May 05 2015

Videophiled: Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr. Turner’

Sony

Mr. Turner (Sony, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD) – “When I look in a mirror, I see a gargoyle.” J.M.W. Turner, as created in the Mike Leigh’s film Mr. Turner and incarnated by Timothy Spall, is not what we imagine for a grand British artist. Burly, rough-hewn, with speech punctuated by grunts and snorts, he’s a man from working class stock who has acquired the necessary social decorum to interact in professional society but reverts to an almost primitive state back home. He’s abandoned his wife and daughters with little more than an allowance and turns to his maid for sexual release, but he also adores his father (Paul Jesson), is fascinated by natural science, has an almost spiritual connection to the landscapes he paints, and finds solace living in anonymity in a rented room overlooking the sea in a port town.

This is only Leigh’s third film based on historical events and set in the past—everything else in his career has been contemporary—but like his other films it is built with his cast’s commitment to research and investment in their characters. The screenplay, which follows 25 years of Turner’s life, doesn’t follow any familiar storytelling structure. It’s episodic and Leigh never worries about identifying time or place as it moves through his life. You have to work to follow the narrative but Leigh’s interest isn’t on what he did when. It’s all about how and why he paints. Not that the answers are readily forthcoming; Turner is a fascinating conundrum right to the end. Leigh is more concerned with his nature, the details of his labor (and there is a true work ethic and complete commitment to his painting), the social culture around him, even the business of painting in 19th century England. It’s an immersion into his life and it is rich.

The imagery evokes his canvases, not just the compositions and framing but the color and the light, which cinematographer Dick Pope seems to paint on the screen. It was nominated for four Academy Awards and, in my opinion, should have won for Pope’s amazing work. Timothy Spall won the Best Actor award at Cannes but received no Oscar nomination.

Blu-ray and DVD with commentary by director Mike Leigh, the half-hour featurette “Many Colors of Mr. Turner,” and a deleted scene. The Blu-ray also features the exclusive 16-minute featurette “The Cinematic Palette: The Cinematography of Mr. Turner,” which looks at the shooting, the art direction, and the digital cinematography and post-production coloring.

Also available as Digital HD purchase and on cable and digital VOD.

More disc and digital releases at Cinephiled

May 05 2015

Schooled by Orson Welles: Roberto Perpignani

Anthony Perkins in ‘The Trial’

Roberto Perpignani quite auspiciously made his official debut as professional film editor on Bernardo Bertolucci‘s feature debut Before the Revolution (1964). He went on to work with Bertolucci on The Spider’s Stratagem (1970) and The Last Tango in Paris (1972) and became the longtime editor for Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, a collaboration that begin in 1972 with St. Michael Had a Rooster. Perpignani won the David di Donatello Award (the Italian equivalent of the Oscar) for film editing three times, twice for Taviani films—The Night of the Shooting Stars (1982) and Caesar Must Die (2012)—and in between for the international hit Il Postino (1994). But it was Orson Welles that started his career as a film editor, first on In the Land of Don Quixote, a series of short documentaries that Welles made for Spanish TV, and then as one of his primary assistant editors on The Trial. Perpignani cut the film at a makeshift editing bay in the abandoned train station Gare d’Orsay in Paris, where Welles was shooting in another section of the station, and worked on the film practically up to its debut in the final weeks of December, 1962.

I had the great honor of meeting Perpignani when he came to Seattle to introduce a screening of Bertolucci’s The Spider’s Stratagem at the Seattle Art Museum, a 1999 event co-sponsored by the University of Washington. He graciously agreed to sit for an interview the next day. “I’m sorry my English is terrible today,” he remarked. “Worse than usual.” Perhaps, but it was certainly better than my Italian, and he had help translating some phrases and words from a professor of Italian Studies at University of Washington, who hosted the interview at his home. It’s with some embarrassment that I confess that in the years since I lost that man’s name, for he was essential in making this interview happen.

