Blu-ray: ‘Deliverance’

Deliverance (Warner) – John Boorman’s harrowing adaptation of James Dickey’s novel is as bracing and haunting now as it was when it first shook up audiences 35 years ago. Jon Voight stars as an urban family man whose weekend escape in a whitewater canoe trip with three friends down a soon-to-be-gone Appalachian river transforms from a trip through wild lost paradise into an escape from a savage land. “You don’t beat this river,” warns trip leader Lewis (Burt Reynolds, in one of his career-best performances), a weekend warrior and tough-guy Thoreau who speaks a survivalist game. He winds up living a nightmare of his fantasy when they tangle with a pair of vicious mountain men. The film remains most famous for the “Dueling Banjos” music and the assault on Ned Beatty’s character (“Squeal like a pig!”), but Boorman’s interest is in the sense of mortality it reveals, both in their fight for their survival and in their battle with their consciences in the aftermath. Ronnie Cox is the fourth rafter and novelist James Dickey has a cameo as the sheriff.

The new Blu-ray book edition features the same transfer as the 2007 Blu-ray release (very nice except for a few brief night shots, which exaggerate the weaknesses in the original day-for-night process) and a new DTS HD audio mix. New to this edition are the brand new half-hour featurette “Deliverance: The Cast Remembers” with new interviews with Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox recorded at the Burt Reynolds Museum in Jupiter, Florida, and the illustrated booklet. Carried over from the earlier release is articulate commentary by John Boorman, who tells many of the same production stories that also come out in an excellent four-part 2007 documentary, plus the original archival featurette “The Dangerous World of Deliverance.”

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DVDs for 6/30/09 – Eastbound, Vegas Bound and back to Bed-Stuy to Do the Right Thing

Kenny's crew
Kenny's crew
In Eastbound and Down, Danny McBride is former Major League pitcher Kenny Powers, a washed-up superstar who bought in to the hype and is now despised by who are, simply put, sick of his crap. Blissfully free of self-awareness, Powers doesn’t let the crash and burn of his career put a dent in his raging ego. “That is why I am better than everyone else in the world,” is his mantra, even as he moves in to his brother’s middle-class home and takes a job as a junior high school gym teacher in his home town. Not the best career choice for an arrogant jerk with anger management issues. Created for HBO by McBride with Ben Best and Jody Hill and co-produced by Will Ferrell (who co-stars in two episodes) and Adam McKay (who also directs a couple of episodes), this is a cable series created with the same collaborative spirit and improvisational approach of Will Ferrell’s movies, and it’s funnier and sharper than Ferrell’s last couple of pictures. Note that David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) directs three episodes as well. The limited series numbers only six half-hour episodes, but they make for a pretty tight story that even allows Powers to grow up a little. But not much. Also features deleted scenes (the extended “Stevie’s Dark Secret,” which apparently was too much even for HBO, is so perverse that it’s given its own supplement), commentary and a 12-minute featurette that offers the best description I’ve heard of the show: “It’s like if Dennis Hopper shot The Natural.”

Hal Ashby’s 1982 gambling comedy Lookin’ to Get Out, directed from a script co-written by star Jon Voight, was a critical and commercial flop on its original release. Seen today, in a longer cut than was originally released (Voight was pressured to edit it down by 15 minutes by the studio), it looks better, if not quite great. Voight is Alex, a hopeless gambling addict with unflagging optimism in his own abilities who sets off to Vegas with his schlub of a best friend Jerry (Burt Young) for a “big score” to settle a gambling debt. Alex is flamboyant, effusive, a perpetual motion hustler racing with out-of-control momentum. Jerry is constantly worried and unceasingly loyal, but at root he’s a good-hearted romantic who takes everyone at their word until they prove their word isn’t worth anything. The plot is a completely unconvincing series of coincidences but the dynamism of the characters and their friendships is marvelous. Voight and Young are like kids when they get excited, immature but utterly devoted to one another, and Young delivers the defining line with such unforced conviction that it won me over completely: “I don’t want your money. Alex, he does. I can’t help that, but he’s my friend and you take the good with the bad. Ann-Margret is touching as a woman from Voight’s past whose romantic idealism is tempered by her growing realization that her old lover is completely unsuitable as a father to her daughter. Ashby’s indulgence allows the film get lost in comic chases and brawls (not to mention the crazy plot involving mistaken identity and a washed up gambler played by Bert Remsen) but he always returns to the characters, who are the real story of the film. You can tell what footage has been restored by the speckling on the film (it appears to be from a workprint, but the wear is minor and the footage is otherwise sharp and has strong color) and it’s all character stuff, the very thing that makes the film work. But, lordy, is that eighties synthesizer score painful.
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