New This Week
With so many of the major film releases of 2020 being shown on streaming platforms in conjunction with their theatrical releases, Ammonite becomes the first high profile awards contender to be released on DVD and Blu-ray.
The film was on almost everyone’s list of Oscar contenders based on its pedigree. Top-casting, seven-time Oscar nominee and 2008 Best Actress winner for The Reader, Kate Winslet, and four-time Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird), it was an early favorite to receive Oscar nominations for Best Actress (Winslet) and Best Supporting Actress (Ronan).
Shown at various film festivals beginning with Toronto in September, and receiving a limited theatrical release in November, the film received high praise for the two actresses, as well as for its cinematography, production design, costume design, hair and makeup, and score, but none of that has so far not resulted in any major award organization nominations or wins.
Set in 1840 in England’s rough southern coast, Winslet plays against type as real-life under-appreciated, middle-aged fossil hunter Mary Anning, who against her wishes, takes on the care of a fragile young woman (Ronan) grieving over the loss of her baby for a fee from her wealthy husband, as he goes on a business tour in Europe without her. Winslet gradually warms to Ronan, nursing her back to health from a near-death illness, and involving her in her work. The two women eventually fall in love and have a passionate affair until it’s time for Ronan to return home.
Gemma Jones, who played Josh O’Connor’s dour grandmother in writer-director Francis Lee’s pervious film, 2017’s God’s Own Country, plays a similar role as Winslet’s mother.
Pietro Marcello’s Martin Eden is far and away the most successful film version of the 1909 novel by Jack London (The Sea Wolf) yet made. Filmed several times beginning in 1914, huge publicity surrounded the 1942 version, called The Adventures of Martin Eden, when London’s widow approved Glenn Ford as the film’s star because she thought he looked like London who died in 1916 at the age of 40. It was remade a TV miniseries in 1976.
Marcello had been given London’s novel twenty years ago and immediately thought of turning it into a film, but the then-young Italian documentary filmmaker didn’t have the resources. Finally, in collaboration with writer Maurizio Braucci (Gomorrah), who had given him the book way back then, he was able to make his reimagined version, turning Eden into an Italian and transporting its principal location from Oakland, California to Naples, Italy.
London’s protagonist is an idealistic young man who becomes involved with a wealthy family, betraying his working-class roots as he gradually finds success as a writer, only to become disillusioned with his newfound celebrity. Moving the story forward to an unspecified time in Twentieth Century Italy, Marcello cast Luca Marinelli, hailed by critics as a young De Niro, in the title role. Lushly filmed all over Italy, with archival footage of his country’s turbulent last century frequently popping up, Marcello has created a small wonder of a film for which Marinelli won Best Actor at the 2020 Venice Film Festival.
Kino Lorber has released it on both Blu-ray and standard DVD.
Another film that its director wanted to make for twenty years before actually having the resources to do it was John Huston’s 1975 film of Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King, newly upgraded to Blu-ray by Warner Archive.
Huston originally wanted Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart for the roles of rogue and renegade that were eventually played by Sean Connery and Michael Caine as adventurers who travel from British controlled India in the 1880s to a small country beyond the remote hills of Afghanistan with plans of conning the inhabitants into making Connery king and looting its treasures. Things turn ominous when Connery begins to take his newfound position seriously. Christopher Plummer co-stars as Kipling, who also wrote the classics Captains Courageous and Gunga Din.
The film’s narrative is highly reminiscent of similar high adventures, poplar from the 1930s through the mid-1950s. Connery and Caine’s characters seem like older, harder versions of similar characters once played by Gary Cooper and Richard Cromwell in 1935’s The Lives of a Bengal Lancer and Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in 1939’s Gunga Din.
Huston received the fourteenth of his fifteen Oscar nominations for co-writing the film’s screenplay. It was his first since his Best Supporting Actor nomination for 1963’s The Cardinal. His next and last nomination would be for directing 1985’s Prizzi’s Honor, his first for direction since 1952’s Moulin Rouge.
The film received a total of four Oscar nominations overall.
Directed by David Miller (Midnight Lace) from a novel by Leo Rosten (All Through the Night), 1963’s Captain Newman, M.D. was Gregory Peck’s first film since his Oscar-winning turn in To Kill a Mockingbird a year earlier. A black comedy set in a 1944 neuropsychiatric ward in an Arizona military hospital, Peck plays its harried doctor, given a strong supporting cast led by Tony Curtis, Angie Dickinson, Bobby Darin, Eddie Albert, James Gregory, Robert Duvall, Bethel Leslie, Dick Sargent, and Jane Withers.
Highly popular in its day, many found it a disappointment after the high-water mark of Peck’s Oscar winner (To Kill a Mockingbird), but time has been kind to it and everyone, especially Peck, looks great in it. At the time, however, it was Darin as a suicidal pilot who got the lion’s share of the accolades and an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. The film was also nominated for two other Oscars.
Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray is up to its usual high standards.
Criterion has finally given us a Blu-ray edition of Three Films by Luis Bunuel. The three films represent the acclaimed Spanish filmmaker, then working in France at the end of his career, at his surreal best. The films are 1972’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, 1974’s The Phantom of Liberty, and 1979’s That Obscure Object of Desire, all three of which are best enjoyed without knowing too much about them. If The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, my pick as the funniest film ever made, doesn’t make you howl with laughter, there’s something wrong with you.
This week’s U.S. Blu-ray releases include The Court Jester and The Pajama Game.