Sep 02 2014

Videophiled: ‘Night Moves’

NightMoves

Night Moves (New Video, Blu-ray, DVD, Cable VOD), the fourth film that New York-based director Kelly Reichardt has made in Oregon, is her most commercial project yet, though you won’t mistake this drama of eco-terrorists who blow a dam on a southern Oregon river for a Hollywood thriller. Reichardt and longtime screenwriting partner Jon Raymond focus on the process and the people, a trio of true-believers who want to make a “statement” and end up killing a camper in the collateral damage.

Jesse Eisenberg is the closest we have to a protagonist, a guy living on a co-op just outside of Ashland. He anchors this activist cell with a restless impatience for the blithe, stoner-like disregard for detail of the group’s combat vet (Peter Sarsgaard) and the new age-y philosophy of trust fund kid Dakota Fanning, the one who unravels with guilt over the camper’s death. They aren’t necessarily likable but they are compelling. The debates over the cost of action and the effectiveness of a destructive statement over productive alternatives are in the margins, present but always framed by the personal. The stakes are real—the opening shot shows the beauty of the Oregon wilderness gouged by a clear-cut patch in the wooded landscape—but so are the costs of action and Night Moves is all about responsibility.

Blu-ray and DVD with no supplements. Also on Cable VOD.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

Aug 30 2014

Videophiled Classic: Chaplin at Mutual and 25 Years of Mack Sennett

Flicker Alley releases two more collections of classic silent comedies. Chaplin’s Mutual Comedies 1916-1917 (Flicker Alley, Blu-ray+DVD) collects the greatest run of comedy shorts in Chaplin’s career in newly restored and remastered editions, and The Mack Sennett Collection: Vol. One (Flicker Alley, Blu-ray) collects 50 comedies of a variety of lengths (including one feature) from Sennett’s studios, from 1909 to 1933 and his early sound comedies.

MackSennettV1

The Mack Sennett Collection: Vol. One is the goldmine here. It’s not that it necessarily features superior work to the Chaplin classics (those Chaplin Mutuals are among the greatest silent comedies ever made) but that it rescues so many films either previously unavailable or only available in compromised or inferior editions and it encompasses so many silent movie greats that began their respective careers in his studios and, in most cases, remained to flourish there.

It opens on Mack Sennett as writer and star of The Curtain Pole (1909), a nonsense comedy that sends Sennett (in heavy make-up and absurdly overdone facial hair) on a quest to replace the title object and ends with him literally gnawing on the pole to get it down to size. D.W. Griffith directs in perfectly professional mode, keeping the absurdities going with all due haste, but Mack Sennett takes the helm for the next five shorts, slowly removing himself from the frame and giving the star parts over to Mabel Normand and Ford Sterling, two of his most reliable stars for the next decade.

This is slapstick at its most basic, all overcharged energy and wild-eyed mania, but Sennett (who eventually leaves directing to others but still writes many of them and produces them all) slowly perfects the genre through the course of the disc, which takes us through the evolution from one-reel comedies to two- and three-reel pictures with slightly more logical plots and creative comic inventions. And they introduce us to the great Sennett stock company: Fatty Arbuckle, Charlie Chase, Chester Conklin, Al St. John, Mack Swain, Edgar Kennedy, and a young British comic by the name of Charlie Chaplin.

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Aug 29 2014

‘Don’t Turn ‘Em Loose’ on TCM

The violent and energetic gangster thrillers that thrived in the early sound era were all but forbidden after the production code was imposed in 1934. The studios responded by transforming them into social dramas and promoting the forces of law and order and moral values into the leading roles. That’s more or less the approach of the 1936 drama Don’t Turn ‘em Loose, which takes on corruption and incompetence in the parole system through the story of brutal criminal Bat Williams, played with a cunning charm by Bruce Cabot. He pours on the sincerity while making his case for early parole then pulls a heist the very day he’s released, killing a man in the escape with cold-blooded efficiency. But he has a double life. To his family, he’s Robert Webster, globe-trotting engineer working jobs in Europe and South America, his cover for when he’s on the lam or in prison.

