New This Week
If Beale Street Could Talk, based on James Baldwin’s 1974 novel, was one of the best reviewed films of 2018, a major year-end award winner that somehow managed to miss an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.
Writer-director Barry Jenkins’ prior film, Moonlight, won three Oscars out of the eight it was nominated for, including Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Supporting Actor (Mahershala Ali), so expectations were high going into the Oscar race, but not guaranteed, and the film ended up with just three nods for Best Adapted Screenplay, Original Score, and Supporting Actress (Regina King). Only King won. What happened between the film’s initial euphoria and its cool Oscar reception?
Critics and discerning audiences may have loved it, but the general public found the narrative about a young man falsely accused of rape and sentenced to a long prison term, slow and uninvolving, which hurt the film’s box office and may have kept Oscar voters from seeing it for themselves.
Slow it may be, but uninvolving it is not. There is real poetry in the romance played out in flashback by Kiki Layne and Stephan James and real heartbreaking drama in the confrontation between their two families early on. Better still, is King’s big third act scene as Layne’s mother as she tries in vain to get the rape victim to acknowledge that she identified the wrong man. It’s that scene that won her the Oscar.
The film makes for ideal home viewing on Blu-ray and standard DVD.
Another film that did lackluster business at the box office and earned no Oscar nominations despite receiving year-end recognition from other groups is the British film Stan & Ollie about British born Laurel and American born Hardy’s 1953 theatrical tour of England.
Written by John Pope (Philomena) and directed by TV director Jon S. Baird (Vinyl), the film provides strong roles for both BAFTA nominee Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel and Golden Globe nominee John C. Reilly as Oliver Hardy. The “boys,” as they were called well into their 60s, were long past their halcyon days and attempting a comeback. The tour, which sees them booked into seedy hotels and playing less than the best theatres, is supposed to lead to a comeback movie, only there isn’t going to be one. Laurel learns half way through the tour that the plug has been pulled on the movie but keeps writing scenes for it which he and Hardy must practice. Hardy, pretty much having figured that out, nevertheless goes along with Laurel until they have a row that almost leads to Hardy’s death. Happily, he recovers for the film’s rousing finish in Ireland.
The DVD release of Stan & Ollie is available now. The Blu-ray release has been delayed due to the slowdown in Blu-ray plant production that has been affecting the industry with the closure of numerous unprofitable plants. The Blu-ray release of Can You Ever Forgive Me?, for example, became available on March 26th, five weeks after its DVD release.
New to Blu-ray releases include The Iceman Cometh, The Tarnished Angels, and The Body Snatcher.
Kino Lorber’s release of The Iceman Cometh includes new 2K restorations of both the 239-minute version and the 178-minute version.
Between 1973 and 1975, producer Ely Landau produced a series of film versions of esteemed Broadway plays, beginning with Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh. These films were shown on a subscription basis in select theatres for just two nights a month apart. Despite the restricted nature of the releases, you could find empty seats at some of the theatres that were playing the films and pay at the box office, which is how I managed to see some of the releases at the time.
John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May) filmed the entire play at 4 hours and 20 minutes but was told to cut it by an hour and twenty minutes, which he did, but ended up putting an hour back. Hence, the four-hour version which was what was shown in theatres and the three-hour version which was intended for showing, but never was.
Jason Robards, who famously played Hickey, the charismatic salesman who is the center of the play, in numerous TV and theatrical productions, was sidelined by an accident and replaced by Lee Marvin whose flat delivery is troublesome. No matter, though, what distinguishes this version are the supporting performances, particularly those of Robert Ryan as dying anarchist Larry Slade and Fredric March as skid row bar owner Harry Hope.
Ryan was in the last stages of terminal lung cancer that took his life at the age of 63 before the release of the film. His speeches about death and dying have a particularly haunting effect on audiences, even those that have no knowledge of the circumstances. March had retired from acting in 1970 due to virulent prostate cancer. He came out of retirement for just this film, dying two years later at 77.
Despite the dominance of Ryan and March, there is also fine work from Jeff Bridges, Bradford Dillman, Martyn Green, George Voskovec, Moses Gunn, and Sorrell Booke among others. Sidney Lumet’s 240-minute 1960 TV version of The Iceman Cometh, starring Jason Robards and Robert Redford (in what would become Jeff Bridges’ role), is available on DVD only.
Kino Lorber’s release of Douglas Sirk’s 1958 film The Tarnished Angles shows off the director’s skill in creating imagery in black-and-white as indelible as his fabled color creations in Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, and Imitation of Life. Three of the four stars of Written on the Wind, Rock Hudson, Robert Stack, and Dorothy Malone, are reunited in William Faulknor’s depression era tale of a trio of flying circus performers in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Audio commentary is by film historian Sara Smith.
An early film by two-time Oscar-winning director Robert Wise (West Side Story, The Sound of Music), Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Body Snatcher may well be the finest film ever to come out of horrormeister Val Lewton’s RKO unit. Made in 1945, it provided Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and especially Henry Daniell with unforgettable performances. Scream Factory’s 4K scan does the film full justice. Audio commentary by Wise and film historian Steve Haberman is imported from an earlier DVD release.
This week’s new releases include Vice and The Mule.