As August winds down, we prepare to say goodbye to the summer and, hopefully, to the Blu-ray dry spell we’ve experienced lately. This week actually has a bunch of titles of some moderate interest, but (from my perspective) few exciting must-buys.
‘Aloha‘ – A notoriously troubled production that suffered endless reworking and didn’t even have a title until about a week before its release, Cameron Crowe’s Hawaii-set dramedy features a big all-star cast (Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Alec Baldwin, Bill Murray and more) that wander aimlessly through a mess of confused storylines. The film received scathing reviews (currently a pathetic 19% on Rotten Tomatoes) and bombed at the box office. Even the director’s biggest fans had trouble defending it. In emails that leaked during last year’s Sony hack, studio president Amy Pascal said about it, “I’m never starting a movie again when the script is ridiculous and we all know it.” If only every studio head could really commit to a pledge like that…
‘Big Game‘ – Speaking of ridiculous (though in this case, perhaps the good kind), Samuel L. Jackson returns to full ‘Snakes on a Plane’ mode with a silly action thriller in which he plays the President of the United States (already funny). After his plane crashes in the middle of nowhere, POTUS finds himself chased through the woods by a rogue Secret Service agent and a crazy big game hunter. So, it’s ‘Air Force One’ meets ‘The Most Dangerous Game’, as directed by the guy who made the demented evil-Santa cult flick ‘Rare Exports’. Sounds like fun.
‘Two Days, One Night‘ – The latest delicate character drama from the Dardenne brothers (‘The Kid with a Bike‘) gets inducted into the Criterion Collection straightaway, bypassing the need for any other studio to release a basic copy first. Marion Cottilard scored an Oscar nomination for her performance as a working-class mother who must somehow convince all of her coworkers to turn down bonuses offered to them so that the company will have enough money to let her keep her job. It sounds depressing, but the Dardennes have a way of making this sort of material engrossing.
‘Citizenfour‘ – Is Edward Snowden a heroic crusader for citizen rights and government transparency, or a self-aggrandizing traitor? Documentarian Laura Poitras was hand-selected by Snowden to interview and film him during the height of the NSA whistleblowing scandal, so I have a feeling I can tell which way the movie leans. Due to some strange eligibility rules, the film was nominated for both an Emmy and an Oscar in the same year, winning the latter.
‘Iris‘ – One of the final films from legendary documentarian Albert Maysles (‘Gimme Shelter’, ‘Grey Gardens’) is a profile of 93-year-old fashion maven Iris Apfel, who worked on restoration projects in the White House under nine different Presidents and continues to be a notable figure in the New York fashion scene. Sadly, Maysles himself passed away in March of this year at the age of 88. He completed one more film (called ‘In Transit’) after this one. Apfel is still active and kicking.
‘The Runner‘ – Another Nicolas Cage movie goes direct-to-video. What a shock. At least this seems to be one of those times when he puts in some effort. The actor plays a Southern politician whose run for a Senate seat is undone by his inability to keep his libido in check. Sadly, our Blu-ray reviewer Shannon didn’t think the story amounted to much in the end.
‘Welcome to New York‘ – One-time indie badboy provocateur Abel Ferrara presents a fictionalized take on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn story, in which a wealthy and powerful French lawyer (Gerard Depardieu) is charged with sexually assaulting a hotel maid. Despite its topicality, the film received mixed reviews and went straight to VOD. The Blu-ray contains only the 108-minute R-rated cut of the film, which Ferrara claims is an illegitimate version of the movie. His original unrated cut ran 125 minutes, but will probably never be seen in this country.
The late Robin Williams gave one of his best performances in George Roy Hill’s (appropriately) messy adaptation of the John Irving novel ‘The World According to Garp‘. The film is now available on Blu-ray through the Warner Archive.
In addition to the new release of ‘Two Days, One Night’, the Criterion Collection is also reissuing Akira Kurosawa’s masterful ‘Throne of Blood‘ (a samurai retelling of Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’) as a single-disc edition that includes only the Blu-ray without the needless DVD copy.
Sony often foists its catalog titles onto third-party labels like Twilight Time or Mill Creek, but the studio holds on tight to the genuine classics in its library. Case in point: the new 30th Anniversary Edition of the blaxploitation kung-fu musical satire ‘The Last Dragon‘.
Sentai Filmworks offers the anime classic ‘Vampire Hunter D‘.
Shout! Factory felt that Rodney Dangerfield’s ‘Easy Money‘ and Charlie Sheen’s ‘Men at Work‘ somehow made a good double-feature. I’m not sure that I agree.
As a six-hour narrative reduced to 108 minutes – and a musical to boot – director Keith Gordon’s 2003 feature film remake of the acclaimed British TV miniseries ‘The Singing Detective‘ was probably doomed to failure no matter what. The title alone was enough to scare American audiences away. Sadly, despite a lot of talent both behind and in front of the camera, all working from a script by the original creator (who wrote it more than a decade earlier and died in the meantime), the movie was an all-around disaster that seemed to completely miss the point of the story or the appeal of its cantankerous lead character (who, as played by Robert Downey, Jr. before his big career comeback, comes across in this version as a raging unlikable prick). It’s a somewhat interesting failure, but a failure all the same. It’s really time for someone to properly remaster the TV miniseries, because the DVD edition of that looks like garbage.
Directed by Sidney Lumet and scripted by E.L. Doctorow (based on his own novel), the 1983 film ‘Daniel‘ fictionalizes the story of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the last Americans to be executed for treason, as seen through the eyes of a son (Timothy Hutton) struggling to determine if his parents were really spies or if they were framed and martyred. The movie received mixed reviews and poor box office in its day, but Lumet reportedly claimed it was one of the best screenplays he ever worked from.
In addition to those last two, Olive Films has also licensed a bunch of schlock, including the 1981 slasher parody ‘Student Bodies‘, the 1982 sex comedy ‘The Last American Virgin‘, the 1982 horror thriller ‘The Sender‘ (from Roger Christian, future director of ‘Battlefield Earth’!), and the 1995 Alicia Silverstone thriller ‘The Babysitter‘.
Season 5 of ‘The Walking Dead‘ opens with what is easily the best episode the series has aired so far, then kind of meanders through some uninteresting storylines for a while before getting back on track with a very strong second half. Overall, it’s one of the show’s better seasons – aside from its continued problem with killing off black male characters any time a new one is introduced. (The show-runners really need to address that, because it’s getting ridiculous.) The Blu-ray box set is being released just in time to promote the broadcast of the new spinoff show.
The most exciting title I see here is ‘The World According to Garp’. I thought that I had picked up the previous Criterion release of ‘Throne of Blood’, but apparently I didn’t, so I’ll definitely get the new copy. Other titles for my growing wish list include ‘Two Days, One Night’ and ‘The Last Dragon’. (What a double bill that would be!)
What do you see that looks interesting?