Blu-ray: Criterion’s ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ and ‘Honeymoon Killers’ and ‘A Dog Day’ anniversary

Moonrise
Criterion

Moonrise Kingdom (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) – Wes Anderson has made a career exploring the childhood neuroses that keep adult characters in an arrested state of adolescence and stasis. It’s been a lively career with creatively energetic high points like Rushmore and The Royal Tennenbaums but an approach with diminishing returns. Until Fantastic Mr. Fox, a film that refracted his portraits of dysfunctional families and modern anxieties through a storybook world.

In Moonrise Kingdom (2012), Anderson finally builds a film around the troubled kids themselves. Kara Hayward’s Suzy, a book-loving loner with anger issues, and Jared Gilman’s Sam, an eccentric orphan out of step with his fellow Khaki Scouts, are two misfit adolescents who instantly recognize the other as a kindred soul and run away together into the wilds of a small New England island. Which, admittedly, makes escape a little difficult, what with a small army of Khaki scout trackers and a storm on the way.

It’s funny, it’s playful, it’s full of nostalgic blasts and period trappings, but most of all it is loving: accepting of the headstrong kids determined to find their place in the world, forgiving of the oblivious adults around them, affectionate in its storybook imagery and narrative playfulness.

There’s a great cast around the kids—Bill Murray and Frances McDormand as distracted yet protective parents, Edward Norton as a nerdy but sincere scoutmaster, Harvey Keitel as a genially despotic scout commander, Tilda Swinton as the coldly officious Social Services, and especially Bruce Willis as a sad, lonely island lawman who gets a second chance—but the film belongs to the two kids. For all their issues, they are healthier than the adults of Anderson’s previous films, and their commitment inspires these adults to take stock of their failings and make an effort to become better, more honest people.

Like all of Anderson’s previous films, the sixties-set Moonrise Kingdom is filled with the period music and fashion and the offbeat textures he loves so much, but there’s more restraint this time. The delightful details are merely that, grace notes to the culture around our characters. And while Anderson plays with the conventions of young love, runaway adventure, and family comic-drama with a knowing, modern sensibility, he never makes fun of it. The sincerity is genuine, and it makes the film glow.

It’s been on Blu-ray and DVD before in simple but handsome editions but Anderson apparently saved up his goodies for the Criterion edition. He supervised the 2K digital transfer and is joined on the commentary track by Criterion President Peter Becker and child actor Jake Ryan, and they call up co-writer Roman Coppola and supporting actors Bill Murray, Edward Norton, and Jason Schwartzman to elicit comments from them. “The Making of Moonrise Kingdom” consists of an 18-minute featurette shot on the set of the film plus four storyboard animatics and narrator tests, five minutes of screen tests of the child actors, and a short piece on the miniatures used in the flood sequence. Edward Norton’s home movies from the set (shot on iPhone) run about 20 minutes and are introduced by Norton.

The rest of the supplements are bite-sized pieces: “Welcome to New Penzance” features footage of the locations, “Set Tour with Bill Murray” is a quick 3 minutes, Bob Balaban introduces short segments of actress Kara Hayward (Suzy) reading excerpts from the (fictional) books featured in the film, and “Cousin Ben” features additional footage of Jason Schwartzman as Cousin Ben. The 20-page booklet an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien, short pieces by young writers on the film, and art from the film, and there’s a small collection of additional ephemera including a map of New Penzance.

honeymoonkillers
Criterion

The Honeymoon Killers (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD), Leonard Kastle’s alienating B&W story of a dim Latin gigolo (Tony Lo Bianco) and a frumpy, unfulfilled overweight ex-nurse (Shirley Stoler) who team-up to romance and murder a series of lonely women is based on a true story, but his jarring docu-style, with its mix of black humor and blood chilling horror, is anything but a realistic portrait.

Alternately ferocious and tender, mundane and terrifying, it’s the most perverse of love stories and Kastle directs the toxic tale as if off the pages of “True Detective” and accompanied by the startling flashbulb-bright photography by Weegee. Kastle was an opera composer by profession and had never directed a film when he took over from the initial director, Martin Scorsese (he was fired after a week). Kastle never made another, but based on the strength of this unsettling early American indie he should have. His direction of Stoler and Lo Bianco is strong (despite yourself, you can’t help but be moved by their devotion to one another) and his use of claustrophobic close-ups is wonderfully unnerving, especially as he hones in on the helpless, terrified face of a victim awaiting her execution while the conversations of the killers and the scrapes of the murder weapon can be heard out of frame.

Previously released on DVD by Criterion, it has been digitally remastered in 4K from a recent restoration for its Blu-ray debut (it looks stunning: B&W looks so good on a well-mastered Blu-ray) and features two new supplements: the 25-minute interview featurette “Love Letters” with actors Tony Lo Bianco and Marilyn Chris and editor Stan Warnow and produced by Robert Fischer, and the video essay “Dear Martha…” by Scott Christianson, which looks at the real Martha Beck and Ray Fernandez and their trial and incarceration with rare photos and documents.

Carried over from its earlier release is a 2003 video interview with director Leonard Kastle and the essay “Broken Promises” by Gary Giddins featured in the 10-page foldout insert.

DogDay
Warner Home Video

Dog Day Afternoon: 40th Anniversary (Warner, Blu-ray, Digital HD) – After making Serpico together, Al Pacino and director Sidney Lumet reunited for this gritty, funny, electric drama about a failed New York bank robbery turned gripping hostage situation turned energetic media circus. Based on a real incident, it’s shot by Lumet on the streets with a documentary-like immediacy and a dramatic intensity that builds on complications both surprising and startlingly real. The rising temperatures don’t necessarily bring out the worst in these characters, they just bring them out with more intensity: Sonny (Pacino) charged up in front of the cameras, crowds cheering him on with chants of “Attica! Attica!,” the cops simply trying to keep everyone alive in the midst of an outlandish media circus. Don’t you love summer in the Big Apple?