Continue reading at Keyframe

May 03 2015

Aftereffects: Joshua Oppenheimer’s Shorts

‘The Globalisation Tapes’

“I’ve never thought of myself as an activist. I do think, though, that the purpose of art is to force us to confront the most painful and important aspects of who we are.”
—Joshua Oppenheimer, interviewed by Jessica Kiang at Indiewire

American-born filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer is a 1997 Marshall Scholar, a 2014 recipient of the MacArthur “Genius” Award (the same year that Alison Bechdel was so honored), and director of Academy Award nominated documentary The Act of Killing (2012). From his earliest films, he’s experimented with new forms with which to explore big themes and historical forces, and he’s explored issues of representation and “truth” inherent in the form in articles and books on the subject of non-fiction and documentary.

“In so-called ‘fly-on-the-wall’ documentary, there’s a claim that the camera is a transparent window onto a pre-existing reality. But what really is happening is that the director and the film crew and the subjects are collaborating to simulate a reality in which they pretend the camera is not present,” he explained at the 2015 Based on a True Story documentary conference. “No one forgets the presence of the camera, no matter how long it’s there. All documentaries are performance. They are performance precisely where people are playing themselves.” It’s the quantum physics of filmmaking: the act of observing changes the behavior of the observed. His solution is to incorporate the tools and the practice of filmmaking into the structure of the film.

Continue reading at Keyframe

May 02 2015

Videophiled: ‘Miami Blues’

MiamiB

Shout! Factory

Miami Blues (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray) should have been the first film in funky crime movie franchise. It’s based on the first of four novels by modern hardboiled crime author Charles Willeford featuring Miami police detective Hoke Moseley; adapted and directed by George Armitage, who learned his trade making pictures for Roger Corman; and produced by Jonathan Demme, who brought in much of his regular production team, including cinematographer Tak Fujimoto and editor Craig McKay. Fred Ward is spot-on casting for Hoke, not so much a maverick as a slovenly oddball who isn’t all that concerned with procedure, but his character is played down in favor of the equally offbeat psychopath of a crook, a freshly-sprung career criminal who prefers to go by the name Junior. He’s played by Alec Baldwin in his first starring role, fresh off Demme’s Married to the Mob, and while I’m sorry that Ward’s role was eclipsed, it’s clear who had the star power in this film. Ward wears the role of Hoke like a rumpled suit pulled out from under a pile of weeks-old laundry. Baldwin, young and buff and with a spark of trouble in his eyes, inhabits Junior as a guy ready to follow his worst impulses at the first sideways glance, never jittery but constantly restless and overcharged.

The story is simple but never dull: Junior announces his arrival in Miami by (inadvertently) killing someone within minutes of landing, breaking the fingers of an airport Krishna and sending him into fatal shock. It sets Hoke on his trail; when Junior steals Hoke’s badge and gun and false teeth, it gets personal. Jennifer Jason Leigh co-stars as a guileless young hooker who Junior impulsively marries, fooling himself into setting up house in suburbia with the sweetly naïve and sincere lost girl. Armitage gets Willeford’s cracked black humor and slightly off-kilter universe and Demme is an appropriate midwife for the project, which mixes the energy and personality and color of Demme’s eighties film with Armitage’s ruthless, unsentimental sensibility. It should have been a hit and launched a franchise. Instead it launched Alec Baldwin.

The disc includes a featurette with new interviews with Alec Baldwin and Jennifer Jason Leigh reflecting on the film. It leans a little too much on film clips but it’s still interesting to hear these actors discuss the film and their early career.

Check out an interview with George Armitage at Film Comment here.

More recent Blu-ray debuts here

May 02 2015

The Orson Welles Bookshelf

There are more published books on Orson Welles than on any other film director past or present.

The above statement is based on my own anecdotal, far-from-exhaustive and thoroughly unverified research, mind you and yes, it’s possible that Alfred Hitchcock tops him (if so it’s a close call), but why let the details get in the way of a dramatic statement? Welles certainly didn’t. Maybe that’s one reason for so many books—there’s so much myth behind the man.

Orson Welles, reading

There’s also so much career behind him. Welles made his name in theater and radio as a director, writer, producer and actor before coming to Hollywood, and he had a fascination with complex, contradictory characters who shaped their public images. His debut feature was built on the struggle to find the “key” insight to explain the character and motivation of a public figure and discovering a multiplicity of facets. Welles himself spun fictions around his own story, creating an aura of myth around the “boy wonder” genius that was taken for fact by many critics, while Hollywood (through gossip columnists and trade papers) created its own story: the “failed” genius who defied the system and was brought low by his own hubris. For most of his life, writers were content to print the legend(s), but there was is grist for multiple takes on his life and art in separating fact from fiction alone, never mind challenging clichés and preconceptions that have settled into common knowledge.

