Blu-ray / DVD: ‘Bridge of Spies,’ ‘Our Brand is Crisis,’ ‘Suffragette’

BridgeSpiesBridge of Spies (Disney, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD, VOD), Steven Spielberg’s cold war drama, stars Tom Hanks as insurance attorney James B. Donovan, an American idealist asked to represent Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), a Soviet spy captured by the CIA in 1957 and given a public trial. He’s prize casting in a legal pageant that he’s supposed to lose but Donovan takes his oath—and the American values that the government and the CIA agents are quick to discard in the heat of the Cold War—seriously and defends his client to the best of abilities, ultimately taking the case to the Supreme Court. It makes him suspect in the anti-communist fervor of the late 1950s, but that commitment makes him the perfect emissary for back-channel negotiations for a prisoner swap for Gary Powers, the captured pilot of a U-2 spy plane shot down over Soviet airspace. It also makes him, at least in this take on history, the only hope for Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), an American student on the wrong side of the border when the East German troops put up the wall.

The film features a period-perfect recreation of late-1950s America and a gloomily oppressive portrait of East Berlin after the construction of the Berlin Wall, a sharp screenplay co-written by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, and the directorial signatures that remind us again that Spielberg is one of the great directors. But it’s all a little too neat, more nostalgic than thrilling, without a palpable sense of urgency or danger, and lacking the nuance of Lincoln. Thomas Newman’s score hits the uplifting, string-heavy Americana hard and even the brilliant filmmaking of the opening scene, with a camera weaving through the border between East and West Berlin and cutting through the panic and chaos of a political upheaval in action, is so controlled it feels more like a showcase than a dramatic experience.

It’s Hanks who carries the film as a kind of Cold War Atticus Finch, a husband and father and an American idealist who refuses to betray his client simply because he’s a Soviet spy, and he portrays Donovan’s essential integrity and loyalty without sentiment. Hanks makes it look so effortless it’s easy to take that accomplishment for granted and Mark Rylance—one of the great actors of the British stage making a rare big screen appearance—is equally good as Abel, betraying almost no emotion behind his tired, resigned expression yet expressing both trust in and admiration for Donovan, who never abandons him. The most powerful moment of the prisoner swap—on a snowy Berlin checkpoint in the dead of winter—is neither the anxious wait nor the tension of distrust between the sides but the trust and friendship between the two men, enemies by nationality but friends by chance, in their last meeting.

Bridge of Spies is nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actor for Rylance.

On Blu-ray and DVD with four featurettes: “A Case of the Cold War: Bridge of Spies,” “U-2 Spy Plane,” “Berlin 1961: Re-creating the Divide,” and “Spy Swap: Looking Back on the Final Act.” The Blu-ray also features bonus DVD and Ultraviolet Digital HD copies of the film.

Also on VOD through most cable systems, Amazon Video, Vudu, DirecTV, and other services.

OurBrandOur Brand is Crisis (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), inspired by the 2005 documentary of the same name, is a political satire with an engaging cast but a dull bite. Set in the 2002, it stars Sandra Bullock as Jane, an American political consultant lured out of retirement to work on a campaign to re-elect a former Bolivian President (Joaquim de Almeida) who is unliked by the public (and for good reason). She’s a reluctant player until she finds her nemesis (Billy Bob Thornton) working for the charismatic frontrunner and declares war. There’s no commitment to a candidate or political ideals here, only the sense of politics as a game she’s determined to win.

Director David Gordon Green plays it for comedy, a multi-national satire that frames its cynicism within slapstick antics and tit-for-tat gags, and Bullock and Thornton are marvelous together, pros who treat competition as flirtation. The Americans are little better than mercenaries in a foreign war, this one waged at the ballot box, and the lightweight tone can’t support the serious issues of globalization, exploitation, and corruption of the election process behind the snappy humor and Bullock’s marvelous mess of a character. Still, it is admirable that it even bothered to carry a real message behind the character comedy

On Blu-ray and DVD with the featurette “Sandra Bullock: A Role Like No Other.” The Blu-ray also features an Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film.

Also on VOD through most cable systems, iTunes, Amazon Video, DirecTV, and other services.

