Category: DVD Report

The DVD Report #796

Criterion has released 4K restorations of Le Corbeau and Exotica on Blu-ray.

Made during the World War II German occupation of France, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Le Corbeau is both an absorbing mystery and a subtle condemnation of the Vichy government’s collaboration with the Gestapo.

The plot revolves around poison pen letters menacing a hospital and a school in a French provincial town. Heading the cast are Pierre Fresnay (Monsieur Vincent) as a doctor with a mysterious past, Ginette Leclerc (The Baker’s Wife) as a man-hungry hypochondriac, Micheline Francey (Le Petit Jacques) as an unfaithful wife, Héléna Manson (The Tenant) as a despicable head nurse, Pierre Larquey (Diabolique) as a psychiatrist who thinks he know who the culprit is, and Sylvie (The Shameless Old Lady) as the mother of a superstitious cancer patient driven to suicide by the poison pen letter he receives.

Extras include a 1975 documentary featuring Clouzot (The Wages of Fear, Diabolique).

Three years before The Sweet Hereafter solidified Atom Egoyan’s reputation as one of the most influential directors of his era, his sixth film, 1994’s Exotica, brought him international acclaim at that year’s Cannes Film Festival.

The psychological thriller revolves around the denizens of a Toronto strip club. The cast is headed by Bruce Greenwood (Thirteen Days), Mia Kirshner The Black Dahlia), Don McKeller (eXistenZ), Elias Koteas (The Thin Red Line, Victor Garber (Argo), and Sarah Polley (Away from Her).

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The DVD Report #795

Kino Lorber has released a Blu-ray of Mark Robson’s Bright Victory. Previously unavailable on home video in the U.S., this 1951 film was one of the most acclaimed films of its day and one which still stands out.

Arthur Kennedy received the New York Film Critics Award for Best Actor over Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun, and Fredric March in Death of a Salesman. All four actors were Oscar-nominated, losing to Humphrey Bogart whose The African Queen did not open in New York until 1952 and was thus ineligible.

Kennedy was previously nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for 1949’s Champion and would again be nominated in that category for 1955’s Trial, 1957’s Peyton Place, and 1958’s Some Came Running. He would, however, never again be nominated in the lead category and in fact seldom got a chance to play a leading role in his long and distinguished career.

Following in the footsteps of John Garfield in 1945’s Pride of the Marines, Harold Russell in 1946’s The Best Years of Our Lives, and Marlon Brando in 1950’s The Men, Kennedy plays a wounded World War II soldier adjusting to his life as a handicapped veteran. Like Garfield in Pride of the Yankees, he was blinded in action. Unlike Garfield, Russell, and Brando, he does not have the unwavering support of a strong woman like Eleanor Parker, Cathy O’Donnell, and Teresa Wright were for them. His girl Julie Adams loves him, but when faced with choosing between an uncertain future with him and the continued comfort of her wealthy father, she chooses to stay with her father.

What Kennedy does have is the camaraderie of his fellow convalescents and the friendship of a hospital volunteer that he doesn’t dare fall in love with. He bungles both relationships but finally realizes that he is in love with the volunteer, beautifully played by Peggy Dow (Harvey), who retired from acting in 1952 and is still living happily ever after at 94.

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The DVD Report #794

Sportswriter, screenwriter, and novelist Paul Gallico (1897-1976) received an Oscar nomination for the original story of 1942’s The Pride of the Yankees. He also wrote the original stories for The Clock and Lili among others. His novels included The Three Loves of Thomasina and The Poseidon Adventure, both of which made hit movies. His most enduring work, however, is his 1958 novel Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris about a London cleaning woman charwoman who scrimps and saves to be able to go to the House of Dior in Paris to buy an haute couture gown.

The story first surfaced on TV in 1958 with comedienne Gracie Fields (Holy Matrimony) playing the title character and Jacques Bergerac as the young Dior accountant who helps her. It has since been adapted several times for the London stage.

Angela Lansbury produced and starred in an expanded 1992 version that was faithful to the novel. In that version, the principal characters, in addition to Mrs. ‘Arris and the young Dior accountant (played by Lothaire Bluteau (Black Robe)), are a wealthy Frenchman played by Omar Sharif and a haughty, but ultimately sympathetic overseer played by Diana Rigg.

2022’s Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris takes away the character’s cockney accent and gives her back the “H” in her name.

The story is still set in the mid-1950s, but this time instead of scrimping and saving to buy a Dior gown, Mrs. Harris wins the lottery which turns her into a bit of an elderly Cinderella. It doesn’t really work but character actress Lesley Manville in her first starring role in a major film makes it an enjoyable watch, nevertheless.

