New This Week
Pokémon Detective Pikachu, The Curse of La Llorona, and Tolkien are three 2019 films new to home video for which outside knowledge may well be a factor in their enjoyment. Personally, I found Tolkein, about the formative years of writer-poet-philologist-academic author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), to be the most satisfying of the three.
Tolkien was generally trounced upon by the critics and suffered an agonizing death at the box-office as a result. Most of the critical disappointment seemed to be aimed at the film’s construction which meanders between the future author’s mental and physical suffering in the trenches during World War I and his life prior to that seen in flashback, events that would come to vivid life when mirrored in his later works. It ends with him in his mid-thirties starting to write The Hobbit in 1937. It seems that what the film’s harshest critics wanted was a by-the-numbers story of the author’s life that began where the film ended. This is not that kind of film.
The emphasis in Tolkien is on friendship, fellowship, and love and their effect on the already burgeoning author’s young life. Those familiar with his writings, or the highly successful films made from them, will find parallels in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
Former child actor Nicholas Hoult has more than fifty credits to his name, but his portrayal of Tolkien easily ranks with his best from 2002’s About a Boy to last year’s The Favourite. Lily Collins (Mirror Mirror, Rules Don’t Apply) plays a fellow orphan and the love of his life. Patrick Gibson, Anthony Boyle, and Tom Glynn-Carney play the three friends with whom he formed a semi-secret literary society in his school years that they called the T.C.B.S. (Tea Club and Barrovian Society). Colm Meaney and Derek Jacobi play his two mentors, one a priest, the other an academic.
The film is skillfully directed by Finnish actor-director Dome Karukoski (Tom of Finland), his first in English. Though mostly factually accurate, the one glaring thing it gets wrong is the timing of the marriage of Tolkien and his beloved Edith, which took place prior to his engagement in the war, not after it.
Knowledge of the Japanese pocket monsters, called Pokémon for short, is helpful but not essential to the enjoyment of Pokémon Detective Pikachu. Pokémon were first introduced to the world by a consortium of Nintendo, Game Freak, and Creatures in 1996. The world created by the media franchise has grown significantly over the years. In the latest film, humans and Pokémon live side by side with Pokémon acting as companions to their human trainers much as dogs and cats do in real life.
The film stars Justice Smith (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) as a young man who goes in search of his missing father with his father’s Pokémon voiced by Ryan Reynolds in full-on Deadpool mode. Bill Nighy plays the film’s principal villain in a wheelchair. Directed by Rob Letterman (Shark Tale), the film is at heart a very sweet one with an aw-shucks ending you can see coming a mile away. The fun is in getting there.
The Curse of La Llorona is connected to the conjuring universe that includes 2013’s The Conjuring and its sequels and 2014’s Annabelle and prequel and sequels. If you enjoyed those films, you might enjoy this, but this isn’t really the time for a film in which two Mexican children are hunted and killed and two more are put in mortal danger for the remainder of the film’s running time.
If you want to see a horror film about the death of a child, among other gruesome murders, a better bet than The Curse of La Llorona would be Alfred Sole’s 1976 film Alice, Sweet Alice given a new 2K restoration by Arrow Video.
Hollywood’s best-known attempt at creating an American version of Italian giallo, Alice, Sweet Alice arrived three years after The Exorcist in the same year as The Omen and Carrie but was barely released by Allied Artists, its reputation having developed to cult status in the years since.
The biggest name in the film is Brooke Shields who plays the first murder victim, a six-year-old who is slaughtered in the vestry of her local Catholic church in Paterson, New Jersey just as she is about to make her first communion. Suspicion falls on her jealous 13-year-old sister (Paula Shepard). An attempt on the life of her aunt who names the older girl as her assailant almost seals her fate, but then the murderer can’t help herself and kills three more people in brutal fashion before the film comes to its end.
Top-billed in the film is Linda Miller, an actress with a long list of credits, mostly on TV and in the theatre. Despite her lengthy resumé, Miller is still most famous for being the daughter of Jackie Gleason (Papa’s Delicate Condition), the wife of Jason Miller (The Exorcist), and the mother of Jason Patric (Speed). Also featured prominently in the cast are Miles McMaster, Rudolph Woolrich, Jane Lowry, Mildred Clinton, and Alphonso DeNoble. Lillian Roth (whose life story was told in I’ll Cry Tomorrow) plays the pathologist.
Warner Archive has released Blu-ray upgrades of Footlight Parade, The Thin Man, and Merrill’s Maruaders.
1933’s Footlight Parade was Warner Bros. third smash hit musical of the year following 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933 and, like those films, had eye-popping musical numbers conceived by dance director Busby Berkeley. It was also the first film in which James Cagney sang and danced, the last until his Oscar-winning portrayal of George M. Cohan in 1942’s Yankee Doodle Dandy. Joan Blondell, Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Frank McHugh, Guy Kibbee, and Ruth Donnelly lend charming support.
1934’s The Thin Man is the legendary mystery-comedy in which William Powell and Myrna Loy first played Nick and Nora Charles, characters they were to play again in five highly successful sequels through 1947. The title character was the man whose disappearance sets things in motion, not the detective played by Powell, but audiences conflated the two and in the sequels Powell’s character was given that reference.
Merrill’s Marauders is an above average World War II drama directed by the legendary Samuel Fuller (Pickup on South Street, The Big Red One), that is best remembered as Jeff Chandler’s last film. The actor who delayed back surgery for an injury sustained in a company baseball game on location in the Philippines until after filming was complete, died of blood poisoning following the eventual surgery. His facial contortions due to the pain he was in during filming helped underscore his performance. Ty Hardin, Peter Brown, and Will Hutchins co-star.
This week’s new releases include Avengers: Endgame and the Blu-ray upgrade of The Ugly American.