SuffrageteSuffragette (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), starring Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter, dramatizes the often violent struggle for women’s voting rights in Britain in the early 20th century. It’s interesting history— they became radicalized, turning to vandalism and acts of civil disobedience after 50 years of peaceful activism, and were treated like a terrorist organization by the government, which unleashed a campaign of intimidation and violence that recalls the American Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s—but filmmaker Sarah Gavron and screenwriter Abi Morgan fail to make compelling drama from the history lesson. Ben Whishaw, Romola Garai, and Anne-Marie Duff co-star, Brendan Gleeson is quietly commanding as a police inspector sent to put down the movement with similar tactics used against the IRA, and Meryl Streep gets prime billing for a few minutes of screen time as the firebrand movement leader Emmeline Pankhurst.

On Blu-ray and DVD with filmmaker commentary and three featurettes. The Blu-ray also features an Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film.

Also on VOD through most cable systems, iTunes, Amazon Video, DirecTV, and other services.

Also new and notable:batmanbad

Batman: Bad Blood (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD), the latest DC Universe Animated Original Movie, is a sequel to Son of Batman. Based on the comics written by Grank Morrison, it’s a real Bat-team up, with Batwoman, Robin, Nightwing, and Batwoman uniting after Batman goes missing. With featurettes and bonus cartoons.

Rock the Kasbah (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD), starring Bill Murray as a once-famous rock and roll manager who finds teenage Pashtu girl (Leem Lubany) with a great voice in Kabul and sets out to make her a star, is inspired by a true story. Barry Levinson directs and Kate Hudson, Zooey Deschanel, and Bruce Willis co-star. Blu-ray and DVD with featurettes, deleted scenes, and bonus digital copy.

Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD), adapts the revered book as an animated feature. Salma Hayek produced and stars in a voice cast that includes Liam Neeson, John Krasinski, Frank Langella, and Quvenzhane Wallis, and Roger Allers directs.

The Beauty Inside (Well Go, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD) is a Korean romantic drama that about a man wakes up every day in a different body. Korean with English subtitles.

Blu-ray: ‘Holy Grail’ at 40, Capra’s ‘You Can’t Take It With You,’ two by Jess Franco, Disney’s ‘Aladdin,’ and more

MontyPythonGrailMonty Python and the Holy Grail: 40th Anniversary Edition (Sony, Blu-ray) – After a career of inspired skit comedy, the unbalanced minds of Monty Python pounded the Knights of the Round Table into their own skewed square hole for their first “real” feature film (I’m not counting their skit comedy And Now For Something Completely Different) and Camelot has never been the same. King Arthur, Lancelot, Galahad and the rest of the dotty knights forsake the decadence of the Camelot (“It’s only a model”) to bang coconut shells across the misty English countryside and take on abusive Frenchmen with outrrraaageous accents (“Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries!”), hot-to-trot nuns, a killer rabbit, the mysterious Knights Who Say “Nih!,” and other typical medieval threats. Probably the cheapest Arthurian adventure ever made (heck, they couldn’t even afford horses!), and easily the funniest. In fact, this absurdity is considered by many (including myself) to be one of the funniest movies ever made. The DVD restores an extra 24 seconds unseen in the original American release, but even with the remastering the grimy, drab visuals still look like a big budget TV show that’s been a bit underlit. But these are the dark ages, after all, and the models and the English countryside look suitably earthy, muddy, and medieval.

This is one of those perennials that gets a new edition every few years, each one adding something new to the accumulating menu of special features. New to this edition (the second Blu-ray release) is a new 30-minute Q&A with the five surviving members of the team recorded at the gala screening at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. Carried over from the previous disc releases are two commentary tracks (one production-focused track by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, and other with general complaints and back-biting by John Cleese, Eric Idle and Michael Palin), featurettes (“The Quest for the Holy Grail Locations” hosted by Michael Palin and Terry Jones, the 18-minute 1974 BBC report “On Location with The Pythons,” “How To Use Your Coconuts”), “Lost Animations” (a 12-minute collection of unused animated bits prepared for the film with an introduction by Terry Gilliam) nearly 20 minutes of outtakes and extended scenes with an introduction by Terry Jones, three sing-alongs, clips from the film in Japanese with English subtitles, and the all-interlocking “Monty Python and the Holy Grail In Lego.” Missing is the “Holy Book of Days” Second Screen Experience (an interactive function that required an iPad, a downloadable app and a connection to the same WiFi network as the Blu-ray player, an idea that never took off with viewers).