John Cazale (who played Pacino’s brother in the Godfather films) plays his accomplice here, Charles Durning is the police detective trying to keep the situation under control as crowds start cheering for the robbers, and Chris Sarandon earned an Academy Award nomination in a small but memorable role as Pacino’s lover. Nominated for 6 Academy Awards, it won for Frank Pierson’s screenplay. James Broderick co-stars as the FBI agent and Carol Kane, Lance Henriksen and Dominic Chianese co-star.

The Blu-ray includes commentary by director Sidney Lumet, a four-part documentary on the making of the film, and the featurette “Lumet: Film Maker,” all carried over from the previous Blu-ray release.

The bonus disc presents the 40-minute documentary I Knew it was You: Rediscovering John Cazale, a lovely tribute to the actor who only appeared in five features—each of them an Oscar nominee for Best Picture—and never received a single Oscar nomination. Richard Shepard profiles this actor’s actor, a New York stage veteran who worked with and earned the respect of some of the greatest actors of his generation, among them Gene Hackman, Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino (who said Cazale that him more about acting than any other actor). The disc also includes commentary by director Shepard, extended interviews with Al Pacino (which overflows with love and friendship) and playwright Israel Horowitz, and two short films Cazale made in the sixties: The America Way (1962) and The Box (1969).

More releases on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital formats at Cinephiled

‘Scarecrow’ on TCM

“A mixture of Midnight Cowboy and Of Mice and Men” is how Gene Hackman described Scarecrow (1973), a meandering road movie about two misfit drifters who meet up on a stretch of country highway winding through northern California. Hackman is Max, a quick-tempered fellow just out of prison after serving six years of assault, and Al Pacino is the gentle jester Francis, a sailor back home from the sea and ready to face the girlfriend that he abandoned with their child five years before. Max renames his new pal Lion (“I have a problem with Francis”) and makes him a partner in his deluxe car wash, a business he is determined to open once he gets to Pittsburg, where his saving await him. They hitchhike, ride the rails, and walk the open roads when they have to, taking detours to visit a friend in Denver and Francis’ child (he doesn’t know if it’s a boy or a girl) in Detroit. They make an odd couple, Max pushing every slight or argument with a stranger into a fight while Francis attempts to defuse tensions with jokes and clownish antics.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Plays on TCM on Friday, November 21

Blu-ray: “Scarface” – Say Goodnight to the Bad Guy

Scarface: Limited Edition (Universal)

Brian De Palma’s “Scarface,” ostensibly a remake of the Howard Hawks gangster classic, moves the iconic rise and fall crime opera from the tommy-gun gangster wars of the prohibition era to the cocaine wars of Florida in the eighties. In the process, De Palma, screenwriter Oliver Stone and star Al Pacino carved out a film that redefined a generation of gangster cinema.

Pacino’s Tony Montana, a Cuban criminal fresh from Castro’s prisons looking for his piece of the pie in Miami, is a predator from the moment he hits the shore and Pacino is pure drive for success: get the money, get the power, and then you get the girl, is his mantra, and he pulls along his loyal immigrant comrade Manny (Steven Bauer) for the ride to the top.

Oliver Stone’s screenplay keeps the general shape of the original story — Tony’s friendship with Manny, his fierce over protectiveness of his kid sister (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) who isn’t a virginal as he imagines and his obsession with the boss’s ice-queen mistress (Michelle Pfeiffer), the trophy for the winner — while rethinking it in terms of the Miami cocaine boom of the early eighties. It’s a whole new spin on the immigrant story and the American Dream as an underworld nightmare and a fitting bookend to the two “Godfather” films. The façade of family loyalty, underworld authority and the mob code is trampled in the feral battle to get to the top of the cocaine mountain as Tony robs and murders his way to riches and power, and then numbs himself into a fantasy of invulnerability with his own product.

Continue reading at Videodrone for the rest of the review, plus details on the insanely deluxe edition ($1000 retail) and footage from the August 23 cast reunion.

Serpico on TCM

It’s the annual “31 Days of Oscar” at Turner Classic Movies this month, with Oscar winners and nominees screening in the days leading up to the 2010 Academy Awards. On Friday, February 26, it’s Serpico and I wrote a feature on the film for the TCM website.

Al Pacino as Frank Serpico: a counter culture character in a conformist world
Al Pacino as Frank Serpico: a counter-culture character in a conformist world

The real-life Frank Serpico made headlines as the scandals broke and, as an independent commission delved into the scope of the corruption, he was almost killed on the job under suspicious circumstances. Peter Maas put his story into a non-fiction bestseller, which Martin Bregman optioned as his first feature as a producer. Previous films about police corruption tended to frame the issue in terms of bad apples in an otherwise healthy barrel. This was very different, yet Bregman was more interested in the man and his experience than a story of corruption and investigation, and the episodic script follows Serpico as he is bounced from one precinct to another and becomes more alienated, frustrated and desperate. He found a collaborator on the same wavelength in Sidney Lumet, a TV-trained director with a reputation for strong performances, literary adaptations and, in films like The Pawnbroker (1964), creating a sense of street realism. The New York-born Lumet shot most of Serpico on the streets and in standing buildings rather than sets wherever possible, and he brought a distinctive sense of place with his choice of locations and his documentary-style approach to shooting. While that became a hallmark of seventies police dramas and crime thrillers to follow, it was still quite new at the time. Along with The French Connection (1971), Serpico was one of the films that brought this new realism to the screen portrait of American cops with its realistic portraits of procedure and systemic failure and flawed, human characters behind the badges.

See the complete feature here.