Lewis Stone takes top billing as the father, a schoolteacher whose resemblance to Judge Hardy from the Andy Hardy movies is only enhanced by his penchant for making speeches and moral proclamations, and Nella Walker has a remarkable resemblance to Fay Holden, who played Ma Hardy in the MGM series.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Plays on Saturday, August 30 on TCM

Aug 28 2014

Videophiled TVD: ‘The Good Wife: The Fifth Season’

GoodWifeS5

The Good Wife: The Fifth Season (Paramount, DVD) is the rare network drama that has found its voice and improved over its run, delivering both a clever and engaging legal show with cases and twists and offbeat characters that rival David E. Kelly’s show at their best, and an adult drama with real stakes and consequences for every choice, personal and professional. The professional complications come right away as Alicia (Julianna Margulies) plotting to leave Lockhart Gardner and start a new firm with fellow associate Cary (Matt Czerny), a secretive scheme that turns into a war with former colleagues Will (Josh Charles) and Diane (Christine Baranski). The split forces Kalinda (Archie Panjabi) to take sides and creates tension between the firm and Governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), who is still Alicia’s husband if only in name and public appearance.

Margulies remains the center of the show but this is an ensemble with an expanding universe of characters—this season introduces mob-connected lawyer Damian Boyle, a new hire for the firm, and brings back Nathan Lane as a new colleague in the fledgling firm, Carrie Preston as an eccentric attorney, and Michael J. Fox as cunning rival Louis Canning who takes an interest in Lockhart/Gardner—but Charles dominates as Will, who goes on the offensive with a ferocity previously unseen in his character, while Baranski finds herself in a crisis of her own. For fans of the show, this is a significant season due to a dramatic death. A lot of dramas would play it for shock value but creators Michelle and Robert King work the event into the fabric of the series and the show spends a good part of the season exploring the way the characters deal with the loss personally and professionally.

22 episodes on six discs on DVD, with two featurettes (including an in-depth look at the key episode where a major character is killed), a music video, and deleted scenes. No streaming option yet beyond Digital VOD.

More TV on disc and digital platforms at Cinephiled

Aug 27 2014

Streamers: See Orson Welles’ ‘Too Much Johnson’ and Amazon’s Third Pilot Season for Free

Too Much Johnson, the Orson Welles film (or rather film project) that was long thought lost (the last print was reportedly destroyed in a fire in Welles’ Spanish home in 1970), was found a few years ago and restored. It’s not a feature or even a short, per se, more of an experiment shot to accompany a production of the theater farce “Too Much Johnson,” but at least the first section plays just fine on its own as a tribute to silent slapstick comedy with Joseph Cotten doing Harold Lloyd antics and Buster Keaton chases as a serial philanderer pursued by a jealous husband. The film was unfinished but mostly complete and you can watch both the workprint and a “reimagined” version with the outtakes removed at the National Film Preservation Foundation website. An HD version of both are available through the subscription streaming service Fandor.

I wrote an essay on the film for Keyframe: “This would all be interesting but academic if it wasn’t also entertaining and Too Much Johnson is a hoot. The prologue was designed to open the play, introduce the characters and situations, and set the racing pace for the stage scenes with a wild slapstick chase through the streets of New York to the ship that carries the story to Cuba. It plays just fine on its own (with an assist from intertitles added by NFPF), like an open-ended Mack Sennett farce that races through German Expressionism and Russian Formalism on the way to the docks. The subsequent sequences, both much shorter and apparently incomplete, are not as self-contained or coherent but they do feature some eye-opening moments for Welles fans.”

'Too Much Johnson'

The third wave of Amazon Prime Instant Video Pilot Season shows will be available to sample on Thursday, August 28. As in previous waves, Amazon has made the pilot episodes of five new shows available to all Amazon customers (you don’t have to be a Prime member to watch them), and they will decide which shows move forward to full series based on audience feedback.