There’s also a deluxe edition in a substantial castle-shaped box with a toy catapult and collection of small plastic animal figures, for those of you who like the conversation piece packaging.

YouCan'tTakeBD

You Can’t Take It With You (Sony, Blu-ray), Frank Capra’s adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, won Best Picture and Best Director Academy Awards in 1938. The film has a delightful romantic couple in Jean Arthur and James Stewart and a wonderfully eccentric patriarch in Lionel Barrymore, but it replaces the unhinged anarchy of the play with sentimental Capra-corn. The production never recovers. Now the story turns on a battle of wills between embrace-the moment-everyman Barrymore and bitter king of capitalism Edward Arnold, who refuses to accept these addled free spirits as future in-laws. Capra turns out an amiable and appealing little comedy with some memorable character bits (Mischa Auer and Ann Miller in particular), but spends so much effort hammering home his own populist point that he misses the spirit of the material. I find Capra a poor match for the material but he did bring out the spirit in his case and he took home his third and final Oscar for best director for his efforts. And give him credit for knowing a winning formula. He reunited Stewart and Arthur in his next film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1940).

It comes in a Blu-ray booklet case with 28 pages of photos, notes, and an essay by TCM writer Jeremy Arnold. Features commentary by Frank Capra Jr. and author Catherine Kellison, the interview featurette “Frank Capra Jr. Remembers… You Can’t Take It With You,” and the trailer, plus a bonus Ultraviolet Digital HD copy of the film.

TriumphBDTriumph of the Will (Synapse, Blu-ray), Leni Riefenstahl’s record of the 1934 Nuremburg rally, is a stunning piece of cinema, a landmark of propaganda cinema, and a terrifying look at totalitarian demagoguery. The rhetoric about the thousand year Reich, the one and only party, and the purity of the race is less important than the mythic dimensions and sense of awe that Riefenstahl created not just in the filmmaking but on the design and staging of the event itself. It is possibly the first political spectacle choreographed specifically for the cameras, and it presents Hitler as both a God from the heavens and man of the people with a message: “this future belongs entirely to us!”

For years, the film was only available with the original English subtitles created by the government, which played down the politics by purposefully mistranslating many of the speeches. This translation, released on home video for the first time in 2000, features an accurate translation of the speeches and reveals the verbal imagery and strident nationalism of the real thing, and this Blu-ray debut is newly remastered in 2K from a duplicate 35mm fine grain master.

Synapse does an excellent job of subtitling, identifying locations, activities, and key figures as well as translating speeches and correcting some of the rhetoric that was watered down for American audiences in its original translation, and the commentary by historian Dr. Anthony R. Santoro makes him a play-by-play announcer, color man (giving background to the players), and interpreter all in one on the commentary track.

Also features a newly remastered edition of Riefenstahl’s Day of Freedom (1935), another of her propaganda pieces, this one a short shot at the 1935 rally.

JustineEugenie…The Story Of Her Journey Into Perversion: 3-Disc Limited Edition (Blue Underground, Blu-ray+DVD)
Marquis De Sade’s Justine: 3-Disc Limited Edition (Blue Underground, Blu-ray+DVD)

Jess Franco adapts the Marquis de Sade in a pair of notorious Euro sexploitation classics, both making their respective Blu-ray debut in three-disc combo packs with bonus DVD copy and CD soundtrack.

