and Felice knows passion. In the opening scene she frolics with youthful abandon with Charles (Frederic Van Dren Driessche), an American she falls for on holiday. Through a careless mistake—she gives him her wrong address and doesn’t have his—they never reconnect despite her best efforts, but his presence continues to permeate her life as she raises their child. The sunny warmth of carefree youth and emotional ecstasy of the opening turns to the cool colors of winter as Felice tries to make the best of it by choosing one of her lovers but, in the best tradition of willful Rohmer women, she discovers she simply cannot settle for second best.

Rohmer makes small, intimate films about the foibles of people in love, both young and not-so-young, with both wit and compassion. This is one of his most compassionate and understanding. Felice is a delightfully contradictory character, lively under her somber front, headstrong and petulant, indecisive and flighty, dedicated to her search for true love, and Very invests Felice with a spark that enlivens her even at her most exasperating. That spark lights up in one of the most emotionally magical and compassionate endings in all of Rohmer’s films. It makes its DVD debut after getting a brief theatrical rerelease in the U.S. In French with English subtitles; they are electronic but unremovable.

Also on VOD and digital purchase (HD and SD versions) from iTunes and Vudu.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

Apr 15 2015

Videophiled: ‘Big Eyes’

Anchor Bay

Big Eyes (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) is Tim Burton’s second foray into strange but true stories of American termite art culture. Where Ed Wood was a valentine to artistic oddballs and eccentrics on the fringes told with an optimism that was certainly not mirrored in Wood’s real life, this is a story about the pain behind the façade of happiness and success.

Amy Adams is Margaret Keane, who painted thousands of portraits of sad-eyed waifs, and Christoph Waltz is Walter Keane, the born salesman who promoted her paintings into a pop culture phenomenon in the sixties and seventies while taking credit for painting them. Waltz plays the part like he’s perpetually on the hustle and Adams’ Margaret falls not so much for his charm as for his confidence, a dimension that becomes demanding, bullying, and threatening as he basks in the success of her work. Burton and screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (who also wrote Ed Wood and The People vs. Larry Flynt) empathize with Margaret and her ordeal and Adams gives a nuanced performance as Margaret, a single mother who escapes one bad marriage for another even worse, too timid to challenge the dominating Walter until she finds herself. For Walter it’s about money and attention and the adoration of fans (even if the art establishment finds the paintings commercial abominations). For Margaret, it’s a matter of honesty and identity. The paintings reflected her soul, not his.

Burton is also fascinated with the way her art was dismissed as kitsch while it was embraced by the public: Are the Keane big eyes paintings art, kitsch, both, or something else? The cross section of art and commerce is fascinating but not all that well explored. And while his instinct for visual excess is largely in check, he can’t help but give so many scenes over to Waltz’s exuberant hustle. The film works thanks to Burton’s affection for both the art and the artist, Adams’ resilient performance, and a story that is too fascinating to be fiction.

On Blu-ray and DVD with the featurette “The Making of Big Eyes.” The Blu-ray also features highlights from screening Q&As with director Tim Burton, actors Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Krysten Ritter, and Jason Schwartzman, screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, and the real-life Margaret Keane, and an UltraViolet Digital HD copy of the film.

Also on VOD from Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and Xbox, on Cable On Demand, and Digital HD purchase.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

Apr 14 2015

Videophiled: ‘The Babadook’

Scream Factory

The Babadook (Scream Factory, Blu-ray, DVD), one of the best and most original horror films in years, raises goosebumps with old-fashioned scares, relatable characters, and a provocative psychological foundation. Amelia (Essie Kent) is a single mother who is still in mourning for her dead husband—she barely seems to be able to rouse herself to face the world—and is unable to cope with her overactive son Sam (Noah Wiseman), who is both terribly sweet and terrifyingly unpredictable. Clearly the loss has left them both scarred. Amelia has cocooned herself in an emotional shroud while Sam arms himself—quite literally, with improvised weapons that could easily maim a fellow schoolkid—to fight the imaginary monsters that may in fact be real. While the stress shows in Amelia’s increasingly haggard face and exhausted movements, Sam gets more wide-eyed and manic, a devil child who really just wants to be an angel and protect his mommy.