More streaming options at Cinephiled

Aug 26 2014

Videophiled: Emmy-winner ‘The Normal Heart’ on Blu-ray and DVD

NormalHeart

The Normal Heart (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD), the made-for-HBO feature based on Larry Kramer’s play and directed for cable by Ryan Murphy, arrives on disc the day after winning the Emmy Award for Outstanding Television Movie. Kramer wrote the play in 1985, based in part on his own experiences as a gay activist in the early years of the AIDS crisis, and it captures an era when thousands of gay men were dying yet the mainstream media shied from reporting on the plague (as it was called then) and government officials would not even say the name AIDS in public. 30 years out of time, it seems more of a polemic than ever but it also captures the fear and fury of the men in the community facing a crisis that even the government won’t acknowledge.

Mark Ruffalo takes the lead as Ned Weeks, a writer and activist that Kramer based on himself. He’s the rabble rouser of the group that he founds in 1981, a guy so angry and confrontational that he’s finally pushed out. But the internal politics reflect the culture at large—many of the most active members of the group (played by Taylor Kitsch, as the photogenic face of the gay men’s health group, Jim Parsons and Joe Mantello, who played Ned in the original stage production) still haven’t come out in public—and the fears that many have of creating a panic that will turn the public against them. Matt Bomer co-stars as Weeks’ boyfriend, a New York Times reporter who also hasn’t come out, and Julia Roberts is apparently the only doctor in New York City who is concerned with the still-unidentified disease. Most of these characters were based on people Kramer knew, friends and family alike, and some of these characters are dead before the film ends in the year 1985. Just like in real life.

It came to HBO after a successful stage revival but 30 years out of time it plays more like a period piece, removed enough from the immediacy of the crisis to really pour on the sense of outrage and fear, something that the earliest films to confront AIDS could never allow themselves to do. That outrage, and the committed performances of the cast, surely helped this feature earn its Emmy last night.

On Blu-ray and DVD with a nine-minute featurette on author Larry Kramer and the autobiographical roots of the original play. It sheds some interesting perspective on the personal dramas explored here. Also available as a Digital purchase and free for subscribers to HBO via Cable On Demand and HBO Go.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

Aug 22 2014

‘Pay or Die!’ for TCM

Allied Artists had such success with their 1959 picture Al Capone, starring Rod Steiger as the infamous mobster, that the studio teamed up again with director/producer Richard Wilson for another Italian mobster movie, this one set in early 20th Century New York City. Pay or Die! (1960) is based on the true story of New York Police Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino, an Italian American police detective who earned the respect of the immigrants in Little Italy and formed the Italian Squad of the police department in 1905 to battle the Mafia.

Ernest Borgnine plays Joe as a dedicated officer determined to win over the largely Sicilian immigrant population of his neighborhood, a group that brought its mistrust of the police with them from the old country, where police corruption was rampant. Though 17 years in America, he still speaks in stilted, somewhat broken English, a holdover from his self-taught American education, but he overflows with praise for the melting pot of America. Borgnine spoke fluent Italian and had no trouble with the Italian dialogue, which was peppered through the dialogue with the Little Italy locals.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Plays on Saturday, August 23 on TCM

Aug 21 2014

Videophiled Classic: Otar Iosseliani’s ‘Favorites of the Moon’

FavoritesMoon

Favorites of the Moon: 30th Anniversary Edition (Cohen, Blu-ray, DVD), winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, is a deadpan satire of modern life and social hypocrisy with characters, rich and poor alike, from a lively Paris suburb whose lives criss-cross and tangle with one another.

There’s a pompous police chief who spies on citizens and plays at high society sophistication, a jealous weapons expert who fixes handcuffs for Paris policemen and sells bombs to terrorists when he’s not stalking his girlfriend, a robber teaching his young son the business, a schoolteacher with a streak of anarchy, prostitutes, hobos, and others winding through the stories. Along with the location, the characters are connected by a painting and a set of fine porcelain dishes that were created in the 18th century and are sold, stolen, and otherwise passed around through the comic episodes.