Marquis De Sade’s Justine (1969) is one of Franco’s first collaborations with Harry Alan Towers, the famous British producer of Euro pulp thrillers with decadent flourishes, and his entry into the international production. The kinky tale of a virtuous innocent (Romina Power, Tyrone Power’s 18 year old daughter) who is “cruelly treated, robbed, falsely accused, imprisoned, assaulted, beaten, and pursued” by all she encounters while her sister indulges in vice, sin, murder, and all sorts of wickedness with such glee that it sends her to the top of society is perfect Franco material, though the satire and irony is admittedly buried in sheer excess. What surprises isn’t the kink and cruelty, it’s the handsome style and gorgeous photography (two Gaudi designed buildings serve as key locations), and the unhinged performance of Jack Palance as a malicious monk exploring the carnal limits of pleasure through pain. Klaus Kinski plays the Marquis in a framing sequence, and we periodically cut back to him madly scribbling in a prison while visions writhe around him, and Mercedes McCambridge, Akim Tamiroff, and Howard Vernon are a few of the familiar faces in the cast. The film was cut by half an hour and released under the name Deadly Sanctuary in the U.S. by AIP.

EugenieBDThis features the complete (or as complete as possible) version in a beautiful transfer that preserves the color and the beautiful sets as well as the all the sex and sadism. It features the new interview featurette with Franco historian “Stephen Thrower on Justine” and the 20-minute interview featurette “The Perils and Pleasures of Justine,” originally recorded for the DVD release, with director Jess Franco (who describes how the Romina Power was forced upon him against his wishes, and how Jack Palance was “drunk all the time” and brilliant nonetheless) and screenwriter/producer Harry Alan Towers. In Franco’s own words, it was “the most expensive film I ever made… A fake big film. Of course, only we knew it was fake.”

Eugenie: The Story of Her Journey into Perversion(1969, also released as De Sade 70), based on De Sade’s “Philosophy in the Boudoir,” followed soon after. The story of an innocent girl (Marie Liljedahl of Inga fame) seduced into a dreamy/nightmarish world of eros and perversion by a decadent couple (Jack Taylor and Maria Rohm), it co-stars Christopher Lee as the sinister Dolmance, master of the island.

It features the new interview featurette with Franco historian “Stephen Thrower on Eugenie” and interview featurette “Perversion Stories” with director Jess Franco, producer Harry Alan Towers, and stars Marie Liljedahl and Christopher Lee.

Each release includes a collectable booklet with an essay by Stephen Thrower, a bonus DVD copy with the supplements, and a CD soundtrack of Bruno Nicola’s score for each film.

Also recently released:AladdinBD

Aladdin: Diamond Edition (Disney, Blu-ray+DVD) – It’s a whole new world for the 1992 Disney animated classic in the Blu-ray debut of the film, freshly remastered for its high-definition incarnation with bright, vivid color. Robin Williams provides the voice to the big blue genie, a fun-loving guy in curly slippers who offers three wishes to the plucky young poor boy and marketplace thief Aladdin, who dreams of romancing a princess. It’s one of the jewels in Disney’s crown of traditional hand-drawn animated features.

New to this edition are “The Genie Outtakes” (nine minutes of unused improvisations from Robin Williams set to storyboards), “Aladdin: Creating Broadway Magic” (about the Broadway adaptation, 19 minutes), “Genie 101” (explaining the pop culture references to 21st century kids), “Ron and Jon: You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me” (with filmmakers John Musker and Ron Clements reminiscing about their early days at Disney), and “Unboxing Aladdin” (a guide to the Easter eggs hidden through the film). Carried over from the previous DVD release are the commentary tracks (one by directors Ron Clements and John Musker, the other by the animators), the 70-minute documentary “A Diamond in the Rough: The Making of Aladdin,” plus the rest of the short featurettes, deleted scenes and songs, music videos, and such. Also includes bonus DVD and Digital HD (via Disney Movies Anywhere) copies of the film.

BadBoys20thAnnBad Boys I & II: 20th Anniversary Collection (Sony, Blu-ray) – The original Bad Boys (1995) was the obnoxiously loud and destructive action hit that launched Michael Bay’s reign as the definitive expression of the Bruckheimer and Simpson aesthetic of big, expensive, flamboyantly excessive action cinema. Interestingly Martin Lawrence, who plays the married man and harried father trying to reign in the excesses of his ladies man partner Will Smith, gets first billing in this partnership. How things change in the intervening years. The box set features Bad Boys and the Blu-ray debut of the 2003 sequel Bad Boys II (also directed by Bay), each in its own case. Bad Boys carries over the extras from the 2010 release, with director commentary, a featurette, and music videos. Bad Boys IIincludes featurettes on the stunts and visual effects, on-set production diaries, “Sequence Breakdowns” of six key scenes, and deleted scenes, all in 480i SD. But fear not, the movies themselves are both remastered in 4K and are vivid and sharp.