Now I should confess that I am somewhat obsessive when it comes to Welles. I own more than fifty books—biographies, studies, monographs, scripts, essay collections—on Welles, and that’s far from a complete accounting. For the vast majority of folks interested in delving deeper into the life and career of Welles, however, one book will suffice, at least as a starting point. The question is where to start?

Continue reading at Keyframe

May 01 2015

Videophiled: an American ‘Breathless’

Breathless

Shout! Factory

Breathless (1983) (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray) – I’m still not sure if it was an inspired or a terribly misguided idea to remake Jean-Luc Godard’s debut feature, a French nouvelle vague classic of outlaw cinema in every sense of the word. Godard made his splash by defying conventions and announcing a fresh, energetic, new approach to telling stories on screen and a criminal anti-hero who revered American gangster icons and seduces an American girl. The story was less important than the style and attitude.

More than twenty years later, director Jim McBride and co-writer L.M. Kit Carson relocated the story from Paris to Los Angeles and swapped the nationalities of the characters: the two-bit thief is now a callow American (Richard Gere) who loves Jerry Lee Lewis and “The Silver Surfer” comic book and the girl (Valérie Kaprisky) a French exchange student at USC. He kills a cop (accidentally?) and tries to lure her into running off with him to Mexico, after he collects his share of a robbery, as the police close in on him. McBride and Carson try to find their own approach to the fugitive lovers on the run picture, updating it with oversaturated colors, a high-energy soundtrack of classic rock and contemporary punk rock songs, and lots of steamy sex and nudity. It never captures the zeitgeist of its era the way Godard’s original did and it’s in no way revolutionary or essential, but seeing it again now, more than 30 years after it was made and more than 50 years after Godard’s original, it is surprisingly entertaining and interesting on its own terms, a romantic reflection of its cinematic era of neon and music video aesthetics and hot, steamy erotic scenes. Gere is quite good as the narcissistic, emotionally immature, not-too-bright hood but Kaprisky struggles to make an impression beyond her beauty (and her willingness to get naked in scene after scene). Released over a decade ago on DVD, it’s been remastered for its Blu-ray debut.

More recent Blu-ray debuts here

Apr 30 2015

Videophiled: PTA does Pynchon’s ‘Inherent Vice’

Inherent

Warner Home VIdeo

Inherent Vice (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD), Paul Thomas Anderson’s loopy take on Thomas Pynchon’s dope-infused private eye novel, earned Anderson an Oscar nomination for his ingenious screenplay adaptation and critical raves for the rich pageant of eccentrics and oddballs bouncing through 1970 Los Angeles with a post-sixties hangover. I never read Pynchon’s novel so I’ll take the word of those who insist that Anderson is faithful to the story and the spirit of the original even as he condenses and combines characters and scenes. I can say that I was drawn into this crazy world completely by Anderson and his merry pranksters, a shaggy dog mystery with a stoner Philip Marlowe applying of free-association investigative technique to various cases he’s juggling, all of which eventually tangle together in some form or another in the great tradition of the PI drama. Though “drama” is not the word I’d use for this. Absurdist flashback possibly, with socio-political commentary woven through the long, strange trip.

Joaquin Phoenix is the actor you go to for a deep plunge into character transformation. His Larry “Doc” Sportello, a joint-smoking private eye in mutton chops and beachwear, isn’t the tragic, tormented figure of The Master or the mercenary pimp with the glimmer of a soul in The Immigrant but he is equally unique, a man in his own universe that happens to cross paths with ours. Working through perpetual high, the aging beach bum of a detective is talked into tracking down a notorious developer by his old girlfriend Shasta (Katherine Waterston), whose return may just be the wishful thinking of his imagination, and he trips into a couple additional cases doing his rounds: finding a missing saxophone player turned federal informant (Owen Wilson) for a forlorn wife (Jena Malone) and a white supremacist thug for an old friend, and untangling a drug cartel called the Golden fang. Not necessarily in that order. Or in any order. Meanwhile he keeps tangling with frenemy Christian “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), an uptight, hippie-hating cop with a sideline as a bit player on TV, and dropping in on assistant D.A. and occasional bedfellow Penny (Reese Witherspoon). Don’t try to keep the players straight. The connections are as twisty as the through line and the narration by a part-time psychic named Sortilège (Joanna Newsom) is more beat poetry than exposition.