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The DVD Report #793

Any time of year is a good time to revisit your favorite films on DVD, Blu-ray, 4K UHD, or whatever platform you can find them on. Autumn, however, is the time of year when I tend to watch the same twenty-five films year after year as time permits.

I break those film into six phases: early autumn, Halloween, Election Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, and pre-Christmas.

For early autumn I like Douglas Sirk’s quintessential 1950s masterpiece All That Heaven Allows best, with Sam Mendes’ American Beauty, and Todd Haynes’ Far from Heaven not far behind. All three are filled with lush autumnal colors including ever-present fallen leaves.

By the time she made All That Heaven Allows, Jane Wyman had received four Oscar nominations and one win. She probably came as close to receiving a fifth nomination for this film as she would have for any other. She is at her best as the middle-aged widow whose grown children try to distract her from falling in love with hunky gardener Rock Hudson by giving her a TV set for Christmas. It doesn’t work!

Kevin Spacey received his second Oscar and Annette Bening her second nomination for 1999’s American Beauty, which exposes the rot under the beauty of suburban America. They are both terrific as is the supporting cast in this Best Picture Oscar winner.

Todd Haynes’ 2002 Far from Heaven gives us a little of both the nostalgia of All That Heaven Allows and the rot of American Beauty as Oscar-nominated Julianne Moore traverses the local bigots as she deals with life in 1950s suburbia which takes her from confused latent homosexual husband Dennis Quaid to sensitive black lover Dennis Haysbert.

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The DVD Report #792

Dirty Dancing has probably had more home video releases than any other film over the last thirty-five years as its ownership went from Vestron to Artisan to Lionsgate among others in the U.S., 20th Century-Fox in Australia, Columbia in the U.K., and Warner Home Video in France to name just a few. It had a 20th anniversary release in 2007, a 30th anniversary in 2017, and has just been released in 4K UHD to celebrate its 35th.

The new Lionsgate release comes with exclusive 4K-only features including commentary from writer Eleanor Bergstein, a separate one with choreographer Kenny Ortega and others, and a new documentary on the making of the film. The accompanying Blu-ray features archival material include interviews with stars Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze.

As the liner notes say, the film remains a cultural icon. Loved by generations of fans, this cinematic treasure has inspired multiple films, a stage version, and reality dance competitions watched around the world. The film’s magic features the timeless themes of love, family, class, and perseverance.

Although Grey plays a teenager and Swayze a slightly older dancer, she was 27 and he was 35 at the time of the film’s release. Both had been around for a while and had, in fact, appeared together three years earlier in Red Dawn, but this is the film that made them household names. Swayze went on to star in other major films, notably Ghost, Point Break, and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar before dying of pancreatic cancer at 57 in 2009. Grey, the daughter of Oscar-winning stage and screen legend Joel Grey, can still be seen in an occasional film or guest starring role on TV.

Co-starring in this classic tale of a girl from the right side of the tracks and a boy from the wrong side, are Jerry Orbach as Grey’s disapproving doctor father, Kelly Bishop as her mother, and Jack Weston as the owner of the resort at which Grey and Swayze meet.

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The DVD Report #791

Paramount has finally given us a U.S. Blu-ray release of Lasse Hallstrom’s 1993 film What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

Swedish writer-director Hallstrom scored two 1987 Oscar nominations for writing and directing My Life as a Dog, a rarity for a foreign film director. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape was only his second Hollywood film.

Working from a script by Peter Hedges (a future Oscar nominee for About a Boy), Hallstrom directed Johnny Depp in this now classic coming of age story about a grocery store clerk in a small town in Iowa. Challenged by the day-to-day responsibility of caring for his morbidly obese mother and mentally challenged younger brother, Depp’s life is brightened by the appearance of a beautiful stranger played by Juliette Lewis.

Depp, coming off a string of hits including Cry-Baby and Edward Scissorhands, and Lewis, a recent Oscar nominee for Cape Fear, both of whom received over the title billing are fine, but the film belongs to Darlene Cates as Depp’s mother and Leonardo DiCaprio in a star-making performance as his brother.

DiCaprio received the first of his six acting Oscar nominations so far for his deeply moving performance. He received a seventh Oscar nod for producing the 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street. He won for 2015’s The Revenant, but this, to me, remains his single most brilliant piece of work.

Extras include commentary from Hallstrom and Hedges and three documentaries, The Characters of Gilbert Grape, The Voice of Gilbert Grape, and Why We Love Gilbert Grape.

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The DVD Report #790

Michael Mann’s 1995 film Heat has had an unusual history.