ThunderThundercrack! (Synapse / CAV, Blu-ray, DVD), the 1975 underground cult film by Curt McDowell and co-writer / star George Kuchar, is a gothic romp that veers into horror, sex, and camp parody, with explicit scenes and graphic horror. It makes is American home video debut (at least it first official release) in DVD and Blu-ray editions, with an audio-only interview with Curt McDowell (on the second audio track) and newly translated subtitles in Parisian French, German, and Castilian Spanish. Exclusive to the Blu-ray edition is the 2009 documentary It Came From Kuchar, on the underground filmmaking brother George and Mike Kuchar, and a bonus DVD with rate short films, interviews, and audition footage and outtakes from Thundercrack!

LivingOblivionLiving In Oblivion: 20th Anniversary (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray) – Steve Buscemi is the angst-ridden auteur of a low budget art film falling apart at the seams (splices?) in Tom DiCillo’s very funny 1995 satire of indie filmmaking nightmares, which won him the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance. James Le Gros plays his egotistical, impulsively improvising star with blow-dried smarminess, Catherine Keener has a crisis in confidence as his female lead, and Dermot Mulroney swaggers in an eye-patch and leather vest as the artiste of a cinematographer. Features commentary by director Tom DiCillo, deleted scenes, a video interview with DiCillo and Buscemi, and trailers.

Stalingrad (Synapse, Blu-ray) presents the Blu-ray debut of the complete 2003 3-part documentary on the devastating World War II battle that lasted over 6 months and took 4 million casualties. The epic production features rare footage from both Russian and German archives, some of it shot by the soldiers themselves, and presents the battle from both perspectives. Nominated for the 2003 International Emmy Award for Best Documentary. Presented in the English language dubbed version with footage not seen in original broadcast. Features deleted interview segments, the featurette “Stalingrad Today,” and a video interview with professor and historian Dr. Guido Knopp.

BrainWouldntThe Brain That Wouldn’t Die (Scream Factory, Blu-ray), a bizarre tale of a scientist hunting for a shapely body for his fiancée’s floating head while it hisses and taunts a deformed assistant back at the lab, has become a cult classic of classic B-movie horror. It has been newly restored from original negative, with new commentary by film historians Steve Haberman and Tony Sasso, an alternate scene from the international cut, and the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode featuring The Brain That Wouldn’t Die.

White of the Eye (Scream Factory, Blu-ray+DVD), the cult thriller from Donald Cammell (co-director of Performance), makes its disc debut in a Blu-ray combo pack mastered from the original camera negative. Features commentary by Cammell biographer Sam Umland, deleted scenes with commentary, an interview with Steadicam operator Larry McConkey, and an alternate credit sequence.

WhiteEyeTroll / Troll 2 (Scream Factory, Blu-ray) is actually a triple feature. It includes the original 1986 low-budget horror film from director John Carl Buechler, the notorious in-name-only English-language Italian-produced sequel directed by Claudio Fragasso, and the 2009 documentary The Best Worst Movie, a loving tribute/remembrance/celebration of Troll 2, which explores the film and the cult that has grown up around what many have deemd the worst film ever made. The two Troll features include commentary.

Blu-ray / DVD: Pixar’s ‘Inside Out,’ Buckley and Vidal are ‘Best of Enemies,’ plus ‘Rebels’ and ‘Croupier’

I took a week off the usual new release pattern for Halloween so I’m catching up on two weeks of disc releases. There’s a lot here, too much to do justice to it all, but here are the highlights of what I received for review.