The title is an anagram for “a bad book,” which here is a pop-up children’s storybook that suddenly appears on Sam’s bookshelf and releases a smudgy nightmare creature that apparently jumps out of the pages and into the shadows. The book and the Babadook (Dook! Dook! Dook!)—which lurks in shadows, creeps in the corner of their eyes, and roams at night like a ghost in a haunted house (which their creepily still home has become)—both refuse to be evicted. It doesn’t take a psychiatrist to wonder how much of the Babadook is external demon invading a fraught home and how much is the guilt and resentment and darkest emotional fears let loose in the hallucinations of a troubled, sleepless mother.

Jennifer Kent, an Australian director making her feature debut, blurs the borders between the real and imaginary. She’s an experienced actress and draws tremendous performances from both Kent and Wiseman, filling the film with their anxieties and runaway emotions, but she also masterfully applies the less-is-more aesthetic to create unsettling images and terrifying suggestions. The Babadook, a charcoal sketch of an ogre with Nosferatu talons and bared fangs, remains two-dimensional even when haunting the human world, which makes it all the more scary and unreal, and Kent shrouds the house in shadow even in the bright light of day.

It’s a powerful metaphor—the darkest emotions let loose by this troubled, frazzled mother—that never lands solidly on one side or the other. It’s a primal fairy tale, a psychological thriller, an uncompromising portrait of a mother on the verge of a breakdown, and a genuinely creepy horror movie about the terrors that just might be hiding under your bed. Kent brings the film to a conclusion that satisfies all dimensions of her tale.

It’s on Blu-ray and DVD with an hour of cast and crew interviews (including filmmaker Jennifer Kent and stars Essie Davis and Daniel Henshall) and five short featurettes, plus there is a Special Edition Blu-ray which features the Kent’s 2005 short film Monster, a ten-minute, black-and-white mood piece which is the basis for the feature, and deleted scenes, plus a terrific slipcover with a Babadook pop-up. The cover art is double-sided.

Also on VOD from Amazon Instant, Xbox, and Sundance Now, and it is still available on Cable On Demand.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

Apr 11 2015

Videophiled: ‘Ride the Pink Horse’

RidePinkHorse

Criterion

Ride the Pink Horse (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) – It wouldn’t be fair to call this film unknown—ask any die-hard film noir fan—but outside of classic movie buffs and noir aficionados, Ride the Pink Horse (1947) simply isn’t a familiar title. The film’s debut on DVD and Blu-ray should help change things, and the Criterion imprint certainly doesn’t hurt.

Based on the novel by Dorothy B. Hughes, whose work also inspired In A Lonely Place, and directed by Robert Montgomery, this is rural noir, set in a fictional New Mexico border town created almost entirely on studio sets (with a few location shots in Santa Fe). Montgomery also stars as “Lucky” Gagin, a big-city thug who tracks a crime boss (Fred Clark) to San Pablo for a shakedown on the eve of its fiesta season. The shift from the city at night to a dusty southwestern town, where Spanish fills the streets and cantinas outside of the tourist hotel, gives this film a striking atmosphere and texture, but the themes come right out of the post-war dramas and crime movies. Montgomery is a working class thug who came home from the war disillusioned and angry and Clark, his blackmail target, is a war profiteer who hides behind the façade of big business and looks more like a middle-management functionary than a criminal tough guy. One of the oddest touches in film involves his hearing aid, which turns familiar phone call scenes upside down. (You might recalls Clark as the producer who dismisses William Holden’s baseball script in Sunset Blvd and as dyspeptic comic relief in scores of films and TV shows.) Ride the Pink Horse anticipates the connection between organized crime and corporate America that became even more prevalent in the 1950.

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