Released between the director’s two most critically acclaimed films, 1992’s The Last of the Mohicans and 1999’s The Insider, the film met with mixed reviews upon its initial release but later became a huge hit with younger critics.

Mann, who honed his skills with the 1980s TV series Miami Vice (1984-1989), had long been the go-to director for high voltage action films of which Heat was considered one of the best from the get-go. Its initial detractors were those who were put off by its cold characters. This was not a film in which the bad guys had cozy, warm home lives like the mafia family in The Godfather. They were as cold and calculating in their personal lives as they were in their business dealings.

The film’s selling point was the star combination of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in their first film together since The Godfather Part II in which they had no scenes together, De Niro having played Pacino’s father in flashback sequences. In Heat, Pacino is the detective hunting down the criminals of whom former convict De Niro is the leader. The film’s highlight is an improbable scene about halfway through the film in which the two meet in a diner. Critics have compared it to the meeting between England’s Elizabeth I and her cousin Mary in every film about the Scottish queen from John Ford’s Mary of Scotland to Charles Jarrott’s Mary, Queen of Scots to Josie Rourke’s more recent same-titled film. It’s something that never happened nor would ever have happened.

Of the two actors, De Niro’s performance is the superior one. Although his character resorts to frequent bouts of violence, De Niro remains steadily cool throughout. Pacino’s cop, on the other hand, is given to sudden outbursts that make it at times one of his most over-the-top performances. Pacino has claimed that his character was supposed to have been a cocaine addict which would explain the outbursts, but this has never been confirmed by Mann or anyone else.

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The DVD Report #789

1955’s The Killing was the third classic heist film of the 1950s following John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle and Jules Dassin’s Rififi, but it was a first in many ways.

It was the first film version of a novel by Lionel White (The Night of the Following Day) and the first to feature the writing of a screenplay by Jim Thompson whose own novels, including The Grifters, would eventually be filmed. While it was director Stanley Kubrick’s third feature film, it was his first significant work.

Kubrick, who was notorious for putting his name on things associated with his films that others were responsible for, did not want to give Thompson credit for writing the film’s screenplay but eventually agreed to give him credit for writing “additional dialogue.” That was in turn changed to “dialogue by,” an appropriate designation since it was Thompson who wrote all the film’s dialogue.

The film, which looks stunning in its 4K UHD release from Kino Lorber, was marketed as being “in all its fury and violence, like no other picture since Little Caesar and Scarface,” which was a bit of an overstatement. The fury and violence were largely limited to the post-heist scenes at the end of the film.

Sterling Hayden, who earlier led the cast of Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle, was given sole star billing. Co-star billing went to Coleen Gray (Nightmare Alley) and Vince Edwards (The Devil’s Brigade), with Jay C. Flippen (They Live by Night) given slightly reduced lettering, and Marie Windsor (Trouble Along the Way) and Ted de Corsia (The Lady from Shanghai) given even more reduced lettering on the film’s poster. This was hardly giving the film’s standout players, Windsor and Elisha Cook Jr. (The Maltese Falcon) their proper due.

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The DVD Report #788

Criterion has released a picture-perfect Blu-ray edition of Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car.

That Hamaguchi’s masterful creation would win every critics group award for Best Foreign Language or International Film of 2021 was never in dispute. That it would win the Best Film award from the three most prestigious U.S. critics’ groups, the New York, Los Angeles, and National Society Film Critics, was. That distinction put it in contention to become the second film, following Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite, two years earlier, to win both Best Film and Best International Film. That wasn’t to be, of course, but if vote tallies were to be released by the Academy, they might show that it came awfully close.

The three-hour Japanese film stars Hidetoshi Nishijima as a renowned stage actor and director who takes on the direction of a modernized production of Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima while dealing with tragedy in his personal life.

The film begins with a provocative 40-minute prologue before the opening credits that is essential in understanding the lead character and his situation. From there it only gets better as he delves into the creative process that includes being forced to work with an actor who was his wife’s lover, a mute actress in an important speaking role, and a personal driver with problems of her own. How it all works out is fascinating to watch and see.

The film features inspired performances by Nishijima and Toko Miura as his driver as well as virtually the entire cast.

Extras include a new interview with Hamaguchi, the film’s Cannes Film festival press conference, and a making-of documentary.

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The DVD Report #787

Imprint has released a Blu-ray of Richard Fleischer’s 1961 film Barabbas, a biblical epic about early Christians in the tradition of The Sign of the Cross, Quo Vadis, The Robe, Ben-Hur, King of Kings, and the yet to be seen The Greatest Story Ever Told, taken from the 1950 Nobel Prize-winning novel by Swedish author Par Lagerkvist.