InsideOut
Disney

Inside Out (Disney, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD, VOD) – In the 15th feature from Pixar, feelings are not just the focus of the story. They are the main characters. The primary emotions of preteen girl Riley get a workout when she’s uprooted from friends and activities in Minnesota, where she’s a devoted member of a hockey team, and dropped into San Francisco, where she doesn’t know a soul and none of her things have arrived to ease the transition. Joy, a pixie of a character voiced as a whirlwind of enthusiasm supercharged on sugar and caffeine by Amy Pohler, tries to focus on the positive and the possibilities but it’s a difficult adjustment. The blue frump Sadness (Phyllis Smith of The Office in a delivery pitched like a non-stop sigh), the outcast of the otherwise hyperactive team, keeps tripping up her increasingly desperate attempts to put a happy face on everything. The internal tug-of-war of the emotional turmoil lands them deep in Riley’s subconscious, along with Riley’s core memories, which they need to save before they’re lost to the graveyard of the forgotten past.

So it’s a journey film—the framework of many a Pixar classic—with two seemingly incompatible characters who learn to appreciate one another along the way. But it’s also a sharply insightful exploration of the complicated feelings of kids, a cartoon brainscan or an extended dream that turns the mind into an epic theme park run from a starship control center by five dominant emotions. Disgust, a green, judgmental mean girl voiced by Mindy Kaling, Fear, a skittish praying mantis of a figure (Bill Hader), and Anger, a literal hothead of a burning ember in a middle-management suit (perfectly pitched on the edge of outrage by Lewis Black), fill out the control room crew and end up panicking when left in charge. The confusion and unchecked impulses lead to some bad decisions.

Director and co-writer Pete Docter has been a part of the Pixar’s brain trust and talent chest since the beginning. He co-wrote Toy Story and Wall-E and directed the Oscar-winning Up, a film that shows just how well he knows his way around emotions. For this film Docter is as much concerned father as master filmmaker. He worked with psychiatrists to understand the inner workings of the emotional world of the growing child (he was inspired by the changed in his own adolescent daughter) and create visual metaphors for the abstract process and theoretical ideas. And what finally came up with is clever and funny and sweet and sad, an ingeniously physical interpretation of the ephemeral that acknowledges the competing impulses driving the growing child (not to mention older kids, adults, and by the coda, even dogs and cats).

There’s nothing Pollyanish about this portrait, even with the hyper upbeat Joy trying to micromanage every situation to a happy ending and banish Sadness to the margins. As she learns, suppressing your emotions doesn’t work. You have move through them. Inside Out reminds us that emotions are very real experiences and they have all have a place in our lives. It’s clever and it’s funny and it’s sweet, and it tells kids that, as Rosie Grier sang decades ago in Free to Be You and Me, it’s all right to cry because it might make you feel better.

Blu-ray and DVD with optional filmmaker commentary (director Pete Docter and co-director Ronnie Del Carmen, with a special guest or two along the way) and the bonus animated short film Lava, which played in front of the film in theaters.

Exclusive to the Blu-ray is the original Riley’s First Date?, a snappy little short which spends even more time in the heads of Riley’s parents, and all the featurettes. “Mixed Emotions” (7 mins) looks as the design and development of the emotion characters, “Mapping the Mind” (8 mins) looks into the design of the visual film, “Into the Unknown: The Sound of Inside Out” (7 mins) explores the sound design, “The Misunderstood Art of Animation Film Editing” (4 mins) is self-explanatory, and “Paths to Pixar: The Women of Inside Out” (11 mins) looks at the personal stories of the women of the production. There’s also “Our Dads, The Filmmakers” (7 mins), the compilation reel “Mind Candy” (14 mins), and four deleted scenes with introductions from Docter, plus bonus DVD and Digital HD copies of the film.