There is no central story. It’s really more of a busy set of actions that wind back around and mirror each other in comic portraits of hypocrisy, and it is practically wordless for most of the running time, with few dialogue scenes and the action playing out as a cheeky silent comedy. It’s directed by Russian ex-patriate filmmaker Otar Iosseliani, who clearly prefers the streetwise criminals to the corrupt rich and middle-class folks, for they at least have no illusions about what they do. Co-writer Gerard Brach was a regular collaborator with Roman Polanski, Jean-Jacques Annaud, and Claude Berri, but this is more reminiscent of the later films of Luis Bunuel: densely-woven, satirical, whimsical, deadpan, and utterly savage in the way it undercuts the pretensions of its characters. The cast is a mix of professionals and non-actors, including the debut of future French screen star Mathieu Amalric.

In French with English subtitles, with commentary by film critic Philip Lopate, who seems to be winging it through the track. Clearly he’s a sharp critic who knows his subject, and he has some interesting insights, but it could have used a little more organization. Also comes with an accompanying booklet with and essay by Giovanni Vimercati.

More classic and cult films on disc at Cinephiled

Aug 21 2014

Rediscovery: Orson Welles’ ‘Too Much Johnson’

Joseph Cotten channels Harold Lloyd in 'Too Much Johnson'

Ladies and gentlemen, presenting the slapstick stylings of Orson Welles, the boy wonder of Broadway!

Not exactly how we think of Welles, is it? We know he had a rich career both on radio and on the New York stage before he made Citizen Kane, but the few comedies he made were far outnumbered by the dramas and the thrillers and the literary adaptation. Yet after his first attention-getting success with Voodoo Macbeth for the WPA, Welles took a sharp turn to farce with his follow-up, Horse Eats Hat, which also had the honor of presenting Joseph Cotten in his first starring role.

There is no film record of Horse Eats Hat or any of his stage comedies and, though he had developed a few proposals for screen comedies, no producer ever took him up on them. So apart from a few cheeky supporting roles, a couple of TV appearances and fragments from unfinished projects, the record shows Orson Welles as a grand artist of serious subjects and baroque tastes.

That alone is reason enough to hail the discovery, restoration and presentation of the long-thought-lost Too Much Johnson, a tribute to the silent slapstick shorts of Mack Sennett, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. It is an unfinished project in its own right but is nonetheless complete enough in this “The Films Reimagined” form to reveal a side of Welles so rarely exhibited to the public. That it was made three years before Citizen Kane makes it an invaluable find, a glimpse of the artist exploring the new medium of film with a natural affinity for the possibilities inherent in cinema. But that’s a matter of historical scholarship. What matters to the rest of us is that Too Much Johnson is funny, clever, cheeky, inventive and genuinely accomplished, which makes it worth watching on its own modest yet playful merits.

Continue reading at Keyframe

Aug 19 2014

Videophiled: Jim Jarmusch’s vampire ‘Lovers’ and ‘A Brony Tale’

OnlyLovers

Only Lovers Left Alive (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) is the richest film that Jim Jarmusch has made in some time. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are the eternal lovers Eve and Adam, vampire soulmates who have become disenchanted with a world that the zombie inhabitants (their word for humans) are blithely poisoning. They are sophisticates, sensualists, artists, beings who find their greatest pleasure in one another, and Jarmusch suggests that they have evolved to a kind of elemental form, pure beings who revere art and beauty and just happen to need to feed on human blood to survive. The problem is that human blood is also being poisoned, which makes the pure “good stuff” a kind of rare wine that is saved and shared sparingly.

Swinton and Hiddleston bring both a grace and ennui to the screen, suggesting centuries of experience by their very presence, yet the joy they give one another enlivens the mournful tone of their nocturnal existence. In contrast to their languorous sensibilities is Eve’s sister, a wild child played by Mia Wasikowska with an insatiable appetite and an instinct for chaos, while John Hurt is the dying elder, poisoned by the world around him. Read the reviews here.

I did not receive a review copy but the discs should have a behind-the-scenes featurette and deleted and extended scenes.