Produced by Dino De Laurentis, the film begins with the crucifixion of Christ and ends with the crucifixion of Barabbas, the thief who was let go so that Christ could be executed instead. It deviates from the novel by inserting a lengthy sequence in which Barabbas becomes a gladiator in Rome, the producer’s ode to the recently released Spartacus.

Anthony Quinn, a double Oscar winner for his gregarious performances in Viva Zapata! and Lust for Life, effectively underplays the uncomprehending Barabbas in one of his best performances. Unlike the life affirming films that this is tradition to, Fleischer’s film is very dark, so much so that it has been called an epic noir. It takes its protagonist twenty years to become a Christian (thirty in the novel). In the end, he doesn’t go into the light, he gives his soul up to the darkness of the night after having helped set fire to the burning of Rome, thus playing into Nero’s hands in implicating his fellow Christians.

The superb supporting cast includes Silvana Mangano, Arthur Kennedy, Katy Jurado, Harry Andrews, Vittorio Gassman, Valentina Cortese, Jack Palance, and Ernest Borgnine.

Extras include a lengthy on-screen interview with Fleischer (20,000 Under the Sea, Compulsion) filmed shortly before his death in 2006 at 87.

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The DVD Report #786

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is an action-packed comedy co-written by Nicolas Cage superfans Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten, and directed by Gormican. It stars Cage as himself and Cage superfan Pedro Pascal as a Cage superfan who convinces the actor to co-write and produce a film that the two will put together, Craziness ensues, and real life meets fantasy and vice versa.

Cage, who had qualms about playing himself on screen, gives one of his best, most relaxed performances in some time. Although the film references the actor’s action films from the 1990s such as The Rock and Face/Off, it’s the quieter Cage films from his early performances in Rumble Fish and Birdy to his more recent work in Joe and Pig that come through in the film’s many philosophical moments between the action.

Pascal (TV’s The Mandalorian) proves an excellent foil for Cage, and Lily Sheen, the daughter of Kate Beckinsale and Michael Sheen, last seen as a ten-year-old in 2009’s Everybody’s Fine, makes a welcome return to the screen as Cage’s daughter. Tiffany Haddish as an FBI agent and Neil Patrick Harris as Cage’s agent are along for the ride.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K Blu-ray. Extras include deleted scenes and on-screen interviews with the filmmakers

Criterion has reissued two of the all-time greatest films in upgraded versions.

Martin Scorsese’ 1980 film Raging Bull has been given a 4K Blu-ray Ultra HD presentation.

By the end of the 1980s, Scorsese’s film about one-time champion middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta and the volatile temper that destroyed his life, was considered by a composite of critics to be the greatest film of the decade. That wasn’t always the case. The film opened to mixed reviews but even the so-so ones gave high praise to the performances of Robert De Niro as LaMotta, Joe Pesci as his younger brother, and Cathy Moriarty as his wife. Also singled out for praise were Michal Chapman’s cinematography and Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing.

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The DVD Report #785

Everything Everywhere All at Once was heavily promoted as an action-adventure film in which an aging Chinese immigrant is swept up in an adventure where she alone can save the world. The film’s multi-universe plot gets her into all kinds of crazy situations. For me, however, it works better as a carefully orchestrated film about a woman going mad.

Michelle Yeoh, who was shamefully not nominated for an Oscar for 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, may finally be nominated and possibly win for her fascinating no-nonsense performance here.

A ballerina at age 4, and later a Hong Kong martial arts star, Yeoh first attracted western audience attention in the 1997 James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, in which she was third-billed behind Pierce Brosnan (as Bond) and Jonathan Pryce. Second-billed behind Chow Yun-Fat in Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, three years later, she has seldom been out of the public eye since.

2018’s box-office sensation Crazy Rich Asians proved that Yeoh could be as adept at playing aging characters as she was as a headline action star. 2019’s less successful Last Christmas cemented her newfound status. In Everything Everywhere All at Once she successfully combines the best of both worlds.

Second-billed Stephanie Hsu, a TV star since her early teens, finally has a breakout film role as Yeoh’s lesbian daughter, a performance every bit as commanding as Yeoh’s.

Third-billed Ke Huy Quan is best known for childhood performances as Short Round in 1984’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Data in 1985’s Goonies. Fans were delighted to find that his squeaky voice still prevails as Yeoh’s middle-aged husband.

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The DVD Report #784

Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World is the kind of film that sneaks up on you and grabs hold when you’re not expecting it to.