Best of Enemies
Magnolia

Best of Enemies: Buckley vs. Vidal (Magnolia, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) – In 1968, William F. Buckley was the face of the new Conservative movement: editor of The National Review, host of the public television show Firing Line, a conservative media celebrity with a cool intellect and sharp tongue. Gore Vidal, born and raised as a member of the East Coast American political aristocracy, was a respected novelist, essayist, and outspoken liberal commentator who used his wit to provoke and satirize. The despised one another as much as they hated what the other stood for. ABC, the distant third of three networks going into the political conventions of the election season, hired these men to debate the events of the respective Republican and Democratic conventions over ten nights of network coverage. What they got in those brief minutes at the end of each program was less debate than verbal sparring matches between two erudite intellectuals attacking the political philosophy and public record of the other and they were out for blood. As Christopher Hitchens puts it, “There’s nothing feigned about their mutual animosity. They really do despise each other.”

Best of Enemies presents a contrast of two very public intellectuals along with its portrait of an unlikely and unique television event in 1968, an approach to political coverage that ultimately changed the face of political discourse on TV from reporting to punditry and competing voices. Yet there is nothing on contemporary cable news that resembles what these two men gave viewers in 1968. These men took great pride in their vocabulary, their erudition, their intellect, and they dueled with words and ideas and wicked insults in cultivated, patrician mid-Atlantic accents. This was a time when “intellectual” was not an insult but a badge of pride and these men elevated the language of discourse even while engaging in a verbal street brawl.

Directors Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville anchor their documentary with extended clips from their debates, which are unaccountably entertaining in their own right, with backstory and commentary in between. Buckley passed away in 2008, Gore Vidal in 2012, and their respective legacies are in danger of being forgotten. This documentary reminds us of their public presence and their cultural import, but what carries the film is the sheer spectacle of their verbal bloodsport on a national stage. You’ll never see this level of political discourse in the fractured world of cable TV news playing to partisan constituents and punditry reduced to sound bites and shouting matches. The personal hatred that fanned the flames of their duel only makes the spectacle that much more riveting.

Blu-ray and DVD, with a seven-minute interview with the directors and over an hour of additional interviews with the featured commentators, including Andrew Sullivan, Christopher Hitchens, Dick Cavett, and James Wolcott, presented as a series short sound bite-sized clips. Also on VOD.

Rebels
Big World Pictures

Rebels of the Neon God (Big World Pictures, DVD), the debut feature by Taiwan filmmaker Tsai Ming-Liang is a study in urban alienation in the overcrowded city of Tapei. Sad faced, soft-featured young actor Lee Kang-sheng stars as a disconnected Taiwan youth studying to get into college who becomes obsessed with a petty hood (Chen Chao-jung) he witnesses vandalizing his father’s cab. There is very little dialogue in the film and Tsai uses long takes with minimal camera movement to emphasize the boredom and unhappiness of the characters. They seem to be going through the motions of life, especially the student who simply quits his studies, gets a motor bike, and stalks the young thief as he robs and vandalizes his days away.

The 1992 film played in film festivals but did not get a theatrical release in the U.S. until 2015, long after Tsai had made his reputation with films such as The River andGoodbye Dragon Inn, which also explore inchoate longing and human disconnection in the urban world. While his later films are more accomplished, Tsai is very much in command of his art and captures the inarticulate frustrations not just of the young but everyone living in this impersonal, overwhelming city. And for a film that keeps its audience at a distance, he shows a compassion for his characters, especially the confused young protagonist. Lee went on to become Tsai’s onscreen alter ego and the star of all of his subsequent films. A well-mastered disc, no supplements, in Mandarin with English subtitles.

Croupier
Hen’s Tooth

Croupier (Hen’s Tooth, Blu-ray, DVD), the 1998 film that helped elevate the career of Clive Owen, is a low-key drama with Owen as a would-be writer and a gambling addict in denial who takes a high paying job at a casino. “He was a writer looking down on his subject,” he narrates in voice-over. “A detached voyeur.” Soaking in the atmosphere of card sharps and petty thievery and scams, he pours out his observations in a novel about “Jake,” a self-obsessed misanthrope who thrives on the misery of others. Pretty soon honest dealer Jack can’t tell himself apart from the corrupt Jake and takes a payoff in return for playing a part in a planned heist. It’s a mannered performance in a film that blurs fantasy and reality until you’re not sure what exactly you’re seeing, in sharp contrast to Gina McKee, who is so alive she seems to come from another film. Alex Kingston makes an impression in a supporting role. Directed by Mike Hodges, who made the original Get Carter and directed Owen again in I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.

