A Single Man (Sony) has been widely praised, I think largely because of the acting: there’s quite a lot of it, Colin Firth doing it quite well, Julianne Moore slipping around her accent and the rest of the cast looking as designed as the film. I review the film for MSN here. I also review the new Blu-ray special edition of Buster Keaton’s brilliant Steamboat Bill, Jr. and the original 1927 Chicago elsewhere on my blog.
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Music Box) – Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl With…” Millennium Trilogy, a trio of novels that teams up a disgraced journalist with a punk hacker, has become a genuine international phenomenon. American screen adaptations are in the works but they’ve already been turned into blockbusters in Sweden and the first in the series now arrives on DVD stateside.
Fans of the book have been disappointed in this workmanlike adaptation, but coming to it with no expectations it is quite involving, thanks to Noomi Rapace’s downright feral incarnation of Lisbeth Salander, an angry delinquent that life has hardened into a ferocious young woman. She’s got to be hard to survive this predatory world, even before she get involved in a decades old murder mystery that stirs up old secrets. Michael Nyqvist gets top billing as the ostensible hero of the story, investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist, who comes out of prison after serving time for libel (he was framed, natch) and agrees to take the cold case, but Salander, who uses her hacking skills for freelance investigations for clients who don’t care how she gets her information, takes an interest in Blomkvist, which is the first altruistic act we’ve seen from her… even if it is a matter of vengeance. And vengeance is something she knows about, and exacts with fury.
The second Swedish film, The Girl Who Played With Fire (the title is hinted at in a flashback in Dragon Tattoo) is now beginning stateside showings and is a better film (and it makes Salander’s story front and center, with Blomkvist in loyal support). This is a good way to catch up. In Swedish with English subtitles and optional English dub track. The only supplements are a 12-minute English-language interview with actress Noomi Rapace (who discusses how she prepared for the role, physically as well as psychologically) and a screen map of “The Vanger Family Tree.”
Columbia Pictures Film Noir Classics II (Collector’s Choice) (Sony) – The second collection of film noir classics from the golden age of Columbia Pictures picks up where the first one left off, even if the word “classics” is used in the generic sense (as in, they are all over fifty years old). What’s so marvelous about the set is that it spotlights lesser known and under-appreciated titles in the genre. The best known of the quintet is Fritz Lang’s Human Desire, adapted from Emile Zola’s La Bete Humaine and featuring his The Big Heat stars Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame (so perfectly tawdry), and the unknown factor belongs to City of Fear, an interesting but disappointing thriller from the director (Irving Lerner) and star (Vince Edwards) of the first set’s rediscovery Murder By Contract, but the other three are the set’s true gems.
Richard Quine’s Pushover plays like a low-rent Double Indemnity, with Fred MacMurray as a tired cop who falls for a gangster’s girlfriend (Kim Novak in her film debut), but under the doomed plot is a touching romance and loyalty. Quine finds a scuffed dignity in their connection, despite the tawdry path they take and makes the anonymity of the low-budget sets work to his benefit. Phil Karlson’s The Brothers Rico is a family drama set within the world of organized crime, where the loyalty to the organization collides with to loyalty to blood, and Richard Conte is superb as the brother blindsided by the difference.
My personal rediscovery is Jacques Tourneur’s Nightfall (1956), a classic noir nightmare with Aldo Ray as the innocent man on the run from the police (who think he’s guilty of murder) and brutal bank robbers (who framed him) and Anne Bancroft as the emotionally bruised model who puts her trust in the tormented innocent. It’s adapted from a novel by David Goodis, whose best work plumbed the despair and helplessness of innocents wrapped in webs of violence and persecution that dragged down their souls along with their lives, while Tourneur brings out the fighting side of this victimized innocent with a tough/tender performance from Ray, an artist by trade living in the shadows of society where every stranger is a potential enemy. “Why me?” asks Bancroft when she stuck in the web after sharing a not-so-innocent (but far from guilt) drink that leads to a run-in with a pair of thugs. He tosses off his answer like a man living the question: “I ask myself that every night.” Crisply directed, scripted with gems of hardboiled lines (“You’re asking for it” / “I’m in an asking position”) and superbly paced, it’s a film of darkness and light that ends up in the snowy mountains of Wyoming, where violence throws its long shadow over the purity of the snowy hills. James Gregory brings a paternal warmth to his dogged insurance investigator, almost a guardian angel over the man he’s shadowing, driven as much by an innate sense of justice as by his responsibility to find a cache of stolen money, and Brian Keith plays the most affable yet deadly criminal of his career. He doesn’t leave witnesses, but that doesn’t mean he enjoys his work.
The supplements are far less lavish that the previous Columbia noir collection, limited to brief interview featurettes with Martin Scorsese (on The Brothers Rico), director Christopher Nolan and actress Emily Mortimer, but the star attractions are the five films making their DVD debuts in superb transfers, all of them in their correct aspect ratio for the first time on home video.
The Wind Journeys (Film Movement) – From Colombia comes this fable-like tale of a celebrated troubadour (Marciano Martinez) whose accordion is rumored to have belonged to the devil, a young musician (Yull Nunez) who wants to learn from the master and a journey through the dramatic countryside of lush forests, arid deserts and mountain villages. It’s a world of isolated peasants and poverty far from the cities, where master musicians are offered the respect of shamans and sorcery is a part of life. The texture is stronger than the story, a display of musical duels and community concerts and grudge fights accompanied by the accordion. Spanish with English subtitles. Also features the short film “Danzak” from Peru.
Big brother is watching you in Eyeborgs (Image), a sci-fi thriller of a surveillance society where the roving eyeborg cameras (imagine lethal versions of the spidery scanner robots from Minority Report) become a secret police force with the power of the Patriot Act behind it. Adrian Paul (TV’s Highlander) is the cop who is treats the digital conspiracy theories told by suspects (arrested based on video evidence from the Eyeborgs) as lunatic ravings until he’s faced with the doctored video of an event he was himself involved in. It’s a potentially interesting premise for an ambitious B-movie, which is weak by most big-screen standards but a significant improvement over the parade of hackneyed SyFy originals on DVD. The suspicion of unchecked power and blind obedience to authority (it even quotes Benjamin Franklin: “Those who choose safety over freedom deserve neither”) was inspired by the growing executive power of the Bush years but could just as easily be claimed by the Tea Party crowd. The film itself, directed by Richard Clabaugh, is riddled with improbabilities and a budget-starved production that never delivers the scope it reaches for, but it is elevated by some very effective digital effects and a cool-looking series of Eyborg creations. Includes a behind-the-scenes featurette and deleted scenes.
Also new this week is Brooklyn’s Finest (Anchor Bay/Overture) with Richard Gere, Don Cheadle, Ethan Hawke and Wesley Snipes.