This is just the fifth film from the 48-year-old Norwegian director of Reprise, Oslo, August 31st, Louder Than Bombs, and Thelma. Although marketed as a comedy, The Worst Person in the World is basically a slice-of-life drama with comic moments as well as some deeply moving ones.

Renate Resinve, who won the 2021 Cannes Film Festival award for Best Actress, has the leading role of a young woman trying to decide what to do with her life as she navigates both career paths and potential husbands.

A would-be writer, she settles uneasily into a relationship with an older established writer and later a young barista. The writer wants children, she does not, neither does the barista, but attitudes and circumstances will change as life goes on.

Trier, whose mentors include British writer-director Mike Leigh (Secrets & Lies), and his co-writer Eskil Vogt, provide their actors with a strong script leaving room for improvisation, a combination that befits the film’s loose but controlled dynamics.

Resinve, who had begun a career as a carpenter when she was cast in the lead in the film, is a wonderful find. Anders Danielsen Lie (Personal Shopper), who plays her older lover, is the son of actress Tone Danielsen, who began his career as the star of a film called Herman when he was 11 years old. He is now a full-time doctor and part-time actor.
Herbert Nordrum, who plays the young barista, is already an award-winning Norwegian actor.

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The DVD Report #783

Giant has been given an Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray upgrade by Warner Bros.

The 1956 film was the fourteenth film made from the works of author-playwright Edna Ferber.

Ferber’s 1924 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel So Big was made into a film three times. The 1924 silent version with Colleen Moore is a lost film. The 1932 version with Barbara Stanwyck is hard to find, but the superior 1953 version with Jane Wyman is a little easier to get your hands on.

The Jerome Kern-Oscar Hammerstein II musical version of Ferber’s 1926 novel was first filmed as a partial talkie in 1929, and more famously as a full-scale musical in 1936 with Irene Dunne, Allan Jones, Helen Morgan, Charles Winninger, and Paul Robeson; and again in 1951 with Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Ava Gardner, Joe E. Brown, and William Warfield.

The film version of Ferber’s 1930 novel Cimarron was filmed in 1931 with Richard Dix and Irene Dunne, winning the Oscar for Best Picture of 1930/31, and in 1960 with Glenn Ford and Maria Schell.

Ferber’s 1935 novel Come and Get It was made into a film in 1936 with Edward Arnold, Joel McCrea, and Frances Farmer, winning an Oscar for Walter Brennan as Best Supporting Actor. 1941’s Saratoga Trunk was made into a film in 1945 with Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman, earning an Oscar nomination for Flora Robson for Best Supporting Actress. It was later made into a Broadway musical called simply Saratoga in 1956.

Three of Ferber’s Broadway plays, 1927’s The Royal Family, 1932’s Dinner at Eight, and 1932’s Stage Door, were also made into highly successful films.

Fredric March received his first Oscar nomination for emulating John Barrymore in the renamed The Royal Family of Broadway. The real John Barrymore, Marie Dressler, Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery, John’s brother Lionel Barrymore, and Billie Burke led the all-star cast of the 1933 film version of Dinner at Eight. Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou, Eve Arden, Lucille Ball, Ann Miller, and Oscar nominee Andrea Leeds headlined the 1937 film version of Stage Door.

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The DVD Report #782

Father Stu is an odd duck of a movie.

Based on the true story of Stuart Long, a Golden Gloves champion boxer turned would-be actor turned priest, the film was the brainchild of star Mark Wahlberg who began working on the film in 2016 with writer-director David O. Russell who directed him in 2010’s The Fighter. Russell eventually lost interest and Wahlberg turned to Rosalind Ross, co-star Mel Gibson’s partner since 2014 and the mother of Gibson five-year-old youngest son. The film marks Ross’ writing and directing debut.

With a 36% Metacritic score, a 40% Rotten Tomatoes score, and a 95% audience score, you get the impression that something is amiss, and you would be right.

The film appeals primarily to fans of Wahlberg, an actor who hasn’t had a major critical success since 2013’s Lone Survivor. Like 2020’s Joe Bell, Father Stu is a well-intentioned film about a real-life character that fails to do justice to its subject.

Joe Bell was about a father grieving for his late son, a gay teenager who left home after being tormented by school bullies. It was well acted by Wahlberg, Connie Britton as his wife, Gary Sinise as a compassionate sheriff, and newcomers Maxwell Jenkins and Reid Miller as Wahlberg’s sons, but the execution was poor.

Father Stu spends too much time on Wahlberg’s character as a rebel characterized as having aged out of boxing. The truth is that he was only 24 and could have transitioned from amateur to professional boxing but chose not to.

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