I’m not really fond of this film—I find it a little precious—but it has its fans and the Blu-ray debut looks fine indeed. No supplements.

More new releases on disc and digital formats this week at Cinephiled

‘Third Man on the Mountain’ on TCM

In 1865, British mountaineer Edward Whymper led the first climbing party to successfully scale the Matterhorn, one of the highest peaks in the Alps and one of the last of the Alpine peaks to be conquered. Author and veteran mountaineer James Ramsey Ullman fictionalized the event in his novel Banner in the Sky, changing the name of the peak to the Citadel and making the hero a young man whose father, a famous mountain guide, died saving his client on an expedition up the mountain. That book became the basis for the 1959 Disney adventure Third Man on the Mountain, directed by Ken Annakin and starring Disney’s new discovery, James MacArthur.

The son of actress Helen Hayes, MacArthur was spotted by Disney in his debut feature, The Young Stranger (1957) and made his Disney debut a year later in The Light in the Forest (1958). Third Man on the Mountain was his second Disney feature and his first leading role for the family studio. To prepare for the role, MacArthur joined his co-stars for a two-week crash course in mountaineering in the Swiss Alps. Many of them became so proficient that they performed some of their own stunts. “They had some really fine Swiss mountain climbers doing some scaling of the mountains that was beyond my skills,” explained MacArthur in an interview years later. “But Ken [Annakin, the director] had me out hanging over 3,000 foot drops.”

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

Plays on TCM on Sunday, December 21

Family Release of the Week: Tangled

Tangled up in a Combo Pack

Tangled” (Disney)

After stumbling through their own in-house CGI animated features, Disney (with a little guidance from Pixar’s creative leader and new Disney animation czar John Lasseter) finally finds the right balance of classic animation magic and contemporary sensibility with this comic musical adventure version of the “Rapunzel” fairy tale. And it does so without superstar casting or a surfeit of pop-culture references. This one features a plucky little girl with an epic mane of magic hair that glows when she sings (Mandy Moore), a dashing rogue of an outlaw who ends up a partner on her quest (Zachary Levi), a stepmom who walks all over her self-esteem (Donna Murphy), a chameleon with a wry sense of humor, a horse that thinks he’s a dog and a rogues gallery of hard-bitten thugs with a dream in their hearts.

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Blu-ray of the Week: Bambi – Diamond Edition

Blu Bambi

Bambi: Diamond Edition” (Disney)

Graceful and gorgeous, gentle and fierce, delicate and majestic, Walt Disney’s “Bambi” is often cited as the greatest animated film ever made and the crown jewel from the golden years of Disney animation. Agree or not, the fifth full-length animated feature from Disney is a magnificent piece of animated storytelling and a cinematic landmark that has lost none of its wonder or power over the years. Adapted from the novel by Felix Salter and directed by David Hand (under the close supervision of Walt Disney), the story follows the life of a small fawn over the course of four seasons as he develops from childhood innocence (with a menagerie of delightful animal friends) through adult responsibility. Like the best of Disney, the animal characters burst with personality with every perfectly animated every movement and the colors are painted with a delicacy unseen in contemporary animated feature filmmaking. AV Club critic Noel Murray wrote in 2005 that the film “isn’t so much animated as illustrated like a vintage children’s book, with elegant painted backgrounds occupied by simplified faces.” The multi-plane photography is amazing, giving the painted cels a sense of depth and the camerawork a graceful fluidity. And it is the rare children’s movie that broaches the subject of death in a meaningful and profound way.

Film Archivist and Home Theater Forum guru Robert Harris likes the new Blu-ray, but as you can read in the comments thread of this forum, Disney’s decision to rejigger the colors for a brighter, more modern palette is still the subject of much debate and criticism. As Harris writes, “The re-imagining of the Disney classics has taken its toll, frustrated many who love the originals, and will continue to stir controversy.” But home theater critics across the board have given this their seal of approval, including Gary Tooze at DVD Beaver. And, to add my voice to the choir, me. This is a gorgeous and lush Blu-ray presentation.

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