BronyTale

A Brony Tale (Virgil, DVD, Digital VOD) offers a gentle entry into the very real “Brony” phenomenon: adult fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, a group that is overwhelmingly male, heterosexual and unashamed of their love of a cartoon about pastel-colored talking horses designed for little girls. Our guide through this world is Canadian voice actress and singer Ashleigh Ball, who provides the voices of two little ponies in the current incarnation of the series, Apple Jack and Rainbow Dash. “The pervert alarm, for sure, went off in my head,” she says when she first learned about the subculture, and she takes a tour to investigate the phenomenon on her way to Bronycon 2012 in Manhattan, where she’s been invited as a guest of honor.

If you are expecting some kind of freak show, you’ll be in for a surprise. Director Brent Hodge is a friend of Ball and frames the film through her perspective and experience, which works because she’s a sincere, serious, likable young woman who finds that the Brony phenomenon is far more positive and affirming than surface appearances might suggest. The spokesmen for the Bronies (mostly men, which in this case is representative of the culture at large, though a few women are represented as well) make a fine case for themselves and celebrate the values of the series in their own lives. When we get to the Iraq vet and former artist who was lifted out of his depression and inspired to draw again because of his engagement with the series, you don’t feel like making fun of any of these fans anymore. A Brony Tale isn’t deep or probing but neither is it sarcastic or dismissive.

The DVD features director commentary, the featurette “The Many Voices of Ashleigh Ball” (which basically expands a sequence from the film where Ball performs the voices of her various cartoon gigs), a brief photo-shoot and an acoustic performance by Ball, whose band Hey Ocean! provides the film’s soundtrack.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

Aug 18 2014

‘The Spellbinder’ on TCM

Lee Tracy was Hollywood’s specialist for fast talking shysters, con-men, and underhanded newspapermen in the 1930s. With his nasally voice, staccato delivery, wise-guy manner, and diminutive size, he had a knack for comic characters and he was kept busy playing cynical reporters and press agents during the pre-code era. He was also a heavy drinker with a reckless lifestyle off screen, which ended more than one studio contract. By the mid-thirties, Tracy was without a studio and freelancing on smaller films. He made The Spellbinder (1939) for the B-unit of RKO and journeyman director Jack Hively, who rose up from the editing room to the director’s chair.

Jed Marlowe is a classic Tracy role, a silver-tongued lawyer who befuddles witnesses on the stand and manipulates juries with theatrics, but apart from the shenanigans behind the scenes of the first trial (he pays off a small company of actors to play his client’s family in court) there’s no comic twist here. He’s a cynic when it comes to law but a doting, protective single father when it comes to his teenage daughter Janet (Barbara Read). She adores him and plays hooky from finishing school to watch him defend his client Tom Dixon (Patric Knowles) for murder. Knowles was a handsome British import whose poise and confidence landed him a few leading roles but mostly was relegated to supporting parts. He played drama, comedy, and adventure with equal success. For The Spellbinder he played another of his specialties: the charming cad.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Plays on TCM on Thursday, August 21

Aug 17 2014

‘The Second Time Around’ on TCM

Go west, young widow. That’s the advice that Debbie Reynolds takes in The Second Time Around, a lighthearted family western set in the early days of the 20th century, when New York City was the height of modernity and Arizona was still a territory in the final throes of the wild west. Reynolds is Lucretia “Lu” Rogers, the inspired mother of two young children who wants nothing more than to follow the dream she shared with her late husband: to take their family west and raise them in the wide open spaces of the last American frontier. And so she does, leaving the children in the temporary custody of her mother-in-law and traveling to the town of Charleyville, Arizona, to set up housekeeping so she can bring the children out. When plans don’t work out, she takes a job as a ranch hand on a tiny spread owned by the flinty but soft-hearted Aggie Gates (Thelma Ritter), a tough old bird who takes a maternal interest in Lu.

Steve Forrest co-stars as Dan Jones, the devilishly charming proprietor of the Lucky Devil who takes an instant interest in Lu, and Andy Griffith is the gallant Pat Collins, a rural farmer with a plainspoken decency behind his trademark drawl and rural homespun manner. It’s another man entirely, however, who changes the course of her life: the crooked, bullying sheriff of Charleyville, who so rouses Lu’s ire that she challenges him in the town’s first election after Arizona is admitted as the 48th state in the nation.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Plays on TCM on Wednesday, August 20

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