New This Week
Doug Liman’s Chaos Walking was filmed in 2017 with reshoots taking place in 2019 and an eventual release in January 2021. Critics and audiences familiar with the series of novels it was based on were not kind. Not having read them, I found it a decent dystopian adventure, a genre I don’t usually like.
Not being familiar with the novels, I had no idea that the characters played by Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley were supposed to be young teenagers. They were played as older teenagers or young adults as befitting the actors’ actual ages, which worked just fine. Holland as the boy who grew up in a womanless world hasn’t been this intense since his breakout role in 2012’s The Impossible. Ridley, whose breakout role was in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, was pretty much what you would expect a young girl off a crashed spaceship in the 25th century to be like. Yes, the story was pretty lame, but its execution was as exciting as it could have been thanks to the performances of the leads with strong support from Mads Mikkelsen (Another Round), Demian Bichir (Land), David Oyelowo (Selma), and Cynthia Erivo (Harriet). The only bad performance was from Nick Jonas (Midway) who allegedly took seven months to perfect his southern accent as Mikkelsen’s son. No one else, including Mikkelsen, had a noticeable southern accent.
I had a bigger problem with Supernova, which was touted as a possible Oscar nominee for Stanley Tucci as Best Supporting Actor. Ironically, the biggest prize the film won was the AARP Movies for Grownups Award for Best Grownup Love Story. To be fair, Tucci and Colin Firth as longtime partners are touching in their performances but their long road trip as they say goodbye to friends and family as Tucci’s dementia grows deeper is as tedious as it is depressing.
It was Tucci who brought writer-director Harry Macqueen’s film to Firth’s attention. Initially Firth was to play the dying writer and Tucci his composer lover, but they decided to switch roles during rehearsals. The roles played by Firth (A Single Man) and Tucci (Julie & Julia) are fairly even in length. Firth has a few more scenes of quiet reflection than Tucci, but it’s a stretch to consider him a lead and Tucci a supporting player even if it wouldn’t have been the first case of category fraud for Tucci to have received an Oscar nomination in support. It’s a film worth seeing once, but I can’t imagine anyone sitting down to watch it a second time.
One of the films Supernova beat for its AARP Movies for Grownups award was Emma., the latest version of the Jane Austen novel memorably filmed without the added-on period after the title in 1996 with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam and in the 2009 miniseries with Romala Garai and Jonny Lee Miller. Here, Anya-Taylor Joy and Johnny Flynn have the leads. Their early scenes together seem to lack chemistry, but they more than make up for it as the film moves along. Josh O’Connor, Callum Turner, Mia Goth, Connor Swindells, Rupert Graves, and Bill Nighty add to the merriment. The film’s production design and Oscar-nominated costumes and hair and makeup are ravishing.
Cyndi Lauper’s musical version of Kinky Boots features Killian Donnelly and Matt Henry in the London production that was originally shot for British TV but released theatrically worldwide on a limited basis. Donnelly and especially Henry are fine, but I still prefer the original 2006 non-musical version with Joel Edgerton and Chiwetel Ejiofor as the bootmaker and drag queen who make beautiful boots and comedy together. A Blu-ray version of that is long overdue.
Chaos Walking, Supernova, Emma., and Kinky Boots are all available on Blu-ray and standard DVD. Previous DVD releases making their Blu-ray debuts include Nightmare Alley, Smile, Athena, and The Tender Trap.
Criterion’s release of the 4K restoration of Edmund Goulding’s 1947 version of Nightmare Alley comes seven months ahead of the theatrical release of Giullermo del Toro’s remake of Lindsay Gresham’s famed novel. The tale of the rise and downfall of a mentalist in a carnival sideshow was played in the original by Tyrone Power in what has long been considered the greatest performance of his career. He is brilliantly supported by Joan Blondell and Ian Keith as his mentors, Coleen Gray as his young partner, and Helen Walker as his shrink from hell. Those roles are played in the remake by previous Oscar nominees Bradley Cooper, Toni Collette, Richard Jenkins, and Rooney Mara, and Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, respectively. One can only hope that they will be as good as the originals, all of whom were at their peak.
Blu-ray extras include new documentaries on the film, as well as Goulding, Gresham, and Power along with a 2007 interview with Coleen Gray on the making of the film.
Fun City Editions’ release of the 2K restoration of Michael Ritchie’s 1975 comedy Smile is a welcome reminder of how much fun the director’s skewering of beauty pageants was. Bruce Dern is at his best as the RV salesman and judge of the annual American Miss Beauty Pageant in which contestants from all over California come to Santa Rosa to compete to be the state’s representative in the national competition. Barbara Feldon, Nicholas Pryor, Michael Kidd, and Geoffrey Lewis are featured along with Joan Prather, Annette O’Toole, Melanie Griffith, and Maria O’Brien among the competitors.
Blu-ray extras include a newly filmed incisive interview with Dern.
Warner Archive’s release of Richard Thorpe’s 1954 film Athena is a welcome one. The underrated film skewering health trends of the era was oversold as a female version of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers featuring seven sisters instead of seven brothers. Unlike that film, however, it’s only about two of the sisters finding husbands, one of whom happens to be Brides’ Jane Powell. The other is Debbie Reynolds. In their sights are Edmund Purdom, straight from The Student Prince, and a pre-Hit the Deck Vic Damone, who would be paired in that one with Powell while Reynolds would be paired with Russ Tamblyn.
Warner Archive’s release of Charles Walters’ 1955 film The Tender Trap gives us Frank Sinatra and Debbie Reynolds in their only screen pairing. It’s a pleasant diversion, co-starring David Wayne and Celeste Holm, with Holm quietly stealing the film.
This week’s U.S. Blu-ray releases include Mommie Dearest and In & Out.