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

Videophiled: ‘Snowpiercer’ – Class Struggle on a Runaway Train

snowpiercerSnowpiercer (Anchor Bay, Blu-ray, DVD), an international production from Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho based on a French graphic novel, is a high-speed metaphor speeding down the science fiction tracks of genre cinema. That’s the way I like this brand of filmmaking: with the metaphors big, muscular, detailed, and punchy. You either give yourself over to the allegory, in this case a giant train as a self-contained eco-system traveling through a world plunged into an ice age with passengers segregated into castes and the oppressed poor rising up in revolution, or give up. There’s not much in between.

Think “The Odyssey” as reworked by Karl Marx and set on the Siberian Express. Chris Evans (Captain America himself) is the angry young leader in the dungeon of steerage class battling his way through the train, car by car, to the engine, seeing his fellow revolutionaries cut down by the stormtrooper soldiers as the poor, huddled masses progress through the levels of privilege and decadence. And Tilda Swinton all but steals the film from him as the devoted functionary dedicated to class division and population control through repression and purges, embracing the essence of her character as both live action political cartoon and deluded acolyte of an Oz-like ruler with Darwinian tools. It is the class system of the industrial revolution in microcosm played out as high-concept action movie, and with Bong (The Host) at the helm, it’s a violent, graphically dynamic journey.

Blu-ray and DVD with hosted by Geek Nation film critic Scott Weinberg and featuring William Goss (Austin Chronicle), Drew Mcweeny (Hitfix.com), Jennifer Yamato (Deadline), Peter S. Hall (Movies.com), and my old colleague James Rocchi (who is identified as MSN Movies, despite the fact the site effectively shut down a year ago). A second disc features additional supplements: a nearly hour-long French language documentary “Transperceneige: From the Black Page to the Black Screen,” the shorter “The Birth of Snowpiercer,” a piece on ‘The Characters” with actor interviews,” an animated prologue, and addition interviews and concept art galleries.

More new releases on disc and digital at Cinemaphiled

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

‘Orlando’ on TCM

Slim, tall, ginger, and intense, Oscar®-winner Tilda Swinton has become one of the most respected actresses of her generation. But in 1992, when Sally Potter cast her as Orlando in her idiosyncratic adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s revolutionary 1928 novel “Orlando: A Biography,” Swinton was largely unknown. She had been busy in theater and on television in Britain and was a defining presence in the provocative films of Derek Jarman. Orlando may not have made her a star, but it certainly introduced her to filmgoers the world over and launched a career that since blossomed.

Orlando is just the kind of adventurous project that appealed to the actress, the story of an androgynously beautiful young aristocrat named Orlando who is lover to Queen Elizabeth I. “Do not fade. Do not wither. Do not grow old,” commands the Queen, and he obeys, remaining unchanged over four centuries. Or almost unchanged. One morning some hundred years later, the lad looks into the mirror while dressing and realizes he has transformed into a woman. “Same person, no difference at all,” she muses. “Just a different sex.”

British filmmaker Sally Potter, who came from experimental films and documentaries, had made only one feature before tackling this project. She wrote her first treatment in the 1980s, initially setting it aside when she was told that it would be too difficult to realize, then returning to tackle that challenge head on. Orlando became a true multinational production. Five producers from five different countries came together to make the film, which was still small by studio standards (the final budget was about $5 million); the preparations, from raising money to scouting locations, went on for four years before production could begin. After long negotiations, a deal was made to shoot the film in Russia, where their production dollar would stretch farther. The production was able to recreate centuries of cultural history, from Orlando’s lavish manor to the frozen Thames of 17th century London to 18th century Constantinople, on location in Leningrad and, later, in Uzbekistan. Very little was shot in the studio, and most of that involved special effects sequences.

Continue reading at TCM

Plays Monday September 3 on Turner Classic Movies

Orlando in Wonderland

Orlando (Sony)

“Do not fade. Do not wither. Do not grow old.” So commands Queen Elizabeth I to the androgynously beautiful young aristocrat Orlando (Tilda Swinton), the boy she has taken for her lover, and so he obeys, remaining unchanged over four centuries, or almost unchanged. One morning some hundred years later, the lad looks into the mirror while dressing and realizes he has transformed into a woman. “Same person, no difference at all,” she muses. “Just a different sex.” But true as that may be, her social and legal identity is completely redefined.

Tilda Swinton: Orlando transformed

Tilda Swinton was largely unknown to the filmgoing world when she took on the role of fair, ageless young man who transforms into an ageless woman over the centuries and her androgynous looks evoke 17th century portraits of young male aristocrats. The Oscar-winning actress is of course far more famous today and the visual shock of the transformation no longer so surprising, but the journey is just as fascinating, entertaining and unexpected.

Continue reading “Orlando in Wonderland”