Anderson shot on 35mm—as much a tribute to the era it celebrates as a stand against the complete capitulation to digital production—and recreates the era without lots of digital trickery. It’s all about the atmosphere, the hazy sunlight in the city, the ramshackle beach community in the final days before developers stepped in. Audiences were confused by the tangled plot but the rambling, weirdly funny picture is the kind of crackpot odyssey I love.

Blu-ray and DVD with an excellent transfer (preserving the 35mm textures and colors) and minimal supplements: three trailers and a six-minute deleted/alternate sequence.

It’s also available to watch VOD on iTunes, Amazon Prime, and other services.

More new releases on disc and digital at Cinephiled

Apr 29 2015

Videophiled: Jean-Pierre Melville’s ‘Le Silence de la Mer’ on Criterion

Silence

Criterion

Le Silence de la Mer (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD), the debut feature by Jean-Pierre Melville, was both a labor of love based on novella that was considered an almost sacred text by the French Resistance and a maverick, self-financed gamble to break into the film industry as a director. A decade before the nouvelle vague, Melville laid the groundwork for the movement with an independent production that incorporated the limitations of resources into the fabric of the filmmaking.

Set mostly in the small farmhouse of a middle-aged man (Jean-Marie Robain) and his niece (Nicole Stephane) where a polite, cultured German officer (Howard Vernon) has been billeted, the film features only one character who speaks on camera (the rest of voice-over narration and reflection, thus limiting the necessity of live sound recording for most scenes). The French hosts offer their own resistance by refusing to speak in the officer’s presence, or even acknowledge him. “By unspoken agreement, my niece and I decided to change nothing in our lives, not the slightest detail, as if he didn’t exist. As if he were a ghost.” Instead of taking it as a slight, the officer treats it as an invitation to indulge in monologues on art and culture (he was a composer as a civilian), the barbarity of the German people, and his dream that French influence will civilize his culture. German though he may be, he is no Nazi and the film is as much about his disillusionment with his own people as it is about the strange and beautiful relationship between these people who might have liked and even loved one another in a different life.

Melville called it an “anti-cinematic” film, and he creates the expressiveness in what remains unspoken, the glances and gestures that take on grand drama in the minimalist presentation. It’s also been described as Bressonian, to which he replied “I’m sorry, but it’s Bresson who has always been Melvillian,” referring to the transformation of Bresson’s style after the release of Le Silence de la Mer. There’s a little bit of cheek in that statement perhaps, but it also shows the confidence and certainty that define Melville’s style and sensibility and Le Silence de la Mer is an assured work. Every frame is under his control and the mix of strength and delicacy that defines his greatest crime dramas is fully formed here. Made just a few years after the liberation, with the occupation still a fresh wound to the French soul, Melville made a film with a German officer as a tragic hero.

This is the ninth Melville feature released on disc in the U.S. by Criterion and their third Melville Blu-ray. The film was shot on a tight budget with a variety of different film stocks and in the face of various mishaps that called for creative manipulation to make flawed shots work. Those imperfections are evident in the HD digital restoration, as is the beauty of the simple images shot by Henri Dacaë, who also made his debut on this film. Their collaboration continued for decades.

Blu-ray and DVD, in French with English subtitles, with a tremendous wealth of supplements (also in French). The archival offerings include Melvilles first film, the 1946 non-fiction short “24 Hours in the Life of a Clown” and a very short interview with Melville from 1959. There’s a substantial interview with film scholar and Melville expert Ginette Vincendeau (about 17 minutes), who is articulate and offers informative background on the project and the production, and two excellent documentaries. Code Name Melville (2008, 76 minutes) explores the filmmaker’s experience in the French Resistance and the films he made about the Resistance and Melville Steps Out of the Shadows (2010, 42 minutes) is about the making of La Silence and includes an interview with actress Nicole Stephane among the participants in the film. The accompanying booklet features an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien and an excerpt from Rui Nogueira’s interview book Melville on Melville.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

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

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